Frequently Asked Questions


Despite what many think a building project is a complex process requiring constant monitoring of time cost and quality. Thorough and clear communication between the architect client and builder is paramount if you are to ensure the construction process runs smoothly. The prospect of taking on any building project can be daunting as it is probably one of the most important investments you will ever make in your life. You probably have many questions like:

Do I need an architect?

What do architects do?

That is why the Architects Black & Wilson web site has set up some Frequently Asked Questions with answers.  

Mark Wilson (the director of ABW – aka Markitect) has created a series of 20 videos or architecture hacks about the process. Go to the Architects Black &Wilson YouTube channel to watch them as they are rolled out here …LINK.  

Just so you know what is coming the subject matter each video is as follows:

  • Video1 Introduction to the Grand Design Guru
  • Video2 Does good design cost more (the risk of poor design versus the reward of good design)
  • Video3 What do architects do (what can an Architect do for you?)
  • Video4 The design process (outline of an Architects design process)
  • Video5 Better life by design (how to create a better life by Design)
  • Video6 Is bigger better (who says bigger is better)
  • Video7 The importance of shape and size (who says shape is more important than size)
  • Video8 The importance of ceiling heights (who says the ceiling height is important)
  • Video9 The importance of materials (who says quality material selection is important)
  • Video10 Light and ventilation (who says light and ventilation is important)
  • Video11 Passive design (the quick explanation of passive design)
  • Video12 The cost of good design (the real cost of good design)
  • Video13 Designing for climate (how do you design for climate)
  • Video14 Practical application of climate design (practical examples of designing for climate)
  • Video15 Designing for climate and site (how do you design for climate and site constraints)
  • Video16 Designing for accessibility (how do you design for accessibility)
  • Video17 The building procurement process
  • Video18 Selecting the right designer (how do you select the right designer for you)
  • Video19 Selecting the right architect (how do you select the right Architect for you)
  • Video20 The wrap

The FAQ’s.

FAQ 1: What is an architect? Are there other people who can draw up plans?

Architects do more than draw up your plans. Just like medical professionals Architects must obtain at least one degree (more often two) and also must log sufficient work experience before they are eligible to sit for exam. Only after they pass this exam (which is not easy) before they can legally call themselves an Architect. Architects are experts in designing a building specifically to suit your needs matched to the budget and site constraints. Accordingly, intensive consultation is required assemble the brief in order to properly diagnose the building problem and possibly further investigations undertaken before coming up with a bespoke solution.

Using a standard house plans is essentially prescription without diagnosis which could be considered tantamount to malpractice. That said there are times when a standard plan may suit. Refer to this Video 3 ‘what do architects do?

This is basically a summary of that video.  

How do you select the right designer for you?

Should you use a builder’s draftsman a building designer or an architect?

I like to use my pharmacist/G.P./medical specialist as an analogy.

A pharmacist can dispense drugs but not make them a doctor

A G.P. can make general diagnosis but that does not make them a specialist.

In my belief you probably can use a builder’s draftsman if you understand everything I discuss in my videos. In other words you know what you want and why you want it.

You can self medicate and go to a “prescribed” solution works when:

  1. easy flat site
  2. the extension fits on site within all set backs
  3. it can be “deemed to comply” with all Town Planning regulations
  4. no Development Application (D.A.) required as it is “as of right”

If on the other handmore diagnosis required say when you are in a character area (and a D.A. required then maybe some G.P. advice is required.

In such an instance you may want to consult aBuilding Designerwho fully understands this stuffto confirm your diagnosis or offer an alternate prescriptions.

There are many good building designers out there especially if they have “practiced” for many years.

If you require a more detailed diagnosis from a design specialist then consider seeing an Architect. You should use a specialist Architect if:

  1. you have a difficult site;
  2. it is steeply sloping;
  3.  it is an awkward shape
  4. it is facing the wrong way e.g. views to the west
  5. it is and expensive site
  6. it has great views of land or water;
  7. it is surrounded by expensive houses
  8. it is an expensive suburb 

Specialist Architects like medical specialists are not all created equal.

Not even all Architects are specialized to design your specific project.

It is possible less than 20% of architects have even designed their own home.

Some may never design a house their whole career unless they move jobs.

Some Architects are experts in a particular type of commercial project – but may know nothing about houses or industrialor fit outs or schools and so forth.   

Now you would not use a foot surgeon to do your heart transplant would you?

So you need to do your due diligence.

So like all specialists you engage you really want someone with a track record.

After all you want the procedure to work don’t you?

If you have difficulty visualizing then consider someone who has used 3D modelling on computers for a long time. Refer to FAQ 2 How do I find an architect – how can I know if he/she is any good?

FAQ 2: How do I find an architect – how can I know if he/she is any good?

The short answer is look for experience. Your experience will be determined by their experience. Again like medical professionals not all architects are generalists. It sounds obvious but if you want to build a new house then look for an architect with experience in building new houses not one who has spent their career on shop fit outs. You would not use a GP for heart surgery would you?

After 35 years of experience all building types I still feel a bespoke house alterations remains one of the most personal and complicated projects I undertake.

Often grossly underestimated as being easy it is in fact the personal involvement of the end user that makes it simultaneously difficult and rewarding.

Remember simply watching and enjoying  animal hospital will not make you a competent vet.       

FAQ 3: What do architects do other than design?

Architects advocate your requirements to the local authorities to obtain Development Approval (if necessary) and Building Approval. Architects document the project to high standard to allow for obtaining competitive and comparable tenders from builders. They understand the importance of detailing and correct material selection for longer life – in use. They have an in-depth knowledge of fixtures (sinks etc) fittings (dishwashers etc) and furniture (built in) and free standing so the rooms work as proposed. Refer to Video 5 “better life by design”.      

Video 5 Better life by Design


FAQ 4: Can I afford the cost of an architect designed building?

A building is possibly the biggest investments you will ever make in your life. Architects are trained to develop the best solution to your requirements in the most cost-effective manner. Accordingly, an architect designed building is usually a very good investment because of the enhanced level of efficiency and quality of the finished product.

A good Architect will have a clear fee structure so you can establish exactly what you are paying for. Unlike many building designers whose service often ceases at completion of the drawings most Architects include the option of preparing specifications and tendering the project. Further they can administer the contract (on your behalf) which will help the construction process run more smoothly. Due to the significant amount of time this takes it can amount to 50% of the Architects fees. It might be advisable to take this additional scope of work out of the equation when you compare designers fee proposals. Refer to Video 17 for “the building procurement process” or this blog         Video 20 “the wrap” asks the question “can you afford not to have an architect involved”?  

The building procurement process Video 17

FAQ 5: Can I seek an architect’s assistance with the purchase of a suitable site?

Absolutely. In fact, purchasing a site before you talk to an architect would be like buying a plane ticket without checking the destination and assuming all planes fly to Rome. The site is the most important aspect of any building project.

Indeed I can think of no better way of confirming that the selected architect has the skills and knowledge you require for your needs.  

Prior advice to a client on land selection led to awarding of the regional and state Master Builders Award for excellence in Sustainable Living in 2017.


In this Video 13 I discuss “designing for climate” and in Video 14 show the “practical application of climate design” for this project.      

This is Video 13 discussing designing for climate
Video 14 showing the practical application of climate design

FAQ 6: Can I obtain a partial service from an architect?

Some architects (like ABW) are happy to be paid only for their almanac of knowledge. An architect attuned to the cost consequences of design decisions may be necessary to provide a reality check before it is too late. You may only commission an architect up to Development Application stage or Building Application stage. It depends on the complexity of the project or the budget. You may not require a full service form your architects if you have a high level of experience with the building process. Much of the work we do at ABW is for builders and almost without exception have engaged us for their own forever homes. In Video 17 “the procurement process” I raise the issue of scope of services.   

FAQ 7: Should I build a new home or alter my existing home?

More often the not the true value of your existing house is overestimated?

Unfortunately your home may possibly be worth more to you than anyone else. You may attribute more value on all the sweat equity ‘improvements‘ that have been made than the market. Some of these improvements may add little to the sale price. Some may even detract from the true ‘market value’ of the property.

As transaction costs increase the question of whether to alter or rebuild is becoming

more critical. Allowance has to be made in the budget upgrade figures for:

i.        miscellaneous costs like building inspections,

ii.       removal costs,

iii.      conveyancing

iv.      real estate agent’s commission for the sale of the existing property

v.       stamp duty on the new purchase

In the end the main reason for considering staying put and doing a renovation may be because you love the area or your street or just your neighbours.

At the end of the day the decision may not be totally financial.

There are two other aspects of alterations that need to be borne in mind. Firstly, many inner-city sites have planning constraints particularly if the buildings are pre 1937. Secondly alterations and additions cost significantly more per square metre than new work due to the constraints and unknown problems invariably unearthed. The biggest benefit of sites close to the city is that lack of supply increases demand, so they go up in value much more than those sites further from the city. Similarly, if the site has rare features like city hinterland river or ocean views then again you need an architect to ensure the design takes maximum advantage of the intrinsic site value. Refer to FAQ 1.

FAQ 8: Why are renovations so much more expensive than a new house?

The “reality” TV show Grand Designs has shown us that often the “dream home” ends up costing several thousand more than expected. You don’t want your dream renovation ending up costing twice as much as you ever dreamed it would.

Be wary of an estimate is given with no final plans or commitment. At the end of the day all quotes are meaningless unless they are by someone prepared to sign a contract for that amount.

So why are renovation costs so high and always underestimated? The simple answer is they have to compete with and are therefore “compared” to new homes. The best way to answer is to ask why new homes are so much cheaper than renovations. For new homes there are less risks to potentially eat into the profit. New builds:

  1. have no unknowns or ghosts in the closet (at least they should not have any)
  2. permit unrestricted access to site at all hours of the day
  3. incur less workplace health and safety issues as the owners are not in the way
  4. do not have owners perpetually on-site questioning everything before it is finished
  5. don’t to waste time materials and effort on demolition – essentially one step back before going forwards  
  6. don’t waste time materials and effort on temporarily holding up the roof or floor etc
  7. rarely have asbestos removal and disposal
  8. don’t have lead or galvanized pipes which have to be replaced
  9. don’t have degraded insulation which has to be removed and replaced  
  10. don’t have vitreous china sewer lines which have to be replaced
  11. don’t have outdated wiring which has to be replaced
  12. don’t have years of dust
  13. don’t have access and material delivery and storage problems
  14. don’t have overhead power lines
  15. don’t have potentially difficult neighbours
  16. have fewer Town Planning and Building restrictions      
  17. don’t have to meld with or match the existing fabric
  18. are not constrained by the existing arrangement so waste less space

The good news is because someone has had to resolve all these issues renovated homes are usually valued by the market at near to their intrinsic “improved” value. In other word’s the overcoming of these “risks” are valued. The real value in undertaking the renovations yourself is they will be brand new and to your taste.

FAQ 9: What does an architect cost?

An architect’s fees depend on:

  1. the scope of the work (see below)
  2. whether the project involves a new building or refurbishment
  3. the particular local authority
  4. the value of the project
  5. you attitude to quality and detail
  6. market competition

 The scope of the pre-construction work can include some or all of the following:

  1. site investigations and measured drawings (not surveying)
  2. pre-design (concept) and sketch design
  3. developed design and DA (Development application) submission
  1. construction BA (Building Approval) drawings

Architects also can provide addition services to design and documentation including:

  1. detailed documentation including specifications
  2. tendering and contract preparation
  3. contract administration and defects monitoring

Due to the significant amount of time this work takes it can add another 100% to the Architects fees. It might be advisable to take into account these additional services when you compare designers fee proposals.

Fees can be expressed as:

  1. a percentage of the construction budget
  2. a fixed lump sum fee
  3. an hourly rate
  4. a mixture of all the above

The agreement should be:

  1. in a recognized format preferably endorsed by AIA The Australian Institute of Architects
  2. signed by both parties
  3. refer to the scope of work

FAQ 10: How will I finance this project?

The financing any building project that falls outside the banking institutions standard cookie cutter criteria can be more arduous.

The harsh reality is lending institutions prefer the simplicity of new builds over renovations. They particularly like flat blocks of land where the retaining walls are already constructed and incorporated in the sale price of the land. They also love package deals including driveways turf and the letterbox. Why is this so? Because they can very accurately establish the finished value so of the “package” because they have an entire street of exactly similar homes.  

Conversely lending institutions are less capable of “valuing” bespoke renovations because finding reliable comparable homes. They do not attribute any value to fences swimming pools or other landscaping improvements.  

Your needs and expectations must be communicated to the architect early in the process to mitigate bottlenecks later on. You do not want to go to all the trouble of designing a great building that comes in on budget and sign a contract only to find finance is not available. This is a critical area where you require a professional with relevant skills and knowledge and good communication skills to provide you with unbiased advice to help you achieve your goals.

FAQ 11: What is a forever home?

At ABW we believe (if possible) your first home should be your forever home and give you a “better life by design” which we discuss this in Video 5.

We mean it should be:

  1. designed for climate to make it more comfortable to live in – video 13.
  2. designed to function correctly – video 6-8
  3. designed for the site features – video 11-15
  4. designed to last longer than the 6.5 year warranty – video 9
  5. designed to be adapted for future disabilities – video 16

Why not watch Videos 5 -16 consecutively.  

Play list on Youtube for Markitect Grand Design Guru

FAQ 12: Is size that important?

This is my experience. Most clients know what they want or think they know what they want. Invariably they ask for more than they have now – after all they are upgrading.

Naturally they want to add a mere metre to each room each way.

If you add 1 metre each way to a 4 metre square room that is an extra 36% in size. Do that in each room and it can add up to a 30% increase in the building cost.

So you need to ask yourself “what size do you really need”?

It really depends on how you intend using the spaces.

When it comes to alterations to existing houses new room sizes are often restricted by the existing walls and structure. Sometimes this means they will have to be too small or too big. The secret to plan spaces efficiently is to use hypothetical furniture.

I am amazed by the number of plans and finished houses that have no place for the big screen tv – except in the home theatre! Refer to Video 7 “the importance of shape and size”.

Video 7

FAQ 13: What about shape is it more or less important than size?

Standard homes are all square for a reason it reduces the wall to floor ratio.

The bigger the square the more air (or void space) in the middle.

That means less external walls less bricks and less external windows.

Together they make the plan an open plan and that means less internal walls which makes it cheaper to build. That is why the kitchen is placed in the windowless middle of most project homes. It is not a design decision it is an economics decision sold as a design decision.

Invariably site or structural limitations mean renovations “make” the building irregular in shape and this wall to floor ratio goes up. So too does the cost anywhere from 7% to 20%. Refer to Video 7 “the importance of shape and size”. See above.

FAQ 14: How do ceiling heights impact on construction costs?

Ceiling heights have the same problem with respect to costs.

Most clients want the extension to be an upgrade from normal (standard) 2400 ceiling height so they often opt for a 2700 ceiling height instead. That is fair enough but it might surprise you this adds  significantly to the cost. It costs more because the wind loads  on the wall frame go up exponentially as height increases.

Raking ceilings are even worse. Once again the structure has to be upgraded made bigger and stronger so the cost goes up. See video 8.

Video 8

FAQ 15: How do construction materials and finishes impact on construction costs?

Higher quality materials cost significantly more so why do we settle for less?

Those materials that give old buildings their character are also more expensive both to match and restore. VJ paneling is expensive to restore because of the shrinkage gaps that have grown over the years. If you repaint a light colour without sealing each and every join it will look terrible. It is almost more economical to actually sheet over the top. At least then you have the potential benefit of providing a new cavity for insulation and new wiring.  

Similarly all the timber screens and battens used in character houses can be very costly unless they are aluminium or high durability class.

So why specify expensive better quality materials?

You need to remember at least half of the cost of (new) construction is labour.

So if you have to replace something you have to pay for the labour to remove and the labour to replace in addition to the new materials. Hopefully by then you are prepared to pay the premium for the better quality replacement materials – so now it is about 3 times the price of low quality materials. You need to ask yourself is the higher initial price you pay for the materials architects typically is a small price to pay compared to the cost of repairs and ongoing maintenance.

Video 9 The importance of materials

FAQ 16: How do windows and doors impact on construction costs?

When it comes to windows and doors you get what you pay for.

The morre glass the more they cost.

The more sashes  (the opening bits) the more they cost.

More security screens more $.

Timber instead of aluminium more again.

The same goes for timber look aluminium.

Better thicker aluminium sections with better rollers you guessed it they cost more.

Not all windows are created equal. Did you know some cheap imported windows don’t even have rollers just silicone plastic slides. What happens when they wear out?

Remember the cost of replacement in FAQ 15?

Windows are particularly difficult and expensive to remove and replace if they are too cheap.  

Those beautiful must have al fresco multi stacking doors cost significantly more than  standard single sliding doors. They also need expensive retractable screens at about 5-10 times the price of normal screens.

That is only another 5 or 10% each – has you been adding all this up?

The Wrap

This is the end of our video series, we hope we were able to impart some more knowledge in your undertaking of your Grand Design.

The end of video series.

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