In today’s economy, just about everyone is closely watching every dollar they spend. Belt tightening has become a way of life, and many people are having to prioritize what is important to them when they make decisions about how their money is spent. For people who value quality, the choice to spend more on something that will last longer, perform better, and have a higher resale value isn’t as easy when the economy is bad and money is tight.
We have been finding lately that a lot of prospective clients are shopping around for design services, trying to get the most for their money. One point of confusion we see is when clients compare the price of hiring an architect to design their home against the cost of using an inexpensive drafting service. There are several important qualifications that distinguish architects, and clarifying them might help to explain why the services of an architect may cost you more than you would pay for someone to draw simple house plans. However, good quality architecture adds value to your home. If you are looking for someone to design a home or remodel for you, the following may help guide you in making a decision.
- Comparing architects to people who prepare basic house plans is like comparing apples and carrots. Architects have a high level of formal training, have served a lengthy apprenticeship, and have undergone rigorous testing. Architects are licensed to practice by the state, are required to adhere to a code of ethics, and are held to high standards of accountability. It is illegal for someone to call themselves an Architect if they don’t hold a current license. In contrast, there are no educational or training standards for someone who wants to draw house plans, and no assurance to you that they understand regulatory requirements, safety codes, or the construction process. There are certainly draftsmen and building designers who are well educated and very competent, but they have not been subjected to the rigorous vetting process that architects go through to achieve licensure.
- Architects are trained to design buildings that balance aesthetics, function, safety, quality, longevity, and cost. Architects are required to earn continuing education credits as a condition of their license, so they are kept up to date on evolving building codes, zoning requirements, building science, including energy efficiency, and the benefits and limitations of modern materials.
- Architects are required to stamp and sign anything of a technical nature that leaves their office. This is a certification that they are taking liability for the product, and that to the best of their knowledge it meets all applicable jurisdictional requirements. Several states and most upscale subdivisions require that building plans have an architect’s stamp. If design drawings are not stamped by a licensed professional, there is no legal assumption of accountability and no assurance to the homeowner that the drawings were prepared under the watchful eye of someone who is legally bound to stand behind them.
- Architects typically produce detailed drawings and specifications that allow builders to give accurate estimates, build with minimal change orders, and understand all aspects of the project before they start building. Cheap house plans very rarely contain all the necessary information required to properly price and construct the project. With poor plans to work from, contractors have to fill in the blanks, figure out how to make things work, and design the details themselves. This can lead to disappointing results and potentially unsafe conditions. Most contractors prefer a good set of detailed documents so they can provide you with the best product at the lowest cost.
- Architects bring creativity to a project. Homes that are the product of unskilled designers are easy to pick out and lack the aesthetic qualities of a properly designed home. On the other hand, homes designed by architects typically have well thought out details, appropriate scaling, and functional floor plans. Well conceived designs produce high levels of owner satisfaction and strong resale values.
- Professional accountability has real value. Anyone with a word processor can produce a “legal document”, but that doesn’t make them a lawyer. We all want the assurance of professional accreditation when we seek out medical care or take our kids to the dentist. For what it costs to build or remodel a home, and the potential for problems that can result from poor design, hiring an architect to guide the process seems like a wise investment.
It is pretty easy to find someone to prepare inexpensive plans for your new home or remodel. As with anything, you will get what you pay for. If the home you want to build is very simple or is a modification of stock plans from a book, a drafting service may be a good choice for your project. If you want a unique, quality custom home you will likely be better served by hiring an architect.
When you hire an Architect you are paying for their education, creativity, accountability, knowledge of construction technology, and assurance of quality. It makes good financial sense to enlist the services of a trained professional when you are preparing to make what is likely one of the biggest financial commitments of your life.
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