Angie's LIST Guide to
Architects

If you’ve got grand designs for your home remodel, consider investing in the building materials and design expertise, and artistry, a licensed architect can provide.
 

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Architects can help design homes to your exact specifications or help with the layout and design of your existing home when you remodel. (Rendering courtesy of Angie's List member Erik C.)
Architects can help design homes to your exact specifications or help with the layout and design of your existing home when you remodel. (Rendering courtesy of Angie's List member Erik C.)
 
 

How an architect can help

When planning a large-scale remodel, a reorganization of a home’s interior layout or a new addition to the structure of a home, hiring an architect from the outset can be a wise investment. Licensed architects are educated and trained in the best methods for creating a safe and livable structure built to client’s wishes, not just the blueprint design or artistic aspects. If you hire a residential architect hired to design a home addition or other home remodeling project, part of their goal is to help determine the best design to fit you and your family’s needs. 

Hiring an architect to design your project can be a matter of necessity — as many local building codes require a licensed architect for certain structural changes. An architect will also consider the way in which the new space will be used, is appearance, its construction and utility cost, what building materials will be needed to complete the project.

Other services an architect may provide include expertise and feedback on selecting  appropriate building sites, providing additional drawings and estimates for a project, producing detailed working drawings used for competitive bidding and helping find qualified bidders. An architect can also help the homeowner’s contractor interpret design and ensure sure the work is done to plan.

Education and licensing

To work in the field as a practicing, licensed professional, architects need to have at a minimum a bachelor's degree from an accredited architectural program, three years of work experience and successful completion of a national licensing exam.  Master's degree programs in architecture are available to those with undergraduate degrees in other areas of study, such as engineering or construction management. 

To be considered for licensure, most U.S. architectural registration boards require that architects who have received their degrees enroll in the Intern Development Program, where they perform basic duties under the supervision of licensed architects.  To maintain and develop professional skills throughout their licensed career, many license boards and accrediting bodies require continuing education courses, conferences and workshops.

Every state requires architects to be licensed.  Architects must pass the Architect Registration Examination for licensing written the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, or NCARB.  The license must be renewed at certain intervals of time, depending on the state in which the architect practices.  Different disciplines may require different licenses and an architect may hold more than one type of license. 

The NCARB is made up of representatives of the architectural registration boards of all 50 states, as well as Puerto Rico, Guam, District of Columbia and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The boards work together to develop model regulations and model laws governing registration, examination and corporate practice.

Costs

Architects can help bring the vision of your dream home to life. (Drawing courtesy of Angie's List member Tad C.)

While hiring an architect may seem like an unnecessary expense, investing upfront in a professional who can provide detailed drawings, material cost estimate and project management expertise may save you money in the long run. Carefully crafting a construction plan, anticipating problems ahead of time and ensuring the construction meets the proposed designs can also make an architect a beneficial home improvement professional. However, not every architect charges the same way.

Depending on the scale of the project and the level of involvement requested, some architects or architecture firms will charge based on an hourly rate, a flat-rate fee or as percentage of the project’s overall construction costs.

When seeking estimates from architects, the architect’s fees may be based on several factors, including:

  • Size of the project and square footage involved
  • The intricacy of the designs
  • The condition of the build site and difficulties it may present, especially for additions
  • Level of detail needed for finish materials
  • Level or duration of project management intended
  • Municipality and building codes – For example, historic preservation districts may have very strict rules for how a structure can be altered

Questions to ask

Hiring an architect is not an everyday occurence for most homeowners, but it's important to talk to several qualified professionals to ensure you're getting the right person for the job. These seven questions will help you compare and contrast potential architects before making a hiring decision.

What is your process for staying within the budget?

With so many variables in the construction or remodeling of a home, costs can quickly exceed your budget. A reputable architect should be able to help you closely estimate overall costs, including materials and labor, and help you make the tough budget choices about where to cut if and when unexpected expenses arise.

Can you show me your work?

Make sure the architect has completed projects that are comparable in scale and style to the plan you propose.

Do you have at least three references?

As you interview previous clients, make sure you ask how well the architect communicated with them, stayed within their budgets and met their overall expectations.

What challenges do you anticipate?

Anticipating complications is one key in determining if there may be some unforeseen issues with your project and, as a result, additional expenses.

How realistic is my proposed vision for the project?

An experienced and reliable architect should be willing to candidly discuss any limitations with your project.

What is your project management style?

Ask if the architect will manage the entire project, from hiring all contractors to making design adjustments as the work progresses, reviewing and paying contractor invoices, and obtaining required permits.

How do you charge?

It's important to establish upfront how payments will be made. Many architects will request a substantial deposit at the beginning of the project and set a payment schedule as the work progresses to completion. Make sure you are comfortable with the payment plan. Establish ahead of time how payments will be handled if any issues arise.

Comments

We found a well under our kitchen floor while replacing it about 12 hrs ago. The well causes us many problems such as moisture that messes up the floors, bugs and we also suspect mold! We so want this problem fixed! Please advise"

Your comments about architects sidesteps the residential field of remodeling in that you need not be licensed to design a structure (home) that is three stories or less. Of course, references and experience are important, but home remodeling and new homes can be designed by Residential Building Designers, usually members of AIBD (American Institute of Building Designers) for less cost and similar experience. We don't do commercial projects, but focus more on homes.We work with structural engineers when necessary, as do architects, in order to procure permits.

Lorraine is correct. Nevada is one state that has the Residential Designer profession. Residential Designers known as RDs in Nevada go through schooling, work experience, the Nevada State Board of Architecture licensing exam and are required continuing education every year to renew their license. We specialize in residential and stay away from commercial as required by our license. If you are doing a small addition or even a custom home, hiring a Residential Designer instead of an Architect will instantly save you quite a bit of money.

If contractors build and can design the house and, in most cases, home owners are allowed to sign the permit set that is submitted to the township why hire an architect or residential designer at all? It must come down to who is the better designer. Architects and RD's seem to be claiming they are better designers than contractors. Outside of that point, then, the home owner must decide which avenue to use. Some items to consider: Not all architects are expensive and there is no guarantee they are more expensive than RD's. Architects have experience in other areas of the market (commercial, institutional, healthcare, as well as residential) and therefore see a broader picture of building occupation, informing a more holistic approach. Most house projects do not require structural engineering beyond what an architect can provide. Architects can integrate and accommodate building systems (HVAC, plumbing, structure, etc) within a house project, Architect's address site conditions, environmental concerns, and local and state building codes, they attend municipal board hearings should your house project need to respond to zoning laws. Architects estimate construction budget and construction schedule. And most of all, architects DESIGN. You will not have trouble citing many wonderful houses through history that were designed by architects. Registered Architects have spent an enormous amount of time on education and work experience to become an architect. Many of the school courses offered to residential designers are, in fact, architecture courses. For the home owner, you need to get the most for your money. If you hire an architect to design and a contractor to build your home you most likely will need no other consultant for the project. I'm not sure if that would be the same should you hire an RD.

ANyone in the state of florida can design a home as long as it is approved/sealed by an engineer or architect for structure. I have an architectural degree, but am not licensed. Some Residential Designers do not have formal training. I feel that SOME Architectural training is important when hiring a professional to design your home. A contractor --in my opinion---is not the person to design your home.Let each professional do what they are trained for. Style is important. Substance is important. How we live in spaces is important. So, I think it's imperative to use a Residential Designer or Licensed Architect versus a contractor. If you choose a Residential Designer, check their resume to see what their training is. There are some very good Residential Designers out here who are equal to Architects in schooling and can expedite the process because that is 100% of what we do.

It is true that anyone in Florida can "design" a home, but if the architect or engineer who signs/seals the drawings had no direct control or supervision of the preparation of the plan or document he/she can get into a lot of trouble. An architect can be subject to legal and/or disciplinary action if they "affix or permit to be affixed his or her seal, name, or digital signature to any final drawings, specifications, plans, reports, or documents that were not prepared by him or her or under his or her responsible supervision, direction, or control." Florida Statutes c.481.229 refers to exemptions from licensure which includes residences, but with respect to signing and sealing drawings there are specific rules of conduct that architects and engineers must follow. If you engage a Residential Designer, make sure they are engaging an architect/engineer early in the design process. Plan stamping is illegal.

It is true that anyone in Florida can "design" a home, but if the architect or engineer who signs/seals the drawings had no direct control or supervision of the preparation of the plan or document he/she can get into a lot of trouble. An architect can be subject to legal and/or disciplinary action if they "affix or permit to be affixed his or her seal, name, or digital signature to any final drawings, specifications, plans, reports, or documents that were not prepared by him or her or under his or her responsible supervision, direction, or control." Florida Statutes c.481.229 refers to exemptions from licensure which includes residences, but with respect to signing and sealing drawings there are specific rules of conduct that architects and engineers must follow. If you engage a Residential Designer, make sure they are engaging an architect/engineer early in the design process. Plan stamping is illegal.

While I agree that there are many highly qualified builders and contractors in the residential market that offer a highly sophisticated and valuable design service, there are a few items a homeowner should consider before they decide an architect 'is unnecessary.'

1. Consider realistically what service you are looking for. Do you know exactly what you want? Do you need ideas? Are you certain your ideas best meet your needs? How would your design ideas affect the overall value of your home? An Architect's initial focus is exclusively on design and will consider your problem regardless of what trades are involved or what one particular builder or contractor has for experience. One thing that I have noticed is that some builders and contractors who presume to engage in design offer more of a leading sales pitch to the types of construction and spaces that they are comfortable building and selling to you at a substantial profit. Ask yourself this- Is this builder selling me what he builds or is he designing what I want or need?

2. Architects offer design-bid-build service. When an Architect designs your home or addition, you can take that design and shop it around to many qualified builders to compare prices and ensure you get the best price for quality available. Many builders offer 'free design service' as a lead in sales pitch to overpriced construction. An Architect will give you an unbiased and qualified estimate of construction costs regardless of who or what is being built. They have no vested interest in the cost of construction. If you think that a builder might gouge you on the back end of your project, ask yourself this: Is the value of the design service equal to or better than the piece of mind in knowing I am getting construction at a fair price? The answer to that may be yes. If so, you've got the right builder. If not, hire an Architect.

I could go on, but as an Architect, I have found all level of competencies in the building profession- from builders that I envy and will learn from to builders that I have to report to the state licensing board for incompetence. Maybe that is exactly the point. A licensed Architect offers you a guaranteed standard of care when it comes to designing and building your project. If you don't feel comfortable engaging a builder or contractor as an advocate for yourself and your interests, hire someone who is. That someone is an Architect.

If you are going to get multiple bids on design/construction documents, then using a contractor for the design/construction documents aspect is unwise. Its also best to break the services into separate preliminary design and working construction documents, even if your designer is providing a budget estimate. In this economy, designer estimates are only "ballpark", as it is the builders doing the actually bidding that will ultimately decide the construction costs. Send the preliminaries out to the proposed list of bidders to get back preliminary costs to be sure the designer is being realistic with the scope of design concept. Once the preliminary cost numbers are in the range of affordability, then contract to turn the preliminaries into construction documents. If the preliminary numbers are unrealistic, then you've spent a much lesser amount with the designer and you can then decide to find another more suitable designer or proportionally scale back the scope of work.

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