I’ll never forget the couple that needed help adding a master bathroom onto their house.

Because of the husband’s wheelchair use, they needed an extra-large roll-in shower. They also required a sink and countertop that was wide enough and tall enough for him to roll his chair under and use comfortably while seated. Plus, the wife wanted a laundry room built into this huge, new bathroom.

They brought the project to us after asking the first contractor that they hired (and fired) what size room they would need to accommodate their needs. He took them to the side of the house where the bathroom would be located and hammered four stakes into the ground. “How about this big?” he asked, without first determining the measurements of the shower, the sink, or the washer and dryer. “Maybe we could stick the shower over in the corner.”

That contractor is a really nice guy, and the couple liked him—personally. But as a builder/remodeler, he clearly skipped a few steps when he accepted their job for a room addition.

In this case, he skipped the step that requires the contractor to learn which products the homeowner wants in the bathroom, how big they are, and how much they cost. He skipped the step that would ensure all of the room’s components—from the laundry room to the roll-in shower—would fit perfectly, leaving the couple a comfortable enough space to move around in.

This is the planning and design phase of the project. It’s possible that the first contractor skipped that step because he wasn't a designer and didn't work with one.

But skipping this phase means not being prepared for what comes next.

A Picture’s Worth a Thousand Words

Most homeowners have a pretty good idea of what they want their kitchens, bathrooms, room additions, and other remodeling projects to look like when they’re finished.

So they explain what they want to a contractor, and the contractor nods in understanding—so far, so good. A problem arises, however, when the contractor’s interpretation of the project differs from their own.

This is actually a big problem, not a small one, and it occurs too often.

The fact is that unless the homeowner draws a picture of the remodeled room with every piece in place—to scale—the contractor isn't going to be able to precisely duplicate the project. And very few homeowners have the ability or the time to do that.

So before you agree to tackle a job, it’s important to draw a picture.

Most people do better with visual cues than with verbal ones when it comes to remodeling. Once you show your drawing—one with cabinets, countertops, plumbing fixtures, and room sizes drawn to scale—you’ll know if the homeowner really understands your vision.

A three-dimensional computerized drawing is an even better gauge of whether or not you’re on the right track. Plus, once you show a 3-D model of the new room, the homeowners may discover that they want to change a few things. This pre-construction planning is quite effective in determining whether or not everyone is satisfied with the “new” space.

However, not every remodeler is willing to take the time to do this kind of planning. Some figure out where things go bit by bit as they work on the room, instead of taking the time to help decide how big the shower will be and whether it will overwhelm the size of the bathroom. For instance, they might agree to execute an oversized shower—leaving little room to squeeze in the sink or toilet.

Planning takes time—and it isn't done on the back of an envelope. Don’t be the contractor who looks around the room as the homeowner describes their dream kitchen or bathroom, scratches a few notes onto a piece of scrap paper, and then says: “I can start on Monday.”

That same guy is the one who will say, when asked about how big the sink can be, given the size of the shower, “We’ll figure all that out once the plumber gets here.”

—Jeb Breithaupt is a third-generation designer, remodeler, and builder, and is the owner of Jeb Design/Build, in Shreveport, La.