A guide to extending, building or refurbishing your home. Heswall, Caldy, West Kirby, Wallasey, Wirral and Cheshire

by Nick 29. September 2011 15:25

Where to Start When investing significant money into your property, it is important that you get it right from the very start. The appointment of a Chartered Architect will ensure that a professional will be there to guide you through each step of your project.

However large or small your project, a well-considered design is fundamental. This stage should not be rushed or overlooked. The design should reflect your lifestyle now and also consider how this may change in the future. It is not just about providing additional space but how you will live in it. A small investment of time and funds at this stage of the project will pay dividends. Remember, you may have to live with the decisions you make now for many years to come.

Once a sketch scheme is complete, it is beneficial to establish a budget cost to ensure that your ambitions match your budget.


Planning Your project may or may not require a formal Planning Application. Permitted development rights allow certain levels of development without the need for approval, this must be checked prior to commencement.

Essentially, the planning department deals with the appearance, positioning and impact of your proposals on neighbouring properties and the wider locality. An application will require detailed drawings together with a completed application form and fee (currently £150 for a domestic extension). Additional information is often necessary depending on location, type of building and the proposals. Much of Caldy is within a Conservation Area, a Heritage Statement and a Design & Access Statement will be necessary. Parts of Heswall and other areas on Wirral are also Conservation Areas  . If an application is required, it is best to form a working relationship with the Planning Department at an early stage. This will give your Planning Application the best chance of success. Wirral Planning have a drop in or phone service, this is currently free.  Once an application has been validated, the Planning department have 8 weeks to make a decision. An approval may be granted with conditions and the work must commence within 3 years or the approval becomes invalid. A refused application can be resubmitted once within 12 months at no additional charge to the Local Authority. The Party Wall Act and other issues should also be considered at this stage.


Building Regulations Most projects will require a Building Regulations Application, even if Planning Approval is not required. This will require more detailed drawings dealing with issues such as drainage, structure, insulation, health, safety, and accessibility. Calculations, prepared by a Structural Engineer are normally required to accompany the application.

The Building Regulations Application can be submitted to either the Local Authority or an Approved Inspector. Their services comprise of a Plan Check followed by inspections on site.  Their fees depend on the nature of the work. For very small projects it is possible to submit as a Building Notice, which requires only limited information.

Once the Application has been received, works can start after 48 hours and without formal Building Regulations plan approval. It is important that the Inspector is kept informed to avoid unnecessary correction of works on site. The Building Control Officer or Approved Inspector will inspect at certain stages of the work and it is essential that a Building Regulations Completion certificate be obtained on completion confirming the works meet the necessary standards.

 Construction Costs and Tender There a number of ways to obtain a construction cost. The most common method is to issue the drawings and additional information to 3 of 4 contractors for pricing. The contractors should be provided with as much information as possible to ensure accurate and competitive costs are obtained and extras on site are kept to a minimum or avoided altogether.


Contracts Following selection of a contractor it is advisable that some form of contract is prepared. The best way is to use a standard JCT form of contract. There are simple contracts specifically designed for domestic projects. The contracts are designed to provide both the client and contractor with protection should issues arise on site.


Works on site and Completion Once on site you are in the final stage of your project. Works should be closely monitored to ensure they are in accordance with the drawings. Payments are normally made at stages throughout the works and upfront payments should be avoided. If an Architect is appointed they can monitor the payments and prepare payment certificates. Retentions should be held on stage payments and also at completion for 3, 6 or 12 months depending on the contract. This allows for defects to be rectified. VAT will usually be applied to domestic extensions and can be a significant sum. In certain circumstances, such as New Build, VAT can be claimed back, this should be checked with H M Revenue & Customs.


pdf copy of article for printing -  The Architects Clinic article PDF.pdf (1.29 mb)


Renewable Energy - Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Systems and the Feed in Tariff

by Nick 8. September 2011 19:15


Renewable energy is energy produced from free sources such as sun, wind, tide, animal and plant matter.

In order to reduce the carbon emissions of our country the Government is encouraging householders to invest in renewable energy sources by the introduction of incentives.


Photovoltaic (PV) systems operate by converting solar radiation into electricity. Photovoltaic panels most commonly contain crystalline silicone cells. These panels are set directed towards the sun and convert the sunlight into DC electricity, which is subsequently converted into AC using inverters.


Installation types - Panels are often installed on pitched roofs although they can also be fixed to frames on flat roofs or the ground. Pitched roof panels can either be installed ‘in-tile’ or ‘over-tile’. ‘The in-tile’ system requires the removal of tiles and the panels are set within the roof finish. This system is more expensive to install and less efficient (due to the lack of air flow around the panels), however it is less obtrusive. The ‘on-tile’ system is fitted over the existing tiles.


Production - Although PV systems are capable of producing electricity even on cloudy days, efficiency is dependent on the intensity of light falling on the panels. For optimum electricity production the panels should not be in shade and the best orientation is between south-east and south-west.


Feed In Tariff (FIT) – As an incentive to homeowners and developers the Government has set up an initiative called the Feed In Tariff (FIT).

The FIT benefits the owner in three ways:


  1. It guarantees a minimum payment for all electricity generated by the installed system. This is known as the Generation Tariff and is paid regardless of how much energy is put back into the national grid system.
  2. Payments are also made for any electricity exported to the grid once the household’s requirements have been met. The Export Tariff.
  3. Savings are made on the household bills as less electricity is purchased from the grid.


For a retrofit system less than 4kW the tariffs as of August 2011 are:-


  • Generation Tariff             =             43.3p/kWh
  • Export Tariff               =            3.1 p/kWh


These rates are subject to change each year for new installations eligible for the scheme, however once the rate for the system is set it should apply for 25 years for PV systems. Homeowners should check the rates and guaranteed payment period prior to placing an order.


Cost – The cost of installation will depend on a number of factors. Mitsubishi Electric have provided us with the following rule of thumb for an ‘on-roof’ domestic installation:-

£5k for the first kW and there after £3k for every kW.

Example: A 3.6kW system would cost in the region of  £12,800 to install.

The Energy Saving Trust suggests that these costs may be slightly higher at between £5k and £7k per kW installed.


Mitsubishi electric’s website contains some useful case studies including a property with a 3.6kW installation. The case study suggests that the system will generate over 3,000kWh per year and has the potential to earn the householder almost £1500 per annum taking into consideration the FIT and export income combined with the savings in electricity purchase.


Some things to be aware of when considering a PV system


  • Use an installer certified under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme.
  • Check the Installer is a member of the REAL assurance scheme.
  • Check the likely output of the chosen system meets your requirements.
  • Ensure that you will benefit from the FIT, check the rates and guaranteed period.
  • Ensure your proposed system is eligible for the FIT
  • As with all products, the quality of panels will vary dependant on the product manufacturer. Ensure your supplier is using a high quality panel and obtain product guarantees and expected life expectancy of the panels.
  • Maintenance of the systems is generally considered to be low. Take into consideration that the inverter may require replacement after 8-10 years.
  • With the FITs in place it would appear that Photovoltaic systems could be a good investment. The initial outlay can be significant and the investment is tied into the property. Individual customers should carry out their own research to ensure that the payback period and benefits of the system meet their requirements, as the return on investment is dependant on a wide range of factors.


Useful websites:-


www.decc.gov.uk   - The Department of Energy and Climate Change


www.energysavingtrust.org.uk       The Energy Saving Trust is a non-profit organisation that provides free and impartial advice on how to save energy.


http://pv.mitsubishielectric.co.uk/             Mitsubishi Electric – Product manufacturers

(this is a useful source of information however we are unable to recommend specific products as we have not experienced these products in use and do not know how they confirm to other products on the market)


www.therenewableenergycentre.co.uk  - The Renewable Energy Centre


Nick Belderbos

For and on behalf of architects-direct.com.                                          September 2011


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