ten ways an architect can potentially save you

time, money and aggravation on your next house project

by Shannon Scarlett, Architect, Wellesley MA
an architect can:

1. Provide elegant solutions for unique building problems or specific family lifestyles. Creating a home suited perfectly to the homeowners involves a somewhat complicated process of analysis and design. Architects, with years of experience and training, can often contribute quick, insightful and ingenious solutions to complicated problems The difference between architects and many other related design trades is the time and careful attention an architect gives to the owner’s specific wishes and constraints. Architects concentrate on both the homeowner’s “wish list”, and project description, and the more intangible qualities observed about the owner’s lifestyle. Architects explore alternatives that many times an owner had never considered, and will design for efficiency of plan, interior circulation, energy efficiency, etc. Again, an array of inefficiencies, not readily noticed by a homeowner, can have dramatic implications on both cost and usefulness.

2. Work with homeowner to develop a long-range plan, which takes into consideration future possibilities along with currently, contemplated projects. The issue of long term planning can have dramatic financial and planning implications to a project. Architects may recommend that the owner take a little extra time to evaluate all potential future projects, the changes in the family (including future children, aging parents, or returning college grads…), and any other factors which may, impact long range planning. The point of this master planning exercise is to ensure that the owners are not precluding any future additions or modifications in their decision to do a particular project. The cost -emotionally as well as monetarily- of adding a family room in the future will be dramatically increased if it becomes necessary to tear down a portion of the newly renovated kitchen to make it fit!

3. Provide creative design solutions, which can sometimes save homeowners a significant amount of money. The cost of inefficient floor plan layouts can be serious, yet it is very common for a homeowner or builder to believe it will be more cost effective to draw up their own plans. One day while helping at a Home Show, a couple asked us to review floor plans that a builder had drawn for their new custom home. There were a number of inefficiencies- a couple long hallways, symmetrically sized rooms for very different uses,  an undersized kitchen with an oversized mudroom. When we asked  if they actually needed a mudroom the size of a bedroom, they said they recognized that it was large, but the builder convinced them the floor plan would work no other way. There was over a hundred square feet of wasted or underutilized space. At an average $200 to $300 per square foot (typical Boston area costs), the builder was unintentionally causing these homeowners to spend over  $20,000 for unnecessary space! If that amount of money was directed toward architectural design fees, an architect could easily have provided the owners with a clearly more efficient, aesthetically pleasing and personally customized house- without the owners necessarily spending an extra dollar.

4. Suggest ways homeowners can reduce unnecessary stress and frustration. Architects can help alleviate some of a homeowner’s stress by educating them on exactly what can be expected from the first day the owner begins looking seriously at home design magazines for ideas, to move in day! Architects can review the many things that have potential to go wrong during the process. They can also suggest how problems might be resolved, should they arise. The greatest frustration on nearly any project stems from miscommunication: Architects can act as mediator in disputes between owner and builder, or in assisting family members to meet a consensus. Architects can assist owners in deciphering architect and builder jargon, and provide suggestions for dealing with obstacles during Construction.

5. Work with homeowner to develop a project a timetable. Architect can give homeowners an idea of the process of both design and construction, and go over a list of owner responsibilities and suggestions for completing tasks within the overall project schedule. In coordination with the contractor, architects can help develop an overall project schedule, and work into the schedule some of the key progress points, and decision dates requiring action by the owner. The schedule can be flexible or rigid, depending on the significance of the completion date, and the working relationship that the owner establishes with the builder.

6. Review construction as it progresses, and provide status reports and suggestions for dealing with unforeseen situations. Whether or not the contractor assigns a project manager to a project, the owner is still responsible for evaluating the construction as it progresses, and making decisions regarding change orders. The value in hiring an architect is having a trained eye regularly checking for adherence to the contract documents, working with the builder to work out issues, and evaluating requests for payments to assure that the amount being paid equals the work completed to date. The architect is able to make informed decisions regarding the impact of changes, and will present the information to the owner for a final decision.

7. Work with a local contractor to ensure cost effectiveness and constructability from the beginning and throughout the project. The ideal situation for maintaining control over budget and buildability of a project involves the architect, the owner and contractor entering into an informal relationship where a commitment to quality is defined, and agreed upon. Whether the owner has a builder who they want to work with from the start, or they plan to bid the project competitively, early input from a qualified builder can be invaluable, and can often be coordinated by an architect.

8. Provide consulting for small projects, assisting the homeowner who wants to design and/or do the general contracting themselves. Many homeowners are under the impression that architects only design million dollar homes and can not be bothered with additions or renovations, particularly if the budget is limited. Most small architectural firms are willing to undertake any size project, with one typical contingency: the owner must be concerned with the design quality of the project. Some of the most exciting projects are those which have an impossible site, a restricted budget, and a requirement for energy efficiency and environmental sensitivity. The only requirement by many architects is that the client maintain an open mind and a willingness to explore a variety of solutions to meet the constraints of the project, and pay their bills in a timely manner. Similarly, a creative owner who is undertaking a part or all of a project, may simply require architectural reviews or guidance on an hourly basis.

9. Consult with buyer, prior to purchase, on the suitability and future opportunities or constraints of a house or site under consideration. Most buyers and sellers consider a home inspection a necessity before closing on a property. Many people do not realize, however, that an architectural consultation can be equally valuable in the process of buying or selling a house. A home inspector views a property for the status of the physical conditions. An architect can offer suggestions regarding a home’s potential. Potential includes opportunities for future growth or adaptability to lifestyle changes ideas for home improvements, site suitability, or alternatives for dealing with unusual situations. These insights can be helpful in assessing whether a home is best suited to the buyers’ present and future needs, and whether changes being considering are architecturally feasible.

10. Prepare three-dimensional sketches, or models as needed, to help the homeowner visualize exactly what the house will look like when completed. Architects recognize that a large part of the population does not share their instinctive ability to visualize plans- i.e. transforming a two dimensional plan into a three dimensional space. One of the biggest problems with off- the- shelf home plans and most builders’ plans is a lack of perspective drawings of anything other than perhaps a front exterior view. Many unfortunate conditions are disclosed in the three dimentional drawings of a project. Review and correction of these issues is much more cost effective when done before construction even begins.