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Home Construction Frequently Asked Questions

December 2nd, 2009

Home builders and remodelers often have questions – especially as they begin to engage in the pre-construction building phase. So, on this page I will post answers to common questions to help you gain a better understanding of the residential building process.

Question One: Can you explain the difference between an architect and a designer? When is it best to hire an architect and when is it best to hire a designer?

An architect is a professional who is trained and licensed in the planning and designing of residential and commercial construction projects. Architects also participate in supervising the construction of buildings. In essence, architects are hired to translate a building user’s requirements into a construction blueprint of an inhabitable environment. Architects have a bachelor’s degree and have passed state licensing exams.

Professional building designers, or home designers, specialize in designing single family homes. In some cases, they may also design other light frame residential buildings, agricultural buildings, and decorative facades for larger buildings.

Unlike architects, home designers are not legally required to pass exams or receive special licenses. However, a designer who carries the title “Certified Professional Building Designer” or “CPBD” has completed training courses, practiced building design for at least six years, and passed a rigorous certification exam.

While fees vary widely, most Certified Professional Building Designers charge between 3% and 6% of the total construction cost. Architects, on the other hand, have two common fee structures. Some may charge by the hour ($75-$200) while others establish fees based on square footage of the inhabitable space (fees generally range between $1.50 and $8.00+ per square foot).

Since architects have more extensive training than designers do, they are most often hired to design new construction – residential and commercial. Architects are also employed to create seamless, more complex additions to existing structures (e.g., add-on to a historic building). Finally, when an architect designs the construction documents that are used to solicit bids, the contractor hired must build the structure according to the specifications of the construction documents. This legal requirement ensures that the building will meet the building user’s expectations.

Home designers are often hired by building users to design smaller, less complicated structures and additions. For example, most home owners would consult with a designer when remodeliong a kitchen or bathroom. DoItYourself builders might also hire home designers as a low cost alternative to hiring an architect.

So, let the scope of your project and the depth of your budget determine your choice. If you have a straight forward project with a simple design, you probably will be well served by a designer. If, on the other hand, you are planning a large, complex construction design, you will want to hire an architect.

Whatever you decide, you’ll want to follow standard pre-construction practice to make sure you get what you want. See our Hiring a Construction Contractor: Eight Tips for Getting It Right article for tips on how to hire the right contractor to build your professionally designed building.