New Home Plans - Buy or Design? Which one is right for you?

So you've decided to build a new home?

Before you hire a builder, or start picking out windows, doors and wood floors, you need to think about house plans.  So the question comes up, do I buy house plans online or do I hire an architect?  There are benefits and disadvantages to each solution.  Today, we'll narrow down some of the opinions on the matter to go over the pros and cons of each solution, and help you make the right choice for your project.

House Plan Option 1: Purchase a Stock Plan

BENEFITS

If you type in "Buy house Plans" into any Google search engine you will get thousands, if not millions of potential results.  From www.dreamhomesource.com, to Southern Living magazine, or Monster House Plans.  They all offer intriguing designs, various pricing levels, and many times the homes themselves are designed by some of North America's best designers and architects including Frank Betz, Donald Gardner and many more. 

When it comes to looking at stock floor plan options is one of the biggest benefits.  But depending on how you like to shop having so many options can be overwhelming.  Many sites have over 20,000 plans to choose from! 

But rest assured, when you begin your search, these sites are designed to quickly help you narrow down your choices by collecting some initial information on the type of home you want.  You can select a particular plan type (single family, duplex, 2-story or single story), or home style (French Chateau), desired size of the home, and number of beds and bathrooms, you can quickly filter down to the designs that suit your needs best. 

With some sites, like Monster House Plans, you even have access to a licensed architect when you are ready to place an order.  They also provide services, for a fee, to customize plans to meet your needs. 

Another site, www.houseplans.com, offers you the ability to customize your home by saving elements from different homes.  And like Monster House Plans, you can enlist a Home Designer to make modifications.

DISADVANTAGES

When considering stock floor plans you want to look at both sides of the decision.  What are some of the disadvantages?  According to Justin Krutz of athomesense.com, he points out five big things to be aware of when looking at stock home plans. 

1. Does the stock plan fit your building site?

2. Does it meet state, municipality/city building codes? 

3. Who will do the architectural drawings for your electrical, water and sewer, and other utilities?  As these are not included in most stock house plans?

4. Do you have a contractor who is comfortable using stock plans or are they going to charge you more for modifications?

5. What Building materials do you want to use.  Based on the home design you may not be able to substitute brick siding for cedar siding, as an example.

In addition to the items above, you may want to evaluate the long term accessibility of "home designers" and architects that are available from the stock home plan website you are considering.  They are available for the initial purchase but will they be available over the long term? And will you always have access to the same person.  It can be frustrating to seek our home design and architecture services, and always have to speak to someone different. 

Building a home is a long process, and when it comes to the design of your home, you want someone who is intimately involved with, and understands your home and your needs, to achieve the best outcome.  

This brings us to one final consideration.  Do you really want a true custom home? If you do, stock home plans may not be right for you.  Even with the ability to make general alterations, or move items from plan to plan, it may not be enough to help you achieve your entire design vision.

House Plan Option 2: Hire an Architect

Now that we've looked at the pros and con's of using a stock floor plan, let's look at some pros and cons of hiring an architect.  After all, Architects are licensed professionals with years of experience in exactly what you want done - designing the perfect home for your family by understanding building science. 

The team at The Gaines Group - Harrisonburg Studio points out:

"Online plans are generic designs that offer the widest appeal to the biggest population. They are not designs that fit your specific needs, they don’t look at your land, and they don’t take time to understand your goals."

Essentially, the Architects entire purpose is to take your wants, needs and complete project requirements and turn it into a floor plan with everything you want.  From the illustrated exterior you can dream about for the next 12 months, to the detailed mechanical and electrical schematics you will need for lighting and plumbing. 

In the article "5 Reasons Architects Are Worth the Money" they point out several reasons why an architect might be a better fit for your project.  First, the technical aspects of building a home.  How much do you know about HVAC mechanics and construction products?  What do you know about structural engineering and weight ratings for beams, floor joints or windows?  Do you want to change the size of the window in the living room?  Do you want to alter the ceiling design in the kitchen?  What kind of subfloor do you want or need for your lot design? Architects can bring the technical expertise to your project, to ensure the right decisions are made for your home. 

Second, architects can offer varying levels of service.  You can hire an architect just to provide the floor plans, and then the builder or design/build firm will take over from there.  Or you can hire an architect to completely oversee the project from the first blueprint to the final key in the door.  Another option is hiring an architect for contract administration, once the plans are complete.  According to Richard Haynes of the American Institute of Architects, this level of services gives you regular access to your architect as the project progresses.  You can choose the level of service you want, based on budget, personal preference, and the complexity of the home you want to build may warrant one over the other.

Third, are you looking to build a home that meets a certain LEED rating, do you want to use eco-friendly products?  This may be another reason to consider an architect.  Stock floor plans are going to tell you what you need in very generic details.  It will not provide insight into sustainable and eco-friendly options.  While its easy to choose energy efficient appliances on your own, if you are searching for solar panels, eco-friendly plywood, antique hardwood flooring and other specialty products, an architect is going to be a great resource for you. 

Lastly, do you have certain "sound control" ideas in mind?  Stock floor plans probably don't include sound deadening modifications.  Will you be building by a busy highway or airport? Will you have a media room or theatre in your home? Will have a home office? Will you have a busy houseful of kids, or do you just want to tone down the loud music coming from your teenager's bedroom?  Incorporating sound masking systems may be a benefit for you and architect can help you identify and incorporate a product that will meet your needs.

The Final Verdict - Costs

When looking at stock home plans versus hiring an architect, will the determining factor be cost? If so, make sure you truly understand the costs.  Stock floor plans have a wide variety of costs from "starting at $99" to thousands of dollars, this may not be the actual cost of the house plans once your project is done depending on the modifications you need to make.  Naturally, the "Starting at $99" is probably not going to be your 4,000 SF English Tudor dream home.  By the time you factor in everything you want, are you really going to experience a significant enough cost savings to justify purchasing a stock plan?

The best way to answer this question is to compare it to the costs of hiring an architect.  Unfortunately, every architect is different in terms of how they estimate projects.  Some architects charge a flat percentage of project costs, more or less depending on if there are many other trades involved - civil engineer, mechanical engineer, etc - which may be the case with stock floor plans.  Others may charge an hourly rate or a flat rate.  You may need to pay for an initial consultation from an architect to get a complete estimate.  But a nominal investment like that could save you in the long run.  The team at The Gaines Group - Harrisonburg Studio points out that:

"Architects "[look] at the best way to place your home on the lot [to] reduce your costs of excavation, heating and cooling (through passive design), and placing your home to make it livable for a lifetime."

If you decide to hire an architect there are some helpful guides available.  One for example, The Consumer's Guide to Hiring an Architect, from the state of California, provides insight into how to prepare to interview an architect, and what assets you should put together for you initial meetings.  Be sure to check out other consumer guides and informational resource, from your state, to gather the most accurate information.   The American Institute of Architects is also a valuable resource.

If you decide to purchase a stock house plan ask the questions above to make sure you have all the information to accurately understand what happens after those plans show up on your doorstep.

Are you considering building a home? What route did you go? Have you used a stock house plan before and what did you think? Architects, we'd love to hear from you on stock home plans and they fit into your business.


Filed Under: Home Building & Contracting | Interior Design |

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