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  • Writer's pictureAnthony M.

Do I Need An Architect or A Designer For My Home Remodel?

Someone once told me that they were raised in the school of YouTube. The reason is because if there was ever anything that you wanted to do, all you had to do was go to YouTube and watch a video. Because of the Information Age we are now living in, the possibilities are endless when it comes to being able to Do It Yourself.

But with the endless "How To" and "How I Did It" videos and web pages, there are some things that your just better off hiring a professional for. Getting permits for a new home or remodel is one of those things.


What is the difference between the two? Besides schooling and how much your going to pay, there isn't much of a difference between an Architect and a Designer when it comes to Residential Projects. An architect will typically spend just under eight years of schooling to obtain an architectural license which allows him to work on any type of building. However, unless they are starting off small, most architects will start with an established architecture firm. Those who are willing to work on small residential projects are going to do their best to recoup the expense of schooling they racked up over the years.

A Building Designer works within the same building codes established by the federal, state and local jurisdictions. But there are restrictions on the type of projects they can work on.

The following quote is directly from a jurisdictions website. It states...

"Any person, if conforming substantially to the conventional framing requirements of the CBC and approved framing charts, may prepare the following types of residential work: a. Single family dwellings not more than two stories plus basement in height. b. Multi-family dwellings not more than two stories plus basement in height, having not more than four attached dwellings, and not more than four dwellings per lot, including not more than four attached row house dwelling units on separate lots. c. Wood frame garages and other structures appurtenant to a. and b. above. d. Wood frame agricultural and ranch buildings unless the Building Official deems that an undue risk to the public health, safety, or welfare is involved. "

(Reference Business & Professions Code, Sections 5537, 5538, 6737.1, and 6745).

Although this may seem like a scary thought, it really isn't. This is because of the way the plan review process is in most jurisdictions. Most projects will have a need for an engineer and all projects must adhere to Building Codes. This makes sure that the plans will meet the minimum building requirements. Keep in mind that most residential projects are not trying to aim for a groundbreaking design that will win award after award. Most projects are just meant to be a typical design that meets the home owners needs and is hopefully beautiful as well.

So what can you really expect to pay?

How Much Is It Going To Cost Me?

There are many different ways to figure out price, whether hourly or by complexity of the project. In the end, I found that using the total construction cost is the best way to estimate. Why? Because if you are just adding a room with a closet there is not much to that. You really know everything involved. But as you add a bathroom, the cost goes up. So does the complexity of design and so does what the Building Department is going to want to see on the plans. If you are adding a kitchen, the extra cost of construction will reflect the extra time needed to design the cabinets, island layout, etc. This is the same for either architect or building designer. The total construction cost will reflect the elements in the design.

The great thing about using a percentage of construction cost is that it works great for estimating the price of your designer no matter where you live. If you lived in the most expensive areas in the Bay Area, your likely to pay higher for your a contractor and and for permit fees. Your overall construction cost will be higher than most areas, thus raising what the fee for your designer. If you live in the Central Valley or Modesto, you will be able to get your construction cost at a lower amount. Your fee for design services will match based off of the percentage of Construction Cost.

Architects will typically charge anywhere from 8 to 15 percent of the total construction cost, whereas a Building Designer will charge from 4 to 8 percent. This means that for a project with an estimated construction cost of $150,000, the architect will charge between $12k - $22.5k. A Building Designers fee will run you from $6k to $12k.



1300 sf remodel, whole house remodel

Total Construction Cost = $350k *

Total Designer Estimate = $14k - $24k

Total Architect Estimate = $24k - $52.5k



1300 sf remodel, whole house remodel

Total Construction Cost = $275k *

Total Designer Estimate = $11k - $22k

Total Architect Estimate = $22k - $41k

*Not based off of Owner Builder (owner acting as contractor)

These examples above are very broad estimates and meant to give you an idea of what you might pay an architect or a designer. They are really meant to help you in find a reasonable estimate of what price range you could pay.

Something else to keep in mind regarding cost is that a Building Designer will require a Structural Engineer to stamp the Structural Plans, whereas an architect does not need an engineer. Yet in almost all cases the cost of using both the Structural Engineer and the Building Designer are far less than the architects fee.

Should I Choose an Architect or A Designer?

In the end you should base your choice off of these two factors.

1) Whether you can afford it,

2) Whether they are any good.

An architectural degree does not guarantee a great design. On the flip side, an inexpensive Designer can cost you more money (or time) if he doesn't know what he/she is doing. So how do you know who to pick? Word of Mouth is your best bet in finding the right fit for you.

Your Relationship With Your Designer Is Like A Marriage

Just like any relationship, both parties should compliment the other. The designer really should be able to take all the input from the client and come up with a design that meets all of the needs of the clients (especially budget). The client should also feel comfortable enough with the designer that they are able to easily communicate all their needs and wants.

Find someone who has great referrals, a great portfolio, and gets what you want and need for your home. By spending some extra time in making your decision in who will design your project, you will save yourself from the awful feeling that some have had at the end of a remodel or a new home, the feeling of being in a house that is not quite right.

Ask around. Don't be afraid to stop at homes in neighborhoods near you that just finished construction or are in the middle of it and ask the owner who they used for their plans. Ask them what their experience was like. Also look at websites like and to make contact with design professionals in your area.

And if that doesn't work and you still haven't found someone,... you can always ask me! ;) Feel free to shoot me an email with your questions/concerns and I would be more than happy to help get you going on the house of your dreams.

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