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Do I Need an Architect to Draw Plans for my Home?

When you begin planning a new home, an early question may be, do I need an architect to draw plans for my home? There’s a lot to consider in this question, but the short answer is no. An architect is typically not required for a residential project. In unique situations, there may be some communities that require an architect. As rare as that may be, it doesn’t mean you won’t want an architect to develop your home’s plans. Let’s review the different types of architectural services to design a home and how you can decide which type is best for you and your project.

do you need an architect

Types of Architectural Services

There are a few levels or types of architectural services and approaches that can be utilized to design a new home. The four most prevalent are 1) Architects; 2) Designer/Draftsman & Engineer; 3) Pre-Made Plans; 4) Design Build Firms. Here are some brief descriptions of each.

  • Architect: An architect is licensed by the states they work. To obtain a license, they generally earn a degree in architecture, generate work experience or internships, and then pass an exam. All these steps are so an architect has a high level of expertise about design, as well as the material and techniques to construct a home.

  • Designer/Draftsman & Engineer: Designers/Draftsman have often studied and practiced architectural design, but they are not typically licensed. A Designer/Draftsman typically teams with an engineer who is licensed. Once the Designer/Draftsman completes the floorplans and other aspects of the design, the engineer then completes the structural and other aspects of the plans that require a licensed engineer.

  • Pre-Made Plans: Another type of architectural service is purchasing pre-made plans. These plans have been completed by architects or designers/draftsmen who then offer them for sale online, via books and other sources. Here's a link to a good example of some very nice modern style plans that we've worked with before. Any modifications to pre-made plans for your preferences and/or to meet local/state requirements are done by an architect or designer. Some sellers of pre-made plans require the original architect or designer to make these updates while others allow you to use someone of your choice.

  • Design Build Firms: Many builders also offer architectural services. These are called Design Build firms. These firms may offer any of the above types of architectural services. Some offer these through dedicated on-staff resources, while others will sub-contract for these services. These firms offer architectural and construction services under one roof.

As you can see, you have a few options to consider when it comes to developing the home plans for your new home.

architect in action

Pros & Cons of Each Service

These different types of architectural services have varied pros and cons when it comes to developing home plans for your project.

  • Architect: The pros of using an architect to draw your plans is they are very knowledgeable and well trained for the task at hand. The cons tend to cost more than the other options. While there are a variety of fee models (e.g., hourly, fixed, percent of project cost), generally they are more costly than the other options below.

  • Designer/Draftsman & Engineer: The pros of this type of architectural service is that it is a cost-effective approach, but getting the right team is critical. Some designer/draftsman are better at certain styles and may need more direction. Finding the right team is key.

  • Pre-Made Plans: While the cost may seem to be a big pro for this architectural type, it’s important to keep in mind that not only is there the cost of purchasing the pre-made plans, but also the costs needed by a designer/draftsman and engineer to modify them. Even if you love the plans and don’t want to make a change, they still need to be updated for your local/state requirements. A nice advantage of this approach can be time saving since, much of the design effort is completed, assuming you don’t want many changes.

  • Design Build Firms: Since a design build firm may use any of the above approaches, the pros and cons can vary. Regardless of which type the firm uses, there are two important pros. First, the accountability of the firm by having them responsible for the design and build. It will minimize miscommunication and change orders. Second, having the builder involved in design will help with cost estimating and staying closer to your desired budget.

How to Decide Which Service to Use

As you can see there are a few options to design your home plans. Armed with the pros and cons, how do you decide if you need an architect to draw plans or someone else? Our suggestion comes down to your level of home design and building experience. If this is your first or second home that you are designing, the Architect or Design Build firm are likely your best options. They’ll provide the service to help guide you through the process. If you are very familiar with home design and construction, using a designer/draftsman & engineer or Pre-Made Plans, will likely be very effective and cost effective for you.

Additional Resources

  • Fees - This article provides some data on the fees both professionals charge

  • Association - This link is the Building Institute and provides additional details on the pros and cons of these design options

  • Architect - This link from AIA outlines why they believe you should go with an architect

  • This Old House - Good read before you hire an architect

  • Cost Calculator - This link is to an architectural cost calculator


“I have known Jon for many years. He and his team at Owners’ Ace are an invaluable resource to anyone looking to design and build a custom home. Having their assistance makes a complex process so much easier and successful. I recommend Owners’ Ace to my clients and to anyone looking to build their dream home.”

BG Holmberg, Top Custom Home Realtor in Tampa Bay Area

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