We want to create an open layout by knocking down a load-bearing wall between our kitchen and living room in our San Francisco Home. Do we need a structural engineer or architect?

Removal of these central bearing walls is fairly common in San Francisco. They are often part of a larger remodel project but are sometimes done in isolation of any larger remodeling goals.

Do I need an Architect?
Typically an architect would be involved if the demolition of the wall was part of a larger remodel. The Architect would be involved to:

  • Assess ultimate goals for the remodel with the home owner
  • Document the existing conditions and generate background drawings for use on the project
  • Provide layout sketches to communicate various ways of arranging the new spaces
  • Create detailed drawings illustrating any aesthetic changes to the space such as cabinet locations, window locations and new trim or decorative elements
  • Assist with finish selections
  • Create detailed construction documents for permit application and construction

Please feel free to read more about the home remodeling process in our past postings.

Do I need a Structural Engineer?
Ultimately you will need a structural engineer as part of the permit and construction drawing process. The engineer will utilize the architect’s background to provide framing plans and calculations to demonstrate how the bearing wall is to be replaced.

For smaller jobs which simply involve removing the wall and patching the existing finishes an architect may ultimately not be your best answer. A good structural engineer can provide the drawings the contractor and city needs and a good contractor can work with you on exactly how you want to patch in the finishes. There are many factors that would influence which direction would make sense for you. Usually a brief phone call is enough for us to assess your needs and offer additional guidance on what services make the most sense for you.

How much does it cost to add a master bedroom to our Palo Alto home? We would like to add 300 sqft onto a sloping hill with an outside staircase.

Building a new master bedroom is a great way to grow your house to fit your needs while increasing your home’s value.

Based on the square footage you mention, the sloping site, and the need to provide a stair for access, I would recommend making your construction budget at least $300/s.f. This cost may rise depending on the nature of your site slope. A steeply sloping site may require more complicated foundations and an upward sloping site could require more extensive excavation.

Because of the limited size of your addition, you are not getting a great economy of scale for the construction cost. Now might be a great time to revisit your current and future needs as increasing the square footage of your addition somewhat could have a low marginal cost. As for a total construction budget, you can plan on anywhere from $125,000 – $200,000 for a horizontal addition of this size with minimal remodeling of other areas of the home.

Creative Additions & Reclaiming Unused Space
Building a home addition on a sloping backyard presents challenges, but ultimately is a great way to expand your home. We’ve help many Bay Area homeowners increase their total square footage on tight and challenging properties. If expanding onto an angled hill becomes economically unfeasible, we can produce a creative solution as we did when adding a master bedroom to this San Francisco home by reclaiming unused crawl space.

Master Bedroom Reclaimed Crawl SpaceMaster bedroom built by reclaiming unused crawl space

What are the architectural fees?
The architectural fees for a project of this type will vary depending on the amount of interior design you desire. We can work with you to design a custom environment with high design and architect selected finishes. Many homeowners choose a full service approach in order to save time and ensure an end product they love. The architectural fees for this tend to be in the $25,000-30,000 range. A simpler set of plans can be produced without interior design assistance for an amount closer to $18,000.

Do I need a structural engineer? How do I find a general contractor?
In addition to an architect, you will likely need a soils report, site survey, structural engineer and title 24 energy consultant (a minimal cost). I know this can sound intimidating, but Martinkovic Milford Architects can help guide you through the process and manage any needed specialists.

A general contractor is typically selected after drawings by all professional are complete. This allows us to solicit a complete bid package to contractors to ensure quality construction at the best price. You can read more about finding, hiring, and working with a general contractor in one of our previous articles.

How much does it cost to remodel a Tudor house in San Francisco? We want to build-out an in-law unit and add an additional story.

Your project sounds exciting and is just the kind of thing we do at Martinkovic Milford Architects. You may be interested in looking at the Parekh Residence on our website, which included an attic expansion and first floor extension on an existing Tudor home in Menlo Park. We’ve done numerous projects in San Francisco that create additional rooms on the first floor and claim new living spaces within the attic.

Parekh Parekh Parekh
Parekh Residence

To answer your question:  Our firm works on a fixed fee basis for each of the typical design phases of a project.  Once design is wrapped up and construction drawings are completed we move into hourly services for the contractor selection and construction phases, providing you estimates of our time as things proceed.  The costs for each of these phases will vary with the level of services needed and amount of the design to be provided.  We are happy to discuss specific projects in more detail and provide additional information regarding pricing as it pertains to your particular set of circumstances. Feel free to call our office any time at 415-346-9990.

Below is a brief summary of the typical design phases and how our services may vary in each.

Pre Design: In this phase we document the existing building, generate background drawings for use throughout the project, and perform the initial code studies to determine the parameters around which the project must be designed. Fee ranges depend on whether the intended scope of work includes an addition and the size and complexity of the existing conditions to be documented.

Schematic Design: In this phase we’re providing initial layout drawings for your home remodel. We typically provide 3 different directions initially, present them to you for your reactions, and based on the feedback, generate one additional design scheme that takes into account your feedback on which layouts best fit your lifestyle. Fee ranges vary depending on scope of work complexity of the design solutions needed.

Design Development: In this phase we are establishing the overall look and feel of the residence and our services will vary greatly from project to project. For some clients, we’ll perform very little design development services as they wish to work with a contractor they trust on choosing all of their interior finishes and fixtures and aren’t interested in creating a custom environment. For other clients we’ll make recommendations for every finish and fixture to go into the home, creating a unique design solution to craft a custom home that speaks directly to the owner’s tastes and unique lifestyle. We’ll walk you through all the options when we first meet and make sure our contract reflects the appropriate amount and level of design consideration for you and your budget.

Construction Documents: In this phase we generate the “blueprints” which will be used to apply for permits, solicit bids or proposals from general contractors, and ultimately used to construct your home remodel.  You can read more about selecting a contractor in a previous post. Fees will vary greatly with construction documents based on the amount of detail and design put into previous phases.

Please feel free to contact us directly to discuss price specifics regarding your home renovation project.

How do we find a qualified general contractor? Can you assist us in selecting and working with them?

Great question.  We can of course assist you on your project from concept to construction completion and have existing relations with numerous qualified and trustworthy contractors.  There are two common ways to work with a general contractor and each begins with the creation Construction Documents.

Creating Construction Documents

As architects, it is our pleasure to work closely with you to understand your goals for the project and then design accordingly, taking into account codes, legal restrictions, and budgets. The end product we create is a detailed set of Construction Documents which will be reviewed and permitted by local jurisdictions and then provided to a general contractor to construct the project.

Selecting a Contractor

You have a few options when it comes to selecting a general contractor. One option is to wait until the completion of the construction documents and solicit competitive bids from multiple general contractors for the full scope of work.

A second approach is to hire a general contractor early in the design process and make them a member of the team as the project develops. In this scenario, the project team evaluates different design options regarding price and we can track the budget closely as things develop.  When Construction Documents are complete, the general contractor solicits bids from a variety of subcontractors to get competitive prices from those trades and negotiates with you on their fees and markups.

In either scenario we will be more than happy to introduce you to qualified candidates for the construction and guide you through the process, staying on board through the completion of the construction as your advocate.

We’re in the process of buying a vacant lots in Los Altos Hills. Obviously there are a million factors that go into determining the final costs, but can you to take a low-medium-high stance on how much a new home construction could cost in this area?

Thanks for the question Surag. You are right, a million factors will ultimately determine the final cost of a construction project. However, at these very preliminary stages of project development you can usually rely on some simple rules of thumb to establish a budget.

For lower-end custom home construction you should budget $200-$250 per s.f.

Quality mid-end construction is more like $300-400 per s.f. and we find man projects will fall somewhere in that range.

High end projects start to get the most variation in cost as there can be a very steep cost increase as your make certain finish and equipment  choices. For preliminary budgeting purposes you can start with $500-$600 per s.f. in this market but be aware that you still need to stay on top of things to keep it from escalating to $700-800 or more.

In addition these numbers you should also budget about $100 per s.f. for exterior hardscape construction. (driveways, walks, patios, decks, etc.)

We recommend you include at least a 10% contingency in your budget to address any unexpected costs that may arise during construction.  With quality, accurate drawings and a good team managing the project you can stay on top of a lot of these unforeseen issues and stay on target with your budget.

Good luck with your parcel search. Be aware that there are some neighborhoods with strict CC&R’s so look into those before making any final decisions and adjust your plans accordingly.

Give us a call for a free consultation: 415 346 9990

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