Updated: Mar 24
Welcome to the second installment in our series about rebuilding your home after a fire. In today’s post we’re taking a deeper dive into the next three steps—the land survey, building and fire code review, and tips for selecting your new home’s architect and builder.
3. Schedule a Land Surveyor
Immediately after filing an insurance claim and selecting a site clean-up provider, the next step in the process is to get your property scheduled for surveying. You may have already had a professional survey conducted on your land prior to purchasing your home, however a survey is important after home loss and fire damage for a number of reasons.
Land surveys measure and identify several things, including property boundaries, acreage, and topographical features. They’re also a permit requirement, so it’s helpful to have them done as quickly as possible to keep the project moving forward. Conducting a survey after a fire is critical to understanding if and/or how the home site can sustain new structures. Keep in mind a survey is part of the discovery process in determining the best placement of your new home. A land survey analysis may require moving the structure to a different location on the site, which could affect the home’s design and orientation—very important things to consider as you begin working with an architect or design build firm!
If you need help finding a professional surveyor, conduct a search with your state’s surveyors association or by visiting the National Society of Professional Surveyors. Stillwater Dwellings has relationships with a number of trusted and vetted land surveyor firms that can help expedite scheduling and completion. Your insurance carrier may also provide a list of recommended surveyor firms.
4. Review Building and Fire Codes
Now that you’ve determined your land can continue to support a new structure, it’s time to begin thinking about design. Knowing your local jurisdiction’s building and fire codes will influence major decisions you make about your new home, including protections for infrastructure, utilities, location to minimize ignition hazards, and construction materials.
One of the design considerations that’s top of mind among our clients is home size. Most local jurisdictions have something called a rebuilding free zone or similar, which is a set of guidelines that outline parameters around what can be rebuilt and how much the structure size may increase without requiring additional permit approvals. Designing within these parameters can speed up the build timeline considerably and help reduce costs. Stillwater Dwellings project managers are well versed in various local zoning, building, and fire codes, and can assist clients in navigating this oftentimes complex process.
5. Select an Architect and Builder
If you haven’t already done so, research and select the firm(s) you would like to design and build your new home. At Stillwater Dwellings, our experience building on at-risk terrain and in wildfire-prone areas throughout the western U.S. has given us a well-rounded perspective that balances our clients’ design preferences with local fire and building codes and the safety and prevention requirements in these regions. We can’t stress enough the importance of selecting a firm with a background in building in these areas; knowledge of local jurisdictions and zoning, along with established relationships with vendors and development agencies, can positively affect budgets and home delivery dates. That being said, there are two primary avenues for rebuilding: hiring an architectural firm and builder separately, or contracting with a design build firm.
Hiring Separate Architectural and Contractor Firms
For the most flexibility in your new home design, going with an architectural firm may be a good choice. If you do not have budget constraints, prefer working with a celebrated architect, and have a more open-ended move-in timeframe, you have the opportunity to take your dream home concept and bring it to life. An experienced architect can also serve as your advocate when hiring and working with a licensed general contractor, however you must add their associated fees to the overall project cost. Going this route does require more hands-on time and can become costly, so be sure to do your homework and read through contracts and agreements carefully to avoid unpleasant surprises.
Hiring a Design Build Firm
Hiring a design build firm means contracting with a single company for both the design and construction of a new home instead of signing multiple contracts with an architect and general contractor. Working with a single company during a rebuild has its advantages, as a single point of contact has the potential to help streamline communications and construction times. Even so, the design process at design build firms is often similar to that of architectural firms; the conceptualized and drafted plans are highly customized which can lead to spiraling costs during the pre-construction phases.
Hiring A Prefab Design Firm
Prefab home design can offer a great hybrid choice, with clients able to select from a collection of home plans with the opportunity to make some structural and architectural changes to accommodate their preferences. Panelized construction, a type of prefab home, involves wall panels constructed in a closed temperature-controlled manufacturing facility and delivered for onsite assembly by the clients’ preferred general contractor. It is our preferred method at Stillwater Dwellings, and we provide a roster of trusted and vetted general contractors and offer full support throughout the build until it’s complete. Prefab advantages are numerous, and include faster timeframes and predictable costs. We at Stillwater offer a set of pre-engineered home plans for fire rebuilds and, without modifications, can reduce construction times by three to six months.
For families reeling from trauma from home loss, any opportunity to simplify and streamline the rebuild process with increased transparency and faster home delivery times will further them along the path to recovery.
Part 3 of this series discusses everyone’s least favorite topic - budget! - and how to maximize it, code requirements, and tips for approaching new home design to mitigate future fire risk.