FAQ- Frequently asked questions
1-Why might you need an architect?
-Architects are like orchestra conductors and see the whole picture:
Building is a rather complicated process . Each project is a different world of its own and there is no set formula to follow.
Architects are like orchestra conductors; they see the ‘big picture’. Architects create environments, interiors and exteriors in a cohesive, solid and coherent way, satisfying functional needs and resulting in beautiful spaces in which to work and live, and a better quality of life for their future occupants.
Most building projects are born from a need, a dream or an abstract idea, typically something their owners want to achieve. But how does that idea or vision get translated into a real space, how do we make it technically possible, how do we keep it within budget, and how will it comply with the building regulations and the local planning policies? Also, in the end , how can you be sure that the builder will build in accordance with quality standards and will finish on time?
-Architects add value and save you costs:
Architects' services represent a wise investment and excellent value for money, rather than a cost to be added to your project:
- Good design always adds value to your property, it sells better, especially nowadays, in an image-driven world. New buyers and home users have become design-conscious and demanding.
- There are always different ways to achieve the same idea, and an architect will always manage to find the most cost-effective way to do that.
-An architect will manage to design a building to maximize heating from the sun, let in natural light and create natural ventilation. This will reduce your energy bills and improve your quality of life .
- Architects control and reduce construction costs, through drawings and specifications that help you to get your project out to tender and to receive bids from different builders, based on your requirements. These documents will also enable you to draw up a more accurate and thorough building contract, ensuring that you have the protection of building to specification.
-The architect will safeguard your interests.
-Your project will almost certainly require the services of other consultants, such as engineers, building controllers, or a party-wall surveyor, just to mention a few. Your architect can co-ordinate this team of professionals, so you won’t need to.
The architect will deal with complex building regulations and local planning policies, and will also help you find qualified construction contractors based on your project´s nature, objectives, budget and requirements.
Last but not least, the architect will visit the construction site to verify that the project is being built according to plans and specifications, and will assist the main contractor in any queries that could arise.
-Architects are specifically trained to merge technical knowledge with aesthetic design, in other words, numbers and data with emotions and feelings. That is what architects are trained to do. On the one hand they solve problems in creative ways, using their broad knowledge of design and construction to bring onto the table options that you might never have thought of on your own. And on the other hand they will ensure that all the above technical and regulatory requirements are met.
2-How to choose the right architect?
The right architect should possess creativity, technical expertise, and experience, to help you achieve a project that suits your requirements from a practical point of view as well as an aesthetic point of view.
-Book a first meeting/consultation :
Allow at least an hour or two for the meeting. Ideally it should be held at your home or property so that the architect can learn more about your project and your needs.
Subjects of discussion that are important for getting to know the firm better are :
-Does it have the capacity to carry out your project?
-Who will design the project and manage it on site, and who will be your point of contact? Ideally it is preferable to have the same person or team throughout the whole process.
-What is an estimate of the fees, time-frames and services that the architect would anticipate for your project?
-What is the firm's design style, and has the firm done work similar to what you are aiming to do ?
-References and Testimonials:
It is usual to ask your architect for references from other clients. These references are invaluable. Sometimes it is also possible to visit a completed project.
-Architects’ qualifications, the ARB and the RIBA :
In the UK, to call yourself an architect or to use the word ‘Architects’ in your company name or logo you must be an ARB-registered architect, so someone who calls himself/herself an Architectural Designer, Building Designer or their company Architectural Design or Building Designers, etc.,may not be an architect at all.
The ARB is the Architects Registration Board which was established by Parliament in 1997 to regulate the architects’ profession in the UK. It is an independent, public-interest body whose work in regulating architects ensures that good standards within the profession are consistently maintained for the benefit of the public and architects alike.
In addition to confirming registration in the ARB, choosing a RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects ) accredited Chartered Practice will give you peace of mind. RIBA practices comply with strict rules covering insurance, health and safety and quality-management systems.
3-Where should I start if I want to extend, refurbish or build from scratch?
Whether you want to refurbish, extend, or build from scratch, there are three main restrictions that define what you can and cannot do:
1- Standing Planning Policies
2- UK Building Regulations
3- Budget and Cost
So the first step is to have a clear sense of these three constraints. Setting a budget is easy ‒ building regulations do not leave much room for interpretation ‒ but planning depends quite a lot on the local authorities and current policies , so, at the outset, this will be an unknown factor. The next step should therefore be to contact the LPA (local planning authority).
4-What is the difference between Building Regulations approval and Planning approval ?
Basically, Building Regulations are related to the quality of the construction,whereas planning is more focused on the appearance and use of the building.
Building Regulations set minimum construction standards for the design and building work applying to most buildings and to many alterations to existing properties. These relate to structural matters, fire safety, sound insulation, energy conservation and access to and use of buildings.
You will need building regulations approval for most alteration projects, including plans to: replace fuse-boxes and connected electrics, instal a bathroom that will involve plumbing,
change electrics near a bath or shower, put in a fixed air-conditioning system, replace windows and doors, replace roof coverings on pitched and flat roofs, instal or replace a heating system,
add extra radiators to a heating system. You don’t need advance approval for emergency repairs to your boiler or heating system, but there are rules which you must follow.
Planning Consent takes into consideration many factors, mainly involving appearance, use, highways, density of population, services, transport, demographics, tree-conservation, etc.
Planning Consent is generally required if the use or appearance of the building is going to change, but there are things you might be able to do under Permitted Development Rights.
5-What is the process of a typical project ?
The RIBA plan of work distinguishes seven phases or stages, but we ourselves have realised through experience that some clients understand the building process better in the four phases shown and explained below:
1- Design and Planning:
This starts with the first consultation, ideally at the property or plot where the project will be developed. At this first meeting we gather all the client’s information, requirements and desires.The main focus is on what you want to achieve and the ways or strategy that are best to achieve it.
With all these we develop three or four different schemes, the aim being not to pick one but to engage in open discussion about different options and ideas, see what you like and dislike about each, and put together ideas. Then, in the few days which follow, we formulate and agree on a final proposal, every decision we make during this phase being made in mutual agreement.
At the end of this stage the final proposal is ready to be submitted for approval to the LPA. Only when we have assurance that the scheme is lawful can we proceed to technical design and construction documentation.
2- Construction Drawings and Documents:
In this stage we work on the final proposal to achieve enough detail for the contractor to know exactly what to build and how to build it. These are a set of extremely thorough drawings, which include material connections and construction details. We co-ordinate drawings, design and information with the structural engineers, and develop schedules and documents which specify exactly what finishes, materials and fixtures will be used. This level of detail is essential in order to build the house to a high standard.
This, together with the structural engineers’ drawings and calculations, will constitute the construction package, for the contractors to be able to build and to quote and bid for the project. All this information is then attached to the building contract between you and the builder.
This information describes accurately the service and product that you will receive from your contractor in exchange for the agreed sum of money.
The less precise this information, the more ambiguous will be your contract with your builder, so it is worth getting all this right to avoid unnecessary risks and misunderstandings. A small investment on architect´s fees can save you big construction costs and headaches.
3-Tender and Negotiations:
Tendering information is typically issued to three different builders. We can propose teams of professionals who have worked with us in the past, however we are more than happy for you to bring into the team builders that have performed well for people you know, and that have good references.
Tenders from contractors/builders come back typically after about two weeks, and we usually do a tender comparison and analysis to see the pros and cons of each builder.
Our presence during this stage is quite valuable and often necessary, involving co-ordination and management between us, you, the main contractor and the other consultants involved in the project, and allowing us to solve any problems that may arise at this stage.
Depending on the complexity of the project, our work and guidance at this stage could include contract management and project management.
6-What happens at the initial consultation meeting ?
Preferably it takes place at the property or plot where the project will be developed, and it is the moment for gathering all the information, and for formulating all your requirements and desires.The main focus will be on what you want to achieve, how best to get it, and also on feasibility and risks.
Typically it takes more than one-and-a-half hours, and the agenda is:
0- Before we meet you, we do background research on the property and the area ( desirable to assess the likelihood of obtaining planning approval, and the feasibility).
2-Set and analyse objectives and constraints:
- What do you want to achieve in this project, and what are your main requirements?
- What is your budget?
- Local Planning context
3-Schematic design, first ideas
4-Time-line and programme
5-Additional consultants that might be needed
6-Rough estimate for construction costs and consultant’s fees
7-How much does it cost to have an initial consultation ?
With us it is free of charge and with no obligation to contract any of our services.
8-How much will it cost to build my project?
At the start of each project we discuss budget and costs with our clients. Each project is different , but rough estimates for building in the UK are:
-New-build residential: 2 -3 stories high – £1,500-2,500/m²
-Basement Extension: Digging new basement space and underpinning under an existing building – £3,200-4,800/m²
-Basement Extension: Excavating a new basement space under the garden – £2,100-2,900/m²
-Loft Extension and conversion: £1,600-1,900/m²
-Ground floor Extension: £1,900-2,600/m²
-First/ second floor Extension: £1,600-1,900/m²
Also please note that rough estimates for consultant’s fees will be between 10%-15% of the construction costs.
9-Roughly how long will the whole process typically take ?
-Concept Design/ Developed Design: 3-4 weeks
-Planning: From planning submission it takes 8 weeks to have feedback from the planners
- Construction Drawings/ Documents: 4-6 weeks
-Tender and Negotiations: 2 weeks for the main contractor to produce a tender and 2 weeks for tender analysis and negotiations
-Construction: For extension projects involving loft conversion and ground floor plus complete refurbishment: about 22-26 weeks
10-Will I need to appoint other consultants?
It is usual for a project to require the input of other specialists. Most typically they will be structural engineers,an independent building control officer and a party-wall surveyor.
In complex projects and at the planning stages it may be necessary to appoint consultants with expertise in archaeology, flood risk, trees, and drainage surveys. We can advise whether consultants will be required, and we also have a wide range of contacts and collaborators who have worked successfully with us on previous projects.
11-How do I find the right contractor?
It is common to hear sad stories about problems with builders, such as construction costs out of control, houses collapsing and sites left half-finished. In our experience the majority of builders are professional and quite co-operative.
We usually recommend tendering the project out to three builders. You can propose them or we can help you by suggesting and introducing professionals who have worked with us and for our past clients successfully.
Here is a list of tips and recommendations:
1- It is not advisable to engage the builder before you have accurate documentation about your project: asking for a price before you have any drawings, detailed information or specifications could be counter-productive.
2-Consider the nature and scope of the project: it could be too large for certain builders who might not have the resources to carry out the work and are just planning to outsource most of it, or perhaps the project might be small but with an important need for attention to detail and specialist items, such us fixtures and joinery items.
3- Aim for one principal contractor with responsibility for all of the work,instead of trying to save money by directly engaging separate contractors and trades, such as plasterers, electricians and carpenters, which could lead to certain situations in which responsibility is diluted and co-ordination in some stages becomes difficult and complex, when trades concur in time and place.
4- Be precise, clear, and specific: this will be your architect´s duty ‒ the more accurate and well-defined the project documents, the better.Below is a list of some of the documents for a construction project with a budget of between £50k and £1m, and which involves extensions as well as refurbishment; there should be at least the following, as Architect’s Information:
-Floor plans, sections and elevations with a minimum scale of 1:50
-Detailed drawings, with scales ranging between 1:5 and 1:20
-Schedule of works and Specification
-Schedule of services, ventilation, electrics and lighting
-Schedule of materials and finishes
5-Tender the project out: get prices from at least three different builders for the same work. You will know they are quoting for the same work because you have accurate documentation, so there is not much room for assumptions, and the builders will quote against the schedule of works which your architect has prepared previously so that tenders can be compared easily.
Tenders need to be carefully reviewed ‒ if one is significantly cheaper than the others, then perhaps there is some mistake.Typically, tenders should not differ by more than 10% ,and a set of similar tenders should give you a clue as to price for carrying out the work and delivering the project.
6-Prime Cost (PC) and Provisional Sums (PS): These are two important terms which you must understand when comparing quotations.
-PC Sum: A Prime Cost Sum (PC Sum) is an allowance for the supply of work or materials to be provided by a contractor or supplier that will be selected by the client and imposed on the main contractor after the main contractor has been appointed. The allowance excludes any profit mark-up or attendance by the main contractor.
-P Sum: a Provisional Sum is an allowance that is inserted into tender documents for specific items or work, which is not yet defined in enough detail for tenderers to price. In other words, it is just a guess, which will probably change by increasing.
7-Have a building contract: after providing all the information necessary to specify and describe a project, it would not make sense not to use it by attaching it to a contract between you and the builder, for the performance of specified work and services, for a specified amount of money.
There are many forms of contract, and your architect or solicitor will be able to advise on this matter. The most commonly used is a JCT contract, and for domestic projects it is the JCT Minor Works contract, but this can vary, depending on the nature of the project.
8-Check on Builder Insurance Policies: Your main contractor must have at least these three in place, and provide the corresponding certificates:
- Public Liability Insurance: this insures against third-party injuries occurring while work is being carried out on the property. It also insures neighbouring properties against damage.
- Employer´s Liability Insurance : this is a legal requirement for limited companies that insures all parties in the event of injury to an employee as a result of installation or fitting during home-improvement work.
- Installer´s All-Risk Cover: this covers work carried out by the builder that is accidentally destroyed before completion or before the homeowner has a chance to extend their policy to cover it.
9- Ask for testimonials and references: if the contractors have a good track record and are experienced, it will be easy for them to provide references and testimonials. It may also be possible to visit a completed project, where you will be able to see finishes and details that are not often noticeable in pictures.
10-Background checks: if the company is less than a year old it could mean that the previous company has been liquidated recently, so you should investigate further.
12-Can you provide testimonial references?
Yes, of course, we shall be delighted to provide details from happy previous clients, and subject to availability we might be able to visit a completed project with you.
Get started on your project today, clarify its scope and cost, and begin the designing and planning
We are always delighted to hear from you and to speak about your project
This is a simplified guide and is not a conclusive source of legal information. Land constraints might affect your development.