There is a fundamental truth within the construction industry that needs to be clarified on a near daily basis. It needs to be clarified for several reason, some of them are the fault of architects in general, but mostly because there is a public and industry wide perception that architects are expensive and unnecessary. The cause of this perception being that many, clients and industry people alike, can arrive at a place where they think enough research on Pinterest and Houzz will allow them to put together a design just as good as any architect and their contractor can build it for them. Thus we arrive at the assumption that architects cost you money. The reality, the truth, that I mentioned is literally the opposite of this presumption:


In order to illustrate this point I am going to relay a conversation I had with a real potential client not long ago. This client contacted me because they needed some modifications to be made to an existing plan set as their “designer” is unable to make due to health issues. First I explained that I would be happy to help, but that I would need a signed release from the “designer” before I could begin any work and that I would be happy to look at the plan set first to make a recommendation on the feasibility of the changes to be made. This is both an ethical and a professional starting point for me. And with that out of the way I asked the client to email the plan set, which he did, and I would review, which I did.



This is where things start to go sideways.

The plan set I received included a grand total of 4 sheets of paper. None of them are to scale and formatted on 8.5 x 11 paper – essentially useless to anyone attempting to build a house. I figured, ok, maybe this is just the client’s review set…unfortunately, not the case. So, I look through the documents. There is a single floor plan with lighting crammed in and 4 exterior elevations – all hand drawn. That’s it. No other documents or details were provided to the client by the previous “designer”. Once I finished my review of the documents I spoke at length with the client and explained that unfortunately there simply wasn’t anything that I could do to help them in terms of modifications to the documents they had. I then went into an explanation describing what we are talking about here – saving money. This situation, unfortunately, is typical in my market and most potential client’s simply do not understand the difference in value between a licensed architect and a designer or draftsman that may work for a contractor. I say this is typical, because as I wrote this blog post I got ANOTHER phone call describing a similar situation, although they had not yet paid for any drawing services.

This leads us to the 4 ways that Architects save you money.




The design process is a theoretical exercise to determine the most functional and aesthetic solution for a client within a given program and budget. Essentially it is the paper version of what will become your home. As you can imagine, it’s much cheaper to make changes on paper than it is to make changes during construction. And, thanks to current technology, it is also possible to take virtual tours of a design to get a more realistic sense of what the home will be like. This is very helpful considering most clients do not know how to read architectural drawings. Lastly, a well designed building is more efficient requiring less square footage than a similar stock home plan.



In addition to a design that is crafted to meet your needs and convey your personal style or fashion, your architect will create a series of details to clarify the design into a set of construction documents. The construction documents are more than just a series of pretty pictures, they are a set of instructions by which your contractor will ultimately price and build your home from. This is no small thing. A well detailed set of construction documents means your house will be built better, faster and with fewer in field mistakes.

Imagine that you did not hire an architect. You have no construction documents, no instructions, just a series of conversations and images of things you like. Your contractor sets to build your home from these loose conversations and vague images. Maybe he even quoted you a price. About halfway through construction you notice the house doesn’t quite look the way you thought it should, details are poorly executed and nothing is turning out like those magazine clippings you said you liked. You’re very unhappy and you express this unhappiness to your contractor. His response will essentially amount to “Well, this is what you said you wanted.” And since you did not have a set of construction documents, instructions, then you have nothing to fall back on, no cause to say “Hey, this is what it was supposed to be.” And so you’ll be stuck with what you get. This is not a good position to be in with the largest investment you’ll ever make in life.


There is no way for me, or anyone, to adequately quantify the value of professional advice that is born out of solid experience and knowledge from the earliest stages of design through to construction. Simply put very few clients are  knowledgeable enough about design, ergonomics, sociology, psychology, paleontology, history and engineering to be able to do the job that your architect does every day. Having access to that professional advice through all stages of your project is invaluable, because, again, a well designed building that is properly detailed is a more sound investment for years to come.


They say that a great set of drawings is only as good as the contractor organizing the process of construction. Before I go further, let me state that there are a lot of very good contractors out there. I’ve been fortunate to work with some of the best in my area, but contractors are just one part of a team that should include your architect. It is the responsibility of your architect, not the client, to assist the contractor during construction to interpret and translate the construction documents into built form. By retaining your architect during construction you will have the benefit of sound design, good details, professional advice and now experienced oversight of your project, because, again, this is the largest investment you’re likely to make in your lifetime.

The process of designing and building a structure is messy and complicated and requires a number of knowledgable professionals to make sure things are done properly and according to the standards set forth by the architect. A home is also an incredibly personal building type and should be designed by someone who will take the time to really dig into your needs, wants and desires to create a home that truly meets the needs of you and your family. The small investment you make in your architect will more than pay for itself in the end.


Lisa Saldivar