Friday, August 6, 2010

Small But Mighty

Have you ever fantasized about working with an Architect to design the home of your dreams?

Clete Kunce, of ONE 10 STUDIO, and I met recently with a couple who own a beautiful piece of property where they plan to build their next home. I’m enthusiastic about the prospects of their project. Their goals are sound and they’re really going about things the right way. They’ve done their research. They have a good idea what they want and what they need. They’ve decided what’s important to them. They’ve even found some plans in books and magazines that have elements that they like. That’s a great starting point.

We talked about all kinds of ways to make this the most sustainable, self-sufficient place they can. We talked about solar orientation, geothermal heating and cooling, Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), radiant heat and a host of other building systems. We covered issues like dust, mold, allergies and indoor air quality. They’re thinking about everything.

But something that really piqued my interest is that they want to build a small and modestly priced home. You may be thinking that this is fairly normal but it’s not. Especially at the scale that their talking. The size (and price) of the average American home has been increasing rapidly since the 1970’s. In fact, the Census Bureau most recently identified that average as over 2,400 square feet. The goal of the project that I’m talking about is to come in under 1,300 square feet. That’s an enormous difference.

Ok, that’s the setup. Then came the question … wait for it … “Why should I hire an Architect instead of a “designer” or just a builder for a small project like this?” That’s the punchline.

In all seriousness, it’s one of the most common questions that come up no matter the scale of the project. The obvious assumption is that it would be cheaper to have a “designer” draw up blueprints or pick a plan from a plan book or go to a builder who has a “designer” on staff.

I don’t know how many times over the years I’ve talked with someone who’s purchased one or more sets of plans out of the back of a magazine and now they’re looking for someone to take the very same plans and “tweak” them or combine them in some way. Where’s the sense in this process? You just spent $800 a piece for the full construction drawings of each design and now you’re willing to pay several hundred more to have everything changed to be just the way you want it. Congratulations, your cobbled-together-masterpiece has cost you a few thousand dollars. Wouldn’t your money be better spent starting at the beginning with someone who will design exactly what you want?

But I digress.

Back to our story. The goal is small, affordable, and efficient with a whole host of advanced concepts and alternative energy solutions; basically, small but mighty. Ironically, what may appear to be a small, simple exercise is actually a complicated little project. So my question is do you really want someone to just draw it up for you? Or do you want to engage someone that will fully integrate all of these concepts and systems throughout the design and deliver a successful project? That question is the answer.

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