By Mark in Seattle, WA on 2/27/2010
I paid $140 for my version 6.2 copy of Chief Architect off of eBay. I later learned that the copyright does not allow resale, so even though I have the original CD, manual, box, USB key, etc., I don't have tech support (not necessary since it's a quick learn) and it's technically an illegal copy. I found this out after my house design was basically done. CA was not at all surprised when I contacted them, and they just informed me that there was no support offered.
For $2K for a copy of CA, my support wouldn't be quite so glowing, but CA still gets a recommendation. I first went to an architect and got a bid of $30K. Unless you're going to try something really out of the ordinary, you can do it yourself with CA.
Here are some benefits that will make it easier for you and can pay for the program.
1. Plans. Most building departments don't want or need plans on 24x36" blueprints. If you can give them an overall at 1/4" or even 1/8" to the foot and then details on the important areas, and you can print it all on 8.5x11 paper. That's what I did, and there were no printer costs. Revisions, whether your choice or the AHJ's request, aren't an issue. My building department requested two changes and I had the revised plans in their office the next day.
2. Models. Often overlooked, making a model of the house can be important, even though CA gives you a 3D image. CA prints out elevations for every exterior wall. Paste them on foam board, cut them out, glue them together, and you have your model. Set it in the sun at the right orientation and watch how the sun angles change. Check out the first blog on my site for my model.
3. Bids. You can print out just the pages that the framers (for instance) need to generate their bids. If you want 10 bids, print out 10 copies. You don't have to mess with blueprints and wait for a bidder to finish with the blueprint in order to send it to the next bidder.
4. Takeoffs. I found CA to be incredibly accurate. Down to the half sheet of plywood for the roof sheathing. Drywall the same. I got bids for plaster and could tell the bidder the amount of wall and ceiling. You will get more accurate bids and more respect when you tell subs exactly what you want.
5. Control. I guess the control freak in me was what makes me really like CA. Move a window four inches; no problem. Can't imagine paying an architect for that. Although I'm sure that the building department wouldn't like to hear this, if during the course of construction you have an issue or simply change your mind, you jump on the computer, move the wall/appliance/footer etc., and print out your new plan. Unless you've added an additional floor, the AHJ doesn't know and what they don't know won't hurt them.
I'm not quite ready to put my copy back on eBay, but when I do, I'll get what I paid and will have had a lot of fun.