What is your big Idea?

If anything were possible, how would you really want your home to be?

It is worth starting with the ideal of how things could be, because it won’t be long before you become focused into the detail of what is practical. And it is worthwhile to have a record of the things that inspired and motivated you right at the beginning.  Check out: Ideas and inspiration.

How much accommodation do you need?

How do you want your home to function? What rooms do you want, and how do you want the rooms to relate to each other? Perhaps the study needs to be next to the kitchen or maybe it needs direct access to the garden, or will a bedroom accommodate a study area? Are there special aspects for certain rooms? Perhaps the main bedroom needs morning sun and the dining room needs afternoon sun. How might you want your house to change as your circumstances change? Perhaps your family grows, and then your children leave home, perhaps the household is young now, but one day someone elderly might live there, or someone with restricted movement or a disability – all these things can be considered at the very beginning.

Layout

Generally in the UK climate it is a good idea to have more glazing facing south and less glazing facing north, and this would affect the layout and function of your interior spaces. It is also a good idea to locate secondary and non habitable rooms to the north side of the building, with your habitable spaces to the south side. This is not always possible, so when your main living spaces have to face North you may want to frame your views with carefully proportioned windows, and use some other means of getting south light into these spaces, for instance by stepping the roof, putting in roof windows or creating an atrium.  Generally it is a good idea for a large area of your roof to face as close to South as possible, to allow for Solar or PV panels. Even if you do not install these now, you may want to add these in the future.

It is worth considering placing bedrooms on the lower floors and your living room/kitchen/dining/study on higher floors, to maximize the amount of daylight these rooms get.

For a more efficient plan you might consider minimizing the footprint of the building, introducing an additional floor or basement, rather than spreading the building over more of the land. The more compact a building is, the less surface area to volume ratio it will have, so the more efficient it will be.

Do you have a good location?

From a desirability point of view ‘location, location, location’ is what the Estate agents say to be most important. From a sustainability point of view this may also be true, but for different reasons. The principle of building close to or within existing communities reduces the need for too much transportation. Proposing to build in the open countryside will need special consideration from the planning authority, and this is why the planning policy on sustainable rural communities (TAN 6) has been introduced in Wales.

Does your design fit in or stand out?

Your consideration of context and your vision for the scheme will need to be presented in the Design and Access Statement when you make your Planning application. You will need to consider the existing styles of local houses, and especially the vernacular. Look for precedents for what you want to do, or justify your choices in relation to the possibilities and limitations of what already exist locally. Community consultation is very important, so speak to the neighbours about your proposal; get to know who is for you and who is against you, and what their reasoning is.

What about character and Style?

You may already have a particular style in mind, and although Context is a very important consideration, there may be overriding factors that affect the way your home will look. For instance there are good reasons for the most sustainable houses not to be finished with sand and cement render; they may instead be clad with timber, and have a lot of glass facing south. This would not match the local vernacular, and it may be difficult to find a local precedent for this look, but because sustainability is at the heart of Planning Policy in Wales the Planners understand that to create sustainable development good design must go beyond aesthetic preferences. A house that has been well designed has not followed a prescriptive process, it has evolved out of the many considerations that you have made, and so just like you, it will have its unique look and its individual character, even though there will be so many similarities with others.

How will you build your new home?

How do you want to build? The choice is vast, from the very basic to the most Hi Tec, from straw bales, rammed earth, or solid stone to the more common concrete block cavity walls and timber frames, or even steel frame and glass curtain walls. The pallet of building materials, techniques and resources is only limited by your ethics, your budget and your imagination, and if you are going to make sustainable choices then ‘The Green Guide’ produced by the BRE is a very useful online resource.

Apart from personal preference, there are many factors that will affect your choice of how to build, and I will cover many of these in the following points.

What is the best structure?

Without structure everything would fall down. The need to support walls, floors, roofs and ceilings, gives your design a framework – an order, within which your home will exist. Different forms of structure have different requirements; spans, thickness, repetition of elements, differing time frames for building, and each form whether it is steel frame or timber, or load bearing blocks or straw bales, will have its benefits and limitations and will affect the way the finished house looks and feels. You may have already decided upon a building system, the framework of which will shape the ideas that follow. If however you are starting from a blank canvas; it is better to form your ideas around the points that I made earlier, and from this a structural rational should follow.

How much glass do you want? 

Basically we want natural light and we want a good outlook, and we want some solar gain, but these choices have to be balanced against the need for privacy, limiting heat loss, the risk of glare and overheating, and aesthetic considerations. So glass is very desirable, but it is also one of the elements of home that needs the most consideration and professional calculation. The type, size and layout of windows is a critical part of the design, because not only do the windows need to be positioned correctly to suit the internal space, daylight factor calculations need to be done, and they also need to be coordinated to look good from the outside. The quality and performance of windows can vary greatly, as does their cost.

How will you heat your new home? 

Basically we want to be warm, and we want hot water, but we don’t want our comfort to cost the earth. Apart from passive solar, the most basic form of heating is probably burning logs, and although this has its limitations (nox emissions, quantity burned, supply and source), it can be one of the most sustainable choices. The most common form of modern heating in towns is perhaps a gas boiler with central heating radiators, and in the countryside it is oil, or various types of electric heater, but now there are more sustainable choices readily available in the UK; we can distribute heat through underfloor heating or from a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system, and the source of heat can even be from an air or a ground source heat pump, or from a community heat and power scheme. Some people will be influenced more by their ethics than their economics, some will install only the system they can afford at the time, whereas others will pay more seeing it as an investment to reduce their running costs, and some will make choices based upon ambience or a particular comfort quality. Inevitably the heating system is best designed in relation to many other considerations of the building, not least to how well it holds onto heat (insulation and thermal mass), and how well it is ventilated. The layout, orientation and varying usage requirements of different rooms and spaces will have an effect upon the choices made.

How much power will you use?

Only a very small percentage of UK houses are ‘off grid’ or supplied by local combined heat and power schemes. The majority of us rely upon the national grid to supply the power which our modern lifestyles cannot do without. In recent times many roofs have been covered with photovoltaic panels to supplement the grid supply and to make personal energy use cheaper. But there is no substitute for conserving energy; as the population grows and natural resources are depleted, the main choice of government seems to be to build more nuclear power stations to meet the demand. It is possible and some say likely, that there will be frequent power cuts in the future, and that the cost of power will continue to rise. So when designing your ideal home the least that can be done is to design the house to have good natural lighting, drying space, and of course energy efficient lights and appliances. You could go much further, to generate your own electricity, but this will depend upon your budget as well as your vision for the future.

How will you insulate your new home? 

There are many types of insulation, from the itchy and irritant glass or mineral fibres, to skinny high-tech layers of foil and fabric, to spray on foam, or recycled paper, sheep wool, or the more common PIR insulation, or the back to basics and much more bulky straw bales. All have their benefits and disadvantages, and all affect the thickness of walls and roofs, and therefore the size of your building and amount of useable space. So some idea of your insulating strategy needs to be assumed early on in the design process. Whilst subjective and ethical issues may affect the choice of insulation, the insulation value of building materials are a known factor, and are used to calculate how well a building is likely to perform. At the very beginning it is worth considering how to locate non habitable rooms like the Garage, Utility room, Store room etc. on the North side, so this will help to insulate your habitable rooms.

How will you ventilate your new home? 

What are the issues with ventilation?

Are you going to Self-Build?

If you are going to self-build or self-manage the project; don’t think that you can do it all yourself, you will need a lot of help. Work out what you can realistically achieve, what your time frame is, and where you need to budget for others to help you. Do plenty of research in advance, and take advice from others who are experienced in this way of building. It is common to underestimate how much is involved, how long it will take, and how much it will all cost.

You will need consultants

You will need help from consultants, so you need to budget for this and allow time for the exchange of information. There is a lot of legislation affecting planning and building. And you will be required to obtain various reports for submission with your Planning Application, Code Assessment and Building Regulations application. Other legislation such as CDM regulations 2007, the Party Wall etc Act 1996, and Health and Safety at Work Regulations (If these are relevant to your project) may also necessitate the appointment of consultants.

Are you responsible for health and safety?

It is important to understand your responsibilities in the building process; everyone (including the client) involved with the design and construction has responsibilities for health and safety.

Every building project needs a main contractor – a person or organization that carries the responsibility for the day to day construction. So if you are self-building, or if you are the person in charge of managing the different trades then the responsibilities of being the main contractor become yours. So it is important that you understand your responsibilities toward others, and the legislation that you are working under.

If you use a main contractor then it is wise to employ one who is up to date with current legislation and respectful of their responsibilities.

Usually an Architect is only responsible for the design of the building and then for inspecting the work in progress to ensure that it is in accordance with the approved drawings and design specification. But an Architect should be able to advise you on health and safety responsibilities.

If you are building your own home then you will not need to notify the Health and Safety Executive under the CDM regulations, however if you are building to Let or as holiday accommodation from which you will draw an income, then these projects are notifiable, and a CDM coordinator will need to be appointed.

Water usage

The government hopes to reduce water consumption in the UK to less than 120 litres per person per day by 2030. Currently 20% of our water in the UK is used domestically, with over 50% of this drinking quality water used for flushing toilets and washing. We can do better than this target figure, and in the Code for Sustainable Homes less than 105 l/p/d is mandatory for Code levels 3 and 4, whilst less than 80 l/p/d is mandatory for Code levels 5 and 6.

Reductions can be made by using low flow fittings and equipment, by recycling basin waste water or rainwater to flush toilets, and by rainwater harvesting.

Drainage

Surface water drainage: In Wales it is mandatory that a new house should not increase the peak surface water run-off from the land on which it is constructed. This generally means that some form of attenuation such as permeable paving is needed, and specialist advice is required for submission to the authorities.

Flooding: In Wales a Flood Risk Assessment must be carried out, and the planning application must show that the house has been appropriately designed.

Waste

Liquid waste (foul water) sewage disposal is covered in the Building Regulations, and should be considered at an early design stage, as there are rules governing the position, levels and falls of pipes/chambers/tanks.

Household waste in Wales is generally collected for disposal or recycling by the local authority. It is best to consider the organization and storage of waste at an early stage of the design as sizeable accommodation will be needed both inside and outside the house. The Code for Sustainable Homes gives guidance on this.

Construction site waste: On development sites until recently for every 5 houses constructed the equivalent of one house is thrown away. In Wales for a house costing less than £300,000 to construct it is not mandatory to prepare a construction site waste management plan, however you might want to consider ways to minimise and recycle construction waste. Help on this is available from the organisation WRAP.

Composting: As well as collecting garden waste many local authorities now offer a kitchen waste collection scheme. Storage facilities in the home and garden must comply with regulations and be accessible to disabled people.

Transport

Transport is a primary consideration nowadays, so you will need to comment on this in the Design and Access Statement (link to planning section on DAS) . Consider proximity to public transport networks, and their frequency and destinations.

You will need to decide how many vehicles will park at your house, and the size of your garage. For a detached house usually vehicles need to be able to turn around within the curtilage of the site boundary. So this needs to be considered early in the design stage as this will affect where you position your house.

The County highways authority will sometimes provide guidance on turning areas, and design standards, they will require that access to the county highway is compliant with their requirements and the planners will ask them to comment on the highway implications of your proposal.

Insurance

If you are planning to do something unusual, then it is worth checking with potential insurance companies, before you enter into the detailed design, to be sure that you can get cover for what you want to do, and this may have an implication on mortgage borrowing.

What is your budget?

Every square meter you build requires resources and costs you money, so it is important to design efficiently as well as delightfully. A good Architect can design to your budget to make a cost effective building that is both beautiful and fit for its purpose. If by now you have arrived at an approximate size of a house, then there are ‘ball park’ figures  available to help you anticipate how much it might cost, but the costs are variable and all of the above points that I have made will affect the final price. Before you commit to a design, it is best to get an estimate from a builder or a Quantity Surveyor. Email me for some guidance on forecasting the building costs

‘What’s your budget’ could have been the first point to make, but I chose to make it last, because it is the most limiting factor of all. It would be a shame not to consider the bigger picture and the ideal, because even if you arrive back at a very limited budget, the design considerations as described above will help you to prioritise where best to invest your money in your building; perhaps compromising one aspect to benefit another, whilst allowing your home to be open to your future when more money or resources may be available to you.

I had one client many years ago who only had the money to buy the plot and pay my initial design fee, yet she had a dream and believed in her vision; she wanted an inspiring and beautiful ‘off grid’ home – and several years later hers was the house that won TV’s Grand Designs Best British Eco Home Award in 2008. Her story is in my book ‘The Secret of Home’ on pages 89-92. Click here to read Rachel’s story

Planning permission

Get good design guidance early: There are complex considerations to be made when designing the home that you really want (as the points I have made above have indicated). I have been involved with clients who in the first instance prepared the documents and drawings for planning themselves or had ‘plans drawn’ by someone who was not sufficiently considerate to good design, then for various reasons when we look at the design together they realise that so many better options could have been considered – for instance it is common that money is wasted on an inefficient plan layout where an unnecessary corridor can cost several thousand pounds  (considering minimum building cost at say £1000 – £1200 per sq metre).

If you receive full detailed planning permission, then this is what you actually have to build. Any minor changes such as a window size can sometimes be approved by the planning officer, but a substantial change would require a new application to be made. So it is well worth getting the design exactly how you want it to be, and that technically it is practical and economical to build. As a Code Assessor as well as an Architect and experienced self-builder, I can make sure that all considerations are integrated into your first design, without the need for unnecessary or costly changes in the future. So I do recommend getting me involved at the earliest stage. Contact

Planning requirements are different in England and Wales. The Welsh Assembly Government has its own policies, so in Wales it is beneficial to use a resident Architect who works under the Welsh regulations, particularly if you are coming from elsewhere in the UK; it is easy to assume that what is acceptable in England (or Scotland) will be acceptable in Wales, but this is often not the case.

The Planning Portal

It is worth visiting the Planning portal for detailed guidance on what the Planning authority in your area will require. In Wales Technical Advice Notes (TAN’s) will be taken into account by local planning authorities when they are preparing development plans. So if you want to investigate planning issues then read these along with the Planning Policy Wales (PPW) document. You can visit the Planning Portal for more information.

Pre-Planning advice

It is well worth getting Pre-planning advice early, and some planning authorities do not charge for this. Consider carefully what to show the planners at this stage as it is wise to quote their response in your Design and Access Statement as justification for what you have designed. I would be happy to advise on this: Lindsay@homesouls.com

Design Drawings

A planning application in the UK usually requires the following drawings:

Location plans to scale of 1:1250 or 1:2500 purchased from a licensed source.

Block Plans to scale 1:500 or 1:200

Floor Plans to scale 1:100 or 1:50

Elevations and Sections to scale 1:100 or 1:50

Reports

For a new home in Wales you will be required to submit a Design and Access Statement together with a Code Pre-Assessment report. In some locations an ecologist report or a Bat survey report may also be required, and if your application is for a ‘One planet development’ then a few other technical reports will be asked for.

Design and Access statement

As part of your planning application you will be required to prepare a Design and Access Statement (DAS). If you have considered all of the points above then you will have sufficient information with which to prepare your DAS.

If you would like me to do this for you, or you would like some tips on how to prepare your own DAS, then please email Lindsay@homesouls.com

Code Assessment

In Wales you will be required to submit a Code Assessment with you planning application, but this is likely to change in 2014. I am a qualified Code Assessor.

If you would like information on what to consider under the Code for Sustainable Homes, then please contact me