09 November 2021

6 Key Phases Of The Residential Design Process

Are you in the planning stages of building your dream home? If so, you need to hire an architect to turn your dream into a reality. But when working with an architect, you'll realize they often use complicated terms during the process of building your residential home. And if you're unfamiliar with the terminologies, it becomes tough to follow the conversations, leaving you hanging. This is the last thing you want to experience because it becomes hard to follow what's going on.

Fortunately, you don't need to learn all the technical vocabulary. You can start by understanding these key phases of the residential design process:

1. Pre-Design 

This is the first stage during the design process and is also referred to as the programming phase. During this phase, the architect will interact with you to know your needs, lifestyle, and personality. This interaction also helps bring up several essential details into the light such as:

  • The space that's enough for your present and future needs
  • How the space should be arranged, organized, and utilized
  • Site analysis, which entails lead testing, asbestos testing, dealing with existing buildings, and investigating any dangerous material. This also helps get a clearer picture of how the site interconnects to the people, climate, regulations, and surrounding area, which might affect the project.
  • Code or zoning analysis to know the accepted size and use of the structure to be built as certain code issues might affect the project. This is done by talking to city planning employees and going over the Zoning Summary.

Having all these in mind before even starting your construction project helps speed up the process and ensure both parties are on the same page regarding the size and terms. If you both agree, go ahead and sign a contract hiring the architect for their services. 

2. Schematic Design

This step is where the architectural company starts creating a building design concept after examining your wishes. The schematic design phase isn't so comprehensive but rather conceptual and accounts for around 15% of the architect's fees and total work. At this stage, the architectural design team begins to explore design concepts to get a general feel and look of the project. They also consult you to discuss any specific requirements and do exhaustive research to assess your property.

At this phase, the architect also finalizes their initial research on the local regulations and compliance. With this in mind, they can confidently determine the relationship between every space, location, and project size. Everything done at this step aims to come up with the size and shape of the building and some basic design. Other details that'll be delivered at this step include:

  • Building cross-section 
  • Floor plans of every level with plumbing fixtures and generic openings 
  • Typical wall section

Upon your approval, the architectural team will proceed to the next phase. 

3. Design Development Phase

It accounts for about 20% of an architect's fees and total work, which entails them working together with you to choose products such as fixtures, doors, windows, materials, and appliances, as well as interior finishes. Unlike with the schematic design, the architect will have a more updated plan with more information and greater precision when it comes to cost. This is done to give you more accurate estimates at the early design stages. 

4. Construction Documents Phase

During this phase, the architect is expected to be done with specifications and drawings, referred to as Construction Documents. It accounts for approximately 40% of an architect's work and fees, but this percentage differs from one project to another. The Construction Document phase entails preparing blueprint notes or drawings. In addition, architects and engineers finalize the technical specifications needed for construction, bidding, and applying for a permit. Examples of engineering discussed include electrical, structural, energy calculations, gas, and plumbing.  

The Construction Documents will be handed over to a contractor to be given a quote on how much the project will cost.

5. Bidding 

This phase only takes up a small percentage of the architect's fees and work, usually around 5%. Bidding involves going through different bids from various contractors hoping to get the construction project. It's best to assess these different bids alongside your architect because they can provide you with a list of approved contractors.

The architect will also help you examine the different contractor bids to compare the different costs better. They also have the experience and skill to gauge whether a contractor went through the blueprint as this is vital to ensure they hand over an accurate bid. In addition, the architect will help you issue formal clarifications to the illustrations and answer any question asked by a contractor.

6. Construction Administration 

It's the final phase when designing a residential property, and the architect's duty is now project management rather than creative design. The architect won't be physically present at the construction site at all times. However, they'll regularly pass by, and this could be monthly or weekly to ensure that the construction is being done with your design wishes in mind. They also come by whenever the contractors are considering changing the design, and the architect consults you to ensure you accept such alterations.

At this phase, the architect will confirm the billing the contractor is sending you to ensure they aren't overcharging you for their services. They're also tasked with other responsibilities such as solving any issue that arises during construction and confirming the contractor is using the correct material. Ideally, the contractor and architect should work together to solve any unforeseen issue that arises during construction. This will ensure your project runs smoothly and won't exceed the projected construction timeline.


Having a conversation with an architect during the construction of your residential home can become quite intimidating due to the complex terms they use. As a result, you'll mostly find yourself confused. The best way to prevent this would be to familiarize yourself with the key phases followed during the residential design process. If you’re unfamiliar with these, this guide has enlightened you to better understand what to expect during the design process.

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