Want to move from dreaming about your renovation idea to making it a reality? That’s when you should hire an architect, says Marc Brahaney, the owner of Lasley Brahaney Architecture.

We sat down with Marc to chat about all the reasons why homeowners hire architects for major renovation projects, what architects do, and how a homeowner can determine if they even need an architect for their project.

What is An Architect?

An architect is someone who is officially licensed to practice architecture.

But what does that mean when it comes to home remodels? Architects have a technical understanding of building systems and requirements, and in working out not only a home design that fits a homeowners wants and needs, but also functions well in reality.

An architect can create architectural plans, including detailed permit and construction drawings, for major home renovations.

“The floor plans, the elevations and the massing all have to interconnect,” says Marc. “As options arise of changing the locations of walls, opening up rooms to one another, or changing the exterior wall to have more windows and doors, those are cases that enter into the territory of an architect.”

While many smaller renovation projects don’t involve hiring an architect, structural remodels often call for an architect’s expertise, depending on how confident the homeowner is in his or her renovation plan.

What Does an Architect Do?

While architects can play as small or as large a role as a homeowner wants, this is generally the process that an architect goes through when creating plans for a remodel:

1. Talk to the Homeowner About Their Ideas/Create Conceptual Designs

The first step to every architect’s job is meeting with the homeowner, seeing their house, and understanding what the homeowner’s hopes for the project are. An architect’s job is to turn their vision into reality.

“A lot of times a client’s desire to do a project starts with something that’s not right about the house, the house doesn’t suit them well, for some reason,” says Marc. “So It’s a problem solving exercise. An architect would be able to understand what the problem is and either corroborate with the homeowner’s thinking or offer some alternatives that the homeowner hasn’t thought of.”

The architect, or sometimes a draftsperson, may create a conceptual design during this phase, which would be a simple drawing laying out the homeowner’s ideas using an architect’s design principles and expertise.

2. Take Measurements of the Current Home

After the architect has offered an overall project idea that the homeowner agrees with, they’ll take measurements of the current home. This includes floor plans and elevations. The architect will use these measurements to create a more detailed design, called “schematic designs,” that are actually to scale.

3. Create Schematic Designs

Next, the architect will present schematic designs, based on the conversation that they had with the homeowner, the goals they’ve established, and the conceptual design. This is the first true phase of the architectural design process.

While schematic designs will certainly look detailed to most homeowners, they are actually the most basic form of architectural designs. These drawings are to scale and can include floor plans, elevations, or computer renderings. At this stage, you’ll also get a rough cost estimate for the project.

4. Revise Initial Designs/Design Development

After this, Marc says, there will usually be one round of revisions, depending on how the homeowners feel about this initial design. This phase may also involve adding more detail, including types of materials used, appliances, other furnishings, equipment, etc. Both this stage and the schematic design creation phase involve lots of collaboration between the architect and the homeowners.

5. Present a Final Architectural Design

Finally, the architect will present the homeowners with a final design, and you’ll get a more final cost estimate for the project.

After this stage, the architectural process can end, or it can continue, depending on what a homeowner is willing to pay for. Some homeowners will stop here, and show their designs to a contractor. Other homeowners will continue on to pay for detailed construction plans.

6. Prepare Detailed Construction Plans (Optional)

During this stage, the architect will refine the design documents even more, making them fully comprehensive and ready for a contractor to look at them and start construction. These documents would include all materials required, the amount of materials required, and any specifications. These are also the level of plans that you’d submit to your local jurisdiction for any required building permits.

If the architect is part of a design/build firm, the architect would next provide a final estimate for the cost of construction of the plan with that same firm. What is a design/build firm?

How Much Does It Cost To Hire an Architect?

This question depends on exactly what you’re hiring the architect to do. Marc explains generally, schematic designs and construction plans will add up to around 10% of the total project cost, with ⅓ of it being the schematic design and ⅔ for the construction plans.

Therefore, if your project total is around $150,000, you might pay around $15,000 for an architect to draw up the plans - $5,000 for the schematic design, and $10,000 for the construction plans.

However, it can vary greatly depending on where you’re located and the architect you’re working with.

If your architectural budget isn’t this big, Marc explains that rudimentary drawings are a cheaper way to get your plans into reality.

Sometimes architects will draw up simple conceptual designs for around $1,000 or much less, which you can then take to a skilled general contractor. It all depends on your personal budget, wants and needs.

If all you’re looking for is an experienced professional to help you put your ideas to paper, or help you evaluate if they’re even possible, then this could be a great option for you.

When Do You Need To Hire an Architect?

It’s important to note that depending on how complex your project is, your local government may actually require complex construction plans, as described above.

Why? This is because certain complex projects, if done wrong, could cause serious damage to your home. You need someone who is well-versed in the science of architecture to help you create documents for your contractor, so things don’t blow up in your face. Literally.

In some states, like Illinois, you may be required to have a licensed architect at the very least sign off on your renovation plans in order to get the proper permitting.

We’d recommend checking with your local government to see if you need an architect involved in your renovation planning, as it’s different in every area.

However, if your local jurisdiction does not require a licensed architect for your plans, you, your builder, your designer, or your contractor may be skilled enough to create these detailed plans to submit for permitting.

Can I Get My Contractor To Draw Up Construction Plans?

Yes, but that doesn’t mean you should. Many homeowners go this route, especially if their projects are simpler or only involve one room. Contractors may often have the ability to create construction plans that will get you a permit in your area (if your area doesn’t require a licensed architect for your project).

However, never assume that your contractor is a good designer. In many cases, contractors will be able to create plans that work, but their solutions and designs won’t be as innovative or attractive as something an architect could come up with.

If your remodel involves more than a simple project, we’d recommend at least consulting with an architect or draftsperson. With a project as costly and important as a home remodel, you’ll want to consult someone with engineering skills and expertise, rather than simply building expertise.

When Do You Not Need To Hire an Architect?

There are some instances though when a homeowner probably doesn’t need to hire an architect for a renovation, and can simply go straight to a contractor, says Marc.

If the project just includes basic repairs or fix ups, you don’t need to hire an architect.

For example, if you’re just upgrading some portion of a bathroom, like replacing the appliances and the tiling and getting a new paint job, then hiring an architect would be unnecessary.

An architect’s job is to technically plan out the spacing calculations, and if you’re not changing the spacing of anything, then their expertise isn’t warranted.

Marc recommends talking to an interior designer if you’re solely interested in colors, textures, fabrics, materials, etc. Your contractor can also help you talk through the details and what might look best. You can also consider hiring a draftsperson to create architectural plans; they aren’t required to have an architectural degree or license, so their services will be a fraction of the price.

However, it’s important to note that many people have a misconception that you need to be working on a totally new home build to hire an architect.

That’s not the case, says Marc. The most common project he sees? Kitchens.

“Kitchens might be the beginning point for many people, and then projects become more from that,” says Marc. “It might be a kitchen and a family space. It might be a kitchen and a mudroom, or a kitchen and a bathroom.”

Additions, kitchen remodels, or anything structural in nature can benefit from hiring an architect, and like we mentioned earlier, some jurisdictions will require an architect’s approval for the proper permits.

What’s the Difference Between an Architect and a Designer?

It can be unclear what the differences are between an architect vs designer, because the terms are often used interchangeably.

It’s hard to say, says Marc, as it depends on what kind of designer you’re talking about. Are you talking about an interior designer, or a designer in general? Architects are often called “designers,” because they are literally designing homes. However other “designers,” may not actually be licensed architects.

But just because a designer doesn’t have a degree in architecture, that doesn’t mean they won’t be useful to you. They can help conceptualize your space in a new way, create design plans to show to a contractor, and more.

Overall, the term ‘designer’ is vague, so if you’re in talks with a designer about your renovation, make sure you understand their expertise and qualifications.

Marc points out that an architect may be better at looking at the house’s dimensions as a whole, seeing how your project would play into the exact measurements and spacing, and using engineering to create construction plans, as compared to someone without that expertise.

If you’re remodeling a single room in your home, a designer may fit your needs. However, their designs should still be evaluated by a structural engineer to avoid any dangerous building situations.

Design/Build

One trend you may have noticed lately is the increase in design/build firms. Marc is the owner of a design/build firm himself. What is a design/build firm? They do it all! These types of firms don’t stop at the construction plan phase; they are part of every step of the renovation process, from the brainstorming phase until the final day of construction.

This model of combining the architect with the contractor is appealing to homeowners because it’s somewhat of a one-stop-shop. Rather than have to search for the perfect architect and the perfect contractor, one business can do it all, and there’s consistency between each stage of the process.

If you’re still confused about whether or not hiring an architect is right for you, we recommend:

  • Check with your local jurisdiction to see what the requirements are
  • Schedule an initial conversation with an architect

These two steps may give you some clarity on what’s required for your project, and what benefits you may find from hiring an architect.

Check out this handy glossary to help you keep track of all the terms.

Glossary

Architect: A person who prepares the plan and design of a building or other structure and sometimes supervises its construction. In the renovation world, they’re hired to design plans for your home remodel, and are regulated by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB.)

Designer: A designer can be anyone with specific artistic skills in a certain category. There are interior designers, landscape designers, remodeling designers, etc. Unlike an architect, a designer (generally) doesn’t need a degree or license in their field. Designers often have different types of certifications, expertise, or education, but aren’t regulated like contractors and architects are.

Design/Build: Design/build is a type of remodeling service where the design-build team or firm works under a single contract with the project owner, and will provide design and construction services. Design/build firms are an alternative to hiring an architect or designer and a general contractor or builder separately.

Schematic Design: Schematic design is the first phase of architectural design. In this step, an architect will collaborate with the homeowner to figure out the project goals. In this phase, the architect or draftsperson will generally create rough drawings of a site plan, floor plans, elevations or even illustrative sketches or computer renderings.

Draftsperson: The difference is mainly in education and scope. Most drafters work for architects or as part of a construction company. An architect is the visionary behind the functional design of a home. Under their supervision, draftspersons translate that vision into technical blueprints that a construction company follows.

Design Development: In design development, the schematic plans and elevations are reviewed, revised and expanded to incorporate all the details and specifications required for construction. Project components are looked at to the smallest detail. These include: Interior and exterior building materials and finishes.

Construction Plans: These are the typical final drawings for any project. Construction plans vary depending on the scope of the project, but can include: exterior & interior elevations, building and wall sections, exterior and interior details, site plans, floor plans, roof plans, and engineering specifications.

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