Do I Need To Hire An Architect For My Home Improvement Project?

An architect is needed for any home improvement project that requires a work permit filed with the Department of Buildings. You may not have a choice whether or not to hire an architect if your project includes the alteration of any interior walls, relocation of plumbing fixtures, basement build-outs, and any type of addition, to name a few.

Working with an architect can make your project flow more smoothly. Their knowledge of local building code requirements, coupled with their understanding of the products and materials available on the market, can provide you with all the information you need to make your project a success. Architects facilitate your home project, providing design guidance, and the knowledge and information you need to identify the right contractor. 

It is important to identify an architect that has a portfolio of projects similar in style and budget to fit your needs. The AIA (American Institute of Architects) website can provide you with a list of reputable architects in your area.  

An initial consultation or interview with an architect should determine if you and your project are a good fit with his or her practice. During this meeting, it’s best to communicate your ideas clearly and ask lots of questions. Find out the architect’s approach, fee schedule, deliverables, and what they think is important about your project. Furthermore, assess whether the architect listens to your needs and confirms that he or she understands them.

Once you have selected your architect, the design phase will begin. It is important that your architect understands your preliminary budget prior to beginning his or her design drawings. Your architect will then analyze your home, or the project’s site conditions, and come up with conceptual drawings or ideas that integrate your goals, coupled with the architect’s aesthetic direction and schematic approach. 

During this phase, you should provide your architect with photos and ideas so that he or she understands your likes and dislikes. Initially your architect should provide you with a couple of design concepts, intended to spark your feedback and hone in on your design aesthetic. Once the general design direction is settled, your architect will produce more extensive drawings.

Keep in mind that there is still design work that needs to be completed. Interior finishes, lighting and storage design, and plumbing fixture selections are only a few of the choices the homeowner will have to make.

The application process starts when the local jurisdiction reviews the drawings the architect has submitted on your behalf and determines whether the proposed work is in accordance with local safety and building codes. Every project requires specific documentation and applications to facilitate an approval. The length of time it takes for approval will be determined by how complete the submission package is, the workload of the buildings department and if the project is being self-certified or waiting for plan examiners approval.

During this phase, it can feel like the project has stagnated because of the procedures within the Department of Buildings. 

Once your project is approved, there are two parts to the construction stage. The first is finding a contractor to do the work. The timing of this step will depend on whether you have made the choice in advance of hiring an architect, or if you will need the architect’s help selecting a contractor. The latter might entail a bidding process, wherein the architect helps the client select two or three contractors to submit bids for the proposed work, and the client chooses the best proposal.

If you have selected your contractor first, it can be helpful in identifying the real time costs throughout the design process. It can also jump start your project once you have received your approved plans back from the architect. If you wait for approved drawings before selecting a contractor, it can delay the process as choice contractors can be back logged with work, and your project may not be scheduled for months.

Once the contractor starts work, the architect’s role is not diminished. There can be a lot going on behind the scenes, such as the contractor calling the architect to make sure they are executing the design correctly or the architect needing to troubleshoot when problems arise. During this stage, many architects will engage in weekly site visits to the project with the contractor and client, and go over instructions with subcontractors in order to get the details right.

Your architect can also be involved in reviewing progress and payment requisitions submitted by your contractor. This will protect the homeowner if a contractor is requesting more money than the services and materials provided and installed to date. Prior to final payment or release of retainage, a Release of Lien should be provided by the contractor for his work and that of the subcontractors that provided goods and services for your project. 

When considering a home improvement project, make sure to do your homework. Search for on line reviews and ask friends, family and neighbors for referrals.  Professionals take their reputation seriously. It is important for you to identify the right architect for your project so that it is designed for you and your family’s needs. 

Ronald D. Victorio, R.A., AIA         Ronald Victorio Architects

(718) 720-3478        ronvictorioarch@aol.com