What’s next for Greenway Barrow Architects?

I’m making a move!

It’s hard to standstill in business, growing is easy once you get some momentum. Supporting that growth is another kettle of fish, and scaling back not so easy as it sounds with the stop start nature of project work. So, it’s crunch time and I’m ready to build the next successful venture, this time not on my own.

I’m joining Michael Aubrey Partnership to continue delivering what I do best, with the support and cross discipline expertise of a team that I know well. Creating family forever homes, together.

Unexpected? Only if you don’t know the back story…

In need of an engineer

I first came across John Staves at Michael Aubrey Partnership (MAPL) six years ago when I contacted several local engineers, I wanted to see who was up for helping me out with my new venture, Greenway Barrow Architects. John was, as he always is, willing to give me his time. Yet we didn’t work together until a year or so later, projects being what they are.

As I completed more and more projects and worked with various local engineers I began to realise that the team MAPL were a good bunch to know, their approach was professional, thorough, proactive. I advocated for them as my go-to engineer.

Trialling a new way of working

After Covid hit we developed a closer collaboration, home owner enquiries rocketed and MAP were happy and able to support with additional services – measured surveys and later technical design.

Always looking to improve client experience and project outcomes with a more integrated approach I finally met with MAPL’s other director, Gail, twelve months ago. We talked around the benefits of what we were offering together. John jokingly suggested I join their team, I jokingly declined… I’d worked bloody hard to build my own thing, I didn’t want to give it up.

Six months on, we continued with our successful collaboration but still with some barriers between us. We were after all separate entities, there’s a balance between sharing openly and doing what’s commercially sensible.

A considered move

Mid December, Gail ventured again if I’d consider coming to join them. This time it wasn’t a no! I couldn’t see that we would stop collaborating so why not make it a permanent thing? We’d already spent several years working together after all!

There are so many positive aspects to our cross-discipline approach. And discussing the opportunity with my clients I was pleased to find them largely in agreement that the pros outweighed the cons.

So, here we are finally having figured out the boring but important stuff! Next month I’ll be joining MAP as Head of Architecture, and together we have plans!

Contact us here to see how we can help you to create your family forever home.


10 design considerations for your home extension

As blogs go this is a bit of a lazy one, but it’s a quick read and there’s lots of photos to enjoy! Here’s 10 things that I think matter when it comes to home extension design…

1) Original features are worth keeping

If you have great features, keep them. Work around your home’s beautiful bits .

Exposed brickwork is a striking feature in an otherwise gallery like white space.

2) Bring it all together with a complete renovation

Nothing good to keep? A complete property face lift unites old and new, goodbye pebbledash

New extensions and a whole house face lift with new render and glazing bring everything together

3) Context matters

Sometimes traditional materials work best and “in keeping” is an easy win with Planning.

4) Materials make it

A good brick match will make or break a project and a good bricklayer will make the ordinary extraordinary.

5) A glimpse of sun is better than none

North facing extensions are notoriously challenging and you can’t turn your house around. Sunshine brings a space to life, catch it if you can.

6) Lighting is a language of it’s own

Lighting enhances a home. Choose bold fittings for impact even when the lights are off.

7) Prioritise your budget

Spend money on impact and elements you can’t easily swap later. Quality of glazing systems is usually reflected in the price tag. You can accessorise on a budget if you have a good eye.

8) Alignment is everything

Design it to align it and ensure it is set out correctly on site. When a design comes together as intended the heart sings. A little bit of symmetry goes a long way.

9) Create a quiet nook

Window seats don’t have to be complicated, create a space to escape to.

10) Always rooflights

Daylight from the sky is diffuse and even, so including natural light from above is an great idea, especially if you’re extending to ensure the middle zone isn’t left dark and redundant.

What key features will you include in your design brief?

Thinking of a home extension? Got grand plans for a whole house renovation? Get started on your project brief and capture your ideas and aspirations in my Project Planner.

Download the Project Planner here.

Energy bills vs insulation

Home comfort, is it all about the money?

Our house is a 1970s half-in-the-roof type house, the upstairs is mostly timber frame and flat roofs, downstairs the construction is cavity wall… I’d say there’s next to no insulation. The heat goes out almost as quickly as we put it in, on the flip side – in the summer – it’s baking upstairs. The temperature downstairs is more stable from the thermal mass of the block walls.

I say “let’s insulate!”, yet we haven’t to date. We’d never recoup the financial outlay. We’ve replaced the boiler a few years back to increase efficiency but the fact remains the house leaks heat. Now with energy bills on the rise, it’s a discussion we’re having again. Here are four reasons to insulate:

1. Keeping warm

The house will be warmer, primarily insulating is about comfort. Yet, the reality is it won’t actually be warmer (unless we choose to crank up the thermostat), we’ll just be using less energy to keep it the same level of warm. Maybe psychologically I will “feel warmer”?

2. Using less energy

We’ll be using less energy to keep it warm because the heat losses are reduced. We’re going to improve the performance of the walls, roof and floor (not the floor in our case) by insulating – we’ll have better U-values. Granted we’re looking at a very simplified model here which doesn’t really consider air tightness or thermal bridging. Junctions are not your friend – there’s a reason Passivhaus design is easier with a box.

3. Saving money

Heat loss is equal to heat load meaning the less energy that escapes out the less energy you need to put in. And less energy in results in lower energy bills. It’s always about the money, at some level.

4. Overheating is mitigated

Summer comfort will be improved, this is an often overlooked benefit of insulating, think of insulation as a warm puffer jacket in the winter and more of a un-iced cool box in the summer. It’s not making your house colder, it’s just stopping the contents from melting. Overheating is becoming more problematic in the UK to extent that Part O of the Building Regulations is coming out this summer with regulation that will cover this topic. If you live in a “lightweight” house (i.e. one where the there’s no masonry to slowly absorb and release the heat) you’ll find the temperature fluctuations can be quite dramatic. Insulation plays an important role in stabilising that.

Don’t get me wrong, our house is not a single glazed, solid walled Edwardian house – the heat loss situation could be a lot worse. But I can’t help but think, that if we can afford to, sooner or later we should get on and insulate.

2021 – all the drama, all the ideas, all the connections

If I had a plan for this year it went out the window as soon as BoJo closed the schools in January. So here it is, a disjointed run down of 2021, all the drama, all the ideas, all the connections.

  1. January, February, March – working late nights and weekends amidst home-schooling “fun”, the less said about the first part of the year the better!
  1. Spring and freedom finally came around and with it the opportunity to visit some of those lockdown projects I’d missed out on in 2020: Extending an Edwardian Semi, 1930’s home extension: A Place to Eat, Lessons learned on a lockdown build
  1. I blogged for EntreArchitect, the brainchild of Mark R LePage and now a 7000+ strong community of architects worldwide: How to Scale without Growing
  1. Summer saw me busy with builds, supporting clients with their projects under construction. Site meetings scheduled between camping trips and seeing friends who we’d missed out on the year before. With supply chains as unsettled as the weather patterns, delays were inevitable but we got there in the end!
  1. Always looking for the next challenge I settled on a personal one and decided to train for a half marathon, it gave me a focus away from business….work life balance and all that. I ran a 10 miler a few weeks later, once you know you can, you can!
  1. I set some boundaries around meetings, keeping several days free to actually get work done. You make the rules, you break the rules.
  1. I ventured a new offering, my “Briefing and Beginnings workshop” giving families the chance to explore the opportunities and potential of their home with me for a couple of hours.
  1. I made a guest appearance on EntreArchitect’s Context and Clarity daily discussion with Jeff Echols who has hosted the hourly slot daily since the pandemic began and for which many people are grateful.
  1. The beginning of the school year brought back regular working hours and saw me launch a new toolkit of resources for those embarking on, or even midway through their home extension project.  
  1. I wrote 133 social media posts, 19 emails and 9 blogs about things people ask me all the time including: 5 steps to keeping your home renovation costs under control, Do you need more space or just different space? and 5 top tips for a successful extension project
  1. I got to know some of our local builders better and worked with them to deliver projects, in a relatively orderly fashion.
  1. I reconnected with my US based mastermind group, there are some great people out there doing some super interesting things.
  1. I read 14 books, mostly on audible and I have finally got back to fiction with my book club! Here’s what’s been on my reading list:
  • How to break up with your phone, Catherine Price
  • Hope in Hell, Jonathon Porritt
  • The Chimp Paradox, Steve Peters
  • The Midnight Library, Matt Haig
  • The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks
  • The Bumblebee Flies Anyway, Kate Bradbury
  • Company of One, Paul Jarvis
  • The No Spend Year, Michelle McGagh
  • How to Listen, Katie Columbus
  • Running: Cheaper Than Therapy, Chas Newkey-Burden
  • They Ask You Answer, Marcus Sheridan
  • Never Split the Difference, Chris Voss, Tahl Raz
  • Cumulative Advantage, Mark Schaefer
  • Becoming Minimalist, Joshua Becker
  • Thursday Murder Club, Richard Osman
  1. I embraced an integrated approach to projects with Michael Aubrey Partnership. I wrote a blog about that too: You don’t just need an architect, you need a home extension team
  1. I negotiated with planners, coordinated others, obtained consents.
  1. I did some online learning, attended events and continued on my Carbonlite Retrofit course with the AECB  
  1. And among all that I drew some houses…because that’s what architects do, isn’t it?

If you got to the end of my brain spill, thanks for reading.

2022 here we come, it’s got to be more straightforward than that!

You don’t just need an architect, you need a home extension team

Once upon a time I won a £1000 essay prize as part of the JCT Student Essay Competition. I wrote about a topic which, at the time, seemed to me like a game changer: building information modelling (BIM)

For the uninitiated, BIM is much more than a 3d model – it’s a process for creating information, capturing specifications, quantities, and schedules all in one place. 

In 2011, the UK Government decided that by 2016, BIM should be mandatory for public sector projects across the construction industry. My essay explored the challenges this would pose and implications of not jumping on board. And whilst I don’t work on public sector projects right now, I think there are many relevant points to be shared.

It takes a whole team of people to deliver a construction project whether we’re building a library, a skyscraper, or a home extension. And, if we’re going to do a good job for our clients, we’d better start talking to one another a bit more often and a bit more clearly.

What does BIM mean for the construction industry?

In the essay, titled BIM: Double-Edged Sword, I wrote that architects would need to evolve. Whilst it was about embracing new processes and software, it was also about an acceptance of being part of a wider team, with successful projects resulting from good collaborations. 

The adoption of BIM would be a monumental task for the construction industry. Just like the transition from old school drawing boards to drawing digitally with CAD, it was going to hit some businesses harder than others. 

The message I crafted was “adopt or die”, yet adoption was and remains slow. 

The immediate need for collaboration

Whilst the concept of creating a single shared model came with all sorts of issues about liability and ownership, the fact remained that working more closely with each other at an earlier stage of a project could only be a good thing. 

And that is something I’ve been actively working on in my own business for the past 12 – 18 months, much to my clients’ advantage. Fed up of waiting to embrace BIM of my own accord, with no real need or incentive, I chanced upon others who already had.

Joining forces with industry partners

For a number of recent projects, I’ve been working with Michael Aubrey Partnership, who have their fair share of BIM wizards, technologists, and structural engineers. It makes them a pretty good team to know and to work alongside. 

From existing building models, early stage structural input and the technical design skills to deliver the project, we’ve developed a close knit way of working.

There are many benefits to creating the building virtually ahead of constructing it in real life. It helps you understand what it will look like, allows coordination of structure, services and architecture. It helps to spot any problems so that they can be fixed before the building work begins, and this in turn keeps costs down by avoiding the need to resolve these matters during construction when the stakes are much higher.

This team-led approach provides a helpful reality check for my home extension clients at an early stage. Working together, we’re able to identify design tweaks that can keep costs down without compromising on creativity. 

Whilst most things are possible, not everything is practical.

The feedback on this approach has been really positive. It’s good to know that we are bringing value to our clients.

We’re really pleased that you are getting structural engineering feedback at this early stage, because it really helps us with our decision making”

How BIM principles have revolutionised my business

Even though my own BIM journey hasn’t been quite the evolution I’d anticipated, sometimes you have to create opportunities to do things a little bit differently. Now that I see first hand the benefits of BIM, I’m ready to embrace new software and get on board with the BIM revolution.

It turns out that, as is true for a lot of things in life, you don’t have to know it all. You just need to know how to assemble the right team, with the right skills and the right attitude.

So, who’s on your team? Do they work well together?

Read the full essay

Interested in my original essay? It’s a reminder of the days when I wrote with long words like dichotomies, paradigm shifts and interoperability – before the kids muddled my brain!

You can read it here. 

5 top tips for a successful extension project

Undertaking home renovations or building an extension to your home is one of those “most stressful life experiences” along with getting married, selling a house, and having kids (though personally I think having kids tops the list x 100!)

Thing is, your building project needn’t be a stressful experience. Of course mistakes can happen, but I am often surprised by the number of horror stories I hear and wonder how things can go so badly wrong. While I’d usually deem a lot of the processes and procedures to be common sense, perhaps I’m underestimating all those years of studying and the numerous completed projects under my belt – they must have taught me something after all!!

So with this in mind, I decided to create a building project toolkit, because really, it’s all in the preparation! In this article, I’ll give you my top tips for going from brief to budget to build without the stress.

1: Be clear on what you want from your extension, not how you want to achieve it.

By writing down a list of your top priorities, you can give your architect free reign with confidence that they will deliver a design with a solution to your problems and not simply a drawing of your own ideas. 

For example, clearly documenting in your written brief that you need a space for the fish tank, a view of the sandpit so you can keep an eye on the kids whilst cooking tea, and two home office spaces (since working at home and living at work are now one and the same) makes it easy to see if design proposals are headed in the right direction even if they look a little different than you first imagined.

2: Make a comprehensive budget.

I’m not suggesting you count every penny, but it’s well worth taking the time to evaluate your finances in order to set yourself up for success. If you have an upper limit, work backwards from that. There are more costs than simply the building work.

Seek quotes for all the services you’ll need, and in particular be sure to get some ballpark quotes for the big ticket items such as kitchens and glazing at an early stage. Having an idea of what these will come to means you’ll be able to make informed decisions about your budget at each stage of the process. You’ll be able to sort the essentials from the nice to haves.

3: Familiarise yourself with the process.

Contrary to popular belief, there’s more to your extension project than getting your planning permission and finding a builder. Do you know what actually happens before the building work begins? While you don’t necessarily need to know the ins and outs of it all yourself, knowing what to expect and what’s coming next will help to maintain momentum.

Without this understanding, it can feel overwhelming because there are so many decisions to make. But remember: you don’t have to make them all at once. Understanding the process means you can focus on the decisions that are relevant for you at any given time. 

4: Talking of decisions, document them in an orderly fashion. 

Whilst your technical drawings should get you through the Building Regs Approval and certainly get your project built, there are a lot of things that often aren’t on the drawings. Finishes, fixtures and fittings, for example, are all things that will influence the cost of the project and therefore need to be factored in from the start. They will also need coordination at an earlier stage of the build than you might think.

Deciding on these things before you start with the build will save you the stress of a rushed decision and  ensures your builder can price properly. They won’t be surprised by your selections at a later stage if it’s all set out clearly. “I’d like these plug sockets, this flooring, this skirting board, these light fittings. I’m choosing this complex shower fitting and I’d like these labour intensive tiny bathroom tiles…” Thank you very much.

5: Have awkward conversations early on.

Once your drawings and specs are complete and you’ve selected your builder, take a moment to step back. Now is the time to have an uncomfortable conversation in order to protect your interests – make sure you know what’s included in your quote. Don’t let the work begin without knowing exactly what you are paying for.

Equally, make sure your builder is aware of any conditions of consents or obligations they need to fulfill. At this point, you might only have met them a couple of times and you’re about to give them the keys to your house along with permission to do a fair bit of damage before it all comes back together. You’re also likely signing a contract for a big chunk of your life savings so it’s really worth an awkward meeting or two to thrash out all the details (maybe throw in some choccie biccies for good measure).

Make sure it feels right. Don’t be the client who called me two weeks into their project to ask for their builders phone number… when the roof had already been stripped off!

And there you have it, five top tips for a stress-free build! It’s all about:

  • Briefing
  • Budget
  • Understanding the process
  • Documenting decisions
  • Communication

Go from Brief to Budget to Build with ease

Are you embarking on your own project and interested in making your own life easier? You can download the full toolkit of resources to make the process as easy as possible.

Click here to find out more: From Brief to Budget to Build: A toolkit for your home extension project.

Do you need more space or just different space?

When it comes to creating your dream home, it’s often assumed you’ll extend to achieve that, yet there are so many different avenues you could go down to turn your everyday house into a fab family home.

You might be surprised to hear this, but extending isn’t always the answer. If your house is quite large, or has already been extended, you might have some redundant rooms or spaces, so adding more space isn’t a magic bullet. In fact, assuming you’ve decided to stay put and not move house, your existing property might have everything you need.

Instead of adding new rooms, you could remodel your layout and create larger spaces with structural alterations. 

Or perhaps reconfiguring the layout by swapping the use of some spaces will unlock the functionality you desire. 

But with so many options to consider, how do you figure out what’s right for you and your home?

The importance of briefing

I believe the key to getting it right is not to rush it. Take your time and start by defining the problem, not the solution. This sounds like common sense, but it is so easy to jump straight into solution mode. 

Consider how you use your home, what you like about it, and crucially what’s not working for you at the moment. Take the opportunity to fix those things that bug you, as well as including all those things you want in your dream home. 

Once you have a clear idea of your brief, the right solution will be a lot easier to figure out. When it’s your own home you can get stuck ruminating over the same old solutions and it often takes an outsider to help you unlock what’s most important to you before you can move things forward. 

Along with talking with your family to consider what your needs are, an architect could help by asking some probing questions that you might not have considered before. They will also be very likely to have encountered similar problems with previous clients, so they’ll be able to suggest innovative solutions based on their experience. 

The pitfalls of extending your home

Whilst it’s lovely and in some ways easier to build an extension, the last thing I want is for clients to spend all their time in the new extension and leave the rest of their home unoccupied!

That’s why it’s so important to consider all of the options available, and be sure that you’re making the right choice for you and your home. 

Houses that are already extended are likely to become very dark in the middle if you make them even larger. Take care to avoid simply moving your living areas into a new zone, leaving the middle of the house gloomy and redundant. 

So, if you’ve decided against extending, what else could you do instead?

Be resourceful with the space that you have

Instead of adding an extension, can you reconfigure your existing home to work harder for you and your family? If so, there are so many added benefits to renovating rather than extending.

Whilst renovation can be just as costly as extending, alterations usually require less material so this can be a sustainable choice if you’re concerned about minimising your impact on the environment. Maintaining the same building footprint also has the benefit of avoiding any loss of garden space. 

However, there’s a lot to consider with renovation, so taking the time to come up with a holistic plan for your whole home will always give you the best outcome by far. If you skip this step, you risk having to rework the same areas five or ten years down the line, undoing work and wasting money.

It’s easy to get stuck in the analysis paralysis state, where you don’t know what to do, so you don’t do anything. This is another part of the project where working with an architect is a great way to keep things moving in the right direction. 

Clients often come to me uncertain of how to move forward with homes that are lived (albeit languishing), in a slight state of disrepair. As an architect and problem solver, I love to take the time over this initial briefing to ensure I understand how you live. That way, I can help you to decide if you need more space or just different space.

Finding the solution that’s right for your home

For many renovation projects that I work on, the client will come to me with ideas of what they want, sometimes they even have a solution. I like to challenge that thinking to make sure we’re getting to the nub of the problem, so that I know they’re going to be really happy with the end result. 

Consider this: Do you actually all sit down to breakfast together? Do you have hobbies with large equipment that clutters the hall? Where do you sit to put your shoes on? 

We all have a tendency to think that everyone lives in a similar way to ourselves, but I’ve seen how the same type of house can be occupied in many different ways. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to creating your dream home so doing what someone else did might not be right for you. 

Instead, taking the time to create a comprehensive plan that considers all of your needs and bugbears means you’ll always end up with a home that you love. 

Choose your next steps with confidence

If you’d like to feel more confident with your renovation, take a look at my toolkit which includes resources to help develop your project brief right, and to help keep your project on track as it progresses.

It’s called From Brief to Budget to Build, and contains some of the super useful stuff I use with my clients in a handy resource bundle. 

In there you’ll find workbook style questions to help you delve into your motivations, priorities and aspirations for your project, a budget planner that considers the costs likely to be involved in your project, and a template to capture the fixtures and finishes details for accurate pricing, and much more. 

Click here to find out more. 

Lessons learned on a lockdown build

Rear of the house before
Rear of the house afterwards

A tired three-bed semi with outbuildings in the garden, and a shabby extension to the rear, this house was in need of some serious TLC. As a growing family, they wanted to create larger bedrooms, more living space and a more open layout that really flowed.

While the project was a success, they faced several challenges throughout. The most significant of these was keeping on top of the implications that various decisions had on total cost. As well as the time and input required for the project when going it alone with the builder.

The client brief

To fulfill the ambition for a larger family home, we planned single and two storey extensions, utilising the footprint of the existing garage to get the most out of the plot. The extended section of the house would include a playroom which can double as a fourth bedroom when required. 

Converting the existing kitchen to a utility room and shower room, we moved the kitchen to the back of the house. And by maintaining side windows and roof lights we were able to keep the central spaces well lit. The new kitchen dining space opens up to the garden and so does the playroom, for an indoor/outdoor feel on warm days.

With a  keen eye for detail and interiors, they have furnished the home with some lovely touches.

The implications of going it alone 

With a lockdown build and a baby on the way, there were a few things which the client admits could’ve gone better to keep her stress levels under control. No matter how well you plan, there are almost always some on-the-spot decisions to be made. On this build, the costs and implications of each decision did not always become apparent until later down the line. 

Without anyone to help, they lost track of these variations as the project progressed and were often surprised to discover them later. Keeping your architect involved or appointing a project manager to monitor those cost implications can help mitigate this. 

Lessons learned in hindsight

Managing your own project takes up a lot of time. They simply hadn’t realised how much attention they would need to give the project and ended up  being far more involved in the running of the project than they had expected to be.

Acknowledging that the never ending decision-making was one of the most stressful aspects of the process, the client explained that if they did it again they would certainly look to keep their architect involved throughout the build.

The completed extension has truly lived up to the client’s brief and provides the spaces they need for their young family. They’re really pleased with the way the house flows, and that the extension integrates well with the existing rooms, feeling like a whole house rather than the extension simply bolted on. A big chunk of the budget was put towards the kitchen, which is a particular favourite of theirs now that it’s completed. 

Project completed Autumn 2020 by PDM Construction Ltd
Suppliers: Kitchen – Mobalpa

Are you ready to extend your home?

There’s a lot to consider when you’re changing  your home. Is extending even right for you and your house?

If you’re looking for clarity on what’s involved in the process and how to get started, you can use my Project Planner to help find the next step… 

Click here for your free copy

5 steps to keeping your home renovation costs under control

They say money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy you a lovely home! The real question is:  how much money do you need to create that dream home? 

“How much will my home renovation project cost?” is one of the most common things I’m asked. Sadly, I don’t have a crystal ball, but I can help you to understand the process, the associated costs and how to budget for your project. Understanding all of this will give you the best chance of getting it right without running out of funds. 

Create a budget from the start

This might sound obvious, but it’s a really straightforward way to keep your costs under control during a project. Map out everything that you’ll need to pay for, then check how much you can realistically afford to spend on the renovation. Don’t forget to hold a healthy contingency fund as well – you can always blow it on a fancy sofa, if it’s left at the end (although it rarely is).

There are plenty of costs outside of the building work itself which are often overlooked but really can mount up. These can include consultants’ fees, applications, and surveys, which all come in the months leading up to your building work.

Don’t forget to factor in VAT – this is a killer 20% at present, so it’s important to understand how this will impact your building work. At the time of writing, extension projects are subject to 20% VAT, whilst new builds are VAT free.

Once the building work is finished, you’ll also need to have funds left over for things like kitchens, flooring and furniture. It’s these finishing touches that feel far away at the start, but which you’ll want to include to finish the job. 

Get an accurate quote for your building work

Now that your budget is ready and your design work is underway, you’ll no doubt want to find out what the building work will cost. 

The best and surest way is to complete the design process, technical drawings and tender documents completely before approaching any builders. This means you’ll have a comprehensive set of information for them to price against. If you pick a well-matched set of builders to price the project then the quotes should come in at a fairly similar level. So, now you know the cost

But, what if the quotes come in and they’re a lot higher than you’re expecting? You’ve spent months, maybe years, to get to this point – to not be able to afford your project would be heartbreaking. 

That’s why getting some early stage cost input can be super important to ensure that you avoid this situation. 

Make the effort with early-stage cost input

Early-stage cost input can be a really useful way to start getting a rough idea of what the build cost will be.

The main downside with attempting to price too soon is that you won’t have finalised everything at this stage so there will be assumptions made. However,  if you can encourage a handful of builders to give you some feedback that’s still a useful starting point, just ensure you understand what is excluded.

They will likely be giving you an indication for the shell of the building, not necessarily the glazing, finishes, landscaping etc. And remember, material and labour prices change, treat this as a rough estimate. 

With your ballpark figure in mind, it’s important to understand that your specification choices later on down the line will impact the overall project cost. Do you choose the £10,000 windows or do you prefer the look of the £20,000 windows? You get my drift.

Square meter rates have their place but only as a VERY broad guide. Other alternatives for early-stage cost planning, and for cost control throughout the whole project, include appointing a quantity surveyor. And whilst this isn’t commonplace on smaller projects, it’s certainly something to consider if your project is particularly complex. 

Value Engineering aka Cost Cutting

Sometimes, in spite of your best laid plans and intentions, your quotes will come in above your budget. If this does happen, don’t panic! Working with your architect and builder you can look for opportunities to make savings. 

Begin by reflecting on your priorities. Do you need a finished space ready to move into? In which case could you scale back on the size and complexity. Or would you be happier to complete the shell, undertaking the painting and finish as you go? If the skinny frame glazing is a must have, could you fit a cheaper kitchen? 

Sometimes you can’t have it all, so it’s worth thinking about what’s most important. The earlier you can make these decisions, the better equipped you will be to make that dream a reality, even if things start to go south. 

Understand your payment schedule

The majority of applications, surveys, and consultants fees are due upon submission of applications or as different stages or services are completed. The building work comes with a similar distribution of costs. It’s not uncommon to pay deposits on bespoke items with long lead times – stairs, doors, windows. 

When it comes to paying your builder it usually goes one of two ways: stage payments or regular valuations. 

Stage payments mean that you pay a pre-agreed amount once certain milestones are reached. For example, when the roof work or the plastering is complete. These are agreed up front, so it’s important to make sure that the milestones are things you understand. Agreeing a milestone of “works complete up to DPC” is all very well, unless you don’t know what the DPC is. My advice is to opt for jargon-free milestones.

Alternatively you can manage your payments on a valuations basis. With your architect or quantity surveyor onboard through the build, they can manage this process for you, inspecting the works and agreeing the builder’s valuation and amount due on a monthly or fortnightly basis.

However you move forward, agree what method you will use before you start work. Ensure that the contract sum is known and agreed in advance, as well as how any retention clauses will work. You might typically hold 2.5% or 5% of the builder’s money back for 6 or 12  months, but don’t spend it in the meantime.

For help sourcing a building contract that’s suitable for domestic projects, which will set out these provisions in detail, I recommend the following resources:


Ready to start planning your renovation?

There’s a lot to think about before embarking on a building project – sometimes it can be hard to know where to start!

If you’d like some more support in preparing for your build, I’ve developed a toolkit to get you From Brief to Budget to Build, which includes a budget planner, for more information on these resources click here.

1930’s Home Extension: A Place to Eat

A table too big

This family lived in a 1930’s semi with a garden that banked steeply up at the rear. The property was already extended with a loft as well as garage conversion which now housed the kitchen. A separate dining room across the hall contained the dining table – an important artefact in this story, it was hand built by my client. Yet, the table was simply too big for the dining room, it needed a new home, somewhere it could take pride of place and where the family could use it without excusing one another to get up and down.

The existing landscaping of the garden posed an issue for a rear extension, the garden would need some serious intervention too in order to make some space. And with access only though the existing garage (now kitchen), a whole literal heap of mud was about to get barrowed through the house.

A steady pace

Almost a year after the Planning Permission was granted the building work began. Building Regulations approval obtained and Party Walls Awards in place, the dream was finally on it’s way to becoming a reality.

More than willing to wait for the builder of their choice, we soon hit a hurdle when COVID hit and a lockdown forced things to slow down. Whilst building work continued with a very small team, the interaction between client and contractor was reduced to a text message or brief chat through the window here or there. With considerable ground works to create the new terrace outside and the extension works contained for the most part to outside, work was able to continue at a steady pace.

Having been asked by my clients to help them manage their project through the build phase, I arrived for my site visits just as the builders were leaving. It gave me plenty of time to run my eye over things uninterrupted. Clients safely locked down in their own home, I’d phone them afterwards from their driveway to update them, strange times.

“We had no idea what to expect or what to do and Carly helped us at every step using her extensive knowledge and wonderful attention to detail. Every meeting and decision was logged and Carly signed off on each milestone. We really felt we were in safe hands.”

With doors and windows in short supply due to manufacturing shutdowns we opted for a more contemporary look, without the glazing bars we had intended. They matched well with the charcoal bricks as well as the grey radiators and wire framed pendant lights that were later selected.


On the summers day that I return to take photos, the new extension and terrace are a little suntrap. It feels a million miles from the winters day I first visited to meet them. The retention of the existing window openings between the lounge and dining space form little trinket nooks with the new windows mirroring them and roof lights set between.

The new layout has absolutely surpassed expectations. The house flows beautifully and we absolutely love the space.

Building work completed Summer 2020 by AJH Building Services Ltd

Products and Suppliers: Doors and Windows – Origin, Flooring – Quickstep LVT, Roof lights – Velux, Render – K-Rend