The one question to ask a house plan designer

    I have a close friend in North Carolina who builds extraordinarily well-designed, efficient, and beautiful homes. Really, I should put beautiful first, because that's what they are from every perspective: aesthetics, efficiency, and utility. He designs and builds a home that is pleasing to the senses as well as the wallet.

    Since he designs what he builds and builds what he designs, he has a fundamental understanding of what it will cost his client every time he draws a line on paper.

    He has a saying: "There are three key drivers in designing a custom home: size, features, and budget. You tell me two of those three, and I'll tell you the third."

    What does that really mean?

    It means one of two things, depending on your perspective.

    1. It means you can't have it all within a limited budget, and we ALL have a limited budget. Even Donald Trump only owns one airliner.
    2. It means you CAN have it all, as long as you're willing and able to pay for it.

    Bottom line—one of those three things has to give.

    The one question to ask

    So what does that all have to do with the one question to ask your house plan designer? Here's the question:

    "What specific ways do you, as a house designer, work to design my home so that it can be built within my budget?"

    I have to be honest here. If you ask most architects or house designers that question, you're going to get either a deer-in-the-headlights stare, or you're going to get an answer that basically throws all responsibility for cost on the builder's shoulders.

    The simple truth is that the cost to build a house comes down to three key factors—the first and biggest of which is the responsibility of the house designer:

    1. 1. Size and design efficiency
    2. 2. Features or amenities
    3. 3. Building process efficiency

    Processing the answer

    At the most fundamental level, all things equal, a bigger house costs more than a smaller one. That makes logical sense. But there are also an infinite number of ways to arrange those square feet, and different arrangements can make the same amount of square footage cost different amounts to build.

    An example

    Imagine an Oklahoma house that's 100 square feet. It's a tiny house, but stick with me. Let's say the exterior walls of that house cost $10 per linear foot for framing, insulation, drywall, trim, paint, and brick. You can draw lots of shapes that equal 100 square feet, but I'll give you two examples.

    • The first is a square that's 10 feet by 10 feet. It has four walls, each 10 feet long, for a total of 40 linear feet of wall, which totals $400.
    • Now imagine that same 100 square feet as a rectangle that's 50 feet by 2 feet. The rectangle has two 50-foot sides and two 2-foot sides for a total of 104 linear feet of wall. At $10 per foot, that's $1,040 or 2.6 times the cost for the same square footage!

    Designer's view vs. builder's view

    To the house designer, those walls are just lines on a page. To the builder, they are physical walls that require certain quantities of labor and materials. To you, the person paying for it, they are dollars and cents.

    If the designer doesn't take care to design the house plan as efficiently as possible while meeting the needs of the family he's working for, then you end up spending unnecessary dollars that take away dollars you could be investing in your family's dreams. Not a good trade.

    The home designer has control over the design efficiency. You want one who is sensitive to the fact that every square foot costs money and not every square foot is created equal. He or she has to know which is which and how to design to meet the competing needs of square footage and budget.

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