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By Missy England
September 10, 2018
It takes an incredible amount of paper to create a full set of architectural drawings. These documents are long, complex, and extremely detailed. Further, these drawings must be distributed to each relevant team member. However, as project managers and general contractors redline change orders and post RFIs to the drawings, it requires printing new copies of the drawings and redistributing the latest versions of these drafts once again to all team members. If the copies aren't delivered in time or if someone involved is left out, it can lead to serious delays in construction, and significant cost overruns.
The AEC industry relies on drawings for everything, from the external site plan and interior layout to the punch list and RFIs. According to Home Improvement Pages, a custom-designed residential home costs between $5,000 and $10,000 for an architect to draft the drawings. This price gets exponentially higher as the homes become larger and the designs more complicated.
For larger projects, Starboard TCN, a San Francisco-based commercial real estate firm, noted that the range of basic architectural design fees on a simple $50 per square foot project can range from $2.00 to $4.00 per square foot. Using a 5,000-square-foot example means this cost could can range from $10,000 to $20,000. Of this cost, construction drawings can easily take up as much as 45 percent of this fee, or $4,500 to $9,000.
This is merely a base fee for a relatively small and simple project of roughly 5,000 square feet, and as the size of the structure increases and the design becomes more complex, the cost of architectural designs and drawings will also undergo a corresponding rise in price. Typically, 5,000 square feet is on the lower end of size. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average size of a modern commercial construction project took up approximately 20,000 square feet. In particular, health care facilities built between 2000 and 2012 ran about 40,000 sq ft, lodging buildings were roughly 50,000 sq ft, and retail structures took up 20,000 sq ft.
These paper-based drawings require a specific person to supplement information, make duplicates, collage, annotate, and disseminate to each relevant team member on a specific project. Even after completing the initial phase of the designs, without real time access to the most current photos and as-built drawings, there will no doubt be some subtle complexity or condition in the structure that will require the architect to visit the job site. This will inevitably involve having the architect make several trips back and forth to the construction site, meaning the construction firm will need to pay more in travel costs for the architect.
Further, each redesign or amendment to the drawing will also incur additional costs for printing new copies of the drawings. These higher costs cannot be avoided because otherwise it will lead to less-informed designs, more unforeseen obstacles during the construction process and, ultimately, the very real possibility of going over budget or past deadlines.
As noted by the Construction Industry Institute, construction firms spend an estimated $15 billion a year performing rework on projects due to inaccuracies in the initial drawings, failure to distribute new versions of drawings to subcontractors, and discrepancies between builders and architects.
Not only are there additional costs associated with rework, the actual price of the numerous drawings also increases the overall costs of a project. With the first sets distributed during the bidding process, another set designed to begin the construction, and subsequent revisions made throughout the project's development, these documents can easily pile up.
For construction firms with razor-thin profit margins, it's crucial to cut costs down in every way possible. Having to reprint architectural drawings even once can cut into a project's profits, but having to do it more than once can potentially make a job unprofitable. Transitioning from paper-based drawings to a series of PDF files also relies on maintaining a large amount of data that can be just as onerous to store, transmit, update and disseminate as the analog copies.
Technology can ease the costs and the burdens described above. With construction software, project managers can easily and intuitively upload architectural drawings into a single master set, that's automatically organized, named, and numbered. This alleviates the hassles and expenses associated with having to reprint new versions, travel back and forth between job sites and the firm, or having to tear down and rebuild a portion of the structure that doesn't fit because of poorly designed drawing drafts. Ultimately, moving architectural drawings to a cloud-based management system eliminates the costs associated with mistakes stemming from paper drawings.
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