So you wanna build something?

By Ted Bowers
Reader Builder Columnist

So you have a building project you want to undertake. Where do you start? What comes next?

Presumably you know what you want, but not quite sure of how to get there. Sure, you can always hire me (insert smug smile) but what if you can’t afford me? Or maybe you can but are the type of person or people who like to build things on your own. Great! Maybe this article can help. I hope so.

What I have to say comes from a lot of experience, a fair amount of which was learned by doing it wrong the first time. That’s one of the things I want to help you avoid—expensive, time consuming mistakes.

Careful planning can prevent a lot of those and can be fun itself. It’s basically building it in your mind and on paper or maybe even a three dimensional model, but I’ll get to that later.

Let me share something we do in our business—a document we call the “scope of work.” We get a call to look at a potential project, visit with the customer, discuss, measure, take photos, walk through. Whatever that particular job needs for us to familiarize ourselves with it.

We make a list of what we will be asked to do while discussing it. We gather the contact information and head back to the office to create this scope of work, something we always attempt to do within 24 hours of the meeting. Why? Because no matter how good our documentation is, there always seems to be something that doesn’t get written, photographed or talked about, or even thought of, and if it hasn’t been documented, it can easily be left out.

So, write it down in an organized form while it is fresh in your mind. (Write that down—it’s step one).

We then email or somehow get that document back to our potential customer and ask them to review and make changes, corrections—whatever it takes so that we all agree on what needs to be done. Then we can proceed with the design work, material list, job process, time line and so on.

Since you are your own customer, you may ask “why do this?”

Well, first of all, are you the only one involved who will be affected by the project? If so, you may still want to at least write as much down as you can think of while sitting quietly before you burst into action and forget what you had planned to do next.

More importantly, you may have a partner in this enterprise who may have completely different assumptions about what this project is supposed to be. I suggest you treat each other as the customer and create this scope of work. You might be surprised at what comes out of the discussion!

Once everyone agrees on the basics of the job, then you can get busy planning. This process depends on a number of things—size of the project, whether or not you are living in it, whether you have the funds to complete it or have to phase it, how much time you can devote to it, the level of expertise demanded by the work, access to tools, materials and information, even the distance to the board store.

All are factors in the timing and eventual success of the job. The better you plan it, the better and more predictable the outcome. And believe me, building something, even something relatively small, can get complicated and frustrating very quickly without that plan.

More importantly, relationships can get very stressed unless you and your partner are ON THE SAME PAGE! I say this because I have too often been the one who is on my own page and no one else has a clue about my page number!

I’ve witnessed marriages fall apart and I will tell customers that sometimes if I think they should hear it. People can spend thousands of dollars on an expensive, well-designed, beautiful remodel and end up too stressed and mad at each other to enjoy their efforts. Make getting along a priority. Better yet, make it part of the plan!

Building something can be exciting fun and creative. Kinda liking cooking—a wonderful blend of science, art and imagination. So enjoy the process.

Next step? Next article… Or maybe I’ll wander off onto a totally different subject and come back to building later. I can do that. I’m an adult.

Questions and comments are welcome. Send em to [email protected]

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