In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I provide some general terms and definitions that a residential client should be familiar with when involved with a construction project. I know, I know… I hear you asking “But Keith, what happened to the funny sarcastic posts? I mean this series seems pretty serious.” Well, rest assured the sarcastic humor shall return. Read the post WWJD and other architectural abbreviations for some not-so-serious abbreviations and associated meanings. However, once and a while I feel the need to write posts that help in educating clients what is we architects do and what it’s like working with us.
Keep in mind, these definitions/terms are not all encompassing. However, they do give you a good foundation (*pun inserted*) of terms you should be familiar with. When in doubt or you don’t understand a term, phrase, definition, etc., ask your architect for clarification.
A sum of money set aside in the construction contract for items which have not been selected and specified in the construction contract/construction documents. The contractor will be responsible for purchasing these items when they are chosen by the client. If the client selects an item which costs less than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive a credit equal to the difference in cost. Similarly, if the client selects an item which costs more than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive an extra charge equal to the difference in cost.
Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.
A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.
Ordinances governing the manner in which a structure may be constructed or modified. Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.
Builders Risk Insurance
A type of property insurance which indemnifies against damage to buildings while they are under construction. It is usually bought by the owner of the building but the general contractor constructing the building may buy it if it is required as a condition of the contract. If the project involves renovations or additions to an existing building, the owner’s existing property insurance may cover the work under construction, obviating the need for builder’s risk insurance. However, in the case of new buildings under construction, the owner may not have an existing policy that provides coverage.
Certificate of Occupancy
Typically referred to as a ‘”CO.” This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within a home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.
An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time or both.
In this phase, your architect observes the pace and quality of construction. As your agent, your architect looks out for your interests, keeping you informed of the project’s progress and overseeing any changes or problems that may arise. Construction phase services are helpful in keeping your project on track and within budget.
The sum established by the owner as available for actual construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.
A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:
1. The contractor’s registration number.
2. A statement of work quality such as ‘Standard Practices of the Trades’ or ‘according to Manufacturers Specifications’.
3. A set Construction Documents/Drawings.
4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.
5. A set of Specifications.
6. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.
7. A Payment Schedule.
8. Any Allowances.
9. Clause(s) which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.
10. Written Warrantee(s).
11. Certificates of insurance (builders risk, general liability, workers compensation, etc.)
Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.
A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor’s license and some specialty contractor’s licenses do not require compliance with bonding, workmen’s compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:
General contractor– a contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project.
Remodeling contractor– a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.
Specialty contractor– licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, septic/sewer, asbestos abatement.
Sub-contractor– a general or specialty contractor who works for another general contractor.
A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.
The architect prepares more detailed drawings and finalizes the design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.
General Liability Insurance
Helps protect businesses in the event they are sued by customers or other third parties for injuries or damages.
Life Cycle Cost Analysis
The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed. Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of work. There may also be a temporary ‘retainer/hold back’ (5-10% of the total cost of the job) at the end of the contract for correcting any small items which have not been completed or repaired.
A provision in a contract that provides for a reduction in the amount otherwise payable under a contract to a contractor as penalty for failure to meet deadlines or for failure of the project to meet contract specifications.
Typically referred to as a ‘perc test.’ Tests that a soil engineer performs on earth to determine the feasibility of installing a leech field type sewer system on a lot. A test to determine if the soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the liquid affluent from a septic system.
A governmental municipal authorization to perform a building process such as; zoning/use permit, demolition permit, grading permit, septic permit, building permit, electrical permit, plumbing permit, etc.
The architect and homeowner discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.
The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget; land costs; costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner-furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.
A list prepared by the client or their authorized representative of items of work requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor.
To inspect and generate a punch list.
Schematic Design Phase
The architect consults with the owner to ascertain the requirements of the project and prepares schematic studies consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.
An on-site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.
A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual or included within the construction drawings consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship.
Standard Practices of the Trade(s)
One of the more common basic and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by the average professional in the field.
Can be calculated as both gross and net square footage. No uniform standard for computing a residential square footage yet exists. Architects, builders and Realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Clients are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation and how it was calculated.
Refers to a stage of a construction or building project or a designated portion of the project that is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the construction contract documents, so that the owner may use or occupy the building project or designated portion thereof for the intended purpose, without undue interference.
Time and Materials Contract
A construction contract which specifies a price for different elements of the work such as cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. A contract which may not have a maximum price, or may state a ‘price not to exceed’.
In construction there are two general types of warranties. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a warranty for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may include a 20 year material warranty and a 5 year labor warranty. Many new homebuilders provide a one year warranty. Any major issue found during the first year should be communicated to the builder immediately.
Workers’ Compensation Insurance
A form of insurance that provides compensation medical care for employees who are injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence.
As a bonus, download your own PDF definitions cheat sheet and insert into your project/idea book- or make paper airplanes, your call –> Working with an Architect
If you missed the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, they can be found here:
Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search
Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself
Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect
Next up in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, Part 5- What? Me, Hire an architect? Stay tuned.
** Go find yourself an architect and define your project, it will be worth it!