Hi everyone - starting December with our new monthly theme: Who and What - a brief overview of roles on typical renovation jobs and what they do.
This is also a first for’ Your Architecture Friend’, as this post is authored by our first guest, John Neil Thompson. A very talented craftsman and designer who has many years of experience in the design and building industry.
Experts: Building Trades & Professionals
Some projects are beyond the abilities of a DIY’er. Maybe they are bigger, messier, more technical, or more physical than you can handle yourself. Let’s say you’re finishing your attic — you’d like to try your hand at running baseboard and casing windows, but you’d rather not do the electrical, insulation, and drywall. In cases like this, you want to “sub” out the work you don’t want to do. Having some general knowledge about the residential construction industry can help you plan and make these decisions.
One crude distinction is “professions” — the people specifying and/overseeing the project (Architects and Designers, Engineers, Home Performance Consultants, Project Managers, etc.) vs. “trades” — the people physically building it. Let’s look at the trades first.
The different trades exist because it’s more efficient to specialize. If you do the same kind of work all the time, you buy the tools and equipment that make it easier. Then you get very fast at it so you can make a good living, even while the customer pays less per unit of work completed. It’s good for everyone. Even within trades there are specialties — amongst carpenters, there are finish carpenters, stair builders, deck-builders, and others. Different trades also attract different personalities and attitudes towards work. For example, I’ve noticed that a lot of carpenters are easily bored by painting.
In general, specialization in the trades is good. However, it also creates a need for coordination, without which costly mistakes can happen. For example, you don’t want a carpenter putting a floor joist where there needs to be plumbing for a tub drain. Construction drawings and documents (most often prepared by an Architect) can help a lot, as can someone who oversees the work.
General Contractors - Builders & Remodelers
These are the people and organizations that are able to mobilize the resources — knowledge, equipment, materials, and labor — to get jobs done. Some of them subcontract-out significant portions of their jobs. Essentially, they are project managers: making sure everything gets done properly — in the right order, at the right time, and without too much interference between the various trades.
In residential construction, GC’s often specialize in the kinds of projects they do. Some do bathrooms only. Or kitchens. Some do anything except kitchens because they’re so complicated.
Architects & Designers
Architects are essential when you have a sense of the style you want in a renovation, or the feel, but aren’t sure how to achieve it. Ryan has written (or will write) a lot about design already, so I won’t repeat it here.
Home Performance Consultants
This is a important issue which is often forgotten. But the fact is, some “improvements” that seem logical can create other problems. For example, if you tighten-up a house, you reduce air leakage, but you might also create indoor air quality problems with backdrafting combustion appliances. What is the most cost-effective way to cut my energy costs and improve comfort? Why do my windows “sweat” in the winter? Why does my house smell musty, or smoky, and what can I do about it? These are all questions a Home Performance Consultant can answer, and others can’t (although they might think they can).
If your plans include knocking out load-bearing walls or doing other adventurous things to your house, you’ll need to have a structural engineer calculate loads and specify components, and then put their stamp on the design.
Handymen & Generalists…
There are also people out there who have acquired skills and knowledge from several different trades and professions. For example, people trained as Architects who also swing a hammer. Or carpenters who also do drywall and painting. If you have a small job, you may find the right person to give you exactly the help you need.