The Design Phase
The design phase consists of two parts: what you bring to the architect, architectural designer, or
design and build contractor and what you get in return. But first, do you need a design professional?
Not by law, in most cases, but do check with your local building inspector's office. For a simple
project such as removing a nonbearing wall to open up a kitchen, you may need nothing but a sketch.
Whether it's a sketch or complete plans, the drawings must clearly show what will be done during the
project and reflect all code requirements. Any engineering issues in the project will require proof that
the structure was checked and approved by a structural engineer or qualified design professional.
But apart from helping you clarify your plans and giving you new ideas, the design professional also
ensures that the drawings meet all required codes and specifications for safety and durability. The
architect or designer will also help ensure that your project fits with the overall house scheme and
within the neighborhood.
Do Your Homework
Before you seek design help, do some research. Collect a scrapbook of photos and sketches, and have in
mind at least a general idea of what design concepts you want incorporated in the project. The architect
or designer will help you refine your ideas. Also, when you visit a design professional, have a good
understanding of what you can afford to spend on the project. No matter how well you plan, it will be
more expensive than you expect.
Do You Want an Architect or Designer?
Both architect and architectural designer may be equally talented, skilled, and full of great ideas. The
architect, however, is a university graduate who has served a required apprenticeship with a licensed
architect before obtaining his or her own state license. An architectural designer may have worked
equally long in the trade but generally is not required to have a university degree and is not state
licensed as an architect. Other types of designers, such as interior designers, may be required to be
What Can Design Professionals Do?
What can a design professional do for you that in most cases a general contractor does not? First, he or
she prepares the plans that will be submitted to the building inspector's office for review and approval
before construction can start. Architects and designers bring vision, experience, and structural
expertise to the job to make sure it fits your goals and your budget. They provide the plans and
specifications for the contractor to follow.
What Do Architects and Designers Charge?
Architects and architectural designers provide professional services, not products. Their rates are
usually based on the time spent on your project. They may charge an hourly rate or a percentage of the
total construction costs, often in the 8% to 15% range. Discuss how your architect or designer charges
in advance and have it specified in the contract what you will receive in return.
Also be sure to ask to see work samples and a list of references for any design professional you are
seriously considering. Hiring an architect or designer can save you money in the long run because having
clear plans in advance means that you are less likely to change your whole approach halfway through the
job, which will increase your costs.
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