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Free advice from architects

Why would anyone want to give free advice unless there's a catch to it?

In some businesses, you have to give free advice before you can even get the business.

Such is the business of architects, surveyors, and builders. The first time you meet, it's called free consultation. They assess whether it's feasible and whether it's worth their while to have you as a client. Equally, you are assessing whether you can afford it (time, money, etc) and whether you want to choose them.

Today I got a load of good advice from three different architects. The first one spent two hours with me, during which time I learned the reason why the lower tiles in my kitchen are falling off. I also learned that anything was possible provided I had the money. And such is the regret for wasting it in the stock markets. The best place to invest is surely in improving the comfort of one's home.

For me, it's about maximising light, space, and comfort - as in heat retention. The second architect thought out of the box. He advised removing the existing bathtub and fitting in a shorter but wider and deeper bathtub, the US-jaccuzzi type, and moving the toilet into the other corner. After going through my wish list, he proudly showed me his portfolio.

The third architect was too busy to visit me. So I had to cycle to his loft office with photos of my house. Specialising in metal staircases, he would love to replace my ancient Victorian staircase with an open-tread, glass or metal staircase. He also showed me some of his autocad designs on his computer.Another nugget of useful information, he told me that I could save myself 8 weeks of waiting for planning permission if I were to find out whether I needed it in the first place (by talking to a council planning officer). And so I cycled to talk to an officer promptly.

Since I pay council tax, I should make more use of the council's services. I learned that planning permission isn't required if my house extension is less than 50 cubic metres, more than 20 metres away from a public highway, and less than 4 metres high. However, building control (or also called building regulation) is required for any structural change.

Perhaps I should have gone through what I went through today when I first moved into this house. Back then, I had wanted all these renovations, but I did it piecemeal and incrementally, experimenting with different builders, electricians, plumbers, engineers, surveyors - until I had enough of it. After a year or two, I'm ready to tackle the "home comfort" problem again but in a more holistic way.

Hopefully, one of these architects will allow me to abdicate and deliver the dream house I so desire.

5 March 2002 Tuesday

Home is where the heart is
Contact the Royal Institute of British Architects first, to get recommendations of qualified/registered architects in your region.
Architects in the UK: planning guide to current law and practice
Finding an architect: RIBA's guide, including 103 things architects do
Links to sites (professional associations) within the construction industry