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Existing tower block flats are often of a robust construction and spatially generous by modern standards. During the refurbishment process it is important to consider how the layout and finishes of the flat might be adapted to create a more comfortable, flexible and accessible living environment that can meet the changing needs of the residents.
Often basic modifications to the existing flat layout can greatly improve access for people with disabilities such as wheelchair users. Where the size or arrangement of the flats is no longer appropriate, a more substantial re-organisation could be considered, perhaps looking at new ways of combining or dividing flats across the floor plan or even between floors.
Modifying the layout of the flats can also have environmental benefits, for example by improving solar orientation or providing additional amenity spaces such as balconies or gardens. Converting the residential units on the lower floors of the tower to other uses, such as community or commercial spaces, can make a positive use of flats that are often unpopular with residents.
The careful selection of finishes with an appropriate performance in terms of durability, acoustics, thermal mass and environmental impact, can also substantially improve the quality of the living space.

 

REFURBISHMENT OPTIONS

 Basic

Add acoustical insulation

Replace floor finishes

Good

Provide space for storage and drying

Create Live-Work Units

Create space for a balcony

 Exemplary

Create space for a garden

Change layout to increase solar gains

Create space for a garden

 

Lack of private garden amenity spaces can be a factor that reduces the attraction of tower blocks. Providing a garden with soil to as many homes as possible within the tower can contribute to improving the image of the block, increase biodiversity and reduce food miles by opening up the possibility of domestic food production. Large private outdoor garden spaces may make flats more attractive to families with children. 

 

Providing raised planting boxes is a flexible and space efficient solution to providing areas for cultivation that are also more accessible to the elderly and people with disabilities. Consider the collection and distribution of rainwater to provide a water efficient irrigation system for the gardens and incorporating planting areas into conservatory spaces to extend the growing season.

 

Garden spaces could be created in the following ways:

 

·        Adding garden spaces on the front of the flats in the form of enlarged balconies or conservatories

·        Opening up entire floors, or sections of floors, as a series of elevated private allotments available for use by residents

·        Convert areas of more generous flats, for example re-planned or duplex units, into large set-back gardens

 

Where garden spaces are to be used for cultivation, it is particularly important that they have good solar-orientation and appropriate wind protection.

 

Other considerations

 

Choosing garden system

Key issues in choosing any garden planting system are the depth of the proposed growing medium and the weight of the system. Confirm at an early stage that the proposed arrangement of garden spaces, with the additional loads they will impose on the structure, can be accommodated. All systems will consist of 3 main layers, a growing medium, a drainage layer and a water proofing membrane that must be able to resist root penetration.

 

  Source: Ash Sakula

Benefits

  • Well designed community facilities can encourage outdoor recreation and sport

  • Increasing activity outside the tower can improve natural surveillance and security

Typical Cost

□  n/a

Funding opportunities:

□  n/a

Also see:

□  Landscape & microclimate

More information:

□   n/a

Suppliers:

□ 

To register as a supplier click here...

 

 

Create space for a balcony   

 

When living off the ground a well-designed external balcony space can be an invaluable resource and help to compensate for the lack of a garden. A conservatory can have advantages over a balcony by offering additional weather protection and the possibility of benefiting from passive solar gains.

 

If balconies are badly designed they can end up being neglected, used to dump rubbish and cause maintenance difficulties. Some tower blocks were designed without balconies and as a result of a desire to reduce costs, eliminate cold-bridging problems and nuisance from pigeons existing balconies are often enclosed when towers are refurbished.

 

Creating or improving balcony areas can help to capitalise on views from the tower, encourage natural surveillance and act as an architectural device to enliven monotonous facades. Balconies are also useful amenity areas providing space for relaxing, socialising, growing plants, drying clothes and carrying out messy household tasks. Personalisation of the balcony areas by residents, such as a choice of a unique colour, could help to humanise and reduce the visual scale of the building.

 

Flexible solutions

Consultation with residents is vital as opinions on the balcony areas can vary widely. While some people will use them regularly and feel they are an integral part of their enjoyment of tower block living, others may see them as a waste of space and a health hazard, particularly when there is a problem with pigeons. Where there are a variety of opinions consider designing a flexible solution that can be easily adapted to different residents needs at the time of the refurbishment and in the future.

 

There are three main approaches to creating balconies and conservatories spaces:

·        Open up the facade

·        Set-back the facade

·        Add-on structures

 

Open up the façade: Enabling residents to open up large areas of the façade with sliding or folding shutters could be a flexible and cost effective way of creating a connection to the outside with many of the benefits of projecting balconies. Increasing the overall window area and giving the adjoining living space a different quality from the rest of the room could also emphasise the connection with the outside.

 

Set-back the façade: Where living spaces are currently generous in size then explore the possibility of creating an external balcony area by setting all, or a portion of, the external façade back into the room. This new wall could have a high level of transparency bringing in light and views and with the addition of a second outer glazed screen, a conservatory space could be created. The set-back can provide solar shading and weather protection to the balcony. The potential disruption to the interior layout and decoration of the flat must be taken into account when considering this option.

 

Add-on structures: Add-on structures, such as new projecting balconies or conservatory enclosures, have the advantage that they can add amenity space to the tower while limiting disturbance to residents in occupation. Whether they are new independent structures or supported off the existing tower, they can be used as an effective device to transform the appearance of the block. Explore the potential of architecturally integrated solar shading devices, shutters or screens to provide privacy, weather and pigeon protection. Consider extending add-on balcony or conservatory spaces out beyond the corner of the tower to improve views and access to light. 

 

Other considerations

 

Balconies on lower floors:

Balconies on the lower floors, and particularly those at ground level, can present security problems so alternative solutions should be explored. Consider fully enclosing the balcony areas and installing securable windows or adding a protective outer screen in combination with defensive planting.

 

Homes are fitted with photovoltaic (PV) solar panels

Benefits

  • Adds valuable amenity space to flats and improves quality of life for residents

  • Enhances the visual appearance of the tower

  • Encourages natural surveillance

  • Conservatory spaces can provide thermal buffer zones with the potential to reduce energy costs

Typical Cost

□  Bolt on balcony made of galvanized steel structure say 2m x 1m x 600mm high: £1000

Assuming existing structure can take the extra weight and no treatment to existing structure is required

 

Funding opportunities:

□  n/a

Also see:

□  Enclose balconies

More information:

□  n/a

Suppliers:

□ Solway Steel Fabrication

To register as a supplier click here...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

       

 

 

 

Create Live-Work Units

 

More and more people are running their own businesses and working from their homes. This can have many advantages in terms of cutting traffic congestion etc. It can also be very relevant to tower blocks in urban centres, since the home workplace may be very convenient for access to other facilities and businesses. Providing live-work spaces can encourage professionals to live in tower blocks and help bring about the change in image that is needed. It may have positive (albeit limited) impacts on the local economy.

 

Given changes in family size it may also be the case that larger tower block flats are less in demand, especially in those blocks which do not house families with children. These can in some cases usefully be converted into live-work units and this should be carefully considered as an option.

 

What needs to be done

 

Firstly it needs to be clear which flats are to be changed. Ease of access will be important, so it may be most appropriate to consider three or four lower floors for this purpose.

 

The level of conversion will depend partly on how many flats are to be used in this way and their current condition. One key aspect will be wiring for IT. If all the flats are fully wired for broadband internet access this can attract certain types of business and show that the landlord is committed to this approach. This could be the basis for better internet access for the whole block, something that is an inevitable part of life in the near future.

 

Security is likely to be an issue. High quality security in the block will be important if people are to invest in such units. Extra security measures for the relevant floors may also be desirable, but these should not be too overt.

 

Other considerations

 

It will also be important to be sure that there is the demand for such spaces. The owner / landlord will need to carry out research and survey work, and also be aware of any financial implications.

 

Benefits

  • Adds valuable amenity space to flats and improves quality of life for residents

  • Enhances the visual appearance of the tower

  • Encourages natural surveillance

  • Conservatory spaces can provide thermal buffer zones with the potential to reduce energy costs

Typical Cost

□  n/a

Funding opportunities:

□  n/a

Also see:

□ 

More information:

□  City Scope

□  Liveworknet

Suppliers:

□ n/a

To register as a supplier click here...

 

Change layout to ensure that all flats receive solar gains

 

In theory tower blocks should be less constrained than low-rise housing in achieving good access to sunlight and solar gains, as their form is not limited by existing street patterns or site topography.

 

In practice many existing residential tower block were designed with little attention being given to solar orientation in the form of the building, or the plan arrangements of the individual dwellings. Standard flat layouts were often arrayed around the block, resulting in some flats where windows face predominately north and receive very little direct sunlight, and others with windows facing south or west with associated high solar gains in summer and potential glare problems in winter.

 

Consider re-planning the flats so the functions of individual spaces have a better relationship with their solar orientation. For example:

·       Try and avoid living spaces having a single northerly aspect

·        Make new openings in the façade so that spaces receive light from more than one direction

·        Re-orientate bedrooms eastwards to catch the morning sun or dining spaces westwards to catch the evening sun

·        Bathrooms and storage areas could face north or even be internal as they are infrequently used

 

Opportunities can be limited to extensively re-plan the flats, especially in blocks with a slab construction where circulation areas are fixed. Investigate the possibility of splitting flats vertically to create scissor arrangements that extend the available solar aspects for each dwelling.

 

Other considerations

 

Increase window sizes

Window openings in existing towers can be small by contemporary standards or obstructed by balconies, restricting potential for daylighting and solar gains. Consider increasing the height and width of windows in the façade in relation to their orientation and the function of the room they serve.

 

Solar Control

Tower blocks often have an unobstructed view of the skyline, which offers good potential for passive solar gains, but can also result in glare problems in winter due to the low sun angle. It may be desirable to introduce solar control measures onto facades to reduce glare and overheating problems.

 

Tumble driers are very energy intensive and drying clothes within the flat can release as much as 5 litres of moisture that may lead to condensation problems in winter, especially where flats are un-insulated or there are problems with cold bridging. To reduce the condensation risk in the flat it is important that an interior space intended for clothes drying is well ventilated – particularly if tumble driers are installed.

 

Drying facilities could be provided for the flats with appropriately sized external balcony areas or well ventilated drying cupboards. If drying cupboards within the flat are proposed then they should have adequate storage capacity and the potential to make use of waste heat generated from other appliances such as flues, hot water storage systems, refrigerators, hot water pipes and heat pumps should be considered.

 

Benefits

  • Controlled passive solar gains can help to reduce heating costs

  • Improved solar orientation can increase levels of natural day-lighting in the flats, reducing lighting costs and improving the quality of life for residents

Typical Cost

□  This should be a core cost as part of any refurbishment i.e., £500-£600/m2 refurbishment cost.

 

Funding opportunities:

□  n/a

Also see:

□  Facade

More information:

□  n/a

Suppliers:

□ n/a

To register as a supplier click here...

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Provide space for storage and drying

 

Facilities for storage and drying were often originally located off the communal circulation areas inside the tower or outside in separate buildings. As a result of poor maintenance and security problems these original facilities are often no longer in use which creates a need for alternative storage and drying spaces.

 

Secure Storage

A lack of secure storage space is a problem for many tower block residents. Existing external and ground floor storage spaces have often not been adequately maintained, or have been removed, as they create spaces that are difficult to supervise and attract anti-social behaviour. Lack of storage space within the flats can force people to leave items out on balcony areas, which can be unsightly and reduce amenity space, or out in the lobby areas that can present a fire risk.

 

Converting unused space in the flats into storage, for example redundant service cupboards or risers, or dedicating entire floors as secure storage areas that are well supervised by a concierge or CCTV, could be ways to increase the storage available to residents.

 

Drying Areas

Many towers originally had communal drying areas on each floor, but these are now largely unused as a result of a fear of theft and increasing expectations of privacy. If the flats do not have balcony areas, or it is proposed to enclose the existing balconies, then this can further limit the potential space for drying clothes.

 

Tumble driers are very energy intensive and drying clothes within the flat can release as much as 5 litres of moisture that may lead to condensation problems in winter, especially where flats are un-insulated or there are problems with cold bridging. To reduce the condensation risk in the flat it is important that an interior space intended for clothes drying is well ventilated – particularly if tumble driers are installed.

 

Drying facilities could be provided for the flats with appropriately sized external balcony areas or well ventilated drying cupboards. If drying cupboards within the flat are proposed then they should have adequate storage capacity and the potential to make use of waste heat generated from other appliances such as flues, hot water storage systems, refrigerators, hot water pipes and heat pumps should be considered.

 

Benefits

  • New secure storage areas can limit opportunities for crime and reduce management costs

  • Providing effective drying areas can reduce condensation problems and energy costs

Typical Cost

□  n/a

Funding opportunities:

□  n/a

Also see:

□  Electrical

More information:

□  Theme: Flooring, A.J. focus December 2001

□  Healthy Flooring Network

Suppliers:

□  www.constructionresources.com

To register as a supplier click here...

 

 

 

 

 

 

Replace floor finishes

 

Whiles considering a major refurbishment of the flats in a tower block, it is important to check the condition and appropriateness of the floor finish in the flats and common areas. The broad terms there are two main options i.e., soft and hard finishes.

 

The appropriate choice will depend on the following four issues:

  • Type of residents

  • Type of heating system

  • Acoustics requirements

Residents type:

Soft finishes such as, carpets, are generally the first choice for elderly residents as they offer greater comfort and in some areas can create a ‘warm’ atmosphere. They are also appropriate as they provide ‘very good’ slip resistance when dry and ‘good’ slip resistance when wet.

 

Young people and Families with Children, however, tend to prefer hard flooring as they are easier to maintain and have low dirt retention.

 

Heating system:

Heating systems such as underfloor heating work better with hard finishes as they are able to radiate heat more efficiently.  Carpets also reduce the effectiveness of thermal mass of the concrete floor slab, thus reducing thermal stability in the flats.

 

Sound absorption

Carpets also provide high sound absorption and elimination of noise from footsteps. Typically they reduces ambient and high-frequency noise by as much as 25% – 40% compared to hard surfaces.
 

Other Considerations:

 

Indoor environmental quality

Certain floor finishes such as synthetic carpets, particularly their backing materials and vinyl [PVC] flooring release Indoor air pollution such as, volatile organic compounds [VOCs] and chlorinated paraffins.  VOCs are associate to cause 'Sick building Syndrome' and health problems such as, Allergy, Asthma.

 

Nylon Carpet with PVC underlay should be avoided along with vinyl flooring. Options such as timber flooring, linoleum for hard surfacing and Wool or Coir carpets with natural underlay must be considered.

 

Benefits

  • Improved health and wellbeing

  • Better thermal performance

  • Improve living conditions and standards [i.e., meet Decent Home standard]

Embodied Carbon dioxide emissions per m2

Typical Cost

□  Laminate timber flooring with deadening quit: £35-55/;m2

□  Linoleum flooring with 3mm Latex

□  Carpet with underlay

 

Funding opportunities:

□  Decent Home Scheme

Also see:

□  n/a

More information:

□  Theme: Flooring, A.J. focus December 2001

□  Healthy Flooring Network

Suppliers:

□  www.constructionresources.com

To register as a supplier click here...

 

Add acoustical Insulation

 

In any sort of dense residential situation adequate acoustical infiltration requires to be minimised in order to achieve a decent quality of daily life. Constant noise irritation can be disturbing and work on the sub-conscious.


Structural noise is more difficult to reduce.


Walls: a false wall could be built by dry lining with one or two layers of acoustic plasterboard onto battens and filling the gap with acoustic quilt insulation. The plasterboard could be even more effective with a skim coat of plaster.


Floors and ceilings: Vertical noise may be prevented with false floors or ceilings. These should be as disconnected from the adjacent surface as possible. The new suspended ceiling should have a 50mm air gap between the floor above and the insulation below. A thick (100mm) layer of sound insulation, packed tight with no gaps, of two 50mm layers at right angles should be put in. All gaps around the edges of the room should be sealed with a sound-insulating mastic sealant.

Sound can also be absorbed by soft furnishings such as drapes and sofas. Carpets are better than a hard wood floor.
 


Other considerations


Condensation

When trying to block airborne noise by sealing doors and windows, careful consideration must be given to condensation problems that arise out of lack of ventilation. Appropriate ventilation strategies like mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and filters could be incorporated.


Ground floor
Residents living on the ground floor should ideally be moved to a higher floor and the ground floor could be used for non-residential purposes such as recreational or community meeting spaces.

 

thermal acoustical cotton insulation

Benefits

Typical Cost

□  Noise insulation: £73/m2

 -Assuming 2 layers of plasterboard (25mm thick) on timber batten; line with sheep wool insulation 60mm thick; including plaster and paint

 

Funding opportunities:

□  Noise Insulation Grant Scheme

Also see:

□  Noise pollution

More information:

□  Health and safely executive

Suppliers:

□ www.isover.com

To register as a supplier click here...

Project partners:           | Price Myers: Sustainability |Battle McCarthy | Architype | STBI | Franklin Andrews |            

           

Copyright 2004  Price & Myers Sustainability                                 last updated: 11/25/11

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