What are the Costs for New Construction?

Here is a summary of the costs you should expect around a new construction project:

Professional Service Fees (typically 10-12% of construction costs)

Architectural Work
Geotechnical Engineer
Civil Engineer
Structural Engineer
Mechanical Engineer
Electrical Engineer
Plumbing Engineer
Landscape Designer (optional)
Interior Designer (optional)

Permitting Fees 

Amount usually deterimined by the authority having jurisdiction.

Financing Costs

Inspection Fees

Amount usually deterimined by the authority having jurisdiction and the engineer you have hired.

Land and Real Estate Costs

Constructions Costs

Construction Labor
Construction Materials
Contractor’s Equipment
Contractor’s Overhead
Contractor’s Profit
Fixtures, Furnishings and Equipment


Property Insurance
Liability Insurance

Move-In Costs

Why You Might Need An Architect: Using Landscaping to Reduce Energy Loads

When we talk about landscaping the site, most professionals will consider a couple aspects: beauty and water conservation. A good architect will see the site holistically from the beginning. Besides beauty and water conservation, an architect will investigate how to use new and existing landscaping as a passive design strategy to reduce energy loads on a proposed building.

Landscaping as a passive design strategy is most often used as a “catch up” method – especially in the high plains here in Colorado. It is a method used after-the-fact when heating loads are discovered to be to extreme for the construction and a homeowner is desperate. This is a valid solution to an existing problem. However, it is imperative to note that passive design strategies are most effective when holistically integrated into the site and building planning in the earliest stages of design

During site analysis, Colorado architects strategize how to minimize the effect of cold winter winds in an “externally loaded building” or home. Using new or existing landscaping intuitively can reduce wind velocity. Reducing wind velocity on your building means you also reduce the energy load. In order for the home to be protected by neighboring trees, the house needs to be located within a distance of 5 times the tree height.

Landscape for Energy Efficiency0001

Many times, due to site constraints, a deep row of trees (as demonstrated above) is not possible. Sometimes, only a single row of trees may be feasible. A single row of trees has the ability to reduce wind velocity by 35% if the building is located within 5 times the height of the trees.

Maybe the site is very small. In this case, all is not lost. A single row of very dense evergreen trees planted as close to a home as possible can reduce a bone-chilling winter wind by up to 60%. This will make a big impact on your energy usage.

In warmer climates, landscaping is used to minimize energy usage. Using deciduous trees on the south side of any home can provide much needed shade in the warm summer months and allow solar heat gain in the cold winter months after the leaves have fallen. The only caveat to this would be any building relying on the use of solar panels.

The architect uses new and existing landscape as a passive design strategy in the beginning stages of site planning (before a building is even conceived) to bring you the most value.

Until next time!

Why You Might Need an Architect: Building Shape

Architects are trained to understand energy conservation through building shape. In theory, a shape that has the least surface area with the greatest volume will be the most efficient. This is because both heating and cooling loads depend on the thermal conductance of the walls and roof.

If you have the least exterior surface area with the greatest interior volume, you will have the most efficient building shape. A sphere would be the most energy efficient design according to this theory. The problem with that is that construction for sphere buildings are costly and impractical.

As discussed in Why You Might Need an Architect: Building Orientation, when you have a long rectangular building in a hot-humid climate, that building could be oriented south to minimize heat gain on the east and west side. Something else that is important for a hot-humid climate is ventilation. How can we address cooling a building on a site located in a hot-humid climate? The answer is with building shape. A long, thin building allows for utilization of prevailing winds.

Architects know that the ideal building shape varies based on the climate and whether or not the building in question is externally loaded or internally loaded. An “externally loaded building” is a building whose energy use is determined by heat loss or gain through the exterior of the building. An “internally loaded building” is a building whose energy use is determined by heat gain from the people who occupy the building, lighting and equipment. For the sake of this discussion, we will focus on externally loaded buildings because houses and small buildings usually fit into this category.

Building Shape Diagram0001

The sketch above communicates that the most ideal shape in a cold climate is a square or cube because it minimizes surface area. Minimizing surface is a key passive design strategy in a cold climate – which is why a two-story building is more efficient than a one-story building. 

In temperate climates, the shape has less of an effect.  However, an elongated building shape in the east-west direction has advantages with allowing solar heat gain in the winter, passive daylighting, and prevention of summer solar heat gain.

In hot-arid climates, a square shaped building with a courtyard is best since it allows for minimal surface area and maximum natural ventilation. In this building type, these courtyards allow for the introduction of a water element. In hot-arid climates, moisture acts as a coolent in the dry hot summer months.

In hot-humid climates, elongated shapes in the east-west direction are preferred since breezes provide natural cooling. In this climate setting, elongated shapes are used in conjunction with large overhangs.

A design decision like determining the shape of your building matters and it has a big impact on your budget. Climate-specified building shapes do not increase your construction costs significantly. Climate-specified building shapes also save you money in operation costs. Passive Design Strategies are a win for everyone.

One last thing: here in Colorado, we live in an extremely varied region. If I were to go 6 miles west of my house, we would be into the Rocky Mountains with drastic elevation changes. Six miles makes a difference! An architect here in Denver would say we have closer to a temperate climate most years. However, an architect would classify a site 6 miles to the west as a cold climate. This is another reason why you might need an architect: each site has its own idiosyncracies. The architect is responsible and fully trained in these passive design strategies to navigate your site’s particular issues.

Until next time!

How Does Hiring an Architect Work?

I hesitate to write this post. It feels a bit obvious. However, there are many people who are not in this industry who might feel a bit more confident reaching out to an architect knowing they have read this. So, for those people, I write this.

Step 1: You have a question about a possible project.
Step 2: Make initial contact with the possible architect. This can me made through email, the architect’s website or over the phone.
Step 3: Have a telephone conversation and arrange a meet. Ask for references if they are not on the Architect’s website.
Step 4: Inquire references about the architect you are meeting.
Step 5: Meet the architect to converse about the project. The architect may also ask at this point how the client intends on paying for the design fees and construction. There is no obligation or commitment at this meeting. The possible client is only obligated to see if working with this architect is a good fit. The client should request a proposal from the architect at the end of the meeting if the architect seems like a good fit.
Step 6: Upon the client’s request, the architect will then generate a proposal for the client. This could take 1-3 days.
Step 7: The client will decide if they want to accept the proposal and then return it to the architect.
Step 8: After the proposal is accepted, most architects go a step further to generate a contract. The contract can include terms of service, a description of the scope of services, services that are considered additional and indemnity clauses. Along with this signed contract, the client will be asked for a retainer. The retainer is applied to the bill for the first phase of work or to the last billing at the end of the project. Every firm is different, but the amount of the retainer is usually between $1000 and 10% of the proposed services. A 10% retainer is necessary in my practice to initiate the Discovery phase and is applied immediately to that work. A retainer is necessary for architects because we invest significant time developing proposals and contracts before any client commits. The architect will also often have to turn down other work to take on your project and this requires the architect to know that the client has “skin in the game.” Once this contract is signed and the retainer is accepted by the architect, get ready, your project is “a go.”

Until next time!

Why You Might Need an Architect: Building Orientation

In my practice, building orientation plays a very important role in energy efficiency. Building orientation for energy conservation aims at balancing overheated and underheated space – no matter the season.

Unfortunately for us, a traditional developer’s main priority is getting as many houses as possible on a tract of land. As a result, people who purchase these developer homes end up paying the piper in energy bills and replacement costs.

Ask anyone living in these homes in the high desert how desirable their west-facing rooms are from June through October. Also, ask these same people about the materials on their house on the southwestern side. In all likelihood, their west-facing windows and other building materials are dilapidated. This is, obviously, not good.

Like I mentioned before, the aim of using building orientation to encourage energy efficiency is to balance overheating with underheating. An architect, through building orientation, can maximize solar heat gain in the winter, while also reducing solar heat gain in the summer

Deciding how to orient a building for energy efficiency is never a straightforward process. There are often many interrelated and conflicting requirements on a particular site. Therefore, the architect must balance their design response with what is most optimal. We have to determine the building orientation through an investigation of the site, the client’s programmatic and sustainability objectives and the prevailing climate concerns.  It is a complicated matter because heat gain, protection from overheating, daylighting, utilizing cooling winds and protection from winter winds can conflict – even though independently, they will all reduce energy usage.

For the sake of clarity, I will keep this conversation related to this post in the northern hemisphere. While it is clear that many site-specific factors influence building orientation for energy efficiency, many studies have revealed there are some guidelines architects should use for rectangular buildings. The guide architects use consistently states that  rectangular buildings should be oriented with the long direction east-west. This minimizes the solar radiation from the east and west. This orientation also takes advantage of the wintertime need for heating potential in south-facing surfaces. During the summer months, there is less incident radiation since the sun is higher and the south-facing wall can be shaded easily. Due to slightly lower temperatures in the morning, the building is best oriented slightly east of south. The climate determines the exact angle of east of south.


From the above diagram, you can see in cool climate like Boston, Massachusetts, a rectangular building should be oriented 12 degrees east of south. For hot-arid climates like Phoenix, Arizona, a rectangular building should be oriented 25 degrees east of south. In a hot-humid climate like south Florida, a rectangular building should heave a 5 degree east of south orientation. Slight deviations of these proposed angles are standard to accommodate for the other site factors that will help with energy efficiency – such as cooling breezes in a hot-arid climate.

In a cool climate, a building’s entrance can be located on the leeward side of the building. In temperate climates, entrances should be south-facing. In hot climates, you want the long side of the building to catch the cool breeze.

Why do you need an architect? The foundation for the most basic design decisions are rooted in intuitive, proven and ethical guidelines which actually end up saving you money.

Oh, here is a little piece of irony.: My house here in Denver is oriented facing southwest instead of southeast. Although, here, we appreciate southwestern driveways for snow-melting purposes. I live in a (1960s) developer neighborhood to.

Until next time!

Why You Might Need an Architect: Passive Design Strategies

Can you imagine a reality where the design of your home was aimed at reducing your energy costs? I am not just referring to the airtight windows and the thick insulation. (Although it does include that.) A good architect will always hold passive design strategies as a top design priority. Why? Because this is also what we, in the Architecture Community, simply call “good design.” (We also call it “Passive Design Strategies.”) Take a look at the following areas an architect will consider when designing a home that saves you money.

Passive Design Strategies

Building Orientation

Building Shape


Building Shading

Earth Sheltering

Green Roofs

Air Locks

Insulation & Weather Sealing


Double Envelopes


Over the next several posts, I will be going into why you might need an architect – specifically when it comes to homes that save you money simply in the way they are designed.

Take a look at this illustration done by Albert, Righter and Tittmann Architects. Developers naturally default to the “20th Century” model. They sometimes design an aesthetically pleasing house that appeals to the masses and expect mechanical systems to make up for the lack of design.

Why do you need an architect? Architects have an ethical responsibility to work within the constructs of the “21st Century” model. How we orient the building, the shape we give the building, the earth around the home, the enclosure assembly we specify, where we place the penetrations, the type of glazing that we use for those penetrations and the amount electricity needed to operate this home is at the forefront of our mind. We want to rely on active systems (mechanical systems) as minimally and intelligently as possible. This will save you money and fulfill our ethical responsibility to the future.

Until next time!