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.”


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.


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.

Accommodation for Relatives

We’re often asked to prepare schemes to facilitate members of the family to come and live alongside the clients. This request isn’t all that unusual, the so-called “Granny Annex” is quite common. Where a change has occurred is in who comes to stay, rather than the Granny coming to stay, it could be a son/daughter or another relative. Of course, this had been driven by the realisation that some youngsters can’t afford to buy their own house (or even rent in some cases), and sadly, the realisation that they’ll never be able to afford their own house has triggered an amalgamation of resources.

For this to work successfully, the layout, splitting of accommodation and access has to be carefully planned so that each part of the house gets the accommodation needed to facilitate true independence, this all has to be done to some sort of budget. Some of the “granny annexes” that we’ve worked on are truly grand affairs, and others are very small, it depends on the resources available.

I must say, it’s touching to see the sacrifice some parents make to see an economical roof over the heads of their sons and daughters, or even grandchildren. In some cases, a disabled parent or relative is involved and part of their game plan is to be their carer too. As a designer of spaces, if we know that the accommodation is for a disabled person then clearly we have to take that into account, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where space is needed for manoeuvring.

If you have such a project in mind, please get in touch.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.

After interior of a kitchen leading to living room.

Extended in Tattenhoe

Our client wanted to create a larger kitchen family area, and a space to sit with friends and enjoy the views over the sunnier side of the house. They’d already thought that converting the garage to livable space may be part of the answer, but our job was to show how the existing and new spaces could be satisfactorily connected together. The resulting scheme achieves a very spacious house, with rooms that allow for separate activities to take place without interference, but also when the time is right, the doors can be opened to allow the new spaces to fully interact. Large folding sliding doors to the garden also allow the outside spaces to be used in conjunction too.
Our client said the following:

“The design has also allowed for some flexibility in how we use our living spaces, which has meant that we have been able to make the most of the increased light coming from the bifold doors and velux windows. We’re delighted with the new living area and the vaulted ceiling has created even more of a spacious feel than we had anticipated”.

The client is extremely pleased with the end result, as are we. To have choices in the way you use space is nice to have, and even though it isn’t requested by clients, we’ll suggest this to clients in the future.

We had been recommended to this client by a previous client, which makes it so much more rewarding.

Open Plan Living

It seems to us that the world can generally be divided into two camps; those who like open plan homes, and those who don’t. We’ve written ad nauseam about family space and kitchens as a combined space, but what we’re talking about here is much more extreme with the kitchen, informal and formal dining, and lounge all as one space.

This style of living is reminiscent of apartment living so more often than not, it’s encountered in continental Europe than in the UK. Although, saying that, it appears that a select few in the UK love to live like this. We’ve now got a growing number of clients who have commissioned us to open up their houses by removing most of the walls on the ground floor. Sometimes, even the staircase is included in this space as well. From a living point of view, if you are considering this, you have to think about noise emanating from other members of the family or guests, odours from cooking, heating all the spaces to the same temperature etc. From our point of view, we have to consider the structural implications of removing so many internal walls and the regulations regarding escape in the event of fire.

If you’re considering such alterations, you might want to consider having a separate ‘snug’ to retreat to when the need arises and, in my opinion most essentially, a utility room to house any noisy equipment. The design of such open plan spaces has to be carefully planned because less wall space means less perimeter for furniture, including small wall cupboards, that means that more floor space is generally required than if you had a more traditional cellular house layout. One big consideration is resale value, I can’t comment on what effect such alterations would have on the value of your house, but I can say that these days more emphasis is put on the quantity of floor area, not just how many reception rooms you have. Furthermore ‘you only sell your house once’, so as long as you can attract that one buyer who loves what you have created, you might sell it.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

After interior kitchen with dining space.

House remodel in Woburn Sands.

Our clients had bought a bungalow in a very sought after area of Woburn Sands. They had carefully assessed what they wished to achieve with the alterations to the bungalow, in brief this consisted of creating an open plan downstairs where they could eat and entertain guests, and create a first-floor bedroom in the loft space. On analysis, it was clear that not much of the roof structure could be kept, and so they vacated the whole house for a few months to allow the roof to be removed, and a new taller roof structure created. It was all quite a major overhaul of what was a very tired and outdated house.

We also suggested that given the radical nature of these changes, consideration should be given to improving the entrance area. As clients go, these were a joy to work with and we found out early on that as a design team (I believe that the client is also apart of the design team), we could all introduce ideas into the scheme knowing they would all be given open and full consideration. Many ideas were introduced into the design even from the earliest discussions, and the eventual final design managed to effortlessly accommodate nearly everything the clients had wanted, and more.

The resulting chalet now has a fabulous bedroom suite overlooking the most beautiful canopy of trees rising up from the valley below. The interior has been modified and slightly extended to create a collection of spaces which achieve what is required of individual spaces, but they also connect together so that you can pass from space to space in an easy, uncomplicated way whilst taking in the interior and exterior views.

Externally, the building was given more of a facelift. The raised roof structure was treated to a new slate roof, which together with sprocketed eaves always looks majestic. The walls were clad in render and cedar, which enabled us to introduce more insulation underneath, and together with the limited use of metal on parts of the roof, the house now has a modern, fresh and contemporary look.

Obviously, our clients have invested heavily in this project, but the resulting house is perfect, and very special. From out point of view, we’re proud to have been a part of this project, and would thank our clients for the commission, which incidentally has already resulted in two more commissions from admiring neighbours.


Sex, drugs and architecture

One of my architectural lecturers used to say that along with eating drinking and sex, building was also up there as a natural impulse. Perhaps, in essence, at its heart it is nest building. This same nest-making urge may explain why some of our customers wish to convert their loft into a habitable room or extend their house even if they do not need the extra space, at least that’s what I’ve always assumed. However, there may be more to it.

Consider this, we give spaces names such as kitchen, bedroom and lounge etc and even though this nomenclature is very useful when we wish to identify a room, it also describes the activity that takes place there and so becomes a sort of repository for that function. We all like to compartmentalise whether it be our book collection or the aspects of our life and this I’m sure helps us to make order of our lives and make decisions.

However perhaps using such nomenclature belies the subtlety of human existence and life. I now realise that some clients are after a space to sit and ponder for instance, or somewhere to have a quiet face to face chat or even view their collection of matchboxes and they find it hard to explain to me as their designer what they are after.

For me, the nearest we come to this discussion is the subject of phenomenology, which may be described as those factors that together coalesce to form the character of the space. It is not just about the room or the materials or even where the space is geographically located, but something even more esoteric. It’s quite simply about the feeling the space is to engender and therefore, the problem for me is how on earth can I get inside a client’s head to know what feeling this is?

Along with requesting a list of requirements, if I sense it’s going to be helpful, I will also ask for a scrapbook of images that illicit the right feeling and this is useful but not foolproof. I would say to any such new clients, please give this some thought and I’ll try to help.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.