Construction Drawings and Contracts

Construction drawings and specifications are considered contracts between you and your builder. The more detailed the contract, the more precise the scope of work for the builder and their sub-contractors. Let’s discuss what makes your contract work better and why you want to have a detailed set of drawings to communicate your intent.

Drawing Types

All construction drawings fit into at least one of the categories listed below. As you navigate through your drawings, you will see different versions of these drawings. 

Plans – These drawings are views of the project from above and typically have a horizontal “cutting plane” at 4’-5’ above the finished floor. Plans show the layout and configuration of the project and often act as the central hub for the majority of information. The term “Plans” tends to be a catch-all that oftentimes refers to all drawings. 

These drawings include:

Floor Plans, Framing Plans, Reflected Ceiling Plans, and more. 

Sections – Section drawings are views of your project from the front, rear, or side and have a vertical “cutting plane.” Sections are used to communicate how the building is assembled by showing the various components typically hidden from view. 

These drawings include:

Building Sections, Wall Sections, Detail Sections, and more.

Elevations – These are drawings that show the front, rear, or side of the project without a cutting plane. These drawings are typically used to communicate exterior and interior finishes and represent the 2D look of the building. 

These drawings include: 

Exterior Elevations, Interior Elevations, Cabinetry Elevations, and more.

3D Renderings – These are 3D drawings showing various views of the project. It is common to find photorealistic representations of projects that give you a better sense of the finishes and vision of the project. You may also find more diagrammatic renderings that communicate the shape or idea of the project. 

These drawings include: 

Interior Renderings, Exterior Renderings, Clay Renderings, and more

Schedules – These are tables found in the drawings that list various information about specific products. Schedules act as a link between the drawings and the specifications. 

These include: Window Schedules, Door Schedules, Finish Schedules, and more. 

Drawing Content

From architecture firm to architecture firm, there can be a large variation in the content of the drawings. Some firms create simple drawings, others more complex. Not to mention, variations in cost. Like anything, you can buy the Volkswagen, the Ferarri, or something in between. Many new homes in the United States are built with little more than a few simple floorplans and a handful of elevations. Without sections, details, and specifications your drawing sets are leaving out a lot of information. This lack of information places design decisions on the owner and the builder allowing for misinterpretation at a time when changes are most expensive.

Simple drawing sets quickly become irrelevant in larger, higher-end, and more custom homes. Leaving too much to the unknown can cause contractual issues between the general contractor, their sub-contractors, and the owner. It’s important to know each party’s responsibilities. Only more detailed and complex construction drawings and specifications can offer such a necessary level of clarity. For example, building sections and wall sections show the builder how the building is assembled, and how the materials/components keep out the rain and extreme temperatures. Specifications represent a large portion of the written expectations. Architectural specifications include anything from fire rating requirements to model numbers and colors of exterior finishes. These descriptions only scratch the surface.

In the residential world, these high-quality drawing sets can be used to separate the good contractors from the not-so-good ones. Builders who are traditionally known for building lower-end homes are more familiar with lower-quality contracts and are known for filling in the gaps with their own, lower-end preferences. Hence the term “builder-grade.” Not all builders are created equal. An easy way to spot their perceived quality level can sometimes be found in their reaction to complex contracts. Whether a general contractor or a sub, they tend to be afraid of more detailed drawings because those drawings tend to lock them into specific scopes of work they may not be familiar with. Finding a great contractor is very important, check out our blog about selecting one here.

The Architect’s Drawings

Discussing the complexity level of construction drawings cannot be discussed without discussing, in general, the true difference between online drawing sets and the architects. The big difference between buying drawings and hiring an architect is simply product versus service. The simple truth is that architects do not sell drawings, they sell design services. Only a small part of that service is to provide a set of construction drawings to build from.

Looking to know more about the architect’s scope and process? They are best described in our “Schematic Design Phase” Series of Blogs.

Architect’s construction drawings are typically far more complex and offer far greater detail. However, different architects offer different levels of service. The architect’s basic service usually means the “standard level of care” or the minimum service required for architects in that particular area. For us, this minimum standard still leaves a lot of unanswered questions in residential architecture. This is why our firm decided to provide three levels of service with basic being the lowest and project coaching being the highest. The point is to know what you are getting when shopping around for design work.

Just diving into the awesome knowledge of architecture and construction? See more on our main blog page for helpful insight to get your project built right.

© 2020 by Clements Wimsatt Architects PLLC

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