top of page
  • Writer's pictureMaria Luisa Castellanos

Want to know the steps to build a house in Miami, Florida? Architect explains relevant points

House designed by Miami architectural firm, United Architects
House designed by United Architects

In this article, as a Miami residential architect, I will guide you through the steps of how to build a new residence in Miami, Florida.

The first thing you need to do is buy a parcel of land for the new house. People try to start designing the house in their heads without an actual lot. However, this could be a costly mistake as the orientation of a house is very important. In my view, the most important parts of the house are the family room and kitchen which should face south, giving you the best light. The Southern sun is high in the sky and with some protection for the windows such as overhangs, eyebrows, or awnings, this light can be very pleasant. I would orient the bedrooms on the east side. The sun rises in the east so having natural light coming into the bedrooms in the morning is a very pleasurable experience. The garage can be on the west side since the western sun is very disagreeable. Normally, this is not a room people spend much time near a window so a western exposure on the garage will not be a problem. So, the first step is to find a lot where this orientation is possible. If you need help with this, we also offer real estate services. See this webpage.

Now that you have the lot, you have to ask yourself a series of questions about the kind of house you want. Click here and see the questions.

You should then establish what is called a “program”. A program consists of the rooms that will go in the house and how many square feet, more or less, you want to dedicate to each room. For example:


Living Room (14’ x 20’)

Dining Room (12’ x 14’)

Kitchen (14’ x 16’)

And so on…

If you have no idea what would be an appropriate size for each room, your architect will be able to help you with this. Another way you can determine the appropriate size for each room is to measure your present spaces and decide whether you want more space or less space for each room.

If the lot you want to buy is near the ocean, you should also read this article.

Your next step is to establish a budget for your project. Check with a few contractors to establish a price per square foot and then double-check that your project scope and budget align. Remember to include outside areas such as driveways and landscaping. Consult with several general contractors for this but avoid making commitments to them except to agree to allow them to bid on your project when the plans are done. At this point in the process, it’s too early to hire a contractor.

Now that you have the land and a reasonable budget, you can move on to selecting the right architect. Check references and websites to make sure that they are experienced in residential architecture. They will discuss your budget and confirm it’s sufficient for what you want to build. It’s important to know what you can afford with the budget that you have established. Will a 15’ high living room cost more than an 8’ high living room? Yes, it will, but what is truly important in increasing or lowering the budget are the cost of the finishes. For example, let’s take the 14’ x 20’ living room above. If you select a tile that costs $2.00 per square foot, the cost of the living room flooring will be $560.00. If you select a tile that costs $13.00 per square foot, that same living room flooring will cost $3,640.00. See how quickly these differences can add up?

The next step is easy, let your architect do the heavy lifting.

Most architects have phases to their design process. I divide mine into 4 – Preliminary, Design Development, 50% Construction Documents, and 100% Construction Documents. Each phase builds on the previous phase. We study the zoning code for the county or the city in which the house will be built. We pay attention to the setbacks, the maximum lot coverage, and the maximum buildable area on all floors. We determine whether we are building a one-story or two-story house.

Then, start with bubble diagrams.

This diagram gives the relative sizes of spaces and their relationship to each other.

After we finish doing this, we go to actual floor plans showing furniture. This would be the preliminary plan.

Then, we would move on to actual dimensioned drawings, door, window, and finish schedules, roof plans, cross-sections, wall sections, and landscape plans as required. We would work with the mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and structural engineers to complete their parts of the work.

At this point, I can put generic specifications and you can select the finishes later during the construction of the project, or we can work together to select each finish material for the project and insert that information in the plans. Normally, architects charge more for specific material selections.

Once the plans are completed, we turn them over, signed and sealed, to the owner to get the plans approved by the county or the municipality where the project is located. (You can hire a plan expediter if you choose.) Once the building department has received the plans, they will issue comments or concerns. Be sure that you are in the loop when comments are made so your architect responds in a timely manner. Failure to do so will delay the project. Our firm does its best to follow up and make the engineers follow up as soon as possible.

While the plans are being reviewed, it is important to select 3 or 4 contractors to bid the plans. I always interview potential candidates prior to the bid. Bidding is costly so it's important that we don’t issue the plans to anybody that we are not willing to hire for the project. I do a bid opening with all the bidders present whenever possible, so that everybody knows that there was no collusion. All bids are recorded. If the bids seem rational and there doesn’t seem to be any mistake on any bidder’s part, we give the project to the lowest bidder.

When the permit plans are ready to be issued, a contractor must submit his license and insurance in order to retrieve the approved plans from the building department. At this point, our design work is complete. It is up to the contractor to execute the work. From here on the engineers and I may do periodic site visits and shop drawing reviews. This part of the work is normally charged on an hourly basis.

If the general contractor follows our plans, the house will be fabulous!

Maria Luisa Castellanos, R.A.

Registered architect Miami

United Architects, Inc.


bottom of page