Re: Standardization
From: John Major (
Date: Mon, 20 Jan 1997 08:59:03 -0600
> This architect along with an architect-group member
>said that you don't necessarily save money by standardizing.  

We got the same advice from Chuck and Katy, and like nearly everything
they said, we took it for gospel, then interpreted it as we went. But with
the question of what "necessarily" means above hangin' out, 
I have to strongly DISAGREE - I believe attention to standardization has
spared us the usual late-in-the-game "sticker shock" meeting that most
groups seem to go through, where you have to let go of a lot of things to
wrestle your costs back down to where you thought they should be.

This is based on Wasatch CoHo's recent experience with "value
engineering". This is what the jargon calls the process of bringing a
builder on *early* - in our case, about 5 months - before competitive
bidding, to work *closely* with the architect and the design process to
reduce cost. Now, both our architect and builder had extensive
experience doing affordable housing, but they've also done plenty of
fancy stuff (residential, restaurants, etc.), but we had the pleasant
surprise of having the first cost analysis come in *under* our square foot
cost target, which was $65/sft.

About that number - we had folks telling us "you can build nice stuff for
$55/sft, that's way too high", and others saying "I dunno - that'll be a
tough target". In the beginning, it was hard to tell, but we tried to do
accurate unit costing based on that figure, land costs, development
costs, etc. We had households saying "$140K+ for a 1600sft 4BR, that's
OK", and others turning bright green as they thought about what they
would have to do to afford this crazy dream, but we ended up on a
scale from <$90K for 1BR up to $140K+ for 4BR ("attached
townhouses"). Now, I know that you folks in the NW, MA and CA are
going to turn your own shade of green at those figures, but part of it is
that we got a great deal on the land - and they are stilll pretty high for
incomes in UT. The tricky bit next for us is to deal with the fact that these
numbers are high for the neighborhood we're moving into...

Anyway, before that, there had been nearly a year of close work with
the architect, and he was very good about keeping our designs
economical. And STANDARDIZATION was a big theme. He developed a
"modular" design (I know that's a Bad Word for Alexander   ;-) and kept
the floor plans pretty simple. We kept asking him, "so what does it mean
to break standardization in this case?" (floor plans, or heating systems,
or windows, whatever). And he would explain... beyond economies of
scale, usually it meant that without some standardization, a
subcontractor would look at the differences from unit to unit, and figure
in their bid a significant fudge factor for screwups, as the requirements
would be changing from unit to unit. And the builder explained that they
train a trade on one unit, do a quality inspection and redo, and only then
let them loose on all the other units. So it makes sense...

I should note that we *are* encouraging "options" - which do not raise
the cost for all units  (beyond materials), such as different kitchen
layouts, floor coverings, etc. - and "customizations", where a household
works with the architect, and eats the entire cost themselves. But "NO

That's a convincing argument to me, and the results have finally spoken
for themselves. Now, we still ended up with 7 different unit plans, so we
didn't have Iron Discipline, but we're pretty happy with the designs. Also,
the design meetings were actually a lot of fun much of the time (usually
separate from general biz meetings) - we learned a tremendous amount
about building materials, environmental design, and architecture (certainly
more than some of us wanted   ;-) - but our consensus skills have been
trained and honed on chewing through a lot of small design decisions.
As a result, our up-coming Pet Policy work doesn't look as intimidating -  
>  gulp  <   ....

John Major
Wasatch Cohousing
... where, admittedly, we are still making decisions "we bid 8'6" ceilings,
and that'll work, but there are two TALL households who would really
like 9', and since we already have to buy 10' studs, there isn't much
waste, but it'll add cost to *everyone's* unit, and..."

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