Skilled professionals have experience that you may not have, and they know what pitfalls to avoid. But they are not infallible; they’re subject to prejudices, particularly if they aren’t well versed in the latest energy efficiency technologies and practices. Find professionals who are knowledgeable and cooperative, and assemble a team that will work together to bring your project to fruition.

Should I Get a Home Performance Assessment Even if I Don’t Have the Money to Follow Through?

Yes. A comprehensive home performance assessment will give you the information you need to make informed decisions for both planned renovations and emergency repairs. Make sure you get a thorough assessment—one that includes water use, energy use, indoor air quality (IAQ), combustion safety, structural integrity, and moisture management in the home.

Your home performance assessment will also help you plan future projects, many of which may be surprisingly inexpensive. A thorough assessment will reveal the hidden defects in your house and provide a baseline against which you can measure your proposed and completed improvements. Best of all, being informed in advance means you won’t be at the mercy of the first person who shows up to fix your A/C when it’s 100°F outside.

Do I Need an Architect?

If you are making any changes to the floor plan or structure of your home, consider hiring an architect or a residential designer. These professionals understand the big picture and how all the parts work together. Their expertise can save you many headaches—and possibly save you enough money to cover their fee. Look for an architect whose experience, design style, and communication skills are a good fit for yours. Keep interviewing candidates until you find the right one.

Don’t confuse a drafter with an architect. The architect provides the technical knowledge and creativity to turn your dreams and needs into workable, satisfying, three-dimensional concepts, and then translate those concepts into forms and materials. The drafter, who may or may not be an architect, records all that on paper. (In other words, architects may provide drafting services, but not every drafter is an architect.)

Should I Hire a Contractor?

You may be able to do some or all of the work yourself, either acting as the contractor (managing subcontractors, timing, and materials flow) or doing the actual labor. But keep in mind that construction has become very specialized; without the right skills, you won’t always be able to do the work in the most efficient and effective way.

Major renovations usually require hiring a contractor who meets your local or state licensing requirements. In most locations, plumbing, HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning), and electrical work must be done by licensed contractors.

Design-build companies are becoming increasingly popular. They offer both design and construction services, eliminating the finger pointing that often occurs in the traditional architect-contractor-homeowner triangle. Designer-builders tend to develop more practical solutions because of their construction experience, and they seldom exceed their cost estimates. But make sure you like both the design and the construction reputation of a design-build firm before you sign on.

Home Energy Assessment Resources

Building Performance Institute

ENERGY STAR Home Energy Yardstick

Home Energy Assessments (DOE)

Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET)

Home Energy Saver Pro

Residential Energy Services Network (RESNET)

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