Archology

What Are You Paying Me For?

A few days ago, I wrote a post that talked about how architect’s are a jack of all trades, but rarely a master of any. So a fair question might be, what the heck are we really responsible for. Depending on the project, the answers can vary significantly.

Let’s start with a small project, a residential project where most of the building systems are figured out on the job site by the contractor and subcontractors. Here, the architect almost assumes a role of master builder without ever actually lifing a hammer (heaven forbid we get our hands dirty). A good architect walks an inexperienced client thru the design process and keeps requirements for practical matters such as ductwork and plumbing access in mind, which makes the contractor’s jobs on site a lot easier. I’ve seen plenty of homes where no thought was given to these critical systems and you end up with awkward bulkheads and weird corners as the contractors are forced to lay claim to space in a less than optimal way due to a lack of designed opportunties. That’s why there are things such as a performance bond which can be used to make sure the projects are completed properly. In these small projects, the architect handles, and is responsible for, pretty much everything about a house from the structure; to the finish selections; to electrical, mechanical, and furniture layouts if the owner asks for such.

Is Your Brand New Home a Money Pit?

It is not uncommon for someone in this area to buy a house not so much for the house, but for the location. Some lots are even lower priced because there is a house on the lot. I’ve worked on a lot of projects where the owner’s unnecessarily demolished a house to make room for their grand vision and projects where owners really should have started from scratch but were determined to keep as much of the original as possible. The tricky question is, how do you know when you should keep the structure, and when you should start over?

Are Solar Panels Worth the Hassle?

One of the most common sustainable technologies I field questions about are Solar Panels. Typically, the two main questions are, are they worth it and how much trouble are they. And the answer to both is…depends.

Are they worth it? I’ll tell you I had solar panels and a deep cycle solar battery installed on my house a couple of years ago and when I did the math (and panels are now about 2/3 the cost they are now) I had a payback period of about 4 years with tax incentives, grants, and the savings on my electric bill. Now, my house was just about a perfect candidate with a south facing roof at just about the perfect pitch (I’ll admit I got lucky, the house predates me by about 100 years so I didn’t plan any of this) with a clear view of the sun. I also live in an area where electric prices are fairly outrageous (the town marks up electricity in lieu of raising taxes) and the state and federal grants and incentives aren’t all still available. Even with all that, it’s getting to the point where it’s almost a no-brainer. The cost of panels are dropping and while government incentives are dropping, energy rates are rising and private investors and companies are finding unique ways to turn profits off of these things. Speaking of Energy Rates, doing some research into ways that you can lower the cost will make a lot of difference to your everyday life, as well as saving you some money every month. Who wouldn’t want that? Most panels have a warranty of between 20-30 years, so even without the incentives, grants, and such, my panels would have paid for themselves well before they warranty expired. So my short answer is, yes, if you have a clear view of the sky to the south, it’s most likely worth it financially. If you have solar panels like us then you may be interested in monitoring just how well they are performing. You can do this by having a look at the different solar panel monitoring methods that are available to you.

Architects – Here To Help

Despite the fact that architects generally rate very high on survey’s regarding the respect people have for a profession (after all, George Costanza always wanted to be one), I find most people have very little idea of what an architect is and what he does.  The simplest way to explain it is he or she is a licensed professional who has been through this before. 

Think about construction for a second.  In the case of a home, it’s very likely that the client has never and will never do this again.  It is often the single biggest financial commitment a person will make.  Is it really wise to attempt it without someone to lean on for advise and technical expertise?  In the case of a commercial development, the developer may have a lot of experience building buildings, but they can still benefit from the expertise and experience of an architect who deals with all of the various code enforcement agencies (and depending on what you’re building, there can be a lot of them) and negotiating the best solutions to problems and playing middle man between the owner, the various contractors, and the enforcement agencies.  In the case of a church or other institution, the worst of both worlds applies with inexperienced owners and multiple enforcement agencies, added to what is usually a committee approach that means someone needs to play referee between the clients as well.