Why Architects Work With Engineers When Designing Homes

By Michael Tobias

When people decide to build a home rather than buy one that is complete and established, they usually contract an architect or professional building designer to draw the plans. Some people know exactly what they want while others need a creative professional to help them conceptualize and develop a design that will suit them. 

But that’s just the beginning. If you decide to build your own home, you’ll be relying on a team of experts who will work together. While your architect or designer will be responsible for the design concept and plans that are required for submission to the local authority, engineers are commonly required to ensure that more specific design features, from foundations to heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) are completed in terms of mandatory codes and regulations. 

Since both the architectural and engineering professions are integral to the design and construction of buildings, it stands to reason that their responsibilities often overlap. But in essence:

  • Architects generally design spaces to meet the needs of their clients and they focus on functionality as well as the aesthetic appearance of the interior and exterior of buildings, including homes. 
  • Engineers are responsible for ensuring that buildings are safe and functional and they specify structural materials (from steel to the concrete for foundations), as well as electrical, HVAC, and plumbing systems. 

Furthermore, architects and engineers often communicate their various ideas via technical drawings and blueprints, drawing on each other’s skills and knowledge. 

When it comes to the building process, a building contractor or company will be in charge of the build and will work closely with both the architect and engineer. 

Then there are the tradesmen who are skilled, sometimes registered workers who specialize in various elements that are an essential part of every construction project. Depending on the structure of the building, they might include: 

  • Electricians who are responsible for the wiring installed for electricity. They might work under the supervision of an electrical engineer who designs the electrical system as a whole 
  • Plumbers who deal with water and drain lines, and bathroom and kitchen fixtures and fittings. They might work with a plumbing engineer who takes responsibility for all the plumbing solutions in the house.
  • Bricklayers and stonemasons who lay bricks and undertake stonework will be part of the team if the house is built of brick or stone. 
  • Plasterers and screeders who plaster brick walls or screed concrete floors with mortar to create a smooth or deliberately textured finish prior to painting, tiling and so on. 
  • Carpenters, who are responsible for woodwork, including the framework of timber houses. They may also be employed to install built-in cupboards, kitchen and bathroom cabinets, and even doors and windows if they are wooden. 
  • Drywallers who erect walls made with a timber framework clad with plasterboard, gypsum board, or another drywall product. They usually also skim the finished drywall with a gypsum plaster mix. 
  • Painters, tilers, carpeting specialists and so on who are responsible for various finishes and who might work under the guidance of an interior designer. 

The tradesmen employed to work on a build will always report to the architect and/or engineer, as well as designers and/or the owner of the property. 

More About Architects & Designers

Architects are highly trained specialists who complete an accredited Bachelor of Architecture degree, or a Master’s degree if they have a bachelor’s degree that is not in architecture. 

To become licensed, they have to practice in the field for three years in the Intern Development Program (IDP) established by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NAAB) which has accredited architect training schools at universities throughout the U.S., and then pass the Architect Registration Examination (ARE) within five years. ARE has seven testing divisions and each one must be taken separately.

Most U.S. states require architects to continue with their education long-term to maintain their licenses. Options are available in the form of courses, workshops, and conferences as well as special continuing education programs offered by the NCARB.

Architects are allowed to design every type of building, including homes and they supervise construction. Designs incorporate functionality and aesthetics and take form and safety as well as the needs of property owners into account. 

Certified professional building designers are not as highly qualified as architects. They specialize in light-frame buildings including single- and multi-family homes and, if state regulations allow, also the design of light-frame commercial and other buildings. To be certified by the National Council of Building Design, a building designer has to complete training courses and practice the profession for at least six years, building a portfolio that proves his or her expertise. 

Interior designers specialize in aesthetics but are also responsible for space planning that is functional. They will often work very closely with architects and are in an ideal position to improve the sustainability of the overall design of a home. 

The Role of Engineers

There are six major types of engineering and hundreds of subcategories, only some of which are relevant to the construction industry. The most likely engineering services anyone building a house is likely to utilize are plumbing, electrical, HVAC, and mechanical, electrical, and plumbing (MEP). Sprinkler engineers play an important role in larger buildings in terms of fire protection, whether it be providing custom sprinkler engineering solutions or simple consultations. Additionally, an increasing number of leading engineering firms now specialize in energy modeling and will estimate the total energy required and strategize in terms of the best systems for the application. 

So, when we look at why architects work with engineers when they design homes, it should be relatively obvious that they have skills and experience that architects, in general, do not have.

Ultimately, it is more than worthwhile to find an MEP engineering firm in Chicago, New York, Dallas, or any other U.S. city that is willing to partner with architects and building managers whether the project is a commercial high-rise building or a single-family home. 

Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of New York Engineers, an Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Company in America. He leads a team of more than 30 mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and fire protection engineers from the company headquarters in New York City, and has led numerous projects in New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Florida, Maryland, and California, as well as Singapore and Malaysia. He specializes in sustainable building technology and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council.

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