"It's unwise to pay too much, but it's worse to pay too little. When you pay too much, you lose a little money – that is all. When you pay too little, you sometimes lose everything, because the thing you bought was incapable of doing the job it was bought to do. The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot – it can't be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder, it is well to add something for the risk you run, and, if you do that, you will have enough to pay for something better."
John Ruskin, Author / Economist 1819 - 1900


The Design Process, as outlined by the American Institute of Architects Design, and construction projects involve several steps. Typically, projects go through the following six phases. However, on some projects, several of these steps may be combined or there may be additional steps.

Step 1: Programming/Deciding What to Build
The homeowner and architect discuss the requirements for the project (how many rooms, the function of the spaces, etc.), testing the fit between the owner's needs, wants and budget.

Step 2: Schematic Design/Rough Sketches
The architect prepares a series of rough sketches, known as schematic design, which show the general arrangement of rooms and of the site. Some architects also prepare models to help visualize the project. The homeowner approves these sketches before proceeding to the next phase.

Step 3: Design Development/Refining the Design
The architect prepares more detailed drawings to illustrate other aspects of the proposed design. Floor plans show all the rooms in correct size and shape. Outline specifications are prepared listing the major materials and room finishes.

Step 4: Preparation of Construction Documents
Once the homeowner has approved the design, the architect prepares detailed drawings and specifications, which the contractor will use to establish actual construction cost and build the project. The drawings and specifications become part of the building contract.

Step 5: Hiring the Contractor
The homeowner selects and hires the contractor. The architect may be willing to make some recommendations. In many cases, homeowners choose from among several contractors they've asked to submit bids on the job. The architect can help you prepare bidding documents as well as invitations to bid and instructions to bidders.

Step 6: Construction Administration
While the contractor will physically build the home or the addition, the architect can assist the homeowner in making sure that the project is build according to the plans and specifications. The architect can make site visits to observe construction, review and approve the contractor's application for payment, and generally keep the homeowner informed of the project's progress. The contractor is solely responsible for construction methods, techniques, schedules and procedures.

20 Questions to Ask Your Architect

1. What does the architect see as important issues or considerations in your project?
2. How will the architect approach your project?
3. How will the architect gather information about needs, goals, etc.?
4. How will the architect establish priorities and make decisions?
5. Who from the architecture firm will be dealing with you directly?
6. Is that same person who will be designing the project? Who will be designing the project?
7. How interested is the architect in this project?
8. How busy is the architect?
9. What sets this architect apart from the rest?
10. How does the architect establish fees?
11. What would the architect expect the fee to be for this project?
12. What are the steps in the design process? How does the architect organize the process?
13. What does the architect expect you to provide?
14. What is the architect's design philosophy?
15. What is the architect's experience/track record with cost estimating?
16. What will the architect show you along the way to explain the project? Will you see models, drawings, or sketches?
17. If the scope of the project changes later in the project, will there be additional fees? How will these fees be justified?
18. What services does the architect provide during construction?
19. How disruptive will construction be? How long does the architect expect it to take to complete your project?
20. Does the architect have a list of past clients with whom the firm has worked?