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.

Kitchen Extension – Woughton on the Green

Our clients in Woughton on the Green desired a new updated kitchen which made the most of the fabulous countryside views from their garden; so, therefore came to us for ideas and design options.

Due to the L shape layout of their house it meant we could explore a number of locations, orientations and designs as to where was best to locate the new kitchen extension.

A new design was chosen by our clients and achieved exactly what they asked for – a light and airy kitchen with an island for cooking and socialising; which they did not have before with roof lights which really open up the space. The bi-fold doors across the back means more importantly it now connects with the surrounding landscape whilst overall integrating better with the house.

Our clients said “We thought you’d like to know that John Foster has practically finished our extension now and we are extremely happy with the design and plans”.

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How Clerestory Windows Can Bring Light to the Darkest Home

If you need to bring more light into your home without losing valuable wall-space, Clerestory windows could be the answer to your prayers. Although mainly seen in the commercial sector or in contemporary/smart houses and apartments, these little gems are windows at high level (above your eye line). They are often used by architects and designers producing individual homes for self-builders but despite this, many aspiring self-builders do not actually know what they are.

The term ‘Clerestory’ was originally applied to the wall containing the windows above the nave (that’s the middle bit often incorrectly called the Aisle) – so believe it or not, the Bride and Groom do not actually come down the aisle, they come down the nave! The windows created light and airiness in our magnificent cathedrals, which is exactly what the architects were trying to achieve; and as the building technology developed to create bigger and bigger openings in the structure, the amount of opaque glass got larger and more impressive.

The main aim was to impress and show off to other cities just how technologically advanced they were, but there is no doubt we are still impressed, even today, by so called curtain glazing or perhaps a well-placed little window that just manages by its position and orientation to allow some light to infiltrate into the otherwise darkest vestige of a house.

As house designers, it is this type of clerestory window that we are interested in because that little chink of light can be so effective in contemporary interior design. It can be unexpected, it can cast shadows picking up the sculptural nature of the structure and it can carry inside the mood of the day thus connecting you with the early morning sun, the turbulent sky or the hues of the setting sun.

From a practical standpoint, clerestory lighting can be useful to avoid overlooking in compact cities and it is the height of a window that determines how far light will penetrate into an otherwise gloomy room. Even with ordinary eye level windows, the width of the window will determine the light intensity in the room near the window; but if you want the light to penetrate then it is the height of the window that is important. There is also something to be said for orientating the clerestory window northwards because north light is more consistent and does not cause glare one minute requiring the blinds to be drawn and dinginess the next, making it necessary to turn the light on.

The other advantage in using north light is that solar gain and over-heating will not be a problem. Beware of using too much glass inclined to the south facing sky because of overheating, as you will not need such a big glass area anyway because the light, they will allow in is much more effective than the equivalent window area. Lastly you may wish to avoid roof lights in bedrooms unless you are a very sound sleeper as hail hitting glass is very noisy and can be quite scary.

Another useful feature of a clerestory window is when your self-build or new extension is often overlooked on one side by an ugly wall or other feature belonging to the adjoining house that is very close to you. Therefore, it will provide light at a high level but the narrow size of the window will mean that the ugly feature can hardly be seen.

Clerestory windows are also useful on single storey houses when there is a projection outside the building in the form of a corridor; which is used to get from the front to the rear of a long, thin single storey house. A clerestory window therefore, can help counter the effect of the corridor by reducing the amount of light that enters the house.

When it comes to first floors on houses, you will often find a clerestory window tucked under the roof at the head of a staircase, as many architects feel that staircases often end up depending on artificial light and therefore, if they are properly lit, they can become much more of a feature. Additionally; many architects like to tuck an upstairs clerestory window under the eaves; as you have no external wall structure above that has to be supported by the window frame.

High level windows if fitted with the means to open can be a real joy to allow stale air out of a living space as drafts can be avoided and, as heat rises, a natural flow of air will circulate upwards, pulling cool and fresh air in from outside, that’s if the space is designed with this in mind of course.

If you would like more information on how clerestory windows could work in your current home or proposed self-build home, please do contact Building Tectonics as we will be only too pleased to advise you.

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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.

How to Spring Clean Your Home to Bring it Back to Life

Spring is in the air; the clocks go forward at the end of this month; and we are all dreaming of longer sunny days and hoping that the winter we never had doesn’t suddenly appear with a vengeance.

When the sun comes out; our thoughts normally turn to starting to tidy up the garden, planting bulbs and cutting the grass for the first time since the Autumn. But what about the house?

Having an untidy house is very distracting and the constant need to tidy can get in the way of you being productive – therefore, a great big declutter and spring clean could be the answer! This is your chance to prepare your home ready for those long lazy summer days; when you don’t want to be wasting time on cleaning but instead be enjoying quality time with family and friends.

It’s also a great opportunity to learn to love your house again, to get it looking its best and make the most of your space to decide if it still works for you or you need to improve it in some way. This could be from adding additional space in the form of a conservatory, extension or loft conversion, re-jigging your existing space to make it work more efficiently for you; or even making the decision to move to a new house. Spring and Summer are prime moving times and this is when the housing market springs into action, so now is the time to get your home looking great should you decide to put it on the market (and it also means less clutter to move).

But where do you even start? This is often the hardest part as you look at your house in despair and have absolutely no idea where to even begin tackling it…

Tackle it room-by-room
To stop you getting overwhelmed, try approaching your house room-by-room as this is the most effective way to clean your home. Draw up room checklists; so, you can focus on the parts of your home that have been neglected all winter.

Organise and clear the clutter
Now is a great opportunity to organise your belongings and get rid of clutter you don’t need; to make the cleaning process a lot easier. Start by sorting your belongings into three categories -rubbish, give it away/sell it or put it away. But don’t throw it all away as many of your old belongings will still have a good sale value; so you could either use a selling site like Shpock, Facebook or eBay or have a garage or car boot sale.

Don’t throw away old bed linen and towels; as you can either donate them to homeless shelters or refuges or to animal homes to help those in need. Alternatively, keep items like old sheets for protecting furniture and carpets/floors when you need to redecorate.

Get cleaning!
Once you have worked through all your clutter you can begin cleaning; so ensure you have all the products and tools you need like bin bags, dusters, sponges, hoover, mop and bucket and multi-purpose cleaning products. Avoid buying countless different cleaning products as you are better off with one good all-purpose cleaner and microfiber cloths – otherwise you will have yet more clutter. Remember to work in well-ventilated rooms when using any cleaning chemicals and wear protective clothing if needed; especially when it comes to the dreaded oven!

Get the whole family involved
If the state of your house is freaking you out; get the whole family involved as that will make it quicker and even the most unwilling helper can make a big difference to the task in hand. Put on some music or offer a family reward as an incentive to get the work done.

Tackle the seasonal jobs
There are some jobs that only need doing seasonally but don’t always get done at the end of the summer e.g. outdoor chores like cleaning BBQ’s, patios, and even windows; but if you tackle them now you will be ready when the summer comes.

Try to establish new cleaning habits
To make spring cleaning easier the next time around; it helps to establish new on-going cleaning habits; as simple 15-minute clean-up routines and decluttering every few days can make it a lot easier to keep your home clean and tidy all year long.

We hope this has helped you get ready to attack the decluttering and spring-cleaning and learn to love your home again. Happy Spring-cleaning!

New Year, New Home (Without Having To Move)

It’s that time of year when all you see online are countless blogs talking about New Year, New You and how to get the body of your dreams whilst improving your health. Whilst we obviously aren’t going down that route; as we are architects and not fitness experts, we do instead want to simply say the words ‘New Home’…

To most people when you say the words ‘New Home’ they automatically think of upping sticks and moving house to get their dream home; but you don’t need to take such a drastic step to achieve a new home.

Many houses even if they were only built in the last 20-30 years can quickly start to look tired and in need of an update; let alone the houses built in the decades prior to this. However, what many people don’t realise is that the solution is often sitting right under their nose in their current home, which with a little love and care and a change in its interior layout or exterior look could indeed become their dream home for a lot less than the cost and hassle of moving home.

With the cost of homes still rising and more people struggling to either get on the housing ladder or make the next step up to their dream home, more people than ever are looking at what they can do with their current house to make it work better and more efficiently for them. Everywhere you look scaffolding appears to be popping up; as lofts are converted and extensions are being added to make more space for ever growing families.

An alternative option though; either on its own or alongside an extension or loft conversion is simply to change the existing layout of your home to make the space work better for you. Many houses over the years as they have changed ownership have had extensions added without any real thought for what is really needed and how the house would flow. This ranges from kitchens with extensions added on to make a kitchen/breakfast room or a utility room; through to houses with conservatories and sun rooms just stuck on. Some houses often end up with a big dark corridor going down the middle of the house with countless rooms going off it which leaves all the rooms disconnected from each other.

If a previous homeowner ended up with elderly relatives living with them at some stage, they may have even changed a downstairs room into a bedroom ending up with a layout that just does not flow. Another scenario is houses that have previously been rental properties; meaning many of the general communal areas were changed to bedrooms with extra extensions and bathrooms resulting in a house that just does not work for an average family.

The upstairs of a house can often be no better as often when a 2-storey extension has been built, it can mean space has been taken off one of the existing bedrooms for a corridor to access the new bedroom; or even worse you access the new bedroom through one of the existing bedrooms which is a nightmare scenario.

Whilst people envisage changing the layout of their house to be a massive upheaval it is often not as difficult as they think and can provide them with a house that meets their needs; rather than moving again and still not finding their ideal house or layout. It is essential in the first instance to speak to an architect to get some possible ideas for what could work and to help identify areas such as load bearing walls before you go any further.

If it’s the exterior of your house that is making you want to move, this is also easily rectified by updating it from a tired and dated exterior to give it a modern ‘wow factor’ look that not only makes it look like a brand-new house but also adds value to your property.

With over 30 years’ experience of re-designing, altering and extending houses across Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire; Building Tectonics endeavour to exceed the aspirations and desires of our clients, and do this by generating innovative and intelligent ideas that often achieve much more than the original brief. Our Chief Designer, Tony has extensive knowledge of what works design and build wise and often finds solutions to issues that builders may have with a client’s design thereby, finding a compromise that both parties are happy with.

If you are thinking now is the time to evaluate your home to see if you can improve it; please contact us to arrange a time to meet with you and conduct a feasibility study to find out what your initials needs are. From there we will come up with some initial schemes to make your home layout work more efficiently for you and your family.

Building Tectonics always aims to leave you with a house that is designed for a modern family lifestyle and even if your requirements are just a simple home extension or a loft /garage conversion, you too could benefit from our expertise and experience.

Rear Extension in Great Holm

We had worked with these clients before, and having successfully remodelled their previous house they had decided that it was time to move on. The house that they consequently bought was much larger, but the layout didn’t work for them. When there is so much to be done in the way of re-decorating it can stress some people out, but not these clients. If you can figure out the points that are wrong with the architecture of the house and how to rectify them it’s worth doing, even if it’s a smaller ‘facelift’. Working out how to solve these problems is our job, and we can always find a way.

In the end, the changes made to the layout turned out to be quite modest; relocating the kitchen plus the addition of a garden room at the back has made all the difference. Sadly, the planning authorities had vetoed the external changes we had proposed which is unusual, but it happens sometimes.

Although most of our clients get a kitchen designer in, we always show a working kitchen layout on our schemes (plans), because it’s important for us to show a space that functions well as a kitchen. In this particular case our clients are very much into their food and cooking; so we worked together with them and ended up with a design that is not only practical but looks good too. During this design process, the clients were always thinking about their decor and where it would go, we love what they’ve done with the space provided.

We’re pleased to say that our clients are very happy with the outcome, and we were happy to assist.

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5 tips for anyone thinking about improving their house

You gain new experiences and knowledge in everything that you do, and that’s no different for us and our clients. Every project is a learning process, be that for us or for the clients; here are some tips from previous clients for anyone looking to make some changes to their homes in the future. This is what our previous client said:

Find out what foundations you have before the ground is broken.
Some previous clients didn’t know to have this checked before their project started. They later discovered that a small tree in their neighbours garden meant that they had to have a custom designed foundation.
Fortunately for them their builder had seen the same circumstance, so they were about to get them designed beforehand and the groundworks were correct from the beginning.

Choose your builders carefully.
Finding a reputable, well-organised builder will help you immensely as your project progresses; they are likely to know the local building inspector’s particular likes/dislikes, additionally, they should be able to recommend some good subcontractors. If you get the chance, go and look at some of their work. Try not to worry too much if they have no website, they should be organised enough to tell you when they will start your project and how long it will take. During the process, get involved by taking a look at where they’re at as often as you can, and if something doesn’t look quite right, talk to them about it.

Give as much detail as possible to your builder.
Giving the builder as much information as you can from the beginning will help both the builder and yourself in achieving a smooth project. If you can, get it included in your contract so that all parties involved know what is expected. Try to include window sizes and finishes, the type and amount of sockets and lights that will be needed, what size and type of heating you would like, and subsequently how many radiators if applicable, whether you want the steels hidden or not, door types, sizes and finishes among many other specifications. This level of information helps the builder, and helps you to clarify your expectations. Also discuss things with your builder; they may have ideas for how to deal with certain things that arise. If you’re unsure of how to convey all of this information to builders, we can help with that in our building regulation stage.

Pay your builders bills on time.
This helps to keep the builder on your side, and also keeps the project moving forward smoothly.

Make sure all subcontractors liaise with your builders.
If you use subcontractors alongside your builders, eg: Kitchen designers, make sure that they work together with your builders as per the requirements.

From a Building Tectonics point of view, these are all sensible points but where foundations are concerned, there are cases where the existing foundations are less important. Also, the design of the new foundations sometimes need to be modified once the foundation trench has been excavated. It’s the one area that, in our view, the builder can justifiably say that his price is provisional and may have to be adjusted. Using subcontractors instead of using one main contractor to organise all the work can lead to problems about who is responsible for health and safety on the building site; remember that there are very heavy fines and even prison for serious breaches of site safety.

Extension in Walnut Tree

If we were manufacturers, our main product would be creating versatile spaces for families to enjoy spending time together. For most of us, the kitchen is like the heart of the house, it’s where we spend a lot of time together with guests or family, therefore, kitchen design is essential.  Nearly everyone wants the type of ground floor area shown in the project below; unfortunately, even newly built houses, often do not fulfil this desire and this where BTL comes in. With projects like this for structural reasons, central columns are often needed to support the rooms above which can spoil the open-plan aesthetic but there are ways to work around it although avoiding it can come at a cost in terms of the size of a dropped beam, disruption to the first floor and in some cases, relocation of soil/vent pipes.

As for the kitchen design, the location of the hob, oven and sink should be fixed early on (see our blog about kitchen design) because otherwise the choices may be restricted; such as whether you require a recirculation type of cooker hood instead of the more effective ducted type. This process is called design and we take it very seriously.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics Ltd.

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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.