Housing Design Awards Supreme Winner: Officer’s Field, Osprey Quay, Portland…

And the Housing Design Awards (HDA) 2012 Supreme Winner is… Officer’s Fields, by HTA Architects. I’m a bit behind the times with this one but it’s still worth promoting this housing scheme as a very high quality example of refined, modern housing.

Here’s a link to the video of the scheme on Vimeo!

Osprey-Quays-LOCOG-Handover-321 SFW_Osprey-Quays-LOCOG-Handover-25 image_4 image_2

(Images courtesy of HTA Architects + HDA)


Simple and clean lines, large windows with very limited detailing, locally sourced materials, generous space standards. A blending of the modern in to the existing built landscape, with the gables of the buildings being a key link. The opening elements of the large windows are limited to the side panels, which leaves the whole window openings for clear glazing, with no obstructions from glazing bars or surrounds.

The overall palette of materials and colours is muted with each property anchored by the stone, which seems to rise up through the ground to hold the structures. A district biomass heating system heats much of the development, with wood pellet boilers and rain-water harvesting.


Jamie & winter…

I was talking to Jamie the other day about the seasons and how it’s coming up to Autumn, which would then turn to winter. I asked what he was looking forward to about Winter (trying to put a positive spin on things!). It took him about a second to say Christmas!

We started to go through all of the reasons why winter is actually a pretty good season.

Log fires: One of my favourites. This year, I worked out how much wood we used from the previous year and ordered that much in early spring. It’s all been chopped and stacked since April and we should have enough to last till March 2012. Log fires are awesome and really raise the spirits on a crap winter day.

Jamie and Jac were loving coming down from having a bath and standing in front of the stove while getting dry. Jamie even asked me about getting the fire lit in the middle of summer so he could do that.

Insulated render: Now we’ve got the whole side and most of the rear of the house insulated, as well as the loft hatch re-done, the heat we do make by the radiators and stove should be kept in the house for longer. We’ve also had new windows front and back which has already made a difference. This should make the cold weather easier to live with.

The boys birthdays: Jamie’s 5th at the end of October then Jac’s 3rd at the end of January. Always lots of fun and breaks up the season each side of Christmas.

Halloween: Lots of potential for fun and excitement, as well as creative ideas for making things. Walking around with spooky lanterns and torches in the garden. Pumpkin pie (using pumpkins from the allotment – not this year but hopefully next!) and ales. Yum.

Claire’s birthday: Last but certainly not least. The middle of February signals the approach of Spring and brighter and warmer times. A good way to finish off the season!


Bay window & re-pointing…

Attention has defo been drawn outside over the last few weeks of amazing weather. The garden is looking great and the wood splitting and stacking is progressing really well. We’ve taken delivery of 18 tomato plant seedlings and now have a good range of plants growing in the plant house.

We’ve also been finally attempting to sort out the patchy bay window, which needs to be scraped back and re-painted, both around the base and around the windows.

In the process of this scraping away of the old paint, there was a question over what the bay was actually made of. We had assumed it was stone, but once the paint was off, it looked and felt less like stone, being too soft. Claire did some quick interweb research and got a lead that it could be brick with render over. This makes sense and you can see the engineering brick under the sills, which the render has been applied over.

We had been worried about the stone breathing, but now we can just paint it with a strong exterior paint, maybe in off-white. Claire has also been sampling various colours of mortar, to patch up the many areas which need attention! The whole corner of the house needs work, as well as areas around the bay.

After a few colour trials and a couple of trips to B&Q, for yellow, red and black colouring, Claire has found a good shade, which goes with the existing mortar and the bricks. I had to say no way to the first tangerine choice!


Render work – day 6, 7, 8 & 9…

So the insulated render and guttering to the side rear of the house are now finished. The landing area is plastered, a new loft hatch has been installed and the loft window removed and bricked up.

Days 6, 7 and 8 went very quaickly, with some quick progress. After literally 6 months of planning, research, form filling, grant applications, phone calls, planning permission debates (x6), delays (3 months) for cold weather, scaffolding erecting and finally deliveries of materials to site; it is finished.

The scaffolding is still up, and we expect this to be taken down soon and there is still a slight query about if we actually paid for new guttering to the front as well.

Days 6 and 7 were taken up with the actual application of the render, which they simply sprayed on using a large machine which pumped the render from a large plastic barrel. Claire was at home taking pictures and when I saw them I was impressed. We had wondered why they were shifting the packs of render to the front pavement!

So, the first layer was applied on day 6 and the next day the second layer was applied. They left the final layer as a very rough finish and I got home slightly shocked at the finish! Day 8 they came back to finish it off and used a number of heavy/rough sanders to smooth away the rough areas.

Finally, day 9 (yesterday) a guy was around to fix the guttering to the rear areas, on top of new fascia boards. He also filled in a missing brick from the front corner and replaced the old gate back onto the wall, as well as clearing the site.


Render work – day 4…

More progress on the render.

The plumbers were also around today to extend the soil pipe and pipes from the bathroom. Nearly up to the top of the house with the boards and the loft window has been blocked up.


Render work – day 2…

The work on the insulated render continues, even if the builders left site (again) at 1 pm!

The builders have taken out part of the front gate frame, which was drawing water into the walls and set the render line a brick depth back from the facade.


Insulated render work (day 1) starts…!

The work has finally started!

Bloody hell – 3 months late but it feels good. The builders started around 9 in the morning and worked till lunchtime, when they went off to find a replacement drill and didn’t come back! Jac wasn’t too keen on the noise and vibrations from the drilling but he got used to it after an hour or so.

To be fair to them, they’ve made some good progress and have finished the equivalent of the ground floor storey with insulation. They drill holding screws into the brick, with pads over the insulation boards which hold the boards in place. These are also supported on metal tray brackets which are also fixed to the wall. They’ll then apply a mesh over this then render onto that.

To be fair to them (again), I was convinced by the 3 guys. I went out there for 10 minutes to talk to them about the corner detail at the front. We have a gate there and also wanted the render set back from the front. As we were talking, the 1st one said that the rotten wooden frame (which was partially set into the wall) was drawing water into the wall, the 2nd said we had to be careful to leave enough space to get the wheelie bin through the space and the 3rd said we could always fix the gate to the other side of the opening to widen the gap! All very logical points and it showed they knew what they were on about. Earlier, one of them had also suggested putting the power cable through the cat flap instead of the door, to keep the heat in.

So, we’re setting the render back from the front by a brick depth, to keep the facade character independent of the render part. The work they’ve done so far looks solid. More progress soon (I hope).


Insulated render materials delivered & chimney work…

Materials have arrived for the insulated render work, which will start this coming week.

The pink box-looking things are packs of Kingspan K5 phenolic boards, which are used with renders. These are the main part of the insulation for the house and will apparently bring the insulation level up to modern building regs standard!

Product details here: kingspan K5

The other thing is the rear chimney stack. This needs some work, as parts of the mortar are gone and the flashing might need replacing. Obviously there is a big gap there! One option is to get it re-mortared, but the quote we’ve got is only £200 more to get it totally taken down and roofed over. I’d rather do a proper job on it than just patch it up. This does mean getting permission from the neighbour, which might take some time.


Coloured cladding panels…

I’ve been thinking about the materials for our (at this point hypothetical) extension and have just come across another interesting option. The product is the Moeding Longoton terracotta panel, which can be made to dimensions ranging from 150mm to 3000mm.

The idea is that these panels are used as an external wall system, on top of an aluminium support framework. The insulation goes behind this and the main supporting wall. This system provides colour, texture and weather proofing and is an alternative to brick or render.

Brochure for product: Longoton_09-08_en[1]

Most of the back of the house is going to be white rendered fairly soon (fingers crossed!), while the front of the house is retained as the traditional Victorian brick with rendered bay. The red to cream colour range could be a nice reference to both the red brick and the white detailing and render, while also adding some interest and colour.


Scaffolding arrives…!

The day that the insulating render work starts has finally arrived! It’s maybe 2 months late but at this point i’m just glad it’s finally happening.

The scaffolding has gone up and the first lot of materials is being delivered on Friday. It took the guys 7 hours to put it up down the side and rear of the house but it loos super strong!

We had to get Claire’s Dad to shift his car from the front and he had to wake up our neighbour as well to move hers! Sunday morning may not be the best time to do this but you can’t stop progress! : )


House progress…?

Ok, so there’s been very little tangible progress on the house since the solar panels went in and things have been quite delayed. The panels should have been installed after the insulated render, given the render is more of a priority! But, with the coldest December on record and one of the coldest winters for a generation, the work on the render has been put back. This is mainly due to the fact that for the render to set, the temperature has to be minimum 3 degrees Celcius, over a 3 day period. Obviously this hasn’t been possible for a while, so there is now a back-log of work which the contractor has to get done.

It’s a bit of a shame given how cold it’s been – we could have really done with modern-level insulation for our leaky Victorian house! Anyway, the panels are on the roof and are generating a small amount of leccy and work on the render will start within the next 2 weeks.

The really key thing i’m looking forward to is the work to brick up the very leaky loft window and the new loft hatch. Cold air gets right through into the house now and we’re constantly fighting against the cold coming in. The hallway area is also being plastered, meaning we can basically finish up there and get some fitted carpets in, also for the stairs.

I’ve also fitted some new shelves to the side of our main fireplace, which has made a big difference to how crowded the main bookshelf looks. Just have to paint those. We’ve also had a sort out of toys and furniture in the living room. We’ve culled lots of old toys and brought down a wooden ottoman chest from the loft, to store our mass of wooden train track. Next job is to tackle the under-stairs cupboard and to fit a series of floor-to-ceiling shelves.

So, things are moving on but we’ve been seriously slowed down by illness, the cold weather and Christmas! New year and new motivation – it’s going to be a good year!


Windows, render, solar panels…

Surveyor from the 2050 grant scheme in the morning.

This guy looked like some aged hippy from back in the day! He’s had solar panels for 6 years and had a slightly manic look about him. One interesting fact from him… did you know that in 1970, the average internal temperature in the home was 15 degrees C, whereas now it’s 22 Degrees C?

Anyway… we are officially on the 2050 grant scheme! Someone apparently dropped out as they spent 3 months faffing about with quotes etc, then in the end said the internal insulation would cause too much disruption. The grant people were offering to pay for 75% of the work cost! It’s like saying here’s £4K, do you want it? No thanks, it’s too much hassle. Fair enough.

See my previous post about the 2050 grant.

Well, the guy says we’re on the scheme and this entitles us to a 75% grant for the external insulated render and also a 50% grant for solar PV panels! Brilliant. If we hadn’t signed up to the scheme, the funds would have gone to a Passiv House in Exeter! Everyone we’ve talked to wants to keep the funding for Gloucester, in Gloucester.

This means that the render will now cost £1,500, down from £7,500 (with another smaller grant also taken off) and the PV panels are now something like £4,500, down from £9,000. We got a quote and survey for the panels a year ago, with the cost coming out at roughly £6K per KW generated. The system we had designed was for 2 KW, meaning roughly £12K. Since then, prices have come down, due to demand, meaning that now it is only £4.5K per KW.

An average 3-bed semi would use something like 2.2 KW annually, so the 2 KW system is about right. The feed-in tariff of 41 pence per unit right now is amazing value and because of this, we will be able to sell each unit back to the grid for more than 4 times what we buy each unit for (roughly 9 pence). This means that the PV panels will be making us £700 per year + we will be getting all the electricity the panels generate for free.

So, in exchange for these huge grants, the Council wants to use us, but mainly the house, as an eco case study for renovations of a Victorian semi-detached. No problem. Most people live in older properties and the work we’re doing here will hopefully inspire other people in older properties to consider similar improvements.

So, James from Safestyle UK (windows) has also just left, after getting here at 6pm. We’ve just signed up for two new windows at the back of the house, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom. They are technically “B Grade’ which is roughly 1.6 U-Value for the whole window and 1.36 at the centre. The lower the U-Value the better as this is a measurement of how much heat passes through the material, in this case two pains of glass and an Argon-filled air space. Current building regs specify 1.8 for a double glazed unit.

The idea is that the windows are installed on 8th November, then straight after, the render is installed. We’re still very hopeful we can afford the solar panels, and if we can, these can be installed at any point up to the end of the year (or at least signed up to or ordered). Given all this, the house will be insulated and powered. The income from the panels will be used to offset the cost of the loan we’re having to get to pay for most of this! We will also not be using as much electricity for heating, especially as we’re also selling our tumble dryer.



Claire’s at home today and the surveyor from the insulation company is there measuring up. She’s doing a good job looking after the boys and talking to the guy and so far it sounds like it’s going well.

The lastest update is that the total area for the insulation is measured at 71m2, not the 80m2 we were basing it all on. The 80m2 figure was measured from the 3D SketchUp model, which I put together of thw whole house, and which I thought was to the nearest few centimetres! Anyway, i’m not complaining as just that difference will mean £855 less cost.

If anyone out there in the blogosphere picks up on this post, here are a couple of useful bits of info, which you can use to make a decision about home improvements and sustainability.

We have a Victorian, 3-bed semi-detached (c. 1890). We’re getting the whole side elevation done and most of the rear.

The whole point of doing this is to improve the temperature inside the house and also reduce the variation of temperatures. There’s also reducing condensation inside by reducing the contrast of temperatures. When the water vapour in the air hits the colder wall surface (or a lot of the time around window edges) it condenses into water droplets and this leads to mould growth and poor inside air quality.

So, when we introduce some heat via the log burner, hopefully this heat will stay inside for longer and we won’t need as much heat to provide a comfortable temperature. We’ll hopefully only have to use the electric radiators for a very short time also.

The overall cost of this type of external insulated render system is £80 – £110 per square metre. Ours is coming in at roughly £100 / m2. This is roughly £7,600 for the render system and there are a number of other bits and pieces on top of that. We are getting a £3,000 grant from the Gloucestershire Warm & Well scheme + another £380 odd grant from another scheme, which brings the cost down to roughly £4,500.

The external insulation is under warranty for 30 years and is covered by the manufacturer (Weber). The insulation is designed to bring the Victorian, solid brick wall structure up to current Building Regs standards, of roughly 0.35 U-value. This is the same as any new house built within the last few years.

The insulation uses 50mm of phenolic board insulation, which is a compressed, closed-cell foam, which is the thinnest and most efficient material available. There are a number of layers on top of this with a water-proof top coat.

As well as this, we’re getting a new loft hatch, to sort out the cold air coming into the house and getting the hallway area re-plastered, over the bedroom wall, bathroom and ceiling, including around the area of the new loft hatch. We’re also getting the guttering and facia boards sorted out externally.

So, exciting stuff – we’ve signed up to it and can’t wait to get it all started!


Winter insulation jobs…

We’ve been thinking more and more about insulation and how to protect ourselves for the fast approaching winter season.

We’ve put together a list of jobs to do in the next 2 months, which will make a real difference over the cold months.

– Get maybe 3 quotes for external insulated render (nearly got 2)

– Research and fit loft insulation (done)

– Install new loft hatch to stop cold air getting into house (got quote – linked with external render)

– Fit living room skirting boards

– Draft sheets over kitchen window + draft excluder under door

– Fit up heavy curtains in doorway into kitchen

– Fill in & re-point external & internal holes through brick work

– Re-block up second decorative fireplace

– Finish off window storage area with insulation

– Fix up 2nd electric heater

Ok, we might not get all of that done, but we’ll defo do the priority ones, such as the loft hatch, kitchen window and curtains. The render would be ideal, but we still have to get the 2nd quote back and the 3rd one which is for wood fibre boarding, rather than phenolic sheets.


Loft insulation update…

We had a contractor come by the other day to check the loft insulation. It’s a free scheme from the Energy Saving Trust. I had already rolled out a fair bit of sheeps wool insulation, over the beams of the bedrooms and hallway, which I hadn’t got around to installing between the roof joists.

Anyway, the guy said i’d done a brilliant job and there wasn’t anything else they could do! The partial boarding which was already down around the middle of the loft would also insulate to a certain degree anyway and it was overall more insulation than they would have put down. That’s one less job to worry about.

Now the only insulation issue is to tackle the loft hatch. A new insulated wooden loft hatch would be something like £180, but this is the main reason why the cold air just falls from the loft and down the stairs, ending up in the living room!

We might try and install an insulated panel, which fits above the loft hatch, which can be removed when necessary, but which will stop the drafts. We rarely need to go up there anyway and it would pretty much cut out all the cold air from the loft.

Also, still waiting for the quote from the insulated external render people. The company who just came round to look at the loft will also provide a quote for the render.