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Building your own home?
We asked Stuart Bayley for his top tips…
What ‘homework’ should a person have already done before they approach an architecture firm like yours?
It is helpful to have created a scrapbook or Pinterest board of houses and projects that you like – including their materials.
What is a really important thing to think about before proceeding?
Consider the orientation of the house to the sunshine and views – ideally, combine the two together so the house can open up to the landscape whilst still benefitting from an ideal solar orientation for natural/passive design.
What are the main pitfalls?
Rising material prices and construction costs are increasing the contingency that builders are having to apply to their tender / fixed prices – making the overall projects more expensive.
When it comes to design how much do you do and how much does the customer do? How does that relationship work?
We like to create a few alternative layouts at an early stage for our clients which can then lead to a strong element of client-guided development and working together in developing a suitable design. Many of our clients are families and couples – rather than developers – so they engage us to help them create their unique dream house.
Any new trends we should be paying attention to?
the increasing need to incorporate renewable technologies to heat our houses in the future and the need to create our own PV for electrical supply – often in conjunction with a large storage battery for the home.
Is there an increased demand at the moment for new builds/ extensions? How has Covid affected your company?
land with planning permission and that is suitable for new houses in short supply – so consider barn conversions or replacement dwellings as a fall-back position for a new contemporary home.
The brief was to create an eco-friendly family home. The client’s vision was rather unusual though they wanted an upsidedown house. Stuart Bayley, co-director at living space architects, tells us how they did it…
As anyone who loves their property programs will know connecting with nature is currently a big thing for those designing and producing a new home, especially in these parts. few pull off the development which immerses itself so unequivocally in the surrounding landscape as this family home though.
Located in Dunsford, just outside of Exeter nestled into lush greenness the smooth curved roof is the first thing you notice it sets the tone for the property and conveys that this is a place of calm; a gentle space where there is something of a free flow between the inside and outside.
“The roof was originally concived to replicate the form of local dutch barns which sit around the lower edges of Dartmoor,” says Stuart Bayley, co-director at Living Space Architects, the local architecture firm who designed the house.”
“Our client is a big surfer and loved the idea of a natural wave form
The green roof sits on a highly insulated roof with a rubber membrane waterproof finish so the green roof is a significant visual improvement. The natural environment benefit for birds and insects form a green roof is significant and enjoyable.”
The house split level is a quirky design; all the bedrooms are on the ground floor, the living spaces on the first floor (hence being called an ‘upside-down’ house); and amazingly, all rooms in this property have access to the outside garden.
“As you enter the house, the light and staircase draw you up to the first floor living accommodation.” adds, Stuart.
“The open plan first floor configuration creates the sense of open space with no internal walls to disrupt the light across the space from all four sides of the building.”
Stuart tells us that his favorite space are the windows of the ground floor bedrooms as these are designed to avoid any potential overlooking off the neighboring land and house.
“They create a unique character to both the inside of the rooms as they draw your eye to a different view, whilst the north-facing elevation glazing is reduced to keep down the heat loss and an intriguing rear elevation is created.”
What are the other eco-friendly credentials of the property?
“The house is a timber framed, highly insulated and air-tight building which helps to reduce the overall heating requirements. the heating its self is provided by the air-sorce heat-pump which is an increasingly popular method of heating our homes.”
Read the full latest edition of Exeter living here.
We were heartened by the campaign launched recently by the Architects Journal encouraging the Re-use of existing buildings. RetrofitFirst asks architects to sign up to putting the re-use of buildings first and to work , where possible, with what is already in our built world. The quote above is from last week’s magazine cover and we thought it perfectly encapsulated our own beliefs about working with existing buildings in the south west.
As a practice we specialise in the adaption and re-use of existing and historic buildings, to help make them as sustainable as possible, so naturally we signed up to support the campaign. Our two directors are passionate about sustainability and the historic built environment. With Stuart having expertise in all things eco-tech and Kirsty a qualified Conservation Architect, they make a great combination.
The demolition of existing structures to enable the building of new ones is clearly not a sustainable approach – even if the new building uses less energy. The best approach is to help make our existing building stock more sustainable by reducing unnecessary air leakage, improving insulation in an appropriate manner and making sure they are well looked after by carefully repairing and renewing them.
Old buildings are incredibly adaptable – not something that can always be said of our new building stock, which is often difficult to adapt to new uses. Careful extensions and alterations to older buildings can help to breathe new life into a project, without detrimentally impacting on their historic significance.
Many of our projects use natural, breathable insulation to help reduce heat loss. The use of natural fibre insulation is growing rapidly at the moment, with natural and sustainable options on the market such as sheep wool, find out more here. This is particularly successful when converting loft spaces or barns. Solid walls however don’t always need an additional layer of insulation, with thick stone and cob walls working as excellent heat stores. The image below shows the addition of external wood fibre insulation to a 1970’s extension. This approach works well with existing cavity walls, although insulating internally is often a better approach for listed buildings.
Historic England encourage owners to look to the past for solutions to problems of heat loss and draughts. Historically home owners would have hung tapestries and had thick curtains or shutters to help keep them warm. A similar approach today and help keep your Listed property warm without unnecessary intervention. See their advice on their website here.
Repairing old windows is also a much more sustainable approach than replacing them with UPVC. Many windows are able to be adapted with the insertion of slim double glazing units with systems like Pilkington Spacia providing a high quality option. Secondary glazing is not always the most practical solution, but can works well and companies like Mitchell & Dickinson in North Devon offer a service to repair and renovate timber windows alongside installing very low impact secondary glazing.
Using recycled materials is an approach we would like to take more often. Rotor, a Brussels-based design practice are creating a website that will help architects and building owners source recycled materials for their build. The UK version of the site can be accessed Here We are pleased to see Exeter’s Toby’s Reclamation Yard on the list, and hopefully more locations in the south west will be added. Rotor have an arm of their business that salvages materials from demolition sites and sorts them for re-use. Hopefully this idea will be will be taken on in the UK and it will become easier to source recycled materials for new build and refurbishment projects.
Old v. New Heating Strategies
Older buildings were constructed as a cellular arrangement of rooms that would be individually heated as and when they were being used. In comparison, modern heating strategies use electronic controls to tailor the heating in the house to your exact preference. It is also important to consider the difference in building materials used in the construction of old buildings compared to the present day. These materials may not necessarily be compatible to use together, for example, the very hard material of concrete may damage the softer materials of the older building.
The older houses were built with the principles of using traditional methods of retaining heat, for example:
- Closing heavy curtains
- Shutting internal doors
- Closing shutters at night
- Utilising the thermal mass of the structure to retain heat from fires and slowly release it over a longer period of time
Nowadays houses are built with heating features such as insulation, electronic heating system and waterproof cladding.
Insulating historic buildings
The insulation of historic buildings is one of the most important aspects to consider when upgrading the infrastructure of an old building. Traditionally, older buildings have solid walls, whereas newer buildings tend to have cavity walls
A cavity wall is a wall formed of 2 separate walls (usually brick and block) with a space between them. Insulation is fitted in the space between them meaning there is one “wet” wall, on the outside of the building, and one “dry” wall on the inside of the building.
Older buildings don’t have this cavity insulation, the walls allow a degree of moisture penetration into their structure but avoid damp problems due to the breathable nature of the materials used, for example renders based on lime, earth or clay and finishes such as lime wash. These materials absorb water, but also allow for easy evaporation.
Therefore, using modern construction methods such as cement-based materials, ‘plastic’ paints and waterproof sealants will not be effective on an older building and could damage the walls of the property.
Natural insulation materials tend to be much more breathable than synthetic materials and therefore will be more effective and less damaging to use on an older building. They act as moisture buffers and tend to “breathe” with the original walls of the building. Examples of these natural materials include wood fibre, hemp, sheep’s wool, cellulose, aerogel, calcium silicate and many more.
These materials will also have excellent sustainable properties, such as:
- Low embodied carbon
- They improve indoor air quality
- They are easy to recycle at the end of their life
Tips to make your building more energy efficient
When making historic buildings more energy efficient there are some simple things that you can do to begin with, that a relatively inexpensive and are less likely to cause problems with the structure of the building itself.
- Fit draught excluders to letterboxes and outside doors
- Invest in heavier curtains
- Ensure that radiators aren’t blocked by furniture
- Mend any broken windows
- Fill in any gaps in wooden panelling
- Get LED lights fitted
- Clear out the gutters and the drains (these make the walls cold!)
More expensive methods that would be the next step up from this would be:
- Installing programmable thermostats
- Make sure all the heating and hot water pipes are well insulated
- Wood burning stoves fuel much more efficiently than open fires and cause fewer draughts
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 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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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
- Dry wet areas immediately
- Ensure proper ventilation of your home
- Put lids on saucepans, drying washing outside and avoiding using paraffin or bottled gas heaters
- Open your bedroom window for 15 minutes each morning
- Make sure your home is well insulated
- Heat your home a little more
- Ventilate rooms regularly and leave doors open to allow air to circulate, unless you’re cooking or showering
- 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
- 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.
- Using a stiff-bristled brush, scrub the blackened area.
- Rinse thoroughly and dry.
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
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.
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’
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
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.
- 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.