Frequently asked questions
1. Why do I need drawings from you?
- First, so that you can understand and visualize exactly how the design comes together.
- Most people need financing from a bank, which will need drawings from you to appraise the value of the home, so they can determine how much money they want to loan you.
- If you live in a subdivision that has a Homeowners' Association, you will need to submit your Preliminary Drawings (the first round of drawings I create for you) for design approval.
- Potential contractors will use my Pricing Drawings to work up a bid to build your project.
- Your city or county permits department will require drawings that illustrate exactly what it is that your contractor intends to build, to be sure that it meets current building codes. Two sets of the Permit/Construction Drawings (the final product I provide to you) are what your builder submits to them, along with the permit applications and applicable permit fees. The permitting department keeps one set on file and returns the second set with the building permit to the builder; this set stays on the job site and the contractor actually works from it to build your house or addition. During the construction process, various inspectors will visit the job site, and they will reference the drawings as well, comparing them to what the contractor is building to make sure everything's being constructed as it was approved.
2. When would I hire a Residential Designer/Drafter as opposed to an Architect?
Many Architects do only commercial work or multi-family residential projects (apartment buildings, townhouses, condominiums). The only single-family residential work they're typically interested in would be high-end, high-square footage homes. Architects are also involved in the selection of the builder, the supervision of the project, and the selection of materials. I work with you to design the home itself, but when it comes to picking out elements such as crown moulding, doorknobs or toilets, I leave it to you and the builder.
Please consider an Architect if you...
...are building a particularly large home (6,000 sq. ft. or higher).
...expect a third party to help you in interviewing and selecting a contractor.
...plan to build in this area but don't live locally, and need someone to act as your representative for homeowners' associations, builder selection, and permitting.
...want the person who designed your home to make site visits during the construction of your home.
...need the designer to help you select finish materials such as floor tiles, cabinets, light fixtures, plumbing fixtures, etc.
...intend to be your own General Contractor, but are not a builder by trade (this is almost never a good idea, so I generally pass on these sorts of projects; see question #8 below).
...wish to employ a non-standard construction method with which I'm not familiar (i.e., straw bale construction, living roof, shipping containers, adobe, etc.)
...are building something multi-family, or a something partially for commercial use (permits will require an Architect's seal on the drawings).
Please consider a Residential Designer/Drafter if you...
...wish to build a single-family home smaller than 6,000 finished square feet.
...feel comfortable with selecting the contractor yourself.
...have confidence in the builder doing a good enough job that you won't need the designer "checking up" on him or her.
...plan to use traditional 2x framed walls, or SIPS.
...will work with the builder and his/her vendors directly in choosing materials and interior finishes for your home.
I will decline a potential project if I feel you'd best be served by an Architect. Remember, my primary service is to provide you with a detailed, accurate set of plans; these drawings will be accepted and used by the Permitting Department and by your contractor in the same way that an Architect's drawings would be. However, my involvement in the project concludes when these drawings are handed to you or your builder, whereas an Architect continues to participate in many ways until the construction is completed.
3. Do you design anything besides custom homes?
Sure thing. Although the main focus of Fine Line Home Design is custom homes, I also design whole-house renovations, finished basement layouts, additions, in-law suites, attached and detached garages, sunrooms, multi-level decks, and various other residential single-family construction projects. I've even designed custom gazebos and sheds. Please call or e-mail with your specific needs and I'll let you know how I can help. (If your project is multi-family, commercial, or institutional, you'll need to call an Architect instead.)
4. What about a site plan?
For new home construction, the site plan is usually prepared by a civil engineering firm. The site plan is also referred to as a "Plat". If you are interested in an addition to your home, and can supply me with a copy of your existing site plan (which shows the location of your current house, the property lines, and the building restriction lines), then I can create an Addition Location Plan as part of your permit drawing set for the addition. This will be required by your county's Health Department for permit. It is up to you to obtain your current site plan to give to me to create this Addition Location Plan -- usually you were given a copy of it when you bought your property. Click on "Getting Started" from the main menu for more important information about this drawing.
5. How much will this cost me?
Admit it, you came to this part of the website first!
All of my work is custom, which means that your plans will not be sold to anyone else; they're for you only. We should have an initial meeting so I can learn about your ideas, your tastes, and your requirements before throwing a price at you (and I assume you'd like to meet me first, to be sure I'm someone you think could understand and interpret your ideas). After our meeting I'll go through records of similar past projects to come up with an expected range, in number of hours, that I anticipate I'll need to complete your project. For example, I may say that compared to past houses, your house will take approximately 80-110 hours to draw, or that your addition will be between 50-70 hours. I charge $92.00 an hour and will bill you after the Preliminary Drawings have been presented to you, then after I've developed them into the Pricing Drawings. The final payment is due when I give you the Permit/Construction Drawings. I request a retainer along with the signed contract before I begin any work, and will credit that retainer to the bill for the Preliminary Drawings.
Since each client is unique it's impossible for me to give a flat fee for "a 2,500 square foot house" or "an average two-story addition". My estimate of hours is only that, an estimate. I'm usually pretty close, but there are times when a project ends up taking longer than I first predicted. It's usually because the client requests more revisions than typical, or because the client grows the scope of work and wants two additions instead of one, for example.
Drawings for an addition or renovations to an existing home can take just as much time, if not more, than drawings for a new home of the same size, so don't be surprised at my estimate for addition drawings. The design and drawing process is actually more complicated and time consuming. First, I take lots of measurements and pictures of the existing structure to figure out how it was put together. I'll need to figure out how to attach new construction to the existing building, how to make the addition harmonize with the existing residence both inside and out, and also need to design it all around your existing well, septic field, and building restriction lines. The kicker is that any area that's being renovated or that is new construction must meet current codes even if the rest of the home does not.
6. Why should I pay you that much when I can buy a set of house plans online or through a plan book for $2,000?
Plan book companies can sell plans for the same house to hundreds of customers all over the country and make back the money they paid to their designers many times over. When I design a home I'm creating it only for you, tailored to the topographical conditions of your building site, and designed according to local building codes and your Homeowners’ Association’s covenants. I won't be making more money by selling it to anybody else. Besides, the reason people call residential designers in the first place is because they've looked for hours online and haven't found the exact combination of architectural design elements they need in an already-designed set of plans. We will truly collaborate; I want to hear all of your ideas.
7. How do we get started?
Please call 301-416-8499 or e-mail email@example.com to schedule an initial meeting. Typical custom home project initial meetings are held at my office in Williamsport. Initial meetings for additions are at your home so I can get a sense of the existing structure and the site. For more information please click "Getting Started".
8. I plan on being my own General Contractor. What do you think?
Very few people should even consider this! The money you think you'll save being your own GC will most likely be eaten up in problems you'll encounter during construction -- problems that a qualified builder has the expertise to foresee. There are so many decisions to be made by the contractor, so many issues and questions that may arise, that you wouldn't even conceive of them until they're staring you in the face and holding up the project. Homeowners who think it's just a matter of making a few calls and lining up subcontractors invariably end up regretting their decision to not have a builder at the helm of their project. There are many tradespeople whose schedules you will need to coordinate in the process of getting your job done; most likely at least one of them will not show up when you think they will, and then everybody's schedules will be thrown off. A subcontractor may not feel an obligation to you, the one-job homeowner, that he feels to his repeat clients, and if one of his regular contractors has an emergency job he will most likely put you on the back burner. Please don't let your hours of watching HGTV give youfalse confidence that you will be able to construct a problem-free sunroom or master site addition to your home - remember that they edit out the problems on their shows!
Some homeowners with little or no experience who think they can save money by acting as their own GC's expect to use me as their "safety net", calling for advice during construction. While I would love to help each client as much as I can, I simply don't have the time to act as a construction monitor. Also, I'm not a builder and often don't have the answers they're looking for anyway. Even though I've been in this career for over 20 years I would never act as my own General Contractor. Of course, some homeowners with extensive construction experience will do just fine acting as their own GC. I'd be happy to work with these people; expect lots of questions from me before I agree to take on your project, though. I'll decline involvement unless I feel confident in your ability to successfully manage it yourself.
9. Will I need a structural engineer to seal my plans?
It depends on where you live and how complex your structure will be. Building codes have become very complicated, particularly in the past five years or so, and if you have lots of glass a P.E. will definitely need to design the lateral wall bracing and sign off on it. Other definites for engineering involvement are structural slabs, conventionally framed cathedral roof framing, and brick or stone supported by interior beams and columns. Most WV counties don't automatically require an engineering seal on the plans, and neither do Frederick or Washington Counties in MD; however many VA counties and Montgomery County do.
I have established relationships with a few local structural engineers who will work with us on your design. After our initial meeting I can give you an idea of whether you'll need one. The P.E.'s will bill you separately from me, and their fee is not included in my estimate to you. After I've completed your Preliminary Drawings and you've approved them I can show them to one of the engineers I work with, and they can contact you with an estimated cost for their services.
10. Do you do 3D drawings?
At this time I do not; my plans are created using AutoCAD LT 2011 which doesn't have 3D capability.
11. Are you licensed to design my house or addition?
Yes. In Maryland, PA, VA and WV, no special licensing is required to create plans for single-family new homes or additions. Fine Line Home Design is an LLC and carries not only general liability insurance but also professional liability insurance (also known as "Errors and Omissions" insurance). Honestly, you could draw plans for your own custom home or addition. The vast majority of homeowners don't know the codes and don't have the time to learn them, in order to create drawings detailed and accurate enough for the county's Plan Review department to even accept them. Days of "I drew my floor plan on a napkin and gave that to the county" are over!
12. Will you build my project too?
Nope, sorry, I just create the plans. It's up to you to select a builder. I can give you the names of some contractors with whom I've had good experiences, if you're looking for recommendations. Keep in mind, though, the decision is your own and I assume no liability if your relationship with a builder I told you about turns sour. (FYI, various local builders refer people to me and vice versa, but there's no "finder's fee" or "kickbacks" when I do so. If a builder expects me to pay them for a referral I'm no longer interested in dealing with that builder.)
13. How do i pay you?
For initial retainers, sent to me with your signed proposal, a personal check is typical. Progress invoices will be e-mailed to you as a pdf attachment and can be paid by check. If you’d like to pay online with a credit card, no problem! Just let me know and I’ll send you a special link through Intuit so you can pay it online without providing me any of your card details. (Please note, the new pdf sent to you through Intuit will reflect the additional 3-1/2% fee that the credit card companies charge me so I can accept plastic.) Terms are Net 15, except for the final payment which is due when I give you the final drawings.
14. What's with the dog?
Actually we own two dogs, but I know the dog you're asking about. :) I have a large Bernese Mountain Dog named Bertram and he's attached to my hip through the work day. If I'm expecting clients, I'll put him away upstairs so you won't see him, but you WILL hear him when you arrive. Don't worry, he knows the drill and will wait patiently behind the closed door until you leave and I release him into his office habitat once more, where he'll frantically sniff around and wonder about you. Bertram is a little unruly and can be intimidating, so it's best that you don't meet, even if you are a "dog person" like me.
Now, my sweet and lovable dog, Walter, is absolutely petrified of my office steps because he stumbled on them once. He wouldn't come into the office even if I begged him (and believe me, I have). Walter loves everything and everybody, except the scary scary steps, so you probably won't meet him either. Sorry!
(Update: Sadly I had to say goodbye to beloved Bertram in September of 2018, but I haven’t the heart to remove him from my website - yet. Rest assured that Walter has been desensitized to the office stairs and, if you are a dog person, he is a sweet boy who would be absolutely elated to make your acquaintance. Not a dog person? No worries, I’ll keep him sequestered.)
15. Do you have a favorite architectural style?
I like various aspects of several architecture types, but my favorite style of home has always been a Craftsman bungalow. I loved everything about them before they were even a "thing"-- they're practical, don't have to be large to be useful, they sit close to the ground, they have a great mix of materials, the front porch is often large enough to serve as an outside room, the roof overhangs are deep and feature wonderful brackets, and you can do some awesome things with built-in bookcases and nooks and whatnot inside. I also love a good Victorian. And I'm growing to love the Modern Farmhouse trend, though I'm careful to keep my designs from becoming too minimalistic. The stereotypical Tiny House does nothing for me and I hope it's just a passing fad, personally, though I'm glad to design in whatever architectural style a client might have as their own dream house.