Getting the design of your new home right, both inside and out, is crucially important. To help you decide which is the best option for your home, we explain the key points and the routes available to you.
Although designers may describe their approach to design in different ways, the basic process is the same. Design starts by gathering a large amount of information, then examining, filtering and organising this into a coherent brief. The design process is about making decisions - how big or small, what colour, how warm. You will have to make literally hundreds of decisions on your journey and the role of the designer is to guide you through this process.
How much help you want or need is up to you. Like any other professional, a designer will charge you for their time, so be clear on what you need and what you are willing to do yourself. For instance, having a designer detail all the technical building elements will be money well spent, while choosing finishes, fixtures and fitting may be something you can tackle yourself. Beware however, of putting off decisions until later on in the project. Maybe you don't need to choose taps at the design stage, but you do need to finalise the position of the sink if you want to avoid costly mistakes or changes.
You may want to give your designer complete freedom to design something original, unique and fabulous, and be delighted with the results. Or you may want to be involved in every aspect of the specification. You may also want to leave all technical aspects to a designer, but have strong ideas about the look and layout of the house. Most people end up somewhere in the middle, and the design process involves working closely with the designer to ensure you are satisfied with the end result.
The success of the design will depend on the relationship you develop with the designer, which will involve a lot of in depth discussions, possibly over a long period of time, and will more than likely involve some level of compromise on both sides.
Only a person who has qualified as an architect, can be a member of one of the regional architectural associations, such as the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). By law, they must also be registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) to be allowed to call themselves an architect. All architects are required to carry suitable Professional Indemnity.
Self builders should always choose an architect who is used to dealing with one-off individual homes and is prepared to listen to what their client wants, rather than dictating what they think they should have. That does not mean that you don’t want input from the architect, but it does mean that you should get what you want.
For self builders, this is more likely to be achieved with a smaller practice and the best way of finding a suitable architect is often by the recommendation of another self builder. The RIBA used to produce a schedule of fees as a guide, but these days, fees are negotiable and are likely to vary from designer to designer.
Architects tend to work to the RIBA plan of work schedule, which details each stage of the process. Typically fees are charged at planning, building regulations and completion stages and and will be tailored to cover the level of service you require. If the build is likely to be long or complex you may be asked for stage payments at for example, ground level, wall plate level, roof, first fix etc.
ASBA is a body of architects who have come together as an association with the specific aim of providing a service for one-off self builders. They give a free consultation and site evaluation, and their fees tend to be at the lower to medium end of typical practice fees. Their ethos is to listen to what their clients want and to translate those wishes to reality wherever possible. Only small practices may join.
The majority of self build projects use a designer. Designers may be fully qualified architectural technologists who are members of The Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT) or they may be people who are skilled in this area and work from home. The bigger the practice, the higher the fee. Practices at the lower end of the fee scale are likely to produce quite limited designs. Qualified design professionals, on the other hand, can often have more flair and imagination than even qualified architects. Always look for a designer who has a valid professional indemnity policy covering negligence, such as those who are members of CIAT.
Self employed draughtsmen, such as ex local authority or retired building inspectors, may only charge £500-£1,500 for an average house. Professional practices however can charge £4,500 and over.
Package companies combine both the design and architectural services, along with the supply of a kit of materials for the home. They are very good at what they do and they make many self builders’ dreams come true. They will ensure that anything they draw is capable of being built within their client’s budget and that what is proposed will pass relatively easily through the planning process. Most of them will provide a timber frame, but there are also those that can provide a traditional masonry package. Some package companies are only concerned with the structural elements, whilst others provide a full turnkey kit home complete with all finishings.
The design is always the key and the hook to their service. Most do not allow cherry picking of the design and architectural side of their service and only carry this out on the basis of a contract for the supply of the materials or kit when the building is constructed. Their role is a hand holding one, and most are extremely qualified to help the self builder.
Do not confuse package companies with pure manufacturing companies, whose only purpose is to take designs that have already been prepared and to provide a frame and its erection with little or no other input to the project.
The reason most people choose to self build is to get the house they want for the money that they’ve got. So, to build something that may be just the same as somebody else’s home might seem strange. Nevertheless that’s exactly what many choose to do, especially those who have been ‘hooked’ by a particular design in a brochure.
If you want a bespoke design, make sure that the company or practice you’re dealing with is capable of serving your needs. Custom build is essentially where an enabling developer finds and services a plot then offers to design and construct the house incorporating the owners wishes. This may well be within the constraints of a ‘design code’ dictated by the Planning Authority.
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