If you are considering some sort of home repair or renovation, you might wonder whether you need to engage the services of an architect. The unsatisfying answer is that it depends entirely on the scope of the project and the extent to which you desire customization or special design.
For most smaller scale projects--for example, replacing a window, installing new doors, repainting interiors, or replacing an HVAC system--a professional contractor is probably all that you need. So long as the contractor has the requisite experience and licensure, he or she should be able to do the job.
(You can typically check the status of licenses through your state’s Department of State or Professional Services Division, and you can verify a contractor’s reputation through your local Chamber of Commerce or Better Business Bureau).
Architects are usually important to add to your project team when there is more original, creative, or sophisticated design work to be done. Architects typically have Masters degrees, extensive practical experience, and additional certifications that contractors do not possess. They can turn a basic contract into something special. And remember that your home is an investment as well as a place to live. A well designed project will add to its resale value.
Of course, hiring one will add to your project costs. Still, an architect may not be as expensive as you think. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, architects' median pay was (as of 2015) $36.59 per hour.
So, you might engage an architect if you want to do a large-scale home renovation that involves structural changes to your home. These might include, for example, moving a staircase, adding a balcony, or rearranging a kitchen or bathroom. An architect can also provide a degree of creativity and design experience that could benefit your project.
If you are uncertain whether an architect’s experience is required, you can always have a consultation with an architectural firm. They will typically charge you for that session, but you can at least get a firm idea of whether or not their services will add value to your project. You can also schedule separate consultations with contractors, to get an idea of the extent of their expertise and ability to lend creative thinking to your home improvement project.