Working with an Architect

    What does an architect do? Of what value are they in designing a small project ? How much do they cost ?

These are a few questions that you may have when planning an addition, renovating or remodeling your home.

What an Architect does

    Architects do not just draw up a set of "prints" for a contractor to build from.  An architect works with you to help create a unique design or vision for your project. He or she can provide creative ideas to help meet your needs, realize your dreams and satisfy the wishes you have for your home. They can inspire you to consider things about your home that you may never have looked at before. This might mean challenging the thoughts or plans you may have about how to best achieve the results you desire.

Remodeling with an architect

    In order to develop a design for your addition or major remodel, the architect needs to analyze not only your site and or your existing house, but your lifestyle as well. After interviewing you, the architect develops a program or outline of your particular needs.

    This is a critical first step in the design process. Decisions made at this point can greatly affect the success of a project. It is extremely important therefore that all family members involved be present for an initial consultation. As in all endeavors communication is the key to successful results.

    The more information you provide an architect at this point such as how you want your new space(s) to look, feel etc., the better they can help you to achieve your goals. An example might be "I'd like plenty of natural light" or "an open and airy layout'.  Be as specific as you can about the things that matter most to you. You and your family could make a list of furniture you have or will purchase so that your new rooms can be designed to accommodate them.

Computer Aided Design and Drafting or CADD

    The advent of computers has lead some people to believe that much of the work is done with several clicks of a mouse or buttons pushed on a keyboard. Computers do not generate or produce designs for an architect.  They can however assist in modeling a design in three dimensions or produce walkthroughs or photo renderings.  As with any other tool it is the skill of the operator not the tool itself that matters most.

    Computer aided drafting has certainly helped speed up the process of preparing a set of "blueprints". Think of CADD drawing programs as an "electronic pencil" with no eraser required ! The quality of the output from a computer program is only as good as the information put into it in terms of the level of accuracy and detail.

The Design Team

    Why might I need a design team?  Perhaps your addition or renovation may warrant engaging other design professionals such as a landscape architect, land surveyor, kitchen designer, or an interior designer. Depending on the scope and complexity of your project, the services of a structural, mechanical or civil engineer may also be needed. If zoning variances are required you may even have to hire a real estate attorney.

    An architect will coordinate with all these other disciplines to help in better organizing the process. A good project team includes an architect who listens and integrates input from both the owner(s), the contractor(s) and all other parties involved.

The Value of an Architect

    With stock plans available on the internet and do-it-yourself computer programs to "design" your own home or renovation, why invest the time and money in design fees for a personalized design solution for your project?

    Programs such as HGTV's "What's my House Worth" or "Design on a Dime" have raised homeowners awareness that good design matters. However since these programs and other shows like them focus primarily on cosmetic fixes rather than space planning, they don't show how good design really works.

    Looking at real estate prices or square footage costs for that "dream project" does not address what are the most important issues that affect the success or failure of a building project. It's not difficult to grasp that projects are most successful when designed down to the doorknobs.

    The greatest value that architects provide are in the most fundamental of design principals; the way a building relates to it's site, the massing, scale and proportion of a structure and a functional layout that utilizes existing space.

    The following are points to consider when taking on a building or renovation project.

  1.     Your home should be custom fit to your current and future needs.

  2.     Good site planning saves energy and resources.

  3.     A smaller efficient house is better than a large wasteful one.

  4.     Creative use of space and smart material selection saves money.

  5.     Looking at different design options will result in a more satisfying project.

  6.     A well designed home will have a higher resale value.

How much does an Architect cost?

    As a homeowner you may think that hiring an architect is just too expensive. If you work with the right architect however just the opposite is true. An architect's knowledge of building methods, energy saving materials and design strategies can more than offset their fees. A well thought out project that is not only efficiently designed but structurally superior is a good investment in the long term. 


     Residential architects usually charge for their services in one of two ways. Some charge a percentage of the construction costs ranging anywhere from five to fifteen percent for the design and construction drawings. This usually results in a conflict of interest for obvious reasons.  Most firms charge an hourly rate and/or a fixed fee depending on the size and complexity of the project with a retainer required to start.

    In the Design Phase when the scope of the project is being defined and the number of possible revisions and meetings with the client is unknown, the architect has the least control over the amount of time required. An hourly rate may be appropriate for this part of the process, provided a not to exceed budget of time is agreed to upfront.  Once the design is finalized, a fixed fee would be reasonable for the Construction Documents or CD's although many architects charge for revisions required by reviewing agencies.


     Some architects charge an initial consultation fee and some do not. If you call around asking architects what their fees are be prepared to find that they are "all over the map". Provide as much information on the phone as you can, however until they come out to meet with you and see your project first hand, any discussion of fees is difficult at best.  

Choosing an architect


    Deciding on who to select as your architect is usually a very subjective decision based on a number of factors. Architects may specialize in types of projects such as residential additions, renovations or remodeling. Others might focus strictly on new construction or custom homes.

    Don't be overly concerned with an architect's particular style such as "modern" or "traditional". Your existing home and more importantly your taste and preferences should dictate the kind of architecture for your project.

    When calling an architect ask questions about their time schedule, availability, and if they are licensed and insured. Most importantly, be sure to talk to the individual who would be handling your project. The working relationship you develop with your architect and your contractor is the key to the success of your project.

    When meeting with an architect you will have to determine not only what their design abilities are, but if you appear to be a good fit for one another. Hire an architect that you feel is respectful of your wishes, not one that acts like because they are the architect they are in charge.

    In addition to their knowledge and experience, consider their ability to effectively communicate with you. Will they follow through by delivering certain aspects of the design that are important to you? An architect should carefully listen to your needs and desires since your home is a very personal and important part of your life.

    Choose an architect with integrity that will work along side you to build not only a solid foundation but a relationship built on mutual respect and trust.

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