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Entries in Builders (2)


Architect and Builder Recommendation for South Manchester

Also known as... how on earth do you get started with a build project. When we were planning our kitchen-diner extension, I didn't have a clue how to go about it. I spent hours reading internet forums where people were talking about architects, structural engineers, planning, builders, technicians, glass calculations... there seemed to be so many different ways to go about things and I couldn't work out which one was best for us.

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

Having eventually worked out an approach that resulted in an extension that we're absolutely delighted with that came in within 1% of the planned budget, I thought I'd write down how we did it, in case it helps anyone reading this in future.

Design and Drawings

We decided to work with a local RIBA architect, Dan Gibson from Gibson Architects. I found Dan from a google search, met him in person, spoke on the phone to a couple of his previous clients, and visited a property he had designed in the local area to see his work in person. Dan is a wonderfully creative architect who understands how people actually live in their houses and move around them, which is a key differentiator in my opinion.

Now, you don't have to work with an architect at all, as there are other professions that can do the drawings and calculations required to get planning permission. We chose to do so for several reasons:

  • Our house is complex with different levels on the ground floor, and larger rooms on one side of the house with more of a rabbit warren on the other side. We knew that we wanted to do something much more complicated than simply adding a box on the side of the house and knocking through to it (if the latter is all you want to do, then using an architect might be overkill).
  • We were investing a reasonable amount of money into our forever home, and wanted to avoid making expensive mistakes.
  • Neither of us are experts in house design, layouts and architecture.

Dan visited our house, spent time with us talking about how we wanted to use the space, and came up with a few different options. He made a few design suggestions such as retaining a chimney breast (that I would have expected to remove) that both saved us money and cleverly allowed the kitchen utility space to wrap behind the chimney breast making it invisible from the main dining area, therefore solving my 'how to hide the dirty dishes from view in an open-plan room'. I would never have thought of doing this myself, but it works brilliantly in practice. He designed the kitchen layout, and ensured the internal measurement of the room would precisely fit the new Ikea kitchen.

Dan also designed the external space to blend the new white render with old reclaimed brick, and a deck with steps down from the bifolds to the main curved deck area. Again, the idea of steps down to the deck rather than having the deck on the same level as the main house is something I would never have thought of myself, and even to the point of having it built I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do (as we have cellars, the main house is raised significantly above ground level). But I trusted Dan's vision and of course he was right - we absolutely love sitting on our steps outside the bifolds drinking espresso in the morning sunshine. If the deck had been on the same level as the house, it would have looked like a giant fortress and would have felt completely separate from the garden. With Dan's design, it all flows seamlessly and we love it. Clever Dan :-)

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

Dan designed to the budget we set him, and his prediction was pretty accurate.

We had two sets of drawings done at this stage. The main drawings done by Dan and his team showing the current and future floor plans and elevations, and a structural drawing done by a structural engineer showing the foundations, steels and glass. When the engineer did the glass calculations he told us that we had to reduce the size of an internal window, but the rest of the design was spot on.

Tendering and Costs

Having received planning permission, I wrote down every single thing that we wanted done as part of the project, from the requirement to place architectural salvage from the property in our cellar (instead of removing it and selling it on as some builders do), to the need to level the height of the floorboards in the old building with the cement tiles in the new building. Dan produced detailed specifications for things like windows and bifolds, and an electrical/lighting layout. This all got packaged up into a set of tender documents for builders to quote from.

The downside of this is that the documents went into so much detail that lots of builders simply didn't bother giving us quotes, as we'd provided too much information for them to get away with a 'broadbrush builder estimate'. The plus side is that our lovely builder Tom went through the pack with a fine tooth comb and came up with a provisional quote that was so accurate that we ultimately came in within 1% of the predicted costs.

Architect and builder reccomendation for south Manchester by Simply The Nest, a UK DIY and renovation blog Gibson Architects and Tipi Construction

So overall it was worth going to the trouble of specifying so much in advance, even though it did scare quite a few builders off. I can't imagine going into a project without knowing how much it was actually going to cost, and it was quite an eye-opener to see how much could be priced in advance. We were also lucky in that there were very few unexpected costs (we didn't encounter any problems with the foundations; the house was structurally sound and didn't require any unexpected works; and so on), but we kept a 10% contingency budget just in case.

Project Management

Andre and I both have project management backgrounds but there's no way we could have taken on something like this. Tom the builder acted as the PM for our project (in addition to taking a hands-on build role), which meant he sourced and booked all the trades and materials, made sure everything turned up at the right time in the right order, gave all the instructions, quality-assessed the implementation, and dealt with any problems. I can't even imagine the headache of having to do that yourself. I've done all the procurement for the kitchen installation that we're in the middle of right now, and it has taken up SO MUCH TIME. As a side-note, Dan the architect would also have provided this PM service, or a contract management service, but we felt it was easier to have Tom do it, and for us to deal with Tom directly.

We loved our builders and would recommend them to anyone in the Manchester area - Tom Hiscox from Tipi Construction.

So overall, our approach was to use an architect first, then a structural engineer recommended by the architect, and then a builder that we found independently. Tom the builder used his own structural engineer on site, which I was happy with, as they were both accustomed to working together. I know friends who started with the builder, who then recommended an engineer to do the drawings, and skipped the architect altogether. So there's lots of different ways to go about it, but the choices we made were definitely right for our project.

Any questions, please get in touch via my Contact Me form.


Building Work FAQ: True or False

We'd never had building work done before, being DIY champs, so we had no idea what to expect. To assist others about to embark upon the same journey, I've prepared a handy FAQ covering all the essentials of the experience.

1. You will finally figure out the lyrics to Rianna 'Work' after hearing it a mere 1572 times a week blasting from the builder radio.

FALSE. It doesn't matter how many times I've listened to that song, all I hear is work work work work work and the rest doesn't make any sense. You will also become deeply familiar with Sia 'Cheap Thrills', Lukas Graham '7 Years' and Justin Bieber 'Sorry', which does not improve upon multiple hearings.

2. Oh no, they won't damage that part of the garden.

FALSE. The entire garden will be destroyed, front and back. When we were planning the work, Tom the builder asked if there was anything in the front garden I wanted to keep. The cherry tree, I said. It was a wedding anniversary present. Tom scratched his head and said he thought they should be able to manage that. I thought he was being sarcastic - how could the cherry tree, set well away from the main driveway and entry path, possibly get damaged? When I saw the chipboard barrier that Tom built around it, I thought it seemed overkill but I appreciated his efforts. Then the skip arrived and nearly crushed the cherry tree with one fell blow, the driveway seemingly became a second storage facility for Bentley's the building merchant, and several lorry loads of rubble were literally upended from the truck onto the driveway itself. Not in sacks - just poured onto the driveway like a river. We even had a truck take a great chunk out of the path by driving across it accidentally cos the driver didn't quite get the right angle. Basically the entire driveway becomes fair game for the builders, so don't bother doing anything to your front garden if you anticipate getting building work done at any stage in the future. 

3. Oh, they'll be able to dig around the wisteria so we should be able to keep it.

FALSE. The wisteria will fall prey to the jaws of the digger on day one. Yes, possibly they could dig around it but careful building work costs more money as it takes longer.

4. They will have lots of other jobs on at the same time and will keep disappearing for days on end.

FALSE. If you have top-notch builders like ours, they'll crack on and get the job done, including all the snagging. No random disappearances to repeatedly attend the funerals of departed relatives here, thanks very much. Top tip - start your project in January. The previous project will have been 'done in time for Christmas' and with any luck you'll get a team of well-rested builders who have finished their last project, had a nice rest over Christmas, and are raring to go. I will add at this point that when you do major building work you are effectively inviting a group of strange men to move in with you (they are inevitably men unless you hire my lovely friend Sian) so it would be wise to choose builders you like on a personal level, as well as ones you can trust not to accidentally knock your house down.

5. The dust will get everywhere.

TRUE. Yes, yes it will. The builders did a brilliant job of controlling it as best they could, building giant floor to ceiling chipboard partitions with filler round the edges across all the openings, and rushing round with a vacuum cleaner when a brick accidentally came loose and a load of dust came through, but we still found a delicate layer of dust in our wardrobes. Having said that, this could well be because there is literally no point doing any housework while you have the builders in as it would be akin to applying lipstick to a pig, so quite feasibly the dust-in-wardrobe scenario was caused by our slatternly ways rather than the building work itself.

6. If you knock through from one room to the other you need to clear both rooms.

FALSE. We knocked through to the living room and I assumed we'd need to move all the furniture out so the bricks could fly. What actually happened is the builders screwed a 2x2 wooden frame on the living room wall a couple of inches wider and taller than the size of the planned opening, and then screwed a piece of chipboard to the frame and filled around the edges. They then carefully dismantled the wall from the other side (where the main building site was).

7. You will have a hole in your house for several weeks.

TRUE. You almost certainly will. I'd fondly imagined that the entire new structure would be built and made watertight before the connecting wall was knocked through, and maybe that's how it would work for a different project, but with ours, the order went something like this: foundations, new walls, support old building, remove walls and windows from old building, *aagh huge hole in back of house*, insert steels, build new roof, install bifolds, windows and roof lantern and finally *aah nice and cosy again*.

8. You will have a stream of people turning up at your door from morning until night.

TRUE. Between contractors arriving on site, deliveries from the local builder's merchant being dumped on your driveway, scaffolders turning up at 7am ("oh sorry love, is it too early for you?") and even Amazon deliveries arriving for the builders (fair enough, I get ASOS parcels delivered to my workplace so why not) that doorbell rang constantly, much to the utter delight of our Jack Russells. Additionally, all contractors, builders and delivery people will become very accustomed to seeing you in your pyjamas.

9. You will need to hand over the keys to your house.

FALSE. This can be avoided by having a baby the day the builders arrive, therefore necessitating someone being on the premises at all times with said baby. Alternatively, just get some keys cut. You know, whatever's easier.

10. It will all be worth it in the end.

TRUE. Full stop.

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