Building a House – Should You Hire an Architect or Building Designer?

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Meeting with Architect

The next step after choosing a location and buying land to build your house is getting an Architect or Certified Building Designer to design your house. What is the difference between an Architect and Building Designer?

To start with, both the Architect and Building Designer can design residential houses, and they can help clients to get their house plans approved by the city authorities. However, you have to note that an Architect is a highly qualified professional whose role is not limited to building design but providing value to the client. With that said, you will find different types of architects in the construction industry. An Architect is somebody who completed a 5 year Bachelor Degree in Architecture at a recognized university or tertiary institution. Upon completing a university degree, this individual will work as an AIT (Architect in Training), and later on if the person wants to practice as a licensed or registered architect, they are required to write and pass exams by a professional body. Being a Registered Architect has many benefits in that you can open an Architectural practice, and you will be preferred for high value projects. In some countries, specific building design contracts (e.g. government jobs) are only open to registered architects.

If a residential design consultant is not an Architect, then this consultant is either an Architectural Technician, Architectural Technologist or Building Designer. A person may hold a Diploma or Degree in any of these courses but that does not qualify the individual to be an Architect.

In choosing a building design consultant, you have to find out if the individual has certification or not. It’s less risky to hire experienced residential design consultants who hold a Diploma/Degree in Architectural Technology, Architectural Design or Building Design.

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This brings us to another group of design consultants – uncertified building designers. These consultants acquired their knowledge and experience through on-job training. They either worked a number of years in a drawing office or they are self-taught, but they what they lack is certification. If this type of consultant has a good track record and recommended by many people, there is no reason why you should not hire them. The advantage of hiring uncertified but experienced building designers is that they charge a much lower rate than certified professionals. On the other hand, Registered Architects are the most expensive.

As a summary, the following is a list of residential home design specialists that you can hire. The design fees (or hourly charge) should decrease as you go down the list:

  1. Registered Architect (Very expensive)
  2. Architect in Training (Expensive)
  3. Architectural Technician, Architectural Technologist ( Less Expensive)
  4. Certified Building Designer (Affordable)
  5. Uncertified Building Designer (Cheap Rate)


Consultant’s Charging Options

It is good to know the professional level and class of consultants that you can hire to design your house, but another important thing that you should consider is how the design consultant bills clients. Depending on the type of project and its contract value, an Architect or Building Designer can charge a client:

  • Fees based on a fee structure set by the professional body
  • Fees based on a percentage of the Final Contract Value
  • Fees based on a Fixed amount (Lump Sum)
  • Fees based on Hourly Rates
  • Combination of Lump Sum and Hourly Rates for additional services
  • Fees based on Estimated Total Time
  • Fees based on the total floor area or building area

Before design work commences, you have to agree with the designer, the type of method that will be used for charging work. It should be convenient for you.

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Architectural 3D Models

In order to visualize your house in its finished state, you might need a 3D model representation which can be viewed on a computer. This live model will allow you to have a virtual walkthrough of the building – i.e. opening doors to different rooms, inspecting the internal and external elements of the house etc. During this process, you can suggest changes to the building design and specifications with the help of the architect.  You will be involved in the design process from the beginning to the end, and as the building takes shape you will be monitoring progress. This process is called BIM (Building Information Modelling) and in this modern age, it helps to hire an Architect who is familiar with BIM.

Alternative House Designs

When looking for an Architect, it is important to choose an Architect who will give you alternative designs to choose from. If one house plan is too expensive, the other plan might be affordable. You will need a Construction Estimator / Quantity Surveyor to estimate the cost of implementing each house plan. This procedure is called “costing a design”. If a client is budget-conscious, they can tell the Architect the amount of money that they have budgeted for the construction project. The architect will produce house plans that fall within the required cost range. In this method, the architect will be careful in selecting items that have a bearing on cost, for example if expensive floor tiles were prescribed for the house, alternative floor finishes have to be considered. This is called “designing to a cost” or designing to a budget.

How To Find an Architect

An architect should be involved in your project at the earliest stage. One of the requirements of an Architect is visiting the site where the new building will be situated. He or she must inspect the land (vacant lot) to assess the ground conditions, terrain and local climate. After assessing the site conditions, the architect will be able to prescribe the right foundations, design, method of construction as well as the direction in which the building should face. In this exercise, the design consultant will help you comply with building regulations.

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To find an Architect, you have to search the local business directories, but a quick Google Search on your smartphone or computer will give you the desired results. It is recommended to find an architect who lives in the same city to keep travelling charges low. A lot of consultation will be done over the phone, in the architect’s office as well as on site. The architect will have a lot of travelling to do – organizing progress meetings and site inspections. Ideally, an architect should manage the project and monitor progress on site until the contract is finalized. During the construction phase, an architect is responsible for approving work done by the contractor, approving payments and issuing variation orders.

To find an Architect in your location, the following is an example of search phrases that you can use on Google:

Architect, Dallas, Texas

Residential Architect, Raleigh, NC

Building Designer, Boulder, Rocky Mountains

Google Local Business Search for Architects


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