Getting Started with KTA

  1. 1 Why do I need to hire an architect?
  2. 2 What types of projects do you work on?
  3. 3 How far away do you work?
  4. 4 Who will work on my project?
  5. 5 Do I need to know my budget or have a clear timeline?
  6. 6 Does it have to be a sustainable, or “green” building?

Project Phases

  1. 1 How do the project phases work?
  2. 2 What is the Planning Phase?
  3. 3 What is the Schematic Design Phase?
  4. 4 What is the Design Development Phase?
  5. 5 What is the Pricing and Permitting Phase?
  6. 6 What is the Construction Documents Phase?
  7. 7 What is the Construction Administration Phase?
  8. 8 How long will it take to design and build my project?

Sustainability + Specifications

  1. 1 How do you recommend selecting a builder?
  2. 2 Do you assist with site selection?
  3. 3 How real is your commitment to sustainability?
  4. 4 What’s ahead for Kaplan Thompson Architects?

Getting Started with KTA

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Why do I need to hire an architect?

You don’t! But working with our team will make your project better in every way: it will save you time, money, and hassle. Working with our team ensures that you get the very best design possible, the smartest custom solutions for low-impact living, and the satisfaction of knowing that your investment in your home is beautiful, sustainable, on budget, and built to last for your lifetime.

We’ve been committed to making gorgeous design attainable since our firm was founded, and we’d love to talk with you about the many ways we can help make sure your project makes it off paper and into the space you’ve dreamed about. Working with us means you’ll get a sustainable building that offers savings in energy costs year after year, and your project will be built to suit you exactly—eliminating the worry and risk that comes with DIY solutions or short cuts. You don’t have to work with an architect, but you’ll be glad you did.

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What types of projects do you work on?

We thrive on complex problems and love to work with people who are open to figuring out new ways of building high-quality, low-impact buildings on time and on budget. If you have a site that is tricky to build on, a commercial project with complex needs, or if you’re not sure how to reconfigure your house so it fits into your family’s changing lifestyles and interests, we have a proven track record of solving the toughest problems in ways that will make you smile.

We work on new and renovated single family homes, multi-family buildings, educational facilities, and restaurants. We believe in the “Not So Big Ego,” which means that our most important ambition as designers is to make sure that your project is yours. We will work with you every step of the way to end up with a project that is tailored specifically to your needs and wants.

If you have an idea, big or small, let’s talk about what’s possible.

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How far away do you work?

Until we’re able to get wifi (and atmosphere) on Jupiter, the sky’s the limit. We absolutely love designing projects in our beautiful home state of Maine, but we also work on projects out of state on a daily basis. Our skills in sustainable architecture are rare, and in demand, in many parts of the country, and our rates are very competitive compared to many other national firms. After mastering low-energy building design in Maine’s freezing winters, anything south of us is a breeze!

Typically, we limit travel times to four hours because we like to be readily available during construction. We are proficient at working far from home thanks to communications systems that allow us to stay close to the action at all times. We’re experts at hosting seamless, high quality web conferences, including live fly-throughs of your design.

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Who will work on my project?

As a team, we count on each other to be honest, talented, and efficient. We are a group with diverse skill sets, and we use those skills to their fullest. Every project gets the team it needs to get the work done on time and on budget. We have longstanding relationships with engineers, landscape architects, and other consultants, and we’ll manage their roles intelligently and efficiently.

A Principal plays a role in the project from beginning to end. The size of your team depends on the project’s size, pace, and scope—a typical residential project has two people on the team; a commercial or more complex project might have more. We’ll connect you with people who are a fit for your personality, energy, and style. If there’s someone you think you’d work well with, let us know, and we’ll do our best to make them available.

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Do I need to know my budget or have a clear timeline?

You don’t need to have a detailed budget or a full-fledged project plan before you meet with us. We’re here to help you navigate the process of matching your hopes and desires to your practical considerations.

It certainly helps to have an idea of what you’re hoping to invest in your project, to have some sense of what kind of finished product you’d like to achieve, and by when you’d like to have it completed. Locking down these decisions helps us to think about creative ways to manage your program so you stay within budget. Every project faces tough choices, so we work with you to identify those decision points as early as possible.

We have years of experience finding clever solutions that allow our clients to enjoy great design without losing sight of the bottom line. We bring in builders early so you’re able to price the project at the outset and move forward with a partner you trust. Our years of experience working with builders of all styles and sizes means that we know the tricks of their trade, which allows us to design within budget parameters so you don’t waste time or money at the construction stage.

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Does it have to be a sustainable, or “green” building?

What if we told you that our office can give you a green building—for free? Our greatest passion is figuring out how to make sustainable design attainable, and we pride ourselves on making green architecture just another word for high quality design.

Here’s how it works: the key is careful cost offsetting, which means that we give you a building with such a high-quality enclosure that the building no longer needs a traditional, expensive, polluting, hard-to-maintain monster of mechanical system for heating, cooling, and energy. Cutting that machinery out of the equation allows us to afford a better enclosure, giving you a building that is efficient, comfortable, and affordable for years to come.

We’d be happy to talk about your project in detail and how we can deliver innovative sustainable design, including high-performance passive house and zero net energy homes, that exceed your expectations for comfort, value, and exceptional design.

Project Phases

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How do the project phases work?

Kaplan Thompson typically works with our clients from the planning phase of a project through the final stages of construction. We’re able to guide your design from vision to reality, ensuring that the project meets your expectations, saves you from unwelcome surprises, and stays in line with your estimates.

Most projects include Planning, Schematic Design, Design Development, Pricing and Permitting, Construction Design, and Construction Administration phases. If you have another expert in mind for certain phases of the process, we may be able to tailor your design and build program to accommodate their role. We often include Interior Designers, Landscape Architects, and specialized engineers as appropriate for your project and budget.

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What is the Planning Phase?

We launch the planning phase with a conversation about what’s possible, and move from there to developing your program, which is a detailed description of your building. We evaluate the scope of your project and determine the parameters that will influence our design challenges and opportunities.

We ask lots of questions and do plenty of research. For instance: how close can the building be to the ocean? Which building codes or zoning laws need to be considered? What kind of taste, mood, and style should shine? How much storage do you need? If it’s a renovation, what existing conditions do we need to consider? Will you be able to take advantage of important views without compromising your privacy? How could you gain solar access without cutting down trees? And most importantly: how will real people live or work in the space every day?

For most clients, this is the most fun part of the project. We move incrementally from dialogue to design sketches, turning around ideas quickly so we know we have your full approval before proceeding. Once we’re all satisfied, we develop the overall schedule for your program, including the next phases and timeline for completion based on the approved design brief.

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What is the Schematic Design Phase?

Once we’ve developed a schedule for your program, we figure out how your sustainable building will look and operate as a home. For a home, we determine which spaces will exist—bedrooms, kitchens, office spaces, closets, mudrooms, sun porches, and how many windows and other important features you’ll need. For a commercial project, we’ll also consider factors like occupancy limits and future expansion.

We move from sketching to rendering more accurate drawings that show various assemblies and relationships between elements of the design. Depending on the complexities of your project, we’re able to show 2D floor plans, elevation views, and 3D drawings that give you a clear sense of the space we’re designing together. After developing several rounds of drawings developing schemes that suit your program, we’ll deliver the design solution of your dreams.

In general, we prefer to choose a builder at the end of this stage. Bringing your builder in early helps to keep costs down over the life of the project because we’re able to communicate about goals and expectations for the schedule, budget, and quality of the work performed. Unlike a design and build firm, which locks you into set costs and structures, Kaplan Thompson makes it possible to work with any builder you choose. The freedom to choose the right builder for you means you’ll get what you want, whether it’s better quality, lower costs, personality, or the chance to choose and customize the elements that make your space special.

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What is the Design Development Phase?

Design development adds greater specificity and detail to the interior and exterior schematic designs for your building. We get into the nitty gritty of green architecture, including engineering for the building’s heating, cooling, and ventilation systems, energy analysis, electrical and plumbing systems, and more.

In this phase, we get an accurate tally for practical realities like floor-to-floor heights, doors, fixtures, and materials for floors, siding, beams, and finishes. We draft these elements in digital 3D models so we know their true dimensions, which helps you to make important decisions. This also helps your builder to obtain estimates for materials and systems early, so you know what is available and what will work best in your space.

Once we’ve developed these specifics of the building’s mechanics, we’re generally able to obtain a permit to move forward with your building. For more complex commercial projects, or in municipalities with more complex rules for permitting, we oversee the process, including communication to teams of subcontractors, so the project begins on time and without confusion.

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What is the Pricing and Permitting Phase?

As we finalize your design drawings, we obtain and review estimates to make sure that your finished building will come in on target. We’ll adjust the design plan as needed if budget estimates come in higher than expected so you’re able to get what you need without compromising on the elements of your building that matter most to you.

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What is the Construction Documents Phase?

This is often the difference between high-performance green architecture and basic construction: at this stage, Kaplan Thompson’s team develops your design in careful detail, taking care to ensure that every component of your building is truly designed—intentional, thoughtful, and personal.

In this stage, we train our eyes on the details, specifying materials, products, and assemblies. Our goal is to produce the specific sets of instructions the builder needs to construct your project, including detailed floor plans, elevations, and building sections. We develop your drawing set carefully so that your design vision will be executed properly, with attention to detail. Custom design and the special characteristics you’ve chosen that make your building unique shine at this stage, and this is the point at which our skill and experience in sustainable architecture set us apart from the pack.

The drawings might also include structural engineering, mechanical design, interior finish layouts, and other documents. Working with your builder early in the process helps us to determine which drawings they need (and which they don’t), assuring quality in every detail, and saving you time and money during design and construction.

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What is the Construction Administration Phase?

In this final phase, we keep up with the progress of construction. We make sure everything has been executed properly, auditing for the smallest mistakes or discrepancies that can signal and prevent bigger problems down the line.

Anyone who tells you the unexpected will never occur hasn’t built enough buildings! The real question to ask when you’re choosing an architect is how effectively have they been able to resolve problems in the past. Our team has seen it all, from weather delays and construction errors to near-fistfights between vendors and contractors. We’re awfully handy to have around at this phase.

We insist on a blower door test during this phase. This test is an important component of high-performance construction and Passive House design in which we pressurize your building and test for leaks. This is especially critical for high-performance green buildings, as it ensures maximum efficiency and air tightness, eliminating holes in your building’s exterior shell, saving you money and keeping your building performing at its best for years to come.

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How long will it take to design and build my project?

The exact timing of your project depends on several factors, including its size and scope, location, builder availability, and the time of year. The project’s speed will also depend on how involved you’d like to be, and what types of design elements you choose.

We like to take time at the start of every project to carefully prepare designs with you. The more time we have to decide and execute on a design vision, the more assurance you’ll have that construction will proceed according to plan, and you’ll get just what you want. Ideally, three to six months to design and draw is helpful. In some cases, we can fast track this process, but we’ll caution you that there are often cost and risk considerations that typically outweigh the appeal of speeding through the design phase.

Construction on new homes can take anywhere from six to sixteen months; eight to twelve months is the average time for custom-designed sustainable homes. Small to medium multi-family buildings, restaurants, and educational spaces depend on a whole range of factors and these timelines can vary quite a bit from home construction. We’ll be glad to talk to you about your timeframe and the many ways in which we can deliver your dream building to you on time and on budget.

Sustainability + Specifications

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How do you recommend selecting a builder?

The Kaplan Thompson team has longstanding relationships with many excellent builders, and we enjoy working with new builders eager to learn about our energy-efficient homes. We’d be happy to help you choose a builder, or to work with a team you like and trust. We prefer to work with your builder early in the Schematic Design Phase so we’re able to collaborate effectively and efficiently throughout the stages of your project.

You may ask us to help you interview builders and make recommendations as various cost estimates come in for your project. You’ll always make the final decisions, but many clients appreciate our feedback and experience at this stage.

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Do you assist with site selection?

Every great building responds to its place on the planet, and it impacts the space it inhabits. That’s why we consider the site you choose one of the most important elements of the architecture we design. Choosing the right site can be a challenge, which is why our process for helping you select the best location for your building is especially careful and deliberate.

Whether you’re located close to our office in Maine or not, there are several ways we can help you find the right land for your building. As you’re thinking about working with us, here are some things to consider while you evaluate different sites:

  • What are the unique opportunities and challenges inherent to your proposed site, whether it’s based near a city or country, forest or mountains, ocean or lakeside?
  • What is the sun’s path in summer and in winter?
  • Is there vegetation that would provide protection, affect shade, or limit solar panel exposure?
  • What are the prevailing wind patterns?
  • What are the natural drainage patterns?
  • Where are the primary, secondary, and tertiary views?
  • What is the shape of the existing grade, and how would a building sit on it?
  • How will site factors like required blasting, utilities, access, staging for materials, vehicle access, etc., affect site development costs?
  • What is the soil type, and how does that affect septic and foundation considerations?
  • Are there privacy and noise issues?

You don’t have to know the answers to all of these questions before getting started with us—that’s why we’re here. We’ll visit your site in person or using digital tools and help you make the best decision possible.

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How real is your commitment to sustainability?

Since 2004, we have designed hundreds of high-performance, low-impact buildings and retrofits at every scale. This is all we do, and with every year we are learning new ways to do it better.

We design spaces that consider the environment into which they are built as much as the environment they are creating. Using Net-Zero, Passive House, and Living Building principles - including airtight construction, high-performance envelopes, renewable energy systems, and non-toxic materials - we strive for our work to model how beautiful buildings may be constructed to combat climate change and improve user wellbeing. Our completed projects are built proof of this commitment to sustainability and progress towards our goal of a restorative architectural presence.

We are advocates of setting project goals at the outset - whether or not a project is seeking a formal sustainability certification - to harmonize aesthetic, performance, and budget. Energy conservation, materials conservation, waste reduction, and decreased impact on the planet are part of our standard approach to every project, big and small, from initial design to final construction.

Our firm has been a signatory in the American Institute of Architects’ 2030 Commitment Program since 2015, a voluntary initiative in which members pledge to annually reduce the Predicted Energy Use Intensity of their projects and progress towards producing carbon-neutral buildings by the year 2030. We were among just 19 firms in the country to meet the goal of 80% pEUI reduction across our entire portfolio of submitted work in 2023, our sixth consecutive year of successfully hitting this target. In 2018 and 2019, we were also named on the ARCHITECT50 sustainability list, the only architecture firm in Maine to be awarded this honor.

As a JUST organization, we are also committed to improving social equity in the firm and the community, and enhancing employee engagement around these values.

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What’s ahead for Kaplan Thompson Architects?

We’re passionate about creating buildings that can lead us all toward a new way of living in harmony with the rest of the earth, and we’re constantly researching and learning about our practice. We’re avid readers, teachers, lecturers, bloggers, and podcasters about this subject, and we’re always eager to discover more.

Our mandate is to unlock the puzzle of how to create buildings that actually improve the air and water around us. Until we’re there, our priority is to do no harm by building smaller and smarter, reducing landfill waste, conserving water and energy, and making our buildings attainable to owners who will value them for generations.

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