Addressing Sustainability in Old Buildings

Incorporating environmental and sustainability measures into buildings is an essential part of good design and allows new construction to refresh old and so that buildings will stand the test of time.

Hunsett Mill, Norfolk

Hunsett Mill is located in the heart of the Norfolk Broads, a man-made wetland sustained through human intervention and the building of water-pumping mills, dykes and canals. It is an example of an older building that become redundant due to the introduction of electric pumps.

Here are some examples of how the site become more sustainable:

  • Construction of a new embankment at the back of the site has returned the nearby forest and grassland to pre-industrial marshland conditions
  • Indigenous plants were placed in the garden to enhance the local ecology
  • Site damage during the construction of the new extension was mitigated through careful design and material choices that reduced the amount of heavy machinery that was required

The nature of older buildings means they are already sustainable in their own right. For example, the materials they are made of are often locally sourced and produced and can be easily recycled or re-used at the end of their life.

Another example of where sustainability can be incorporated into older buildings is the additions of green, or living roofs.

The Living Roof on Chicago City Hall

A green roof is a system that uses vegetation as the finish of the roof covering instead of just the weathering materials. 

What are the benefits of a green roof?

  • Helps to reduce the water run-off from buildings
  • Filters pollutants
  • Increases biodiversity and provides a habitat for wildlife
  • Improves thermal and acoustic insulation
  • Helps the building blend in with the surroundings

A great example of one of our past projects incorporating a living roof is Dunsford House, pictured below. The roof line was designed to mirror the angle of the sloping ground. The NatureMat was particularly suited to low pitched and curved roofs and restored the green natural environment with a composite vegetated mat with a 90% mature plant cover comprising 6- 8 species.

Living Space Architects, Dunsford House, Devon, UK Summer 2015
Photographer Joakim Borén

We think that Roger Hunt summarises incorporating sustainability into old buildings rather well – “To make our old buildings sustainable, compromises are inevitable but we can’t simply wrap them in thermally efficient, airtight membranes and ‘duvets’ of insulation and hope for the best.” It is important to come up with effective solutions to slightly challenging problems so that old buildings can be enjoyed for many generations.

The Economics of Building

“How much is my build going to cost?” – an extremely common question we get asked all the time. In this article, we hope to give some hints and tips as to what kind of ball park figures you could be looking at for your build.

We found this really great infographic from Self-build Insurance, that gives some of the facts and figures of building your own home.

However, it is important to consider that these figures will likely change according to location and the type of build you are envisioning.

Here are some links to building cost calculators, that may give you a better idea of how much your specific build will cost. These figures are not our estimates but will give you a very rough idea if you are in the dark about spending.

Grand Designs – Build Cost Calculator

Jewson – Build Cost Calculator

Home Building and Renovating – Build Cost Calculator

Making Historic Buildings Energy Efficient – Combating Mould

Mould – many home-owner’s worst nightmare. We hope that this article will provide you with some tips and tricks to avoid mould forming in historic buildings.

When a wall warms up after a cool night, air contained within its pores expands as it warms and a small proportion moves out of the wall via the connected pores. As the wall cools down the air within contracts and air moves back into the wall from the atmosphere. Air also diffuses through the building fabric, regardless of temperature. So masonry walls ‘breathe’ – out as they warm up, and in as they cool.

Understanding why mould forms in historic buildings, there are 4 main sources of moisture that are likely to affect traditional buildings.

1. Rain 

Rain will normally be absorbed into the outer layers of permeable material, and then safely evaporate back out again when the weather changes. Problems may arise, however, if wall heads and other vulnerable areas are less well protected than was originally intended

2. Rising Damp

Traditional buildings can normally cope with this quite well. However, it depends on the balance of the water intake (from rain) and the evaporation of the water. Problems are likely to occur when the ground water level rises or impermeable materials such as cement renders are added.

3. Internal Moisture Vapour

The occupants of the building can generate a considerable amount of moisture through breathing, cooking and washing. This warmer vapour tends to condense on the cold surfaces and create moisture

4. Damaged Services 

Water from damaged pipe-work is a self-evident problem which can and should be resolved by normal maintenance

How to avoid the growth of mould

  1. Dry wet areas immediately
  2. Ensure proper ventilation of your home
  3. Put lids on saucepans, drying washing outside and avoiding using paraffin or bottled gas heaters
  4. Open your bedroom window for 15 minutes each morning
  5. Make sure your home is well insulated
  6. Heat your home a little more
  7. Ventilate rooms regularly and leave doors open to allow air to circulate, unless you’re cooking or showering
  8. If you’re cooking, showering or bathing – open the window, put the fan on and close the door of the room you’re in

How to get rid of mould

  1. Make a solution of chlorine bleach and water – usually 1 part bleach to 3 parts water – or get hold of a household detergent like bleach spray with bleach as an active ingredient.
  2. Using a stiff-bristled brush, scrub the blackened area.
  3. Rinse thoroughly and dry.

Restoring Historic Buildings – Conservation Philosophy

We believe that when restoring historic buildings, it is extremely important to maintain the original character of the building. We want to keep the history of the building at the forefront of our minds and respect it. We recently read “New Design for Old Buildings” by Roger Hunt and Iain Boyd and found their Conservation Philosophy a fantastic set of guidelines to keep in mind when re-designing historic buildings. Here are the basic principles:

  • Respect the beauty and imperfections of age
  • Retain original fabric and surface patina
  • Respect historic alterations and additions
  • Conserve rather than restore, repair rather than replace
  • Carry out honest and legible repairs using compatible materials
  • Fit new materials to the old rather than adapting the old to accept the new
  • Avoid artificial ageing new materials
  • Make additions reversible where possible and appropriate
  • Steer clear of conjecture and do not try to reinstate what has been lost
  • Undertake regular maintenance to avoid problems developing
  • Record and document
  • Retain the building and its fabric in its setting
  • Delay change until the full impact of what is intended is understoof
  • Never be afraid of good new design where it complements the old

Making Historic Buildings Energy Efficient – Roofs

The roof of a historic building is one of it’s most striking features and may have survived in a remarkably unchanged for condition for many centuries.

Roof Structure

Unless there has been substantial water leakage, the roof structure will usually be in good condition. This is often due to the generous amount of ventilation in historic buildings and their roof-spaces. Even though a historic building may generate a lot of internal moisture, some of which finds its way into the roof, it is quickly removed. Th moisture-buffering effect of the large amounts of hydroscopic material n many historic buildings ca also be helpful.

Pitched Roofs with Ventilated Roof Spaces

For traditional roofs with “cold” roof-spaces ventilated by outside air, it will often be possible to lay insulation over ceilings or between floor joists in the conventional manner.

Air infiltration into the roof-space from below should be reduced. In particular, holes around pipes, ducts and cable routes should be closed up, especially when they lead to areas of high humidity. Even then, some air and water vapour from the building will still get in. Because the extra insulation makes the roof-space colder than before in winter, the risk of dampness and condensation may increase, particularly if ventilation is limited or poor distributed.

It is essential to understand the likely effect of insulation and ventilation on the existing fabric and internal environment of the roof space, rather than to introduce additional ventilation gratuitously.

If you’ve decided to have convert the roof space into a room, a 50mm ventilation path is recommended beneath the roof finish, insulation, vapour control layer and an internal lining.

Most historic flat roofs are covered with lead, a few are clad in zinc or copper. Repairs and replacements using bitumastic (protective coating for metals) materials and felts have been widely used. Flat roofs show a wide variety of designs, although most are akin to the ‘cold roof’

Roofing Materials

Tile, stone and slate roofs used to be laid without sarking felts (An additional layer within a roof that insulates or reflects heat), although sarking boards boards were occasionally used.

Re-roofing now almost always includes underfelts to allow the work to take place in bad weather. Vapour-permeable materials are most popular. However, even these materials reduce air movement and alternative provision for ventilation may be necessary, though designed ‘breathing’ construction is now becoming possible.

Insulating foam is sometimes sprayed onto the underside of tiles and slates and sets into a hard layer. However, they are not recommended for historic buildings because jeu prevent the slates and tiles being salvaged during the next re-roofing. This is because the tiling battens and the upper parts of the rafters are sealed in, which may lead to rotting and premature degradation, because the normal flow of air into the roof space is restricted. Thatching provides one of the best natural insulators and should not need further insulation.

Taken from Energy Efficiency and Historic Buildings – English Heritage

How to upgrade windows in historic buildings

Windows are often considered to be “The eyes of the building” and this phrase is even more true in the case of historical buildings. They create the character of the building and changing these when attempting to modernise historical buildings should be approached with care.

Historic windows

  • Throughout the early medieval period, the great majority of windows were unglazed.
  • In timber- framed buildings they were simple openings in the structural frame. Vertical wood or iron bars were inserted to keep out intruders.
  • Glass was extremely expensive and rare and was not considered a fixture.
  • Timber shutters were widely used for security, privacy and to reduce draughts. In England, they were often internal and either hinged or slid in runners.

Much of the plain glass and most, if not all, of the coloured glass used in England during the medieval period was imported from the continent and therefore prohibitively expensive for widespread domestic use. By the late medieval period and into the 17th century, windows became more sophisticated with wooden tracery, moulded mullions and deep projecting cills. As glass was no longer quite as expensive it started to be used for ordinary domestic buildings.

In historic buildings, windows, and the depths of their frames, give the elevation of the building it’s character.

Often windows in historical buildings are single glazed and a common way to retain heat in a historic building is to change the glazing of the building to double glazing. However, this often means changing the depth and width of the frame and thus impacting the charm of the building.

What are the alternatives to double glazing?

There are several manufacturers who provide alternatives to thick double glazing.

Pilkington Spacia consists of an outer pane of low-emissivity glass and an inner pane of clear float, with a vacuum rather than air or another gas in between. The result is better thermal performance from a unit only fractionally as thick as a standard one.

Slimlite units are constructed with a clear outer self cleaning pane with a selected cavity of 3mm to 10mm, the wider cavity increases the insulation, with selected cavity insulating inert gas, which only performs in smaller cavities, an inner pane of 3mm or 4mm Low Emissivity glass.The emissivity coating is on the inside face into the cavity and reflects the long wave radiation or heat back into the room. The warm edge technology perimeter spacer incorporated, ensures insignificant differential insulation value between edge and centre glass.

 

Designing your house to keep cool this summer

Summer is just around the corner! If this summer is anything like last year, we’re guaranteed some hot weather and sunshine. There’s nothing worse than sitting in a boiling hot house when the weather is so great outside. Therefore, here are some design tips to consider when looking at designs for your new build to keep your house cool in the summer.

  1. The use of living walls and roofs – Living walls not only shield buildings from direct sunlight, but evapotranspiration by plants also helps cool walls
Example of a green roof

2. The thermal mass of your building will also contribute to the heating and cooling of the building. During summer it absorbs heat during the day and releases it by night to cooling breezes or clear night skies, keeping the house comfortable. In winter the same thermal mass can store the heat from the sun or heaters to release it at night, helping the home stay warm.

3. Utilise cross-ventilation in your home. Cross ventilation is a natural or planned process where cold air displaces warmer air, therefore creating a light breeze. This can be achieved by opening windows at opposite ends of the house and using a fan to direct the flow of air.

4. Consider the use of porches to shade south-facing windows

5. Geo-thermal heating and cooling is another excellent way to regulate temperatures in your home with out installing air conditioning

Taken from Chinook website

How will Brexit impact my build?

Unfortunately, the time has come for us to write an article about Brexit… The lingering shadow over the UK and the EU that seems to be taking longer than watching paint dry.

Brexit is at the forefront of many people’s minds and there is a lot of uncertainty about what will happen in the future. Uncertainty has lead to a decline in the housing market in the UK, with many buyers and sellers holding off doing anything with their properties until there is a little more security around the future of the UK. Whatever the outcome, Brexit (or no Brexit) will have a huge impact on the industry.

Construction contributes around 10% of world GDP, employs 7% of the global workforce, and consumes around 20% of the world’s energy. The construction industry is so important, it is widely seen as the best indicator of a national economy’s health.

What will the impacts be on the industry if we leave the EU?

  • The EU delivers up to 62% of our building materials and components – equalling approximately £5.7 billion in supplies
  • In Q4 2017’s, 67% of contractors said they struggled to find bricklayers, and 50% were unable to hire joiners and carpenters.
  • Office of National Statistics figures show that one-third of workers on construction sites in London were from overseas, with 28% coming from the EU
  • On a more positive note – Brexit could mean far less red tape in the construction industry, speeding up processes on site

In Summary…

If we leave the EU, the biggest impact will be on the availability of a workforce for construction, as such a large proportion of construction workers come from the EU. It has the potential to lead to a skills shortage catastrophe and means the government needs to look into new ways of improving skills amongst the UK population, for example, through apprenticeships funding. It will also mean we will need to find materials from elsewhere around the world or strike a significant trade deal with the EU. On the other hand, it also has the potential to decrease the amount of red tape that impacts the building of new homes in the UK.

The latest from Living Space Architects – 29/3/19

The team have had a great couple of weeks. They have been kept very busy with lot’s of work in the pipeline!

Contemporary Barn Conversion in West Hill

We have been working on creating some fantastic images for a contemporary barn conversion in West Hill. In the image you can see we are trying to create a more open plan space, experimenting with different ways we can allow natural light into the space.

Kirsty applies for her Conservation Architect Status through RIBA!

Kirsty has been working extremely hard to apply for her official Conservation Architect status through RIBA.

Receiving “Conservation Architect” status means that RIBA accredits her to have an in- depth knowledge and experience of working with historic buildings.

Within this application Kirsty is submitting 4 papers reflecting the range of work areas a conservation architect undertakes, in which, she has used examples of some of her incredible work.

One of the projects Kirsty has written about is the extensive refurbishment and alteration project of what was originally a medieval hall longhouse in Dartmoor. The refurbishment and extension of the property won the Conservation Award in 2017 from The Devon Historic Buildings Trust!

3D scanning at a site visit in Langport

Although thy had a chilly start to the morning, Freya and Stuart came back with some awesome 3D scans from a site visit in Langport.

The inside of the property
Caught on the scanner!
And again!

Our Community Projects