1. The Draftsman/Designer
Draftsman/Designer’s have expertise with design of interiors, carpeting, furniture, paint, etc., in actuality; draftsmen follow the directions of an architect, engineer or designer to make (vs. create) the plans. They are not licensed, as an architect is, to stamp plans in order to receive city building permits – More on this later.
If you choose to hire a draftsman/designer, be sure to find one that has a good working knowledge of building. I knew a draftsman/designer that designed beautiful country homes but you could tell this designer was relatively new to the industry because some of her designs could not be built the way they were drawn. This is because designers often do not understand how the construction process works. This is a key difference between draftsman/designers and architects. Choose someone that has had experience creating drawings that have been successfully built from by homebuilders, and who comes highly recommended.
Another source for a qualified draftsman/designer is the American Institute of Building Design. You can locate member in your area by visiting their web site. If you see a home that you like, check with the owner to see if they know who designed it. If the home is fairly new, you could go to the building department and possibly see the plans on file, you can acquire the name of the designer from those plans.
2. The Architect
Architects have expertise in design but are especially helpful because of their knowledge of technology and structural aspects of how to put together a building. He or she has gone to school a long time and are licensed professionals who are qualified to offer clients a wide range of services. Working with an architect can give you someone to lean on from start to finish. He/she can help you with your site and landscape plans. He/she can help you select colors, furnishings, etc. as well. The architect can offer several other valuable services to help your construction plan go smoothly. For example, he/she can visit the site, monitoring and observing construction. The architect can be a valuable asset in reviewing contracts and helping you ultimately select a reputable contractor or subcontractor.
Another service the architect can provide is to walk through your plans with the city/county to expedite getting the necessary permits.
Keep in mind that an architect’s fees are going to be higher than those of a draftsman/designer, which makes sense considering all of the additional services and safeguards that you’ll get the benefit of. A good architect can charge anywhere from 7% to 10% of the final cost, or more. Fees may be negotiable, though. For example, I hire very qualified architects in the Atlanta area for less than a third of those figures, which, by the way, is a very cheap price to pay for someone that qualified to create your house, plans and see the job through to completion.
As always, when hiring someone, it is best to discuss the exact services that the architect will provide under the contract, so you know what services to expect for the fee you will be paying. Also, ask for references and examples of his/her work. Not all architects are wonderful artists. Perhaps their style does not mesh with our style, either. If you want an original work of art, a thing of beauty – just because you’ve gone to the expense of an architect does not mean you automatically will have hired an artist. I feel only one in three architects are true artist. For that reason, I have sometimes hired an artistic designer to design a home of beauty, and then I would hire an architect to do the working drawings.
Note: In many areas, you do not have to have an architectural stamp on a set of residential drawings. You could draw them yourself. I’ve seen some builders draw a sketch on a piece of scratch paper, hand it to the framing carpenter and say, “Make it look like the third house on the left!” Find out if you will need stamped drawings from your local government.
In many areas you could build a duplex [two unit building] or a triplex [three unit building] without an architectural stamp on the drawings. However, if you build four units or more, which in many areas is considered multi-family, or if you build commercial or industrial, you would be required to have an architectural stamp or a professional engineer’s stamp on the plans.
If you build anything unusual like a “foam home,” the only way you may be able to pass the local codes and inspections would be to have an architectural stamp or a professional engineer’s stamp on those unusual plans. Having a stamp is no guarantee, because the local government reviews everything and you don’t know what is going to pass.