Do I Need An Architect To Remodel My House?

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Your home is your castle, and you don’t want to trust it to just anyone during a renovation. Professionals such as architects are there to assist you through the process. Learn the right time to hire one to bring your home renovation project to a successful end.

If you’re like most homeowners, you probably dream of one day completing a significant home remodelling project. And I’m not talking about retiling a tub here. This is the once-in-a-lifetime renovation–the kind that dramatically changes how you live, energizes the entire household, and makes all the neighbours jealous.

Perhaps your dream is to build a two-story addition with a family room below and a master bedroom and bath above. Or maybe you’ve always wanted to expand the kitchen and install French doors leading to a wraparound deck. Regardless of what your dream entails, all major remodelling projects can benefit from an experienced, licensed architect’s expert design help.

Do You Need an Architect?

Architects are not always necessary for even large-scale projects, but some projects benefit from their expertise. Whether you need an architect or not depends mainly on the project being undertaken.

The Role Of The Architect

We found that architects can—but won’t necessarily—handle a range of responsibilities in a renovation. We didn’t realize how extensive that range could be, and so we failed to talk through our expectations or hers. If we could get a do-over on choosing an architect, we’d discuss these options during interviews and then build a shared set of expectations into the contract and budget. Here are some of the services they might perform:

Drafting the plans.

This is probably the main thing you think of when you picture an architect. Indeed, technical drawings are essential. Developing them gives the architect a chance to help you flesh out ideas—in our case, adding a small wall in the bedroom gave us room for a king-size bed—and set realistic expectations (a walk-in closet couldn’t be converted to an office and a half bath). Plus, the completed drawings will provide the basis for permits, and they’ll guide the contractors on site. MJS Construction Group has the best range of home builders Melbourne services to help you create your dream house.

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Getting creative.

Do you want interesting visual elements? More light than the floorplan seems to allow? Private storage areas? An architect can bake some unique features into the drawings, and more might emerge during the renovation as you learn about, say, a wall that’s four inches thicker than it needs to be, giving you room to add shallow built-ins.

Advising on fixtures and finishes.

“Fixtures and finishes” is a grab-bag term that includes paint, tile, flooring, countertops, kitchen cabinets, faucets, lighting, doorknobs, appliances, and more. If you’re working with an architect and a designer, the designer will be the point person for recommending fixtures and finishes. If you don’t have a designer (we didn’t), that layer is between you and the architect.

Choosing and managing the contractor.

A good architect will have and want to maintain relationships with several reputable contractors. So they should be able to recommend a few to bid on your project. The architect should also know what the contractor can do and lean on them a bit if they’re falling short. For instance, is the slight misalignment of the kitchen cabinets normal or fixable? If it’s fixable, the architect should sort that out with the contractor.

Managing the project.

Renovations have many moving parts: permits and people to coordinate, plus fixtures and finishes to order and track. While the contractor handles some of this, the architect can be the point person, helping you understand deadlines for items you’re ordering, finding specialized sub-contractors beyond the general contractor’s network, and keeping things moving with permitting and processes that fall outside the general scope of work (like lead abatement).

Making suggestions to keep the project on time.

This is a subset of managing the project, but getting help with the timeframe can also be something you designate as a priority. Beyond staying on top of the contractor and other players, an architect’s responsibilities might include recommending attractive finishes that can be delivered quickly and helping you understand which pieces you can reasonably have done after you move in.

Making suggestions to keep the budget in check.

An architect’s assistance here can include suggesting appealing, cheaper alternatives to pricey finishes you like, recommending features worth spending on and places to save, and helping you anticipate costs you might not be aware of. (Note: Time equals money—if you’re paying to rent somewhere else and you’re paying the mortgage for the place under construction, that dual housing cost can lead to big-budget overruns if the renovation falls behind the deadline.)

While our architect drew up decent plans, helped us find several contractors who bid on our project and was pretty good at managing the one we chose, she disappointed us on every other front. To cap it off, her fee turned out to be more expensive than we’d accounted for.

In retrospect, it’s clear that when we were searching for an architect, we didn’t ask the right questions to find one who could meet our needs.

Levels of Architectural Design Service

What sets architects apart from other people who design homes is that they are licensed by the states they practice. To obtain a license, an architect must earn a degree from an approved architectural program, complete an internship, and pass an exam. All of this ensures architects possess a high level of expertise in design, materials, and building systems.

Like architects, architectural designers (sometimes just called designers) have studied and practised architectural design—some for many years—but are not licensed. They may work on their own or in association with a licensed architect.

Many builders also offer home design services, and some provide a dedicated, on-staff designer. Design-build firms offer architectural design and construction services under one roof; architects lead some, and some have architects on staff.

A draftsperson puts your plans on paper. They can produce the drawings you will need to build, but usually only after the design is established. Like designers, drafters often work alongside licensed architects or builders.

You might consider any one of the above individuals to help you in designing your remodel. What many people—particularly homeowners planning “just a few tweaks”—don’t realize, however, is how difficult it can be to adapt an existing home to meet new expectations. Architects are trained to see the possibilities in every structure and are experts at translating those possibilities into detailed plans that your builder can execute with precision.

When You May Want an Architect

Here’s how to tell if you want an architect—or at least an experienced architectural designer.

  • You have a problem with your house and have no idea how to solve it. Maybe your laundry room in the upstairs hallway creates a traffic jam every time you open the door. Or you need another bathroom, but every square inch of your house is accounted for. In cases like these, a good architect can help you sort through the possibilities and develop creative improvements that fit you, your budget, and your lifestyle.
  • You feel squeezed but don’t want an addition. Before adding to your house, a good architect will ensure you make the most of all existing space. Even the most minor homes often have underutilized areas that can be reconfigured and brought back into daily use. Sometimes what seems like a square-footage shortage is a circulation problem that can be solved with a few alterations.
  • You’re uncomfortable making building choices on your own. A major remodel is an intensive, costly process that requires you to make many decisions on things you may have little knowledge about. A good architect serves as an intermediary and adviser who can help guide your project toward the best results.
  • Your local building authorities require one. In most communities, for most remodels, an architect isn’t needed. But in others—specifically some urban areas—you may need an architect or engineer to sign off on your plans. Check with your local building department to be sure.
  • You’re remodelling a unique or historic home, changing styles, or building on a complicated site. Maybe you want to raise the roof on your 18th-century saltbox. Or change your 1970s builder colonial into a shingle style. Or perhaps you want to add a second story to a home perched on the edge of a cliff. When and where design is critical, hire an architect.
  • You’re on a budget. This may seem counterintuitive since hiring an architect means one more professional you’ll need to pay. But a good architect can save you money. One way is through value engineering—that is, devising a way to get you a feature you want at a lower cost. An architect might suggest substituting a similar but more economical building material to get the same effect. They can also steer you away from making mistakes, whether in material or design, that you may regret later and ends up costing you more money.

Questions To Ask Before Hiring

There’s lots of advice on the internet about what to ask an architect before you hire them. But the questions tend to be too vague to be useful (“Why do you want to work on this project?”). Plus, if you don’t understand the possibilities outlined above, you won’t know how to drill down on specifics. Here’s what I’d discuss next time around:

Which responsibilities will you handle?

Which will I handle? As a client, if you know that all you want are architectural plans, that’s cool. Specify that and get a price. But if you think you’ll enjoy the architect involved for the whole cycle, discuss their role in obtaining permits, choosing and managing the contractor, and managing the project overall. Go into as much detail as you can.

What role will you play in choosing and buying fixtures and finishes?

What role will I play? At one end of the spectrum, the architect might handle it all: as the client, you’ll show them pictures and sites you like, they’ll make recommendations based on that, you’ll pick the options you like best, and they’ll handle the ordering. At the other end of the spectrum, you’ll figure out most of the details on your own, with little input, and you’ll order everything. Any point on the spectrum can work as long as you agreed beforehand how you expect to collaborate.  At MJS Construction Group, we have the best home builders selection to make your house a dream come true.

What’s your strategy for bringing a project of this size in on time? On budget?

There’s no one correct answer to either question. Instead, look for evidence that they have ideas and a commitment to meeting your goals. For instance, can they discuss typical ways you can save time or money? Tradeoffs that will be worth considering? Or perhaps examples of recommendations they’ve made to other clients?

What unexpected solutions have you suggested on a previous project?

This question can help you get a feel for an architect’s creativity and problem-solving approach.

Can we meet every week on-site with the contractor? Will you stop by the site occasionally unannounced?

The former is enormously helpful in keeping everyone coordinated. The latter gives the contractor’s crew a chance to ask questions on the fly, which can help address assumptions and avert mistakes.

How, exactly, do your fees work?

While some architects charge by the hour, most charges as a percentage of the overall project cost, and some have variations or hybrids of these. Ask for a detailed explanation, with examples of how the fees might play out for a project of your size. Make sure you understand which services are included and if any cost extra. If the fees are based on a percentage of the overall project, get a list ahead of time about what will be included in that final tally. (In other words, a line for “fixtures & finishes” isn’t specific enough; ask for a full list of what they’ll expect to charge against—a discrepancy on this issue is why our architect’s fees wound up higher than we budgeted for.)

How do you handle conflict?

All projects have unanticipated problems, which tend to generate conflict when there’s money at stake for everyone involved. Inevitably, there will be disagreements among the parties. Ask not only how the architect has handled a dispute between a client and the contractor in the past but also how they’ve handled a disagreement between a client and themselves.

The Interview: What to Expect

An introductory phone call will enable both you and the architect to determine if the fit is promising, and you should proceed to an interview. Architects generally don’t charge for this time, which will be focused on whether the architect wants to take on the project and whether you want to hire them—plan on interviewing several architects before settling on one.

You can expect to talk about ideas you have for the project, your budget, and your timetable at your first meeting. You’ll want to walk out with a good “feel” for whether you can work with this person because you’ll be spending a lot of time together as your project progresses. The architect will be looking for the same thing.

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Trimming Costs

If your budget is tight and your project is simple, hire an architect who’s just starting. His fees will be commensurate with his experience–a mixed blessing. 

Or you can hire a draftsman who can create technical drawings for half the price but does not have the design and engineering expertise. You’ll save some money, but ultimately you’ll have to pay for an architect and a structural engineer to approve the design before your local building authority issues a permit.

If you can spot quality construction yourself, limit your design professional to the design and blueprint phases, typically for 5% to 10% of the total project cost. If you don’t know a beam from a stud, you’re wise to pay your architect to inspect ongoing construction, called site visits. 

Site visits typically are included in your design professional’s contract: He, too, has a vested interest in making sure construction reflects his design. But you don’t need an architect to check each nail or screw, running up fees. A couple of site visits–after framing is completed and during punch-up–are all that’s necessary for a typical addition or remodel.

To Go Green

More and more architects are starting to design environmentally sensitive buildings for both the planet and the homeowner. Considering sustainability in concept and construction will ensure your investment lasts a long time, limits its consumption and saves you money through efficient design.

The options available vary widely depending on the architectural firm’s experience and the circumstances of your project. Even if you’re not plunging into a photovoltaic array or a backyard wind farm, intelligent choices can make significant, smaller gains. Consider using recycled and non-toxic materials, solar or passive water heaters, efficient insulation and a trustworthy thermostat. Because many of these measures involve whole-house systems, it’s critical to plan them. Check out our range of dual occupancy builder for your dream house.

Get the Right Person for the Job

While an architect may not be the right person for every job, getting one involved right from the beginning on a large-scale project can smooth out the process for you. Having a qualified architect in charge as your general contractor and contract writer will increase the odds of your project getting done on time and budget.

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