One of the first and most important steps

At Building Tectonics we pride ourselves on producing detailed plans for the builder to use on site. The first and most crucial stage of any of our projects is getting an accurate set of plans depicting the existing building to take back to our office and work from. It’s impossible to get it 100% exact but we believe it’s so important to get it as correct as possible and so we can take between 2-3 hours on average measuring up a house, making sure we are as accurate as possible. Many other architectural companies employ an external surveyor to do this for them, but we believe that by doing it ourselves, it gives us more of an understanding of the building.

We’re always looking for ways to improve the way in which we work; to be more efficient and try to keep up with the latest trends. However, the way in which we survey has remained the same with good old pen and paper proving to be the most reliable option. Recently, we’ve been putting in the research looking into different CAD apps which could be used on a mobile device such as an iPad or Android tablet, some of these might help us to significantly reduce the time taken to measure up a property.

This research has resulted in considering apps such as Roomscan Pro which gives you a variety of choices of how to draw out your floor plans. The first of which would be using the device as if it were a piece of paper, and your finger/stylus as if it were a pencil and drawing directly on the device. The second choice is using the camera, placing markers where each point of the room is and allowing the app to create the floor plans automatically from those. The final option is using GPS built into the device by holding it against a wall, taking that point and then moving it to another wall and letting it measure the distance between them. Of course, there are some cons to these methods of surveying; when using the camera method, if you move the camera the markers move out of place, making the plan inaccurate. Using the GPS based method relies on the mobile devices system being accurate to within a couple of centimetres, and I don’t quite think we’re at that point in the technology yet.

The second app we shortlisted was called Orthograph, this uses your freehand drawings to create tidied up plans which can then be edited for accuracy. You draw a rough version of the room, and the app will recognise this and change your rough sketch into a CAD drawing. You can then change individual wall thicknesses and lengths using measurements you’ve taken with a laser measuring tool; or you can use a bluetooth laser measuring tool and link it directly into the app to get each measurement as you go. This could save us both time whilst measuring, and some human error in putting the wrong numbers on the survey. The cons with this app occur when trying to link rooms and staircases. It allows you to create one room at a time, which can then make it difficult to relate them to others when drawing up the plans.

If we could find ways around these cons, the likes of these apps could be incredibly useful to us in saving time, and making us more environmentally friendly by drawing digitally, and then emailing the drawings to the team in office, therefore, saving paper. Until then, we’ll stick to pen and paper.

Kitchens and triangular thinking.

The ’work triangle’ is something that clients can often come across when thinking of designing their new kitchen. It seeks to describe the perfect relationship between the sink, cooker, and refrigerator.  It has always been said that this triangle should be quite compact to allow the cook to access all crucial parts of the kitchen without the need to walk far when preparing meals. Even though the basic idea still applies, it needs a few updates since our kitchens have become more complex, involving much more equipment; microwave, multiple ovens, and separate hob. Some even include a built-in coffee machine. Despite the dishwasher not having a part in food preparation, many of you will surely admit that often you find yourself looking for the one knife you need, and find it in the dishwasher, used to prepare a meal earlier that day. The conclusion we can often come to when thinking about these aspects is “I need a bigger kitchen”, but that could make it an impractical one in terms of how far you’d have to walk to get a meal prepared. Kitchen preparation space is often sacrificed for the sake of fitting everything into a smaller space, but when you’re cooking fresh meals enough space to prepare it in is paramount.

The layout of a kitchen can be described with one of the following terms; island, galley, bay or L shaped.
Galley kitchens are usually only on one side, sometimes two but this makes it much more compact as well as shorter.
Islands are very popular in many modern kitchens which is, in my opinion, due to the aesthetics of them rather than their practicality. They can work quite well, but only if you accept that one side will be for guests to look at; for presentation only as if you tried to store things on all sides, you’d get your daily cardio in by constantly running around it for the different utensils etc.
L shaped kitchen layouts can work out okay but can sometimes be too spread out.
Bay kitchens are, in my view, the best in terms of practicality, they’re also sometimes referred to as peninsula kitchens.

Here at Building Tectonics, when we design a kitchen we always show a kitchen layout, but by no means is that the permanent design; this is just to show that at least one suitable layout can be accommodated. The layout is often adopted by the client, even if it’s not accepted as the final kitchen design, at least we know a sensible kitchen configuration fit into the available space. I’ve been to a few houses where the architect hasn’t paid as much attention to detail and as a result, the cooker has ended up miles away from the rest of the kitchen. If you’re designing a kitchen space please don’t accept a space that doesn’t achieve the basic function of cooking. If the space isn’t working then call in a company like Building Tectonics to advise you on how you could alter or extend the space to get a more functional kitchen.

Potential for resale

As with any project, the potential for resale should always be borne in mind. If we work together to create a really nice house, when you’re ready to sell, it will sell quickly and command the best possible price. It’s worth saying at this point that to do the job well doesn’t necessarily cost more; it does, however, mean it’s important that the design team (that’s the client and Building Tectonics working together) should take enough time at the feasibility scheme stage to look at a range of ideas where possible, and then refine the most promising.

The time has come for the Abella’s to move and as we often hear from clients, the house has sold almost immediately for the best price possible in this area of town. We’re confident that the buyers will also enjoy the house and realise the best price possible when the time comes. As we often remind clients; it’s not just a home, it’s also your most important asset.

We are grateful to Penrose estate agents for the use of their internal photos.

After photo of the kitchen

Home Improvement in North Crawley

In this instance, we were initially engaged to find a way to produce a kitchen entertainment space, but we soon found ourselves also looking at the entrance porch and kerb appeal of the house. The favoured scheme involved converting the double garage into the kitchen space and creating a new garage on the other side of the house. It was clear that our clients liked working with us, and we even got asked to come up with ideas for their garden, which we duly did. Our “happy to help” approach and inventiveness means that we will almost always arrive at something helpful.

The project was just completed when sudden circumstances caused our clients to emigrate, but the house is now a much more valuable and desirable property than hitherto, so the exercise was not wasted. Even though our clients, sadly, will not get the benefit of living there, another family will.

Tips when choosing art for your walls.

Have you ever wanted to buy some artwork for your home, only to get overwhelmed, not knowing where to start? There is a lot on offer out there so I’m sure a lot of us have been in that predicament, which is why we’ve written this post, hopefully it will help you out next time you’re trying to choose. As I see it, there are two main perspectives I can come at this from – an emotionally based angle, and an objectively based angle. For the purposes of this post, we’ll assume that you have a room in mind for the piece, and that cost is irrelevant.

Firstly, I’d like to talk about the emotional aspects of what we can consider. We’re drawn to the things we like, so one of the first things we should really ask ourselves is “how does this make me feel?”, if you look at it and don’t get any emotional response, then it may not be the right piece for you. It should be something you’re proud to own and show off to other people, after all your own personality will be reflected in what you choose to buy and display but really, it has to be something you’d be happy to look at every day. If you spot a piece that grabs your attention, you should think about whether it not only grabs your attention initially, but continues to hold it. Personally I find that easier if the piece you choose is unique, a one of a kind piece as opposed to something mass produced, you know that you’re the only one who owns that particular piece and so you automatically feel more proud of it.

Once you’ve thought about all of that, and chosen a piece that you really connect with emotionally, thinking about this from an objective standpoint we should consider whether the piece is going to be a focal point, does the room already have a statement piece? Be that in the form of some art, some interesting furniture, an ornate mirror or even a grand chandelier. If you already have a focal piece in the room and only want one, then you should be looking at decor or accent pieces to complement the room as a whole. The colour of the piece will have a dramatic impact on the amount by which it fits into the space, unless you do want this to be the focal point of the room you don’t want it to stand out too much; you’d want it to almost blend in, just not to the point that it fades into the background. Every piece of art or decor we buy is for the purpose of enhancing a space, so you need to ask yourself how this piece will enhance the room you have in mind.

The size and shape of the artwork is something we automatically think about when looking for art, but I find that a lot of people forget about the impact the orientation will have as well. Consider the wallspace you have available, and whether a horizontal or vertical emphasis would fit into that better. If you have an abstract painting for example, it could go either way but the orientation will have an impact on how people view it, and how it makes them feel. You’d need to think practically about the weight if it’s a large framed painting, wall sculpture or something similar, and how you’re going to mount it in the space you have in mind. You wouldn’t want to mount something heavy on a plasterboard wall, the next time you go to view it it could have pulled some of the wall down under the weight!

When deciding on a piece of art, just try to remember that it may be a longer process than you initially thought. However, if you bear what we’ve said in mind, we think you’ll come to own a piece that you’d never regret owning.

Photo of a nest smart thermostat

“Smart” Thermostats

“Smart Tech” is becoming more of a household term across the world, and it’s quickly becoming an integral part of people’s lives. A lot of people use their phones for the majority of their daily lives, take for example the smart thermostat – we can now control the temperature of our homes from anywhere with an internet connection, with our phones. This includes using them to control other devices in conjunction with the thermostat.

Smart thermostats allow you to have a fine level of control over the heating in your home remotely from anywhere, they also allow you to have control over the hot water from your phone, both functions subsequently saving you money on your energy bills in the long run. These aren’t the only things that make smart thermostats “smart” though, they’re intuitive because they allow you to create schedules based on your personal preferences. If you don’t set one up, they ‘learn’ from how you use the thermostat and create a schedule automatically.

A lot of smart thermostats connect to weather stations over the internet and can automatically adjust your homes temperature based on the weather and humidity. They can also use motion sensors or geofencing to sense whether anyone is in the house, if not then they can set themselves to an “away mode” and save you energy by keeping energy use to a minimum while you’re out. A newer feature coming to many smart thermostats is the ability to adjust the temperature by room, this is called “zoned heating”, this could be useful if you need to keep a nursery warmer than the rest of the house for example but you would need the central heating system to be zoned to make this work.

Given that your thermostat will connect to your home’s wi-fi. it’d be silly if it didn’t offer some connectivity with other devices on the network. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there is an app out there called IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That), the app is used to create simple statements which form connections between different products or apps. There are lots of devices which are compatible with certain thermostats, I’ll write another blog about those next time, but as an example; if you own the Amazon Alexa, you can create a recipe which allows you to control the thermostat using your voice through the Alexa.

Pound Sign

The main upside of the smart thermostat is the fact that by combining all of these different features, a smart thermostat can help to save you money on your heating bills by automatically adjusting how much energy you’re using and when.

Scratching the surface of Concrete.

Two billion metric tonnes are made worldwide annually, it’s also a very economic material so it’s used unsparingly. This wasn’t always the case and for a while, it was a material much loved by architects to be seen and revered. It is made from materials commonly found all over the world except the cement constituent. The Romans made a type of concrete but this knowledge was forgotten in the dark ages.

In 1824 Joseph Aspdin from Leeds made the first modern cement from pulverised limestone and clay which he then burnt and ground down into a powder. He named this “portland cement” because its colour resembled portland stone. It has a very good compressive strength which is durable and can be formed into complex shapes and sets at a wide range of temperatures. We now combine it with steel to increase its tensile strength which makes it an underrated wonder material of the modern age.

A type of modern architecture not in favour these days called Brutalism was coined not because it is somewhat brutal in appearance, but from the joining together of two French words, brut (the french word for raw) and béton the french for concrete, and this got corrupted into Brutalism.

After photo of the interor of a children's room with roof lights and folding doors to the garden.

Another satisfied client.

Feedback is so important to us, as a company we strive to give the best service we can. The feedback we receive helps us to do that by showing us what it is we’re doing right, and what aspects we need to build upon. We thought we’d share a recent testimonial from one of our clients.

“First of all, we absolutely love our extension, it transforms our house! Everything feels more spacious and less ‘boxy’ – its impact is bigger than expected. Thank you so much for your help with this. We feel we have a new house on the same address! Even our garden looks bigger, how unexpected!

More specific feedback for yourselves:

What worked well was the good advice you gave us about what would work and what wouldn’t and therefore keeping it cost-effective, you visiting us and giving us face to face advice and having the ability to make as many changes as was needed until such a point that the scheme was satisfactory.

What could have been a bit better would have been to help us set realistic expectations early on, such as quickly finding a builder and advising us on eventual build costs, especially the effect of the hedge on the foundations.

Once again, thank you for your involvement and direction with this project, which has improved our day-to-day lives immensely. We are delighted.”

Exterior

Contracts between Builders and their Clients.

We’ve had two projects over the past two years where the client and builder have fallen out. This compares with four (including the two) projects in fifteen years where this has occurred. It can hardly be called a trend but just in case, it may be worth commenting on the contractual arrangements between builder and client. Now firstly let’s be clear and state that I am not a lawyer and all the contents of this blog are intended to be helpful and to point people in the right
direction so if anything is of interest or importance to you, go check it out before you act. Do not rely on this blog.

Often the contract between builder and home owner (customer) is created at the owners home or over the phone and these now all come under the provisions of the new Consumer Rights Act. Basically it gives customers, the client, much more in terms of safeguards about workmanship and restitution
when work is not up to standard. Lets face it, most contracts between builder and house owner (I call them the client) are struck when the client says “yep ok mate, get on with it”. Often the terms are scant to say the least and at best are contained in a badly drafted letter from the builder, better still, they may refer to detailed plans that a company like Building Tectonics provide. This is perfectly acceptable as a contract and the law says that as long as there is an
offer and an acceptance it’s a legally binding contract. However the problems arise when you’re trying to prove what was agreed with little agreed in writing. In my experience nearly everyone we deal with is pretty honest and intends at the outset to do the right thing. Things unravel because of misunderstandings and the various pressures we all face in our busy and demanding lives. Sometimes under these circumstances people start to twist the truth or even tell porkies. This is where a good record of what was said and agreed is important, especially given it may be a year later when the arguments start. The new regulations may help with these situations.

One particular aspect of the new regulations is the right to cancel an agreement within 14 days. Even more important for the builder is that the builder has to tell the client that they have that right. If they do not make this clear then the client may have the right to cancel at any time during the job and trying to establish what will have to be paid for under these circumstances may get complicated. Given that many thousands of pounds may be at stake this should not be left to chance.

Clients should consider using a standard contract such as the ‘Joint Contract Tribunal’s Building Contract for a Home Owner/Occupier who has not appointed a consultant to oversee the work’ and have a good set of detailed plans showing the way the building is to be put together. Of course choosing a good builder is essential too and it must be said that if only four projects out of four thousand or so end up in acrimony, it is a testament to the fact that most of the builders we associate with are honest and hard working. I guess the same must be said of our clients too.

Overheating

We have only just taken off the winter duvet and turned off our heating and people are complaining that they are too hot. I have to say that it is no wonder that some houses are overheating when you look at how much south facing glass, rooflights and conservatories people have installed. We always remind our clients of this potential problem when we see the design developing but I guess for some clients it is hard to take this seriously in the depths of winter when we have not seen the sun for months. Sadly some clients think that air conditioning is the answer and do not want to consider other measures. These other measures do not have to be only reducing the glazing area, although this is the most effective. Other measures include the “brise soleil” which is a fixed sunshade fixed externally above the window so that when the sun is high (as it is in summer) a large part of the window is shaded or external blinds that can be drawn across when needed. It is worth pointing out here that external shading is much much more effective than inside shading because once the sunlight has passed through the glass the heat that is dissipated by the sunlight as it is interrupted by the blind is now trapped in the building. Internal blinds help reduce the glare of the sun but that is about it. If you want to stop the heat build up through sunlight coming through your windows, external blinds are really effective. Sadly, few companies make them although Velux do but do not push them which is bizarre.

Other measures include “stack effect” ventilation which can be a chimney not used for a fire but opened up to allow heat to rise up when desired to create air movement. This works well when cooler air can be drawn in from a shady part of the garden to replace the warm air being expelled. In new buildings, this can be a design feature such as the tower we designed into the Greenleys Familly Centre. Last we heard it was functioning perfectly doing its job in the summer completely passively and in the winter it allowed light into the centre of the building reducing the lighting bill.

Stacked Ventilation

Heat reflecting glass and the use of building mass to soak up the heat are other more expensive measures but have their place but for me just a good sensible balance of glass facing East, West and South is best as it is cheaper and has no running cost ( except window cleaning perhaps).

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.