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Your Secret Weapon: DIY vs. Pro Documentation for Small Firms

Your Secret Weapon: DIY vs. Pro Documentation for Small Firms

Small architecture firms have unique challenges when it comes to documenting the existing conditions of buildings. With limited staff and resources, investing in advanced building documentation technology often seems out of reach.

This blog compares the benefits and drawbacks of do-it-yourself (DIY) methods versus procuring professional as-built documentation services like those provided by Existing Conditions. Additionally, we'll include success stories from small firms and offer tips on what to look for when choosing a provider.


The Reality for Small Architecture Firms

Small architecture firms, usually with ten or fewer employees, often have tight budgets and limited manpower. Traditional methods of measuring buildings with tape measures or single-point (“disto”) lasers are still common. However, as technology advances, so do client expectations for precision and efficiency regarding as-built drawings from which to base design decisions.



DIY Building Documentation: Pros and Cons for Small Architecture Firms

A throwback photo of Joe Sullivan using the old ways of measuring a buildings roof with a tape measure and a single-point (“disto”) laser

A photo from 2015 shows Joe Sullivan, Senior Project Manager, using the 'old ways' of measuring a building's roof with a tape measure and a single-point (“disto”) laser.

DIY Pros:

  • Cost-Effective: DIY methods are generally cheaper upfront, which is important for firms with tight budgets.
  • Control: Doing the measurements yourself ensures that specific details are captured according to the architect’s needs.
  • Flexibility: Small projects can be handled quickly without needing to schedule external service providers.

DIY Cons:

  • Time-Consuming: Manual measurements and documentation take a lot of time, taking valuable resources away from design and client work.
  • Accuracy Issues: The chance for human error is high, leading to mistakes that can affect the overall quality of the project.
  • Limited Technology: Basic tools lack the advanced capabilities of professional equipment, resulting in less detailed and precise documentation.



Professional Documentation Services: Pros and Cons for Small Architecture Firms

Jesus Bravo carrying the LeicaRTC360

Jesus Bravo, Operations Director carrying the Leica RTC360.


  • High Accuracy: Professional services use advanced technologies such as laser scanning and drone imaging, delivering highly accurate and detailed documentation.
  • Time Efficiency: Outsourcing documentation frees up the firm's resources, allowing architects to focus on design and client interaction.
  • Advanced Deliverables: Firms like Existing Conditions can deliver documentation in various formats, including Revit, 2D CAD, Vectorworks, ArchiCAD, Rhino, and SketchUp, tailored to the specific needs of the client.


  • Cost: Professional services come with a higher upfront cost, which can be a significant barrier for small firms.
  • Dependence on Provider: Firms may need to rely on the availability and schedule of the service provider.
  • Learning Curve: Transitioning from DIY to professional services may require an initial adjustment period and training.


Client Success Stories

Here are examples of success stories of small architecture firms that have partnered with us, illustrating our services' significant impact on their projects. These stories demonstrate how our services help small firms save time and money while achieving accurate and efficient documentation.


David Torrey Architecture

David Torrey of Torrey Architecture discusses the benefits for architects by using Existing Conditions to create accurate documentation of their projects.

One example is the restoration of the historic First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square, Cambridge. Built in 1836, this church needed detailed documentation for restoration, but no original drawings existed. Existing Conditions advanced technology provided accurate drawings from all four sides, allowing the architectural team at Torrey Architecture to plan the restoration efficiently.

"Through the power of this new technology, we were able to create scale drawings of an 1836 building. It was quite a feat that involved comparing historic archival photographs with scaled exterior elevations done by Existing Conditions.
Without this innovative approach, creating detailed drawings of the building would have required extensive scaffolding and manual measurements, making it nearly impossible to achieve the level of accuracy we obtained. The point clouds provided by Existing Conditions were instrumental in this process, allowing us to scale off them and create 2D elevations on all sides of the structure" - David Torrey, Principal of Torrey Architecture.


Exterior elevations

Exterior elevations of the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in Harvard Square, Cambridge.



SpaceCraft Architecture

Sally DeGan, Founder and Principal at SpaceCraft Architecture discusses her experience working with Existing Conditions.

Our longstanding collaboration with SpaceCraft Architecture is a notable example. Sally Degan has been working in residential design since the early 2000s. SpaceCraft Architecture focuses mainly on renovations and new construction. When it comes to renovations, getting accurate existing condition drawings can be a challenge. Previously, they conducted on-site measurements with a tape measure, and traditional laser scanners, and spent hours creating drawings in the office. However, they found cost savings by utilizing our services.


“Existing Conditions does an excellent job capturing all the necessary details for our home project, making our lives easier. Your firm's services not only save costs but also provide invaluable point cloud data for resolving issues without needing to revisit the site.

We find these services useful in all of our projects, and can even go back to the Existing Conditions staff to identify areas where we need help. Having all the information readily available has been incredibly valuable for us" - Sally DeGan, Founder and Owner of SpraceCraft Architecture.


3D Revit, 3D Point Cloud in greyscale of a fine home.


3D Revit and 3D Point Cloud of the Bedford Street Residence in Lexington, Massachusetts.


Choosing the Right Provider: Key Considerations for Small Architecture Firms

When choosing a documentation provider, there are several key factors to consider. First, ensure the provider can deliver documentation in the format you use, whether it’s Revit, AutoCAD, Vectorworks, ArchiCAD, or another platform. This compatibility is crucial as it eliminates the need for time-consuming conversions.

Kelvin Jolalpa utilizing the LeicaRTC360 to scan the interior of Magic Island.

Kelvin Jolalpa, Operations Associate utilized the Leica RTC360 to 3D laser scan the Magic Island in Houston, Texas.

Next, look for a provider that offers a consultative process, ensuring the deliverables meet your specific project requirements and preferences. Customization in this way can make a significant difference in the usability and effectiveness of the documentation.

Experience with small architecture firms is another important factor. Providers familiar with the unique needs and constraints of small firms are better equipped to deliver tailored documentation. Additionally, consider the cost versus the value of the services. While professional services might have a higher upfront cost, the potential time savings and improvements in accuracy can make it a worthwhile investment in the long run.

Lastly, ask for references or case studies from similar firms. Hearing about the experiences of others can provide valuable insights and build confidence in your decision. By considering these factors, you can choose a provider that best meets the needs of your small architecture firm.


Streamlining Your Firm with the Right Documentation Services

While the high-tech world of professional building documentation might seem out of reach for small architecture firms, understanding the true value and potential return on investment can make a compelling case. By carefully considering your firm's specific needs and exploring both DIY and professional options, you can make an informed decision that enhances your project outcomes and operational efficiency.

For those ready to explore professional services, Existing Conditions can be your partner and provide customized, high-quality documentation that meets your needs.

Connect with us to learn more about how we can support your firm’s success.


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