Custom Home Architects:
Expert Answers to the 8 Most Common Questions
Are you looking into hiring an architect for your custom home project?
If you choose to build a custom home with us, we’ll connect you with one of our architects, who will make sure the plan is right for your family.
I often have clients ask me if they need to hire an architect, and what I tell them is this:
When you want to use your land to its fullest potential, ensure good space planning and flexibility, and maximize energy efficiency, it’s wise to consult with an architect. You can always look at past projects for inspiration, but there’s definitely nothing cookie cutter about the custom home-building process.
How does it work?
I happen to have a few insights from our friend Greg over at Gregory Ralph, Architect.
Greg was kind enough to let us know what types of questions you should ask architects you’ll potentially be working with, and what types of responses you can expect.
1. How long does it take for an architect to put together plans for the design of a custom home?
That varies depending on the client. We’ve worked with some clients under expedited timelines to create full designs in four weeks, and other times we’ve refined every last detail over six months. Design continues through the last piece of trim being installed, so working with the right builder factors in greatly to the design timeline.
2. Roughly how much should I expect to pay for the services of an architect when building a custom home? What factors will make that price go up or down?
Design fees generally range from $2-3 per square foot of finished space, although the actual architectural fee depends on the required level of service for each project. Does the owner have a floor plan they like as a starting point? Is the exterior aesthetic known? Many different things factor into the final proposal.
3. When thinking about the design of a home, do you have any suggestions to cut down on energy costs?
While implementing energy-efficient strategies in the design of a home comes with an initial capital expense, there are savings to be found in energy consumption throughout the lifecycle of that home. Additionally, there is the sort of general satisfaction found in minimizing one’s footprint.
Some of the more common technologies relate to the building sheathing/skin, window/door performance, HVAC specification and performance, and insulation types. There are also lesser known technologies, that I find exciting, relating to systems that “learn” the homeowner’s behaviors over time⎯optimizing lighting and HVAC usage at a granular level, but that is a separate topic for exploration.
4. Who from the firm will be involved in my project? Who will be my direct contact? Will it be the architect or a project manager? How does the builder integrate into the process?
The first contact with the firm is generally with the principal architect, who will review a lot of what is covered by these questions. The key items to review initially are: design requirements related to the scope of the building, timeline for design and construction, and budget.
These factors help determine the appropriate next steps in the process. Once design begins, the homeowner will work with a variety of staff at the architect’s office as the project moves along.
The builder is a key team member early on for projects with specific time and/or budget requirements (which tends to be all projects!), as he or she is largely responsible for those components. An experienced builder will thoughtfully guide the team toward design solutions that minimize construction timelines and creatively meet budgets.
5. What are some special considerations or potential challenges that could make my project go over budget, like certain zoning or building code hurdles?
Often times, homeowners don’t completely understand the relationship between township zoning requirements and the ability to build. NJ is densely developed, with strict zoning requirements that vary from one municipality to the next⎯controlling things like the size and location of the home on the property.
These restrictions should be considered early on in the process, even prior to selecting a property, if possible.
6. How do I review the project before construction begins? Will there be models, drawings, or computer animations?
Drawings are the architectural standard for documenting and reviewing design intent. At a minimum, there will be 2D representations of the floor plans and elevations (exterior views) of the house, giving the homeowner a chance to review the design.
At our office, we use 3D modeling technology to provide additional views of the project from inside and out. We also implement VR (virtual reality) technology to allow the homeowner to “walk through” the project prior to filing for permits, to be sure of the design decisions being made.
7. Are you insured? What does that typically cover?
Yes. Architects carry a number of insurance policies from general liability and umbrella, to a special E&O (errors and omissions) policy, which ultimately protects the homeowner.
8. Can an architect provide references? Can I see some of the actual properties that you have designed?
Architects typically maintain a list of references from past and recent projects, as well as a sample of work to give a potential client a sense of design style and flavor. It’s important for a homeowner to understand a designer’s process and feel confident that they’ll work well together before choosing to move forward. Good communication between a designer and a client is essential to this process.
About Gregory Ralph
Gregory Ralph is a Westfield, NJ-based architect with over 10 years’ experience servicing both residential and commercial clients. He and his team share a passion for problem solving, design, and technology.
Whether it’s initiating a project, or walking through a completed one, client meetings are his favorite weekday activity.
“ I can’t say enough good things about what a great experience this has been…”