Cost-Effective Strategies for Home Improvement
In the current housing market, many homeowners are finding it difficult to attract buyers, thus preventing them from selling their houses and moving up to obtain a better place. As you think for the first time about renovating or adding to your home, you may not know where to begin. Should you contact an architect? Do you even need an architect? You may have heard that architects are expensive, arrogant, and more interested in large commercial projects than home alterations. After all, many new homes are designed and built without an architect’s involvement.
All qualified architects receive specialized training in functional and structural design, aesthetics, history, and environmental and material sciences, at accredited schools. Upon completion of their educational requirements, they must apprentice under another architect, learning the practical business of an architectural practice. Finally, they must complete rigorous testing to become licensed.
Carroll County has many capable builders who could complete your project in a pleasing way. If you do your homework when selecting your builder, you should be able to hope for no problems. This selection process should include diligently checking references and visiting examples of their past work. You should also check their history with local building material suppliers, the building permits office, and subcontractors such as masons, plumbers, heating contractors, and electricians. Is your builder properly bonded and insured? Try to go beyond the list of references you are given, to find out what problems were encountered, and how they were resolved.
Yet, even after you have done all that, you may still be disappointed in the result. Many builders have earned their experience the hard way, through experience on the jobsite. They may not be trained, as architects are, in aesthetics—and you may end up with an addition out of proportion with the original. The typical construction project involves so many different people and materials that there are plenty of opportunities for error. A good architect will forestall those errors by imagining how everything will fit together, and drawing it out in detail. In this way, you will see what your project will look like when it’s finished, and your builder will have many fewer questions to be answered during his work.
Before contacting your architect, you should have a good idea of what you want your project to accomplish. Organize your desires in an outline format, going from general categories down to specifics. Try to concentrate on the big picture rather than getting lost in the details. For example, if you want to add a bedroom to your house and you’re using an on-site septic system, check with the Health Department about whether your system has adequate capacity. Next, check with the County zoning office about required building setbacks from the property lines. If your house is close to the property lines, contact a surveyor to get an accurate measurement of the position of your house on its lot. Should you need to build within the setbacks, you will have to apply to the County for a zoning variance.
If you have the original construction drawings for your house, you may save a significant amount of your architect’s pre-design surveying effort. If not, your architect will probably have to measure and draw your existing house from scratch before beginning the new design. Don’t expect to find the old drawings at the building permits office: after construction is complete, these are routinely given back to the owner or discarded.
Are you planning on living in the house while construction is progressing? While listing your desires for your project, give a thought to how it can be accomplished if you choose to stay, and realize that it may be difficult to live with.
You should select your architect, like selecting your builder, by first making sure he or she is properly qualified. All local architects are required by the State to have a license to practice in Maryland; you may find a listing of architects at http://www.dllr.state.md.us/pq/. You may also find an architect through the website of the American Institute of Architects at http://architectfinder.aia.org/. Check your architect’s experience, references, and examples of completed work. Talk to past clients, permit officials, and builders. How will you and your architect work together? Is your architect excited about your project?
And what if something goes wrong? After all, nobody’s perfect: does your architect maintain professional liability insurance against potential mistakes?
The decision to make alterations to your home is not lightly made. A home improvement project can be fun, challenging, exhilarating, dangerous, wise, and foolish—sometimes all at once, depending on how you approach it.
Written by Dean R. Camlin, AIA, LEED AP BD+C.
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