April: Architects and Engineers

Our first month of property ownership has been one of research and deliberation. The debate has been around whether or not we need an architect. Our future costs can only be estimated at this stage, so with a limited budget, we need to be careful about what we spend now.

The biggest part of our project is the conversion of part of the ground floor into an open plan kitchen, dining and living space. To achieve this aim we need to remove the internal wall that currently divides the kitchen and dining room.

Having spoken with neighbours and undertaken some basic investigation we are confident that it is not structural. If we remove it the house won’t fall down! Nonetheless, the wall provides some rigidity and at one end supports the back of the house. There are consequences to removing it.

Supporting the back of the house is, of course, the key issue. Steel beams of some kind will be needed. It is the job of a structural engineer to calculate the exact widths and configurations of steelwork. Whether or not we appoint an architect, we will need a structural engineer at some point.

Should we simply appoint a structural engineer or do we also need an architect?

Our first step was to contact a number of small local architects and a firm of chartered surveyors. They were nice people and had some interesting ideas. We were not convinced that we needed their help. Our next step was to speak with some engineers.

We found local firms on the Institute of Structural Engineers website: findanengineer.com. Most of the companies we contacted were helpful and provided a quote. However, none were willing to come out to see the project and meet with us. We understood their perspective. Our job is a straight forward task and one they deal with on a regular basis. By looking at the house plans and measurements, they have a pretty good idea as to what will be required.


Floor plan - removing the internal wall

From our perspective, however, it was a different matter. Being listed on the ISE website gives us some confidence as to the competency of the engineers. But without meeting them, how could we assess whether or not we wanted to work with them?

A further factor was understanding the drawings. One company provided sample drawings which we found difficult to understand. Translating these into a specification for a builder would be challenging and we could not assume that a builder would be able to read the plans.

Finally, we needed a way of assessing our options. Should we use a steel box frame to support the back of the house, or would a steel beam with supporting pillars be sufficient? If we went with the second option, where would the pillar sit and how would that work in the overall design of the space? Weighing up these options was beyond the scope of an engineer. We needed an architect.

steel box frame beamcalc dot com
An example of a box frame from www.beamcalc.com. Steel beams form a picture frame that holds up the house. It is an expensive option because we will need to dig into the base of the property. The alternative, less expensive option, is to retain a supporting pillar or two, along with the side supporting steels.

We went back to a local firm we had met at the outset. We confirmed their membership of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) and obtained references. Three names were provided and all three called us back the same day.

It is always remarkable how open and generous people can be. The referees were candid about their projects, the challenges faced and the lessons learnt. Two extended invitations to come and see their completed projects. Invitations we may accept in the coming weeks.

So after much deliberation, we have appointed an architect. One decision made, a thousand more to go.




Feature image: 1932 Shot Of Construction Workers Eating Lunch On A Steel Beam from businessinsider.com

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