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Are you considering designing a new home?  This informative design guide is a great place to start.  It is based on our experience as architects in designing new houses in and around Bath – including Somerset, Wiltshire, Dorset and Devon – but the principles are largely the same throughout the country. 



Clients who approach us to design a house will generally already have a site in mind.  In some cases you will be buying a plot of land on which to build.  In others, the house you intend to build will be on land you already own – at the side of your existing house, or at the rear of your garden for example. Please do speak to us before purchasing a plot to determine whether it is suitable for your needs and so that we can consider the chances of obtaining planning permission. 


What makes a good plot will vary from one person to another.  If you are choosing a site, it is certainly worth considering your priorities. For some, stunning views may be important, for others it will be critical to be near local facilities. 


It is important for a plot to 'feel' right, but here are some considerations that may assist you in evaluating its suitability:

  • How good is vehicular and pedestrian access to the site?

  • How close are local facilities such as shops, schools, leisure facilities and transport links

  • Does the site provide sufficient space for the house, garden, parking (perhaps including turning space and a garage) and will trees or hedgerows need to be removed to provide this space?

  • Are there buildings or structures that need to be demolished and are these listed or within a Conservation Area?

  • What is access like for construction vehicles?

  • Are services (water, gas, electricity, telecoms and sewers) readily available?

  • Are there contamination issues that need to be dealt with?




If you approach us with a site in mind, there a some very critical planning matters that we will be interested in:

  • Does the site already have planning permission for a new house?

  • If not, does the site lie within the development area identified in the Local Plan?

  • If it is not within an allocated development area, is it adjacent to a built up area and is it close to existing facilities and transport routes?

  • Does the site lie adjacent to a listed building, in an Conservation Area, AONB, or World Heritage Site (such as Bath)?

This will help us to understand how viable the site is and also get a sense of how complicated the process will be.



As your architect, one of the most important questions that we will ask is whether the new house is for you, or whether it will be designed speculatively for future sale.  This will have a significant impact on the design process, the timeframe, and our fees.


Speculative house

In some cases if it is a speculative venture, then you may only seek to gain planning permission before selling the land to a builder or developer.  Alternatively, assuming funds allow, you may wish to build the house and then sell it in a completed state.  In either case, a prime consideration will be maximising the value of the site.  If the new house will be adjacent to your existing one, you will also be interested in the impact that it will have.


Your own home

Designing a home for yourself is a very different process.  It is much more personal.  This will be where you, often your family, and in some cases your extended family will live.  Whilst all projects are unique, there are common themes: the house needs to look good, it needs to work, and it is needs to be within budget.  For us, we also emphasise the importance of durability.



Most clients who want a house for themselves will have a good sense of the accommodation that they are looking for – the number of reception rooms and bedrooms etc.  It will be important for us to understand how you live and how you use certain spaces.  For example, many people are now looking for open-plan living areas.  If you work from home, you may want a dedicated study space.  Some people will want good access to an outdoor dining space.  If you have very young children you may want their bedroom next to yours; whereas if you have teenage children you may want them further away.  


Adaptability & Access

Perhaps you are planning on this being your home for life, and therefore adaptability – through, for example, Lifetime Homes principles – will be important for you.  One or more of the members of the household may have a particular disability that needs to be considered.


Making the most of the site

You might want to take advantage of a particular view, or to mask an unpleasant view.   It will also be important to think about how the sun will move around the house and garden, taking into account the shading of other buildings or trees.




It will be crucial for us to understand your budget and to design accordingly.  Whilst size has a substantial bearing, other factors are also important.  Compact buildings with simple massing will generally be more cost efficient than expansive buildings with complicated massing.   Assuming that the house has a pitched roof, then accommodation in a roof space is a very efficient use of space.  If you are on a tight budget, it is best to avoid steep sites, basements, curved walls and large areas of glazing.  Savings can often be made by considering cheaper, but still durable, materials. More expensive materials such as stone, can sometimes be used sparingly, for features at the front of the house for example. 


It is also important to consider not just the cost of building the house, but also any demolition work that might be required, landscaping, connection of services, and professional and council application fees.  Finally, don’t forget that you will need to make a Community Infrastructure Levy payment.




We will consider sustainability from the outset.  The massing, orientation of the building, shading, and the size / position of windows will all be important in this regard.  It will also be critical to make sure that the fabric is well insulated and airtight. Triple glazing or high quality double glazing will generally be specified to minimise heat loss.  Large areas of south facing glazing should be shaded to avoid overheating.    It is now becoming commonplace on new houses to install air source heat pumps,  used in conjunction with underfloor heating.  You may also wish to consider other measures such as mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, rainwater harvesting or solar panels.




The size of the house will typically be determined by the brief and budget, although the available area on the site can also be a limiting factor.   In some cases, the new house will need to match the size of those on a street, particularly in terms of eaves and ridge height.




We will start by looking at the character of the historic houses in the street or local area to act as precedent.  This might relate to building form, roof pitch, type of windows, dormers, particular vernacular details and materials.  Generally the Planners will be keen to see a building which they believe will blend in with those either side, opposite, and within the wider area.  However, there will often be more scope to deviate from the dominant character of the street when considering the rear of the house, where for example large bifold doors or orangery type elements may be appropriate.


Special consideration will need to be made if the site is within a Conservation Area, Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, World Heritage Site (such as Bath), or in close proximity to a Listed Building.





The requirement for residential parking spaces is set by the Highways Authority and is usually based on the number of bedrooms and the location of the site.   Rural locations will generally require more parking spaces than urban ones.  Note that if you have removed parking spaces from an existing house in order to create space for a new house, then these spaces will also need to be accommodated. 

New entrance

A new access point for vehicles will need to cater for visibility, both for oncoming vehicles and pedestrians (in both directions). Ideally the zone required for visibility should be within your ownership. It may be a requirement to provide space on site for a car to turn so that it can exit onto the street moving forwards.  In some cases it will be necessary to engage the services of a Highways Consultant.



We will consider the best way to achieve access to the house for those in wheelchairs or with pushchairs and also for ambulant disabled people.  We will also devise a strategy for refuse and recycling, access for the fire brigade, and cycle storage.




The Planners will be interested in the impact that a new house has on the neighbours. Considerations will include:

  • Overshadowing – whether a new house will cast a shadow over another property

  • Overbearing – the perceived bulk of a new house when viewed from a neighbouring property

  • Loss of daylight / sunlight

  • Privacy – this could be impacted by the placement of a window, balcony or terrace.  Side windows at ground floor may be acceptable, but those at first floor or above will likely need to include opaque glazing if they are close to a boundary.

Rights to Light and Party Wall issues may also be important if a proposed building will be near to existing house or structure on neighbouring land.  In general, we think it makes sense to consult with the neighbours and to accommodate any reasonable suggestions that they may have. 




Landscape should always be a consideration when designing new residential buildings.  The relationship of external spaces and features to the internal spaces is often important.  Elements at the front of the house may include a wall, railing, planting and a driveway.  At the rear there may be a patio, lawn, planting, fences and outbuildings. The Planners will be particularly interested in those elements that can be seen from the street.  In addition, walls, fences and planting can often be used to provide privacy. 



Wherever possible, we believe that trees and hedgerows should be maintained.  In some cases, they may be protected, for example if the building is listed, the site is within a Conservation Area, or the tree is covered by a Tree Preservation Order (TPO). In situations where their removal is necessary, we will endeavour to include additional planting on site.  It may be necessary to seek specialist advice from an arboricultural consultant.



Consideration needs to be given to the impact that a new house would have on the ecology of the site.  The area may have special measures in place to provide additional protection for protected species. Common issues include:

  • Trees and hedgerows may be providing a habitat for birds, bats and dormice. Where bats are being considered, care will need to be taken with a proposed lighting scheme. 

  • Where grassland (or overgrown gardens) are being built on this may disturb the habitat of badgers or slow worms, or may include the removal of rare flowers

  • Ponds / watercourses that are being disturbed may be providing a habitat for newts

  • Existing roofs or derelict buildings may be housing nesting birds or bats (this is often a consideration when undertaking a barn conversion)

The proposal will also need to show Biodiversity Net Gain.  This means that there must be a 10% uplift in the habitat value compared to the existing condition.  We will work with an ecologist to find a solution which maintains the habitat of any protected species (often through mitigation measures) and also increases the biodiversity of the site. 




We hope you have found our guide informative.  You may also be interested in our companion guide to the process.  Please do get in touch if you would like us to help you realise your goal of designing a new house.



DISCLAIMER. The information provided above is general in its nature and is based on our experience of previous projects. It should not be considered to constitute professional advice for your particular project and should not be relied upon as such.



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