Codes, Quality, and Profit

How much detail should go into a set of drawings to maintain profit? I could spend a lot of time producing a perfect wall section with line weights and types and fastidious detailing. However does a plan checker require this and secondly how much detail does a builder/contractor need to meet the design intent? What criteria do architects use to make these decisions to be time efficient and profitable?
Jul 11, 14 2:23 am
Olaf Design Ninja_

At minimum include drawings that show maximum information about scope for purposes of filing or bidding. This means in one reading the complete scope is understood enough to be able to interpret and forsee details that will get hammered out in shop drawings and in the field during construction phase. Line weights and types should be quick and natural and only take a few seconds to get right and must express the complicated detail in simplest terms addressing clearly code concerns like R-Values and fire rating of wall assembly for building department, while maintaining a clear description of key price points leaving generic what can be built with similar or equal products and specific to key products that can only provide the performance necessary for the building detail at acceptable levels in proposed assembly - layers of chemicals organized properly to perform. With experience you will understand the client and construction team, the type of work, and most importantly the minimum required design scope to be expressed in drawings and documents to ensure the best project gets delivered, and if you have a good understanding of this you will know how much the fee will be and from there you will know when to quit drawing to maximize profits.

Jul 11, 14 7:06 am

Don't forget you have a specification to go with the drawings as well. This document explains in detail what the builder need prepare and execute note all relevant codes and regulations. Not everything need to be on drawing. In terms of detailing I tend to only detail what is important and specific/unique in the design/element of the building. Builder's shouldn't have to rely on drawings to build. They should be well trained and experienced to understand basic construction and how things are put together. I find that the "advice during construction stage" is when all the questions will be raised to be resolved. Additional details can be produced then if required.

Jul 11, 14 7:58 am

how much detail does a builder/contractor need to meet the design intent?

Depends on the level of detail designed and quality of construction desired. The purpose of the drawings is to instruct the contractor as to exactly what is to be constructed. The style of the drawing - line weights, details, organization, etc. - serve to make the drawings clear and readable. 

If there is a question about the drawings the architect made them unreadable or incomplete or did not fully anticipate the ramifications of the design or construction processes. The perfect set of drawings could be built to completion without the architect ever being asked a single question by the contractor. Good luck with that. 

Avoid the all-too-common trap of falling in love with your drawings. They have a very specific purpose and their quality lies in fulfilling that function. The real product is a building. 

Jul 11, 14 8:23 am

It's situational for me.  Honestly, I prefer a 'looser' set of permit drawings and instead being on site twice a week working with the contractor to hash out the smaller details.  That only works with negotiated though and a trust level.

Traditional bid sets are the full thing.  I focus primarily on building shell.  If it leaks, you will be sued.  So you'll have general wall sections.  Then start detailing those trouble spots.  Pay particular attention to intersections with dissimilar materials; that's where it will leak.  So it's the nasty corners and 'hard to build' areas I focus the detailing.  Extra care on any horizontal projection.  

It also helps to generate some boilerplate detail sheets like window/door flashing, horizontal banding, and base of wall conditions. 

Jul 11, 14 11:21 am

your drawings aren't just to instruct the contractor on what is to be constructed.  they're also used for the approval process with whatever jurisdiction might want to have a say (planning, building department, ect.)   also owner approval during design development.  they're also part of the contract, so they're used as legal documents between the owner and contractor and to define a scope.  they're also used for bidding.

the real product is the building.  however, the process to get to the building can be messy and it's the architects job to communicate clearly and make that process as painless as possible.

lineweights are important to communicate clearly.  it's easy for you to understand what you're drawing since it's already in your head, but it can be very hard for other people to understand the idea you're trying to convey if your drawings aren't clear.

Jul 11, 14 12:33 pm

remember the 80/20 rule... figure out what the crucial 20% is on the drawings and spend 80% of your time on it.  Spend the remaining 20% of your time on the 80% that won't matter much. 

Jul 11, 14 1:00 pm

I find that time skipped when drawing details or connections is more than doubly made-up in project management. Complete, clear, concise drawings are almost always worth time spent on them.

That said, there is a certain lack of competence in most contractors you will run into, so don't spend too much time making perfect drawings, because often they will have questions regardless. Often these questions are just thinly-veiled attempts to cut corners/ save money, but you have to respond to them all-the-same.

If you are in a small to mid-size practice, approaching the issue like mightyaa suggested is probably the best value for time invested and results in the highest quality construction.

Jul 11, 14 1:04 pm

As someone who works for a GC, I may have a different take on things. A drawing set has to be very clear and concise and have a reference to all information necessary. Yes, there is a spec that accompanies it, but notes on drawings should be used to reference the spec. Contractors now often carry a lot more risk than architects and engineers, that is why it may seem like a lot of them ask easy-to-answer questions. If you give me a drawing set that is missing critical dimensions on a floorplan that are needed in order to layout the walls, you better believe that you will be getting an email or an RFI from me. When a contractor proceeds on a scope of work without complete information, they are assuming all of the (financial) liability for anything that goes wrong during the construction. I have had to eat the costs of modifying furniture because it does not fit in a room due to the architect's background being off by a foot.

I have found that some architects are very good at coming into the field once or twice a week to review details with us on site. In these cases I have a full list of all points that we need to go over because I know that an architect's time is precious. I then follow-up with an email that goes over all changes that were decided in the field.  I would say that the majority of the time, architectural details are not built exactly according to the CD drawing set, they are hashed out in the field by the architect reviewing them with all necessary trades.

Some of the more problematic architects that I have worked with are the ones that hold the belief that the contractor works for them and is at their beck and call. Unless the job is a straight-up design-build, the contractor works for the client and the architect works for the client. Our jobs are equally important, as the building would not get built if you removed either one from the mix.

Jul 11, 14 3:52 pm

I have had to eat the costs of modifying furniture because it does not fit in a room due to the architect's background being off by a foot.

Sounds like the architect should have eaten that. But too many typically scapegoat builders ...

Jul 11, 14 6:26 pm

@Nice, I agree. The agreement is always between the builder and client for the building works. The client is the client of the builder in that sense. The Architect only acts as an agent for the client to ensure everything is done as per the contract agreement. 


Being an architect myself, my now retired boss once told me that what we want to achieve at the end of a project is to make the client look good, make ourself look good and make the builder look. We should all be working together and not out to get each other. If something goes wrong it will reflect badly on all of us. 


I always tell the builders that I'm more than happy for them to send me RFIs than assuming things. Even if the info is already on the drawing set and it's just a matter of clarifying and "making sure". Yes, occasionally we get some unnecessary questions and I do get annoyed but most are worth asking. 


We normally like to attend site meetings once a month, and once a fortnight for more fiddly jobs. In the meeting we get the client involve as well. I find that many of my clients thought they had understand the design and drawings only to find out halfway through construction that it wasn't what they're expecting. I guess clients aren't trained people who can understand drawings like we do. So periodic meetings are important. 


As mentioned by Miles Jaffe about "good luck with trying to produce a perfect set of drawings where no questions will be ask", you can spend all your energy and time trying to achieve this but there will always be questions anyway. 


Set out dimensions, call out detail, notes on drawings to refer spec is a given. All trained Architects, building designers and drafts people should be doing this as a minimum requirement anyway. Line weights are important as it communicates clearer, neat and organized drawings reflects how one is competence in what they do and not some owner doing their own dodgy sketches over the weekends trying to save some money. 


I don't believe we need to detail roof tiles and show how the water proofing membrane should sit or brick wall sections showing wall ties in blown up details as it is standard in building. Builders are trained and are expected to build to standards and codes. It is unnecessary and time wasting. All of this should be in the technical specifications. 

Jul 11, 14 11:27 pm

my now retired boss once told me that what we want to achieve at the end of a project is to make the client look good, make ourself look good and make the builder look

Take care of the project and you will take care of all involved. If you do the right thing you never have to worry about how you look.

Jul 12, 14 12:02 am

thanks for the interesting discussion and great insights all.  as a follow up; what if drawings are being developed in a fast track project?  i suppose all your insights still apply right?  but maybe there are some additional considerations compared to a traditional bid set that is flushed out thoroughly before construction ever begins?  thanks.  

Jul 12, 14 7:35 pm

Here's what I do: I generally do a good job detailing (at least from first glance), but I don't go overboard with it.  Why?  Because of timesheets.  If you make the best set of plans possible, and get no questions during CA, your company will have no reason to keep you employed sitting at your desk.  Inefficiency employs me.


At least that is what I used to.  I'm switching careers, so I don't care anymore.  At the same time, my co-workers would probably get a little frustrated with me if I did too good of a job.  "TIME IS MONEY!"

Jul 12, 14 8:30 pm

This is a great discussion. All of the posts are productive and insightful, keep it going!

Had a 40 year career as owner/architect and came up on CD production. My primary function at the firm besides “business” was CD production. I think CD production is key to a good practice after all it’s our work product, our deliverable. But as stated it remains a complicated matter. Balancing need and budget takes great skill. It is also critical to getting the finished product to look like the rendering. This is no easy task and young architects should not bemoan this aspect. Getting things right is a great accomplishment. I once received a state wide award for a set of my CD’s from the AGC.

Have a little to add. Focus on the plans, its 80% of the communication. I never worried about spending too much time on these they are central to code officials, contractors, estimators and field people. As for vertical aspects it is always a problem to do too much. I used to argue all the time with my guys on this. You of course need to draw things out in order to figure it out. I suggest that you draw what you need but not publish everything. Cranking out an intersection as a simple single line width drawing without notes is productive and necessary…it’s what keeps a building from leaking…but most can be tucked away in file. You can always bring them back up for publishing later.

After I retired from architecture I opened a glass business with a friend for a while. Got to see everybody’s work. It’s mostly bad. How drawings look and are organized matters dam it. It reflects on your practice. Line width definition makes things read and pop. Taking pride in CD’s is an important aspect of architecture. If you want a good result it needs to be communicated.

Keep up the good work.


Jul 17, 14 2:09 pm

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