What an architect does

Architects are highly trained in building design, engineering, and ergonomics. At the outset of a remodeling project, an architect will examine your house, listen to your dreams and needs, and then provide solutions and approximate building costs.

Once you’ve settled on a design, the professional can work up simple floor plans or complete blueprints, help select a contractor, work with a structural engineer for permitting, and spot check or oversee construction to ensure it’s being done according to plan.

Costs

  • Per hour: $50 to $150
  • Percentage of project cost: 5% to 20%
  • Flat fee: $5,000 to $20,000 on a $100,000 job

Most professionals are willing to negotiate fees on remodeling projects. They might agree to a flat fee for the design and blueprints, and a per-hour fee for site inspections and design changes after construction has begun.

Advantages

The bigger the remodeling job and the more valuable the house, the more you need a professional.

“Any time you’re changing the exterior of the building, making significant alterations to the floor plan inside, or spending more than 5% of the value of the house, you want an architect,” says Stamford, Conn., construction manager William Harke.

Both architects and contractors can save you money through the creative use of space and materials. But the two professionals often solve problems differently. In a nutshell:

  • Contractors typically look for an efficient and logical solution, but not necessarily the most innovative or aesthetically pleasing approach.
  • Architects typically propose solutions that add visual appeal, and complement and flow into the rest of the house.

Trimming costs

If your budget is tight, and your project is simple, hire an architect who’s just starting out. His fees will be commensurate with his experience—a mixed blessing.

Or you can hire a draftsman, who can create technical drawings for half the price, but does not have the design and engineering expertise. You’ll save some money, but ultimately you’ll have to pay for an architect and a structural engineer to approve the design before your local building authority will issue a permit.

If you can spot quality construction yourself, limit your design professional to the design and blueprint phases, typically for 5% to 10% of the total project cost. If you don’t know a beam from a stud, you’re wise to pay your architect to inspect ongoing construction, called site visits.

Site visits typically are included in your design professional’s contract: He, too, has a vested interest in making sure construction reflects his design. But you don’t need an architect to check each nail or screw, running up fees. A couple of site visits—after framing is completed and during punch-up—are all that’s necessary for a typical addition or remodel.