It is not uncommon to think about remodeling your home for years before taking any action. Once you have decided to actually do something, however, it is human nature to want it now. The fact of the matter is there are specific phases in this process. They are sequential, and none should be skipped!

These phases are programming (determining what needs to be done), schematic design (big picture issues), design development (filling in the details), construction documents, estimating/bidding and construction observation.

With each step of the process there are some things you can do to streamline your project.

For example, our client Jo Smith finished her smaller remodeling project in a relatively short eight-month period. The first thing she did was consult an architect. “Our architect started seeing other possibilities for the house that we couldn't even imagine," she said. "She created three possibilities for the house, and we took bits and pieces that we liked from each."

This initial design phase usually takes four to six weeks. This includes meeting with your architect to discuss goals, time for the architect to design several options, meeting again to discuss options and budget, and time for you to decide which plan (or combination of plans) you want to use.

Once the final design is determined, the construction drawings must be executed, both for municipal officials to issue a building permit and for contractors to use to determine the cost of the project and to actually build it. In addition to construction drawings, specifications must be prepared. This involves specifying the materials and finishes for the project, such as windows, countertops, plumbing fixtures, flooring, etc.

Depending on the size of the project, completing the plans and specifications averages eight to 12 weeks. Obviously, decisive clients like the Smiths can move through the design and specification phase more quickly than some other clients.

The construction documents must then be submitted to the city for review in order to obtain a building permit. The time required for this step depends on the municipality. Generally speaking, allow two to eight weeks for the review process and another one to two weeks for submitting any changes or additional information they may require. With a building permit in hand, you can legally begin construction.

Choosing a contractor is a critical step in the remodeling process. We recommend you interview several contractors, review previous projects and references, and see when your project would fit into their schedule. Contractors need your completed plans and specifications before they can compile a comprehensive budget or bid for your project.

There are two general approaches to working with a contractor on a residential project. The first is the traditional method known as design/bid/build. In this case, the construction documents (plans and specifications) are completed and then submitted to about three different contractors for bids on the job. This process can go on concurrently while your plans are being reviewed by the city. Allow at least two to three weeks for the contractor to prepare a bid and a week or two to analyze the bids and make your selection. The advantage of this process is being able to compare several bids that were prepared in competitive circumstances. The disadvantage is that often the bids come in high, which requires a delay in the schedule to redesign, additional design fees, and general disappointment that the scope must be reduced.

The other approach is called design/build and involves selecting a contractor up front at the beginning of the design process. The contractor needs to be experienced in this method, committed to giving the client a fair and honest price, and able to contribute to a team approach to design and construction. The advantage to this type of project is that the budget is front and center in the process. Once a master plan is created, the contractor provides a detailed estimate of the project, using general allowances for materials that have not yet been exactly specified. As the project progresses and final materials and equipment are selected, the estimate is refined and becomes more representative of the project at hand. There should be no nasty surprises when the final bid is submitted prior to commencing construction and no delays to the project start.

The Smiths had first consulted with their architect in January. By March, the plans were ready, they had selected a contractor and the project was scheduled to start in April. Construction went smoothly, and the Smiths had a new great room/kitchen, master suite and main floor bathroom by the beginning of August.

They were able to get through their project so fast for a couple of reasons. First, their project was relatively small. It was essentially moving walls as opposed to building an addition. Additions always take more construction time because they involve adding everything from the footing to the roof with every fixture and electrical wire in between.

Second, they were able to get construction started right away. This was part luck and part experience.

"Our architect was able to steer us away from the contractors who don't normally do small jobs," Smith said. "We didn't waste time on contractors who wouldn't call us back." Smith added that she thinks the construction process went quicker than other projects of the same size because they weren't living in the house during construction.

We know that moving out during construction isn't always possible, but it usually speeds things up. Contractors can move through a project faster when they don't have to work around a family living in the construction zone.

Overall, the Smiths didn't waste time in the design phase or in the construction phase because they made up their minds quickly and finally. Being decisive and preparing for the next step will help you streamline your remodeling project.

If your timing is right, there is no reason you can't be entertaining next year's holiday guests in a home that belongs in House Beautiful.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at Send comments or questions to