Choosing a Self Build Architect for your Project

When you decide to build your own home, one of the first and most crucial decisions you will have to make is to choose the right professionals to help you – and I feel that the most important is the Architect… Ok, I would say that! However, it is not an easy task to choose a specialist perfectly suited to your needs, coupled with the added pressure that this decision will be fundamental to your project’s success.

This article is a complete manual to finding the right architect for your Self Build. I will take you through the whole process from the researching phase to interviewing and then to finally choosing the right person who will design your future dream home.



It is a pretty accurate assumption that the vast majority of self and custom builders have never built a house before. Without any doubts, undertaking your first self or custom build project is a big challenge. Many have also never worked with an architect before, so they do not know what services an architect provides. 

The basic description of an architect’s role is to understand your requirements and then visualise your dreams and aspirations. 

In practice, an architect has had a minimum of 7 years training in all areas of design and construction. This means that they can work with any design challenge you present them with.  

After discussing your brief (ideas, requirements and budget), the architect will take your site information and come up with various design options for your consideration.

Once you are completely satisfied with the design, it will be taken through the Planning and Building Warrant (or Building Regulations in England) approval process.

Then you will be provided with detailed construction drawings suitable for building. If you wish, your architect will also assist with on-site supervision, act as the project manager and Principle Designer (for CDM 2015).

TOP TIP – consider practices that specialise in designing low energy homes, as their services are tailored to the individual needs of their clients.



Obviously, you can use any architect to design your future home. From experience, I believe that it is better to use the best-suited professionals for your specific project.

A normal architect can and will regularly design one off homes, and this is fine if you are going down the traditional main contractor build route – i.e. you hand the drawings and a large sum of money over to a contractor and they give you a set of keys, to your finished home.

However, if you choose the self or custom build route you will need additional, guidance and education throughout the whole process. You will also take a more active role in the design stage; you will select and often come up with innovative ways to procure materials!

Regular architects are not familiar with this and will therefore not be able to provide the same level of support as that of an architect specialising in self and custom build.

The same thought process applies if you are trying to build a low-energy home. If you choose a traditional architect without the specialist knowledge of designing a Passive House or using the Fabric First approach, then you cannot expect to achieve this design.



There are many options when it comes to architectural services, all with their pros and cons. I would advise you to conduct thorough online research of all the available options before contacting practices 

For example, pick at least 4-5 different companies and compare them using your selected criteria, for example, energy-efficiency or design style.

From my experience, the cheapest option is never the right one, and unexpected problems may arise from this option. Choosing an architect should not be cost driven. Remember that you are going to spend 1-2 years of your life working with your architect.

This is why it is essential to speak to several different practices. Ask them for references, and even contact their clients directly for feedback. It is also a good idea to visit some of their current on-site projects. This is a great opportunity to see and rate their work in progress.

However, do not be put off by the problems that others encounter on their project, unfortunately, this can and will happen. It is more important to find out how the architect dealt with these problems and what the outcome of this was.

Another important factor to take into account is whether the architect is a member of the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA). If so, this will provide additional security as it certifies that the practice complies with strict criteria, covering aspects of insurance, health & safety and quality management systems.

It is also advised to check that they have adequate Professional Indemnity insurance that will cover your project in the event that they make a mistake. 

Once you have narrowed down your search to three practices, you should then agree on a fixed fee proposal with each of them. This will outline the cost of each stage, including associated costs.

It is not recommended to appoint an architect on a percentage of construction costs, as there will be no incentive or benefit for them to save you money… as it directly affects their income!



Most architectural practices will offer a free initial consultation to talk about your project. Try to get the most from this and treat it as an opportunity to assess the potential of an effective working relationship developing with your architect. 

Don’t forget to prepare a self build brief. This will provide a platform to discuss your preferences and vision with her the architect.

The brief for the initial consultations with your architects’ shortlist does not have to be very complicated – keep it simple and include preferences such as the number of rooms, the layout and architectural styles.

It is a good idea to compare your brief with the architect’s portfolio to see if it matches your style. The rule is simple – if you like their portfolio, there is a high chance that the practice is capable of meeting your expectations!

Using resources such as magazine clippings, or apps such as Pinterest, also provide a convenient way to illustrate your vision.

Unlike traditional drawing boards that produce 2D line drawings, some companies now use modern design software, which presents your design in 3D.

This includes detailed site topography and even furniture – providing a more lifelike representation of your dream home. VR (Virtual Reality) will be the next big development in architecture, allowing you to effectively step into your future home… watch this space! 



Once you have made a decision on your selected architectural practice, find out who your appointed architect within the organisation will be, as often this will be different to the person you met originally.

At this stage, you should confirm your decision in writing, using a Standard Form of Agreement. Now it is time to discuss the timescales for your project. Do not be surprised if your preferred choice of Architect cannot start your project for 4-6 weeks – if they can start tomorrow then maybe they aren’t the right practice to be working with! 


Good luck, and remember that is important to dedicate sufficient time to choosing your self build architect!

Image credited to Allan Corfield Architects

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