In a novel approach, Louise Heavin and Gary Cunningham of Cunningham Heavin Architects, are offering virtual home consultations in exchange for charity donations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
With such an offering in mind, the architects have listed a number of essential tips when planning upon commencing work on your residence.
What are the spaces our family actually need?
Many people start off home improvements with glossy magazines or online articles of fantastic spaces other people have created. The starting point of a good project is to look at yours and your family’s needs. You can then identify what your home should contain and ask the questions: do you have enough bedrooms? Do you have enough living space? Do you have adequate storage?
Are there any spaces that are currently not working?
Before considering a costly extension to your home, you may want to look at existing spaces and see if there is any that can be reconfigured to suit your needs. Simple moves like making your box room a new en-suite or wardrobe or making an underutilised ground floor room part of your living space. Are you dreaming of moving from cellular rooms to open plan living? Do you have space to work from home? Small design moves can make a big difference.
Increased window opening sizes, creating a new connection to the garden, or the addition of roof lights can make a significant change to the home without costing too much. On top of that, you won’t be eating into your outdoor space. Introducing simple design moves like clever storage or flexible spaces for work, living, play, relaxation can save you money and mean you get better use out of these spaces.
It’s also a great time to think about both natural and artificial lighting in your home. The addition of a new extension in the wrong location may cause decreased levels of light in the existing rooms in your house. Ensure your extension will help improve existing spaces and give you and your family a better quality of living.
Can we increase the energy efficiency of your home?
When you are planning any works to your home it’s a great time to think of upgrading the fabric building to help bring your bills down. External insulation and energy-efficient windows can make a huge difference to the warmth and comfort of your home. It is also an easy way of providing an instant facelift to your property. In older houses mould and damp can really affect your enjoyment of a space. Consult with your Architect and Engineer about the existing problems that you are facing and see if an energy retrofit might help solve the problem. Government grants and green loans are available as we try to meet our climate goals and it is worth taking advantage of these while you can.
Accessibility and Futureproofing
Building projects are big investments, take time and can cause big disruption to your life while works are being carried out. When you embark on a project it is best to look 10 or 20 years ahead and see what future-proofing you can include in the design. For example, will the layout be suitable for Intergenerational Living if you have elderly parents coming to stay? Perhaps you might consider renovating your home for older age or allowing space in the plan for accessible facilities. With all projects, we advise renovating your home for accessible use. We don’t know what lies ahead but if we design as far as we can for universal access, you won’t go too far wrong. Simple moves like ensuring you have level access at your external doors or making your corridors wide enough to accommodate wheelchairs can make a world of difference for future use.
What professional services will I need?
The value of hiring consultants can often be overlooked. With the right qualified and experienced professionals on board, you can add a lot more value to your project than just floor space.
If you are looking to reconfigure or extend your home your first port of call should be a registered Architect. They can help guide you through the project step by step and come up with solutions that meet your needs and budget.
Most projects will also require some input from a Structural Engineer. They will ensure beams and foundations are sized correctly and give you final sign off. Depending on your project or budget size you might also employ a Quantity Surveyor or cost consultant.
Quantity Surveyors can assist with the tendering process and can ensure that you are getting value for money. A landscape designer is always worth considering especially if you want to create a space that you can really connect with outside. The earlier you get them on board the better as they can work with the Architect to ensure the inside and outside spaces work in harmony.
Do we need planning permission?
Internal alterations generally don’t need planning permission but may require other permissions such as building control depending on your structural alterations.
External alterations and extensions generally do, depending on the size of the extension or its location. In Ireland, there is a list of works that are exempted from planning permissions. For example,, you may not need planning permission if the project is located at the rear of the property and does not exceed a certain size. Every project is different, so it is best to check with your Architect or local planning office. Different rules apply for heritage buildings. You may need planning permission if your home is a listed building, a protected structure or is located in a conservation area.
Health and safety and the building regulations
It is your responsibility as a homeowner for health and safety during works to your home. In Ireland, you are required to appoint a Project Supervisor for the Design Process (PSDP ) and a Project Supervisor for the Construction Stage (PSCS ) for any work that is greater than 30 days or 500 man-days on-site, involves more than one contractor or if the works carry a particular risk. The Health and Safety Authority have good guidance for home-owners on their website.
For any construction work, you will need to comply with the latest building regulations. An experienced Architect and Engineer will ensure your design and works comply with the regulations and can provide you with a certificate of compliance at the end of the project.
Your budget is probably the most important thing to know before engaging an Architect or compiling your wish list. Think about how you will finance it and how much of a contingency you will set aside. If borrowings are required it is best to speak to your bank or credit union to see what kind of a loan you will be eligible for. You might also qualify for certain grants if you own a listed building, are carrying out energy upgrades or you need to alter or extend your home for health reasons.
Factor in additional costs
Existing homes can come with hidden issues. It is usually when we open up as part of pre-construction that these things come to light. As a practice, we have seen everything from faulty heating fixes to slow leaks causing structural issues. It is always advised to have a healthy contingency when planning works to an existing structure. You could also be proactive and investigate the condition of your structure, heating and electrics before you start the project. This will help you identify works required before you start to design and incorporate these into your budget calculations.
We are an architecture practice located in Edinburgh and Westmeath. We are offering 45-minute virtual consultation for £40/€45. All proceeds go to Cyrenians Food bank and the Simon Community helping with homelessness during the pandemic.