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The 10 deadly sins of extending? Boris de Swart, one of the architects behind the successful HomeArchitect.ie business, outlines the 10 most common mistakes people make when planning to extend their house.


Do you really need to extend?

Are you making the most of your location?

You may be able to make more of what you already have

South isn’t always best!

One – The misconception

Two – The bad compass

Many people think of extending their house as the obvious way to get extra livingspace. But the question is, do you really need the extra space a new extension offers you? Sometimes, by creatively reconfiguring some of the rooms inside the existing house, enough space is liberated to make building an extension unnecessary. A common problem that arises with a new extension is that the space it replaces is left unused. In a typical semi-d, that new livingroom built to the rear (with all good intentions) can make the rear diningroom so dark that no-one wants to sit there, not even to do their homework.

Getting the orientation wrong for your extension can ruin that new room. On average, Ireland receives three to four hours of sunshine a day. As we know, east is where the sun rises, south is where the sun shines from during the day, west is where the sun sets in the evening. North-facing windows get little or no sun. For the average home, south-west to west is often a better orientation than direct south. Most families work and study during the day, when the sun shines from the south. On the warm days when kids are home and parents get to relax, in the afternoon the sun is shining from south-west, edging towards west. In a south facing garden this can sometimes result in trees, fences or neighbours blocking most of the sunshine. North-facing windows can be an amazing feature. Where they face will be lit up by sunlight when it shines, often giving a nice ‘picture-window’ effect.

Lesson – before you plan that new extension, make sure you are making the most of the space you have.

Lesson – south is not always best!

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Does the builder know what you want?

Saving money or wasting it?

A builder might have a different picture from you

Skimping on insulation will cost you in the long run

Three – The helpful builder

Four – The saver

Many home owners have heard the following: “An architect is a waste of money, sure I can design that extension for you”. And he will build for you what he has in his mind, most likely not what you have in mind. Builders are not trained in designing house extensions. Some refuse to admit this, and insist that they can do just as well as an architect. Some manage to convince clients that paying a builder directly is easier and less expensive than employing an architect separately to design and specify, as well as keep an eye on the building work. Some builders when approached will advise homeowners to employ an architect. They are happy to build, but want to work to the direction of a properly qualified architect.

We all try to save money, it is natural in the face of a recession. However, attempting to lower costs by cutting back on important items like insulation, good quality windows, and decent controls on your heating systems (to name but a few), is false savings. Yes you may pay out a little less on the installation, but you will most likely suffer from a less comfortable house, together with bills higher than they should be! As an example, good windows cover many duties. They keep the weather out (rain and draughts), they provide security (good locking systems), keep the house warm (double/triple glazing), they will stand the test of time, and importantly they will look good. A window that covers all these bases may cost more than one that only does only some of the above. Many people make bad decisions by cutting back on quality of important objects.

Lesson – don’t automatically rely on a builder who offers to design and build your home extension!

Lesson – spend money where it makes the most sense!

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Money spent can be money saved

Control your budget

The new imperative is “insulate, insulate, insulate”

Keep a clear view of projected and actual costs

Five – As cool as a cucumber

Six – The accountant

The new imperative for today’s home improvement projects is ‘insulate, insulate, insulate’. Oil, gas, electricity and wood pellet prices are not going to fall in the long term. One of the easiest ways of saving money and making the house cosy and warm is to insulate and draught-proof it properly. It is not only the insulation itself that is important, how it is fitted is just as significant. Badly fitted insulation allows cold air to move in and draw away the heat. A small draught can cause much discomfort and heat loss – and be very expensive.

It is important that a home owner has a clear view in advance of what the overall project will cost. A regular issue is that the budget for finishes (tiles/kitchen/bathroom etc.) is very much under-estimated at the outset. Often, finishes are chosen halfway through the project, and clients can get carried away once they have a good look-around in the different showrooms. It is then a little late to discover that the ‘all-I-ever-wanted’ marble tiles are eight times the price of the ceramic tiles allowed for in the budget! Home owners should budget at the outset for good quality finishes. A builder who allows sums in his price for items is fine, as long as the actual sums are checked and adjusted to put together a realistic projected final budget.

Lesson – have good window, attic, wall and floor insulation; ensure all insulation materials are compatible and that they meet up at junctions without compromise.

Lesson – don’t let the budget skyrocket beyond your control during the project. Do the homework in advance so you are fully in control.

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Look into the future

The builder says “Trust me”

Should you do more with your home?

In God we trust, everyone else we check out carefully

Seven – The narrow-minded

Eight – The trusting soul

Could it be possible that a home owner would not extend enough? Doing major work to your house is a large investment. Have a masterplan that is an objective view of the house and what its requirements will be for the foreseeable future. Too often an extension/renovation is planned without looking far enough into the future. Extending in phases is fine, as long as these are planned ahead to minimise costs and avoid having to redo the same work.

Question - How many of us have heard the line ‘trust me’ from a builder? Answer - Not enough of us to learn from it. Builders are people too. They run a business to enjoy their working day and to make some money. When they price a project they would not normally add in extra touches that could make the project more expensive, as they are typically quoting against other builders (usually the most competitive price wins the job). If there are no plumbing/electrics/floor finishes shown on the pricing drawings, why should they add them in themselves? It is important to ‘vet’ a builder you are planning to use. As a minimum, request a list of the last three projects completed by the builder (not just three projects in the past). Talk to these clients and get as much information as possible. Check the builder’s insurances. He must carry employer’s liability (to cover for injury to his workmen) and public liability (for injury/damage to third parties). Have a building contract in place. This is a standard document stating what is to be done at what price, timescale, when and how much is paid to the builder, and who carries what responsibility. It is a clear set of rules for all to abide by and should be accompanied by a clear set of drawings. Lastly, too many people still have a builder start on a project with only his first name and a mobile number. Don’t do it! Lesson – in God we trust, anyone else we check out.

Lesson – plan ahead, take a long term view, don’t be afraid to consider the bigger picture.

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Explore your dreams with an architect

Get a professional

Discuss your ideas and see if they can be realised

Get impartial advice from a good architect

Nine – The blinkered

Ten – The professional

It may sound obvious, but small bits of imagination and clever thinking can add huge enjoyment and value. For example, in some cases higher ceilings can turn a new room from normal into a wonderful space. The positioning of a window, the location of a kitchen island, the moving of a wall, the insertion of a skylight, all these small items can in some cases drastically change a new room for the better.

Last but not least, obtain impartial and objective advice from an architect. A good architect can help you with invaluable advice on every size project. Whether it is to do with design ideas, advice on where to situate the new livingroom, a discussion on the different construction technologies, setting up a simple but comprehensive contract with the builder, helping to manage the builder while the build is happening, assisting with snagging on completion, and very importantly, the architect can be a single point of contact for when things do not go to plan (god forbid, but yes it does happen).

Lesson – don’t be afraid to explore your dreams, most people do not get a chance to often do this with their house. Use magazine clippings, photos, ideas from the TV and anything else you can find to help you.

Lesson – engage a good architect, you will save in the long run.

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homearchitect.ie your home, your architect

Distillery Court 537 North Circular Road Dublin 1, Ireland

T +353 1 887 5040 F +353 1 894 2523 hello@homearchitect.ie


The 10 deadly sins of extending?  

Boris de Swart, one of the architects behind the successful HomeArchitect.ie business, outlines the 10 most common mistakes people make when...

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