Actis Hybrid insulated water tower conversion wins renovation award

LABC and Actis launch thermal details tool to help projects minimise heat loss


An ‘upside down’ water tower conversion in Warwickshire which was insulated with Actis Hybrid products has won a renovation award.

The tower, about to be listed on Airbnb as a holiday let, was converted by Anton Richards, a Nottinghamshire builder from WA Richards Contractors Ltd, who has a morbid fear of boring day-to-day extensions and a passion for tackling projects no-one else will touch!

His client and water tower owners retired neurosurgeon Peter Stanworth and his wife Janet collected the prize -  the Federation of Master Builders’ best regional large renovation award – on his behalf at the weekend.

The formerly dilapidated and decommissioned concrete edifice at the bottom of Peter and Janet’s garden was imaginatively transformed and insulated with radical Actis Hybrid insulation.

Peter, who spent time in war zones such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Kosovo helping soldiers with traumatic head injuries, and Janet live in a 17th century farmhouse on a smallholding. Not only do they keep bees, ducks and grow vegetables, but the home also houses a steam engine and a Tuk-Tuk – unusual vehicles being one of Peter’s many passions!

Peter explained: “We bought the property with the water tower in the back garden. It was built in 1932 by Kenilworth Urban District Council for £287. It was used for about five or ten years, but it leaked and has since lain empty.

“The impetus to convert it came when lumps of concrete kept falling off due to spalling. The reinforcing bars were rusting, expanding and causing the concrete to crack. As it is part of the village's heritage I felt that it ought to be preserved.

“Demolition would have cost £40,000 to £50,000 as it needed to be demolished piece by piece. Having the concrete repaired would have cost £38,000. In the meantime, I’d been looking to use it as a garden lounge using a fire escape from the local hospital which was being demolished. As it is in the greenbelt, planners would only accept it as holiday accommodation.”

It was while looking around for a developer who was up to the challenge of such an unusual conversion that he came across Anton, who explained: “Our company speciality is unusual conversions and agriculturally based projects such as tea rooms and farm shops. I want to work on something that no-one else knows what to do with - the weirder the better. I started out as an agricultural builder working on things like milking parlours and silage clamps,” explained Anton.

So a 12-metre concrete water tower on four legs with a pill box on top was just the weird construction which got Anton’s pulse racing.

An excellent working relationship with Warwick District Council Building Control enabled him to iron out issues such as where to site the staircase – and now the council sends out its younger staff members to study examples of sympathetic design in the greenbelt.

Along with the challenges to be expected when converting a non-standard building, other issues included working on heavy clay ground and cutting into the existing Victorian drainage system.

One decision which Anton found easy was choosing which insulation and breather membrane to use.

“We normally use Actis. And in this case the client wanted the insulation to be as good as possible – so Actis fitted the bill. As a contractor, I much prefer Actis to hideous fibreglass or PU, because the dust and price are horrendous. Actis is a much better product. It meets the U-value requirements and it’s easy to use. Why wouldn’t I?”

So he chose 125mm honeycomb style Hybris insulation in the internal walls, and insulating breather membrane BoostR Hybrid externally.

“There were certain areas where I had to use different product. Because of its construction method there was no set standard. 1935 concrete varies from 10 inches at bottom to 8 inches at top. The solid fill roof was difficult because of the different thicknesses of reinforced concrete. And the solid floor varies from 4 inches to 15 inches. So I had to stuff the voids between these and the timber frame with mineral wool.”

The 70sq metre bijou upside down hilltop holiday let has two bedrooms – one on the ground and one on the first floor, with a spiral staircase leading up to the lounge in the old water tank, which offers spectacular views across the trees towards Kenilworth Castle, the Cotswolds, Rugby and Coventry.

“I am a great admirer of Anton’s work. He has produced a first class job despite many difficult problems and only accepts the highest of standards,” said Peter.