VAT and Conversions

I was tweeting the other day about VAT on conversions…

I was tweeting the other day about VAT on conversions.

An article in Homebuilding Magazine titled (somewhat harshly) ‘Incompetent Inland Revenue, helpful H&R‘ provided the ‘revelation’ that the conversion of a building that hasn’t been occupied for 10+ years (or ever) is VAT exempt. Although 5% VAT is payable during conversion it can be reclaimed at the end of the project.

Personally I thought that was bloody obvious.

HMRC provides the following guidance (a simple Google search on “VAT on conversions” will get you there):

Where the building is a conversion, it must be of a non-residential building. That means a building that has either never been lived in, or hasn’t been lived in for the last ten years – not even on an occasional basis as a second home. Illegal occupation by squatters doesn’t count, however, and you are allowed to live in the property while the work’s being done, as long you move in after the work has started.

From – VAT refunds on self-build new homes or non-residential conversions

I don’t know, but perhaps, equating conversion to self-build, this level of lazy ‘uninformation’ is what holds back the UK from anything but novelty levels of self-build.

My question is…. is it too much to ask people to do their homework when undertaking one of the largest investments of their lives?

(Hope I’ve not just jinxed my own VAT reclaim with my wise-ass comments…)

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

In the news today…

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

From next month, the maximum depth of rear, single-storey extensions will double from the current three metres for semi-detached homes four metres for detached homes to six and eight metres respectively. This in an attempt to cut red-tape and stimulate both the construction industry and wider economy. It will be a temporary increase, reverting to the original rules sometime in 2015.

I’m not sure that planning permission is what is stopping people from building extensions – perhaps lack of money is a more overwhelming factor… But this may well be the green-light that home-owners need to get building.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

I wanted to share an article I recently found on Boing Boing. It’s an interview with Lloyd Khan, one of the fathers of geodesic domes. From his early life, through his career to his recent work with small homes the article makes an interesting read.

Lloyd is an admirable figure, seemingly very much his own man and is someone with whom I share a deal of empathy:

I like builders and I like farmers, because they have to deal with the real world.

His current work is in the development of self-build, small homes, a pragmatic and empowering solution to some of the world’s many current housing crises.

But you can start out small. And it’s an incredibly powerful movement right now. I like the idea of starting out with your core, which is your kitchen and bathroom, and your wood heat if that’s what you’re going to do, and your solar heated water, all in this core. Then you’ve got a place to sleep and cook and eat. And then you start adding on

You may also be interested in the further information & video about Lloyd Khan contained in this previous post.

Simplicity…but not with words…

I’ve been reading Walden by Henry David Thoreau for quite some time now. When you start to read about self-building or self-sufficiency you’re bound to come across references to Walden and Thoreau. The book, first published in 1854, describes Thoreau’s experiences over a two year period living in a cabin in the woods at Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, USA. The result is a semi-fictitious and somewhat edited version of the events and Thoreau’s thoughts in relation to society, self-sufficiency and living a simple life…

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

I must admit I’m finding this book hard work. Thoreau didn’t extend his quest for simplicity to his use of language and words. Many passages in the book are lengthy and rather showy as Henry extols us on this breadth of his knowledge and classical education. Obviously this book was written in a different time, when readers expected different things from their chosen authors so some patience should be applied – if you do there are glimmers of simplicity and a poetic touch that make perseverance worthwhile…

…it costs me nothing for curtains, for I have no gazers to shut out but the sun and moon, and I am willing that they should look in.

…I’ll keep going…

PassivHaus state of play October 2010

I was interested to read the reasons that were quoted for the slow take-up of PassivHaus design and construction in the UK

There’s a nice summary of the current state of PassivHaus building in the UK on The Ecologist website. I was interested to read the reasons that Chris Herring, director of the Green Building Store was quoted as giving for the slow take-up of this approach to building design and construction in the UK:

Chris Herring … puts it down to a combination of factors: suspicion of European ideas, the language barrier, the lack of a publicly funded body to promote best practice in construction in the UK since the privatisation of BRE, and the fact that the Government’s Code for Sustainable Homes has gone in a different direction (with a focus on renewables).

I’d like to add some further comment to that…

Personally, PassivHaus is a swings-and-roundabouts proposition – low bills and the satisfaction of ‘doing your bit for the planet’, weighed against a sterile and cold (in the sense of formal and aloof) interior. I like a ‘life giving’ open fire and all that it entails; I even enjoy chopping wood and laying the fire (probably because I don’t have to do it everyday). Sating the primal attraction to fire is a pleasure, one that I fear I may miss in a PassivHaus. So PassivHaus with a fireplace may suit me, but is that a compromise too far?

The other issue is builders. From experience builders, like most of us, prefer to remain in their comfort zone, using tried and tested techniques and materials. Whilst not demanding a massive shift in either aspect of building, PassivHaus construction is different enough to worry some and put off others. It is seemingly fashionable amongst the Grand Designs set to bring in foreign seemingly super efficient teams of builders who come ready made with the appropriate skills for PassivHaus, that’s not something I would do (and nor should YOU!). Our local builders need support and opportunity to develop the necessary skills. As developers, renovators and convertors we need to provide the opportunity (And I’m not sure that BRE can’t still provide the necessary support but I’ve not had enough contact with BRE to comment in any meaningful way). In short, it has to be an evolution toward PassivHaus standards rather than a big bang … and the evidence of the houses mentioned in the Guardian article suggest that evolution is underway.