Residential Architecture


In this installment of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, I provide some general terms and definitions that a residential client should be familiar with when involved with a construction project. I know, I know… I hear you asking “But Keith, what happened to the funny sarcastic posts? I mean this series seems pretty serious.” Well, rest assured the sarcastic humor shall return. Read the post WWJD and other architectural abbreviations for some not-so-serious abbreviations and associated meanings. However, once and a while I feel the need to write posts that help in educating clients what is we architects do and what it’s like working with us.

Keep in mind, these definitions/terms are not all encompassing. However, they do give you a good foundation (*pun inserted*) of terms you should be familiar with. When in doubt or you don’t understand a term, phrase, definition, etc., ask your architect for clarification.

A sum of money set aside in the construction contract for items which have not been selected and specified in the construction contract/construction documents. The contractor will be responsible for purchasing these items when they are chosen by the client. If the client selects an item which costs less than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive a credit equal to the difference in cost. Similarly, if the client selects an item which costs more than the specified allowance for that item, the client shall receive an extra charge equal to the difference in cost.

Approved Equal
Material, equipment, or method proposed by the contractor and approved by the architect for incorporation in or use in the work as equivalent in essential attributes to the material, equipment, or method specified in the contract document.

A designation reserved, usually by law, for a person or organization professionally qualified and duly licensed to perform architectural services.

Building Codes
Ordinances governing the manner in which a structure may be constructed or modified. Regulations, ordinances or statutory requirements of a government unit relating to building construction and occupancy, generally adopted and administered for the protection of public health, safety, and welfare.

Builders Risk Insurance
A type of property insurance which indemnifies against damage to buildings while they are under construction. It is usually bought by the owner of the building but the general contractor constructing the building may buy it if it is required as a condition of the contract. If the project involves renovations or additions to an existing building, the owner’s existing property insurance may cover the work under construction, obviating the need for builder’s risk insurance. However, in the case of new buildings under construction, the owner may not have an existing policy that provides coverage.

Certificate of Occupancy
Typically referred to as a ‘”CO.” This certificate is issued by the local municipality and is required before anyone can occupy and live within a home. It is issued only after the local municipality has made all inspections and all monies and fees have been paid.

Change Order
An amendment to the construction contract signed by the owner, architect, and contractor that authorizes a change in the work or an adjustment in the contract sum or the contract time or both.

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Construction Administration
In this phase, your architect observes the pace and quality of construction. As your agent, your architect looks out for your interests, keeping you informed of the project’s progress and overseeing any changes or problems that may arise. Construction phase services are helpful in keeping your project on track and within budget.

Construction Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for actual construction of the project, including contingencies for bidding to contractors and for changes during construction.

Construction Contract
A legal document which specifies the what-when-where-how-how much and by whom in a construction project. A good construction contract will include:

1. The contractor’s registration number.

2. A statement of work quality such as ‘Standard Practices of the Trades’ or ‘according to Manufacturers Specifications’.

3. A set Construction Documents/Drawings.

4. A construction timetable including starting and completion dates.

5. A set of Specifications.

6. A Fixed Price for the work, or a Time and Materials formula.

7. A Payment Schedule.

8. Any Allowances.

9. Clause(s) which outlines how any disputes will be resolved.

10. Written Warrantee(s).

11. Certificates of insurance (builders risk, general liability, workers compensation, etc.)

Construction Documents
Drawings and specifications created by an architect that set forth in detail requirements for the construction of the project.

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A company licensed to perform certain types of construction activities. In most states, the general contractor’s license and some specialty contractor’s licenses do not require compliance with bonding, workmen’s compensation and similar regulations. Some of the specialty contractor licenses involve extensive training, testing and/or insurance requirements. There are various types of contractors:

General contractor– a contractor who enters into a contract with the owner of a project for the construction of the project and who takes full responsibility for its completion, although the contractor may enter into subcontracts with others for the performance of specific parts or phases of the project.

Remodeling contractor– a general contractor who specializes in remodeling work.

Specialty contractor– licensed to perform a specialty task e.g. electrical, septic/sewer, asbestos abatement.

Sub-contractor– a general or specialty contractor who works for another general contractor.

A method of project delivery in which the owner contracts directly with a single entity that is responsible for both design and construction services for a construction project.

Design Development
The architect prepares more detailed drawings and finalizes the design plans, showing correct sizes and shapes for rooms. Also included is an outline of the construction specifications, listing the major materials to be used.

5 DD

General Liability Insurance
Helps protect businesses in the event they are sued by customers or other third parties for injuries or damages.

Life Cycle Cost Analysis
The architect calculates expected future operating, maintenance, and replacement costs of desired designs and features to assist homeowners in developing a realistic design and budget estimate.

Payment Schedule
A pre-agreed upon schedule of payments to a contractor usually based upon the amount of work completed. Such a schedule may include a deposit prior to the start of work. There may also be a temporary ‘retainer/hold back’ (5-10% of the total cost of the job) at the end of the contract for correcting any small items which have not been completed or repaired.

Penalty Clause
A provision in a contract that provides for a reduction in the amount otherwise payable under a contract to a contractor as penalty for failure to meet deadlines or for failure of the project to meet contract specifications.

Percolation Test
Typically referred to as a ‘perc test.’ Tests that a soil engineer performs on earth to determine the feasibility of installing a leech field type sewer system on a lot. A test to determine if the soil on a proposed building lot is capable of absorbing the liquid affluent from a septic system.

A governmental municipal authorization to perform a building process such as; zoning/use permit, demolition permit, grading permit, septic permit, building permit, electrical permit, plumbing permit, etc.

The architect and homeowner discuss the goals, needs and function of the project, design expectations and available budget, pertinent building code and zoning regulations. The architect prepares a written statement setting forth design objectives, constraints, and criteria for a project, including special requirements and systems, and site requirements.


Project Budget
The sum established by the owner as available for the entire project, including the construction budget; land costs; costs of furniture, furnishings, and equipment; financing costs; compensation for professional services; cost of owner-furnished goods and services; contingency allowance; and similar established or estimated costs.

Punch List
A list prepared by the client or their authorized representative of items of work requiring immediate corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor.

Punch Out
To inspect and generate a punch list.

Schematic Design Phase
The architect consults with the owner to ascertain the requirements of the project and prepares schematic studies consisting of drawings and other documents illustrating the scale and relationships of the project components for approval by the owner. The architect also submits to the owner a preliminary estimate of construction cost based on current area, volume, or other unit costs.

Septic System
An on-site waste water treatment system. It usually has a septic tank which promotes the biological digestion of the waste, and a drain field which is designed to let the left over liquid soak into the ground. Septic systems and permits are usually sized by the number of bedrooms in a house.

A part of the construction documents contained in the project manual or included within the construction drawings consisting of written requirements for materials, equipment, construction systems, standards and workmanship.

Standard Practices of the Trade(s)
One of the more common basic and minimum construction standards. This is another way of saying that the work should be done in the way it is normally done by the average professional in the field.

Square Footage
Can be calculated as both gross and net square footage. No uniform standard for computing a residential square footage yet exists. Architects, builders and Realtors each measure square footage differently. Square footage is not always an indication of the livable space available in a structure. Clients are encouraged to ask for an explanation of which spaces were included in the square footage calculation and how it was calculated.

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Substantial Completion
Refers to a stage of a construction or building project or a designated portion of the project that is sufficiently complete, in accordance with the construction contract documents, so that the owner may use or occupy the building project or designated portion thereof for the intended purpose, without undue interference.

Time and Materials Contract
A construction contract which specifies a price for different elements of the work such as cost per hour of labor, overhead, profit, etc. A contract which may not have a maximum price, or may state a ‘price not to exceed’.

In construction there are two general types of warranties. One is provided by the manufacturer of a product such as roofing material or an appliance. The second is a warranty for the labor. For example, a roofing contract may include a 20 year material warranty and a 5 year labor warranty. Many new homebuilders provide a one year warranty. Any major issue found during the first year should be communicated to the builder immediately.

Workers’ Compensation Insurance
A form of insurance that provides compensation medical care for employees who are injured in the course of employment, in exchange for mandatory relinquishment of the employee’s right to sue his or her employer for the tort of negligence.

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As a bonus, download your own PDF definitions cheat sheet and insert into your project/idea book- or make paper airplanes, your call –> Working with an Architect

If you missed the previous posts in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, they can be found here:

Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search

Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself

Hiring an Architect: Part 3- Ask the Architect

Next up in the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series, Part 5- What? Me, Hire an architect? Stay tuned.


Design On,

** Go find yourself an architect and define your project, it will be worth it!


Part 3 of our ‘Hiring an Architect’ series provides questions you as a client should ask the architect you’re interviewing for your project. The previous posts discussed how to go about finding and Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search and questions you as a client should ask yourself prior to meeting with an architect, Hiring an Architect: Part 2- Q&A Yourself. If you’ve been reading along you may be thinking, “Wow, even more things to consider?” Yes, yes there are. However, this is why you’re hiring an architect. Your architect is there to guide you through the process and make, and help you make, the myriad of decisions that factor into creating a house you want, one that fits you and your needs.

Architect Glove

After discussing your questions/ answers from Part 2 with the architect, it’s now your turn to ask questions of the architect. To get you started, below are some questions to ask. While not meant as all-encompassing, they do serve well to get your discussions started. Feel free to add your own as you see fit:

1. What are the primary issues or challenges in our project?

2. How will the architect decide what we need?

3. Do you have experience with projects similar to ours?

4. What is the architects’ design beliefs/philosophy?

5. Can the architect take on our project with their current workload?

6. How will the architect explain the process as the project proceeds- virtual models, physical models, sketches, drawings, etc.

7. Who will be our point of contact at the architect’s office? Will they also be designing our project? If not, who will be designing our project? Will there be at least one architect involved throughout the entirety of our project- you want the answer to be ‘Yes’

8. How is the design process organized? The typical design/construction process is as follows:

a. Programmingdeciding what to build

b. Schematic Designinitial sketches and ideas

c. Design Development refining the design

d. Construction Documents- finalizing the working documents – (future post)

e. Construction Administrationconstruction phase of your project

9. How will you establish the fees for our project?

a. Percentage of construction cost

b. Hourly fee

c. Fixed fee

d. Hybrid of hourly and fixed fee

10. What do the architect’s fees cover? What would constitute additional fees and how would those be justified?

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11. What is the architects experience with construction cost estimating?

12. Will a preliminary budget be provided by a contractor?

13. If the initial design is over budget, what will the architect do to rectify?

14. Do you have a consultant to provide the structural engineering? Is that included in your fees?

15. If we wish the services of an interior designer, do you employ an interior designer or can you recommend and coordinate with one?

16. Will the architect assist with contractor selection?

17. Do you recommend bidding the project or negotiating a fee?

18. What is the anticipated design/documentation schedule?

19. What is the expected construction schedule?

20. What is your involvement during construction? You want the architect involved, for additional information read Construction Administration.

21. At what points in the process will we meet and discuss/ provide feedback?


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With these questions answered, you should start to get a better sense of whether or not the architect is a good fit for you and your project. It is important to note that the construction process is inherently complicated. There will almost always be questions, unforeseen circumstances, etc. The ability of you and your architect to work through these events as a collaborative team will have a significant effect not only on the final product, but also on your level of stress throughout. You need to trust your architect. You need to be comfortable in talking with them. You do need to like your architect. You need to have confidence in their integrity and skill set as an architect.

What questions have you asked as a client? As an architect, what has been asked of you?

Go find yourself an architect, it will be worth it!


Design On,

** I can send head-shots if you want to paste me in as your architect.

Part 1 of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series discussed how to go about finding and hiring an architect, you can catch up here Hiring an Architect: Part 1- The Search. Part 2 of the series provides questions, you as a residential client, should ask yourself prior to talking with an architect. I’m a firm believer in educated clients who are vested in their projects. I want my clients to ask questions and be an integral part of the design and construction process. I don’t want a client who tells me “I have an unlimited budget, just design me something that you think is good…oh, and I don’t want to be involved with the process.” I know, I know, this goes against the stereotypical belief of what an architect wants. Wait, what? Let me re-phrase, I’ll be more than happy to work on such a project, but I prefer an involved client who has ideas/beliefs about their project.

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There are several things as a client you can/will do when it comes to working with an architect. The first thing you can do is ask yourself some questions in preparation for meeting with an architect. However, at this point, don’t get caught up in specifics, keep it fairly loose and general. After you’ve answered these questions, you will be better prepared to meet with an architect. To get you started, below are 20 questions and 1 bonus essay! Feel free to add your own as you see fit:

1. What is it about your current home that you like? What do you dislike?

2. What is most important to you in the home?

3. How long do you plan to be in the home?

4. Do you, or any frequent guests, have special accessibility needs?

5. How do you ‘live’ in your home- entertain a lot, work from home, hobby specific requirements (i.e. dark room, music, media room, etc.)

6. Who will reside in the house? Include ages.

7. Do you use your yard- If yes, how? If no, why not?

8. Why do you want to change your home/build a new home- are you expecting children, are children grown and leaving the home, do you need/want more or less space, have your needs changed, etc.

9. Will you use the new/renovated home differently than your current?

10. Are there features you wish to include in the new home?

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11. What do you envision the renovation/addition/new home to look like, both inside and out- clip images from magazines and such that you find appealing and organize them in a binder.

12. How much time can you, or do you, want to be involved during the design and construction process?

13. Do you plan on doing any of the work yourselves?

14. How much can you afford to spend on the project? Be sure to consider both the Construction Budget vs. Project Budget

15. If your budget, quality of construction, and size of project are incompatible, will you:

a. Retain the budget and compromise on less important features and qualities.

b. Adjust the size and quality where they will have negligible impact and increase the budget slightly if required to avoid further compromise.

c. Build what we want regardless of what it costs.

d. Employ less expensive materials while retaining desired size of house.

e. Employ high quality materials but reduce the size of the house.

16. Are there strict time constraints to the schedule?

17. Are there any covenants, restrictions, or outside design review committee required for your property?

18. Have you worked with an architect before?

19. What is it that you think an architect does and how can they benefit your project?

20. What qualities are you looking for in an architect?

*BONUS* Imagine that your house is complete and a newspaper wants to feature your house in an upcoming article about architectural design. Typically the first paragraph gives an overall sense of the house; its general aesthetic, setting in the landscape, materials, key features, etc. Write that first paragraph.


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This is not meant as an all-encompassing list, but rather questions to start thinking about and serve as a catalyst for in-depth discussions with your architect. I personally use a 30 page questionnaire that I ask clients to fill out. While it may seem like a lot of work, most clients like it because they start thinking and dreaming of things that haven’t previously crossed their minds. It also serves to enhance the fact that they are an integral part of the process.

You’ll notice specifics are kept to a minimum in the questioning. At this point, the goal is to inform the architect how you live, not the kind of house you want. If your answers and discussions with the architect are detailed and informative, you’ll end up with the house you want. The more detailed information you can provide, the easier it will be for you and your architect to address your needs and reach a solution that fits you and your lifestyle.

Part 3 of the series will discuss questions to ask your architect, stay tuned!


Design On,

** Sorry, no scantron to answer these questions.

So you want to hire an architect, who doesn’t right? But how should a residential client go about finding and hiring an architect? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Part one of a three part series discusses how a residential client can find and hire an architect. While the process for most commercial projects is similar, this series is aimed at the residential client who is most likely hiring an architect for the first time. Once you’ve selected your architect, you can have in-depth discussions pertaining to your project specifics and their process.

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I’m assuming that as a client you’ve already determined the value that an architect can bring to your project- if not, be sure to read Architect’s Value? 60 to Contemplate. The good news is that you understand the importance of an architect and now you’re ready to find one suitable for your project. Where to start? There are many resources to assist you in finding an architect. The most readily available is to talk with friends and neighbors who have completed projects similar to yours. Online research is another great tool, your local chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) is a good resource for locating architects. You can go to the national AIA website and search for your local chapter. The local chapter web site should contain a list of local architects along with bios and their areas of expertise. It is worth noting that membership in the AIA is voluntary. Just being an AIA member does not guarantee that they are the best, or better than another, architect for your project. It’s also worth noting that one does not need to be an AIA member to be an architect. Additionally, numerous sites exist, such as Houzz, that allow you to view local architect’s work and obtain contact information. In addition, Houzz is a great site for you to start- if you haven’t already- collecting images that appeal to you and what you wish for in your own project. You can also search for ‘architects <insert your city here>’ on a search engine of your choice. Visit the architect’s web sites and view their portfolio of work. Using these three methods should yield enough information to compile a list of potential architects.

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Now what- you’ve talked to friends and neighbors, viewed numerous websites, looked at online portfolios, and found architects whose work you like- is it over? Nope, you’ve got some more research to do. Selecting the right architect is very important. You’ll be dealing with the architect for several months if not longer. Trust is paramount between you and your architect. You need to have confidence, and yes a bit of faith, in your architect. Your research should have resulted in a list of architects you feel are appropriate for your project. I recommend interviewing the top three from your list. Ask lots of questions. Not sure what to ask? No worries, in Parts 2 and 3 I’ll give you some suggested questions to get the discussions started. Obtain a list of references from the potential architects and call them. I know, I know, nobody lists a bad reference. However, you should still call them… by call, I mean no email or letter, actually speak with the person. Ask them anything you feel necessary. For the final question, ask the following “If you were to do it over again, what would you change about the process?” The response should reveal whether or not the architect in question will be a good fit for you.

Having a discussion about architectural fees with the potential architects will serve as another gauge as to how well you can communicate with, and what the working relationship will be like. There are four basic ways architectural fees can be calculated- percentage of construction cost, hourly fee, fixed fee, or a hybrid of hourly and fixed fee. I won’t go into the specifics of each, perhaps a future post on the pros/cons of each. Your architect will describe their method(s) for determining fees and how/when you will be billed. As the client, you need to be honest with the architect about your budget for the project. In addition, you need to be aware of the difference between a Project Budget and a Construction Budget and be sure you’re both talking about the same budget. These discussions will be useful in determining if you and the architect will have a good working relationship and can have open honest communication.


Trust. I can’t state this enough, you need to trust your architect. You need to be comfortable in talking with them. You should be able to envision having meals with this person and inviting them to a party- architects love parties! You don’t have to be bff best friends with your architect; you do need to like them though. You need to have confidence in their integrity and skill set as an architect.

Armed with all your research, you can now select an architect for your project. If you read between the lines, it should be obvious that architectural fees shouldn’t be the deciding factor in your selection. You want an architect who has completed projects similar to yours, one who shares similar beliefs as you with regards to the project, and above all, one whom you trust. Have your architect forward a contract for your review. Ask the architect to clarify anything you don’t understand. Make sure all the fees, and what those fees cover, are clear. Be sure to understand what is not covered in the proposed fees and what may be constituted as an additional fee. While architectural services contracts for residential projects are typically straightforward, you always have the option of having a lawyer review your contract. When you’re satisfied with the contract, have come to an agreement on fees and schedule, sign the contract and return it to your architect… the fun’s about to begin!


Now that you’ve hired an architect for your project- what’s next in the process? Keep in mind, each architect will approach your project differently. This is how I work, and in general, most architects will adhere to a similar process. The typical design/construction process:

1. Programmingdeciding what to build

2. Schematic Designinitial sketches and ideas

2a. Construction Budget vs. Project Budget

2b. Preliminary Construction Cost Estimate (PCCE)

3. Design Development refining the design

4. Construction Documents- finalizing the working documents – (future post)

5. Construction Administrationconstruction phase of your project

Parts 2 and 3 of the ‘Hiring an Architect’ series will be posted soon. These posts will provide you with suggested questions to get discussions started between you and the architect.


Wow! This is starting to sound like a long process… it can be, however, it is also extremely rewarding. Your architect is there to represent you, your project, and your best interests, all while making the process fun! Along the way your architect will have educated you and made it an enjoyable experience. In addition, they may not admit it, but your architect will have learned from you and your project as well. In the end you’ll have the home you wanted because your architect was able to assist you in bridging the gap between your vision and reality. You’ll end up with a home that fits you and your lifestyle.

So go find yourself an architect, it will be worth it!


Design On,

** You can always just contact me if you don’t want to search for an architect.

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I deal with homeowners in various stages of projects for their homes. I’m either dealing with a client that is constructing a new home and trying to sell their current home or one who is renovating/adding on to their existing home but thinking towards the future and re-sale value. Inevitably they always ask for advice as to projects they can do to their existing home to increase its chance of selling quickly now or in the future. Keep in mind, home buyers want to see how great a home looks; they don’t want to hear what it could look like with work. Meaning, these projects actually need to be done for them to add any value to your home. Here are my top 5 projects that pay off when selling your home- as well as refreshing the current home you live in:

1. Paint- For the cost, nothing comes close to the dramatic effect a new coat of paint or color change can have on a home’s interior or exterior. My advice, always paint the ceiling a bright white- I’m not a fan of colored ceilings as they tend to ‘compress’ the space. I’m a big fan of having an accent wall in a few spaces- one wall painted a differing color than the rest of the space. For the exterior, I recommend 3-4 colors. A color for the main body of the house, trim color, accent color for the front door (and possibly some other key pieces of the home), and possibly another color for a secondary material that is prominent on the house. Keep in mind, most of this is mute when dealing with modern homes and exterior materials that are left in their natural state. A well designed modern home can have various natural materials that can create a great composition of texture and color.

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2. Flooring, Fixtures, Faucets, + Accessories- A rule of thumb, anything you actually touch should be of good quality and in working order- i.e. door knobs, cabinet pulls, toilet handles, etc. This doesn’t mean you can ignore unseen items, it just means a ‘touched’ item adds more to the perceived value of your home. Worn-out flooring surfaces are a turn off. Replace/clean/repair/refinish flooring throughout the home. Replacing old faucets, sinks, and toilets, can significantly increase the perceived overall value of the home. Cabinet pulls can have a dramatic effect on the perception of the quality of cabinetry. Consider replacing, or adding, cabinet pulls. Cheap and dated lighting fixtures should also be replaced.

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3. Additions + Renovations- If you’re planning on selling in the future, but need additional space currently, be sure to plan wisely. An addition that appears ‘tacked on’ with no thought, hurts a home’s value and cheapens the overall impression of the home. Working with an architect is of great value when anticipating a major project on your home. An architect will be sure the overall ‘scale’ of the project is in harmony with the existing and not over, or underwhelming. The current ‘style’ of the home will be examined and addressed as appropriate in the new work. The ‘flow’ of spaces will be planned and laid out efficiently- may not seem like a big deal until you walk through a bedroom to get to a bedroom (yup, I’ve seen that). An architect will address these and many other issues that can increase the value of your home.

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4. Kitchens + Bathrooms- These rooms historically have had the best return on investment and continue so. The kitchen has long outgrown its place as merely for cooking, it’s now typically the gathering spot for families. Kitchens have become the focal point of many homes and quality materials/appliances have become the norm. However, keep your homes price range in mind and don’t overdo it with high end items that future buyers aren’t willing to pay for. When it comes to adding a bath or remodeling, be sure to include ample storage and quality (doesn’t have to equate to expensive) fixtures. Ceramic tile is still a good choice for flooring and wall surrounds in bathrooms. The addition of a bath or powder room can greatly increase the value of your home.

Bath Sketch

5. Landscaping- The exterior of your home plays an important role in the overall first impression of your home. Landscaping can have a dramatic impact on the overall look of your home. Consult with a qualified individual who can provide you with an overall plan for your yard.

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A note about Personal Style- keep it to a minimum. Infuse your personal style with furniture, accessories, artwork, window treatments, etc. Things that can easily be reworked by another such that they can make the house their own. When selling your home this may entail removing personal items such that potential buyers can envision themselves living in the home and not feeling that the home is ‘owned’ by you.

So that’s my broad sweeping list of what’s worked for my clients over the years. What has worked for you? What other projects/advice do you have to share?


Design On,

** See what I did there…5… Value… V… Roman Numeral 5.

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Lately I’ve read a lot of ‘chatter’ about Construction Administration (CA) on numerous social media sites and the architect’s role and whether or not he/she is even involved. As an architect you need to be doing CA; and as a client, you want your architect doing CA. Simple and clear.

You wouldn’t represent yourself in a court of law, would you? Maybe you would if you’re on Judge Judy- but that’s not real court unless you can tow your home. You don’t self-diagnose and then perform your own surgery, do you? If you do, stop reading, put the scalpel down and walk away. So why would you think you could represent yourself during a construction project? The construction process is inherently complicated. As a client, you need someone representing you and your best interests. Who better for that role than the author of the design/documents?

What exactly is CA? This is the construction phase of a project. The term CA refers to the role of architect during construction, which is to administer- and sometimes enforce- the agreement between you the client and your contractor. Basically, the architect is involved during this process to see that during construction the contractor is following the Construction Documents. An architect is also available to both the contractor and client to answer questions, mediate any disagreements that may arise, and in general serve as a resource for the project. During construction, there will almost always be questions, unforeseen circumstances, etc. The ability of the client, contractor, and architect to work through these events as a collaborative team will have a significant effect not only on the final product, but also on the client’s level of stress throughout. It’s important to note that CA not only occurs at the site, but also in the architect’s office as he/she reviews, prepares clarifications, responds to questions, etc. regarding the project.

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To protect the incompetent, no names will be used. This did happen on a job of mine, I didn’t make this up- although I wish I had. Picture a freestanding garage under construction. Floor slab plan indicates a slope to the garage door of 1/8” per 1’-0. Standard stuff. Driving past the site one day I glance over and what I see nearly causes me to wreck my truck. What was witnessed can only be described as a prototype ramp for an ‘X-Games’ event- one involving the reincarnation of Evel Kneivel. Long story short, formwork was put up at a slope ratio of 18” per 1’-0. We weren’t contracted for CA on the project- client felt he could do it himself. However, we were morally obligated to inform the client and contractor. You can ponder what would have happened if that wasn’t caught by the architect- i.e. me, named because I’m competent. A blatant error and easy to catch. However, all issues are not always so obvious. There are numerous things, big and small, that can go wrong during construction.

At my firm we believe in providing flexibility to our clients and their needs/wants. However, there are certain CA services we feel we must provide to feel confident that the desired end product will be achieved and the client’s best interests are kept in check. In addition, things don’t always go as planned in the field. As the architect, you need to be involved to confirm that the design intent is maintained. Below is a typical schedule of our minimum level of CA service- we rarely accept a project if we do not perform this basic CA:

Pre-Construction Meeting
Prior to construction, this is a meeting between the client, contractor, and architect to review drawings, assign points-of-contact, discuss construction schedule, etc. This is done to establish a good working relationship, to make sure the drawings are understood and answer any questions about them, and in general to head off any potential conflicts.

Site Visits

1. Foundation and Footings- Site visit after excavation and prior to foundation/footing work. Site visit before framing starts to ensure foundation and footings have been done according to the drawings.

2. Substantial Completion of Framing- Site visit prior to any subcontractors moving too far ahead on their portion of the work. It is easier to make any field framing adjustments when they are not complicated by mechanical, plumbing, or electrical in the walls.

3. Pre-Electrical- Site visit to perform an electrical/lighting walk-thru with the client and the contractor, finalizing locations for switches, outlets, fixtures, etc. Boxes in-place for review, but not wired.

4. Before Drywall- Site visit before drywall is installed to review rough-in work of subcontractors, as well as insulation and sealing.

5. Trim work 50%- Site visit while trimming is ongoing to help resolve any issues in the field while they are there.

6. Substantial Completion- This is the point of construction when the project is sufficiently complete, so that the client may use or occupy the building project for the intended purpose, without undue interference. We will do a walk-thru with the client and contractor. The purpose of the walk-thru is to generate a punch list. The punch list indicates items of work requiring corrective or completion action by the contractor- a list of discrepancies that need to be corrected by the contractor prior to issuing final payment.

Keep in mind; this is the basic CA that we perform. There are various other optional CA Services we can provide. As part of CA, after ALL site visits, a field report should be issued to all involved parties. In a future post I will address the specifics of a field report and why you want a record of site visits.

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Still not convinced you need an architect during CA? Lee Calisti, author of the blog think | architect, recently had a post addressing CA as well. Listed below is his summary of ‘10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction:’

1. The contractor will work it out, it’s their job

2. Contractors don’t want architects on the job site

3. They should be able to figure it out from the drawings

4. The contractors know what will meet code

5. The client is paying twice if the architect and contractor are both there

6. The owner will be there to oversee the construction

7. Contractors always read the drawings

8. The subcontractors read the drawings

9. The contractor’s opinion of equivalent is the same as the architect’s

10. The owner can build this on their own and be their own G.C.

Be sure to read Lee’s full post here -> 10 myths why you don’t need an architect during construction on think | architect.

A successful design and construction project is a team effort. The team is comprised of the architect, contractor, and client. Would you bench a team player at the moment in time you need him the most, specifically to interpret the plays? As a client, do yourself a favor and retain your architect for CA.


Design On,

** Architect, it does CA good!

This is not a rant… well, maybe a slight one. As a member of my neighborhood Architectural Review Board, I see a vast array of projects for review. A recent submittal- one by a ‘designer’- prompted this post. The submittal was for an in-law suite addition to an existing single family home. Now, before you start sending me emails and such, I have seen competent house designers and I know they exist. I even know some designers who can design circles around architects- why all the circles in your designs? However, in my experience, this post is the norm and not the exception. This isn’t to belittle house ‘designers’- they are typically not trained to the extent an architect is and simply don’t know any better.

The ‘designer’ had a copyright notice on the drawings which I will respect and not post the original drawings. However, I do provide diagram sketches of the construction drawings. The diagrams ** wink wink ** aren’t that far off from the ‘construction’ drawings. After review, the following questions/comments come to mind about the proposed addition- this is going to be long, but please read through in its entirety:

1. What is the property zoned?

2. Provide a site plan indicating setbacks.

3. Provide a site plan indicating how run-off will be contained during construction and the extent of the silt fence.

4. What code(s) apply?

5. Do you have any general specifications or quality/procedures expected of the GC?

6. What is the project schedule and the payment draw schedule?

7. Are any allowances provided to the owner? If yes, amounts and descriptions?

8. Provide a demolition plan.

9. Provide information as to how construction debris will be contained/minimized from entering the existing portions of the house during construction.

10. Provide a foundation plan.

11. Is a vapor barrier required in the crawl space?

12. Does radon gas need to be addressed in the new foundation?

13. How do the new foundation walls and footings tie into the existing?

14. Provide a first floor framing plan.

15. How does the new floor structure interact/tie-in to the existing?

16. Is it a vented crawl space? If yes, where are the vents and vent calculations?

17. How does the new foundation impact the existing foundation in terms of ventilation?

18. Is it a sealed crawl space? If yes, provide details.

19. How is the crawl space accessed?

20. How is the existing gas fireplace vent addressed, it currently vents on the exterior wall where the new addition abuts.

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21. The new bedroom shares a wall with the existing family room- do you anticipate soundproofing that wall?

22. The new bedroom shares a wall with the existing family room- do you anticipate a Solid Core door accessing the new bedroom to lessen sound transmission?

23. The first floor exterior wall is in-line with the brick foundation below. Has the brick been designed as load bearing? If so, provide details. If not, provide floor framing details addressing the bearing of the framed wall above.

24. What are the floor finishes?

25. Provide door specifications/schedule.

26. Provide window specifications/schedule.

27. Provide hardware specifications for both doors and windows.

28. Is any casing anticipated for the doors and windows? If yes, provide specifications and details.

29. Is any baseboard and/or shoe molding anticipated? If yes, provide specifications and details.

30. Provide toilet specification.

31. Provide bathroom sink specification.

32. Where is the existing waste line and where is the new piping run?

33. Is the millwork shown in the bathroom field built or standard cabinetry? Provide specifications.

34. Provide bathtub specification.

35. Bathtub is indicated as ‘accessible’ but there is no accessible path/clearance to tub, please clarify.

36. Provide interior elevation drawings of all walls in the bathroom.

37. Is the millwork shown in the bedroom field built or standard cabinetry? Provide specifications.

38. Provide bedroom sink specification.

39. Provide interior elevation drawings of all walls in the bedroom.

40. Is any flashing anticipated for the windows? If yes, provide details.

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41. Is any insulation anticipated for the floor, walls, and ceiling? If yes, provide specifications and locations.

42. Provide building section drawings.

43. Provide right side exterior elevation drawing.

44. Provide wall section detail drawings.

45. Provide floor assembly detail drawings at both bedroom and bathroom.

46. Provide a roof plan.

47. Provide a roof framing plan.

48. How does the new roof structure interact/tie-in to the existing exterior walls?

49. How is the new roof vented?

50. Provide roof vent calculations.

51. Provide soffit/eave details.

52. Are gutters, downspouts, and splash blocks anticipated?

53. Provide exterior material selections.

54. Provide interior material selections/schedules.

55. Is any flashing anticipated for the roof? If yes, provide details and locations.

56. Is any electrical provided? If yes, provide power and switch location drawings (indicate any switched receptacles).

57. Is any hard-wired lighting provided? If yes, provide lighting and switch location drawings.

58. Are any smoke detectors provided? If yes, show on lighting drawing.

59. Is there a new HVAC system for the addition? If yes, where are the supply and return locations, and duct run layouts?

60. Are you tapping into the existing HVAC system for the addition? If yes, where are the details, supply and return locations, and duct run layouts? Have load calculations been done to confirm that the existing system can handle the additional load?

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There are more questions/comments but the point is made. As a client are you willing, or even capable of making these decisions? Do you want to make and be responsible for these decisions? As a contractor, are you willing to assume the additional responsibilities and risk associated with making these decisions? I assume the answer from both client and contractor is “No!”– at least it should be. So, who do you expect to figure this out? An architect, that’s who… architects figure this stuff out, that’s what we do.

Keep in mind, aesthetics haven’t even been discussed. In addition (pun intended), this is to be an in-law suite. The associated issues with designing for ‘aging-in-place’ have also not been addressed. Issues such as- lever hardware, rocker switches, removable cabinetry, wheelchair access, install heights, etc. All of the questions/comments, design aesthetic, and aging-in-place issues would have been discussed with the client and addressed in the construction documents prepared by an architect. It wouldn’t be left to chance, the client, nor the contractor.

An architect faces, and resolves, a myriad of issues on each and every project every day. In pointing out what we as architects do, my hope is that potential clients begin to further understand the value we bring to a project. Our value is occasionally related directly to cost savings. However, typically our value is in questioning, planning, clarification, detailing, and ‘solidifying’ numerous moving ‘parts’ into a cohesive, aesthetically pleasing, well designed house- which ultimately results in cost savings to the client.

Starting to see an architect’s value?


Design On,

** By Design On, I mean hire an Architect and than Design On!