Detailed Spec's for bids.

agentslimDecember 7, 2011

Hi I am planning to build my home in central california. We are have plans drawn. From reading on the forums, I feel I should know exactly what I want up front prior to getting into a contract with a builder. Does anyone have an excel or spreadsheet with a checklist for what I need to decide on? This will be our first custom home. Something detailed would be helpful. Any advice is greatly appreciated.

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Epiarch Designs

This is something that you should sit down with your designer or architect and go over. Typically detailed specs are required as part of the bid documents. Besides, they also need to know this information if you are planning on using specific items in the project that affects their plans, sections, elevations, etc.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 5:36PM
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I agree, this should be your designer's responsibility.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 6:50PM
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You only need all the details on finishes if it's a fixed priced contract. Otherwise, you'll be charged cost plus percentage in all its permutations. These are the two most frequent arrangements in my area, as far as I can figure. Another approach is construction or project management, again with various permutations.

Here is a link that might be useful: CM vs. GC etc.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 7:54PM
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Thank you for your insight. We do not have a designer since we are using stock plans from a builder. I was hoping to use those plans to submit for bids. From what i've read in past discussions it should be very detailed finishes etc, in order to be able to compare apples to apples. I was wondering if their was a spreadsheet for the specs/finishes needed to get competitive bids. Thanks!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 8:09PM
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Several years ago a forum member posted a spreadsheet she used when she built her custom home. I have it saved on my pc but I don't know if I can upload a Google Docs spreadsheet to a post. You can try searching on this term, "Persnickety's world famous spreadsheet" and see if you can locate it on the forum. Or, if you like, you can choose in your Garden Web "My Page" profile to allow members to email you through Garden Web. Then I can send you an email with the spreadsheet.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 9:06PM
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Slim, we have a four or five page Word document that the builder provided. This document went room-by-room and listed the aspects of each room. I imagine that any established builder would have this to provide. We had two separate meetings with the builder to cover each detail before signing off. Whatever you do, don't hesitate to ask questions and persist until you understand 100%.

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 9:11PM
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You got mail nanj,
Thanks abdrury I appreciate the support. I hope I understand soon!

    Bookmark   December 7, 2011 at 10:33PM
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The word "Specifications" means something quite different to a homeowner, a material supplier, a designer, an architect, and a contractor.

If this will be a fixed price contract competitively bid, the Specifications will set the standards for all of the materials and building systems and how they must be installed and will be part of the bidding documents and will become a part of the final contract. Therefore this task is normally done by someone with experience in design and construction using a list of materials, finishes, and special features from the homeowner. This is essentially what the spreadsheet mentioned above contains. I would call such a list an Outline of Features and Materials to avoid confusion with a contract Specification.

The format of a contract Specification would most likely be MS Word rather than a spreadsheet. A spreadsheet would limit the formatting too much.

Since a Specification is different for each project, most professionals use a "Master Specification" that contains everything imaginable so they can delete and add information as they edit the master document. To do it otherwise would take far too long. The Master is usually separated into trade sections so that entire sections can be omitted or added as needed. These documents are hard to find for houses and often cost between $100, $500 or more. Most of them are poorly written, offer too few choices or are out of date. Any master would require modification in order to be used for home construction.

Many contractors and architects simply modify a spec used for a previous project which is sloppy but effective as long as you don't leave out something important that was not used for the previous project. Getting your hands on a digital copy of one those can be difficult if you are not a client. It's like asking someone for the name of their favorite babysitter.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 7:32AM
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My comments are for competitively bid projects. The short specification mentioned by abdrury would be for a negotiated contract where the contractor would propose a specification and the owner might ask for additions and modifications, sort of a design-build arrangement where the contractor sets the standards instead of the owner. That would be impossible if several contractors were bidding the job although it is likely that some of them will ask to modify the bidding specs or use their own.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 7:43AM
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Thank you Renovator8!
So since I am a first time builder which option would save us some money? Would you recommend to a first time home owner/builder. I do not mind choosing all my fixtures ahead. I would just like to know an exact cost upfront, rather than dealing with change orders etc...

Your insight is greatly appreciated.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 11:20AM
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agentslim... There are builders who charges a fixed fee and you don't have to worry about change orders. This is what we chose. So far, we are loving it. I actually think it's better than having a contract price for the entire build.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 11:29AM
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I'm no expert, builders want to spend hours and hours costing out every small detail to make a preliminary bid? Maybe, in this economy.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 12:49PM
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If you are a first time builder, it will be difficult to list everything you want without some significant help.

It isn't just lighting and plumbing fixtures, type of hardwood etc. There are a lot of things that come into play.

Here is a for instance. Brick - you can't just specify that you want a brick exterior. There are multiple sizes of brick and in each size, there are different costs. Then the mortar color has different costs. Basic gray is not expensive but it would have been $5000 more for white mortar.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 12:51PM
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You should not be surprised that I recommend using an architect - this is what they do.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 2:52PM
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Epiarch Designs

NO WAY REN! Architects cost money and I can do ANYTHING they can do!
....And many times, those people are the ones that are starting threads saying "disaster with the builder, help!"

Outlines for interior finishes (and some exterior) are the things it seems most people on this forum are only concerned about. I have not seen this outline, but I doubt it covers actually important things that my MasterSpec does, such as foundation concrete psi, waterproofing, exterior shell design, insulation types and levels, specific window brands, etc etc etc. These are the things most leave up to their builder to decide and do not care/assume its all just taken into account. A 'real' spec, from a licensed professional (architect, engineer, etc) typically covers all of this, not some free spreadsheet you can get online.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 4:36PM
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Speaking of change orders.....

Here is a link that might be useful: change order/original contract

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 5:01PM
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I have spoke to some builders and they basically just break down things like roof, 10ft plate heights, 2x6 framing, gutters, milguard vinyl windows, granite counters everywhere. tile, and carpet allowance. kohler fixtures throughout. 5 1/4in baseboards, crown mouldings everywhere. They do not break it down to insulation,foundation etc... Both builders quoted fix price. 125 per square feet and 140 per square feet. This method seems like how they will incorporate change orders. I feel it is a very vague description, which leaves room for massive change.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 5:56PM
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Epiarch Designs

bottom line...if you want close competitive bids with a minimal chance of change orders and adds, you need to have a very detailed spec with everything you want them to include or do, from the footers to the peak of the roof. This is not something anyone can just give you for free. It is design and project specific, and you have to know what you are doing. If you wish to simply fill out a spreadsheet someone emails you, go for it. But make sure your builder's contract details out all of the other items not covered on that sheet.
Oh, and pack 15% away for change orders still (using option B)....

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:17PM
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thanks 1zerarc for the breakdown. I will look into getting an architect that will design the project specifically.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 6:23PM
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"Oh, and pack 15% away for change orders still..."

How does that happen? I hear people going on about "save an extra 10, 15, 20% for overages." On a $200,000 house, that's $20K - $40K! How do people let their projects get that out of control??

Is it upgrades or just builders that don't properly estimate?

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 8:35PM
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LOL abdrury, that is exactly what I am afraid of. We have no room to get out of control, so I gotta do homework to figure a way to see a final number upfront.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 8:41PM
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Epiarch Designs

Overages and change orders can result from many possibilities. Sometimes its unknown items such as site work issues and things uncovered below ground. A lot of the issue is lack of spec detail and the homeowner not doing their homework on knowing exactly what they want prior to signing. A lot use allowances, which are typically low compared to what people usually end up wanting. Allowances are put in place by builders because the owner lacks details or specs spelling out exactly what they want. Allowances are fine, it just puts pressure on you to stick within them. Other things can be items such as changing your mind and moving electrical outlets or light placements. Many times it is hard for people to really understand a drawing and once it is built and they can stand in the space, it feels different and changes are made.
If detailed specs are made and close bids can be had, then you can decrease your reserve funds down to 10 or even 5%.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2011 at 10:00PM
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"How does that happen? I hear people going on about "save an extra 10, 15, 20% for overages." On a $200,000 house, that's $20K - $40K! How do people let their projects get that out of control??

Is it upgrades or just builders that don't properly estimate?"

Or changes in price between proposal and purchase.

10% is not out of control at all.

50% or 100% might be out of control.

It is apparent you have never done any type of large project.

A reserve is to cover any oversights in material or design that must be firmed up.
If everyone added 10-20-30% in 'contingency' the folks paying would scream.
Instead on large projects you create 'management reserve' and make sure the funds are available for unforeseen changes.

All we need is a hurricane threat to run up the price of plywood.
Or a tornado that causes a lot of destruction and can run up the prices of just about everything needed to rebuild.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 10:41AM
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There are two ways to really firm up your costs for a build. You pay a professional, such as an architect, to create the specs for you. Or you spend two to three years in a part time job researching home building and all of the pros and cons of different construction methods as well as all of the pros and cons of different finishes. Once you are educated enough, you can create your own specs. You'll either spend money or time doing this. Nothing else is possible. There's no such thing as a free lunch.

And tight cost estimating cannot work for someone who buys plans off of a home mill site and wants to get started now. You don't have the time needed to learn what you need to know. That leaves the money. All problems can be solved with money. Just plan for the 20% overage as a given, and have at least another 15% in far reserve for true omigod disaster needs like you hit a spring when digging the foundation.

Building a custom home is an expensive luxury. You might want to look at buying an existing home. Your money will most likely go much further unless you have very specialized needs.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 12:16PM
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Building custom is defintely expensive. Expect to spend more than you intended on spending. lol. And I don't think it matters if you had an architect or anybody who did a detailed specs on your house. There's always going to be something that will affect the cost.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2011 at 1:22PM
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Thanks guys, We just met with a builder with an in house architect. Cost to draft some plans are $1.00 per sqft. Is that the going rate or is it less with a residential architect?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 2:38AM
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They going rate is very regional but that is about what I paid. The problem with an inhouse architect is that you may love the plan but then not like the bid. Then you spent money with nothing to show for it because the plan is theirs.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 4:51AM
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We recently worked with an inhouse architect. We paid for a concept drawing. Then 5% of construction cost for the complete set of plans. This 5% cost would have been dropped had we gone with this original builder. We had the opportunity to take the drawings to another builder and he came in a lot lower and so we paid the 5%. The was a small 650 sq ft building designed to match the house and really took a lot of experience and time.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 8:02AM
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5% is a lot to risk on a SFH. Especially when you can get a set of plans for 1-2% from an independent.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 9:35AM
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Yes but we had a specific situation where the new small building was designed to blend in with the original house - like it had always been there. That would not have been possible with a stock plan. He matched the roof line - same slope, same window design, same foundation design, siding etc. - he used google earth to match the house. We did not sign on to the 5% till we were satified with the concept -which was quite detailed. Also the 5% was based on the lower bid. I would not advise this for a new built house.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 11:29AM
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The builder I spoke to let's us take the drawn plans to shop for bids. 1 per sq ft to draft. Total including engineering is $3 per sq ft. I am in central California. How does that price sound ?

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 6:08PM
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I think you are asking the wrong question re: price. The question is what are you really getting for that price? I would be asking if this "in house architect" is a licensed architect or a residential designer, and if you're getting a comprehensive set of plans with a full set of detailed specifications. Don't assume. Not everyone who designs/drafts houses is an architect. Not all plans are comprehensive or include detailed specs. The less detailed and comprehensive the plans/bid documents, the less accurate and comparable the bids.

There may be benefits of a design-build firm if you are committed to working with a particular builder. Otherwise, I would interview and hire my own architect.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2011 at 10:58PM
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There have been many discussions on the GW about the cost of an in-house designer but the OP asked about how to prepare appropriate contract specifications for competitive bidding of a design already purchased and that is an entirely different way of building a house.

There is a cost to hiring someone to design your house and produce documents for bidding but it gives the owner greater control of the design process and there can be a substantial construction cost savings as well. Also the designer could be available to help the owner during the construction process.

There is a cost to hiring a builder's designer to design a house and there can also be a cost savings although it is usually impossible to know that.

I would say the most important deciding factors are being able to choose who you want to design your house and who you want to control the project. Because of the high cost of building a house and the relatively low cost of designing it, I would think owners would prefer to be in control of the design process and free of any obligation to a particular builder unless you already know which builder you want to use and even then I would think an owner would prefer to hire the designer directly and be able to take the design with them if the final negotiated price was not acceptable.

An owner should at least stipulate that the design produced by an in-house designer would belong to them not the builder (it would not belong to the designer if he/she was an employee), assuming the owner paid a fair fee but that might be the problem with this arrangement - the very low cost of the designer is probably being subsidized by the builder with the expectation that the owner is getting increasingly obligated to the builder as the seemingly inexpensive design develops. This is how a builder begins to control a design-build project and giving up control can often be to your disadvantage in terms of cost and quality control.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 11:51AM
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"This is how a builder begins to control a design-build project and giving up control can often be to your disadvantage in terms of cost and quality control."

Design-build tends to steer to things they have experience with.

This mead they have done similar work with similar materials before, know who they can hire (few places have a complete staff of in house folks to cover every trade).

If the builders capabilities and experience line up with your desires it can work very well.

Many folks do not understand how seemingly small changes can have very large impacts (probably less so on this sght).

An example (that I have countered) is floor tile.

I have had clients go to the tile showroom to select tile and come back with larger tiles or stone when initially they only wanted mosaic tile.

They did not understand tat the floor needs to be increasingly stiffer for larger tiles or stone.

When they initially desired mosaic the floor is allowed more movement. In keeping costs under control you do not build more than you need.

Deciding you want multiple shower heads after the plumbing design is bid can impact drain ad supply sizes required.

The 3/4 inch supply line can suddenly be inadequate.

A computer area is likely to require at least one extra circuit, and possibly more.

You need to decide and identify what you want as early as possible.
The later in the process decisions are made the more likely they are to cost more and run over budget.

Some things ARE less critical, and you can wat for a final decision.

You need to realize the longer you wait the less room for changes without cost or schedule impacts.

The mosaic tile pattern and color are usually not as important as staying with mosaic tile vs. a larger tile.

Light fixtures that are of the same general type use the same junction box usually (octagon ceiling box on a joist or light weight strap).
A heavy fixture (35 pounds and up generally) can be an issue though.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 12:46PM
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"Design-build tends to steer to things they have experience with."

I believe this is why we eventually chose a firm with in-house staff to cover and coordinate every aspect of the project. Sure, perhaps it make our house less "custom" since we've let the builder guide us through some things, but we certainly feel more comfortable about coming in closer to budget than 110%.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2011 at 5:09PM
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