Pin It
Favorite

How to choose an architect or contractor for a home renovation 

Who you gonna call?

click to enlarge thinkstockphotos-522619646.jpg

Overripe avocado-colored tile in the kitchen. Master bathrooms the size of a dorm room closet. During warmer months, homeowners turn their attention to sprucing up their environs, and while the task of reviving gardens destroyed by winter's freezing temperatures is enough to keep many busy, some are ready to take on more ambitious projects, such as renovations. But before heading to City Hall to get the permits, figuring out which professional to enlist can be the first real hurdle.

 Jon Luther, chief executive officer of the Home Builders Association of Greater New Orleans (HBAGNO), says most people call a contractor first, but depending on the scope of the work and the home's original construction, an architect may be the recommended point person. A home improvement project definitely will have a contractor, but an architect is necessary on higher-end jobs (more than $400,000) and intensive renovations (requiring changes to the structure of the home). Luther, with Lauren Galliano, HBAGNO's director of membership and industry relations, and Wayne Troyer, partner and design director at StudioWTA and a fellow of the American Institute of Architects, explain the differences and similarities between contractors and architects and offer some tips on choosing the right one for the job.


Contractors

General contractors (especially those affiliated with a design-build group) can draw their own plans or can network with a professional who can supply them. However, Troyer points out that these designers do not have to be licensed architects. They may be architects in-training working toward licensing, or drafters or interior designers.

 Contractors should be licensed and insured, and homeowners should ensure that both credentials are current (this also applies to architects). Contractors rarely have employees; usually, they hire and manage a group of subcontractors to perform specific construction tasks.

 "Sub[contractors] are their own entity and should be insured as well, and recent legislation in Louisiana now mandates that some of them need to be licensed," Galliano says. Subcontractors that now need licenses include pile drivers, framing carpenters and masons. Some subcontractors may be registered, but registration doesn't guarantee expertise. In order to receive a license, a subcontractor must pass an exam and demonstrate competency in the specific trade. But what's on paper isn't the only factor in choosing a building team.

 "This business is largely based on referrals," Galliano says, "so talk to your neighbors and talk to your friends. If you see a house going up that you like, the contractors usually put a sign in the yard. Just seeing what you want is often a first step when you don't really know where to begin."


Architects

All architects must be licensed, but not all architects carry insurance, although it's required on major construction jobs (especially if there will be pile driving or other activities that can damage surrounding homes).

 While a contractor is tasked with the day-to-day demands of building — such as coordinating subcontractors and adhering to production schedules — if a homeowner is more concerned with the aesthetics and flow of the space, it's time to call in an architect.

 "If you're thinking about how to establish the sequence of spaces between public zones (such as) living, dining room, kitchen, and the bedrooms, how do you make a plan that respects those patterns of living?" Troyer says. "Typically, the front of your house is the public part, adjacent to the street — yet at the same time, you want to have your kitchen and living room where you get your best views, which may be adjacent to your backyard, so that's a disconnect that (architects) try to find a solution for when developing a plan for a house."

 Architects can be valuable intermediaries between the homeowner and the contractor, interpreting plans and conveying the homeowner's vision to the building team.

 "Anybody who's renovating a house has a Pinterest board, and a lot of times ... it's all over the place," Troyer says. "I think architects have an easier time with that kind of visual language and creating a complete and consistent aesthetic quality."

 When selecting an architect, Troyer advises turning to the internet. Most architects have some web presence, so check out their websites and social media pages to get a feel for the type of work an architect does, the size of the firm, its aesthetic and the quality of the work the firm produces. Set up an appointment to talk about the project and your goals and discuss the project timeline.


The overlap

Both architects and contractors are knowledgeable of the technical tasks of residential construction such as permitting, building code, zoning compliance and inspections, and often work together. However, Luther has seen some homeowners attempt to coordinate projects themselves, which he doesn't recommend. There are so many details that even a savvy consumer can make mistakes, especially when it comes to projects in protected historic districts.

 "A consumer might know that they're living on a property that's been designated as a historic renovation," Luther says, "but they might not understand the process of what that means — that certain windows might have to be in a certain motif ... (or) that they have to use certain materials in the construction."

 It's ultimately up to the homeowner to check in with the Historic District Landmarks Commission, the Vieux Carre Commission or any necessary preservation organization before beginning any work on a historic home, but a contractor or architect can help. The professional who drew the plans is the most effective representative when presenting the case to one of these groups.

 "If you're changing (the home's) facade or doing a camelback addition or anything that can be seen from the street, then you need to be able to convey ... what those changes will be to the agency" in order to get a permit or a certificate of appropriateness, Troyer says.


Bidding

Galliano, Luther and Troyer recommend getting competitive bids from at least three contractors before making a final selection. It's important to examine all of the proposed costs, and to remember that just because a contractor offers you the cheapest or the most expensive bid, neither guarantees that the work will be the most efficient or the highest quality, or that the bid will match the final price. If you hire an architect for your project, she or he can help evaluate the bids.

 Finally, make sure everyone's personalities mesh well, because you'll be spending a lot of time (and money) together.

 "This is a very, very personal process," Galliano says. "It's probably one of the biggest investments you'll ever make in your life. It's your home — it's an emotional process, so make sure you like the person you're working with."

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Pin It
Favorite
Submit an event Jump to date

Latest in CUE Magazine

More by Katherine M. Johnson

Readers also liked…

Readers' Favorites

© 2018 Gambit
Powered by Foundation