The floor plan — what it is ... and what it isn't

Aug. 1, 2009
What drawings are really required to secure a building permit, price a project effectively, and protect you from construction cost overruns?

by Jeff Carter, DDS, Pat Carter, IIDA, and Dave Fazio, AIA

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: office design, Dr. Jeff Carter, Pat Carter, Dave Fazio, project cost, decisions.

What drawings are really required to secure a building permit, price a project effectively, and protect you from construction cost overruns?

This is one of the most confusing issues for dentists building a new office. It is compounded by a dental industry support network that often minimizes the relevance of “design” or “construction drawings” for the priority of dental equipment selection and purchase.

Arguably, dental equipment is a priority for you as an equipment-reliant professional. However, the presumption that typical 20% plus cost overruns is acceptable on dental projects and that minimal dentist interaction during design, a scant set of drawings, and no construction management has nothing to do with those cost overruns ... is a travesty.

The confusion starts with misconceptions about the floor plan. While significant, it is a minimal part of a “permit-able” set of construction drawings.

So, a first step is to expose the floor plan for what it is and what it isn't.

What it is . . .

• It is a two-dimensional diagram of what you want.

It locates walls, defines the limits of your spaces, and shows where cabinetry and equipment of “some description” is to be installed.

• It is a significant starting point.

Optimum ergonomics, effective staff and patient traffic flow, appropriate adjacencies, and sizes of rooms are identified in a floor plan. It is significant because a poorly conceived floor plan does not get better once constructed!

What it isn't . . .

• It is not a set of drawings.

Floor plans don't tell you or your contractor anything about the lighting; the floor, wall, hardware, cabinetry, or ceiling materials; the cabinetry configurations (e.g., how many drawers?); the mechanical, electrical, or plumbing specifications, etc. And if a floor plan doesn't describe these things then ...

• It is not an effective tool for pricing your project.

Legitimate contractors will tell you that being asked to price a project from a floor plan is their worst nightmare, primarily because they know any price they give is a guess about all the things the floor plan does not describe. And because they would like to construct your project, refusing to give you “something” may mean losing that opportunity. And lastly, if their number is off (which it will be), you may secure lending on a false assumption.

• It is not a building “permit-able” document.

In today's building environment, city municipalities will not issue a building permit from a floor plan only. Without belaboring the requirements, additional drawings are required before a permit to build can be issued. Many dentists don't realize the additional drawings are generated on their projects (because they are completed without input or review) in the name of minimizing the cost to the project (and the contractor). This drawing cost is part of their construction cost, which is promoted as an advantage to your project. However ...

• It doesn't protect you from cost overruns.

The floor plan gives your contractor lots of room for assumptions and little protection for you and the final actual cost. The difference between his/her initial floor plan cost assumptions and your actual expectations are called change orders. They are the legitimate tool used by contractors to add cost to your project throughout construction for all those things you really wanted that weren't documented in your floor plan drawings. That is why 20% plus cost overruns are “typical” for dental projects.

So what is the point of all this?

It isn't to minimize the importance of appropriate dental equipment selection.

It is to highlight the limits of your floor plan to secure a permit, a legitimate price, and effectively describe your project expectations.

And that is a first step to understanding the benefit of design and your drawing documentation.

A floor plan schematic is available at by clicking on the Download Center.

Jeff Carter, DDS, Pat Carter, IIDA, and Dave Fazio, AIA, are owners of PDGFazio Design Group. Located in Austin, Texas, PDGFazio offers a full range of architectural, interior design, and consulting services to dentists nationwide. For more information, call (800) 511-7110 or visit

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