Ask the Architect

Sketches needed?


Q. I have been calling around for estimates so I know how much it will cost for an architect to draw plans. I have never worked with an architect, but I am getting very different answers, mostly that they don’t want to tell me without looking at the house and discussing things. Aren’t there typical costs for doing drawings? The building department in my village said I just need some sketches to show the work, not a lot of complicated plans, and I expect the contractor I want to use will know what to do already and will take it from there, right?

A. No, not right. You are headed down a confusing path paved with lots of misinformation meant to simplify the project, when in fact, there are many different laws, decisions and personalities that will determine whether you ever get what you want. For example, I just dealt with a problem caused by a concrete subcontractor ignoring the black-and-white lines on drawings, who poured foundation walls in the wrong place, the wrong configuration and the wrong height. Forget the word sketch. It does not apply. Now the home’s doors are too high to enter without stairs, which the owner specifically said they did not want, the walls are too thick in the rooms, losing interior space so that the plumbing pipes will have to be inside the rooms, push the washer, dryer and bathrooms further to the inside of the house and shorten the garage so a car will no longer fit. Oops.

The owner wants to raise the property to accommodate the mistake, which they cannot do because it will cause drainage problems for themselves and the neighboring properties...and on and on. If you assume that all you need is a sketch, then you are going to spend a lot of money before finding out, the hard way, that you will have to spend much more to fix what was done by doing it a second time.

The reason that an architect needs to examine the “patient” before making a diagnosis is that there a many, many rules and regulations that you must meet, and they do not want to take responsibility for the problems that can be caused by only doing part of what you needed. The person who told you that you need a sketch probably did not understand that the drawings provided for a permit require some very specific information.

Take a look at the list of documents the architect has to provide, then expand that into the items not listed, such as zoning analysis, energy calculations, waterproofing and structural engineering, just to name a few. Part of the problem is that television misleads the public into thinking the contractor is the designated master of planning a project, when, in fact, the licensed architect or engineer is, by law, the responsible party. It would be a wonderful thing for contractors to be required to know and follow all the codes and laws.

© 2018 Monte Leeper. Readers are encouraged to send questions to, with “Herald question” in the subject line, or to Herald Homes, 2 Endo Blvd., Garden City, NY 11530, Attn: Monte Leeper, architect.