Three things to remember when thinking of an extension

EXTENDING is expensive, disruptive and time consuming.

Whether it’s a Passive-standard extension that doubles the floor space, or a modest extension to complement a much loved family house, communication with your designer/ architect demands clarity on your part.

Here are few questions to kick over before and during those essential first meetings.

* What is it about your current house that is just not working for your family? Thrash out some ideas with everyone living in the house before the meeting.

* What would they like to see happen?

* Where do you spend most of your leisure time at home and why? This might be the kitchen or you may be hiding in the bedroom to gain some privacy. If you have a floor-plan of the house as-is, bring it with you and have copies for the architect to take away if they visit you at home.

* Ensure you know the aspects (north, south, etc). A site map is useful.

* Have you explored the potential of the existing space? Is it necessary to go out in a standard extension rather than up into the loft for example?

* If you’ve seen the architect’s work online, highlight the projects that caught your eye. Why did you find them pleasing?

* A picture speaks volumes. Present drawings, photos and cuttings from magazines and the web of what you have in mind for even the essential feel of your new place. Not everyone can readily describe what they want.

* Was the house previously extended? The size of a new structure and the carrying out of previous work will determine whether you will need planning consent. If you’re not sure, make that clear as it will have to be investigated with the planning authority.

* What do you expect to use the space for now and in the future? Is this your lifetime home?

* Is there a style you favour? Traditional, contemporary? Listen to what the architect has to say with an open mind once the ‘must-haves’ are covered. Actually visiting something outside your comfort zone may completely change your mind.

* What is your budget for the changes in your interior space or extension? Are the funds in place?

* Do you want your architect to act as your assigned certifier on site (if building after Mar 1 2014)? Do you expect them to project manage the build? Shop for a registered architect through the Royal Institute of Architects of Ireland website, settling on a short-list of practices for an initial meeting. Examine recent projects, (click on their gallery online), and look for local firms with an approach that suits you that are available during your timeline. www.riai.ie.

STAYING ON BUDGET

Your budget is a compromise between what you want and what you can afford, and can be the main source of contention on a building project. Architects and builders are cheerfully demonised when building work goes awry. In fact, no one is more likely to lose money handling a build than you are. The days of going ‘direct labour’ and chancing a budget build or rangy extension off-contract are all but over because of regulation coming in March of next year.

Opinions are divided as to whether the new building controls are a good thing or will further strangle development. They will, however, protect the less wary from cowboy builders, but responsibilities to the budget will remain.

* Get the contract right: Your building contract should define the scope of the works, insurance requirements, the price of the works, together with details of when payment will be made plus a start and finish date. Wandering away from these detailed cost and agreed stages can lead to unpleasant wrangles between you, your project manager and the building contractor. Stay informed and visit the site regularly to see if works are on track.

* Employ a project manager: The new Building Control Regulations come into force on Mar 1, 2014, and will demand that you appoint a qualified person to certify stages of a larger extension. This will add extra expense, starting at least in the low thousands. However, even before March’s statutory demands, a project manager with experience in managing people, balancing quantities and a thorough knowledge of the building regulations can save you money and stressful mistakes. Their network of contacts in the trades may prove invaluable for purchasing materials and skilled sub-contracting.

* Avoid whimsical changes: Even tiny structural alterations are more expensive to include once work has started. The very worst are made in conversation with the builder that by-pass your architect and/or project manager. Undercutting their area of responsibility is not only potentially expensive, but will ruin relationships on site.

* Not so PC: Those nebulous grey areas in your budget going by the seemingly harmless banner of ‘provisional costings’ should be kept to an absolute minimum. These are grey areas that can’t be fastened down to the last metre of materials or euro of labour. Fine detail is key to spending within budget, and you should tie down as much as possible. Again, your project manager should have this well in hand.

* Contingency fund. Untried ground, clashes of personalities, weather, and unconventional materials can throw up unconventional challenges. Sometimes people will simply let you down. Your contingency fund, an extra 10%-15% of the total budget is your insurance in cash, not the simpering hope of further funds, to cover yourself for these unforeseen disasters. You may want to flee the scene and spend the odd night in a hotel to preserve that failing sanity.

* White coat syndrome: Don’t supervise where you’re not qualified to do so, or add to the build. You’re simply slowing work and will be charged. Even during an extension or small renovation the much dreaded grinning plea of ‘while you are here’ will transform a budget out of all recognition, irritate most builders and draw the unwelcome attention of your financial manager.

GREENING THE BUILD

It’s not longer acceptable to stick a large efficient extension onto an inefficient house, even if it’s partitioned off from the main house. There are some things that the amended Part L (2011) of the Building Regulations will compel you to do and there are things you can elect to do to make yours a greener, less toxic project with the reward of a sustainable, energy efficient building overall. Without planning needed, it’s up to you to hit the mark in terms of insulation and energy performance.

* Lower the toxicity of materials. Prickly glass insulation, chemical heavy paint, formaldehyde inclusive cabinetry — there are choices. Cellulose and wool is now available loose fill and in rolls for loft use. Interiors paint can be completely VOC-free. Judge these products on their total life costing, not simply the ticket price. Search online and visit the Environmental and Sustainable Construction Association for some useful contacts. www.easca.ie.

* Timber frame or block build? Both have advantages and can defend their environmental credentials. FSC sourced timber is a renewable, low carbon resource, whereas concrete is a dense material that can perform as a useful heat store. Follow the arguments at Irish Concrete Federation www.irishconcrete.ie and with the Irish Timber Frame Manufacturers Assoc. www.itfma.ie. Generally passive house builds contain large elements of both materials. Take a look at Ecocem’s recycled cement at www.ecocem.ie.

* Part L and large extensions: A draught-free envelope with a mechanically-managed ventilation system offers not only great air quality, but using the heat extracted from the stale air, your MVHR system will lower your heating bills. Undertake an airtight strategy eliminating any open fireplaces and installing renewable energy stoves.

“Some older buildings will need to breathe depending on how they were constructed so in fact making them air tight could lead to a condensation risk. The same also applies to retro-fitting insulation to existing homes. Depending on the wall construction, excessive insulation may lead to a condensation risk. Seek professional advice,” advises Gareth Sullivan, of Simply Architecture.

Get to know the stringent requirement of Part L of the Building Regulations and exceed the demands where you can for insulation, boiler efficiency and renewable energy sources. www.enrivon.ie

* Future-proof: Your architect should be proactive in finding environmentally-friendly solutions to future-proof your build in a world of rising construction standards and lowering ‘U’ values. Zero carbon homes are the new ideal. Sometimes just the orientation of the house and predetermining the use of the principle rooms will make a world of difference. Aim for an intelligent whole house improvement, rather than rafting on solar panels to slide under the regulations. Installing features such as water saving taps, aerated showers, a grey water recycling system or even a rainwater harvesting system will minimise future water charges.

* Grants: SEAI grants for insulation do not apply to extensions, but the existing parts of the house constructed before 2006 might be eligible for help. Look at the Better Energy Homes Scheme at www.seai.ie.

* A clean site: Ensure all your building waste is responsibly handled and disposed of. Paint and other chemical rich materials should never be poured into an open drain or waterway. Buying materials within 30km of your build lowers the carbon demand for delivery and local materials will help protect local suppliers. Stone for walls and facing from the locality will ring true over exotic blow-ins.

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