Finding Professional Help
There are a number of professions - from architects and building surveyors to structural engineers and quantity surveyors - that can help you plan and carry out work to an old building. Going it alone without the help of a suitably qualified professional to save money often proves to be a false economy.
What professional help do you need?
Whoever you decide to employ it is important to choose someone who has the knowledge and experience necessary to work on older buildings. They also need to be aware of the problems and pitfalls associated with such work.
Many building professionals are trained and experienced only in modern building methods and are therefore less well qualified to identify the causes of problems or to specify appropriate and cost effective repairs to older buildings.
Depending on the size, complexity and nature of the particular building project you may consider using:
The term 'architect' is a protected title in the UK, so only those who are registered with the Architects Registration Board can call themselves an 'architect'. Practitioners who adopt similar titles such as 'architectural designer' do not have the professional qualifications needed to be an architect.
Architects are trained in design, and those who specialise in old buildings can bring their expertise to the design of refurbishments, alterations and extensions, as well as designing new buildings in historic areas.
There are more than 30,000 architects registered in the UK but only a small proportion specialise in the repair of old buildings. Those who do may apply for conservation accreditation through the Register of Architects Accredited in Building Conservation (AABC) or the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA).
Building surveyors (MRICS CBS or FRICS CBS) have a similar role to the architect in relation to repairing and maintaining existing buildings, but are generally not trained as designers.
Within the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) there is a Building Conservation Accreditation Scheme for chartered building surveyors experienced in the conservation of historic buildings and sites.
For a larger project consider hiring a quantity surveyor (MRICS CQS or FRICS CQS) who can estimate the cost of building work, obtain tenders, and deal with the financial control of building work and contractual issues.
Chartered quantity surveyors who specialise in historic buildings and sites may also be registered with the RICS Building Conservation Accreditation Scheme.
Conservation professionals are specialists in heritage matters who help you manage, care for, conserve and improve your home. Their particular concern is to ensure that any work respects heritage values, historic features and specialist construction techniques.
Conservation professionals might come from a wide variety of disciplines, but should be accredited as full members of The Institute of Historic Building Conservation, and have the letters IHBC after their name. You can find a range of conservation professionals using the IHBC’s Historic Environment Service Providers Recognition (HESPR) web list of businesses, while the organisation’s national office can guide you towards the relevant accredited members.
Chartered Architectural Technologists (MCIAT) are concerned primarily with the sound technical performance of buildings. They are specialists in building design and construction and can initiate and complete a building project from conception through to final certification.
Those who specialise in conservation may apply to the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists to become an Accredited Conservationist.
Structural problems are usually best assessed by a structural engineer. Again it is best to find an engineer who is experienced with old buildings. The Institution of Structural Engineers (IStrucE) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) hold a list of engineers accredited in building conservation (Conservation Accreditation Register of Engineers - CARE). Structural engineers can help with examining the condition and defects of the existing structure.
Building Services Engineers
Also known as mechanical and electrical services engineers, they can provide advice and design on a range of systems including internal and external lighting, heating, ventilation, public health, drainage, electrical distribution, fire alarm and security systems.
Again it is important to employ suitably qualified professionals on larger more complex historic building projects. Suitable engineers are likely to be chartered members or fellows of The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (MCIBSE and FCIBSE) or The Institution of Engineering and Technology (MIET and FIET).
For simpler projects, as with listed domestic-sized properties, it may instead be possible to use a quality contractor or local tradesman. It is still important that the chosen contractor is experienced in working within older buildings and is a registered member of a recognised trade body such as:
- National Inspection Council for Electrical Installation Contracting (NICEIC)
- The Gas Safe Register (The register replaced the CORGI registration in 2009. It is the official list of gas engineers who are qualified to work legally on gas appliances)
- ELECSA (a competent person scheme for contractors working with electrical, renewable technology or fire alarm installations)
- The Electrical Contractor Association (ECA, note ELECSA is part of the ECA)
- The Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering (CIPHE)
- Building Engineering Services Association (BESA)
For electrical works within a domestic dwelling it is also important that the electrician is Part P registered. (Part P of the Building Regulations came into force in January 2005 to ensure that all electrical work carried out within a dwelling is carried out safely by a qualified electrician and that building control is notified of this work).
Project managers are often appointed on large projects to co-ordinate a team of professionals or act as your lead consultant.
Conservators are experts in the conservation, repair and preservation of materials and objects, such as wall paintings, statues and stained glass. They can also carry out surveys of historic materials and objects, and make recommendations for their repair. The Institute of Conservation’s Conservation Register lists conservators with specific skills.
It is worth spending just as much time choosing a builder as a professional adviser. If you have appointed an architect or surveyor, they should help find a suitable builder for you. If you are not employing a professional adviser for the works, it is important to find a builder with experience and knowledgeable of work to old buildings. Ask around, check references, go and look at other jobs that the builder has completed and check the website of the Federation of Master Builders.
If you're seeking advice from a builder on what work is needed, be aware that they have a vested interest in how much work there is to do. If you think a builder may be proposing unnecessary work, you should seek independent professional advice.
Many elements of old buildings are quite fragile and require specialist expertise when considering a repair rather than the skills of a general builder. Such work may include the cleaning of brickwork or stonework, paint-colour analysis or the installation of special services.
There are now a wide range of specialist suppliers who can supply traditional building materials. These can include lime products, special bricks, historic paint colours and mixes and many other useful materials. These suppliers can also give advice on how the materials should be used.
Conservation officers, sometimes called historic buildings officers, are specialists in a local planning authority who are able to give technical repair advice on work to old buildings as well as advice on development issues such as extensions and alterations to old buildings.
Chartered members of the Landscape Institute (CMLI) include a range of practitioners involved in protecting, conserving, planning and managing landscapes including historic parks and gardens specialists. Through the Landscape Institute’s Directory you can find specialist members and registered practices.
The advantages of using professionals
A professional should steer you away from carrying out unnecessary or inappropriate work on old building. Professionals who have experience of older properties should be able to suggest cost-effective and well-designed solutions to any problems you encounter.
There are a number of tasks that are often best dealt with by professionals such as architects or surveyors.
- Carrying out surveys before purchase
- Obtaining consents such as Listed Building Consent, planning permission and Building Regulations approval
- Writing specifications that detail what works are to be undertaken, which materials are to be used and what standards should be used in the construction
- Finding suitable builders/contractors
- Tendering works and deciding on a contract
- Inspecting the building work and administering the contract
If you decide not to employ a professional to prepare a specification, tender the work or find a builder then there are some important issues you should consider.
When having building works carried out it is always advisable to have a contract drawn up that includes start and finish dates, the agreed fixed price for the work, and exactly what the price does and does not include (rather than an estimate). The contract should also cover insurance issues.
Work to old buildings can often include items that were unforeseen at the time the price was agreed but which become apparent as work proceeds and the building is 'opened up'.
Establish with the builder before starting a project how additional works will be costed, and consider a contingency sum to cover unforeseen problems.
Before work starts, find out how it will be carried out, and in what sequence, so you can be prepared if you are ordering specific items yourself.
Try also to establish how the site will be run, where materials will be stored and what protection measures will be put in place to prevent damage to the building or your possessions.
It is always worth having a photographic record of the building before works start in case there are any problems later.