An AIA architect can help you decide. The costs of renovating should be weighed against the value of your house, neighborhood real-estate values, and the availability of other properties that could meet your needs. Many times, renovations are not, or are just barely, cost effective. Kitchens and larger bedrooms typically bring a higher return on your investment than other spaces or amenities. When analyzing your wants and needs, an architect might ask: Do you want to improve your house for you and your family or to increase its resale value? If you intend to move three to five years after the renovation is complete, it may not be worthwhile going through the renovation process.
It is easy for renovation projects to snowball when you begin to consider existing utilities, wiring, insulation, and windows–even finishing touches such as window coverings, furnishings, and artwork. Meeting with an architect to plan your renovation sets the stage for building cost-efficiency into your project. By setting parameters early in the renovation process, your architect can help you control costs before construction begins.
Your architect will help you understand how you use the space you have now, and how you will use the space you want to create through the renovation. Do you want formal, quiet space separate from common areas, or airy, informal space? Have you thought about how the renovated space could be designed to fit your family as it changes over time? Have you thought about how the space could serve a dual-purpose, such as a home office that can double as a guest bedroom? Designing for multiple purposes can minimize the additional square footage you’ll need and maximize the square footage you’ll create. For example, you might want to expand the living room to provide quiet space for reading and occasional work at home. But after exploring how your family currently uses space, the architect might demonstrate how the space and privacy you desire is best attained by creating a large bedroom instead. Your architect has the knowledge and experience to show you options and possibilities.
Anticipate potential problems lurking behind walls and floors. Potential problems can be hidden, especially in older homes: plumbing, wiring, heating ducts, and foundation. It is important to consider how these systems might be affected by your renovation and the potential effect this could have on your budget. Outdated wiring may not support the increased power needs of your modern home office or family room. A new kitchen or bath might require considerable rerouting and replacement of existing plumbing. A weak foundation might have to be reinforced to support an addition. An AIA architect takes such possibilities into account when assessing your situation and developing a design, which can help avoid costly surprises later when you are under construction.
Visit the job site and administer construction. An architect’s involvement does not end with preparing drawings for the renovation. As your adviser and agent, the architect will visit the site to protect you against work that is not according to plan. With an architect observing construction, you get informed reports of the project’s progress, a trained eye toward quality control, and even a check on the contractor’s invoices–mandating that the contractor does not get paid until the architect is satisfied that the contractor has fulfilled all obligations to you.
Analyze your wants and needs. Are your needs specialized enough to warrant building a custom-designed home, or would a tract home built to certain specifications suit your needs just as well? An AIA architect can help you decide. The cost of building your custom home and its anticipated value should be consistent with real estate values of the surrounding neighborhood. When analyzing your situation, an AIA architect might ask if you want to make your house more livable for yourself, or make it more salable to the next owner.
Share everything you can with your architect: your thoughts, notes, sketches, photos from magazines—anything that illustrates what you like. Tell your architect about your routines, the way you function in your current home, and what you like and do not like about it.
It is often said that architects not only have the answers they also know which questions to ask: How many rooms will you need? How will the home function? Who will use it and how? What are your tastes? How long do you plan to live in the home? Do you work at home? How much time do you spend in the living areas, bedrooms, kitchen, den, office, or utility space? How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your house?
By asking a wide range of questions about your goals, an AIA architect can outline the scope of your project in detail. Doing so also sets the stage for building cost-efficiency into your project. By setting parameters early in the process, your architect can help you control costs before you even break ground.
Marry your wants with practicality. There are many decisions to be made in the planning stages of a building project and during construction. These decisions will determine how your new home will function, what it will cost and what it may be worth in the future. If consulted in the earliest planning stage, an AIA architect can help you make smart decisions about your home’s design that will serve you in surprising ways. It is critical to have a realistic understanding of the potential and the limitations of your project’s budget. Often an architect can propose ways of altering square footage or the type of materials to be used.
Design for your future. If this is your “forever” home, an architect can: provide flexible design options to accommodate your changing family size or reduced mobility as you grow older; help choose certain amenities that can affect long-term value and resale; propose ways to lower energy costs and house maintenance over the long term; even suggest features such as window options that can protect carpets, flooring, and upholstery from damaging ultraviolet rays. Your AIA architect can help you see the big picture and design solutions with the long term in mind.
Visualize the design. Once you and your AIA architect define what is to be built, the architect can help you visualize the design possibilities in a number of ways. Using rough sketches or computer programs, the architect can show you the general arrangement of your new house and its effect on the site. While not finished construction documents, these visual representations are meant to show possible approaches for you to consider. An AIA architect can refine these concepts until a solution is developed that meets your needs.
Depending on the project, your architect might also provide three-dimensional renderings, build models, or even stake the site so you can physically see important features, such as traffic flow, access, and views.
After your approval, the design is developed even further. Your architect will prepare detailed drawings to illustrate floor plans which show all the spaces to be built in their correct proportions, down to almost every detail. Outline specifications are also prepared that specify the primary materials and finishes to be used.
Many architects also provide interior design services. Ask to see examples of their interior work. If these examples suit your tastes, the architect can help you get the most out of the design process right up to selection and placement of furniture, wall color schemes, fabrics, and window treatments. These important finishing touches, advised by your architect, ensure continuity with the design of the home and enhance of its architecture.
Schedule the work. After the design phases are complete, the management and scheduling of the construction work is critical. The actual work of construction could disrupt your lifestyle considerably. The many details that need to be addressed can be overwhelming. Making such decisions and coordinating the necessary manpower and materials requires professional attention.
Your architect has been through the construction process many times – this may be the first time for you. Depend on your architect as much as possible. An architect can help anticipate problems so that your decisions are followed, construction is carried out efficiently, and the project is kept on track.
An Architect Can Help
It is tempting to look for that idyllic location to build your dream home, but it is best to talk with an AIA architect first. After discussing your ideas and available resources, your architect can help you prepare a preliminary budget that reflects what you want, what you can afford, and what types of properties might suit both criteria. A little work upfront can make your search for the right site more efficient, and can present some unexpected, exciting possibilities. The earlier in the planning process you consult an architect, the better you prepare yourself for finding a site that matches your dreams with reality.
Explore the Potential of Your Site
The property where you will build your home may present some distinct design opportunities and perhaps some hidden hazards. Your architect can help you unmask the character and potential costs of your site-before you buy.
For example, you will probably want to take advantage of a favorable view and sun exposure while protecting your home against wind and weather. Are there existing trees on the site that you will want to save? Are utilities such as water, sewer, natural gas, electric, telephone, and TV/cable available? How much privacy do you want between your house and the surrounding community? Which school district services your area? Are there other costs associated with the site such as traffic impact fees, homeowner’s dues, sewer and water tap fees, landscaping assessments, snow or trash removal fees? Finally, would purchase of the property leave you with enough in your project budget to develop a home? A clear understanding of such factors can help you make smart decisions in choosing the site for your new home.
Consider the Lay of the Land
Of course, building a new home literally begins at ground level. The characteristics of the site affect the design and function of your home. For example, is the geology of the site primarily sand, rock, or soil? The type of soil could affect rainwater drainage. Or, if no public sewage system is available, how well the soil percolates could affect the function or placement of a septic field. And if no public water system exists, how likely are you to hit water by drilling a well?
Can the site support the placement of structures at a reasonable cost? How will the slope of the site relate to the type of house you desire, such as a one-story or two-story home with a walk-out basement? In short, is the land buildable, and at a reasonable cost? Walk the site with your architect to learn if your project is feasible and what impact such factors might have on the site. Doing so also leads to some exciting design possibilities.
Determine if local zoning and other restrictions will affect your project. It is important to know if any zoning ordinances or regulations exist that might restrict development of the property. These might dictate how much of the property can be covered by a structure, its height, how far it must be set back from the property line or roadway, and protection of existing trees and landscape. Likewise, you will want to know about any proposed development of adjacent or nearby properties, such as new roadways or commercial construction. Being familiar with the building codes and zoning ordinances in your area, an AIA architect can help you determine where these apply to your project, and can assist with filing applications or obtaining the necessary permits for building your custom design.