Frequently Asked Questions

As an Architectural Practice, we have to carefully manage clients' expectations with what can technically and legally be provided whilst working within the client's budget.

In the initial stages of any project, we would strongly recommend completing a 'feasibility' or 'viability' study which looks at all the above issues in more detail and provides workable design options which builds on the client's initial ideas and brief whilst informing the subsequent planning application or pre-application.

If you wish to proceed on this basis we would be happy to meet with you and discuss the benefits of feasibility studies in further detail.

This is a very topical question. There are a number of factors influencing what and how much renewable energy is applied to the project.

First there is the Government's drive to reduce Carbon Emissions and most local authority's have different requirements which are set out in their planning policies.  Then you have the new building regulations (Part L)  which is aimed to reduce emission rates, not to mention Part G which puts some serious constraints on water usage. The regulations apply to new properties as well as those being re-modelled or extended.  Finally, there is customer / end user expectation. It appears that many of our clients enjoy the feel good factor of doing their bit and generally include in their brief that renewable energy options are to be explored.

Depending on the above factors there are various new technologies emerging all the time ranging from grey water harvesting, biomass boilers, Photovoltaic (electric) panels, solar (water) panels, and wind turbines through to geo-thermal ground source solutions and air source heat pumps.

These in turn have their own issues relating to aesthetic appearance, noise, geographic suitability and whether Local Planning Authorities deem it acceptable. Finally many of these technologies are not cheap especially when retro-fitting and have considerable pay back times. In conclusion each site/project has its own constraints and solutions and we at Offset Architects would be happy to advise on an individual basis.

This is an interesting subject that is causing a lot of confusion amongst our clients at the moment.

Permitted Development Rights or to give it its full name 'The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (Amendment) ( No.2) (England) Order 2008', came into force in October 2008 with the intention of simplifying the information for homeowners and to free up the planning authority dealing with these issues. However in our recent experience this has not always been the case and despite the best intensions, the new system is still quite confusing.

There are various guidelines for homeowners to adhere to when proposing extensions, alterations or improvements to their house, roof or garden and these can often overlap depending on the cope of the project. In your circumstance your extension will need to conform to restrictions in area, heights (both of eaves and roof), widths, depths, distance from boundary and material finishes. Even after consideration of these details, if you feel the extension is possible on permitted development rights you should still apply to your local planning authority for confirmation and provide a Lawful Development Certificate to keep everything legal and make sure there are no specific restrictions on your property or the area as a whole.

The best option we recommend is to contact us for a quick appraisal and to assist you with the Lawful Development Certificate application, prior to any work being carried out, so you have peace of mind throughout the process.

In the initial stages of any project, we strongly recommend completing a 'feasibility' or 'viability' study which looks at all the above issues in more detail and provides workable design options which build on a client's initial ideas and brief whilst informing the subsequent planning application or pre-application.

If you wish to proceed on this basis we would be happy to meet with you and discuss the benefits of feasibility studies in further detail.

The process of having building work done can be quite daunting if you do not fully understand the options to progress your project. There is an urge, especially in the current economic climate, to cut costs wherever possible particularly if your builder has suggested an option.

Any building work undertaken will require the approval of the Local Authority Building Control (LABC) which requires a formal application to be submitted and approved for any proposed building work. This can be done as your builder has suggested by submitting a 'building notice' or by submitting a 'full plans' application.

A building notice is essentially a notification to the council with a brief description of the proposed work involved. Although you can progress a project on this basis we strongly recommend to everyone to submit a full plans application instead. A full plans application will have all the necessary information required for building control to assess your proposals and make any comments/changes required in order to comply with the relevant building regulations before work commences.  Whilst this may delay work starting on site, your builder should be able to give you a fixed price before commencing.

Another potential problem with a building notice is that it will not have the same level of information on the submission, and therefore the LABC Inspector on their site inspections, can request changes to work already carried out that doesn't meet relevant criteria of the current building regulations. This can cause abortive work increasing costs and delays to the project.

In summary a building notice should only be used for very simple building work. If you are unsure please consult your current project architect, alternatively Offset Architects would be pleased to advise during an initial free consultation.

Good question!  This is one of the biggest, and earliest, decisions you should make. You are also quite right that the most common construction systems are brick and blockwork, but there are other options.

Timber frame is quite popular nowadays due to its (off-site manufacture) fast form of construction. It is also a popular method with builders and a cost effective solution. For a rural look it is also worth considering Green Oak Frame for its warm characteristics and homely charm, it is also not as costly as you might think!

With energy efficiency in the forefront of people's minds and strict workmanship requirements 'Modern Methods of Construction' (MMC) should also be considered.  Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) uses a polystyrene mould which is then filled with concrete, and usually reinforced, on site, is an incredibly fast route to getting the superstructure up — and it provides an impressively efficient wall structure.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are essentially a sandwich: the filling is a solid thickness insulation, and the bread is made of rigid building boards such as plywood or orientated strand board (OSB). Again the benefits are factory applied insulation and millimetre accurate construction providing well insulated air tight construction.

Straw bale homes are first formed with a timber frame and the walls are then infilled with bales of straw. The walls are stabilized and covered with chicken wire then rendered for durability and aesthetics. One advantage of straw bale homes is that straw is an affordable and renewable resource, and construction is relatively simple. On the other hand more room is required to accommodate thicker walls and the system is not the fastest on the market.

There are many other construction systems on the market but as with all of these, each method of construction has to be weighed up on a project by project basis depending on location, budget, access, and aesthetics. We at Offset Architects would be pleased to meet with you and explain a particular system in more detail and its suitability for your project.

Although not mandatory it is highly recommended and, in our opinion, essential to maintain a clear and smooth relationship with your builder. We often hear about disputes between clients and builders due to the fact that a contract was not in place to set out the fundamental points. These generally include common sense points such as:

  • Client and Builder’s (company) names.
  • Start and completion dates - what constitutes a finished job for instance?
  • Scope of the project - how is this defined? by drawings, schedule of works or written description? 
  • The price, including VAT – exactly what is included ?
  • The payment terms. This should specify when/how the work is to be paid. Remember to include a ‘retention’.
  • Working hours – Permitted noisy times, weekends? 
  • Insurance and guarantees. Public Liability & Building cover. 
  • How to resolve disputes. 
  • What is the procedure if changes to the scope or extra work is required. 
  • What will happen if the project takes longer than expected.
  • Arrangements for access and on site facilities for the builders

There are already standard forms of contract on the market that can be used from simple domestic builds to multi million pound construction projects. On a very simple house extension the above points could simply be written into a letter of intent agreed between both parties. Should you wish to discuss the suitability of a particular form of contract for your building work then we at Offset Architects are happy to advise.

This is an interesting question as your builder friend is quite right to pre-warn you of the possible additional costs and time associated with various specialists/consultants, which can catch out a lot of clients as well as professionals.

The planning system has become much more robust in the last few years in respect to the amount of information required to get a planning application validated. This can include providing detailed information about drainage, trees, ecology, contamination, highways, sustainability and renewable energy as well as providing 3-D visuals. 

Most council planning departments now have various guidance notes on their websites and the planning application forms will also prompt you to provide certain information.

With your project we recommend undertaking a meeting with you to review the site as a whole and discuss your vision you have for the property. We can then advise you on the number and type of consultants/specialists you may need to appoint to make sure the submitted application is as robust as possible and is then more likely to be validated. 

We always suggest gaining a full detailed survey of the site, which includes a tree schedule survey, the drainage location and accurate levels of the site and location of the building itself. This we can then base our planning drawings on.  As your property is also on the outskirts of town on a large mature plot it may well be advisable to undertake an arboricultural report if the building work is within a close distance of existing trees.  Depending on the property, you may also need to obtain an ecology report to look at the possibility of any protected species within the site. 

As you can see these items can build up in costs and can take weeks to complete so the earlier you contact us to advise you on this subject the better.