We sincerely believe in sharing our ideas and thoughts and bring them up on this platform to educate our clients and learners from the Architecture and Design fraternity.

Building a custom design house or ‘Dream Home’ could be very exciting however, it could turn into traumatic experience resulting to lose lifelong savings of a family if right decisions are not taken at the right time.

Let's go through the process from Conceptuals to the manifest...

1. Selection of Site:
If you have not selected a site then it is advisable that before selecting a lot in an area check following:
  • Neighborhood: Law & order, ethnicity, accessibility to highway, schools and shopping?
  • Zoning: Lot coverage, maximum floor area allowed, maximum height or any conservation restrictions are within your space requirements? If not what are chances getting variance through Committee of Adjustment process? If not sure then consult city or design professional before finalising a purchase.
  • Available services such as road, water supply, drainage, natural gas and electricity available? If not what are the alternate means? What will be maximum development charges by the variance authorities for the proposed project?
  • Resale options: make sure that the amount of investment you are making could be achievable with reasonable profit in case of anytime sale of your completed project. In this case a good real estate professional can advise you or checking a list of completed similar new houses listings in the area.


2. Architect/Designer Selection:

  • Selection of suitable architect/designer is vital to make your dream home into reality. The architect should be competent to understand client’s requirements, technical knowledge and good experience to deal the site zoning, building codes and financial restrictions. A good design is balance of dealing all constraints. A good designer tries to diagnose and fulfil client’s requirements rather than imposing his own ideas on the client after all it is the client who has to live in the house not the architect! He /She should not design something which client does not like unless there is a technical unresolvable issue.
3. Clients Brief/ Requirements
Client should prepare his/her accommodation requirements keeping in view present and future requirements and financial resources. Architect should prepare a questionnaire of all possible requirements and the client should also prepare ‘wish list’ in the early stages of design rather than trying to incorporate requirements later design stage or during construction. A good architect will make through research of all prevailing zoning, conservation, building codes and financial implications and explain to the client while finalising the design brief. Remember the client has to compromise at certain level and all of your wishes cannot be accommodated in any design. A good design usually fulfils 80%-90% of a client’s requirements. However architect should not hide any negative aspects of the design to the client before finalising the design.
4.  Survey:

For any custom design building topographic survey should be ordered at the very early stage. A licensed surveyor should be hired either local or familiar of the area. Topographic survey should contain all the existing information of contours, geodesic levels, existing services, trees and vegetation, rocks waterbodies and overhead wires.  

5- Schematic Design process:

During the process of survey the architect should prepare schematic plans based on clients’ requirements and should explore all possible design options. Once schematic plans are finalised the exterior views should be prepared with alternate deign styles as per client’s wishes. Once the schematic floor plans and elevations are finalised the architect should prepare documents for the process of site plan approval which requires site grading and site servicing plans. Architect usually present the design with help of rendering and 3d interior or exterior views. At this stage the owner may hire an interior designer to finalise the design. An interior designer is responsible for colour schemes, interior finishing materials and the furniture arrangement as per client’s requirements. Some clients prefer Vastu Shastra or Feng Shui Consultation before finalising the design.  

6-Minor Variance:

If the client and the architect are confident that the client’s requirement cannot be fulfilled within the prevailing zoning restrictions, eg. maximum floor area, heights, parking or setbacks requirements. Then it is important that before finalising the design a minor variance application is submitted to get a relief of zoning restrictions. As the minor variance process takes about 4-6 months therefore some clients prefer to apply for building permit within the current zoning while waiting for minor variance decision to reduce the overall time of construction.  Normally the chances of success of minor variance are 50/50 however hiring a proper professional planner or an experience person to present the case can increase chances the success. Support of adjacent neighbours and local councillors also increases the chances of minor variance approval. 
7- Grading Plan:

After the finalizing the initial design and finalising building heights the final design eg. Site plan, floor plans and exterior elevations are sent to a qualified surveyor engineer or site servicing civil engineer for preparing grading/site servicing plans. A grading plan shows the variation of existing and proposed ground levels in relation to existing and proposed building layout, levels of driveways, pavements and floor levels. It may require relocation of water supply drainage lines, septic system design if city’s sewage system is not available, Water well location if no city’s water supply available or location of propane gas tank if no gas supply available in the area. In some case you may require site erosion control plans during the construction. The city may ask site temporary construction office and material storage plans. 
8-Arborist Report:

You may require the services of an Arborist to determine removal and protection of existing trees. Only an arborist can determine if an existing tree to be protected or removed. Some cities require an arborist report with site plan application even though no tree exists in the lot.   

9-Engineering Plans:
During the site grading, conservation authority approval (if required) or site plan approval process the architect or the clients send the final design to structural design and mechanical (HVAC & plumbing) design. Mechanical engineer requires joist directions post/beams locations sizes from the structural engineer before finalising the mechanical drawings and heat-loss calculations. 

10-Pre-Engineered Lumber Design Shop Drawings:

Once the structural design are finalised the structural drawings (if show pre-engg floor joists TJI or pre-engg trusses) are sent to lumber manufacturer for preparing estimate and shop drawings. Those shop drawings are sent back to structural engineer for review and approve before lumber manufacturer provides stamped pre-engg lumber shop drawings by a professional engineer. The owner is required to pay the cost of shop drawings to the lumber company which is in some cases reimbursable at the time of purchase of lumber products. The submission of lumber shop drawings is mandatory at the time of permit application by most building authorities.    

11-Permit Applications:

An approved site grading plan, approved conservation authority letter or waiver (if applicable), along with complete architectural, structural, mechanical drawings, lumber shop drawings and specifications are submitted to the city/town by the architect or the owner. The permit application document may include signed commitment forms by the relevant engineers and the architect and letter of usage by the owner. Architect is responsible to follow-up the application and respond to the city’s queries and deficiency notices as soon as possible. The owner is responsible to pay the permit application fees and other development charges or securities deposits as soon as possible. In Ontario the usual permit application process is minimum10 working days for residential and 20 working days for commercial applications however, it varies to cities and towns as per their work load.    

12- Site Services Disconnection/ Provision:

During the permit application process the owner should explore the process of disconnection of existing water supply drainage, gas and electricity services and provision of temporary services during the construction. In some cases the disconnection and provision of temporary services may take two months which can affect the construction schedule.
13- Costing & Selection of Contractors:

During the permit application the architect and the owner send the project’s drawings to selected contractors for budget pricing and comments. Based on contractors feedback revision in design or specification may be required to keep the cost within the specified budget by the owner or to simplify the construction. Architect helps the owner to finalise the contracts between the owner and the contractor or sub-contractors. Sometime Architect also acts as an arbitrator in case of any dispute during the construction.  
14-Construction Scheduling:

Soon after the permits approval the owner with consultation of selected contractor should prepare a schedule of construction. The contractor must thoroughly study all the construction drawings and submit RFI’s to the architect and engineers before starting the construction. Architect usually require a suitable time to prepare the answer to contractor’s queries. In some cases the architect issues additional details, change order or revision in the design with the consultation of owner. The contractor is responsible to identify any discrepancies in the design before the start of any work and should not be accepted an excuse of defective work. 
15- Site Visits and Construction Supervision.

For custom houses, normally the architects and relevant engineers are not required to regularly visit the site during the construction. However the owner and contractor may request the architect and design engineers to arrange periodic site meetings to clarify the design drawings or any other technical issues. The cost and schedule of such meeting is decided between the architects and engineers within both parties convenience. In some cases the site visit of Surveyor to identify the excavation levels for underside of footings, top of wall and height of roof is required. The owner must schedule with the consultation of surveyor to avoid delay in the construction. If during the excavation any unexpected unnatural soil, filling or rocks are found then a geotechnical soil investigation may be required.  If during the construction it is realised that significant changes in the approved drawings are necessary then the revision permit application must be submitted by the architect to the city/town to avoid stoppage or delay of construction work. The owner must consult the architect before making any significant changes in the approved design to avoid technical problems.  In some cases the owner can hire a third party quality-control engineering firm or professional engineer to monitor the construction. In any case the city/town’s inspections and approval is very mandatory for the successful completion and occupancy certificate of the project. A final site grading certificate by a qualified surveyor is usually mandatory by most city/town.     
16- Completion:

After completion the owner may require the architect to visit the project and prepare an as built set of drawings to update the project’s drawings if there are any significant changes occurred in the design. As mentioned earlier it may require revision permits or minor variance if a zoning violation has occurred. In some cases the city/town may require final review certificates by the architect or engineers before issuance to final occupancy certificate.     

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