Category Archives: Residential

Cheap Structural Calculations On Line – Everyone’s A Winner Right?

Good work Aint Cheap

Today I’m talking to John Staves, Chartered Structural Engineer who is deeply concerned about the increasing number of web based structural engineering companies who are offering “innovative web-based services” that are claiming to “improve the value and service” offered to customers.

John Staves

John, do you want to start by explaining what prompted this blog post and why you felt you had to speak out.

Potentially Dangerous

Being from up north, I’m going to be blunt.

I feel this way of working is potentially dangerous and is bringing the profession of Structural Engineering into disrepute.

Over the past few weeks we have had a number of Clients coming to us after their Architect had used an on line structural engineering service to produce “structural designs” – primarily so that they could obtain a cheaper price.

I use the term “structural designs” loosely.

At best you’ll obtain a cheap price, Building Regulations approval and an experienced contractor who will undertake the works.

At worst, your Client will have a poorly thought out design, from an engineer who has never visited the site and knows nothing about the existing structure.

It has been overdesigned to reduce the engineer’s liability and the Client has incurred excessive costs in construction.

Case Study – Extension and Loft Conversion

This is a small job but it highlights the problem when instructing an engineer who is not visiting the site, so can’t assess the existing structure.

A Client came to us recently – she was in the middle of an extension on her property.

There was a crack in her wall just above where the builder had installed a beam.

She was very anxious and wanted reassurance that the contractor had installed the beam correctly – she thought her house was about to fall down.

cracked wall

When our engineer went to the site it was clear that the contractor had “dropped” the wall when he was installing the beam. Part of the problem was that contractor had turned up to site not prepared for what he had found.

The joists were running parallel to the wall rather than running into the wall as you would normally expect. The structural engineer had made an assumption, provided inaccurate information and the contractor was unprepared for what he found as a result. A simple site visit would have made this obvious.

The Contractor couldn’t easily prop the inner leaf of the wall, so this caused difficulties when he installed the beam and he dropped it.

Taking No Responsibility

As the engineer hadn’t visited the site, the calculations were filled with so many caveats “we can’t possibly be responsible for this, we can’t possibly be responsible for that, if in doubt ask”.

The steelwork was marked up on the drawings in red pen with a note of the beam size. However, there were no sections, or construction details.

The structural calculations were worthless, as they did not take any liability for the design.

Cheap Engineering Quote, Big Build Cost

Initially to the Client the structural engineering design looked like a cheap quote.

What the Client didn’t realise was that as the engineer hadn’t visited the site to assess the existing structure, they couldn’t work out accurate load paths.

The engineers had to make assumptions about the existing construction (which were incorrect).

In this example, the engineer had overdesigned the steel so the Client was paying for far more steel than was needed.

There were no details in the information from the structural engineer about how the proposed beam B3 was connected to the existing beam.

On line structural engineer

Structural Engineers At Their Worst

This Client got a cheap design that the Architect found on line and ultimately it has ended up costing the Client more;

  • She has had to pay for a competent engineer to come to site and assess the existing structure and make recommendations
  • Extra cost for steelwork – it was overdesigned in the first place
  • Emotional stress – she thought her house was falling down
  • Extra costs because the contractor is arguing about who is responsible for making good the cracked wall because the details were inaccurate. 

Giving Structural Engineers A Bad Name

When a structural engineer provides such a poor service it’s giving the whole of structural engineering a bad name.

It brings the profession into disrepute.

Makes people think that structural engineers don’t add value, where as in fact we add a lot of value – if it’s done properly.

Clients Want Good Value, Not Cheap Prices

But there are structural engineers out there taking short cuts to offer a cheap price because that’s what they think Clients want.

The Client doesn’t want that, the Client wants a good job. The client wants value, not a cheap job.

The sooner the structural engineering profession learns that the better we will all be.

Good Practice

Questions To Ask Yourself

  • Will your structural engineer be visiting site so that s(he) can fully understand the existing structure?
  • Do they offer support during build if something out of the ordinary is found?
  • How long will it take for them to get to site and respond?
  • Will your builder be charging for his wasted time whilst he waits for an answer?
  • Is it worth taking that chance? In the long run it may end up costing you more.

Are you an Architect? Have you used on line structural engineering services? What worked well / didn’t work well?

Please get in touch, I’d like to hear your experiences.


What Is BIM? – A Homeowners Guide


I’m talking today to Jamie Redman, BIM Manager at Michael Aubrey Partnership about BIM adoption and answering some of your frequently asked questions.

So we’ll start with the obvious question;

What Is BIM (Building Information Modelling)?

BIM is not to be confused with software.


BIM is actually a process of collating information so that it helps us describe the building in such a way that we can ensure that the design is buildable and check everything works in a virtual world before it gets really expensive checking it on site.

BIM Elevation image


What Is The Difference Between 2D CAD (Computer Aided Design) And BIM?

it is not as simple as one is 2D and one is 3D. It is not about software, it is all about process and intelligent use of information.

What Is CAD?

CAD – ‘individually drawn 2D lines’ –  for each view created, every line has to be drawn individually and there are no restrictions or checks to where these lines are drawn. Each view is, therefore, unintelligent and susceptible to errors.

More importantly, each view is drawn separately, one by one, and are completely unconnected from every other view. As such, discrepancies between views often occur and may not be realised until a project is under construction. These errors have the potential to cause expensive issues when they are eventually discovered.


BIM – ‘intelligent 3D objects’ – each view is not created individually, instead views are generated from a single 3-dimensional model. This means that the information shown on every view is entirely accurate and concurrent to one another.

In BIM a model is built using objects, a wall is a wall and not just a set of lines, and each object can be assigned data parameters. BIM is a tool that provides real time design checking using these data parameters. The 3D model can be checked to see how every object interacts with one another; junctions can be scrutinised for practicality of construction. As a result, designs cannot be ‘fudged’ just to look right without intention. This all means that designs produced in BIM are coordinated and thought out before they reach project construction.BIM Cut Roof

The use of the information collected within a BIM model is limited only to the level of data inserted. The potential of BIM, as a tool, goes far beyond that of CAD and can be used to intelligently collect, coordinate, process, analyse and produce design information that ultimately reduces risk and waste on site.

Why Do We Use BIM?

We insist on the use of BIM and recognise that it provides better quality and clarity, which, ultimately, saves you money. Drawings are clear, accurate and concise for your builder to price and build from and ensures that you are entirely aware of the extent of work involved. 

How Does The Process Work?

Following a feasibility visit, we provide you a quotation for obtaining Planning and Building Regulations approval. If you instruct us, we charge these as two separate fees.

Our process consists of creating a single BIM model that is used to produce both the Planning and Building Control information, which is developed further at each stage. This ensures that the design is coordinated and consistent throughout so that you can have confidence in your scheme. 

I Already Have My Planning Drawings In CAD. Can You Use These For My Building Regulations Submission?

We can use your CAD drawings as a template to start to build the model from, however we do not produce our information in CAD anymore because it does not allow us the benefits of BIM. We prefer to produce for you a higher quality of design to ensure it is entirely buildable and that you have the predictability during its construction.

Why Does It Cost More For Building Regulations Alone?

We endeavour to ensure that the design we produce in the planning stage is buildable and compliant with Building Regulations. Unless checked, someone could obtain planning permission for something that you cannot build or get building regulations approval for.

As our process of design starts at the earliest point, part of the building regulations work has already been completed within the planning stage. We use the same model for Planning to commence  Building Regulations process. If we are instructed to do the Building Regulations alone, we do not have a model to start from, whereas we would cost for doing that work in the planning phase.

What Does This Mean For You?

Clarity of Information

We provide full detailed information on our plans, so it’s absolutely crystal clear what your builder has to build – they will then price for what you need.

In our experience, if drawings do not have clear, concise details and information you will end up paying far more for your extension in builders fees than if you had paid for a properly thought out design at the beginning of your project.

Built In A Virtual World

Effectively we are building in a virtual world, checking staircases will fit, walls and roofs will align etc, all before your builder starts working on site.

Loft conversion BIM image

Testimonial From A Local Builder

Builders like our designs as they are clear and accurate and they can price your project accurately.

What does this mean for you? You can be confident that the price your builder quotes you includes everything that is on the drawings and detailed specification. No hidden “extras” at a later date, keeping you within your budget.

Here is a testimonial from a local builder;

“The more information we can get on the drawings, the more accurate we can be with our quotation, which means that the customer will only pay for what was on the original quotation.”  Click here to read more.

Want to learn more? This excellent video from our friend Fred Mills at B1M describes what a BIM model is in less than 3 minutes.

Are you planning a project? Please give us a ring on 0118 962 9666 to see how we could help you.

You Really Saved Us, Thank You!

It’s always a good feeling when you can help someone out and that’s exactly what happened recently with one of our residential customers. After purchasing The Old Pumping Station in 2013, Steven and Marina set about converting it into a family home. Are two staircases really better than one? “You really saved us, thank you. I wish we had done the whole project with you.  I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend you to colleagues and friends.”  Read more

Floor Plan

5 Things To Consider When Carrying Out Building Work To Your Home

Extending your home is probably something that you’ll only do once in your lifetime. Ultimately, you want to make sure that you can build the size of extension that you want, within your budget.

Being aware of potential pitfalls and additional costs at the beginning of the process will help you make informed decisions.

I’ve put together a list of the top five things that are often overlooked when people carry out building work to their home – some of them have a significant cost implication, that may not have been budgeted for.

Forewarned is forearmed!

  1. The Party Wall Act 1996
  2. Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015)
  3. Planning Approval & Building Regulations Approval
  4. Building Over Agreement – Drainage
  5. Qualifications Of Designers

1. Party Wall Act 1996 (PWA) 

What Does It Mean?

Put simply, if you are carrying out building work to your party wall or boundary and you damage it, you have a legal duty to repair it. In other words to act as a “good neighbour”.

It is a legal duty for a Building Owner to serve the appropriate notices in the correct manner. Failure to do so can result in an injunction being sought to stop the works.

For example, the Part Wall Act will apply if you carry out work to;

  • Building a new party wall on the boundary or a wall adjacent to the building owner’s side of the boundary.
  • Carrying out works to an existing party fence wall or party structure, including rebuilding a wall to a reduced height.
  • Building within three or six metres of the adjoining owner’s walls or buildings if the works involve excavation works.
  • Building or placing special foundations on the adjoining owner’s land.

Notice Requirements Under The PWA 1996

A building owner must give notice to all adjoining owners of any planned works. The notice requirements will depend on the type of works that are to be undertaken.

There are 3 types of notices;

  • Line of Junction
  • Party Structure and
  • Notice of Adjacent Excavation

In many situations more than one type of notice is required and it is essential that you ensure all notices required under the Act are given.

When Should A Party Wall Notice Be Served?

Party Wall Notices should be served at the earliest opportunity in order to ensure that there is sufficient time for the notice to run and for negotiations, if a dispute arises, to be undertaken. However notices are only valid for 12 months so caution should be given so as not to serve the notice too early either as they may then expire before works commence. This is not usually an issue with smaller domestic scenarios but should be factored into larger, longer term projects.

Party Structure Notices are required to be served two calendar months prior to the commencement of works

Line of Junction and Notice of Adjacent Excavation one calendar month prior to the commencement of works.

Click here to read about your duties under the Party Wall Act

2. Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).

What Are These Regulations?

The aim of the CDM regulations is to improve the Health, safety and welfare of workers in the construction industry.

Do These Regulations Apply To Homeowners As Well?

Yes. The regulations changed in April 2015 and now place a legal obligation on the homeowner (Client).

The homeowner is not expected to be an expert in construction, so you have the option to transfer your duties to the Contractor or Principal Contractor (If more than one contractor is working on the project).

Alternatively, the homeowner may choose to have a written agreement with a Principal Designer to carry out the duties.

What Are These New Regulations For?

They help ensure that no-one is harmed during the construction work, and that your building is safe to use and maintain while giving you good value. Effective planning will also help ensure that your work is well managed with fewer unexpected costs and problems.

Want to read more? Click here for more guidance

3. Planning Approval & Building Regulations Approval 

With all building work, the owner of the property (or land) in question is ultimately responsible for complying with the relevant Planning rules and Building Regulations (regardless of the need to apply for planning permission and/or building regulations approval or not).

If you don’t follow these rules, as the homeowner you will be liable for any remedial action (which could go as far as demolition and/or restoration).

You will need to check that whoever you appoint to draw up your plans has suitable experience when dealing with the Local Authority – this will help smooth your path through the planning and building regulation process.

Planning Approval

You should receive a decision with within 8 weeks of registering your application. You need to make sure that you have included all of the relevant information and the correct fee, otherwise the clock doesn’t start ticking until the application is officially “registered”.

Factors Affecting Planning Permission

There are many factors that will affect whether or not you need to apply for planning permission or affect your chances of gaining planning approval.

Some properties have “permitted development rights”. This means that you can improve and extend your home without the need to seek a specific planning permission as long as you comply with a special set of rules.

Some properties do not have these rights, or may have had them removed. You will need to check with the Local Authority, who should be able to confirm this for you.

Permitted Development Rights

If your property has permitted development rights, there has been a temporary increase to the size limits for single-storey rear extensions, provided the construction work is completed by 30th May 2019. Before you make your Planning application, click here to see if your projects falls within these size limits.

Even if your building works do not require planning permission it would strongly advise you to apply for a “ Lawful Development Certificate”.

Lawful Development Certificate (LDC)

This is an application that you make to the Local Planning Authority – they will review your proposed building works – provided that it falls within permitted development parameters, they will issue you with a “Lawful Development Certificate”.

If you ever come to sell your property you will need this certificate to prove that any works carried out on your property are “lawful”.

This normally takes between 6-8 weeks for a decision.

For more information, about the factors affecting planning permission click here

For information about Lawful Development Certificates, click here

Building Regulations Approval

What Are Building Regulations?

The Building Regulations are minimum standards for design, construction and alterations to virtually every building. They are developed by the Government and approved by Parliament.

Building regulations set minimum standards for the design and construction of buildings to ensure the safety and health for people in or about those buildings. They also include requirements to ensure that fuel and power is conserved and facilities are provided for people, including those with disabilities, to access and move around inside buildings

What Do I Need To Do To Get Building Regulations Approval?

There are two methods of applying for Building Regulations approval;  either a Full Plans application, or by a Building Notice application.

A “Full Plans” Application

It is a two-step process; approval of detailed drawings (Plans approval) and approval of on-site inspections (Inspections approval)

What Do You Need To Submit To Building Control?

Typically, you will need to submit detailed plans and elevation drawings and a detailed specification as to how the building will be constructed.

If you are carrying out structural work, then you will need to appoint a Structural Engineer who will produce the necessary details for the builder to build to and also the Structural Calculations to prove that the building will be structurally sound.

How Long Before I Get A Decision From Building Control?

The application is submitted for checking and a formal decision notice is given (normally within 8 weeks).

Advantages of using this method are;

  • the plans can be examined and approved before work starts and
  • the builder can work to the approved drawings in the knowledge that the detail complies with the regulations.

Approved plans may be used for up to three years after they have been approved, even if the regulations change.

A Building Notice Application is a less detailed form of application where minimal information is initially required and no formal decision is given.

You are relying on the builder to build without “approved plans”, generally Building Control do not like this type of application, as you are relying heavily on the competency of the builder on site.

If Building Control do not accept something the builder has done, you will be responsible for remedying it (making good). This often leads to an argument between the home owner and builder because neither party wants the additional costs.

Also, this form of application typically costs you more than a full plans submission as you have to pay all the costs upfront, rather than in two stages when you submit a  Full Plans application.

If you have carried out building works to your property without obtaining Building Regulations approval you will need to apply for a Regularisation Certificate.

What Is A Regularisation Application?

“A regularisation application is a retrospective application relating to previously unauthorised works i.e. works carried out without Building Regulations consent, started on or after the 11 November 1985. The purpose of the process is to regularise the unauthorised works and obtain a certificate of regularisation”

As you have carried out work without prior approval the Local Authority may request that you “open up” the works so that they can ascertain if the building works comply with current standards.

As this is classed as an “enforcement application” it does not attract VAT, but the cost is greater than the other forms of application.

For more information, please click here

Pre-Application Inspections

Some Local Authorities offer a “pre-application” inspection service. This is where they will come out to site to look at your building to check it complies before you make a formal application.

Examples of this might be where you are proposing a two-storey extension, but need advice as to whether or not the existing foundations are able to take the extra load.

They would ask you to dig a “trial” pit next to the existing foundations, then Building Control would come out to inspect it. Often they would seek confirmation from your design Structural Engineer as well.

They charge a fee for this service, so best to check with your Local Authority.

4. Building Over Agreement – Drainage 

A Building Over Agreement is an approval from your local water company for the building work that you plan to have carried out over, or near a public sewer owned by the local Water company.

What Is A Public Sewer?

A sewer is a pipe that serves more than one property. All drainage pipes (that connect to your local Water Authority) are now public sewers except where only one property is served by the existing pipe, which is known as a drain.

A drain is privately owned and maintained to the property boundary by the home owner, once it crosses the property boundary this pipe becomes the responsibility of the Water company.

Why Do I Need A Building Over Agreement?

If you are building over a public sewer, or one that runs within 3 metres of the proposed building works you have to make sure that the new foundations are far enough away from the drain and that sufficient access to the sewer is maintained so that they can clean or repair it if necessary. You will need to make sure that;

  • The extra weight of the proposed building work near to or above the sewer could cause it to collapse, resulting in structural damage to the new building and
  • the local water company have access to carry out maintenance and repairs.

Do I Always Need to Apply for A “Building Over A Sewer” Agreement?

You will not need a Building Over Agreement if you are able to move the building works so that they are more than 3 metres away from the sewer.

You may be required to divert the sewer. This work would be carried out by your local water authority, but at your cost.

How Do I Find Out If I Am Building Near A Public Sewer?

You will need to contact your local water authority and make an application either on line or by post.

How Much Does A Building Over Agreement Cost?

The cost depends on the size of the pipe. It can vary from £350 – £1,300.

What Do The Fees Cover?

  • Processing the application
  • Technical reviews of plans
  • Discussing and agreeing any changes in design
  • Liaising with the local authority in line with building regulations
  • Issuing consent
  • Registering the build over on records
  • CCTV (Class II and BO Class III)
  • Site visit to locate sewers if needed

What Is The Process Of Building Over A Sewer?

Make an application to the relevant water authority, enclosing the relevant site plans, sections and elevations of the proposed works. Include the correct fee.

You may need a CCTV survey before you begin work to see whether or not the pipe requires any repair work before the building work commences.

They might also carry out the CCTV survey after the building works to check to make sure that no damage has been done to the sewer.

How Long Does It Take To Receive Approval For Building Over A Sewer?

Approximately three weeks – you shouldn’t start any work on site until you have received approval.

5. Qualifications Of Designers 

Your home is probably your largest asset. Therefore it is important that whoever you choose to help you with your design is professionally qualified.

There are many construction professionals who can help you. For example;

An Architect

The training and emphasis for an Architect is on design and philosophy of architecture.

An Architectural Technician

The training and emphasis for an Architectural Technician is on the science and technology of architecture

Whilst both disciplines have their own distinct training and specialism, there is considerable overlap between the two professions.

Chartered Structural Engineer

IStructE (Institution of Structural Engineers)

A Chartered Structural Engineer is someone who has demonstrated professional competence within the engineering profession. A Chartered Structural Engineer is a logical, practical person who is able to think around problems.

For more information about how you can “Build with confidence with a Structural Engineer” visit the Institution of Structural Engineers website

You might notice a familiar name on page 8! A 3D model showing some typical situations which would warrant the involvement of a Structural Engineer. Image produced by Michael Aubrey Partnership. is a comprehensive database of structural engineering practices across the UK that puts you in touch with the best structural engineer for any project. Only firms that have at least one member from the Institution of Structural Engineers can register.

Who Can Help Me With My Proposed Building Work?

As Structural Engineers, we work with Architects to develop schemes that will deliver projects that not only look amazing, but are buildable solutions, that are practical to build and are as cost effective as possible.

Do you have a project that you’d like expert advice on?

Either call us on 0118 962 9666 or click here to make contact with us and we’ll get back to you by the next working day (at the latest!).

Look forward to hearing from you.

What Is Structural Engineering?

Here’s a short video from the Institution of Structural Engineers


Grand Designs Live – Ask The Expert!

We are delighted to announce that we have been selected to join the “Ask The Expert” panel at the forthcoming “Grand Designs Live” show in London. To claim your 2 for 1 tickets, click here!

Talking about the show John Staves said,

I am thrilled to have been chosen to provide expert Structural Engineering advice at this years “Grand Designs Live” show. As homeowners are increasingly looking for that “Wow” factor in their homes, designs have become more complex. We will be able to tell you if your design is structurally feasible from the outset, saving you money with abortive design fees. I’m really looking forward to meeting as many people as I can at Grand Designs Live”.

Grand Designs Live is running from 2 – 9 May at London’s ExCel. The show offers visitors a unique opportunity to see all the latest trends for the home as well as many products never seen before.

Can’t make the show?  but you’d like expert advice about designing your own extension or loft conversion?  Click here.

Partnering With Wokingham District Council

A Consistent Approach: One Local Authority To Cover The Whole Country!

We are delighted to announce that we are now official partners with Wokingham Borough Council for all Local Authority Building Regulation Approvals.








What This Means For Our Customers;

    • This scheme helps to simplify and speed up the building process generating substantial savings in time and money.
    • A dedicated professional Building Control Surveyor from the preferred local authority becomes part of the design team to offer advice on all projects no matter where they are in the country.
    • The design team approach ensures that any issues can be resolved early in the design process and will eliminate the need for expensive corrections later in the construction phase.
    • The single point of contact provided through this scheme results in a consistent approach to plan appraisal.
    • Any local conditions, site specific information and necessary consultations are investigated on behalf of the customer

A Consistent Approach = Faster Approvals

Because we are dealing with one Local Authority, our customers will benefit from a consistent approach and improved pre-application service. This will increase your chance of approval first time and help speed up the whole application process.