This FAQ’s section is intended as general informal guidance only and may not all be applicable to your project. If you have a specific query about your project or just a general enquiry please do not hesitate to call and speak to one of our team who will be able to give you more targeted guidance.

For any further queries, email enquiry@cassassociates.co.uk


This FAQ’s section is intended as general informal guidance only and may not all be applicable to your project. If you have a specific query about your project or just a general enquiry please do not hesitate to call and speak to one of our team who will be able to give you more targeted guidance.

For any further queries, email enquiry@cassassociates.co.uk

Getting Started
I haven’t done this before, how do I start and where does it finish?
Every project is of course unique; however the key stages along the journey are usually similar. To summarise a typical project:

• Meet your architect. We offer an initial meeting without obligation or charge at your property to discuss your ideas and our approach to design. Assuming that goes okay:

• Agree the terms of our appointment and your brief in writing. This will include an itemised scope of work to be done and the associated fees agreed for each item. This is very important – time spent sorting out exactly what you expect and how much it will cost at this stage helps everyone.

• Prepare detailed measured drawings of the existing site or property. These are essential before any meaningful design work can be carried out and will also be needed to make applications for planning and building regulations approvals. If you have existing drawings this can save time, otherwise we will carry out a measured survey and draw ‘As Existing’ floor plans and elevations.

• Prepare sketch design options, in 2D and 3D as appropriate, for review and discussion with you.   For a new building this will start with very conceptual drawings relating to massing, scale, outlook and orientation, relationships with neighbouring buildings and site topography and will then develop into a building concept. For an extension or refurbishment project the relationships between new and existing spaces and how they may be made to work better are more dominant.   In all cases, this stage requires a lot of liaison between the architect and client to arrive at a ‘preferred option’ with an agreed brief and design direction to take forward. We can at this stage obtain an initial build estimate to establish the project’s outline budget.

• Following your instruction to proceed, we will then develop the design in further detail through plans, elevations and cross sections and prepare drawings in sufficient detail to make a planning application.

• Prepare, submit and manage the planning application (and a listed building consent application, if required) to determination by the local authority. To obtain the optimum outcome it is essential to liaise with the local authority throughout the process to pre-empt and address any concerns they may have – not just to submit and wait for the decision. Our in-house planning consultants are experts on planning policy and we are also an RIBA-accredited Conservation Architect with specialist knowledge and experience of older buildings.

• Once planning approval has been granted, develop the drawings further, with outline construction notes, into a building regulations application. As with planning, this should be managed throughout the determination process for the best outcome.

• Prepare a schedule of building works and finishes for tendering to suitable contractors. This can be either by negotiation with a preferred contractor or by competitive tender to a number of contractors.   Once again it is important to liaise with the contractors as they develop their tender. Your input into the selection of finishes, fixtures and fittings is crucial at this stage and will have a major impact on the budget. Once tenders are received we will prepare a detailed tender analysis report with a recommendation to you.

• With all statutory permissions in place, a contractor on board and a price agreed, we then develop the information into a fully detailed construction package of drawings and specifications.

• Draw up a formal contract between you and the selected contractor.

• If you wish us to run the job on your behalf we will act as contract administrator throughout the construction phase: issuing information, holding meetings on site, responding to contractors queries, inspecting the works to ensure quality is satisfactory and certifying and valuing work completed for you to pay the contractor. Regular site visits ensure, as far as possible, that workmanship and materials are of sufficient quality and adhere to building regulations. We keep you informed of progress each step of the way.

• On completion we ‘snag’ and certify the works, re-inspect after the contractual defects period and certify contractor’s payments and draw up the final account.

• Finally, we hand over the completed project to you.

Design and Management
I don’t want to manage my project, but why use a Chartered Architect?
This is a good question, especially if your home alterations are quite small. If you know precisely what you want, have established relations with a local builder, and have management skills to apply to the project you may very well able to go it alone. However, redeveloping your home is something that most people only do once or twice in their lives and may represent a very significant investment affecting your most important asset. A live construction project does not offer the opportunity for a learning curve – or it can come at great cost as anyone who has watched Grand Designs on TV will realise. The process outlined above does not always follow a smooth track – every building project has a large number of stages to go through and each stage involves input from a range of different human beings. This unfortunately means that things don’t always go to plan. Developing your home is a huge commitment, financially, socially and emotionally. You may be very good at it, or not, either way it makes good TV. However, if you decide you would prefer to have someone manage your project who’s done it before ……

Many people only have a sketchy understanding of what an architect does, or assume that we spend most of our time drawing. That would be a nice way to spend the day and it’s true that design flair is a core component of what we do: designing great spaces that add real value to your property and reflect your lifestyle – rather than just providing additional floorspace – should be a given for a good architect. However there are two other key elements to the role:

Problem solving: Every building is to some extent a prototype and good design takes time – interpreting and analysing your requirements, designing, evaluating, and redesigning to come up with a solution that meets your needs (and which may end up being something that you had not initially considered). This process continues right through the project as issues and problems inevitably arise that can knock the job off track.

Organising: To get from a blank sheet of paper to a completed project on site involves many stages of development and many people, each with their own attributes and priorities (which may not always match yours). As well as being the composer, the architect has a role to play as the conductor – driving the project and directing everyone involved towards the desired outcome. Only the architect has an overview of the entire project and is in a position to do this, and very often only the architect is wholly on your side. Effective and professional management skills develop over time and require a clear understanding of the whole project and detailed knowledge of the construction process. No building project is ‘issue free’, but having a good architect working on your behalf should make the process relatively painless.

Why use studioCASS?
The previous section suggested why you should use an architect, but why us?

1. We listen. Architects sometimes have an unfortunate reputation for not listening to their clients at the design stage. We do – it is your home, your money, and your aspirations. That is not to say that we won’t tell you if we think there is a better way of doing things – we are there to come up with creative ideas and to offer practical solutions. But nothing will go forward without your approval. We have many testimonials from happy clients that demonstrate the benefit of this approach.

2. Hopefully you will like us and our approach to design and management. We always offer a free initial consultation, without obligation, so that we can meet and discuss the project and how we will tackle it. It is followed up by a written proposal before any written instruction to proceed.

3. Experience. StudioCass is a specialist division of Cass Associates, an award-winning design practice that has been in existence for over thirty-five years and has more than 1,400 completed commissions, across all sectors and sizes. We have a loyal team, many of whom have been with us for many years. Over the lifetime of the practice we have come across most issues that may arise on a project and have established long-standing relationships with other consultants, contractors and local authority staff. Importantly, senior staff oversee and are closely involved in all projects, however small. Your project will not be passed onto junior staff after the initial meeting.

4. Expertise. We are an RIBA Chartered Practice as well as being members of the Royal Town Planning Institute and the Landscape Institute. We also have specialist conservation knowledge and are listed on the RIBA-Conservation Register. All our work is covered by comprehensive professional indemnity insurance. We have specialist multi-disciplinary skills – incorporating not just architects but landscape architects and planning consultants. This means that through a single appointment we can call on specialist expertise on each discipline as required by the project – very few architects are able to offer this.

How much does it cost?
Our flexible approach to fee structure is outlined on the ‘About Us’ page. We are happy to decide the fee proposal with you to suit a particular project – whether it be based on a fixed fee, where the scope of work can be broadly estimated; hourly rates, where the scope is very limited or the extent unknown; or as a percentage of construction costs. Typically an agreement will involve a fixed fee for the early feasibility, design and approval stages and then this may translate to a percentage of the construction cost once the project is on site. It is impossible to give exact guidelines, as every job is unique and different in its scope and requirements, however as a very broad rule of thumb you might expect our fees for a full service (including contract administration and cost management on site) to be between 10 – 15% of the total cost of the construction work. For a partial service (see below) this figure will of course reduce. Cost and value are often confused and the latter can be difficult to define, however, we would hope by involving us you would more than recoup the cost of our fees through added value — achieved by good design, efficiencies in tendering accurately and effective project management and cost control on site. In all cases, following our initial consultation, a detailed written fee proposal and agreed scope of works will be put in place before we proceed on your behalf so that there are no misunderstandings between us.
Can I have a partial service?
Yes. Our scope of work can be adjusted to suit your requirements on the project. We very much prefer to see our projects through to completion on site as we feel the selection of the contractor, regular inspections of workmanship, materials and certified valuations using a formal contract are essential to bring a project to a satisfactory conclusion with a high quality end product. We can equally offer a partial service, perhaps taking the scheme up to planning permission or a little further to building regulations approvals and tender, with you then managing the build on site. We are also more than happy to undertake a short feasibility study: looking at sketch options to consider massing, siting and a planning review to enable you to decide whether it is worth progressing further or not. This can be useful if you are considering purchasing a property that would involve redevelopment or extension and simply require some level of confidence that it would be achievable or permissible. If you would like to discuss these options please give us a call.
How about other consultants/specialists?
As a multi-disciplinary practice, we have in-house experts that cover the three key disciplines or architecture, planning and landscape design. Often this is enough for the project, however we also have an established network of contacts who can provide additional specialist advice and services as required. Obviously this depends on the particular project but may include:

Structural Engineer: Most jobs involve foundation design and either new or alteration to existing structures, even if it is a simple beam design across a new opening. Costs will vary according to what is involved but we can identify these at the design stage.

Cost Consultant: If the project is extremely complex we can arrange for the services of a Quantity Surveyor, however on most domestic projects we will typically manage the tendering process and also certify valuations on site, thereby saving you an additional consultant fee.

Mechanical and Electrical Engineer: Again, if the installation is very complex we can arrange for a specialist consultant, but typically we will provide an indicative electrical, lighting and heating layouts with our floor plans and the detailed cabling and plumbing design will then be undertaken by a specialist subcontractor once on site. If, however, you require specialist lighting or video/audio systems, we can happily work alongside the supplier to incorporate this into the design.

Interior Designer: We would design all hard surfaces (floors, walls, ceilings) and make suggestions for materials and finishes and colours as part of the overall concept design. If you require a detailed soft furnishings scheme and furniture we will probably suggest including a specialist interior designer, although we may work alongside them to ensure their work co-ordinates with the overall design.

Kitchens, Bathrooms: We will typically design layouts for these elements. The selection of fixtures and fittings is however a personal choice and very often clients will take our layout to the showroom to use as a basis for a selection of these components. We are very happy to work alongside specialist kitchen designers and can make recommendations to you.

Party Wall Surveyors: This is discussed later in more detail and may be required on certain projects.

Topographical Surveyors: If your site is empty and has significant changes in level, features or trees we may recommend a topographical survey be instructed to provide an accurate base drawing to work from.

Ecologists: If your site possibly contains endangered species planning consent may require surveys to be carried out for bats, newts, voles, etc., which we can arrange on your behalf.

What is planning permission?
Planning permission (or consent) is required in the UK for all new development. ‘Development’ is defined as any building or engineering operation, or the ‘making of a material change of use’ in any land or building. Certain types of routine maintenance are excluded from the definition of development and specified minor or insignificant types of development are granted automatic permission, therefore not requiring a planning application. These are known as ‘permitted development’ and are covered below.

Planning applications are considered by the relevant local authority and, based on the above definition, any proposal is therefore subject to a two stage initial test:

‘Is the proposal development at all?’ and if so, ‘is it permitted development?’ If the answers are yes and no respectively, a planning application will be required.

Please note that planning consent should not be confused with building regulations approval (which is covered below) – they are entirely separate. Planning is concerned with the use of land and the design and appearance of the proposal, building regulations are concerned with more technical matters of structure and operation.

Planning permission can be one of the main hurdles to overcome when thinking about building or changing your home and should be considered right from the start of the design process. Our in-house specialist planning consultants have an expert understanding of planning policy, which evolves constantly, and can advise at an early stage on what may be achievable either as permitted development or, if necessary, as a planning application. A common misconception is that because similar extensions have previously been allowed in a street, yours will automatically be allowed. This is not necessarily the case as planning policy changes over time and particular circumstances may vary. As a matter of course, we carry out an initial planning review on all projects before commencing design work and will advise you on the likely prospect of consent.

How do I get planning permission?
Once a preferred design direction has been selected from the initial sketch options we will develop drawings in sufficient detail for a planning application, if one is required. These will consist of accurate plans, elevations and sections of both the existing property and the proposals so that the planning officer can evaluate the impact of the proposed changes against current planning policy. Additional supporting documentation will also be required, in particular a ‘Design and Access Statement’, but also potentially an Ecological Survey, Tree Surveys, a Heritage Statement or Traffic Survey. Planning has become very much more complex over recent years and, although anyone can submit an application, using a planning specialist offers by far the best chance of approval, which is why we have planning consultants within our practice to lead on all applications.

Once the application is submitted and the appropriate fee paid it will be validated and registered by the local authority. This could take up to two weeks. The clock then starts ticking and residential applications are then supposed to be determined with within an 8 week target period (larger applications can take 13 weeks). This does not always happen of course, but is a good general guide. The planning decision should, in theory, be an objective one, however in reality the planning case officer’s personal judgement will come into play to some extent, especially regarding design matters. Rather than sit back and wait for the planning decision notice to arrive, we feel it is important to take a pro-active approach and keep in contact with the case officer throughout the application period; to respond to queries, ‘make the case’ over any concerns or misunderstandings and make amendments if necessary to obtain a positive outcome. We have established relationships with most local authorities in the North West and have an enviable record of success (although of course this can never be guaranteed).

If the decision is an approval, the project can move on towards construction. If however it is refused three courses of action are possible:

1. Appeal the decision, in which case the proposal will be considered by an independent planning inspector appointed by the Secretary of State.
2. Give up and go no further.
3. Modify the scheme and resubmit.

In practice, if it becomes clear that the application is going to be refused, we may advise withdrawing and modifying it rather than allowing it to proceed to a refusal. However, if this happens the local authority will usually allow a ‘free go’ at resubmission within 12 months. Reasons for refusal will have been given by the authority and we will be able to discuss with them modifications required to achieve consent.

The permission, once granted, will apply strictly to the drawings as submitted. If you have received consent but subsequently wish to make amendments to the scheme (which should be avoided, but sometimes happens) we can discuss with the local authority whether they will accept revised drawings as an amendment to the permission, rather than making a whole new application. Minor amendments may be allowed, but major ones probably won’t be and will require a new application.

Planning consent often comes with conditions: those are the fine print but are very important. Some are routine, such as the length of time the permission is valid for, others are very specific and require further agreement from the local authority before building commences on site. Do not on any account attempt to develop without planning permission or to build something differently to what has been approved, even on the assumption that it is in a position where it cannot be seen and ‘nobody will notice’. Planning enforcement officers are able to require you to demolish buildings constructed without valid consent.

What is a ‘Pre-application’ submission?
You may wish to obtain an initial view from the local authority of the likely success of a planned planning application and any particular constraints to be overcome, at lower cost and in advance of preparing a full application. We will prepare an outline argument and plan of the intended development and discuss with the local authority on your behalf. The plans will not be made public and you will receive a written response from the local authority outlining the requirements for a full application, giving a view on whether it is likely to be acceptable and suggesting any amendments that they may think necessary.
What is 'permitted development'?

Small extensions and alterations may fall within your ‘permitted development’ rights, which means that a fuller planning application will not be necessary. There are limits on height, volume, offset and interface distances that will decide whether this is the case. Our planning consultants will be able to advise on what may be allowed, but an overview of technical guidance can be found at:


In some situations planning permission may be unlikely to be granted, but a lesser form of development may be achievable under permitted development rights. If your project is suitable for permitted development, we would usually recommend that you, in any case, apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development to confirm this categorically. This is a simple application that should be supported by suitable drawings and calculations.

In some locations the local authority will have removed some of your permitted development rights, often for example in conservation areas. We will be able to identify whether this has been done and advise accordingly.

My home is a Listed building
Buildings of particular architectural or historic interest are often officially ‘listed’ and thereby protected from inappropriate alterations. Many residential buildings are Grade II listed, far fewer Grade II* or Grade I. It is extremely important to preserve buildings of interest, however owning one brings with it certain obligations and greater restrictions on changes that are allowed to be made. Listing is not a preservation order preventing any alterations, it simply means that an additional level of consent – listed building consent – is required to ensure that the special aspects of the building are considered. A listed building consent application is similar to a planning application and will usually be made at the same time, however, it will be reviewed by specialist conservation officers (and possibly Historic England) and you will receive a separate approval notice. There is no statutory fee attached to a listed building consent application.

It is important to remember that unlike planning law (which is common law) listed buildings are subject to criminal law – do not consider making alterations without professional advice.

There are a few common misconceptions around listed buildings, for instance:

Grants are available to help pay for work. Grants do occasionally exist, usually around specific area initiatives, however generally you are very unlikely to get a grant, and almost never with a Grade II building.

Approved alterations to listed buildings qualify for zero rated VAT. Before October 2012 this was true, but sadly no more.

Only part of the building is listed. Not true. If a building is listed, all of it, including non-original extensions or alterations, is listed. This can include outbuildings and boundary walls within the curtilage.

It is impossible to gain consent for changes. This is certainly not the case and we have many examples of successful applications for changes to listed buildings. There is also no law against additions being different or contemporary in style as long as they are sympathetic and respectful to the original building.

StudioCass has many years’ experience dealing with listed buildings and consents and we are listed on the RIBA Conservation Register. We can advise you how to make a properly considered and appropriate design proposal and application to obtain the full potential from your listed property.

I live in a Conservation Area
Conservation Areas exist to protect the special architectural and historic character of a place – rather than being concerned with individual buildings, they are intended to preserve the features of an area that make it unique or distinctive. The restriction that this imposes on making alterations to, or building, your new home are less onerous than with listed buildings and are concerned primarily with the external appearance of the house. Development proposals in a conservation area will be assessed as part of a standard planning application process; however the local authority conservation officer will have been consulted on the design and impact of the scheme. Minor alterations and repairs that may not normally have needed planning permission or may have been allowed under permitted development rights, such as work to trees, boundary walls and outbuildings, are likely to need a planning application in a conservation area.
What are Building Regulations?
Not to be confused with planning, the Building Regulations are there to ensure that buildings are constructed so as to be safe and to a minimum quality standard. They cover the technical and physical aspects of a building rather than its aesthetics or contribution to the area, and cover such things as structural stability, fire escape and insulation, drainage, ventilation, thermal performance, sound transmission, protection from falling and so on. Building Regulations are handled either by the local authority or, increasingly, by licensed private inspectors.
How do I get Building Regulations Approval?
The approval is usually in two parts, the first being a submission of plans and specifications prior to construction to confirm that the design is satisfactory, and the second on completion of the works on site, which the inspector will check regularly throughout construction. It is also possible to obtain approval by the ‘notice method’, whereby a simple form is submitted at least 48 hours before starting on site and the building control officer inspects the works as they progress on site. This method, although more straightforward is best suited to very simple alterations. The benefit of submitting and obtaining full plans approval in advance is that you commence works on site with confidence with your proposals, as long as they are built correctly, will comply with building regulations without potentially expensive alterations or adjustments whilst in build being required.
What is a Party Wall Agreement?

Alterations to domestic buildings or new buildings sited close to a boundary can often be affected by party wall legislation. Works that affect a wall, fence or any part of your neighbour’s structure, including works within specified distances of a shared boundary wall or fence, will require notification to adjoining owners in accordance with the Party Wall Act 1996 (https://www.gov.uk/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance). This can become a complicated issue that can take time to resolve if there is disagreement and may require the appointment of a specialist party wall surveyor to adjudicate. It is usually wise to discuss your proposals with your neighbours first to explain your intentions and hopefully head off any objections. Avoiding objections from neighbours will also ease the passage of the scheme through the planning process as they will be consulted on your proposals.

How do I choose a builder?
There are two main considerations when selecting a builder: the quality of their workmanship and site management and the price they charge to do the job. Obviously these can work against each other, however we will work with you to select a builder that is suitable for the project. Often you will have recommendations from friends or neighbours and we also maintain contact with builders who we have worked with successfully in the past or whose work we know. It is important that you have seen previously completed work by the builder and feel comfortable with having them in your home.

Selection of the builder can either be by negotiated tender with one candidate, based upon our detailed drawings and specifications, or by competitive tender, where the same information is issued to a number of suitable candidates and they are asked to submit their best price. It is often assumed that it is always preferable to select a contractor by a competitive rather than a negotiated tender. It is not always the case – the cost of materials and to a large extent labour will probably be similar for all contractors, variation in price therefore comes from the cost of fixed overheads that builders incur, the profit margin they wish to make, and the speed and efficiency they can apply to the project. In turn, these will depend upon how much other work they have on, how comfortable they are with the project and their assessment of its inherent risks. Sometimes a low tender price can mean that they really need the work, or they have misunderstood the complexity of the job, which will lead to problems later on. On the positive side, a good but reasonable price should mean that they have experience of similar work and have estimated it accurately, but that they run a tight ship and are confident that they can deal with it efficiently. Sometimes these aspects can be teased out more readily by negotiating with one contractor and working with him to make sure that everything required has been included and is clearly understood. This also enables us to take advantage of any practical efficiencies that he may able to suggest on the design and detailing of the scheme. In a competitive situation a builder will be less willing to work in detail with the client and the architect at this stage as the job may be more likely to go elsewhere.

There is no absolute rule about this – which way to go depends upon judgement, but in either case it is essential to ensure the contractor is tendering not just on price alone, but on value, which includes an assessment of their workmanship and finish and their approach to the project. Assessing a tender on price alone can store up problems once on site – it has been known for builders to ‘buy’ a job with an uneconomical tender price, hoping to make back the profit once on site with claims for extras and delays. We will assess every tender carefully across all these aspects and issue a detailed tender report to you with a recommendation on the contractor appointment.

How do I fix a budget and programme and avoid overruns?
If we are appointed as contract administrator we will act on your behalf to prepare and run the building contract. This will define a start and completion date for the works, set out the criteria for an allowable extension to the programme (generally only if you make changes or delays are caused by unforeseen circumstances once works are opened up) and the damages due to you if the builder misses the finish date without good reason. Hours of working, use of your facilities and services, access and storage arrangements can all identified in the contract, and, most importantly, a schedule of dates for valuations and payments for work completed. Importantly, no payments will be made by you in advance for buying materials etc., only for work actually completed and on site. During the build we will carry out regular inspections and meetings with the builder to monitor progress and report back to you. The cost of the works will be defined in the contract and will only be varied if the scope of work changes once the job has begun, and then only once we have issued a variation certificate authorising the adjustment. Clearly, if all defects can be agreed before the contract is signed and no changes are requested during the build, so much the better and the contract sum will not change. There are occasions however where you may not have finally selected your choice of tiles or sanitary fittings (for example) or where underlying structures cannot be assessed when the contract begins. In this instance we include a ‘provisional sum’ (an estimate of what the cost of these items might be reasonably expected to be) in the contract sum, and this figure is then adjusted as the actual costs become known during the contract. Again the adjustment is certified by us, not the builder.

It should be obvious, but is worth re-stating, that the choice of fittings and finishes can have a huge effect on the final cost of a domestic project – a luxury fit-out can be many times the cost of a budget fit-out, even if the underlying construction is very similar. It is important therefore to establish what level of finish you require and to allow for it when setting the budget at the design stage. We can prepare detailed finishes schedules to ensure that all the finishing touches are allowed for in the contract sum and not overlooked. In construction, as in most other walks of life, a good rule of thumb is that you get what you pay for and you may need to make value judgements in the design process in order to stay within your budget. There will always be a more expensive alternative and whilst we can illustrate the options available to you, the final decision on how much to spend will be yours. It is important to be honest with us about your budget – don’t understate it assuming that otherwise we will raise the specification to the upper limit. Whether you have an absolute maximum, or a target spend plus a reserve, we will work with you to allocate the costs wisely and spend the available budget where it can achieve most value. It is also always sensible to build in a small contingency sum to the budget, particularly when working with existing buildings, for unforeseen extra items – for example wet or dry rot in timber, soft spots in the ground requiring more foundations, or faulty wiring or plumbing.

Once the contractor is on site it is essential that all instructions to him are made through the contract administrator, so that we can agree costs and details with him before instructing. Do not assume that if you ask the builder to ‘just move a partition’ or ‘just add a couple of lights’ he will be doing it as a favour and at no cost because you have made him a cup of tea! However good the relationship on site, a building contract is a formal document and formal procedures should be followed for the benefit of all concerned.

Will I pay VAT?
Builders and architects will always discuss costs excluding VAT, however generally if the work is to an existing building you will pay VAT at the current rate on all building work. The good news is that new homes are zero rated for VAT. This also applies if you demolish an existing building completely to rebuild in the same site, but it must be taken completely down to the ground.

There are certain items of work to existing buildings that can be charged at a lower rate of VAT, such as work to meet disability requirements and some energy efficiency requirements. If such savings are likely to be significant on a project we have an established relationship with a VAT consultant who can assess the scheme and provide a certificate to the contractor to authorise an adjusted VAT charge, however for budgetary purposes with an existing building it is safer to allow for full VAT on all costs. The builder is of course, acting as a tax collector for the Government and will periodically forward the VAT received onto HMRC. Architects and other professional services consultants are always required to charge VAT. Businesses can often reclaim the VAT paid, however this is unusual for domestic projects, and if necessary you should allow for it in your budget.

Do I need special insurance?
It is important for your protection that property insurance against all eventualities is maintained throughout the project. If the building is a new build this is straight forward – the contractor will insure the works until he hands it over to you on completion. If the project is an extension or an alteration to an existing building it becomes a little more complicated – both the existing building and the new works need to be covered against all eventualities (‘all risks’) and regardless of who caused the damage (in ‘joint names’). This avoids the possibility of two insurance companies arguing whether it was the owner or the builder who caused the problem. With general building contracts, in order to meet this requirement the owner of an existing building would take out a ‘joint names, all-risks’ policy for both the existing building and the new works; however some domestic householder insurance policies will not allow joint names to be added to the policy. The contract recognises this issue and allows for suitable cover to be arranged for the duration of the project by the contractor instead, although this additional cost will be passed on to the client. In all cases it is essential for all parties that evidence of adequate cover is in place before commencement.
Green architecture and environmentally-conscious design
In recent years there has been a lot more emphasis on environmentally-conscious design and energy-saving technologies, driven both by the climate change agenda and rising fuel prices. Householders are presented with a bewildering range of options to ‘green’ their homes and reduce fuel bills: these include solar hot water panels, photo-voltaic panels, heat recovery systems, wind turbines, air and ground source heat pumps, bio-mass boilers and micro-combined heat and power units. To complicate matters further, calculating the true costs and rewards for these technologies can be confusing – to work out the payback period (when the outlay for installation is recouped by reductions in bills) involves understanding and estimating as accurately as possible what the energy saving might actually be – solar panels, wind and heat pumps in particular rely very much on the specific environment and aspect at the location for performance.

We have been involved in environmentally-aware design for over thirty years, long before it became newsworthy or fashionable and including ‘off-grid’ and Passivhaus developments, and can advise you on how to approach this subject in a way that is both appropriate and cost-effective, including consulting with specialists in the various available technologies if required.

At the heart of our design approach however, rather than relying on plug-in technologies simply to deliver energy more efficiently, is to design buildings that require less energy in the first place. Orientating rooms and windows for the optimum aspect for the path of the sun, incorporating sufficient levels of insulation and minimising heat loss through excessive ventilation are the most cost effective and unobtrusive means to minimise energy consumption and should always be optimised wherever possible before resorting to additional technologies.