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When does a Project Warrant an Engineer, Consultant or Other Expertise?

When taking on a home renovation, your contractor is going to be your front-line person in the driver’s seat of the project. But if construction is going to be a major undertaking, you might hear that you need to bring in extra hands to oversee major aspects of the project. Do you need the expertise of an architect? What about a structural engineer? What do these pros bring to the table that you won’t find with your general contractor?

Should your project require more expertise, a good general contractor probably has connections with some qualified architects and engineers. When they already have a working relationship with these pros, you can generally depend on the workflow between all the parties to be pretty smooth. However, just because they have a previous working relationship doesn’t mean you shouldn’t properly check them out before you hire them.

Remember, it’s your home, and you’re responsible for what happens on site. Even if you’ve got the best team on hand, make sure you always know what’s happening with your renovation.


What Does an Architect Do?

Architects don’t just draw a pretty picture of what your house will look like. They’re highly trained in engineering, zoning regulations, and site planning - they know how structures work and what they should look like. Their role is to design the layout of a home and figure out how it will look, and how it will function.

When should you consider hiring an architect? For heritage houses, it’s a must. An architect can bring the exterior design to the interior and vice versa. It's also important if you’re concerned about maintaining the integrity of your home’s style, especially if you’re adding an addition. An architect can help blend that addition to match the style of the rest of the home, or to help restore the historical authenticity of your home.


What Does a Structural Engineer Do?

The structural engineer takes designs and determines the specifics of the systems that are to resist loads and keep the structure standing tall. They determine what the building will need to withstand the elements in your area, like rain, snow, hail, and major wind. They decide the sizing and placement of support beams, columns, and the specifics of the foundation.

If you’re taking on major structural work - even if you’re not hiring the services of an architect - you’ll need the expertise of an engineer to ensure your structure will meet code and remain stable.


When Do I Hire an Interior Designer?

An interior designer is more than a decorator and they should be qualified to make recommendations about interior layouts (with the exception of load bearing walls). They tend to pick up where an architect has left off, and they can help you with room layouts, as well as space and storage planning. And yes, they can also help you make some of the aesthetic choices a decorator would - like helping you choose what kind of crown moulding fits the style of your home, or what kind of cabinetry will compliment your new kitchen.

A good designer can work with you to find out your style, and help you make choices that will suit both your needs and tastes. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on finishes (like faucets, drawer handles, and more) and they can help you choose something functional and stylish that also gives you the most bang for your buck.


Just because you’ve hired the pros doesn’t mean you can afford to be hands off with your project. At the end of the day, it’s your house, it’s your money, and you need to know what’s going on with the project at all times. And of course, always make sure anyone you hire has been properly licensed for any services they’re going to perform. 

About the Author

Mike Holmes, professional contractor and TV host, is working with Associa to refine the standards and protocols that today’s Homeowner’s Associations use to Make It Right™ for their homeowners. He brings more than 35 years of experience in renovations, construction, and inspection services, and is best known as the contractor and host of “Holmes on Homes” and “Holmes Makes It Right” where he rescues homeowners from repair and renovation disasters.