Architect Services

Most people think of an architect only when they need a set of construction plans drawn up. In reality, an architect can help you with most of the steps in the ADU process. They can prepare plans based on your design needs or considerations, prepare materials specifications, help you find a contractor, develop contracts, get permits, supervise construction, handle paperwork, oversee the budget and make sure the job gets done correctly within the budget and on time. And, at the end of the job, make sure you get all your warranties and guarantees, as well as the appropriate releases from suppliers and contractors. More detailed information about these options will be discussed below.

"I needed an architect who understood my sense of taste in design and who seemed like the right 'fit' for me. I had lots of ideas, but needed someone to pull it all together."

Do you need an Architect?

Depending on the scope of ADU project you have, and the level of skills you possess, you may not need an architect.

If you are turning a finished or partially finished basement area into any ADU, you may need very little design work. You may be able to draw up your plans or have a contractor do it for you. However, if you are designing a new detached ADU, the design work could be much more extensive and you might want to consult with an architect or contractor before deciding how you want to proceed.

If your project is relatively minor, you may have the time and ability to find your own contractor, prepare and/or enter into an appropriate contract, get the permits you will need and manage the construction project yourself.

If, though, you have decided the scope of work you are thinking about for your ADU suggests exploring the services of an architect, following is some information and tips you might find useful.

Where Do You Find Potential Architects?

For basic information about architectural services as well as information to guide your selection of an architect for your project, the American Institute of Architects provides several references. You can review options online at, which includes several reference links. AIA Seattle Members number nearly 2000 architects and design professionals in the six-county area of the greater Puget Sound Region. Contact the AIA by phone, at (206) 448-4938, or visit their downtown Seattle headquarters at the edge of the Pike Market in downtown Seattle (1911 First, at Stewart, open M-F 10am-5pm). The AIA offers these resources:

  • The Resource Center for Architecture, with portfolios of architectural firms and other references useful to prospective clients. These are not sorted by geographic area though.

  • The 'E' Source Center will allow you to check out a number of architecture firms on line. Go to

  • Order a copy of ProFile on-line (Note: you cannot view the profiles on line). This document has 450 listings of firms around Puget Sound. Includes types of work and examples of project. Cost is ($30, plus shipping, handling and tax). Go to

  • Specific to ADU and other housing development interests, AIA Seattle has reference copies of "Housing Seattle: Design Demonstration Project," a sourcebook. 

  • NOTE: Other written materials are available at the AIA office, which may expand on or provide information related to the topics found in the HomeOwners Packet.

  • Each June, the Seattle Times and AIA Seattle produce "Housing the Northwest," a Sunday edition newspaper feature and Open House at projects demonstrating excellence in housing design beyond the single-family residence.

  • AIA Seattle also offers a client seminar, "How to Select & Work with an Architect," typically held one Saturday morning each month. This session is also known as the 'Saturday Seminar'. Sessions usually run from 9:30am-12:00pm. Cost is @ $10/person by advance registration. The code, design, and construction processes may seem complex at times. Some people will want to learn about these processes and do it all themselves. Others may prefer to have a knowledgeable guide, such as an architect assist them. The AIA Seattle Saturday Seminar can help answer your questions about the various options open to you, including but not limited to working with an architect.

What Services Can An Architect Provide?

Architects can and do perform a variety of design and construction related services. However, not all architects or architectural firms provide the same services. You will want to spend some time thinking about the services that you would want to use if you seek help from an architect. Some of these services which may be applicable to your ADU project are as follows:

The architect can draw plans and specifications for your ADU, including structural, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, interior space design (for both utility and visual impact), and special design considerations (such as for the handicapped). The architect may also offer landscaping design services, or solutions to the use of outside space (for example, design of entrance areas, how to maximize the use of shared outside space, or the design of off-street parking and outside storage areas). Depending on whether your ADU is to be located within your primary home, attached to or detached from your home, there may also be other design considerations that could be built into the design of your ADU (see the 'Design Considerations' pages for more information). For example, you may be concerned about such issues as privacy and noise. The architect can go over the various options you might have in preliminary design concepts, before preparing your final plans.

Most architects have worked with or are aware of a variety of different kinds of contractors. They can identify candidate contractors according to such preferences as: the project budget, the type and size of the ADU project, the perceived compatibility of the personalities of the owner and contractor, and the contractor's interest in and availability to work on the project. The architect can also help you interview contractors and participate or advise you in the process of obtaining bids or negotiating a price for the project.

The architect can assist you in any required permits for the ADU project.

Initially, this would involve working with the contractor to discuss questions about the ADU project, to make sure the contractor and architect are in agreement about the design, specifications and other details before the project starts. At this time the contractor would provide the owner with the necessary property/liability insurance for the job. Once the job starts, the architect would begin receiving monthly materials and labor invoices from the contractor. The architect would make regular visits to verify the materials and work being billed, monitor project progress (including keeping the project on budget), and answer questions. After the architect verifies each months' invoices, they would be forwarded to the owner for payment. Throughout the project, the architect would obtain applicable materials warranties and lien releases for materials and labor. At the end of the project, the architect would develop a 'punch' list of additional work or corrections that need to be performed, and administer to other details necessary to close out the project.

Owner-Architect Contract

If you decide you want one or more architectural services in your project, you may want to order a standard contract 'form' for services. Go to You may order the one most closely fitting with the services you want for your project. Cost ranges from $1.50 to about $10, depending on the form you choose. (Note: you cannot view the forms on line). Remember though, as with any standard form, you may need to modify the form to fit the particulars of your project.

How Does An Architect Want To Be Paid?

If you decide you will use an architect for only part of the job, the architect may want to charge you an hourly fee or a fixed fee. The fixed rate fee is most applicable when the scope of work would allow the architect to calculate the time required to be spent on the job with more certainty, and translate it into a more specific amount. However, if the project is to involve more lengthy services, such as including contract administration, the architect may not readily be able to calculate how much time will need to be spent on the job. When this is the case, another option is to establish a fee based on a percentage of the construction cost. Depending on the specifics of your project, there are other methods architects may also use to calculate fees or costs. These could be related to an hourly fee, a fee based on square footage, or it could be some other formula. Be sure to ask how a proposed fee is calculated. If you decide to use an architect, be sure to include your arrangement for paying fees in your contract with the architect.

You would also want to know 'when' the architect wants to be paid. There may be a retainer required. You might expect to make payments at certain stages in the project (such as monthly, based on percentage of job completion), or when the contracted services are completed. Payment requirements can vary from architect to architect. Be sure to ask about this.

What Kinds Of Questions Should I Ask Potential Architects?

If you are trying to narrow down your choices for potential architects by telephone screening, you will want to first ask if they will charge you a fee for a short telephone conversation. Most architects are likely to talk to you free of charge, if the screening conversation is relatively short. This may vary from architect to architect, so if they are willing to give you some time at no charge, you will want to use it to your best advantage. Ask a few basic questions. If the architect seems to meet your initial approval, then request one or more referrals, so you can visit examples of their work. If you want to talk for longer than a short telephone conversation, you should make an appointment and be prepared to pay for a consultation. Below are some questions you might want to consider.

"I wanted to get a feel for what kind of work they have done elsewhere. It was important for me to see some of their work to help me decide how I felt about them working on my project. Asking questions helped a lot."

Screening By Phone

Do You Have A Professional License?
An architect licensed in Washington State will be registered with the Wa. State Dept of Licensing. Keep in mind there are 'residential design' consultants (such as interior designers), who can design residential spaces, but are not architects and would not need to be licensed as such.

Do You Have Liability Insurance?
The architect should be covered by liability insurance. The amount of professional liability insurance will vary from architect to architect, according to the type(s) of work the architect does. For projects such as ADUs, you should look for a figure of at least $250,000.

Do You Have Experience With Residential Design?
Just as there are different types of doctors, there are different types of architects. Some may specialize in commercial and other non-residential work and have little or no experience in residential projects. You will want to look for candidates who have 'residential' design experience.

Have You Done Any Residential Projects In My City?
It is not required, but it may be helpful if the architect has already worked on projects within the city you live in. If the architect is already familiar with the codes and regulations of your city, there will be less research required prior to the job. This could save you money in both the research and design areas of architect services.

Do You Have Any ADU Projects In Your Portfolio?
The interests of an architect can vary from architect to architect. For example, two architects may both have residential experience, but specialize or like to work in different residential settings. One may be interested more in larger apartment complexes, while the other likes working with smaller residential projects, such as small apartment or condominium complexes or single family homes. Candidates who have single family home experience may also have some experience with ADUs, particularly since it is becoming increasingly popular to design new homes with ADUs as part of the design. Finding an architect with both experience and interest in ADU projects would be a plus, since you would be able to look at their ADU design portfolio. If your ADU involves remodeling, finding a candidate with remodeling design experience would also be a plus.

Do You Have Any Completed Projects I Can Visit?
Ask for at least two references for either residential or (especially) ADU residential projects completed by the architect. Some architects may give you a longer list of references.

NOTE: You are encouraged to visit one or more of the projects to get a feel for the architects' style of work. It is also a benefit if you can talk to the owner of the project you are visiting, to discuss the owner's experience and level of satisfaction in working with the architect.

Once you have narrowed your list of candidate architects down to one or two, you may wish to call and set up an appointment to meet and talk with them. Again, be sure to ask if you will be charged a fee for the in-person consultation and, if so, whether you must pay the fee at the time of the visit or be billed for it through the mail. Following are some questions you might find useful when meeting with potential architects.

Visiting An Architect

Who Would Be Working On My Project?
You will want to know if the person you are talking to will be performing the work, or whether some other person in the office would be assigned to work on the project. If some other person is to be assigned your job, ask about the experience level of the other person and request that you be able to meet that person (and be able to talk to him/her) before you make your decision.

How Would I Be Involved In The Services You Provide?
You will want to know if you will be giving any input during the work the architect will perform and, if so, what your level of involvement will be. It will also be helpful to you to ask about the timing of your involvement (at what points of time in the process you can expect to be involved). This will help you get better organized overall, and give you more time to think through the options you have or the input you will be giving. In this way, you will be prepared for more meaningful involvement when the time comes.

How Often Would We Meet?
You will want to know how often the architect likes to meet with his/her clients, to keep them informed of progress, or to just 'check in'.

How Much Would You Charge Me For The Services I Want?
This will be based upon the type and the level of services you will want from the architect.