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Architect Number of Site Visits & Fees

Sophie
May 24, 2019
last modified: May 24, 2019

How often does your architect visit the site during the construction?


Our architect specified 7 visits in the contract, and visits beyond that will be additional fee. We haven't signed the contract yet, so there might be room for negotiation, and I wonder what's the norm. I feel like 7 visits might be far from enough.


We are building a small two-story house on a small city lot, roughly 2500 sqft including the finished basement. It will meet the Passive House standard, which means we probably need an architect's full service... Does a $74K architect fee sound reasonable for this kind of project? We are in the Midwest.


Thank you in advance for your input!

Comments (61)

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally

    Have you spoken to other clients of the architect regarding their Passive House projects, to ask how they found the scheduling etc.?

  • Sophie

    beckysharp -- Good question. We haven't asked to speak to the architect's other clients.


    We somehow forgot to ask for references during the 2 meetings with the architect. The 1st meeting was to go over the project proposal, and the 2nd meeting was to discuss the fees.


    We have been postponing the 3rd meeting for various reasons, partly because the architect wants to sign the contract during the 3rd meeting, and we are not ready -- our attorney is reviewing the contract, and the seller of the lot needs to get a variance, which has a small chance of not getting approved.


    It feels a bit awkward to ask for references now...but I guess it needs to be done.

  • beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally

    I've asked for references when spending considerably less money : ) .

    For an amount like $74,000 (I'm Canadian, so that's about $100,000 up here) when you're still facing the build cost, and a total cost of probably somewhere in the neighborhood of at least $1 million when everything is all completed, unless you're well off enough that that amount doesn't make a dent in your bank account, I would be doing lots of checking. I researched and agonized for years over a BlueStar range because I wanted to make sure I was getting the best bang for our buck.

    We have been postponing the 3rd meeting for various reasons, partly because the architect wants to sign the contract during the 3rd meeting, and we are not ready -- our attorney is reviewing the contract, and the seller of the lot needs to get a variance, which has a small chance of not getting approved.

    This sounds like the perfect time to ask. And you can just say that the whole process has been so overwhelming and exciting that with everything else going on, you forgot to ask so you're asking now, because of course you need to do your due diligence. Especially for something as out of the ordinary as Passive House.

    If you're still feeling shy about asking, tell them your consultant, Rebecca Sharp, reminded you that you require the references at this point in time.

    Sophie thanked beckysharp Reinstate SW Unconditionally
  • kayce03

    Our architect did 1 site visit, but gets regular reports via Facetime. We hired him remotely so it's too expensive for him to visit more. It's worked out fine, so far. 7 sounds like plenty.

    Sophie thanked kayce03
  • PRO
    Flo Mangan

    The most important thing would be verifying references of clients and people they give as references. This is not simple as you know so don’t leave out this important step.

    Sophie thanked Flo Mangan
  • worthy

    The architect on our latest project offered three-four on-site visits for a total of C$1,500. (Not bothering as I've built a number from scratch when I was a licensed builder and the only extra services I needed were from structural engineers.)

    The range for licensed architect's fees ran from C$40K to C$160K for 6,000 sf +/-

    Jumbling together engineering, electrical, HVAC and interior design services makes it hard for you to price compare.

    Sophie thanked worthy
  • BT

    Well electrical schedule is required. HVAC is a junk because an architect would not be able to design static regain ductwork, plumbing(?). These are ok, but meh, I would not pay for them. I can speculate that passivhaus may require GEO hvac to get certified, uPVC [PVCu] windows, heavy under the foundation insulation... Unless you are super wealthy - too much for me.

    > C$160K for 6,000 sf

    Hello Canada. I can draw buildable plans in 15 - 20 hours... All I need is few passivhaus detailing.<Joking>

    Imho it is a lot easier to design house with high budget, than try county every penny to make sure every room 12', 16',20'

    Sophie thanked BT
  • kudzu9

    We had a reliable architect and a reliable contractor, and they had a good working relationship. The architect billed us for his time, and we agreed to leave the issue of number of site visits open. When there were questions, most got handled with a short phone call. When we reached major stages of construction, we called for a site visit. In our case, 3-4 visits was all that we felt were necessary, and paying for more would not have changed the results. If you don't understand the building process, or aren't very knowledgeable in judging whether work looks competent, then more might be appropriate.

    Sophie thanked kudzu9
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    "...I feel like 7 visits might be far from enough..."

    The solution is simple:

    1. Discuss with your architect and ask for an explanation of how and when the 7 proposed visits will occur;

    2. If you still feel like more will be necessary, either identify the number you envision and ask the architect to include that in his fee proposal, or:

    3. Simply handle any needed site visits over 7 as Additional Services for the architect at her/his regular billing rate, plus expenses.

    Sophie thanked Virgil Carter Fine Art
  • PRO
    Summit Studio Architects

    $74k is a lot for design services, but passive house requires a lot of technical design. Passive house is also so expensive to build, it can rarely be justified in terms of energy savings.

    In all my research and training, I have never heard anyone mention improper taping the drywall joints as a potential air infiltration path. There are a million ways for a house to leak, IMO drywall seams are not one of them. Seven site visits is usually enough, but watching the drywall crew tape the seams is a waste of time.

    Sophie thanked Summit Studio Architects
  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    Hi, Sophie,

    There is a cost premium for both the design and construction of a home to meet Passive House standards.

    To minimize "surprises" I recommend you get a breakdown of estimated fees for architectural design, Passive House detailing and certification administration, and various third-party fees such as structural engineering, plumbing design, mechanical systems design, etc. Get the same for construction costs. Your best construction cost estimates will come from a builder with experience building homes to meet Passive House standards.

    Sophie thanked Charles Ross Homes
  • Sophie

    Thank you so much for your inputs so far!


    We are asking the architect for references, as well as a breakdown of the fees.

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I will watch your drywall mud dry for $73k.

    (humor)

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    Not much of a breakdown of fees, Mark. How about the references?

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I have been watching drywall mud dry for many years. I have even scraped it off my shoes after visiting job sites.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Which drywall mud texture do you find is mmost durable on shoes?


    Asking for a friend...

  • PRO
    Charles Ross Homes

    @Mark, I'm willing to mail you a box of disposable shoe covers so you don't need to scrape anything. That makes half your experience moot. I reckon that cuts the fee in half, right?

  • PRO
    Mark Bischak, Architect

    I think the dabs of drywall mud on the floor are placed there on purpose for the sole entertainment of the drywallers. Even if they do not witness the event first hand, they know that every minute somewhere out there there is an architect stepping in drywall mud.

    And what makes you think I would remember to take the disposable shoe covers with me when I visit a site?

    Is there a "Super Adhesive" texture in drywall mud?

  • keith Dcil

    This fee seems high considering "the schematic mechanical & plumbing & electrical designs will be completed by the contractors who install the systems" and "fee does not include landscaping or solar system design".

    Also, the probable reason "the fee does include the interior design services for cabinetry, wood trim, and the selection of fixtures, appliances and lighting" may be because the architect also receives a commission from the retailers on these items, sometimes 30%. Unless the architect is offering to give you the trade discount.

    Sophie thanked keith Dcil
  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    No, the reason a number of these items are not included in the architect's fees for basicc services are:


    1. Electrical service, HVAC and plumbing are traditionally done using sub-contractor's shop drawings, and;

    2. The interior items are part of interior design services, not basic architectural services.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    The project is a no go until the seller gets that variance.


    Often variances or existing zoning determine a property's value. Just had a client sell a property for 1/3 of purchase price as they couldn't get that variance.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Why wasn't the variance a condition of purchase?

  • robin0919

    Sophie....you are getting 'totally' ripped off for a house that is about 850sf/'per floor!!!! You really need to talk to several other GC's. IMO.....that GC and architect is trying to 'rip' you off!! Talk to several neighbors and get recommendations.

  • jmm1837

    Robin - do a bit of research on "passivhaus" standards. I doubt the average architect or builder has the specific skill sets to deliver them. They've got very specialized design and construction standards. You are not going to get that at tract build (or even "track build" ) prices.

  • Sophie

    The purchase agreement has a contingency of “lot split approval”. The variance requirement is a surprise to the seller.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Why was a variance required for a land sale?

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    Interesting. Are you purchasing the entire piece to be split or one of the resulting parcels? Who will stub utilities into the new parcel? Typically splits require commitments from those providers, depending on state law. Sometimes municipalities add on- and offsite requirements, such as upgrading sidewalks, adding hydrants, etc.

  • Sophie

    We are purchasing the resulting vacant lot from the split. It’s a narrow city lot and doesn’t meet the minimum width requirement (and thus the minimum area requirement as well), so variances for width and area are needed for the split to go through.

    The water and sewer lines are underneath the sidewalk adjacent to the lot, and the electrical poles are in the back in the alley. We are responsible for bringing the utilities into the lot.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Yep, I figured the variance was due to the lot not meeting zoning regulations. Your contingency of a successful lot split should cover it I should think, since it's pointless to approve a lot split for property which cannot then be developed.

  • PRO
    Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor

    Make sure your interests are represented for that purchase. The architectural is premature.

    Sophie thanked Jeffrey R. Grenz, General Contractor
  • Sophie

    Yeah, I agree the architectural is premature. We approached this architect to get an assessment on the lot’s buildability. Soon we discovered the zoning rule of 22’ height on the main house (grade to midpoint of the gable), which is very limiting on an already tiny lot. So we wanted the architect to help us apply for a height variance before closing — a site plan and a front elevation will be needed for variance application — which the architect agreed to do. This height variance is not part of the purchase agreement because we didn’t know back then. Then the architect started drafting a contract, and told us it would be cheaper to design the house and apply for the variance along the way...hence the fees and my question in my initial post.

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Do you have a good basis for asking for a height variance? Something more than you don't like the height regulation?

  • kudzu9

    I once did a major remodel to my house and added a second story. While the preliminary design was within the footprint of the original house, and did not violate height restrictions, a portion of the second story intruded 5' into a setback retirement that had been put in place decades after the house was built. When we found this out, the architect told us he could redesign the second floor to be smaller, or we could apply for a variance. He further explained that he thought it was prudent for him to not do any further design work until we saw if we could get a variance. The point of my story is: What happens if the OP is partway through the design process and doesn't get a variance? I suspect that much of the cost of the design will be money down the drain. I would question the judgment of an architect who is billing for a design that requires a height variance and says: It'll be cheaper to get it later.

    Sophie thanked kudzu9
  • Sophie

    The main argument for the height variance goes like this:


    The lot is so small that the main floor of the house can only have 850-900 sqft or so (with exterior dimensions being 24' x 44' or so, interior 21' x 41' or so). We need 3 bedrooms (2 kids) and 2 baths, so having a full second story is important to fit these necessities in -- half a story will just be too small, unless we put one of the bedrooms in the basement.


    The zoning rule does say that if we shrink the width of the exterior footprint by 2' (from 24' to 22'), the height limit could increase by 1' (from 22' to 23')....

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    If I follow what you are saying, you are proposing to reduce the width of your design so as to gain an additional foot of height?

  • Sophie

    We still want to maximize the width, so 24'. The increase in height is just some extra info. :D

    Another architect we started talking to yesterday says that if we don't use the traditionally framed floor system, which is 18" thick, and instead, use some formed concrete floor system (I don't recall the professional name for this), the floor only needs to be 6"-8" thick, which will help increase the ceiling height of the second story. The only downside is cost.


  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    So you propose to buy a lot which limits the width and height of a house that can be built on it and you are considering asking for a variance because...why? You are fully aware of the width and height and width limitations and you are proceeding with design studies, if I understan

    d it correctly. So what is your basis for asking for a variance ?

  • Sophie

    We haven't signed a contract to start the design yet. Actually now we think it might be prudent of us to get a couple more quotes.


    So it sounds like we cannot ask for a variance if we are already aware of the limitations? I guess the main argument for the height variance is we want a reasonably-sized house? The variance person at the zoning department encourages us to apply for it once we have the site plan and elevation...he thinks it's reasonable to ask, given the limitations of the lot.


    I just did some math for the ceiling height and roof pitch. Assuming 18" floor system, and 24" roof system, if the roof is really shallow (3 : 12), I could have 9' ceiling on the first floor, and 8' ceiling on the second floor. This will add up to 22' total ( = 18" + 9' + 18" + 8' + 24").


    Perhaps it won't be so bad -- 24' x 44' with a very shallow 3 : 12 gable roof running the long way?

  • D E

    sophie, can you get in under the height restriction with a flat roof?

    it looks like you could do two 9ft floors and still be under 23' tall

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    Who grants a variance in your jurisdiction? Is it the staff person you talked to who told you s/he thinks a variance is reasonable? Or is it a citizen commission or committee, such as a planning and zoning commission? What is the history of obtaining variances in your jurisdictions?

    You need to do some homework if a variance is truly important.

  • Sophie

    Yeah, flat roof is possible. Will that look quite modern? It's a traditional neighborhood. Many of the existing houses were built in 1930's-1940's, Tudor style with stucco exterior. We want to blend in if possible.

    The board of zoning will hold a public hearing and at the end of the hearing, the board members (private citizens appointed by the mayor) vote to decide whether a variance should be granted or not. The variance person I talked to gets to present the case to the board -- he can put in words like "he supports it" but he doesn't get to vote.

    I need to look into the history of obtaining variances. The height rule came into being recently so I only dig up a few years worth of variance requests and outcomes.

  • D E

    flat roof is usually more modern but you can find traditional houses with the shallow roof hidden behind a parapet wall. maybe something like this



  • BT

    In my area variances are only granted to big builders and big developers with lots of attorneys everyone else gets denied. And it is costly $2500.


    I assume they suggested 18" because floor can span 24' without steel.

  • Sophie

    For flat and shed roofs, the height measures "from the established grade to the highest point of the roof surface". So I think the parapet wall on the flat roof needs to be minimal to make a real difference (vs. shallow gable roof).

  • PRO
    Virgil Carter Fine Art

    When appearing before public commissions and councils it sometimes helps if a local neighbor or two speaks infavor of a variance appeal.


    Conversely, if a couple of neighbors speak against the appeal, forget about it!


    In most cases getting neighbor support is an important positive.

  • PRO
    RES 3d Sketches

    Will the project be competitively bid? If you use an A104 agreement, will it be a Cost of the Work or a Stipulated Sum contract?

  • Sophie

    The architect who gave the $74k fees says it will be competitively bid, but will start talking to potential builders early on to make sure they can do what needs to be done.

    The other architect who we just started talking to says it will be good to choose a builder before we start drafting the construction documents.

    We are not sure which way is better. So far the first architect is trying to nudge our budget higher, whereas the second architect just acknowledges our budget and wants to embrace the challenge.

  • PRO
    RES 3d Sketches

    It a tough decision. At the very least you should have a contractor providing advice during the design phase even if he/she is a consultant and will bid the completed design.

  • PRO
    Summit Studio Architects

    When to involve a contractor depends on the construction environment, the complexity of the project and your budget.


    In a busy construction environment many of the better contractors may pass on competitive bids since they involve so much work. I recommend my clients meet several contractors early in the process, select two or three they like to give preliminary estimates based on early conceptual drawings. If the pricing comes in okay they select a contractor for the project. If none of the pricing works, then it's back to the drawing board.

    Sophie thanked Summit Studio Architects
  • doc5md

    Having made it through at least this part (waiting on bank appraisal so we can start).... I think earlier is better on involving a contractor or two. We had three we were seriously considering. One had a 2 yr wait list. One turned out to not really work well with our architect (he wasn't really used to working with an architect- its not common around here). The other has been fantastic to work with. Visited houses last year in progress- very good work all around! Can't wait to start!!!

    Sophie thanked doc5md

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