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Frequently Asked Questions

We know everyone has questions, especially when embarking on a custom home or renovation project. For most, it is the largest investment you will make in your life. We believe it’s very important to provide the answers to your questions, help you understand the design process, and openly share what is involved in a custom project so that you can determine if it’s the right choice for you. In this article, we address the most common questions we hear when consulting with new clients.


Working with an Architecture Firm
Affordability and Finances
Process and Timing
Getting Started

Working with an Architecture Firm

How will I know Bell+Associates Architecture is the right design firm for me?

Finding the right designer is important, and meeting with 2-3 architecture firms is a great way to start. You may find our downloadable resource Ask Designers the Right Questions helpful as you interview firms and make your decision.

We firmly believe that designing new custom homes or planning renovations for our clients is a collaborative process between designer and client. We listen and ask thoughtful questions to ensure we understand and identify your goals and priorities. Your answers reveal how you live, your aesthetic preferences, your budget, and your desired time frame. Our collaboration will integrate your ideas with our creativity and experience and will uncover the possibilities as we move through the creative design process to deliver the optimal concept for your renovation or new custom home or cottage.

We’re not the right architecture firm for everyone. If you decide to choose another architecture firm, we will wish you the very best with your project and hope you achieve great results for you and your family. However, before you decide on a design firm, please ask the right questions to ensure you will receive the level of service, experience, and results you seek.

What should I expect if I decide to hire your firm?

Expect that our team will work collaboratively with you to develop a design that will be beautiful, highly functional, and unique to your lifestyle—a home or cottage you will enjoy for years to come. Professional design is an investment that pays back in so many ways. Great design will not only make living in your home a pleasure, it will also add significant value to your home when you decide to sell.

Our goal is to create a new living space that meets your functional and aesthetic wants and needs, your expectations, and your budget… a space that brings you joy. See our design process for more information about each phase in our design process.

With two offices, in Kanata/West Ottawa and Pembroke, you decide which location is most convenient for you. During the design process, many items can be addressed by email or over the phone, and milestone meetings are held at our office or as a virtual meeting.

Can I buy the floor plans of a home you already designed?

Bell+Associates Architecture is retained to collaborate with clients to develop unique custom homes just for them. These design plans are exclusively for their use and your plans will be exclusively for your use.

What are the initial steps after I contact your firm?

First, Jim offers a complimentary phone consultation to confirm a few details and understand your needs so that we can prepare for a meeting or site consultation. Jim will share our design process and you will have an opportunity to ask questions about your project and next steps. After this call, if you think that our firm may be a good fit for you, then we will schedule a site consultation and provide a written proposal that provides clarity and understanding about the process, services, costs, and benefits for you. If you decide to accept the detailed proposal, we will prepare a contract for you to sign. Once the contract and retainer are received, your project will be placed on our design schedule. A fee applies for the site consultation but if you sign a contract with our firm, the fee will be applied to your retainer.

Who will be designing my home? Will Jim be involved or will my project be passed on to a junior designer?

Jim reviews the drawings at every step of the design process for every custom home, cottage, or renovation, and one or more of our highly-experienced and talented technologists will be your key contact. Jim and our design team draw on years of experience and create a unique solution for your needs, wants, and dreams. Though Jim is only a call away at any time during the design process, after the initial design direction is determined, one of our technologists will be assigned to your project to complete the detailed drawings. You will likely interact more with the technologist during the Design Development and Permit/Construction Document phases. Our General Manager & Associate, Amie Cybulski, will oversee the entire process, from start to finish, to ensure that all design team members working on your project are coordinated and informed.


Is renovating a good option?

You enjoy numerous things about your home. You like the location, neighbourhood, schools, and amenities but there are things you don’t like, such as the less-than-functional kitchen, poor layout, insufficient space, or rooms that just don’t work for you anymore. Renovating may be a good option for you to consider as an alternative to selling your home and moving your family. Renewing and improving your home by renovating or building an addition may be an excellent fit for your needs.

Renovating can address many issues with your current home, especially when you engage an experienced architecture firm. Your best investment when renovating is a comprehensive design process that produces a complete set of permit/construction drawings that fully articulate the project details. This investment will go a long way towards making the permit approvals and construction more efficient, will produce a significantly more accurate budget, and give you peace of mind throughout the process.

Will your firm take on a smaller design project such as a renovation or addition?

Bell+Associates Architecture welcomes the opportunity to work with clients on a range of projects of varying sizes, from a new custom home to a renovation or addition to your existing home. Generally speaking, you do not need to engage our firm for small renovation projects that do not require structural changes (e.g., replacing kitchen cabinets, flooring, lighting). We serve clients across Eastern Ontario and Western Quebec from our offices in Ottawa and Pembroke who are designing for renovations that will have a build cost of $300,000 and up. For an extensive renovation or addition to your home, the quality of the design will make a significant difference when it comes to aesthetics, flow, functionality, and curb appeal.

If you are planning a small kitchen renovation or bathroom (e.g., replacing cupboards and flooring) that does not involve moving walls or an addition, drawings may not be required by the municipality. In that case, you may find a contractor or retailer who can provide the basic plan you require without additional cost. Of course, it is always important to verify the requirements for your specific project with relevant authorities.

Affordability and Finances

How much does it cost to work with an architecture firm?

Every project is unique and your fee is determined after we gain an understanding of your specific project. Jim always begins with a 20-minute complimentary phone consultation. He will ask key questions and share our design process, and you will have an opportunity to ask questions about your project and the next steps. He will also provide a general estimate of design fees and potential build costs, if possible. After this call, if you think that our firm may be a good fit for you, then we will schedule a site consultation. Following the visit to your property, we will prepare a written proposal that provides clarity and understanding about our process, services, costs, and benefits for you. Except for the site consultation fee (which will be applied to your retainer if you sign a contract with us) you are under no obligation until you accept this detailed proposal and sign the contract.

Every project is different and just as we design a unique custom home or renovation for each client, we also work to prepare the best proposal for each client’s needs, budget, and timeframe. Although most clients want to have the reassurance of a set-fee contract, there is also an option to pay an hourly fee based on the number of hours our design team spends working on your project.

How much will my new home or renovation cost?

Our team collaborates with you during the initial stage of the design process to establish your overall budget. We want to ensure your budget and wish list are aligned. The goal of the collaborative design process is to meet your needs and desires as much as possible while staying within your budget parameters. As you move through the design phases and the details of your design are established, the cost estimates become more accurate. If you would like a very general idea of how much your new custom home or addition may cost, download our worksheet “How Much Will My Custom Home Cost to Build?“ from our Resources page.

Will I be charged for revisions during the design process?

During the first two phases of the design process, we will discuss your needs in detail and present options while collaborating with you to determine the best design for your family. Once you approve the design for your custom home or renovation and technical drawings are underway, a minor revision will be fine, but multiple or major revisions will come with additional charges. That is why we include a Change Contingency fund in our proposals. The amount charged will be determined by the nature of the revision. Sometimes what seems like a fairly small change means hours of work to modify the drawings.

It is rare that a design exceeds two rounds of revisions because our design process begins with an essential step called a Program Brief. It documents all of the key elements of your project including: design objectives, space requirements, budget estimates, site and zoning analyses, site survey, and soil/geotechnical report (if required). A Program Brief will not only reduce headaches and smooth the process considerably but will also reduce your overall budget when compared to skipping this step and jumping into drawings and construction before your needs, wants and budget are fully understood. However, if the revisions become excessive, then we will re-group and re-evaluate your Program Brief and discuss how to move forward in the design process.

How do I finance a new custom home or cottage?

Our article “Financing a New Custom Home, Cottage or Major Renovation” addresses this question.

Process and Timing

How long does the design process usually take?

Typically, from the signing of the contract to completion of permit/construction drawings, the design process for most projects takes 4 to 8 months. Some projects take less than 4 months and some can take 8 months or longer. The time necessary is largely dependent on your schedule and availability for feedback during the design process, as well as the size and complexity of the project. As we collaborate throughout the design process your input is critical.

Do I have to get my own building permit?

Bell+Associates Architecture has a fantastic team that is dedicated to preparing the documents necessary for the permits and approvals for your project in a timely and efficient manner. If you prefer to handle the permit process yourself, we are available to address any design or plan modifications, as required.

How long will it take to get my building permit?

Building permit approval time is multi-factorial. There are numerous items that influence the length of time it takes to receive a building permit, for example: site-specific approvals, involvement of the local conservation authority, heritage impact statements, and application for a minor variance/committee of adjustment. It can take from 1 to 6 months or more for the Building Department to issue your building permit. Once we know more about your project, we can provide a better estimate of the time you should expect.

Each municipality has different requirements and protocols for its building permit application process. When embarking on a design in a new area, we start by calling the municipal Planner/Zoning Examiner and Building & Planning Department to ensure we have a full understanding of the applicable zoning bylaws and building permit application requirements. However, we are already very familiar with the expectations in Ottawa, Pembroke, and many other municipalities in the Ottawa Valley/Eastern Ontario and western Quebec.

Getting Started

This is my first time designing a custom home or embarking on a major renovation with an architecture firm… how do I get started?

If you would like to begin by exploring more information about the process of working with an architecture firm, visit our Resources page for a range of resources that will familiarize you with everything from the design process, to answers to frequently asked questions, to articles covering a variety of topics. Don’t miss the opportunity to download easy-to-print pdfs. If you would like to book a phone consultation, please contact us through our web form or by calling 613-831-9688 (Ottawa) or 613-629-6988 (Pembroke) and dialing extension 100 to speak with Jacky.

What should I expect from a Site Consultation?

For a new custom home, cottage, or renovation, the residential site consultation allows you to:

  • Become acquainted with Jim or one of our senior designers and see if there is a good fit for working together
  • Obtain a professional opinion on the feasibility of your project
  • Review the site and discuss the zoning, setbacks, etc.
  • Discuss your ideas and goals with a professional
  • Discuss the timing and the approval process
  • Receive an idea of approximate project costs and potential fees and expenses
  • Review a proposed schedule of services and fees for the next stages of project
  • Benefit from time with a design expert with many years of experience

How long will it take before I can meet with Jim?

Jim welcomes the opportunity to consult with you about your custom home or renovation. Within a week or two of receiving your request and speaking with one of our offices, we will schedule a 20-minute phone chat with Jim to discuss a few details and understand your needs so that he can prepare for your Site Consultation. Depending on the time of year and your availability, the Site Consultation will usually be scheduled 2-6 weeks following your request to proceed.

I would like to contact your firm to discuss my project. How do I contact you?

Visit our Consultation or Contact page. We’d be happy to tell you more about the design process and set up a complimentary phone consultation. We look forward to working with you!