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Why are Architectural Fees for “Tiny” Projects Prohibitively High?

We recently received a Quotation Request Form from a new client, relating to a really small front porch for their home. With really small projects, the architectural fees are often disproportionate in relation to the construction budget, so they often proceed without proper design input from an architect. This issue comes up frequently in our practice, so we decided to explain it in full. 

The main problem is that many of our architectural services tasks are exactly the same no matter what the scale of building work, so certain parts of the fee make sense on larger projects, but are prohibitively high on smaller ones. For example, two clients can spend exactly the same on planning stage services, or the cost of surveying the site for projects worth either €20,000 or €200,000. 

Can Red Tape be Avoided?

While some tiny projects can be designed as planning exempt development, outside the Building Control System, it’s not always possible or appropriate to design with these limits. What’s more, “avoiding red tape” is the worst possible starting point for architectural design.  

This is a real shame because small additions and modifications can be a lot of fun to design, and more importantly the cumulative effect of this issue on the appearance of neighbourhoods can be extremely negative.

Design Just Doesn’t Happen

To avoid the “cost” of working with an architect who is constrained by a complete knowledge of the rules, clients often have planning applications prepared by inexpensive draughtspeople without architectural design training, and then “wing it” through the rest of procurement process with absolutely no professional advice. This excludes the value adding potential of good design and professional advice from their project.    

Scale Economies in the Design Process

The planning application process is more or less the same for a small front front porch, or a new development of 10 apartments. This is a bit unfair from the client’s point of view, but it’s an unavoidable fact of the current planning laws. The biggest item you need, in terms of fees, is a set of planning drawings based on a measured survey which will meet all the validation requirements for the local authority. 
 
Our fees are usually based on fixed fees for specific work, so you can hire us for some of the tasks listed below, omitting others if you wish. That said, there is more to the process of building than just getting planning permission. Even though the project may involve a tiny area of new construction, you have to think about what help you will need from us at each stage; such as finding a builder, arranging a written agreement with them, and getting “Architects Opinions on Compliance” for the work to accompany your deeds, in case you ever wish to sell or refinance the house. 

Absolute Bare Minimum Services for Tiny Works

I have listed the absolute bare minimum amount of work we would need to do to meet the legal requirements and a typical client’s goals for a tiny (less than 10m2) project like this. Note; this is a far smaller scope of architectural work than usually agreed under standard RIAI contracts of appointment.
 
Please follow the links to our website for articles to explain what we do for our clients at each step of the process. The process of working with an architect is roughly broken down into 5 stages:
 
1. Design
  • Meet with you, walk through the space and discuss your needs- 1/2 Day
  • Conduct a measured survey of the area of your house, and of the overall house and garden, including elevations of neighbouring houses- 1 Day
  • Create a computer drawing of the existing house and context, upon which the planning application will be based- 3 Days
  • Create sketches based on our meeting and your pinterest board or scrap book 1/2 Day
  • Agree the design to be submitted for planning based on sketches
2. Planning Application
  • Study previous applications to the city council for similar works 1/2 Day
  • Drawings at 1:100 scale. 2 Days
  • Application forms and checklists 1 Day
  • Newspaper adverts 1/2 Day
  • Site notice/ official Maps 1/2 Day
  • Printing, checking and delivery to Dublin City Council 1 Day
3. Technical Design (Construction Drawings)

http://dkad.ie/index.php/construction-faq-how-long-does-it-take-to-develop-planning-permission-into-construction-drawings/

  • Create larger scale drawings for construction 2 Days
  • 3-4 typical construction details 2 Days
  • Window schedule to help procure glazing 1/2 Day
  • Introduce you to builders (if necessary) 
  • A “tender process” is unlikely to receive sufficient responses for a tiny project, so a process of negotiation with a selected builder is a better route. 
  • Advise on form of contract 1/2 Day
  • Attend pre-contract meeting with you and builder to prepare for construction 1/2 Days

4. Construction 

http://dkad.ie/index.php/what-does-the-architect-do-during-construction-construction-stage-services-faq/

  • Minimum number of site visits in order for us to “sign off”, probably 3 visits for a very small project. 1 1/2 days
  • Assume there is no bank involved; no requirement for loan- related paperwork.  
  • Ongoing queries and office- based work during construction period- say 6 weeks.   
  • Advise on a simple payment schedule, write it down, and add it to the building contract.
  • Request and check certificates from other parties with design input, such as glazing supplier, plumber, electrician, and structural designer 2 days
  • Issue Architect’s Opinions on Compliance with Planning Permission and Building Regulations
5. Health and Safety 
Everyone undertaking work on their home has certain health and safety responsibilities, but you would probably able to avoid architectural fees for health and safety because the job is so small. Please read the relevant section of our website in detail regarding your legal responsibilities. 
 
 
Total Fee
This works out at 19.5 days for one of our staff to work on your project, and a construction period standing charge for 6 weeks onsite. 
 
Disproportionate Fee Levels
So, even though the budget for this prospective project was about 10% of our average project size, the fees quoted were roughly 35% the price of our average fee package. 
 
Possible Solution
It would be a welcome development if the professional bodies, government, and planning authorities developed a “lite version” of the planning and certification systems for tiny projects which do need some limited design, some planning input and some form of building certification, but which do not otherwise need three weeks’ work from an architect.     

This would allow us to offer our clients targeted value adding design and certification services at a price which better reflected the value provided. 

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