Another Potential LEED Home! We're Hired!

January 8, 2010



We are hired by a family in Darien CT- the town next door- to help them design a major addition and gut renovation of their exiting house. We had actually met the family before.  A year earlier we had interviewed to be their architect. They had gotten our name from two separate contractors – the two contractors who I would say truly know how to build a green home. We know one of the contractors because we had worked on and off with them since 1999 when I designed my first super energy efficient gut renovation/ addition. They were the only contractor we knew at the time who knew a lot about green building and I would see them at all of the green building conferences both local and national. We know the second contractors from simply being in the same small circuit of professionals who really care about building sustainably in Farifield County, CT.

We are not exactly sure why we did not get the job the first time around. It can be a number of things that lead a client to choose one architect over another Could it be we are women? Could it be that though in our 40’s we look a bit younger than that? Maybe there is just not that perfect immediate understanding? Maybe our fee was simply higher?


In general architects charge in the neighborhood of 10% of construction cost for a job. Everyone bills and contracts slightly differently- but that is the basic goal. It is extremely difficult to keep an architecture firm running if your fees are less than that. In Farifield County, truly established and well known architects ask for and get 12-15% or more. Then there are many one-man-show architects who ask for 7-9%. I have architect friends in the Midwest who run firms happily on 8% fees. They live very middle class lives. Most architects do not make a ton of money unless they can command 15% fees OR unless they were born wealthy. Architecture truly is the gentleman’s profession. The fees we proposed the first time around were in the neighbor hood of 10% of construction costs. We have a 3 part contract: 2.5% for Design (the creative brain storming and basic drawing needed to find and convey an elegant solution to the problem at hand), 5.0% for Construction Documents (the drawings and specifications, etc needed to get permits, bids and construction completed) and 2.5% for Construction Administration (the weekly job meetings and general over-site of the job construction.).

Last year, this client was deciding between us and one other architect. The other architect- the one they chose the first time- was an older male architect, a one-man-show. He had come recommended to them by some friends. He told them he could design a green home (as this was their major priority). I have no idea if his price was significantly less than our or if he simply had more gravitas. It doesn’t really matter, in the end he wasn’t designing for them what they wanted and he was not responsive when they asked for better.  They called us about a year after our first interview and asked us to step in. As they had already done a fair amount of design with the other architect we changed the first phase of our fee from a percentage to an hourly fee. We knew we would not need to spend nearly as much time in design as the client had already seen the space potential and thought through a lot of the design options by working with the other architect. Actually many architects find that their best clients, is the client who has already been ‘broken in’ by a different architect.

Anyway it was the beginning of what we would find to be an extremely satisfying architect-client relationship. Not only do we all get along well, but we all have the same direction in mind for the house. We each wanted the house to be very energy efficient, clean, healthy and natural. We share an aesthetic direction as well. We found along the way that we all also hold very similar views about lifestyle and environmental politics. We were pretty sure that we would hire one of the two highly knowledgeable green contractors that I spoke of earlier to do the work. This is a great recipe for bringing a green home to fruition. The goal for the house is the same for everyone.



We discuss the options for rating the house. LEED, Energy Star, NAHB (National Association of Home Builders.) The clients are interested but don't feel an overwhelming urge at this point to put a lot of money into getting rated by anyone. We agree to all think about it as the job progresses.