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Sample Project Cost Breakdown

Costs listed below are meant for guidance only and may not reflect your unique project



Design only fees



Total Project Costs



Minor Renovation Cost

Average Boston home value

Average Boston home value

Gut Renovation Cost




Design|Build Fees

Total Project Cost





Total Project Cost

Design|Build Fees




New Construction Cost

Average Boston home value



Design Services


  • Zoning analysis
  • Gather information about community concerns and issues that may impact the proposed project
  • Site analysis
  • Document existing conditions
  • Conduct a feasibility study to determine the project's financial viability
  • Establish sustainability goals
  • Establish project design goals
  • Establish program requirements by listing spaces and their characteristics
  • Diagram spaces and their functional relationships
  • Develop a conceptual budget
  • Evaluate opportunities for increased value or build a Pro Forma

Design costs vary depending on scope, but the following is a good starting point to estimate design fees

  • 7% of total project costs if DBB is the contractor and the designer
  • 12% of total project cost if DBB is not the contractor

A lot goes into the design and can be broken down into 5 phases. The breakdown on the right shows how the design fees are broken down. Read below to see what happens at each design phase.

  • Preliminary building plans
  • Preliminary sections and elevations
  • At our leisure if deemed necessary
    • Study models
    • Perspective sketches
    • Electronic modeling
  • Preliminary selections of materials and systems
  • Preliminary estimate of the cost of the work (construction cost)

Schematic Design

Design Development

  • Plans
  • Sections
  • Elevations
  • Typical construction details
  • Equipment layouts
  • Preliminary materials and systems specifications
  • Updated estimate of the cost of the work
  • Drawings and specifications that establish in detail the quality level of materials and systems required for the project
  • Updated estimate of the cost of the work

Construction Documentation

Even if we're not chosen as the general contractor we can be retained for construction administrative services to ensure your contractor sticks to the plan and effectively answer any questions the contractor may have. Services include:

  • Field reports that document daily activities with photos
  • Respond to contractor's Request for Information
  • Iron out any issues that arise during construction that require design intervention
  • Make decisions on behalf of the owner to keep construction moving
  • Review contractor applications for payment
  • Manage project close-out procedures and documentation

Construction Administration

Design Development

Construction Documentation

Construction Administration

Schematic Design


Design Phase

mondrian 01

Design Fee %






Construction Services

  • PHIUS Certified Builder℠
  • New construction
  • Additions
  • Renovations
  • Deep-energy retrofit

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need an architect?

Short answer: Most residential projects do not require an architect. If your property is a 1-4 Family residential then you can get away with just having a contractor with insurance and an Unrestricted Supervisors' License, pull the permit and doing the work. If the general contractor needs engineered lumber to knock out a load bearing wall a competent GC will be able to get the engineering completed by the lumber yard's engineered lumber supplier usually for free. See this link for what type of projects require which type of license.

If you're looking to save money and need some floor plans you should be able to have your contractor draw up some plans to submit with your permit or can outsource drafting to someone in college. Just make sure to start out with precise dimensions of your house to be able to work through your ideas with your contractor or drafter.

Long Answer: According to 780 CMR: Massachusetts Amendments to the International Building Code 2015 Chapter 1: Section 101 General 101.2.1 States: "Any building containing less than 35,000 cubic feet of enclosed space, measured to the exterior surfaces of walls and roofs and to the top of a ground supported floor, or in the case of a crawl space, to the bottom surface of the crawl space. In the case of basement floors or levels, the calculation of enclosed space shall include such spaces. For additions to existing buildings, the volume of enclosed space shall include the entire existing building and all proposed additions."

Basically, anything over a 4 family will require a permit. However, if you fall within the 1-4 family category and you care about function, form, design, energy performance, aesthetics, etc. it would be well worth it to have an architect design and plan your project. In addition, if you have a design builder like Design Build Architects you get both your contractor and your architect on the same team looking out for both construction, energy performance, and overall design of your project. No more middle man of a contractor needing answers from the architect fighting design intent and no more architects putting all the liability in accordance a means and methods clause onto the contractor. We believe in delivering a seamless product and service to our clients so we can get it right the first time.

Do I need a permit?

In most cases, yes. According to 780 CMR STATE BOARD OF BUILDING REGULATIONS AND STANDARDS (Massachusetts Amendments to 2015 International Residential Code) Section 105 Permits States:

R105.1 Required. "It shall be unlawful to construct, reconstruct, alter, repair, remove or demolish a building or structure; or to change the use or occupancy of a building or structure;or to install or alter any equipment for which provision is made or the installation of which is regulated by 780 CMR without first filing an application with the building official and obtaining the required permit."

R105.2 Work Exempt from Permit. "Except for activities which may require a permit pursuant to other laws, and the specialized codes ofM.G.L. c. 143, § 96, a building permit is not required for the following activities:

  1. One-story detached accessory structures, provided that the floor area does not exceed 200 ft2 (18.58 m2).
  2. Fences not over seven feet (2,134 mm) high.
  3. Retaining walls that are not over four feet (1,219 mm) in height measured from the bottom of the footing to the top of the wall, unless supporting a surcharge.
  4. Water tanks supported directly upon grade if the capacity does not exceed 5,000 gallons(18,927 L) and the ratio of height to diameter or width does not exceed 2 to 1.
  5. Sidewalks and driveways.
  6. Painting, papering, tiling, carpeting, cabinets, counter tops and similar finish work.
  7. Prefabricated swimming pools that are less than 24 inches (610 mm) deep
  8. Swings and other playground equipment Refer to 521 CMR: Architectural Access Board for accessibility requirements as applicable.
  9. Window awnings supported by an exterior wall that do not project more than 54 inches(1,372 mm) from the exterior wall and do not require additional support."


How Much Does Will it Cost?

The short answer is: It depends. In construction there are a number of things to consider such as:

  • Budget Constraints

  • Overall square footage

  • Is it a renovation or a new construction?

  • What are the property constraints such as:

    • Height Constraints

    • Setbacks

    • Floor to Area Ratio (how much total floor square footage you're allowed to have divided by how much sqft of yard you have)

    • Is it a historic building that'll trigger neighborhood review and approva


    • Is it an existing non-conforming building


  • The quality of materials require


  • The quality of finishes required

  • The quality of equipment
  • and the list goes on and on

To really nail down the overall cost of a project the first thing to establish is the project budget. Without that we can't start any sort of evaluation. Once budget is nailed down we can start to determine scope and build a proposal for you to review and approve. Throughout the design process we check in and estimate project costs to make sure we're on the right track and are on budget. However, the final contract price can only be determined once design is complete. Then we can have a fixed price contract and any changes made by the client outside of that contract and scope will be either in addition to the contract or a reduction to project cost if some scope was removed, e.g. rear deck is no longer required by the owner.