renovation planning, what I’ve learned and 5 reasons why it’s worth it to hire an architect

Our cosy fungalow is getting a big facelift! The plan is to convert the attic into a family room and office, add a staircase, completely re-jig the kitchen, and overhaul the main bathroom.

Honestly, getting started with the planning was the hardest part. We hemmed and hawed about options for months before deciding to connect with an architect.

It took about six months to get the plans finished and I’m so jazzed with the final design. If you’re about to take the leap into designing a renovation, here’s what I learned and some benefits I’ve experienced in working with an architect.

Building a reno budget takes time. It’s hard to know what comes first, the design or the budget. You don’t want to invest time in planning a renovation that you can’t afford, but you need the design to build the budget. So what to do?

Start a budget with general big picture costs, e.g. architect fees, extension cost by square foot, general material and labour costs. Most estimates can be found online at, and you can ask around. After tallying up big costs, add a 25% buffer and start with that as your working budget figure. You can be more detailed, but it’s difficult to know what you’re looking at until the plans are finished and a contractor or builder can provide a quote.

Design from the top down! This is an excellent tip given to me by a very smart friend. Meaning, don’t waste time and money changing small things when you have big plans for your future renovation. Don’t change flooring or invest in bathroom fixtures when you might move a wall or change a room layout in a year’s time. Develop the big-picture plan first and then you can work on smaller projects based off the larger plan.

Consider the next family that will live in your house. To build sustainably and to be good human in general, think practically about the next family who will live in the home. Even if you’re planning to be there for a long time. For example, in our house, there’s a frosted window in the hall that looks into the ensuite shower. ‘Whaaaaa?‘ you say? Yep, there’s an internal window that looks into a shower. Obviously, this was cool with whoever installed it, but we find it weird and uncomfortable and we’re changing it even though the materials are in good shape. Because it’s creepy. Really creepy.

It’s an expensive time to renovate. Materials are expensive, labour is in high demand, and interest rates on loans are increasing. I’m not in anyway saying this to dissuade you. It didn’t dissuade me. But it’s the truth, just a heads up.

Determine early on if you’ll hire a contractor. It’s possible to manage the project yourself and save a big chunk of change on the contract fees. There are varying degrees of complexity in a renovation project so this might be totally out of the question. Either way, make the decision on how the construction will be managed at the beginning of the design phase because it will affect how complex the project can be.

Start compiling a detailed list of wants and needs early on. This is the fun part! Make a list of everything you want and need from the renovation and dream big! Be thorough and detailed. If you live with others, observe how they use the space and how it could be made better. Note all of that info down. Start incorporating labels and dimensions on the plans for where the little details will go. This is extremely helpful in visualising the end product.

Planning permission and permits might impact the design. Depending on what you’re planning; permits and planning permission might change the design. Most things are possible, but the cost of getting something ‘up to code’ could outweigh the benefit. Having an experienced architect can help you navigate the wonderful world of codes and permits.

Hire professionals from the get-go. Renovating is expensive, as we all know, but hiring professionals will be worth the investment every time. Especially if you’re not particularly handy, and/ or don’t have a ton of time.

In the design phase, an architect is your bestie. We hired a wonderful architect and really enjoyed working with her. We debated if hiring an architect was worth the investment because it’s a small renovation and we were fairly sure about what we wanted. So we thought. She made so many excellent suggestions and the design has totally changed as a result.

Reasons why an architect is totally worth the money.

  1. Saving time and potentially money
    An architect will be able to answer questions about what’s possible on the spot because they know about construction and permits. This can save you so much time from going back and forth with a builder. They also have a good idea about how much things cost so they can suggest the best design option for the budget.
  2. Making suggestions you wouldn’t have considered
    Even on a small project, there are so many ways to achieve the final design. An experienced architect will be able to offer multiple options and considerations.
  3. A great sounding board to reaffirm your ideas
    Even if you land on the design that you had in mind, having a professional to walk it through with is hugely valuable. This way you can be sure that the design will work before committing.
  4. They know about light.
    It might seem straightforward to design a space to optimize the natural light, but it can be complicated. Do you add a window, a skylight, or maybe a door? How big should they be? Will you be flooding one side of the room with light while leaving the other in the dark? How will the light change throughout the seasons? Having insight into the natural light factor will have a major impact on the design outcome.
  5. They can work with your builder
    During the renovation there’s going to be many questions from the builder. You might not have the interest, or time to manage the build with your builder. An architect can field all the questions and ensure the design is executed as intended on your behalf.

Renovation planning is daunting, but getting started with an awesome professional (like an architect) will make designing easy and fun!

Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: