Q: “My wife and I have an older home in Fremont and we would like to update it with a new kitchen, adding some more square footage and creating a nice big family room. Do we have to hire an architect to do this if we have already have our own ideas?”
A: Generally, you are not required to hire an architect if the new addition in your home conforms to the conventional framing guidelines of the California Building Code and is no more than two stories and a basement in height. However, these guidelines are not always the standard accepted by all cities in the Bay Area. Ultimately, it is up to the building official of your City to determine if your project would require the services of an architect or engineer.
Even if your project doesn’t require one, an architect has the experience to translate your wishes into reality and create a design for you that will not only fulfill your requirements, but could also help you increase the resale value of your home. An architect is also well versed in building codes, methods of construction, and local regulations that will prevent costly and time consuming errors during construction.
The architect will complete construction documents (commonly referred to as “plans”), which are drawings and specifications that make up the instruction manual for construction of the building. The experience that an architect brings to your project will produce professional and efficient construction documents. The building department of your City will require you to submit these construction documents before a permit for construction is issued and they will expect that the drawings are complete, scaleable, legible and to a minimum paper size.
An architect is also an agent of the homeowner and will protect your interests during the course of the project. For example, if a builder substitutes a specified material for another, the architect can inform the homeowner whether that substitution is of equal quality and to help the homeowner to make an educated decision whether to keep that material or to require the builder to replace it for the original specification.
Lastly, an architect is a licensed professional. It takes many years of education, internship, and testing to acquire a license that enables one to use of the title architect. This license is regulated and awarded by the State in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of those occupying the buildings the architect designs. You can learn more about architectural practice and check on the status of your architect’s license at the web site for the California Architects Board, www.cab.ca.gov.