Do-It-Yourself Building Envelope Design: 5 Steps to Design & Bid

J2’s guide to designing building envelope repairs, and why you can’t do it all yourself. Save these tips for your ...

J2’s guide to designing building envelope repairs, and why you can’t do it all yourself.

Save these tips for your records: Download the DIY Design Guide here


You’ve made it through the disheartening news that your building has damage. Visual and invasive inspections revealed water intrusion and damage that needs to be remediated, and now you need to come up with a plan to fix it.

Congratulations, you’ve made it to step 3* in the building remediation process: design! In many ways, this is the FUN stage in your building’s journey. You’ve made it through the bad news (that your building has damage) and now you get to choose a beautiful new façade for your home while making the necessary repairs.

*Note: If you haven’t been through visual invasive inspections yet, go back to step one in our 5 Steps to Building Repairs.

Do-It-Yourself Design – How to make façade and envelope updates to your existing building

1. Start with inspiration photos!

Browse Pinterest and Google Images for your dream look of what you want your building to look like. Find photos you love of communities that have been updated to look modern and new.

Next, make a list: What do you like about them? Wood accents, red doors, Hardie siding, modern windows and railings… What would your buildings look like if they had panel siding rather than vinyl? What style of trim, doors, and railings do you like? Does your community need a fresh paint job?

2. Decide what you can do on your own

Paint: If you decide your community only needs a fresh coat of paint, you can do this yourself! As long as you’re not painting over damage, new paint can do wonders for your street appeal.

Repairs: Minor siding changes and repairs can be done without a specialist. Example - If you have an accent wall with vinyl siding and you want to update it to wood look, you should be able to call a contractor to make that update as long as there’s no hidden damage.

Railing Updates: Many railing manufacturers have a licensed engineer on staff, so you could pick the railings you like, get a permit for the update with the help of their engineer, and have a contractor install them.


3. When you should call a consultant

When it’s a big project: Small projects with only a few moving parts are easy. If you have some construction experience, spare time, and a good contractor they will usually work out. However, big projects take a lot of dedicated time and experience to manage and implement, so an experienced project manager is not only necessary, but welcomed. Professional consultants and project managers also have insurance to cover your project risks.

When safety is at risk: Anything that has to do with life-safety should be overseen by a licensed professional. Examples include but are not limited to: railings, handrails, door egress, fire-rated assemblies, structure.

    • Building egress doors require specific hardware and are required to open out, not into the room, and they must also have a certain clearance to meet accessibility requirements.
    • Cable railings look modern and sleek, but they’re also tiny ladders for kids to climb. Because of that, your insurance may drop you or increase your premium because of the risk.

Permitting: Most multifamily repairs need permits, which will always require a licensed professional’s stamp (architect or engineer). Beware: Some contractors will say you don’t need a permit—get a second opinion or contact your local building department.

Choosing Materials: A designer will advise you on the best materials to use based on cost, appearance, location, climate, performance characteristics, warranty, and dissimilar material interfaces like roof to wall, deck to wall, and other transitions.

Don’t listen to salespeople... For example, metal roofs look great and last forever but they’re also expensive, loud, and not always practical in snowy climates. Gutters, snow, and metal roofs don’t play nice, so you’ll get dripped on every time you walk into your home. These are things your metal roof salesperson may not tell you.

4. What to look for when choosing a designer

Personality: You’ll spend a lot of time with this person discussing options, choosing your favorite designs and colors—make sure you like them as a person!

Listening Skills: The last thing you want is to explain what you like to your design team and be completely ignored. Your designer should listen to your tastes for your building’s appearance and budget, not just choose what they prefer.

Knowledge Base: You need a designer who has a vast knowledge of materials and building codes.

Value: Do you need a 50-year high-end product, or something else “gold plated”? Or do you want your designer to find you cost-effective yet tasteful options?

Cedars Rendering

5. J2’s Design Process

    • Visual and Invasive Inspections to determine what’s wrong
    • Client Meeting:
      • J2’s designer reviews the inspection reports and meets with the board or ownership group to begin visioning the building updates
      • The designer will give you ideas, inspiration, example photos of different types of siding, trim, windows, guardrails, and door options with pros and cons for each.
      • Decide on the extent of repairs: one elevation at a time, or fix the whole building?
      • Do you want to match the existing design or update the look for maximum curb appeal?
    • 3D Renderings: Our designers will take your ideas and create 2-3 design renderings so you can visualize your options
    • Good-better-best options: Each design will have varying costs associated with the materials you choose. We’ll meet with you again to narrow down what you are looking for.
    • Bid Process:
      • Send the design and architectural drawings to contractors to bid. Sending a detailed design plan to all bidders helps you compare apples to apples when it comes to price, timeline, and team.
      • Bid alternates: If you can’t decide between certain railings, paint colors, siding types, etc., we can get bid alternates to show you the cost difference between them.
      • Finding the right design: If you really love a certain design element from the renderings but it’s out of your budget, we can look at other building elements to modify, reduce or change to help bring the cost down and accommodate your favorite features. Your designer will get creative to make the most of your budget.
    • Choose your contractor
      • We can help you with bidder interviews to help you select the contractor that you feel most comfortable with
    • Helping you oversee and inspect the work:
      • Your designer and project manager will work through each individual design detail throughout the project to make sure the updates are installed correctly. There is no corner, edge, or seam that can be ignored.
      • Code requirements: Once you remove something from the building, anything you reinstall needs to meet current code. In other words, you can’t put it back the way you found it if it doesn’t meet code. Your designer will make sure the contractor is aware of this when temporarily removing doors, railings, or other materials.
      • At the end of the project, we will assemble all the warranty information and project documentation for your complete file to reference in the future.

Next Steps: Read the 5 Steps to Building Repairs guide to find out next steps in the process.

Save these tips for your records: Download the DIY Design Guide here

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