Category Archives: self build

Ask The Architect – Can you help us resolve two design and construction issues?

A question sent in to Ask The Architect last week shows the importance of good design at every stage of the project.

The owner of a large Victorian terrace in a conservation area, is converting the building back to a house after it has been used as a block of flats.  They have used an architectural technician to produce a set of drawings for building regulations and asked me to help them with the removal of an existing wall to create an open plan kitchen/dining room and a the installation of a new external staircase to the basement. 

The engineer has designed brick piers to support the new opening but they are wider than the existing wall and the owner is concerned about the appearance of the opening in a period house and the potential loss of original features.

My suggestion was to discuss this in more detail with the engineer and see if there was any way of making the supports narrower.  As a last resort the whole wall could be made wider and the features could be replaced to retain the character of the room.

I also noted that the opening was too high for its width making it look awkward in the room, as it is important to look at the scale and proportions of a new opening in its context.  The plan showed a central island under the opening and I felt that the kitchen layout might be improved if this island unit was replaced with a run of kitchen units linked to the rest of the work top with an opening above.  This would increase the useable kitchen space and still provide the open plan feel for the room.

The property owner was concerned that appearance of the new basement staircase was not appropriate to the house and that the hand rail and balustrades stuck out like a sore thumb!

My response was to look at combining the existing front door staircase with the new basement access or just turn the new staircase through 90 degrees as both of these options could reduce the amount of protection required and make the new stairs feel more like part of the existing house.  The use of glass instead of metal for the balustrades would also help the staircase become less of an issue.

These problems show how important it is not to let the technical and legal processes of planning and building regulations applications override the design intent and poorly affect the end result.


Don’t move or improve – Try new build.

I originally wrote this in November 2008, after moving into my first self build.  It was written as a test peice for the 4Homes webiste but never got published.

There are five main aspects to any building project, your requirements, finance, management, cost, profit and design.  I hope to show you how a new build house can be a better option than home improvements or moving, especially in the current market.

If you are finding it difficult to move house, you should increase your options by considering a new build project, as a conversion or extension can be a compromise, because of limitations imposed by the existing building and its location.  It is also worth remembering that the process of buying land is relatively quick and you are unlikely to be in a buying chain.

Instead of extending your mortgage to cover the cost of your home improvements, try looking at self build mortgages as they offer staged payments to suit progress and may well be cheaper and easier to arrange at present.  In addition, as interest rates are so low, a bank loan is a decent option to cover some of the project costs.

A simple extension or conversion can be more stressful than creating a new building.  There is a huge impact on your daily routine through loss of rooms and living on a building site as well as the increased possibility of hidden problems associated with existing buildings.  Whilst, there may be more work involved with a new build, there should be less unforeseen complications and the work will be more straight forward and easier to manage.

You may be surprised to learn how much cheaper it is to build a house than buy a similar one and how favourably the build cost compares per floor area with building a large extension.  Once you add in reduced land and labour prices and the advantage of zero rated VAT for new houses, the cost of a new building starts to make sense.

Most home improvement projects will add value to your house.  However, the resale value of a new build project will be significantly more that the build cost.  The old rule of thumb used to be one third land, one third building and one third profit.  Given the current market conditions, the ratio of profit can only improve.

As well as all the financial and practical advantages of building a new house you shouldn’t dismiss the emotional aspects of starting from scratch and building what you want and how you want it.  You may think that an extension will improve your live dramatically, but just think what a new house will do!

So if you are keen to move or you’re thinking about a building project, consider self building, you get what you want, it’s easy to fund, relatively easy to do, great value for money, brings good return and can improve your way of life!