Top tips from Architects

Appointing an Architect

  • Involving an architect early on in a project can actually save you time and money. They will offer you a range of options and discuss with you the most economic and appropriate design for your requirements.
  • Even on small projects, such as a kitchen extension or an attic conversion, working with an architect can make a big difference as they will find solutions that will realise the full potential of your home.
  • Discuss what qualities your are looking for in an architect. Are there examples of extensions and buildings that you like?
  • Ask to see examples of existing work the architect has completed.
  • Identify who will be the primary contact with the architect, contractor, and others involved in designing and building your project. It is good to have one point of contact to prevent confusion and mixed messages.


Developing a brief (your list of requirements)

  • What do you want to achieve with this project? Why do you want to build, extend, or renovate?
  • Describe your current home. What do you like about it? What's missing? What don't you like? Why do you want to change the space you have?
  • What do you envisage in your extended or renovated home that your present home lacks? What functions/activities will be housed in a new space?
  • What is your lifestyle and what kind of spaces do you need? For example, do you work from home? Do you entertain often?
  • How much time do you typically spend in the living room, bedroom, kitchen, study, utility space, or garden?
  • How much time and energy are you willing to invest to maintain your home?
  • Do you have strong ideas about design and materials? What do you think the extension or renovation should look like?
  • How much can you realistically afford to spend?
  • How much disruption in your life can you tolerate to extend or renovate your home?
  • How soon would you like to be settled into your new home or extension? Are there rigid time restraints?
  • Is there anyone in the family with a disability or do you envisage staying in the house for a long time i.e. might mobility problems associated with aging need to be addressed?
  • First floor rooms can be more than just bedrooms. Using a bright upstairs room in winter might be just the thing to help you through dark days.

Design and energy efficiency

  • Energy efficiency is considered an integral part of any extension and refurbishment. Do you have any specific requests, for example, using energy from renewable sources?
  • Insulating external walls for better thermal performance – your architect will advise on the best options and any planning requirements involved.
  • Upgrading windows to improve thermal performance and reduce heat loss can influence how you use a space. For example, upgrading an existing sunroom or conservatory with triple glazing can ensure that it can be used all-year-round.
  • Improving the air-tightness of your home will help avoid unwanted air leaks. Commonly a door-blower test is used to identify air leaks.
  • Fitting renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, wood pellet boilers, or heat pumps can save energy and lower costs in the long-run . However, as these can be expensive additions, your architect will advise on the return over time of each.
  • Remodelling your home for better orientation to benefit from light. Your architect may recommend changes to the layout or opening up a south-facing wall to benefit from sunlight, also known as passive solar gain.
  • Insulate your attic. This can reduce bills and make your home more comfortable to live in.
  • Fit an additional lagging jacket over your hot water cylinder to reduce heat loss at minimal expense.


Furniture and finishes

  • Get extra-high kitchen wall cabinets, wardrobes, and shelves that extend up to your ceiling. You gain additional shelving and a reduction in visible clutter.
  • Be selective in your use of colour – lighter, unified colour schemes maximise the sense of space as well as light. 
  • Use up-lighters and floor lights in preference to traditional down-lighters, and reduce wattage to create a more pleasant ambience.

Top tips when considering buying a new home

  • When you buy a new house or apartment, check to see that it has been designed by an RIAI Registered Architect.
  • Make enquiries as to how the house has been constructed and what materials have been used. Are they expensive to maintain? Have materials been used that have a low environmental impact?
  • Is the house a Protected Structure? You will need the advise of a Conservation Architect if you are planning any changes. 
  • Discuss what your preferred neighbourhood looks like. A well-designed neighbourhood should feel safe, pleasant to walk in, and have connections with other areas and local infrastructure.
  • Discuss how important it is to have access to public transport and local infrastructure such as shops and schools. Do you want to walk to work, to schools and shops? What facilities are within a ten-minute walk?
  • Decide on the importance of outdoor space. Would you like a garden or a maintenance-free outdoor space? Are there local parks and public green spaces nearby?
  • Discuss your storage needs. Do you need a garage for a car and bicycles, or a garden workshop?
  • Check if the property comes with any special energy-saving features.
  • Check which rooms receive direct light and at what times during the day. For example, if you are working outside your home during the day, a west-facing living room with late afternoon sunlight and access to the rear garden might be a priority for you.
  • Is the property sufficiently open to receive natural light? Ask your architect to give options and costings for designs that can provide access to more sunlight, such as larger windows, the addition of roof lights, and sun-rooms (subject to planning permission).
  • Is the property sufficiently flexible to allow future layout changes? Which internal walls are structural? Can rooms be interchangeable? Ask your architect to identify the potential for future extensions, attic conversions, or a remodelling of existing space.


Top tips were provided by the following RIAI Registered Architects: Aidan McNamara, Bone O’Donnell Architects, Circa Design, Delahunty and Harley Architects, DH Ryan Architects, Duff Tisdall, Eva Byrne, Geraldine O’Daly, Ian Black, Joseph Little Architects, Keenan Lynch Architecture, Loci, Mark Stephens, Meyer Architects, ORA Architects, Simon McGuinness, Studio Red Architects, Vivian Cummins Architects, and Walsh Williams Architects.