Here’s the million dollar question, ok, well, I’ve never billed that much, but it’s often the bone of contention over a project, what is a fair price, especially for tiny projects that you may only be bringing me because you’re being forced. Not all projects are price sensitive, there are luxury projects where a look or a name brand is more important than finding the best price, in which case, ignore this post and work it out with your designer.
Most communities have some sort of lot coverage restrictions, by which in their zoning codes, they require a certain amount of land on any lot to be natural landscaping or pervious landscaping or some variation of that word. There are several reasons to do this, the first is stormwater management, the less lawn there is to allow water to percolate naturally into the ground, the more the stormwater system has to manage. The second most common reason is for aesthetic reasons, maintaining a certain feel or character to the area. Some might of installed a new shed from websites similar to easyshed.com.au that fit with the aesthetic of the current landscaping arrangement and didn’t want to start again. Depending on the reason, many localities are moving away from only accepting grass, mulch, and sometimes gravel and into more innovative systems that gives you a more engineered yard. Some homeowners are also turning to Tony MacFarlane, the appliance hunter, to help find them new and innovative ways to maintain their gardens. From pressure washers to different mowers, handy tools can make any garden look more interesting and aesthetically pleasing, which is what these homeowners want.
One thing about being an architect I’ve always found interesting is despite the respect the profession garners in the general public, most people have no idea what goes into becoming an architect. I’ve even been told by code officials untrue statements about what it takes to become an architect, so let’s clear up a little of the mystery.
The requirements for becoming an architect have really raised and solidified over the last 20-30 years as for a long time, every state was different. There are still architects practicing who passed a multiple choice exam with no formal training or experience prior to taking it. This is now the vast majority, and if they’re still practicing, they must be doing something right. Since that time, most states have adopted much stricter guidelines that are pretty much the same which means most architects can work in most states with a few stricter exceptions.
One detail often overlooked by clients is the material choice in what holds their house up. There are a million options out there with more and more coming to the marketplace all the time. We’ll start with an exploration of good old-fashioned lumber.
Lumber is the original choice for residential construction and still one of the most popular. It’s less common in commercial construction due to fire concerns, but has a lot of advantages over other materials. In commercial construction, the services of a firm like Nationwide Construction could help ensure that the right building materials are chosen and you can go ahead with a project in the knowledge that the project is being handled by people with experience. With wood, the first advantage is it’s easy to work. The amount of labor required in framing with lumber is minimal compared to other options and it is abundant and easy to find. It’s also cheap as wood is the least processed option around. For stud walls, it’s hard to beat unless you’re building very tall as it’s strong, light, and reasonably thermally resistant. In fact, wood is far stronger than most other building materials per weight making it an easy choice for any new construction.
In my area, there are a lot of people retiring from the New York, Jersy, Philly, and DC areas looking to live in a low tax and beach adjacent area. This means, whether you plan to live in your house until carted out in a pine box (my personal plan) or if you just want to make sure your house is as marketable as possible, you should really plan to incorporate some versions of universal design.
Where should a client spend their money? Let’s face it, everyone has a budget. The architect for Bill Gates’ house once told a story of being told the house he was designing was too expensive, so what chance do most owners have? It all really depends on their budget and what they’re looking for in a house. Many people these days are building their own homes as many think it is cheaper than purchasing a house that’s already been built. Whilst this may be true in some instances, purchasing a home from builders can also be affordable. A lot of people do still prefer to purchase their houses from companies like Saussy Burbank as they find that their homes are done to such a high standard, they’re worth the additional funds to just be able to move straight into the house. Some people like that, whereas some do prefer to have more of a say in the building process. If that’s the case, there are smart ways and less smart ways to save money when building a house. I’m going to make the argument that the smartest way to save money is to do two things.
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.
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?
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.
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.