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I am planning to build a house for my family. It's relatively simple and modest by modern American standards. I plan to do much of the work myself, and want to keep costs down.

I have been working on some designs, but I wonder what a professional would bring to the table. Some guesses:

  • Easier time at the permit office, as architect knows the codes, draws pretty pictures, and the permit officer knows what to expect.

  • Architect will offer clever solutions to difficult problems.

  • Architect will be able to "see" the completed house, from drawings, better than I can, and knows what will work well.

  • Architect will cost an arm and a leg.

  • Architect will want a house to be fancy or make a statement about society.

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An architect could also give you an estimate of the cost of building, as it has pretty good knowledge of cost of both materials and workforce. –  Riduidel Aug 16 '10 at 9:12
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Sigh. You might want to put down your well thumbed copy of "The Fountainhead". You are wrong if you think that an architect is in business to make a statement about society, or to draw fancy buildings that do not represent the desires of their clients. I will concede that some buildings end up overdone. But this is something driven by the client's desires, not the architect. –  user558 Aug 16 '10 at 11:29
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actually the architect I used for my room addition on my house had a lot of institutional knowledge that you simply won't have, will know the right way to build things, and strongly recommend good design decisions. While it was a pain in the beginning because I was a newbie at it, the whole process went a lot smoother because I used an architect. Oh and it didn't end up looking like Taj Mahal either :) –  staticx Aug 16 '10 at 14:25
    
You get structurally sound plans you can build to, instead of facing the expense of building and then having the inspector tell you to rip portions of it out and redesign it afterwards. Your occupancy permit depends on the inspector, not having to rebuild parts of it or having it rejected altogether makes having the expertise @0A0D mentions brought to the table worth it. Was peripherally involved with someone who put a foundation in on silty soil. Redos because the footing width is insufficient stink. Consulting a soils engineer is not a bad idea either. –  Fiasco Labs Feb 8 '13 at 15:59
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6 Answers

I helped my friend design his house. He bought several design books with basic plans for houses. We combined a couple of the plans to sketch out a basic floor plan and dimensions for what he wanted. He took that basic plan to the lumber yard. They had an architect they worked with who turned it into official blueprints. I don't know how much it cost, but the lumber yard took the cost of the drawings off his materials bill when he bought the materials to build the house.

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Residential Architects aren't making a statement about society. They are making a statement about you, the client.

Just my personal opinion, but if I'm putting the time, money and effort into building my own house, I want it to be a house designed for me. An architect will help me design that house.

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You can use either a designer or an architect, but depending on where you are building and the complexity of the home, you may need an engineer to stamp the plans.

For more detailed info in deciding which is a better fit for you, I'd go to http://OwnerBuilderBook.com. The forums there were invaluable when I owner-built my own home.

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Thats great that you are looking to do a lot yourself. We did the same. So I drew up the initial plans, which totally spelled out what we wanted, overall size, rooms, etc. But my drawings were no where near that what was needed for the permits, for building drawings (any subs that you may use), and for materials when you take them to the lumber yard. I was able to take my plans to an architect, and ask for a official set of building plans. They may make some suggestions for you, but if you are clear that you just want building drawings, they will know what you need. This will typically cost $1,000. Not too much when you think of the ocst of the entire project.

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I don't agree with:

  • Architect will want a house to be fancy or make a statement about society

Ask around for recommendations. A good architect is like a graphic designer -- they're paid to make you happy by turning your vision into a reality.

Yes, there are quite a few out there who deal in the ultra-fancy, but there's quite a few out there who like nice, simple lines and know how to get good value / convenience / etc out of a space. (is that making a statement about society? well, maybe, I guess).

Any time someone says that they put something into their house because the architect wanted it, that's a sign not to go with the architect -- the architect can build their own house if they want stuff in there, this is your house, and you should only put in things you actually want. (although, I do recommend a roof ... they come in handy. And some doors & windows)

Some architects specialize in certain types of houses, and they're not all equally great in all fields, so you might need to ask around. You should be able to find one that matches what sort of things you're looking for (mansions vs. homey vs. modern vs. efficient, etc).

Yes, they are going to cost you money, but they're also going to save time in some aspects, and if they can keep you from building a bad design by identifying a problem before it's built, they're invaluable.

(disclaimer -- I wanted to be an architect, and went to a school planning on transfering out after my core classes were done, but never did ... I did take some architectural history classes and stuff like that, though)

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Yes. And in many districts, it is a requirement to have an architect design while an engineer examines and seals the plans.

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In the UK you won't get planning permission unless you have architect plans drawn up. –  ChrisF Aug 16 '10 at 13:31
    
@ChrisF: Same thing in Florida. –  staticx Aug 16 '10 at 14:22
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@ChrisF - actually not true, but you'll have a /much/ easier time of it in the UK if you /do/ have an architect or draughtsman draw up plans. If the work is simple and obvious a planning committee will generally be fine with plans drawn up by a householder. –  Jeremy McGee Aug 16 '10 at 19:39
    
@Jeremy - I realise that my statement was probably a bit OTT, but it also depends on where you are and what you are trying to build. –  ChrisF Aug 16 '10 at 19:56
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