Hiring an Architect for a Residential Project in & Around Denver | Common Questions Answered    

Most homeowners may never need to seek out the services of an architect; it will be a once in a lifetime occurrence for most. It can be a daunting endeavor to understand how the whole design and construction process works and what’s involved.

Most of ArcWest’s prospective clients have similar questions as they start the process to search for and hire a local architect, so we’ve outlined many of those questions here. We hope these FAQ’s help provide you or someone you know the knowledge and confidence to search for and hire a local Denver architect you can trust:

Homeowner FAQs

What is the potential cost for completing a residential architecture design in Denver?

This depends on the scope and complexity of the proposed project. ArcWest’s architectural design fees are estimates that anticipate what will be required to complete the work. For smaller projects, say a small addition to the home, the fees will range between $15,000 to $18,000. For a residential “Pop-top” project, for example, fees will start around $20,000 to $24,000. For a custom 3,000-square foot single family, ground-up residence, for example, the fees will be in the range of $25,000 to $30,000 typically but can also go up from there. As you will see, there can be economy of scale.

The other approach or metric often discussed is a cost per square foot (sf) depending on the scope of work and complexity of project. Architectural design fees could be around $7 to $8/sf for simple projects. For more complex projects with a significant scope of work, fees may be between $10 to $12/sf.

What do architect fees include?

ArcWest’s architectural design fee estimates include all phases of design: architectural planning, preliminary design, schematic, and design development, as well as coordination with structural engineering and HVAC consultants for the complete package for permit and construction. Structural engineering is part of our fees.

What is not included or considered a reimbursable expense may include: surveys, geotechnical studies, civil engineering, plan review fees, and other outside consultants that may complement the project, such as an interior designer or kitchen and bath designer.

What is the timeline for a typical residential architecture project around Denver?

There are always many factors that can come into play while we are working through the design process. Residential projects will likely take between 4 to 6 months to work through the planning, design, and engineering coordination for Permit Submittal. Then, the Building Department Review will likely take about 8 to 10 weeks. If there are many revision cycles during design based on owner input and changes, the design portion could extend to 6 to 8 months.

Overall, the homeowner should plan on anywhere between 8 to 12 months for design and permitting for residential projects prior to the start of construction.

How does the design process work, what are the steps?

For a project that might involve an existing residence, these are the steps in ArcWest’s architecture design process:

  • Background Data: Field Measure existing home to establish accurate architectural as-built drawings.
  • Programming: Design “Kick-Off” meeting with Owner.
  • Preliminary Design: Preliminary plan and or form concepts; may be hand drawn sketches at first.
  • Schematic Design (SD): Refine the selection from preliminary design concepts to create the architectural schematic design.
  • Design Development (DD): Design Development of the schematic plans to work on materials selection with preliminary planning and coordination for engineering requirements.
  • Construction Drawings (CDs): Final phase of the design work to create the package for submission to the building departments for Permit Approval for construction. Structural engineering and HVAC systems are identified and integrated with architectural plans.
  • Construction Administration (CA): Where the design team supports the construction by addressing any questions or clarification that may come from the field.

What will my project cost to build?

With the costs of construction currently (January 2023) running anywhere between $375 to $450/sf, if you think you want to add a 1,000 sf addition to your home for example, your budget should be no less than $375,000 at a minimum with a 15 to 20% contingency (allowance for uncertain costs). The budget varies depending on the scope of work.

Do you complete the build, or do you know GCs who will do the construction?

ArcWest’s services focus on leading and providing the architectural design, coordinating with engineering, then working with the Building Department to get the plans approved for Permit. We are not a turn-key Design/Build company.

Architect FAQs

As the architects, there are several questions we will likely ask you to help determine the scope and timeline of your project. Below are several FAQs that you can expect your prospective architect or design team to ask you, the homeowner.

What is your approximate budget for your project?

It’s important to set practical expectations that are in line with current costs of construction. For example, a budget of $150k will not be enough to construct a project that includes a 1,000 sf pop-top, with potential single-story addition and maybe a roof top patio.

What is your timeline to start? When do you would want to start construction?

It’s also important to set practical timeframes based on the current construction environment. For example, starting construction within the next 1-2 months is not practical given everything that goes into the design process.

What are your needs? What are the “must have’s,” and the “nice to have’s”?

This all goes back to making sure we both have a clear understanding for the scope of work, and working to insure at a high level, at this early stage that the owner’s budget is aligned.

Programmatically, we want to know what rooms you need, the character of these spaces, and if there are particular adjacencies between rooms that will meet your home lifestyle and family needs.

What is your aesthetic or design vision?

If you live in an older traditional Denver neighborhood, such as the Highlands, Berkley, or Sloan’s Lake, do you want to create a statement with new construction with a contemporary or stylized design?  Or are you imagining design that is more sensitive to the context and architectural styles of the neighboring homes.

There is not a wrong answer. ArcWest is here to serve you and your residential design needs and vision. We are looking to have a shared perspective of the homeowner’s design aesthetic.

One last suggestion: Exercise diligence as you start to speak to prospective architectural design companies, builders (GCs) and contractors. Prepare yourself with a list of questions and plan to talk with a couple different teams. Working from a referral may make that an easier prospect, but you still want to review different teams. And, recognize that the lowest fee or bid is not always the best path to follow.


Robin P. Adams

Partner | Architect | ArcWest Architects

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