Michigan Accessible Homes
A Division of Cornerstone Design Inc, Architects
FAQs: Working with an Architect

What does an architect do?

The architect will work with you to develop a design that meets your needs. From that design, he or she will develop construction documents (plans and specifications) that define the requirements of the construction project, so you know what to expect from the finished house. These are the materials that the contractors will use to bid the work and to obtain building permits.


The architect can also visit the site during construction to help you assess whether the contractors are providing what was expected, and when it is appropriate to make scheduled payments.

Don't architects only design big, expensive, and unusual houses for the rich and famous?
Some do, and those are the ones that get published in magazines because they're more interesting to read about and photograph.  But many of us work with average people on fairly normal houses, bringing our expertise in design and construction to the task of making your house work better for you.

As you will see on our Past Projects page, most of our residential projects have been for fairly average size houses and use conventional design approaches and construction techniques.  Among other factors, insurance companies are not interested in cutting edge architecture for their projects, especially if it costs more!  While we would love to do projects with large budgets for owners who want something truly unique, we also welcome projects where we can contribute our expertise to make a modest addition or new house work well.  We want to give you the house you need, not the one that looks most spectacular in our portfolio.

What does it cost to work with an architect?

High quality architectural services are not inexpensive. Architects are highly trained professionals, as are the structural and other consultants we may work with on your project, and custom design and construction detailing is a time-consuming process (stock plans, by comparison, recoup these costs by selling the plans hundreds of times).


For standard design and construction documentation services on a new house, you should expect that an architect's fee would be at least 6-8% of the cost of construction; the proportion could increase for projects with greater complexity, or for renovation projects where there are extensive existing conditions to document and work around. Services during construction would typically add another 1-2% of the cost of construction.


We will develop a specific proposal for you based on our understanding of the project after the initial meeting; the proposal will document the costs for our services. See WHAT TO EXPECT FOR YOUR ACCESSIBLE HOME PROJECT for more on this process.


The municipal building inspector will be inspecting the house during construction. Why would I still need an architect involved?

The inspector is looking at the work to determine if it meets minimum code requirements, and nothing else. Since accessibility is not a code issue for single family residences, they would not be evaluating whether the construction actually incorporates those features; similarly, they would not be inspecting to determine whether you were getting the quality of finishes or fixtures that you had selected. Without an architect's involvement, you would need to review those items yourself.


A contractor is suggesting that they can do the design and permit drawings (a design-build approach). Do I need an architect?

Architects are not required for single family home design in Michigan, unless the home will have more than 3,500 square feet of finished living area. However, there are some advantages to having an architect do your design and construction documents:


  • The architect may have specialized expertise that you need, such as in accessible design.
  • With an architect's detailed drawings, you can get competitive bids from multiple contractors. The design-build contractor may not allow you to use their drawings that way, and even if they do the drawings may not be detailed enough to make the bids comparable.
  • The architect gives you an independent advisor, whose advice is unaffected by potential profits on certain materials and construction methods.


One advantage of the design-build approach is the potential to include the cost of design into a construction loan instead of paying for it out-of-pocket. We would be happy to work with you and your bank to determine if this can be done for our services.


I have a stock plan (such as from a magazine or plan book) that I like. Can you modify it?

Designs are copyrighted by the designer, so we would have to investigate what would be involved in obtaining permission to use the design. Although there may be some costs involved, it would still usually be less expensive than a custom design.


I want to build a home in another state (other than Michigan). Can you provide architectural services in other locations?

We are happy to work anywhere, although we would have to check the laws of your state to determine the best process. If a licensed architect is required for your project, we can usually get reciprocal licensure fairly quickly.


Will you guarantee construction costs?

Only a contractor working from detailed materials take-offs based on final plans can guarantee costs, and even then only for work that can reasonably be expected (i.e. not including hidden conditions, such as inside existing walls, or below the surface of the ground). If you give us a desired budget, we will do our best to design to it, and we can provide cost estimates through the design process to help you determine your financing needs.


I want to include "green" (environmentally friendly) features in my home. Can you do that?

We would be happy to do that, and seek to incorporate it wherever we can. We have done several projects that included significant aspects of green design. Many methods of green design will save you money in lower energy payments, and give you a quieter, higher-quality home. These same qualities should also help your home maintain and enhance its resale value in the future.


I am interested in modular construction. Do you know anything about it?

Modular construction can save both costs and construction time, and the end result can be indistinguishable from a site-built home in both appearance and quality. We have some experience in it, and there are modular building companies willing to work from a custom plan and willing to incorporate accessible design features. However, your design flexibility will be more limited, and the more custom it is the less likely you will realize savings. Contact us to discuss if your project is right for modular construction.


I want to do a commercial construction project. Do you have experience in commercial design?

We have extensive experience on many types of commercial, industrial, institutional, and multi-family housing projects, through our parent firm, Cornerstone Design Inc. Please check out our website at www.cdiarchitects.com.

How did you get interested in accessible design?  Do you have personal experience with disability?

I (MAH manager David Esau) have always been interested in the social aspects of architecture: how it affects, and can help improve, people's lives; accessible design is one of the major areas where such improvements are possible.  I moved to Ann Arbor, MI about the time the Americans with Disabilities Act took effect, and connected with the Ann Arbor Center for Independent Living to help them work to implement the law in Michigan; I have worked in the field ever since.  Although I do not have a disability, I did have a grandfather who was blind most of his life, and of course have met and made friends with many people with various disabilities through my work in the field.