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PassivHaus with Living Space Architects – Week 1

Week One has been an introduction into the key rules of PassivHaus and a closer look at thermal efficiency, heat loss and thermal bridges. There has been lots of maths involved, but also some really helpful rules of thumb, general guidance, and dispelling some myths!

Thermal Envelope: the SHAPE of the building is important and can be described with a simple Form Heat Loss Factor graph – the more exposed sides, the worse a building performs (but don’t worry – this can be overcome with some consideration of the next rules…)

Glazing: orientation is not everything, consider position, size and shading.

Insulation: how much do you need, what type do you need, and has it been installed well?

Airtight: get rid of those pesky drafts!

Ventilation: using mechanical ventilation to provide fresh air to your home, while also removing pollutants and pollen.

Myth #1: You CAN open your windows in a PassivHaus home – but you don’t need to for fresh air, or to cool down.

Fact: A PassivHaus cannot exceed 15kWh/m2 in space heating in a year. If electricity costs 27p/kWh (2023), how much electricity costs would you save for your home?

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PassivHaus with Living Space Architects

Autumn is bringing change to Living Space Architects.

Our project architect Ellen Sinclair Harris has commenced her PassivHaus Designer training with CoAction to become a certified PassivHaus designer. This means that Living Space Architects will be able to provide our clients with industry leading advice, design, and technical ability to build better, more sustainable and energy efficient homes.

Over the next 6 weeks, Ellen is going to share key aspects of PassivHaus design, enabling everyone to better understand what energy efficient homes look like.

Class Q Barn Conversion: My favourite Living Space Architects project

Without a doubt, my favourite Living Space Architects project is this Class Q barn conversion in Dartington. The transformation this shell of a building underwent is miraculous and there is no denying my feeling of complete awe and enchantment. From a cavernous barn to a striking and beautiful family home, it is hard to comprehend how much potential this timber frame truly had stored within it. It poses the question: how much unlocked potential exists elsewhere? With countless unsuspecting barns scattered across the country, it seems a shame not to grant more the same beautification.

But what is it specifically, that makes this particular barn conversion so special and the top contender for my favourite LSA project ever?

After overcoming the initial shock of “WOW! What a transformation,” a more in-depth inspection reveals just how well-crafted the use of space, light and natural materials are, combining to create a pervasive sense of calm and balance. I think the architects’ ability to capitalise on the existing features of the structure, such as the sloping roof, the open plan space and the large mass of light through the front of the property is one of the most successful aspects of the project. The large windows not only help the exterior retain its open, barn-like appearance but they dually enrich the interior space with a seamless connection between the outside and in, framing the beautiful view and providing a degree of light that most could only dream of.

I also think the separation of interior space is particularly clever. The main living space contains an open-plan kitchen, dining area and living room, which echoes the feel of a spacious large barn. However, I feel that the addition of a beautiful curved wall separating this space and an entrance hall/ walkway elevates the sophistication of the building by subtly reinforcing the fact that this is no longer a barn but a functional and stylish family home.  

If you own an agricultural building that you want to convert, the Class Q legislation may enable this without full planning permission. However, it is important to note that there are a few requirements that your build must meet. For example, the new house must retain the existing external dimensions; it cannot be larger. Nevertheless, as proven by this beautiful home, a barn conversion will allow you to create a space that is unique to your surroundings. For more information on Class Q legislation or enquiries about a barn conversion, feel free to email us at studio@livingspacearchitects.com.

Sophie Batten

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New Build Interview – Exeter Living

Building your own new build 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.

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Starting your PassivHaus project

Wow! The end of 2023 and beginning of 2024 has been busy for us here at Living Space Architects, and despite our best intentions, we could not keep up with the Blog Posts recording Ellen’s progress through the training for the PassivHaus Designer course.

2024 has bought excellent news for Ellen and the team at Living Space Architects, passing the exam with flying colours and confirming Ellen’s status as a fully qualified PassivHaus Designer!

What is PassivHaus?

What does this mean for our clients?

Ellen is now qualified to provide the expertise required to realise your PassivHaus aspirations. Whether you are looking to uplift your project’s eco status, or take it to the next level of comfort with a PassivHaus, we are here to help you.

So are you dreaming of a low energy, high performance, comfortable home with low heating bills? Get in contact to start your PassivHaus journey!

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PassivHaus with Living Space Architects – Week 2

Week Two has focused on solar gains and internal gains.

Solar gains (using the sun to warm up) look at window placement, design, size, and shading. Getting these aspects right will help balance your solar gains (warming up the building) against your heat loss through the windows – windows do not insulate as well as walls.

There are lots of things to consider here – do we want solar shading, where should the shading be, do we want openable windows, do we want blinds, where do we want our windows? Openable windows are desirable, but security, external noise or even just stopping the pets from escaping could stop you! Blinds are helpful in reducing glare and increasing privacy, but internal blinds will not stop the glass itself from heating up, and maybe we want to maximise our views out.

Internal gains refer to everything else inside the building (apart from the heating system) that can warm the building up. This will include how many people are in the building, what type, and the number of appliances in use. The internal gains will change dramatically based on how the building is being used – is it a home, a school, or an office building?

We make assumptions about occupancy and build these into our calculations with a generous buffer to ensure that the comfort of the occupants is maximised while reducing reliance on space heating.

Lessons Learnt

The lesson from this week has been the need to talk to our clients really early to understand how they want to live and work in their homes and PassivHaus projects. Everybody lives in slightly different ways; some people sleep with the window open, some people need complete silence; some have vegetable plots and want extra freezers to store their produce; some families work from home with extensive office setups; some people bought their home for the view, and don’t want to spoil these with blinds and curtains.

So tell us how you want to live, because every detail is important to us and will help ensure your PassivHaus will reflect you.

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RIBA Journal’s Time to Reflect Competition

Kirsty’s creative writing bringing to light stories of her female friends and colleagues reflecting on their careers in architecture made her one of the winners of the @ribajournal Time to Reflect competition.

The competition invited the winners to a week’s stay at Shangri-La The Shard, London. During her stay, she had time to reflect on her career and meet up with old friends and like-minded individuals with the hope to share their stories. 

To read Kirsty’s entry click
here

“My time to reflect in the Shard was a very special experience. It was the perfect place to meet others to hear about their experiences as mid-career architects – being up in the clouds gave us the perspective to think about our journeys and future plans. I am enormously grateful to the staff for their warm welcome and for looking after us so well” 

Kirsty Curnow-Bayley
Kirsty’s illustration produced during her stay

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Heat Pumps

What are the costs of air source heat pumps and their current availability?

I am beginning to believe that eco-technologies are becoming a luxury item for the wealthy as the supply and instal costs are enormous and the availability is very scarce.

Over the last 10 years, nearly every project on our books has involved installing an air or ground source heat pump.

With the increasing public awareness and changing building regulations, we have recently had problems with the supply & installation of the heat pump equipment on our projects. We are now seeing a race to get the equipment installed ahead of further supply issues.

Costing:

For a refurbishment of a 100-year-old 5-bedroom house, I am coordinating, our client started with the priority of upgrading the heating system to an energy-efficient – heat pump replacing all the radiators with underfloor heating.

The quote I received for the air source heat pump – and a second backup boiler for the top floor which would enable the occasional use of the loft rooms – was £18,264 This includes programable thermostats and wiring, and the commissioning of the system. The supply and instal of the hot water cylinder was £2,746

The underfloor heating for the ground floor of the house was £11,572, with a further £6,144 for underfloor heating to the 1st-floor bathroom and ensuite rooms. That’s a total of £17,716 for the underfloor heating.

And that doesn’t cover everything upstairs. The new central heating network needs to circulate at a lower temperature so we needed a new heating network of pipes and oversized radiators (to offset the lower circulated temperature of water) to the remaining bedrooms on the 1st and second floors of the house added up to £13,795

If we also include the decommissioning of the heating system at a further £2,112, the total quoted amount to replace the heating system on this project is £54,624 (including VAT)

is it ok to suggest a £50,000 saving is available if we replace the boiler with a new efficient gas boiler (with the option of hydrogen source as a future upgrade) or should I encourage my client to persist along the route of the air source heat pump and low-temperature radiator / underfloor heating strategy?

I note the new building regulations released this year are asking for all new heating systems to circulate at a maximum of 55 degrees. So I imagine these prohibitive costs and supply problems will only worsen over the next few years.

Stuart Bayley

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Building Regulation Updates

From 15th June 2022, new Building Regulations come into force in England which will help the built environment meet the net zero targets set by Government for 2050.

The changes are limited to Approved Document F (Ventilation) and L (Conservation of Fuel and Power), and also the creation of two new documents;

  • Approved Document O (Overheating)
  • Approved Document S (Infrastructure for the charging of electric vehicles).

The new regulations will have a transition period. If a building notice or full plan application has been submitted to a local authority prior to 15th June 2022, and the building work commences before the same date in 2023, the new regulations will not apply.

All applications beyond 15th June 2022 will be required to achieve the new standards.

Part F:

Requires the ventilation in existing buildings to be maintained or improved when energy efficiency work is carried out, and guidance is provided with all installations of mechanical extract ventilation.

Part L:

Improves the U value requirements for walls, windows, roof lights and doors to improve the thermal efficiency of domestic buildings and requires the SAP method of compliance for extensions to existing properties.

Part O:

Aims to reduce overheating in new residential buildings by minimising solar gain and removing excess heat from new developments. This will be achieved by considering cross-ventilation, orientation and the amount of glazing.

Large overhanging roofs to help prevent overheating

We have undertaken CPD to understand the technical changes of the Building Regulations and what it means for our practice and our clients.

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First Steps to Self build

How to Design & Build a new home

Many of us dream of designing and building our own home, but where should you start on your new build and what is the process you will go through?

Here at Living Space Architects, we have over 15 years experience of working with self-builders to help them create their own self build homes.

In the following, we will give you top tips for success along with guidance on the steps you need to take along the way.

Most of the clients we work with at Living Space are looking to create a sustainable contemporary home often on a site in the beautiful countryside of the southwest. We work throughout the counties of Devon, Cornwall, Somerset, Gloucestershire, and Wiltshire and have had the pleasure of designing some amazing new build homes with our clients. 

The initial starting point is often a phone call or an email from a client that has seen our work online and likes our sustainable contemporary approach to new homes. Before they find us however our clients have usually been on a long journey looking for and finding their perfect plot.

Finding a Plot for your new build

You might be looking to buy a particular piece of land or perhaps you are looking at your own garden’s potential as a development opportunity. Whatever your starting point there is a lot to think about before you can decide if you have found the right site. 

One of the things we often do when analysing a site is to look at recent planning applications that have been made for other projects nearby. You can do this by searching for your local council’s website and looking up planning applications online. This will give you an idea of the potential local issues. 

Another issue to check for is if your site is within the settlement boundary of a town or village. Building a house in what planners term ‘the open countryside’ is enormously difficult (although not impossible if you have the time and money to spare). 

Example of a Class Q Barn Conversion to create a family home  in Devon.

If the site is within the settlement boundary it is much more likely to gain consent. Other approaches to consider are converting agricultural barns using the Class Q permitted development process, or knocking down an existing house to enable you to re-build your dream design.

You can find more details in our handy guide to assessing your plot.

The checklist can seem a bit daunting at first, but most plots will only have some of the restrictions listed – we also offer a plot assessment service if you would like us to go through that process for you.  By going through the checklist you will be aware of any potential issues from the start and be able to start your self-build with this in mind. No site is perfect but some sites have more difficult issues than others

Creating your Design Brief

Once you have your site your next step is to create a really good brief for your architect or designer. This should start with the types and sizes of spaces you would like to have in your house and your build budget. As well as this you should describe to your architect your priorities in terms of light and views, the things that drew you to the site, and how you like to live.

If there are projects you’ve seen that you love include the pictures and highlight what you like about them. It might be a material or a layout and the way the spaces link and flow.

brise soleil shading new house from over Looking naigboughs and the sun.jpg

Often clients don’t want to give their architects too much information at the start of a project as they are afraid it will curb the creative process.

We feel that the more information you can give us the better – ultimately this will be your home and it needs to work for the way you live and be somewhere you love to spend time in. If you want a kitchenette in your master bedroom let us know! Everyone is different and you probably have a really good reason for what you want to achieve.

Entrance hallway In class Q Barn Conversion in Devon

That said we will tell you if we think there is a better solution and often will suggest ideas that take you out of your comfort zone – that is all part of the design process.

You can get a template for creating your brief for your project below or complete our online enquiry form to get in touch with us:

Appointing an Architect

Armed with your site information and your brief you can start to approach architects to discuss your project. Obviously, we would love to be on your list! It is however a good idea to speak to several architects before making your final decision. Although the level of fees will be high on your list, you should make sure you consider these things before you sign on the dotted line.

The title ‘architect’ is protected by law and can only be used by people registered with the Architects Registration Board (ARB) having gone through the relevant training.  Unfortunately, there is nothing to stop anyone from setting themselves up as an ‘architectural designer’ with little or no experience.  No wonder there is often confusion when it comes to choosing someone to work with you on your building project.

Chartered architects are also members of the RIBA in addition to the ARB, which gives you additional peace of mind that they are adhering to a strict code of conduct and keeping up to date with the latest legislation and technical innovations.

To help you make the right decision about which professional to choose to design your building project and make sure you get value for money, we’ve set out the top questions to ask when you need to employ a design professional:

Things to ask your new build’s Architect or Designer:

  • Are you registered with the ARB, RIBA or CIAT?
  • Do you have Professional Indemnity Insurance (PII)?

All RIBA and CIAT registered professionals must have this in place and it means that if something does go wrong you have peace of mind.  Some architectural designers may not hold this insurance, which means you will have to foot the bill for any mistakes they make even if it isn’t your builder’s fault.

  • Can I speak to some of your previous clients? 

A good architect will have a long list of happy clients and they will be only too pleased to pass your details on so that you can have a chat about their experience.

  • What do you specialise in?

If a firm mostly designs schools or office buildings they may not be the right practice for your new house or extension.  The best practices for residential projects are those that have a good track record of this type of project, and these are often the smaller practices.

Lastly don’t forget that you need to get on with your architect; everyone is different and you could be working with them for some time, so you need to make sure you click.  Your architect should be able to explain things to you in a way that you understand and feel comfortable with.  We don’t all wear black polar necks and wear silly glasses (well only some of us) and often a more sensitive approach can be helpful at the early stages of a project when you are trying to work out your brief.

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