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August 18, 2012 9:20 AM   Subscribe

I have designed a house (in Google Sketch Up) that I intend to build. I have not insignificant relevant experience, but I'm neither an engineer nor an architect. Can I just give my design to any old architect and have them turn it into a coherent blueprint for a house that won't collapse? How much should I expect a thing like that to cost?

For clarification, this is a very modern-style A-frame. Lots of glass, etc. so I have very little idea of the tolerances and code that would apply to the structure I want to build.
posted by cmoj to Home & Garden (18 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
 
What you want to do is to get in touch with a contractor who might build said house. The contractor will have an architect he likes to use who can help you with your design.
posted by valkyryn at 9:32 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure if you're asking about how much it would cost to have an architect draw up plans or how much it would cost to build the actual house, but if it's regarding the house, be aware that modern construction for houses with lots of glass generally is more expensive than traditionally-designed houses that can use off-the-shelf parts.
posted by dfriedman at 9:41 AM on August 18, 2012


Are you planning on building this yourself? I'm not familiar with Texas regulations, but the least you'll have to deal with are building codes and building inspectors who verify that you 1) have a design that meets said codes, and 2) you are constructing the house to meet the plans and the codes.

Because of all that fun, I'd agree with valkyryn - contact some contractors, get estimates for construction, or if you're going to do it on your own, contact a variety of architects and ask for references. You should then call the people whose houses were designed and built in the past, to ask them if the architect stayed on price, how fast they were, and you could possibly visit those homes.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh, and one more thing: most residential construction projects don't really use architects. The designs are pretty simple, and a lot of contractors just sort of do it themselves. Architects as such generally only come in at the really high end of residential projects.
posted by valkyryn at 9:57 AM on August 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


You can pay an architect by the hour, or by percentage of the construction cost, or both. There are lots of articles online explaining common fee structures (example; another), but that won't tell you what a particular architect would charge to work on your particular project. Some people want architects to be involved at a super granular level, choosing doorknobs and so on, and other people just want basic structural plans and they will sort out the details with the contractors.

And, as valkyryn says, you may or may not need an architect at all. Someone will need to draw up some plans and spec sheets, but depending on what you are building and where you are that can be you, the contractor, an architect, etc, and you may require input from structural engineers, geotech people, etc for specific components. As with any profession, the quality of individual practitioners varies widely, as does their aesthetics -- do you want someone who specializes in colonial houses designing your ultra-modern house or vice versa?
posted by Forktine at 10:04 AM on August 18, 2012


I have to respectfully disagree with the advice to get a contractor first.

Here's why. You do not have anything right now which a reputable contractor can bid. I'm in the middle of remodel and here's how we've learned it should work.

Any estimate you get from a contractor will be a complete swag estimate without building plans. Particularly on a house being built from the ground up. We've had good contractors refuse to even give us a bid without planning documents drawn by an architect. The more detailed documents you provide the more precise a bid you'll get and fewer cost over runs you'll see. I have no idea how you'd even get building department approvals without a detailed set of plans. At some point plans will have to be drawn. Some contractors have in house (or partnered) draftsmen and architects who can draw plans as needed.

Some people want architects to be involved at a super granular level, choosing doorknobs and so on, and other people just want basic structural plans and they will sort out the details with the contractors.

This is very true, some architects are much more focused on the structural - others blend architecture with interior design. We've actually switched architects (of these types) mid-way in our process and are way happier with the architect who brings a sense of interior design. So part of our process with the architect is actually picking finishes etc for the various rooms (bath, kitchen etc). Again this goes back to the more detail we can provide up front the more precise a bid we'll get from the contractor. Picking finishes as you go is where you'll end up making key decisions part way through your project, and again costs start to spiral outside of your initial build estimate.

Anyway long story short, my advice is to get a good architect, get detailed plans, then bid out to contractors.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:11 AM on August 18, 2012


If you are just looking for someone to turn your design into a set of plans, a draftsman well do just fine (and will be cheaper than an architect). If part of your design requires engineering, you hire an engineer for that.

If you are looking for someone to turn your conceptual sketch into a real design, then you want an architect.
posted by ssg at 10:16 AM on August 18, 2012


I have to respectfully disagree with the advice to get a contractor first.

The exception to this is that larger contractors often offer a sort of "one stop shopping," with an in-house or contract architect, an interior designer, and so on, letting them be the first point of contact rather than the last part of the process. It's not the process I would personally follow, but it works really well for a lot of people and keeps things simple contractually; potentially the costs could be lower because of the efficiencies of having an architect and builder who know how to work together but you'd need to look at quotes to know for sure.
posted by Forktine at 10:20 AM on August 18, 2012


The exception to this is that larger contractors often offer a sort of "one stop shopping," with an in-house or contract architect, an interior designer, and so on, letting them be the first point of contact rather than the last part of the process.

This is a valid point, we actually started our remodel with a design and build firm. The problem we found with this approach was that you're locked into a single vendor. We constantly got estimates from them for the project total that we found a bit unreasonable for the scope of the project.

We were actually fortunate my small company shares office space with a bunch of architects so we started showing the schematics to the guys here they didn't think the project should cost what we were being told it was going to. We also brought in a highly recommended outside contractor showed him the schematics (schematics just basically showing how we were going to reconfigure our downstairs). His "rough estimate" came in lower as well. He was the one who said he couldn't give us a detailed estimates without plans and told us to have plans drawn. (He'll definitely be one we get bids from when we reach that phase).

Between the advice we got from the architects and this contractor was why we eventually decided to switch to a separate architect & contractor combo. Pretty much all the architects we talked to told us to get detailed plans then put it out to bids with 3 reputable contractors for bid. The money we're saving this way actually will make up the cost of switching architects. We're also way more happy with the designs we're getting from the new architect as well, but thats entirely dependent on the quality and experience of the architect and really is a bonus for us.

Your plans aren't just because you need them. They're a protection and insurance for you to make sure the bids you get are solid.
posted by bitdamaged at 10:32 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, keep in mind that your design would have to be code compliant to be approved with permits, and the architect would be responsible for being intricately involved in the process. This depends on how strict the permitting process is where you are.

Other non-structural issues that a contractor may not directly be able to solve are: Hallway too narrow? Ramps too steep? Having the proper amount of fire separation between floors? Calculating energy usage per sq ft? (The state of New York has an energy usage per sqft that needs to be complied with, for example) Acoustic separation between rooms? Solar shading or tint/glazing of windows to reduce cooling costs in the summer? Orientation of the entire building to reduce solar gains? Fixture/finish selection?
posted by suedehead at 10:48 AM on August 18, 2012


Contractor employee here (we do mostly commercial but do high-end custom residential work as well). We would even not look at a residential construction project (especially a new build) without a set of drawings. There are too many variables. Also, our municipality would not release a permit without a proper set of drawings.

There is absolutely no way of gauging how much it will cost to do a design. That's like asking "how much does a house cost?" We're an usual company work for one architect who is commissioned by the customer because of his reputation. He is very involved in the design process from start to finish (which is not usual for your run-of-the-mill house construction).

That said, we did a commercial tenant fitout for a retail space a few years back and the customer had a drawing done in SketchUp. They did a bang-up job, which left little work for the architect except for some minor tweaks. What ended up being built was pretty much what the customer himself designed in the first place.

The houses we build usually have a lot of large windows (as is that particular architect's style) which are expensive and sometimes require structural reinforcement. Our municipality usually requires an engineer to sign off on such things. The contractor you hire should be involved in helping you navigate these sorts of issues.

Happy building!
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:51 AM on August 18, 2012


Any estimate you get from a contractor will be a complete swag estimate without building plans. . . . We've had good contractors refuse to even give us a bid without planning documents drawn by an architect.

True, but that wasn't quite what I was going for. The contractor is going to be the main interface in getting this thing built, so I'd start by going to a likely contractor and just asking how to proceed. The contractor might say "Hey, we can't bid this thing without architectural plans," in which case the next question is "Okay, who do you use?" The contractor is thus a way of getting access to and recommendations for an architect.
posted by valkyryn at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2012


Sorry, should have threadsat a little more closely. I'll be building this myself, and in Fort Worth, TX. I know that an engineer is required to sign off on foundation plans, but my concern is literally what structure I need in order to have as few beams as practically possible and without the place collapsing.

The building is not very complex, I just need engineering numbers. Think totally open floor plan with a loft and bathrooms. The architect or whoever won't be involved in the build, and definitely not the doorknobs. I've got very good resources that let me make use of reclaimed materials, so things like counters and windows might not be set in stone until relatively close to when they actually go in.

I want someone to tell me, "You need this many beams and they need to be built to this standard. You need these kinds of floor joists here, here, and here for the loft." Or, you know, the equivalent.
posted by cmoj at 11:15 AM on August 18, 2012


First, you'll likely need plans prepared and won't be able to just start building.

If it were just a standard wood construction house within the range of "standard" (as defined by the building code, which is fairly limiting) construction, you could just hand it to any contractor that's able to draft plans - many are able to and do complete home remodels and permitting without hiring any outside professionals.

Since you're looking for something a little different, you'll probably have to hand it off to a professional who can stamp the plans. That professional could be either a structural engineer or an architect, but depending on the design of the building it may be best to hire both. The structure may be too extreme for an architect to figure out if there's a lot of glass and a steel structure is required, or all the other stuff (plumbing, HVAC, energy calculations) may be more than your structural engineer wants to handle. You're in Texas, right? I don't know if there are energy conservation requirements for new buildings there like there are in California, but they can get really complex for buildings that go out of the normal range and require sophisticated software to complete. An architect will be the closest thing to a jack-of-all trades thing you can get, and typically be better/faster at permitting than engineers.

Do you have a site and is the site accurately reflected in your sketchup model? Are there any weird zoning or HOA approvals that need to happen?

You can probably find an architect on your own that will faithfully recreate your design as much as is possible; many will try to augment your design or at least make suggestions as to how things could be better or cheaper. You don't necessarily have to follow those recommendations. As valkyryn says, many contractors and architects work in sort of symbiotic relationships, so going to a contractor first is a decent idea, but as bitdamaged suggests, it's a bit of a party foul to then go out and bid the project instead of using the contractor you started with, so you're locked into their price.

Architecture firms will likely charge anywhere from $50-$100/hr (possibly more) to work on your project, depending on who's doing the work. You can likely get a fixed fee contract, but all that will really be is the architect figuring out how long each person in the firm is going to spend on the project beforehand and making the contract that much to begin with.
posted by LionIndex at 11:22 AM on August 18, 2012


You want an engineer to review, modify, and approve your plans. Your plans don't have to be produced buy an architect, OTOH an architect does know how to produce a correct set of plans.

So you can easily take what you have to an engineer and they'll either accept and work with them, or tell you they need better plans. You can iterate on your own plans until the engineer has something they can use, or you can pass the plans to an architect (draftsman) to be produced.

But a local architect is usually aware of all the local building codes as well, and insures that they are included. To me, that's where their real value comes in - experience in design and awareness of building codes.

It would suck to have your plans approved by an engineer ($$), then go to the city and find that you didn't meet some building code and have to change the plans, then get them re-certified by an engineer ($$). I had an architect handle all that for me, it was well worth the extra cost of the architect.

I worked closely with the architect, designing what I wanted and the architect would let me know when I ran afoul of building codes or was doing something that hadn't worked well in the past (he wouldn't tell me "No" outright, but he'd advise against it, like having skylights in the bedroom...awesome dreams of moonlit lights until it rains and the rainfall on the skylights keeps you up all night).
posted by jpeacock at 11:24 AM on August 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Unless it's huge or there is some other confounding factor (special soils or something) an engineer shouldn't be required to build a modest home. An A-Frame isn't that much different than a conventional stick frame house (unless you are planning to window wall the sloped sides). Building plans are absolutely required unless you want to waste a bunch of money on in progress remediation. And your building department/planning office will probably require them before issuing a permit. If your sketchup drawing is good enough an architect isn't really required just a draftsman but with something unconventional I'd hire an architect for the expert advice. BTW: The cost will be reduced very little by your work in sketchup.

cmoj writes "The building is not very complex, I just need engineering numbers. Think totally open floor plan with a loft and bathrooms. "

If this is the stumbling block then most engineered floor companies make span tables available for free for their products. You determine how much flex you want, span, and floor thickness (either a minimum for plumbing or a maximum for stuff like number of stairs) and the table will tell the cheapest product you can get away with using.

cmoj writes "I've got very good resources that let me make use of reclaimed materials, so things like counters and windows might not be set in stone until relatively close to when they actually go in. "

Windows have to be specified very early in the process because the framing and the foundation have to accommodate the non structural openings. Unless you plan for the wall with the windows to be completely non structural. Possible but not something I would do on an open plan A-Frame.

In Canada the CMHC Canadian Wood-Frame House Construction handbook is the go to book for the novice home builder acting as their own general contractor. Some details will be different in Houston but the construction flow outline in the book will be the same and following it will help you avoid serious mistakes of the "Oh crap we should have put the pluming vent in place before shingling the roof" variety.
posted by Mitheral at 9:36 PM on August 18, 2012


plenty of good advice above. If you skip the architect and do the project management yourself, the FW building safety website tells you basically everything you need to know. Looks like you'll need to work with licensed PEs for structural, MPE, and possibly civil/soils. Prepare to spend a fair amount of time on this if you haven't done it before; probably two or three review cycles, 6-12 weeks ballpark (there's a reason that people hire architects!). Unless you are very handy with sketchup pro and can prepare CAD backgrounds for your engineers, you'll probably still need to hire a drafter to prepare the plan, and you'll have to coordinate all of the disciplines throughout plan review.
posted by Chris4d at 11:04 AM on August 21, 2012


Oh, I think I mis-read the site: it looks like you need to provide MPE plans, but they don't have to be prepared by a PE, if you know enough to prepare them yourself.
posted by Chris4d at 11:06 AM on August 21, 2012


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