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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.

Design Award from Devon Historic Buildings Trust

Thinking about altering or extending a listed building? Read this first!

If you’re lucky enough to own a listed building, it’s likely that you’re already well aware that making adaptations to this object of national, historic or architectural value is no small feat.

Listed building control is a type of planning control, which acts in addition to any other regulations that would normally apply. Acquiring planning permission can be a more challenging task than usual, but this doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Fortunately for you, we’ve got the expertise and knowledge to help you through this process and turn your dream into a reality.  

So to start- what actually is a ‘listed building’?

The Listed Building and Conservation Areas Act of 1990 defines a listed building as: “a building, object or structure that has been judged to be of national importance in terms of architectural or historic interest and included on a special register.”

National importance…surely that means alterations aren’t possible?

Although getting the permission to adapt the listed building requires you to jump through a few more hoops than usual, it is not impossible. Making the right plans and seeking professional guidance is vital to avoid any disastrous results.

How do I go about the planning?

It seems obvious but you need to prepare well before you carry out refurbishment or alteration work, particularly to a historic or listed building.

This is key in order to obtain listed building consent first time. Historic buildings can be sensitive and delicate in places and a without a clear plan, your builder could make mistakes or even do irreversible damage to the building. The best way to do this is through a set of instructions, allowing you to lay out your vision and get the detail right. Remember, doing damage to a listed building is a criminal offence, and so it really is worth putting in the time to get it right the first time.

What should the instructions include?

  1. A schedule of the work to be done and how it should be carried out.  This might also become a pricing document for the builder.
  2. A specification setting out the materials to be used and the standards of workmanship to be used.
  3. Drawings showing the existing and proposed layout.
  4. Detailed drawings illustrating how elements are to be constructed. This is particularly important for new joinery items such as windows, balustrades and items that are historically important.
  5. Technical information about products to be used, for example the mix for lime render or the breathable insulation to be used on solid walls.
  6. Health and safety information is an extremely important part of any building project. Depending on the type of project you could be liable as the client for health and safety during construction. By law you also need a principle designer for the project. This will likely be your architect but could also be your builder, structural engineer or interior designer. The principle designer must reduce risks that could occur during the build process or when the building is used and preferably eliminate them where possible. Your architect can talk to you further about this important part of the building process and help.

Overwhelmed?

Don’t be. These initial stages are often the hardest part. Living Space Architects specialise in renovating and extending listed buildings in older properties so you can be assured that your project is in safe hands. We have a good relationship with conservation officers across the South West including Exeter, East Devon, Mid Devon, West Devon and Dartmoor National Park. Not only are we also members of the Listed Property Owners Club, but our very own Director Kirsty Curnow Bayley is a RIBA Conservation Registrant.

Next Steps…

If you would like to discuss the alteration or extension of a listed building we offer a consultation service to help you assess what changes you might be able to make and whether you will require Listed Building Consent. Remember- planning is key and if you have thought through the process and tackled potential barriers, there should be nothing stopping you from making your alteration dreams a reality.

 

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