05 Apr 2016

What you need to know when hiring a specialist self-build architect, according to the expert

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i-build catches up with specialist self-build architect Allan Corfield of AC Architects. Here he talks about the importance of the client’s happiness and the benefits of hiring a RIBA-approved practice.

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How did Allan Corfield Architects come to be?

AC: During the recession in 2009, I had been made redundant, and there was a lack of architecture jobs around Europe. I felt that I had to create an opportunity for myself, so I decided that I would set up my own business. Starting out on my own working on extensions, AC Architects has now grown to a team of 10. We’ve got a team of three architects, three technicians, a quantity surveyor, two administration staff, and a marketing assistant.

How did you come to specialise in the self-build market?

AC: Initially, I was looking to create enough work to support myself. However, over the next few years, after building a lot of extensions and doing some work with a company called SIPs Industries, I developed a passion for the self-build market – and over time I became a specialist self-build architect.

Have you noticed any current trends in self-build design?

AC: I’d say the main trend is to make the house as efficient as possible, both in energy consumption and in overall design. All of our clients want as high a specification of house for as little a budget as possible.

What qualities should self-builders look for when commissioning an architect?

AC: It’s always best to find an architect who takes an interest in your ideas, and who shows a desire to learn more about your lifestyle. The better an architect understands their client’s lifestyle, the higher the chance the client’s dream home will be achieved.

It is also worth hiring a Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) chartered practice, as the management of your self-build project will be in extremely safe hands. To gain RIBA chartered status, practices must comply with strict criteria, and ensure that insurance, health and safety, and quality management systems are factored into the services they provide. It is also widely suggested that self-builders form a shortlist of RIBA firms before approaching with their design plans.

Normally, the RIBA suggests that architect fees for a full service, on a new-build home, will cost around 8% of the overall construction cost. Despite this rough guide, self-builders should look for a practice offering a fixed rate – so that they know from the beginning how much they can expect to pay at particular stages of their project. It’s really important to keep an eye on the budget, so commissioning an architect who gives you the numbers up front can make a significant difference.

When meeting with first-time self-builders, what do you find is the most common misconception?

AC: The most common misconception we see is families not truly believing that they can build their own house. With some education, a bit of hand-holding, and a great design, anyone is capable of building their own dream home.

Where do you think it is important for self-builders to not make compromises?

AC: The client’s happiness in the design of the house should never be compromised. As specialists, we take over other architects’ work (usually from planning stage), and we regularly hear from the client that they “sort of like the house, and might grow to like it”.

This is the single biggest purchase that most people will make in their lives, and it is set to be their family home; it must be everything they dream of – so don’t compromise on that dream!

In your view, what has been the best innovation for the self-build sector?

AC: We work with Structurally Insulated Panel (SIPs) buildings, which have been around in the UK for 15 years. This is a great, speedy way of getting a factory-built, highly-insulated and airtight fabric to your building. The increase in use of this type of closed-panel construction method has also pushed the basic timber frame manufacturers to up their game – which is good for the industry as a whole!

Please describe your most notable self-build project

AC: Between 2013 and 2014, ACA helped former pilot Colin Amor design and build his dream eco-home in Auchterarder, near Gleneagles. The work on the site had been started by a previous developer, who had completed the foundations prior to running out of money. This meant that ACA had to design a bespoke home which met Colin’s brief, but also fitted on to the existing footprint – a new and exciting challenge for ACA.

Colin was keen to create a large, open-plan house, flowing from space to space, which all centred around a double-height atrium – featuring a linking bridge that cut across the central atrium on the first floor. The house was built with Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) from SIPs Industries.

The house featured a variety of renewable energy technology including: a Daiken air-source heat pump, Paul Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery, triple-glazing from ADW, and 4kW of PV panels. Due to the airtightness, high insulation values, and the renewable heating sources put in place, Colin has yet to receive an electricity bill – and has made back on average £400 per quarter from renewable heat incentive payments.

The large dwelling of around 350m² has five bedrooms – all with en-suite – and a large family bathroom. The main central atrium creates a family dining space – and on the first floor, a lobby seating area where you can look over the double-height atrium, with views across the rolling countryside.

The atrium has a feature staircase that is cantilevered from the internal load bearing walls with glass balustrades and open timber treads. The key spaces in the house are a storey and a half in height, with the master bedroom suite featuring a glazed gable that gives a different, but equally stunning view of the sprawling countryside.

Colin wanted to future-proof the house, therefore if the occupants can only use the spaces downstairs in later life, there is an accessible family bedroom with en-suite and all of the other necessary accommodation.

The build was project-managed by Colin throughout, taking 12 months to complete the house – with the building being wind and watertight within four weeks of starting on site. Colin also built the project for £1100 per m², giving a build cost of around £450,000 – with the completed house being valued at £750,000.

The house was shortlisted for ‘Eco House of the Year for 2014’ and the completion of the project led to AC Architects being nominated for ‘Self-Build Architect of the Year’.

What one piece of advice would you give to budding home-builders?

AC: For anyone planning their own self-build project, I would recommend that they conduct thorough research of what they are about to undertake. Subscribe to self-build magazines, read the housebuilding guidebooks, visit self-build shows, and sign up for self-build seminars – the better equipped you are beforehand, the better you will be able to make informed decisions throughout each stage of your project.

It also helps to do a bit of research on the people you plan to hire as part of your team. Try and get some reviews on previous projects these professionals have worked on, and find out what they did well. As well as this, find out how they dealt with the things that went wrong – no matter how well you plan your project, challenges will arise, so you want to know your self-build is in safe hands when faced with adversity.

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