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When will I need to hire an Architect?

     Usually an Architect is required whenever you move, remove or modify walls, windows, doors, roofs, structural members, rooms, floors, add square footage, retaining walls, swimming pools, changing the occupancy or use of a building or space, changing the facade, changing the egress from a building, when applying for most permits, when applying for a new Certificate of Occupancy, legalizations, violation removal, home inspections, certifications and so much more.  


Does an Architect need to be licensed?

     Yes, anyone who claims to be an Architect must not only be licensed, but they must also be registered in the state they practice in.  Even an Architect from one state cannot practice in another without either being registered or by getting special permission to do so.  The words Architect, Architecture and Architectural are "protected" words.  It is illegal for someone to suggest that they're an Architect or that they offer Architectural services, unless they're licensed and registered to do so. 


     People who do not only place the public at risk, but they also place you at risk as well.  There are many imposters out there, claiming that they could provide Architectural services, because an Architect they know will look over the plans, sign and seal them.  The Architect's who "rubber stamp" plans are not preparing the documents themselves or have them prepared under their direct supervision.  This practice is dangerous and places you at risk.  If the Architect isn't involved with you and your project from the beginning through to the end, then costly mistakes could be made, there may be disputes between the Architect and the imposter (which could delay or prevent your project from being completed) and the Architect could deny involvement or knowledge of the project in the event of an issue and you could find yourself without the protection of his professional liability insurance.


How should I look for an Architect, how many should I talk to?

     There are many ways to find an Architect, you could ask friends and family, you could look at advertising on the internet and you could look in your county yellow pages.  Asking family and friends may seem like a good idea, after all who's more trustworthy than them.  Unfortunately, friends and family usually haven't done multiple projects in your area or worked with many different Architects so they wouldn't a good frame of reference for comparison.  The yellow pages is a good source to quickly find a local Architect that works in your area.  The internet is a good source but you may have to sift through a lot of websites from other states and countries until you find an Architect. 


     Architects, unlike contractors won't have tremendous differences in prices, nor in the basic services they're providing.  Going with someone you like and who's reputable is probably your best bet.


What is an Architect and why would I want to hire an Architect?

     Architects are licensed professionals, like doctors and lawyers.  They have the highest level of diverse training of any other profession.  Engineers are usually specialists in particular fields and have a deeper understanding of their specific field of expertise than most Architects, but Architects typically practice a more broad range of services.  Building officials like plans examiners and building inspectors review plans and buildings to verify code compliance, however they are not concerned with quality, resale value, construction cost, useability, custom work, ease of construction, design, saving or using space wisely or the many other aspects of a construction project.  The contractor is typically under a fixed fee arrangement with the owner so he makes more of a profit by spending less money than you are, so the less e spends - the more he makes.  Of all of the people involved, your Architect is the most important.  You should try to make your Architect your closest friend, because he's the only one who will be involved from the beginning till the end, who doesn't have an interest in cutting corners during construction and the who will have an interest in getting a portfolio worthy final product.


Will an Architect need to see my building before starting the project?

     Not necessarily, depending on the scope of work, size of the project, the complexity of the project and the availability of information online, the Architect may be familiar enough with your type of project to give you a price over the phone.  He may need to ask you a few questions, but most of the time minor inconsistencies will not effect the price of his services enough to warrant a site visit prior to giving an estimate.  After you agree to the fees, the Architect will send someone to photograph and measure any existing conditions related to the work, at this point the contract will be signed, the first payment will be made and other required documentation be provided to the Architect. New buildings usually don't require a site visit so the contract is usually signed in the Architect's office.


Should I shop around for the lowest price?

     That's really a matter of personal preference.  Architect's provide a professional service, just like doctors and lawyers.  You wouldn't want the cheapest lawyer or the cheapest surgeon, so why would you want the cheapest Architect.  Your home, building or business is probably your most valuable asset. 


     Not all Architects are created equal.  Although you may think that your project's small and that it doesn't matter who does it, you would be surprised at the time and money savings a good Architect could provide.  In fact, for the same exact construction budget, two different buildings with two different layouts, designs, materials or construction methods could yield two very different prices on the housing market.  A good Architect will understand what sells better and fetches a higher resale value, and even if you don't intend to sell, do you really want to own something worth less than it could be?  Think about it, if just one extra beam, additional framing connection, over sized member or simple oversight could cost thousands of dollars more, a good Architect who will help to avoid these expenses will pay for himself? 


     The old saying, "you get what you pay" for is usually true.  If the price is low there might be a reason.  In large offices for instance, Architects will allow members of their staff to plan, design, draw and engineer your project.  The drawings and specifications may or may not be reviewed by the Architect prior to construction, but we're not just talking about mistakes costing you money, your project could be totally compliant with the code and receive a building permit too, but still cost you more to build.  However, if an Architect takes the time to plan out your project carefully and with quality, budget and ease of construction in mind you should have a more successful and cost effective project.


How should I choose an Architect?

     Basically, there is no way to flawlessly choose the Architect who’s right for you.  Every Architect will have a list of clients that absolutely love their work and will swear by them, while other clients they’ve had may have been left less than satisfied (you can't please everyone).  So, a list of referrals will only contain happy clients and a list of completed projects to drive by and see will always include beautiful buildings.  However, there are a few things to look at that may tell you what you need to know.   First, ask to see a set of construction drawings, this will show you their attention to detail, small projects like extensions to homes or a new one family are best to look at since large projects like commercial buildings and multi story buildings will always require more information and pages of drawings.  Second, look at their portfolio of not only completed but unfinished work as well, since that will give you a better understanding of how skilled they are at  designing, after all not everything is built as drawn, sometimes money or just plain old bad taste will ruin an otherwise beautiful project.  Third, do all of the buildings look the same or is the Architect diverse enough to meet your needs?  Fourth, choose someone who seems easy to talk to.  A person who is dismissive or egotistical will be very hard to communicate with.  Choose someone who you are comfortable dealing with, this person is going to be involved with you for quite a while, so your relationship with them is one of the most important keys to having a successful project.  

 

Could a good Architect help me save money on my project?

     Yes, a thorough Architect will produce a set of drawings which will leave very few stones unturned and leave very little for the contractor to misinterpret.  This means that all of your bids will be apples to apples and that no one is leaving anything out or substituting cheaper materials, which you will unexpectedly have to pay for later.  In addition a good Architect will be able to design your project to need less maintenance in the future, provide a lower cost approach to your construction, maximize your square footage for your budget or to obtain a higher resale value.

 

Does an Architect need to be insured?

     No, an Architect does not need insurance for most projects.  However, it would be wise to hire an Architect who carries professional liability insurance as a precaution.

 

Do I need to use a local Architect?

     No, as long as the Architect is licensed and registered to practice in your area they are qualified to do your project.  However an Architect that works in many municipalities or even different states may have more expertise to offer than a local Architect that only knows what the local building department wants to see on a set of plans in order to grant an approval and not necessarily what’s best for your project.  Remember the building department is concerned with zoning and building code, not quality, cost, resale value, aesthetics or longevity.

 

How much does an Architect cost?

     This depends on the project, most of the time Architects charge a fixed fee for their services.  This will vary from project to project and will even depend on which municipality you are in.  Generally speaking, most Architectural fees are pretty standard and do not vary much from one Architect to another.

 

How much will my construction cost?

This depends on many factors.  Just to give to you a general idea, use this guide to determine your project's cost. Additional square footage = $100 - $300 per square foot ($300 is for very small additions and $100 for very large ones) The style of the project and it’s materials could effect this estimate as well. Interior renovations or finished basements = $50 - $80 per square foot ($50 is for very large renovations or very simple ones while $80 is for smaller or more ornate interior spaces) Brick or stone veneers = $13 - $16 per square foot Stucco veneers = $7 - $10 per square foot

Spanish tile or slate roofs = $10 - $15 per square foot

 

What types of services do Architect’s provide?

     Architect’s may provide a number of services, such as design, inspections, construction drawings, structural drawings, electrical drawings, mechanical drawings, sprinkler drawings, interior design, construction related services or more.  The more diversified the Architect is, the better they will be able to advise you during your project, even if you feel that your project is very simple.

 

What is the process?

     The Architect may need to take measurements and photographs of the entire building, they will draw the existing conditions (if any), draw the new work to be performed as well as the elevations, they will send them out to you for your approval, usually a revision phase is included which allows you to modify the drawings, if necessary they will represent you at either your variance or review board hearings, they will draw the construction drawings as well as any other additional drawings you have asked for (like interior design, electrical, mechanical etc.), they will fill out the applications for filing the plans, submit them to the building department, the building department will review the application and issue their comments, the Architect will make revisions to the provided drawings and applications in response to the building departments comments.

 

How long does the process take?

     This depends on your type of project, the season, your municipality’s requirements and the permit process of your local municipality.  Each project is different and therefore must be answered on a case by case basis.

 

If I have a hardship could the building department speed up the permit process?

     Some municipalities offer a faster plan review process if you have a medical condition that necessitates your project.

 

Could an Architect help me find a contractor?

     Yes, asking your Architect to recommend a few contractors is an excellent way to feel protected during your construction by hiring someone you could trust.  Your Architect will probably recommend someone who has been time tested, project after project.  Your Architect knows quality workmanship when they see it, so they will know the difference between a good contractor and a bad one.  The Architect will have first hand knowledge of how the contractor performed his work and related to the clients for multiple projects.  The Architect will be a far more credible source than your next door neighbor or someone who has only used a contractor once or twice in their life.

 

Could a good Architect make up for a bad contractor?

     In most cases, by having a very thorough Architect that will be working with your best interest in mind, the plans could mandate that the construction be performed with specific materials or assemblies.  This insures that as long as the plans are followed, the project will either meet or exceed a standard level of quality.  It will be very difficult for a contractor to cut corners when things are well documented for you and the inspector to see.

 

Could a good contractor make up for a bad Architect?

     Usually not, by the time the contractor starts to build it is usually too late to change the bulk of the design.  However, the contractor may suggest better materials or assemblies or perhaps suggest minor revisions to the design, but they are usually pretty limited in their input during the later stages of the project.

 

Should I have a contractor before finding an Architect or have my contractor recommend an Architect?

     Probably not, the Architect is the best person to suggest a contractor for your project, not the other way around.  The contractor is the person that could stand to hurt you the most and should therefore be chosen with great care.  Although the Architect will determine the overall outcome of your project, they are not in a position to abandon you during construction or cost you tons of money in extras or from poor quality workmanship.  The Architect should always come first and your drawings should be complete before hiring a contractor.  If the contractor recommends an Architect then the Architect may be more inclined to look out for the best interest of the contractor recommending him, rather than you the client.

 

Some contractors offer plans / permits, so why should I hire a separate Architect?

     This is actually illegal.  A contractor is not permitted to offer Architectural services since they do not have a license to practice Architecture.  The Architect must have a contract with the client directly and also be paid by the client directly.  Contractors who offer plans, permits or Architectural services are just trying to guarantee that they keep the job.  This will also prevent an owner from negotiating the price or shopping around when the plans are completed.  Furthermore, the Architect may be more inclined to look out for the best interest of the contractor recommending him, rather than you the client.

 

Is an Architect involved during construction?

     Usually the Architect is not required to be involved during construction by most municipalities.  The Architect may be called on site if an amendment is required, a certification or inspection must be made or if an unforeseen condition arises.  The owner may request that an Architect make regular visits to the job site during construction to make sure that the project is on schedule, the workmanship is proper, the plans / building code requirements are being met, that any unforeseen conditions are remedied appropriately and that the payment schedule matches the work already
completed.

 

Could I occupy my building during construction?

     Usually you may occupy your building during construction if you’re not constructing a new building.  When you alter an existing building you have a valid Certificate of Occupancy and could therefore legally occupy the building.  However, for all practical purposes some alterations make it very difficult or even impossible to occupy your building during construction.

 

Could I build my project myself?

     This depends on the rules of your local municipality, you should check with them to find out if it is permitted and what you may need to do so. 

 

How long does my permit last?

     Usually, the building department will give you three to six months to start the construction.  The permit usually lasts a year and is renewable for a very small fee.

 

What is a variance, and what is the process?

     A variance will be required when you violate the code, a hearing will be held and a judgment will be made about your application.  It is always a good idea to have an Architect or an Attorney represent you at your hearing (quite often representation is required).  They will know how to present your case and will usually be more successful.  If you lose a variance hearing it will be difficult to reverse the decision later, even with the help of an Architect or an Attorney.  

 

What is a design review board, and what is the process?

     A review board hearing will usually be required when you are located in an incorporated village and make  modifications or proposals to the exterior of your building, a hearing will be held and a judgment will be made about your application.  It is ALWAYS a good idea to have an Architect represent you during your hearing (usually representation is required).  The Architect will know how to present your case and will  usually be more successful.  If you lose a review board hearing it will be difficult to reverse the decision later, even with the help of an Architect and you may be forced to make unsightly or unwanted changes to your building, which may even cost more to build.


What is a Historic District?

     A historic district is district that has an interest in protecting the historic traits of a community and or building.  The historic district will have very strict guidelines that will limit what you could do with your property.  These cases are handled differently by the Architect.  Traditional details, materials, finishes and colors must be considered.  There will most likely be a board or committee that will review the proposed work before you receive a permit.

 

What is the difference between an Architect and an Engineer?

     The licenses are virtually the same.  Both an Architect and Engineer are permitted to perform virtually identical services, however an Architect has received training in design concepts and styles.  Therefore their approach to your project will be more geared towards designing not only an aesthetically pleasing building or space, but to design it in a way that will best suit your needs, optimize your resale value and minimize your construction cost.

 

What is green / sustainable design?

     Green / sustainable design is when your project does not entirely rely on outside fuel, gas or electric to power, heat or cool the building.  It is a way of supplementing the energy use of the building by using solar panels, PV panels, geothermal heating, recycled materials or other methods and materials.  This approach costs more to design and build, however there are government tax breaks and programs out there to encourage people to invest in this concept, not to mention the savings on the utility bills every month.

 

What will I need to get the process started?

     To get started the Architect will more than likely need to see a survey, this is a simple drawing that shows the boundaries of your property and how your building is situated on it.  This is usually given to you at closing when you purchased your building and may also be in your real estate attorney’s possession.  If you cannot find a copy then you may want to visit your local building department to obtain one.
 

 Will my Architect be able to advise me on financial matters?

     Some Architects may be able to advise you about financing options for your project, the cost of your construction and the best approach to obtaining the highest resale value.

Accent Architecture's frequently asked questions