October 23, 2019 Greg Shue, AIA

Why should you hire an architect for your next residential construction project?

I thought it would be good to get these thoughts down, since I haven’t really assembled them in one place before. Reasons to hire an architect are very different when it comes to commercial buildings, namely because architects are required by law for commercial buildings.
So, to begin, besides the obvious reasons to hire an architect for your residential project, such as having a unique design informed by historical precedent and building technology, architects are required to take hours of continuing education courses each year to keep up with new codes, new resources, etc. Architects are some of the most informed professionals when dealing with laws and codes as they pertain to construction, along with engineers and code officials.
EVEN MORE IMPORTANT is that hiring a contractor to provide design services usually results in a conflict of interest, as all the residential builders I know operate using one or more of the local building materials wholesalers. That means that they may not be aware of options beyond what is carried locally. There may also be some form of incentive provided by the wholesalers to the contractors for pushing particular products, so it’s hard to say for sure if you’re getting the design and construction bang-for-your-buck that you would get with an architect.
Architects also coordinate consultant work (structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, A/V, lighting, interiors, etc.), provide site analysis (for issues such as orientation, climate, exposure, views, drainage), and construction administration services (to ensure things are built according to approved construction documents, which usually includes a report from each site visit).
Also, using an architect allows owners to receive multiple bids for a project, which can then be evaluated for best value to the owner. I know this is a lot, but it’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
Did I mention Professional Liability and Errors and Omissions insurances? Well, my bet is that not a single contractor (locally, anyway) carries that coverage, which protects both the architect and the owner in the event something gets built wrong due to a mistake in the drawings.
In addition, architects save owners money over the life of a project. Like the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Similarly, paying an architect to iron out and document all of the decisions before construction begins is far less expensive than trying to make corrections in the field (materials, time, and labor). In addition, the cost to operate a building over its life cycle can easily be reduced through the thoughtful inclusion of both passive and active climate control measures.
These are just a few of the reasons it’s smart to hire an architect. There are many more!