Undercover Architect

How many drawings will I need to build or renovate my house?


Some of the reaction I received to my blog “The 6 top reasons to not use an architect” from other design professionals suggested I didn’t understand or appreciate the level of work, skill and detail in executing an architect-designed project.

With 20 years in the industry, working for and owning award-winning architectural practices, I am very familiar with the work, skill and detail that goes into executing architect-designed projects!!

Ultimately, the outcome of working with any design professional is the built project they help you create. This may be a renovation or extension, or a brand new home.

However, design fees are usually related to the amount of time a project will take. Even when they’re based on a percentage of construction cost, that is about how much time a project will take to deliver (because construction cost is closely linked to time costs too).

(You can read more about why percentage fees are used here).

So, what it looks like you’re paying for is TIME. You’re also paying for the inherent value of the outputs (tangible and in-tangible). However, like any service-based industry, the $$ fees will correlate to a relationship based on time.

The hourly rates used in that TIME model are generated by the skill-sets and training of the professional you use.

In that TIME model, you’ll get in-tangibles such as skill, expertise, advice, guidance, design ideas, knowledge, contacts, vision, etc etc …

And, you’ll get tangibles such as DRAWINGS, other documents such as specifications etc and the ultimate tangible – your finished home.

You can read more about the difference between architects, building designers and draftspeople here – which will highlight some of the training and skill disparities between those professions.

As for work, effort and detail, let’s dive more deeply into one way that work and detail is tangibly and physically represented to you, the homeowner.

What are some common drawings? And which drawings will you need?

When building or renovating, these are some of the basic drawings you’ll be looking at:

Site Plan

This describes your overall block of land, and how your home sits on it. It will also include any other notable features such as services, trees, external features.

Floor Plans

These describe the layout of your home, showing the rooms it includes, and what occurs in the walls of those rooms and within them.


These are flat drawings of the external walls of your home. They’re a two-dimensional representation of the outside of your house, showing walls, windows and doors, and roof, and any other external building features.


These are vertical slices through your home. They show how roof, wall and floor structure, and are useful also for describing the volume of your home that may not be visible in the floor plans and elevations.

There are lots more drawings used, but whether you’ll have them done for your place will depend on a couple of things:

  1. how big your project is

  2. what’s required for your council and building approvals

  3. the professional you’re working with (and how much you’re paying them)

  4. what your builder requires in terms of information for your build

  5. how much control you want to have over your construction process

It is possible to build a home from 5 or so drawings. An entire home can be built from a floor plan, elevations and site plan. However, given the drawings are how things are described, you can imagine that 5 drawings only gives you so much scope to tell the story of your home.

So many decisions …

Let’s just do a quick exercise. In the room you’re sitting in, look around at the building. The walls, the floor, the ceiling, the windows and doors.

Think about the components – the finishes you can see, the materials, the way they’re put together.

There’s probably plasterboard sheeting on the walls, a certain type of light fittings, powerpoints and light switches. A specific frame around the window. A certain floor board or tile. A grout colour. A timber floor stain. A certain type of skirting board, something else for the cornice. The windows are a specific type and size, and open a certain way. The same with the doors. The glass may be tinted, or obscured. And that’s just what you can see. That’s not mentioning what’s behind the walls, the ceiling or under the floor. The timbers or concrete that may be supporting them. What size they are, and how they’ve been put together.

Every time a material gets ordered, a nail gets hammered, a piece of timber gets positioned, a decision is made about where, when and how.

That decision can be made at several points … and each of them will impact the level of control you have over how it looks as a finished product.

You may be building a home off the plan with someone like Metricon or Stylemaster. In which case, there’ll be a significant number of decisions (and standardised details and systems) that are repeatedly used across all their homes that won’t be specific to your house alone.

However, if you’re doing anything bespoke … anything that will be done just once, at your home, then the decision will need to be made about what it will look like, and how it will be done, for your specific project.

When do you want to make decisions in your project?

So, it’s clear there’s lots of decisions to be made when building or renovating a project.

It’s actually one of the things that overwhelms a lot of homeowners, because they underestimate just how many there are! It is difficult, when you don’t do this everyday, to wrap your head around all the components that go into making your home a physical building that’s livable, functional and lovely to be in!

And I think this is where one of the big differences occurs in how homes are drawn, and how many drawings you have … and the work it takes to create them.

Most architecturally-designed home projects (new builds and renovations) can easily have upward of 40 drawings, and sometimes number over 100 pages.

I have a project happening right now at Undercover Architect, that is an extension of an existing house, basically adding 2 new spaces – and the drawing set is over 40 pages.

Why so many?

One word.


When it’s drawn, it’s described. And the decision is made at the point the drawing is created.

See, decisions about your home can be made at several points. They can be made during the design and drawing process, and bedded down (made permanent) in the lines on a page.

Or they can be made on site … either by you, or the builder, or your design professional.

Which timing do you think, though, will give you more confidence before you start construction?

And which timing do you think will give you greater certainty that what you want has been included in your quote, before you start on site?

AND which timing do you think will be less stressful overall …

Getting urgent calls from site from a builder dealing with trades and material deliveries and needing to know NOW what you want?

Or sitting with your design professional, during the design phase, and nutting out how you want something to look whilst drawings are being carefully created and curated before you’ve even started to turn dirt on site?

(Or the builder just making a decision on your behalf – which may, or may not, be how you pictured it being in your home but now you have to live with it, or pay to have it changed?)

And yes, some builders will tell you that many drawings just complicate the process.

My speculation however, is that some builders don’t like being accountable to drawings at that level of detail – they prefer to make their decisions as they go (or do things the way they’ve always done them) – rather than being intimately across everything you want to do.

For example, the project I mentioned earlier – it has a budget of $300,000.

The client is super busy. They’re not having us on site regularly during construction (which keeps their costs down overall).

They’re wanting to make decisions NOW and embed them in the drawings, so they are confident the quote is as accurate as possible, that unexpected costs, surprises and stresses on site are minimized, and that the project will turn out how we all expect and vision it to be.

So we are drawing it. In detail. So it’s well-described, thought out and pre-determined before it gets anywhere near being built.

And, with these clients, we have invested time, energy, money and emotion in the design process … so getting the drawings to a resolved and detailed level actually provides all of us with certainty that all that design effort will get carried through to the completed project (and not lost during the builder’s delivery).

One thing I know for sure …

The decisions need to be made.

You can outsource it, but you can’t skip it. 

So whether you are involved in making them, and whether they get embedded in the drawings, or get made on site, or somewhere in between …

It’s up to you to choose.

It’s not all or nothing

You don’t have to do 40 or so drawings to be guaranteed your home will turn out well.

Drawings aren’t the only communication tool used to create a new home or renovation.

The main aim of establishing control in execution of your big vision for your home is removing assumptions. The minute someone has to think on your behalf (without being empowered to do so, as your design professional, or even builder, may be), then an assumption has to be made.

As a mentor of mine once said, “Assumptions are the mother of all mistakes” (although his language was a little more flowery than that).

So, in everything you do with moving along the journey of your home build or reno, reduce or eliminate assumptions.

If you don’t use drawings, use words. Use pictures. Use physical examples. Use what’s at your disposal to illustrate what you want, and work with any professionals you do hire to assist you, to get everyone on the same page.

Features vs Benefits

You will often be sold to on the basis of what is tangibly produced. What does this mean?

It means architects, building designers and draftspeople will pitch to you on how much ‘work’ they do. Some building designers and draftspeople will even quote based on a price per page of drawing, or the number of square metres of home they need to design.

Architects can talk about how much work, effort and detail goes into designing, drawing and delivering your new home or renovation.

And honestly, if you haven’t built or renovated before, it can be very difficult to appreciate just HOW much work, detail, input and decision-making is required during that journey.

But what they’re talking about are the features.

And what you need to think about are the benefits.

It’s like when you weigh up (no pun intended) personal trainers. You generally don’t choose to buy because they say “pay this, and you’ll get to work out 3 times a week” [the feature] … you buy because they (and their style, or methods, or experience) convince you that if you “pay this, you’ll lose weight / feel fitter / feel stronger / be more confident” [the benefit]. 

A lot of what architects and other well-trained professionals bring to the project is the embedded value in the design process – and what they’ll unlock in potential for your project as a result. The potential to save time, and money, and be sure you’ll get it right.

And of course, their partnership in their experience and expertise – so you feel you have an ally in your journey, supporting and guiding you.

However, the tangible reflection of that value is the drawings and other supporting information that then produces that design on site – in your new or renovated home.

Don’t compare the value of fees and work based on the number of tangibles (the features) you get for your money.

Compare them based on the intangibles – the benefits … which include the confidence you feel that that the time, money, energy and emotion you’re going to invest in your project, will realize the home you dream of once it’s all over.

The benefit of feeling confident you’ll get it right,

be in control of your money and time,

and have peace of mind that you’re moving towards your goal.

That’s the value of what you’re actually paying for.

Use that as your criteria for investment, regardless of what you’re spending on your project.


Amelia Lee

Amelia Lee is the architect behind Undercover Architect. Undercover Architect operates mainly online to help homeowners (especially women) design and plan their future new homes and renovations. Think of it as your secret ally in getting it right, and saving time, money and stress - whoever you’re working with to create or transform your home.

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