Engineering the Path to Your New Design/Build Home

Whether you’ve decided to build a custom home or construct an “On Your Lot” home using a builder’s existing home design, it takes a team to move the project from inspiration to reality. Among the most important people, particularly at the beginning of a project, are engineers.

Many people, especially if they haven’t been part of a design/build project before, think of engineers as people who work on industrial or electrical projects. But civil engineers are crucial to the success of any residential development project.

Early Stages of the Design/Build Process

Every design/build project we work on begins with an in-person review of our client’s property. The aces up our sleeve in that regard are Greg McAninch, our Chief Operating Officer, and Adam Minzer, our VP of Land Development. Both have significant experience in land development planning and one or both walk every lot our customers own or are considering buying to determine two things: whether the house you want can be built cost effectively on that land and to create a preliminary lot finishing estimate.

If you’re building “On Your Lot” using one of Timberlake Design/Build’s existing floorplans, a preliminary lot finishing estimate can be accomplished in the very early stages of your project since we already have the architectural plans for the home in hand.  If you choose to build a custom home, the architect will need to provide a set of plans for your home design so that we have a good idea of what we’re building prior to providing a lot finishing estimate.

Permit Approval Process

Once the decision on your home’s footprint is finalized, and the lot finishing estimate is approved, the permitting process can begin.

Prior to obtaining your building permit which covers the foundation, exterior walls, and everything inside those walls, you’ll need to obtain a grading permit.  There are three main site-related issues to be addressed as part of the grading permit phase.

First, the civil engineer will develop a stormwater management plan. When you build a house, you disturb the land, cut down trees, build a driveway, and add infrastructure. Naturally, that changes what happens when it rains. Instead of the rain disbursing into the ground as it normally would, we need to plan for things like a micro bioretention system – a lot of people call this a dry well or rain garden – with gravel and sand to filter the water and landscaping, all to get the impurities out. The civil engineer will at this time also determine if woodland conservation requirements need to be met or are exempt from these requirements.

Second, the civil engineers need to show their plans for grading, particularly how the land will be adapted for water flow away from the house and where the water will go.

Third, we need to provide a sediment control plan. You’ve probably seen that black fabric “silt fencing” around construction sites. During any construction project, the ground will be disturbed and moved around. That silt fencing or any other sediment control device prevents run-off and limits disturbance to nearby areas.

Depending on the lot and jurisdiction, we may also need to provide a right-of-way plan to address neighboring properties and a septic plan. Lastly, we may need to consider unique jurisdictional requirements that can impact the cost and timeline of the project, such as the woodland conservation requirements in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. All of these are essential for obtaining the grading permit, which is required before the building permit can be obtained.

Timeline Before Building Begins

While buyers don’t need to be involved in the day-to-day work of developing these plans for their property and applying for permits, at Timberlake Design/Build we gather our entire team together for a weekly meeting to go over every aspect of every home we’re building. We report on a weekly basis – and more often as needed – to every client to update them on the status of their project.

Typically, the timeline from contract ratification to beginning the building of your home takes 8-12 months. It may take as much as an additional six months if you build in a county with significant woodland conservation protocols. Each county is different—some jurisdictions where we build approve permits within five or six months, while others take as long as 15 months.

While the permitting timeline isn’t in our control, the Timberlake team proactively checks in weekly for updates from the engineers working with the permitting authorities. We carefully choose engineers with experience and relationships with local jurisdictions so we can expedite the process as much as possible on your behalf. We know from experience that our clients are eager to get started on building their dream home, so we make sure to be the squeaky wheel that gets attention and action to get those permits approved.