Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

MIKE HOLMES: Pick the right architect

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Anyone thinking about doing a major renovation will likely work with a professional architect at some point. Not everyone understands the relationship between homeowners, contractors and architects, but in my line of work I depend on these pros all the time.

If a reno requires building permits, plans need to be drawn up, submitted and approved by the local building authority.

You can submit plans that aren't stamped, signed or sealed by any professional. I do not recommend this, because if something goes wrong, you are 100 per cent liable for fixing it -- plus any damages. In Ontario, someone with a Building Code Identification Number (BCIN) can create the plans for you.

There are times when plans must be prepared and stamped or sealed by a professional engineer or architect, or both; for example, if you're building an addition larger than 600 square metres or three storeys high.

Homeowners get nervous about bringing in an architect; they think the job will be too expensive. Or they think the architect won't listen to them but design what they want. But hiring the right professional is worth every penny.

Architectural services include designing, preparing construction documents and construction administration. But it varies. As a bare minimum, they should make sure your project abides by local zoning by-laws and building codes.

Architects are consultants as well as co-ordinators and technical managers trained to deliver a project on schedule and within budget. Most architect agreements stipulate the project must come within 15 per cent of budget; if it doesn't, the plans must be revised at no extra cost. This isn't a standard rule, so read the agreement carefully.

Finding the right architect can be tricky. Sometimes you find the right contractor first and they recommend an architect. This could be a double-edged sword. On the one hand you know the contractor and architect can work together. But if the architect depends on the contractor for referrals, the risk is they might be more concerned with keeping the contractor happy than you. If you find the architect first, can they work with the contractor? Do your homework.

If you really like a contractor's work, ask them about architects they've worked with and how happy they were with the results. Then talk to the homeowners who've used them, for their take on the entire process. How quickly did they get the right building permits based on the architect's drawings? How many modifications had to be made to the original plans? This will tell you how easy, or difficult, it will be working with a particular architect.

How do you find the right architect? Check out the Architecture Canada Electronic Directory. It might include information on projects an architect has worked on, commissions, awards, etc. But your best bet is to talk to people who have worked with this architect.

Next, understand the responsibilities and expectations. What services do you expect them to deliver? What are you responsible for? When do you expect certain milestones to be completed? How much are you willing to pay? Then put these terms in writing.

Have a separate contract between you and the architect apart from the one you have with your contractor. Outline the terms and conditions of the entire project, including a payment schedule.

One document is the Canadian Standard Form of Agreement Between Client and Architect. There's also a shorter version, which you could use if you just need input for a small aspect of a project, like a modification to renovation plans. Find these through provincial architectural associations.

Most clients pay a deposit once they sign a contract with an architect -- usually a percentage of the architect's total fee. There are two main types of fees: architectural services and out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel costs and the cost of reproducing documents. Architects charge a lump sum, hourly rate or a percentage of the total cost of the construction project, or a combination.

Don't let it come down to cost. Choose an architect whose skills you trust, with whom you can work; one who can make it right and keep you happy.

Catch Mike Holmes in his series, Holmes Makes It Right, Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on HGTV. For more information, visit hgtv.ca. For more information on home renovations, visit makeitright.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 2, 2013 F10

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