Written by Amy Baker,
14th June 2019

If you’re dreaming of a new life in Canada, don’t settle for second best – and that includes on your home. If you choose to self-build, you can get everything exactly as you want, and our guide tells you exactly how to do that. We’ve already looked at finding a plot, and this week, we’re exploring how to find an architect and what to expect from them.

Architect or building designer?

You’ll find two types of professionals who can help with your plans: a builder designer and an architect. A building designer is usually not registered, so we’d only recommend using them for smaller or simple projects – otherwise go with an architect who’s registered with the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.


Your architect will often be able to make the process of applying for planning much smoother.

Your architect will often be able to make the process of applying for planning much smoother.


As for choosing the individual architect, you’ll want someone who:

  • Is communicative – see how swiftly and efficiently their office replies to you if you make an inquiry
  • Has a strong track record – ask around neighbours and anyone else who has done a self-build in the community, as well as any local builders’ merchants and so on
  • Understands your needs – do they understand what you’re looking at doing, and are they willing to help out, or does it seem like they want to make significant changes?
  • Meets legal

What is the role of the architect?

This will depend on your own role – on how hands-on you intend to be, and what kind of a build you’re doing.

If you’re looking to entirely self-build from scratch, and you do not already have drawings prepared, then your architect can take everything on from the very beginning of the project. They can draw up the plans, including producing specialist models for you to look at., but their office will also be able to submit for planning permission – and will often know the tips and tricks to help get something through planning that you might miss. They’ll also often have good relationships with planning officers. While this shouldn’t impact initial decisions, it can make any disputes or back-and-forth that bit easier to resolve.

Your architect will often know the tips and tricks to help get something through planning that you might miss.

Remember that any plans for a building over 600m2, or three storeys high, will need to be stamped by a registered architect or engineer. Even if your home is (as is likely!) under these size requirements, it can still be useful to have a professional submit them, as you’re otherwise liable for all changes and revisions.

Equally, you might choose to go down more of a ‘project management’ route. For example, if you’re building a pre-fabricated or modular home, they won’t need to draw up plans from scratch. However, they can help with siting the property, choosing the best location on your plot, as well as with any modifications or extras. They’ll be able to supervise much of the work and draw up plans for timescale and budget. They’ll also ensure everything fits local zoning and by-laws.

Find out how to finance your building project in our brand-new guide, How to Pay for It.

If you’re looking at very particular types of homes, then a specialist architect will be worth their weight in gold. For example, if you’re thinking of going for a Passivhaus, or zero-energy house, then it is much easier to draw on an architect’s knowledge than to attempt to do it yourself from reading up.

How are architects’ fees calculated?

While we can’t give a precise number for an architect’s fees, as it does vary from every project, but, if you have a rough idea of your budget, you can normally work backwards to get an estimate as a benchmark when contacting architects. There are three different ways they might ask to be paid:

Fixed fee

As the name implies, this means you’ll agree a lump sum up front and that will be it. This means you’ll have a carefully defined scope at the very beginning – great for keeping everything on track, but meaning that it’s less likely for there to be flexibility if anything crops up further down the line.

Percentage fee

This is perhaps the most common in Canada, and has the advantage of being highly flexible. It means that the final fee will be an overall net percentage of the whole project, minus engineering or other consultants’ costs. The percentage will normally be up for negotiation. Normally, when you sign the contract, you’ll pay an initial deposit, too.

Knowing how to negotiate effectively could be a big boost to your budget. Read more in our free guide, How to Negotiate Abroad. 

Hourly rate

If it’s a small project, or you just need them for a short period of time, this could be a good option for you. If it is a longer project, then make sure to agree in advance a set time period to sit down with them and review the rates and possibly adjust. This stops disputes spilling over and helps you to predict and plan for any potential raises.

However you’re calculating your fee, make sure that you know whether it does or doesn’t include out-of-pocket expenses, such as travel costs or administrative elements like photocopying documents.

Making your home build a success

Building your own home, exactly as you want it, is immensely rewarding – but is made so much easier with the help of the right professionals. As well as an architect, you’ll also need to find a reliable, top-quality builder. Doing so isn’t always easy, especially in a new country, so don’t miss next month’s third part of this serialisation, on how to do just that.

If you’re moving to Canada from overseas to build your perfect home, you’ll need to factor in exchange rates to your budget. Since these constantly change, it is impossible to properly budget – unless you secure a fixed exchange rate. Find out more by inquiring with our trusted partner, Smart Currency Exchange, below.

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