The Building Process

The Design, Estimate, Draft, Cost, Build Process 

George Blackburn

Smoky Mountain Construction Group, Inc. - Smoky Mountain Log & Timber Homes, LLC


In response to the many inquiries we get about the process of designing and building a mountain home I’d like to describe the steps we go through in order to actually ‘break ground’, on a new project.  There are many decisions and compromises involved in getting to that point, and the more detail and information both we, and the client, have about all aspects can insure a build out that contains few surprises and is a source of pleasure for all involved.  


There are many many moving parts to building a home, with many tradesman, carpenters, and vendors coming and going and each contributing an important part of the puzzle.  Our role includes the sourcing of craftsmen and materials, the sequencing and scheduling of supplies and trades, all the while monitoring quality and budget adherence, and most importantly, keeping the client informed of progress (or even a lack thereof), and opportunities that may arise to change or modify design or materials that would provide either an aesthetic or monetary benefit.  


But that assumes the cart has wheels and is harnessed to the horse.

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Before we can move forward there is much work to do for all parties concerned.


Every client has a budget in mind before they start thinking about building.  The rule of thumb that seems to bear out (with myriad exceptions of course) is the cost of heated square footage averages @ $200 per foot.  This excludes site development costs which are always site specific, I.e., well, septic, drives, culverts, gravel, excavation, power and waterlines, gutter drains, and most importantly, footings, foundations and piers.  The rule of thumb will vary depending on the type of roof construction (fully timbered or conventional), the amount and type of windows and doors, and the largest variable is the client’s taste in finish materials.  


Homes here in the mountains tend to be very site specific in design to take advantage of views, access, septic or well systems constraints, setbacks, and topography.  Usually everything starts with a building site, a client’s ideas and needs, and a budget.  From these parameters we can begin the process of determining floor plans, initial ideas on types of materials that will fit the needs and budget, and the costs of developing the site.


We have many Floor Plans, both on our website, and in our archives, that have been developed over the years.  Often we can find a plan that may serve as a starting point, or combine features of several plans to create a new, one of a kind, custom design.  A client may also bring us a sketch, a plan from another source, or nothing more than scribbles on a napkin (that has happened, that napkin is framed and hangs on the wall of a 4,500 sq. ft home)!  A helpful habit early on for clients is to collect photos of details and features that they like, to share with us.  This helps us visualize what client’s are seeing in their dreams, and provides valuable insight into what types of budgets may be needed for finish items.



So, now we have a building site, which will enable us to determine site development costs, and we start working on the ‘conceptual’ phase of the home design.  


Our charges for the development of the conceptual and the completed architectural drawings are $2.00 per heated square foot.  We charge a deposit of $1,000.00 to begin the conceptual phase, which is deducted from the $2.00 per square foot total charge, with the rest billed 50% when the concept moves to the architectural phase, and the balance on completion.








CONCEPT PHASE:    Our talented and experienced design team, starting with Wendy Wright, will sit down (virtually or in person) and listen to your needs and ideas, look at the starting points we are using (an existing plan or other combinations), the topography, access and views, and begin to develop a unique project for you and your site.  You can see many examples of our work on the website.  Using AutoCad and Sketchup we will be able to show you 3D views of the plans, and even walk you through the interior spaces as they are designed.


This ‘conceptual’ process usually involves several iterations before achieving a good balance of looks and layout.


ESTIMATION PHASE:    Now we have a site, site development cost determined, and a conceptual plan, and are ready for an estimate of costs, prior to moving on to the architectural drawings.  Here you will meet Duane Scott, our detail oriented Construction Estimator, who will work with you on finish selections and allowances for your project, and help create a budget that is cost effective .



PROJECT MANAGEMENT PHASE:     On to the next phase, you will meet  Zach Shelly, our energetic Project Manager.  Zach  will be procuring the mechanical systems costs and general material costs.  At this stage we are providing ‘estimated’ costs, prior to having full architectural drawings which are necessary to be able to send out for hard bids on framing and mechanical systems, including plumbing rough in and trim out, electrical rough in and trim out, HVAC systems etc.  The estimate is prepared with always some compromises on budget items.  Every client has certain areas that are priorities, this can be the kitchen, an outdoor fireplace on a screened porch, a metal roof, high performance insulation and HVAC systems, a certain log profile or siding choice, etc.

Our goal at this stage is to have enough information about the overall project, including allowances required to fulfill your needs and expectations, and all materials to be specified in the project, to give you an ‘estimate’ that will not vary more than 10% from the eventual contract cost.


Ok now the ‘estimate’ looks good and we move on to the preparation of the architectural drawings, which includes footing and foundation plans, floor plans, elevations, sections and details as needed, and electrical plans.  These are sufficient for permitting and construction, and will carry an engineering stamp if required by the local building jurisdiction.  Once these are complete we commence the final costing phase, soliciting bids on all materials from vendors and subcontractors, for all phases of construction, including permits and start up costs, site and foundation costs, dry in materials and labor, mechanicals and insulation, interior and exterior finishes and paint and stain, and allowances for finish items.  


CONTRACTUAL PHASE:    These drawings, costs estimates and other essential documents are then assembled by Sally Gamewell, our meticulous Office Manager and brought into our ‘Phased’ construction costs contract which specifies all materials to be used, costs for each phase of construction, management fees, and allowances.


Now we have a well constructed cart harnessed to an eager horse, and we are ready to move forward!






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