10 Common Mistakes Families make when Extending their Homes and How to Avoid them

As I started to write this I thought I’d struggle to come up with ten, but it was frighteningly easy to identify where things can go wrong if you let them…

1. Considering an extension in isolation

I’m a firm believer in the importance of your whole home working together, that the layout and flow through the spaces allows for your family to live without inconvenience. As someone who lives with their fridge in the garage (what were the previous owners thinking!) I can tell you that designing to overcome the functionality issues is always a priority over fancy finishes. Fear not – relocating the fridge is high on my agenda for my own renovation!

2. Stretching your budget too thin

Don’t be over ambitious, if you want to get to the end and still be able to furnish your home then set a budget and work within it. Remember you will have other costs on top of the build – professional fees, applications etc so budget some of your cash for that too.

3. Rushing the design process

It’s really important that you invest the time in getting your brief and proposals right. Communication is important, if you don’t understand something mention it early on. Can’t visualise it? Ask for a 3d sketch. It’s easy for architects to forget that house plans can seem like a foreign language to the lay person. Imagine trying to read a set of instructions in Greek, you’d likely need a translator, and if the translation didn’t make any sense you’d ask for it to be rephrased. Don’t hurry on confused, seek clarity.

4. Trying to outwit the tenders to save money

If you get 3 or 4 quotes that are all within a few thousand quid, then whether you like it or not – that is likely the cost of doing the work. Proceeding with an anomalously low tender in order to make savings is usually a misguided decision. You may well find the difference creeping back into the project via “extras”, especially if you don’t heed point 6.

5. Opting for a contractor who can start right now

With a few exceptions which we’ll come onto, any contractor worth his salt will be booked up. There’s a reason for this, they’re busy because they come recommended and they’re good at what they do. The exception? Perhaps they’ve had a job fall through, but still be wary and as always seek references. Aligning your ideal timescale with a contractor’s availability is not an easy feat but being realistic with your expectation of how soon you’re going to be able to get cracking will help.

6. Opting to manage your own build to save money on professional services

Now, it doesn’t always end in tears if you go it alone but keeping your architect involved throughout the build will undoubtedly save you a lot of time and hassle. Especially when it comes to figuring out monies due, whether adequate progress is being made, if it’s being built correctly, and it will protect your investment in design, see point 7. In my experience the outcomes are nearly always improved and relationships less strained.

7. Being persuaded to make design changes during the build

I cannot say this loud enough – don’t make changes on site without fully considering the implications – you’ve invested time and love in the design process, don’t spoil it now! I once had a builder tell a client that the property wasn’t deserving of the sleek product we had specified. It was something we had researched in detail along with the client to really bring a wow factor, not gold plated (that option was written off, rightly so!) but it was special and not beyond affordable. Subsequently they convinced the client to select something cheaper and no doubt easier to procure or install. Stick to your guns – don’t sit back at the end looking at your clunky version of what could have been.

8. Starting on site before you have all of your approvals in place

Not just your Planning Permission but your Building Regulations approval too. It’s far easier to change things on paper than in real life. Ensure that the details (especially any that relate to regulations) are figured out before you start, otherwise you’ll risk the time delays and cost uplift of rectifying it when it’s eventually picked up by the Building Control Inspector. You might also need a Party Wall Award or a Build Over Agreement, among other things. Starting your build without your paperwork in place is a sure fire way to elevate the heart rate once you realise that your work could be stopped whilst you sort things out.

9. Thinking your home insurance will cover it

It’s important to establish who is insuring what – be that your existing building, contents, the “works” etc. Depending on your chosen Building Contract (don’t proceed without one), you might even need a Joint Names insurance policy. Check, and double check, with your insurers that between you and your builders everything is covered. Insurance is a complex matter so be sure to seek specialist advice. You’d not be the first to think it’ll all be ok – only to find yourself rushing around in a mad panic after a fire/flood has destroyed your building work – to discover no one can make a claim. These things do happen, don’t take the risk.

10. Doing your own decorating

Ok, I was scraping the barrel for a point 10. but there is some truth in this one too. Whilst you don’t need to be Caravaggio to wield a roller, you do need some proficiency if you want it to look any good. I’ve seen many a pristine plastered wall marred by badly applied paint running into blobby drips. In the grand scheme of things decorating isn’t costly, so leave it to someone who is actually good at it!

If you’re just beginning to think about an extension project why not join my facebook group Easy Project Planning for your Family Home Extension where you can find out more.

DIY not?

I recently underwent a bit of a brand renovation with Lexi at Special Kind Design I could’ve taken a DIY approach but I decided it would make more sense for me to focus on my own clients, so I asked Lexi to guide me. Initially I approached Lexi thinking – “I need a new look”, but it turns out brand design is so much more. She took me through a her brand clarity process, digging into what I do and most importantly, who my clients are and what they want. We made a vision board, met several times to review her proposals and I’ve come away with a set of Brand Guidelines so that I can implement it all with ease. It’s turns out visual branding is only a small part of your brand identity.

There were, perhaps unsurprisingly, huge parallels with my own work – establishing the desirable outcomes and how she could deliver those for me. There is great value in being challenged on your own ideas to bring clarity on what you’re trying to do. I take the same approach with my clients – I’ll challenge you on your requirements, not to disuade you or to prove you wrong, just to be sure you are clear on your needs. Equally, you may raise objections to my suggestions and we’ll develop proposals together, it’s an iterative process.

There’s no doubt you could undertake a house renovation project without an architect, just as I could’ve re-branded on my own, but the outcome will inevitably be a better one if you choose someone with the relevant experience to guide you through it.

It’s going to cost how much?

What’s stopping you from just cracking on with that project? I’ll bet at least part of it is the uncertainty of how much it’s all going to cost. You’ve approached builders for their input, only to be told you’ll need some drawings from an architect before they can give you a quote – it’s all a bit chicken and egg.

You could just take the plunge with someone to draw up your ideas, get your consents and look for quotes, but what if it all comes back at double your budget? Aren’t you going to be slightly annoyed about that? It makes far more sense to work with someone who has an understanding of your budget from the outset, and to review it as the project progresses. I help clients get a handle on costs before we get too far down the line so that we can adjust the design if need be to suit your budget, especially on smaller projects where budgets are often tight.

Cost certainty is really important to everyday families. That’s why I work with local builders to ballpark costs an early stage in the project – so that you’re empowered to decide whether to change the scope or grow the budget. Before submitting your planning application, I think it’s fair enough that you should have a broad understanding of the cost of what you’re looking to do, I know I’d want to.

Do you need your architect involved during the build? That’s a whole different blog, but if you’re already battling with a hectic family life there is definite value in handing the reigns to someone else to administer your building contract. The benefits will almost certainly outweigh the costs. In any case, a comprehensive tender package can mitigate many site queries, keeping the on-site involvement and fees to a reasonable level.

From being clear with my own fees upfront, seeking ballpark costs for your build and spending time to review your quotes to ensure they are like for like, there’s a lot to be said for talking about money.

What can an architect do for me?

Getting you through all that regulatory stuff with some drawings is one thing but have you ever considered the real value of an architect?

Architects are trained problem solvers, and key to solving any problem is properly defining it in the first place. It’s your house and you live there so you’ll have spent a fair amount of time considering the potential solutions, how you might change it or extend it but have you really stopped and thought why? What’s driving this desire to make it different, make it bigger? That’s the starting point, define the problem.

I work with clients to establish their brief in as much detail as possible at the outset, do you actually need more space or just different space? Families want to be together, or sometimes apart. Maybe you simply want to keep an eye on the kids whilst you’re making the dinner? Sit and enjoy the garden if you can ever find five minutes peace? How will things differ in 5 or 10 years when the kids have grown up?

Your project proposals will evolve and develop from this, so getting your brief nailed is really important. Projects are most successful and enjoyable when it becomes a collaborative process not simply a set of options and choices. Bringing creative solutions to everyday problems is what architects are trained to do.

Understanding your life, your needs and aspirations is incredibly important – it’s personal. It means working with the right architect is key to project success. I’m an architect for everyday families who want to re-think their homes for a better way of living. Get in touch to see if I’d be a good fit for your project.