Most of our clients have never been involved with a residential construction project before. It’s usually the biggest financial investment they have other than purchasing their home. You will have many questions along your journey to create your new home or addition. We created this guide to help you understand how the process works, what your responsibilities are, and how we can work together to achieve your goals.
Residential projects can be very complex regarding design and construction. Therefore, you should assemble a team of experienced professionals to run it as smoothly as possible like a symphony orchestra. You will be asked to make hundreds of decisions along the way, everything from how many bedrooms you need to what color door hardware you like. Some folks will stress over every little detail and others may be more laid back. We believe you should look at it as a fun adventure where we take it one step at a time from the “big picture” to “tiny details” so that in the end, it will have been enjoyable and something you may even do again someday.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Why do I need an architect? An experienced architect will be there to guide you through your project from a well thought out design, precise drawing of your construction documents, and be in on your jobsite to see that the project is being properly executed. Architects are invaluable in that we know ways to design effectively to achieve your goals in the most cost efficient way, hopefully saving you money and time. Additionally, to obtain a building permit, you must have plans that are certified by a licensed professional.
What is your fee? There are usually 3 ways an architect will propose their fee: a fixed fee based on a fixed scope of work; an hourly fee with or without a cap, or a percentage of the construction cost. For the most part, we choose to charge a fixed fee for a fixed scope of work for a few reasons.
- Our clients always know where we stand in their overall budget.
- We can generally figure out how much time we’d need to complete your project based on 30 years of experience and the ability to anticipate the complexity of your project from the beginning.
- Hourly rates are usually too much of an unknown factor to both the client and the architect.
- Percentage of construction cost is a wild variable and seems unfair to our clients if they choose more expensive materials, why should the architect benefit…and vice-versa. We don’t want to be tied to those decisions.
- If the scope of work is truly unknown at the beginning of a project, we will often work on a fixed design-only fee until the exact scope is determined. We would then offer a proposal for another fixed fee for the remainder of our services.
What professionals will I need to engage with? You may need any of the following professionals: Architect, surveyor, civil engineer, landscape architect, fire sprinkler engineer, a kitchen cabinet designer and an interior designer. All the fees associated with these professionals should be included in your “by owner” portion of your budget, see budgeting below.
Do I need a building permit? In most cases, yes. State and local ordinances require them for any structural change and for any project that exceeds costs of $20,000. Permits are required to protect you and your valuable home investment.
Do I need approvals from any municipal boards? It’s possible. We’ll let you know if your project needs ZBA (zoning board of appeals) for any zoning variances, ARB (architectural review board) for aesthetic review, or Planning Board for site plan review that may be needed.
How do I find a contractor? We have a network of reputable contractors that have years of experience working with us and in the homes of our clients. We recommend them because of a known track record of completing projects on time, on budget, and to our clients’ satisfaction. Hiring a recommended contractor will give you piece of mind that you’re in good hands for the guidance you’ll need on a day to day basis at your job site.
I have a budget; how does that work? We understand that you can only complete your project with the funds you have available. It’s important to understand how your overall budget will be broken down into two categories.
First, there is what we call “contractor cost”. This is the bid you’ll receive after the contractor reviews our final construction drawings. That bid should be broken down to include at a minimum: demolition, foundation & drainage, framing & sheathing, roofing & flashing, windows, exterior siding & millwork, gutters & leaders, electrical, plumbing, heating & air conditioning, insulation, gypsum wallboard & taping, interior doors, stairs, & millwork, wood floors, tile work, site work masonry, painting, clean up & miscellaneous. The numbers associated with these include all labor and materials (except for “by owner” items) to complete the basic construction of your project.
Second, this what we call “by owner” items. These are the things you are responsible to pay for outside the scope of the construction bid. These items include but are not limited to: professional fees (see above for list of professionals), permit fees, kitchen cabinetry, kitchen appliances (sinks, ref., range, hood, microwave, compactors, etc.), bathroom fixtures (tubs, sinks, vanities, faucets, etc.), bathroom accessories (glass doors, medicine cabinet, paper holders, towel bars, etc.), floor and wall tile & grout, certain lighting fixtures, front entrance door & storm door, door hardware, washing machine and dryer, fireplace mantels and doors, garage doors and openers, and landscaping. You have total control over these costs as they will depend on your tastes, needs, and preferences.
We attempt to figure out what a typical breakdown of each of these overall costs will be based on your scope of work. Adjustments may be made during the design process depending on the direction the project seems to be going. Our goal is to have your project built as it was imagined by you and us. Sometimes that means making hard budget decisions on your part. We do our best to offer you as many options as are available to fit your home with your budget.
How will my project affect my property taxes? Your property taxes are based on the value of your property. That value is broken down to the property size and the building itself. The value of your building is based on the size, condition and amenities it may have. We presume you’d be adding value to your home by building your project, so you can assume your taxes will be raised. The question of “how much?” can only be answered by your local tax assessor. We recommend you take our preliminary design drawings to review with your assessor to see if they can estimate the new value of your home based on those drawings. This should be done prior to having us commence with your final construction drawings. This way, you will have the information you need to decide on whether to proceed with the project as designed or to make some plan alterations/adjustments to fit your tax limits.
Can I do my project in phases? Yes, this is done quite often if you don’t have the budget to execute the entire “master plan” right now. It’s smart to plan which portions of your project can be separated without causing you to re-construct something in the future. We’ve had some clients phase up to three projects over a ten-year period, all based on the initial design drawings we’d done for them.
Can I use my own sub-contractor? It depends. You may have a painter, plumber or electrician you know or have used before and is familiar with your home and you trust them. Most general contractors (GC) won’t have a problem with you using one sub-contractor if they respond and execute their portion of the work on the GC’s schedule. However, the GC is ultimately responsible for everything that goes into your home and may be uncomfortable warrantying the work of someone not under his control. That needs to be worked out on a case by case basis.
Will I need to move out of my house? If you are doing a substantial renovation within or above your existing home, there is a good chance you’ll need to move out for a period of time. Most people don’t want to live in a construction zone for several reasons; dust, mess, possible contaminants in the air, periodic loss of heat and utilities, danger to your children and pets, and overall inconvenience. Your contractor will feel the same way in addition to being able to make the job run faster because they won’t need to work around you and they may not need to spend as much time cleaning their job site every day. So far, all our clients who’ve needed to move out have found either short term local rentals or go live with relatives in the area. It is solely your responsibility to have all your belongings moved out of the construction area and stored in a secure location until the home is ready to be occupied.
How long does the entire project take? You can break down the time of your project into two categories; pre-construction, and construction.
Pre-construction includes time spent with the architect to design the project, create construction documents, obtain permits and tender bids from contractors. Depending on the size and complexity of your project, the permits and approvals you may need from your municipality, and the number of bids you want, you would be with us from 1 month for a small interior project to 4-8 months for more substantial projects. We’ll go over that specific time frame with you.
Construction time also depends on the size and complexity of your project. A typical kitchen alteration may take 6-10 weeks while a new home may take 8-12 months. Your contractor will advise you about the scheduling of the project timing.
Pre-design phase: We establish the project’s scope of work with you, review zoning and local building codes, and if you’re renovating your house, we’ll come and field measure and photograph so we can create “as-built” drawings on our computers.
Preliminary design phase: We create two-dimensional initial floor plans and exterior elevation drawings for your review. We want to confirm that we’ve gotten the overall concept of your design correct. Your feedback is welcome so we can make adjustments as needed. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE DRAWINGS.
Design development phase: We modify your floor plans and exterior elevation drawings as per your feedback until the final design is agreed upon by you. If you want a 3-D color rendering of your project to get a realistic view of what you home will look like, it could be done at this point. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE DRAWINGS.
Construction document phase: We take your final design drawings and add detailed technical information so that contractors can produce complete and accurate bids for you. We will be discussing many of these details with you at our office in advance. This way, your construction document package can be tailored to your needs. These drawings will include, but are not limited to: site plan, written specifications, floor plans, exterior elevations, details, structural plans and electrical fixture layouts. We will also start the permit process once the final drawings are complete. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE DRAWINGS.
Bidding phase: We will assist you in obtaining and reviewing detailed construction contract proposals from qualified contractors. We can analyze the bids to determine if anything has been added, omitted or changed from the construction specifications and advise you accordingly. At this time, you will also negotiate a contract with your chosen builder to determine the final pricing and timing of the construction. CLICK HERE FOR SAMPLE BID.
Construction observation phase: We will visit your site at appropriate intervals to observe the construction to become generally familiar with the progress, quality, and compliance with the design of the project as it relates to the final construction documents. We are also available to you and your contractor by phone and email to discuss any aspect of the construction. These topics may range from changes you want to structural details they need clarification on. This is the most important phase to have the architect involved with. Only we have the trained eyes to see that both the design concepts and construction detailing are being executed properly.