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Do I Need an Architect? (Part 1)

Depending on the size and scope of your project you might not need an architect’s stamp, which is not the same as not needing and architect. And depending on how much you are willing to spend on guessing, you might want to at least talk to one. Because an architect can actually save you money, on the first costs of construction as well as the life costs of maintaining and operating your home.

To be an architect one needs a professional degree (a minimum 5 years), 3-5 years interning and he or she must then pass 9 licensing exams. Meeting these requirements to carry a license means that an architect has the education, experience and expertise to provide their service with confidence.

An architect will stand on your empty plot of land and note where the sun rises and sets, determine the best views, propose the best approach, know which trees should stay and which can be removed. Because he or she knows, fundamentally that an energy efficient home is not only well insulated; it will also be correctly situated to take advantage of the winter sun and natural protection from the summer heat.

Here in New England the winters can be long and many understand the benefit of a southern facing room with large windows. However, for many years I drove past an empty plot of land that sits on the south side of the road, populated by well-established deciduous trees. Someone finally bought the property and cut down all but one, leaving only the 60 foot eastern hemlocks that populated the south end of the lot. Then they tucked a 2,000 square foot house up against those hemlocks, leaving only the long driveway to be warmed by the winter sun. The remaining oak tree on the north side of the house? It provides comfortable shade for the road. Their energy bills are a high price to pay for a poorly situated home. It was a wasted opportunity to take advantage of what the natural environment can offer, for free. With a fair amount of confidence I can say that this home is not part of any architect's portfolio.

Through detailed conversations, you and your architect will design your project together. He will study your habits, your routines and come to understand your needs. Immediate needs as well as anticipate your future needs. He will then propose a variety of ideas implementing your lifestyle into a design of surprising possibilities. How will this save you money? A design that is carefully conceived is built efficiently and economically, with minimal guesswork. Because an architect will anticipate problems that can be solved on paper before they become a financial burden, or worse, a financial deal breaker.

An architect can evaluate the bids of several contractors and make recommendations. They can also evaluate a contractor’s invoice and challenge vague or hidden costs. An architect will supervise construction by working closely with consulting engineers, planning boards, building officials, historical commissions, conservation commissions and contractors. Building or renovating a home is an intricate process and involves a labyrinth of details. No project is the same, no town is the same, no site is the same and no contractor is the same. The only constant is the architect who acts as your agent and advocate to see the project through to completion with a reasonable standard of care. All while maintaining your tight budget.

A note regarding the integrity of contractors; I have worked for them as well as with them, and each one became my friend. Most are honest hard working people, but there are a few who will choose to take advantage of unsuspecting home owners because they can.

Check back next week for alternatives and a case study or two.

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About the Author

T. Bryan Mulligan, AIA, Studio47 Architects
517 Boston Post Rd
Sudbury, MA 01776

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