The Benefits of Choosing an Experienced Architect over a Cheap Drawings Company

Making your dream home a reality can be a costly process and understandably many people try to
keep their costs as low as possible; and stick to a budget – whether this is £5,000 or £500,000. The
first step in this process is to arrive at a scheme that gives you what you want, but of course it also has to be possible structurally; so, you can then make the decision whether to go ahead with your
project.

Therefore, the first point of call is making contact with either an architectural practice or alternatively, a drawings company that offer a fixed low-cost package. Whilst many people think that by choosing the low-cost package drawings firm, they are saving money this is often not the case; so, we wanted to show you why this is not always the cheapest option and the pitfalls to look out for when choosing a company to design your house alterations.

As an experienced architectural practice, once a potential client makes contact with us, we would always start with a Feasibility Scheme which is a fixed fee service and involves visiting your home at a time that suits you, to listen to your requirements. This visit normally takes about two and a half to three and a half hours.

Following the visit and survey we will produce a number of schemes for you to consider and will work with you until you are happy that you have the best possible scheme that works for you, whilst still having the best chance of getting it approved. Once you have a chance to evaluate our schemes and give us your thoughts, we can then further explore a particular idea and alter it as necessary.

The second stage is the Scheme Acceptance which is where we proceed with your chosen scheme followed by putting in a Planning Application to the Planning Authority, preparing the Building Regulations Application and then Project Managing your scheme to completion.

Whilst this may sound fairly simple and you would think that any company could offer this service; it is rarely an easy transition and there are always queries and issues that pop up along the way. This is where an experienced architectural practice has the advantage over a fixed fee drawings company; as they know every detail of your agreed scheme and can tweak it and liaise with the different bodies along the way from planning through to building control/regulations. We have close relationships spanning over 30 years with the local planning authorities and know what is likely to be approved and where you may run into problems; therefore, saving you time and money in the long run.

Over the years, Building Tectonics has had many clients come to us after choosing the cheaper option and then later regretting it. They have found that the company in question just didn’t have the knowledge or expertise when they ran into problems or they simply didn’t like their design concepts, so they therefore, ended up coming to us to try to sort it out. We are always happy to take a client on at any stage but it can sometimes take a while to rectify what has been undertaken already by the previous company.

Many of these package drawings companies may also say that they include all fees; but often further down the line you will find areas crop up that are not included or they do not include you making any design changes at a later date. Whilst they can do the basic drawings they won’t think outside the box and give you alternative options that you may not have considered and find a solution that really suits you, your family and your lifestyle. These services tend to focus on speedy transactions and quick turnover as this is how they keep their costs so low, but they don’t offer the personal architect/client relationship that architectural practices have where we aim to find the best solution for our clients whatever it takes.

Building Tectonics will design and develop your ideas and work with you to guide you through the whole process step by step. We always go the extra mile to find a scheme that gives our clients the best possible fit with what they desire; as not all clients know exactly what they want and during the exchange of ideas and two or three different schemes, the brief can often get altered several times until the perfect solution is reached.

If you would like to know more about the services we offer and how to take the first step towards achieving your dream home; please do give Building Tectonics a call on 01908 366000 to see how we can help.

Townhouse Extension in Broughton, Milton Keynes

With Milton Keynes being a relatively new city; it includes amongst its housing stock a large number of townhouses. They are a popular choice for many housing developers due to them still offering 3-4 bedrooms to potential customers but on a considerably smaller footprint, so therefore, more houses can be packed into housing developments.

Whilst they are popular with the younger generation who find the living space works for them sufficiently, further down the line it can became more difficult when growing families struggle to make the space work for them.

Many clients are now contacting us because they either already owned one of these townhouses or have recently purchased one and want to know what their options are. They are desperate for more downstairs living space to accommodate the children’s toys and other belongings that they have built up over the years.

Back in 2014 we were asked by a kitchen design company, that we worked with to make contact with the owners of a house in Broughton. The townhouse was built in 2009 and like so many houses built now, suffered from not enough family space on the ground floor. With it being a 3 storey; it benefitted from plenty of bedroom space, and featured a reasonable sized garden but on the downside the kitchen/dining space was relativity cramped for everyday family life.

The obvious solution was to extend the kitchen area and create a family open plan area that could be used all year round with plenty of light coming in. Whilst we knew what needed to be done to improve the house; it is always the extra care and attention to the design that can really make the end result special for the client.

Given the window configuration to the upstairs, which the clients did not wish to alter, we had to choose a roof shape that would be compatible with their existing design. This in turn facilitated a double aspect skylight configuration, which really does make this room space special.

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Our clients have dressed the room beautifully and the kitchen designers have really made the most of the new space giving a stunning open plan eating/living area they can enjoy spending time in.

As an architectural practice; it gives us a real thrill to know that we have been instrumental in achieving such a lovely space and knowing that without any exaggeration, how this can transform people’s lives.

If you have a townhouse and would like to know more how you can benefit from extra downstairs living space; please do give Building Tectonics a call on 01908 366000 to see how we can help.

Green Design, Green Upkeep: Building and Maintaining Your Environmentally-Friendly Home

Residing in an energy efficient building not only lowers your utility bills, but can add an average of 14% to your home’s value, meaning it is not only good for the environment, but also beneficial for you as the homeowner. When setting out to build a green home, there are several factors to take into account, but the most important one to keep in mind is that a green home needs to be treated as such, from inception and throughout its lifetime.

The first, and perhaps most important, step in building a green home is a design conducive to environmentally favourable construction. A green home is much more than simply designing the living spaces, but must also account for the mechanical systems and materials used to qualify as a green construction. Once you have your design in place, you can move on to choosing which green materials will make your home as efficient as possible.

Sustainability is Key
Choosing sustainable products is one of the most important aspects of constructing a green home. You’ll want to make sure you select building materials that are certified as such by a specialist organisation and to research those materials in terms of eco-friendliness and stability in the long term. For the larger portion of the construction, you’ll need to procure sustainably forested timber, and perhaps to look into a roofing material that can be recycled or repurposed at the end of its life cycle.

For the interior of the home, there are many green products that are aesthetically as lovely as anything else on the market. From flooring and skirting boards to countertops and backsplash tiles, there are a multitude of sustainably produced, recycled or recyclable, and re-purposed materials to select from that will fit any style. With green building being so popular now, manufacturers are quick to disclose such properties and advertise themselves as appropriate for ecological construction.

Pay More Upfront
Energy efficiency is one of the main components to green building and you’ll want to take this into account in all aspects of the home, from windows to mechanical systems. High efficiency systems may cost more upfront, but will save you energy and money in the long term, eventually paying for themselves. Many of these systems will come with a guarantee, and the manufacturers will have already done the maths on your projected savings over the life of the home, so you’ll quickly be able to see how much you’ll save.

A Finished House Isn’t the End
Once you’ve completed a sustainable, green home, you have to keep in mind that environmentally-friendly maintenance must be part of the plan. Some of this maintenance should factor into the home design, especially in terms of landscaping. You’ll want to select plants and grasses that are native to the area, therefore, requiring less water and fertilisation. Additionally, you’ll want to explore some eco-friendly cleaning solutions, as many cleaners use harsh toxic chemicals that can be damaging to the environment.

Committing to a home that is environmentally responsible is one that will last a lifetime. The process may be challenging, but keeping your goals and reasons for undertaking such a project is key. The financial commitment upfront may save you some money in the long run, but it will take more effort and money to bring your green home dreams to life, and to maintain it thereafter.

Zero-Energy
Designing and maintaining a zero-energy home takes a lot of thought and consideration as well as a know-how on the best way to get the most out of the technology involved. Technology is rapidly changing which means that the trends of today are often out of favour a few years later. Government subsidies and schemes can play a big part of how well companies market their preferred product in terms of benefits, efficiency and cost so it is important to do your research.

The bulk of the battle to become zero-energy often lies with simple aspects such as making sure the building is well insulated and air-tight. Thought should also be given to the orientation of the building in relation to the sun; as natural light can help reduce energy bills in terms of lighting, heating and cooling. Using some form of brise-soleil (an architectural feature of a building that reduces heat gain within that building by deflecting sunlight) can prevent overheating in the summer; whilst still gaining the warmth and light from the low winter sun. Trees that provide shade can also help.

Moving onto the technology side of things, there are many routes available that each have their benefits and drawbacks. Where energy is sourced from is perhaps the main hurdle to overcome. Whilst solar panels are one of the more well-known ways of reducing energy costs, other alternatives to look at include Micro CHP boilers, air source and ground source heat pumps. Upgrading appliances to more energy efficient ones is often overlooked. Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery can remove stale air whilst retaining some of the heat which transfers to the fresh air entering the building which reduces the amount of heating required.

Team Trip to Kingspan to Learn about Timber Frame Housing

It is always very productive and a change of scene; to get the Building Tectonics team out of the office together to learn more about particular areas that we work on.  So, on Thursday 14th March we all went on a trip to Kingspan Potton, based in Great Gransden, Bedfordshire who specialise in fabricated timber frame housing.

The walls, floors and roof of the houses are fabricated in large panels in their factory and are then taken to site and bolted together to construct a house (or other types of buildings).  Although there are several companies who already work in this area; Kingspan have moved away from the mass housing market and instead of supplying the larger house builders, now just supply one or two units to small developers or even one-off houses.

On arrival the BTL team were greeted in the meeting room by the National Sales Manager; who gave a presentation about the different products they produce and then showed them around the factory where they are made. They saw how the process works from start to finish; from when the wood comes into the factory to when it leaves on the back of the lorry.  Following this, they drove 15 minutes away to the Potton Self-Build Show Centre in Little Paxton, near St Neots where they have 5 show-houses. The team had the opportunity to look around the show-houses; which showed them the different materials that Kingspan manufacture and the different structures that they are capable of producing.

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Kingspan can help with the design of any house and have a pattern book of designs you can choose from; but obviously being an Architectural Practice, we already do the design for our clients.  However, Kingspan can take our bespoke design plans and prepare “shop drawings” showing the panels so that they can then be fabricated in their factory. It was very interesting for the BTL team to know all about the process and the types of systems available; for those occasions when a client wishes to have a timber frame house.

There are alternative systems available from other timber frame fabricators: –

Open Panel Systems
The majority of timber frame companies use an open-panel system for the internal loadbearing of the cavity wall.  These are made in a factory from a softwood timber frame covered with a structural sheet material such as plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) and fixed into a structure on-site.  They have a waterproof membrane on the outside and are left open on the inside.  The windows and door frames are fixed on-site and when the house is watertight; the electrical and plumbing casing is installed and the insulation put in place finished off with a vapour-proof barrier and plasterboard.

Closed and Advanced Panels
These systems are used by most of the Scandinavian frame companies and are delivered fully furnished and insulated, with the services in and the windows and doors already fixed – with the advantage that it is an airtight structure that needs minimal on-site work. However, it does mean decisions need to be made early on in the design about services and outlets.

Green Oak Frame
This is the most traditional timber-frame building method and is often referred to as exposed timber frame. The oak is often jointed using mortise and tenon joints, draw-pegged with tapered oak pegs and then integrally braced with curved oak bends jointed into the frame.  Insulating panels are then infilled into the massive oak skeleton and it is made waterproof using a system of perimeter trims and water bars; before being rendered on the outside, leaving the timbers exposed.

SIP Systems
Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are high-performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs and are typically made by encasing a core of rigid foam plastic insulation between two structural skins of OSB, but other skin material can also be used.  The panels are manufactured under factory-controlled conditions and can be custom designed for each home.  SIPs are fixed to the outside of the timber frame, so the entire frame can be exposed in the interior or covered up, depending on the look you want to achieve.

Kingspan are first and foremost an insulation company and therefore, have naturally moved toward the highly insulated end of the market.  Timber frame housing can be extremely well insulated and this form of construction lends itself to the addition of a lot of insulation without making the walls unduly thick (unlike brick and block walls).  However, the really interesting development is the SIP technique as these panels can achieve incredible levels of insulation and therefore, are often found in zero energy projects where no heating is required; other than the heat that is created by simply inhabiting the house (possibly with the addition of some solar heating).

Building Tectonics have designed a couple of very low energy houses and are greatly interested in this area. SIP panels also offer really low air infiltration so therefore, help reduce heating bills and increase comfort as they avoid drafts and cold spots.  They can be very strong and rigid and can be used in floors and roofs; which is a real game changer in the construction of houses, but the building industry has generally not embraced this new technology.  Houses built like this can be erected on-site superfast incorporating all the services and the standard of finish can also be superior.

As a practice we would like very much to use this technology wherever we can; but the question is whether our clients will choose something brave and new.  The major practical difficulty is using prefabrication techniques for extending existing buildings, which is where most of our work lies. Ironically, the big problem would be bolting something so perfectly made (1 or 2 mm accuracy) on the side of an existing building where the building tolerances can often be measured on several centimetres. What we need are clients who can see the benefits of such new techniques and we stand ready to help in any such project should it arise.

A Day in the Life of an Architectural Practice

Have you ever wondered what it is like to work in an Architectural Practice for the day and envisaged all the dreaming and designing that goes on? Well now is your chance as we get inside the head of our Chief Designer, Tony Keller to find out what a normal day entails for him and the Building Tectonics team from start to finish.

Tony says “A normal day at Building Tectonics encompasses a number of different tasks but generally starts with a team briefing (accompanied by a cup of tea) to run through which stage we are at with each of our client jobs; to make sure everyone is up to speed and we know where our focus is for the day.

We make sure that any emails, telephone or Facebook messages that have come in overnight are responded to immediately; as we always try to reply within 24 hours where possible. If it is a new enquiry, I will ring the customer to find out more about them and what they are looking to achieve; and we arrange a time to meet them to see how we can help with their project.

Depending on what stage we are at with a particular job, one of the team may go out to a client’s house to get the accurate measurements of their home and also to measure their land boundaries.  It is vital these measurements are correct; as they are entered into our online system and used to draw up the existing plans, elevations and sections that will eventually be submitted to the Council Planning Department and thereafter the client’s builders. These measurements also start the process of drawing up the client design options and from time to time we also use them to produce 3D models for certain projects.

As a team we need to familiarise ourselves with Permitted Development Guidance, Planning Policies and Building Regulations for specific projects and a member of the team will fill in the Planning Application forms and deal with the queries from Planning Officers and third parties.  Detailed Building Regulations drawings will need to be drawn up and the site evaluated to look for any potential hindrances such as sewers, trees, flood risk areas, radon prevalence etc.  As part of this we will purchase and download Ordnance Survey mapping data for Planning Applications and other uses along with Drainage & Water Enquiry maps.

There is obviously a great deal of administration involved for the Building Tectonics team on a daily basis; as we respond to multiple emails and phone calls every day, scan all our client documentation onto our computer system and file all paper copies of projects as part of our audit trail. This then acts as our own Project Management tool to see where a particular project is at any time; and we conduct quarterly job reviews where we check the current status of every live project to make sure nothing gets missed at any stage.

With us being a hectic office, we need to make sure we don’t ever run out of any office stationary including printer ink, plotter rolls and paper as these are essentials for our office to run like clockwork (along with cups of tea!!).

It is very important that all of the team are up to date with the latest developments in the industry and any new changes to legislation, so we all attend regular CPD Seminars (Continued Professional Development) both during and outside of work hours and keep up-to-date on relevant industry news.

There is a great deal of research involved in design projects relating to anything from Planning, Building Regulations, construction problems, product information, Party Walls, Sewer build-overs to just general questions that we get on a daily basis from our clients.

Marketing is essential to all businesses to thrive and we try to regularly blog and share content that is of interest both to our current clients and potential new clients to update them on the industry and jobs we are currently working on.

Working in an Architectural practice, no single day is the same; but I really love working for myself.  I enjoy the variety of work it brings, the opportunities to meet new people and work with other professionals but most importantly seeing the happy faces of our clients when a job is finished. I always meet face-to-face to go through design drawings with my clients; as this is essential to ensure everything is covered to avoid any hiccups at a later stage of the project.  I thrive on being busy but obviously could not do it without the support of my committed team”.

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.

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.

Planning problems

Our client had waited since last November to go in for planning, and eventually after a redesign and new application, the client was invited to go to a planning committee meeting. At the meeting, he had to sit outside the room as there wasn’t enough space for him and they didn’t hear what he had to say because there wasn’t time.

It’s such a shame that things like this can happen because Milton Keynes planning department have improved so much when it comes to smaller ‘run-of-the-mill’ applications such as extensions for example, but when it comes to anything involving new housing, infill or listed buildings it seems much more arduous.

This is what Building Tectonics do, we deal with this sort of application and process all of the time, but with a 96% success rate in the smaller works applications, we usually get there in the end.

A picture of a pencil with the words "Planning Matters".

Planning problems

Our client had waited since last November to go in for planning, and eventually after a redesign and new application, the client was invited to go to a planning committee meeting. At the meeting, he had to sit outside the room as there wasn’t enough space for him and they didn’t hear what he had to say because there wasn’t time.

It’s such a shame that things like this can happen because Milton Keynes planning department have improved so much when it comes to smaller ‘run-of-the-mill’ applications such as extensions for example, but when it comes to anything involving new housing, infill or listed buildings it seems much more arduous.

This is what Building Tectonics do, we deal with this sort of application and process all of the time, but with a 96% success rate in the smaller works applications, we usually get there in the end.