We often have clients ask us the difference between a “builder’s set” or permit set of drawings and full architectural construction documents.
Technically speaking, the permit set of construction drawings is just that: the minimal set of drawings and information that the local jurisdiction (the entity reviewing the project and issuing the permit) requires in order to issue a permit. Being a smaller and less detailed set of information, these drawings take less time for the architect to complete thereby costing the owner less in architectural fees. The permit set includes basic information on the project such as the floor plans, elevations, sections, site plan, some details (life safety primarily) and very general materials and systems notes and references. It typically does not include such items as full specifications, details for anything over and above what is required for permit, lighting layouts, or any additional design-work (such as fireplace design, built-ins, cabinetry, railings, special stair conditions, interior elevations, tile layouts, etc..). The permit set of drawings leaves a large majority of final materials selections and detailing to the builder and/or client to complete following permit submittal. A permit set of drawings is not typically recommended for a client unless they are a builder themselves or have already completed a project previously using a limited permit set and know exactly what to expect. Developing a permit set of drawings for most clients unfamiliar with what is (and is not) included tends to lead to frustration and complications later in the project. By the time decisions are actually made, it is often determined certain materials, systems and designs will not work without a lot of “re-design” because they were not accounted for early in the process. One example of this type of situation can be seen with a fireplace design: If the drawings are completed showing a “place-holder” (a simple one-line drawings indicating the area for the fireplace within a room) for the fireplace assuming this is all that is required for permit, the structural design would not take into account an item such as a large heavy stone mantle if this is decided upon during construction. Additional expense would be incurred by the Owner to get the structure designed to support the desired mantle and incorporated into the overall design of the space. As you can imagine, this very often results in scheduling delays as well.
Full architectural drawings and documentation include all information necessary to receive a permit and for the builder to price and build the project. This includes all the information included in the permit set of drawings as well as full specifications, all interior elevations, cabinetry design, floor layouts, fireplace design, built-in design and detailing, trim packages, lighting layouts, landscape layout and all detailing. The full set of architectural drawings requires much more time than a permit set of drawings and therefore costs significantly more. It guarantees a solid cost estimate from the builder (since everything is known), however, can result in work needing to be revised or redone if pricing comes in high and details and/or design elements need to be redrawn following final design submittal.
We typically recommend a set of architectural drawings somewhere in between a standard permit set of drawings and full architectural set. These drawings would include all the information found in the permit set of drawings as well as additional design for key elements such as fireplaces, railings, built-ins, etc, specified interior elevations showing design features and cabinetry layout, ceiling and lighting layout, additional detailing of key features in the project and more detailed product specifications. This level of information is usually adequate for the builder to provide accurate cost estimates without spending excessive time on details and design work that could very well be revised or eliminated at a later date due to budget.
The happiest clients are those that have enough information up front to get accurate cost estimates thus enabling them to proceed with their project and have enough of the design planned out ahead of time that they are not “scrambling” during construction to finalize selections and detailing.