When Do You Need an Architect?

When do you need an architect?

If you are about to start a home renovation project, how do you know who to call? Do you REALLY need an Architect? Laura and Holly present a useful checklist of questions to help you decide whether you need a contractor, an interior designer, an architect, or all three.

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in this episode

In Episode 75 of The Architecture Happy Hour Podcast, here’s what we learned:

Check if you need a building permit

  1. Different communities have different requirements for when you need a building permit.
  2. Check with your city to see what is required to get a permit. Often they will want drawings (floor plans, elevations, sections, site plan, framing and foundation plans, etc.). They may stipulate if there needs to be an architect or structural engineer involved.
  3. Search on your city’s official website under “building inspection” or “building permit”.  There will be lists that tell you when a permit is required and what is needed.
When do you need an architect?

When you need a Contractor

  1. Is the work a repair to existing plumbing, electrical, water heater, replacing a roof, changing out a garage door, etc.?
  2. Are you replacing cabinets but keeping all the light fixtures, appliances, electrical outlets in the same place?
  3. Do you want to pick out all your own cabinets, flooring, tile, appliances, paint colors, plumbing fixtures, etc?
  4. Are you creating something that is not going to aesthetically affect the value of the house?
    1. Don’t take a chance on the appearance of your house if you are not sure your contractor has design chops. Some contractors are good with building, but terrible at designing.
  5. Are you working with an experienced contractor who has access to an architect or draftsman and you know their work?

When you need an Interior Designer

  1. Are you just wanting to freshen and update your interior? New furniture, paint colors, flooring, carpet, tile, fixtures, cabinets?
  2. Are you tired of the lighting in your home and want to make improvements?
  3. Are you ready to remodel your master bathroom and need help picking tile and plumbing fixtures?
  4. If you start a project with just finishes in mind and then it grows to involve removing walls, adding an addition, moving windows (needing exterior elevations) etc. you might need to consult an architect to make more detailed plans.

When you need an Architect

  1. Does the project involve moving or removing walls, adding on an addition, raising the roof (which can mean coordinating with a structural engineer)?
  2. In general if the exterior of your house is being touched (adding a porch, moving windows or doors, building an outdoor kitchen, etc) you will need accurate measured drawings.
  3. Are you working in a historic district, conservation district, or area that requires review at the city or state level?
  4. Will you be moving plumbing, electrical, or major HVAC that will require inspections by the city building inspector?
  5. Are you making changes that are intended to increase the value of the home for resale or to improve your personal lifestyle and enjoyment of the home?
  6. Do you know what bothers you about your home but have no idea how to fix it? You need the design experience of an architect. Not just someone who can build you something.
  7. Is the budget more that 10% of the value of the house? Example: $400,000 house, a remodel of more than $40,000… you should probably consult an architect. It’s enough at stake that you want someone who’s got your back.
Would you know what to look for to know if construction was going well?

notable and shareable takeaways

When we’ve received calls from home owners who regretted the decision to not call an architect… a.k.a. Rescue Architecture

Problems we’ve seen arise out of homeowners trying to take shortcuts:

  1. Asking an unskilled draftsman to design a new house.
    • The stairs didn’t go all the way to the 2nd floor
    • The first and second floor didn’t stack on top of each other
    • The bathrooms didn’t function
    • The kitchen was horrible and would have hurt daily function and resale
    • It was ugly
  2. Building from plans “designed” by a home owner who fancied himself as a self-proclaimed designer.
    • No architect or interior designer involved
    • No defined architectural style makes a home difficult to sell if buyers can’t relate to it
    • Flow and functionality failed with lots of wasted space
    • Ended up being demolished
  3. Letting the thrill of getting “a good deal” drive the most important part of the project – quality of design and planning of the construction of the home. If the sole driving factor in your decision is price, then you have a problem and you will end up paying more in time and cost in the long run.
    • Poor estimates based on poor drawings cost $$
    • Time delays because of poor planning cost $$
    • Delays at the city because drawings have to be fixed cost $$
    • Construction errors cost $$
    • Having to start over with a new professional when you could have done it right from the beginning costs $$ and time


VP, Architect, hpd architecture + interiors
Laura Davis is a Texas and Colorado registered architect and interior designer, and a co-founder of hpd architecture + interiors. With a diverse portfolio spanning residential, commercial, retail, and historical projects, Laura’s heart lies with her specialty in Historic Preservation. She loves to revitalize older properties, cherishing their character and the stories they hold. Her true passion lies in understanding her clients deeply, uncovering their desires and motivations, and crafting designs that turn houses into cherished homes.

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Laura Davis is a registered architect and interior designer in the state of Texas and Colorado, and a founding member of hpd architecture + interiors. Laura's extensive experience includes residential as well as commercial and retail projects.  She also has a particular interest in restoration, holding a certificate in Historic Preservation. She is energized by the character of older homes and the stories of those who have lived there. Responding to the needs of the current owner, while also honoring the personality of the original home is a delicate process to be enjoyed.

Laura Davis

Vice President, Architect, Interior Designer Principal , hpd architecture + interiors