Exploring Predrawn Plans: Accuracy, Completeness, and Uniformity

Exploring Predrawn Plans: Accuracy, Completeness, and Uniformity

Show Notes: Exploring the intricate world of predrawn plans, this post delves into the crucial aspects of accuracy, completeness, and uniformity to navigate the complexities of building department approval and ensure buildability.


Steve Tuma: And what happens is sometimes people will go through and they’ll say, hey, my builder can adjust it on site and I’m like, well, you probably can, but you’re just opening your wallet up in your schedule.

Interviewer: Hello everyone and thank you for joining us for episode 53 of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. With me as always is the president and founder of Landmark Home and Land Company, a company which has been helping people build their new homes where they want, exactly as they want nationwide and around the globe since 1993. Mr. Steve Tuma. Steve, how’s it going, buddy?

Steve Tuma: It’s a great day. Another great day for people to start building a house. Always a good day.

Interviewer: Always a good day. And if I sound a little stuffy or even if Steve sounds a little stuffy, I think we both went through a cold thing and everybody’s been getting this, whatever this seasonal cold thing is. So hopefully we sound pretty clear. I think we’ll survive. Yeah. So you had brought up a subject you wanted to talk about today and that is standard plans, store and online bought plans and are they any good? And I’m sure a lot of people have questions about this. So is that something you’d be up for getting into right now?

Steve Tuma: Yeah, that’s kind of an interesting topic. It’s actually the whole plan situation is interesting because a lot of people will say, hey, I bought these plans. The local guy did them and he wins the awards in town or hey, I found them online or whatever. There’s a plan service in town or a plan book or whatever and they buy the plans and that was for your, hey, everything’s taken care of. Well, it kind of depends on what your situation is of the land because most of those plans are set for a house to be built on a flat piece of land. They don’t have considerations for slopes in the land, different situations, showing mechanical drawings, plumbing and electric that are relevant to your actual building site. So they might be a decent starting point for the concept, but the chances are you’ll need more details to really go through and build. So if you were just to go buy a set of plans and these people say, hey, they’re good for building permits.

Well, you got to wonder where they’re good for because most of them have a lot of disclaimers on them. You must go through a structural engineer. You must verify all the codes. You must verify the mechanical design. You must verify the dimensions. There’s so many things that you have to verify that you’ve really got to take the concept but start from zero to make sure that it’s put together. So if you were building a simple home in an area where there aren’t as many regulations on a flat piece of land as well, they might work if it’s a simple home. But if you’ve got a home that’s more complex, a Victorian, a modern design, a home with a lot of corners, a home with a lot of ridgelines, you might see that the plans have to be adjusted, especially if you get into higher snow loads, earthquake zones, high wind speeds, because those plans in general have been designed for areas where the building code enforcement is relatively simple. Say a 20-pound snow load, which is a lot of the United States, but then you go take this into Upper Peninsula of Michigan, the Northeast, anywhere in the plains states, anywhere in the West Coast, anywhere in the Sierras or the Rockies or Florida earthquake zones, the wind speeds, snow loads, seismic conditions are way beyond the lowest standard. And what people will find is sheer walls need to be designed. Sometimes that will restrict part of the design.

The roof trusses need to be stronger to support it, and sometimes a stronger system takes more space in the structure and it needs to alter the design. So in general, what we have found is the plan services have great concepts, and we work with them on our website. They have great concepts that you may have to adapt to your particular building site. And that’s the interesting thing about it. So it’s not necessarily like if you were to buy a gallon of milk, you say, hey, it’s ready to be served at lunch. It’s kind of like, wait, it’s got to be adjusted. So that’s where I think we really come into play, because a lot of our customers do build on flat land, but also a lot of them are on the sides of hills, sloping areas. Maybe they have a walkout, so the front of the house is on a flat piece of land, but the rear is in a lower part for a walkout basement. So a lot of those plans have to be adjusted. There’s a little bit different business model there. The plan services are in the business of selling a plan and reselling it. We’re in the business of having plan sets that are buildable for your exact building site, the wants and needs you want in the house, also specifically applied to your building department’s requirements. There’s a big difference there. And I think that’s where I think people really appreciate our help, is helping go through to work to make sure that plans are suited for the building department.

Just this week, I had a customer, they bought a set of plans, they said, should I turn it into the building department? I said, well, if you look at the disclaimers on the plans, it says they need to be checked for codes, they need to be checked for proper engineering loads, for foundation design, for shear wall calculations. So I tell them, it’s one of those things, you either have to take care of it before you apply for permits, or the building department will likely ask for it. If for some reason they don’t, you’ll be adjusting it on site. In our opinion, it’s better to do the design work upfront on a piece of paper or PDF than it is to be doing it real time during construction. Our system, I think people will be able to control their budget and their schedule and their stress level, which is very important as well. So you’ve really got to look at it, but most building departments are getting more sophisticated on wanting to check snow loads, wanting to check seismic conditions, wanting to check shear, just wanting to check to make sure truss design is right. And pretty much every set of plans that I’ve seen that are like that, they need to be verified. So it needs to be done. It’s a great thing.

Interviewer: I don’t think people even have any concept. They go out and, let’s say I wanted to build a house, I go out and get some plans. They have no concept, I don’t think. The majority of people about what goes into just looking at the plans and then evaluating where this house is going to be built. There’s a lot to think about just before you even get, before just with the plans in your hand before you’ve even thought about building.

Steve Tuma: Right. And what happens is sometimes people will go through and they’ll say, hey, my builder can adjust it on site and I’m like, well, you probably can, but you’re just opening your wallet up in your schedule. It’s like, what adjustments has to be done? Why does it have to be done? What if there’s miscalculations and you’re doing it twice? It’s a change in budget, it’s stress, and your schedule is going to be altered considerably. So it’s better to work through all those details up front. You don’t want to design a house real time. You want to design it up front and then just execute the building. It’ll keep people’s sanity a lot better. It’ll keep the budget in better check and it’ll keep the schedule going. It’s just easier.

Interviewer: How much difference is it for somebody who buys a pre-drawn set of plans as opposed to talking to you first and maybe going on the landmark home and land company website and looking at plans?

Steve Tuma: We don’t charge anymore. We want people to get their own house. Right. So if someone has a pre-drawn set of plans, something they drew up, something a local person drew up, something that they bought, or they go to our website and do it, it’s all the same cost. I mean, now the features may be different. If their pre-drawn plans are an extremely complex home and they choose a plan off of our website, that’s simpler. The cost of the features will be less, so the cost is there. But if you had a like for like, it’s the same. So in the end run, there really isn’t any savings because we have to go through and make sure it’s done right. Where it might help is the customer can go through and have an idea of what they’re looking for.

They could be like, hey, I want a modern. I want a chalet. I want a Victorian. Or hey, I just want a simple boxy home to control costs so they can work through it. But I think some people are of the assumption that they have to have a plan to come with us. It’s like everyone does custom plans. I think in over 30 years we’ve been doing this, we only have had one customer build the plan exactly as on our website. Even if they say, hey, this is it. No changes. This is it. There’s always a change. The reason why is they start thinking deeper. It’s like, hey, this is the house and they’re like, hey, what about the kitchen? What about the garage? What about the living room? Then they’re like, hey, as they get to those different levels of thought, the adjustments come through. And what we’re able to do is work with them to get their adjustment done. But sometimes customers don’t realize that, hey, if you change one thing, it may affect something else. Sure. Domino effect all the time.

Right. So we could see the downstream issues. We had a situation, a beautiful garage area below with a living space above. The customer had a plan and it worked well. But then he said, hey, wait. We have a ski boat with a tower. It’s got to be a certain width. We got to put it in there. Well, just changing the width of the garage doors a couple of feet in the height changed the engineering requirements because we were just taking some wood structure away to make bigger garage doors where we had to reinforce it. Now we know that what was interesting is their building department didn’t necessarily think that it was something that had to be done. But we do because we know how to do it right. We’re going to have a properly engineered structure. So that’s a situation. And then sometimes people say, hey, well, can’t you just raise the header of my garage door? It’s like, yeah, but then you have to have a taller wall. So there’s all these little things. And then the taller wall means the staircase to go upstairs needs more rise and run. So there’s all these little things. But that’s not something someone’s got to necessarily get caught into. That’s our job. Right. It’s our job to listen to what they want and determine how to make it happen properly and affordably.

Interviewer: Now what about building departments and pre-drawn plans? I mean, is it any more difficult to get a pre-drawn plan through a building department than say, you know, something that they pull off of a website?

Steve Tuma: Well, a lot of building departments actually have now that if you have online bought plans or quote standard plans, they don’t accept them because the details aren’t there. Now some may do it, you know, less sophisticated, smaller towns. They might be like, yeah, sure. Those are your plans. There are some parts of America where you can still draw something on a piece of paper, not even a scale, just draw it at your dining room table and get a permit. But so we don’t look at it as getting the permit is the issue. That’s part of it. It’s making sure the house is built right at a controlled cost at the right schedule.

That’s the important part. And when you, the less clear your plans are, the more questions you’re going to have during the building phases. The more questions you have built during the building phases are delays and higher costs. So that’s why we say you should have this all taken care of upfront. The idea is not to sneak it by the building department, make it hard to build on site. The idea is to have a proper set of plans that the building department accepts and is also clear and easy for your contractors or subcontractors to build on site. So you don’t have what-ifs or oh-oh moments or I didn’t know that’s what you want. That’s the situation. There’s a lot of detail work that’s required in a plan to make sure that everyone understands what’s to be built. People don’t always know what they don’t know. So I’ve got a project now, a beautiful Victorian in upper Michigan, 1890s Victorian, it burned. We’re rebuilding it. Kind of a 1890s Victorian to modern design and the customer’s a knowledgeable person. He said, hey, no changes. And he’s always saying, well, do I have to do this? Do I have to do this? And now that we’re through the process, he’s like, I’m glad I’m working with you guys because I didn’t know that there were these issues. He didn’t understand the value of a grading plan, knowing the elevation of the street to where your driveway is to get into the garage. Also to make sure the relationship of your basement floor to your house floor to your garage floor to the exterior deck floor to the second level to the attic to make sure that everything works. So that’s one of the situations is there’s a lot of complexities. And that’s why I think it’s important to really look at your plans to do it. It’s not just for the building department to get a permit, it’s to know what you’re building so you can control the cost, get proper estimates from subcontractors and keep to a schedule.

Interviewer: Yeah. And it sounds to me what you’re saying is even if a building department accepts a pre-drawn plan, that doesn’t mean they’re exactly buildable and it doesn’t mean they’re meeting any codes either.

Steve Tuma: Yeah. A lot of people think that building departments are there, you know, crossing every T, dotting every I, checking everything, making sure the house is stylish, buildable, easy to put together, affordable. Building departments vary in what they choose to inspect. Some of them look at it and say, hey, that’s a good set of plans. The builders will figure it out on site. Well, you do that. You just open your wallet up to what are they going to build? If you want a 10 foot ceiling and they do a nine because the plans aren’t clear, it becomes a change order. So what we have found is building departments typically, first of all, if they check, they’re typically checking for safety and then some structural issues. They’re not necessarily checking to make sure the house is the way you want it. We have an example. There’s a project in a beautiful home in a mountain range. Beautiful home.

The customer decided to have a set of plans drawn up before approaching us and I said, hey, these aren’t necessarily detailed enough to understand what’s being built. And he said, well, the building department approved them. I’m like, well, the building department’s not checking the ceiling height of your entry level in your living room, in your dining room, in your master bedroom. They’re making sure the beams are right. They’re making sure the roof loading is right, seismic conditions, snow loads, and things like that. They’re not in there saying, hey, it’s unclear how tall your ceiling is. And the customer said, but I spent all this money, I did this. How does this happen? And I said, well, people think the building department is there to check everything to make sure your building life is perfect. It’s not. They’re there to take care of different issues and they’re not all the same. One building department will really just look at something, charge you a fee, give you a permit. Others will detail it to the very finite degrees, but they’re generally checking for code issues. Do you have egress windows? Do you have the right snow load? Do you have the right seismic conditions? Do you have the right wind loads? They’re not necessarily checking to make sure that your grade is right for your car to drive in the driveway. Sure. Yeah. Yeah. So, and that’s why sometimes people say, hey, building, you go over budget.

Well, there’s a difference of a change that you choose to say, hey, I don’t want a regular tub. I want a soaker tub that may cost more compared to not planning it right. And then later saying, uh-oh, I didn’t plan it right, therefore there’s a change. So what we’re saying is do the right set of plans. So you understand the project, understand your budget, understand your subcontractors, see how we can help you and then make sure it’s the house that you want. So it’s kind of an interesting process. I think people really, after they go through, they’re like, wow, there’s a lot involved. But that’s what we do. You know, it’s kind of like watching TV. You don’t necessarily have to know how a TV works, you just need to know what you want out of it. Hey, I want a comedy. I want a football game. You know, so in our cases, we can help someone through it. And if they choose to want to learn the process, we’re more than happy to work through it with them.

Interviewer: Now, do pre-drawn plans, that’s really hard to say, pre-drawn plans, do they have structural details or does everything need to be verified? And how accurate are the details in a pre-drawn plan?

Steve Tuma: Well, that can vary, but most of the ones that I see, it says right on there, you should have an engineer or someone verify for codes and dimensions. And there’s a variety of releases within the purchase of the plans. Sometimes people have a local Draftsman drive and they’ll put beam in there. Well, what does that mean? What’s the beam? Is it a single two by eight? Is it a glue lamp? Is it a triple 11 7 8 LVL? So those are the things we have to go through. So what I’ve really found on those is they’re kind of architectural plans with the structural details having to be detailed out. And a lot of times it’s just because there’s a lot of calculations, there’s a lot of knowledge, there’s a lot of things. And there’s a difference of an architectural Draftsman compared to a structural engineer and then tying those together. So it makes sense. We get a lot of plans that I say are just not unified. An engineer does this, an architectural designer does that, but they don’t communicate. So the plans don’t match up and people will say, well, why I paid them? They’re professionals. Well, everyone’s doing their own job, but no one’s looking at the overall project. That’s where we come in and play. That’s why our system works, because you don’t have to try to land up the architectural guy, the structural guy, the grading plans, the energy codes, the green codes, whatever details are there. It’s a lot of stuff. And if you don’t understand it, it’s easy to forget things. Right.

Interviewer: So what’s the average plan that comes through you that doesn’t, let’s say that doesn’t come off of the landmark website. Are they complete? Are pre-drawing plans ever complete?

Steve Tuma: I’ve never seen a set. I mean, the reason why is they’re generally architectural plans and they all have disclaimers say, hey, do this, check the dimensions, do this, check this, or they’ll just have simple details assuming that people will figure it out on site. And I think a lot of that is because they’re doing the simplified version of an architectural design. They’re not doing an architectural design that’s intended to fit at your specific building site on your exact lot. Right. So that’s different. So Steve, let’s just take a sloping piece of land and at the bottom there’s a flat spot and at the top there’s a flat spot.

Well, are you building at the bottom flat spot, the top flat spot on the side of the hill? Do you have a walkout? You know, where’s your driveway coming in? There’s a lot of considerations and it takes a lot of time to figure out, hey, what the grade is, how does the house get accessed? Sometimes you need a grading plan, sometimes you need topographical details. So on these standardized plans, of course, they’re kind of just taking plans, copying them and sending them to you. There’s no one there saying, hey, what’s your grade? What’s your slope? What are your seismic conditions? What’s the strength of your soil? Where’s your septic at? Where’s your water supply at? You know, different things like that. How do your energy calculations come into this? So that’s why it just isn’t really possible to have a standard plan that works in a variety of conditions.

Interviewer: But people, when they buy a plan, let’s say online, it seems that they can have a real false sense of accomplishment after they’ve purchased it. It’s like, oh, now I’ve got pretty much the house is ready to go.

Steve Tuma: Right. It’s kind of like buying that one size fits all hat. Not everyone’s head’s the same size or shape or the pair of gloves. It’s like, yeah, you can make it work, but it doesn’t. You’re not going to use it. You know, so it’s kind of an interesting concept and people don’t always realize it. And we understand that. But that’s why we’re here to help, to say, hey, that’s a great starting point. Right. Let’s get you to the rest so that you control the budget and know what’s going on.

Interviewer: So it’s usually you should think of any pre-bought or pre-drawn plan as a guide more than anything.

Steve Tuma: That’s the way we look at it. It’s a starting point to say, hey, I want this. But we have them on our website. I think we have our website says 1800. I think we have like 6000 plans. So chances are we have the plan that people want or an extreme close thing that we can adjust to it. And we work with a very good plan service that then allows us to have these options and work through with people to do it. So I think we’ve developed a system where people can can get ideas. You know, it’s kind of like going to, you know, if you went and say you needed a shirt for a special family event, you know, you might say, hey, I want one that fits right. That’s red. That’s, you know, this or that big collar or whatever ruffles or whatever it may be that you want.

You know, you’re probably not going to find it. You might have to adjust it, tailor it, get something, get a sweater that matches it, something so it fits for your exact need. So that’s what we’re able to do is customize it and then give people an idea, because whether you’re paying with cash or financing, you want to know that your budget’s right. Sure. You don’t want to go through and say, well, I’m right within two or three hundred thousand. Because if you’re working with a bank, they’re going to look at your budget, ask you to verify it, and you want to be able to stick to it. You don’t want to create issues where you knowingly have bad plans that then lead to a budget issue. And you have to go back to a bank or to your own bank account to say, hey, I need some more money. It’s just it’s a great headache to avoid. And we can do it up front with paper to give people a plan so they can verify the budget and then start building.

Interviewer: Well, this all leads to one big question. There’s a lot of work even after you bought a pre-drawn plan. If there’s so much work, why are there so many companies selling them?

Steve Tuma: Because people buy them. That’s the situation. It’s a great idea. It’s a great place to peruse and have the idea that, hey, I got a set of plans. I’ve started the project. Well, you have in a way, but you need to get deeper into it to really refine the project to it. So they’re easy. Some customers are into the instant gratification. Hey, I could buy it. I could download it now. I’ve taken a step forward and to a degree they have, but has it been a good solid step? But if they do have those plans, we can work with them. If they don’t, if they haven’t purchased the plans, we can talk to them about the situation of where it makes sense, because it’s probably in our plan set. And just with licensing and a whole bunch of stuff, we’ve got a pretty slick process where in the long run they’ll save money. Right.

Interviewer: Well, very informative. I know you answered a lot of my questions about going online and buying house plans. It sounds like it’s a good way to go, but it’s still going to be a lot of due diligence and vigilance to get them done right.

Steve Tuma: Right. But we have a process that makes it easy. We know the questions to ask. If a customer’s not clear exactly what something means, like if we say, hey, your building department’s asking for a grading and drainage plan. They’re like, what is that? It rains and the water drains off of there. What do they need? Well, they want to know that when you put your driveway and the house sets there, it’ll still drain away and it won’t flood your neighbor out or your own house. So we can help them through the process to get it taken care of. If someone says, hey, I want a window in the basement and that basement’s below ground, we can say, hey, this is how we can work light in their windows or do something to take care of their concerns.

So it’s actually pretty cool because the customers that do this, they get a set of plans. They say, hey, I’m not doing changes and they get into it. A couple of weeks into it, they’re like, this is pretty cool. I never thought of it. It feels good to understand and do it right. So it’s actually something that I think at first the customers might be a little awkward. They’re like, but I have these plans that they should be good. But after they see how we help them and they work through these issues, they see the benefit. And then when they’re building, they get to see the triple benefit of not having to do changes, not having to run into those uh-oh moments. And it’s pretty cool. It’s a good feeling. And I think the customers really, really appreciate it.

Interviewer: Well, excellent once again. And that’s going to wrap it up for today’s episode. But before we go and skedaddle out of here, Steve, let the listeners know how to find out more about Landmark Home and Land Company and what you guys do over there.

Steve Tuma: The best thing to do is take a look at our website, which is LHLC.com, which is basically the initials of Landmark Home and Land Company. So LHLC.com. They can look at the website, they can look at plans, they can look at just different videos, listen to some of these podcasts, get some great information. They can also send an email from there or an inquiry or give us a call. And Mike will answer the phone at 800-830-9788, at 800-830-9788. But I’d say take a look at the website, LHLC.com. And we’re very helpful and proactive. We answer the phone. And if for some reason you do get our voicemail, you can leave a message and we will get back with you.

We understand that customers work different hours, have different schedules, have different times where the husband and wife can get together and communicate. So we make ourselves available and we will take the time to review a process with someone, help them understand how we can help them so that we can kind of mold the project, how we can help them with design, engineering, permit application, and building, so they can see the vision of their project. And we’ll take that time up-front to do it. That’s important. We’re very interested in having people that really want to do it right. It’s fun.

Interviewer: And fun is what home building should be. It shouldn’t all be headache, right?

Steve Tuma: Oh, hey, it is a lot of work. It is a lot of work, but there’s a lot of joy and sense of accomplishment at the end. And that, I think, is why people do it. We have one family, I think they’re on their 20th home or 18th or something. Wow. They’re going to do a couple more. So it’s something that people enjoy. There’s home shows all over on TV. It’s like, hey, let’s go do one. We’re here to help.

Interviewer: Well, boom. Once again, we have wrapped a very, very informative episode of the Panelized Prefab Kit Home Building Show. So for Steve Tuma and myself, have a great day, everyone. And we will see you next time. Thanks, Steve.

Steve Tuma: Yeah, thank you. This is a lot of fun. Let’s help some people build some cool homes. There you go. Thank you.

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