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. 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. It also 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. They have given them a stunning open plan eating/living area that they can really 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.

Re-modelling of Woburn Sands Cottage Interior

Whilst some clients have a design idea visualised in their heads from day one of how they would like to extend or alter their properties; equally there are other clients who contact us to ask for our help. They are often unsure what they require and need us to come up with potential design concepts to make their homes work better and more efficiently for them. This was the situation with our lovely clients in Woburn Sands; who contacted us on recommendation from a number of past clients, to discuss re-modelling and enlarging their two-bedroom cottage.

After an initial discussion, they took time out to go away and firm up exactly what they were trying to achieve from the design process. This allowed them to then come back to us with a clearer idea of what they needed. Having made the decision to go ahead; they thereby engaged us to generate some ideas for them of how to make their space work best within their budget.

Although it obviously helps when clients are clear about what they are trying to achieve, it is not unusual for us to help them clarify in their own minds exactly what they are trying to achieve from the design process. While our clients had clarified what their needs were and had developed some ideas of their own, they acknowledged that they had no prior experience in extending or modernising a house. They therefore, needed an architectural design company to challenge their assumptions of what could actually work.

One clear problem they identified to us from the start was that the layout upstairs needed to be altered. They needed to be able to access all the rooms from the hallway instead of the current layout of having to go through one room to another.  In addition, they also wanted to add a third bedroom with natural daylight and install a new family sized bathroom. On the ground floor they craved a more open plan layout with kitchen and family space that linked the downstairs space with the garden.

A very steep staircase needed some consideration; as to whether it could be either altered or relocated. We looked at the option of a loft conversion or two or three different layouts to achieve the third bedroom. A strong winner soon emerged which involved altering the ground floor layout to achieve the open plan layout they desired. This meant a first-floor extension would sit neatly over the top. Whilst a loft conversion would have been possible, it would not have worked out as financially economical.

When it came to the staircase re-design, we tried a few scenarios and again a strong contender soon emerged. Whilst there were a couple of issues during the building work; we were happy to help and advise the builder, as even experienced builders sometimes like a second opinion. Sadly, this is not always the case as not all builders are happy to declare their uncertainty over some aspects.  This is a shame and we as a consultancy try to encourage builders to talk to us about any aspects that they are unsure of.  It is always beneficial to foster a team spirit and both sides can learn from discussions on-site and use it for future reference. In this case it involved the correct choice of roof tile for a modified roof pitch.

Following the building work, our clients are very happy to have moved in and have provided us with some photographs of their new home which we are always grateful for. We wish them well in their new extended, enlarged and improved home and look forward to visiting in the near future to see this great space for ourselves.

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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”.

Adding Energy Efficiency to Your Home Construction or Remodelling Plan

The repair, maintenance and improvement market for UK housing is about 25 billion per year according to the Construction Products Association (CPA) economic forecasts. In fact, most homeowners are seeking energy efficient improvements as part of a larger home remodelling project according to CPA. There are a number of things you can do to enhance energy efficiency in your home during construction or remodelling.

Double glazed windows and loft and wall insulation
Put in double glazed windows to keep your home warmer, quieter and safer. You can also enhance the warmth and quiet by adding loft and wall insulation, which is much cheaper than replacing all your old windows with double glazed windows. Loft insulation is meant to stop heat from escaping through the roof while wall insulation prevents heat loss through walls. If you have solid walls, external wall insulation could be the best choice for retaining heat in your home. However, if your walls have a cavity, this can be filled up with insulation material to stop heat from conducting through the walls. Insulating your home can save you money on your fuel bills, and improves the energy efficiency rating of your home.

Energy saving appliances
Electrical appliances have made things like piles of dirty dishes very rare in most homes, and although they cost money to run there are tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, washing machines, ovens and other appliances that are incredibly energy efficient. For example, the Miele TMG840 WP heat pump dryer uses hot air to suck out moisture from clothes. The machine also switches off when its sensors detect that the clothes have dried.

Saving energy with the light bulb
Another way to enhance energy efficiency in your home is by installing LED light bulbs. Investing in the latest expensive LED light bulb could save you up to £240 each year according to an article in The Telegraph. You can also install smart LED lighting in your home to add to your list of control options instead of being restricted to on and off. For instance, the Lifx light bulb is compatible with the three main voice assistants, which means that you can control it with your voice. These lights also have apps that you can download on your phone and use to control the lights.

Energy saving appliances and light bulbs are reasonable options if you are renting or cannot afford extensive home remodelling projects at the moment. However, if you are constructing a new home, you can start making your home energy efficient from the moment the foundation is being laid.

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.

Spotlight on the Team – Josh Lockwood

Josh Lockwood – Design Technologist

Josh originally started with Building Tectonics 6 years ago on a week’s work experience; and after being made a job offer, he never left. However, as he had only just started his Sixth Form study, it was a tough decision as he was doing well at school but unsure what he wanted to do for a job. He realised the work experience suited his skill set, accepted the offer and has never looked back. After joining, he decided to attend college once a week to continue his education and achieved the grades needed to enrol at university. He is now in his 5th out of 6 years at university (due to being part-time), and will become qualified in 2020.

Having started off drawing surveys onto the computer by reading the measurements taken from Tony’s survey notes, it wasn’t long before Josh was trying his hand at producing schemes and submitting Planning Applications. As our Design Technologist, he prepares the Building Regulations drawings and has constant communication with our clients along with dealing with party wall issues, sewer build-overs and occasionally working on 3D models to help clients visualise proposals and buy into an idea.

Three things that inspire Josh:

Making a difference in people’s lives – I take great joy and pleasure out of helping people get what they want and achieve their goals and by designing extensions, I am fulfilling that passion. One day I hope to take it to the next level and design bigger and grander buildings or ideally, should my career prospects take me down the right path, work on redeveloping towns and cities to make a difference to whole communities.

Self-Improvement – There is always room for improvement and every day alters the way in which I view the world and myself, even if only slightly. Learning from other people, past mistakes and precedents keeps pushing me to strive for more.

Invention and Innovation – I thoroughly enjoy seeing new ideas come to life whether that be in terms of Architecture, Technology, Science, Music, or Sport. I have the utmost respect for talented people as it baffles me how people can create or achieve such things as mere human beings. Seeing the progression of various concepts throughout the decades to see how ideas have evolved over time is satisfying.

What is your favourite example of Architectural Design?
There are lots of architectural marvels that I could list such as: Sagrada Familia in Barcelona (still under construction), Milan Cathedral, and for more modern examples, The Scalpel in London (recently completed) and Aldar HQ in Abu Dhabi.

However, the one that has stood out the most and been with me the longest has to be the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao which was designed by Frank Gehry. I’ve covered this in a previous University blog, but in essence, not only was the design controversially wonderful at the time, it has also sparked regeneration in Bilbao. In an age where grand Cathedrals are rarely built, and clusters of skyscrapers are the new way to identify cities, Frank Gehry had tried something different and ambitious which has paid off massively. It has proven hard to replicate such an iconic building elsewhere as the recipe for success isn’t quite right for other projects, whereas the Guggenheim was somewhat of a perfect storm.

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.

Planning ahead.

As the title suggests, today’s blog is going to be about the importance of pre-planning a project. Not just a housing project, but any day-to-day project/task which you may have.

As it’s December, and Christmas is making its way here (at quite an alarming rate in my opinion), ’tis the season to be wrapping. This is a really good example for us to get our point across; wrapping Christmas presents can take up a good amount of time during the winter months! If you are anything like me, you will probably leave your wrapping until the last possible moment (usually Christmas eve), but if you were clever and well-organised you would’ve planned ahead. If you know that you have enough wrapping paper well in advance, a good amount of sellotape, and some ribbon, bows and tags if you’re arty with your wrapping, then you can get it all done without breaking a sweat (hopefully). Maybe even well in advance as well, namely before Christmas eve.

If however, you haven’t thought ahead, you might not have enough wrapping paper, or maybe you do, but you don’t have anything to stick it together with. So you are now running out to the shops on Christmas eve, fighting the other last-minute wrappers, grabbing at the last sellotape like your life depended on it. This in turn, has caused you a delay in finishing the task because you didn’t plan it ahead of time.

Rolls of red and silver Christmas wrapping paper with ribbons, bows and scissors
Image Courtesy of Google.

Designing your project well in advance goes along the same principles as Christmas wrapping, except that there is no ribbon, and no pretty bows to hide the unfinished edges.

Pre planning the project on your home is paramount if you wish to have a smooth ride with the building process. Before you go to a builder, you should have explored the options, settled on a scheme, and have everything carefully drawn out by an architectural consultancy. Without these technical drawings, the builder will not have much idea of the quantity of materials he will need for the build. If the builder has no idea of how many bricks he will need or how much cement to order he will probably end up ordering the wrong amount and then expect you to pay extra over and above what he first quoted. If you had all of this pre planned with a thorough set of accurate plans you would get a quote you could rely on, the builder would know what to order, the job would be finished on time and everything would be a lot smoother. It would definitely be a better experience for all.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.