Mixing the Bricks

You may have noticed tall brick walls can have bands of different shades of colour; this can be deliberate, a feature of the design specified by the architect, but it’s often a product of poor management. It’s becoming more common to see this “banding” in most new brick houses, it’s very rare to see this in old brickwork.One of the attractions of an old brick wall is the variation in the shades of brick as opposed to the somewhat clumsy but inadvertent banding in new buildings.

How can this be avoided? Care and attention of the bricklaying is the answer; not so long ago a bricklayer would have a labourer (or hod carrier) who would unpack and mix the different batches of bricks before carrying them up the scaffold on his hod. You seldom see a hod these days, because builders tend to use hoists to lift the bricks to the ‘upper lifts’ of the scaffolding. We’re all for the safety and efficiency when dispensing the hod carrier, but the loss of the old practice is very sad because it results in an unattractive banding, and patches of brickwork.

Brick banding happens because each batch of brickwork is different, this is because the clay coming out of the ground varies as they excavate down through the layers of clay. The firing process can also vary, causing the bricks to have a slightly different hue. If builders organise themselves and know how many bricks they need prior to brick delivery brick suppliers can mix them for you before delivering; if they don’t know the amount needed before ordering the bricks they could mix them themselves by taking some bricks from one batch and some from another.

Brick banding by design, this is an example of banding that was planned.

It would be a big improvement if more brickies would take further care over this aspect of building, and if clients are aware of this then they should insist on it as well. One word of warning; if you unpack and mix the bricks by hand, you’d need some protective eyewear because the brick dust is sharp and would therefore scratch the soft tissue of your eyeball very easily which would be incredibly painful.

Photo of a nest smart thermostat

“Smart” Thermostats

“Smart Tech” is becoming more of a household term across the world, and it’s quickly becoming an integral part of people’s lives. A lot of people use their phones for the majority of their daily lives, take for example the smart thermostat – we can now control the temperature of our homes from anywhere with an internet connection, with our phones. This includes using them to control other devices in conjunction with the thermostat.

Smart thermostats allow you to have a fine level of control over the heating in your home remotely from anywhere, they also allow you to have control over the hot water from your phone, both functions subsequently saving you money on your energy bills in the long run. These aren’t the only things that make smart thermostats “smart” though, they’re intuitive because they allow you to create schedules based on your personal preferences. If you don’t set one up, they ‘learn’ from how you use the thermostat and create a schedule automatically.

A lot of smart thermostats connect to weather stations over the internet and can automatically adjust your homes temperature based on the weather and humidity. They can also use motion sensors or geofencing to sense whether anyone is in the house, if not then they can set themselves to an “away mode” and save you energy by keeping energy use to a minimum while you’re out. A newer feature coming to many smart thermostats is the ability to adjust the temperature by room, this is called “zoned heating”, this could be useful if you need to keep a nursery warmer than the rest of the house for example but you would need the central heating system to be zoned to make this work.

Given that your thermostat will connect to your home’s wi-fi. it’d be silly if it didn’t offer some connectivity with other devices on the network. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, there is an app out there called IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That), the app is used to create simple statements which form connections between different products or apps. There are lots of devices which are compatible with certain thermostats, I’ll write another blog about those next time, but as an example; if you own the Amazon Alexa, you can create a recipe which allows you to control the thermostat using your voice through the Alexa.

Pound Sign

The main upside of the smart thermostat is the fact that by combining all of these different features, a smart thermostat can help to save you money on your heating bills by automatically adjusting how much energy you’re using and when.

Accommodation for Relatives

We’re often asked to prepare schemes to facilitate members of the family to come and live alongside the clients. This request isn’t all that unusual, the so-called “Granny Annex” is quite common. Where a change has occurred is in who comes to stay, rather than the Granny coming to stay, it could be a son/daughter or another relative. Of course, this had been driven by the realisation that some youngsters can’t afford to buy their own house (or even rent in some cases), and sadly, the realisation that they’ll never be able to afford their own house has triggered an amalgamation of resources.

For this to work successfully, the layout, splitting of accommodation and access has to be carefully planned so that each part of the house gets the accommodation needed to facilitate true independence, this all has to be done to some sort of budget. Some of the “granny annexes” that we’ve worked on are truly grand affairs, and others are very small, it depends on the resources available.

I must say, it’s touching to see the sacrifice some parents make to see an economical roof over the heads of their sons and daughters, or even grandchildren. In some cases, a disabled parent or relative is involved and part of their game plan is to be their carer too. As a designer of spaces, if we know that the accommodation is for a disabled person then clearly we have to take that into account, especially in bathrooms and kitchens where space is needed for manoeuvring.

If you have such a project in mind, please get in touch.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics.

History of homes: The Bedroom.

Imagine waking up in the morning to find that you’re sharing a bed with some work colleagues, family, friends and even strangers, all in one bed…this was a normal occurrence around 100 years or so ago. It was a communal place for many people to share, and you were happy to share it at the time, more people generally meant more warmth as there was no central heating in those days! Other than that, all you would have had to keep yourself warm for the night would be a blanket or cloak. There was no space to have separate rooms, so the main hall was the used as a dormitory of sorts.

Medieval beds were very basic, often all it consisted of was a sack 9ft x 7ft stuffed with hay – this is where the saying “hit the hay” came from. Because they were so big and basic, they were designed to be shared by many people, which is why you would be glad for the warmth of many people in one room.

Over time the Victorians added rooms to the house, and specific uses for each room. Victorians were much more high class than the medieval because they had the luxuries of money, and time to spend at home. With this higher class look on life, the Victorians developed bed linen, sheets, blankets, pillowcases, an iron frame and more to make the bed a much more sophisticated object. I read somewhere that in those days, you should make your bed up of an iron frame, a thick brown sheet to cover the metal springs, a horsehair mattress, a feather mattress, under blanket, under sheet, bottom sheet, top sheet, 3-4 blankets and pillow covers. The pillow covers should have been changed twice a day and the mattress turned every morning…this sounds like a LOT of work compared to beds now.

In the 1970s the task of bed making became a much easier task when the duvet was introduced to us by a Scandinavian fellow named Terence Conran. This is when some things which would once be considered risqué were now allowed, such as an advertising campaign ‘sleep with a Swede’ which was used for these duvets.

In the 19th century all of the bedrooms social uses fell away, and it finally became a private room for sleeping.

Written by Jade Turney  – Building Tectonics

General Election: What the conservatives say they will do for Milton Keynes.

As we’re sure you already know, the Conservatives won the general election. So whether you voted for them or not, it’d be a good idea to brush up on your knowledge of their policies, current achievements and potential plans for the country.

We were looking at our own local manifesto for Milton Keynes, but if you live in a different area, you can find out about your local manifesto by clicking here.

On the subject of jobs, the conservatives have been trying to help to create more job opportunities in Milton Keynes South. The number of people claiming unemployment benefits has gone down by a chunk of 59% since 2010. That means that there are more people who have found work and are now employed, providing for themselves and their families.
They have also helped to create 4650 apprenticeships in Milton Keynes South since 2010, helping young people to gain the skills which they need to go into the career they want to be in. We have hands on experience with the apprenticeship scheme, our own employee Jade came from an apprenticeship supplied in Milton Keynes and has been kept on, securing a job with us. So we can back the idea of the continued growth of apprenticeships.

More than £49,733,030 has been invested in creating new schools in Milton Keynes South to help young people get the best start in life that they can with their education. The Conservatives pledged that if they were to win, which they have, that they would continue to give every child the best start in life by securing more good school locations and create 3 million more apprenticeships by 2020.

The Conservatives started a scheme called “Help to Buy”, this scheme has already helped 312 families in Milton Keynes South to buy their own home, and pledge to extend it so that more families can get the security of their own home. They also pledge to build 200,000 Starter homes and extend “Right to Buy” to 1.3 million Housing Association tenants.

They also helped with gaining an investment of £140 million in the South east through the Regional Growth Fund, supporting 45,000 jobs. They say that they will improve on the broadband for Brighton and Hove, Oxford, Portsmouth, Chelmsford, Southend, Milton Keynes, Reading and Southampton. They want to put £686 million of funding into various flooding defence projects in the South East and will support the £900 million redevelopment of Reading Station, they also want to put £778 million into the funding for improving local roads between 2015 and 2021.

The Conservatives have helped to cut income tax, 54,278 citizens of Milton Keynes South are now paying less income tax and keeping more of their wages to spend as they wish. They plan to keep cutting income tax by raising the tax-free allowance to £12,500 and increasing the 40p tax threshold so that nobody earning below £50,000 has to pay it.

There are 103,900 more businesses in the South East than there were in 2010, and 24 businesses in Milton Keynes South have received start up loans helping them to grow and create more jobs for our area. Conservatives want to keep backing businesses with lower taxes, less red tape and more start up loans.

So there is the basic rundown of schemes that the conservatives hope to put into action for Milton Keynes. If you need more information on any of the schemes above, here are some useful links to follow:

Help to Buy Scheme – http://www.helptobuy.org.uk/mortgage-guarantee/how-does-it-work

Right to Buy Scheme – https://www.gov.uk/right-to-buy-buying-your-council-home/overview

Regional Growth Fund – https://www.gov.uk/government/policies/regional-growth-fund

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Advice: choosing the right house.

It is incredibly rare that you will find your perfect house on the market in an area which you would like to live in. If you find a house in the area you want to live in that you like then the chances are that it will not be exactly how you envisioned your perfect home.

Everyone has a different idea on what makes something perfect. Be that the perfect dish, the perfect dress or the perfect colour for your living room. Some people strive for finding ready made perfection, and nothing less. Others take the closest match to their vision and change it slightly to make it perfect.

The advice we would like to give you is to try and be more like the second group of people described above. The people who take the closest match and make it perfect.

We would all like to have the perfect home, but it can take some doing. More often than not, the vision that you have for your perfect home will not come readily built. You will probably have to work at it and create the house of your dreams.

Sometimes, it may be simple things like moving the furniture from the current Living room to where the current Dining room is, and vice versa. But other times, it may be something a lot more taxing than moving some furniture around. You may want to add another room, for which you may need to get an extension. That may sound like a lot of effort, but it would be worth it in the end. After all, you’d have the house of your dreams when the work is done.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.