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  • Writer's pictureMike Abell, Professional Civil Engineer

What property owners should know about their construction project

Realistic Expectations are Key

Undertaking a construction project is no small feat, and the larger the project, the more time and effort it will require to complete. As a property owner, it's important to approach any project with realistic expectations regarding the time and effort involved. While it's tempting to think that a project will be quick and easy, it's never that simple.

Consult with Specialists

Before you begin any construction project, it's a good idea to consult with several specialists to gather their perspectives and insights. Meeting with an architect, engineer, and contractor will help you better understand the constraints of your project, including structural implications, cost estimates, and logistical considerations. This information will ground your project in reality and ensure that you're aware of the scope and cost involved.

Consider Your Options

While it's important to be aware of the scope and cost of your project, it's also important to consider your alternatives. Sometimes it's best not to undertake a project at all and instead move to a different residence. While it may be tempting to transform a new property into your dream home, it's important to consider whether it's worth the trouble. If you do decide to undertake the project, be sure to bundle it with any other projects you may have to take care of during construction.

Get Organized

Clearing out workspaces and decluttering is required before any construction project begins. This is the perfect opportunity to reclaim space and make your home into what you want it to be. Being organized during construction will help ensure that the project runs smoothly and is completed on time.

Plan Your Timing

Timing is critical for a successful construction project. Avoid building in the rain. Contractors may tell you it's okay, but it's not. Wet wood framing will swell, and moisture will become trapped in the finishes, causing problems down the road.

To avoid this, plan your project timeline as follows: Plan in the spring, design in the summer, submit for permitting in the fall, find your contractor in the winter, and start construction as soon as the rain is over. Keep in mind that construction projects have long timelines, so plan accordingly and allow plenty of time for each project phase.

Follow the Standard Process

It's essential to follow the standard process for a construction project: Design, Permit, Construction. Each phase should be completed before moving on to the next. Don't start construction before you have an approved permit from the city, and don't start the permit process until your design is just right.

Moving the project along before it's ready will only cause problems. To ensure that everything is included during design and construction, make a list of details you want implemented while discussing your project with the architect, engineer, and contractor. Have the contractor include this list in their construction quote.

Start with an Architect

It's important to start with an architect for projects that involve any change to the existing floor plan, an addition (including decks), or any change to the building exterior, including new doors or windows. An architect can help you navigate the planning requirements and property line setbacks that govern your project scope and footprint.

When an Architect is Not Required

If your project is a seismic retrofit or does not include a change to the floor plan (in-kind repair or deck replacement), then you don't need an architect. In that case, you can start your project by hiring a structural engineer.

Hire a Structural Engineer

Once the architectural plans are ready or if you don't need an architect, you can hire a structural engineer to prepare the engineering plans.

Appreciate the Design Process

While you might be eager to have your design completed quickly, it's important to remember that design is a process. It's best to give your architect and engineer enough time to design, so they can consider every detail and do a good job. Avoid rushing the process.

You don't need to manage the design process, but you can ask questions, make requests, and involve yourself in details that interest you. Projects usually turn out better with contributions from the property owner. The architect and engineer will coordinate the process and let you know if there's anything you need to decide on.

Plan a Review with You

The architect and engineer will let you know when they finish the design by sending you the plan set and requesting payment. Take a look at the submission and make sure it aligns with what you want. If you have any new ideas or revision requests, let the designers know. This is the best time to incorporate changes and tailor the design to fit your desires.

Plan a Review with the City

Once you're satisfied with the design, inform the architect and engineer, and they'll submit the permit application and plans to the city. Plan review can take a few weeks to several months. The city might issue comments that need to be incorporated and resubmitted for another round of review. When the city approves the project, you can hire a contractor and begin construction.

Don't Start Construction without a Permit

Once the design is complete, you may feel tempted to start construction right away. However, it's crucial to wait until the city approves your project before beginning any work. Some contractors may suggest pulling a demolition permit to start the project while the plan review is still in progress. This is not recommended, as any changes during the review process may require undoing the work already done. Also, a Stop Work order may be issued. So, it's essential to avoid starting the construction process until the permit is approved.

Hire a Contractor

Start by meeting with a few contractors. Have them review the project and provide you with a quote for construction. Don't simply go with the lowest quote; consider factors such as the contractor's skill, experience, and the value they can add to your project. Paying a premium for more qualified specialists can provide you with better insight, economical design and construction, smoother and faster delivery, and improved project longevity, all of which can translate into savings for you. Be sure to do your due diligence, and only go with the lowest quote if you feel confident in their ability to complete the project well.

During Construction

Before construction begins, contact the superintendent or project manager, who will be working on your project full time, managing the crew and the work. While the contractor will be available, they will function more in a business and supervisory role and won't be on site every day. The superintendent is a good person to know for coordination in case something comes up or if you need to know something. Feel free to periodically check on the progress of construction, have the superintendent show you around, and ask questions. If you see tasks that can improve your outcome, feel free to make those requests.

Special Inspection

During construction, the contractor will coordinate special inspections. City officials will visit the site at key junctures to check the work that is being done. This may occur, for example, after rebar and formwork is placed but before concrete is poured to make a new foundation, or after wood framing and anchorage is complete but before plywood sheathing is nailed to the wall. For each project phase, inspection certifies the work follows the approved plans and building code.

After Construction

As soon as work is complete, take a look around your project. Let the contractor know of any issues that may still be outstanding. Make sure everything is clean and finished to your satisfaction. If your project was a new deck, be sure to weatherproof it using exterior paint or some type of sealant. Congratulations, you've completed the project!


Are you a property owner with a construction project in mind? City Structural offers the experience and expertise necessary to complete your project effectively, efficiently, and to your complete satisfaction. Don't leave your outcomes to chance - trust the professionals at City Structural to save you time, money, and stress, whether you're looking to renovate, strengthen, or build new. Ready for a complimentary briefing on your building and project? Leave us a message below and let us help you turn your vision into a reality.

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