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Selecting a House Designer

If design is the most important phase of your self build, then selecting a House Designer is critical to the success of your project.

If you take the time to get it right, it is more likely that the build will proceed without any compromise to your design. However, getting the design stage wrong will have a knock-on effect on your build and may create problems that delay your project and incur additional costs to rectify. If your budget will not stretch to cope with mid-project design changes, you may never achieve your dream home specification.

You are more likely to realise your dream home, to a design approved by the planning office, by involving a qualified house designer. Whether you are building a conventional suburban 3-bedroomed semi or you have plans for something more exotic, professional advice and experience will always add value to a project. The downside is that professional advice comes along with professional fees and some professionals charge a lot more than others.

Categories of House Designer

The major categories of house designer are:
… Architect
… Architectural Technologist
… In-house designer at a timber-frame manufacturer
… Do It Yourself

These categories are described in more detail here. You need to weigh up the benefits and costs of each type of house designer for your particular project. You may know a self builder who has high praise for a specific designer-type but it doesn’t necessarily follow that this designer-type is right for your particular project.

The role of an architect is generally understood by most self builders but its important to note that there are plenty of experienced house designers in the UK and only a proportion of them are qualified architects. As the term ‘architect’ is protected by the Architects Registration Board, you will find that the other types of house designer promote themselves under titles of “Architectural Services” or “Architectural Design” or similar.

Selecting a House Designer

Efkohaus eases the task of selecting a house designer or any other type of professional engaged in the Built Environment.

While the best way to start your search for a house designer is a recommendation from a trusted source, the next best way is to use the Professionals search facility on efkohaus. In our very extensive database, you will find house designers with experience in the design of structural timber solutions for self-builders.

Another place to search is the Association of Self-Build Architects (ASBA) who list architects providing a wide range of design solutions, not just structural timber. For the complete list of RIBA architects, go to the website.

Assessing a House Designer

It’s not a good idea to appoint the first designer that you meet, no matter how persuasive, knowledgeable and affable they are. All designers are different. They have their own preferences, biases, personalities and fee structures! Take some time to meet a few. It helps if they have a portfolio of previous projects as it’s a good way for you to assess their style. I guarantee that after you have met a handful of designers, you will be saying “I can’t believe how different they all are!”

For most self-build home projects, the most important aspect of choosing a designer is how well you get on with them. Do they listen to your plans? Do they have the same enthusiasm for aspects of design that you consider important? Or are they just agreeing with you to get the job? While you can’t expect to share the same views on every aspect of house building, you should share a similar outlook as to what actually makes a great house. The perfect designer/self-builder relationship is a true collaboration. Your ideas combined with their skills and experience, enhanced by shared values. You need this rapport in order to survive the design challenges of a self build.

Objective Assessments

As much as the personal interaction with a House Designer is important, there are also some objective assessments to be made:

Previous Projects
You should always ask about previous projects completed by the house designer. You’re not so much concerned about the look of the exterior or interior but more about how the projects ran. Ask about timescales, budget over-runs, project management, unexpected difficulties during the build, design changes during the build, time spent on site, specific difficulties on each project etc. If you can, obtain permission to visit previous and/or current projects and try and speak with contractors or homeowners to get their perspective on the project. Ask generally about problems that might occur specifically relating to the design process.

Build costs
An experienced house designer should base the self build project in reality, grounded in the budget that you have set. The designer needs to show you that their previous projects have been built to budget. Is the designer able to calculate an accurate build cost? Does the designer work regularly with suppliers that provide reasonable quotations?

Service level
You will want to confirm the level of service provided throughout the project, such as the provision of copies of house plans. Amendments in the latter phases of the design often involve further detailed specification and technical drawings. Agree response times and how you will communicate and how often.

Fees
When are they due, and how much? Be clear as to what the fees are from the start eg initial concept, plans, etc. Agree that payments will be made at different phases. Who is doing the planning application? What are the charges for plans, copies, 3d modelling, finalising the specification, producing working construction drawings etc.

Appointing a House Designer

Architects and other types of designer will be falling over themselves to win your favour. However, it’s important not to rush this decision. Take your time. Remember that selecting a House Designer is critical to the success of your project.

Related articles can be found under the Resources tab on the main menu.

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