2 Ways to Build Your Custom Home Without Hiring an Architect

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You don't have to hire an architect to plan out the custom home you've been dreaming of.

Building a custom home without house plans would be next to impossible. An appraiser will need drawings to help evaluate the home’s value, a lender will require plans when approving the construction loan, the architectural review committee or city will need them to ensure the home meets neighborhood standards and codes, and most important, the builder will need detailed plans to guide the construction.

But do you need to hire an architect? The answer is not necessarily. If you are looking to save some up-front costs on your project, you might consider two other options for your house plans.

Consider Using a Draftsperson

A draftsperson can translate designs into a technical drawings and blueprint for builders to follow but typically does not have the design and engineering training that an architect does. Thus, hiring an experienced draftsperson usually costs less than bringing on an architect — and the savings can be significant.

“I can usually design a project for one-third the cost of an architect,” says Cory Bull with Bull Design and Build LLC in Austin. Over the past 20 years, he has drawn more than 70 projects of varying sizes and styles and can draw a full set of detailed house plans in about 200 hours. “My last project was a 3,500 square foot home with a budget of $850,000 and I billed $12,000 for the plans. An architect will typically charge 10 percent to 15 percent of the build cost.”

But don’t think that a draftsperson’s finished product will be less detailed than what an architect would provide. Bull says that draftsperson-drawn house plans like his typically include electrical and lighting details and HVAC and plumbing layouts, even down to duct sizing, circuit loading information and power requirements.

If you are considering hiring a draftsperson, ask about experience in the area where you plan to build. Are they familiar with local building codes and restrictions, and do they have a track record for designing homes in the area? “Every city is different, but most will have very specific guidelines on what types of details are required to be submitted for review,” notes Bull, including requirements for engineering. “A draftsman is not an engineer, so when there are situations where an engineer is required I will hire one. I also like to take advantage of in-house engineering when it comes to certain parts of home construction. For example, I prefer to order trusses for a home because the truss company will engineer them for no fee. The city reviewers will want to see a stamp on the truss drawings.”

Buy a Stock Plan

If you are looking for cost savings and a proven design, a stock plan is a potential option for your home’s plans. “Most plans have been built at least once by someone. This means any issues with the translation between a paper plan to an actual house have been worked out. A stock house plan will carry with it lots of experience with different build locations and different problems solved,” says Dan Sater II, president of The Sater Design Collection in Bonita Springs, Fla.

In addition to getting a plan that has been built, tested and even modified and improved upon over time, a stock plan can save you time and money. “The main reason people buy stock house plans over having a plan designed just for them is, of course, price and time. A custom house plan can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $100,000 to create,” says Sater, whose firm offers stock plans and custom drawings.

If the idea of building a house that will look like someone else’s doesn’t appeal to you, though, keep in mind that stock plans can be modified to make the design uniquely yours. According to the House Plan Shop, “stock house plans offer flexibility. Most often they can be customized. By purchasing CAD files or a reproducible master, you can receive a copyright release allowing you to make simple modifications to the blueprints and add your own personal touches.”

Bull agrees: “A stock plan will not address all the wants and needs of a homeowner. There will need to be some adjustments to the stock plan, and a draftsman can help with that as well. Sometimes, homeowners will approach me with a stock plan as a starting point and have me modify it to suit their needs.”

That can include making sure the plan meets local building codes and any specialized building codes your home may be subject to, like wind codes in hurricane-prone areas.

Whether you choose an architect, draftsperson, stock plan or modified stock plan, remember that the house plan will be one of the least expensive parts of your project. So, take your time to get the right plan that meets your lifestyle needs and choose a plan source that you trust to deliver a quality design within your budget and time frame. Talk to references, look at work samples, ask local building officials for feedback on the designer and be realistic about how much time you personally want to invest in the design process.

Freelance writer and marketer Sue Durio has been writing about construction, design and related products for more than 18 years. Connect with her on Linkedin.

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