Tuesday 14 December 2010

A day in Court

Last week I was in court as an expert witness in relation to a case between a builder and a young couple (The Homeowners) who engaged him to extend their dwelling. The case arose as a result of the builder not getting his final payment which amounted to a sum equal to approximately 5% of the “contract” price, which he believed he was entitled to and initiated legal proceeding, which ended up before the district court. Based on our initial report the homeowers made a counter claim for damages to repair defective work.
It’s fair to say there would never have been a court case, if the homeowners had engaged a professional to look after the design and supervision of their extension. The extension required planning permission, which they duly obtained, having had their drawings as it was stated in court prepared by a technical drawing teacher. The drawings were basic, with no detail, other than beginning sufficient to enable a planning application be assessed and determined.

However, the drawings had no annotation outer than a few dimensions, and were used by the homeowners to obtain quotations from three building contractors. The builder provided a quotation and was asked to start, which he duly did making up the detail as he went along in the absence of any construction drawings or specification. There was no written contact between either party. The question of how the project was financed, was never asked or established, in court, however its safe to assume it was not by way of a mortgage, in that no certificates of payment were required. However the quotation was for several tens of thousands. Before going into argument, the judge asked the builder, if the level of construction he agreed to construct was to a minimum level to meet building regulations, to which it was confirmed.

There were a number of what would be considered snagging items/minor defects, doors requiring adjusting, the items which would normally be up right before the payment of the final instalment. However there were a number of more serious issues, which would not have happened had proper construction drawings and a specification been prepared and the project supervised by a competent person.

One such item was a connection the builder made to the drainage system, which while not created by the builder, it was agreed by both sides’ expert witnesses as been a health hazard. The main area of contention regarded the construction of some minor but significant elements of structure, which were a cause of concern for us more so than that of the builder. Had the builder not deviated from the method of construction, used elsewhere within the extension, there would not have been an issue. The judge in his summary of the case stated that fact and decided in favour of the homeowers, however the award properly will not cover the cost of the remedial works.

The judge however was not too happy that the case was before him, as he said himself, he was not an expert in construction. He questioned as to why arbitration was not considered as means of resolving the issues, even in the absence of a formal writing contract. Nor was he too happy with the level of dialogue between both sides and their expert witnesses’ in that there were significant differences of opinion, something which would be quiet normal in a circuit court case. Furthermore the amount in question which the builder was trying to recoup was small and compared to costs assisted with the case; the builder was certainly 4 times well less off after the court case than he was before the case.

I certainly learnt a lot from my attendance in court; and how in preparing reports it’s important to reference and include the relevant extract of the standard in the report.

I wonder how ipads would be accepted for retrieving data on the day such as codes of practice or Irish/British or European standards, with a judge ? An iphone or ipad would certainly have been handy for both sets of expert witnesses last week.

If the builder learnt anything, it is not to build a project unsupervised as it can come back to haunt you. As the homeowners, they will know only to engage the services of a professional in future.

Monday 13 December 2010

Cottage renovation Part 6

Despite the bad weather recently, some progress has be made, with the roof now nearing completion : outstanding works comprise of the fixing of the ridge caps and some flashing to the elements of the vertical velux windows.

Inside work has commenced with the first fixing of services. Insulation options for the roof and ceiling are currently begining costed.

The delivery of the windows and doors are now due.

Monday 15 November 2010

Cottage renovation Part 5

Work has progressed since my last site visit despite the poor weather. However its not been without delays.

The fixing of the breather membrane and slating battens is now complete, as is most of the slating on the northern side of the roof. However the completion of the slating has been delayed, as the vertical velux window units, were not ordered sufficient time in advance. As a point of information, the vertical elements codes VFA & VFB currently require a 3 week lead-in from date of ordering to delivery.

The client has opted to go with a factory finished hardwood timber window rather than Black uPVC. Windows and doors will be supplied by Carey Glass Joinery of Nenagh, who’s price was exceptionally competitive for the end product. A mixture of double and triple glazed units will be installed with delivery scheduled for the first week of December. Subject to favourable weather conditions, the external insulation and rendering will follow immediately.

Internally work has progressed; the first floor has now been floored with 18mm flooring grade ply and the studwork caucus now complete, which will enable commencement of the first fix of services. Final selection of sanitaryware will be critical in the coming week or so, to enable that element of the first fix progress.

At this stage the project is running 4-6 weeks behind the targeted programme, a common trait of self build projects constructed by direct labour.

Monday 8 November 2010

CIAT ramblings

It’s been a while since I’ve blogged about CIAT. Last month I was in Dublin for a CIAT Centre Committee meeting, there’s normally a meeting prior to the Institute’s AGM, which took place in Guernsey at the end of last month.

I always enjoy the discussion after the Centre Meeting, where most of us “from the country” have a chat and lunch prior to making the journey home. Discussions vary covering topical issues within the profession, be it OSI copyright and the merits of buying an OSI licence or issues with planners or building control. Of course current fees or the lack of them featured in the discussions too. It’s always a couple of hours well spent, as someone will always have a solution to a problem that any of the others would raise. At this year’s AGM a number of promotional video’s (thought that term was gone with the introduction of DVD's) were launched by the Institute, 4 in all I believe. The one that’s most beneficial, is that aimed at potential clients.

I have to say it’s not bad and definitely worth having a link to, within each reach for potential clients. Another reason why I should really progress my membership now.

My POP record, is sitting somewhere on my desk awaiting the signature of my POP record supervised before submission. I should really get it signed off and submitted, so I can progress my membership… the longer it sits there the long it will be before I attain Chartered membership. Top of this week’s to do list, along with booking a CIAT CPD course.

Friday 5 November 2010

Extensions and factors influencing budget prices

People definitely see value in construction at the moment and are prepared to extend their existing homes.  I'm currently working on single storey contemporary extension to a 1970's bungalow; the sketch design has been prepared and currently with a local building contractor, who's accessing if the works can be undertaken within the client's budget. 

Extensions and renovations, by their nature are more difficult to gauge budget prices for, as existing factors greatly influence the price. Apart from the fact that each extension is unique the following are some of the factor that can influence the project's budget.

Unlike most new builds, access to works involving extensions can be restricted, from no access at all in the case of terraced dwellings, to limited access due to proximity of site boundaries. Depending on the restrictions, these can effect the overall price. The of concrete for foundations, is far greater if it has to be moved from the roadside to the back of a house via wheelbarrows, as opposed to beginning placed directly into the excavated foundation from the back of the readymix truck.

Existing Structure
Extensions, by definition will become a part of the existing structure/dwelling and effect the structure in some shape of form. How the extension integrates into the existing structure will have an effect on the project cost. Should the only works in integrating the new and the old  be removing a patio door the cost would be significantly less than an extension which is integrated into an existing room (s), as the latter will involve significant demolition and structural works. Works where alterations to existing roofs can also significantly add to the cost.

In general at least some alteration to existing services is required, when extending an existing property. The effects on the project budget of these alterations vary greatly. moving a light switch or socket would have a minimal effect, compared to diverting an underground drain and manhole or relocating the boiler.

Very often when extensions are been built, client's take the opportunity to have  other works around the house done while the builder's are in, it may be hanging a few new doors, or putting in a new ensuite or altering partitions, all adding to the overall cost and distort the actual cost of the extension. 

Naturally specification can have the biggest influence on the project's cost.

Friday 29 October 2010

Construction Drawings?

When it comes to building new houses or extensions, Irish people often don't see the need for construction drawings or haven't in the past. I've experienced it myself in the past, where people go off and get prices or engage building contractors based on information contained on "planning permission only" drawings.

What's the difference. Everything really, planning drawings are not required to contain detailed information on construction, other than to convey the basic design and outline finishes, overall dimensions, location and position of opening etc. Atypical drawing which I would include as part of a planning submission is indicted below

Construction drawings by their nature should contain sufficient information for someone to build the dwelling/building from. The information contained on the drawings should enable works be undertaken in compliance with the building regulations; be it thickness or position of insulation, opening sections to windows, or size of the roof timbers or whatever. Furthermore, construction drawings allow the designer, to convey how s/he wishes specific element of the building be finished, eave overhangs, downpipe poisitions or even finishes. While much of the information relating to building regulations is standard (or was ), as most regulations don't regularly change, except for Part L, relating toConservation of Fuel and Energy (insulation in otherwords), many building contractors are not always familiar with other amenements.

Why not provide construction drawings at planning application stage? Well it can be done, however in terms of providing value for a client, its not the best route; in many instances, the house or development granted permission, varies from that applied for, often requiring amendments during the planning process, be it minor amendments or sometimes a substantial redesign or in cases the development has been refused permission.Furthermore planning authorities do not access development in terms of compliance with building regulations, their is to access compliance with the planning policy.

Of course one benefit of construction drawings, it it allows a building/dwelling be accurately priced, when prepared in conjunction with a relevant specification. The less information a building contractor has, the more assumptions s/he makes and the greater chance what s/he delivers is not what the client had in mind.

Wednesday 27 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 4

The main roof structure is now complete, with work now progressing to preparing the roof for the velux windows. Velux windows to the south elevation will include vertical combinations, avoiding the necessity to construct dormers.
As noted below, rafters overhang the blockwork by a considerable amount, to allow for the provision of the external wall insulation, withthe insulation carried up  to the top of the wallplate, reducing cold bridging.

Wednesday 13 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 3

An unscheduled site visit had to be made yesterday to sort out a few unexpected problems. Addressable, however they do delay the work.

Despite starting on Monday and joisting out the first floor, the carpernter are not expected on site agin until Friday. Flooring to the first floor with be 18mm ply, providing a good base for tiles and laminate floor finishes.

Thursday 7 October 2010

Cottage renovation Part 2

Work is progressing on the cottage renovation. The project is behind programme, not helped in this instance by Tipperary winning the All Ireland Hurling Final: direct labour projects by their nature seldom go according to programme, as one is at the mercy of the sub-contractors, many of whom know that it will be the one and only time they will encounter that individual self-builder, unlike working for a building contractor.

At this stage the blockwork is complete. There is some work required around the existing opes, however this work is underway, mainly comprising of adjusting the cill levels, tidying up around the location of the former heads. New heads were cast as part of the band beam at first floor level. Cold bridges normally caused by band beams have been avoided in this instance with the used of external insulation.

The carpenter is due early next week to complete the first floor and commence the roof. While this will be going on, the windows and doors will be ordered(black uPVC has been selected) and installed prior to the installation of the external insulation and render. The external wall u-values have been calculated at a respectable least 0.22W/m2 using a thickness of 120mmof EPS insulation.

Consideration is currently been given to insulating the roof space along the line of the rafter right up to the ridge, creating a warm roof. I’m currently looking at the prop and cons of this, one major advantage of this method, which the clients sees, is of course the risk of frozen water pipes or a water tank is greatly reduced. The fact that there shouldn’t be excessive temperate differences in the attic, compared to the rest of the house, both in winter and summer, is also another factor wish is attractive to the client. Cost however may prove prohibitive… Kingspan, Xtratherm, Aeroboard, anybody?

Thursday 9 September 2010

Architect by the Grandfather Clause

Prior to the summer recess of the Dail (the Parliament), John O'Donoghue TD proposed  a private member's bill, which if successful with see the introduction of a "grandfather" clause to enable those who claim/have provided services of an architect for at least 10 years and are aged 35 or more to entitled to become a "registered" architect.(it might not be that simple but that's the basics of it) Naturally registered architects are not happy, nor is the body (RIAI) who represents them and who would blame them.

Throughout the summer, both in the print media and on line the issue has been tossed about, particularly between the RIAI and the Architect's Alliance.

So why is registration so important to a non qualified architect now? 

Title possibly? However another reason (the main reason) I believe is no doubt to do with Financial Institutions and the Law Society and one's ability to certify works. Being excluded from tendering for consultancy work for Government works too, can be an issue. Eg Schools summer works scheme.

Many of those providing architectural services outside of qualified architects are qualified architectural technicians/technologists (ATs).Many of the ATs do encounter difficulties with some banks and some solicitors, when it comes to certifying works, yet a qualified AT should, one would expect, be better qualified than an engineer to certify compliance with planning permission and building regulations and as competent as an architect.At the end of the day a qualified AT has studied Architectural Technology. Most bodies (banks, engineers etc) fail to distinguish the disciplines within engineering which is quiet broad. The term engineer is broad and covers quiet a few disciplines electrical/mechanical/civil/structural/manufacturing to list a few, of which not very many would qualify one with a level of knowledge of construction or planning to be in a position to offer an opinion of compliance with building regulations.Yet a qualified AT who studied building regulations and the technical side of construction, can be considered not suitably qualified by banks and solicitors.

Of course the fact  that The Building Control Bill 2007, which protected of the term architect, failed or neglected to register/protect the title of Architectural Technician/Technologist, hasn't helped the AT's case in terms of beginning qualified to certify works.

So getting back to John O'Donoghue Bill. Will it be be successful?

I'm not sure, by all accounts the Architect's Alliance have their homework done and have lobbied all the TD's, always a good start. You've got to hand that to them there. Is it the right thing to happen, not in my opinion, in theory there could be someone who has "acted" as an architect for the last 10 years or longer, yet only prepared drawings for planning permission and never taken into account compliance with building regulations... Mind you these type of "architects" aren't architectural technologists/technician's either.There are some  whom would genuniely qualify, however the proposed bill takes the good with the bad.It would be far better if Architectural Technology was considered a competent profession,and its title registered and accepted by the Law Society and all banks and other relevant bodies the same as Architects, Engineers and Surveyors.

Should the Bill be successful and be past into Law, one would have to say I would be foolish not to jump on the band wagon and get registered as an Architect. To be honest I'm not interested in becoming an architect through the backdoor or any other door, I'm an Architectural Technologist , however if you don't play the system you won't win, (or survive) as Tipperary Senior Hurlers proved last Sunday, in winning the All Ireland Hurling Championship 2010.

Wednesday 8 September 2010

Cottage renovation Part 1

Work is well under way to a cottage renovation, with blockwork having commenced last week following two weeks of demolition work. In the first in series of blog posts on the project, I will outline the choice of wall insulation.

With existing external walls of stone/rubble construction, it was decided to insulate the entire building externally, using weber's external wall insulation system. As a designer the choice of external insulation, was greatly influenced by the fact that the entire external face of the wall is insulated to the same thickness, with no thermal bridges, where cavities are closed or new and old work is bonded together. The proposal is to use the weber.therm XM  external wall insulation system which is Agrément Certified with a mineral fibre insulation to the existing stone/rubble walls and EPS to new conc blockwork. A series of articles in Construct Ireland Magazine entitled "Breaking the mould" which dealt with upgrading of single leaf external wall construction, further helped with the choice of insulation method.

All new work is constructed of solid blockwork, with the customary cavity eliminated. The dwelling does however comprise of a partly build extension of insulated cavity construction, which will also be insulated externally. In this element of the construction the entire cavity is been fully closed so there will be little or no air movement in the cavity.

The insulation will be carried down as far a practical below ground externally and right up to wall plate level at eaves. All existing windows and doors are to begining replaced and are brought forward in line with the external face of the external structure, further reducing cold bridges. 

It is expected that the installion with be complete within the next 4-5 weeks, however beforehand the requirements from all service pipe supports etc has to be assessed and provisions made for.

Thursday 26 August 2010

Extensions & Renovations

Its looks like extension and renovations will be the flavour of the month for some time to come. In recent weeks I've had been working on some sketch proposals for new jobs that have arrived into the office. One came as a referral from a recent client, who's extension was recently finished... (there's nothing better than getting a referral from a satisfied client) 

Others have come by way of a developer, who's been asked to go back and build extensions to dwelling he built over 10 years ago.

Then there's the extension/renovation of "the homeplace", which has moved to site. Being built by direct labour means not only do I have to provide architectural advise but I've also been collared as a labourer when on site visits. From assisting putting up scaffolding to demolishing walls, and everything else in between . Needless to say site visits are in the evenings or on Saturdays. The entire house is to be insulated with external insulation, which will eleminate most if not all of the cold bridges. As work progresses there will be more updates.

Wednesday 7 July 2010

Planning drawings only !

I was speaking recently with someone who had engaged an "architect", (I say architect in inverted commas, I don't actually believe that the so called architect is actually an architect as defined in the Building Control Regulations) to design their house and get planning permission from them, which he truly did. They were asking me about how to achieve a good energy rating, for their dream house, which is fair enough as people are more energy conscious now days. When I asked did their "architect" not look at the matter when designing the house, the reply I received was "he specializes in planning only doesn’t get into the whole insulation thing".

It is my opinion (and one shared by many others I assume) that is it is no longer possible to get away with designing  a house without looking at achieving compliance with Part L early on in the design stage. For me one has to design the house in tandem with using SEAI’s DEAP software, (or if a passive house, the
PHPP software) which allows on check compliance with Part L and also establish the dwellings BER at the same time. Factors which influence compliance and are directly related to design include:
  • Orientation
  • Size and location of openings (windows & doors)
  • Floor area 
  • Extent of perimeter of the building

The number of chimneys and even the provision of a draft lobby have an effect of the energy performance of a dwelling. For someone on a budget (everyone is now days) taking the above into consideration, at an early stage can help and potentially reduce the cost in ensuing compliance with Part L, down the road.  Yes insulation is important; however it's not of much benefit in having a highly insulated south facing wall with few openings, with when the north facing wall is full of poorly insulated glazing! One might say the above is common sense, yet most of it is, but how many houses have been designed and built in the last 30-40 years and ignored common sense.

Of course other times also influence compliance like the type of heating, renewables etc, however whether using an oil fired boiler or a heat pump doesn’t generally have the same significant impact on planning permission, as the size of opening would.

Friday 18 June 2010

Part B and domestic extensions.

I had a call from an award winning architect looking for some assistant, with regard to a  problem which had arisen in terms of Part B of the Building Regulations on a domestic extension. The neighbouring property's architect had rasied an issue (as they do!) It certainly wasn't one of the normal issues I would be asked to deal with regarding Part B and domestic extensions.No this problem related to a timber framed extension which was built within 1.0m of the boundary. So what's the problem there you may ask?

Most architects and other designers (and builders) dealing with domestic construction seldom take much heed of Part B of the building regulations other than providing a fire alarm and means of escape windows, and maybe the positioning of the stairs and providing fire resisting construction to  to 3 storey houses.Most would not know what Appendix A of Technical Guidance Document -B is about, never mind Tables A1 & A2. Tables A1 & A2 relate to the required fire resistance of elements of structure, including walls, external and otherwise. So what has this got to do with our friend the architect?

The architect in question had designed an extension to the rear of a suburban terraced house, which was been constructed adjacent to the boundary wall (within 1.0m of the boundary) which was of timber frame construction. Appendix A requires 30 minutes fire resistance from both sides of the wall. ie both internally and externally. Most plasterboard slabs achieve the required fire resistance from the inside, where a conc block outer leaf is used externally with the timber frame, upto 4 hours fire resistance is achived from the outside, problem solved. But in this case, like many others, in order to safe space and get everybit of usable space in the extension, the cavity and block external leaf was ommited; the proposal to apply a render finish to the external face of the timber frame. Unfortunatley this construction, hasn't been certitifed as achiveing a fire resistance. I did find a soulution, in recommending fibre cement panel, which could be fixed to the external face of the timberframe structure, which is certified to achive the required fire resistance and got our friend out of trouble.

Had the wall been on the boundary the issue would have been more serious in that 1 hour fire resitance is required from both sides.

Thursday 27 May 2010

May update

The last month has been quiet busy,(hence no blogging) between developing a number of projects from sketch design to planning stage, preparing a few sketch designs for some new projects and also preparing a few fee proposals. Preparing fee proposals at present is definitely the most difficult element of the job at present and worthy of a blog post in itself.

The two  projects currently on site are progressing well, the house extension is almost finished, next week, I expect with the nursing home extension roofed and first fix well underway. Clients are happy with the progress and standard of work too. Always pays to use/recommend a good builder, particularly these days where fees are tight.

One project I'm starting to get stuck into at the moment is a one off rural dwelling. The clients are pretty clued in too, have specific requirements, but also open to suggestions/ideas. They have a site with good views and affords good orientation to the house. Its still only at sketch design stage, where ideas are still been thrown about. Its one project I'm looking forward to working on.

Friday 30 April 2010

Legal work

It's been a lazy month for me in terms of blogging. Why I hear you ask?

For the best part of the month I've been on my own in the office dealing with everything, as the boss was out of the country on business, only to be delayed by the Volcanic Ash that disturbed air travel into and across Europe.

Most of the last month was spent doing work that I would not normally be fully engaged in. One such job was attending court as an expert witness for a public house licence application. Well it took two visits to the court to sort out the licence after an objection was received on the first day. I have to say it was an interesting experience and the licence was sorted out in the end.

Sticking with the all things legal, I spend some days preparing a report for another court case, this time, where a builder renovated a house and the standard of work leaves a lot to be desired. Without going into any details, the fact that the project did not have any supervision by a consultant didn't help matters nor did the fact that there were no detailed construction drawings. This should prove an interesting case when it does come before the courts.

Add sorting out a few land registry maps into the mix and you get the type of time I've been having. Dealing with legal map is at the best of times a pain, but when solicitors are introduced into the dealings, it can become more troublesome than its worth, particularly when one gets solicitors whom are not all that familiar will conveyancing.

Other work involved dealing and making a few observations on planning applications on behalf of clients, not something I used to do regularly in the past, however money is money.  Sticking with planning its been a mixed bag in terms of decisions in the last few weeks, there was one refusal for a village centre development by An Bord Pleanala, which was disappointing, in that it had received the green light for the planning authority and the inspector's report was very favorable towards a number of aspects of the scheme.  We did receive three positive decisions in terms of developments and lodged two planning applications in the last month.  A further planning application is due to be lodged late next week.

The two jobs on site are currently progressing well, both should require site visits next week as stage payments will due to be certified.

Friday 9 April 2010

Building progress

Its week 3 and work is progressing on site nicely at present on this extension.  We did run into a few small problems in that the depth of the excavation of the foundations was deeper than expected. As everything has to be manually moved, it was decided to put a suspended concrete floor in with Conc T-beams rather than taking out all the fill under the floor.

At this tage the block work of this element of the project is complete, with the roofers scheduled to start on Monday.  Next week will see the builders remove the existing garage roof and commence on the first floor extension. It is expected that the majority of the work will be complete within the next 5 weeks.

Friday 19 March 2010

Quick update

Two jobs move on site on Monday...both extensions: one a two bedroom extension to a nursing home, the other an extension and alterations to a dwelling.  The same building contractor will be working on both, which is good, in that he does work to a very high standard, gets the job done right first time and on time and is fair when it comes to the final account.

Both contracts are of 12 week duration, which is short, in the greater scale of the overall project: I started working on the nursing home extension back in 2007, when I did a few sketch proposals, however at that stage the project was put on hold until the recent HIQA standards for nursing homes were published last year. 

As for the extension and alterations to the dwelling, it will have taken  one year to complete the entire project from the first meeting with the client until the time of completion on site. 

Friday 26 February 2010

Technicial Guidance Document F 2009

The latest version of  Technical Guidance Document F 2009 relating to Ventilation was published during the week. The document comes into effect in October year, although if one has applied for planning permission before 30th September 2010 and has the building substantially complete (meaning external walls complete) one can use the 2002 TGD F. The document is more informative to previous documents and provides better guidance in my opinion.

Many will question why bother making a dwelling air-tight when one is required to provide addtional backround ventilation where MVHR is not used. Definately something for another days debate.

Thursday 25 February 2010

New Housing

I recieved the go ahead to prepare a planning applicantion for a small infill  low density residential development today. I had done some sketch designs last year for the site, but the client now wants to proceed with taking it to planning. So its now a case of working up the development to pre-planning stage and talking to the planners, before lodging the application.



Yes I've been nominated for the Irish Blog awards in the "Best Specialist Blog" category. Thanks to those who nominated my blog.

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Work Update

Since Christmas, I've been quiet busy- surprisingly as normally the month of January and February are the quietest.

I've been working on preparing contract documents for a small extension to a nursing home, which is about to start on site shortly.  The contact documents would have been complete ages ago, except the client requested a lift be provided for the existing first floor accommodation. It took 4 design proposals and costed works  before the client finally was satisfied, but we are there now.  We are using the RIAI's Building Contract SF-88 as the Building contract, as this is a simple contact and the scope of works are straight forward. The contact documentation should be going out the the contractor today to be signed. Its the first project we have starting on site since the middle of last year.

We have a second project also moving on site in the comming weeks too. This time an extension to a dwelling, which we tendered in October last year.  The clients too some time to consider their investement in the project after it was tendered, but now its full steam ahead.

Outside of preparing contract documentation, I've spend some time preparing documentation for building insurance claims as a result of burst pipe caused by the recent cold spell, not work usually associated with Architectural Technology Professionals.

I've spent a lot of time working on two major projects, which if either gets the go ahead would mean there would be sufficient work for the next 10-12 months.If both go ahead well then I will be really busy... but I won't be complaining. 

Monday 22 February 2010

CPD (Continuing Professional Development)

As a member of CIAT, I am required to undertake and record a minimum of 35 hours of CPD each year. This year I have had no problem fulfilling my CPD hours; having already attended a number of structured or organised CPD Events; 26.5 hours to be exact so far over 3 events.

Accounting for the other time, can be quiet difficult, in that I spend hours researching things, from reviewing amendments to building regulations, watching U-Tube tutorials to reading books and even trade literature, yet seldom record this time. For example I spent 30 minutes yesterday studying “Standard Letters in Architectural Practice” yet I will most likely forget to note it in my CPD Record, or as I did last week, I spend 1 hour studying two reports on Multi-Foil insulation, yet that too will most properly go unaccounted for. Then there’s all the time associated with my Committee work on the CIAT Centre Committee, which can be counted too.

It’s properly safe to say that I would spend close to 100 hours in the typical year on CPD, yet I don’t account for it all, as often the time taken may be quiet short in researching something.

Why bother with CPD at all, well because nearly everyday, something new comes on stream or something changes, which effects the profession. As a professional having the most up to date knowledge is important, to ensure one executes one’s duties competently. Another reason is to broaden, one’s knowledge base, particularly within the current economic climate, where for many the day to day work type has changed.

Thursday 28 January 2010

Chichen and Egg

As we all know planning authorises are currently cash strapped and properly will be for the foreseeable future and as a result are not able to invest in infrastructure.  Without the infrastructure in place their hands are tied in permitting development, which in itself generates income for the Local Authority through Development Contributions... money that is meant to be used for the maintenance and provision of the said infrastructure.

We recently had a case, where a client wished to undertake a development in a reasonable sized town; from a planning perspective the proposal ticked all the boxes and was looked on favourably by the planners and sorted out many of their problems within the area, however a problem arose when it came to the infrastructure or the lack of capacity within the existing infrastructure. The Local Authority haven't the funding to upgrade the infrastructure, the client can't afford to, nor has access to funding to undertaken the necessary works to increase the capacity of the infrastructure to the required level of the Local Authority. The end result is no planning permission for the client, no contribution towards the upgrade of the infrastructure for the Local Authority meaning neither side wins.

Thursday 14 January 2010

Cottage Refurbishment

During the summer, we were asked to review an existing cottage located within the mountains, with the view to preparing some sketch plans for an extension and the refurbishment of the cottage. The brief required one double ensuire bedroom, a single bedroom, the retention of the origional sitting room, with its open fire and a large open plan  living space. The property was uniquely positioned in that it had spectacular views of the local mountain ranges in all directions, which the client wanted to capture.

We had proposed a contemporary style extension, which was well recieved by the client, unfortunatley the project hasn't proceeded any further to date.

Friday 8 January 2010

Development Land

Looking forward to 2010, I can see more planning applicants for undeveloped zoned land, as landowners try to ring fence zoning, particularly in anticipation of the revised Planning and Development Act/Regulations requiring justification of zoning of land and also NAMA.

During recent discussions, a planner advised that they felt there will be pressure put on to dezone lands not within control of NAMA, with a view to maintaining a higher value of the NAMA controlled lands. How that will work, will be quiet interesting,and I am not sure. I would image that there will be some lands that will end up under the control of NAMA, which are currently unzoned and to recoup some of its value, it will need to be zoned. I understand that there was significant amounts of unzoned land purchased around the country for substantial money by individual business men whom unfortunately now are insolvent.

While developers may be strapped for cash, it will be a case of them or their banks progressing things, and getting planning permission, otherwise they could be looking at, best case, a piece of very expensive farmland with a significant debt attached. Any site with a grant of permission for development on it, will be difficult to justify de-zoning of it, with possibly on exception, lands at high risk of flooding, but that's another days debate.

I also see more objections from local communities to developments or proposed developments on zoned lands, particularly were there is an oversupply of houses or unfinished developments, in fact the tread has already started.

I do expect that planning applications will become more complex for developments and won't be just a case of making an application with just architectural and engineering drawings and reports.

Developers and their agents will need to be innovative with their proposals. Low density serviced sites is one option, particularly in the more rural areas and appears to be acceptable to most planning authorities, in that it also allows a stick for the planning authority to further tighten restrictions on one off housing in the open countryside, as serviced sites become available for the self builder.

Thursday 7 January 2010

twenty ten

I returned back to work on Monday last and if I were to go on the first 2 hours in the office, as a sign of how things are to go for the coming year I’m in for a bad year. Firstly the heating wasn’t working, so you can image how cold the office was with temperatures of -4 C outside… old Georgian houses, aren’t noted for the insulation properties you know… it was a case of wearing my woolly heat for a few hours. To add to this I discovered the email was down and then none of printers were on line so I couldn’t print. I forgot to add that went I called to the local shop to get the local paper, containing two planning application adverts, they were sold out.

However by mid morning everything was sorted and I was back in Business… ok the office was still on the cold side, but temperatures were rising… well inside anyway and the technology was back on line and I had got copies of the local paper. All sorted.:)

Prospects of work for the year ahead were improving too as the day went on. Its looking like 2 projects of significant size (in today’s terms anyway) and budget are going to go ahead :)

Furthermore there’s been a few enquires about potential projects also already this week… OK nothing major, but still every little helps to quote one multinational’s catch phrase.

Yesterday I lodged my first Planning Application of 2010, an extension to the side of a dwelling. It will be interesting to see its reference number and if it will have been the first lodged to the planning authority for 2010, I would be very surprised if it’s outside of the first 3. It will be interesting to see the statistics for the amount of planning applications lodged last year….well done on 2007 and 2008 figures I would image.

Wednesday 6 January 2010

the last 10 years Part 4

So in the last of the review of the decade, I decided to look back on some of what I worked on over the last 10 years. Much of the decade was spent working with developers; Housing Schemes in Clonmel and Cashel mainly, two large Business Parks and a number of mixed used developments. There was a few one off houses and extension also added to the mix along with many reports, various submissions and masterplans.

The early years were pre-occupied with tax relief developments, much of which went nowhere as the sites were quiet challenging with protected structures and flooding issues common resulting in planner’s and developers clashing, and as a result schemes ended up non-viable. A hotel, offices and a multi storey car park on Suir Island one such project.

No such problems in Cashel, problems of a different nature were encountered there. With the exception of one site in Cashel, all the projects I was involved in were taken to An Bord Pleanala by third party appeals and fortunately in each case the decision was upheld by the Board and permission granted. In one scheme of 21 residential units the planning authority granted permission, without requesting further information, a first for me anyway, only to be taken to appeal by a third party, whom delayed the project by 6 months. Another project was delayed so long that ended up shelved.

Developments in Clonmel too, have had their share of objectors too, in one case things went against us, with the Board overturning the decision, which was a shame really, as the scheme would have been quiet attractive, with a high density a “semi-non conventional” layout, where the car and driveway did not dominate. The site was later developed with a scheme of large dwellings of much lower density with no third party objections.... members the not in my backyard brigade

Other work in and around Clonmel, included a 32 residential unit design and build scheme for a voluntary housing association, a builder’s merchant’s outlet again a design and build contract, 3 substantial housing schemes and a few one off houses and a number of extensions and an substantial extension to a Business Park.

Its hard to believe that a decade has gone by since I started working on a Business Park, in Waterford: The development is circa 34,000 sq.m of floor area spread over buildings of various sizes and uses. The Business Pak includes a driver test centre, builders’ merchant’s outlet, a number of, building contractors, and even a secure warehouse. There’s still one building to be developed on the site.

In late 2006/early 2007 I regularly travelled to Wales working with a development company. My role involved preparing sketch designs and briefs for the project architects. I also looked after preparing 3d graphics for some of the prospective clients. The role was different but interesting and I would have liked for it to develop further, however the project received some setbacks with planning, delayed things eventually leading to the project been abandoned.

I’ve detailed the last 12 months in a fair amount of detail in the blog, so I won’t go back over it again.

Tuesday 5 January 2010

the last 10 years Part 3

Technology and software are the tools of the trade.... well actually knowledge is properly more important that both of them. Anyway a lot of development has taken place over the last 10 years. Email and internet were starting to be more widely used back in 2000; as were mobile phones.

However having a camera on a mobile phone was something not too common in 2000 nor was the practice of sending sms messages to clients. Even digital camera’s were not too the plentiful and very expensive and nowhere near as advanced as they are today. It was not until early 2002 before we in the office got our first digital camera as far as I remember. That camera was 1.5 m pixels, most of the camera on today mobile phones are superior. As for computers, they seem to be getting cheaper and more powerful and smaller all the time, its worth noting that mobile phones of today have as much memory as the common PC of 2000.

Of course other technology has become more readily available, things like thermal imaging cameras, blower doors for air tightness use to demonstrate compliance with Part L of the Building Regulations. Costs of that type of equipment, were extremely expensive even by today’s standards. Even survey equipment has advanced, as has GPS. not too many people had the satnav back in 2000 to find a townland or address (some might argue that the satnav isn't of much assistance in Ireland today as it is)

The internet has become an externally important and useful piece of technology, from searching for details of products to obtaining the latest legislation to checking information regarding planning applications. It’s also great for sourcing software, whether looking for software to determine u-values or size a soakway, it can be found on the net, you might have to pay for it but at least you can source it. There’s hardly a day that goes by where I don’t use the internet or lets be honest Google to find some piece of information. In addition the internet has become a tool for exchanging project information through applications like NBS Perspective or Autodesk's Buzzsaw. I expect that if Google Wave develops and becomes popular it will become a key tool in the coming years.

AutoCAD is still big within the industry, with Autodesk bringing out a new release every year.... No doubt to justify its subscription, something which we cannot justify in the current climate. survival is currently more important, than having the latest software. BIM software, is still somewhat in its infancy, in terms of general use here in Ireland and one has to wonder if the effects of the downturn will stunt its growth further. Autodesk’s BIM product has been Revit and in true Autodesk style, it is difficult to get used to. For 2010 I really need to make a better effort to get to grips with it, as it is the future.

However, Autodesk did produce one piece of software, which in my opinion is worthy of praise, in Impression which has been brilliant for jazzing up ordinary drawings quiet quickly. If you’ve been following my blog recently you would have seen my praises of it.

Then there's all the specialist forward used within the industry, specification writing software such as NBS Specification and Scheduler, the vaious engineering design packages and costing packages. All to assist us in our work, or make us lazy maybe?

Sometime around 2005 I can across Sketchup developed by @ Last, who was taken over by Google sometime later. For me sketchup is a great, simple to use, 3D package for developing non photorealistic images/models. It’s also great for assisting in shadow analysis studies. Yes it has limitations, but is definitely one piece of software I would want on my laptop if I were stranded on a deserted island.

Of course we are now in an age of opensoucre software is now fairly common for general use be it word processing presentations etc definitely a good thing.

So what will or can the next 10 years bring?

the last 10 years Part 2

Continuing on with the theme of the Building Control Act and Building Regulations, over the course of the last decade there’s been at least 3 revisions (lost count at this stage) to Part L of the Building Regulations and Technical Guidance Documents. On each occasion the thermal performance requirements of the building beginning improved. The requirements of the earlier amendments were easily accommodated within the existing typical construction methods, by solely using an insulation of higher thermal performance; however it is not as straight forward with the most recent amendment, particularly for walls, where it is necessary to increase the overall wall thickness. In addition Part L now requires provision of renewables within a dwelling, air tightness, and the use of acceptable/accredited details to further assist in the thermal performance of the dwelling and ultimately reduce carbon emissions. The days of achieving an elemental u-value to comply with the regulations are gone as are sun rooms onto the northern side of a dwelling (hopefully). Further revisions and improvements are anticipated in 2010. SEI’s DEAP software, used to determine the BER for a dwelling is also used to check compliance with the most recent Part L, relating to dwellings.

Keeping with the building regulations and technical guidance documents, Part B and Part M are the only two others which were significantly revised over the course of the last decade, although monor chances to one or two others but a number have gone for public consultation within the last 18 months, including Part M recently. With the BS 5588 suite of Codes of Practice withdrawn in the UK and replaced by BS 9999, one expects that a revised Part B of the Technical Guidance Documents will be on the way in the not too distant future. Hopefully we will see revisions to all Technical Guidance Documents which will eliminate conflicts, as is currently the case.

I’ve just learnt that Part F of the Building Regulations was amended and signed into Law on the 22nd of December, with a revised TGD-F on the way shortly.

In March 2003 the Planning and Development Regulations 2001 which had a significant effect on how planning applications were made came into effect. In those early days of the regulations invalidations were very common, as agents and planning authorities got to grips with the regulations. Almost 7 years later invalidations are still common, currently running at approximately 20%. Thankfully, I haven’t had too many invalidations of late: only one in the last year that I can recall of. One benefit of these regulations for the applicant is that in the majority of cases potential objectors have to make themselves known at planning stage, through submissions, as opposed to appearing out of the woodwork on the last day for lodging an objection to An Bord Pleanala, as commonly used to happen in the past. Part V also came with the regulations, something which is hard to know how successful it is/was, as the affordable element of it is not or has not been very workable( around hear anyway) as there isn’t or never was a significant difference in prices of affordable houses and those on the open market. The regulations made it necessary to both erect a site notice and put a notice in the newspaper; prior to that it was one or the other. Also drawings could be submitted in either a metric or imperial scale, and there wasn’t an adhered to time frame for development plans. Overall things were fairly inconsistent compared to today.

2006 saw revised regulations relating to Construction Health & Safety; putting increased responsibility on the client and designers. Some might argue this should not be the case, however we are where we are. The role of preparing the safety file has moved to the designers (PSDP) from that previously of the constructors (PSCP).If that’s a good or bad thing I’m not so sure.

One piece of legislation, which needs to be mentioned, is SI 666 of 2006 or what brought BERs into begining for the layman. It is one of the most currently hated pieces of legislation by the Architectural Technology profession, ( and others I would image) not for the regulations themselves but how it has ended up. Firstly one has to question how so many non-construction or unqualified professionals ended up as BER Assessors, the answer is of course money and some training providers only interested in making the quick buck. One has to question SEI’s role in administrating the whole thing and why they didn't stick to their guns. I recall looking at the entry requirements and the level of information/knowledge and evidence thereof required by one of the first training providers and thinking to myself I would have difficultly obtaining a place and what’s more completing the course. Yet people with no construction backround have ended up assessors, many not capable of using a scale rule or reading a drawing, which has made a complete joke of the whole thing. As for the costs of BER’s most are done well below cost judging by the rates beginning quoted: one has to question the attention to detail been paid to the preparation of the assessment. I can’t justify becoming an assessor, even though it makes logical sense to become one and offer the service as part of the overall design service... Maybe things might change in 2010.