An old high school teacher used to say if one student has a question, others probably have the same question. A few weeks ago, we had an inquiry on our Facebook page about how our process works. We decided it may be useful to answer that question here for others who may wonder the same thing.

This is a common question because most people have never worked with an architect and don’t know what to expect.

Before: When contemplating a dramatic change to your space, it may be wise to consult an architect.

The first step is to determine if you need an architect for your project. Not all home remodeling projects need the assistance of an architect. Most municipalities in our area do not require residential plans to be stamped by a licensed architect. If you are simply replacing a room — such as the kitchen or a bathroom — and leaving all the functions and circulation as is, then you need the help of an interior designer rather than an architect. Interior designers help in the selection of equipment (plumbing fixtures, appliances, etc.) and finishes (flooring, countertops, backsplash, etc.) and will add style and functionality to your finished project.

After: When contemplating a dramatic change to your space, it may be wise to consult an architect.

Architects should be involved if you are contemplating changing the flow or circulation in your home or if you expect to significantly affect the layout and use of space within your home. Additions should also be under the direction of an architect for the best results.

If you know you need more space and slap a square box on the rear of your home, you may have addressed the primary issue; however, this sort of expansion often results in inefficient and undesirable connections between the old and the new, which may actually decrease the value of your home. Exterior remodels intended to change the look of the house (such as adding a front porch, altering the roof pitch or changing the style of the exterior of the house) also warrant working with an architect.

If you think an architect would be an important part of your remodeling project team, the next question is, “What do architects cost?”

Architects’ fees are associated with the size and complexity of a project. Fees can be calculated in several different ways: The first common method is to look at the fee as a percentage of the construction cost of the project. Browsing the Internet gives (as usual) a wide range of opinions. Buildingadvisor.com suggests a range of 5 percent to 15 percent for new residences, and 15 percent to 20 percent for remodeling projects. Remodeling projects generally cost more than new construction because of the challenges faced in dealing with older construction techniques and blending architectural styles together.

The second option is to charge a set fee based on the square footage of the project. Of course, at the beginning of the project, the exact size may not be determined. Third, some architects simply charge an hourly fee that applies throughout the project. Hourly fees seem to commonly range between $100 and $250 for licensed architects; architects typically employ drafters who often complete a portion of a project’s construction documents for about half that amount.

You can see that hiring an architect doesn’t come with an exact financial commitment. At the beginning, the fee is usually represented by a range of possible costs, especially where it comes to design issues. If you are interviewing multiple architects, make sure you understand exactly what their proposal covers. Each city has a basic set of drawings required to qualify for a building permit (which varies from city to city), but there is a lot of design left after these sheets are created. Make sure you understand the scope of what each architect is proposing and that you are not comparing apples to oranges.

One portion of the fee that is easier to translate into an exact number is the “as-built” drawings. This means that someone has to measure the house and draw up the existing floor plan(s), exterior elevations and a site plan. These are the tools that an architect needs in order to revise the existing design, making sure that the new plan will meet the goals the homeowners have determined as critical, that the house will look good in addition to functioning well, and that all municipal codes and ordinances will be satisfied so a building permit will be issued.

As-built drawings are based on square footage, in conjunction with some subjective judgment relative to how complex the layout and structure is. A professional set of as-built drawings will range from just under $2,000 to about $3,000 for homes in the range of 2,000 to 3,500 square feet. This is an important step in the process and needs to be done correctly if the eventual construction documents are to be accurate and dependable.

Many architects will meet with clients for free to have the initial discussion regarding your project. With the help of their professional expertise, you can discuss the pros and cons of involving an architect in your project, how realistic your budget is, what a standard timeline would be for your project, along with a projected range for architectural fees.

So, once you have decided you need an architect for your project, have selected one, have come to an understanding on fees, and have the as-built drawings completed, you are ready to embark on the design process. We like to think that the hard part is behind you and the fun is just beginning.

Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the principal architects and co-founders of a residential architectural firm focused on life-changing remodeling designs at RenovationDesignGroup.com. Send comments or questions to ask@RenovationDesignGroup.com

Renovation Solutions: When to hire an architect and how much it will cost
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