Top Tips to Get Your Home Ready for Winter

Almost overnight the mornings now have a distinct chill, the evenings are already getting darker earlier; and the warmth of the summer sunshine is becoming a distant memory.  As the evenings start to draw in, it’s time to start looking at your home and garden to see what needs organising before the chill sets in and how to make it cosier and work more efficiently for you.

Summer versus Winter
In the Summer it’s all about connecting with our outside space and spending as much time outside enjoying our gardens, patios and decking. Blinds are used to keep rooms cool and we use air-conditioning and fans in the really hot weather. However, as it cools down the opposite is true with windows being closed (also to try and keep the many spiders out) and central heating and fires being lit to warm our homes.

Move your furniture
In the warmer seasons; we tend to turn our furniture more towards the windows to enjoy the sunshine coming in, with our windows and doors all left open to let the fresh air in.  However, in the winter months furniture is rearranged for a cosier feel centred around the fireplace or another central focal point. Make sure you move any furniture away from radiators to maximise the heat coming out.

Roof ventilation
In the Summer months, the roof space can literally bake and if there is nowhere for that heat to go it will build a stack of hot air in the roof which will eventually force itself into your living space from the ceiling down. It is essential therefore, to install just enough ventilation to stop the stacking effect.  In the winter months; you have the opposite problem of all your heat rising into the loft, so it is recommended to consider insulation in the loft to stop the heat rising and the cooler loft space impacting on your downstairs space.

Adjust your thermostat
It is suggested that in some circumstances for each degree you turn down the thermostat towards the outside temperature you reduces your heating costs and greenhouse emissions by roughly 10%. Make sure though that your boiler is in tip-top condition and has been serviced within the last year to make sure it is not only safe to use but working as efficiently as possible. Bleed any radiators to make sure they are working properly.

Get snug with textiles and textures
When it starts to get chilly; we dig out our jumpers and cosy socks but the other way to keep warm and make your home look cosy is through the use of textiles and textures. You can introduce more fleeces and fake fur throws into your home to put on the sofa; along with cushions in cosy fabrics like chenille to keep yourself snug of an evening and the heating down lower.

Check for any gaps
It is a good idea to check around your doors and windows for any significant gaps and seal them to keep any drafts out (and spiders).

Close your doors
Make sure you don’t leave all your doors open, so therefore, close the doors to rooms you do not use which thereby reduces the area to keep cool or warm.

Use Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs)
These bulbs use 75% less energy and produce 75% less heat than incandescent light bulbs which will save you money as well on cooling. Also consider LED lights as they are often cheaper and easier to retrofit. It is a good idea to consider brighter bulbs for those darker days but make sure they are energy efficient where possible.

Clothing
If you can get your family members into the habit of wearing a jumper and similar warm clothes; you will save a fortune in heating costs. You will be using your own body heat to help keep you warm, so allowing you to reduce the heating thermostat.

Use an electric blanket at night
If you don’t like a hot bedroom but still get a bit chilly, why not use an electric blanket or go old school and bring out your hot water bottle which means not having to heat the whole bedroom.

Put your Summer clothing away
Once the last of the sunshine has gone, put your summer clothing into the loft to make more room for warmer winter clothing.

Tidy your garden space
When it comes to your outside space, make sure you put your garden furniture away that is susceptible to wet weather (or frost) and could potentially crack.  Look at bringing any plants inside that can’t cope with winter or cover them with protective sleeves. 

Give your windows one last clean
Autumn is a good time to have one last clean of your windows before the bad weather sets in. It also gets rid of some of the many spider’s webs and nests that have appeared towards the end of the summer.

We hope some of these tips have been useful to help you organise and transform your home ready for the Winter 😊

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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Connect Your Home to Your Outside Space with a Garden Room

Garden Rooms are often thought of as being a separate cabin style building down the end of your garden; which you would typically use as an office, craft room, a spare bedroom or as a separate summer only additional living space.

However, did you know that a Garden Room can also refer to a fixed structure that is part of your house? This can be from designing a new structure to extend your existing living space, or by altering a conservatory into a more usable room that connects your living space to your garden as a conservatory does; but with the benefit of being able to use it all year around not just in the warmer months.

Whilst conservatories have their uses and in the summer are great spaces to relax in and make the most of the sunshine streaming in; they can become too hot at the height of summer as the heat becomes trapped inside and they are difficult to cool down. At the other end of the temperature scale; come the winter, they then become too cold so people end up shutting them off from the rest of the house and using them as storage; as they are simply too cold to even open the door to let alone use the space. This is a shame as it is often a good-sized space that is not being fully utilised and thereby restricts your overall living space during the winter months.

However, there are a number of options available to make this space more useable. These range from swapping the glass/polycarbonate roof to an insulated tiled roof to help maintain a consistent temperature; through to swapping the structure for a more permanent structure that can be put to full use throughout the year.

Additionally; many clients are now asking for a garden room to be added to their house when they have no existing structure there in the first place. They love the idea of having a room that they can relax in and enjoy the garden views from whatever the time of year; making the most of the summer or winter sunshine but with it still being part of their house rather than separate.

Whichever route you are considering, replacing a conservatory with a permanent structure that can be used all year round will not only add value to your home but will make it more attractive to sellers should you decide to move later down the line.

Here are some examples of Garden Rooms we have worked on for previous clients:

Garden Room – Milton Keynes
Our client wanted a garden room which could be used all year round without costing a fortune in heating bills. Therefore, we produced a light airy room that connected with the garden and the rest of the house. We also advised on the reshaping of the garden and rebuilding of a garden wall to create an adjacent outdoor sunspace. They were very happy with the finished outcome and said “The project was delivered on time to a high spec. Building Tectonics engaged with us throughout the process ensuring that any changes were managed and we would highly recommend them”.

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Conservatory Conversion – Milton Keynes
When Tony, our company director, brought his house it included a conservatory so one of the main upgrades he made was to put a ‘proper’ roof on it.  This required getting builders to form a foundation outside the conservatory, construct the necessary steel-work, remove the old plastic roof and replace it with a new traditional roof. The glass sides and floor were left as they were but it had a super insulated roof installed. Although the conservatory was already there; Planning and Building Regulation approvals will often still be necessary for this type of work.

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House Remodel – Bedfordshire
Our client had bought a very tired 1960’s house which they thought needed remodelling. The house had a very un-inspiring appearance, an outdated internal arrangement, very poor insulation and lacked connection with the garden. An architect had produced some plans but the client thought these were unsuitable. Therefore, we were asked to perform our magic and remodel the house and make it a home fit for the future. We are pleased to say that everyone has been delighted with the results.

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Do you have an existing conservatory or outbuilding that you would like to make better use of and to connect it with the garden for all-round year use? Or would you simply like some ideas for how a new garden room structure could be added to the back of your house? Please do get in touch to see how Building Tectonics can help you.

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. 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. However, 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. Therefore, 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. If you want the light to penetrate in 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. It also 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. You will not need such a big glass area anyway because the light that 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. 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.  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 is 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.  You could also re-jig your existing space to make it work more efficiently for you; or even make 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. Therefore, 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!

“Redesign” your home

The nature of the work that architectural companies like Building Tectonics are asked to do has changed.
Once upon a time, we would be asked to design an extension, prepare drawings for a loft conversion, alter the facade of a house, or more occasionally, change the interior layout. Sometimes there would be a joint focus on changing the layout of the property at the same time as extending, but this was only a small portion of our work.

The type of work we’re being asked to do has fundamentally changed, and most of of it is now not only thinking about how to enlarge a clients house, but also re-organising the space in a major way. We don’t think that any of the phrases popularly used to describe what we do are adequate in getting across this process; and so we like to describe it as “redesigning”.

In my opinion, words such as modernising, renovating, refurbishing and even extending don’t quite cut it, an extension may be a part of the project but I don’t think it’s descriptive enough for even simplest of projects. It’s not a good idea to add another room, or enlarge an existing room without considering the effect this work will have on the space you already have. Quite often, we find that this will leave the existing room as a dark unused corridor into the new space; this is why some thought should always be given to the changed dynamics of the existing house as a whole. We think about these aspects every time potential clients come to us with an idea for their “new extension”, that’s why we prefer the all-encompassing term “redesign”.

Written by Tony Keller, Building Tectonics.

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.

Potential for resale

As with any project, the potential for resale should always be borne in mind. If we work together to create a really nice house, when you’re ready to sell, it will sell quickly and command the best possible price. It’s worth saying at this point that to do the job well doesn’t necessarily cost more; it does, however, mean it’s important that the design team (that’s the client and Building Tectonics working together) should take enough time at the feasibility scheme stage to look at a range of ideas where possible, and then refine the most promising.

The time has come for the Abella’s to move and as we often hear from clients, the house has sold almost immediately for the best price possible in this area of town. We’re confident that the buyers will also enjoy the house and realise the best price possible when the time comes. As we often remind clients; it’s not just a home, it’s also your most important asset.

We are grateful to Penrose estate agents for the use of their internal photos.

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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.”

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