Frustrated with architect - who is responsible for what?

kulagalApril 23, 2008

Our architect recently gave us a set of elevations and we are slowly going over them and checking them out for each room. We have already found one oversight for the Fam Rm. and we (my husband and I) have come up with a good solution. In going over the elevation plan for the Kitchen I just found out that he has measured out for the refrigerator a space that is 36 inches wide and 24 inches deep. I had told him that I wanted a counter-depth Monogram fridge (either FD or bottom freezer configuration) and assumed that he would check with me (unless he did the research himself) to find out what the measurements would be. The model we want requires a depth of 31 inches - the width is fine. This will require recessing the wall behind where the fridge will go and that will impinge on the laundry room behind it - fortunately not too much. I think it can be resolved. My question is: who is responsible for making sure the size of appliances, big screen TV's, furniture, etc. is accounted for in a floor plan? We are doing this project from a long distance so communication is difficult. I guess if we were working with an interior designer or KD they would be the ones to catch these things but we're not. We feel now that we had better be on our toes from here on out to catch any oversight that might happen. Can anyone share their story and how they managed this phase of the building. I would love to hear your story! Thanks so much for your input and letting me vent a little.

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Designing a home usually has three stages in which the drawings are prepared by an architect, engineer, draftsman or similar person and then checked and corrected by the homeowner. The details may vary slightly from professional to professional but for us with our draftsman, and also when I worked for a custom home builder, these stages are:

1. Conceptual Plans - general floor plans including walls, doors & approximate window locations & sizes; room identification and approximate finished room dimensions; fixture layout; overall exterior dimensions and gross floor area. If homeowner supplies exact detailed window specs and locations, then they will be shown instead of the approximate information.

2. Preliminary Plans - changes & corrections to the Conceptual Plans, exterior elevations, remaining exterior and interior dimensions, wall sections and possibly roof truss design.

3. Final Plans - changes & corrections to the Preliminary Plans, structural engineers review and design information, any other drawing items that are required.

These stages may vary depending on who you hire but the steps should be fully described in your contract with your architect.

Personally, I think it's the architect/engineer's responsibility to make sure that the structural things are safe but that it's the homeowner's responsibility to make sure that the layouts and locations of everything is as the homeowner wants them. Some architects/engineers would catch the recessed frig framing but not all. Often times, in my experience, it is caught on site by the plumber or electrician and the framing is changed on-site at that stage. Ideally, though, it should be shown on the drawings to prevent the extra work later.

Which stage of the drawing approval are you at?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 8:09PM
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Unless you made it clear with the architect up front that he is responsible for checking such things, my experience is that this is up to the client. The architect will not act as your personal shopper for appliances or other finish items. In my opinion, you really need to be heavily involved with the finish selection process. After all, you know what you like.

The best way to mange this with the architect and eventually the builder, is to create a binder of finish item specs. You can download cut sheets, specifications, and installation manuals, for most thing from manufacturer's web sites. Don't skimp on the information you download. Organize these pdf files in folders, and print them out to create a binder. Tell the architect and the builder that this binder is a living document, and be sure to update it from time to time whenever you make new finish item selections. I went the additional step and labeled each finish item spec with the room where the item will be installed. This is very helpful to the various trades doing the installation.

My binder is almost 300 pages long, divided into sections such as Electrical, Plumbing, Bath Fixtures, Kitchen Appliances, Cabinets, Flooring, and Misc. I cannot tell you how valuable it has been both to myself and the builder. I did not get around to creating this until after the floor plans were done. If I had done the binder earlier, it may have improved my kitchen design and given me a better place for our wall oven and refrigerator.

The upside (and downside) of this approach is that it really forces you to think about the specifics of what items you will have filling your house. Don't under-estimate the amount of time this will take.

Good luck with your project...

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 8:20PM
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You should give him the specs for appliances that you want accomodated. You can email him the PDFs.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 8:32PM
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Yeah, if you have things picked out, whether refrigerator, oven, hood, or bathroom items, tell him that. Architects will do "standard" things, which a 36x24 refrigerator space is. If you want something different, be sure to tell him.

As for catching things, we had to catch a lot. Nothing major, but I was going over the plans repeatedly for different issue--door swings, switch locations, electrical diagrams, plumbing locations, window locations. It's all a bunch of tweaks. I don't think he was being lazy, but some of these things were real problems. Even then, we didn't catch them all.

Definitely do it in writing esp. if it's long distance. Go over the plans and make a page-by-page change list. Then go back to make sure they've been changed in teh next go-round.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 9:40PM
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There are LOTS of details, and therefore, lots of places for mistakes to happen. If you have the time, check out as much as you can.

Regarding a refrigerator, FWIW, be careful if it's in its own alcove, or butts up against a wall on one side. Some (most?) refrigerators require a certain number of inches on the sides and in the back for proper air circulation, or they will not last as long as they should. Also, be sure the measurement allows space for drywall, base trim, and quarter round if they're applicable. We had to remove our quarter round to get our fridge in its alcove.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 10:47PM
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There are two types of Monogram fridges. One is a freestanding and the other is built in. The freestanding is 31 inches deep, while the built-in is just about 25 inches deep. Is it possible your architect was thinking you wanted the built-in?

Here is a link that might be useful: GE Monogram built-in fridges

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 11:20PM
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Our frustration with our architect/builder is this, we gave him a preliminary budget we wanted to shoot for. Along the way he would make off hand comments about the budget, but never offering direct suggestions to keep us in the ballpark. Fast forward to the construction documents being approved and submitted for bids. Bids come in $125,000 over our initial budget target! Now he says, if you would have just listened to me....listen to what??? The final floor plan was more or less what he initially gave to us. First draft had a footprint of 1800 s.f. on the main floor, final draft has 2050. I know 250 s.f. more doesn't bump us over 125K. Now we have to figure out what to do, what to leave out, what to cut back on, or scrap it and start over which would be heart breaking as we really love the design, just can't see spending the amount of money it is coming in at!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2008 at 11:34PM
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We wound up doing a lot of drawing and handing these to the architect - there were a number of goofs. One mistake was the front door semi circle transom he designed - looked great from the outside but the inside was too tall and would have interfered with the crown molding. I caught this right after framing and had them change all the arches to eliptical based on drawings I gave to the architect. Another goof was the family room built in that would house my high def TV. I wound up designing that because the architect could not get it right after 3 attempts. Another goof was the master bath - DW decided at the last minuet to swap the tub and toilet area so that we could add a large window - thank goodness (would have been way to dark without). Another chnage was moving the main washer /dryer from the utility room (also our dog sleeping area) into one of the master suite closets (mine of course! - DW got the bigger closet) and adding a second washer/dryer upstairs. Another great move - the utility room would have been too cramped and lugging cloths would have been a pain.

All of these chnages were things we discovered. We drew up designs, faxed them to the architect, and he added them into the plan. It sounds painful but that really is the joy of building a custom home and building to your design.

Our architect did a lot of really good things that we would have never thought of, and he designed a great house. But the bottom line is that you are responsible for reviewing the plans and making sure it is what you want. You have to give the architect specs for appliances and other items so they can make it fit. You have to think through where you will place furniture to make sure the rooms are big enough and configured right. It is your house and you know best how you will live in it.

As far as budgets - most architects aren't builders and don't have up to date info on construction costs. That is why it makes sense to have a builder involved when you are making your final plans so that you can get feedback on the cost implications of changes and to make sure the design is buildable to your budget. An extra 250 sq feet could have a tremendous impact on cost depending on the how it affects the structure - it could drive extra support beams, longer trusses, etc. It can add up very fast.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 7:44AM
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Responsibilty for appliances, niches, TVs, etc. belongs to the homeowner. An architect and engineer will take care of the safety of the structure and make sure that you can actually put doors, windows, hallways, etc in the locations you desire (and not hit your head or trip over something).

If you have a hard budget, then you should involve a builder from day one, and have the builder and architect work with you to make sure you get what you want and need for the price you can afford. Spec everything and do a fixed price contract. Waiting till after the architect draws up the plans can cause a lot of heartache.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 8:18AM
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Flash: We are at the Prelim Plans stage where we are now looking over elevations. Once we discovered the Fam Rm problem (not enough room bet 50-inch TV and sofa) we started combing the plans thoroughly. This is when I discovered last night that I thought I had a problem with depth of the Monogram fridge. I should have been more specific with dimensions, etc. but he sounded like he knew what I was talking about and we left it at that. Thanks for your well-taken advice.

Modern House: I love how you organize! I will try and do a better job of this than I have. I have folders for each room but then it's a mish-mash inside. Thank you for "cleaning up my act!"

Sue & Heimert: Thanks for your heads-up! I obviously need to be more dilegent in getting him the correct information and not make assumptions.

Anne: Thank you for the fridge info. Wouldn't have thought about allowing space for drywall, trim, etc. Gads! Have I learned a lot in such a short time!

New Home: Thanks so much for pointing out the difference bet the two Monograms. Maybe he was thinking of the built-in - I looked and the those dimensions fit perfectly for the bottom freezer model but not for FD, if that's what we decide.

Kandkui: This is what's scaring us, too. We never hear, "Folks, this is going to cost you more, be careful." Your costs may be going up due to the lack of work for builders thanks to the housing market. My builder told me yesterday that, "he still needs to eat and pay bills" - a hint, maybe, that his labor costs will go up plus he mentioned the cost of materials continue to go up on a regular basis. I feel your pain - really!

Sniffdog: We did a lot of the same thing you did. My DH did many Power Point drawings to illustrate and communicate our ideas and changes but things do fall in the cracks sometimes. After reading everyone's stories we will definitely be more careful and scrutinize every detail. What a wake-up call but still early in the process. Our architect also did a great job, overall, in realizing our "forever home" and has been very easy to work with and accommodating for the most part.

Thank you all again for your stories - keep them coming! Those who are at the beginning of this journey will all learn from you.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 8:43AM
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It's been said before, but I guess it bears saying again: if it isn't written down, and signed in agreement by all involved parties, don't depend/expect/assume you'll get it.

Neither builders nor achitects are mind-readers, and some of them aren't even very good at guessing at what you may want. Communication is vital, and it must be written down to insure that you both are on the same wavelength. A lot of problems arise simply because the novice has no idea of what needs to be done, or what it will cost to have it done. IMO, it's better to be upfront about what you can spend, and be outspoken if the architect or designer doesn't come close to budget -- the overage may be that your eyes and desires are bigger than your wallet OR it may be that the architect was busy designing ideas and didn't consider the cost of those ideas. Either way, the preliminary is when you can and should get serious about having desires and budget meshed.

It's fair to ask the archt where the high-cost items are... it could be in the roof design and it could be in the custom cabinets and it could be in having top-of-the-line flooring and it could be in excess square footage and it could be in having lots of gables and angles and windows and... high-expense could be found almost anywhere, but odds are, the architect is aware -- at least in general -- what part of his design is more expensive than average. Here too, communication is important: if you budgeted for stock cabinets and/or windows while the archt planned on custom, that difference alone can run into many thousands $$. OTOH, maybe you literally had/have no idea of the cost differential between stock (ready manufactured) and custom.

Follow modernhouse's advice!! -- Organize and itemize and get all the details... if you had, the refrig issue would have been solved before the paper left the drawing board. It is impossible to be TOO detail-oriented. Remember that every change you make is going to cost $$. However, changes made on paper are a whole lot cheaper and easier than are changes [aka tweaking] made once the building actually is underway.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 11:12AM
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I'm a little confused. I think a 24- or 25-inch depth is counter-depth, but 31 is not. It sounds as if he designed what you asked for?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 2:40PM
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Hadley: I think he designed for the 24 inch built-in rather than counter-depth. I'll certainly find out this weekend!

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 4:27PM
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Typically a built-in is considered a counter-depth unit, unless the GE products are somehow different...

    Bookmark   April 24, 2008 at 5:42PM
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There's some confusion on here about what is a "counter-depth" refrigerator. Fridges in this category should be called "cabinet-depth" because they all have boxes that are no more than 24" deep. Both the built-in and free-standing GE Monogram models fall in this category.

What makes the free-standing have an overall depth that's greater than the built-in is the thickness of its door and door handle. Even the built-ins extend beyond the counters when you consider the door and handle.

Your architect was correct, kulagirl, to allocate a 36 by 24in space for your free-standing fridge, While the door will project out beyond the counter and cabinets, the box will not. FOR THS VERY REASON, you cannot and should not recess the wall behind it because if you do so, you won't be able to open the fridge's door.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 12:19PM
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Feeding Frenzy: thanks for your reply. You are right, there is confusion re the built-in vs. counter depth. I plan to get this sorted out with our architect this weekend! In the meantime, do you mean the box is 24 inches no matter what the depth is? What if we want the fridge that is 31 inches deep and flush with the cabs and/or counters or near as possible taking into consideration the door and handle? Wouldn't we need to recess it a bit into the wall for that depth?

Thanks everyone for your comments - we are learning so much! Keep the stories going!

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 1:46PM
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FeedingFrenzy was right --
For a 'built-in', the configuration of the door hinges allow the doors to open in front of but within the 36" width. In other words, if the doors are open 90 degrees, the door panels line up with the fridge side panels.

For a 'counter depth', the door hinges have the doors swinging open outside and in front of the 36" width, so anything installed directly beside the fridge MAY interfere with the fridge door opening. Or you pull the fridge forward a little bit.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2008 at 6:28PM
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If you look up the specs for the Monogram free-standing fridge, you will find that the depth of the box is 24" -- almost the same as the built-in box depth. That's why they call free-standing fridges like this "counter depth" or "cabinet depth." The reason the fridge you want has an overall depth of 31" is because the door and handle together add up to seven inches.

Contrast this with other free-standing fridges that have deeper boxes -- maybe 27 or 28 inches. That means you'll see some of the box projecting out beyond the cabinets, which most people find unattractive. Add the door and handle, and the whole thing will be 36" or more deep.

Now, we know that you can't put a free-standing model smack against the wall because you have to have room to plug it in. That means even the box of the counter-depth fridge will project out beyond the cabinets a little bit. What you might do is recess the wall behind the fridge say two inches if you you want a more flush look. If you were to recess it much more than that, you'd have to pull out the fridge even further from the wall in order to open the door. That would both be a waste of space and not really look all that good.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2008 at 2:21PM
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