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Pointing opinions

Category: Barn Conversion Journal July 28th, 2010 by mbc

Having spent a fair amount of time over the last few years staring at a wall with trowel in hand pointing I’ve built up some opinions on mortar, pointing and stonework and how the three should mesh together (tragic I know!). I’m no fan of overly fussy, decorative pointing and neither is my new favorite source of heritage building information – the Maintenance Matters webite:

In contrast, there is little historic precedent for the use of ‘ribbon’
pointing, which is so commonly seen nowadays in cement. In this, the
joints stand proud of the wall face to become the dominant visual
feature. It is both ugly and poor practice as the technique slows down
the run off of rainwater, which can increase the amount of moisture
held in the masonry. The cycle of freezing and thawing, and the
movement of dissolved salts can cause rapid erosion, particularly in
soft brick and stone.

Repointing in Lime @

‘It is both ugly and poor practice’ – I love that statement and thoroughly agree – ugly!

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Maintenance [really does] matter

Category: Website Reviews July 22nd, 2010 by mbc

I discovered a great source of information on the maintenance and restoration of old buildings on the new Maintenance Matters website. The site has been produced by Cadw, the ‘official guardian of the built heritage of Wales’. Short publications on such subjects as lime-washing, repointing and replacing sash cords are freely available and well worth a read if you’re looking for heritage building advice.

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How much does a barn conversion cost? Part 3

Category: Essential information July 1st, 2010 by mbc

Here I’ll consider the actual costs of converting your barn and making it habitable.

The Conversion
So we’ve safely purchased our pile of stone, slate and wood and it’s quietly decaying away in the corner of a farm-yard somewhere, how much will it cost to convert it to a place a person (rather than a pig) could live in?

When I started out on my project I shied away from those cost-per-square metre charts that building books such as The Housebuilder’s Bible Eighth Edition (8th Edition) and Building Your Own Home are so fond of. To my inexperienced mind averaging the cost of the roof, floors and other works across the whole of the building made very little sense. I preferred a schedule of works, with each individual item costed and an overall total. I could then grapple with these and manage the individual components. To be honest usually finding that when the bills came in I’d under-estimated so needed to juggle the books or put other things off until later.

I can now see the value of a per-square-metre costing as an additional tool in managing costs. A per-square-metre cost provides an easy rule of thumb to see just what you’re getting for your money – and perhaps question it. Let me try and explain…

A total cost is a big budget and directs you to the question how much money do I need and where can I find it? Your thinking becomes goal oriented, you look for ways to achieve that goal and value for money can quickly become neglected and your flexibility compromised in pursuit of your budgetary target (…and of course, if you can find the money somewhere you probably will and therefore your budget becomes an (upward) moving feast – a far from ideal way to manage your finances).

Per-square-metre costs make you ask different questions, both when looking at the project as a whole and also at parts of the project. It helps address the over-riding big question of is it worth paying that much per square metre? … when I could have a new build / self build / existing house for less? (We could be optimistic and say perhaps more but the one thing most convertors discover quite quickly is that conversion is one of the most expensive ways to get a place to live). Also helping with the smaller questions – when you think in terms of per-square-metre costs the effect of the £200sqm marble flooring on your budget is pretty obvious.

So whilst a total cost is essential and individual costing of scheduled items of work is necessary, I think the per-square-metre cost is a handy yard stick for day-to-day practical purposes and decision making.

Once my conversion is completed I’ll calculate my own per-square-metre cost and see how that comes out (gulp). (Don’t be surprised if I chicken out on that one).

There are many factors to bear in mind when considering costs. Not all conversion projects are created equal. There is a scale of complexity and costs with conversions, at the hard and more costly end those conversions that need under-pinning, a new roof, rebuilding of unsound walls, have no utilities on site etc. and at the easier (never easy) and less costly (never cheap) end those that are structurally sound, have a workable roof and pre-existing utilities etc.

scale of complexity

scale of complexity

Back to answering the question at hand, how much will it cost me to carry out the conversion:

You can’t really put an upper limit on costs, but I’ll chance my arm here and give a range of per-square-metre costs. I think as a minimum, for a project at the lower end of my ‘scale of complexity’, with decent finishes and materials, some work undertaken by the owner and no major headaches along the way, there’s a minimum per-square-metre cost of £800. Further along that scale you soon get in excess of £1000 and I’ll put a more complex project with better finishes at £1500, with the sky being the limit at the top end.

So, my neck on the line, per-square-metre cost, Summer 2010 is: £800 – £1500+ …and you need to add a further premium to that in the more expensive, southern parts of the UK.

In summary I think the cost of a barn conversion is currently (Summer 2010) going to break down, as a minimum, something like:

  • Barn with permission – £150,000 to £200,000.
  • Plans and planning (no architect, self project managed) – £3,000+
  • Conversion work – for 100 square meters – £80-100,000

So, in answer to:

I am thinking of buying a barn for myself … could [someone] give me a ballpark figure as to how much this is lik[e]ly to cost?

My answer is basically, £250,000+

Please feel free to agree, disagree or discuss further…

Part 1: the building, Part 2: architects & plans

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Step 10 = floor

Category: Steps along the way June 17th, 2010 by mbc

… floor levels are dictated by a heady blend of building reg’s, foundations, ceiling height and final finishes – you need to consider each of these – tricky!

What goes into the floor? Literally – hardcore, sand, insulation, a damp proof membrane – in many parts of the UK this will need to also be a radon barrier membrane, then the concrete or limecrete slab (more below). You should also consider slipping under-floor heating (UFH) cables or piping in there. Admittedly, UFH costs more, but it provides two things I like – no radiators and radiant heat (even heating throughout the room – no hot spots / cool spots and lovely warm floors).

Steps along the way...

When I started MyBarnConversion I meant to share some quick and easy yet hopefully valuable tips in a 'Steps along the way' series of short posts.

That series fell by the wayside, but now I've brought it back. Use the link above for a full list of my tips.

As a slight aside, if you install under-floor heating ensure that you use appropriate materials when installing your finished floor – an appropriate adhesive for tiling or kiln dried (bone dry) wood. This will add extra cost but is essential.

The limecrete or concrete question is still one that is open to debate in my mind. Undoubtedly, there are environmental and ‘healthy house’ benefits from using lime. However, it’s also more tricky and expensive to use, is different from concrete (and therefore needs to be ‘understood’ by those working with it) and is more sensitive to weather conditions. My position is to use lime if the three B’s line up – that is, if the Build, the Builder and the Budget all allow or encourage the use of lime then use it!

For the record, we didn’t use limecrete at the barn.

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How much does a barn conversion cost? Part 2

Category: Essential information June 2nd, 2010 by mbc

Here I’ll consider architects, architectural technicians and touch on the other potentially pricey professionals such as structural engineers, that we’ll need to employ to bridge the link between the unconverted building and the building work that will convert it.

The Architect
I spoke with some lovely architects when I started this project. They seemed to share my enthusiasm for the project and helped to provide me with the confidence to proceed.

Costs can be a little tricky to pin down for architectural services since the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) did away with scale rates some years ago. This is a step that’s opened up the negotiation of architectural fees to market forces. What the scale rates did, was make architectural fees transparent (at least when working with RIBA architects) and I could have stated an exact percentage cost for the type of work we are considering here. Instead we’ll have to consider a range of fees, that after some research, I can estimate at between 6% and 15% for full project ‘lifecycle’ involvement – from project initiation, through plans, planning, contracting & overall project management. Many architects will also work for a set, prearranged fee or an hourly rate; this is especially useful when you only need limited services at the start of your project, such as an initial design consultation and some outline drawings. Bear in mind that those percentages will often be of the total project cost, including contingencies that may not be spent during the project.

Most architectural practices will offer a range of services, usually including:

  • Providing ‘scheme’ level outline drawings.
  • Applying for statutory consents (planning, permitted development and other required permissions).
  • Producing detailed drawings.
  • Drawing up the schedule of work and other associated documents such as the contract preliminaries (that details prerequisites and general project requirements) and a specification document (that details acceptable levels of workmanship and materials).
  • Contracting builders and other service providers for you and administering those contracts.
  • Project management.

Bear in mind that it’s is not only qualified architects and their practices that can provide you with these services, there is also the complementary industry of ‘architectural services’ providers. These are companies that are not structured and staffed as traditional architectural practices (usually lacking a fully qualified architect) but that can provide many of the same services.

Beyond my initial discussions way back at the start of my project, I made no use of the services of a ‘pure’ architect. Instead I opted for the less costly more limited option of employing an architectural technician. I say limited as the service offered by an architect tends to be broad and encompassing, whilst architectural technicians offer a narrower more focussed service. In my case my architectural technician was able to provide me with plans, a schedule of works and dealt with my planning applications, all for a set fee. I was lucky in that chap who drew up my plans knows the planners well and was able to make recommendations that would ‘work’ best not only with building regulations, but with the local plan and the local planners preferences – we got the few amendments made to the original plans through relatively painlessly. The only drawback was that because I was using a one-man-band I had to manage those aspects of the design that required input from a Structural Engineer myself. This work – the correct sizing of the oak beams that carry the first floor and the exact detail of the work to make good the one largish wall crack, was pretty straight-forward, involving no more than a couple of phone calls, a site visit or two then the receipt of a written report followed by parting with several hundred pounds. Nothing too stressful, but one aspect of work that a full service architect would cover for his client and that I (a skinflint NOT employing a full service architect) had to cover for myself.

As with most products and services, it’s best to shop around and always seek recommendations from colleagues and acquaintances. You also need to ensure that all your trades will work together (and I include the architect in that), so if you have a builder in mind speak to them and see who they often / prefer to work with (some builders will only work with certain architects as they know they’ll provide workable, understandable plans and so on – although they may not be so picky these days).

<<Previously … Part 1 – The Building

Next we move on to the heavy liftingPart 3 the conversion and how much it will cost you>>

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