Top Tips from Architects

Appointing an Architect

  • Involving an architect early on in a project can actually save you time and money. They will offer you a range of options and discuss with you the most economic and appropriate design for your requirements.
  • Even on small projects, such as a kitchen extension or an attic conversion, working with an architect can make a big difference, as they will find solutions that will realise the full potential of your home.
  • Discuss what qualities are you looking for in an architect? Are there examples of extensions and buildings that you like?
  • Ask to see examples of existing work the architect has completed.
  • Identify who will be the primary contact with the architect, contractor, and others involved in designing and building your project. It is good to have one point of contact to prevent confusion and mixed messages.
  • Now is a good time to get planning permission. It lasts for five years, and means that you will not get lost in the glut of applications that will swamp the planning system when the upturn takes place.

Developing a Brief (your list of requirements)

  • What do you want to achieve with this project? Why do you want to build, extend or renovate?
  • Describe your current home. What do you like about it? What’s missing? What don’t you like? Do you want to change the space you have?
  • What do you envisage in your extended or renovated home that your present home lacks? What functions / activities will be housed in a new space?
  • What is your lifestyle and what kind of spaces do you need? For example, are you at home a great deal? Do you work at home? Do you entertain often?
  • How much time do you spend in the living areas, bedroom, kitchen, study, utility space, garden?
  • How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your home?
  • Do you have strong ideas about design and materials? What do you think the extension or renovation should look like?
  • How much can you realistically afford to spend?
  • How much disruption in your life can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home?
  • How soon would you like to be settled into your new home or extension? Are there rigid time restraints?
  • Is there anyone in the family with a disability or do you envisage staying in the house for a long time so that the mobility problems of aging may need to be addressed?
  • First floor rooms can be more than just bedrooms. Using a bright upstairs room in winter might be just the thing to help you through dark days.

Design and Energy Efficiency

  • Energy efficiency is considered an integral part of any extension and refurbishment. Do you have any specific requests, for example for using energy from renewable sources (solar hot water, wood pellets etc)?
  • Insulating external or internal walls for better thermal performance – your architect will advise on the best option and on any planning requirements
  • Upgrading of windows to improve the thermal performance and reduce heat loss, also known as U-values. For example, upgrading an existing sun-room or conservatory with triple glazing can ensure that it can be used all-year-round.
  • Improving the air-tightness of your home to avoid unwanted air leaks. Commonly a door-blower test is used to identify air leaks.
  • Fitting of renewable energy sources such as solar collectors for hot water, wood pellet boilers or heat pumps. As these are expensive additions, your architect will advise on the payback implications.
  • Re-modelling your home for better orientation to benefit from light. Your architect may recommend changes to the layout or opening up a south-facing wall to benefit from sunlight, also known as passive solar gain.
  • Insulate your attic. This can reduce bills and make your home more comfortable to live in. It pays for itself within two years.
  • Fit another lagging jacket over your hot water cylinder to half the heat loss for minimal expense.

Furniture and Finishes

  • Get extra high kitchen wall cabinets, wardrobes and shelves that extend up to your ceiling. You gain additional shelving, it looks impressive and you reduce visible clutter.
  • Be selective in your use of colour – lighter, unified colour schemes maximise the sense of space as well as light. The floor and furnishings can be a good source of colour.
  • Use up-lighters and floor lights in preference to traditional down-lighters, and reduce wattage to create a more pleasant ambiance.

Top Tips When Considering Buying a New Home:

  • When you buy a new house or apartment, check to see that it has been designed by an RIAI Registered Architect.
  • Make inquiries as to how the house has been constructed and what materials have been used. Are they expensive to maintain? Have materials been used that have a low environmental impact?
  • Is the house a Protected Structure? You will need the advise of a Conservation Architect if you are planning any changes. (See Protected Structures)
  • Discuss what does your preferred neighbourhood look like? A well-designed neighbourhood should feel safe, pleasant to walk in and have connections with other areas and local infrastructure.
  • Discuss how important is access to public transport and the availability of local infrastructure such as shops and schools? Do you want to walk to work, to schools and shops? What facilities are within a 10-minute walk?
  • Do I like living in the countryside? What are the nearest connections to shops, schools and medical services?
  • Decide on the importance of outdoor space. Do I like a garden or a maintenance free outdoor space? Are there accessible local parks and green spaces for walks?
  • Discuss your storage needs – do I need a garage for car and bicycles or a garden workshop?
  • Check if the property comes with any special energy saving features, such as solar collectors for hot water, a heat pump or heating from a renewable source (wood pellets)? Does it form part of a district heating system?
  • Check which rooms receive direct light and at what times during the day. For example, if you are working outside your home during the day, a west facing living room with late afternoon sunlight and access to the rear garden might be a priority for you.
  • Is the property sufficiently open to receive natural light? Ask your architect to give options and costings for access to more sunlight such as larger windows, roof lights and sun-rooms (subject to planning permission).
  • Is the property sufficiently flexible to allow future layout changes? What internal walls are structural? Can rooms be interchangeable? Ask your architect to identify the potential for future extensions, attic conversions or a re-modelling of existing space.