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Fewer excuses to refuse modern barns for conversion into dwellings

There are now fewer excuses to refuse modern barns for conversion into dwellings.

We are pleased to report that there have been some much needed updates to government guidance. Specifically on the interpretation of permitted development rights for barn conversions into dwellings (Class C).

These changes relate to the previous assumption that ‘new structural elements’ were not allowed.

We have long been frustrated by some council’s attitude towards modern barn conversions. By ‘modern’ barns, we mean the large barns clad in concrete block, timber boarding or metal sheeting. They usually have roofs of metal or asbestos sheet roofing (not the pretty stone and brick barns).

At CNA, we have always seen barn conversions as a way of providing much needed housing in rural areas without harming the countryside via new-build.

Since permitted development rights for barn conversions into dwellings arrived in March 2014, we have worked on a number of barns, previously viewed by councils as ‘unsustainable’. Prior to March 2014 these barns would not have received permission for development into homes. Usually due to their location in open countryside and their lack of proximity to local services. It’s very common for rural homes to be at a distance from local amenities and so planners expecting people to be within walking distance is not reasonable in these contexts.

Despite the March 2014 changes, we have continued to have problems with some councils (only two that we work with) on modern barn conversions.

We have consistently argued that to convert these would not make the appearance of the countryside any worse.

People are very used to seeing these buildings in rural settings. In fact, though not classically ‘pretty’ they are part of our rural heritage, and personally I quite like the purely functional aesthetic of some of them. They are not easy to convert into homes, but can and do make beautiful ones with a bit of thought.

Previously these two councils have used any possible excuse to throw out modern barn conversions under permitted development. Usually it is the ‘no new structural elements’ piece of guidance that they use.

Typically, modern barns are not designed to take the increased roof loads needed for a habitable dwelling, they are also not designed to have first floors. Therefore ‘new structural elements’ are usually required to make these buildings habitable.

These things are forgotten in traditional barn conversions, for which, new first floors and additional structure are nearly always allowed.  They are heritage buildings worth preserving.

 

Finally, in February, the Housing Ministry updated their Class Q guidance to state:

 

Internal works are not generally development. For the building to function as a dwelling it may be appropriate to undertake internal structural works, including to allow for a floor, the insertion of a mezzanine or upper floors within the overall residential floor space permitted, or internal walls, which are not prohibited by Class Q.

In addition, it states in section 55 of the Town and Country Planning Act:

 

The categories of work that do not amount to ‘development’ …include, but are not limited to the following:

  • interior alterations (except mezzanine floors which increase the floorspace of retail premises by more than 200 square metres)

  • building operations which do not materially affect the external appearance of a building. The term ‘materially affect’ has no statutory definition, but is linked to the significance of the change which is made to a building’s external appearance.

If these alterations do not count as ‘development’, it means they do not need planning permission. It is the same as altering internal walls to your house. You would need building control approval, but you wouldn’t need planning permission (unless your house is listed).

 

However, there is still the ‘conversion’ vs ‘rebuild’ debate.

Although we have been successful on gaining permission for ‘re-build’ with some councils (see this example). This is still tricky territory and each situation would need to be looked at individually.

 

The Housing Ministry have also issued guidance on this:

It is not the intention of the permitted development right to allow rebuilding work which would go beyond what is reasonably necessary for the conversion of the building to residential use.

 

Based on a recent High Court judgement (Hibbitt v SSCLG [2016]), for a barn to be suitable for conversion it would likely need to have 3 or more walls in place. This means open sided hay barns would not count. But many concrete block and timber walled modern barns that are fully enclosed, would count.

 

Although there are now fewer excuses to refuse modern barns for conversion into dwellings. In addition to the rebuild vs conversion debate, there are still several other ‘tests’ to pass, namely:

  • Transport and highways impacts of the development
  • Noise impacts
  • Contamination risk
  • Flooding risk
  • Whether the location or siting of the building makes it otherwise impractical or undesirable for the building to change from agricultural use to a use falling within Class C3 (dwellinghouses) of the Schedule to the Use Classes Order (see this blog with reference to this particular ‘test’), and
  • The design or external appearance of the building

Verdict: It is getting easier to convert modern barns, but it is still not easy.

If you want to read more, please see our other barn blogs

May 10, 2018
Fewer excuses to refuse modern barns for conversion into dwellings

Barn conversions – Greater flexibility for the number and sizing of dwellings

barn conversions to dwellings. The new changes offer greater flexibility for the number and sizing of dwellings allowed.Great news for housing provision in the countryside!

More options have now been given under Class C for barn conversions to dwellings. The new changes offer greater flexibility for the number and sizing of dwellings allowed.

On 12th March 2018, the housing minister Dominic Raab gave an announcement. Previously permitted development only offered the potential for 3 large homes. Now the creation of 5 smaller homes is also allowed as an alternative. These changes offer greater flexibility in both the number and sizing of dwellings allowed under permitted development rights.

The idea is to boost housing opportunities in rural areas. Hooray for that.

Basically the changes are as follows:

Previously you could convert up to 465m2 of your barn into a maximum of 3 dwellings. Now you can convert a barn into a maximum of 5 smaller homes (each less than 100m2). Or you can create a mixture, but with no more than 3 larger homes.

Here’s more from Dominic Raab

If you would like to read more about barn conversions, please have a look at our barn blogs

May 10, 2018
Barn conversions – Greater flexibility for the number and sizing of dwellings

Should we buy a barn to convert into a dwelling?

barn to convertHere is a real story that might help you decide if you should buy a barn to convert….

Jake and Amy* had been dreaming of building their own home for a long time. One day, while walking their favourite route through a nearby village, they saw a for sale sign on a barn. A quick google revealed it was for sale at auction and an open day was coming up.

They were really excited about the possibility of living in a barn conversion

and even more so in a place they loved so much.

However, at the open day, there were lots of other interested parties scribbling notes and talking in hushed tones. Jake and Amy assumed the others were developers or builders and knew a lot more than they did about the potential opportunities and pitfalls of converting a barn like this one.

They felt out of their depth and unable to move forward.

If they were to go to the auction they feared spending too much. They feared not being able to afford to convert the barn. They feared that they wouldn’t be allowed to convert the barn due to planning restrictions.

What a disaster that would be!

Luckily for them they found an architecture firm when researching barn conversions online. They discovered an Appraisal service which put their fears at rest.

The Appraisal service gave them:

  • Ball park figures for the conversion cost – so they knew they could afford to convert the barn and it gave them a maximum figure to bid at the auction
  • Research into local planning policies – these showed a barn conversion would be seen favourably by planners in that area
  • It also highlighted potential build problems (such as drainage and underpinning) as well as solutions to overcome these

The Appraisal meant they could go to the barn auction with confidence.

Jake and Amy were delighted to win the barn with the highest bid and rang up the architecture firm in great excitement and almost disbelief

– now everything was in place for all their dreams to come true!

Since then they have been working with the same firm on designs for their dream home and will be submitting their planning application this month!

If their story resonates with you and you would like to speak to us about our Appraisal service, you can read more here or contact us here

*The names have been changed but the stories are real

February 13, 2018
Should we buy a barn to convert into a dwelling?

The benefits and drawbacks of pre-fabricating your dream home

Have you considered using pre-fabrication as a method for building your own home?

Germany has been at the forefront of pre-fabricating home design for over 50 years (https://www.weberhaus.co.uk/) and the benefits are very German; time efficient, quality guarantee, energy efficiency guarantees. These advantages are also useful to British self-builders. Anyone who has spent time on a UK building site in winter will testify to the stress caused by weather delays and the impractical nature of working knee deep in mud. With pre-fabrication there is no need to worry about weather conditions setting you back or indeed supplier delays, you can have your dream home within a few weeks.

If you are building on a site such as Gravenhill (self-build site in Bicester) then you might find pre-fabrication offers cost and time certainty in achieving the 24 month build deadline.

We are keen to work with self-builders looking at the pre-fabrication route. We are good at working closely with pre-fabricators to ensure that you get the design and the home that you really want and for the price that you can afford.

Pre-fabrication options

There are quite a few different pre-fabrication options now available in the UK. These can be quite confusing and hopefully the next few paragraphs will ease your understanding:

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels

Greencore closed panel system using hemp, lime and timber frame to create a breathable construction

Complete pre-fabrication (or closed panel timber frame system)

Everything is manufactured off site and arrives on a lorry. It is a timber frame system, originally from Germany but now also found in the UK (Greencore Construction, Modcell), including; external cladding, doors and windows fitted, ducting and service voids. The heavy panels require a crane so this method not suitable for a poorly accessible site. Sometimes also these systems include foundations (e.g Danilith and Greencore Construction), other times this is contracted separately.

Super structure pre-fabrication (or open panel timber frame system)

Only the walls and roof structure are built off-site in a factory, external cladding is fitted on site, as are windows, doors, ducting, plumbing, electrics. These and the rest of the trades are managed by the self-builder.

SIPs (Structurally Insulated Panels)

An American idea that made its way over to the UK in the 50’s. These are panels that look like an insulation sandwich. Not really timber frame although the ‘bread’ is usually formed from OSB (made from waste timber) or plywood panels. Not so easily mortgageable (see below).

Oakframe construction

Large timber structure made off-site and then walls and roof are wrapped in SIPs or a more natural, breathable insulation and cladding layer. The oak frame is exposed internally creating a more traditional and characterful appearance. E.g Oakwrights and Carpenter Oak

Concrete insulated panel system

Heavy panels, requiring crane erection, with pre-fitted brick/render/timber/flint cladding. E.g Danilith

Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF)

Speeds up on site masonry construction. Not pre-fab but some companies think it saves up to 25% of time on site compared to traditional masonry construction (HB&R mag link reference).

Mortgageable straw home

Inside one of the first straw bale homes to be mortgageable in the UK (by Modcell and White Design).

Mortgageability

A timber frame pre-fabricated home will ensure that you have access to any high street lender, if you want to use SIPs you will need a specialist lender with less competitive rates. If you can buy your plot in cash you can get a mortgage based on the value of the land which gives you access to much cheaper loans.

Sustainability benefits

Off-site construction results in less construction waste, any left over materials can be re-used in the factory instead of going to land fill. But this needs to be offset with how many miles the wall and roof panels have travelled. Though there are now companies manufacturing in the UK (Scotframe, Dwelle, Boutique Modern, Modcell and Greencore). Modcell use ‘flying factories’ to literally factory build within a few miles of your site using local farm buildings and straw. Very high standards of energy efficiency and airtightness can be achieved, this, combined with a heat recovery ventilation system, will ensure a warm, healthy, fresh air environment. Only the ‘complete pre-fabrication system’ will come with the heat recovery system installed, this will need to be designed and installed by professionals if using one of the other systems.

We at CNA are keen to work on pre-fabricated dwellings with strong sustainability credentials. We believe a breathable system is best (such as Modcell, Greencore, Oakwrights or Dwelle). Timber is a breathable material and it makes sense to use breathable insulations with it. There have been issues in America whereby poor airtightness detailing has caused SIPs panels to go mouldy in parts. Until everyone is really super hot on airtightness in the UK, we feel it is safer to use breathable materials (and it is better for the environment).

Modcell straw bale home

The thickness of walls inside a Modcell and White Design straw bale pre-fabricated home in Bristol

 

Benefits of pre-fabricating your dream home

Cost certainty and time saving on site (British weather is not an issue), guaranteed airtightness and energy efficiency, high quality design. If using a UK pre-fabricator, the embodied energy of producing your home will be very low and you will be creating a true eco-home. Costs are reducing as more pre-fabricators have factories in the UK and custom build sites such as igloo’s Trevenson Park in Cornwall are increasing the demand for pre-fabricated homes. Your finish date for a watertight shell will be a certainty and if you go for the full pre-fabrication method, your move in date will be certain as well. This is a great asset when paying rent or living in a caravan on site.

 

Downsides of pre-fabricating your dream home

It can cost more (but you have much more predictability about these costs, rather than waiting on site for problems to occur, or for bad weather or supplier delays). It is expensive to ship panels from the continent, but these days there are a few options for UK pre-fabricated homes (see above under sustainability).

Once the design is fixed, it is very difficult to change things on site, windows can’t be moved a bit to the left or right or sizes changed. Walls can’t be moved (unless the pre-fab element is just outer walls). Additionally some pre-fabrication types work best with certain external cladding such as timber, render, stone. This can be an issue where planning requirements dictate a certain material is used externally. This is why it is a good idea to have an architect involved to really understand what your dream home entails and how it is best realised. Pre-fabrication companies offer fantastic benefits, but sometimes their designs can restrict your aspirations, or they are a bit too ‘standardised’. An architect can push these boundaries with the pre-fabrication firm, ensuring you realise your dream home for a cost and timescale that works for you.

August 22, 2017
The benefits and drawbacks of pre-fabricating your dream home

Emily Fisher: My Work Experience week at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd

Hi, my name is Emily and I go to Magdalen College School in Brackley. When we were told to find somewhere to do our work experience around January 2017, I wanted to find an architecture practice that would be willing to take me on for a week. Unfortunately, when I looked on the website that the school had given us, there were no small practices nearby. I also wanted a taster for what it would be like to work outside of an office, and in a more interactive way. I searched up architects in and around Brackley, and Clare Nash Architecture Ltd was one that came up commonly. I emailed Clare to see if she would be willing to provide me with some architectural work experience. Clare replied, and asked if I would like to have a short meeting with her in a local café, which I agreed to. After meeting Clare, I was very sure that I wanted to do my work experience with her, because I feel that the way her practice works will become a lot more common in the future, and I am generally interested in the type of architecture she does. After all the school paperwork had been done my work experience week was all set. A few days before I was due to start, Clare emailed me a plan of what we would be doing in the week. After briefly looking through I was very excited, as there was a large range of activities we would be doing.

 

 

 

Monday 10th July:

On Monday, I was quite nervous to go to the Oxfordshire Project networking meeting in Banbury, as I am usually quite shy, and not good around large groups of people I do not know. When we arrived at the café, I followed Clare through, and met a couple of other people at the event. After everyone had spent some time talking and socialising, we all went to sit down at the table that had been put together for us all. (The café had been closed off to the public so the meeting was private). Once we were all sat down, Melanie Greene, an Occupational Psychologist, stood up and gave a presentation, with a few activities, to us all, about our inner critic and our fearful child within us, and how we can master our mind, rather than let it master us. There were no other architects at the network meeting, but a range of different people in different professions, e.g. a performance developer, a stress relief therapist, a podiatrist, and a website designer.

Once Melanie Greene had finished her short presentation, we all had a banana and caramel pancake, which as a nice way to make the mood much more relaxed. When we had all finished eating, we went around the table, and people introduced themselves and their profession to everybody else. After people had all given a small speech about their job, the meeting was over. People started to leave, and others started to talk amongst themselves again. I spoke to a few different people, many of whom thought that I was about 4 years older than I am.

Next, we drove to a potential clients’ house in Croughton. The house was a fairly large 4-bedroom house built in the 1970’s, and the owners were looking to build a second-floor terrace and convert their loft space in some way. The clients also wanted to replace most, if not all the windows, as they were old and letting heat out of the house.

After this we both sat in the car and ate lunch, before heading over to Helmdon, where we visited an elderly couple, who were having trouble with some damp along their southern wall, (their bungalow was the second the builders had ever built, and they clearly did not know what they were doing).They were very sweet, and did not know what was causing the damp, or how to resolve the issue. Clare was very surprised to find that along the whole roof there were only two vents, one at each end, when usually they would be along the whole underside of the roof.

After this Clare dropped me back off at my house. Overall, I really enjoyed my first day of work experience at CNA, because I found it very interesting and educational. Also, Monday gave me a good insight into what it is like doing a variety of different things on a busy day.

Tuesday 11th July:

Architectural work experience

Visit to barn conversion/re-build

barn re-build project

Artists impression of finished dwelling

Clare picked me up from my house in the morning, before we drove over to pick up Jaina (who also works at CNA) from a park& ride near Oxford. Then we drove over to a client’s house, for a site visit, where there was a large barn being built. When I saw it, it was mainly just a steel frame with a floor and upper levels, but there were lots of pipes on the floor for the underfloor heating system. I found the site visit very interesting, as it was the first time I had seen a building mid-construction up close in real life.

Once we had left the site, we drove back to the park and ride and got the bus into Oxford, where we went to a small café/ restaurant, and took the only seat which had a plug next to it because Clare needed to plug in her laptop (At this point it really started to rain and we were very glad we were inside). We ordered a bite to eat for lunch, and I shared a lovely pizza with Jaina. After we had finished our food, I used Clare’s laptop to finish a presentation for her, after some instruction from Jaina, I successfully managed to move and place photos on different slides for Clare. As I had not used InDesign before, it took me a little while to get the hang of things, but once I understood it, it was simple enough.

I enjoyed Tuesday just as much as Monday, even though we did less, because I learnt a few new skills, and experienced what it is like to work outside of an office, but doing less practical work.

Architectural work experience underfloor heating

Underfloor heating pipes on top of the insulation before screed is laid

Wednesday 12th July :

I was looking forward to today because we were going to Oxford Brookes University to work with the rest of the team. Again, Clare picked me up in the morning, and drove us to Kings Sutton train station, where we caught the train into Oxford. After getting off the train we got the bus to Brookes. At first, we went into the Abercrombie building, as this is where Clare usually works with her team, however the room was freezing cold and very desolate, as there had just been a new floor put in. Once Katie and Julia had arrived, we decided to go back to the Forum, where we sat in a work pod. I listened whilst Clare’s team had their meeting and caught up with each other once Jaina had arrived.  They spoke about some old barns that they are converting in Helmdon, and showed/edited floor plans to the client’s request. After this Julia left, and the rest of us went to have lunch.

After lunch, we went back up to the work pods. I used Clare’s laptop again to finish the presentation on InDesign for the Syresham Gems talk she was doing that evening, unfortunately I was unable to go. I found this quite relaxing, because I got into a rhythm of placing, adjusting and labelling photos easily. Around 4 we left Brookes to return to Brackley.

I also enjoyed Wednesday because it was very different to the two previous days, and was purely calm and easy going all day.

Thursday 13th July:

On Thursday, Clare had to pick me up earlier than usual, because we had to drive over to west Wycombe for another Oxfordshire Project networking meeting. I was a lot less nervous for this meeting than I was on Monday (though mainly because it wasn’t my first day), and really enjoyed it, as the people were very friendly and interesting. There was a quick presentation about motivation and mindset, before we all had a bacon sandwich, or fruit salad, and I introduced myself. This time I got to introduce myself and talk a little bit about how I have found working at CNA (I just said that I have so far enjoyed myself and have found it a good experience). Once everyone had talked about their company and a bit of their background, we were left to talk amongst ourselves and some people started leaving. We left just after 12:00, and drove home. Clare had an appointment so dropped me off and I spent the afternoon writing up this blog to put on her website. This was good as it meant I got a small taster of what it is like to work from home in the day time.

 

Friday 14th July:

Today Clare and I decided to meet up in a café in the morning in Brackley, as we had to upload the blog to the website and a potential client wanted to meet Clare. Also, one of my teachers was coming to meet Clare and I in the café, and see how my week had been.

We spent about an hour working on the blog and uploading it onto her website with a few pictures of the site visits. This was fun, as I found out how Clare changes fonts and titles on her website, and how she uploads information to it.

Once my teacher arrived, we had a quick chat about what I had done, and then he spoke to Clare for a while about what she does and for some advice on what he could do with his budget in the way of barn conversions near villages. Once he had left, we worked on the blog a bit more, and then the lady who was meeting Clare arrived. They had a long conversation about economic housing like passive houses and other more efficient systems. Then Clare had to send a couple of emails, before we left and went to get some lunch.

After Clare had gotten her lunch, we walked up to the town park where we sat and ate lunch for a bit. Then Clare gave me a short tutorial on how to use Vector works, which was very interesting because I had never seen or used the programme before. Next, we walked back to Clare’s, and made a quick stop before driving to a small barn conversion/extension just next to Helmdon. The site visit was very nice, as it was completely different to the previous site visit, even though they were both barns. This barn was much smaller and sweeter than the other one. We stayed here for around and hour and a half, after which we left to drive home.

Barn conversion and re-build

Showing new steel frame for re-build part of barn conversion

I found Friday very interesting, because I learned a new skill, and could understand what was happening on the construction site better than on Tuesday, because it was smaller so much easier to see what was going on.

Overall, I really enjoyed my whole week of work experience at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd, and found it very insightful. It was a very good experience, and really helped me confirm what I would like to do in the future. I would recommend her company to other people both clients and future work experience students, because it was very interesting to see how Clare and her team work together outside of an office. I am wholly grateful to Clare for putting up with me all week, and would like to say a big thank you to her for allowing me to do my Year 10 work experience week with her and the company.

 

 

July 17, 2017
Emily Fisher: My Work Experience week at Clare Nash Architecture Ltd

AECB Conference 2016

Anne Thorne Architects straw bale house

Fran’s strawbale house

The AECB conference 2016 was held at the UK’s greenest building – The University of East Anglia Enterprise Centre designed by Architype. The most exciting thing for me was that the walls are clad in thatch (a vernacular material) and that all materials were sourced as locally as possible. When designing buildings, there is a lot of focus on keeping energy bills low, but not so much on keeping embodied energy low. Embodied energy is the energy required to manufacture and then deliver the product. Today we can import materials from anywhere, in stark contrast to the vernacular builders of the past who would have been limited to their local area. The latter is far more sustainable, but often overlooked as a necessary part of eco-building. The Enterprise Centre also achieves Passivhaus levels of comfort and air quality. It is a beautiful building, proving that eco design need not be ‘wacky’, it can fit well if it is well designed.

I learnt a lot from Bill Butcher of Green Building Store’s talk about their latest deep (meaning very eco) retrofit of a house in Cumberworth, West Yorkshire. The owners had been paying £3000 a year just on heating (not including wood burning stoves) and were freezing, on this exposed Yorkshire hillside. Having come into some inheritance, they decided if they wanted to stay put, something had to be done. So they enlisted GBS who have achieved a 67% reduction in their heating requirements. GBS used a combination of capillary active Tectem insulation, fibreglass and a new product called Diathonite, all internally. The airtightness result (2 air changes instead of 1) was not as good as they were aiming for. Bill said this was because they should have treated the partition wall as an external wall.

David Gale and Tomas Gartner from Gale and Snowden Architects launched the new Building Biology course in the UK. This teaches practitioners how to mitigate the effects on human health caused by radiation, dust, off-gassing from synthetic materials such as MDF and plastics and alternative materials to use in construction that will not create problems. Our indoor environments have a huge impact on our health including allergies such as asthma.

Fran’s straw bale house

AECB conference 2016 straw bale houseA great highlight of the AECB conference 2016 was a visit to Fran Bradshaw (of Anne Thorne Architects),  house in Norfolk. It is Contemporary Vernacular Design at its best, with locally sourced materials (even the reeds for the thatch which due to poor water quality in the UK, often has to come from abroad), and a design that is a contemporary interpretation of a thatched cottage. Using renewable and low embodied energy materials (timber frame, straw bale walls, roof insulated with thatch, cellulose (recycled newspaper) and wood fibre board) it is also an eco-house in the truest sense. The house also very nearly achieved Passivhaus, showing how energy efficient this way of building can be. it is a brilliant example of how to achieve a beautiful house and an eco-house. All of the AECB visitors agreed, this is the way forward.

I can’t wait to build my own straw bale eco-house!

Hemp prefabricated construction

Greencore Construction

I also attended a seminar by Greencore Construction on hemp and timber frame prefabricated construction. This was very fortuitous and perfect timing as my blog about a CNA visit to one of their houses describes.

Gary Wilburn, Director at HPW gave a talk about some of their larger projects, including a Peppa Pig tourist attraction and a shopping centre with restaurants at Rushden Lakes. While a bit controversial at an event about eco-building (do we really need another shopping centre/tourist attraction to enjoy these natural environments?), Gary’s message about methods of persuasion to clients not yet sold on the benefits of building sustainably was a good one. After all, these types of commercial projects are going to happen whatever we at the AECB might prefer. At least if there is a green architect whispering in the client’s ear, things such as miles of extra cycle paths, wind-catchers providing passive ventilation and removing the need for air-conditioning, use of renewable energy sources and renewable materials as well as wildflower roofs will mitigate the overall environmental impact.

Hemp, Lime and Timber Frame Prefabricated Panels

Greencore construction

 

 

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panels are an exciting way of creating eco-homes. I recently visited a ecohouse (that doesn’t look ‘eco’) completed in August 2016 and built by Greencore construction and was given a guided tour by Julia Bennett and Ian Pritchett.

Prefab or craft, can you have both?

Having written a book on Contemporary Vernacular Design, I am very keen to retain craft skills as much as possible. However, as part of my book research, I interviewed architects Alan Dickson of Rural Design and Neil Stevens of Dualchas, both situated on the Isle of Skye and both producing beautiful contemporary vernacular dwellings, well suited to the tough conditions in the Highlands. What was intriguing to me was that both firms provide their own pre-fabricated dwelling options (coming under R-House and Hebridean Homes respectively) in addition to their usual bespoke dwelling design. These still look beautiful, and as Alan Dickson explained; there are 101 ways to get timber cladding wrong and one way to get it right, pre-fabrication is a way to get it consistently right. These prefab houses look beautiful and crafted.

Inspired by this, I have been keen to explore pre-fabricated construction to reduce time and worry on site (especially with Passivhaus builds). Which is why I was so pleased to attend the Greencore seminar at the recent AECB conference in July 2016. (strange how you have to go all the way to Norwich to discover what you need is only on your doorstep in Abingdon!)

Having provided the hemp construction system for The Triangle, Swindon (link), which was not prefabricated and built on-site during the cold and wet winter of 2010-11, Ian Pritchett could see that prefab, where panels are built in a dry factory, had to be the way forward (having been a doubter himself).

The natural prefab panels

Hemp, lime and timber frame prefabricated panelsGreencore offer a timber framed, hemp-lime filled, factory-made panelised system. But this is not SIPS – which is high in embodied energy, not breathable and studies in America have highlighted issues with poor airtightness detailing causing internal rotting. The hemp and lime lock up carbon and are both renewable and breathable offering a superior living environment. Greencore offer a bespoke design, working with architects at an early stage to ensure that design and construction are in synergy and there will be no surprises on site (or at least they are vastly mitigated – there are always surprises on site).

Commercially viable…

Ian is keen to point out that although you can use clay or lime plasters internally to complete the full breathability of the wall (and therefore a lovely atmosphere as well as very low environmental impact). You can also use standard plasterboard and emulsion paints and that these more commercially viable materials will still offer a pleasant living environment when combined with an MVHR system. I was surprised to discover a lack of fresh paint smell and assumed eco-paints had been used, but no, standard emulsions and an MVHR ventilation system delivering constant fresh air allowed smells to disperse very quickly.

Lots of light in a hemp prefab house

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The house is simple in design, with an attractive L shape, lovely open plan spaces, lots of light and beautiful vaulted ceilings with large rooflights in the bedrooms and bathrooms.

Simpler to achieve Passivhaus detailing…

Unlike the wide masonry cavity wall Passivhaus construction that I have previously used, the hemp-lime timber frame construction is easier to build in many ways. Windows are best situated in the middle of the insulation to retain best thermal performance and this can be achieved by sitting them on plywood boxes in masonry cavity construction, however stone reveals are not possible and aesthetically clients are not so keen on the deeper external reveals. The hemp-lime system allows you to position the windows centrally without ply-boxes as that is where the timber frame is situated. However, to fulfil client expectations (and this house is a commercial project), Greencore have used pure-nit boards to cantilever the windows closer to the external face of the wall. Purenit® boards, though more expensive than plywood offers much better thermal performance.

Using PHPP (Passivhaus Planning Package) software as standard they are able to predict heating requirements and always beat the predictions of the software on site. This means that the performance of hemp-lime beats the predictions of the PHPP and the heating demand is lower once built than was predicted by the software. This is very advantageous and defies the industry norm of as-built energy performance being lower than predicted in SAP (the industry standard for assessing energy performance of building as required by building regulations for all new buildings).

I am looking forward to working with Greencore on future projects.

 

 

August 30, 2016
Hemp, Lime and Timber Frame Prefabricated Panels

Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book out!

My new Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book is out in November!

Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book

My new book, Contemporary Vernacular Design – How British Housing Design can Rediscover its Soul will be available in November 2016. It is available to buy using the link below.

After two years of visiting case studies in the UK and Europe, my Contemporary Vernacular Housing Book has finally gone into production with RIBA Publishing. These two years were challenging because the research involved visiting case studies, interviewing residents, architects and developers or housing associations as well as writing and editing. During this time I was also running a busy practice and teaching a day a week at Oxford Brookes University. The book also contains 5 case studies from further afield, researched as part of my masters thesis. Julia Phillips (architectural assistant at CNA) helped me  with editing and organisation of the book and Katie Reilly (architectural assistant at CNA) gave me useful feedback prior to submitting the manuscript when I was too tired to read another word!

The research has been hugely rewarding and I have met some wonderful architects as well as inspiring housing associations and developers. This research informs our work at the practice and is very much a part of our ethos.

I am also excited to announce that architect Piers Taylor (of £100k house: The Final Fix TV series and founder of the Invisible Studio Architects), is currently writing the foreword.

Buy here

August 20, 2016

Clare Nash’s first Housing book talk

Clare Nash's first housing book talk

 

Clare Nash’s first housing book talk 24/11/15

I was pleased to give my first book talk to the RIBA East Midlands Housing Group and the Northamptonshire Society of Architects. I will be giving more talks all over the UK in future months and it was really useful to receive feedback from my audience on ways to improve.

November 25, 2015

Grand Designs Architect Panel!

I recently received a phone call for Grand Designs asking if I wanted to be an expert judge on their panel. How fun to be a Grand Designs architect, I thought! They wanted me to appear on a new programme about eco-self-build projects happening in Bicester. They were interested in me as I am a female architect with a specialism in sustainability. They came and did a screen test which went very well. I received very good feedback following the screen test. Unfortunately they decided that the panel would be too architect heavy with two architects on it in the end. But how nice to be asked!

A Grand Designs Architect ?

The programme will be about 10 self-builders who are building on the 1000 new self-build plots,  at Gravenhill, south of Bicester that Cherwell District Council are offering. My job as an expert panelist would have been to make a shortlist of 10 from 20 potential self-builders for the 10 Grand Designs allocated plots.

October 25, 2015