Designing comfortable homes: The discreet features that get overlooked

Designing comfortable homes: The discreet features that get overlooked

It’s natural for homeowners to focus on what they want their home to look like; the photos in brochures and magazines make it easy to imagine what the living experience would be. But those images don’t present the full picture. Creating a space where you can hear a dinner conversation in a new extension and not hear the cars outside takes planning, as does ensuring a home is a comfortable temperature and well-ventilated without draughts.  The problem is that the features required to make a comfortable home don’t have the same wow factor as, say, a designer kitchen, so often get overlooked.


Creating peaceful city homes

One of the reasons why people choose to live in cities is because of the easy access to buses, tubes, trains and airports. A downside is the noise and vibration from traffic and transport. But there are ways to create a more peaceful city home.

For example, a client of ours has a detached Victorian house on a main road in West London which is on a bus route. There were obvious interventions to make to the property, such as installing soundproof windows or acoustic glazing to shut out the noise but, in addition, we worked with an acoustic consultant to look at ways of isolating the vibrations through the joists, walls and ceilings from the passing buses. The joists were stiffened, and resilient layers were added to the ceilings. To isolate the vibration in the walls, we used resilient hangers.

As a further measure, a metre-deep trench is being dug in the front garden, which will be filled with compressible polystyrene foam. This acts as an additional resilient barrier and stops the vibrations from the road in the front garden, so they don’t travel through the foundations into the house.

This wasn’t an option for another of our projects where the house was situated above the platform on the London District Line. There was a significant rumble as tube trains passed through the station. It was accepted that the house’s masonry would vibrate, but we looked at ways to minimise this: we created an acoustic isolating inner skin using a sacrificial concrete slab on the ground floor. Then on top, we added another concrete slab on sound isolating pads. All the walls and ceilings were lined out from the structures with resilient bars to isolate the vibration.

Minimising the echo from hard surfaces

Many people like the look of contemporary finishes in the home, such as concrete, tiled or wooden floors. Using a large proportion of glass is a popular option for extensions and basements to receive plenty of natural light and achieve uninterrupted views.

While these materials create beautiful and desirable homes, sound bounces off hard surfaces creating an echo that makes conversations difficult to hear and distorts music from speakers. While it’s easy to get excited about a top-quality sound system, no one will get excited about acoustics-enhancing features and yet, to get the full benefit of the former, you need the latter.

One of our clients wanted to make sure that the new wooden and polished concrete flooring in the extension to their home didn’t impede sound quality, so we installed a sound absorbent ceiling which has a similar sound-dampening effect to carpet.


Ensuring air quality and ventilation

In contemporary homes, the increasing focus is to ensure they are energy efficient and well insulated, but sometimes this can be at the expense of fresh air and ventilation. Air quality and airflow are important for comfort and reduce the risk of dampness and mould.

The standard detail to provide sufficient ventilation under building regulations is trickle vents cut into the fenestration of the building. However, not only are they not particularly attractive, they create a hole in the building fabric which is blocked off during the air tightness test so that the building can pass building regulations. This seems nonsensical. Tickle vents must be open during the operation of the building to provide necessary ventilation. Newly built and refurbished properties should be well insulated and airtight for environmental considerations, but well-ventilated spaces create a much nicer environment to live in. So, to meet building regulations and provide good ventilation, heat recovery ventilation systems should be installed instead of trickle vents. They also filter out particulates which are particularly present in city air.

At Hale, we believe that the enjoyment from a completed project is about living in it. Whilst ‘Instagrammable’ features are all well and good and add to the living environment, there are a number of mundane, unglamorous interventions that should be considered at the start of the project so that a home feels just as good to live in as it looks.


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