How Long Will It Take To Design Your Renovation or New Home?

By: Kate HambletAugust 13, 2021

If you're about to start your renovation or new build project, you've probably been thinking about it for a long time. Home building projects (either reno or new build) are pretty big endeavors, so they aren't typically something you decide to do on a whim.

Maybe you've been thinking about your remodel or new home for a year, or maybe it's been 20 years!

However long it's taken you to kick off the project, I'm sure that it has felt quite long enough, and now you're ready to see those house dreams of yours come to life.


But before anything can actually be built, you need to get your ideas on paper so the contractor knows what they're building. Getting your ideas on paper is the design phase of your project.

But you're so excited to get going on the build that you don't want to spend very long on the design process. And believe me, this is something I can totally relate to. I'm a serial rusher myself.

I've rushed and made quick decisions on plenty of things in my life. I even rushed my wedding. And because of that I got married in a blizzard, with no photographer, and with very few friends in attendance due to the blizzard.

I know the feeling of being so excited for the end result that all the prep work to get to the end result is seen more as a burden than as a fun experience. But I've learned that when I rush through the process, the final result doesn't turn out well or it's caused me a ridiculous amount of stress along the way. And usually it's both.

Designing your home is no different. If you rush, it's going to be insanely stressful and the end result probably won't be quite as great as if you took your time through the design process.

Designing your forever home should be a fun experience, not a burden.

Prepare your mind

Having the mindset that it's going to be a long design process will set you up for a successful project. I know it may be hard to have to wait a bit longer, but it'll be worth it. In a second we'll dive into why it takes so long so you can be prepared for the experience, but first you might be wondering what I mean by a long design process.

There are basically 4 phases of the design process for a home renovation or new build. And from beginning to end this process could take anywhere from 3 months to multiple years.

If the design process takes multiple years, then it's usually because the site or the design is really complicated or because the homeowners are indecisive and/or enjoy taking their time. But for most projects the design phase usually takes about 5-8 months.

When I tell prospective clients how long the design process is, most of them are stunned. I get a lot of inquiries from people that are planning to start construction in 2 months, and that's just not enough time to plan, design, and permit the project. And they get so disheartened because they had no idea it was going to be such a long process to get to the construction phase of their new home. It's not a fun conversation to have.

Why Take The Time?

I know it's easy to look at a set of construction plans and think that they must have been pretty quick to draw up. And that's somewhat true. The actual drafting of the plans isn't usually the most time consuming part of the design process. It's all the other stuff that happens first that takes so long. And it's pretty hard to tell at first glance of a set of construction drawings how much time went into getting the design to where it is now.

But it is easy to tell how well prepared the construction drawings are once the builder starts building, and then finally once you move in. If the plans are not well designed and thought out, the construction process could be a nightmare, and your home may not work, look or feel the way you want it to.

It's also good to keep in mind your health and stress levels. If you take your time and enjoy the experience of the design process, you're going to feel a lot less overwhelmed. When you're building a home designed to promote your health and well-being, the process that makes it happen shouldn't be hindering your health and well-being!

So let's look at what takes so long to design a home...

4 Phases of designing a home

As I mentioned, there are 4 phases of the design process:  

  1. Pre-design (aka planning, prep work) 
  2. concept design (aka schematic design) 
  3. design development 
  4. construction documents 

Once the construction documents are complete, your project can be submitted to your city to get the building permit.

A lot of times projects start at concept design and go right into construction documents, completely skipping the pre-design and design development phases. And sometimes, projects just go right into construction documents, without spending any time in any of the other design phases. Both of these scenarios are problematic in so many ways.

I'm going to walk through each phase so you can get an idea of what's happening and why it's so important to not skip it!

>>>>Grab my Free start to finish guide for an in-depth look at the entire design process.

Phase 1: Pre-Design

(Takes 1-2 months)

This is when all the planning happens. And it's called pre-design because you won't actually start designing anything yet. You might be thinking 'Boring!, let's skip to the next step', but trust me, you don't want to skip this step.

Pre-design is where you research what you're allowed to build on your property. It would be pretty awful if you designed your house and were ready to build, and then found out you can't have a house that tall or that wide, or even that style, on your land.

There's a lot that goes into researching what's allowed on your property, and every jurisdiction has their own way of doing things, so you really need to spend the time upfront to discover if there are any wacky restrictions you didn't know existed. And believe me, they're out there.

Another really important part of pre-design is conducting a site analysis. This is where you study what all the elements on your property are doing. For example, you'll study the path of the sun, predominant wind directions, how noisy your neighbors are. You'll be gathering a bunch of information that will inform how you place the house on your site, or if you're doing a renovation, how you'll move spaces around in your home to make your house feel better based on things like sunlight, wind, and outdoor noises.

There are a lot of components of pre-design, but the last most important one I'll mention is your purpose statement. You need to be really clear on what you want and why you want it before you start the design process.

>>>> Learn more about the Purpose Statement here.

Your purpose statement defines your goals for your home. And it becomes the beacon that guides you through the design and construction process. There will always be times when something you wanted to do won't work out, and you'll need to come up with a new plan or you get sucked in by a fancy design idea that is completely different from your original design. That's when you look at your purpose statement to figure out what you can do to stay on course.

Phase 2: Concept Design

(Takes 2-3 months)

Once you've done all the prep work, you can start designing your home. This is obviously the most fun part 🙂

Most clients that I work with have a pretty good basic idea of what they want their house to look like. They have a style they like, they know the general size of it and the layout they're looking for. And this is certainly a good start, but even with that information, there's still a lot to study in the concept design phase.

This is really the most important step in the design process. Once you move on from here, you're getting into the details of the house you've designed in this first step. So it's important to spend the right amount of time here and make sure you're happy with things before moving forward.

When I get into the concept design of a project, I spend a few days studying a lot of different layouts and looks of the home. It's so important to try out all the options you can think of so that at the end, you know you've gotten the right design.

If you're doing this yourself, you can take as much time as you want. But if you've hired someone to help you, either an architect or a designer, you probably don't want them spending endless amounts of time dreaming up ideas. This is why going back to pre-design and having a clear understanding of your goals is so important.

A lot of conversations need to be happening back and forth during this phase if you're working with a designer. They want to make sure they're designing something you want and can afford. This back and forth can take time. If they send you a plan to review, you might take a week or so to review it, then you have a meeting to go over your comments, then some edits are done. And it keeps going like that for a few rounds until everyone is feeling pretty good about the direction of the design. This process takes time!

Phase 3: Design Development

(Takes 1-3 months)

Design Development is all about refining your design. So far in concept design, you've created the big picture, but that's it. Now is when you start thinking about how big the windows should be, how the kitchen should lay out, etc.  

If you skip this stage, you might be making a lot of costly and time consuming design changes during construction.  It's always easier to move walls and change window locations on a drawing than in real life.  So take this time to get everything nailed down with how you want it, so you aren't changing things around during construction.

There's still a lot of back and forth between you and the designer or architect in this phase because a lot of decisions still need to be made.

Design development is also when consultants like engineers and other designers get involved, and it takes time to coordinate your design with other people.

The smaller your project is, the less time this phase should take.

Phase 4: Construction Documents

(Takes 1-3 months)

This phase is about getting all the details figured out. The layout and look of your house were set in the Design Development phase so now’s the time to get into the construction details and make sure everything that the contractor needs to know to build the house is down on paper.

A set of construction documents is the instruction manual your contractor will use to build your home. This is also the set of drawings that’ll be used to get your building permit, so all city required information needs to be on these plans, such as zoning, building and energy code requirements.

The time it takes to make the construction documents depends on the size of your project, how complicated it is, and how much coordination needs to happen with engineers or other designers.

Final Thoughts

So yes, it's definitely a long process, but I can't stress enough how worth it it is to take your time and ENJOY the process.

This is your forever home. The best way to make sure it's going to work for you now and in the future is to slow down, explore lots of options, research lots of design ideas, study how you live and how you want your house to work for you, and let it all sink in.

Designing your home is an adventure! Make it a fun one.

Helpful Links:

Not sure how or where to start?  Grab the FREE Start To Finish Guide.

Want to nail down your goals and intentions for your project? Get the FREE Purpose Statement Guide.

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