Design on screen, not on paper

The value of a computer-aided design (CAD) program depends entirely on what kind of jobs you do, how much design work they regularly involve and the expectations of your client base.

March 31, 2004

Hand-drawn plans can be all a remodeler needs to get and complete a job. On projects without structural work that don't require permits, even a quick sketch might suffice. The value of a computer-aided design (CAD) program depends entirely on what kind of jobs you do, how much design work they regularly involve and the expectations of your client base.

Many consumers cannot envision the result of a remodeling project, big or small, and therefore have a hard time signing off on a contract. Programs that create realistic two-dimensional or three-dimensional images of what the client or remodeler proposes — down to the light at different times of day — can help make the sale.

Other consumers might not see the charm of a hand-drawn design and consider CAD drawings more professional and/or accurate.

CAD programs definitely can accelerate the design process, especially if you do a lot of design work or have clients who change their mind frequently during the design phase. Change one element of the design, perhaps lengthening one wall of an addition, and the proportions of the other walls, the materials list and other affected elements update automatically.

Even if your company doesn't create the design, the ability to share files electronically with suppliers, subcontractors and architects can improve collaboration and smooth production.

Case study: Tech Design/Build & Remodeling

Design software is no news to Ray Silva, vice president of Tech Design/Build & Remodeling Inc. in Smithfield, R.I. When Silva joined the company 13 years ago, he already had used DataCAD for a few years, and he soon converted his colleagues, who still drew by hand. He also influenced the firm's move to the design/build model and the opening of its Greenville Kitchens & Baths division.

Using a CAD program, he says, is mandatory to being competitive because 1) it helps design/build firms win business away from kitchen and bath designers, and 2) it allows designs to be created and altered faster, increasing productivity and growth.

"Because you have all of this technology at your fingertips, clients expect you to be able to turn things around pretty quickly," Silva says. "I could never go back to doing anything by hand. You couldn't turn the work around quick enough."

Three staff designers design 40-50 projects annually through Tech Design/Build and Greenville. Typically, says Silva, those are $50,000-$100,000 additions, kitchens and/or bathrooms, but some jobs run as high as $500,000. They also design a number of the projects that flow through one of Tech's sister companies, Insurance Reconstruction Services Inc.

Silva first chose DataCAD for its abil-ity to create 3-D models of his designs, which improves clients' ability to envision the completed project. Now the company's Web site ( promotes that 3-D design capability.

In addition, the in-depth architectural detail the program provides is essential because of the complexity of the company's projects.

A library of details and systems comes with the software, and Silva also can create and save his own design tricks. He also recommends using a program that can import and export generic CAD file types, making it easy to work with other professionals and to use details provided by product manufacturers online.

"I do business with a guy who does generic CAD, and he's able to do it in a way that I can upload it," Silva says. Easy file sharing also helps Silva integrate design and project planning with subcontractors.

For their design retainer, typically about $2,500, Silva provides clients with floor plans, 3-D and 2-D images, a set of specifications and a solid estimate. After a client signs a construction contract, Tech applies the retainer toward the deposit and thereafter provides free structural drawings.

Then as clients use their allowances to make color and finish selections, Tech updates the design with their choices.

Silva recently paid approximately $600 to upgrade two of Tech's three DataCAD seats, or licenses. The firm incurs that expense every two or three years, but Silva considers it affordable.

Despite its ability to help clients' visualize their design fantasies on screen, Silva doesn't think the technol-ogy will replace the showroom as a sales tool.

"You have to be able to feel and touch, open this and open that," he says. "If you want to get into the kitchen and bath industry, you've got to have a showroom.

"I built a house last year for a woman who came in looking for a kitchen. That's not unusual at all. I've done a lot of $200,000 to $300,000 projects that started out with people coming in here looking at kitchens."

This new department looks at the everyday and extraordinary ways remodelers are incorporating technology into their businesses to boost profits, improve efficiency and enhance customer satisfaction. To submit questions or contribute ideas, contact Kimberly Sweet at or 630/288-8170.

Which software program fits your company?
Program Price Focus Features and options Contact information
20/20 Design 6.1 $3,895 Interiors, kitchen and bath Drag-and-drop editing; creates cut lists; includes NKBA design guidelines 866/698-2020
AutoCAD 2005 $3,470 More common for commercial Owner of the DWG file format; 3-D modeling 877/277-7890
Cadsoft Build 7.0 $2,995 Native DWG/DXF files; DWF exporting; 3-D modeling; virtual walk-through; creates estimates, materials lists, schedules of materials; library of 3,000 items; works with Master Builder, QuickBooks, Excel 888/223-7638
Chief Architect starts at $1,195 Drag-and-drop editing; DWG/DXF importing and exporting; 3-D modeling; virtual walk-through; creates estimates, materials lists, schedules of materials; library of 8,500 items 800/482-4433
DataCAD 11 starts at $999 DWG, DXF, BMP, JPG importing and exporting; DWF exporting; 3-D modeling 800/394-2231
RenoWorks $400 Exteriors Imports photos and elevations of clients' homes; applies exterior building products to scale; can co-brand the software for presentations 877/980-3880
SoftPlan starts at $1,085 BMP and JPG importing; DWG importing and exporting; 3-D modeling and walk-throughs; creates estimates, materials lists 800/248-0164

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