The Colour of Your House – A Personal View

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Do you like having days out in the countryside? Winding lanes and pretty villages. And there are so many pretty villages in this country. And as you travel across the country they change. Just think of travelling from Suffolk with its oak framed buildings, coloured render and red pantiled roofs, to Cambridgeshire with its buff coloured brick houses and tiles, to the Chilterns of Buckinghamshire with its red brick and flint buildings with red plain tiled roofs, to the Cotswolds with its richly coloured limestone walls and roofs and on into the red sandstone country of Worcester and Hereforeshire and on to the white rendered granite villages of Wales and Cornwall. Then, of course, there is the North and Scotland and another pallet of fantastic variety.

No country has anything like this richness of varying character in its buildings. Why? The answer lies under your feet – the soil and the rock beneath them. Before the advent of the railways buildings were mostly made from local materials because transport was so difficult and expensive. And it so happens that the geology of Britain is incredibly varied. The planners have a phrase for what that geology has produced in Britain – “Local Distinctiveness.”

Today things are different. We go to our local building material supply company and we have the choice of materials from all over the country and beyond. You look at the Heritage Range of paint colours and think you are doing the right thing, but that range relates to the whole country, not your locality. The same goes for bricks and roof tiles. The result is that ‘local distinctiveness’ is being watered down.

I regret this trend. The choice of colour and materials is very personal but my choice would always be guided by looking at the best of the local buildings and doing what I can to preserve and bolster that special local character that we love about this country.

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Party Walls

If you are proposing building work near your neighbour’s buildings or to a party wall then the Party Wall Act may come into play. A party wall is shared – it sits astride the boundary. Both houses have a right of support, a right to do certain work to it and a duty to inform the neighbour and to do the work properly and with consideration for them. The Party Wall Act sets out all the conditions and a procedure for how to manage the process so that the neighbour’s property and rights are protected.

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If you are proposing a rear extension to a semi-detached house you may well be proposing foundations within 3m of the neighbours building. The Party Wall Act comes into play. If you are proposing a loft conversion in a semi-detached house you may need to use the party wall for support so the Party Wall Act comes into play here also.

We explain all of this when called to an initial free discussion about your proposals.

There is a useful publication produced by the Department of Communities and Local Government called “The Party Wall etc Act 1996; Explanatory Booklet”. You can download it from here (scroll down the page a bit to find the pdf):

 

https://www.gov.uk/guidance/party-wall-etc-act-1996-guidance

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Shared Drains Changes You Need To Be Aware Of

On 1 October 2011 water and sewerage companies in England and Wales became responsible for shared private drains, which were previously the responsibility of property owners.

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The good news is that if you get a drain blockage then your local water company will send someone in to unblock it free of charge. The bad news is that if you want to build an extension you need their permission – and they charge you for it. Thames Water charge £343 and Anglian Water charge £400.

If your drains do not connect to a public sewer then the change does not apply to you.

The need to get approval applies if you want to build over or within 3m of a shared drain. It is very common for rear extensions to be built over shared drains. This is not normally a problem but each case should be checked to make sure.

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Conservatories, Glass and Heating

Lots of people love conservatories and many who have them hate them because they are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. We are often asked to replace them with more ‘solid’ extensions.

 

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Nowadays the Building Regulations have rules to encourage energy conservation. Whilst providing useful space, a badly designed conservatory can be a huge energy drain for the house as a whole. The key to avoiding this is to separate the conservatory from the rest of the house, so that it can only be accessed via an external (insulated) door, so that it can then be closed off at night and on cold days.
If you want a sun space that is integral to the rest of the house, it needs to be designed as an extension, with lots more insulation and energy efficient glazing in place. Conservatories are normally exempt from building regulations when:

  • They are built at ground level and are less than 30 square metres in floor area.
  • The conservatory is separated from the house by external quality walls, doors or windows.
  • There should be an independent heating system with separate temperature and on/off controls.
  • Glazing and any fixed electrical installations comply with the applicable building regulations requirements (ie. safety glazing provided where necessary and electrical fittings installed by a registered electrical).
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Construction (Design & Management) Regulations Update

 

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Important New Rules For Domestic Building Work

 

From April 2015 new health and safety rules came into effect for domestic building work that put important duties on clients, designers and contractors. The rules have the force of criminal law rather than civil law, so the penalties can very serious.

The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations are intended to ensure that risks to life of people doing any work connected with the construction industry are designed out early and where that is not possible to ensure that contractors are made aware of the risks. The rules apply to ALL work, however small – and it applies to all trades. Projects that take more than 30 days or 500 man days have to submit a form F10 to the Health and Safety Executive.

In future, as designers of even the smallest house extension, we will produce the following in addition to our normal service:

 

  • Residual Risk Assessments which identify for the contractors any unusual risks that remain after the design is complete
  • Prepare, together with the client, a Pre-Construction File which will give the contractor advance warning of any reasonable risks such as the location of sewers, electricity and gas mains

 

Our work normally finishes before construction work starts. The rules state that on domestic work the contractor will normally take over the duties of the client. They must produce the following:-

 

  • A Construction Phase Plan, and
  • A Health & Safety File

 

Contractors are advised to refer to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015. Guidance on Regulations which can be downloaded for free from the following webpage:-

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/books/l153.htm

Clients can download for free a short guide for clients on the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 for more information from the following webpage:

http://www.hse.gov.uk/pubns/indg411.htm

 If a Health & Safety Inspector intervenes on your site the HSE will in future charge you for their time spent on the issues raised.

These changes need to be taken seriously, but in reality they involve more a change of mind set than of red tape. Apart from a couple of extra forms to fill in, most of the information already exists but needs to be collected together and presented with health and safety in mind.

At Phillpott Design For Homes Ltd we are already familiar with the rules from years of working on large commercial projects, so we automatically think about and design out risks wherever possible. Therefore there will be no extra fees claimed for these new rules on domestic work.

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Local Council Building Controls Technical advice

Local Council Building Controls Departments often have really useful technical information on various aspects of building work relevant to house extensions.

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Here is one example from East Herts Council:-

 

http://www.eastherts.gov.uk/index.jsp?articleid=10777

 

There are 28 technical guides produced by East Herts on issues such as garage conversions, loft conversions, replacement windows and doors and solid fuel stoves. There are also 8 national guides.

 

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Never Put Hard On Soft!

In the early 1980’s I did the refurbishment of a big municipal swimming pool and saw at first hand how important this phrase is – ‘never put Hard on Soft’. As soon as the water was drained and the old tiles removed, a mass of old tile grout remained. This had to be removed and the whole pool ‘scabbled’ to get back to the hard aggregate. Why? Because if your tiles, tile adhesive, render, plaster or, for that matter, paint onto any background surface that is softer than the material you are applying when dry then it is quite likely not to ping off! ‘Delaminate’ is a proper description.

 

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This happens very, very often. Perhaps the most common situation happens with really strong cement render. Try tapping some render and you are likely to find areas that sound ‘hollow’ where the render has delaminated. It develops tiny cracks that let water in. Many builders even put this on old timber framed listed buildings, which need to move and breathe. For these old buildings it is recommended that a lime based render be used which is softer and much more flexible than modern cement render. For all other situations make sure your builder does proper preparati

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How long does planning take?

People often ask ‘how long will it take to get planning approval?’ For house extensions and loft conversions the answer is normally 8 weeks from the time it is registered by the council. But you also need to allow time for the drawings to be prepared and the design to be the way you want it, which may involve a few changes to the first draft drawings.

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Although there are masses of rules about planning, getting approval for a particular project can never be guaranteed. It will invariably come down to a subjective judgement of a small group of planners and occasionally a committee of local councillors. So planning cannot be guaranteed.
Don’t forget that you will also need Building Regulations Approval. This covers all the technical construction details, such as foundations, structures, insulation and drainage. There is a way of starting work quickly after you get planning approval. This is called a Building Notice, where you can start work within 48 hours of notifying the Building Inspectors. However if time is less urgent then detailed plans can be prepared and approved within 8 weeks. This is called a Full Plans application.
So the answer to ‘how long will it take?’ depends on how urgent the work is but it could be between 10 and 20 weeks.

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Rules on larger house extensions end on 30 May 2016

Permitted development rights allow rear extensions of 4m for a detached house and 3m for semi-detached and terraced houses. On 30 May 2013 the rules on planning permission for single storey rear house extensions were relaxed for a period of three years. You can now extend up to eight metres for a detached house and up to six metres for any other type of house.

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But it is time to remind people that time is now running out. If you want to take advantage of the relaxed rules then start thinking about getting your plans drawn up now. Although planning should be much simpler don’t forget that you will still need Building Regulations Approval for all the technical construction details.

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Planning Permission Frustrations…

 

Applying for planning permission can be fraught with difficulties – even if you call in the professionals

 

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If there is one thing to put people off starting a major home renovation project, it is the thought of getting planning consent.

Those faceless bureacrats picking through your plans, tutting over your choice of roof tile before taking out their big rubber “Reject” stamp.

Dry, humourless creatures, answerable to no one. The whole process costs a fortune. And every scheme they do let through ends up as a carbuncle on the neighbourhood. And… ach, why bother?

Ron Tate sighs deeply. A planning consultant and a past president of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI), he is familiar with the stereotype.

“For many people getting planning consent on their home is one of the most stressful things they can do,” he says.

“People regard their homes as their castles and then to have to apply for permission from someone else to do what you want, well…” he trails off.

“Planners are seen as the obstacle, but the vast majority of applications for domestic projects are approved.”

The problem for would-be home improvers is that few understand the system and tend to regard it as labyrinthine and weighed against them. Which, according to Hugo Tugman, founder of Architect Your Home (AYH), a firm that specialises in domestic projects, it is.

A slightly self-serving AYH survey found that 65 per cent of people interviewed who had undertaken a building project were relieved that they had used an architect or wished that they had used one in order to negotiate their way through the planning stage.

“A lot of people don’t appreciate how complicated doing an extension is,” he says.

“They want it to be simple, they think the planning stage should be simple but once they’re up to their elbows they can see the need to have got an architect involved.”

Both Ron and Hugo seem to agree about what the two major planning problems facing the uninformed applicant are. First, many local authority planning departments are facing staff shortages, which means that the case load for each officer has multiplied over recent years.

Added to that, there is a statutory obligation to turn around applications in eight weeks, which means that there is little or no time for consultation between planners and homeowners. Plans often don’t get studied until the last minute, by which time it is too late to inform the homeowner of minor amendments that would make them acceptable, and so they are rejected outright.

The second great difficulty is the ticklish subject of permitted development. Put in place to give homeowners some degree of autonomy over minor extensions and alterations to their properties, they carry so many caveats (Will the extension fall to the front of the building? What type of house is it? Has an extension already been made?) that it is worth assuming that you don’t have the rights and it’s not worth schlepping down to the planning department to find out what you can or can’t do.

“It is a difficult area,” agrees Ron. “The problem often arises when someone has extended their house under permitted development and then moves to, say, a flat which doesn’t have these rights at all but the owner assumes that they can carry out the same sort of work.”

He is, however, more enthusiastic about receiving help from the local authority: “Most will have guidance notes to help you and many have very good websites with the information you need.”

 

 

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