One of the biggest questions that homeowners who are about to embark on any type of home improvement project face is what type of Pro to hire for the job. Sometimes this is straightforward; you would hire a roofer for your roof, for example, but often it can get a little confusing. From Architects to Civil Engineers, each Pro out there does a specific type of job. And while there can be some crossover, it’s generally best to find someone that specializes in what you need to have done so you can trust that the project goes off without a hitch.

Pros and What They Do

Some Pros will specialize within a field, like roofing contractors for example, but it’s generally easy to sort your Pro based upon the type of project that you’re looking at, then break them down further during the vetting process.

Architect

Hire an architect when you want a new building, new facades, sizable additions, a new configuration of the existing space, historical preservation, or efficient and sustainable design.  

An Architect will help you plan, design, visualize your final concept, and prepare the appropriate documents for the building permitting process for your home. If you value the quality of design, then hire an architect, he or she works with you to transform your vision into reality. Architects are trained to make sure your aesthetic considerations meld with the structural requirements of the project, and that space is both livable and pleasing to the eye. Architects may coordinate with engineers, general contractors, or designers, and often your Architect can help you manage the project all the way to completion.

Builder

Hire a builder when you have a plan drawn up and ready to start building a new home.

A lot of people confuse architects and builders. An Architect will design a new home, while a builder will handle the construction portion of a new home. This can include setting the foundation, framing, roofing, as well as erecting the walls of a new home.  Most builders are trained to build, not design. If time is more critical to you than design quality, a builder may help you get the project done quickly. If the quality of design is more important to you, always work with an Architect to design your home, then work with a builder to carry out the plans.

Engineer

Hire an engineer when your project requires significant, specific engineering services such as Structural, Civil, Mechanical, or Electrical related efforts. Engineers specialize along these lines, with each one handling their own field.

Engineers work with Architects during the design phase to ensure that your home is safe to live in.  It is unlikely that you will hire one on your own – your Architect or builder will likely handle this – but in case you do, you’ll need to hire your engineer based on their field of expertise:

  • Structural Engineers specialize in the structural integrity of a building such as load-bearing issues or seismic reinforcement.
  • Civil Engineers specialize in soil related projects. If you live on a hillside or near water, the soil condition may be different, which will impact the integrity of the building.
  • Mechanical Engineers specialize in HVAC systems (heating, ventilating, and air conditioning). They can help to figure out the right unit based on the square footage of your building and work with Electrical Engineers to calculate the electrical wattage to support the unit.
  • Electrical Engineers specialize in the electrical design for your project. They will help to design a safe system which will support the electrical needs of the space.

Design/Build Firms

Hire a design/build firm when you want to be in the passenger’s seat and have one team help you to both design and build your home.

A design/build firm merges the designing aspects – or the architect’s job – with the building side of things, or the contractor’s responsibility. Often these firms have in-house Architects, designers, and contractors. Hiring a design/build firm can mean that you have one office handling all aspects of the job from start to finish. This gives you a lot of the input of using an Architect, with the freedom of hiring a builder.

General Contractor

Hire a General Contractor when you have a plan that’s ready to remodel or renovate your replacing existing space.

A general contractor (GC) supervises the day-to-day work at the construction site. A GC orchestrates and manages a team of subcontractors. Sometimes a builder may act as a GC; and will use their own crew to construct your home while subcontracting out the mechanical work. A GC’s value lies in their ability to manage an entire project efficiently and providing a turn-key contract with the total cost for constructing your home.  GC should help with the permit process as well.  Your Architect may recommend one or ask you to find one once the plans are complete.

General contractors are required to be licensed as GCs and may also have licenses in a few trades such as roofing, and can handle a lot of smaller projects and renovations on their own without a builder or architect involved. If you choose, you can also act as a GC on your project, but this will require you to hire and coordinate all the subcontractors who work on your home. Subcontractors may include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Electricians
  • Plumbers
  • Carpenters
  • Roofers
  • Tile installers
  • Drywall installers
  • Painters
  • Finishers

Designer

Hire a designer when your primary focus is interior space planning and no structural changes, e.g., no change to the existing walls or roofline or adding new walls.

There are a lot of types of designers out there: Kitchen Designers, Bathroom Designers, and Interior Designers just to name a few. A designer may work for a Design/Build firm, or they may work on their own. You want to hire a designer for smaller, specialized, and interior projects such as a single room in your home like a kitchen. Designers will have some ability to help you space plan, as well as work on finished looks and materials. Some designers will work with builders or general contractors and can help you plan and coordinate a major interior renovation. Designers don’t typically offer project management services.

Decorator

Hire a decorator when you want to decorate the interior of your home.

A decorator is someone you hire solely to work on the cosmetic decoration of your home. Unlike a designer, a decorator should not plan the layout of a room or recommend you remove a wall. Decorators will help you choose the finishing components of a design, including colors and furnishings.

Take Charge of Your Home

In general, using an Architect to design and draw construction documents, as well as administrate the contract puts you in the driver's seat. Using a design/build firm or builder puts you in the passenger’s seat.  Remember that selecting the type of Pro you want to use is just the first step. Each Pro may have specialties that make them a better – or worse – fit for your project. When you hire great Pros who bring talent and experience to the table, keep the lines of communication open, and are flexible team players, they will work together like a well-oiled machine. This is why you should always meet at least three sets of Pros, screen them, and put them through a thorough vetting process – or have us vet them for you.


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