We are just commencing our second self-build (started onsite last week). In both cases we have used Architects and in both cases have been very happy with the results. We have outlined how in both case we selected and worked with our architect which we hope will assist other people starting out on their self build journey.
1) Start thinking about which architect you are going to use when you start looking for land and not when you have found land.
2) Draw out a requirements list. My approach is to provide a brief / framework for the architect to interpret rather than prescriptively dictating to the last detail. Requirements should be no more than 2 pages. By making the requirements generic, you can apply them to most plots of land. Include in the requirements why you are building as well (develop and sell, house for life etc)
3) Checkout your architects previous designs. There is likely to be a common design pattern and if that is way off what you want then maybe the architect isn't for you. Also go and see a couple of houses - just viewing from the outside can tell you a lot.
4) If you see a plot that is a potential candidate, email architects on your shortlist for feedback. Most architects will provide feedback for free within reason and the reply will help you to decide if the architect is thinking along the same lines as you. Also, meet with your architect before you engage formally to check that they are a person that you can work with.
5) Be completely upfront with the architect about your budget, put it in your requirements list and be very clear what that budget includes and doesn't include.
6) Be completely upfront with your architect about their fees. Fees based on a %age of the build cost are OK as long as the build cost used is your budget for the build at the outset (fixed) rather than the actual build cost (variable).
7) Good architects are in high demand and don't need to advertise so you will need to research (a lot) and do your legwork. Be prepared for the fact that you might need to wait for the architect you want to become available.
8. Check whether the architect has any experience in the build method you want to adopt and the energy standards that you want to achieve. Find out what the build costs have been on recent build projects and how these compared to budgeted costs .
9) Check with the relevant boards that any claimed registrations are correct.
10) Fees may seem expensive, but for the amount of work that goes into a design I have always felt I got good value for money. In the context of the cost of the project it is a small percentage much of which can be quite easily recouped with a little restraint on the fixtures and fittings.
11) If you use an architect local to the build, it is more likely that he will be able to advise on securing good contractors based on experience of previous builds.
My architect has more than recouped his fee by drawing up an attractive house that is straightforward to build. Insulation is what we need to get to passivhaus but no more and the size of the house is what we can build to meet our budget (based on his previous build costs) and requirements.
Listed below are the requirements we drew up which may assist others going through a similar exercise:
£325K (House, Garage)
excludes landscaping, external works and professional fees.
There were a large number of objections to the development from residents but planning permission was granted on appeal.
Plot width is around 16.7m. Plot length is 44m.
Electricity, Water and mains sewerage (but not gas) available at the plot boundary.
Functions of the Building
Home for ourselves and the dog. Enough room for friends, grown-up children to stay and family get-togethers.
Building a house for life as we can’t get what we like on the open market.
We love cooking and the outdoors, so it should support that.
Combine open plan living combined with a segregated quiet room downstairs
Provide a comfortable and healthy interior environment with a stable temperature and no drafts.
Design Direction and Requirements
Good natural light to rooms is really important with dual aspect windows in as many rooms as possible but not too keen on huge oversized windows that require complex and expensive shading solutions
Designed to Passivhaus standards in a cost-effective manner but don’t over-rely on technology that has high cost to install and maintain.
Open plan kitchen, dining room and seating area
Utility room (able to dry clothes in using pulley)
Small Study if possible
WC / Washbasin
Good Storage – larder cupboard, cloakroom and cupboard for cleaning utensils
Somewhere to sort out a muddy dog and muddy boots (A covered porch with a stone floor and bench maybe).
Sliding doors or similar out to the garden from the sitting area.
Bottom of kitchen window to be level with the kitchen worktop.
Back door into the utility room
No large step into front or back door
WC away from front door if possible
3 to 4 double bedrooms. Small study if not room downstairs (or 4th bedroom)
Built in wardrobes
Master bedroom should be able to comfortably take a king size be. En-suite in master.
Separate shower in bathroom.
Heating / DHW – no mains gas. Solar PV with a diverter? ASHP (noise?)
Consideration given to some acoustic insulation between rooms and between downstairs / upstairs. Doesn’t need to be completely soundproof however.
LED lighting throughout and up the staircase
Point for charging electric car.
Ability to use battery storage in the future should it become more cost-effective.
No requirement for chimney or wood burning stove.
Agnostic about whether the garage is attached or detached, but should have storage for bikes and a little workshop area.
Could be modified for easy access upstairs in the future (Straight staircase maybe).
Point for charging electric car.
Low maintenance exterior for windows and wall facings.
House to have a more contemporary feel inside. Outside to tie in with planning / design code.
Window frames recessed into the openings.
Recess in shower wall for soap etc.
Built in bookcases
Lots of sockets
Sockets in cupboards for charging hoover etc.
Room in utility room for dog crate
Built in water filter
Lighting on dimmers with switches that gradually turn LED lights on so they don’t blow.
Good outdoor lighting (pathways)
Outdoor power point / tap
Phone point in every room