Saturday, January 19, 2013

How To Find The Right Architect

For many people, hiring an architect for a home renovation is a scary process. Not only do you have to pick a good architect with the skills to complete your project, you also have to choose one who works well with your contractor. The bottom line for Mike Holmes: "Don’t let it come down to cost. Choose an architect whose skills you trust and who you can work with. Because in the end it’s your project. Hire someone whose best interests are in making it right and keeping you happy." In this article, reposted from the Montreal Gazette, Mike discusses finding the right architect for your renovation project.
From the Montreal Gazette:
Mike Holmes: How to find the right architect for your reno job

Don't let fee fears deter you from hiring a true professional for house projects

Many construction or renovation projects require the help of a professional architect to get the job done right. Don’t let your choice of architect come down to cost.

Anyone thinking about doing a major renovation will probably work with a professional architect at some point. Not everyone understands the relationship among homeowners, contractors and architects. But in my line of work I depend on these pros all the time.
Any time a renovation requires building permits, plans need to be drawn up, submitted and approved by your local building authority. And you have a couple of options when it comes to the plans.
Your first option is submitting plans that aren’t stamped, signed or sealed by any professional — not something I recommend. Because if something goes wrong, you are 100 per cent liable for fixing it — plus any damages.
Then there are times when the plans must be prepared and stamped or sealed by a professional engineer, or architect, or both, for example, if you’re building an addition that’s bigger than 600 square metres or three storeys in height. And this can vary from province to province.
Sometimes when I mention bringing in an architect, homeowners start to get nervous — they think the job will be too expensive. Permits mean plans, plans mean architects and architects mean architect fees. Or they think the architect won’t listen to them and design whatever they want. But what I always tell homeowners is hiring the right professional is worth every penny.
For a construction project to be good, it needs to do three things: work for you and the environment, look good and be built to last. Architects help turn dreams into reality by guiding you through the design and construction process. Usually their services include designing, preparing construction documents and construction administration. But it varies. As a bare minimum, they should make sure your project abides by local zoning bylaws and building codes.
Architects are consultants. But they’re also co-ordinators and technical managers trained to deliver a project on schedule and, hopefully, within budget. Most architect agreements stipulate that the project must come within 15 per cent of the budget; if it doesn’t, they have to revise the plans at no extra cost. But this isn’t a standard rule so always read the agreement carefully.
Finding the right architect can be tricky. Sometimes you find the right contractor first and they will recommend an architect. But this could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you know the contractor and architect can work together—that’s good. But if the architect depends on the contractor to get referrals, the risk is they might be more concerned with keeping the contractor happy than you. If you find the architect first, you don’t know if they can work with the contractor you end up hiring. So do your homework.
If you really like a contractor’s work, ask them about architects they’ve worked with and how happy they were with the final results. Then talk to the homeowners and get their take on the entire process. For instance, how quick was it for them to get the right building permits based on the architect’s drawings? How many modifications had to be made to the original plans? These are all clues that tell you how easy — or difficult — it will be working with a particular architect.
So how do you find the right architect?
Canada has a directory of architects called the Architecture Canada Electronic Directory. It might include information on past projects an architect has worked on, commissions, awards and so on. But your best bet is to talk to people who have worked with an architect in the past.
No matter what architect you decide to work with, you need to have a clear understanding of the obligations, responsibilities and expectations.
What services do you expect them to deliver? What are you responsible for? When do you expect certain milestones to be completed? How much are you willing to pay?
And once you know what these terms are, put them in writing. There should be a separate contract between you and the architect — in addition to the one you have with your contractor — that clearly outlines the terms and conditions of the entire project, including a payment schedule.
One helpful document is called the Canadian Standard Form of Agreement Between Client and Architect. There’s also a shorter version. You could use the shorter version when you don’t need an architect’s full services — maybe just their input for one small aspect of a construction project, like a modification to renovation plans.
Either way, you can find these documents through provincial architectural associations, although they might need to be adapted for use in Quebec.
Architect fees
Most clients pay a deposit once they sign a contract with an architect — usually a percentage of the architect’s total fee.
There are two main types of fees: architectural services and out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel costs and the cost of reproducing documents. Some architects will charge a lump sum, hourly rate or a percentage of the total cost of the construction project. Sometimes it’s a combination.
Bottom line: Don’t let it come down to cost. Choose an architect whose skills you trust and who you can work with. Because in the end it’s your project. Hire someone whose best interests are in making it right and keeping you happy.
Catch Mike Holmes in his new series, Holmes Makes It Right Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit For more information on home renovations, visit

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