Start on site – Colebourne road

  
We have the start on site today for one of my smallest projects ever. As is so often the case, this is a something from almost nothing scheme. We are taking out a really tiny kitchen, extending by just enough to get in a bigger kitchen and knocking through to the kitchen dining room. Small, but perfectly formed. Enjoy the picture, wheelbarrow fans!

Can’t touch this (thermostat)

Nice review of the Nest smart thermostat here from the Guardian. The smart thermostat learns your heating requirements, your schedule, how long your very own Castle Black takes to warm up and if you go out for the weekend without so much as a note on the fridge door, it knows. According to the review you could save about twenty percent on your heating energy consumption. What it does not address is whether it will still be possible to secretly adjust it without your partner knowing…

Gimme Tudor baby / uh-hu uh-hu

And all the girls say I’m pretty fly for a white and black sixteenth century construction technique. 

  
Blakesley Hall is a classic late Tudor crib in Yardley, showing mad skillz in oak framing construction. According to my guide, the building was made up in frames on the ground which were then tilted up and pegged into each other. Which must have been tricky, considering how irregular the elements are. Once the big oak frames are up, wattle (woven split timber laths) are woven into the gaps and covered with horsehair plaster which is then painted white and the timbers stained black, making the striking and beautiful patterns on the outside. 

Look carefully at the patterns. They are not random, but the happy congregation of artist and engineer. On the ground floor the beams are packed close together. This is partly a demonstration of wealth, but also responds to the additional load. The floors are fixed into the uprights and project by about eighteen inches or so. Because the timbers are joined by cutting a slot (the mortice) in the receiving piece and a precise projecting tongue (the tenon)on the end of the joining piece, we can’t have the joints in line – we have to break the pattern so that the mortices don’t weaken the pieces and the tenons don’t interfere with each other. The ground floor wall tenons fix into the floor beams of the first floor. The floor plate (the horizontal beam at the base of the timber wall) is joined onto the ends of the floor beams and the next wall is built off it. The uprights can’t line up – when they do, at the corners, we need extra reinforcement. Above the ground floor, where the posts are so close together, we have bracing – herringbone (mirrored diagonals) at the first floor and split semi circles at the attic storey. Nice. 

Uno dos tres cuatro cinco cinco seis
    
    
   

Surely the time has come for a mock Tudor revival?

A long time ago, in a construction technology far, far away, houses were made from thick oak beams tenon jointed and pegged, bricks or sticks and plaster to fill in the gaps to make walls. Often the filling was painted white and the timber stained black. This produces a very picturesque house that is also capable of achieving good height and wide spans. Nice. 

The look is so iconic and pretty that it has been replicated as a form of decoration, especially for upper storeys, in later periods when the structural needs have been answered more economically – usually with bonded brickwork. In terms of its symbolism the pattern occupies a very happy place, neither ecclesiastical like gothic stonework nor the pagan classicism of columns and cut profiles often associated with government or commerce. The feel is grand without being oppressive and having a rural or homely feel, perhaps even a bit leisurely. It also has an interesting relationship with modernism, being adopted by the rural Utopianism of the Arts and Crafts movement. So culturally, mock Tudor is (should be!) so hot right now. It’s the anticorporate building envelope. 

  

Site progress on Grange road 

This scheme replaces an unauthorised previous extension present when the house was purchased. So we can go a little larger than is normally allowed. Wired, no? We get a new kitchen with breakfast area and a ground floor bathroom so we can use three rooms upstairs as bedrooms. Nice!

  

VAT can’t be right!

Ahh, the smell of tax in the morning!

The VAT rules are pretty simple (well, not really). If you run a business and you have an income over £82,000 in a twelve month period, you need to register for VAT. You get a VAT number and you have to show your price net of VAT and the VAT on your invoices. It’s a lot of money – if you pay £50,000 on your project, you will need to pay £10,000 of VAT and for most of my customers, that’s a lot of money. 

What if your builder says he is not VAT registered? There are some genuine businesses that don’t need to charge VAT because they just don’t do that much work. A decorator, gardener or a even a jobbing electrician might be under the threshold. But if you are looking at a project over 20k and it’s going to take less than 3 months on site, you need to ask yourself why your builder is not VAT registered. He could work for someone else part of the year, or he might be starting up under a new business name. Or there might be an “arrangement”. This could be two some traders splitting the jobs, or asking you to pay the materials. If you don’t see a VAT number, ask. And make sure you speak to a previous customer and see if they are happy. The construction trade goes up and down, at the moment everyone is busy so you should see less unregistered traders. 

It’s also worth remembering that builders who don’t charge VAT can’t claim it back on their materials. So unregistered traders should be charging a bit more for the bricks and timber – if this isn’t reflected in the prices you get back they might not be charging enough to do the job properly.