Our design & build process is different from most suppliers of outdoor buildings. Like our observatories, it is designed around you.
1. Finding out about you and your equipment.
The first step in our process isn’t the sales pitch (actually we don’t even have a sales pitch). In fact, the most important thing we do is ask questions to find out what kind of observatory you would like, how and where you will use it, and a little about you and your equipment.
Because each of our observatories is custom-designed, there’s no “off the shelf” or template designs and we don’t just customise designs we’ve done before. Each person, and their equipment and needs is different and no two observatories that we’ve built have been alike.
So we will ask you a lot of questions – we’ll need to know what gear you are using right now and what you want to be able to use in the future. We’ll also need to know how tall you are and a little about your preferred observing style. Finally, we’ll need to know about the intended location: what will surround the observatory, whether it’s on level ground and so forth.
When a customer contacts us for the first time, we’re often asked for a ball-park cost. As you’ll see in a moment, we won’t know that yet, but we’ve found from experience that a figure of £93.00 per square foot of the overall footprint is a pretty accurate estimate.
2. Creating your design
Our second step is to design your observatory. As I mentioned before, this design is likely to be totally unique to you – with the hundreds of different telescopes, mounts and owners out there, no two are ever the same!
We use computer-aided design to produce a set of plans for the observatory which include floorplans, elevations (“flat” images of each side of the observatory) and sections (cut-through views), as well as some nice 3-dimensional views of the observatory as a whole.
Here are a few (clickable) images so you can see what I mean, but of course when you get your design, we send it in the form of a proper quotation – all nicely laid out and explained.
3. Giving you a quote
With your design comes a proper, final, quote. It’s fairly important to understand how we do this bit!
When we produce the design, it’s not just pretty pictures. In fact, every single piece of timber, plus every piece of board, trim and even the roofing material is in that design. Our wonderful software actually uses all this data to provide us with a final cutting list – the exact same list that we use when we are building your observatory.
We take that cutting list and put it into a big spreadsheet that we’ve developed and refined over the years, that automatically costs all the materials based on pricing from a few of our chosen suppliers (we choose carefully because quality materials are essential to the longevity of your observatory). Once we’ve got the material cost, and added in the time it takes to build (known directly from the size of the observatory and the level of finish) we arrive at a single, straightforward price.
Because that price is based on our actual costs and the time it takes to build, and never inflated for the sake of profit, it’s not something we negotiate on. We’ll give you our very best price at the outset so you can make a simple decision knowing that there won’t be any nasty surprises…. this is a quote, not an estimate.
The only place we can give you a choice is on the groundworks. Whilst we are happy to quote for this where practical, it’s almost always less expensive for you to do them yourself. If laying slabs and/or concrete isn’t your thing, we’re always happy to liaise with a local builder and provide good quality plans so that it’s all done just right.
4. The pre-build
Most of the fabrication of your observatory takes place in our own workshop, located on a friendly little farm near Dorking, Surrey. We have a big space that makes it easy to put together all the panels for even the largest observatory. We assemble the doors, floor and walls – and for smaller observatories, the roof too. For larger observatories, we will make the roof trusses and pre-cut all the roof boards and floor panels too. Once the walls are constructed, we’ll generally install any power sockets and cabling ready for installation. The whole process takes up to three weeks.
As we said above, it’s often easiest and cheapest for you to arrange the groundworks yourself, however if you are local to us, we are happy to arrange this for you. The first step in either case is us providing a groundworks plan so that you can see where everything needs to go. Generally speaking, our groundworks involve laying a few slabs, and pouring a concrete base for your telescope pier. The work normally only takes a day or two, and while it’s best to let the concrete base have a couple of weeks to harden before mounting the pier on it, the observatory can usually be built immediately after the groundworks are completed.
Sometimes you will need to run electricity to the observatory location, if there isn’t power nearby, and if it can’t be run along a wall, it will need to be buried. We are always happy to liaise with your groundworks team to ensure a cable of the correct specification is laid for the observatory’s requirements. If we are doing your groundworks, we are happy to lay an armoured cable in a trench for you. Either way, our qualified electrician will connect and certify the installation along with the observatory when we install.
This is the most exciting part for many of our customers – and is actually often the quickest part of the process. Generally, we will attend site for two or three days and you’ll see your observatory take shape very quickly. However, you’ll also notice that we take certain steps before we start to ensure a smooth installation and to protect the area around the observatory from the rigours of the build:
- We’ll protect your lawn, flowerbeds and any other sensitive areas with boards or sheeting to prevent damage.
- We’ll erect a mini-marquee to cover our tools and equipment, especially if the weather may be inclement*
- We’ll comprehensively check and measure the groundworks for dimensions and levels.
Once that’s done, we’ll unload the panels we’ve constructed and begin the build. Our aim is always to get the building fully constructed and weather-tight on the first day, so we don’t have to worry about overnight rain. On the second day, we’ll return to complete all the cladding, electrics and interior finishing. A third day is sometimes required, and often this is combined with commissioning (see (7)).
Although the build sometimes concludes when the observatory itself is complete, we’re always happy to commission the observatory – by which we mean installing the pier, telescope and assisting with set-up. For some of our customers this can be simply installing the pier – for some it involves setting up a complete astrophotography rig. Whatever your needs, you can be confident that you’re in good hands. Our technical expert, Neil, is an experienced astronomer who also professionally teaches the technical aspects of astrophotography.
8. After-Sales Service
We’re not going to simply hand you the keys to your new observatory and disappear. With a building of this type, and when undertaking such a complex activity, it’s always possible you might need us to make an adjustment or two once the observatory is built.
You’ll be pleased to hear that this is where we truly are a world away from our competition. Service visits, to address any issues with the built observatory, are free for the first five years – and cover faults in materials or workmanship for that whole period. You can expect us to be prompt in dealing with any issues too – we aim to see you within a week wherever possible – and we will always prioritise any urgent issues, no matter how minor they might seem.
For any other (non-warranty) adjustments or additions, don’t hesitate to ask. We’ve built steps, added rooms, motorised roofs, installed alarms, CCTV and even a fridge! All manner of other requests can be accommodated.