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.

Kitchen QUA4

Additional Services

We’re considering offering some additional services to our clients, such as organising estimates for certain products and services. We have always shied away from getting too involved with other companies because, and I appreciate this may sound a little old-fashioned, we want to maintain our independence. We want to make sure that clients can trust our advice and that we can be trusted to be completely impartial when it comes to builders and product suppliers etc. As soon as companies know you are in a position to get their company name in front of clients, you get inundated with offers and ‘special deals’.

However, we’ve decided that there are some services that would be very useful to our clients, such as Quantity Surveying services so that build costs of a scheme can be ascertained at a very early stage in a project. Okay, that’s clearly harmless but where we might have to be more careful is obtaining kitchen or floor tiling quotations for instance. We have decided to give this a try and see if many clients take these options up. I would be pleased to receive some feedback on this and find out what clients would find most useful.

We will be happy to put companies in touch with suppliers as long as suppliers treat our clients with respect, provide a good service and at least occasionally win some orders. We currently do this with building companies and unlike some architectural practices, we ask and expect nothing for putting builders on our list of satisfactory builders (as we call them). I am aware that some practices like us actually expect to be paid to add them to their list. We don’t. Companies are there on merit, if we get bad feedback and we think it’s justified we quietly drop them. Of course, this means we are often looking for new builders to add, so if you are a good building company with a good track record and can provide references with examples of satisfactory work, please get in touch.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

NDA-Residential TN

For clients who know what they want.

Sometimes a potential new client says they know exactly what they want when they first talk to us. This troubles me, and I’m tempted to say to them that they would be better contacting an alternative architectural company, but I don’t, and here’s why.

There are always many possible alternatives that should be considered, even on simple designs, sometimes they’re only minor changes but they all need to be considered and agreed upon.

The drawing is the tool we use to explain to the client what it is that we understand they want. Until this drawing is prepared, we’re relying on words and no matter how simple the project is, language is just not adequate for this task.

Let’s take the case of buying a new car. You’ve decided on the make, model and even the colour. You get to the showroom and just look at all the questions you get regarding wheels, in car entertainment, glass etc. The product we’re dealing with doesn’t even start off with a make, model or colour and so there are always choices to be considered.

So for the client who knows exactly what they want, we prepare a few choices, probably variations on a theme it’s true, but it’s a shame if a client doesn’t get the best out of the process.

The other little problem to a client knowing exactly what they want is that what they want might not be possible. They may want too much glass to comply with building regulations, the planning department may not accept it and they may not be able to afford their dream design.

We want the client to get exactly what they want, whether they know what it is or not, but it’s seldom as simple as that.

A recent client very kindly acknowledged this in a testimonial received this week:

 

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Building Tectonics. Although only adding a small extension and having thought I knew what I wanted, Building Tectonics presented me with a variety of ideas and solutions to my challenges. Tony and his team guided us through the entire process, I can highly recommend them.

 

Maybe life’s just not that simple, but we do our best to simplify it for our clients. Sometimes initially they might think we’re trying to complicate matters, but we’re not really – we’re just doing our job.

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.

Brutalism

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

Contract signed

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.

Greenleys Family Centre

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.

Pipework running between the joists.

Intensively serviced house refurbishments.

We’re giving project management support on one of our projects at the moment, and we’ve agreed to do this because of the nature of the project, namely the redesign and updating of a 1970’s house. In addition to the usual requirements for a project of this type, such as additional ensuites, and lots of electrical wiring, the client wants underfloor heating throughout, mechanical whole house ventilation with heat recovery. Electrical wiring for the LED perimeter lighting and the controls, alarms, sensors and a modern standard in electrical sockets is of course, the east bit despite the quantity, but getting the larger pipework hidden in the floors without cutting too much of the floor joists away is really difficult. Unlike the waste pipes carrying toilet and other waste water, the ventilation pipes can bend and flex their way around the building to some extent, although it has to be borne in mind that every bend will decrease the system’s efficacy.

Open lattice joists are really helpful.
Open lattice joists are really helpful.

With this type of project, it is absolutely essential to have a strategy for the incorporation of all these services and it may have implications on the design of the building envelope. With new buildings or extensions to old buildings you can opt for lattice type floor joists. These are a real boon as they allow all of the trades to install their services without cutting holes in the floor joists. When it comes to the existing floors, some way of distributing these services tangentially to the direction of the joists can be really difficult. To facilitate the distribution of these services at right angles to the joists, a lean-to roofspace over a ground floor extension is a great help and, so for a workable solution to the services installation, even the design process of the building externally may have to be brought into play. Without this strategy and an overall design, a project can grind to a halt until some desperate measure is conjured up which will probably impact upon the interior design such as ducting and drop ceilings. Worse still, a thoughtless client or project manager will bully the tradesman to find an expedient solution (expedient for the tradesman that is) and large chunks of structurally significant floor joists will be cut out.

A lean to roof space is really useful.
A lean to roof space is really useful.

Having worked out the general route these services will take you then have to ensure that the services go in in the right order because clearly some services are less flexible than others. The pipes taking waste water should run in straight lines and of course to an acceptable fall, otherwise, your pipes will block and sanitary ware will gurgle and release bad smells. Then the pipes carrying supply and return air should be installed. These can bend to some extent and go up and down but because of their size they are not always easy to incorporate. Lastly, much to the annoyance of the electrician, the electrics are last as the wiring can go up down and can, if necessary, judiciously be fed through small holes in the floor joists. Even so there are rules of thumb about where you can drill holes in floor joists and a good electrician will follow these. Having said this, some clients such as housing associations will not allow any holes to be cut in structural joists and for good reason. Done carefully, it generally is accepted by most Building Inspectors, though.

Waste pipes have to take priority.
Waste pipes have to take priority.

Part of the job of the Project Manager in such cases is to ensure that the strategy is adhered to, that the sequence of the trades is in the right order and to adjudicate in the squabbles between the trades and decide what trade has priority. This is one of the reasons we can’t take many projects on as Project Managers, they’re very time-consuming and we have to charge accordingly. More than one client has said to me that they wish they had asked us to project manage their project as the overspend caused by the resolution of these difficulties on-site can be very very significant in terms of time and money.