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Is an architect really needed?

Dear Ms. Builder: We are planning a major room addition. I want to hire an architect and have full plans drawn. My husband thinks we can save a few dollars with just sketches and a contract. Who is correct? - Celeste C.

Dear Celeste: Neither of you is necessarily wrong. If you can afford an extra several thousand dollars (architects are pricey), then having your addition professionally designed is certainly the best approach. You are probably more concerned about the design and aesthetics details than your husband is.

Even with an architect designing your room addition, a detailed contract with your building contractor is imperative. Even if you have an excellent contractor, things beyond his control (illness for example) can delay construction and push up your costs. This should be covered in the contract.

Architects themselves are not perfect and do make mistakes too. These mistakes often are not noticed until the construction is underway. Include a clause in your contract with the architect about how additional building expenses due to any error will be handled.

The architect will probably have to make several basic plans before he hits on one that is acceptable to both you and your husband. You can speed up this process by having a fairly good idea of what you want the room to look and feel like before you ever talk to the architect.

A good method for doing this is to cut out pictures, from interior design or building magazines, of rooms that you particularly like and paste them in a scrapbook. Note on each picture what you specifically like about it. As you begin to accumulate many pages, it is easy to forget without the notes.

As you build your scrapbook over several months, you will be surprised at how your tastes change as you study more room plans. Sit down with your husband, page through the scrapbook and prioritize the features that you have noted on the pictures.

The size of the room addition is often constrained by your existing room layout. If you do have size flexibility, position simulated furniture, electronic equipment, window areas, fireplace, built-in bookcases, etc. with cardboard boxes in an existing room closest to the proper size.

If you have done a good job with your scrapbook and priority list, you probably can get by without an architect and rely on your builder for the basic structural design. If you are familiar with PC's, MS Access or Excel can be very helpful in cross-referencing the illustrations, features, size and window/door requirements.

There are several excellent simple-to-use design software programs now available that run on either a PC or a MAC. These allow you to actually see what various room layouts and construction methods will look like when completed. Some of them will also estimate the amount of materials needed.

Several software programs to check out are - "Drafixcad" - Foresight Resources (816-891-1040), "Turbo Cad" - IMSI (415-257-3000) and "Design Your Own Home" - Abracadata (800-451-4871)

After all this, you may still win out over your husband and end up hiring an architect. Make sure to find one who specializes in residential construction. Ask to see visit some of his finished projects in addition to just seeing pictures. This will also give you a chance to discuss his work with his former clients.

Ask to see some of the architect's former plans and show them to your builder. Since the builder will have to construct what the architect designs, make sure that they are on the same wavelength.

The architect should definitely provide schedules (very detailed material and product information) for each construction grouping. These groupings may include windows/doors, appliances, cabinets, flooring, plumbing fixtures, lighting, fireplace, etc. Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.

Send your questions to Ms. Builder, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com/msbuilder.