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10 Questions You Must Ask Your Architect

You've chosen your architect for your home renovation, and now it's time to get down to business. However, to ensure a productive collaboration, there are some essential questions you should ask your architect that often...

You've chosen your architect for your home renovation, and now it's time to get down to business. However, to ensure a productive collaboration, there are some essential questions you should ask your architect that often go overlooked. We've spoken to industry experts and the American Institutes of Architects to compile a list of the top 10 questions you must ask your architect to work with them like a pro.

1. Do you have references?

As recommended by the AIA and experienced architects, it's crucial to ask your architect about their past clients and contractors they've worked with. Following up with references helps ensure that you're working with a reliable and dependable firm from the start. Michael Ingui of the esteemed New York firm Baxt Ingui Architects advises, "You want to get experience from all sides... architects, owners, and contractors." Learning from others' experiences is valuable in finding the right architect for your project.


Mike Geyer, an architect running his own firm, emphasizes the importance of referrals and references. Good firms should have plenty of references to offer, providing insights into their work that may not have been publicly shared. Geyer notes, "Residential work—often the best residential work—seldom sees the light of day."

2. How much time do I need to commit, and when?

Architects often work with two types of clients: those who prefer a hands-off approach and those who want to be involved in every decision. Clearly communicating your expectations and understanding the time commitment required is crucial. Thomas Hickey, co-founder of GRADE, an architecture and design firm, emphasizes the benefits of having clients dedicated to the project, saying, "It makes the project move smoothly... talking through every detail."

Eric Safyan of Eric Safyan Architect advises clients to be specific about their availability to meet with the architect, suggesting options like evenings, weekends, or early mornings. Clear communication about your availability will help ensure a smooth collaboration.

3. How can I be helpful in the process?

If you're unsure about your preferred level of involvement with your architecture firm, don't hesitate to ask. Start by understanding the firm's organizational process and then find out how you can contribute most effectively. Hickey advises having a thorough conversation about your vision and preferences to help the architect focus on the right solution.

Understanding timelines and workflow helps both parties feel at ease, as it allows you to anticipate updates and document review timelines. By aligning yourself with the architect's process, you become an invaluable asset to the project.

4. What's your fee structure and what can I expect in costs?

All architects have different fee structures, and transparency is crucial. Geyer recommends being open about your budget to avoid any limitations that could compromise the quality of the work. Ensure that your architect is upfront about any additional costs not outlined in the contract, such as construction administration hours or amendments to drawings due to changes during construction. Safyan suggests discussing potential scenarios and getting detailed responses from the architect.

GRADE, for example, offers straightforward solutions that meet clients' budgets. They also provide the option to upgrade certain features to give clients the customized touches they desire.

5. What are the important issues, considerations, and challenges of my project?

Seeking your architect's perspective on the significant elements of your project is vital. They can offer insights on construction, city approvals, and design challenges you may not have considered. Ingui emphasizes the importance of experience with similar project types, stating, "Knowing how to solve the problems and what worked last time as well as what didn't" is invaluable.

6. What will you show along the way to explain the project?

Before the construction process begins, it's important to discuss with your architect how they will present the project to you. Will they use models, drawings, or computer animations? This stage provides an opportunity to exchange ideas, express critiques, and make adjustments. Geyer suggests asking for alternative design sketches or requesting samples or showroom visits to get a realistic feel for the possibilities.

7. Are you insured?

Ensuring that your architecture firm has appropriate insurance coverage is crucial. Find out what level of insurance they have and whether they have any open claims against them. This information is important for your peace of mind.

8. What's your role with the contractor?

During the construction phase, a significant portion of the project will be in the hands of the contractor. It's important to understand how your architect plans to work with the contractor and whether they recommend specific contractors with whom they have a proven track record. Clarifying the architect's role and your own involvement with the contractor will help set expectations.

9. Who's on my team?

Projects often involve multiple team members from an architecture firm. Ask for introductions and get to know the individuals who will be contributing to your project. Ingui advises learning more about the team that you'll be working with, highlighting the importance of a good fit. The AIA suggests asking specific questions about who you'll be dealing with directly and who will be designing your project.

10. How can we reduce the environmental impact?

If environmentally sustainable design is important to you, discuss this with your architect. Most firms are happy to collaborate on designing environmentally friendly buildings and may even integrate low or no-cost sustainable strategies. Ask your architect about their experience with green design and the potential benefits and challenges moving forward. Hickey mentions considering LEED certification, which may expand the timeline and budget but comes with certain tax benefits.

Bronwyn Barry, a Passive House designer, recommends asking architects about the energy efficiency and performance of their previous projects. This ensures that the architect actively reviews their designs and keeps track of their success or failures.

By asking these ten questions, you'll gain valuable insights into your architect's experience, process, and approach, leading to a more successful collaboration and a project that exceeds your expectations. Remember, effective communication is key to achieving your dream space.