Ambitious Endeavour

Jessica and Ron Spelton are keen to self-build, but would also like to make some money from the exercise. One way to achieve this, perhaps, would be to buy a larger plot, subdivide it into two or three and then sell on the other segments, possibly having put in services to add value. It’s a great plan, but finding the right site is proving tricky. Could a small paddock owned by some of the couple’s friends, which forms a gap between houses, suit their purpose?

The plot

The land sits just outside a large village. It’s on the junction of two lanes, each with a scatter of detached homes fronting them. It’s flat and there are a few trees on the road boundaries. It’s otherwise free of any obvious impediment to building – except for a small electricity pylon right at the back of the plot and one on the road frontage.

The houses on each side don’t have any significant upper-floor windows overlooking the site. The neighbouring properties’ boundaries comprise a close board fence and an evergreen hedge, both providing a high degree of privacy for their gardens. The site is about 0.2 hectares (roughly half an acre) so would fit the bill for, say, three good sized plots of land.

Planning basics

The key question for Ron and Jessica is whether, as a matter of principle, they could get planning permission for houses on this land. It’s close to a village with a school, shops, pubs and a bus route.

However, it does form quite a prominent gap in the street scene that allows views through to the attractive countryside beyond. There has been quite a bit of new residential development nearby, but closer to the settlement centre and with better pedestrian links.

Here, the relatively narrow lanes have no pavement and they’re not lit – both factors that are sometimes considered significant by local authorities. Ron and Jessica’s investigations thusfar have revealed that the site is outside the village development boundary, set out in a rather ancient (12-years-old) Local Plan (LP). Also, the land is not in any specially- designated area, such as green belt or an area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB). So, does the old LP policy still carry weight and, if so, are there any ways around it?

Planning details

Closer inspection of the LP situation reveals that the council is in the process … Read the rest of article

Plumbing and Period Homes

Mains utilities supplies are relatively new in the grand scheme of things, and the majority of older houses were built without bathrooms, running water or plumbed-in waste. What’s more, warmth was provided via open fires rather than modern boilers and other tech. So any refurbishment is likely to involve making significant upgrades to the plumbing and heating installation.

As modern facilities (and homeowner expectations) developed during the 20th century, washing zones were fitted into spaces that had formerly been used as bedrooms or cupboards, or added via extensions – often rather inconveniently located on the ground floor. Today, upstairs bathrooms are the norm. Most of us are keen on additional showers, ensuite bathrooms and wetroom-style zones, too.

Ally that to the increased size and complexity of kitchens, not to mention near-universal central heating, and it’s easy to say why there’s been a dramatic increase in the amount of plumbing required in homes both new and old. Here’s what you need to consider when approaching this part of your project.

Protecting the building

When you’re dealing with plumbing issues or new work, you need to think about all the factors that could affect the house. Water leaks have the potential to cause significant damage to a period home and compromise the character that drew you to the property in the first place. For instance, it’s not a good idea to install a new bathroom directly above a space that features fine plaster ceilings or painted decoration.

Similarly, if you’re retrofitting a wet zone, it’s best to choose a room that doesn’t feature important original detailing (such as a fi replace, panelling or intricate plasterwork) unless you’re sure these can be kept undisturbed by the works. In particular, think about how you’re going to route all the associated pipework for a practical result that minimises physical and visual damage to the character of your house.

You may be aware that listed building consent (LBC) can be required for internal works on listed properties. You shouldn’t need specific permission if you’re simply replacing the fittings and/or refurbishing an existing kitchen or bathroom.

However, if you’re integrating a new bathroom, increasing the size of either of these rooms or carrying out any structural work, you will need LBC. Installation and renewal of pipework and the associated plant (tanks, pumps, boilers etc) is more of a grey area and will generally depend on the degree … Read the rest of article

How To Get Value For Money: On Yourself Build

Understanding the reality of what it costs to build your own home is vital if you’re to enjoy a successful project. For a few lucky people, money is not much of an obstacle and they can indulge their every whim on spectacular design, top-quality materials and every technological innovation under the sun.

I don’t meet too many of them, though. Setting a budget and sticking to it is essential if you’re to achieve the house you want at a price you can afford. In truth, most aspiring self-builders I speak to have limited funds – and they’re likely to be asking a lot of the cash they do have. Sometimes too much, in fact. Here are a few of the steps you can take to keep your spending on track.

Build cost basics

The most common question I get asked in this game is “how much does it cost to self build a new house?” Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to answer with any accuracy.

Recently I’ve taken to replying with another question: “what does it cost to buy a new car?” The reason for this is that the variables are similar. You can buy a basic car for under £8,000 but it won’t be much to write home about. Similarly, you can build a small house using budget materials for under £1,000 per m 2 but you’re not likely to see Kevin McCloud knocking on the door any time soon.

The Dows were able to bring in their 174m 2 modern self build for a hugely impressive £910 per m 2 (£158,416) albeit at a cost in terms of time – the project took over two-and-a-half years to complete

It is a fact that if you want all the bells and whistles on either, it’s going to cost considerably more to buy or build. So you need to decide which parts of your project are essential and which elements are nice to have. The cost of constructing your new home will increase in proportion to the amount of risk that you are happy to pass on to others. For this reason, the cheapest route is to do as much of the work yourself as you possibly can.

But only 7% of projects are completed in the literal sense of self- build – largely because most of us don’t have the time or the skills to undertake things on a truly … Read the rest of article

Insulating a new masonry home

Although there is a great deal of current debate about Building Regulations not changing fast enough to keep up with modern efficiency demands, the rules regarding external wall insulation are an exception. Gone are the days of simply picking an outer brick and an inner block and adding in some arbitrary cavity insulation; today, the process is a fine (and very calculated) art.

Cavity wall principles

Having two layers of brickwork with a space between them is known as cavity wall construction. This method was first introduced in the early 20th century as a way to provide better protection against penetrative damp and to help keep the inside of walls dry, so you can keep your funiture like your wooden shelf or best rated mattress dried without worrying them getting wet.

Dense concrete blocks started to be used for inner cavity layers after the Second World War, with lighter weight blocks (with air insulation) introduced in the 1960s and 1970s. A decade later and insulation started to be introduced into the cavities.

This diagram by Kingspan (www. shows how the Kooltherm K108 Cavity Board fits into the external wall system, needing only a 10mm gap

Today, thermal (air-concrete) blocks are made from pulverised fuel ash (PFA) and sand, plus a cementitious binder (lime/cement) and raising agent, which allows the mix to rise in its mould. They are lightweight and easy-to-handle, plus there’s minimal conductivity (which makes them relatively good insulators). Different thicknesses and strengths can be produced.

Rockwool external cavity wall insulation is made from volcanic rock. Stone wool insulation is a naturally renewable material with exceptional thermal, acoustic and fire resistance properties (www.

Increasing strength usually also ups the density, which reduces conductivity (so it’s less insulating, but offers better thermal mass). Good performance can be achieved with all these blocks; it’s about choosing the right overall wall makeup. Achieving the threshold U-value of 0.30 W/m 2 K is straightforward. Most big developers would do this with 300mm-thick walls, consisting of a 100mm external facing brick, a 100mm internal thermal block and a choice of insulations in the cavity gap.

This sits comfortably on a 600mm foundation (with 150mm safety margin on either side). In practice, you’ll want better U-values, which means you’ll need to increase the insulation thickness and/or opt for a more substantial internal block skin.

Alternatively, using a specialist insulation known as Cavity … Read the rest of article

Wrong side of the river ( part 2)

There’s also the pollution. “Every bit of dirt that we have to take off the site and throw away is expensive, because it’s contaminated with metals and other things,” says the environmental scientist Justin Reel of RK&K, who leads mitigation and hydrological planning for the project. “But for the low-level type of human interaction we’re proposing, with a fairly thin cover we can use it on the site effectively. If you don’t have frequent, regular, intended exposure, these contaminants aren’t super bad. Where we do anticipate frequent soil contact, like our upland islands, we are planning for a cover over top of any native soil.”

South Wilmington Wetland Park Master Plan

 A single strategy

But resolving the polluted soil problem will be complex. “It’s one thing to clean up an area for humans. But if you’re bringing burrowing animals in, or shellfish,” a more stringent standard might be required, says Marian Young, the president of the remediation consultancy BrightFields. Scarfone quips, “For the amount of remediation we need, all the earthworms in the world aren’t going to be able to do.” Normally, he says, “for projects like this, you cap it. But here, we want to re-create a functioning system.”

This spring, the future park was cleared of dense Phragmites. The resulting open, savanna-like vista gave a delightful hint of how it might eventually look—or feel, anyway, because it has yet to be sculpted and engineered.

Industrial detritus and invasive vegetation have occupied the site until now.

Added water storage capacity and created habitats that can resist recruitment of invasives like Phragmites will both be achieved with a single strategy, lowering the site to alter the hydrology and establish “a different water regime than we have right now, which is very irregular and storm driven,” Reel says.

When there is a flush of stormwater from the residential neighborhood, it will collect in a forebay, to let sediment settle, and then will cross the site through a winding network of channels and ponds. These eventually converge on a short, straight connection from the park to the river that is partly open ditch and partly pipe.

At the river, the flow, as it is currently, will be controlled by a self-regulating tidegate. An open flow to the Christina and its tides was considered. That would promote the wetland’s naturalization and its connection to fisheries. But properties surrounding and contiguous to the … Read the rest of article

Wrong side of the river ( part 1)

The Christina River is a tributary of the mighty Delaware estuary, close enough to the ocean that it is tidal. It meanders through Wilmington like a wobbly M. Most of the city sits on the north shore. As long as anybody can remember, the lowerlying south side has experienced periodic inundation; 90 percent of it is within the 100-year floodplain. The first European settlers, being Dutch, were undaunted.

They built dikes and ditches there, and grew salt hay for fodder. Iron mills, coal yards, tanneries, and other nastiness arrived on the south shore throughout the 19th century and into the 20th, mostly located along the river’s edge. Mean-while, in the marshy center of the M, according to an 1893 newspaper item, there were eight or 10 “flower farms,” the largest named Rushland Gardens.

RANDALL’S ISLAND The trestle beneath Hell Gate Bridge on New York’s Randall’s Island,

A street grid was platted for this whole river-bound southern piece of Wilmington, but only a sliver of it, a neighborhood called Southbridge, was ever developed. In 1900, when the city’s total population was nearly 77,000, about 3,000 people lived south of the Christina.

Many were recent immigrants, and some were African Americans with deep local roots; the first independent black Christian church in the United States, the Union Church of Africans, had been founded there by a former slave in 1813.

Today, industry in South Wilmington appears to consist largely of auto junkyards and storage lots for disused trailers and shipping containers.

High tides and a clogged sewer overflow system frequently combine to flood Wilmington’s low-lying Southbridge neighborhood.

Recently there’s been some growth—a shopping center with a supermarket, and a waterfront town house and apartment-tower complex built along the northwestern edge, facing over the Christina to downtown and the city’s thriving Riverfront redevelopment district.

Half a mile east, though, across the wetland, Southbridge feels like an isolated village. Its population has dwindled to about 1,500, nearly all of whom are African American. But it’s a place with a certain integrity. Many families have lived there for generations.

Nearly half the homes are owner occupied. There is an active and effective neighborhood association. Still, it floods. Now there is a plan to transform the marshy center into South Wilmington Wetlands Park. It’s not exactly a new proposal. A 2006 neighborhood plan offered a description that still applies: “Create a Central Park located … Read the rest of article

New Protocols Will Ensure The Genetic Diversity Of Threatened Trees

In what may be one of the largest tree conservation efforts in recent history, a team of environmental scientists from nine botanic gardens, arboretums, and environmental conservation agencies, as well as international collaborators in the Dominican Republic and Belize, is working to preserve and increase the genetic diversity of the country’s living tree collections. Launched in October 2016, the ambitious, three-year project is a form of insurance for endangered species.

Maintain the genetic diversity

Sinkhole cycad (Zamia decumbens) grows at the bottom of a sinkhole in Belize.

“Zoos often have to exchange animals to maintain good genetic diversity across the population. Gardens are just starting to realize they have to manage plant collections in the same way,” says Patrick Griffith, the executive director of the Montgomery Botanical Center in Coral Gables, Florida, who is leading the effort. “We want to know what is the right number of plants to grow in botanic gardens if you want to maintain the genetic diversity of these plant populations.

With support from a $439,000 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, researchers are collecting and analyzing DNA samples of endangered or threatened woody plants across a broad phylogenetic spectrum, including oaks, magnolias, palms, cycads, and Hawaiian alula (Brighamia insignis).

A team collects DNA samples from a remote stand of Cacheo de Oviedo (Pseudophoenix ekmanii) in the Dominican Republic.

From Puerto Rican forests where magnolias are routinely poached to eroding Hawaiian cliffsides only accessible by helicopter, a total of 1,600  specimens will be collected in the wild, says Sean Hoban, a conservation biologist at the Morton Arboretum outside Chicago, who is involved in the study. These will be compared with samples from curated living collections to determine the number of species that botanic gardens need to maintain, individually and collectively, to capture the full range of a species’s diversity.

Many of the trees being studied, such as the buccaneer palm, are attractive, charismatic species whose ornamental value has contributed to their threatened or endangered status, Griffith says. “Many of these wild plants were dug up and used in landscaping throughout the Caribbean.

When you pull these plants out of the wild and grow them in isolated locations, you don’t contribute to reproductive populations,” he says. Even popular house plants such as the alula can have high conservation value because they are so genetically similar, often grown through trade cuttings and clones, … Read the rest of article

In Britain, Anglo-saxon Place-names Hold Hydrological Clues

One of the joys of travel, even of armchair travel, is the discovery of euphonious place-names. I’ve driven through both Humptulips, on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, and Quonochontaug, in Rhode Island, and in both cases, these names, which I find flow off the tongue, flow in another way, too. Each describes the place’s hydrological characteristics.

Humptulips, in the tongue of the Chehalis Tribe, tells that it is “hard to pole” a canoe through the river, which follows a convoluted course that includes fast, narrow torrents. Quonochontaug (Narragansett for “at the long pond”) is along a string of broad, placid coastal lagoons.

View towards the ruined St James Church at Bawsey (geograph 4255210).jpg
Source: Wikipedia

The guide that indigenous names can provide to landscape qualities and to human interactions with landscape may be followed any-where such names have not been erased by the conquest of colonialism. This is no less true in Britain, where four universities—Leicester, Southampton, Nottingham, and Wales—have joined forces under a grant from the Leverhulme Trust for a two-year study of place-names called “Flood and Flow.”

In Britain, an extra dimension to the record of place-names provides a set of clues to how particular land-scapes might respond to global warming in the near future. In the period between 700 and 1000 AD, temperatures in the British Isles rose rapidly after a cold phase that began in 400 AD.

Modern map holds a hydrographic key

Extreme weather and an abundance of precipitation in this time is a historic parallel to our present-day situation, and thus the Anglo-Saxon names have once again become meaningfully descriptive of their sites. Not only is this helpful, but a great many of Britain’s present place-names were devised in precisely this period. Though few written records remain from this time, even a modern map holds a hydrographic key to possible futures that have been written in the past.

Some of these names have particular poignancy. Muchelney, in the Somerset Levels, was cut off during the extreme winter floods in 2013–2014. Muchelney means “big island.” Communities along the River Swale in Yorkshire have increasingly frequent opportunities to find out that its name derives from Old English swalwe, meaning “gush of water.” The River Trent, meanwhile, is “the trespasser.” Richard Jones at the University of Leicester is the principal investigator for “Flood and Flow” and a specialist in medieval landscapes.

File:All Saints, Alrewas.jpg
Source : Wikipedia

He published the paper “Responding to Modern Flooding: Old English Place-Names as a Repository of … Read the rest of article

Minneapolis Pilots A More Equitable Way To Fund Park Improvements

With its chain of lakes and acres of open space, Minneapolis has a nationally lauded park system. But as of 2015, its smaller neighborhood parks faced a capital investment backlog of more than $100 million, a shortfall that translated to aging structures, walkways full of potholes, and soccer fields that had been ground into mud.

A closed tennis court in Folwell Park.

Vina Kay, the executive director of the Minnesota-based advocacy organization Voices for Racial Justice, says one can see an ugly pattern in which parks are in the worst shape. “If you were to go on a visual tour, you would see that some parks are more run-down than others and that those parks are most often in low-income communities of color,” Kay says.  In response, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board recently developed what its members hope is a more equitable system of park priorities.

Residents feel comfortable

Last year, a team of landscape architects, planners, and data analysts, among others, spent months wading through census numbers and neighborhood-scale maps to get a detailed view of where better parks were most needed.

A playground in Folwell Park, one of the largest parks in North Minneapolis.

They crafted a funding formula based on a scoring system that weighs a number of factors, including safety and life span of equipment, neighborhood crime rates—an indicator of whether residents feel comfortable even going to their local park—and demographics, particularly whether a park is located in a racially concentrated area of poverty.

Adam Regn Arvidson, FASLA, the park board’s director of strategic planning, participated in the working group. He says the demographic criteria were driven by outreach and codified by a city ordinance agreeing to boost neighborhood park funding by $11 million annually over 20 years. “The one thing we heard from the community loud and clear was that almost everyone would support additional funding, but they wanted to make sure that the funding we got didn’t continue to perpetuate racial and economic disparities,” he says.

The group determined that neighborhoods where 40 percent or more of the population had a family income of less than 185 percent of the federal poverty threshold—and where 50 percent or more of residents were people of color—would receive the highest score in that category, thus bumping up their funding priority.

A bench in Fairview Park, also in North Minneapolis.

Many of … Read the rest of article

Oklahoma City Is Replicating Its Greener, More Walkable Streetscapes

Nine years after Prevention magazine named Oklahoma City the least walkable city in the United States, the city’s downtown core has been wholly remade, with a redesign of its streetscapes and two major park projects completed or in the works.

Today, the downtown has a Walk Score of 74, rivaling Seattle and Washington, D.C. “It’s incredible, the amount of private businesses and urban housing that’s come in. It’s a vibrant, bustling downtown, which is amazing,” says Scott Howard, ASLA, one of two principals at Howard-Fairbairn Site Design. The firm has worked alongside larger international firms to help guide the transformation.

The city planted more than 2,500 street trees downtown.


Oklahoma City’s transformation

Oklahoma City’s transformation is unusual for how swiftly it has been realized. In the past five years, an elevated highway has been replaced by a street-level boulevard, a 70-acre central park has been planned, and streets in the central business district—eight linear miles in total —have been rebuilt, from building face to building face, with a focus on pedestrians, bicyclists, and improved traffic flow. at Howard-Fairbairn Site Design. The firm has worked alongside larger international firms to help guide the transformation.

Streets in downtown Oklahoma City have been rebuilt as a part of Project 180.

Oklahoma City’s transformation is unusual for how swiftly it has been realized. In the past five years, an elevated highway has been replaced by a street-level boulevard, a 70-acre central park has been planned, and streets in the central business district—eight linear miles in total —have been rebuilt, from building face to building face, with a focus on pedestrians, bicyclists, and improved traffic flow. downtown and fronted the city nearly $100 million for the streetscape project. Jereck Boss, ASLA, a principal at OJB, says the funds allowed the team to build momentum quickly.

Design details include custom manhole covers that depict the city grid.

“We wanted to make an announcement, break ground, and build that first street as quickly as we possibly could so that the community could see that this was really going to happen,” Boss says. (OJB renovated the city’s Myriad Botanical Gardens during the same period.) OJB’s palette has been incorporated into nearly every project that has followed, including the boulevard—set to open next year—that replaced Interstate 40. “That framework of design, because it’s been so well received, is sort of splintering off in other areas,” … Read the rest of article