Are there alternatives to using an architect to design your home extension? The title ‘architect’ is legally protected – it takes seven years of rigorous study in all areas of the architectural field to earn the right to use it. Architects are registered with, and adhere to the code of conduct of, the Architects Registration Board (ARB). This training and professionalism are the main reasons that any project would benefit from the services of an architect, but you may still – for one reason or other – prefer not to hire one.
So, what are the alternatives to using an architect?
Building without plans
It’s true – you can (and some do) build an extension without plans. As covered again later, permitted development rights afford you the automatic right to extend, so long as you do so to specified guidelines and under specified scenarios. Although these rights technically sidestep the need for planning-level drawings, it is still a minimum requirement to provide the building control inspectorate with structural plans and building regulations drawings. A structural engineer could do the latter, but you’d still need someone to produce this. Only internal renovations that do not alter the building’s footprint or remove load-bearing walls might negate the need for any form of drawings whatsoever.
DIY-ing the plans adds little extra value than not having plans at all, because you are still obliged to produce structural and building regulation plans for building control.That said, cloud-based tech has, to a degree, democratised the design aspect. It is now possible to measure up a property, enter inputs into a design software programme and come up with a visual representation of an extension. This will provide a visualisation of what an extension could look like, and it can help to clarify your own design ideas and give your builder a representation of the finished project you have in mind. (That is, if you haven’t already demolished your tablet – some apps can be frightfully frustrating to use.)
However, you must remember that the results cannot be considered to be bona fide design plans, but rather serve as a spacial representation to help give you a sense of the space.
Design and build companies
Some building firms specialise in one form of extension or other, for example loft extensions, garage conversions or outhouses. These companies benefit from economies of scale from repetition of design, material selection and construction methods, and the design variables are narrower due to working within a defined space and shape. As a result, they offer to carry out the planning and design function as part of a bundle – a so-called design and build service.
Some design and build companies may have an in-house designer, draftsman and/or technologist, whilst others will farm out the work to an independent architectural practice.These setups can work well, but the repetition of actions can lead to cookie-cut plans. Design and build companies are a bit hit and miss, so be vigilant if you are considering this route.
The services of an architectural technologist offer another alternative to hiring an architect. An experienced technologist should possess the necessary skills to navigate the planning and design process. Their training is not as intense as that of architects, so some may argue that the barrier to entry is lower. Therefore, is it important to ensure the technologist is registered with the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT), where members adhere to a code of conduct similar to that of the ARB. And, as with design and build firms, be deliberate in selecting a technologist who knows their stuff.
Going without, doing it yourself, using an all-in-one company or opting for an architectural technologist are the alternatives to using an architect for your extension. Some of these solutions are clearly better than others, but the thesis of this blog remains the same – if you are planning to undertake a costly home improvement on (probably) the most valuable asset you own, it seems only reasonable to get the very best help available to assist you through the process.