1. Involve the Contractor From the Start

"I preach this until I'm blue in the face," says contractor Wendell Harmer, of the Wills Company in Nashville. "You should hire a builder early in the design process. That way we can work with the architect at every turn — so when the cabinets go from paint-grade to cherry, we can say, 'You just upped the price by $5,000.'

This Old House general contractor Tom Silva puts it more bluntly: "Contractors are not designers, and in my opinion should not be designing houses. But architects are not builders; they can't possibly be on top of all the latest construction techniques and materials. When builders and architects share input from the beginning, houses are invariably better."

Contractor Steve Crawford, who worked on a TOH TV project in Santa Barbara a few years ago, recalls one renovation he did in Carpinteria, California, in which the architect had initially designed a redwood and plexiglass structure that would muffle nearby freeway noise. But Crawford worried about scratches on the plexiglass. So he went to the architect with a similarly priced alternative: extruded aluminum (commonly used in commercial construction) with tinted glass panels. The architect accepted the suggestion and adapted the plans, giving the homeowners a beautiful, low-maintenance facade that still reduced noise considerably.

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