The Value of a Feasibility Study

The idea of building something is exciting! Whether creating a brand-new building or renovating an existing building, the joy of shaping a space to fit our needs is one of the most ancient human experiences. The modern process of planning a building has become enormously complex and so convoluted that excitement can quickly dwindle into dismay at all the codes, requirements, unknowns, and decisions that arise.

Fortunately, there is a tool called a Feasibility Study. It is a tool to aid in the decision of whether to build in the first place. The purpose of a feasibility study is to foresee potential issues as early as possible and to confirm that the project should move forward.

Every architect has their own style in how they make a Feasibility Study. Here is how we like to do it at Inversion Design Build. We start with a list of questions for the client and the site to fill in our knowledge gaps and discover the following:

  • Budget and schedule parameters.
  • Client’s future goals for growth and/or change.
  • Site characteristics such as size, access, soil types, adjoining uses, slopes, utility availability and/or provisions for extending or providing utilities such as water, sewer, gas, and communications. For this we often rely on a Survey and a Geotechnical report.
  • How the building will be used and who will occupy it.
  • Aspects of the proposed design: availability and cost of materials, aesthetic considerations, the scale of the building, and scope of the overall project including both construction and soft costs.
  • Local zoning and code regulations.
  • Options and alternative strategies are explored; new strategies may appear as your project comes into clear focus.

Our Feasibility Study analyzes all these variables to determine basic questions such as, “Will this building and its parking needs fit on this land?” and “Can this garage be turned into a residential living space without fire sprinklers, rebuilding the foundation or adding a new electrical panel?” Answers to these questions are important before deciding to purchase land, or to confirm that construction costs are within the budget.

In everyday language, words can take on different meanings depending on context but when it comes to the building code, it is important to know the exact definitions of the terms. Here is a list of definitions for terms commonly used during preparation of a feasibility study that affect the obtainment of a building permit.

Zoning: Land is designated by zones. Residential, commercial, or industrial are examples of zoning categories. Zones determine what kind of buildings can be built, to either preserve the character of an existing district or encourage a new or different type of development. These zones are typically set by the local planning department.

Authority Having Jurisdiction: Usually a city or county has jurisdiction, depending on where the site is located. The authority having jurisdiction includes, at a minimum, the building department, planning department, and fire department, whose requirements must be met for a proposed project to move forward. It can also refer to a state or regional agency that develops requirements, such as the Washington State Energy Code, which may have an impact on planning the site or building.

Building Code: Codes set minimum standards for such things as the safety performance of the building’s structure and systems, fire ratings, special detailed requirements based on the proposed use, and safeguards during construction.

Use: Educational, Business, and Assembly are examples of uses and describes how the building will be used. While the definition is simple, the implications are complex. The use dictates the allowable size of the building, fire protection and exiting requirements, just to name a few. The type of proposed use is defined within the parameters of planning and building codes. If a building use changes, there is a change of use permit which sometimes requiring the review of an architect or engineer.

Existing buildings also require an in-depth form of a feasibility study. This is because most parts of the building already exist in varying conditions and the building is sometimes intended to be used in a different way than originally designed. Some older buildings were constructed according to older building codes or no codes at all. This does not necessarily mean that everything needs to be updated, but instead the International Existing Building Code applies. Our job as architects is to see how specific existing conditions are addressed by the code and determine what updates are required. Often, we can reduce construction costs by avoiding unnecessary updates.

A Feasibility Study can provide information about what to expect when undertaking a building project. If you are considering a building project, please contact us to assist in evaluating your specific situation.

With more understanding and confidence in hand, you can get back to the excitement of building again!

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