There is no getting around it: If you are remodeling your home, you are going to need a set of plans.
Plans will be required for municipal review prior to issuing a building permit, for contractors to provide you with a bid on your project, and for enabling them to actually construct the project so that it looks and functions like what you have been dreaming about all these years.
If you know exactly what you want, a drafter can draw the plans as you direct.
However, since you will probably not undertake a major remodeling project more than once or twice in your lifetime, it is wise to study the possibilities and consider your options before moving ahead.
This is where an architect can help. An architect is a licensed professional trained in the principles of design, the science of structures and the process of construction.
Your first challenge is to find an architect who does residential remodeling. Most architectural firms only do commercial projects and/or new high-end custom homes. Many won't touch a home remodel project under half a million dollars — and that is fairly pricey by most people's standards.
Once you find an architect with whom you feel comfortable, be ready to spend six months to a year in the design stage.
One of the most common miscalculations is to underestimate the time required from discussing a potential project to standing in a finished structure. You should not expect to meet with an architect in March and start construction in June.
Planning the specifics of your remodeling project with an architect can be what turns an average remodel into a personalized design that truly meets your family's lifestyle.
An architect can see your project with an objective eye to help you find the potential in your home. Although the solution may not be extreme, an architect can see beyond what may seem like boundaries to you. While keeping an eye on the budget, an architect isn't afraid to move walls or stairs.
They know they can take out a wall and put in a column and a beam, which could make all the difference in your final design.
Ultimately, an architect can help you understand the possibilities and help you get the most for your money. A good architect will give you options from a basic design to one with all the bells and whistles, with other design options in between.
The architect should attach some kind of budget estimate to at least one of the preliminary design options, so you can tell if your project is even "in the ballpark" before you pay to execute a final set of construction documents.
It is not helpful if an architect designs a beautiful addition that turns out to be three times what you can afford when you receive bids from contractors.
Building and zoning departments in your city have to review your drawings before they will issue a building permit. In Utah, residential projects do not have to be stamped by a licensed architect (which is why a drafter — as mentioned above — may be a viable option for simple, straightforward projects), but the state does require that a structural engineer design the structural portion of the project.
Architects can help you coordinate with the structural engineer and navigate the bureaucratic red tape.
Along those same lines, another advantage of using an architect is the creation of a specifications manual that will supplement the plans.
This manual specifies construction standards that are to be met as well as provides detailed information on the basic structure (windows, doors, insulation, etc.), finishes (floors, tile, etc.) and equipment (appliances, plumbing fixtures, etc.) that the contractor will have to supply in order to complete the project.
Obviously, the more specific your plans ,the more accurate your bid will be and the more the finished product will resemble what you have planned. For those who are concerned about our impact on the Earth (which should be all of us!), architects can also help direct you to environmentally friendly products and systems that will help reduce the carbon footprint of your project.
While it is possible to hire an architect only to provide plans and/or specifications, architects come in handy during the bidding and construction phases of your project, too.
No set of plans is perfect; questions will arise during both these phases from contractors and plan reviewers. An architect should be there to answer questions or to solve problems as they arise.
They also help make head and tails out of the bids you receive from contractors, enabling you to compare "apples to apples" when making your selection.
Having your architect meet weekly at your job site with you and the contractor will help keep the work flowing as questions are answered promptly and will also assure that the final product will reflect all of the decisions you have made throughout the design process.
Overall, remodeling is a fairly confusing and difficult (not to mention expensive!) process.
Because it is usually only done once or twice in a lifetime, there is no room for a learning curve. An architect can be your consultant and advocate throughout the process. Hiring an architect for your project team to manage the entire design process will cost approximately 10 percent to 12 percent of the total construction budget. Payments are usually made throughout the project at predetermined times.
Whether you hire an architect to help a little or a lot, you will get an improved design and a more successful project.
Architects Ann Robinson and Annie V. Schwemmer are the founding principals of Renovation Design Group, www.renovationdesigngroup.com. a local design firm specializing in home renovations.