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The greenest building is the one that already exists

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.

Staddons Cottage was insulated at ceiling level using sheep’s wool between the joists and lime plaster on a new lath structure.

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.

The image above shows wood fibre insulation being added to an existing 1970’s extension, which was rendered with breathable lime. This was part of an overall refurbishment project and included replacing windows and doors to create a a much more airtight construction, Heating was replaced with a wood pellet boiler utilising the RHI.

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.

Published in Real Homes Magazine

Our beautiful house extension and refurbishment project in Grey Wings, Cornwall has been featured in the ‘Design Guide’ for Real Homes Magazine under ‘Sustainable Style’.

This was a wonderful project to be part of, and we worked with obsessive detail to make the property the best it could possibly be.

The result was a highly sustainable and innovative design, embraced the stunning views and location of the property in a contemporary, stylistic manner.

To read more about the design, and see more pictures of this impressive extension, click here.

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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.

New Year – New Home?

With the news full of uncertainty in the financial markets many of us are choosing to stay put rather than sell our houses and move, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make the most of what we have and there are plenty of projects within all budgets that could make a real difference to your home without having to up sticks and move.  By making changes and improvements to your home not only can it make your property feel like new but it will also add value once the market improves again.

Adding and Extension

Adding extra floor area is a guaranteed way of making your home feel like new.

Not only is finance more difficult to find but moving home costs a fair bit of money too with stamp duty on a £500,000 home amounting to £20,000.  It’s these factors that have made staying where you are and extending a really good option.

“It’s true that it can be more difficult to make a big profit now on any work that you do to your home, but you will more than likely get back what you spend” says Kirsty Curnow Bayley at Living Space Architects. “In some cases, especially with homes at the top end of the market you can create a good extension for the same price as moving”.

Rear and Side Extensions

 

This is the most popular type of extension, often opening up to the garden at the rear of the property with the kitchen diner leading onto the garden.  Families are looking for space where they can all be together that connects better with the garden and this will definitely add value to your home.  Expect to pay in the region of £1500- £2000 per square metre including fit out.  Consider employing an architect for the project, although it will add around 10-15% to your project the extra spend is definitely worth while; architects are space planning experts and will make sure you get value for your money.  They will also help you negotiate the planning maze and can manage building contractors to help ensure a project is on time and within budget.

Loft Conversions

A loft conversion will cost in the region of £40,000 and is a great way to get another bedroom and can be a good option if your family is expanding but you don’t want to move.  You may not need planning permission for a loft conversion although it is important to check that your house still has it’s permitted development rights before you start work.  Always contact your local planning authority to check or speak to an architect who will be able  confirm how big your extension can be to comply.

Basement

Adding a basement is one of the best options if your priority is to gain extra space as you can effectivly gain a whole extra floor.  You can draw in extra light by adding a lightwell and extending into your back garden.  Compared to an extension at ground level a basement is a more expensive option with costs of up to £3000 per square metre and can be disruptive.  Make sure you employ a good architect before you start to make sure your basement is as light and airy as possible.

Sun room

 

The traditional upvc conservatory extension is a bit of a quick fix solution and many people regret not having considered other options.

Again a small conservatory may not need planning permission and it is worth checking before you start.

When planning your sun room think about its orientation – south facing sun rooms are great but you do need to consider how to avoid overheating.  You can create a sun room with a solid roof and rooflights to help control temperatures whilst still letting in light.  Large roof overhangs can provide solar shading and some protection from summer showers.

Sliding folding doors are now extremely popular but large slim framed aluminium sliding doors are becoming more popluar as they give the best visual connection with the garden and look a lot more stylish.