Some siding or exterior contractors are not shy about charging for the time it takes to develop an attractive design.
Credit: Courtesy THE JOURNAL OF LIGHT CONSTRUCTION Some siding or exterior contractors are not shy about charging for the time it takes to develop an attractive design.

Vinyl siding isn't ordinarily thought of as high design. Yet the scope of work often includes complex decorative elements.

Vinyl siding can also be part of a larger whole-house exterior replacement, with windows, gutters, and roofing. And sometimes getting a vinyl siding job approved by a historical commission, a homeowners' association, or a design review board requires drawings (elevations), specifications (products used), and color schemes. All of which take time and extra effort. If you don't charge for this kind of work, are you losing money?

In the Contract Steve Murray of Creative Exteriors in Orange, Calif., says “if the design is simple and it takes less than a half-hour, I just do it. If I know that I'm going to spend more time on it than that, I'll bring it up with the client and explain the extra charges.”

Murray lays the ground with an “Excluded” section in his contract that contains the following clause: “Extra costs due to plan checkers, building and safety departments, and architectural drawings needed to secure building permits will be an extra charge.”

Sue McDowell, of McDowell Exteriors & Remodeling in St. Charles, Ill., says her company charges a design fee in maybe 5% to 10% of the roughly 150 jobs it does each year — always for whole-house exteriors. In such instances, McDowell says, she will have the client sign a design development agreement. The charge could be either a percentage of the project cost or a flat fee, depending on complexity.

Depends on the Market Charlie Fiantaco, owner of Fiantaco Construction in Madison Heights, Mich., never charges for vinyl siding design for two reasons: “It doesn't take that long, and we'd get eaten up in the bidding.” For instance, Fiantaco's company recently finished a $40,000 siding job. Decorative elements —shutters, columns, and a porch cover — were added when the job neared completion because the clients felt they could afford it. “Our market is squeezed,” he says, citing auto industry layoffs. “And every one of them's got a hammer.”

Many siding contractors feel that just about any level of planning or design comes with the job. “I don't know anybody who charges for it,” says Joe Iuvara of Iuvara Siding & Window Co. in Haddon Heights, N.J. “I look at it as part of the business.”

But McDowell has another view: “We get so hung up on what we think people will pay for,” she says. “If they see there's value in it, they'll pay. Others say having a design agreement in place will not only help you get siding products approved so they can be built, but will help your company cover the costs associated with the design process. —Carl Sperry is a contractor living in South Carolina.