If your house is about to go through a major construction project, you’ll need some helping hands. You may already have a contractor in mind, but is that the only pro you need to hire? Depending on the project, you may also need to hire an architect.
But hiring an architect is not a small cost to consider. In fact, according to ImproveNet, the average cost of an architect is nearly $5,000, which, for most people, is a significant amount of their project budget.
So is an architect worth all that money? And how do you know if you can get by without one? We turned to the experts to find out.
When to hire an architect
If you have a small job, like building a closet or putting in new cabinets, you can probably get by without hiring an architect. Those jobs are simple and clear-cut, and don’t require major changes to the existing structure. So as long as you’re working with a contractor you trust, your job should go off without a hitch.
If it’s a larger project that requires moving walls, plumbing, or electricity, or if you’re putting in a new addition, then an architect would probably be a good addition to the team. This is especially true if you have special structures to include, like a balcony, roof deck, or fireplace. These areas are architects’ specialties, and you don’t want to fool around with subpar design when it comes to the structural integrity of your home.
So what do architects actually do, and when can you squeak by without one?
An architect will optimize your space
Every project starts with a design plan—that’s the heart of the project, after all— and that’s the phase where you’re going to see the biggest difference from working with an architect.
“An experienced and reliable architect will almost always add tremendous value to your project, as they are literally trained how to think about and optimize your space,” says Fraser Patterson, co-founder and CEO of Bolster, a company that employs both architects and contractors.
“There are universal design principles that architects are trained in to help people understand the life cycle of the home, and how to design now so that you don’t have to redesign every few years,” he continues.
During planning, a contractor puts on paper what you ask for, but an architect is trained to go further.
“A skilled architect can help identify unexpected possibilities, like identifying abandoned shafts that can be added to square footage or finding ways to connect apartments by adding or cutting beams,” says Michael Fasulo, an architect with Bolster.
Architects will also take into consideration factors that you—and your contractor—may not think of.
“An architect will remember to take into consideration sun angles, windows, grading of your lot, feng shui elements, and more,” says Elizabeth Dodson, co-founder of HomeZada.
You may be required to hire an architect
Depending on your local government, you may not have a choice when it comes to hiring an architect. Some cities require architectural plans to be drawn up and approved before you start your project.
“The client should inquire if architectural plans need to be submitted to their local building department for approval for the renovations they desire,” warns Karen Betz of Elite Kitchen & Bath. “That will easily make their decision if they need an architect.”
And your local government may not be the only roadblock. If you’re getting a loan for the project, your financial institution may also require an architect’s seal on the blueprints.
Unless you hire an architect to provide only blueprints, the pro probably won’t disappear when the construction starts. Instead, the architect will pop up every now and then to monitor the process of the project.
“They can oversee the project, making sure the contractor does everything right and is meeting industry standards; that peace of mind alone is priceless for homeowners,” says Jody Costello, founder of ContractorsFromHell.com and the Home Remodeling Bootcamp for Women.
An architect can save you money
We’ve already established that hiring an architect is a big cost, but there are times when shelling out for an architect can actually save you money in the end.
For one, you can take that project blueprint your architect created and compare bids when shopping around for contractors.
Having an architect on hand to supervise and prevent (or at least minimizes) delays and changes midproject can also save costs.
And an architect can be an important barrier between the homeowner and the contractor when it comes to progress payments.
“They will make sure only the portion of work that has been performed will be paid for, thus making sure that payments don’t get ahead of work progress,” Costello says. “This is an area where many homeowners fail to understand and end up losing control of their money.”
Choosing not to hire an architect
While there are many advantages to having an architect as part of your construction team, it’s not always a requirement—especially if your project is mostly cosmetic.
“The decision to have an architect is subjective. It’s akin to asking why some people hire professionals to prepare their taxes, mechanics to change their oil, or housekeepers to clean their homes,” says Janine G., a New Jersey–area contractor.
“Architects know all the right questions to ask when entering a project so as to avoid, or at least limit, surprises—part of their training is project management. However, a customer can do all of these things themselves, and the help of a good contractor will certainly smooth things along, too.”
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