19 March 2020

These are strange and unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has caused huge disruption across the world, with the UK now bracing itself for lockdown, having announced home-working and school closures. Supermarket shelves are empty, while the NHS is bursting at the seams – even more so than usual. One positive is that communities are coming together. The Oxford Hub is running a Street Champions community response, which we have put our names forward for.

In terms of Sow Space’s response to this, the safety of our team, clients, and those we work with is the top priority. We are dedicated to delivering our projects without compromising on the quality of our service. We are restricting any face-to-face meetings and attending site visits only where it is absolutely necessary in order to complete the work. We are set up well to work from home and have facilities for virtual online meetings with screen share capabilities.

We are still open to new enquiries and are happy to run these virtually. Talk to us about how this can be done. These are challenging times, but we are confident that together, we will get through this.

12 March 2020

During a building project, especially extension and refurbishment, there may be work that needs to be carried out on or near a party wall. The Party Wall etc. Act 1996 is designed to prevent and resolve disputes in relation to party walls. The building owner must give the adjoining owner(s) (as opposed to tenants) notice of the work they plan to do. The adjoining owner(s) can either agree or disagree with the proposal. Where they disagree, mechanisms exist to resolve disputes.

So, what is a party wall? The term ‘wall’ is misleading, as a party wall refers to any structure that separates buildings of different ownership. There are three types of party wall notice: new building on line of junction, party structure, and adjacent excavation and construction. The relevant notice(s) must be served according to what work is being carried out. Depending on the level of risk and what is agreed, a condition survey and / or party wall awards may be carried out.

Party wall matters are often avoided by architects and left to surveyors. We can advise on and / or carry out the above, and act as party wall surveyor if necessary. Talk to us about how we can help.

05 March 2020

Futurebuild (formerly ecobuild) – “The responsibility for tackling the climate emergency lies in all of our hands and we must collaborate in order to find solutions to secure our future.” We attended the 3-day event at ExCeL in London yesterday, seeing several talks and lots of new and innovative building products. One keynote that caught our attention was about the retrofit roadmap and how government policy can enable retrofit to thrive.

This slide explains that other European countries, in particular the Netherlands and Germany, are investing much more heavily in retrofit than the UK are. We need to zero-rate VAT for deep retrofits, create low-interest financing options for retrofitting housing on a mass scale rather than on an individual basis, and we must invest in renewables. Making all new buildings net zero is also a priority, as we must stop adding to our retrofit problem.

While the government needs to do much more, different forms of grant do exist, including the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive). Talk to us about what’s available and most suitable for your retrofit project.

20 February 2020

Indoor house plants can provide many psychological benefits to occupants, with the potential to improve mood, reduce stress levels, and increase productivity within work environments. Planting within pots has the benefit of keeping soil and water contained, whilst being portable if the plants need a change of environment, or your room needs a new look. Wet and humid areas, such as bathrooms and shower rooms, can provide environments for some plants to thrive in.

People are often unaware of the particulate matter (PM) within their homes produced by cooking, heating and fires, as well as the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) emitted by chemicals in carpets, upholstery, paint, and cleaning products. Studies show that while plants can reduce VOCs within small sealed chambers, their ability to improve indoor air quality (IAQ) is limited, due to typical air exchange rates within buildings. Thus, good ventilation is the best way to improve IAQ.

Sick building syndrome exists and can be caused by a poor indoor environment and IAQ. We always design buildings with this in mind. Talk to us about how we can help improve your indoor environment.

13 February 2020

Wood burning stoves are becoming more popular, providing both warmth and visual delight. They help satisfy our deep human connection with fire, right in the heart(h) of the home. Wood burning stoves can do wonders in an older property, or an older part of a property that has been extended. The thermal mass of masonry walls retains heat for slow release over longer periods, while heat from the fire can reduce humidity and prevent mould growth on cold surfaces.

On the other hand, burning solid fuels in our homes is impacting air quality and is the largest contributor to our national particulate matter (PM) emissions. The Government’s Clean Air Strategy aims to reduce PM by 30% by 2020 and 46% by 2030. Part of the strategy is the creation of smoke control areas (SCA) to restrict burning or provide exemptions on stoves and fuel. Your local authority will tell you if you’re in an SCA, while Oxford City Council has an interactive map.

Burning dry wood and chimney sweeping will help maintain your stove and reduce emissions. Talk to us if you are thinking about installing a wood burning stove as part of wider improvements to your home.

06 February 2020

We are thrilled to be starting another new project in Oxford. Our client is looking to extend and refurbish their tired 1930s semi-detached house to provide open plan living spaces that flow better, with an improved visual and physical connection to the garden. The brief also includes a requirement for an additional shower room and dedicated laundry facilities, as well as a flexible space for a home office and guest bedroom.

When coming up with a design solution to this brief, it is important to consider the building’s orientation, where the light naturally enters the home, and where the existing drainage is located. This dictates that living quarters should be located to the rear to take advantage of openness to the garden and make use of the house’s full width. The ‘utilitarian’ functions are suited to the centre of the house, where natural light is less important, and drainage is within close proximity.

Flexibility is an important asset to have in the home. Talk to us about how we can assess the way you live to come up with creative ideas for how to improve your home.

30 January 2020

For building regulations approval, which is better, a ‘building notice‘ or a ‘full plans‘ application? As architects, we would suggest that a ‘building notice’ is only used on smaller projects, where the work is of a simple nature and you have a competent and experienced contractor on board. Otherwise, we would always suggest a ‘full plans’ application, which consists of a detailed set of drawings that is fully coordinated with a structural engineer and any other required consultants.

This package of information is submitted to and approved by building control. Providing the construction work is carried out in line with the approved drawings, it will meet the regulations, which can avoid any nasty and potentially expensive surprises. On completion, a building control final certificate is issued, which is crucial when it comes to selling the property.

The building regulations are constantly changing, particularly Part L and F as building design changes in response to our climate emergency. We have a wealth of experience in this field. Talk to us about how to gain building control approval for your building project.

23 January 2020

Permitted Development (PD) Rights – what constitutes PD for householders? There are different classes (A-H) that cover different types of work. We are often asked about extension work, which falls under Class A. The key things to consider are; area coverage of site curtilage; distance to boundary; height; eaves height; length; relation to the principal, side and rear elevations; materials; roof pitch. These considerations will differ depending on the house type and location.

Understanding if a proposal falls under PD can be quite complex. Reference should be made to the Government’s technical guidance. We would always recommend applying for a certificate of lawful development. This confirms if the proposal conforms with the PD guidance and thus if it is lawful. Having the certificate becomes particularly important when it comes to selling the property.

Restrictions can apply if your house is in a ‘designated area’, is listed or has had PD rights removed. If PD would not satisfy your brief requirements, then planning permission would be required. Talk to us about what would be the best planning route for your project.

16 January 2020

The Government has a consultation setting out their plans for the Future Homes Standard and proposed changes to the Building Regulations. The aim is to increase the energy efficiency of new homes. However, the changes have fundamental flaws, and may even lead to homes that are less insulated than those built under the 2013 Building Regs. This is a step backwards during a time of climate emergency, when we should be aiming to deliver net zero carbon homes.

The proposed changes dissuade designers from adopting a ‘fabric first’ approach, by allowing the use of low carbon technologies (e.g. air source heat pumps) to pass a carbon target. This negates the need for a well-insulated building fabric. Using ‘carbon’ as a metric, as opposed to ‘at the meter energy’, results in inefficient homes that appear to be performing well. In addition, local authorities are to be stripped of their powers to go above and beyond the new Part L.

LETI (London Energy Transformation Initiative) have analysed the consultation and propose a direct response. Join us in becoming a signatory to the LETI Key Messaging by visiting: www.leti.london/part-l

09 January 2020

“Housing fit for purpose” – we received this wonderful new book as a Christmas gift. It represents the way we should be doing things at the start of this new decade. Written by our friend and former tutor / supervisor Fionn Stevenson, the book provides a comprehensive review of how and why we should be evaluating building performance, crucially in relation to its occupants. It educates on housing design quality and the impact this can have on people and the environment.

Feedback through post-occupancy evaluation (POE) is essential – how else can we know how successful a building project was without receiving any feedback from the people that use it? This becomes increasingly important with the rise of low energy retrofit, where a pre and post retrofit POE can be carried out to gain a true picture of life before and after. It can bring up issues that may not have been considered at the design phase, which we can then learn from.

We understand the importance of feedback in building projects. Talk to us about how we can use our experience to help you deliver a successful new project or evaluate an existing one.