No matter how big or small a project the prospect of building can appear daunting to the uninitiated. However, arm yourself with a little knowledge and you need not be a passenger.

We may be biased but we think that an architect is one of the best starting points. No matter how big or small a project you will need an overview. We can advise you on the use of space both aesthetically and practically,  how to negotiate the planning process and survive; how to obtain quotations from builders, and the best way to build your project. The first consultation is free and during this meeting your ideas, ultimate goals, and the viability of the project are all discussed. We will then write back to you with a fee quotation and outline of our services. Assuming that you are happy with the quotation work can start.

The Brief and the Budget

It is important to establish a firm brief early on. Write down what you are hoping to achieve and most importantly how much you can afford.

Make a list of those items that you would be prepared to compromise over and those that you cannot.

Measured Survey

Before any sketch proposals can be produced a measured survey of the building or land that is to be altered or built on will need to be undertaken. Generally, unless the project is very small, we will suggest that you employ a specialist firm to produce the survey as this usually proves more economic. We are happy to obtain quotations for this on your behalf.

Sketch Schemes

The sketch schemes draw upon the brief and survey and combine them with your ideas and those of the architect. We do not always achieve perfection first time but often a wrong turning can inform the project and give a good starting point.

The sketch schemes will gradually evolve until a final scheme emerges that meets your original concepts perhaps in a way that you did not originally envisage. We use space, light, and form as well as practicality to shape a building.

Prior to finalising the scheme, a meeting is sometimes held with the planning authority for its comments and input. It should be remembered that a planning officer will need to justify why he or she has recommended permission or refusal, quite often in front of the Planning Committee, and it is therefore advisable to have them on your side as soon as possible.

Nowadays the planning authority is less willing to give formal advice without first receiving a planning pre-app. This often attracts a fee but is well worth considering if the proposals might contravene local planning policy. A Pre-app is particularly useful if the project involves a listed building. A meeting with the Conservation officer before a project begins often saves a great deal of time and therefore money.

Planning Applications

Once a design has been worked up to your satisfaction the next stage of a project usually involves the submission of a planning application. Occasionally planning permission is not required because the proposals are so modest that they fall within your Permitted Development rights. This can be a minefield so care is needed. You can visit the Planning Portal to find out about Permitted Development Rights but it is always wise to check with the planning authority prior to starting any building work.

Planning applications are becoming more and more detailed and the list of information required by the local authority prior to registering an application is growing longer and longer. Design and Access Statements and bat and wildlife surveys are routinely required and you may also be asked for flood risk or drainage assessments, land contamination surveys, archaeological reports and traffic impact statements.

The local planning authority will make charge for processing planning applications – details can be found on the Planning Portal website. Standalone Listed Building Consent applications do not attract an application fee.

Once the application is submitted the local authority has a statutory eight weeks to determine the application. During this time various local bodies and the general public are all consulted. A notice will be pinned up on or near the site giving all relevant details and disclosing the consultation period. Often a project will be referred to the Planning Committee if it is seen as a major application or valid objections are received.

Building Regulations Approval

Assuming Planning Permission is forthcoming, the next stage of the building process is to obtain Building Regulations approval. Some small, detached buildings do not require Building Regulations but do check with your local authority.

If the project is a domestic one you can undertake the building work on a Building Notice.

Building Regulations will still need to be adhered to but you can agree all details of construction with the Building Inspector as the work progresses. The main problem with this approach is the difficulty your builder will have when providing a quotation for the work as well as some lack of forethought as to how various problems can be solved. In addition, your builder may not be happy to work from the planning application drawings which are purely illustrative.

How will having an architect make a difference to this?

In order to provide your builder with sufficient information to ensure that the build meets all the current Building Regulations we can prepare full building regulation drawings. These drawings will cover general items such as construction, insulation, ventilation, drainage, heating and hot water. They will not, however, specify quality, and finishes. Your builder will be able to give you a relatively accurate quotation for the building work, but you will need to ensure that, both parties have the same level of quality in mind. This is where costs can mount up and arguments occur.

Any building that admits the public will need a Full Plans Building Regulations approval application in order to ensure that fire, safety and accessibility requirements are met.

All new houses will require a SAP ratings. This is a basic series of calculations carried out by a suitably qualified person that quantify the heat loss and carbon emissions that the new building will produce. The Building Regulations set limits on these emissions and it is thus necessary to prove that the prescribed limits will be met. Once construction is complete a further calculation is carried out to produce an Energy Performance Certificate.

Commercial buildings are more complicated and require SBEM calculations.

Both commercial and domestic new builds will require air pressure testing when the work is complete to ensure that they meet the limits of air infiltration as required by the Building Regulations.

Detail Design

In order to achieve a much greater idea of cost and quality control we can produce detailed design drawings and accompanying specification. The specification is itemised and describes in great detail each stage of the project. The accompanying drawings put the flesh on the bones of the project and include detailing of staircases, doors, windows, built-in wardrobes, kitchens, bookshelves, electrical layouts, finishes schedules and ironmongery schedules. The information contained in a detail design package will be sufficient to obtain a fixed price from a builder. The obvious caveat here would be when refurbishing existing buildings where it is often not possible to include for all items until they are revealed during the construction phase. In this case a realistic contingency sum should always be allowed.

If your project large or complicated or budgetary constraints are very tight it is worth considering employing a Quantity Surveyor who will produce a Bill of Quantity with minute detail of the build which will lead to very accurate pricing on behalf of the builder.

The Tendering Process

Many books have been written on the subject of building procurement but the method we find most favour with is the traditional route whereby contractors price competitively on a detail design package. Typically we would send the drawings and specification out to three or more builders and allow them a specified number of weeks to price the work. Once the tenders are returned the figures are checked and the winning contractor appointed.

CDM

The CDM (2015) Regulations govern health and safety on a building site.  In order to try and make the process of building as safe as possible designers of buildings owe a duty of care to ensure that as much risk as possible has been designed out of a building. Thus as Architects we are nominated the role of Principal Designer by default during the pre-construction phase of a project. Once work starts on site the contractor, as Principal Contractor, takes the responsibility of site safety away from the building owner. More information can be found on the HSE website.

Building Contract

We would always recommend that you sign a contract with the builder to ensure that all parties are aware of their rights and obligations during the build. We can advise on the form of contract to choose, and in most cases, draw the contract up and administer it once work starts on site.

Works on Site and Completion

This part of the project is the most exciting as week-by-week your building takes shape. Our role at this stage is to visit the site on a regular basis – usually weekly but it can be more often as necessary -– to keep an eye on progress and quality, to answer questions, to keep a record of meetings and conversations and to generally ensure that the work is progressing in compliance with the drawings, specification and contract.  If a Quantity Surveyor is not employed we will also check and certify the Contractor’s monthly invoice and keep a record of finances. The contract normally enables you to withhold a 5% retention from the contractor on the value of the works completed up until practical completion and handover. At this point half of the retention is released and the remainder retained for the six months latent defects period. After six months the contractor will be obliged to remedy any defects appearing after practical completion, prior to us issuing a final certificate and releasing the remainder of the retention.