Nov 13, 2012
Contractors typically come with various strengths and weaknesses. These attributes typically reveal themselves during a project. From my point of view, a contractor with some design skill can help spot ways to achieve cost savings during the planning stage, if he or she is allowed to participate at that time. Of course the architect is the "head honcho" in this department, but an experienced contractor may have a bit of insight.
Often homeowners consult with an architect exclusively, go over their wishes and budget, debate about their various design possibilites and finally begin to form their vision of the project. The architect then has to hire a structural engineer if custom features require it (steel beams or large concrete foundations), and have that engineer create a structure that will pass city planning. Finally the project seeks contractors to bid on the plans as presented. This is not a bad way to do business and many projects have been completed quite successfully in this manner.
Involving a contractor a bit earlier in the process may seem like a dubious idea (at least to architects and engineers, perhaps), and it may very well involve extra time and hassle. But it may also lend itself to a solution that is a bit less costly from an engineering or fabrication point of view. The danger is that it could result in a less encapsulated design process, which some homeowners might find distracting.
It often comes down to a question of whether "more ideas" is better for the client or not. If so, then passing a plan along to a contractor during the middle of the planning stage is a helpful possibility.