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Whatever your project, County – The Home Improvers will take of your designs, planning, building regulations and permissions – from start to finish

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It all starts with an idea…

…bring it to us to make it a reality! Whether it’s extending your home to form a larger kitchen, dining room or lounge, converting your loft into a bedroom, playroom or study, or just adding a utility room or downstairs toilet, a renovation, patio, landscaping, driveway or garden wall, County can help.

Whether you tell us your ideas, send us your drawings or make use of our own in-house architectural and planning Service, we’ll advise you honestly on all areas – including where you might save money on the build – before we turn your dream into reality.

Peace of mind

And while you dream of your new home improvement you can also have the peace of mind that comes from knowing  that County are fully insured and are long serving members of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) – in fact our founder held the Chair for the East Sussex Branch of the FMB for many years. We were also an early member of the government endorsed Trustmark™ scheme, members of FENSA and the GGF.


Plan ahead and do your homework

Choose your builder carefully – he should advise you honestly on all areas, including where you might save money on the build, and he should offer a contract and full bill or works so that your dream doesn’t become a nightmare! Whether you tell us your ideas, send us your own drawings or make use of our own in-house architectural and planning service, County – The Home Improvers will tell you clearly if the project ‘makes sense’ and offers the best cost/benefit for you. We’re fully insured, a long serving member of the Federation of Master Builders (FMB). Our founder even held the Chair for the East Sussex Branch of the FMB for many years. We were also an early member of the government endorsed Trustmark™ scheme, members of FENSA and the GGF. Every project we undertake is under an approved FMB or JCT contract for your peace of mind.

Extensions and new build

We do lots! Single or double storey, side, rear, front. Brick, timber frame, render, flat roof, glazed roof. Tiled roof, pitched or trussed roof. We can provide all windows doors, kitchens and bathroms via our group services. It means you can get everything you need from one supplier making the whole process a lot simpler for you.

And when it comes to cost estimates remember: if it seems cheap, it usually means something has been missed. So seek a builder who prepares a detailed estimate or quotation. For an extension this will be about 10 pages long, not a sheet of A4.

Lofts and spaces

Loft conversions have become very popular as a way of gaining additional space in your home. We can give you a fully fitted luxury space – or just board it out for you. Dormer windows are fantastic way of getting natural light into your loft if it’s going to become a fully utilised room – perhaps a home office or somewhere to escape from the kids? You’ll need to consider access, permissions and fire regulations.

We can take care of the whole process for you, from planning and design through to finally sweeping the new floor and handing over to you. So call in for some free advice.

Conversions and refurbishments

A great way to gain additional space is to consider using what you already have and do a conversion. Take an unused garage: we’ve converted them to to bedrooms, lounges, kitchens and bathrooms.

We can convert your outbuilding or barn into a cosy living space or home office. We’ll utilise existing exterior and interior walls where suitable, opening rooms or infilling and roofing over previously wasted spaces, giving your home a complete makeover.  Refurbishing we can add new walls using studwork or brickwork, then complete with final plastering, electrics, plumbing and heating or any manner of changes you seek. Just ask.

It starts with an idea…..

Your idea! Then it needs to be nurtured and grown to the point you decide its something you want to do. It may take time to reach this point – it’s not a whim. But then a real concept takes shape in your mind. Now’s the time to Take Control! Come and have a chat with us. We can give you a good idea of whether its viable and possible.

We may also suggest you visit your local authority and have a chat with their planning department. This is the pre-planning meeting. They can tell you immediately if you’re likely to get approval and build what you wish. There may be a fee but it’s worth it before you progress too far. They can also advise if you will need planning permission, or whether it will fall under permitted development  or building regulations.

At this stage you may ask builders of an estimate of cost. Based upon their estimate you can then decide if the project can proceed. Now you really need to engage an architect – either your own or you may decide to use County’s in-house architectural service for planning and permissions. This has the benefits of time and cost saving whilst not putting you under any obligation to subsequently use our building service. We’ll give you help every step of the way: from advising on local authority procedures to advice on what we understand to be possible, will work and be passed for approval by the authority.

Let’s start at the very beginning  – plans

For any kind of building works – from installing a conservatory or orangery through to a full scale extension or garage conversion – it’s essential that proper planning is undertaken to ensure the process goes as smoothly as possible.

We offer a complete design and planning service to relieve you of that headache. Having just one point of contact through the whole process means you can get on with living your life whilst we take care of everything else. With our expert knowledge and experience of the planning and application processes it also means there won’t be any nasty surprises after the project is completed.

Our in-house service

We’re happy to undertake plans and drawings, complete paperwork, gain approvals and discuss matters with the local authority if necessary. Initially we come to you, discuss the plans and return with our architect. When the plans are ready it is us that will come and discuss them with you. The design will therefore be what you asked for and not some variant. We make any changes then submit the plans for approval to the local authority: simple.

Once approved and with regulation approval too, the final costs are calculated and work can start. Our design service gives you access to free advice and ideas at every step, and if you choose us for the build we give you direct access to our trade partners too, saving you money. We’re experienced in managing the whole process so that it goes smoothly, to time and to budget.

Approval and sign off

Whether you use us or your own architect service, the plans are drawn and submitted to the council with a detailed application. This includes the design and access statement covering why the work is required and how it will be undertaken. A good architect can ensure that objections are pre-empted wherever possible, and give reasons why specific items have been designed into the plan: for example why particular openings have been included. And by the way, it’s always useful for you to liaise with your neighbours to avoid later objections!

When your plan is approved you will be sent an approval notice – keep it safe for when you come to sell. (You then need to then move on to building regulations). If your planning application is unsuccessful you can appeal and resubmit or apply to the planning inspectorate. A planning inspector may wish to visit you to answer any questions they may have. But to avoid all this, take our initial advice. Come and talk to us first and also consider seeing the local authority for a pre-planning meeting. It can save you time and money.

Do I need planning?

For many homeowners the process of ‘knowing’ if you need permission, if its ‘permitted development’ or if you can just build,  can be at worst, a nightmare; at best, confusing.

At County – The Home Improvers we can help you and remove some of the mystery from our first chat. We may then suggest you speak to the local authority and seek a  pre-planning meeting. This would be based on the advice we have given you for how we suspect the build will need to ‘look’ to gain permission or if we believe you will be able opt provide under permitted development. Or even if all you need is simple building regulation approval.

If you’re not sure where to start give us a quick call and pop in for an informal chat. Do call ahead as we are often out on site. Then if you need additional information we’re happy to refer you to the right professionals, and the right people in your local authority. Simply call us – we’ll be pleased to help.

Do I need planning permission for my orangery or conservatory?

We’re sorry to say you may. Or you may not. It depends on your own individual circumstances. It might be useful here to give you information that is generally true in all cases.

No permission is required if – it’s on the rear, if it abides by the percentage of glass expected. If it has a double glazed door (and any window) is between it and the house and it has an independent heating system not controlled by your existing service. Additionally it must not extend further than 3m if you live in a semi-detached property or 4m for detached properties. If you want it bigger than these sizes or you are having it on an elevation of your home where it may be seen from the road you will probably require planning permission.

You may also need Building Regulation approval (see separate tab) if you wish to remove the wall between your home and the new build, add heating from your home system or reduce the glass size by adding brickwork, different (solid) roofs. So use County and ask us –we have the answers to help.

Visit www.planningportal.co.uk for more information or pop in or call to have a home visit from our experts.

Solid roof conservatory – do I need planning?

The regulations changed in 2015 and many local authorities are still trying to interpret the law and incorporate it into local planning law. The problem is the ‘rules’ set down by government are mainly ‘guidelines’ and may still be open to interpretation locally.

In general terms, solid roof conservatories or orangeries will NOT need planning permission, but WILL need building regulation approval. Please do ask us for advice – we undertake these projects continually and can give you answers focussed on your own circumstances.

County will always calculate the new load bearing to see if your existing conservatory can take the new weight. (A replacement solid roof is much heavier). This is an important calculation so do not trust the cowboys who say no calculations or regulation approval is needed; they are! And if you alter an existing conservatory with a solid roof that does not conform it can fall down or  you will be asked to remove it. Give us a call or pop in for advice.

Planning on extensions and conversions.

Gaining planning permission and to be able to start building is in fact a two stage process. In many instances, if you’re extending to form either a single or two storey extension; depending on size and position; to make a permanent alteration to the building you will likely need planning permission. Unless ‘permitted development’ is allowed (see Permitted development and pre-planning meetings). Once planning permission has been approved you will then need building regulations approval.

Drafting plans usually takes us (or your architect) three to four weeks from your instruction. The authority will take 8 weeks to approve or decline your application. With our expertise we’ll complete all the paperwork and make sure all the boxes are ticked to ensure your application is approved. But you still can’t start building yet! You now need a second set of drawings prepared and approved and these are your building regulations drawings and calculations and these can take the same time to prepare and approve as the initial planning phase.

Approval and necessity

Building Regulation approval from your local authority or private provider is mandatory in many situations and is for your benefit.

Regulations determine such things as: the strength of the beam now needed to hold up the wall so we can take out the brickwork for your bi-fold doors or open the wall between rooms; the insulation we need to use in the walls and floors or even the ceilings; the type of foundation we will lay and how it will be built up. In every instance the authority or private firm will come along and inspect the work your builder has done to ensure he has conformed to the standard. This is an important protection for you.

If you build without approval of planning or without building regulation approval that tells a new buyer the standard achieved, you will have problems when you come to sell. Increasingly solicitors are aware of the planning laws and will not allow a purchaser to complete on an unapproved property or will insist on additional insurance being taken out. So be smart and obtain the advice and approval now.

Building regulations – there for your protection

Building regulations are there for your protection. They ensure building work is carried out to minimum standards. Things such as the rules laid down for steel beam sizes and how they are fitted; the types of materials to use; the depth of your foundation; fire protection and insulation. Your build is inspected on site to ensure compliance – this is your assurance that the works are being carried out to the required specifications.

Be aware that this stage can take as long as the initial application for planning permission. However, many projects don’t require building regulations – which again, we can advise upon. Here are a few example of where building regulations can apply:
• Make an existing exterior opening larger e.g. convert a window to a door
• Convert an external single door or window to a bifold, patio or French door
• Remove an internal structural wall
• Replace a conservatory roof with a solid roof
• Remove door between house and conservatory or orangery

The council may also demand heat loss and structural calculations be completed – which we’re happy to undertake on your behalf.

Materials and quality

It’s essential that all materials used on the project comply with standards defined by the regulations, partly for reasons of safety but also energy efficiency. For example fire resistant plasterboard is used to encase steel beams; insulation for warmer floors; loft, roof and wall insulation for energy saving; suitable roofing timbers, steel beams and pad stones for structural robustness. The local authority will insist on setting the standard and the builder is visited on site and inspected to make sure he is using complying with them in his work.

To ensure compliance with building regulations we use top quality materials, and never previously used materials unless demanded by the client and approved by the authority.

Structural and Heat loss calculations

Will the sums add up?

Structural calculations serve to prevent the structure falling down and can determine how the physical build takes shape, or even if it’s possible to build safely. Utilising engineering skills to make the calculations we can answer many questions: are the foundations deep enough and able to bear the weight of the extension? What  size and strength of roof beams, rafters and joists will be required so that the floors and roofs don’t collapse? What size of steel columns and beams will be required to support the weight of a void in a wall?

Heat Loss – insulation and ‘offset’ or ‘count back’

To conform to regulations how much insulation will be required in the walls and roof to ensure warmth and energy efficiency?  In these days of energy conservation it’s essential that we take all the steps required to ensure maximum efficiency. You can’t just  build or open walls up without considering the impact that will have on thermal efficiency. For your extension or conservatory/orangery you will have to factor in high quality insulation in the walls and floors, better glass and sealed units in the windows and doors. And if you want to remove the wall to your new build, then you may need to ‘offset’ any additional heat loss.

This may mean ‘adding’ additional insulation to new walls or floors or even to the existing property by cavity wall or loft insulation. Take our advice.

Whats allowed. Listed property, AONB and conservation issues

Permitted or not permitted, that is the question. And that’s before the 2015 act. In addition to the rules of permitted development (see below) you may live in a listed grade I, grade II or grade II* property, or a conservatiion area or ‘Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty’ (AONB). These categories come with a myriad of national and local authority rules.

County – The Home Improvers have an enviable record of gaining approval for our clients in these categories: for provision of building works, improvements such as double and triple glazing, and use of modern materials in older properties. We have a superb ex-planning authority consultant on hand to help you get the permission which otherwise may seem impossible. Please come and see us and ask for further information.

Permitted development

You can perform certain types of work without needing to apply for planning permission. These are called “permitted development rights”.

They derive from a general planning permission granted not by the local authority, but by Parliament. The Town and Country Planning (General Permitted Development) (England) Order 2015  sets out classes of development for which a grant of planning permission is automatically given, provided that no restrictive condition is attached or that the development is exempt from the permitted development rights.

This Order is intended to make the process of development simpler but there are still many factors which can affect your development. Visit the Governments Planning Portal for more information, call in to your local authority or call us for detailed expert advice. We can help.

Listed property

The rules governing listed properties are important but sometimes just fly in the face of simple commonsense. For example, you may wish to stop heat loss from your home and conserve energy, but because your property is listed you are not allowed double glazing. Or you may live by the sea in a 1930s art deco listed property with salty sea air affecting the external decor but not be allowed to have a maintenance-free window. Or you cannot adapt an old unused outhouse to a modern bathroom or cloakroom. There are many examples which we have encountered, and that experience, coupled with the expertise of our external planning consultant, gives us the ammunition to help you argue your case to your local authority. Don’t give up!

Conservation and AONB

Many properties will be in a conservation area or an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) where restrictions are placed on a whole range of issues: what materials can be used, such as roof tiles or window materials like PVCU, aluminium or timber; or the making of a window or doorway larger or smaller; or the addition of an extension; or an alteration.

County – The Home Improvers have prepared many applications and  statements covering a wide range of projects, and succeeded in gaining approval for windows, doors, conservatories, orangeries, extensions and  conversions. We have even sometimes attended your councils offices or had the officer come to our showrooms and demonstrated our products on your behalf. Put our planning consultant to the test…