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.

4 tips for a successful house project

We give all of our clients 4 simple tips to have a higher chance of a successful, smoothly run project. Of course, this is not by any means a guarantee that all projects will go without any problems at all, these tips will just help you to avoid the unnecessary hiccups which happen all too often due to poor planning.  So our 4 tips to you are as follows:

Tip #1 – Have a well thought out scheme.

If you have carefully considered all aspects of your plans, and decided upon a final design then you can start the process and begin to make the design a reality.

If you don’t consider everything carefully, and change your mind about something part way through the work, you will be causing a lot of unnecessary hassle for yourself and your builders, it could cost you more and would probably take more time to complete.

Tip #2 – A good set of technical plans which explain to the builder how it should be built.

Getting a reputable architectural company to create a good set of technical plans for your project is key to getting everything built exactly as you’d like it.

The technical plans will tell the builders how the design should be built, and it can also act as a communication tool, and a contract between the builder and the client.

Tip #3 – Choose your builder with care.

You may have seen some of the TV programmes on TV showing builders who do a botch job on clients builds. These are not staged and this does happen very often if you’re not careful! So choose your builder with care and be sure that you do not end up on one of these shows.

Tip #4 – Don’t change your mind about anything once the work starts.

If you change your mind about anything whilst the builders are on site, you will cause unnecessary hassle for everyone. The project will probably become delayed and perhaps more expensive.

If you follow these tips, you are more likely to have a hassle free, smoothly built project.

Written by Jade Turney – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Elevations vs. perspective drawings

Historically we, like most architectural practices and designers, have used plans drawn in parallel projection, that’s to say that they are not in perspective.  We do this because plans in parallel projection can be to scale and from a technical standpoint it’s less easy to cheat and/or mislead.  However, perspective drawings can add something to the communication process as some clients find it easier to read these types of plans, whereas a projection drawing requires the reader to use their imagination, and some people cannot do this as well as others.
Before computer graphics, a perspective drawing would be drawn on paper or film by a draftsperson or a specialist perspective artist, it could be either quite sketchy or almost photo realistic. Even now, we in the Building Tectonics office still sketch something out in perspective, usually to communicate something to another member of the team so being adept with a pencil is still very handy. 
Of course the computer and the software we generally use can generate very complicated 3 dimensional models and from that a perspective drawing, but it does require a lot more information and time to do this. You may also be surprised to know that these types of graphical representations of a job can take all night for a computer to process (even quite a powerful computer). For this reason we have to charge extra for such work and if the client can do without it then all is well and good.
There is another side to this subject. Perspectives can be very misleading as they can give an impression of a building and perhaps its surrounding, or indeed the inside of a room but it will not be to scale, and by playing with the perspective vanishing point the impression of space and proportion can be altered. There is a trend now to produce photo realistic drawings too and these can be very seductive, but we worry that the client is wooed by the image and does not concentrate on the actual architecture. Most people will come into contact with perspective or a 3D type of representation when they order a new kitchen, and I have heard people say that the end result, when the kitchen is installed does not always have the same feeling or sense of space that was engendered by the graphical representation.
Planning departments and builders still require parallel projection because they can trust them (if properly prepared) to give them the accurate information they need.  However perspectives, walk throughs and fly round visualisations are required by some clients and so we do, if asked, produce them for an extra fee. 
We would be very pleased to learn of your experience of viewing types of graphic display, whether they helped you to make a decision about a particular design, and ultimately, did the building or kitchen live up to the promise of the presentation?
Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Have you ever wondered why chimneys lean to the South?

Have you ever wondered why chimneys lean to the South?

Some say it is because the North wind is stronger. That sounds ridiculous but in a strange way it is probably to do with the North Wind. The best theory I have heard regarding why old chimneys lean, is that the North wind is generally colder than the South and that means that the North side of a chimney stays marginally colder for longer than the South side. As the smoke from the fire rises up the flue it will cool and condense on the inside surface of the chimney. Because the North side is colder than the South more will condense on the North face than the South. The smoke is a mixture of hot gasses given off from the burning coal or wood in the fireplace. Amongst the hydro carbons and other very toxic gases given off from your typical fire, are substances that will leech into the brickwork of your chimney and form a sticky tarry residue. This residue will cause the mortar in the brick joints to slightly expand due to a chemical reaction. Because slightly more occurs on the North side than the South, the North of the Chimney gets fractionally taller and hey presto, it leans to the South.

Another aspect of this residue that is a great nuisance is that it will discolour interior decorations. Internally, it does not matter how many times you paint over it, will come back. So the best way to irradiate it on the inside of your house is to fix some foil backed plasterboard over the affected area and decorate to taste. This residue will also leave a dark stain externally. The latter can often seen on the outside of a Victorian house and shows clearly the path of the chimney flue up the wall.

Chimneys built since the 1960s should have a special liner of clay which the residue cannot penetrate thus alleviating the problem. Incidentally these liners have to be installed the right way up to be effective and I have known bricklayers get this wrong.

It is worth noting that now chimneys and fireplaces are back in vogue we are having to relearn the art. Actually it is more of a science and since the empirical knowledge built up over hundreds of years has been forgotten many mistakes in the construction of fireplaces has led to problems, some of which have cost lives.



Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Flitched Beams

A client has just asked me about Flitched Beams and I thought it might be an interesting topic for others. As alway, I am not going to be too technical and so this is going to be a quick introduction to the wonderful world of the Flitched Beam. As you will know, steel is stronger than wood because it can withstand compression, ( being squeezed ) much more than wood and it can withstand tension ( being stretched ) more than wood. However a long slender piece of steel will still buckle and so if you can stop it buckling under load, its ability to withstand the compressive forces will be greatly enhanced. So, if you bolt a fat piece of wood either side of a piece of steel so that they act together, the steel will take the compressive forces and the wood will stop the buckling of the steel. Most typically a flitched beam consists of a plate of steel about 10mm thick and 150mm deep with a timber plate also 150mm deep and about 50mm wide each side to form a sandwich. The assembly is bolted together with bolts along its length at about 300mm spacings.

In any beam spanning across an opening, the top of a beam is in compression and the bottom is in tension. The wood clamped either side of the steel will help stop the top half of the steel buckling, thus enhancing the strength of the assembly much more than the wood could do on its own. Clearly a piece of steel of the overall size of the assembly would be much stronger but much heavier too. Furthermore, the wood element is easier to fix too as you can screw or nail into it and the assembly can be assembled on site with can be a blessing if access is restricted. Another very useful characteristic is that in a fire steel loses a lot of strength and collapses quite quickly, whereas timber initially burns until the surface becomes carbonized and chars which creates a protective layer. Also the wood does not conduct heat as well as steel, for these two reasons the Flitched beam performs better in fire than a steel beam. To ensure this we often make the timber constituent a little bigger, creating what is known as a sacrificial layer, so that the beam can be exposed to fire for say half an hour without collapsing.

I am not sure when they were first used but I am aware of Victorian flitched beams. I am also not sure where the name comes from and that would be interesting to know as the word flitch is used to describe many ancient items.

Any feed back would be appreciated.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Permitted Development

In brief, Permitted Development is that work that you can carry out to your house without requiring Planning Permission.  The rules changed the other year and was heralded with a fanfare by Governments as a new simplified set of rules that would result in fewer Planning Applications. Oh yer!  I can tell you that our very first project under the new regime needed Planning Permission but it would not have done under the old set of rules.  However that is not the worst of it.  As complicated as the old rules were, we ( those working in the field) were familiar with them and there had been many test cases to iron out the anomalies and help clarify matters.  What we are dealing with now is a very sloppy piece of legal drafting that is being interpreted by one planning authority in one way and another in another way.

Building Tectonics advises that the Local Planning Department should always be consulted to see if Planning Permission is required.  We nearly always do this because in addition to the vagaries of the new rules, a planning authority can apply to have your Permitted development Rights removed.  This is done where the local authority believes an area is special, and the public cannot be trusted to build with taste and sensitivity.

Central Government advice actually encourages applicants to make a pre-planning enquiry, as we do, and most local authorities.  However some Planning Authorities are now charging for this consultation which is a bit rich and I believe deplorable.  In these cash struck times we may see more councils doing this.  It goes against the spirit of things and we should harrang Central Government to stop this.

As a summary I would repeat that Permitted Development is that which can be done without Planning Permission.  Lastly I would like to stress that just because you need Planning Permission does not mean you will not get it.  I have had clients that have gone to great lengths to come up with a design that can be built under Permitted Development and yet a much better approach would have been to design a much nicer extension that would require Planning Permission.  In most cases a well designed extension will obtain approval.

Please also remember that building Regulation Approval is an entirely different thing and is not affected by any on the above, so this separate approval will probably be needed anyway.

Happy building.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Foundation and extensions.

Foundations and extensions to houses.
There is a lot of confusion about foundations and extensions, especially where the requirement is to build over an existing building. Often the question is whether the existing foundations will support the load of the additional building. There are two very simple things to remember about foundations. 1) The width of a foundation and the nature of the soil below dictate how much load it can take. 2) The depth of a foundation is only important to stop the foundation moving due to fluctuations in the ground below.

In Milton Keynes, where I practice, the clay is usually supportive enough so that even a narrow foundation can support two storeys and therefore the foundation put in to support your single storey building will normally be able to take the load from two storeys. Thus you can often build over without worrying about the foundations.

In respect of the depth of a foundation, if you are building on clay, as in Milton Keynes, you have to take the foundation down to a depth where it will not be effected by seasonal shrinkage, ie dry summers ( remember those) causing the clay to crack and dry, even down to 900 millimeters. This effect is made much worse by the presence of trees where the ground can desiccate / shrink even at depths of 3 meters plus due to the trees sucking up so much moisture. This type of problem will cause cracking in a three storey house or a garden wall alike and thus logically no matter how much the load, if you want to avoid any type of movement you have to go deep on clay. Of course nobody invests a lot of money in a garden wall foundation so no wonder they crack and fall over so often.

It is not the same where building on sand. Sand does not suffer from shrinkage in the same way and so a much shallower foundation may be okay. However the foundation may have to be wider to take even a modest load – it depends on the type of sand.

Therefore most building can be successfully built over, using the existing foundations but, if there is evidence of movement such as cracking then it would be unwise to build over since that will probably crack too. All of the above is a generalization and you need an expert to advise, but you should not be put off exploring extending upwards because of a fear regarding the foundations. Talk to us and we will try to advise on the best strategy.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Planning Permission and Building Regulations

Planning Permission and Building Regulations
It is apparent that many clients and potential clients confuse Planning Permission and Building Regulation Approval.  What I am about to explain is not intended to be definitive or comprehensive but only a rough guide to a subject that many find unfathomable.

Very roughly the Planning Department is concerned with the use to what the building or land is put, ie is the building or land a shop or a house for instance. This is because it may be undesirable to have a noisy factory, or a business with many customers creating a parking issue, in the middle of a housing estate. The other issue that concerns Planners is what will the building will look like. They use terms like massing, style and scale, all terms effectively relating to how the building relates to other nearby buildings or the building you are trying to extend. Very simply for most of Building Tectonics work these are the sort of issues that we have to talk to the Planning Department about.

Building Regulations.
Building Regulations started off as mandatory building codes to ensure the safety and well-being of people using a building. Simple examples would include structural stability and damp penetration. This is still at the core of the Building Regulations but they are now also used to implement Central Government policy regarding heat loss and disabled access. Think of Building Regulations as the technical standards you have to achieve.

This is of course very simplistic and one could list many examples that contradict the above.

We have had many clients including professional people such as solicitors who have not had a grasp that there are these two regulatory areas and even though Building Tectonics will deal with these two aspects for a client, they still have to be aware that both types of approvals are required – unless the work is exempt of course. Now, this issue of whether the work is exempt or not also requires an understanding of the two areas because the work may be exempt from one but not the other.

I will blog again on Planning matters and Building Regulations but in the meantime I hope the above is useful.

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.

Making your house more energy efficient

One of the really tangible benefits of extending your house, whether its upwards (a loft conversion) or outwards (extending the building) is that the new building envelope has to be really well insulated.

A new wall is about six times more efficient than an old Victorian wall for instance. A new insulated roof can be thirteen times more efficient than an old Victorian roof. By wrapping new building around the old building effectively wraps the house with insulation. Of course you can seldom take the extension all the way round and so some clever remedial tricks should be employed to improve the insulation of the old exposed walls. It can make a dramatic difference to an old building.

Building Tectonics can advice on this and other related matters.   01908 366000

Written by Tony Keller – Building Tectonics Ltd.