The first thing owners and their lawyers should know about construction: Don't skimp on design!

Post written by David Stewart.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, construction is not an intuitive process, even for lawyers.  The biggest misconception, I’ve found, is that it is okay for owners to cheap out on the essential design stage and then expect contractor to compensate for design deficiencies. 

Here are three really good reasons a comprehensive design must be provided by the owner: 
The technical reason
It has long been understood in construction that contractors are not qualified to invent solutions to conditions that should have been resolved during the design phase.
If you go into the site offices and trailers of contractors, you will not find all the relevant building and energy codes open on the benches.  What you will find are plans and specifications prepared by design professionals who have been educated in the interpretation and use of building codes.
Contractors do not own copies of the relevant building codes because it is not their job to know or understand them. Building codes are the purview of the architect, engineers and design professionals; in their offices, you will find the codes open and being studied by people who understand them.  
So, if an owner wants his or her requirements met, those requirements have to be clearly conveyed to contractors.  The function of the project must be thought out by appropriately qualified people (architects and other design professionals) and unambiguously depicted on blueprints.  
If issues are not resolved during planning, the as-built conditions will not perform well, will not look good and will cost the owner a lot more money to construct.  
As to the legal requirement for all work to meet the minimum requirements presented in our building codes, it’s evident that the professionals who know the codes must be responsible for this.
The contractual reason     
Most of the work on a typical construction site is not completed by general contractors but by subcontractors who specialize in their particular trades.  In order to define the scope of work in each trade package, the general contractor must rely on competent plans and specifications.  Most savvy general contractors will allocate work by spec section and leave it up to the bidding sub-contractor to take off the work from the plans that relates to his or her trade.  
If plans are not comprehensive, the contractual scope of work will be poorly defined, and the job will be plagued with contractual disputes.  These disputes are counter-productive, expensive and may benefit the lawyers and construction experts, but never the owner and contractors.
The commercial reason
Owners will only receive competitive pricing for work that is included in the design documents because subcontractors can only bid on work that is actually included in the plans and specifications.  If a subcontractor makes provision for more than is included in the bid package, their price will probably be higher than their competitors and they will not be awarded the work. 
If, after the contract is signed, more work is required, that work will cost a lot more money than if it had been included in the original plans and specifications. 
A well-designed project will cost the owner less money to construct than a poorly designed project. 
Posted: Fri, 15 Feb 2013