Feeling the chill? How we went about insulating a heritage home

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One thing about beautiful, historic houses is that they can often be really, really cold.

As Brits, we are no strangers to wacking on the fire and arming ourselves with a fluffy socks and a hot water bottle, but what happens when this simply isn’t enough?


When our client came to us with a brief to create a sustainable and well-insulated home in Broadhembury, we stepped up to the challenge.

They were concerned that it wouldn’t be possible to insulate the existing solid cob and stone walls, which were a large part of the property’s character and charm.

The property wasn’t listed so there was a bit of flexibility on altering the existing fabric, and with our experience of improving the energy performance of existing buildings and working with listed and historic properties, we were well placed to be able to advise.

This time however we wanted to take things a step further. How could we integrate technology usually used when designing new low energy homes on a historic solid wall building?


The emphasis was on creating a living breathing house with natural materials to improve the indoor air quality and create a natural, healthy home.

We suggested bringing on board Ann-Marie Fallon, a certified Passivhaus designer, to model the existing house using PHPP software. This is a time consuming business and involves the input of a lot of data to model the way the house performs now and how it would change following adaptations such as the addition of insulation.

This enabled us to investigate how we could insulate the property and best improve on its energy performance through the type of insulation, its position (internal or external) and thickness. The software also helped us check that no condensation would occur, which is a common concern when insulating solid walls.

The existing walls were a real challenge being constructed of a mixture cob at low level and solid stone at first floor. There was a lack of existing data available for the thermal capacity of cob, and Anne-Marie had to approach the BRE to find information to create her model.  This was then used to predict how the house would behave with added insulation and calculate the potential energy savings.  Using this data we calculated the optimum thickness of insulation to give our client the best energy saving at the most economical price, without compromising the historic fabric.


Our client was also keen to use triple glazing, and we agreed that it did offer worthy benefits for this project, although came at a higher price. We decided to use triple glazing on the north facing link corridor and high performance double glazing throughout the rest of the house. Drafts in older houses are one of the biggest issues for improving energy efficiency, so replacing the windows made a significant difference to the performance of the house.

For the walls, breathable wood fibre insulation was used internally on the first floor where there was a mixture of cob and stone.  This had to be extended along the internal partition walls to prevent thermal bridging and condensation.  Part of the existing house was built in the 1970’s and had a cavity wall construction.  Here we used the wood fibre insulation externally.

The existing cement render was removed from all walls to enable them to breathe and lime render with small pieces of insulating cork used as the external finish to the older parts of the house, with a more standard lime render in other areas. Additionally, a new heating system was installed throughout powered by a wood pellet boiler and new underfloor heating laid in the new extension.

The design of the extension used an oak frame supplied by Carpenter Oak, which was wrapped in an airtight membrane and rendered in lime externally.  This gave a stunning interior space for the kitchen dining room and beautiful spaces where the ‘old meets new’ in the north facing corridor.


So if anyone tells you that an old house can’t be made warm and cosy, while retaining its historical charm and sustainable vision then send them our way!

Designing Homes For An Ageing Generation

Sketches of our project in Dawlish creating homes for later living

Life expectancy among Britons is increasing exponentially and the proportion of the population over 65 years of age is expected to rise from five percent in 1950 to 16 percent in 2015.

Scientists are predicting an explosion of dementia cases, expected to almost triple by 2050 to over 115 million.

The majority of people with dementia live at home, and with no known medical cure, suitable housing is going to be vital in order to meet their needs and improve quality of life.

So how can buildings be designed to help those suffering with dementia?

Living Space Architects specialises in housing and developments for later living, and prides itself on attention to detail and meeting client needs. Through our work, we have been able to look into how different aspects of housing influence later living and shape our projects accordingly.

Sustainable design solutions that we think are most effective in creating dementia-friendly homes include:

  • Lower residential density
  • Reduction in external noise levels
  • Use of geometric floor plans
  • Landmarks and signage
  • Provision of non-institutional homelike features, in particular elements from the historical period matching the individual’s middle adulthood
  • Accommodation of wandering
  • Levels of illumination and natural daylight
  • Exposure to natural elements such as landscapes, trees and water

In addition to these, architectural features that support fascination, curiosity or involuntary attention can reduce the effects of mental fatigue, often suffered by dementia patients as they struggle to recall basic information and maintain their daily activities.

All of these elements improve a person’s sense of control, which affects how tense or relaxed they feel in their home. These design features contribute to the patient feeling more secure and safe and basic considerations to space, flow and lighting can help improve the quality of life for those suffering from dementia and make them feel at home.

Could Garden Cities be the solution to the UK Housing Crisis?

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Does the UK’s Housing Crisis ever seem to slow?

The UK’s shortage of affordable, decent homes continues to persist and with the pressing need to accommodate refugees escaping persecution from abroad, finding solutions to this problem couldn’t be more crucial.


Planners after World War Two faced a considerable feat. They were tasked with finding a solution to deal with accommodation shortage caused by bomb damage, returning service personnel and the resulting baby boom. Their solution? Garden Cities.

Seven Garden Cities were build, based on the concept proposed by Sir Ebenezer Howard in the early 20th century. They were seen to be an opportunity for maximising economies of scale in a sustainable development by creating social housing with zero carbon design, a sustainable transport network and local work and food sourcing. Milton Keynes, one of those cities built after WW2 now attracts over 16,000 net in-commuters and is a successful economic hub in the South East.


Now, there’s no doubt that this was years ago, but how feasible are Garden Cities in the 21st century?

Creating a healthier, safer community with all the amenities at your finger tips does seem appealing. Here are the some benefits of the garden suburb ideal:


Garden cities can replace ageing housing stock with energy-efficient buildings, green spaces and car-free zones.

This will result in cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

They can contribute to enhanced mental health

A 17-year study by the University of Exeter found that households living in greener urban environments are likely to have lower levels of mental stress and higher levels of well-being.

This would save the government money…

Sue Holden from the Woodland Trust predicts that the health benefits from access to green spaces could shave £2.1bn off the NHS healthcare bill every year.

They have investment potential

Government schemes- such as the Help-to-Buy and Right-to-Buy- recognise the difficulty young adults and families have getting onto the housing ladder. It is that generation that is most likely to move into an up and coming community, with work and leisure nearby. Garden cities are an opportunity to create new housing for the young and close to employment, it can be a very attractive investment for many.

There is garden space

The space available in the Garden City model allows new houses to benefit from more garden space for each and every unit. The appeal of your own garden and amenity space shouldn’t be underestimated. Not to mention that the shared landscape of the site would be an overall improvement.


Sherford in Plymouth and Cranbrook in Devon are two local examples of Garden Cities. Whilst they are currently small, both have the potential to attract and develop a vibrant community if the houses are sufficiently well laid out and create a new sense of place and in these fantastic locations.

Garden Cities take time to establish and it is not an overnight solution, but rather than allowing ad hoc urban sprawl, they could continue to provide a sustainable and successful answer and create a functional new village or town in a beautiful environment for future generations to come.

Great Expectations- Building healthy communities and homes for our ageing society

The Living Space Architects team recently attended the Housing Lin conference in Bristol entitled: Great Expectations: Building Healthy Communities and Homes for our Ageing Society.


Later living housing and building homes for the ageing is something that resonates strongly with our values and efforts, and we were interested to learn about other architects ideas in this area, and
the latest developments taking place.

We enjoyed an inspirational day exploring the themes of inclusive design and holistic communities, as well as the financial costs of later living care, both in the building itself and then making sure these spaces are sustained over time.


So what are the problems associated with later living housing and why is this something we should be concerned about? Why, as keynote speaker Paula Broadbent, Retirement Director at Keepmoat suggested, are 600,000 older people currently residing in poor-quality homes?


Homes that are inappropriate for later living can include those that:

  • Exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolations: Through inappropriate location and transport links and lack of diversity in the local community
  • Are too cold: Due to poor insulation or being in a bad state of repair
  • Are too hot: Where occupants have limited control over the temperature of their home
  • Have no space for hobbies or fun: Such as not allowing residents to own a pet, or not having a garden to grow veggies etc
  • Have limited bedroom options: Limited to single bed and not allowing for flexibility for family or personal circumstance
  • Lack social opportunities: By failing to provide a social mix or space for people to interact and flourish together
  • Are inflexible: Lacking standards of space and appropriate layout
  • Are ugly: Not being visually attractive is an issue! People want to feel proud of their home and others should aspire to live there

Despite the phrase ‘planning ahead’ being voiced time and time again throughout of our daily lives, the reality is that we rarely have the time or inclination to take the notion seriou

sly- and take immediate action. Keynote Speaker Tony Watt OBE, Chairman if the Southwest Forum on Ageing, explained how important it is to make a change before it is too late and we have reached a ‘point of crisis’. He highlighted that older people are often very conscious of how they will be perceived if they downsize from their current property for which they have worked hard for, and that this is one of the key barriers involved in this preparation for later life.

From our experience, we have also realised that there is too much focus on housing as a capital resource, and that this leads to people staying in their homes for longer. This can be problematic, as these houses can often be too large and are not always appropriate for later life.

Downsizing at an earlier stage can mean that people are more likely to better negotiate a more flexible property, ensuring they find a mutually supportive and evolving community.

 


So why isn’t this downsizing progression occurring more frequently? Here we face a major problem- throughout urban and rural areas, a lack of enticing and affordable property deter people from making this significant step and change to their lives. Furthermore, the lack of variety of tenure required to suit the spectrum

of ambitions makes this move a risky feet and for many, not worth the costs involved. If the issues are addressed- and sooner rather than later- a platform for a safe and fulfilling later life for all could become a reality.


 

However, there are some schemes which offer hope that things are moving in the right direction. Living Space Architects take later living very seriously, and understand that quality, innovation and creativity is not something that comes at the expense of making a house functional for later years. We are always keen to consult with local people, developers and care providers and use our contextual knowledge and innovative thinking to help shape the later living accommodation of the future for the better. We are taking action now.

 

Inspiration from abroad: examples of the Spanish approach to homes for the elderly

When thinking of creative new ideas and designs, we often draw on inspiration from abroad.


This year, we have been fortunate enough to be joined by architect Rocio Oteros from Spain. His interest in housing for later living has offered us unique insight into how this issue is approached in Spain and how it compares to ideas in the UK.

As a firm that is constantly changing and developing, all creative ideas are of value and can spark further ideas and be used as inspiration.

Rocio shared with us three examples from Spain, that show creative use of space and innovative design to enhance the lives of the elderly in their living spaces.


Housing for the Elderly. Seville.

The building was located in a central district of Seville and its architecture was carefully and profoundly detailed. The project worked like a small city where functionality and domesticity merged into a fresh environment. The building was designed to encourage social interaction and integration of a diverse range of people. It had a three-storey building, with plenty of common areas and flexible spaces where residents could dine or socialise together. Common units- like the canteen, medical practices and offices- were located on the ground floor and connected to the outside space that hugged the shape of the building and worked well as a meeting place. The dwellings were located on the first and second floors and articulated along corridors which opened out into communal rooms and outside spaces. This allowed the residents to have spontaneous meetings and areas to socialise.


Later living hounsing in Intxaurrondo. Donosti – San Sebastian.

This project in San Sebastian was located on a site with a sloping topography which made it a challenging project in terms of accessibility. However, this meant that the creativity and innovation involved was even more complex, unique and interesting, making this design particularly special. The proposal consisted of three volumes attached to the boundary of the site. This provided a solution for the slope and created a fantastic open courtyard that worked like a shared plaza. The architects intended to maximise the interaction between the users in this space. The location of the buildings allowed daylight to penetrate the central space and move into the dwellings. Light entered by the windows and terraces creating natural feel and a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. The tree towers had the same shape although vary in orientation and number of storeys. The apartments were articulated by the circulation core, which was positioned towards the interior of the plaza by the entrances to the buildings. The housing typology was quite basic and simple, adapted to the needs of the elderly. The interior of the dwellings were organised around a central block formed by the kitchen and the bathroom. The living spaces had great views- either facing the open spaces in the heart of the complex or the green area that surrounded the buildings.

 

Santa Caterina Market Housing. Barcelona.

This extremely original intervention in an historic area in Barcelona was based on the restoration of the Santa Caterina’s Market, and housing units for the elderly were inserted as part of the project. The build was no small feat- 59 houses were created make up of two main developments and a sculptural ensemble. This design created an open interior space which connected with the market and was at the heart of the city centre. The idea was to provide homes for older people who love living in the city centre but relied on safe and adaptable spaces. The standard floor layout had a main corridor that arranged the dwellings to maximise sunlight hours. Despite the standard floor layout, the number of apartments on each floor was different to create terraces and common spaces, where residents could spend time together.

The houses were apartments of one or two bedrooms, very simply organised. Every single house consisted of a personal entrance, a bathroom, a living-dining-kitchen, a bedroom and a terrace so activity in the city centre could be overlooked and enjoyed. The main spaces were also always oriented towards outside.

How to find a new development opportunity

Decided to take on a property development opportunity? We don’t blame you! There’s something incredibly rewarding about seeing a property come together through your own planning, dedication and hard work.

However, at the beginning, such a project can seem a little intimidating and daunting and it’s difficult to figure out where to start. So how do you go about developing an existing property- or building on from scratch?

Here are some ideas on how to find that perfect project so that you can get to work!


1. Make contact with the local commercial agents

A quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

rendells.co.uk

wardchowen.co.uk

salisburyhenderson.com


2. Research old and redundant buildings

Look at examples of others who have undertaken this type of work to draw inspiration. Then do some research into old and redundant buildings- do any have potential?

 


3. Auctions for land

Land auctions are a good way to find suitable plots but transactions are conducted on a ‘sold as seen’ basis and therefore require a quick sale, leaving little time for research:

uklandandfarms.co.uk/land

cooperandtanner.co.uk/Proeprty-and-land-Auctions

cliveemson.co.uk

countrywidepropertyauctions.co.uk


4. Local authorities

Cash-strapped councils often have parcels of land they are willing to sell.

tavistock.gov.uk


5. Utility companies 

Some utility organisations such as water, gas and electricity companies have surplus land available to buy:

southwestwater.co.uk

britishgas.co.uk

dailymail.co.uk/news/article-12290/BT-raise-2bn-property-sell-off.html


6. Previously approved schemes which have not been built

savills.co.uk


7. Change of use on office to residential

The objective is to allow changes of use of a building or land from B1(a): offices to C3: residential to happen more easily. The intended effect of the proposal is to support an increase in housing supply, encourage regeneration of offices and bring empty properties into productive use.

jll.co.uk


8. Barn conversion under permitted development

Agricultural buildings can be converted to a flexible, educational or residential use under permitted development rights:

millertc.co.uk

gibbskirby.co.uk

fulfords.co.uk


 

Basic principles for extending listed buildings

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Clients often come to us asking how they might achieve an extension or alteration to a listed building.


This can be tricky project to take on because any works of alteration, extension of demolition to a listed building requires listed building consent. This often also applies to repairs, so it is always wise to get advice from the local authority before carrying out any work.

Most historic buildings reflect the cumulative changes of different owners and uses, however in the past these changes and additions may have been made without the constraints of planning authorities.

Alterations to a listed building can be made as long as they do not damage the significance of the building and its setting.  Given the variety of historic building types and their individual characteristics, what might work on one site won’t necessarily work on another.

Some listed buildings are much more sensitive to change than others, so each case for change needs to be assessed individually to ensure success.


Basic principles for extending listed buildings

  1. The design and construction of the extension should show an understanding of the heritage significance of the listed building and it’s setting.
  2. The design should seek to minimise any harm to the listed building’s heritage value or special interest.
  3. The extension should normally play a subordinate role and not dominate the listed building as a result of its scale, mass, siting or materials.
  4. The new addition should sustain and add value to the listed building’s significance by being of high quality design, craftsmanship and materials.

Creating a Dementia friendly home

Why is designing homes for people with dementia important?

“Getting design right can make a fundamental difference to the lives of people with dementia.  It improves their life experiences and can increase life expectancy”

The Dementia Centre www.dementia.stir.ac.uk

What are the issues?

More than 800,000 people in the UK are living with dementia, with numbers expected to rise to 1.7 million by 2051. Dementia is a huge issue for the UK and the world. The cost to the UK is already around £23 billion per year, and is set to rise to £27 billion by 2018. Globally the estimated costs are $604 billion – 1% of global GDP.  It is therefore vitally important that whether we are designing homes specifically for older people, or with everyone in mind – we make sure they incorporate principles that help.

Helping people remain independent is really important, as not only can it help them remain in their own home for longer, but it also helps improve their quality of life – and that of their carers and families.

How can architectural design help?

We want to find ways to design homes to help alleviate the feelings of isolation and fear that many people with dementia encounter. We feel there is an opportunity to improve the overall quality of life for people with dementia which could reduce the need for expensive hospital care.

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Loft bedroom – later living home for McCarthy & Stone.

 

5 Principles for Housing Design for Dementia

As a starting point here are 6 design principles for developing supportive design to help people with dementia lead a more enjoyable life.

1. Encourage Meaningful Activity by integrating gardens into the design, providing places to walk with frequent resting places, forming social spaces where people can meet, talk and form friendships.

Terrace barbeque

Garden design giving covered outdoor space for sitting with family.

 

2. Enable familiarity make sure dining areas include smaller more intimate spaces that feel more homely, use recognisable sanitary ware and include photographs of local places to jog memories.

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Well defined spaces within open plan layout drawing in light and views.

 

3. Help aid legibility by creating good site lines and uncluttered spaces.  Make sure lighting is even and use natural daylight wherever possible.  Don’t use shiny floor coverings or confusing patterns, but use soft surfaces that help reduce background noise.

Terrace open plan living room

Dining spaces that are domestic in scale help provide the feeling of being at home.

 

4. Support Orientation by integrating artworks that reflect the seasons, draw in more natural daylight and integrate external spaces within the design.  Create framed views of the landscape and nature.  Make sure staff spaces are easy to find and staff are visible.

Dinner in Maisonette_edited-1

Drawing in views of the landscape and nature to create calm and relaxed places.

 

5. Help Wayfinding by using accent colours both in the interior and exterior, using sculpture or building features, clearly identifying bedrooms and social spaces, using pictures for signage along with text.

The Outcomes

Decision making should be eased reducing the agitation and stress that frequently accompanies dementia.  People can become more independent and will hopefully interact more with others in their care home or development, which helps with wellbeing and happiness.  Homes should feel and be safer, which also helps encourage people to get out, walk around and socialise.  Further blogs will look at some of these design principles in more detail and how we can implement them to provide spaces that really help make a difference.

 

Study of 3 Care Homes in Switzerland

We are interested in these examples in Switzerland of housing and specialist care home buildings. These examples have a lot of people waiting to move in…

WohnenPlus, Flaesch

In the centre of a small village stood this old building which has been renovated. It had a small shop on the ground floor and the other floors were not really used for any purpose. The building has a lovely scale with a simple, traditional form and details. However the internal mix of uses and the adventurous plan layouts are innovative.

The new concept of the housing includes an enlivened village-shop and new apartments on the second and third floor.

On the 1 Floor there is a lunch table arrangement for school kids and elderly people to share at lunch time which is run by the community or church group. This also has a communal kitchen so support the lunch club.

The apartments have a separate more private entry door, so does the shop and the lunch table with attached all-purpose-room.

All of the tenants are offered support from a care company and each apartment has an emergency call system linked to the care company.

Area of Frauensteinmatt, Zug 

The project includes four different sized buildings within the development site, located on the edge of Lake Zug.

With the help of angled elevations the bigger building appears smaller and the opening corridors to the middle of the plans fill the building with light. The configuration of glazing on the balconies to the apartments helps to create wonderful uplifting light spaces to the inside of the rooms.

The biggest building is the care home with full care hospital rooms.

The other three buildings are traditional housing apartments with a mixture of family apartments and retirement apartments.

The landscape was carefully shaped to create winding paths throughout the site with hidden bench / seating places and other areas for relaxation across the site.

New Care Home Holzlegistrasse, Winterthur

The interesting complex of three buildings which are designed around the cluster model / layout and are connected underneath at ground level.

Across each building the feel is like a private villa of apartments, but with the three buildings achieves the necessary urban density.

The floor layout remains almost the same in each apartment: the entrance connects bath, utility, bedroom and living room. The layout of each apartment on the corner of the building ensures that all of the rooms have windows to natural light, giving great connection to the views.

Designing for Disabilities – a personal view

It is a difficult day when you suddenly realise your parents are getting older and that they will increasingly need your help. For me it was when my Mum had a stroke 3 years ago and became paralysed, not able to speak or communicate. The long journey of recovery is still going, but with the amazing care from the NHS and dedication and love from my Dad and our family she can now walk with a frame and although she can’t do everything on her own she still able to live at home.

Mum’s stroke really made me think a lot about the way we design for people with disabilities, after all a huge number of our population don’t fit into the categories we design for – 1.8m tall able bodied probably male.

We had to add extra handrails to the stairs, which despite Dad’s best efforts do not add to the design qualities of the house! We had to add a walk in shower where the airing cupboard used to be and then there was all the kit Mum needed; the bed that moves up and down, the chair that supports her at the right height, the walking frame…

None of this kit was designed to look good let alone contemporary. I started to search the internet for things that had been designed to look good, maybe even stylish…. Mum understandably doesn’t want to be considered ‘old’ and all the things she had to introduce into her life were grey, ugly and un un-inspirational.

Mum has many things that she enjoys doing, she loves gardens and bird watching and she is part of a patchwork group that meet weekly for chat, tea and sewing.  About 7 years ago I designed Mum and Dad an extension that opened up the back of the house and gave them an open plan kitchen dining room. This is where Mum now spends most of her time.  She can feel like she’s sitting in the garden and there is space for her friends to come for coffee and a chat, because the kitchen is accessible she doesn’t have to walk far to make a cup of tea.  Later if Mum does need to sleep downstairs the new space means she can do so without many alterations being made to the house.

Mum and Dad’s extension has given them a huge amount of flexibility and importantly a social hub to the home which was lacking in the formal cellular arrangement of the original 60’s house.