Are you considering hiring an architect for your self build project? We spoke to HomeOwners Alliance to help you decide on whether you need an architect and how to work with them.

large self build house renovation by found architects

Image: Found Architects

When you’re extending or converting your home, one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to make is whether to employ the services of an architect. We’ve joined forces with the HomeOwners Alliance, a consumer property advice website to ask how you decide whether you need an architect, where to find one and how to work with them.

How do I know I need an architect?

Not every project requires the help of an architect. If you have a firm idea of what you want, the project is straightforward and you have a reliable builder to help make your vision a reality then it’s possible you don’t need an architect. Otherwise, an architect can help by understanding what you are trying to achieve and giving you options for delivering it. They can bring a high level of design insight, flair and experience to your project, and can even help with managing the whole process, getting planning permission and overseeing the different contractors to deliver your vision. But be aware there are a number of advantages and disadvantages to working with an architect – and significant costs involved.

How do I find an architect?

There’s no short cut to finding a great architect – you need to shop around. Start by asking friends you trust, as nothing beats a good recommendation. But check they are qualified for the job. While a registered architect would usually do larger projects, architectural technicians or surveyors in a registered architects firm could do smaller home improvements; there are no hard and fast rules. 

Anyone calling himself or herself an architect though must be registered with the Architects Registration Board. Many architects are also members of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and ‘Chartered Architects’ are those that comply with the RIBA’s strict criteria. You can use this free instant online tool to find an architect near you. Just input a handful of details about your property and within minutes you’ll be able to see a list of local suppliers that specialise in architectural design.

How do I choose the right architect for my project?

We recommend you discuss your requirements with three or so suppliers and invite them to meet with you at your home or the site of your project. Before the meeting ask them to send you a portfolio and ascertain how they work. Many architects have different styles, so make sure you like their style in previous work when you review their portfolio. For more tips on choosing the right architect click here.

Clever questions to ask your architect

Before you meet with your architect for the first time, write down what you want to achieve as a minimum. One of our members appointed an architect to design her double storey extension with the aim of giving her two children equal sized bedrooms. But this wasn’t conveyed clearly enough from the start, wasting a lot of time on designs that delivered the clients desired en-suite, but in doing so created one much smaller bedroom for one of the children.

The HomeOwners Alliance has a free downloadable form to help you capture what you want from your architect, the project and what the architect says in the meeting. Using this will ensure you don’t miss any key pieces of advice or to ask key questions, particularly around costs.

Beyond this short form, it would be wise for larger projects to have the builder and architect sign a building contract. A contract is the best way of maintaining a good working relationship and keeping within budget. We worked with RIBA to develop their Domestic Building Contract for homeowners, architects and contractors. It helps all parties agree on a clear brief, sets out what happens if the project changes or there are delays, sets out fees and payment schedule – and all before the works start. It should also cover who is responsible for obtaining various consents and that the correct insurance policies are in place.

Minimise the changes

What often causes most stress in projects is the client changing their mind about what they want to do – or simply not making decisions. So make sure that once your plans are drawn up and your contract is in that you stick to the brief. Some changes are inevitable in big projects as it takes shape, but any big changes will set the project back and add to the cost. So keep your project on track by minimising the changes along the way. Invest as much time and energy as you can at the planning stage working on the details long before the builders start work.

The HomeOwners Alliance champions the interests of Britain’s homeowners and aspiring homeowners, providing unbiased and practical advice as well as services you can trust whether you are buying, selling or improving your home.


Did you work with an architect for your project? Share with us by tweeting us @granddesigns or post a comment on our Facebook page.


For more advice on starting your own self build, pick up our latest bookazine, Self Build and Renovating, out now.



Kevin McCloud's introduction to architectural definitions

7 top tips to building your dream home

More on self build advice

Kevins Column

Top self build highlights at Grand Designs Live 2019 hosted by Kevin McCloud

Find top experts, specialist exhibitors and a wealth of inspiration for your self-build or renovation project all under one roof.
Self Build Homes

How to manage your self-build project during the coronavirus crisis

What effect will the Coronavirus have on your self-build project? Try these top tips from a project management expert to keep it running as smoothly...
Self Build Homes

Inside a unique, 180 foot long new build in the West Midlands

Take a look inside this striking new build in the West Midlands countryside and find out how much it'd cost to call it home.
Self Build Homes

Building a home in your garden: what you need to know

Considering building a new house on your home's existing land? Architect Harry Thorpe explains some key considerations.
Self Build Homes

Postponed - Grand Designs Live London 2020

Due to guidance surrounding COVID 19, Grand Designs Live London has been postponed until 22nd August 2020 – 31st August 2020. 
Self Build Homes

Bold balconies to add style to your self-build

Balcony packages are a simple way to add a stylish new element to your home. Discover how architects and self-builders can best use them to...
Self Build Homes

Welsh Government launches £210m fund for self build home projects

A new fund is now available to encourage self build home projects in Wales.