All ADU Resources

How Much Does an Architect Cost?

Hiring an architect is a necessity for most building projects. But how much will it cost you? Learn about architect costs to manage your build budget.

May 22, 2024

Architects typically have a reputation of being well-paid, but exactly how much do you have to pay them for assisting you for your home renovation or ADU project?

Here’s everything you need to know about architect fees and how to budget all the different costs involved in your project:

What Is an Architect?

Architects are trained professionals in the art of building design and construction. To become an architect, you must first receive a five-year Bachelor of Architect degree through a program accredited by the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB).

After graduating with a Bachelor of Architect degree, you then must participate in an architecture internship program that typically lasts around three years. After completing an architecture internship program, you can apply for your architecture license by taking and passing the Architect Registration Examination. From there, you can earn additional certifications or obtain a graduate degree in architecture.

On the contrary, those who practice architectural design are not licensed like architects, but they can assist in design work and help ensure that your house plans match your aesthetic vision.

What Does an Architect Do?

Clearly, it takes a lot of education and work to become an architect, but what do architects do on a daily basis?

Here are some examples of specific things that architects do:

  • Architects work with clients to translate their wants and needs into building designs
  • Architects budget, coordinate, and oversee building projects
  • Architects follow building codes and zoning regulations
  • Architects work to secure the necessary approvals and permits from the proper authorities
  • Architects work with various stakeholders throughout the building process, including interior designers, structural engineers, and general contractors
  • Architects prepare construction documents with detailed information about the building’s systems and materials
  • Architects are responsible for protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the new construction’s future occupants

What Are the Different Types of Architects?

Not all architects are the same. In fact, there are several different types of architects that specialize in different areas. Specifically, there are residential, commercial, landscape, and green architects.

Here’s what you need to know about each:

Residential Architect

Residential architects specialize in designing homes for people to live in. Some residential architects work with new home builders to create plans for new neighborhoods, whereas other residential architects work directly with clients looking to build custom homes.

Commercial Architect

Commercial architects specialize in designing commercial buildings, including but not limited to office buildings, hotels, schools, government buildings, and museums. Commercial architects also design multi-unit residential buildings, whether it’s apartment complexes, condominium towers, or townhome units.

Landscape Architect

Landscape architects specialize in designing outdoor spaces, for example, college campuses, parks, gardens, backyards, and more. Landscape architects are also in charge of choosing the location of everything from buildings to roads, walkways, and trees.

Green Architects

Green architects specialize in designing spaces that are environmentally friendly. Green architect design services have skyrocketed in demand due to growing environmental concerns. These professionals can help design energy-efficient spaces using renewable energy sources like solar energy.

Why Hire an Architect?

If you’re starting a new building project, you may be wondering why you should even bother with hiring an architect.

Here are some reasons why you should consider working with a trained architectural professional on your project:

1. Bring Your Dreams to Life

Working with the right architect can help you bring the dreams for your project to life. Architects are generally well-trained in taking abstract ideas from your initial consultation and translating them into actual drawings and designs that can be safely and realistically built.

For example, in the preliminary design phase, you could tell an architect that you want a four-bedroom, three-bathroom, two-story home with an open concept floor plan. Then, they can then take these specifications and come up with a blueprint that looks good and is functional.

Asking to see past examples of your architect’s work up front will help you see if they are worth the likely total fee.

2. Save Money

Although working with an architect will cost you money, it can also help you save money in the long run. This is because architects know how to design safe, sound, and resilient buildings that will stand the test of time.

Good architects also know how to design efficient buildings that won’t waste energy or materials. Furthermore, architects are experts in the industry. They will be able to propose cost-cutting solutions that won’t impact the overall safety of the building.

3. Make a Better Investment

Since architects are concerned with the longevity of the building, they can help you make a better investment. After all, you’re likely spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on this type of project. It only makes sense to protect your investment and work with trained experts to increase the chances that you can sell for a profit later on.

4. Choose the Right Materials and Finishes

Architects aren’t just concerned with general designs and concepts; they can also help you make more detailed decisions about things like materials and finishes during the design development phase.

Because while it may be tempting to simply choose the cheapest option, these choices could end up costing you in terms of repairs, remodels, and early replacement.

5. Better Energy Efficiency

Architects can also help you achieve better energy efficiency by designing a custom house that won’t cost a fortune to heat or cool. So while you may want 5,000 square feet of living space and cathedral ceilings in every room, an architect can help you balance your wants with realistic solutions that fit within your budget.

How Much Does an Architect Cost?

Architects certainly aren’t cheap. But exactly how much will their services cost you? This number depends heavily on the type, size, scope, and location of your project. Do you need design services for an interior remodel, or for an entirely new ADU? How big is the area you're planning to remodel, or what is the intended square footage of the ADU? These questions and more will determine the cost of an architect for your project.

There are several different ways to calculate the cost of an architect. For example, some architects charge hourly fees, some charge a percentage of construction costs, and some charge per square foot. Others might charge a flat fee or fixed fee, which allows the client to know the total cost at the start of the project.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of how each of these calculations translates into dollars and cents:

Architect Hourly Rates

If you’re looking for an architect to consult with on a small project or a specific aspect of a project, you may want to consider hiring them by the hour. This is because architects tend to only use hourly rates for smaller projects where it would be easy for them to calculate the total time they spent on a project. In fact, many architects have a cap on the number of hours they can work on a project, including revisions.

The hourly rate of your architect largely depends on their experience level. Generally speaking, you can expect to pay around $60 to $125 an hour for an architect. However, it will cost about $160 to $350 an hour for a principal architect that oversees the entire architectural firm.

Architect Fees as a Percentage of Construction Costs

If you’re building a new home or unit from scratch, many architects charge based on a certain percentage of total construction costs. The percentage fees vary depending on the services being performed and the complexity of the project.

For example, if you’re looking for basic home design plans and limited services, you can expect to pay around 5% to 15% of construction costs in architect fees. If you’re looking for moderate design and full services or a remodel, you can expect to pay around 15% to 20% of construction costs in architect fees.

So what do these percentages translate into when you’re building a new home or unit? Let’s say that you’re building a new home that costs a little over $300,000, which was the average cost in 2021. That means that you could expect to pay anywhere between $15,000 and $60,000 in architect fees.

Do You Have To Hire an Architect for an ADU?

Even though building an ADU may be considered a smaller project, it’s still a good idea to hire an architect. This is because the process of building an ADU is extremely similar to building a regular house, with a few key differences.

For starters, there are several different types of ADUs. There are attached ADUs, detached ADUs, and conversion ADUs. Each type of ADU requires site-specific architectural details that require you to consult an architect for your specific design.

And while a conversion ADU may seem like a simple process that doesn’t require the expertise of an architect, it’s still a good idea to speak to an architect or, at the very least, a designer. It’s essential to create a floor plan that best utilizes every inch of the space you’re converting. In addition, structural engineering is still required for a conversion ADU build.

Ways To Minimize Architect Costs

Home construction projects can get expensive very quickly if you’re not careful. And while you would never want to cut corners on any project, there are a few things you can do to minimize the architect costs on your renovation, addition or ADU:

Get Multiple Architect Proposals

One of the best ways to minimize architect costs on an ADU build is to get multiple competitive proposals for your project. This way, you'll be able to compare a range of options when it comes to both cost and design style. With more than one proposal, you know you're getting competitive pricing. Good news: Cottage makes it easy to get multiple architect proposals for your renovation, addition or ADU. Learn more about our process here.

Choose a Premade Floor Plan for Your ADU

Another way that you can minimize the architect costs on an ADU build is to choose a premade floor plan rather than designing a completely custom floor plan.

For example:

  • If you’re looking for a small ADU, then you should check out the Madison, which has one bedroom, one bathroom, and 364 square feet.
  • If you’re looking for a medium-sized ADU, then you should check out the Edelen, which has one bedroom, one bathroom, and 700 square feet.
  • Or, if you need even more space in a large ADU, then you should check out the Wallen, which has two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and 1,200 square feet.

Choose a More Compact Floor Plan for Your ADU

One final way that you can minimize the project costs on an ADU build is to choose a more compact floor plan. This is especially true if your architect is charging you per square foot or based on total construction costs.

When you work with the creative ADU architects at Cottage, you’d be shocked at everything that you can fit into just 400 square feet. The Madison, for example, at just 364 square feet, still has enough room for a bedroom, bathroom, kitchen peninsula, closet, and even laundry.

Homeowners are often shocked at how square footage can be manipulated, making their space seem even larger and more practical than they imagined.

Other Costs Involved in Building an ADU

Architectural fees aren’t the only thing you have to worry about when building an ADU. You also have to consider things like site preparation costs, utility connection costs, interior design fees, permitting fees, material costs, and construction costs.

Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect to pay for each of these different items:

1. Site Preparation Costs

Before the construction of your ADU can begin, site preparation needs to be performed to flatten the land for a stable foundation. Depending on the slope and size of your lot, you can generally expect to pay around $5,000 for site preparation costs, although these costs can be much higher if your lot has a significant slope.

2. Utility Connection Costs

Once the construction site has been prepped for foundation, utilities need to be connected. Your ADU will require everything from plumbing, electrical, gas, and sewer. If you’re building a prefabricated ADU or going with the design-bid-build model, you can expect to pay $10,000 or more for utility connections.

3. Interior Design Fees

While architects play a large role in the design of a building, interior designers have a role to play as well. Architects tend to focus on the big picture, whereas interior designers tend to be concerned about the smaller details. Interior designers can help make sure that your ADU matches your design style.

Interior designers can help you choose flooring, paint, windows, doors, cabinets, countertops, lighting, and more. Interior designers charge anywhere from $50 an hour to $200 per hour based on their experience and the average cost estimate to hire an interior designer for a project is around $2,000.

4. Permitting Fees

Permitting is an essential component of every ADU build that can add thousands of dollars to your total costs depending on where you’re building. Unfortunately, there’s no way to avoid or even negotiate these fees as they’re set by the city.

For example, the cost of permitting an ADU in Redwood City, California, ranges from $3,882 for a small ADU that’s less than 400 square feet to nearly $5,000 for a larger ADU that’s more than 601 square feet. Generally speaking, you can expect to spend anywhere between $2,000 and $10,000 in permitting fees when building an ADU in California.

5. Material Costs

A large proportion of your ADU build cost will consist of materials. This covers all the materials you need to construct your ADU from top to bottom.

For example, it covers the cost of concrete for the foundation; lumber, drywall, and insulation for the walls; windows and doors; pipes and wiring for utilities; nails and shingles for the roof; stucco, siding, or brick for the exterior facade; etc.

6. Construction Costs

Construction costs will also take up a large proportion of your overall ADU build budget. This covers the cost of labor for all the contractors and subcontractors needed to construct the unit and can make up anywhere from 20% to 40% of your total costs. These days, labor costs may be even higher due to construction worker shortages.

Architectural Services and the Design Process

Architect fees, along with everything else, can quickly add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars to your total project cost if you’re not careful. One of the best ways to manage your budget is to get multiple competitive proposals from architects - which Cottage helps you do.

Reach out to the experts at Cottage today to see how much you can save on every step of your ADU build.


What Is an Architect? Learn More About What Architects Do | Forbes

Green Buildings Around the World: 18 Examples of Sustainable Architecture | CNN

Construction Industry Needs 'Staggering' 2.2M More Workers | Business Insider

Cost to Build a House (2022) | This Old House

Read This Before You Hire an Architect | This Old House