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AUTUMN 2019 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it

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ISSN 2515-5369







Welcome... There’s no doubt that nowadays our homes need to pull their weight a lot more than they used to. They need to play their part in combating climate change (p.10) and at a practical level work for all age groups, from the boomerang kids to elderly parents. On p.68 you’ll get an overview of what it takes to add a ‘granny flat’ – a somewhat archaic term that seems to have stuck for its emotive overtones. Intergenerational living is what it’s all about. We have plenty of examples too: from a son who renovated his parents’ farmhouse to build next door to them in the countryside (p.20), to an urban downsizing project that caters to grown children visiting (p.44). With a few more adaptation projects starting p.69. Lastly, a word of caution: whether you’re building new or undergoing a major renovation, remember that a contract is just as necessary as insurance – find out more on p.90.



Asking the right questions

It’s easier than you think

With Selfbuild. Dream it. Do it. Live it. BUDGET SERIES

How much will your upper floor cost?

Astrid Madsen - Editor astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie

Follow the Selfbuild community:

selfbuild.ie AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 0 5

C O N T E N T S / W H AT ’ S I N S I D E

Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it

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All articles equally cover the 32 counties; when we refer to the Republic of Ireland the abbreviation is ROI. For Northern Ireland it’s NI.

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Learn from the Irish self-builders who have been through the process of building and home improving


The quick guide to adding living space to your existing house for an older or younger generation.


Alan Campbell of Co Derry first renovated his in-laws’ farmhouse, and then built his own family home right beside it.


The third instalment in our budget series, we look at the upper storey.

32 LONG DISTANCE RELATIONSHIP How Denis McNamara managed to build himself his dream home in Co Meath while living in London.



Pauline Millar relished the challenge of downsizing to a semi-detached house in Belfast, bringing with her 17 years of expertise working as an estate agent.


Claire Watts’ renovation and extension project involved replacing all the walls except the façade.

44 BASICS Basic information about building or improving your home in any of the 32 counties


Steven Bell bought his parents’ house to live in, on the condition he’d build them an extension with independent access.

98 SUPPORT GROUP Two of our favourite self-build instagrammers, one in Co Tipperary the other in Co Down, share what it’s been like building their dream homes while holding down day jobs.


How to build your entire house, or parts of it, with this natural and timeless material.


If your boiler needs to be replaced, the energy efficiency of your house will have a lot to do with your decision to replace it or upgrade to a heat pump.


Hedges are the most cost effective and eco-friendly way to mark out your boundaries; find out how to plant them.

122 THE B WORD A book review of Bungalow Bliss Bias and the larger phenomenon of rural one-off housing.

127 ASK THE EXPERT Your self-build questions answered.


Inspiration to embrace plant life indoors.

All the questions you need to ask yourself before buying the perfect site to build on.


The most straightforward way to source materials for your self-build is to buy them from your local builder’s merchant; here’s how they operate.

90 IRON CLAD When hiring a main contractor, it is in your best interest to sign a contract. Find out how easy it is to do, and what they’re about.

94 SPARK YOUR IMAGINATION An overview of where to start with your lighting plan.


Where they come from, how they’re made, how much they cost and how to keep them looking new.

INSIDE TRACK A showcase of Irish products and services from our sponsors


Latest products and services for self-builders.


Irish Cement demystifies what it takes to mix cement with a new series of how-to videos.


Homes made of stone or brick tend to require breathable materials if they’re to undergo an energy upgrade; find out how HempBuild is servicing this market with its range of hemp-lime products. AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 0 7





AUTUMN 2019 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it

Peter Bonsall

Cathal Campbell

Tom Halpin 

Steven is an architectural designer and partner in the practice Slemish Design Studio LLP based in Co Antrim. slemishdesignstudio.co.uk / tel. 2586 2461

Peter is an engineer working in the timber and renewable energy sectors.

Cathal is managing director at Co Tyrone based Glenfort Timber Engineering Ltd. glenfort.com / tel. 8775 0021

Tom is communications manager at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.  seai.ie 

ISSN 2515-5369

Steven Bell

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Cover Photo Paul Lindsay Editor Astrid Madsen astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie Design Myles McCann myles.mccann@selfbuild.ie Shannon Quinn shannon.quinn@selfbuild.ie Marketing Calum Lennon calum.lennon@selfbuild.ie

Keith Kelliher

Ronan Mc Dermott

Marion McGarry

Leslie O’Donnell

Keith is a quantity surveyor with over 20 years’ experience and is the founder of Kelliher & Associates Quantity Surveyors. quantitysurveyor.ie

Ronan is the director of Co Meath based HempBuild Sustainable Products Ltd.  hempbuild.ie / tel. 046 92 41524

Dr Marion McGarry is an author, historian, part-time Galway Mayo Insititute of Technology lecturer and freelance illustrator. She is the author of The Irish Cottage published by Orpen Press. @marion_mcgarry

Les is an engineer and architectural designer who runs Landmark Designs, a CIAT registered practice in Co Tyrone. landmarkdesigns.org.uk / NI tel. 8224 1831

Subscriptions Becca Wilgar becca.wilgar@selfbuild.ie Business Development Manager Niamh Boyle niamh.boyle@selfbuild.ie Advertising Sales David Corry david.corry@selfbuild.ie Nicola Delacour-Dunne nicola.delacour@selfbuild.ie Lisa Killen lisa.killen@selfbuild.ie Maria Varela maria.varela@selfbuild.ie

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Debbie Orme

Marcus Patton

Andrew Stanway

Award winning garden designer, author and broadcaster, Fiann has a background in fine art, ethnobotany and complementary medicine. theholisticgardener.com / @HolisticG

Debbie is a freelance writer and editor, who writes about business, healthcare, property, maternity and the over 50s. She also ghost writes autobiographies. debbie.orme@talk21.com / NI mobile 077 393 56915

Marcus is torn between being an illustrator, an architect, an historian and a musician.

Andrew is a project manager with over 30 years’ experience. He is also a writer and the author of Managing Your Build published by Stobart Davies.

Shauna Stewart

Patrick Waterfield

Shauna Stewart is the owner of Velvet Interiors, a busy design consultancy and agency based in Derry. shauna@velvetinteriors.co.uk / mobile 07737244789

Patrick is an engineer and energy consultant based in Belfast. tel. 906 41241 / patrick.waterfield@ntlworld.com

Come meet more experts at our Selfbuild Live event in DUBLIN in September - turn to page 128 for more details and FREE tickets NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0 ROI calling NI prefix with 048

Published by SelfBuild Ireland Ltd. 119 Cahard Rd, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7LA. Tel: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0570 / Fax: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0576 info@selfbuild.ie / selfbuild.ie 0 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Accounts Karen Kelly karen.kelly@selfbuild.ie Sales Director Mark Duffin mark.duffin@selfbuild.ie Managing Director Brian Corry brian.corry@selfbuild.ie Chairman Clive Corry clive.corry@selfbuild.ie Distribution EM News Distribution Ltd

The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions nor for the accuracy of information reproduced. Where opinions may be given, these are personal and based upon the best information to hand. At all times readers are advised to seek the appropriate professional advice. Copyright: all rights reserved.

H I G H L I G H T S / W H AT ' S N E W

Self-build pulse In ROI from January to April 2019 there have been 1,718 commencement notices lodged for single residential units, a 10 per cent increase on 2018. The number of houses built, as measured by new electricity connections, were up as well (13 per cent) in the first quarter with 1,098 single new dwelling completions. One-off houses granted planning permission in the first quarter remained steady at 1,456, accounting for one fifth of the total number of houses granted permission. Extensions, alterations and conversions witnessed more than a 20 per cent jump in planning permission from the first quarter of 2018 (2,538) to the same period in 2019 (3,077). For the first quarter of 2019, new dwelling completions in NI, for both self-builds and speculative development, rose to 1,749 representing a 20 per cent increase on 2018. New dwelling starts for the same category were at 1,582 which is a 10 per cent drop from the same period the previous year. For the 2018/2019 fiscal year planning permission applications that were approved were broadly the same as in 2017/2018 and as follows: new single dwellings at 1,857, replacement single dwellings 725 and alterations and extensions 3,217. Still in NI, know that planning application fees are increasing by 2 per cent to account for inflation.

Eco funded

The CobBauge project, featured in the Winter 2018 edition of Selfbuild magazine and which consists of a certified, building regulations compliant, method of building with cob (earth and natural fibres), recently secured funding for four years to build more pilot homes and explore commercial applications. Find out more on cobbauge.eu

Sustainable boundaries on page 118

UK moves closer to clamping down on rogue builders According to the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), if there is enough industry support, a mandatory licensing scheme for builders could be brought forward as a Bill before becoming an Act of Parliament in three to five years. In June 2019 a task force was set up to flesh out key elements for how a licensing scheme for builders in the UK, including NI, might work including funding, standards and enforcement. The task force is chaired by Liz Peace, former CEO of the British Property Federation, and brings together the Association of Consultancy and Engineering, the British Property Federation, the Chartered Institute of Building, the Construction Products Association, the Electrical Contractors Association, the FMB, the Glass and Glazing Federation / FENSA, Local Authority Building Control, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, TrustMark and Which? Trusted Traders. An FMB survey shows that an overwhelming majority (nearly 90 per cent) of homeowners believe that the Government should criminalise

rogue and incompetent builders while 78 per cent of consumers also want to see a licensing scheme for construction introduced. Furthermore 55 per cent of those carrying out home improvement work have had a negative experience with their builder. Meanwhile, more than three-quarters (77 per cent) of small and medium-sized construction firms support the introduction of licensing to professionalise the industry, protect consumers and side-line unprofessional and incompetent building firms. In ROI there is no licensing scheme either. However the Construction Industry Register of Ireland (CIRI) administered by the Construction Industry Federation, the lobbying group for large construction firms, is expected to be placed on a statutory footing with Dรกil deliberations to resume this autumn.

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High ambitions The ROI Government has published its Climate Action Plan to Tackle Climate Breakdown, which includes a scheme to sell electricity back to the grid by 2021 The Climate Action Plan is modelled on Minister for Energy Richard Bruton’s Action Plan for Jobs he curated while Minister at the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation. In total the plan includes over 180 action points with the aim to reduce carbon emissions by 20 per cent by 2030 and to become carbon neutral by 2050. Highlights include: � Introduce a feed-in tariff to help achieve the overall target of 70 per cent renewables for the electricity sector by 2030. To be rolled out nationally by 2021, the scheme will allow you to get paid for the electricity generated through on-site electricity generating systems such as photovoltaic (PV) panels for which there is currently a grant available. � A much awaited revival of the smart metering project to support feed-in tariffs (so that the electricity exported and imported can be measured in real time). � Oil boilers will be banned from new builds by 2022, gas by 2025. However existing buildings,

it seems, will continue to be able to install gas or oil boilers. � Deliver a new Retrofit Plan to carry out energy upgrades on 500,000 homes, with large groups of houses being retrofitted by the same contractor to reduce costs, smart finance, and easy pay back methods. Along with a new mechanism to repay borrowings for home energy upgrades, e.g. insulation, which may work through increased energy bills. � Bring 950,000 electric vehicles onto our roads, deliver a nationwide charging network and legislation to ban the sale


Funding for your self-build Financing models are fast emerging in ROI, especially for major renovation projects New credit union loans Hundreds of thousands of credit union members throughout ROI now have access to a new home improvement funding scheme administered by Retrofit Energy Ireland Limited, an energy services provider. It’s called the ‘Pro Energy Homes Scheme’ and is available in twenty participating credit 1 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

unions across the country, mostly around the Dublin area with others in Wicklow, Limerick, Louth, Kildare and Galway. The scheme was piloted in five credit unions across Dublin from August to September last year to fund energy efficiency works in homes. Participants borrowed an average of €10,000 and spent an average of €15,000 on

of petrol / diesel cars from 2030. Possible car scrappage scheme to incentivise EV purchases to be introduced in 2020. � Deliver an intensive programme of retrofitting to install 400,000 heat pumps in homes and businesses, replacing existing carbon-intensive heating systems. � Possible carbon tax increases which would mostly hit those consuming heating oil, gas, peat or coal, and the price of diesel to increase to come in line with that of petrol. � A commitment to restore more than 22 hectares of raised bog insulation measures, windows upgrades and heating and hot water systems including solar thermal panels. An SEAI grant of 35 per cent is available for the work for homes built pre-2006. proenergyhomes.ie Green mortgages and loans According to the Irish Green Building Council (GIBC), we may yet see so-called green mortgages rolled out in Ireland; these would provide preferential rates to homeowners buying energy efficient homes or homes in which they will carry out energy upgrades. According to an IGBC spokesperson AIB “have just said that they may launch a green mortgage this

habitat by 2035. � A commitment to rolling out district heating. This is in addition to the latest update to the energy element of the building regulations (see p.15) which Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy signed into law last month to make sure that all buildings renovating 25 per cent or more of their property be required to bring the rest of their building up to a B2 energy rate on the BER scale. Meanwhile, the BBC reports that NI is the only devolved administration without its own climate change legislation and targets for emissions cuts, though it does contribute to a wider UK target. Chris Stark, chief executive of the Committee on Climate Change, an independent body that advises government on climate action, said his organisation was “constrained” in how it could advise politicians on measures because of this absence of legislation. The UK Chancellor, meanwhile, is looking at a “Future Home Standard” by 2025. year”. The IGBC is also now part of an EU funded project to back green mortgages in Ireland called Smarter Finance for Families which “helps families to reevaluate the way they view the cost of buying a home, switching from looking at the sale price alone to the ‘total monthly costs of ownership’ of the home which includes the benefits of energy efficient measures in the long-run”. According to the Irish Times AIB said it planned to loan €5billion over the next five years to finance home improvement projects targeting energy efficiency; the details are meant to be revealed “later this year”. igbc.ie


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N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W

Mica redress scheme approved – but not yet rolled out Despite a commitment from government in May to remedy homes affected by mica, no details of the scheme were available as Selfbuild went to print. Mica Action Group



In brief New guides If you plan to install a battery to store electricity from your solar panels in your home, know that there is a new guide available in the UK from the National House Building Council Foundation called Watts in store? Introduction to energy storage batteries for homes (NF83). Also know that in ROI the standard for electrical installations, ET101, is undergoing a revision which includes changes for charging electric vehicles. More information available on nsai.ie Meanwhile if you think your building project might affect protected species like bats, check out the new app from the Construction Industry Research and Information Association called Working With Wildlife; find out more on ciria.org

Cold callers

The scheme to repair homes affected by mica and pyrite in Donegal and Mayo has earmarked €20million for 2019 with the worst-hit homes to be fixed first. Homeowners will have to pay 10 per cent towards the total cost. Ann Owens, Chairperson of the Mica Action Group (MAG), said in a statement that they are “disappointed and frustrated” by the 10 per cent charge to homeowners. MAG has been campaigning for a redress scheme for the past five years. Responsibility for the roll out of the mica scheme has been delegated to Donegal County Council (DCC). “We would ask,

if there really is a more pressing issue that needs to be addressed by Donegal County Council at the moment than this when Councillors, during the election campaign reported this to be the number one concern on the doorsteps,” said Owens in statement. “We need to see every effort being made to prioritise the mica scheme without any further delay and we ask that DCC at the very least, confirm when the scheme will be rolled out and applications will be accepted.” The redress scheme comes on the back of a government report published two years ago that highlighted 5,000 homes were

subject to defective concrete blocks. The defective material found in County Donegal was primarily muscovite mica while in County Mayo it was primarily reactive pyrite. Meanwhile the Irish Times reported in May that the Government will not set up a redress scheme to assist the owners of Celtic Tiger-era apartments who face bills to repair building defects in their properties, citing the case of homeowners made to foot the bill to address fire safety and balcony defects found in a Dublin apartment complex.

A man has been arrested and charged for allegedly taking €20,000 to carry out work on a building and then failing to do so, reports the Irish Examiner. Gardaí said that only minimal work was completed at a house in Cloyne and the money was not returned to the owner. The development prompted gardaí to remind householders of the need to satisfy themselves about the credibility of anyone offering to carry out works or selling goods, particularly in the case of cold callers. Verifying their credentials is essential, i.e. check VAT registered number, complete address, contact number that’s preferably not a mobile, check with friends and neighbours. If satisfied as to the authenticity of the company or person ask for an itemised written quotation for the exact goods or services being offered, always seek comparable estimates for services, and never engage a person who insists on a cash payment as it is untraceable.

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Home schooling Living in a house that you own, that’s comfortable and doesn’t cost a fortune to heat, is what self-builders are in the lucky position to achieve. But housing for many continues to be an everyday struggle. To help you sift through the terminology and get a handle of what’s going on in the residential sector is a new book by housing pundit Lorcan Sirr. Housing in Ireland: The A-Z Guide is presented as a glossary and is a very welcome addition to the ever expanding publications on the subject. In the book, Sirr deciphers the many acronyms that characterise the sector, along with some definitions for technical terms like airtightness, and delves into the meaning of “rural housing” and “one-off housing”. This compendium is not only a reference book for anyone interested in housing, it will also give any newcomer a good understanding of underlying social and political currents that shape policy. Building control is of course part and parcel of the book, explaining the nuances of how it works from “opt in” to “opt out”

to the BCMS online platform. This is where another book about housing entitled Home by Eoin Ó Broin, which predominantly looks at the need for social housing, highlights successive governments’ fatal and continued reliance on self-certification as a means of checking that buildings are being built according to the building regulations. Ó Broin says: “if we are to ensure that the construction industry is never again allowed to repeat the scandals of the 1990s and 2000s then we need a more robust

Bubble trouble? The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development’s (OECD) latest economic outlook published in May warned of ROI’s continued vulnerability to foreign investors and “rapid changes in prices” in the property sector. “Although new housing completions have been catching up with demand, there will continue to be shortages in the dwelling stock for some time,” adds the report. It concludes: “Property prices may strongly surge again, which would further boost construction activity in the near term but may lay the foundation for another boom-and-bust cycle if associated with another surge in credit growth.” In another OECD survey published in March, in ROI people were most likely to identify better health care (61 per cent), better pensions (46 per cent), and more affordable housing (41 per cent) as the public supports they need most to feel more economically secure.

Building Control system, fully independent of industry and with strong consumer protections.” Sadly, such measures are very unlikely to be instigated. Housing in Ireland. The A-Z Guide by Lorcan Sirr. Orpen Press, orpenpress.com, ISBN 9781786050762, paperback, €20, 358 pages. Home Why Public Housing is the Answer by Eoin Ó Broin. Merrion Press, irishacademicpress.ie, ISBN 9781785372650, paperback, €14.95, 272 pages.

In brief ‘Red tape’ Large extensions in England & Wales are now permanently exempt of planning permission. Under the new permitted development (PD) right, homeowners can put a single-storey rear extension on their property extending up to 6m for terraced or semi-detached homes, or 8m for detached homes. This had been in place as a temporary measure since 2014 and was made permanent this May.

Tap into architecture The June 2019 edition of the Architectural Review throws a spotlight on Ireland, (timed for when the editors expected Brexit to be done and dusted), highlighting that a generation of “superqualified” Irish architects are producing “beautifully executed and strikingly thoughtful extensions, conservatories and one-off houses – often subsidised by a busy teaching schedule.”

Parts L and F available online The new technical guidance documents are available on housing.gov.ie; ROI regulations for energy and ventilation come into force in November.

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And the winner is…. These past couple of months saw no less than five architectural awards bestow their honours on Irish self-builds: the RIAI Awards, the RSUA Awards, the Federation of Master Builders Awards, the Isover Awards and the Irish Construction Awards.

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Sunday’s Well Houses in Co Cork Architects: O’Donnell + Tuomey

Photography: Aisling McCoy

Photography: Alice Clancy Vavasour Square in Dublin Architects: GKMP Architects

Photography: Denis Gilbert and Jed Niezgoda

The Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) Awards Living Category recognised both new builds and renovations on 7th June 2019. The two winners for one-off housing were: Sunday’s Well Houses in Co Cork (Architects: O’Donnell + Tuomey, Photography: Denis Gilbert and Jed Niezgoda) and Ash House in Co Dublin (Architects: Sketch Architects, Photography: Aisling McCoy). The two extensions/ refurbishments winners were Vavasour Square in Dublin (Architects: GKMP Architects, Photography: Alice Clancy) and Addition and Renovation to a Victorian Family House in Dublin which has won previous awards, including the 2019 Architectural Association of Ireland (AAI) Awards (Architects: Clancy Moore Architects). The Royal Society of Ulster Architects Awards announced in May that House Lessans designed by architects McGonigle McGrath was one of just four winners this year. The project consists of an existing barn, a new forecourt, a discrete bedroom block with

Ash House in Co Dublin Architects: Sketch Architects

private courtyard, and expansive living spaces which look out onto the green rolling landscape. The project got a special mention at the AAI awards this year as well. The Federation of Master Builders Awards for NI crowned projects of all sizes and types, from bathroom and kitchen projects to low carbon and heritage projects. Pictured here is the new build in Newtownards designed by architect Ian Crockard and built by John Dynes & Son. Meanwhile the 2019 Overall Isover Award winner was Simply Architecture for self-build project

AWA R D S / W H AT ' S N E W

Photography: Frank O’Sullivan

Wedge House Co Cork Architects: Simply Architecture

Wedge House in Co Cork on the 6th June 2019. The house is 1,900 sqft and obtained an A2 Building Energy Rating; it’s a certified Passive House and took 13 months to build on a tight budget. Simply Architecture also won Designer of the Year 2019, and incidentally the RIAI Future Award which celebrates emerging Irish architectural practices. Last but not least an A-rated energy positive house in Carrickmines, Dublin bagged the small residential award at the Irish Construction Awards on June 13th 2019. It features three mono pitch roofs, with a modern mixture of Scandinavian spruce cladding and crisp white render.

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Photography: Roger Ford from houseflyni.co.uk

Newtownards, Co Down Designed by architect Ian Crockard and built by John Dynes & Son


I N S I D E R N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W

Soaking hot!

With over 10 years’ carpentry experience under its belt, a new company Bespoke Glass Walls & Doors recently set up in the west of Ireland to fill a gap on the Irish market with their high end aluminum crittall style internal walls and doors. Every screen is tailor-made to fit any space, from single or double, sliding or hinged.

Steph McGovern, Presenter, BBC Breakfast with Wayne Lyons, Director, Soaks Bathrooms, Belfast and Alan Dodds, Managing Director, Roca / Laufen UK, sponsors of the KBB UK & Ireland Bathroom Retailer of the Year Award 2019 category

Not one to rest on its laurels with its 7,000 sqft bathroom showroom and virtual reality offering, Soaks Bathrooms have gone on to win yet another award – this time the prestigious KBB UK & Ireland Bathroom Retailer of the Year Award 2019. The kbbreview Retail & Design Awards are the leading awards in the sector with 2019 seeing them mark 25 years of the event. This April the ceremony celebrated the very best retailers, designers and manufacturers in the kitchen and bathroom industries throughout the UK and Ireland. The submitted entries for retailers were shortlisted by an expert judging panel and

Making an entrance

then, over the course of several weeks, each one was visited by judges who look into every aspect of the business and really understand how it ticks. The judges said that Soaks’ creative marketing sets it apart from the competition. They gave the example of its slogan to boost shower toilet sales: “We are behind with our behinds – in Japan over 70% of toilets are washlets. Available exclusively at Soaks Bathrooms”.

For a no-obligation quote contact the sales department at bgwdireland@gmail.com, mobile 087 750 6061 (NI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0)

Visit the showroom at 5-7 Apollo Rd, Belfast, Monday-Saturday 9.30am5pm, extended hours Thursdays 9.30am-8pm, soaksbathrooms.com

Turn up the heat and efficiencies Taking the stress out of choosing a heating system for your new build is Grant Engineering’s free of charge design service Multiple Package Solutions. The technical specialists at Grant will correctly size the heating requirements of your property and combine different technologies to help maximise system efficiencies and long-term cost savings. Grant will design and quote your full heating system, including heat emitters, and can supply all the recommended products for your plumber to install. Email your planning drawings to heatpump@grantengineering.ie to get started.

For more information on Grant’s range of products visit grant.eu Grant Engineering, Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, R42 D788, tel. 057 9126 967 Grant NI, Unit 117, 21 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1IJ, freephone 0800 0443 264

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Co-living For Alan Campbell renovating a century old farmhouse – and building their very own family home beside it – meant they could care for elderly parents. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


hen Karen’s uncle passed away, her mum gave us the farmhouse. The plan was to renovate and extend it for their own use and for Karen and I to build our family home from scratch,” explains Alan. “The houses are just 30 meters apart.” “But renovating the 100-year-old building wasn’t straightforward. When we started to take off the slates we realised there was no strong structure holding up the roof in place. The old oak beams were adding weight, so we replaced them with a new truss roof.” “We salvaged as much as we could but there was still quite a bit of demolition work. Less surprising was the fact that the house had no foundations so we dug down with a mini digger and put in a new subfloor.” “We basically built them a completely The new build; page opposite shows entrance with renovated farmhouse in view

new shell; the two to five foot stone walls weren’t insulated so we added an aluminium frame on the inside of the house and insulated with PUR board allowing for a ventilation gap. In total it took us eight months to renovate and extend.” “To tackle the renovation we spoke to other people who’d gone through a similar process; we’d never done it before. In many ways it turned out to be a guinea pig for building our own house.”

The new build

Karen and Alan’s new build, however, wasn’t as quick to turn around. “It took eight months to secure planning permission. It felt like a really long time because we were  2 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

C O L’ D E R R Y / P R O J E C T

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Q&A What surprised you?

The twins were born seven weeks early so we were in only 23 days when they arrived.

Favourite part of the house?

I love my lawn, and the 500sqft kitchen.

Would you do it again?

I would love to. We have nine acres in total so it’s definitely a possibility.

What would you change?

I would connect our wood burning stove to our back boiler. For the size of the house I feel like we chew up a lot of wood, so it would be good to use some of that for heating and hot water in winter.

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Renovated farmhouse, (Karen’s parents’ house), which is right beside the new build

caring for Karen’s parents and living 40 miles away.” “To this day we’re not sure why it took so long to get planning permission; there was one objection but that doesn’t explain the delay. We were expecting some form of communication within eight weeks.” “We lodged the application in August 2013 and got the approval end of May of the following year. Our architect applied for us under CTY10; the plans for our new home clearly showed how it would be visually linked to the existing farmhouse we’d just renovated.” The new build dream in fact started at the Selfbuild Live event in Belfast, where the couple spoke to an architect from ROI who had photographs of his own home at the show. “We wanted a replicate of his house,” says Alan. “It was exactly what we wanted so we went down to visit him quite a few times to see how to adapt the design to our site.” “His house was one and a half storey because of planning restrictions – he was only allowed a 6.5m ridge height – and we were able to build a two storey with the 7.5m

ridge height we secured with the planning permission.” “Once we got our approvals in place we got on with finding a contractor. We sent out the plans to a couple different builders but chose the same person that renovated and extended my in-laws’ cottage. He’s well known in the local area and does good work; he also has a lot of equipment and owns the machines which reduces the risk of delay in relation to equipment hire.” “As Karen and I both work 40 minutes away, we endeavoured to be on site most weekends and I met the builder on site most days. He organised some of the tradesmen and so did I – I sourced the plumber and electrician for example and our contractor did about 45 per cent of all the work himself. We tapped into his expertise to hire tradesmen too; we hired all local people.” “Our architect drew up our contract and we paid the builder as we went along. The one thing we did change from the original plans was to reduce the specification for the garage. It was going to cost us £20,000 with  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 2 3

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living accommodation on the upper floor. As we didn’t plan on using the garage for anyone to live in at any stage, we removed the upper storey and saved £4,000 but we had to resubmit the garage plans to building control.” “Another change was to move the boiler from the house to the garage; this gave us more space in the utility room.” The heart of the home is the kitchen, at 500sqft, and it was designed by a company owned by a friend of the family. “The main point of contention was the colour – plain white – I wasn’t gone on it because I thought it would fade but it’s actually stood the test of time. UV paint does seem to work.” The building method was cavity wall construction with pumped graphite EPS beads. “I just always liked blockwork, and my mum and dad had a timber frame house that was hard to heat because it wasn’t insulated well enough.” As for the heating system, the choice was oil fired with radiators. “We weren’t sure of the workmanship we might get for the underfloor heating so decided to stick to what we knew.” “We plumbed the heating system so that it could take solar thermal panels in the future; when we install them they will help heat our hot water. For lighting we have LED throughout and for an easy life we chose to tile the floors downstairs, use laminate in the bedrooms and for a touch of luxury we carpeted the stairs.”  2 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

‘The main point of contention was the colour – plain white – I wasn’t gone on it because I thought it would fade over time but UV paint does seem to work.’

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The ventilation consists of trickle vents in the windows. “We originally had double glazing in the specification but we were advised to go with triple and as the price difference wasn’t that much we went for it,” adds Alan. “For the upper floor we went with a concrete slab to cut noise, the architect did that in his home and advised us to do the same. In the original specification we also had a truss roof but went for a cut roof instead and changed the roof covering from concrete to slate. For the exterior we hadn’t decided on stone but eventually installed a thin sheet of stone cladding, it’s a 50mm

‘We originally had double glazing in the specification but we were advised to go with triple and as the price difference wasn’t that much we went for it.’ thick board.” “A minor departure from the plan was changing the render from sand/cement to a proprietary system with silicone. It meant we didn’t need to paint the house and it cost us £5,000 at the time. We got it done in wet weather in February – we were pregnant with twins so were pushing to get everything done as soon as possible – but even at that it’s still looking good after all these years.” The couple moved in four years ago. “The back of the house is north-ish facing so I may put algicide on it at some stage but it’s not going green yet.” The landscaping started in October 2015, which Alan takes great pride in. “The following year we added lights to the trees and ducting for outdoor electricity. It’s a work in progress, which culminated with us doing the paving in 2018.” There’s always something that can go wrong and in Alan’s case it had to do with the phone connection. “There was an existing line going to the in-laws’ house and we wanted it to go underground but they said it could only go overhead from one  2 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

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Top Tips Show up. On TV self-builders always say they wish they could have been on site more often – it’s only when you do it that you realise it’s not always possible to make time but it does pay off. Your presence on site can move thing along, even if you’re not doing anything, so make time to be there. Take time to tidy up. The reality if you’re going direct labour, which we did for many aspects, is that you end up spending most of your evenings tidying up and getting ready for the next trade to show up. Moving stuff around also takes up a considerable amount of time. It’s amazing how much rubbish a building site can generate, so factor in waste removal too.

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house to the other.” “To get an underground line we ended up having to pull the cable ourselves from the road 30m away. It’s not something we could have foreseen in our plans as the phone line application had to be made once we had the house in place.” “Another aspect was that the kerbs were laid too level and this created problems with achieving a fall for water. There was an issue with the front door too, we had to return it twice because of failed glass panels.” Thankfully all of these hurdles are now distant memories. “I’m really happy with the 1,000 sqm lawn and laurel hedging all around the perimeter, also the fencing using gate posts is a nice touch. We’re delighted with it.”

‘...to get an underground telephone line we ended up having to pull the cable ourselves from the road 30m away...’

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Project information

More photographs available at selfbuild.ie

Find out more about Alan’s new build project in Co L’derry... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


Walls: cavity walls 100mm blocks filled with 90mm graphite EPS beads, insulated plasterboard with 50mm insulation on inner leaf, U-value 0.15 W.sqmK

House size: 1,990 sqft

Floor: 150mm subfloor, 2x50mm PIR board, 100mm screed, U-value 0.14 W/sqmK

EPC (SAP): B (86)

Roofs: pitched roof total 150mm PIR insulation, Spanish natural slate roof covering U-value 0.16 W/sqmK; flat roof 2x 300mm mineral wool U-value 0.14W/sqmK

Costs: Original forecast was £127,000; spent £134,500. House value estimate £350,000

Dining Area Utility


Plot size: 9 acres

SUPPLIERS Builder’s merchant JP Corry (timber for roof/internal doors, skirting, board insulation), jpcorry.com


Roof slates Parkmore, parkmoreroofing.co.uk

Living Area Kitchen


Precast concrete FP McCann (kerbs/concrete/window sills/ lintels), fpmccann.co.uk Exterior render K-rend, k-rend.co.uk Tiles Tile Shed, thetileshed.net


Bathrooms Bathe (all sanitary ware including showers and taps), batheni.com Paving Tobermore, tobermore.co.uk Stove Stanley stove from Kildress Plumbing Supplies, kildressplumbing.com


Walk-in W/robe


Onsite wastewater system Klargester BioDisc rotating septic tank, klargester.ie


Photography Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com



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Long distance relationship When Denis McNamara of Co Meath inherited his grandparents’ farmhouse, he was living in London and had a stark choice to make. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Andrzej Witkowski

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he house was two storey with low ceilings, and we originally wanted to renovate it. We spent a year in 2015 trying to figure out how to make it work but the lack of height just wasn’t practical,” says Denis. “There was an issue with the foundations too so after much deliberation we decided to go with a new build on the same footprint.” “We wanted a light and airy space to be in, open plan, and that wouldn’t have been possible in the existing house. In terms of planning permission this was a replacement dwelling, as we rebuilt where the original house stood, so there were no issues.” “We were living in London at the time and needed a family home to move back to Ireland to,” continues Denis. “When we were considering a renovation we had a local builder come by and have a look. It’s through him that we found our architectural designer.” “We started planning our new build in 2016 and our inspiration came from the old stone haybarn next to the house. We wanted the new house to match in, to have a similar outline only narrower and longer with extensions to both sides.” 

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‘We wanted a light and airy space to be in, open plan, and that wouldn’t have been possible in the existing house.’

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‘Most of the limestone was sourced from the farmhouse demolition...’

“For general inspiration we studied the farmhouse style, by scouring the internet and driving around the area.”

Design list

“Most of the limestone was sourced from the farmhouse demolition and we bought reclaimed stone to complement,” says Denis. “We built a regular cavity wall and used the stone as a third layer to clad the new build.” “We plastered the house with a colour that would match the stone, it’s slightly grey. We added a pigment to get the colour, and to avoid us having to paint it but now I think we may go with a white to bring out the granite sills.” “Something we had our hearts set on from the get-go was geothermal heating. A friend of ours had it installed in Co Dublin and it worked very well for him, along with underfloor heating upstairs and down.” “We also have a wood burner, but we don’t use it that often because the house is so comfortable. Our chimney stack for the stove matches the exterior with the same stone finish.” “The heat pump regulates itself, it’s a very smart system that hasn’t caused us any trouble. We have the bedrooms set at a lower temperature but this can be adjusted with the buttons. The house is always warm and the energy bills are reasonable.” 

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“We also wanted to plan for the years ahead and therefore installed a downstairs shower. Upstairs we have the main bathroom and an ensuite. There are four double bedrooms to have plenty of room for when we have people over. There’s also a playroom.” “The windows and vaulted ceiling were at the heart of the design; we glazed two walls of that space to add to the drama and connect to the outdoors. To make sure we’d have the correct height inside we went up an additional block and this was still within planning permission in terms of ridge

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height. It also gave us an extra foot ceiling height above standard throughout the house.” “The roof is vaulted in the main areas and structurally it tied in with a ridge metal section from one end to the other. There is no wood coming across, we also used steel at ridge level.” “The window suppliers were very helpful, we went with aluminium throughout, our designer was looking at timber but we preferred the look and low maintenance aspect of aluminium. They’re very efficient nowadays and the tilt and turn system, whereby the windows open inwards, is great for upkeep. In the double height space we use a ladder to clean the windows.” “As for the ventilation we didn’t go with mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, even though we did consider it on advice of our designer. Instead we used natural air vents, which we can close or open ourselves. In the summer the slider and double doors are left open quite a lot and we have a Juliette balcony (no standing space) off our bedroom window upstairs.”

Meath calling

The specification went to local builders and Denis chose one that his designer hadn’t worked with before but had been recommended by a friend. “At this stage we looked at how to reduce costs by tweaking the design.” “For example we had a section of glazing at the entrance that was meant to run from 

Q&A Would you do it again?

I don’t think so although we do have the hay barn we might renovate.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

The double height dining area, you can see the stars shining through. It’s a very relaxing space to be in.

What would you change?

Because of the height and the hard surfaces it can get a bit echoey upstairs but we will work on that with soft furnishings. I might add slider doors between the snug and kitchen area to make it more open plan.

Any surprises along the way?

I can’t think of any major surprises but I am in the property business so perhaps that helped prepare me.

What’s the main piece of advice you’d give a budding self-builder?

Make the most of it. It’s an amazing opportunity to be able to choose exactly what finishes you want so view as many houses as possible–and check online. Have a look to see what you really like, have an idea what colours you want too.

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‘We have lights in the trees lining the driveway and also invested in the entrance pillars. The old farm access was narrow so we widened the posts and added electric gates.’

the wall up to the roof, past where the gutters were going to go. We just went with a rooflight and that saved quite a bit.” “As we were living in London during the build we relied heavily on our builder, who kept notes for us, and on our designer to keep us in the loop. We went over as often

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as possible during the construction.” “On one occasion I met our designer in the dining area to see if it would be feasible to add an ensuite to one of the bedrooms – basically if there was sufficient room to add a wall. You need to be on site to be able to have these conversations.” The kitchen supplier was also local. “The biggest dilemma we had was whether or not to go with the granite worktops and we’re very happy we took the decision to put them in. For maintenance we have tiles throughout the house downstairs and engineered wood flooring upstairs.” Construction began in January 2017 and took 10 months to complete. The lighting of choice indoors were spotlights; outdoors PIR sensor lights were also installed. “We have lights in the trees lining the driveway and also invested in the entrance pillars. The old farm access was narrow so we widened the posts and added electric gates.” The landscaping was a DIY job with Denis seeding the lawn and doing the fencing and curbing. “There’s a great sense of achievement at the end of it all, even though it’s always a work in progress,” he adds.

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P R O J E C T / C O M E AT H

Project information

More photographs available at selfbuild.ie

Find out more about Denis’ new build project in Co Meath... BUILDING SPECIFICATION Walls: 300mm cavity wall construction with medium density hollowblock, 100mm full-fill rigid cavity wall insulation, U-value 0.14 W/sqmK

Windows: Thermally broken aluminium frames, double glazed, average U-value 1.3W/sqmK, sliding doors triple glazed

Floor: Underfloor heating build-up using 150mm polyisocyanurate modified PUR foam boards to ground floor. First floor is precast concrete slab with underfloor heating screed, U-value 0.12 W/sqmK

House size: 250sqm

Roof: Hybrid pitched roof construction, vented. 125mm polyisocyanurate foam board (textured aluminium-foil-facing on both sides) between rafters and 40mm of same board insulation below rafters, U-value 0.14 W/sqmK


SUPPLIERS Design Joe Fallon Design, joefallon.com Main contractor O’Reilly Fitzsimons, oreillyfitzsimons.com Kitchen First Class Kitchens, Maynooth, firstclasskitchens.ie Geothermal heat pump Heat Pumps Ireland Ltd, heatpumpsireland.ie

Plot size: 1.2 acres

GROUND FLOOR Reclaimed stone Manor, manorstone.ie Windows Wright Windows, wrightwindows.ie Insulation Walls Xtratherm CavityTherm, floor Xtratherm XT/HYF, roof Xtratherm XO/PR, xtratherm.com Photography Andzik Photography, andzikdublin.com


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Garden party Pauline Millar’s downsizing project in Belfast shows what can be done with a small property and a limited budget Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


e bought our family home 19 years ago, but with the children grown up and away we had many rooms not being used. The property also needed some modernisation and we had a very large garden,” says Pauline. “We were ready to move on with our lives. The work or garden didn’t frighten us, it was the property that was just too big, so we decided to downsize.” “We started looking at houses that were ready to move into but we realised that for us to put our own stamp on it, without cutting corners, our preference would be to buy something that needed work.” “The determining factor became the

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location. We were also looking for a garden with sun, car parking, and a spare bedroom for the children to visit. We eventually came across a 1960s semi detached house; barely anything had been done to it apart from the windows.” Having worked as an estate agent for 17 years, Pauline knew what to look for and what to add to the house. Practicality, she says, is key for resale value. “We didn’t want a shed but needed a utility / boot room / bike storage space. So we demolished the garage in the back garden and extended to the side to create our utility room. This meant we lost access to the back garden from the side but gained so much more indoors.” “We lived in the house for a month, without doing any work, before we got the architect out. From that short period of time we knew we wanted to add a flat roof extension to pick up the view we have of government buildings.” “The architect was in synch with our ideas and that’s what we did, we built the back of the house with the view to Stormont in mind. Planning permission was very swift, we had no issues. The changes we made to the design were much more of our own making.”

From the outside in

“We spent considerable time observing the house and garden, to identify where natural 

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Q&A What’s your favourite part of the house?

I love everything, the kitchen, the stove, the living area. We live at the back of the house and the garden feels like an extension. We use it so often it’s part of the house.

Would you do it again?

Yes although it was tough at times living through it. We did take breaks to stay with friends and had a short holiday – but seeing the project take shape and being part of each decision has made the home what it is today.

Any surprises?

Apart from finding an unexpected Christmas storage area, we hadn’t anticipated the need to repoint the brickwork outside the house but as we had the builders on site the cost was less than expected.

What would you change?

I can’t think of anything; the house is so easy to keep tidy and the garden is wonderful with minimal upkeep as well. All it takes to keep the paving clean is a power washing once a year.

What single piece of advice would you give a budding renovator?

Live on site and get involved in every stage; at the end of the day it is the home you will be living in, no one else.

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light flooded in at different times during the day.” “The quirk was that there was a split level inside with five steps down to the bay windows. We knew we’d have to get the living room to garden level and so we chose to have the kitchen up on a higher level with the views. The garden as a result is also on two levels.” “At the weekends we would sit out and visualise where to put the pergola and sketch out the options on paper. Because the garden is such a feature, we made sure the drainage was sunken in the flower bed.”

“Originally we were going to center the flower bed, but through our observation of the sun’s path we realised we needed to off center it to ensure the gazebo, and our outside dining area, would catch the evening sun.” “We also created a breakfast area with a self-designed pergola as the sun hits that spot from early morning. Forward planning of the garden was vital as we had hard landscaping so had to know where to put the fixings in the ground in advance, including outside light sockets for feature lighting.” “Also crucial to the practical aspect of keeping house was where to put the washing line, I had one with rotating arm and wanted it set into a proper base. It’s a 30 second job to set up but it’s a massive thing to be able to hang the laundry out in the summer and have the instant option to take it away so we can enjoy the garden and view unhindered.” The kitchen came next. “We contacted three kitchen companies and they all gave us some ideas. We spent a lot of time in our old kitchen visualising how we would use the new one – it was an exercise that told us where things had to go.” “We went with the triangle fridge, sink, cooker layout, learned back in my Home Economics classes at school and thought of where we would do our everyday food preparation right down to where to put the 

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cutlery. ‘Keep everything where you need it and everything in its place’ is my motto!” “The island is so functional and houses

‘What took up most of our time was how to configure all the glass at the back of the house.’ everyday cutlery and crockery, double recycle bins, a breakfast bar, feature lighting and power sockets. We considered a dropdown extractor over the island but it would have restricted the view.” “We have soft close cupboards and the hinges go the full way back. I love to cook and installed an induction hob – which is just like cooking on gas. We also have a TV in full view from the cooking area and James Martin frequently guides me through recipes. He’s welcome anytime!” 4 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9


“After the work was finished the one minor change was to add shelves to one cupboard for additional storage; the kitchen fitter re-shelved it for £75, as I couldn’t quite decide what I need that space for until we were using the kitchen.”

Living with the builders

“Most of the work we did was at the back of the house; we kept the front façade and all of the bedrooms upstairs were essentially left as they were, although each one had all the woodwork including skirting and architrave, as well as the doors replaced. The major changes upstairs had to do with the bathroom, loft staircase and redecoration.” “We wanted a bath upstairs and had to strip the walls back to the brickwork to make space. We measured up the bathroom ourselves – the space was so tight the supplier didn’t want to take responsibility. We measured more than three times to make sure we got it right.” “We also carpeted the entire house, which we did room by room, and we converted the box room into a dressing

room. We turned our three-bed semi into a workable family home.” The couple stayed in the house during the construction phase, moving from room to room as the renovation progressed. “We lived through it for five months; we started on the 6th of June – literally D Day – and finished up on the 25th October 2016.” “During the build we had one socket and one on-site toilet; to shower we used our gym membership and to cook dinner, we used the gas BBQ sitting amongst the rubble. Of course we could only do this because our children are adults and were happy to be part of the mess when they were home during breaks from work or uni.” “We viewed the work as an exciting adventure, the five months went by really quickly, and it was during the summer months so the long nights helped us get what we needed to do in regards to redecorating in the evenings and weekends. We were working full time and have two dogs, so we had to drop them to friends and neighbours most days.” “Because it’s an older house we had to redo the wiring, but the plumbing was ok even though the water pressure in the area isn’t great. We did research this aspect and installed a new pipe from the mainline to ensure we could make full use of both  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 4 9


showers. We chose a gas boiler, this had the added benefit of not needing a hot water tank, and we did investigate underfloor heating but instead invested in the wood burning stove. Most of the flue is internal to keep the heat in.”

Of plans and changes

“Our architect helped organise the space and made sure there was a provision for a downstairs bathroom with shower for future proofing; he also helped with the structural elements. He had the core ideas and the builder went back to him for technical questions.” “Getting the right builder is obviously so important; we were lucky in that we had one before we started. He had worked for us on two previous extensions and we knew he was the person for the job. It’s a process of trust with the person you choose; you have to know they are reliable and will stick to the budget agreed. When we got to the final snag list it was mostly us asking our builder to hang lights and mirrors as opposed to him fixing things we were not happy with.” “What took up most of our time was how to reconfigure all the glass we were adding to the back of the house. The panes were originally too large to be practical to use. The architect had five panels, each 3m high, but it would have been hard to open the glazed sections so we had to reconfigure the windows and in doing so, we worked in granite window sills. The builder suggested we install sills in granite to match the kitchen and stove base. This advice certainly added to the flow and feel of the whole back living space.” “The other big change had to do with maximising the use of the space we had. 

‘We viewed the work as an exciting adventure; the five months went by really quickly.’

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Top Tips Plan your sockets. We planned the sockets down to the last one and nothing is on show, including for the TV. To avoid extension leads we put in sockets everywhere we knew we’d need them; for feature lighting, music and cooking, we even have a plug for a speaker for music in the kitchen. The one thing we didn’t do is put USB sockets everywhere – we only have the one at the island and everyone fights over it! Floor to ceiling tiles. When tiling a small bathroom use the same tile floor to ceiling and align the tiles; if there is a straight line from floor to ceiling it makes the room look bigger.

The utility store The bath fit into the small space with millimeters to spare

With five steps leading down to the lounge below we realised there would be a big void under the kitchen. One day staring at it I thought, what about putting doors on it? The builder said we could so we did.”

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“We have the couch in front of the doors and now it’s a store for Christmas decorations. It’s a huge add-on in terms of storage, especially considering most of the Christmas stuff is used in this part of the house. It saves us having to go to the attic and only cost us an extra £200 to do. As the house has three sets of stairs it is definitely better to have Christmas hidden downstairs.” “We are grateful we lived on site throughout the build for that hidden gem alone. Also when the gas company came to fit the meter, they wanted to put it where the downstairs shower room wall was to be. Thankfully we were there and got them to put it in a corner so we wouldn’t lose that valuable amenity.” There was one building control issue with fireproofing the extension to the side for the utility and storage area. “We had to get a product shipped from England, which delayed things a bit in July, and we painted it on. But it didn’t delay us by too much,” says Pauline. “There are always problems, however small, and the compromises made are rarely going to become game changers when you’re keeping an eye on the build along the way.”


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More photographs available at selfbuild.ie

Project information Find out more about Pauline’s extention and renovation project in Co Antrim... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


Extension walls: Cavity wall construction with 100mm cavity. Outer skin 100mm thick, inner skin 100mm thick. Both skins tied together with 250 mm stainless steel wall ties at 750 ctrs horizontally and 450 ctrs vertically. Additional ties at each block course within 225 mm of openings and at corners. Top of cavity closed with 12.5mm fireboard. Cavities insulated with 60mm phenolic board.

Architect Robert Gilmour Architects, Belfast, tel. 9064 9098, rgtect.co.uk

Extension floor: 100 mm concrete screed on l000g vapour check on 100 mm EPS insulation on 175 mm concrete subfloor (with one layer of A393 mesh) as per structural engineer’s spec on 1200 gauge polyethylene membrane (as radon barrier). Barrier continued through external walls with stepped cavity tray above. All joints in membrane lapped by 300mm double sided butyl jointing tape. Barrier laid on blinding on well consolidated and blinded hardcore in layers not exceeding 200 mm. Polyurethane board with minimum R-value of 0.75m K/W behind heads, sills and jambs. Polyurethane board with minimum R-value of 0.75m K/W at the edge of screed.  Flat roof: Trocal membrane and asociated flashings on 18mm WBP ply, on tilting fillets (0 - 120mm to give minimum of 1in 80 fall) on 47x220mm C16 @400mm centres. 120 mm of phenolic insulation between rafters with 42.5 mm of insulated plasterboard fixed to the underside of rafters. 50mm ventilation gap above the insulation. Shed walls: Stud wall sheeted on the interior with WBP plywood, 50mm phenolic board insulation between studs, and breather membrane on the exterior and clad in vertical closed boards fencing boards. Studs 50x75mm.

Builder Martin Colvin, mobile 07774 841884 Insulation Kingspan Kooltherm K8 for walls, Springvale Platinum floorshield for floor, Kingspan Koolterm K7 between rafters and Kingspan Koolterm K18 insulated plasterboard on underside of rafters, kingspaninsulation.com Stove Mournes Fireplaces, mournefires.com Carpets Belmont furnishings, belmontfurnishings.co.uk Kitchen appliances E&H Services, ehservices.co.uk Photography Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com ROI calling NI prefix with 048 for landlines, prefix with 0044 and drop the first zero for mobile







Utility Store

Dining Kitchen



Snug Hall

GROUND FLOOR BEFORE 5 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

wc Hall


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not in use. Of course, when you are choosing your fuel, you should consider the environment, and choose a renewable option like Calor BioLPG.

Calor Cylinder Manager, Jennifer Fagan explains that outdoor living is getting more popular and more environmentally friendly. “Calor is delighted to be the first company in Ireland to offer a renewable gas alternative to Irish BBQ and outdoor enthusiasts.

Irish people are definitely using their gardens and outdoor spaces more often and to greater effect, spending time together with family and friends. Calor provides the energy to help enjoy that time together and now that energy is renewable.” Further information on the new Calor BioLPG range is available at www.calorgas.ie/biolpg

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Rejuvenation How Claire and Robert Watts turned this well-located but cold Dublin home into a functional and cosy nest for their family. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Gareth Byrne

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uilt in the 1940s after WWII the materials used were minimal, mostly thin concrete blocks, bricks and wood. There was hardly any insulation left as well as dated electric systems,” says Claire. “My husband grew up in this house and from the beginning his parents were happy with us making big changes and start with a clean slate because they knew it needed an upgrade.” “We knew about its faults and qualities. It is a place that we loved and we wanted the best for it.”


“It was a complete renovation, essentially a rebuild and extension. The entire interior and most of the outer walls were done from scratch. Only one room downstairs and the front wall of the house remained,” continues Claire. “We built over the old kitchen where we added two bedrooms, and extended at the side in the passageway. We decided to keep with the style of the road but modernise the interior and refresh the exterior. The footprint is very similar to the original so 

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Q&A What’s your favourite part of the house?

The kitchen, the bedroom, bathroom. The little staircase from the bedroom to the attic. It’s hard to choose!

Were there any surprises?

How much I enjoyed the process; when you have a good team behind you, there’s very little you can’t do with a bit of imagination.

What would you change?

We internally insulated the one room we kept from the original house but it shrunk a lot as a result. We should have insulated it externally, it would have been worth the extra cost. If you don’t know what the room was like, you wouldn’t notice but I don’t think it’s as nice as it used to be.

there were no planning issues.” “We wanted to keep the roof but found the rafters were too damaged and had to build it from scratch too.” “The house has a good size garden, the solid sheds were demolished to increase its footprint. Our design for it was minimal but we got some help with it to make sure it would look nice, adding some lighting features to highlight trees and bushes. We wanted a simple feel to the garden to keep it in harmony with the house and the large bay windows.” “The most important thing for me inside

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was for it to look modern but comfortable while delivering all the features of a practical family home. I didn’t want the house to be ostentatious, the only exception is the marble countertop because I really had my heart set on it.” “We chose the finishes with the help of an interior designer, feedback from the architectural designer and what we wanted for the house.” “The choice of heating system was of course also very important; we wanted something environmentally friendly and efficient,” adds Claire. “Our architectural designer Mark recommended an air source heat pump with heating controls; the temperature indoors regulates itself depending on the external temperature. It provides a constant temperature throughout the house and doesn’t need to be manually controlled.” “The house had natural gas before this and had very high bills; we witnessed a big drop thanks to the insulation levels and the heat pump. We have underfloor heating on the ground floor and all windows are triple glazed.” The kitchen supplier, for his part, was very helpful and was happy to discuss the drawings Claire and Robert brought from Mark. “We originally wanted a bulkhead going forward into the room which I had seen in a magazine, but Mark felt our space was too 

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outdoor space and less time cleaning. Caring for EasyClean paving is a straightforward process as its coated surface allows for dirt and debris to be washed away without the need for vigorous scrubbing or power hosing.

Tobermore’s EasyClean is a new concept for the modern home (and the first of its kind in the UK). EasyClean flags are treated with stain protection technology during the manufacturing process allowing for built in protection, preventing spills from penetrating the surface of the paving and allowing for them to be wiped away with ease.

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EasyClean is the perfect paving product for those who wish to keep their outdoor space as clean as the day they bought it. For information visit your local Tobermore Paving Centre in Tobermore, Bangor, Dublin or Cork or call our sales office on NI: 028 7964 2411 ROI: 048 7964 2411


Q&A Would you do it again?

I’m now helping in a new build for my parents. They decided to sell their place and found a site in Dublin where they are building from scratch. It is actually nicer to work for someone else because it is difficult to make decisions on what you will be living with for years to come. It is a lot of pressure when it’s your house and a decision you won’t be able to reverse. There are so many things that I saw while searching for my house, I found that aspect of our self-build the most difficult. Now by advising my parents I get to put forward all the options we could have chosen and I don’t have to make the final decision. Best of both worlds.

What single piece of advice would you give a renovator?

I am really happy with what I have chosen and I had the right advice, but there is not just one way to make a house and many options could have been just as nice. My advice would be try not to feel restricted to one way of thinking because many others will work just as well. Get professional help, it opens up opportunities. It is a stressful time but try to enjoy it.

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small for that to work, so we pushed it back to avoid shrinking the room,” says Claire. “We created hidden doors to the utility room, which I had noticed in the kitchen designer’s showroom, and it is both practical and aesthetic.” “One of the changes had to do with moving the island – it was slightly centred in the room and I wanted the living space to be the main focus of the open plan area. I wanted that room to look like a sitting room rather than a kitchen. We moved it back slightly and we still have 1m10 to circulate between the island and the counter at the back, which is plenty.”

The big build

“The builder we chose was already working on our road for one of the neighbours. He recommended Mark, the architectural designer, and priced the build based on the construction drawings that Mark supplied.”

“They had collaborated on other projects in the past and we were given the opportunity to visit one of them. They clearly worked well together and we liked what they had done. We were both confident that we had made the right choice.” “As for the budget, it was tight when we self-built in 2017. If we were to do it today we’d be struggling to get it all done within our financial limits. Overall it took 10 months instead of the eight originally planned; the delays were due to changes in the supply of wood flooring. We had difficulties getting the wood we had chosen and had to look for another supplier.” “All of our choices were kept in budget except for the floorboards because it is the biggest feature of the house and it was important that this should be right.” “The other reason for the delay was the windows: we had very specific requirements 


‘As for the budget, it was tight when we self-built in 2017. If we were to do it today we’d be struggling to get it all done within our financial limits.’

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Top Tips Open up to the garden as much as possible… we have sun all day long and moonlight in the evening, which is fabulous. …but have a nice garden to look at. We enlisted the help of a professional to get this right. Shop around. It really paid off to take the time to ring every possible supplier to make significant savings. Choose early on. Keeping on schedule is essential so try and choose your materials, windows, floors, kitchen and fireplace early on so the builder isn’t waiting on you to keep going.

and sourcing the right supplier proved to be more difficult than we thought. Glass is imported in Ireland and delays are common. It just took a while to figure out.” “During the build I called in regularly and was able to give my opinion, which meant showing up once or twice a week,

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especially towards the end. Overall it was the builder who managed the project, along with my husband who looked after the suppliers.” “We had patient and efficient builders who let us make changes and provided solutions as we went along as we were both very involved in the progress of the house.” “But if there was one thing that I could change now, it would be the attic. We did not think about it until late in the build because we had planned to keep the original roof. Eventually we had to rebuild the roof as it turned out to be in very poor condition, but we missed the opportunity to make the area an additional living space, had we increased its ceiling height by a foot which would probably have been within planning permission conditions. The space is now a great playroom but the ceiling is too low to make it a real living space.” “We are very happy here,” concludes Claire. “We kept most of our big furniture, but bit by bit we are replacing it. We got rid of our dining room table and got a new couch. We put the old couch in the other room but we’re progressively adapting to the new space and plan for more changes.” “What’s made the most difference to us is the location of the house. It is better than where we had lived before and the schools are much closer. That was probably the biggest change for us.”

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More photographs available at selfbuild.ie

Project information Find out more about Claire and Robert’s extention and renovation project in Co Dublin... BUILDING INFO


New walls and upgraded existing walls U-value 0.12W/sqmK, roof U-value 0.16W/sqmK, ground floor U-value 0.15W/sqmK

Chartered architectural technologist Mark Davies from ARC Design, arcdesign.ie

Site size: 830 sqm

Builder Anthony and Dermot Fox, pafoxconstruction.ie

House size before: 200 sqm House size after: 250 sqm

Interior designer Garry Cohn, cohndesign. com Light fittings Lightvault, lightvault.ie

Alarm & CCTV Eirtec Security, eirtec.ie

Heating and plumbing Ecoscene Plumbing, ecoscene.ie

Bathrooms Ideal Bathrooms, idealbathrooms.ie

Joinery Watte Woodwork, wattewoodwork.ie

Fire Buckley Fireplaces, buckleyfireplaces.ie Floor Hardwood Floor Company, thehardwoodfloor company.ie Garden Exhibition Landscapes, exhibitionlandscapes.ie


Kitchen The Design Yard, thedesignyard.com Windows DK Windows, dkwindows.ie Photography Gareth Byrne Photography, garethbyrne.com




Dining Room Lounge Hall Master Bedroom Lounge

Master Bedroom

Shower Room

Living Area

Music Room

Kitchen Dining


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En-Suite Bedroom

Landing En-Suite

Dressing Room







Family Room






D E S I G N / G R A N N Y F L AT S

The rise of the granny flat An ageing population and a housing shortage has led to more and more people choosing to bring elderly parents, or their grown children, to live with them either within their house or in a separate dwelling close by. Words: Debbie Orme

KES Group, kesgroup.com 6 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

KES Group, kesgroup.com


raditionally, ‘granny flats’ got their name from the fact that they were used to accommodate ageing parents, but the term has recently become something of a misnomer since many parents are using them to provide accommodation for older children, who may be saving for their own home, or who may have been unable to find suitable rental property. Granny flats generally come in two forms: attached to the family home – or integrated within it – or detached. Both options provide the opportunity for the relative to be ‘on site’ but to retain a degree of independence. While some will opt for a self-contained apartment, which acts as an extension to the main house, but is connected to the main building by a corridor or door, others will go for the stand-alone dwelling in the garden. Whether connected, integrated or stand-alone, most will usually possess a kitchen or kitchenette, a bedroom,

bathroom and living room and many will require extra features specifically designed for elderly people, such as handrails or a ramp for a wheelchair. The ready availability of services, parking, electricity, water and waste supply make this a very convenient way of providing extra accommodation. It also provides an increased sense of security, particularly in the case of elderly relatives, who require some nursing care, since they are under the same roof.

Integrated granny flats

If a granny flat is created by the conversion of an existing part of a dwelling, or by an extension, then there are certain restrictions imposed by planning

authorities. If an extension is to be provided, planning permission may be required and finishes will usually need to match those of the original house. Most local authorities make a condition of planning permission that the flat reverts to use by the original house if the granny flat element is no longer being used by a family member. For planning permission, the rules are slightly different between NI and ROI (see article on selfbuild.ie about planning permission for extensions). In both cases, you may be exempt from having to secure planning permission if you build the extension to a particular size, height and other caveats such as having a certain

G R A N N Y F L AT S / D E S I G N

amount of garden space remaining. Naturally, the size and type of extension will dictate the cost of an extension or conversion into a granny flat, but a ballpark figure for a 30sqm single-storey is €48k/£43k and €65k/£58k for 40sqm. While grants to adapt your house are available, in ROI they are means tested and in NI the Disabled Facilities Grant, must be backed by the recommendation of an occupational therapist.


Any accommodation that is intended for habitation will need full planning permission. Some local authorities do not favour or permit this type of detached development as they are keen to prevent the units from being used as separate dwellings in the event that the annexe is no longer required as a granny flat. Unlike the integrated conversion or extension to the main dwelling, separate drainage, water and electricity connections are required, and the impact on the amenities of adjoining properties also needs to be taken into consideration. As with any garden construction in NI or ROI, planning permission is also required if the dwelling is installed at the front or side of the frontage of the house, or if it takes up more than 50 per cent of the garden. It also has to be within 2.5 metres of the boundary. Similar to garden pods, standalone accommodation can be built off-site and then delivered and installed within a day. Granny pods are a more modern type of granny flat because they come with high-tech amenities that include monitoring facilities and equipment and a range of special gadgets to ensure that the occupant is properly taken care of and monitored. Some of the state-ofthe-art versions, for example, feature special toilets that carry out urinalysis and temperature checks and a medication dispenser with a timer. As with any construction that is bespoke, the price will depend on the finish and the specific features. A ballpark figure for this type of construction is €900 /£850 per square metre for a turnkey specification.

Further information: grannyflats.ie, kesgroup.com, timberliving.ie


Care at home When Carole Allen’s elderly mother required nursing care, Carole and husband John knew exactly how they would enable her to remain in a domestic setting. “Like many people,” says Carole, “although we had a reasonably-sized garage, we both parked our cars in the driveway, and so, once my mother came to live with us, we knew that converting the integral garage would be a much more beneficial use of the space.” “We wanted to ensure that my mother was close enough to us for reassurance and, if necessary, assistance, but we also wanted her to retain a degree of independence. Having her living quarters integrated into the house was one way of doing this. She still had her own front door, but there was also a door which connected her flat with the main body of the house.” In converting the integral garage, the couple created a living/kitchen area with all of the usual amenities, including a washing machine and dishwasher and a bathroom with shower. They then added an extension to the rear of the garage, which was to house a bedroom. “The fact that my mother had her own private entrance (what had previously been the side door of the garage) meant that she retained some of her independence and also that people didn’t have to come in through our main accommodation all of the time. The fact that there was also a connecting door to the main residence meant that we all had

Garage converted into a ‘granny flat’

peace of mind since a carer or any of us could gain access if necessary.” “Prior to both the conversion and the construction of the extension, I had spoken to an occupational therapist (OT) and she suggested practical features such as having the internal and external doors of the granny flat wider than normal to allow for wheelchair access. She also suggested putting all of the electrical sockets at a lower-than-normal level so that my mother did not have to stretch up or down to switch lights etc on. I really think that anyone who is considering installing a granny flat either in their own home or as an extension could benefit from the advice of an OT.” “With hindsight there are various features that I would have changed. For a start I would have installed a level deck shower or ‘wet room’ instead of the standard shower that was put in then. The wet room would have enabled my mother to go into the shower in her wheelchair, which would have made things easier for both her and her carer. I would also have installed a ramp at the side door for wheelchair access.” Since her mother passed, Carole and John have continued to make great use of the granny flat as it provides independent accommodation for visiting friends and family. While the couple have no plans to sell their delightful family home in their leafy Co Down suburb, there is no doubt that the addition of the accommodation provided by the granny flat has added value to the home.

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The big move Moving into my parents’ home and building them a granny flat turned out to be the best decision we made as a family Words & Photography: Steven Bell


y parents have lived in this house for the past 31 years and put a lot of time, effort as well as money into it. The area is first class, they didn’t want to leave it, but they needed to downsize. During one of our get-togethers, I suggested buying it off them and putting a granny flat on. My wife and children always loved the house, so it was sort of a no brainer. My parents wanted enough space to enjoy retirement, so I designed the new rooms around what they were using in the house. This is what we replicated in the granny annexe. There was no need for anything other than the mains rooms because of all the space they still had access to in the existing house. Dad wanted something in keeping with the house (it was built in 1930) and I wanted something that was different from the house to stop it looking like an old people home! Since my dad retired he’s too much time on his hands and like myself has too many mad ideas running about his head. We argued over him wanting a two-storey extension and me wanting something more subtle. We’d used timber cladding in our first house and loved the thought of using it again, only this time the plan was to char/ burn the larch. This was an aspect we all really enjoyed, my dad got right into it. He’d be out burning the cladding most of his spare time and myself and my daughters helped clean/ stain/move it about in the evenings. Keeping the alleyway through to the annexe was important, we can all use it. Having access to the utility is handy for them too. For this project, both planning permission and building control were required. We had 7 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

to apply for a change of use for the garage space and that was approved within four weeks. With using burnt larch the planners wanted to see how the material blended with the house, and we produced 3D renders to showcase this. Building control was within the same timeframe – we made a few calls to ask them to get the construction drawings approved as soon as possible. We’d been moved into the house two months at that stage and were eager to get started. We specified standard cavity wall construction for the new parts with a 150mm cavity fully filled with board insulation. For the garage conversion, we applied 120mm spray foam insulation to the walls, which had been built with single blocks on


liked, but it saved us money which was the main thing. Everyone involved has been pleased with how it turned out, which I feel very proud of. The one thing that should have been sorted and was left to the end was the landscaping. This was mainly due to money but also due to the fact that one of my best mates who is a landscaper and who said he’d help me on it, is flat out. Next year will sort it all out, and I want to get it just right for everyone in the family in the long term. My advice for anyone considering a similar set-up is to talk it over and over and over (and over) again with your parents, or in-laws – everyone has to get on living this close together.

the flat. We put in 150mm board insulation over the flat roof and 400mm mineral wool insulation over the garage ceiling. There are new floors throughout insulated with 150mm board. The only change during the build was moving the living room an extra foot. Dad had this sorted when I wasn’t there as he thought the room wouldn’t be large enough. Now he reckons the room might be a foot too long! Apart from that everything that we set out to do was followed to the letter and worked very well. The downside is that it took a while to get it finished, 10 months, which was due to my workload in the office. It was frustrating running the site and my business and the project consumed more time that I’d of


cloaks living

Cost to turnkey finish (not including landscaping which is due to take place at the end of summer): £60,000 including VAT








bed bathroom

kitchen bed



rear hall

Architectural designer Steven Bell (partner) Slemish Design Studio Architects, slemishdesignstudio.co.uk Burnt larch cladding advice Toasted Wood, toastedwood.co.uk


rear hall

Size of extension: 900sqft





wet room


wet room

Timber cladding L.E Haslett & Co utlity


Windows S Dooey & Co Ltd Stove Phillips Heating & Stoves Ltd

dining kitchen store


Flat roof and window reveals/sills Flat Roofing Systems

double garage living room



AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 7 1


How much will your floors cost? In the last issue, we examined the cost of external wall options; we now move on to the upper floor structure. Words: Keith Kelliher


n upper floor structure not only allows you to stack an additional living space on top of a lower level, it also provides a conduit for services, i.e. electrics, plumbing and heating pipes, ventilation and where using, central vacuum system pipework. The cost of an upper floor, be it the first floor or attic floor, will depend on material selection, sound insulation, thermal insulation, fire resistance, structural stability and transfer of services. Across all floor types, a qualified engineer must review loadings for the specific structure. S/he will design the size, depth and makeup of the supports to meet with the requirements of that material when compared to the layout of rooms, the span of floors, etc., all in accordance with the Building Regulations. What follows is a general description and comparison of various floor types, but excludes any additional structural steel, upgrade in load bearing wall makeups, etc.

Joists built into blockwork

Traditional cut timber floors

The main factor that impacts on the cost of a floor in a domestic property is the choice of material used in the structure. Historically, and back in our grandparents’ days, timber enjoyed a virtual monopoly in terms of floor structure makeup. Kiln-dried softwood joists spanning between structural walls were the product of choice. Once the blockwork lift from ground to first floor was completed, a carpenter arrived on site and installed timber joists across the floor. Internal load bearing walls were used as resting points for the timber on mid spans (timber joists typically span up to 4.5m in length) with additional joists installed between the main runs as supports (known 7 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Joist bridging


as struts or bridging). The joist ends are built into the blockwork of the external walls or they are installed into joist hangers. The void in the floors can then be used to run services around the building, the underside can be clad with plasterboard to form the ceiling of the room below and the top side can have a floor board (plywood, OSB board, or a traditional tongue and groove floorboard) installed to form the floor of the room above onto which a selected finish can be installed. To provide sound insulation and fire resistance, the voids tend to be filled with mineral wool. The downside to this type of floor, as anyone who has lived in a property with this makeup can attest to, is that timber has a tendency to suffer from shrinkage which results in many of these floors becoming squeaky over time. One of the biggest issues with timber floors is the difficulty of sound transfer from the impact of walking. To mitigate this, products can be installed, e.g. a rubber membrane produced from recycled tyres or a thick underlay between the timber floor and any finish such as carpet which also muffles noise. Other products are available that can be installed along the top of the joist, to prevent impact noise, between the joist and the timber plywood or other boarding installed to achieve a reduction in this

‘An upper floor structure not only allows you to stack an additional living space on top of a lower level, it also provides a conduit for services.’

transfer but overall it can be difficult to limit the impact.

Timber I-Joists

Now a more common approach to timber joists are the installation of factory-made timber I-joists, or I-beam as they are commonly referred to. These joists are manufactured using an I shaped cross section made up of softwood or laminated veneered timber bonded to a centre web of OSB or another engineered board. They are strong, lightweight and can span over 6m without the need of internal wall or beam support. They are also not prone to shrinkage and therefore avoid the squeaking issues of traditional timber joisting. However the issue of the sound impact of walking across the floor will be similar to that of traditional joists. The webs can be drilled for services which can be carried in the void of the floor. As with traditional joisting,

plasterboard can be fixed to the underside and floor boarding to the top to provide for room finishes. Insulation can also be placed between the joists as necessary.

Open metal web joists

Similar in look to the I-Joists, metal web joists have a wavy metal web centre that facilitates the running of services without any need for drilling. They are extremely strong and yet easy to carry and install, and not prone to shrinkage. They can achieve unsupported spans of 7.5m across a range of depths from 195mm to over 300mm. Similar to traditional joisting, plasterboard can be fixed to the underside and floor boarding to the top to provide for room finishes. Insulation can also be placed between the joists as necessary. Again, the issue of the sound impact of walking across the floor will be similar to that of traditional joists. 

Hollowcore precast concrete

Joist built into hangers

AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 7 3


Typical proprietary timber I-Joist Timber web glued into groove in flange Flange

Timber flange

“V” shaped metal webs incorporating integral nail plate connectors

Typical proprietary steel web joist

Timber frame construction

‘...with proprietary joists the issue of the sound impact of walking across the floor will be similar to that of traditional joists.’

Hollowcore precast concrete

difficulties in terms of routing services and in most cases additional timber battens will be required on the underside of the floors to form a services void between the underside of the slab and the plasterboard of the ceiling below. The cost of coring the hollow core floor for service voids is far greater than any of the timber systems outlined and care is required in respect to planning well ahead for where all of the services will go. Whether drilling through timber or concrete, structural considerations are also at play and an engineer should be consulted before doing so. In addition, and depending on the system used, it is common for there to be a structural screed and reinforcement mesh

Timber frame companies will cost their proprietary systems as a whole but in the main many will use one of the systems above. It will be necessary to check the specification of each to confirm exactly what system you are receiving a quotation for.

The installation of precast concrete floors to first and subsequent floors has increased in popularity over the recent past. Manufactured in a factory, transported to site and lifted into position by crane, they are quickly installed and provide a robust structure. By far the most common type of concrete floor, precast hollow core flooring is comprised of precast concrete with voids running along the length of each slab, thereby reducing the weight. The slabs come in various thicknesses and spans from 100mm to 300mm. They provide a high level of sound insulation and fire resistance but present 7 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

installed to the top of the slabs to tie the floor together. In most instances this screed will also incorporate the underfloor heating pipework for the floor. Whereas underfloor heating is possible with timber floors, with the help of thin quick drying screeds, it is more commonly used where precast concrete floors have been installed. Any selected floor finish can then be installed on the concrete floor as directed by the manufacturer of the finished product. One of the biggest benefits of a precast concrete floor is the elimination of the issue of sound from the impact of walking being transferred to rooms below. Care is still required in respect to the need for sound absorbing products between the 

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concrete floor and any selected finish, but overall the floor works well in removing sound transfer issues.

Cost comparison

The table below shows the notional costs of a property with a 67.5sqm first floor area; the analysis excludes openings and accessories. For comparative purposes all costs include standard 12.5mm

plasterboard to finish the ceiling below and a tiled floor finish on the floor above, with an allowance of €50/sqm for the purchase of the floor tiles (excludes installation cost). When we revert back to the example of our two 139sqm properties that we have been comparing in our articles to date, the bungalow and the two storey property, as the bungalow does not have

any intermediate floor the cost of the two storey property would be double as it would have to factor in an attic floor.

In the next issue, we will look at the element of roof construction (structure and finishes) and outline how again design and material selection can seriously impact on the bottom line of your budget.




Element Total

225 x 50 C 16 joists at 300mm c/c





225 x 50mm bridging @ 1200mm c/c





Metalwork and accessories





Insulation to void





18mm Plywood screw fixed to joists





Tiled floor finish to plywood





Plasterboard to underside of joists






Group Element Total

Traditional Timber Floor

€13,847.63 I Joists I Joist 400mm spacing Metalwork and accessories









Insulation to void





18mm Plywood screw fixed to joists





Tiled Floor Finish to Plywood





Plasterboard to underside of joists




€776.25 €12,954.71

Easy Joists (open web) WS250 400mm spacing









Insulation to void





18mm Plywood screw fixed to joists





Tiled Floor Finish to Plywood





Plasterboard to underside of joists





Metalwork and accessories

€13,197.87 Precast Concrete Hollowcore 150mm





Mesh A142





Concrete Screed





Tiled Floor Finish to Plywood





Batten to underwise of slab 100 x 75





Plasterboard to underside of joists




€776.25 €13,663.01 AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 7 7


Building with oak In many countries and cultures, oak remains a symbol of strength and survival. In construction, green oak is especially regarded as being environmentally friendly as well as renowned for its beauty, durability, strength and longevity. Words: Les O’Donnell

Glenfort, glenfort.com


hen we refer to the use of oak as a material for building houses and extensions, we’re talking about structural timber. These building are ‘timberframed’ but not ‘timber frame’. Timber frame is a term that refers to light-weight prefabricated timber panels. A surprisingly large number of oak building companies exist across the UK and Ireland, but a relatively small percentage of these specialise in building houses, the remainder providing anything from orangeries and conservatories to stables, barns and garages.

Oak structures

All oak buildings start with a structural frame or skeleton, which can be filled, encased or left exposed according to the design objectives. Traditionally, the infill panels were of wattle and daub, clay or stone and later, of brick. Nowadays they are more likely to be of insulation material. The three principal traditional types of oak frame consisted of cruck, box and aisled frames. Nowadays, these styles are often merged and adapted to form more complex frames. The basic principle of them all is the ‘post and beam’ structure which consists of two or more uprights supporting a horizontal beam. Each set of posts and beams are then repeated in bays along the length of the building. As these frames carry the roof, open plan spaces are easy to create within the building. Cruck frames were the earliest and are still in use today. The principal structural members are taken in pairs from a single trunk, usually but not always, curved; so that each member is mirrored on each side of a large ‘A’ shaped frame. The two main supports are set narrow end up and fixed at the top whilst a beam is usually carried across them about halfway up, to support the main first floor. Old cruck houses can still be seen with the frame structure 7 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Oak frames can have sawn or planed finishes followed by sanding or buffing

exposed on the external gables. The box frame became more common as large trees became scarce during the latter part of the Middle Ages, so shorter timbers had to be used. The frame is created using larger members to form the skeleton of the box, with lighter pieces infilling the spaces between. The ‘boxes’ can be set side by side and on top of each other to form more varied shapes and sizes of building. Tudor period houses with vertical timbers and whitewashed infill panels were usually built using this type of structure. Larger than cruck houses, ‘Hall Houses’ or aisle frames consisted of frames which were formed using a set of columned frames at usually 16’ (4.88m) intervals to create bays. The rafters were extended down past the main frame onto external walls outside the main frames.

Truss frames are constructed using roof trusses carried on vertical posts or columns. The truss is made up of a web of triangles of varying complexity (many interesting examples can be seen in our churches), to give the roof lateral rigidity and to prevent the support posts from spreading. This is probably the most common form of frame in use today.

How to use oak in your build

Roof, wall and floor sub-frames can be prepared off site and assembled as a complete oak frame on site, which makes it a modern method of construction. During the design phase, careful consideration will have been given to the condition of the oak to be used and its estimated shrinkage rate, so it is preferable to source it at a very early stage. A green oak-framed building should


Common rafters

not be rapidly dried after construction as this can cause unduly dramatic splits in the wood. If glazing is to be applied to the face of Ridge beam or ridge purlin the frame, then the differential movement due to shrinkage needs to be taken into account and the usual solution is to use oak cover boards over the joints. When extending a masonry or timber frame home with an oak framed structure, then expansion or contraction joints need to be used where differential movement The beam would cause problems. Junctions between walls, roofs, foundations and glazing all need to be properly detailed. The traditional method of jointing green Cruck blades oak frames is by mortise and tenon joints. Oak pegs are driven into holes through the Cill beam or plate joints and the ends of the pegs are sawn off to give a neat finish after the wood has dried in the building and the pegs have been re-tightened. To get started, find a designer with detailed knowledge of oak-framed structures, or alternatively, many of the oak-building companies will work with your designer. Then get a preliminary design prepared to check estimated costs. Arcade posts If you intend to leave parts of the frame exposed externally, before you submit a planning application, consult the planners to find out what they are likely to think of it. Aisles Building control will require structural Main hall Aisles calculations to prove that the structure complies with the relevant standards. If the oak frame building company do not provide these, you will need to engage a structural engineer, which is the smart Truss and post frame thing to do at the design stage of any building project. Find out all you can about the oak which is going to be used. •Is it sustainably sourced? •What is the age and moisture content? •Has it been properly strength graded? •How do you want it to look (i.e. traditional or modern) and where will it be exposed?


In Europe there are 22 species of oak, but in the UK and Ireland we most commonly use the two most northerly-growing species, i.e. pedunculate or common oak (Quercus robur) and sessile oak (Quercus petraea). The evergreen holm oak (Quercus ilex) and the cork oak (Quercus suber) can also be obtained. When buying oak or oak frames, or in fact any timber, care should be taken to ensure that it is certified from organisations which promote sustainable forest management such as the FSC 


Wall plate

Aisle frame

Box frame

Common rafters

Roof truss; Supporting the purlins

Purlins An end frame

AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 7 9




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Green v seasoned oak

I would like to put in oak trusses and beams in my open plan area of my new build home. Will that mean more work for my designer and builder?

In most cases people have an architectural designer who will then work with the manufacturer of their choice to figure out the structural implications of using oak as a material. Designers tend to rely on the manufacturers for this expertise and usually come with standard construction plans and ask the oak company to convert them to a full oak structure or to replace the roof structure with oak trusses. Most of these products are bespoke and made to order. A lot of customers will come to us with a blank canvas or part designed home and we can help design the timber elements they would like. This could be a simple beam layout in a standard block built home or we can re-design the main structural elements to produce a full oak or glulam structures with oak trusses, posts and beams frames. The extent of the design input you will get from your oak manufacturer will depend on the company, the minimum is getting structural advice for the oak members only, along with certificates for building control, all the way to full design services for the entire house as well as manufacture and installation including full engineering calculations.

What are the alternatives to oak for a similar look?

Popular alternatives to oak include Douglas fir, larch and cedar in solid timbers. Engineered timber such as glulam (pictured) provides another alternative for projects where larger span timbers are required or even curved timbers. Glulam can be made from softwood or hardwood such as spruce, larch, oak, beech, ash, and iroko.


Oak for structural use is normally supplied in two main forms; green oak and seasoned oak. The main advantages of using green oak is that frames will dry, shrink and tighten as the building dries. It is also much easier to work for shaping and making joints, etc. Green oak is simply oak that has been recently sawn (it’s best described as being wet) whilst seasoned oak has been allowed to dry naturally, usually sheltered but ventilated, in the open air. Seasoning can take anything between three to ten years depending on the thickness of the oak. When buying ‘dry’ oak for parts of the structure where movement is undesirable, it is important to find out how old and dry it is and also to try to anticipate the conditions in use. In decreasing order of dryness and of cost, oak is typically available as: •Kiln dried (approximate moisture of 15 per cent) •Air dried (approximate moisture of 20-30 per cent) •Partly seasoned (approximate moisture of 20-60 per cent) •Fresh cut from trees felled within 18-36 months (approximate moisture of 60-80 per cent) Any oak used for structural purposes should be strength graded in accordance with BS5756 to ensure that it is capable of taking the intended loads. The shear strength of wood is around 10-15 per cent of its tensile strength in the direction of the grain and because shear strength is weakened by knots and associated faults such as through-grain cracks, most of the criteria related to sorting for strength and quality is related to knots. As with all wood, the strength of oak is fundamentally affected by the direction of the load in relation to the grain. Natural seasoning does not weaken properly designed oak frames, but makes the timber harder and stronger. The grading process also limits the angle of grain direction and since cracks and splits generally run parallel to the grain, these do not weaken the timber. Moisture content affects density, which in turn affects bending strength, so these factors must be known in order to



(Forest Stewardship Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification). Sawn oak in the UK and Ireland is usually limited to maximum sizes of about 9.500m long and 500 x 500mm section size, but some European forests can provide longer members if required. Commonly used section sizes range from 150 x 150mm to 250 x 250mm, in 50mm increments.

predict load-bearing ability. Oak forest rotation cycles can be 200 years or more, as an oak tree can take up to 150 years before it is ready for use as structural timber, although in practice, much of it is felled at an age of between 90 to 120 years old. Even though most of the oak used for construction is green, it is occasionally necessary to use a dry beam, for example for joists, where it is preferable that shrinkage and movement is minimised. Dry oak is not customarily used for whole

Cathal Campbell of Glenfort Timber Engineering, glenfort.com

structures due to availability and cost and the fact that green oak will eventually dry inside the building to achieve a similar moisture content anyway. Also, green oak is easier to cut and shape than dry oak. Seasoned oak will have weathered, split, moved out of square and opened around knots. This all gives it character, but the builder may require it to be recut to replace existing elements exactly during restoration or to ensure uniformity where it is necessary. Kiln-drying oak can reduce moisture content much faster, but  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 8 1


Thermal performance, fire and pest resistance

Unfortunately, dense wood is not a very good insulator. Dry oak has a thermal conductivity of about the same as a standard lightweight aerated concrete block and increasing the moisture content increases the thermal conductivity, so the old look of exposed external timbers is nowadays harder to achieve. Some oak frame companies have managed to build walls with exposed external timbers which have reasonable U-values but airtightness obviously becomes an issue when green oak shrinks. If external exposed timber is not a priority, then it is easier to simply encapsulate the oak frame with an unbroken, airtight, 8 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9


the timber can suffer from discolouration throughout the section. Many types of wood, not just oak, contain acetic acid which can cause corrosion in metals at concentrations as low as 0.5 ppm in air. Kiln-dried wood is more likely to cause corrosion when in contact with ferrous metals than air-dried wood. Mostly though, kiln-dried or airdried oak is usually reserved for furniture, decorative joinery, floorboards or fireplace surrounds, etc. Quercitannic acid (more commonly known as tannic acid) is present in all forms of oak timber, but is fixed in the dry, aged wood. With higher moisture contents found in wet oak or oak that is exposed to the weather, the acid can leach and leave brown stains on the wood. Over time, green oak will weather to a silvery grey. These characteristics add to the charm of the material. For those who wish to retain the colour of green oak there are various treatments and wax oils on the market. Just keep in mind that if used externally, most of these will need to be re-applied annually. Indoors, it is useful to oil the timber in rooms with high humidity or where water can be splashed around. Dried oak timber products can be treated pretty much as you would finish any other hardwood. All oak frames will need to be cleaned once the construction phase is over. Some self-builders will take on this task themselves to save on costs, but be warned, it is labour intensive. Oxalic acid is the recommended weapon of choice for tackling timber staining, but do take care to use it safely and adhere to the health and safety guidance relevant to the product. Sandblasting is another technique which is used, but it can be messy. Of course, it is always good practice to keep exposed timber covered during construction to reduce cleaning effort later.

Nowadays stainless steel is used to avoid blue stains due to acids in green oak reacting with ferrous metals such as iron; fixings can be surface mounted or concealed. Stainless steel can also be used as plates within flitch beams and as tie rods or cables.

‘Even though most of the oak used for construction is green (green oak refers to recently felled, wet wood), it is occasionally necessary to use a dry beam, for example for joists...’ insulated and weather-proof envelope. For example, SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels) can be used in order to achieve PassivHaus standards, but other solutions such as more traditional insulated cavity walls, if properly designed and built, will work just as well. Oak is a relatively dense hardwood which performs well under fire due to the effects of charring (i.e. carbonisation), where timber beneath the charred layer does not lose significant strength because the thermal conductivity is lower and fire penetration is slowed down. It is the structural engineer’s responsibility to determine the timber sizes using the estimated ‘residual’ section size to maintain its load-bearing capability after fire has occurred. Pests of interest to builders and homeowners include wood-boring weevils, the powder post beetle and the common furniture beetle. The death watch beetle is more common in the south of Ireland than in northern regions. The good news is that these can be controlled by keeping the wood dry and properly ventilated, as timber which is maintained in dry condition is at

lower risk of insect attack.


An oak-framed dwelling or extension need not be inordinately costly. Typically, for raw timber freshly sawn green oak will cost around £1,000/€1,200 per cubic metre (plus VAT). This equates to £100/€120 for a five metre long beam with a section of 100mm x 200mm. Air-dried oak will cost about 20 per cent more, depending on age and quality. Finished timber (planed and oiled) will cost more. Commonly used methods for limiting costs include just making the primary members (i.e. the structural frame) from oak and the secondary members such as rafters and joists from cheaper timber. Also consider just giving the main rooms the oak treatment. Many selfbuilders use oak only for features such as roof trusses, lintels and ceiling beams within a block built or timber frame house. The oak theme can be carried through a house by using oak floorboards, skirting boards, architraves and mantles, etc.


How to: mix concrete Do you need to mix concrete for a DIY project at home, like a path or a patio? Are you unsure about the correct ratio of cement, sand and gravel to mix? Would you know what to do if you have added too much water to the mix? Would you find a concrete calculator useful for your project? The answers to these and many more questions can be found by visiting Irish Cement’s new dedicated website irishcement.ie/howto You will find three helpful short videos on planning the job and how to mix concrete by either shovel or mixer. The site also has a handy ‘concrete calculator’ that lists out the materials you will need for general purpose concrete by simply entering the measurements of your project into three boxes. Irish Cement has launched these ‘how to’ videos and concrete calculator following feedback from customers. The videos are simple

to follow and provide step by step guidance and useful tips for general purpose concrete to help you get started on that DIY concrete project. Irish Cement, a CRH company, is Ireland’s leading manufacturer and supplier of cement in bags and bulk for over 80 years. Irish Cement has been trusted by professionals for generations. For more information visit irishcement.ie

Video no. 2. Demonstrates all you need to know about mixing concrete by hand, or more precisely using a shovel! You will get a ‘rule of thumb’ to help with the mix ratios, the importance of adding the right amount of water and advice on what to do if you have added too much water.

Video no. 3. For slightly bigger concrete jobs, will show you how to mix concrete in a tumble mixer, the correct sequence to add your ingredients and what to watch out for to make sure you get the mix right.

Video no. 1. It pays off to take the time to set out what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it. Depending on the scale of the concrete project the video provides guidance on how best to mix the concrete: by shovel, by mixer or if you should order ready-mix concrete.

AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 8 3



The softer sides of choosing your site Here are the questions you need to ask yourself while plot hunting Words: Andrew Stanway


Getting a house you’d ever want to live in

A site is a site. But however seemingly good it is, will you, in fact, be able to put the house of your dreams onto it – will the square footage fit and give you the garden and parking you need? What are the other homes in the area like? Have you done enough homework on what the planners are likely to allow, checking county development plans and recent planning application approvals? How sensible are they 8 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

about a new build of your intended style? Have you discussed with the neighbours your preliminary drawings/magazine cuttings showing them what you intend? Or will you have terrible rows/expensive delays/ repeated re-designs as they object to everything? Which way will the house face? How does this fit with your personal lifestyle? South-facing may not be best; northern light is favoured by artists. How will the house sit in relation

Spend to save Asking your architectural designer their opinion on the site before you buy could save you much heartache as they will be able to flag issues you may have not considered.

to the neighbours? How will you design it to get around unsightly features elsewhere? Think of any environmentally friendly additions you might make; solar panels work best when facing full south. Rainwater harvesting or large reed bed wastewater systems may need to be accommodated too. Personal decisions on orientation clearly have design implications; several of my urban clients for example like their kitchen on the front elevation, to be able to watch the world go by.



Neighbours and privacy

When we buy a site it’s rather like getting married. We buy into our extended family and their relationships when we set up a life with someone and so with a site, we inherit our neighbours. Every plot of land has not only a present but a history. This makes it vital when thinking about the ‘softer’ side of site choice to pay serious attention to how your neighbours could affect your quality of life. You’ll obviously have done your searches about any proposed new developments adjacent to your site but few people choosing a site get to grips with other potentially serious matters. Noise is the number one issue people have with bad neighbours. Be sure to do all the homework you can by day and night, weekday and weekend to hear what’s going on. Awkward neighbours are harder to discern until you actually come to deal with them but people who bully, harass or behave in aggressive ways can make life hell. Try to talk to neighbours as part of your ‘due diligence’ before buying your site. Then there are the ‘valuecrasher’ neighbours. Look carefully at what’s been allowed by way of new homes or alterations in your street or area. Could such developments in the future blight the enjoyment or value of your new home? It’s also worth looking at the local crime statistics. However great your new home might eventually be, will you feel comfortable living in an area that means you’ll have to live with Fort Knox-level security? How realistic is it that you can design something that’ll respect your neighbours’ needs and yet get what you want? Who are your neighbours? In rural areas, they could be farms/animals, factories in inner city areas. Will your neighbours forever curse you for your glass and steel box? Can you deal with this? Overlooking and privacy works both ways. You’ll have an opinion on this and so will your new neighbours. Will you want to live in a goldfish bowl looked in on by passers-by? How are your neighbours’ homes orientated? How much will they overlook you? How many windows and which rooms are you prepared to leave

exposed to the views of others? Will your life be dominated by curtains/ blinds to get the privacy you desire?


Indoor vs Outdoor space

How do you live now? How do you fantasise you’ll live in your new home? If you need a big garden you won’t be able to fill your plot with a huge house. How about a basement to free up more garden? How could you design things that’ll answer these needs for indoor/outdoor living? Will your proposed site actually ever be able to match up to this? How will you use the garden? Where will the kids play and how will you live in the house in the future (think about steps/gradients/slopes etc)? Could a lovely-looking sloping site become a nightmare in later life? How will your plans for landscaping adversely affect your neighbours? Your beautiful tree is their loss of sunshine.



Given that your garage (if any) will probably eventually be filled with stuff, where will you park? What will happen when your kids get older and they all want cars? Are you happy to have several cars outside the front elevation you’ve spent a fortune on designing to within an inch of its life? How might you possibly ‘hide’ cars? How about an underground or semisubmerged garage? Think, too, about how the parking areas could be constructed. Perhaps you could get away with a paving system that provides a strong base yet can sustain grass growth as well. There are several products around that facilitate this and enable the place to look less like a public car park. Think carefully about: how to turn your car easily so you don’t have to reverse out onto the road; on-street parking in cities; how to handle parking cleverly; how not to blight your neighbours’ lives with your parked cars. If you’re building on an infill site in a city centre, the local planners will have established guidelines you’ll have to follow. They may allow you: no on-site (‘in-curtilage’) parking at all; a garage or a space but no on-street parking; an offstreet parking space; only onstreet parking; or even no parking

The bottom line One thing is for sure – your site will never become elastic! And steps and slopes; troublesome neighbours; poor public transport; noisy commercial units; and smelly farms won’t go away.

whatsoever. Don’t forget your front garden/ road frontage. Will you have good access to the road? Will the sightlines be good enough for you, beyond what the planners require? You may find you’ll need even more to feel safe with a young family or if you have anyone with reduced mobility or poor driving skills in your household. If at all possible, allow plenty of space to be able to turn your cars within your land. Reversing out onto the public roadway is a very poor second choice. On a very tight site I once used a turntable for the owner’s car.



You don’t self-build a home for a few years; it’ll probably be a ‘forever’ one. So how will you plan for your changing needs as you age? Where will your boomerang children live in your planned build? It’s increasingly realistic that your adult children will not leave your home to buy their own in their early twenties, as previous generations did. Where

‘Look carefully at what’s been allowed by way of new homes or alterations in your street or area.’ will you put them? How will you accommodate increasing family and visitors’ cars and other transport needs for when you become less mobile? Are you planning for an ageing member of your family to live with you? If so, how could the garage be built in a way that makes its eventual conversion to a granny flat easily possible? Where will granny park her car? Supposing one of you becomes disabled? What about planning for entrance doors, ramps and so on to make the place really easy to use right from the start? What about pets? Will you realistically be able to make the place pet-proof? Is there really sufficient space for that man-cave, garden office, luxury shed or oversized garage you’d promised yourself? How will your hobby needs be catered for? AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 8 5

M AT E R I A L S / B U I L D E R ’ S M E R C H A N T S

Stock and trade Regardless of the size of your project, builder’s merchants will help you find what you need, cost the materials and in some cases, even provide design services. Words: Astrid Madsen


ver the years builder’s merchants have variously been known as timber and builder’s merchants and also as builder’s providers. As the name indicates, they were originally established to supply materials to tradesmen who then sold on the product, (along with their building or joinery services), to their customers. Many of these companies have since expanded their services to act as plumber’s merchants and many have added on bathroom showrooms and extended their product lines to include finishes such as floor coverings and ceramic tiles. Nowadays, self-builders as well as home improvers thankfully have access to these trade price rates. Indeed, for those who are taking a hands-on approach to their project, shopping for supplies at their local builder’s merchant has become mainstream as the products on offer tend to be well displayed, competitive and advice is readily found.

Choosing your builder’s merchant

Most towns across the country have at least one builder’s merchant. Many are small, family run businesses but there are a large number of chains or multiples which are strongly branded and strategically positioned on the outskirts of towns and cities. For a first impression, you can check out their website as it will usually indicate their attitude to self-builders and home improvers. You will nearly always have a choice of two or three different merchants to choose from, so bear in mind that while service is all important, these days price is king and shopping around is not only recommended but very much commonplace. If yours is a reasonably large project with plans drawn up by an architectural designer, many builder’s merchants will 8 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

provide the service of taking quantities off the plans and pricing the materials for you. This is not only helpful for your budgeting but also lets you know what products and materials you are going to need and in what volume. Some builder’s merchants now even supply design services, including energy assessments and in NI Registered Construction Details.

DIY stores

If your project consists of a small scale home improvement, you may want to consider sourcing your materials from a DIY store. These are warehouses usually located on the outskirts of major cities or in industrial estates and specifically cater to the end consumer. They stock everything you might need to do the work yourself, with many offering classes to show you how it’s done. Courses typically cover basic strategies for tiling, wallpapering, laying floors, woodworking, etc. They may charge for

the course but if they do it’s generally quite affordable, usually in the order of €12/£10 per class. The materials and equipment needed to carry out the project can of course be purchased in store. The service is off-the shelf, i.e. you won’t be given a self-build account as you would in a builder’s merchant, but advice instore is equally readily found as the staff are specifically trained to help DIYers. Not so many years ago it was unheard of for a builder to buy his materials from a DIY store. He had two very good reasons for not doing so. Firstly, the prices were usually sky high. Secondly, he was not given credit terms and all builders rely on credit so that they can do the work for you and get paid by you for both their materials and labour before having to pay their supplier. This is critical to their cash flow and most would not survive without it. However, some DIY chains have completely changed their approach to the

M AT E R I A L S / B U I L D E R ’ S M E R C H A N T S

construction industry and now, not only offer highly competitive prices, but trade terms of credit as well. Some even offer a “we won’t be beaten on price” guarantee. It is therefore worth checking out the local DIY store when doing your price comparisons.

How builder’s merchants operate

Once you get in touch with your builder’s merchant, and if yours is a large project, you may be assigned a sales representative to guide you along the way and be your point of contact in the company. They will typically call on site every month or every few weeks, depending on the project, to see what building materials are required and to see how things are progressing. The first thing you’ll probably do is visit their showroom; your sales rep will of course be able to give you advice on the various options they have (insulation, timber flooring, etc.) but they should also be able to give you samples of different products to help you make your mind up. They may even arrange for you to visit manufacturers and do some research for you, depending on your requirements, e.g. to find out where to source the kind of product you’re looking for. Most builder’s merchants will only supply the materials, that’s their main function, but others will be more involved in the details of every stage of the build, having dedicated staff on hand to provide advice for each component, e.g. from septic tanks, drainage products and foundations to doors and ironmongery. For example, those with a dedicated plumbing section will offer you a service to discuss what heating system to choose, sizing it and measuring your radiators (if using). Your sales rep will put you in touch with the various departments as you reach each stage. In terms of design services, if the builder’s merchant has a dedicated kitchen and bathroom section, they’ll be able to help you plan out those phases quite easily. The same goes for some structural elements, e.g. roof trusses. However steel supports (RSJs) tend to be ordered from specialist suppliers; your builder’s merchant should be able to point you in the right direction. Even though there typically aren’t any architectural or engineering services available, a few builder’s merchants now also offer this service. A note about disputes. If the builder working on your project goes bust and hasn’t settled his account with the builder’s merchant, the merchant will chase the money through legal channels but may

also try to get their materials back. Ordering ‘specials’. Not all builder’s merchants will specialise in every service you might need, e.g. plumbing. In the case of a bathroom, for example, they will be able to source the components for you but may not be able to offer you a competitive rate if they have to go and buy them from a specialised retailer, which you could do directly (avoiding the mark up). That said, if you’re looking for a specific item, they should be able to source it for you from the manufacturer directly, saving you the hassle of doing it yourself. Discounts. In general bulk buys are unlikely to yield any significant savings but depending on size and volume there may be scope for a discount. With cash being king, if you can pay upfront that’s where you’re likely to get the best discount. This is why on smaller projects you’re more likely to get a better deal if you pay as you go - discounts will more readily be available as you’ll be in a better bargaining position. Deliveries. If you’re buying products before you need them delivered on site, e.g. if they had to be ordered, or you made your mind up early, ask for how long they’ll be able to store them for you. It could be a case of a few weeks to a few months, depending on the builder’s merchant and on the bulk of the product. On a new build, deliveries tend to be made on a regular basis, i.e. every couple of days. Ask the company about their pricing policy, most often it will be at their discretion whether or not they charge. Flat rates are often in the order of €15/£12 but there’s no hard and fast rule as to whether or not you’ll be charged or how much. 


Getting quotes When you are asking a builder’s merchant to price your job and give you a lump sum cost, it is most important that they also give you the rates which they use to make up the cost of the materials. This is because you will almost never require the whole lot to be delivered to site at once. You will probably be ordering materials over many months and you need to be able to check that the price that they quoted at the start is the same rate as the one they are charging you on each invoice as materials are delivered. When you have the various prices in from the different merchants, you can do a price comparison but before making your final decision, talk to the builder who is going to do the work for you. He may well have strong views on the service you are likely to receive from each.

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M AT E R I A L S / B U I L D E R ’ S M E R C H A N T S

Opening a self-build account


What’s it like walking into a builder’s merchant? “There will be forklifts flying about the place and it may well be a little less polished than a ‘normal’ retail experience with the odd bit of banter going around but we are a really friendly bunch with a huge amount of product knowledge!” Stephen Rooney of Haldane Fisher

A self-build account will allow you to order items and pay for them in the future, usually a month, interest free. The account will not extend beyond their normal credit terms, i.e. you won’t be able to get a loan from the builder’s merchant. Rather, the facility allows you to better manage your cash flow, and your accounts in general, including having less receipts to deal with (especially useful if claiming VAT back in NI). For a quick refurbishment lasting a couple of weeks, you’re likely to find it’s not worth opening a self-build account due to the processing times. Also, on a smaller project, costs are lower too, which means you can pay cash-in-hand to avail of discounts. On larger projects, such as a complete new build, opening a self-build account is likely to make the most sense. For projects in between, such as extensions, consider what your cash flow situation is and how long the project will go on for. To open a self-build account you will usually need to fill out an application form, provide proof of ID and in many cases proof of how the project is being financed. A credit check will also be run on your accounts to make sure you’re creditworthy. Credit limit. Once the account is open, you’ll be given a limit that you’re allowed to have on the books. At the very least you should be able to avail of a couple thousand euro/pounds but you could get as much as ten times that. The amounts have in fact been shrinking over the years, in large part due to banks no longer willing to finance cost overruns and builder’s merchants not wanting to run the risk of the account not being paid. If the limit is exceeded, e.g. on big expenses such as the roof, you can pay part in cash, part on the account. Payment. The amount of time given to pay your bill depends on which builder’s merchant you’re dealing with. Some ask that you pay at the end of each calendar month, others will extend that to 30 or even 60 days after the end of the month. All invoices are itemised and monthly statements are issued by email and/or post, which is very handy to help you keep on top of your budget. Company websites often provide useful information, e.g. selfbuild guides, case studies, etc., and may allow you to access your account. Disclaimer: This article was put together for information purposes only; in the case of disputes always seek legal advice and if in doubt seek the advice of a suitably qualified and independent party. Additional information: Haldane Fisher, haldane-fisher.com

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Renovating with hemp Hemp-lime is well known for regulating internal temperature swings and humidity; its non-toxic, VOC free content and low embodied energy make it an attractive building method for eco conscious selfbuilders.

Hemp-lime consists of hemp shiv (cuttings from the hemp plant stalks), lime and water. Much as with concrete, the mix can be shaped into blocks or used straightfrom the mixer. The hemp provides insulation, the lime strength. For those owning an old house, making it more energy efficient means balancing the needs of not only the occupants, who want to be warm without it costing them a fortune, but also the needs of the building whose aim is to avoid

moisture build-up. Hemp lime products are therefore fast becoming the solution of choice because they not only keep the heat in while allowing the structure to breathe, they can also help with airtightness. When considering older structures, such as stone and brick, hemp-lime blocks can be used on the external walls for a further breathable insulation application. To show what benefits hemp-lime products can bring to existing homes, HempBuild has

For more information about this study or about using hemp in your self-build or renovation project contact HempBuild, Kells Enterprise Centre, Kells, County Meath, 086 752 5210 (NI prefix with 00353 and drop the first zero), info@hempbuild.ie, hempbuild.ie

commissioned energy assessor Patrick Daly to show, among other calculations, how much typical building types can save energy by using HempBuild’s Iso Hemp products. The study looked at renovating the following: � Roof upgrade with 100mm HempFlax insulation on pitch and 240mm on ceiling and 200mm on flat roof � New floor with 150mm HempLime block and limescreed, average U-value of 0.4 W/sqmK � New 90 per cent efficiency boiler, allowance for only one open fire, double glazing for windows, insulated hot water cylinder, improved heating controls and LED lighting In addition to these upgrades, insulating the walls internally led to an average 65 per cent reduction in energy loss and, when combined with external wall insulation there was an average 70 per cent reduction in energy loss. In ROI the Building Energy Rating (Energy Performance Certificate in NI) shows you how energy efficient your house it – the BER/EPC scale is from A to G. Depending on the house type this led to a jump from a G rated house to a B1.

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Iron clad If you are employing a builder, it’s common practice to have a contract to spell out the terms of your agreement so make sure you both sign on the dotted line Words: Les O’Donnell


ike any insurance policy, you don’t really want it until it’s needed, but a written contract is a form of insurance which can be used to help ensure that the project is completed on time and within budget, that insurances and warranties are in place, that work and materials are to the standards required, that the terms under which changes are made are agreed to in advance, and 9 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

that contractors are correctly paid. Typically, a building contract is for a large sum of money and frequently the single biggest financial transaction for a self-builder in his or her lifetime. The contract outlines the agreement and obligations of each contracted party, i.e. the client and the builder. Contracts should be impartial, reasonable and clear to help you decide what happens if a breach occurs. Written records of any agreements

Cost While you do have to pay to get a Standard Form of Contract, (copyright is attached to the contracts so you need to pay the fee), the cost is reasonable with the ROI blue and yellow forms costing €59 for the pair. In NI they tend to cost around £35.

show exactly what has been agreed and can reduce the likelihood of disputes, which, on occasion, can turn into legal action, at which point the contract will become a vital part of evidence as to what had been previously agreed between both parties. If parties disagree, an independent adjudicator can be invited to make a decision within a given time. If agreement is still not found, then arbitration or litigation may proceed. With proper


mediation, most contract disputes can be settled at an early stage.

Contracts: the basics

Contracts can exist between the client and the design consultant and sub-contracts between the principal contractor and subcontractors; but of most importance to a self-builder is the contract between the client and contractor. In contract language, the client or self-builder is usually termed the ‘Employer’. Firstly, how do you wish to carry out your building project? Many homes are built in Ireland through the familiar self-build process of engaging a design consultant for the design phase and a contractor for the construction phase. Preferably, the design consultant is used to administer the contract and to inspect and certify the works during construction. Contracts will be based on the information available, so accurate and comprehensive design information is essential. One-off bespoke contracts are inadvisable because of the risk that they may not make fair provisions for all circumstances and they are not supported by a history of case law. You should therefore look to the mainstream contract providers who produce SFCs (Standard Forms of Contract) which are valuable in reducing time and cost at the negotiation stage and provide a sound base for a project’s success. Most SFCs are purchased before use, so you need to choose wisely. Given the prodigious volume of

information on the subject, the easiest approach is to ask your design consultant for advice. The correct choice depends on the client’s required balance of time, cost and quality; his/her required level of involvement in the design and construction process and the extent to which s/he may wish to alter specifications during construction. The contract is completed after completion of the tender stage and after the scope of works, materials and price has been agreed. It is good practice to select the contract type when drafting the tender documents so as to notify the bidders which contract will be used. Should a contractor refuse to sign a standard contract, this should be viewed as a point of concern and it raises serious questions. Consideration is likely to be given to the next preferred tender. If possible, use the design consultant to complete all contract signings as they will be familiar with their use. If the design consultant is not employed to complete this stage then the contract can be completed using guidance notes but this is not advisable unless you are familiar with contracts and the construction process. You then get the contract signed, witnessed and dated by all parties, with copies issued to all signatories. The client (you) should retain the original copy. Modifications are inadvisable as they can create ambiguous clauses or an unworkable contract but if you must make amendments

Information for ROI supplied by Anthony Ryan and Micheál Mahon of MGM Partnership Chartered Quantity Surveyors & Chartered Project Managers with offices in Wexford, Dublin and Waterford, mgmahon.ie

get advice from an expert in construction law (typically the architectural designer or quantity surveyor will be able to assist here) prior to inserting any additional clauses as this could become an issue if disputes arise at a later stage.

The situation in ROI

In ROI there are five common forms of contract used in construction projects; these contracts cover new build, alterations, extensions, repairs, landscaping, demolition and temporary works. The following standard forms have been in use for a long time and as such, most parties in the industry are familiar with them: • The Yellow Form. (RIAI Construction Contract where Quantities form part of the contract): this is used when a full bill of quantities has been prepared and issued with the tender documents to the contractors, normally recommended on larger projects, typically with contract values over €500,000. • The Blue Form. (The RIAI Construction Contract where Quantities do not form part of the contract): this form is used when drawings and specifications have been issued as part of the tender documentation. When using this form the contractor should provide a full breakdown of their rates and quantities which make up their tender bid. These contracts can be used on projects of varying value – large and smaller scale. • The Pink Form or The Short Form. (The Agreement and Schedule of Conditions of Building Contract, SF88): this form is much simpler than those mentioned above and allows for no nominated sub-contractors, no PC Sums, quantities do not form part of the contract and there is no allowance for increases in the prices of labour and material. This form is commonly used on residential “one-off” projects across Ireland. • The White Form. (RIAI Building Contract, August 2002): this type of contract is similar to the SF88 above but contains style and sequencing differences. Again,  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 9 1


commonly used throughout Ireland. • Building Agreement, 2001 edition, issued jointly by the Law Society of Ireland and the Construction Industry Federation: this is similar in layout and format to those mentioned above. Promoted by the legal profession and also frequently used.

The situation in NI

There is an ample choice of standard forms and variations of contracts for domestic construction projects in NI covering new build, alterations, extensions, repairs, landscaping, demolition and temporary works. There are four main types: • JCT (Joint Contracts Tribunal Ltd.) produce a multitude of standard contracts. Of these, the most suitable for self-builders is the “Building Contract For Home Owner/Occupier With A Consultant”. You could alternatively choose the “Building Contract For Home Owner/Occupier Without A Consultant”. For small scale repairs and/or maintenance works with no design input you could use the

“Home Repair and Maintenance Contract”. • The NEC (New Engineering Contract) suite of contracts which emphasise collaboration and teamwork is often used in the industry in NI, regarded as fair and efficient. Of these, the NEC “Engineering and Construction Short Contract” is the most relevant to self-builders. The new NEC4 versions aim to further improve flexibility, clarity and ease of administration. Unplanned cost additions or reductions can be managed through the NEC principle of ‘compensation events’. According to the NEC: “Compensation events are events which, if they occur and do not arise from the Contractor’s fault, entitle the Contractor to be compensated for any effect the event may have on the Prices. A compensation event will normally result in additional payment to the Contractor but in a few cases may result in reduced payment.” • The RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) produces the “RIBA Domestic Building Contract” for single homes, which is widely

Contract with your lead designer A contract with your lead designer, e.g. architect, should also be put into place. In NI, consider using the NEC “Professional Service Short Contract” or the RIBA “Professional Services Contract” which is suitable to be used by chartered architectural technologists, architects and other consultants. In ROI the RIAI provide similar contracts to set out the terms of the relationship between architectural designer and selfbuilder.

regarded as being user-friendly and fair.

Dangers of doing it yourself

If you decide to proceed with a construction contract without a consultant, you must ensure that all situations are managed correctly and efficiently. This is key to the success of your project, so you need to be clear on how the roles, timelines, costs, payments and risks are allocated. Not only should you be able to understand technical drawings and specifications, schedules of works and quantities, etc., but you should know whether all the required information has been provided and whether the works then comply with it. If any of this lies outside your field of knowledge, you will need a professional consultant to administer the contract. Finally, ‘free’ versions of contracts can be found online. Using these might help you and your contractor to understand each other better but might not be enforceable under construction law.


Sets of drawings This happens very often; you show up at the building site and you and your designer or you and your builder decide you want to move an internal wall or change the position of a basin. In that case it’s best practice to make this change on paper and get a new full set of plans drawn up and printed out. This has the benefit of flagging any knockon effects the change may have but also, it will automatically bring everyone who’s working on site up to speed with the changes. Very important is to make sure only the current version of plans is available otherwise a tradesman could pick up an old set and work to them.

9 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Simplifying Self Build

GUIDING YOU THROUGH SELF BUILD PROCESS • Estimating & budgeting service • Overview of building materials & product ideas • Engineering expertise • Project planning & logistics • Latest structural building techniques

Book a FREE consultation to discuss your project with the Creagh Self Build Team

Tel: 028 7965 0500 selfbuild@creaghconcrete.com Creaghconcrete.co.uk



Spark your imagination The time to start planning the lighting scheme for your home is right at the very beginning of the project; lighting is as important as plumbing. Words: Shauna Stewart

First things first

For each room start by deciding on the layout of the furniture. Sometimes there’s more than one arrangement; in which case, the key is to design lighting for several configurations. This may actually only mean a few more sockets for lamps or supplies for wall 9 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Photo by Vera Cho


ighting is a versatile and important design tool often overlooked, yet it is an essential part of interior design and can be used in many ways to enhance your home. It is not an aspect that can be left as an afterthought, something you get to eventually when you come to decorating. I regularly see home builders and renovators make rushed and therefore poor decisions because the electrician is due on site the next day. Inevitably, they end up with regimented rows of recessed ceiling spots and pendants in the centre of every room with little or no thought to accenting, highlighting or controlling the lighting ambience. A successful lighting plan certainly doesn’t come easy. Unfortunately, instead of planning lighting to create pools of focus around furniture or highlight architectural features, it’s not until you’re about to decorate that it becomes obvious the lights are not in the right place. Having renovated several homes over the years myself, I have learned the hard way to plan ahead. The paint was barely dry before I brought out my favourite lamp and table to put in my hall – only to discover I had no power point for the lamp or indeed to vacuum the stairs! Worse, having installed a beautiful kitchen with a fabulous feature pendant over the central island, on a controllable dimmer for ultimate party ambience; it proved entirely useless when trying to prepare a meal because I couldn’t see the chopping board.

lights, but it is better and less expensive in the long run to make provisions at this stage. Something to bear in mind is that with environmental concerns the old inefficient tungsten bulb favoured for its softer glow is no more. In its place are energy saver LED and fluorescent bulbs. These emit a cooler, white light which can be dimmed, but this alone will not soften it. Personally, I’m still lamenting the loss of the 40 Watt soft glow bulb despite claims that energy efficient bulbs can emit the same warmth/quality of light. That said, it is true that the situation is improving year on year with some very attractive new eco-friendly bulbs becoming

available; the colour rendering index is a good indicator, the old incandescent bulbs rate 100 so the higher the number (preferably in the 90s; many LEDs still tend to be in the 80s) the closer you will get to mimicking that glow.

Variety is the spice of light

Should your plans be modest or more dramatic, variety is important. Professional lighting designers are rather fond of ‘layering’ within a lighting design scheme, which is a rather fanciful way of saying you need a variety of lights in every room, e.g. a mix of ceiling and lamp lighting. The most commonly used form of light to create a pleasant evening welcome is a free-standing lamp, should that be a table



Consequently, lighting choices can be somewhat restricted and that dream of a chandelier above your bathtub is just not possible. But don’t give up because manufacturers are extending their ranges and it’s still possible to create a wow factor with a mix of waterproof lights. When installing recessed and directional spotlights in a bathroom, be careful not to shine them directly on to a grouted tile as imperfections will look very poor. As with other rooms, variety is key. Use recessed spotlights, illuminated cabinets, mirror lights and wall lights to create a layered effect.


or floor lamps, recently fashionable once again. If you don’t have the luxury of a fully planned electrical lighting plan it’s the best way of achieving a more dramatic, contrasting lighting scheme. I would suggest that each room in the home would benefit from at least three lamps in various positions and at different heights. They provide localised pools of light and a soft background. With freestanding lamps, the choice of shade is critical in determining the end result; a fabric shade gives diffused soft light, a solid dark shade directs light above and below. If lamp light is your main source of illumination, stick with a more translucent shade.


Halls, corridors and landings are generally last to be considered and consequently often are left with a bare bulb or bleak looking lampshade. They are tricky to tackle as their proportions are often compromised, but on the plus side, are actually a great area to play around with lighting. A row of central recessed spotlights is best avoided and as with other larger spaces, variety is all important. Use a mix of low level floor washer, wall lights, table lamps and perhaps the odd spot to accent or highlight an object. Of course in an existing house, in-wall or in-floor lights will be very expensive due to the building works required to accommodate them, so will only really be an option in a new build.

You can also create some interest and excitement with a large pendant or chandelier with a dimmer, but combine this with other sources of light. In hallways that are more akin to corridors, spotlights may be an alternative to a central pendant, which could easily look clumsy. Work with the shape of the space.

HALLWAY TIPS � Don’t worry about symmetry – lighting can be dramatic and surprising � Highlight your stairs (if they are of design merit!) � Up and down wall spots are effective but not on the stairs as they dazzle the eye on the way down � Create at least three lighting zones: entrance, landing and a lamp circuit


Bathrooms respond well to light because the materials used in there are usually reflective and quite exciting. Good lighting can make a tiny bathroom appear bigger and a large bathroom more intimate. On a very practical level, there are strict zones applied to bathrooms, these are defined by how close they are to wet areas. Different levels of IP (ingress protection) ratings which denote water resistance are required on light fittings, depending on which zone they are in. See selfbuild.ie for the zone map with references for ROI and NI.

� Task lighting is important at the mirror, but try to use a flattering soft light � Ensure that lighting, particularly around a mirror, is not just pretty looking but also fit for purpose. For example, a back-lit mirror may look attractive but by itself it will not provide enough light to shave with � Don’t forget about the shower area and add recessed lighting ensuring that the shower head does not unintentionally create a shadow (common with increasingly large shower heads) � Think about feature lighting such a spots in alcoves, a floor washer or a backlight behind the bath


The kitchen is arguably the most important room in which to get the balance right. It’s a hardworking room that needs to function efficiently throughout the day – and night – as well as accommodate all the activities that happen there. To operate well, you need at least three circuits. Background lighting, task lighting and feature pendant/accent lighting. Of these three types, background is key to providing all day general light, best achieved with recessed downlighting spots. Try not to fall into the trap of arranging these without thought, in a grid where all the light is cast on walkways. Use the spotlights more thoughtfully in dark pockets, over your workspaces, in entrances. They do not need to all be in a row. Look at your kitchen plan and relate the lighting to this. Try not to place spots where they shine uncomfortably on or behind heads, right at the edge of a work surface, creating a shadow. Move the spots where they cast light  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 9 5


TOP TIPS � Variety is as important as choosing the texture and colour for a room. � Always allow for changes in mood and light. The more sockets and widely distributed in a room, the better; think of choosing USB sockets where you are likely to be charging your phone. � Control is crucial – always consider the use of dimmers. Check that your intended lights are designed for dimming (fluorescents and LEDs may not). � Use three or four circuits in a room on dimmer controls. � If your design allows, put all lamp sockets on a 5amp lighting circuit to be controlled by the door from a single switch. � Think of using lamps and plan some floor sockets. However use floor sockets sparingly; if located in the wrong place they can become a trip hazard. Use up lighting to define textures and highlight features. � Before embarking on your design check out the work of lighting professionals, or visit local designers to view their completed projects.

Le Creuset 9 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

on the work surface and wash wall hung units with light. A directional recessed spot directed towards a feature bank of units can also be very effective. Have all the recessed spotlights on a dimmer switch to help control the light when you don’t need it quite so bright. Turning to task lighting, the main area for this is under wall cabinets using rope lighting or a variety of warmer fluorescent bulbs. Over a central island is also a good area to mix downlighting task lighting with feature pendants. Feature pendant lighting in a kitchen helps draw attention to the main design element and focal points, from over your dining table to above an island. With this in place, you can add even more dimensions with accent lighting inside cabinets, plinth lighting, lighting on top of units to wash the ceiling and illuminate shelving. These additional accent lights are best used on a circuit of their own for evening use. As kitchens are now very often inclusive of a living and dining area, comfortable evening lighting helps to create a cosier atmosphere. A common mistake is for the wiring to be done before the kitchen plan is finalised; you may end up with a pendant light that was meant to be centered over an island, in the wrong place and difficult to relocate. However if your ceilings are not very tall it is sometimes best to avoid dramatic feature pendant lights and allow the cabinetry to do the talking instead! If your style of build or renovation doesn’t allow for such a variety of choices for recessed spots, choose pendants that emit as much light as possible and avoid those giving a very shadowed effect.

KITCHEN TIPS � Use dimmers on all circuits � For a softer look use wall lights near the sink to give both task and evening light � If you have a beamed ceiling, use the beams to conceal lights and create drama � Plan for daytime and evening light � Add sockets for a few table lamps

Enduring fashion 

Current trends in decorative lighting for homes are hugely varied. Lighting with an industrial and retro feel is prevalent as is using bronze, brass, porcelain and glass finishes. More than ever, choosing lighting for your home has become an interior design challenge in its own right. Despite the harder edged, cooler vibe associated to the above, the classic chandelier and luxury look will always be with us. Regardless of fashion trends the most successful lighting is discreet, comfortable and enveloping and draws out the very best in a room. Badly designed lighting is glaringly obvious and shows things at their worst; if you don’t immediately notice a home’s lighting it’s a success. Although there are some aspects of a build or renovation where you can achieve results without employing a design professional beyond your architectural designer, lighting is the one area I’d suggest employing a specialist to help make the best of the features in your new home. And remember the golden rules: layers, dimmers and variety.



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Support group Instagram is now a vibrant platform for the self-build community to share tips, advice as well as provide inspiration and encouragement. Here we’ve asked two of the instagrammers who took over the Selfbuild account for a day to open their doors and share their experience building their dream home. a petrol station; I was studying engineering and architectural technology in college at the time. The house is designed to have light in the kitchen, dining and living room from sunrise to sunset. The single depth section of the house allowed us to do this and keep our views of the Devil’s Bit. The moon follows the same path as the sun does so on a clear night the moon lights up these rooms too. Jessica: Dan designed our perfect home; he had a difficult client in me but Wow did he deliver. When we were finalising the design, we liked the idea of it looking like an old cottage with a more contemporary extension. The single storey living area is to be clad in stone separating it from the more contemporary two-storey plastered and timber clad section with linking hall and zinc standing seam roof. This is how we got the name for the house: “sean” meaning old and “nua” meaning new: Seanua House.

@seanuahouse Dan and Jessica Tynan share what it’s been like to do it all themselves, from designing the house to building it. Why did you decide to selfbuild and how did you find the site? 

Dan: I always wanted to build my house on this site. It’s on my dad’s land and on a quiet country road near our village. The site itself 9 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

has stunning views of the Devil’s Bit and it’s a place I’ve always felt happiest in. Jessica: We priced both contractors and direct labour but always had it in our heads we were going to take this on ourselves and have the final say on everything. It is our home after all and we love hardship!

How did the design come about?

Dan: I drew it about ten years ago on the back of a newspaper when I was working in


How did the planning process go? 

Jessica & Dan: We applied in January 2017, had to submit some additional information and were approved in April. We originally went for a pre-planning meeting and the planner was happy with our design. One of the first things she asked for was a sun path diagram which we had with us. We explained the reason for our design and layout along with images of the finishes we hoped to put on the different exterior walls, window colours and images of surrounding dwellings to show we were in-keeping with the area. It was a positive meeting and we were glad we did it. I think as well as submitting line drawings to the planners it’s nice to show images of the finishes you are planning on using. It gives them a better feel for your design and it’s a bit more personal. 

What was the specification? 

Jessica & Dan: The house itself is a standard concrete block construction (100mm inner and outer block leaf with 150mm cavity with 120mm PIR insulation, insulated internally with insulated plasterboard providing an extra 50mm PIR insulation) and we increased the insulation beyond current building regulations throughout the house. We went with an oil boiler, radiators instead of underfloor heating and we have natural ventilation. We have made provisions to install an air to water heat pump in the future and we also have a solid fuel stove.

What would you tell a friend who’s thinking of selfbuilding?

Jessica & Dan: Tip number one, don’t do it! Just kidding. We broke ground the 16th of October 2017 and moved in 12th of October 2018 and for those twelve months all we did was eat, sleep, breathe, drink house. Our days consisted of going from bed to work, from work to site and from site to bed. As with most self-builds we hired all the major trades, block layer, roofer, electrician and plumber but any work that fell outside of those trades was up to us to do. We had never built a house before so a lot of it was new but we figured it out. You’d be surprised how much you can do once you start.

How much DIY did you do?

Jessica & Dan: As much as we could. We laid every floor in the house, both timber and tiles. We hung all the doors and put up every bit of skirting and architrave. We did all the timber cladding outside, insulated the vaulted ceilings, painted every room, put the timber and glass on the stairs. There are so many jobs that don’t fall under a trade that someone has to do. Our evenings were spent moving scaffolding around the site, insulating roofs and around windows, chasing walls, painting plasterboard fixings and all the other 101 jobs that have to be done before the next job can start.

What was the most challenging part of going direct labour?

Jessica: The part I found the most difficult was relying on other people and then being let down... We did get there though. I’m a perfectionist and I have no patience. Not the best trait when you are the contractor and client all rolled into one. Maybe we need more women in this industry to get rid of some of the sexism you can come across! Dan: We tried to stay one step ahead of every tradesman: asking them for a date when they would be finished and holding them to it to ensure we could get the next trade in the following day. Keeping it running smoothly isn’t always that easy, especially with both of us in full time jobs. At least once a week a tradesman would ring for supplies from the hardware which they needed straight away. We have great parents and when we couldn’t be there they  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 9 9

P R O J E C T / C O T I P P E R A R Y

Top Tips Build the house to suit your site. We have natural light in all the rooms we use because the house suits the site and wasn’t picked out of a book. Design it to suit the way you live not to suit others. Our ensuite is the biggest bathroom in the house and it’s the only bathroom with a bath. Our utility isn’t directly off the kitchen but we use it more for laundry so it suits us perfectly. Design your kitchen before you lay a block. Know what you want in advance so you have the space for it; you’ll be kicking yourself if you’re a meter short and all the blocks and partitions have been laid. Compare room sizes to those in your current home. Don’t measure them out on the ground on your site. Rooms feel a lot smaller in a big empty field than they do inside in a home with four walls. Don’t stress. This is the most important tip, and yes, it is easier said than done! You will have days when you want to throw up the shovel but don’t. No matter what problem you face there is always a solution. Be patient. Do not rush into decisions. We hastily chose a shower as we needed one to move in and looking back we should have done more research as it’s not perfect. The finishes take time to get right so give yourself the time. After all it’s your home and so you want to be happy with the end result for many years to come. 

were. If they weren’t bringing supplies to tradesmen they were bringing us dinners or they were helping us until it got too dark to work. We weren’t alone on this self-build, we had help from all our family.

Were there any changes during the build?

Jessica & Dan: The only big change we had was the foundations under the single storey part of the house. You don’t ever know what you’re in for until you start digging and unfortunately we didn’t hit rock or stones. Our topsoil and sub soil was too rich so we ended up going down six feet to meet solid ground to build on. It added cost we hadn’t allowed for.

How did you finance your build?

Jessica & Dan: We knew what we had borrowed and knew what we could spend. We also only borrowed enough to put a roof over our heads. Our home isn’t finished and we are finishing it out of our own pockets. We could have borrowed more and had a finished home but no matter how much you borrow you have to pay it back with interest. When we moved in six months ago we had half a kitchen and our living room was a storage room. Now the single storey section of the house is finished. It’s not the end of the world to move into a house with no floors or doors and it makes you appreciate them a whole lot more when you do get them.

How did you keep costs under control?

Jessica & Dan: We got three prices for everything we did. Not just from the trades. Even if it was attic insulation or cans of expandable foam we got three quotes. If you save a euro on an item and you need a hundred of them that’s €100 you have to spend somewhere else. We kept receipts for everything we bought throughout the build even if it was just a box of nails. It kept our feet on the ground and ensured we realised what we were spending. There are some things you are only going to do once like insulation, windows and doors, your stairs  1 0 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

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people who told me throughout the build that I designed it wrong, that it was too low. It’s not designed to look out standing at the sink, it’s designed to look out sitting at the breakfast bar and it’s perfect, just like I imagined it.

Why did you start your Instagram page?

so they got priority in our budget. In terms of the finishes we didn’t settle for anything we didn’t want, we waited until we could afford it or found an alternative that worked for us.

Would you do it again?

Jessica: That’s a loaded question and it’s not easy to answer. Yes I would do it again to have the home we now have. However, I personally found the build quite stressful. Looking back the jobs that I moaned about while doing, were actually fun and I’m proud to say ‘Ya I did that’. Dan: Absolutely. I know every bit of this house inside and out. Don’t get me wrong it’s stressful and probably extra stressful with the time limit we gave ourselves to be finished but when I think back I only think about the times I was smiling. I think about myself and Rolex (our dog) on site every Saturday trying

to stay ahead of the tradesmen. I think about coming home every evening to a little more progress and a long list of jobs I had to have done before sunset. I think about sitting on scaffolding eating ice cream with Jess. I think about all the things that doing this self-build has taught me and how much better I am for it.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

Jessica: My favourite part of the house is the single storey. I love our kitchen /dining room and snug. We really thought this space out and we didn’t rush any decisions. We got exactly what we wanted in the end and I love it.  Dan: If I had to pick a favourite spot it would be sitting at the island in our kitchen looking out the front window. This window runs between our counter and the overhead units. I stopped counting the number of

Jessica & Dan: We started our insta page so we could see the progress we were making and keep track. It was the best decision we made. The fellow self-builders on insta and home lovers, interior addicts are the nicest people. They always have something nice to say when you’ve had a bad day, they always offer advice when needed and at least once a day a follower makes us smile. It evolved quickly over a short period of time from something just for us to what it is now, a community. We love sharing our journey and if it helps just one person then it is totally worth it. Before we started our page we didn’t know there was such a large audience for a self-build page, it’s amazing. People seem to love updates of Rolex (our dog).

What was it like taking over the Selfbuild Ireland Instagram account for a day? Jessica & Dan: It was amazing, we got to speak to a lot of fellow self-builders who were in the same boat as us or just about to be. It was different to curating our own page because we got to spend one whole day with our sole focus on telling our story from start to present day. We are very honest and say it like it is, we show the good, the bad and the ugly. We do have a lot of interaction with people, particularly on stories. Our insta is so much fun, we would encourage all selfbuilders to set up a page and use it as we did, get advice, interact. The self-build insta community is the best. 

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AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 0 3

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@grafficar Jason and Mary Taylor built their own home because they couldn’t find anywhere to buy; Jason shares what their journey’s been like to date. Why did you decide to selfbuild and how did you find the site?

It’s funny, despite studying architecture and working in the construction industry I was never really drawn to the idea of building my own house. However after proposing to my now wife Mary we began to look toward the future – a house being part of that.  We are very fortunate that Mary’s parents had some family land with active planning permission on it, which was then gifted to us. It also has some incredible views being at the top of a hill, which is an added bonus. The site itself is in the countryside but only three miles from the local shopping centre and one mile from the local primary/ secondary schools – convenient for the big shop and any future plans we might have down the line.

How did the design process go?

I am a Part 1 architectural assistant

currently working for a chartered practice in County Down so I actually designed the house myself; with some very helpful suggestions from my colleague Jenny who is an architect and of course lots of input from Mary. This included producing full construction drawings and details for

building control submission and to the builders themselves. In terms of the design process I followed the same process as I would for any other client, which is to assess wants and needs and establish a brief. I find that fine tuning this will not only produce a building that a client is happy with but will also help define the function within each of the spaces.  I’m very function driven rather than aesthetically driven when it comes to design; no point a house looking nice if it’s a nightmare to navigate and use! Since I’m not charging myself any fees we had the luxury of time when it came to testing designs with it taking around two years from initial sketches to being granted planning permission.  My advice at design stage would be to try and work with an architect whose style you like so you can get the most out of them. Take your time and really be satisfied with the design as most of us don’t plan on ever leaving these builds. The design stage is by far the most important. Deciding on a construction method was an easy decision as I typically work with traditional block build rather than timber or modern methods. Whilst this method takes longer to build, in comparison to the likes of timber frame, there is much more choice in terms of contractors, which helps  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 0 5


SIZES & COSTS House size: 240sqm with a 40sqm garage Plot size: 0.7 acres Cost: We haven’t quite finished so don’t have a final cost but are currently on track to spend £250,000 (under £900/sqm) on the build and £275,000 (£1,000/ sqm) including all statutory/ professional fees, electric connections, internal finishes, furniture, etc.

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1 0 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

keep costs competitive. We originally wanted to be as energy efficient as possible by using an air source heat pump but once the quotes started coming back it wasn’t within budget so we opted for a high efficiency oil condensing boiler with scope to upgrade to a heat pump sometime in the future. We also have a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system (MVHR) and central vacuum system installed as well. MVHR is a must given the degree of airtightness we wanted to achieve and the need for adequate ventilation.

I believe a “fabric-first” approach is key as it is much more difficult to change insulation, airtightness products, etc. once the house is built. Two smaller things to consider if going airtight would be to use a condensing tumble dryer so there are no unnecessary holes for vents and if installing a wood burning stove make sure the unit comes with a direct air kit so this also remains airtight.

How did the planning process go?

Planning was quite easy actually, the only issue was the visibility splay at the main road, which was easily rectified. The site already had active planning but the design wasn’t what we wanted so I submitted a change of house type application with the local council and changed the design to what it is now.  I kept the footprint similar in both location and size to the original application so as to keep the planners on side. We were restricted to a storey and a half due to policies laid out in PPS21 as all neighbouring houses are either bungalows or storey and a half.  There was also a ridge height restriction as part of the original conditions so we had to reduce the existing levels (dig down) by 0.5m to meet these. I got the levels wrong and we ended up going down closer to 2.5m but at least this was at the start of the


What was your involvement?

I was on site everyday checking progress and trying to spot any issues or mistakes, which I’m sure annoyed the builders but we’ve had a mostly problem-free build as a result. Mary and myself would have kept the site clean, moved materials around so builders didn’t waste time moving things but the most involvement we had was the application of the airtightness products. We used airtightness tapes around windows and openings as well as a paint-on membrane at all floor/ceiling/wall junctions to seal these parts rather than using sheets of membranes. Many late nights in the colder winter months applying these but hopefully that will pay off this winter! We still have the wooden floors to lay so may try those myself to save some money. The most surprising part of the build was the varying pace. I’m used to project updates every two weeks, not daily. Sometimes it would drag on and other times I could barely keep up with requests for decisions and additional drawings.

build, right? We also decided to increase the living room depth by 0.5m as well and now that it’s built we are very glad to have done this.

How did you keep costs under control?

The budget was basically decided by going to the bank before we even submitted planning and finding out the maximum they would lend. This coupled with savings we both had and money saved from not paying rent really helped define the budget. I’m a fairly anxious person when it comes to finances so tried to plan and allocate money as much as we could for each of the aspects. Keeping the costs under control is definitely a tough one, but the biggest help was going with a fixed price contract. This meant that any additional costs could be agreed before carrying out works so we could factor it into the budget. I shared a budgeting excel sheet on my Instagram as part of the Selfbuild takeover, which seemed to go over very well with those that downloaded it.

Why did you decide to hire a main contractor?

Mary and I are pretty busy and we factored that by the time we spent 12-18 months trying to manage the build, the extra money saved by not hiring a contractor would have ended up being spent in time and additional costs or mistakes. With a contractor you can usually finish up in 12 months for the same cost. We also moved out of our rented accommodation and in with Mary’s parents to help save some more money, which was very generous of them. Our builder project managed most of the build with us arranging bathrooms, kitchen, with my father-in-law and his friend, who is also an electrician, helping out massively by doing all the electrical work. I have to say it really took the pressure off so we could focus on more of the detailed aspects and finishes rather than arranging trades and other services. We only asked one local builder to price up the project for us. We had a finite budget so if they came in on that or below they were top of the list for getting the job. Thankfully they came in right on budget.  Usually I would go to tender with three

Would you do it again?

or four different builders but we wanted to employ someone local and there aren’t too many builders nearby. This is also a great tip to keeping those costs down, if a builder is 30-50 miles away they may factor mileage into their tender price.

If I was asked this a couple of months ago I would have said no haha. Decisions were coming in nearly every day so it was getting pretty overwhelming but now I know what to expect, so yes I think I would do it again.  The experience of building a house is as stressful as it is enjoyable, it is not for everyone but surrounding yourself with supportive friends and family, professionals and great builders certainly makes the  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 0 7




reward much higher. For instance, we have two steps that separate the entrance hall from the kitchen and as much as we love it, it has been one of the biggest headaches. Between forgetting to detail insulation for the edge of the slab, which threw off the hallway wall internally, to the blocks being laid too high and increasing the stair rise it’s been one of the more difficult aspects. Also having to call your neighbour over to help lift a really heavy gas range up two steps could have been easily avoided if we’d kept it all flat!

What’s the Instagram experience like, how did it evolve over time?

I’ve had Instagram for a few years and being interested in documentary photography I’ve always enjoyed sharing photos more than text. It was an organic progression from a personal account to now taking over as my main content, except for the odd skateboarding post here and there.  I tried to find other blogs and Instagram accounts online at the time of building but most were sharing mood boards, inspiration or aesthetic updates. I wanted to delve into the detail a little more; why I designed something a particular way, cost saving measures and even an insight into the process from a designer’s perspective as most clients typically don’t see these stages except for final drawings. I do get contacted a lot, which still surprises me. I get asked about anything 1 0 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

from house specs or systems installed and square meter size to where I bought a light fitting…pretty much all aspects of the build. The self-build community on Instagram is really great; loads of people sharing ideas, tips and advice which can only help us all in the long run.  I tend to over plan a lot of the time so the Selfbuild takeover was no different. It was more structured than what I would do on my own feed as I wanted to cover as much as possible from both the design perspective and the physical building of the house as well. I was quite nervous to be honest but

got more into it as the day went on, I would highly recommend setting up an account to document your build and joining the community.

Follow Selfbuild on Instagram for more inspiration and advice @selfbuildireland




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Wood flooring The ultimate guide to choosing the perfect floor Words & Photography: Peter Bonsall


ardwood floorboards are now pretty much a thing of the past; they are tricky to install, aren’t always compatible with underfloor heating and tend to require very regular care. Unless you have an older house and want to match floorboards, you’re probably going to choose engineered wood flooring, which consists of a thin veneer of solid wood adhered to a backing of either plywood or softwood. It now virtually dominates the market as it provides a very stable product for the rigours of underfloor heating, offers all types of finishes and designs, and is readily glued to a wide choice of floor screeds.

Popular species

Oak still dominates the wood flooring market as it is durable and reasonably stable (does not warp or shrink once seasoned) and blends in with most designs. The demand for ever more colour choice has increased the demand for European oak (Quercus Robur) because it takes ‘smoking’

A basket weave parquet oak and Douglas fir floor in original condition

An American black walnut bespoke hand cut overlay floor prior to applying the final finish

and stains much better than its North American cousin, which used to dominate the market. The American white oak species (Quercus Alba) when smoked can produce a very dark heartwood and light sap wood contrast which is not the most pleasing to the eye. The demand for European oak is now mostly met by wood floor mills in the Baltic areas and Eastern Europe. Combined with the slowdown in Chinese growth through rising labour demands and the removal of subsidies, mills in Eastern Europe now compete on a more even footing with those of the far east. Walnut is still a choice offered by many producers and is experiencing a bit of a resurgence. It is virtually impossible to achieve the unique burl and swirl of walnut with oak, even with the vast array of stains and tints which can get close to the colour. Same with African Wenge, although

Wenge tints are available for oak, the grain structure of the species is totally unique. Closer to home, Douglas fir with a whitewashed oiled finish has gained market share thanks to the popularity of Scandinavian interiors designs. With the market moving towards stained oak as the main choice, forgotten species such as ash, birch and maple are less common. But as a wood lover, I urge you to consider the beauty and individuality that comes with these and many other wood species. And remember, when you sand your maple floor in the next ten years, it will look exactly the same as it did when you bought it, unlike a stained oak which will revert to its original colour.


Plank wood flooring whereby the planks are laid parallel to one another has, for the  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 1 1


Wide board oak flooring that has been distressed and tinted to appear aged

A popular herringbone parquet floor in bleached grey with a matt finish

time being, lost to herringbone parquet laid at 90deg angles. Not the traditional small herringbone wood floor seen in many schools and village halls, but the more ‘Teutonic’ style of longer boards laid without a border. Parquet boards of up to 1800mm have been used in some recent designs I have worked on, creating a long lazy zig zagging design that meanders through the interior and invites you around the next corner. Boards of 600mm length and 70mm or 100mm width are gaining popularity for herringbone patterns. Sitting alongside herringbone as an alternative to plank is chevron. Sometimes known as Hungarian Point or point d’Hongrie, it is available with a 45 degree or 60 degree design, yielding an attractive regimented pattern. In recent times, we have seen quite complicated designs of wood floors becoming available as panels that are laid as large tiles, such as the one known as ‘Versailles’ echoing the handmade wood floors of the building that bears its name or Mansion Weave which is made from three or four repeating pieces to make up the overall ‘jigsaw’ design. A word of caution though when considering a panelled floor, get an 1 1 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

architect or designer to work out the layout first. Panels tend to be produced in set dimensions which if laid without thought can result in an ugly cut panel up against a wall that will annoy you for many years to come.

‘Unless you have an older house and want to match floorboards, you’re probably going to choose engineered wood flooring.’ Installation Trends

Methods of installation have come a long way since the use of nails or bitumen. It is widely considered that a good wood floor will be installed using an adhesive to bond the floor securely to the substrate screed. The alternative of ‘floating’ the wood

floor using adhesive on the tongue and grooves only, and laying the wood on a foam underlay, still has wide acceptance as an approved method and increases the speed of installation. Developments in the click system of joining the individual boards have allowed parquet and chevron to come with these speedy methods of installation. I can’t stress enough the need to work with your heating and plumbing contractor closely when installing underfloor heating. The general requirement for the surface of the wood floor not to rise higher than 27 degrees Centigrade is a critical element in the design of the overall heating system. Check with your manufacturer, but in my experience the figure of 27degC is almost universal. And that point of measure at the wood surface is also critical, not at the thermostat or front door. Purchasing a simple handheld temperature measuring device online for a few euros/pounds can save many thousands and the upset of having to rip up an overheated floor. The installation site should be watertight and a heated space, that means windows and doors should be fitted and the heating fully working but not necessarily on at the time of installation. Most wood floor adhesives do not like the substrata to be ‘heated’ during their application. The requirement is usually an ambient room temperature of around 21degC and a humidity of between 45 to 65 per cent at this temperature, all of which should also be maintained throughout the wood floor’s life. Finally, two other critical elements for installation are the moisture content of


the screed and the moisture content of the wood being laid. Again check with your installer or manufacturer, but generally with cement based screeds the moisture should be below 4 per cent before laying a wood floor and depending on the type of heating used the hardwood element of the wood floor should be either 6 to 8 per cent or 8 to 10 per cent. The lower being the measure for underfloor heating. A recent development in the market is the fitting of small credit card sized measuring units to a routered out pocket to the rear surface of the wood floor. They are expensive at present but will settle any dispute between the wood manufacturer and the heating contractor as it measures the moisture content and temperature of the subfloor.

Looking after your floor

Very simply, regularly sweep and vacuum your wood floor. Fit mats to entrance points and make sure all of your furniture have pads fitted to protect the finish from abrasion. Use a proprietary wood floor cleaner and try to apply a shoes-off policy, at least for those entering your home with stilettoes or high heels. Minor abrasions with hand applied oiled floors can be removed by applying the same oil on a rag and rubbing gently in. Unfortunately, lacquered floors are virtually impossible to spot repair. In the event of a major dent or localised damage, boards can be lifted and replaced by skilled wood floor layers. It’s always worth keeping a few boards around the house from the original install for this very purpose. It is worth mentioning though that the effect of the sun on your wood floor over the years may well mean that a fresh new plank installed into the floor will stand out when newly laid. But over time, it will start to mellow and blend in. If a routine of weekly cleaning is followed, a wood floor will last for ten years or even much longer before requiring a sand and seal to look brand new again.

Sanding, sealing and restoration

Those of you who are now looking at your tired wood floor that your children have been abusing for the last ten years may well be considering what to do next. Sanding technology, and dust suppression during the process, is now quite sophisticated with modern machinery claiming up to 99 per cent dust free sanding. But, of course, this depends on the person using the appropriate equipment in the appropriate way. Coupled with the demand for stained and tinted wood floors, the same colour

ranges that are available from the manufacturers for new wood floors are now available for the sanding and sealing process. Buffing machines can buff in stains that keep the wood grain showing through but achieve the desired tone. Then seal in with a clear top surface for wear and durability. You will then face a choice of gloss level and that ever present choice between lacquer or oil finish (see p.114). There are a number of fast drying hard wearing lacquers that involve the mixing of hardeners with the lacquer to accelerate the drying process. Many having the same drying time as oils. Together with the a move towards products with low Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) emissions (with corresponding smell associated with oils and lacquers), the process of sanding and sealing is now less of a chore. Something to bear in mind with new wood floors are textured finishes. Bandsawn, distressed or brushed wood

floors are virtually impossible to keep in original condition after a sanding process. There are scrubber dryers on the market that will intensively clean your wood floor before having a refresher coat applied. Or some contractors will reapply these elements to the wood floor by hand on site, which is effective but very expensive in terms of labour cost.

Current pricing levels

The overall cost of a wood floor is separated into three elements. The cost of the wood flooring itself, the cost of laying the wood floor and the cost of the ancillary items that go along with the installation. When looking at the cost of a wood floor, it varies from a high volume engineered product most likely made in the far east with a thin veneer of wood as a wear layer, that may be as thin as 2.5mm, all the way to a Versailles Panel with a distressed and hand applied stain finish. As little as £20/€25 to €35/£30 per sqm for the  A herringbone parquet wood floor that has been bleached and treated with a super matt water based lacquer to give a ‘dry’ look to the finish


Sustainable wood Sustainable Forests are managed to promote natural diversification for flora, fauna and wildlife and to avoid erosion of the soil through clear cutting or the use of heavy extraction machinery. The FSC logo is a leading quality mark for sustainable forestry and I recently asked an architect if he insisted on FSC approved wood flooring for his projects these days. His response was interesting, he said “…..well all wood floors are produced to FSC accreditation these days aren’t they?” Like fair trade coffee, and cosmetics that are not tested on animals, we expect that these are the de-facto ways of doing business. But it is still worth asking the question about sustainability as a consumer and keeping suppliers on their toes. The source of hardwood for the manufacture of wood flooring has moved to Europe for oak and demand for alternative species has fallen in the Irish market in recent years, reducing pressure on dwindling wood species such as teak.

AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 1 3


An original period softwood floor that has been sanded to remove marking and stains, then a white tint applied to lighten the tone of the wood before a matt water based lacquer was applied

COATINGS A traditional American black Walnut plank floor in a rustic grade with a satin gloss hardwax oil finish

former to €150/£140 to €300/£280 per sqm for the latter (all prices are including VAT). Although parquet and chevron boards (€75/£70 to €150/£140 per sqm) can be cheaper than plank (€25/£20 to €150/£140 per sqm) the cost of installation will be higher due to the time needed to install a herringbone floor for example. The installation of plank tends to range from €20/£15 to €40/£35 per sqm excluding adhesive or underlay, whereas parquet or chevron would be between €50/£45 to €70/£65 per sqm excluding underlay or adhesive. Panel floors and wood tiles such as mansion weave would demand the same rates. Ancillary items such as underlay (€5/£4 to €20/£15 per sqm) or adhesive (€12/£10 to €15/£12 per sqm) need to be added to the figures mentioned above. Together with the cost of transition elements to other floor coverings such as tile or carpet which could add another €2/£1 to €5/£4 per sqm to the cost of installation. The complexity of the finish and the amount of knots, colour variations, etc. will add cost to the wood floor product. Installation and ancillaries remain the same. Finally, a word about who you allow to install your wood floor. For many years I have watched the outcome of wood floors that have been laid by carpenters and joiners. Whilst many offer years of troublefree service, some result in disaster. Problems can be reduced by employing a wood floor specialist company to carry 1 1 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Tinting and sealing your floor Will you choose a lacquer or oil finish? What colour? Protecting the wood from wear and tear will require the application of either oil or a lacquer. Quite a number of wood finish manufacturers have developed a range of very mat lacquers and oils that are absorbed by the wood surface and keeps a very natural look to the wood. Almost appearing as though ‘nothing has been added’ to the surface. I call these ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ finishes for obvious reasons. High volume wood floors produced using UV cured lacquers on production lines are cost effective but have less opportunity for restoration after being laid due to the fact that it is virtually impossible to add further coats of lacquer on site without sanding the wood first. To change the colour of the wood, manufacturers will do one of the following: � Add stains to the veneer to change the tone from deep earthy browns through to pale Scandinavian whitewashed looks. � Use centuries old techniques such as smoking which involves the exposure of the oak to ammonia to remove the tannins or using bleach to accelerate the natural weathering of the wood. This changes the base tone of oak prior to the layering of stains over the top. In this way, natural looking greys are created or deep rich ebony finishes. � Add tinted oils which are then wiped from the surface leaving coloured residue in the grain prior to adding further tone through the layers. Many products start with brushing the surface to remove the summer growth wood before adding the oil. Bespoke oiled finishes, carefully applied in small batches allowing each coat to naturally dry before applying the next, are labour intensive and expensive but the finished and installed wood floor will allow much easier maintenance and refurbishment by buffing in further coats of oil yourself at home.

out all of the process and removing this element of work from your builder. Allowing the same company to design, supply and install your floor will reduce the chance of problems. Making sure, of course, that they all communicate on needs for programme and site conditions.

Fidbox from Austria are the dominant players in the market for measuring moisture content of the subfloor and the moisture content of the wood floor together with the temperature of the subfloor. This data is collected regularly and stored in the unit and is read via a Bluetooth.

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R E T R O F I T / H E AT I N G S Y S T E M S


New vs. conventional technology Should you replace your oil or gas boiler with a heat pump? Words: Patrick Waterfield


The SEAI’s view Depending of the age of the building a heat pump could be an ideal solution for reducing energy bills; for instance houses built between the 1990s up to 2011, and those who have already installed wall insulation, may be eligible for the SEAI grant with minimum or no upgrade at all. Using the BER database, SEAI estimates there are approximately 350,000 such houses, meaning the homeowner would just incur the capital cost of retrofitting the heat pump. Furthermore, research tells us that comfort is the number one reason people upgrade the energy efficiency of their home. By investing in a complete insulation upgrade, taking into account that it needs to be done right, then your home will... ...be considerably more comfortable

1 1 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9


aking your home cheaper to run this coming winter is likely to be on your radar and if so, chances are you’ve been thinking about replacing your boiler with a heat pump. The first question to ask is whether an insulation upgrade alone, which you would need to do anyway before you change your heating system, would be more cost effective. Secondly would replacing your existing boiler with a new condensing oil or gas fired model be more cost effective than a heat pump over the lifetime of the appliance?


Administered by the ROI Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), the Better Homes scheme offers homes that were built before 2011 a grant of €3,500 to install air to water, ground to water, exhaust air to water and water to water

heat pumps and €600 for air to air heat pumps (which involve far less capital expense). The grant also contributes €200 towards the cost of an energy assessment, a pre-requisite for funding, carried out by an SEAI registered technical advisor, who will advise on measures to reduce the heat loss of the dwelling to 2W/K/sqm – also a pre-requisite. Typically this will involve fabric insulation and airtightness measures. Indeed the scheme documentation warns that “uninsulated homes built more than 30 years ago may require substantial and costly upgrades to qualify” for the grant. Before its much publicised suspension, the Northern Ireland Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive provided an upfront payment of £1,700 for an air source heat pump and £3,500 for ground source, with ongoing payments of 3.84p/kWh and 9.00p/kWh respectively. It remains to be seen whether the scheme will be revived or replaced with anything similar.

H E AT I N G S Y S T E M S / R E T R O F I T


Oil fired boiler, high efficiency condensing

Modest fabric €3,400 upgrade (roof insulation only) and heating/hot water controls upgrade with new jacket for hot water cylinder

€768 / €15,360

Air source heat pump (open fire replaced with closed room heater)

Roof insulation, cavity wall insulation, windows replaced, airtightness measures, heating/hot water controls

€23,050 (not including grant for ASHP)

€1,975 / €39,500

11.7 or 9.9 with the grant

€156/tonne or €132/tonne with the grant

Oil fired, high efficiency condensing (open fire replaced with closed room heater)

Same as for the heat pump


€1,524 / €30,480




Capital cost

Let’s take a base-case 150 sqm dwelling, a 1970s detached bungalow such as is commonly found in rural Ireland and which presumably is one of the key dwelling types targeted by the grant-aiding programme. I used energy rating software to find out how much energy a house like that would consume; to calculate annual heating costs I multiplied the space heating load by the current fuel unit costs for electricity and oil. The current fuel prices are 16c/kWh for electricity and 7.5c/kWh for oil. I then applied carbon dioxide emission factors for grid electricity (0.483 kgCO2/ kWh) and heating oil (0.264 kgCO2/ kWh) to give a total annual CO2 emission profile. All of the data comes from SEAI publications. The heat pump scenario required extensive fabric enhancement, this is to make sure the low temperature system works as efficiently as possible. Comfort temperatures were taken into account in the energy software. We are replacing the windows with low-e coated, argon-filled triple glazing; I assumed the original 1970s windows had been replaced with double glazing around the 1990s and had a U-value about 3.3W/ sqmK, though new double glazing tends to be around the 2.8W/sqmK mark and the very best available currently are around 1.4W/sqmK. For reference, triple glazing offers overall U-values of less than 1W/

Running cost savings per year / over 20 years (net present value)


(years to recoup your investment based on energy bill savings)


Cost of carbon dioxide emission reduction over 20 years €63/tonne

sqmK and some even as low as 0.7W/sqmK. The fabric insulation measures for the heat pump and enhanced oil option assumed fillable wall cavities. If that were not the case and external or internal wall insulation were required, the economics (and level of disruption) would be considerable. The SEAI Deep Retrofit pilot programme reported measures can cost up to €60,000 per dwelling – even after 35 per cent funding.


By all means install a heat pump in your new, very low heat loss house; you will need a certain level of renewable energy technologies anyway in order to comply with the Building Regulations in ROI (Part L) although no such requirement exists regarding Part F1 in NI as of yet. If you are going to superinsulate a new build you might consider going so low energy as to not need a central heating system (boiler or heat pump), although you will still need a device to generate hot water. But retrofitting heat pumps into existing dwellings, with all the required thermal improvements, is currently not as cost effective as replacing your boiler with an upgraded model. Disclaimer Cost figures were derived from a number of sources including some of the above references and webbased information. These are representative to the author’s knowledge but should not be relied upon to make a final decision; these must be verified and research into your particular dwelling type conducted before proceeding with works.

Note that this cost analysis was done for ROI but similar costs can be expected for NI, although no grants are currently available in NI

New heating system type

than one where just the roof is insulated. If the house is airtight and has a mechanical ventilation system that’s correctly set and maintained, it will be more comfortable than one that’s naturally ventilated with holes in the wall or vents in windows. Plus it will be healthier for the occupants. Carbon taxes Environmental considerations are also important, particularly when you’re making a decision for 20 years and risk being locked into oil or gas. As carbon taxes eventually rise, as signalled in the Government’s Climate Action Plan, then carbon emissions will increasingly be part of our decision making. A related point is that the carbon intensity of our electricity has more than halved in the past twenty years and, as per the Climate Action Plan, the ambition is to deliver 70 per cent of our electricity needs from renewables by 2030. Choosing a heat pump now is a way to future proof the home and play a part in Ireland’s clean energy transition. Property valuations A 2016 study by the Economic and Social Research Institute on Dublin properties indicates that increasing the energy rating by one increment, from B1 to A3 for example, leads to a 1 per cent increase in list price. For the most part the insulation upgrades are what will get you a better energy rating, the heat pump will then nudge you up maybe two or even more notches on the BER scale. Assuming the house is modestly valued at €200,000 then an increase in energy rating from E2 to A3, will add roughly €20,000 to the valuation. It may be less than the cost of the heat pump and deep retrofit option but it helps the sums nonetheless. And as the market becomes more aware, the list price for a house with a better energy rating is likely to increase with time. Finally if you’re already committed to a major renovation of an older property, consider that fabric improvements will be part and parcel of the renovation representing no or low incremental cost (sunk cost). Tom Halpin, seai.ie

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Sustainable boundaries As we become more attuned to the environmental cost of modern living, the trend for fancy fencing and statement walls of the past few decades is now losing ground to living screens. Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin


Privacy or evergreen hedges

In truth any hedge if maintained to an appropriate height is a privacy hedge, so you can pick and mix from any in the other categories here. To serve this purpose, however, the garden centre may recommend thick conifers but many are not so ecologically friendly, often acidifying their base and inhibiting close planting. Some are even monsters and can grow to enormous heights that will shade the neighbour’s garden as well as your own and with extensive moisture sucking roots that would still have you watering the garden in a monsoon. Yes I speak of the Leylandii hedge (Cupressus × leylandii), it needs constant clipping to maintain shape and restrict height, if it gets tall and woody there’s no stopping it being a tree – and thereafter it doesn’t top well and won’t regenerate from hard wood. One to avoid. Consider instead Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) which can be as dense a barrier as Leylandii but it is slower growing 1 1 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Ian Alexander via Wikimedia Commons

raditional and cost effective, hedges mark the boundaries of your property and make a pleasant neighbourly divide – as the saying goes “good hedges make good neighbours”. They also have an aesthetic that contributes to kerb appeal, adding value to your property. If you have the time or patience to wait for, and later to trim, their growth, hedges are in fact an ideal solution for self-builders. You could even go instant with some mature specimens and still not stretch the budget too far. The main point to consider is that, if let go, most hedges will seek to become trees or tall shrubs. As a result, all hedges must be trimmed regularly. This keeps them in a juvenile state – each trim regenerates young pliable branches and stems, and thickens leafy growth.

at an average of 40-60cm a year and can be maintained for many years at heights of 1-6m. It’s also hardy enough to tolerate exposed and coastal sites. Lawsons cypress (Chamaecyparis lawsoniana) has many cultivars in many shades of green and gold – all narrow and conical in shape. It is a bit of a sprinter and eager to get to maturity heights of 30-45m high so attention is required to keep it juvenile. The trimmed foliage has a pungent parsley-like scent. Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) also has a range of cultivars in green and gold, growing 30 to 60cm per annum. The trimmed foliage is pleasantly lemon scented. Its maturity height is higher than 12m but can be maintained to half that. Much harder to restrict to 2m, can blemish with frosts or hard exposure.


Bare root season The alternative to container grown hedges While you can get mature hedging in containers at any time of the year and many companies are specialists in instant hedge laying, the traditional way was to plant bare roots in autumn. Bare roots are a cheaper option too and more environmental as there are no plastic pots. The ‘whips’ or young stem plants are field grown, lifted and the soil shaken off before being shipped and arriving as dormant plants with a root system ready to plant straight away. Bare roots do not need a deeply excavated hole to plant and the tradition was to prize up a sod or clump of earth and slot the root end in, firm down and proceed to the next usually at a rate of 3-4 whips to every meter. Naturally this is a slower and shorter starting hedge than container grown but it is a good option as we are bang in the middle of bare root season in autumn – so availability and seasonality are on our side. Conifers and some of the more ornamental hedging options will not come bare-rooted at this time of year but can come as root-balls – roots with a clump of soil adhered – often wrapped in hessian, so less plastic and cheaper too.


I am a fan of the classic hedge and you can’t get more class and classic than the Irish yew (Taxus baccata “Fastigiata”). First discovered back in 1780 growing in the hills of Co Fermanagh. Female clones of that tree are now a worldwide must-have for stately gardens and many gardening enthusiasts. Unlike other conifers it can be hard pruned to rejuvenate. Slow to start but maintains a fine form for many years. Roughly 30cm annual growth. There is even a golden variety known as Elegantissima. That evergreen screen can just as easily be an ever red one, with Photinia x fraseri. A steady grower, average annual growth of 20-40cm per year, easily maintained at 1-4m yet but it can get woody if not regularly pruned. The variety ‘Red Robin’ has a better resistance to leaf spot, fire blight and powdery mildew which can affect other varieties.

Irish yew is now a must-have for stately gardens

Maintenance cutting In most cases, you are responsible to main a neat hedge. It’s not just a neighbourly act but also considerate of passersby. On the other side of the fence – as it were – a property owner can, generally speaking, cut back any portion of a hedge that spills over on their side. In rural settings and with native hedgerows there is a closed season on hedge-cutting in order to protect the bird nesting and wildlife harbouring habitats that hedges make. In both NI and ROI there is a ban on hedge cutting between 1st March to 31st August every year..

The classics

Apart from yew there are several garden centre staples, including several types of privet and laurel, that often make up the backbone of Irish hedges. Privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium) aka Green privet is perhaps the most popular hedging plant. Fast growing and evergreen (bar a heavy winter) it takes as many clips per year as you wish to train it to, unlike some of the other hedges which can take years to shape. It may need 2-3 cuttings over summer to maintain a neat shape. Popular as it is fast growing and quick to screen – generally producing 30-45cm yearly top growth. It tolerates most soils bar waterlogged and will thrive in partial shade or full sun. Golden privet (Ligustrum ovalifolium aureum) is a yellow



foliage cultivar with a slightly slower growth rate, averaging 20-30cm every year. Common or cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) makes a dense hedge, vigorous in growth with 30-60cm per year but it clips well and can be maintained 1.5m-2.5m easily. It may need a shaping in spring and late autumn and a summer trim. The foliage and berries are toxic if eaten or browsed by animal so not always a popular rural hedge. Its big glossy leaves are one for catching particulate matter from exhaust fumes in urban settings. Portuguese Laurel (Prunus lusitanica angustifolia) is slightly slower to grow, roughly 30-50cm per year, making it easier to keep shape and trim less frequently – often just once a year. It is also considered the hardiest of the laurels but like all laurels can scorch in biting winds. Good in protected locations and easily maintained at 1-2m or higher. Beech (Fagus sylvatica) is deciduous but while the leaves turn brown in autumn they don’t all fall off – in fact the majority are retained over the winter until fresh spring emergence pushes the old leaf off. So beech maintains the windbreak and privacy functions. It can take a few years to establish a good structure and shape but thereafter will be tidied annually with one or two trims. Managed at a variety of heights. Average growth rate per year is in the 15-30cm range. Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) is another deciduous hedging plant that retains its autumnal leaf until spring’s new growth thus keeping its windbreak and privacy attributes over winter. Fast and vigorous grower, averaging 30-60cm per year. It will


take two if not three trims per year for the first few years to build a good structure but thereafter often just a yearly trim to shape. Hornbeam will tolerate damp conditions. Griselenia (Griselenia littoralis) is an evergreen variety suitable for urban settings and coastal regions. It knits in fast and regularly comes in the top five of hedging choices. Fast growing and with an average yearly growth rate of 30cm yet maintains a neat shape and often only requires a single cut per year to tidy. Be cautious however to not let the center get too woody – so every few years a hard trim or judicious pruning will maintain juvenile states or encourage new younger growths to replenish the hedge. It can be maintained between 1.5- 4 m. A pretty and solid barrier hedge.  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 1 9



Practical reasons to start planting Hedges provide many benefits over walls; here’s why.

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Air pollution. Hedges are particularly good at sequestering particulate pollutants from urban industrial settings and from cars in near-road environments. Their foliage can catch heavy metals as well as dust particles.

Noise pollution. While a thick hedge offers less of a noise barrier than a solid wall, it can still reduce traffic hum and street sounds by 25 per cent. The denser the hedge, the more effective it is. Also, the ear can easily attune to rustling foliage and swaying branches over traffic and other background noises.


Wind break. While a sturdy fence or solid wall make for a stronger windbreak than a hedge they can have a turbulence or vector effect whereby the solid barrier lifts the wind and lets it fall further inside the garden, about the same distance in as the height of the barrier. An established hedge can provide shelter for a distance up to three times its height; in this sense it can protect the house potentially leading to lower heating bills and less frequent painting and upkeep of the exterior.


Flood risk. The risk of soil saturation and flooding is now ever present. On the small scale that’s a soggy lawn and more moss later in the year. On the larger scale that’s some scuba diving gear to visit the kitchen and no, or extortionate, insurance cover for several years to come. A leafy hedge will slow the rainfall and surface runoff, the roots and rhizome layer will absorb quantities of water and also slow its filling of the water table or overspill into drains rivers and flood prone infrastructure.


Wildlife corridor. Biodiversity improves the ecology of your garden and environs; the shrubs that make up our hedges are natural habitats and transitory shelter for wildlife. Many have foliage that insects feed off of or lay onto while flowers attract pollinators. Birds may nest or perch to forage for insects, seeds and debris for nest building. The living screen can also provide winter cover and hibernation for hedgehogs and butterflies.

Security hedges

A thick hedge is hard to penetrate but a thorny one is an even better deterrent. There are many on offer in your local garden centre or nearby nursery but at the top of the list, as recommended by security firms and neighbourhood watch pamphlets, are: Holly (Ilex aquifolium and cultivars) Choose from over 400 species of evergreen and deciduous hollies in various colours and varying growth rates – mostly 20-30cm per annum. All are adaptable to full sun or partial shade and so can make uniform hedging around the entire property no matter how it is situated. They are as barbed as barbed wire but with a pleasing aesthetic – that said if you want berry branches for Christmas then you must plant berry bearing females with at least one male pollinator in the vicinity or enquire about a self-fertile female strain. 1 2 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

Pyracantha (Pyracantha spp.) aka firethorn as the name suggests is rather sharp and wounding. Often seen ornamentally in gardens against a wall but it is both fast growing and selfsupporting and ideal hedging material. Annual growth rate of 60cm. The choice of red, orange or yellow berries provides attractive later season interest to the semievergreen specimen. Best maintained at 1-3m height. Berberis (Berberis spp.) makes for quite a thorny specimen. There is quite a range of end maturity heights, foliage colours and flowering hues too. Often listed as a low growing hedge but it can be kept at heights of 1-3m depending on variety. All are easily maintained and each average out at an annual growth rate of 25-30cm. Some tolerate shade but full sun and free drainage will improve sturdiness and longevity. Very hardy and often used in difficult sites.


Native hedges

Native hedges are flowering and often fruiting, feeding the indigenous pollinators and even the local human foragers. They host more insects and support a wider food chain than imported/ non-native species. There are plenty of native varieties that can turn your hedge into a hedgerow. For a uniform look and neater appearance choose a single species and make it a monoculture hedge. I love hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna) aka whitethorn. Thorny and fast growing with an average yearly growth of 40-90cm it will require a few years to trim and prune into a good structure but thereafter is easily maintained with a yearly chop back. It is traditionally pruned in winter when in dormancy. It can be maintained at 2m heights or allowed to go 5m+. Hawthorns can be grown in all but waterlogged soil, in a sunny or partially shaded site. In ROI hawthorns and other natives can be used in the Rural Environmental Protection Scheme (REPS) and in the new Agri-Environment Options Scheme (AEOS) which now supplies an €8 per meter grant assistance to farmers and landowners to install native and traditional craft hedges.



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The B word

Plans from Bungalow Bliss by Jack Fitzsimons circa 1970

Love them or hate them Irish bungalows are now part of vernacular architecture, representing the first modern mass self-build movement Words: Marion McGarry


o anybody about to build a home this book can be confidently recommended” so wrote one commentator on Bungalow Bliss, first published in 1971, which went on to profoundly influence Irish self-builders and subsequently marking the surrounding countryside. It was a modern pattern book containing 20 comprehensible and affordable plans for bungalows selfpublished by the late Jack Fitzsimons, an architect from Meath. Since the first edition in 1971, 12 followed alongside over twenty reprints until the year 2000. It was one of many Irish self-build manuals and undoubtedly the most successful. Books like Bungalow Bliss democratised the self-building process by removing architects and allowing clients and their 1 2 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 9

builder-contractors to have more say. Yet Irish bungalows and rural one-off housing from the period were subject to scathing criticism for their lack of planning, social, environmental and aesthetic considerations.

Bungalow bliss

The house typified in Bungalow Bliss was usually rural, one-off, one-storey, concrete, with three to four bedrooms surrounded by a tarmac driveway and lawn. New, twentieth-century notions of individuality led to the inclusions of such fancies as arches, balustrades and stone cladding (which rarely matched the surrounding stone in the landscape). Modern bungalows were not tucked away up a lane or in a copse of trees, but were loud, proud and very visible. Many of the occupants were from a

‘Books like Bungalow Bliss democratised the self-building process by removing architects and allowing clients and their buildercontractors to have more say.’


farming background but the first of their generation not to work the land. They relied on cars to get to their blue- or white-collar jobs elsewhere. The bungalow brought a modern home within financial reach for many families. A typical layout included a central corridor off which the rooms were entered, with separate living rooms, bedrooms and, crucially, an indoor toilet and bathroom. Bungalows had fireplaces with ‘boilers’ attached, that could heat water and also distribute heat via radiators placed throughout the house. Bungalows notably included a defined sitting room, the descendent of the parlour or good room. Many pointed out that the bungalows represented Ireland’s gradual escape from poverty. The ability to build one’s own home also signified a reaction against an unfair inheritance system: in the past, the family house was passed on intact to the eldest son, whose siblings then had to find homes. Often, they emigrated or migrated to towns, or moved into public housing. When Bungalow Bliss was published it delivered house plans to this audience at a modest cost. Others were delighted at the modern and exciting looking templates it offered. However, as such bungalows were viewed as not guided by the edified hand of the architect they were often derided as being tasteless or tacky.

Bungalow blight

Jack and Anne Fitzsimons in the early 1970s

‘Modern bungalows were not tucked away up a lane or in a copse of trees, but were loud, proud and very visible.

The 1970s-1990s-era bungalow is seen in all parts of the countryside in Ireland, evidence of the increasingly expanding middle class of that time. Throughout the 1980s, bungalows became increasingly noticeable, dotting the Irish countryside as sharp white rectangles standing out from beautiful rural areas. Often their whiteness was compared to Southfork, the iconic mansion from the most popular TV show of the era, Dallas. Many thus became known as Dallas bungalows, or Spanish bungalows due to the fancy Mediterranean features such as hacienda style arches, balustrades or Doric columns. People who built such bungalows were sometimes seen to have the terrible Irish sin of ‘notions’. These mixtures of classical and exotic elements fed the rage of commentators who decried the fact that bungalows looked nothing like traditional Irish architecture. Planning laws meant it was easier to build near an old ruined cottage, which made the contrast between these bungalows and their predecessors even starker. The bungalow, it was said, was a blot on the Irish landscape and evident of poor  AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 2 3


planning laws. Some called for aesthetics to be regulated in Irish planning laws. This in some ways is now the case in England with Paragraph 79 (formerly Paragraph 55) of the National Planning Policy Framework which aims to curb people from building new isolated homes in the open countryside, and allows for one-off housing in the countryside if the design is “of exceptional quality”. Bungalows certainly did not have the beauty, uniformity or ability to blend harmoniously into the countryside that the thatched Irish cottage had. Yet the cottage had provided an early inspiration to Fitzsimons to publish Bungalow Bliss: it was the poor living conditions within them that became essentially his clarion call to improve standards of dwelling in rural Ireland.

Bungalow bias

A new book called Bungalow Bliss Bias, has been published posthumously by Jack’s son Kennas Fitzsimons (Jack died in 2014). It acknowledges the importance of the original book Bungalow Bliss and aims to provide historical context for it. In Bias, Jack Fitzsimons defends the designs of Bungalow Bliss and answers his many detractors (who included at one point, Dermot Bannon but more famously journalist Frank McDonald), standing his ground by emphasising the necessity

Bungalow in Co Mayo

‘Irish bungalows have become grudgingly acknowledged as a type of vernacular architecture...’


Today’s pattern books Nowadays searching the web is the number one way to learn how to do things, and house design is no exception Even though there are still plenty of pattern books available in bookshops, the digital world is taking over. And so if you scour the internet you’ll be presented with a multitude of floor plan options, very similar to the old pattern books, but these plans won’t take into account any of the site specifics such as wind and sun paths, neighbouring houses or the surrounding landscape. Neither do they usually supply much construction detail. This lack of architectural input is much bemoaned by many in the building industry because, the argument contends, it has allowed the proliferation of unimaginative designs and homes that aren’t always pleasant to live in. But architectural services can be expensive, around 10 per cent of project cost, and even though it’s money well spent, in that it will save you wasting money, it’s an expense beyond the reach of many. Aiming to meet in the middle is architect Brian O’Brien’s Opoplan platform, a startup that supplies bespoke architectural designs at low cost – artificial intelligence gleans the site information from Google maps and a 20-minute questionnaire you fill out is the equivalent of the brief you’d supply a ‘real’ architect, including your budget. The brief can be modified to change the design but you can’t tweak dimensions yourself to prevent rookie design mistakes.

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of his book at a time when few houses were being built and when the “architect belonged to an extinct or foreign species”. He maintains he filled a gap at a time of need providing what he described as a lay-man’s building bible. Yet in doing so he became, according to one critic, a “herobuilder to the lower middle classes”. Fitzsimons also provides a fascinating and candid insight into how his own impoverished childhood influenced his work and informed the original book. Speaking from experience he notes that living standards in old Irish cottages were ‘wretched’; he remembers the grim minutiae of a mud walled, thatched, damp dwelling with poor light sources, inadequate heating, poor insulation and a total lack of plumbing. Later he saw similar living conditions when working for Meath County Council before qualifying as an architect and moving into private practice. Bungalow Bliss, a self-published book, was a reaction to these impoverished and unhealthy living conditions. It also met what Fitzsimons saw as a demand for rural builds in a country where “architects were not generally available to help people with housing problems in rural areas”. At that time grants meant that housebuilding was encouraged and made more possible than today, but the problem was the lack of designs. Fitzsimons’ book gave advice on planning and septic tanks, and espoused high standards in the plans: for example, external walls were of the cavity type when most new houses had inferior hollow block walls. However, he said he deliberately did not include details that might be a problem for ‘do-it-yourself builders’. 


Bungalows today

The paradox is that, like Fitzsimons growing up in a cottage, this author grew up in one of Fitzsimons’s bungalows, (Design No. 1). To hundreds of thousands of families like my own, those houses represented a step-up from the alternative housing forms at that time. As a non-eldest son, it was up to my father to build his own family home. Our house had large light filled rooms and a big garden. Like many bungalows it was built in a scenic area and had an amazing view of Benbulben. Yet the house was, like many bungalows, adjacent to a main N15 road, so there was much traffic noise. And, the fact that it was on an exposed site meant that the Atlantic winter storms were seen, heard and very much felt. However, the proliferation of such housing meant noteworthy compromises had to be made which continue to affect Ireland today. The placing of the bungalows, predominantly strung out along main roads, meant that the dwellers became even more dependent on the car. Environmentally, one-off houses encouraged dispersed settlement patterns and impacted negatively on the populations of rural towns and villages.

‘Bungalows certainly did not have the beauty, uniformity or ability to blend harmoniously into the countryside that the thatched Irish cottage had. Yet the cottage had provided an early inspiration to Fitzsimons to publish Bungalow Bliss...’

They also helped create a culture of entitlement; a sense of liberty that people should be allowed to build a house in their locality in whatever style they wish. Aesthetically, when the bungalows were built they were quite jarring and sometimes ugly. Yet, allowed time, they have blended in, and a sort of familiar acceptance has occurred: Irish bungalows have become grudgingly acknowledged as a type of vernacular architecture, increasingly recognised as an identitymarker of rural Ireland. Although they still do not blend with

the landscape as well as older traditional vernacular buildings, many of them share the linearity and proportions of old cottages. In this way, and in comparison, to more recent architectural styles, the bungalow is increasingly seen as the natural descendent of the cottage. They have become part of our culture, where the people of my generation remembered their grandparents’ home being a rural vernacular farmhouse or cottage; these days if you have rural grandparents their house is likely to be a bungalow.

Left: First edition of Bungalow Bliss (1971), below left second edition (1972), below Bungalow Bliss Bias published posthumously (2019, ISBN 9781872490533, paperback, Kells Publishing kellspublishing.ie, €10.99)

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Ask the expert You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. And if we don’t, we’ll find out by scouring our Facebook group, calling help lines and talking to the experts. Q: In the Summer 2019 issue of Selfbuild magazine you had a photograph of a house on wheels in the Garden Pod article; is there more information on this type of structure? irishshepherdshuts.com Shepherd’s hut with charred timber cladding

A: It’s what’s referred to as a shepherd’s hut. According to irishshepherdshuts.com they are designed with the proportions and aesthetics of the traditional huts that were used by shepherds during sheep raising and lambing for hundreds of years. With their distinctive curved roof and cast iron wheels, they combine time honoured joinery practices with modern materials and technology. The one pictured here will be used as a garden office/garden retreat. It has a wood burning stove, desk, and fridge, and is fully insulated. It has oak flooring, double glazed windows and fully openable French windows. Huts are in fact becoming popular for glamping (glamorous camping) as they are mobile and therefore not considered a permanent structure for planning permission purposes. 

Q: What options are open to me if I want to build a new house out of hemp-lime? A: The first thing to think about when considering a new build or extension using hemp-lime is the


structural support. Historically, and right up to the present day, hemp-lime homes were cast around a standard timber frame structure. With this method the walls are cast no less than 300mm thick (450mm for passive standards) over the wood frame thereby adding breathability, fire resistance and racking strength. This approach requires extra attention to mixing and you will have to wait a few months for the walls to dry out before plastering. But it’s a robust, tried and tested method. Hemp-lime blocks are another option and they can be incorporated with metal framing, timber framework and concrete masonry; there is no waiting time before plastering as the blocks are dry when laid. And now thanks to a rise in hemp-lime block production across Europe, you can get full structural systems that incorporate concrete and steel support frames hidden within the hemp blocks themselves. These are proprietary systems that come with their own binders. It is also possible to build non load-bearing internal partition walls out of hemp-lime to give internal walls extra thermal mass and insulation but also more crucially indoors, soundproofing. Hemp-lime blocks can also be used as easy-to-install flooring insulation which can be placed on a sealed concrete floor, drainage block or granular fill and sealed with a compression cap of concrete or limecrete. A hemp-lime loose mix can also be used to fill roof/attic space on pitched or flat roofs to create an airtight envelope. Used for renovations, hemp-lime is a great way to add thermal mass to your home without losing precious floor space. By adding as little as 90mm of hemp lime blocks to the internal walls, you receive all the benefits of a newly built hemp-lime home including airtightness, carbon-negative insulation, fire resistance, sound diffusion, mould and insect resistance. Finally it’s worth pointing out that building an extension out of hemp-lime can have a positive knock-on effect on the entire home by buffering internal temperatures effectively. Ronan McDermott of HempBuild

AU T U M N 2 0 1 9 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 2 7

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