Are You Really Saving Money With Master Plan Sets or Just Wasting Time?

August 2, 2019
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In my more than 20 years in residential architecture, I often have seen production home builders working off master plan sets. Imagine a 2,500-square-foot house with multiple structural options, framing sheets, electrical sheets, HVAC layout sheets, plumbing layout sheets, etc. The master plan may run more than 100 pages. After a client purchases a home and creates their list of desired options, someone from the building company goes through the 100-plus page set with their red pen, circling items that apply to that job and crossing out things that don’t. Then the trades have to work from that plan set and are forced to sort through useless information to get their jobs done on time and within budget. I’ve asked many builders why they work off a master plan. Why not make the project check list easier by developing a lot specific plan for every job? The answer was always “because it saves us time and money.” 

A while back I received a call from one of our regular clients. He was panicking because his company ran into a major snag with a house under contract that was being framed. One of the available options was a 2-foot extension to the master bedroom. Instead of asking us to produce lot specific plans, the builder chose to redline the master plan to “save time and money.” Their client selected the extended bedroom and that option was redlined onto the plans.  

But somewhere along the line there was a communication breakdown. The foundation contractor didn’t get the correct plan, and the basement was poured without the extension. Then the floor deck was framed, the gable end installed, and all the roof sheathing was nailed tight to the trusses. The builder caught the issue and had the framers remove the gable end wall and the front of the foundation was cut and removed. The extra 2 feet was added to the foundation to accommodate the client’s request, and everything was put back together. 

My client had us produce a lot specific plan set because the city refused to accept the redlined master plan due to the mistake. The cost of the error was more than $6,000 and several days of lost cycle time. The next weekend the buyer walked the house and noticed the change. He questioned the builder on the integrity of the foundation and ultimately backed out of the contract and went with another builder. That brought the total cost to far more than the $6,000 remedy.   

I’ve seen similar scenarios dozens of times over the years. Builders believe they are saving time and money by working with master plan sets. Instead, they end up spending valuable time going through every plan they sell to make sure the details are correct. The trades likewise spend their time sifting through pages of useless information. Eventually a mistake is made, and it costs the builder not only time and money, but also their integrity.  

I’ve worked with dozens of production home builders all over the United States and abroad. Occasionally, the builders that typically redline a master plan set for every project under the guise of “saving time and money” are forced into doing lot specific plan sets by a city or township. Consequently, these companies notice their project managers have more time to focus on the important matters. Their trades are happier and more profitable, and there are fewer field issues. The builder starts saving days in their cycle time, and their bottom-line inches up. Because of these benefits, builders eventually change their business model to include lot specific plans for all jobs, not just the ones they are forced into. 

Does someone in your organization spend a good portion of their time marking up plans for new builds?  Why not take a best practice approach? Negotiate a flat rate fee with your architect for lot specific plan sets. Work with your architect to decide what a feasible timeframe would be to get a plan complete and build the time and cost into your business model. You can pass off the plan cost to your client and have a built-in amount of time to manage into your schedule. Now, project managers no longer spend time redlining plans, and you avoid costly field mistakes. That’s a win-win-win for the builder, the trades, and the customers.

Eric Tiffin has spent his entire life in the residential construction and architecture industry.  He has worked in the trades and as a licensed builder, and is production director of TK Design, a nationally recognized architecture firm. As a consultant for True North Development, Eric has experience working with a range of design types and construction methods in the United States and abroad. 

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