Washington DC Rowhouse Renovation - Pre-Construction Challenges / by Gregory Upwall

The Challenges: Permitting, Contractors, Budget:

This project, like so many that we undertake for our clients, faced a list of challenges in the DCRA permit review process. DCRA’s permit reviews have gotten increasingly more focused over the past several years, but we have been actively following and keeping pace with their increased efforts. A single-family house renovation and addition such as this one is reviewed by as many as 8-10 separate review disciplines, each with their own comments and requirements. But finally, after multiple rounds of comments and 8 months of review, we were granted our building permit and allowed to start construction. Keep in mind that while the proposed drawings were under review at DCRA, we had gone ahead and pulled a separate demolition permit that allowed us to remove all of the interior (non load-bearing) walls and finishes (we highly recommend this to all of our clients when possible as it allows everyone to see the actual structural members). During this time we also had exploratory test pits dug at the corners in the existing basement to determine the depth, size and soil conditions of the existing footings (aka “footers”). This information along with a simple soil bearing report (prepared by a licensed geo-technical engineer) allowed our structural engineer to determine how much the basement slab could be lowered along with sizing any new foundation work needed to support our new design.

 A sheet from the Construction Drawing Set

A sheet from the Construction Drawing Set

Our budget for the renovations is roughly $250,000 which also creates a challenge for such an extensive renovation in today’s DC construction market. In an effort to try to stay within this budget we decided to work directly with each of the individual sub-contractors rather than hiring a general contractor to manage all of the various components of the project. Since we have worked closely with many different contractors we were able to find a team of subs all with competitive prices and whom we think will do a good job on the project. This approach where the architect becomes involved in the day-to-day oversight and management, more commonly referred to as a “Design-Build” approach, also allows us to modify and adapt the design and details along the way in response to unforeseen flaws within the existing building and in response to budget concerns. This design-build process also allows us to become intimately familiar with all of the details and particulars of the project. It’s very exciting for us as architects to be allowed to become so involved with the construction process.