Cost Triggers by Luke Davies

Existing conditions that trigger extra costs when taking over an existing space:

Incorrect Occupancy Use - There are many restaurants and bars in San Francisco running under a "B" occupancy. That is allowed as long as the calculated occupancy comes out to below 49 people. You cannot just say you will only allow 49 people in at a time. If you buy an existing restaurant or bar that is currently running under a "B" occupancy but has more than 49 occupants per the occupancy calculations, you will have to file for a "Change of Use" with the Building Department. Restaurants and bars with more than 49 occupants are classified as an "A" occupancy. Depending on what the calculated occupancy load is, you may have to add additional restrooms, exits and sprinklers, just to name a few items.

Sprinklered Buildings - Buildings by law either have a sprinkler system or they do not. There are many buildings that are partially sprinklered and technically that does not count in the eyes of the local fire codes. If the building is partially sprinklered, sprinklers will have to be added to the non-sprinklered areas for it to be considered sprinklered.  Make sure you ask the current tenants or owners for the latest sprinkler system maintenance report and verify that the sprinkler coverage is throughout the building.  If you plan to change the wall layout in a sprinklered space, there is a good chance the existing sprinkler system will have to be modified. 

Exiting - With so many buildings built so close together in San Francisco, exiting requirements are difficult to meet at times. There are occasions where you will be required to have two exits when you currently only have one. You may have to make a deal with a neighboring building to allow emergency exiting through their space or you may need to build a one hour rated corridor within your space. Just because the current space got away with only one exit does not mean your new business will. There are many factors involved that a design professional can evaluate.

ADA upgrades – For the year of 2019, if your construction costs for your remodel are below $166,157.00 you are required to spend 20% of your construction dollars on ADA upgrades. If your construction costs are above $166,157.00 you are required to make the entire space ADA compliant. It really is that simple. Separately, all new construction is required to be ADA compliant. The dollar amount that sets the threshold changes every year so check the building department website. 

Title 24 Energy Requirements - Every commercial space being renovated with new lighting, new mechanical equipment or a new facade will be required to provide Title 24 energy calculations in order to obtain a construction permit. Most lighting will be required to be fluorescent or LED and you should expect to change regular light switches to have dimmers or occupancy sensors.  Most electrical and mechanical engineers can provide job specific calculations.

Every space is different and we recommend all properties you are seriously considering be evaluated by a design professional to make sure the new owners are aware of issues that need to be addressed before any deals are signed. 

Hiring a Contractor by Luke Davies

We work with contractors all the time. The bulk of your project budget goes through the contractor so it is vitally important that you hire the right contractor for your project. The risks involved in hiring the wrong contractor are massive.  Poor construction quality can ruin the end result and contractors who do not honor the schedule can cost you thousands of dollars in lost business revenue and in rent. I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you do your research before hiring a contractor. Below I have listed some steps you can take before hiring a contractor so that you are better protected. Depend on your design professional to help you through the process as well.  We have immense pride in our designs so we take a vested interest in having a good contractor deliver our vision.  A contractor who is not qualified to do the work can ruin the design integrity of the space and you will be the one who has to live with it.  It is to your best interest to hire a good contractor. 

Good luck and feel free to ask us questions. 

Prior to asking for bids check references and ask to see work the contractors have completed.  If they have a good relationship with past clients they will be able to give you a tour of some of their completed projects.  Ask their past clients if they are happy with the outcome, the quality of work and the amount of time it took the contractor to complete the project.

The City of San Francisco issued a document called "Considering Becoming an Owner-Builder?".  You should read this document to realize your risks if you are considering hiring an unlicensed contractor.  For example, if you hire an unlicensed individual to perform any construction work valued at more than $500.00, the permit is taken out in your name and you are personally responsible for their employment requirements, supervision, performance, safety and welfare while they are on your property.  This also makes you their direct employer responsible for withholding payroll taxes, providing workers compensation and disability insurance and contributing to unemployment compensation for each individual working on your project.  To read further follow this link and scroll down to Owner-Builder Forms.  G. Paoletti Design Lab discourages the hiring of unlicensed contractors.

Once you have an idea of which contractor you want to hire enter the contractor's license number into the "Check a license" section of the Department of Consumer Affairs, Contractors State License Board to check the status of their license and to see if they have any complaints filed against them.  It takes just a moment to do. Here is the link: 

The website also has a 15 minute educational video titled, "Doing it Right, Hiring a Licensed Contractor" which covers how to verify a contractor's credentials, what to include in the written contract, how to prevent common disputes and where to go if problems arise. 

It is worth mentioning that they have documents about "Making Sure Your Contractor Measures Up", "Prescreening Contractors" and "Arbitration Program Guides" in the Consumer section of the website.

Ask the contractor if he is a member of a professional association which has standards or a code of ethics for remodelers.  They do not have to be but it helps their credibility.

Contact your local Better Business Bureau to see if any complaints have been filed against them. 

Compare costs between the different contractors bidding the project and ask about items that are not clearly described or if there is anything you do not understand.  Make sure that each contractor includes the same items on their bids and that each item is described to the same extent.  If it is not written on the bid it is not included in the price. Do not allow substitutions during the bidding phase unless you have reviewed and approve of the substitution.  Make sure you inform all contractors of the substitution. 

Do not automatically choose the lowest price.  One contractor's bid might be higher because the materials to be used are of a better quality or because the work will be especially thorough and therefore, require more time and labor.  With the construction industry it has been our experience that you get what you pay for.  If you go with an inexpensive contractor do not expect good quality work or professionalism on the job site. 

Make sure the contractor is insured against claims covering worker's compensation, property damage and personal liability in case of accidents.  Then make sure they meet the bonding requirements in your area.  The contractor should provide you with the proper documents. 

Never pay a contractor for the entire job in advance and avoid paying in cash whenever possible. 

Most of this information can be found on the Better Business Bureau website.

Gi Paoletti Design Lab provides management services during the bid phase of projects to help clients through the process. Many design firms provide this service. If you are uncomfortable going through the bid phase without guidance ask your designer or architect to give you a price to manage the process. It can save you a lot of stress. We work with contractors on every project we do so we know a lot about it. Do not feel pressured to go through it alone.

Give time for design by Luke Davies

Prior to giving you my view on the importance of giving time for the design of a project, I want to point out the incredible insights of these three respected people.

Don Norman is a design critic who produced a good, little video on how design makes people happy.  It's quite entertaining and he makes good points about how emotions dictate how people interact with design elements.

Graphic designer and writer Stefan Sagmeister did a charming video on happy design; design that makes the end user happy and being happy designing.

Author and speaker Daniel Pink is one of my favorites.  He wrote "Drive" which is a book about what motivates people.  He is a funny and eloquent speaker and he emphasizes the value of right-brained thinking, which he wisely points out, cannot be outsourced.

Why do we mention these three men and their beliefs?  Because design is more than seeing how quickly we can put together permit drawings.  There is a process that gets better results.  To touch on a point Daniel Pink makes, you hire us and people like us because of what we have the ability to create.  This creation takes time, motivation, effort, inspiration, individual thought and a love for the process.  You can't outsource what is being created in our brains.

During initial walk-throughs of a space we are always asked how quickly we can produce drawings.  Deadlines are important of course, but taking some time to consider what the design can and should be adds more value to the build-out and is easily as important as a completion date.  The point of having a period of time dedicated to a focused and sustained effort is to come up with the best ideas for the design.  Assigning importance to the design process produces long lasting results.  If you make an unreasonable deadline your highest priority, the design will suffer and as a result, so might your business.

Taking time to create an environment inspires the designer to come up with great ideas.  Sometimes they will invent something never seen before.  Ideas on technology may change how a space functions or perhaps an idea on a new way of operating changes the client's idea of how they run their business or changes what they envisioned their space to be.  If you don’t allow time to let us research and imagine, you will be losing out on a great business opportunity.