When planning a new build, extension or renovation to your home, you’ll likely need to consult with both an architect and a structural engineer, and maybe even a surveyor if it’s a completely new build. It’s important to understand the timings on getting these professions involved to save you time, money and frustration. For example, if you are planning a basement, loft conversion or anything that will affect the structure of your home then it’s important to consult a structural engineer first to see what is possible – otherwise you might end up paying an architect for design concepts that aren’t feasible because they’re not structurally possible.

The role of an architect

Most people don’t think about structural engineers and immediately consult an architect to get plans for the extension, conversion or new build they’re planning. Architects approach your project from an aesthetic point of view. They consider space, light and best function of all aspects of your building. It’s not their ‘responsibility’ to determine what is structurally possible or how their designs might be structurally achieved.

Architects can also be useful in helping you determine whether you have permitted development rights, or whether you must apply for planning approval. They can also help you get through the planning process and liaise with the local authority on your behalf. Architects are also often the lead consultant, or project manager on building projects.

Architects are not always necessary depending on the project you’re planning, or if you know the local authority departments to get in touch with to ask about planning permissions. If you plan to make internal home improvements an architect may not be needed at all. If you are removing walls to make your home more open plan, or add bi-folding doors for example, then you might not need an architect, but you will need a structural engineer.

When might you need a Structural Engineer?

A Structural Engineer will almost always be of paramount importance, for any changes to your home, whether your home improvements are external or internal. You need to ensure the structural credibility of your plans and have them approved by building control throughout the build process. In any building project that requires the movement of walls, or other supporting structures you must satisfy the terms of building regulations. Structural Engineers will not only design the right structural elements needed and specify the right materials, but they can assist with the process of obtaining Building Regulations Approval.

If you consult with a structural engineer first then your architect can understand any limitations or considerations needed in his designs, ensuring you get achievable designs from the start, rather than falling in love with a design that turns out not to be structurally possible.

What does a surveyor do?

Surveyors have a varied role, from land Surveyors to party wall Surveyors. Their area of concern over your building is the value of the land and its proper use. If you are planning a new build project, surveyors are a must, but they are not necessarily needed for a loft conversion or extension unless a Party Wall Award is necessary.

A general rule of thumb of who to call

  • If there’s no building at all – speak to a surveyor and structural engineer first to understand the feasibility of your plans and elements that will affect the costs like the ground conditions for foundations, whether you are going to have party wall issues, and the costs/value of the potential project. You can then get an architect in to design your home knowing any limitations.
  • External changes – If you are planning a loft conversion or extension then consult with both an Architect and a Structural Engineer, but again we would suggest a structural engineer first so you know in advance what is possible. You don’t want to fall in love with an architect’s vision and designs only to find out you’ll have to make compromises because they’re not structurally possible.
  • Internal changes – If you’re making internal changes then you should only need a Structural Engineer. This includes if you’re knocking out walls or adding windows or doors. You need to be sure that you’re not going to remove a load-bearing wall or weaken the structure with new windows or doors.

If you’re planning a project for your home, and you live within 25 minutes of Oxford then give SWJ Consulting a call on 01993 225085. We are happy to have an initial chat with you and advice on the next steps. It might be that we need to come and complete a site visit to assess what you’re working with structurally or recommend further investigations so we can understand ground conditions and/or existing foundations