How can an architect 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.

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.)

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 associated with an architect

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 before hiring

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.

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