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More On The Design Process


Building a new home is most likely the biggest investment you will ever make. Should I use ready-made plans or use a custom design? What are the steps involved? How much does it cost?


Very often the starting point of looking at home designs is to look through the many plan magazines and websites that are available. These offer ready-made plans at considerable saving over custom home designs. If you can find what you want or with only minor changes then you are lucky and this may be the route to go. Often you will need to still have the foundation plan drawn and engineered stamped for your specific location. The plan company can usually make changes to their floor plans. They do charge for this service and their charges need to be balanced against having custom home plans drawn. I am often asked if a person can order the plan set from a company and have me copy and adapt the plans. The answer to this is no, that is not possible nor is it professional. The plans you purchase from a company are copyright protected. So at what point is it wise to go with custom plans.

This is a common question and most often is resolved that a ready-made plan that fits your needs just cannot be found. I am always amazed that with all the plan books out there that the "perfect" plan and layout is so hard to find. Custom plans have the big advantage of being able to design just what you want, or more often just what your budget will allow. Perhaps the biggest advantage of custom plans is being able to look at a number of designs and layout options. And to be able to see these options in 3D generated models. It is always so much better to work through design ideas during the plan stage and not the construction phase!

Cost of Plans

How much do custom plans cost? This is a hard question with no set answer because of all the variables involved. Custom plans do cost more than ready-made plans, usually two to three times more at least. The size and complexity of the house affects the cost of the plans most. A single story simple house costs less to design than say, a three story house with complicated roof lines and floor plan. A complex the design requires more drawings and more time to complete. It is not only the size of the house that affects the cost, but also Is the design structurally complex or fairly simple? A small complex house will cost more than a simpler, larger house. The building site also greatly affects the cost of design and construction - on a steep slope? adverse soil conditions? Factors like these all affect the final cost of the plans and the final construction cost.

I generally design small to medium sized houses around 2000 to 5000 sqft. which can range in cost between $5,000 to $12,000. This is a wide range but I always give an estimate to the cost of the plans when I know more about the project. It is important to note that an estimate is just that because if is very hard to know how and what direction a project will go. Obviously a large, complex house is going to cost considerably more modest designs. I make a point to keep a client well advised if a project is going beyond the initial estimate. I try to bill on roughly a monthly basis. I do ask for a $500 deposit to start a project.


I always advise my clients to look at the cost of the plans against the overall cost of the project. The plan stage is a very small investment in most cases. As expensive as construction is it seems to make sense to invest in custom plans to insure you get the most out of your budget. 

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