What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

A recorded episode of Grand Designs introduced me to shadow gaps. Apparently the gaps had cost £10,000 in the house in question. One of the patrons questioned the wisdom of this architect led spend and that left me wondering, just what are shadow gaps?

Well, it turns out they are a grandiose term for a space between two surfaces. For example between the frame of a set of shutters and the window frame / wall against which they are installed (as in the photograph below) or between a plastered wall and a door lining. By leaving a narrow gap, the two surfaces ‘float’ apart rather than being butted up tightly together. The gap will usually be in shadow and when properly executed is both attractive to the eye and practical in that it leaves a gap to allow breathing, contraction or expansion. Also, where installing a new surface alongside a pre-existing one the shadow gap introduces a margin for error and removes the need for exact millimetre perfect measuring. This can be seen in the photograph of the shutters I installed retrospectively in the barn below – a relatively quick and easy job, made much easier by the gap between the wall and the shutters frame.

From Shutters

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

This comment from robertloxton was posted on one of my how much does a barn conversion cost posts the other day.

Hello,
I bought a threshing barn and subsequently got pp for conversion to one dwelling. There are so many different ideas and prejudices out there about how and where to go about this.

The best advice I had…..was to make sure you applied for what you really wanted for yourself. Not to be unduly influenced by other peoples experience. Sometimes you find that experience (including professional) is 20 years old….and in truth matters have moved on. The economy has moved on.

So my answer is to spend a huge amount of time reasearching and establishing for yourself what you want. Head up the applications yourself and use the professionals as back up to you. Don’t let them be the lead players.
Clearly you have to be doing this in an informed way. But rocket science it ain’t.

I think there are some really important points in there…

I’m not anti-architect, I’ve never used one myself but I know a few and value their advice and opinion. But Roberts point on your conversion being about “what you really wanted for yourself” is key to personal success for most fool-hardy instigators of conversion projects. I’m not wanting to pick on architects, but I see them as a key source of opinions that differ from your own and the most likely to be able to shift your project away from “what you really wanted for yourself“. By all means seek advice, explore differing opinions and adjust your own thoughts, but I strongly believe that you should own the overall vision for the conversion yourself.

It can be alluring to seek advice and delegate decision making, to play the part of a patron rather than project manager, but that’s rarely the route to personal success and the satisfaction gained from a vision made real that should come from a successful conversion. Unless you truly have more money than sense & a willingness to create the vision of others then conversion is surely not for the weak-hearted.

It was never planned this way, but I realise now that the name of this website enshrines this approach, it is after all, MY Barn Conversion.

Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

Part D is about ensuring that there is no risk to the occupiers of a building from toxic substances used in its construction.

As of the date of writing, Part D was last revised in 2010 as a result of the Building Regulations 2010 and Building (Approved Inspectors etc) Regulations 2010.

Part D Toxic substances contains the following high-level requirement:

  • D1 Cavity Insulation

This is a short document, of limited relevance to historic building convertors as the requirement contained in the document relates to cavity walls. In the UK, cavity walls only became a common template for wall construction in the 1970’s and a requirement of building regulations in the 1990’s so a wall cavity is absent from most older buildings.

In short, the regulations state that where and insulating material is placed in a cavity, reasonable measures must be put in place to ensure that no toxic fumes are able to permeate into any occupied parts of the building.

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Part C is about ensuring that the site for new buildings is prepared in a manner that will promote resistance to contaminants and moisture for the structure that is to be built on the site.

As of the date of writing, Part C was last revised in 2010 as a result of the Building Regulations 2010.

There are a number of subjects that fall within this part of the regulations. These include weather and water tightness, drainage and measures to deal with contamination and hazardous substances such as radon and methane.

Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture contain the following high-level requirements:

  • C1 Preparation of site and resistance to contaminants
  • C2 Resistance to moisture

There are three key aspects in the preparation of the site – that the site to be covered by the building & associated land is free from materials that might damage the building such as pre-existing foundations or vegetable matter, be free of contaminants and provide adequate drainage.

The regulations provide helpful information related to undertaking a risk assessment of contaminants and a high-level overview of some of the remedial measures that are available.

One potential contaminant that we all need to consider when building is radon. It’s not a major issue in most of the UK; the south-west is the area most at risk, but one we all need to consider. Start on the British Geological Survey website.

The second part of the regulation, that dedicated to discussion of resistance to moisture contains useful information related to site surveying, subsoil drainage and the construction of resistant floors, walls & roofs. A useful map confirms what we knew all along, that most of Wales is exposed to very severe driving rain. What would we in Wales do without the blessed rain…?

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

Part B is about ensuring that all new buildings are safe in the event of a fire.

As of the date of writing, Part B was last revised in 2010 as a result of the Building Regulations 2010.

Part B is split into two volumes. Volume 1 deals with dwelling houses and volume 2 with buildings other than dwelling houses.

The regulations provide guidance in areas such as fire safety in multi-storey buildings & domestic loft conversions, smoke and heat alarms, the use of door-closing devices and sprinklers, the materials used in the structure and the building methods employed.

Both volumes of the regulations contain the following requirements:

  • B1 Means of warning and escape
  • B2 Internal fire spread (linings)
  • B3 Internal fire spread (structure)
  • B4 External fire spread
  • B5 Access and facilities for the fire and rescue service

Pertinent to the barn are the requirements for escape from the upper storey. Specifically in the second bedroom, where I’ve had to change the window hinge (although I’m not sure where the need to open to 90 degrees comes from explicitly as I can’t find it in Part B) and install a radiator cover to provide a step-up to the window and a means of escape. For reference, a window suitable for egress from the building must be at least 0.33m2 and at least 450mm in height and width, the bottom of the openable area of the window must be not more than 1100mm above the floor.

Forthcoming Welsh sprinklers regulations
In Wales there is an additional future requirement in relation to fire safety just over the horizon. From September 2013, the Welsh Assembly government (WAG) intend to make the installation of water sprinkler systems compulsory in all new homes. They expect this to save 36 lives and prevent an estimated 800 injuries between 2013 and 2022.

The Assembly will proceed with the plans despite a report from the built environment research organisation BRE Global that estimated that the cost per life saved would be £6.7 million and concluded that “fitting sprinklers in all new residential buildings in Wales would not be cost effective“.

WAG Environment Minister John Griffiths said:

“We must seek to prevent avoidable death and injury from house fires and need to accept that there is a cost to introducing sprinklers into new properties.
These proposals are significant and important in taking forward fire safety.
Wales will be at the forefront of reducing fire risk and cutting the number of avoidable deaths and injuries caused by fires in residential premises.”

The Assembly is currently working on development of the new regulations that are necessary to introduce the new sprinkler law. These will be subject to public consultation.