Apples and Oranges

I’ve often found that ignorance makes everything seem simple. It’s only when you’re forced to develop subject matter expertise that you realize not only how little you knew, but that you didn’t have a clue about how much you didn’t know. That’s definitely true about home design and construction, even in the most basic things. Like talking about how big your house is going to be.

That one tripped me up for quite a while, and it serves as a constant reminder to define terms when I’m talking with anyone involved in the project.

You’d think there would be a single definition of “space” that everyone — realtors, architects and contractors — would use. But there isn’t:

  • Realtors almost always ignore garages. They may or may not ignore things like covered or enclosed porches. This caused me no end of grief in the early design stages, because I assumed our current home was 3,700 square feet. That’s what the real estate reports show for it. I couldn’t figure out why our downsized plan was only about 700 square feet smaller. But when you include the garage our current home is almost 4,200 square feet…and I’d been including the garage in the new house when I was thinking of space.
  • Architects, based on the two we worked with on our project, seem to have a somewhat fluid definition of what’s in space figures. Most often they ignore decks and porches, but include garages. Sometimes, particularly when they’re talking about living space, they will include porches and decks.
  • Contractors tend to talk about total square footage, rooms, garages, decks, porches and all. I suppose this is because they’re being ask to build all of the stuff.
  • City building and planning officials tend to focus on “ground footprint”. This is the area occupied by the home’s first floor, including decks and porches (i.e., anything that covers ground and is attached to the primary structure).

With all these different, and sometimes fluid, definitions it’s easy to get confused. Particularly when representatives of the different disciplines are involved in the same conversation.

The only solution is to define what you mean by “space” in each and every discussion. In general, whenever there appears to be some confusion among the project team members it’s important to step back and make sure you’re all talking about apples…or oranges.

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