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A Blog by Ferdinand

Entries in this blog

How to Conceal a Door in a Wall

I spotted this inside a local cafe this week.   Liquorice Allsort chic is not quite my taste, but the door is not as obvious as could be the case.   It is an a sample of how to incorporate an element into a stronger pattern than the outline as a means to de-emphasise it. Here it could have been further concealed by choosing a different handle, or concealed hinges.   It could also have been made full height.  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

What about a Modular Loft?

This week I came across a team installing entire sections of loft on a house-build with a seriously large crane.   Really quite interesting, and an opportunity to indulge in some doggerel.   As I was planning for my toft I met a man with a Modular Loft Windows were installed and tiles With insulation, floors and style Windows, Lift, Loft, Tiles Make an instant ancient pile! A extraordinarily transportable loft -  But do I want one for my toft?   (with apologies to St Ives)   More photos below, and you can see the contact details on the side of the van in the last picture if you want one..   Gently does it...                 What they are matching...       Close-ups and Details                   The Company Installing    

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Diversions whilst Laying Laminate

A varied, and educational, long weekend laying down laminate flooring (one of the Uniclic range from Quick-Step) to help an acquaintance improve his house in London.   The task was to lay about 3 rooms-worth full of Uniclic Laminate (28 packs), and moving a lot of furniture around - the killer reason for needing two people.   My protagonist in laying the laminate, and moving all the furniture, is a detail-of-finish man, and at one stage was whittling away with a multitool for 20 minutes at a piece of laminate to match the outline of a curly 1930s doorpost; a demented boy-scout aiming for "Floor Laying, Advanced".    Inevitably the worst happened. As at Beauvais Cathedral in 1284, the integrity of the structure did not quite measure up to the aspiration of the designer, and there was a sharp crack followed by some of the most creative language expressed in 750 years. It worked second time around.   Having bought a car with the dimensions of a small barge (aka my new Skoda Superb Estate), this was the first opportunity to really test the performance over a long run. An MPG of 59 on the way down to London on a Thursday afternoon / teatime, and 64 mpg on the way back on a clear run,  measured on a tested-and-accurate car-computer, will do for a car that can fit in a couple of coffins, and tow 2 tonnes. It is about 10-20% more economical than my old non-turbocharged Citroen BX from the mid-1990s, and has twice the power.   Whilst on waiting time, I was able to binge-watch on Netflix the documentary The 9 episode 11hr documentary mini-series The  Civil War, by Ken Burns. I never studied this historical period at school, and time to reflect provoked a few new insights for me - a bit of an eye-opener.   I had not absorbed just how contemporaneous is the American Civil War. We (or at least I) think of it is a long time ago, but the war was only 5 years before my own Great-Grandfather was born.   The last Civil War widow -  Maudie Hopkins - only died in 2008. Yes - she was a 19 year-old who married a pensioner during the depression, on what looks like a classic security-for-care type arrangement, but the point stands. Sobering.  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Scale : 1 inch to 6 feet

Clearing out a little, I have come across a cache of material from my father's Architecture Course at Sheffield University in the late 1950s. There is also a brochure from the GRP products he was offering around 1983 from one of the original Raleigh Buildings in Nottingham.   Lots of interesting projects - this is one for a "Country House", and I can see the stripped down style of the period, but there are also quarters for a maid. And a lot of illlustrations done in watercolour.    And the scale is - yes - 1 inch to 6 feet. Here are a few pics, which are just auto-colour-balanced. The entry was done in haste so there are a couple of duplicates.                              

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Today we went to meet the Planners...

Some things are irresistable.   This prescient 1903 painting by C. M. Coolidge shows Planning Consultants meeting the Council, even though it is supposedly called "A Friend in Need".     With apologies to any highbrow art people on the forum ... this is very much the 1890s version of the Jack Vettriano niche.    

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

One way to fix a wonky shed

Like the best magazines, this article consists mainly of pictures - as it is nearly Bank Holiday weeking and I am heading off to a Camping Barn near @recoveringacademic's place with friends.   The problem is straightforward.   About 5 years ago on moving to the current house I had a 8' by 8' shed constructed in a corner of the garden which consisted of (perceived) well-packed rubble from many years ago. We used a base of concrete fence-posts laid flat to allow some minimal give, and room to expel any unwelcome undershed-dwellers, and to avoid the extra expense of a full concrete slab.   How wrong I was. The ground turned out to be as movable as a slow-motion mattress, probably due to the rubble not being as compacted as thought, heave from a nearby tree, and a succession of extreme summers. The thing seems to move by up to a couple of inches at one end or the other up or down depending on how the weather, the tree and the rubble are changing. And the shed has needed adjusting twice since it was put in, and it still looks wonky.   A further issue was a frame on the shed not quite strong enough to prevent shear distortion (ie the roof moving sideways relative to the base to give a rhombus shape.)   I decided to use a product from ASP Wallbarn called Adjustable Support Pads, in this case their Megapad product which supports 1500kg per pad, and which give nearly 4 inches of vertical movement on each pad. These were installed under the existing posts using a couple of trolley jacks and a bit of digging. The pads can be adjusted after installation. The cost for 8 pads delivered was just over £70.   If you order these or similar from online trade or retail sellers, then you may well be much more heavily clobbered by expensive shipping costs. I ordered these over the phone from Wallbarn, and they even reduced the £15 shipping cost to £7; the products arrived the next morning.   Total time taken was about 6 hours for one man.   This photo shows the full range of adjustment, and the component parts.   The shed as it was on Wednesday morning   Leaning to the Left.   Wedges and a door that has not been lockable for some time       Doing the job   Levelling Up         Correcting the shear, and installing a new brace         Job Done. I hope.     Will it work?   Ask me in a couple of years, when the ground has moved again.   Total cost was under £200. A new shed plus a concrete slab would have been about £1000 or a little more done professionally with careful sourcing.   The chap doing the work is the excellent John Smith of Little John Property Services (M: 07702 033296), who does a lot of property maintenance for me.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

A Domain Name for your Self-Build? Try .uk

I came across this conversation about having a domain name for a self-built house between @ProDave and @vivienz, and thought that the new .uk domain names are potentially of interest and would be worth a brief comment.   These are domain names which link straight into the uk's top-level domain - so you have dunroamin.uk rather than dunroamin.org.uk or dunroamin.co.uk. That seems to me to be more suitable for a house which is inherently neither a non-profit 'organisation', nor a commercial company. That can be used for a project website or self-build blog, or a business such as a B&B - or can be reserved in case such a use might be required in the future.   There is a limitation in that if an identical name exists in the co.uk, org.uk or me.uk domain hierarchies, then the owner of that domain has a pre-emptive "grandfathered"right to buy the .uk version until mid-2019.   However, where the domain name is not registered in one of the other hierarchies mentioned, it can be purchased now.   There is a fairly good explanation of this process on the 123-reg website.   As an example, I have recently helped set up a website for my handyman under the domain little-john.uk, for "Little John Property Services" (this is near Sherwood Forest) which is available now, but littlejohn.uk is not available now as littlejohn.co.uk  is used by a Bathroom Company already.   This is slightly ironic for me, as I have been trying to get rid of the name of my house for the last 4 years.   It is called something horribly 1950s, and the name seems attached to the Council database like a stand of Knotweed. Every time the nice person on the phone says "I have taken it off and it has gone", it comes back about 6 months later as if by magic.   Personally, I think the answer is that the master database is probably owned by the Post Office, and it is very difficult to correct. Until very recently we were receiving Pizza Deliveries for next door every couple of months, and it turns out that my detached house, and "1a" next door which was built in 198x on a slice of the garden of this one, were listed by the Post Office as a pair of flats in a single unit. Go figure! (*)   (*) In the end it took a pitched battle by the new owner of next-door over a period of months to get the database updated, including multiple mis-assumptions by admin staff when they had emails stating the simple facts sitting in front of them. But that persistence of inaccurate information is to me an example as to why we should keep information about us get in database-state information banks to an absolute minimum.   People believe bollocks when the bollocks emerges from a computer, and that causes practical problems for real people. So keep computers in the dark.  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Sweat and Detail in Self-build

I am annoyed this morning.   Once again my washing-up water - the first hot water I have used in the kitchen today - is running warm then cold then hot.
And the cold water is running warm then cold.   This probably means that the last people, who renovated the house, did not insulate the water pipes where they pass through the zone where there is underfloor heating, and the water standing in the pipes has heated up.   A small annoyance due to lack of sweat applied to the detail. But one that is noticeable and about which I can do nothing practically.   Boo !

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

Protect your Fence Posts with a Postsaver

A video I made whilst we were putting Postsaver protective sleeves on part of the stock of fence posts.   It is a really excellent product, which should more or less double the length of life of a fence post, and takes little more than a minute to apply once you are set up.   But make sure to buy direct from the manufacturer, because retail outlets will gouge you comparatively. The starter kits are particularly good value.   And they do trade accounts if you have a repeated need.     The feature photo repeated below shows an alternative way to  create a long-life fence - use a repair spur and keep the wood off the ground completely.    

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Do Not Appeal (sometimes); apply for a Variation on a Planning Condition

There are different views about Planning Consultants, and whether they should be used.   This is a short example of a Planning Consultant offering superb advice, that most of us self-builders would perhaps not think about.   The Problem   I have just received a Planning Permission, after 3 months of engagement with the Council. It is a commercial Change of Use but the lesson applies to self-builder permssions. We received our permission, but on the last morning the Planning Department applied an unacceptable Planning Condition which threatened the whole project. The Planning Condition clearly violates several of the basic tests.   This condition had not been mentioned in the previous months of consultation, and I did not see it until it appeared on the Decision Notice. At this point the Planning Application has been "determined" (ie decided and frozen), so the Condition cannot be modified without a further Planning Application or an Appeal to the Planning Inspectorate.   The problem is that a Full Appeal gives the Inspector the opportunity to reopen the basic Planning Application, and modify it - which I do not want.   The Solution   The recommendation from our Planning Consultant was:   1 - To apply for a Variation of the unacceptable condition, which might be accepted, then... 2 - To Appeal the Refusal of the application for the Variation if we need.   The advantage is that we then if needed we can get a Determination by the Planning Inspectorate on the narrow point, while keeping all the other acceptable aspects of our Planning Permission out of their scope.   The Learning Point   As self-builders, we think about discharging Planning Conditions at the end of the build process. The same process can be used to vary them before we start building. It takes extra time and a fee, which is smaller than a Full Planning Application fee for a new dwelling, but does not run the risk of reopening the entire Permission to change.   More information   The appropriate form on the Planning Portal. Explanation of Planning Condition Variations on the Government Website.  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Case Study: Water stains on a brick wall

A perennial problem with walls is water or other staining.   Yesterday I was walking past a fairly new wall, built perhaps 15 years ago. There are an interesting number of white stains now running down the wall.   What is the cause? My candidate is probably the weep holes, and also the 'shadow' from the road sign (which should be a few inches further out). I wonder if it also cheap bricks, or an insufficiently considered design. In any case, if stains show up this prominently so soon, then something on the detailing is not right.   What do you think, and what would you do differently?   ( I have uploaded these at full size so you can zoom in.)   Photo 1.     Photo 2.     Photo 3.     Photo 4 .   Photo 5 . .

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

The Perfect Bin Store

I know there is no such thing, but this blog is supposed to be about Details.   How to build an attractive looking bin store to deal with dustbins that breed like Statutory Consultees in the Planning process?   Here is one option used locally. They have used traditional perforated blocks that we are all used to from the 1970s.     Here is something similar from Kevin McCloud's The Triangle development, using Gabions.   (Photo Credit)   The McCloud version suffers from being in the eyeline whenever the householder leaves the front door.   If you have any good examples, please post in the comments.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

An Excellent Modern Terrace Plan

I thought I would post a plan of a terraced house I ran across recently.   The small estate of houses was built in 2004. Typical but pleasant modern houses, but this 2.5 storey terrace has a notably efficient layout.   In the overall footprint of 5m by 9m (including external walls) includes 1047 sqft, and includes:   Large lounge 12' x 16'. Dining room 8' x 10' attached to 10' x 7' kitchen Three double bedrooms (one ensuite) Family bathroom Small utility A reasonable amount of storage   Here is the Plan:     I like:   That circulation space is minimised to around 10%. That each bedroom has space for bed + chair + desk, even though bed 3 at 9' x 11' is tight.  That there is space for a workdesk on the middle landing should it be needed. That the layout is reasonably flexible.   Should it be desired, bedroom 2 could be made into 2 singles of 8'5" x 8' each, which is still larger than most 3rd bedrooms even in semi-detached houses, or could have its own ensuite included.   Looking at the plan a decade later, I think there are only three things I would change:   Remove the wall between the kitchen and the dining room to create an open space, and insert a small breakfast bar. Add a roof window or two to the rear aspect of the Master Bedroom. Make changes necessary to comply with more recent regs - especially around disabled access.     What do you think?  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Sydney Street Furniture I

This is the first in a series of postings I will be making whilst on holiday in Sydney and Melbourne, mainly about architectural details which may be of interest to Buildub readers.   My favourite way to meet a new city is to do what I call a random walk, followed by a random journey back to my starting point on public transport.   I will be posting photos and descriptions of anything I find of interest, whether internal or external.   Cycle Locking Point   This first is ... If I am right ... a place to lock your bicycle.           Zebra Crossings are as clear as in the UK. Cars stop, pedestrians keep going. But the Sydney version of a Belisha Beacon is joyous in its bluntness.   You can also see that the Fun Police have reached Australia. I will have a bit more to say about the Sydney police force, and priorities of pedestrians and motor vehicles later.         Textured Paving.   In the UK we have moulded concrete pavers with grids of bumps to place next to, for example, pedestrian crossings, such that visually impaired people can tell by touch where to cross the road with the help of signals, or where they are approaching the edge of a kerb.   This is the strangest item of street furniture I have met here. The Sydney version is grids of metal studs, which could almost have been designed as a slip risk in humidity or rain, especially for visually impaired or blind people    in places there are even signs warning that the studs are a slip hazard. Quite how these are supposed to keep blind people safe is an explanation I would love to hear. Or perhaps I have misunderstood?           Comments are, as ever, welcome below.  

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Space Efficient House Means Cash Efficient Budget

Having seen and debated Calvinmiddle's 120 square metre 2 bedroom bungalow, I was musing on how large a dwelling actually needs to be in floor area - intending no particular critique of Calvin's decisions here.

In these days of £1500 per square meter build costs and soaring energy prices, should we take Occam's Razor to all those (possibly) extra bits we are adding to our self-builds? Rather than learning creating larger rooms and learning to do that one extra building trade ourselves, to save budget, is it possible to make different decisions and simply build less house instead?

Let me bring some personal experience to open a conversation about efficient use of space, as I think I have a good example of a well-designed and well laid out 2 bed bungalow, on quite a difficult site. Here is an aerial view and site plan, which is fairly tight, and built to the boundary on the North and West sides, preventing insertion of windows in those walls.

 

The history is that in 1960 this was a cowshed. In 1970 it became an architect's studio. By the 1990s the architect had moved out, and it was extended and became a 2 bed studio (literally) bungalow.

I don't, unfortunately, have a formal floor plan to hand, short of scanning in an architect's drawing, but the total floor area is 70 sqm, or 750 square feet, measured by adding up the floor areas of each room. So here is a very rough sketch plan from my log book:

 

Now 70 sqm is not very much area to most of us; but the place is surprisingly spacious, and everyone who has lived there loves it. This is the accommodation in detail, with brief notes: Entrance Hall: 3'11 x 11'11 (1.18m x 3.62m) Kitchen: 11'11 x 10'6 (3.64m x 3.19m). Space for dining table. Lounge: 14'8 x 14'9 (4.46m x 4.48m). Velux roof lights. Master Bedroom 1: 14'6 x 11'4 (4.42m x 3.45m). Bedroom 2: 10'4 x 11'9 (3.16m x 3.59m). Inner Hall: 3'10 x 7'6 (1.16m x 2.29m). Boiler/washer cupboard. Cloak cupboard. Shower Room: 6'7 x 6'9 (2.00m x 2.05m) plus 4'0 x 3'0 (1.23m x 0.92m). Velux roof light. Walk-in shower. If I compare that with the "London Space Standard", which is the document about suggested reasonable minimum house sizes that politicians are currently rabbiting on about, we are quite close to the recommended minimum areas for 2 bed single storey homes: Space required for 2 bed 2 person single storey dwelling = 61 sqm. Space required for 2 bed 3 person single storey dwelling = 70 sqm. Space required for 2 bed 4 person single storey dwelling = 74 sqm. The document, which is based on mapping out what furniture is needed for the number of people in each room, is well worth a read for self-builders wanting to explore how layouts can be organised.

Where then can self-builders save on space, and budget?

I'd suggest the design of my bungalow is efficient in these areas, and that two ideas to use are double use of space, and illusion to make spaces feel larger than is the case: Saving on circulation space - ie corridors and hallways. The Inner Hall and Entrance Hall total around 4.6 sqm, which is under 6% of total floor space. Since there is no wall between the entrance hall and the kitchen, part of that is also perceived to be part of a larger kitchen/dining area. The space budget is spent where most time is spent - the lounge, at 20sqm, is generous and square, with what amounts to a glass wall non the south side, and no dark corners due to Velux roof windows at the north side. A perception of space is helped by middling high cathedral ceilings (13ft) in the principal rooms. There are mistakes as well - in this case the lounge is a little to open to view by passers by on the pavement if they look in a particular direction.

What have you done well or badly in your own project? How much dedicated circulation space did you create?

And there's a whole conversation to have about changes in circulation space from early times (no corridors) to 20C (corridors to avoid draughts) to 21C (no corridors since doors are now draught proof). I'll start a conversation about that another time.

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Solar Loft: A Perfect Place To Grow Tomatoes

I've just run across the concept of the "Solar Loft", as proposed for a new 'Eco' development at Bickleigh Village in Plymouth, by Bill Dunster's ZEDProjects operation and Social Investment Company Cornerstone.

This is a space outside the superinsulated perimeter on the top storey of a house, with insulation in the floor, and polysolar panels for the roof. These are less efficient than traditional solar panels, but also let a proportion of the light through, and have been suggested elsewhere as a way of mitigating the roast-freeze cycle which occurs in many conservatories.



The development is a high density development on the majority of a somewhat larger site - 91 houses in 3.06Ha, with 0.63Ha of woodland left untouched. Most of the houses are 4 or 5 bedrooms. The 5 beds currently advertised are £350,000.

I like that strategy, though it leaves teeny-tiny back gardens. The Planning Reference is Plymouth Council 12/01504/FUL and 14/00135/FUL. The latter is currently under consideration, and would increase the proportion of larger homes in response to market demand.

There are also live-work units and a building to provide employment for local people as a mini assembly plant for the buildings on the site, which will hopefully roll over into some sort of eco-construction hub for the future. They have done quite well in negotiating a good reduction in the various Section 106 obligations while leaving a notional 20% profit margin.

I have not tracked down whether Community Infrastructure Levy will apply, though in most of Plymouth that is only £30 per square meter for residential anyway.

I have attached detail of the solar loft for one house type, as included in the Planning Application. As shown, this drawing is copyright the ZEDfactory, and is excerpted here for critique and review.

A Solar Loft is a way of using the "low" part of an asymmetric (for South Facing Solar reasons) roof for a benefit without having to add the extra height required to give a fully recognised useable room. The brochure for the development describes it in marketing-ese:

At the top of the house a semi-transparent PV roof creates a stunning ‘solar loft’, allowing atmospheric dappled sunlight to flood into the highest room with the best view. The room is designed with good levels of cross-ventilation to avoid overheating and provides an ideal growing space for keen gardeners, or a relaxing sunspace for those more inclined to putting their feet up with a cup of coffee.

(Ed: From that, you'd expect it to come with a built-in elf riding a unicorn through the velvety green fields of Arcadia.)

It's also an ideal growing environment for your own heat demanding, high humidity requiring crop for quiet sale on the local market. I wonder how many of the people will insulate the roof to stop the heat showing, use the power on tap from the panels, and put something else in there to grow that is not tomatoes?

At least that would reduce the number noisy helicopters circling overhead with thermal cameras, since the technology will no longer work.

I like the idea, but I think that in the circumstances, I might be more inclined to hoick the whole part of the roof up by about 600-900mm to be level with the ridgeline, and gain a semi-sun-sheltered roof terrance, with the solar panels divided into two sections.

If there were privacy concerns for neighbours, then I'd perhaps put a vertical piece of polysolar "window" down the top 1-2m of the wall too.

It could be like a balcony in a seraglio; more complex to build than a solar loft, but perhaps more attractive as a foil to the small garden.

What do you think?



(Photo quoted from Bickleigh Eco Village brochure.)

Ferdinand

Ferdinand

 

Houses are for Living

I think that the pleasure of living in a house is at least as important as its design and performance. The ability to get that right in advance from mere conversations with a client seems to me to me to be the core skill of a good architect.

This ebuild blog is a conversation around this theme, named for a famous quote from Ludwig (really) Mies van der Rohe.

My conversation starters will be details of buildings, but also details of how things are built, that I find interesting or attractive. My hope that others will respond with their agreements and disagreements.

I have started the blog after a pointer from an article "Whither Fashion" by Caliwag from July 2013 to a book "A Garden and Three Houses" by Jane Brown and Richard Bryant. The book is about a small scheme called Turn End by an architect - Peter Aldington - who was unknown to me. Peter and his wife Margaret built their house themselves in 1963, and have lived there for half a century.

My own project is to find out how to build an energy efficient 2 or 3 bedroom studio bungalow as a viable build-to-let, which is also a home prospective tenants want to live in. I have one that works well already, which I will write about in the future, but can one be built for a reasonable budget in 2014, and how? 

This is also a process of finding the right details and setting them in the right context.

To add some meat to the first post, here's Peter Aldington himself talking about the house he and his wife built in 1963 and have lived in for half a century.

Watch out for the discussion about sun and light, but also their perspective on sleeping in your living room for 50 years. And that hanging staircase goes to a storage loft.

Here's a frame from the video. Yes - those are bifold doors 1963-style. Ecclesiastes was right, there is nothing new under the sun. (Note: I will embed the video if I subdue the technology, but for now please follow this link).

Ferdinand

Ferdinand