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.

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.

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.

A successful building project.

As I tell my clients, there are four simple rules for a successful building project.
Firstly, you need a good scheme and plan of work. It should be a thorough review of what is required, it needs to be realistic, achieve the essential goals and be robust.
Secondly, the chosen scheme needs to be adequately documented with good technical plans so that others can quote, understand and ultimately build.
Thirdly, you need to choose your suppliers and builders with care so you can be sure that they operate with integrity and the necessary skill.
Fourthly, and finally, you should not change the design once the building work has been commissioned.
In my opinion, if you follow these four rules your project will almost certainly be a success, and that means on time and to budget.
I will expand on the above four point over the next weeks weeks for those that may be interested.

Garage to kitchen/family room conversions.

I have spoken about garage conversions before, and that to losing the valuable storage space that a garage provides should not be undertaken lightly. However, we have had a speight of projects recently where the existing garage has been in exactly the right place to provide a kitchen and/or family room so that it connects up with the house to create a really great layout. In both cases we have been able to build a new garage to replace the old one. They were both large double garages and so they made great kitchen spaces. One project is completed and the other is still on site at the moment. The other clever thing to do with a garage that is to be converted is to open the roof so a really light and airy space can be created. Given the relatively low ceiling heights of rooms in the UK, the contrast in height makes for an amazing room, especially where skylights are installed.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.