All Plans Are Not Created Equal

In a recent remodeling class that I taught, a student raised her hand and asked, “If I can get computer-drawn plans for my kitchen remodeling from one of the big home improvement centers (which will do them for free), why would I need an architect to draw plans?” From the nods around the room, I could see that it was a question for many of the students.

The plans that these improvement centers, and an increasing number of local cabinet shops, are producing look amazingly detailed and accurate, and even show you how the kitchen would look in a semi-realistic 3-dimensional perspective view. Couldn’t you get bids from these?

I know the contractors in the audience are chuckling, but to most homeowners this is a valid question. The reality is that vast quantities of important information are missing from these drawings, enough so that you could get into big trouble if you’re doing more than just replacing cabinets.

A homeowner I recently consulted with proudly showed me his computer-drawn plans with each cabinet carefully laid out. Unfortunately, the existing walls were not drawn accurately; one existing door was shown in the wrong place, so the proposed cabinets wouldn’t fit. In another area of the plan, a structural wall was shown conveniently demolished without any indication of how the roof would now be supported.

The plans didn’t show any indication of lighting, switches, countertop materials, flooring materials, appliances (other than generic), and the breakfast area would have provided a cramped 18″ space in which to stand in front of the sink. When I pointed these features out, the hard swallowing was audible.

Certainly these plans weren’t detailed enough to get a building permit, and most certainly not enough to serve as the basis of a contract with a contractor.

Yet these plans may provide a valuable function in some situations. If you’re not planning to move any walls, and you know pretty much what you want in the way of cabinets and approximate layout, the drawings can provide a clear understanding of what cabinets you’re buying. They may help focus your thinking. And you might even be able to show these drawings to another cabinet outlet for a comparison of price.

But it’s hard for a home improvement center designer, with customers waiting in line, to come up with a creative and well thought-out plan, that takes into account the specific storage needs that you have, your cooking style, and the aesthetics of your house.

So, the bottom line is that like most things in life, you get what you pay for. You can pay up front for a thoughtful design and buildable plans and specifications, or you can pay much more later. Cheap plans are never cheap.

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