Paul White, director of the redevelopment of St Luke’s Church – the former Three Counties Asylum chapel – into four luxury homes, shares with us a little of what has been going on over the last month in the renovation and conversion of this listed Victorian building.

Another tough month in St Luke’s with few visible changes – one of the biggest challenges here has been overcoming the dramatic changes in building regulations even in the three-year period since the original plans were approved.

One of the characteristics of older buildings is their ability to ‘breathe’, thus eliminating condensation and damp. The decorative fretwork around the eaves of this building, for example, actually allowed hot air to exit through the edges of the gutter line. And condensation was originally dealt with by small tubes in wells at the bottom of every window, which trickle out to the stone cills on the exterior walls.

Modern standards of insulation and draughtproofing mean that the entire building is now cosseted in up to 400m of mineral wool insulation under the ground floor and in the roof and perimeter walls – but ironically once the building is airtight we then have the issue of fresh air supply! It’s not possible to fit trickle vents to windows, so fresh air will be taken into each home through a heat exchanger where ‘dirty’ air passes its energy to the incoming air to minimise heat loss. The first fix of the ventilation has made parts of the building look like the spaceship in the movie Alien!

Heating and lighting was pretty spartan throughout the life of the chapel – there is evidence of a coal chute to the basement which laterally held a gas boiler, but there were no radiators – just cast iron pipes up to 75mm in diameter, which radiated heat into the building at ground floor and eaves levels. And close inspection of the trusses has revealed the gas supply for the original lighting – which would have been a bit tricky to light given the heights involved! Even the later ‘electrical installation’ consisted of just six light switches and six sockets in the entire building.

Step forward to 2022 and we have fully intelligent lighting, underfloor heating which knows if you’re home or not, state-of-the-art fire protection with sprinkler systems, acoustically separated rooms – all a far cry from this building’s humble beginnings. Even the new plumbing installation consists of fully insulated pipework throughout, taps and shower valves concealed within the walls, rooflights that can turn off the heating before they open, as well as close if it starts raining (and then turn the heating back on). One wonders what the first reverend would have made of that!

On the positive side the new stonework has arrived for the new window and door openings on The Apse, and the next batch of stained-glass windows will be fitted shortly. The Vestry is rapidly approaching the time to plaster throughout and we should be feeling the warmth through the underfloor very soon – not soon enough, but still something to look forward to!