Professional Planning for Home Structural Alterations
General builders can tackle many jobs. However, for all but the simplest home improvement schemes, most people will appreciate the inside knowledge that experts can bring, especially when it comes to solving design problems, making the best use of existing space, and planning the best way of creating more of it.
You will also need professional help for projects that involve structural alterations to the house to ensure that new foundations, walls, load-bearing lintels and the like are strong enough to do their job. On a major project, unless you have extensive experience of, you may want to hand over the entire management of the job to the professionals, letting them deal with everything from the early design stages to getting official permission, awarding contracts and supervising the work.
Architects must be registered with the Architects Registration Board. Many architects are members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA), the Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (BIAS), the Royal Society of Architects in Wales (RSAW), or the Royal Society of Ulster Architects (RSUA). You will find local architects listed in your Yellow Pages phone directory, and you can get the details of registered architects practising in your area from their professional bodies.
Just because someone is a registered architect does not mean that he or she will be the ideal person to deal with your building project, however. Some architects specialise in new building work or the commercial sector only, and it is important to establish early on whether the person you have approached is both experienced in relatively small-scale domestic work, and is genuinely interested in taking on the project. Personal recommendation is one of the best ways of finding someone suitable.
Once you nave found someone, it is important from the outset to have a clear idea of what you expect your architect to do.
What your architect can do for you
The first step will be to hold a brief preliminary meeting, often free, at which you can outline what your project involves. Depending on the type of project, it can help to take along pnotograpns of the house and any sketcnes and plans that you have drawn. It is also important to discuss at this stage what level of support you expect the architect to provide. The various stages involved in a typical building project include:
• preliminary project-planning advice
• preparing drawings to your specifications
• submitting plans for local authority approval
• obtaining tenders for the work from contractors
• preparing contracts
• preparing work schedules
• supervising site work
• issuing certificates for payment.
The more of these services you use, the higher the final bill. Depending on the extent of supervision required, the architect’s fee may be charged as a percentage of the total cost of the job or, if little involvement beyond the planning stage is required, as a flat fee based on the amount of time spent on the work. Small, straightforward jobs are unlikely to warrant the considerable expense of employing an architect as your project manager.
Once you have agreed what you want done, how much involvement you expect, and what the fee will be, you should receive written confirmation of the relevant terms. If you do not, you should draw up a letter of appointment yourself, outlining exactly which duties you want performed.
Unlike architects, anyone can adopt the title of surveyor, and there are also several kinds of surveyor around, not all of whom are qualified in design and building work. You will need a building surveyor, and, as with architects, you can find one by contacting the relevant professional bodies, such as the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), for lists of their members in your area. Alternatively, look in the Yellow Pages under ‘Surveyors — building’, or rely on personal recommendation.
A building surveyor will carry out roughly the same range of duties as an architect, and a RICS member or similarly qualified surveyor will charge similar rates to those of a registered architect.
Apart from architects and qualified building surveyors, there are also many firms and individuals offering to do similar work, but lacking any official registration. They may call themselves architectural consultants, architectural surveyors or architectural technicians — in fact, anything but architects. They do not have to adhere to any professionally monitored codes of conduct, and may not have professional indemnity insurance to protect you against losses resulting from negligent design or survey work. However, the work they do may well be of a first-class standard (or not), and they will certainly charge less than an architect or qualified building surveyor.
If one is recommended to you, and has the references to back up the recommendation, by all means consider using them.
Many smaller-scale home improvement projects do not warrant the employment of an architect, surveyor or other professional adviser, but may need to meet the requirements of the Building Control Officers (BCOs) have a vital role to play.in one way or another. This is where local authority
BCOs are generally happy to give advice on what the Regulations require (as long as you do not overdo the questioning), and are aware that some helpful advice given while a building project is being planned can save both employer and contractor time and money later on if unacceptable plans or workmanship have to be rejected. They will also carry out site inspections, if appropriate, during the progress of projects not under the supervision of a qualified inspector such as an architect or building surveyor.
There are several types of home improvement projects that lend themselves to the approach of the package dealer, including, , and bathroom and kitchen refits.
Such companies offer to manage every step of the project, from initial design (often computer-aided) through to final completion, and this way of operating can seem very appealing if the alternative is to employ a range of professional advisers and separate contractors.
However, unless you take care to invite plans and costings from several such firms, and take the time to read the contract forms closely before you sign, you can find yourself at the mercy of the firm you have selected, without the back-up of any independent professional advice.
There are plenty of reputable firms with well-established businesses operating in this field. There are also numerous rogue operators, many of whom feature regularly in the consumer ‘watchdog’ horror stories of the press and television. As always, personal recommendation counts for a great deal, as can membership of a relevant trade organisation, such as the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), or the Glass and Glazing Federation. You can get lists of member firms and help with complaints in two individual product areas: The Kitchen Bathroom Bedroom Specialists Association (KBSA) and the Association.