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When do I need to use an architect?

Let's take a look at when it is a good idea to have a professional steer you through a building project, and when you can probably go it alone.

Guest Author
Words by: Nicky Burridge

Contributing Editor

Ready for a big home renovation and wondering if you need the services of an architect?

The general rule of thumb is: if the work is major and involves structural changes to your home, the answer is probably yes.

If the work is relatively minor and doesn't involve extending your property or knocking down walls, you may just need a structural engineer or a builder you can trust.

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Why use an architect?

With seven years' worth of training, architects know their stuff.

Be wary of using companies that claim to be 'architectural designers', that's not the same thing.

The title ‘architect’ is protected by law (Architects Act 1997). So it can only be used by those who've undergone rigorous training and are fully qualified.

Employing a professional architect from a RIBA-accredited Chartered Practice is a good idea.

Using the services of an architect can have a significant impact on the quality of your renovations,

Most architects generally offer a wider range of services when a project budget is around £50,000 or more.

But for a smaller fee, that can help you get started with your project and get the best out of it in the early stages.

Do I need an architect if I know what I want?

That depends.

If you're confident that you know what you're planning, don’t need any help with the design and have found a builder you trust, you may be good to go.

There's no law stating that you have to employ an architect. Some people undertake major works to their homes without using their services.

However, you'll need to ensure that your project has planning permission and goes through building regulations yourself. Whereas an architect can take on this work for you.

If you're not too sure how you want your renovation to proceed, or aren't clear about what might be achievable, hiring an architect is a good idea.

And it's especially useful if your project involves changing the structure of your home.

Extensions, loft conversions, garage and basement conversions are all best handled with an architect.

So what does an architect do?

An architect will work with you to create a final brief for your project.

They'll want to know:

  • your aims

  • your budget

  • your design style

  • what you want to achieve with the final result

Architects will ensure that:

  • the work done on your home is safe and legal

  • it's done to a high standard

  • the build is protected by professional indemnity insurance

  • comprehensive Health and Safety and Environmental policies are in place

  • they'll manage the build on your behalf

  • and they'll steer you through the planning process.

If you don’t have experience in managing a renovation project, are too busy to be on site or don’t completely trust your builders, paying for the services of an architect can be a good investment to ensure everything remains on track and up to standard.

It's also worth remembering that builders don’t require formal training or a licence. 

By contrast, architects spend years training, are bound by a statutory code and have professional indemnity insurance, meaning you're protected if something goes wrong.

Two adults in a lounge where the ceiling has been pulled down

Do I need an architect if I don’t need planning permission?

Some extensions, loft and garage conversions and wall removals can be done with 'permitted development rights'.

These fast-track rules, created by the government, allow a host of alterations to be done without the hassle of having to make a full planning application.

Home improvements that don't need planning permission

That said, you should always check with your local council, builder or architect before starting work for peace of mind. It could save a lot of expense and heartache later.

No law states that you have to use an architect. But some fairly substantial work can be done under 'permitted development rights' and you may feel more confident using one if you're changing the structure of your home.

If you are employing an architect, they will often submit plans to your local authority on your behalf.

If not, a good planning consultant can help you to get planning permission. 

Architects can also be helpful in determining local planning restrictions, targets and preferences to ensure your project is likely to get approval.

They can also ensure the build meets the requirements of building control and that you have access to a structural engineer should you need one.

Do I need an architect for a small extension?

It’s not the size of your extension that dictates whether you need an architect, so much as your vision for the project and the impact it will have on your home.

For extensions of any size, using an architect is recommended as they affect the exterior of your property.

Architects can also find clever solutions to make the most out of your extension in terms of light, space, aesthetic design and usage.

You should also consider using their services if you want a cutting-edge, contemporary design or a focus on using eco-materials.

Do I need an architect if I’m knocking down a wall?

Normally, you wouldn’t need planning permission to knock down walls in your home, but you will need building regulations approval on structural and electrical works.

The exception is if your home is in a conservation area, in which case you will need planning approval.

If you're doing anything that could potentially impact the structure of your property, you may not need an architect, but you will need the services of a structural engineer.

Any load-bearing wall that's removed needs to be replaced with a structural beam to continue to support the floors above.

The installation of these steel beams (known as RSJs) requires precise calculations as to the required load they need to support, which is the speciality of structural engineers.

Even if the wall is not important to the structural integrity of your home, it could still contain electrical wires, water or gas pipes.

So consult a professional before you begin.

What are the advantages of using an architect?

You're likely to end up with a better quality build.

Using a professional design will help you to get the best use of your space, ensuring the light is right and that the improvement blends in with the rest of the property.

Architects can help you to navigate the planning system and make sure your project complies with building regs.

They'll also be able to advise you on whether you need a structural engineer.

While their services can be pricey, architects can actually save you money by preventing expensive mistakes while keeping your project on budget.

What are the disadvantages of using an architect?

They're not cheap.

Architects' fees for residential projects in the UK will normally vary between 10%-15% of the construction cost, depending on the size, complexity, budget and quality of the project.

That said, fee percentages tend to decrease in tandem with construction budgets.

If you're only having small-scale building work carried out, with a builder you trust, you may feel that employing an architect isn't necessary.

How much do architects charge?

Architects’ fees are generally charged as a percentage of the total cost of the project. 

They typically range from 10% to 15% of the total construction costs, depending on the project’s size, complexity and budget.

For very complex projects, fees can be as high as 20%.

For straightforward projects, some architects may be happy to offer a fixed fee, while others may charge an hourly rate.

How can I find a good architect?

The Royal Institute of British Architects has a search engine that helps you to find member architects in your area. 

You can search by the type of work you're having done and the budget you're prepared to pay.

It's also worth asking around to see if friends and neighbours have any recommendations.

All architects working in the UK must be registered with the Architects Registration Board, so be sure to check this before hiring someone.

We try to make sure that the information here is accurate at the time of publishing. But the property market moves fast and some information may now be out of date. Zoopla Property Group accepts no responsibility or liability for any decisions you make based on the information provided.