FAIRBANKS — The “Ask a Builder” series is dedicated to answering some of the many questions Fairbanks residents have about building, energy and the many other parts of home life.

Q: I’m building a house. Do I need an architect? 

A: So you’re planning to build a house. Congratulations! There are so many decisions to make from the time you find land and the day you finally move in to your new home. One is whether to hire an architect.

Whether or not you need an architect depends on your vision for the house, your builder and your personal experience with design and construction.

Architect provide overall vision and building plans for a unique home project. They have the education and training to help maximize your budget and ease the design and construction process. They understand all aspects of building as well as the local zoning laws and building codes. They can draw from a variety of building techniques and styles to create a house that suits your needs (many general contractors and custom homebuilders also have plan sets you can choose from or modify). 

Some architects have a particular niche, such as energy efficiency, landscaping or historic preservation. Hiring an architect when building a home gives you access to these skills and experience.

Here are a few questions to consider that may help you decide.

• What do you need from the architect? Keep in mind you sometimes can hire an architect (or a design firm) to participate at different levels of your building project — everything including producing a schematic design, drawing construction documents and selecting contractors to doing construction administration for the entire building process. 

If you’re considering an architectural firm, ask about its practices — will you always work with the same team or will different people contribute to the project?

• How certain are your plans and ideas? If you know what you want, and know your plans can be built to local code, you may only need a draftsperson to put together construction documents. 

However, if you’re looking for some direction with your design or need help with local building codes, then consider hiring an architect. Your architect will work with you to adapt your ideas into a few possible design options and then finalize plans for you.

 In any case, be sure to discuss the level of independence the architect will have ahead of time, what type of communication and input you will have and how often you will meet.

• What is your budget? It’s good to establish your budget for the project at the beginning. An architect doesn’t necessarily have to be an extra expense — while you pay a fee for their services, they sometimes can pay for themselves by proposing ways to reduce costs, such as developing creative design solutions, streamlining your building process, creating a timeline for design and construction that fits Alaska’s short building season and designing a home that meets both your current and future needs. Also, sharing your budget with an architect allows them to use their knowledge of the local building community and cost environment to design a home that fits your budget.

• Can you see photos of their work or call references? While some architects are famous for a particular type of design, the majority of architects are skilled at taking a client’s vision and turning it into reality. 

Were past clients happy with how the architect interpreted their ideas? Do the designs fit into the local landscape? Are the buildings different or do they all look similar; if they look similar, is it a look you want for your home?

Lastly, look at homes that were built with, and without, an architect to see what fits you best.

Ask a Builder articles promote home awareness for the Cold Climate Housing Research Center (CCHRC). If you have a question, contact us at info@cchrc.org or 457-3454.