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Can an Architect Help With Your Project?

First, there is a distinct difference between an architect and an engineer, and how they can help you with your project.

Got a structural issue? An engineer is the way to go. Tom Lenchek, an architect at Balance Associates in Seattle, says, "I would suggest you  hire an engineer only to solve a particular problem: my floor is sagging, I need a retaining wall or something similar."

Even with nonstructural projects, you might find that an architect is useful for smaller projects that might seem easy to do on your own. "Few people realize how complicated it is to build or remodel until they find themselves lost in the maze of design options, building codes, zoning laws, contractors, and so on," says Lenchek. "In addition, architects are trained to bring 'vision' to a project."

So, it's really up to you as far as your comfort level on whether to hire an architect. However, depending on where you live, you might need architectural plans to do a more complex project; check with your local municipality or state.

How Architects Work

An architect can make the difference between a construction project succeeding or failing. In essence, they will supervise the entire project. Some of the things they might handle for you include:

  • Getting your building permit
  • Finding a reliable contractor
  • Creating a design for your project to your specifications
  • Reviewing your contract and estimates from your contractor
  • Ensure the project proceeds as intended

"The architect is the one professional who has the education, training, experience, and vision to guide you through the entire design and construction process," advises Lenchek.

How to Find the Right One

You can find the name of a qualified architect or engineer by looking through architectural magazines, asking friends or coworkers for referrals, or requesting recommendations from your local American Institute of Architects.

Remember to make sure the architect is licensed. "The advantages to hiring a licensed professional is that through education, internship and licensing the individual has demonstrated core knowledge of the design and construction process," says Lencheck.

Hiring an architect or engineer is no different from hiring any other professional for a construction project: Obtain references and check them. Interview more than three, and make sure you can work well with their personality -- remember, you'll be spending a lot of time working together, so a good working relationship is key.

What If You Don't Want to Hire One?

If you choose not to hire an architect or engineer for your construction project, there are a couple of options.

  • You can purchase stock building plans off the Internet, a building plan book, or from your contractor. This can be a money saving option, but there are a few drawbacks. You will not have the same ability to customize your plans as you would with an architect. Also, you will have to trust your contractor to make any revisions for you, and to follow the plan accurately.
  • You can look into hiring a certified home designer. This is similar to an architect, although they do not have the same level of training and education as an architect. This could save you money, but might also limit the complexity of your project. Be sure to ask a lot of questions.

Kathy Wilson is a home and garden writer, author and consultant and is the home decorating expert for LifetimeTV.com. Visit her for more home and garden ideas at http://www.TheBudgetDecorator.com and http://www.TheGardenGlove.com.

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