Why is it important that owner builders can read a set of plans?
This is a question that is often asked of me by owner builder course students.
It is a fair question. It is reasonable to assume that as the owner builder, you will simply manage the project. This is in many cases true, but a basic understanding of your project and an ability to 'decode' the information contained on a set of plans will certainly enhance the owner builder experience.
Remember, a set of plans is a graphical representation of your requirements and your expectations. They are in effect, the manual of instructions that guide your contractors to turn your dreams into a reality.
Plans are a communications tool, a well drawn set of plans accurately conveys the message in a way which is understood and readily interpreted by each contractor or supplier who is required to 'decode' the presented information.
The way this is achieved is by using a common language that is understood and easily recognised by those skilled in the building and construction trades. We use symbology, conventions, abbreviations and terminology which are consistent and provide the reader with the tools and information to achieve the project outcomes.
Our course provides the owner builder the opportunity to develop these skills. Important skills and knowledge that equip the owner builder in their role as a Principal Contractor to engage effectively in that communications process.
To me, there is not a more important knowledge for the owner builder to be able to demonstrate than a thorough understanding of the plans and specifications that are the 'instructions' for completing their project.
In developing this knowledge, we start by identifying the types of drawings you are working with. Are the specifications of the project included in the drawings themselves or are the drawings supported by a detailed specifications document in text form? For complex constructions or construction that moves away from conventional domestic building techniques, it is almost impossible to include enough detail on the drawings alone.
In the owner builder course, our NSW and QLD students are introduced to the various symbols, abbreviations and conventions that are used on a typical set of plans. We discuss the appropriate use of scales and how to interpret drawing version numbers and document control.
If you were discussing the internal doors on your project with a potential supplier, could you easily describe them individually? Could you use the numbering and naming convention? Could you tell on which side they were hung, which way they swing, the width and height or general construction? On a well detailed set of plans, this information is available and can be readily interpreted by anyone with access to the 'code'.
I cannot stress enough the importance of an owner builder being fully aware of the detail included in their plans and specifications and the value in being able to talk the talk with your suppliers and contractors in a way that they easily relate to.
Of course their is also the great benefit of being able to demonstrate your knowledge and stand your ground in the event that there is a dispute in respect to the information taken from the plans.
Individual interpretation will always play a part, but by sticking to convention and using a common language through industry standard terminology, you can minimise this issue.
In future posts, we will consider in more detail, the typical drawings used in a domestic construction project and their use by the owner builder.
Till then ....
Rick Heaton is a Building and Construction Industry professional with formal tertiary qualifications in management and training.