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Building a New House – Initial Steps in Developing Plans in Florida and Other Areas
Building in Miami or any area of South Florida is completely different than building in any other part of the country. While most of the US East Coast and much of the rest of the country build wood-frame homes with brick or wood siding, South Florida builds with cinder blocks and concrete.
Quality vs price
Due to hurricane force winds, structures in this area must be very strong. Where the rest of the country looks down on us because only concrete block is used in basements, for my money I really like concrete and block construction. Concrete blocks do not get termites or rot. Therefore, a concrete block structure will last for 100 years or more with almost no maintenance. Unfortunately, the vast majority of houses in Miami have wood trusses with plywood on the roof, then roofing paper, and then either shingles or concrete slabs on top. This type of construction does not hold up very well in hurricane wind conditions. Although the Florida Building Code has done its best to improve roofing installation and roofing requirements, it cannot compare to the strength a roof would have if a concrete slab was used as the roof structure.
If we know this, why don’t we build with concrete slab roofs? Cost – The only reason is cost. Both the design and installation of a concrete slab roof is much more expensive, especially for taking concrete slab finishes on a slope.
So one of the first things a homeowner needs to determine when starting to design a new home is how much the owner wants to spend on construction. There is a cheap way and an expensive way to build a home. This is an issue that comes up many times during the design and construction process.
But to determine the budget, the homeowner must first determine the square footage of the new house. To determine the total square footage, he needs to create a program for the house. The program is a list of rooms with their respective sizes.
See a sample list like this:
Living Room 240 square feet
Dining Room 120 square feet
Kitchen 170 square feet
Family Room 240 square feet
Master Bedroom 240 square feet
Master Bath 64 square feet
Bedroom No. 2 216 square feet
Bedroom No. 3 192 square feet
Bath No. 2 36 square feet
Laundry Room 100 square feet
Linen closet 9 square feet
A/C Closet 9 square feet
Total Square Feet = 1636
Circulation and walls 20% = 1634 square feet = 327 square feet
Total = 1634 + 327 = 1961 square feet
Now we have a basic idea of the larger areas of the house and approximately how many square feet the homeowner needs in total for the house.
This is also the time to decide whether there will be outdoor spaces, such as covered terraces or pergolas. In Florida, they are especially good additions to indoor spaces. With the wonderful temperatures of winter, there is no reason to spend all your time indoors with air conditioning.
So what does a house that is just under 2,000 square feet in South Florida cost? There is no magic formula to determine this. The cost of a house depends on many things related to the design, such as: type of roof, ceiling height(s), complexity of the project, finishes, whether it has a septic tank or sewer, and the type of foundations. Then there are the costs that have nothing to do with the design, such as the location of the house, how busy the contractors are in the area, how well-known and reliable the contractor is, etc. Although the price of a house can vary greatly due to all of the items described above, currently, a house that is not too complex with standard construction can use the range of $150 to $250 per square foot. So if we go back to the example. A 2,000-square-foot house would cost $300,000 to $500,000, excluding land.
The Miami-Dade County Building Department does not require single-family home plans to be signed and sealed by an architect or engineer. This does not apply to all municipalities in the region. For example, Coral Gables requires all plans to be signed and sealed by an architect. But for practical purposes, the amount of information to include in any municipal plan in Miami-Dade County usually requires the hiring of several professionals: an architect, an MEP engineer, and a structural engineer. MEP stands for Mechanical, Electrical and Plumbing. A mechanical engineer designs air conditioning systems, an electrical engineer designs electricity, including lighting, and a plumbing engineer designs piping. The structural engineer designs the structure and provides the necessary structural calculations for the exterior walls of the building. The architect designs the entire house and coordinates everyone’s work. Coordination of all disciplines is probably the most important role of an architect, because without coordination, real conflicts can arise during the construction phase. While it is legal in some counties to draw up plans yourself, drawing up construction drawings for permits is an insurmountable task (unless the homeowner has a construction background and real-world experience and knowledge of the Florida Building Code and local zoning codes).
What do these design services cost the homeowner? They are also very different, but there are also different ones among good and established professionals. This range would be between 6% and 10% of the construction cost of permit plans for all areas. Construction phase services are usually charged hourly separately or as a separate package.
Another important decision to make early on is the style of the house. Basically, there are three styles that are popular in home design in South Florida – Modern, Mediterranean and Key West.
Once the homeowner has decided what styles they want, it is important to convey the style and details to the architect. The best way to explain to an architect what he wants is either through magazine images or actual photos of other houses.
Choosing an architect
Now that you have the basic elements together, the next step is to choose your architect. This is very important as this is the person you will be working very closely with over the next year.
Do a survey of the existing land from the time the mortgage is closed. If you have lost it or it is too old or inaccurate, the architect will arrange for it to be updated or a new one made.
Ask to see photos of his work. Ask for references. Ask questions. Ask him how he would approach the project. Start to sense if this is someone you could work with. Do you like the style of the architect’s work? Does his work appeal to you? Ask about the process. Ask what you should expect from his services. Ask him to show you plans for a similar project.
People are individuals and each one is unique. I remember how many people have hired me because they liked my “Mediterranean” or “Spanish” style, or my modern or postmodern style. One person told me that he hired me because I returned his phone calls immediately. Chemistry between people is meaningful. Don’t judge your first impressions.
Construction documents usually consist of several parts: drawings, specifications, instructions to bidders and appendices. Typically, when an architect is involved in the owner’s construction bid phase, he chooses what type of contract the owner will enter into with the contractor. This document is also part of the construction documents.
The bulk of the work is made up of drawings, which together with the specifications act as a step-by-step guide for the contractor to use during construction. Sometimes, for large works, the specifications are put into a separate book and called the project manual. For most residential projects, the specifications are usually covered as notes on the drawings. For finished interiors, the architect prepares a separate package and is charged separately.
Construction documents are generated in stages from general to detailed. I like to divide my projects into 4 phases: Preliminary design, design development, 50% construction documents and 100% construction documents. Each phase builds on the previous phase until the architect feels that all drawings have been coordinated between the various disciplines and are ready to submit for permitting.
Careful planning and communication with the architect, his good drawings and coordination, and careful selection of a reputable contractor will ensure that your new house project goes without major problems. Although changes are often made due to unforeseen conditions or changes the owner wishes to implement, most issues should be resolved prior to construction.
For more information on the architect’s role during construction, see my other article on the architect’s role in the construction process posted here.
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