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Does thinking about pulling the trigger give you anxiety or just a bit of a headache?

Whether you're dealing with a single-family home or a four-plex, renovation or construction of a house can be a stressful and expensive experience.  Disappointment and disaster are very real threats to which many frustrated owners have fallen victim, but you can arm yourself against the dangers.  The right information can be your best friend here.

The complexity and nuances of the design and construction process can be overwhelming to anyone who isn't involved in it for a living.  There is a sea of information online and a plethora of anecdotes from friends, family, and acquaintances.  While understanding the key points of the process will start you off with peace of mind, too much information can swamp you and leave you as stressed and confused as you would be with no information.

This primer isn't designed to be a full breakdown of a project.  Instead, it is a simplified outline of the situation from a larger perspective and of the process for construction or renovation.  I break down the experience into FIVE sections:

  1. OWNER

  2. RULES





At the top is you – the owner.  You own the land.  You are the one whose needs the project must meet.  You will be paying for the build.  You will own - and typically use as your home - the finished product.  One additional point you likely don't know is that you are ultimately responsible for the project.  Whether or not you understand all or anything about construction, you are liable for it. 


The OWNER is responsible for complying with various RULES.

An array of rules of different types created by different bodies and regulatory agencies are ALL in legal effect for any given project.

  • Municipal Bylaws

  • Provincial Acts and Codes

  • Federal Acts and Codes

You can read more about applicable regulations in my article PERMITS: Part 4.

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The OWNER hires the DESIGNER(S).

You the owner hire an architect, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, home designers, and/or draftspeople who create a design of some type and prepare drawings and other documents that explain various aspects of your project.

All designers are in theory assistants to turn an owner’s objectives and ideas into a complete design.  They bring experience, specialized knowledge, a range of skills, and different perspectives to a project with the purpose of helping ensure it meet's the owner's needs.
Architects and engineers specifically are also legally obliged to develop designs that comply with all relevant legislation and codes.

I detail some important distinctions between designers in my article "YOU DON'T NEED AN ARCHITECT".


The OWNER and DESIGNER makes an application to the AUTHORITY.

You make an application to the municipal authority that has jurisdiction over the piece of land – often referred to as the ‘City’ for convenience’s sake – to ask for permission to create your project, and the staff will check the proposed design against the relevant legislation and codes.  If the City deems the proposal to be in compliance with those legislation and codes, it will issue a Permit.  There are numerous permits required on a project.

Find out more about the authority having jurisdiction in my articles PERMITS: Part 1, PERMITS: Part 2, and PERMITS: Part 3.


The OWNER hires a BUILDER.
Builders include general contractors, subtrades (e.g. plumbers, painters, electricians), and renovation handymen.  Certain disciplines are required by law to have special training and certification (e.g. plumbers and electricians).  Other builders may belong to associations which foster quality construction.

Builders provide the materials and components, and they configure, assemble, and install the work.  They have control over how they execute the work but are responsible to comply with relevant legislation and codes and must create a product that matches what the designers’ documents specify.

* Design-build Alternative

In some cases ranging from a small laneway house up to a massive new hospital, the OWNER hires the BUILDER to figure out the RULES, to hire the DESIGNERS, and to make the application to the AUTHORITY.  This sounds much simpler, but it has as many undeniable and undesirable drawbacks as it does advantages.

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