Do You Need an Architect for Your Renovation?


You’ve decided to renovate your home. Who do you hire? Do you need an architect on your “dream team”?

Every major renovation project requires a general contractor to handle the actual construction work done for the project. Some renovations however, require a trained architect for technical and design expertise, including producing architectural drawings for board or Department of Buildings (or local equivalent) permitting and approvals. Some renovators hire architects to provide a level of style, detail and management they feel are worth the expense, sometimes estimated at 20% of the budget.

Here, some factors to help determine what professionals will be needed for your renovation from Sweeten, a free, award-winning service that has matched thousands of renovators with screened general contractors:

When an architect is needed:

You’ll need an architect if any of the following apply to your renovation:

  • Changing the layout, making additions or tearing down walls

  • Moving plumbing lines such as bathtub or dishwasher

  • Moving gas lines

  • Doing work on a landmark property

  • Any changes that require approval from the Department of Buildings

When a general contractor may be all you need:

Going right to a contractor may be best suited to your job if none of the above apply to your renovation and you have a general idea of what you’d like to do with the space. Most contractors can provide some guidance on design and materials, and can often suggest creative solutions for tackling challenges.

NOTE: A contractor who is licensed ensures that the necessary level of checkpoints and screening processes have been met. More on this below.

When you might want an interior designer:

If walls and room functions are not being altered dramatically, an interior designer can help with things like:

  • Considering overall traffic flow, lighting, and space planning

  • Designing custom built-ins and cabinetry

  • Project management and purchasing of materials, fixtures and appliances

  • Choosing the furniture styles, color palette, and finishes

Consider a design-build firm:

Design-build can be a cost-effective option for medium to large-scale renovations, or any project that requires high attention to detail. These teams offer:

  • A full package of design, construction and project management services

  • A single point of contact from start to finish

  • A fluid process with more predictable timelines between design and construction phases

Who do I hire first?

A renovation has a lot of moving parts. One of the most frequently asked questions is how to tackle a renovation in an organized fashion. Look to build your team based on your needs, whether that involves architectural plans or permits pulled to deciding on overall aesthetic or finishes, or all of the above.

Why you should always hire a licensed contractor


A locally valid license and proper insurance is a must for any reliable general contractor. Your county or state website will list all licensed contractors in the licensing or consumer affairs sections. To join Sweeten’s NYC network, for example, a contractor must have a valid Home Improvement Contractor (HIC) license and pass the Department of Consumer Affairs background check, assuring certain industry standards.

A note of warning to those tempted by the lower estimates of an unlicensed contractor: Contractors without bonafide credentials may not be able to obtain the required permits for your job, so if work fails to meet building codes, you will be responsible for the repairs. (That can turn into an unpleasant surprise when some homeowners want to sell their house.) Allowing work on your property by an unlicensed contractor could also void your homeowner’s insurance policy. If the contractor lacks workers’ compensation insurance, you become the de facto employer, responsible for any accidents on the property, or anyone else’s property, if the contractor is negligent.


Named “Best Contractor Locator” by New York Magazine, Sweeten is a free service that matches homeowners and business owners with the best general contractors for their renovation, with personal support from start to project completion.