What You Need to Know about Planning Your Fall Home Improvement Project

a rendering of a two-level home

Fall is prime time for completing home improvement projects. Homeowners want to get their homes ready for holiday entertaining, and fall provides mild, dry weather for home design and construction experts. 

“The fall is, overall, my favorite time to build,” says Matt Kustusch of MKA Architectural Design Group. “You’re doing the foundation work and building your shell when the weather is much more predictable. So, if you plan your work schedule accordingly, things tend to go a bit smoother.”

How can you plan your project schedule to coincide with the best conditions? Matt took us step-by-step through the fall home improvement project process!

Best projects to tackle in the fall

Surprisingly, fall is the best time to complete almost every particular home improvement project.

“The most important thing to remember is that the fall is the last opportunity to secure protection from harsher weather ahead,” says Matt, who has owned MKA with his wife, Kelly, since 2013, but has been designing home remodels and additions for more than 24 years.

As mentioned earlier, the weather is more predictable in the fall and usually drier than other times of the year. Coupled with the cooler temperatures in September through November, fall is a contractor’s dream season.

“It’s a great time to do rough framing; it’s a great time to pour foundations,” says Matt. “As long as the concrete is cured before a deep freeze moves into the area, you should be just fine. That’s really your only concern as far as far as the integrity of the construction is concerned.”

What projects to avoid in the fall

painting the exterior of a home in fall
Beware of cold temperatures in fall!

There’s really only one project you should avoid in the fall.

“The only thing that I would consider off limits based on temperature is exterior painting,” says Matt. “You really don’t want to paint the outside of a house when it’s less than 40 degrees at night.”

The colder temperatures prevent the paint from drying properly and can lead to flaking, cracking, and peeling. In Chicago, where MKA Architectural Design Group is located, the temperatures can dip that low by late September/early October.

Certain admixtures can be blended with standard concrete which allows a pour in temperatures below freezing, but it isn’t recommended.

“If you’re concerned about any significant load coming down on a foundation, which you should be, you should fully understand the effects of those admixtures before approving a pour in mid-January,” says Matt.

Since summer seems to extend year after year, you don’t necessarily need to get your foundation poured or your house painted by a certain date.

“It’s really just dependent on how cold it really is,” says Matt.

What you need to know about planning your next home improvement project

“The timeframe has definitely changed over the course of the last few years,” says Matt.

Only a few years ago, three months was a good amount of preparation time. Unfortunately, projects could now take four to five months due to delays associated with the permit application process and high demand for design and construction services.

“Based on the recent demand, I’m seeing projects where the design process may start as early as March, for example, and those projects are just now (late August/early September) being approved for permit.”

Not sure how to start your home improvement project? Matt walked us through his four-phased design construction preparation process. 

Phase 1: Meet the clients

Matt starts by meeting with the clients to get a general idea of their goals. He visits the site with the potential client and tries to define “needs” and “wants.”

a small kitchen with dated appliances
Original Kitchen, Courtesy of MKA Architectural Design Group

“If it’s a proposed new construction, I want to understand the site and learn as much as I can about the future occupants…how they live and, more importantly, how the house can make their lives easier,” says Matt. “If it’s a remodeling project, I want to understand how the existing home was built, so I can find the most efficient way to achieve the same goals.”

Once Matt’s proposal is accepted, he meets with a client to discuss any rules that govern what’s possible. There could be limitations based on zoning restrictions, budget, or existing conditions that must remain intact.

Once the boundaries are set, the program is further examined to determine more specific objectives. Explains Matt, “I’ll look at the project goals more closely. How much space can we add? Where do we add it? If you want a bedroom, what do you want in it? What size bed? Do you need a desk area?”

This phase helps Matt get a better understanding of a client’s expectations which drives initial conceptualization and cost analysis.

“Sometimes a client’s expectations are unrealistic, so I like to get the sticker shock out of the way as early as possible,” says Matt. “Things cost up to 20% more than they did a few years ago.”

Phase 2: Choose the right path

Once the assessment phase is complete, Matt and the clients move into the schematic design phase where multiple ideas can be considered without significant investment.

“We may come up with multiple concepts and discuss their advantages or disadvantages.  It’s important to show a homeowner a number of options to choose from to find the right path,” says Matt.

The path, however, doesn’t have to be perfectly defined.

“When you’re on a hike in the middle of a forest, you can vary from the defined path but still be going in the right direction to reach your destination. You never know, you may discover a perfect view that you wouldn’t have even known was there,” says Matt.

Phase 3: Design development

drawing of proposed drawing
Courtesy of MKA Architectural Design Group

Once the clients choose their path, the architectural process moves into design development. Here, Matt takes the preliminary sketches and refines them using computer aided drafting (CAD).

“We really look at the specifics associated with square footage, structure, construction methods and how we’re going to be integrating various systems like plumbing, electric, and HVAC,” says Matt. “That really gives us a much clearer picture of what it’s going to take to do what we want to do.”

This is also the phase where Matt determines a more accurate project cost. If the homeowner is comfortable with the design and the cost, then the process moves forward into the final phase, construction document preparation.

Phrase 4: Construction document preparation and permit application

a updated, open concept kitchen with new appliances
Courtesy of MKA Architectural Design Group

Now, Matt completes the actual drawings that will be submitted for permit(s).

“The municipality has to review the drawings we prepare and approve the application for the permit before we can start construction,” says Matt.

As you can tell just from this section, the entire planning process takes time.

“Managing a client’s expectations of time required for design is something we try to do upfront as well,” says Matt.

a dining room looking into an open kitchen
Courtesy of MKA Architectural Design Group

Tips for choosing a home professional from a home professional

Matt always recommends that potential clients speak to a number of design professionals.

“I want them to understand that everyone has varied opinions, different backgrounds and preferences based on past experiences or exposure to another’s work,” says Matt. “Home construction is such a massive investment.  In some cases, the largest in a client’s life.  Well, maybe not as much as college these days.”

It’s also important to find someone you trust and align with from a design perspective.

“Look at current examples of what they’ve done, and picture yourself in those spaces,” says Matt. “If you feel like you would be comfortable – well, that’s a good thing…keep exploring.”

A key aspect to look for in any design specialist is professionalism.

“A client shouldn’t be sold on an idea or told what to do,” says Matt. “I won’t just tell a client what they want to hear. I’ll tell them the truth and give them my opinion based on years of experience and my interpretation of the issue at hand.”

Hiring a design professional who agrees with everything you say may not lead to a successful project.

Explains Matt, “It’s my job to show a client what’s possible. It’s my job to accomplish their goals and satisfy their needs in a way that they may not have already seen in some magazine.”

Finally, understand the reason there’s a cost differences between design professionals.

“Finding a design professional is the same as finding any service provider – you get what you pay for,” says Matt.

It’s imperative to understand costs upfront, including what’s included in the proposal and how you’re being charged – by the hour, by square foot or is it a flat fee?

Does your home improvement project need an architect? 

While not every project may need an architect, there are a few situations where you absolutely do.

Explains Matt, “I would say, from a legal perspective, whenever any structural condition is altered or a type of electrical device, plumbing fixture or heating and air conditioning element is modified – that’s the moment you really should contact an architect.”

Matt continued, “If those elements aren’t moving, you could probably visit a Kitchen and Bath Design Shop and replace the cabinets, sinks and countertops yourself if you want to.”

“In most cases,” Matt added, “It shouldn’t cost anything, so you might as well have an initial conversation with an architect.”

What fall home improvement projects are hot right now

Matt has seen an increase in outdoor living space projects.

“I have seen an increased demand to extend the use of outdoor spaces,” says Matt. “I’ll get inquiries regarding screen porches and three-season rooms every week.”

Three-season rooms typically lack insulation for windows and can be used in spring, summer, and fall.

“With the new technology such as infrared or the hydronic in-floor heat, you can keep those spaces relatively warm,” says Matt, “so you can use them as early as March and all the way through the end of November, maybe even December.”

Before you start any home improvement project, make sure to read 6 Underrated Tips That Will Seriously Save Your Next Home improvement Project!

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