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AUTUMN 2017 £3.50 / €3.75


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ISSN 2049-3630


Planning | Heating & Ventilation | Home automation | Bijou homes and much more!



Welcome... Builders, including (ahem!) selfbuilders, risk life and limb all the time. Precarious perching, reckless use of equipment, disregard of protective gear, and the list goes on. Shortcuts are never the answer – my husband nearly lost a finger cutting metal bands with a chop saw! Even though there is a moral and legal Health & Safety responsibility placed on homeowners, and builders, part of the problem is how tedious the rules that are in place all seem. Fear not, we have some tips on how to get everyone, hopefully happily, on board (p85). The stakes are way too Bijou homes high to ignore. Off-the-shelf homes Beyond the construction aspect there are some are making a big entrance on the very real dangers within the home too, from self-build scene synthetic and highly flammable materials (p70) to the more well-known but no less dangerous damp and mould which contribute to poor indoor air quality (ventilation remedies on p76). Sobering as these aspects may be, don’t worry, Chatting the end result is well worth the effort. See for with Alexa The democratisation yourself – our exclusive project profiles start p20.

Against the clock

Fire safety in the home

of home automation

With Selfbuild. Dream it, Do it, Live it. Astrid Madsen - Editor

Don’t get into hot water

Heating systems explained

ERRATA We apologise for the following errors printed in the Summer 2017 edition: On page 17 Energywise Ireland’s website was incorrectly listed as, the correct website is Starting page 87 the Top 5 DIY Decking Tips article erroneously attributed images to Decking NI - all of these photographs should have been credited to UPM Decking.

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Dream it . Do it . Live it





All of our articles equally cover all parts of Ireland, including each and every one of the 32 counties. The regulations, work practices and everything else you can reasonably think of, we’ve got it covered from both sides of the border. When we refer to Northern Ireland the abbreviation we use is NI, when we refer to the Republic of Ireland it’s ROI.

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DO IT... 66 BASICS: SELF-BUILD ROADMAP Everything you have to do and consider before you get on site.


Whether you’re building new or improving, ventilation is a vital aspect to design into your plans from day one.


All about the dreaded Safety Talk.


Unless you’re building a house that doesn’t require any form of heating, our guide to boilers is a must read.

DREAM IT... INSIDE TRACK A premium section showcasing the latest news, thoughts and trends from the companies that can help you turn your self-build and home improvement dreams into reality.

18 INSIDER NEWS: Product and industry news in the world of building and home improving.


broadband connection for your new home? Network operator Open Reach is here to help.

74 MEET THE BUILDING PHYSICS ENGINEER: Ecological Building Systems’ Niall Crosson reveals all: his inspiration, insights and where he sees the future going for Irish self-builders.

84 MEET THE ARCHITECTURAL TECHNOLOGISTS: New kids on the block in Kerry are the designers behind healycornelius design, an award winning architectural practice with a flair for affordable designer homes.

97 MEET THE WINDOW DESIGNER: Lumi’s R&D department has just released it frameless patio doors and is due to unveil yet another product at Selfbuild Live in Dublin. Find out what it is, and what’s next in line.


The ultimate guide to boilers.





Heather and Stephen Grills’ minimalist design in Co Antrim.

Phil Byrne and Marie O’Kelly’s eco-build in Co Leitrim reinvents the porch.


Deirdre and Frank Spillane’s extension of a period home in Co Antrim.


A courtyard was the solution for Co Kildare couple Breen and Suzanne McManus.

100 BASICS: PLANNING PERMISSION When you need it and what’s involved.


The ins and outs of exempted development for your dream kitchen or spare room.


Rural planning is a complicated subject, we look at the most recent developments in ROI.


Off-the-shelf and off-the-wall bijou homes.


We build and furnish our homes with flammable materials. Find out what they are.

83 EXPERT COMMENT: LOW COST VENTILATION BUT AT WHAT COST? Natural ventilation in an airtight house.


Advances in home automation, plus the Top 5 self-build apps to download.


The best nuts to grow in your back garden.


We revisit homes we featured 10 years ago.


We all know bees, especially native Irish ones are in danger. Here’s a way you can help.

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AUTUMN 2017 £3.50 / €3.75


Gerard Duffy

Gareth Fitzsimmons

Aleyn Chambers is an Architect and certified Passive House Designer based in Dalkey, Co Dublin. / ROI mobile 086 600 8244

Xavier Dubuisson is an engineer in the field of sustainable energy in Ireland.

Gerard established Eurotech in 1979, a company that designs and installs renewable heating systems. / ROI tel. 042 974 9479

Gareth is a building services engineer specialising in the design and installation of residential ventilation systems. / NI mobile 07733 422143


ISSN 2049-3630

Xavier Dubuisson

y(7HC0E9*NQNKKM( +?!@

Aleyn Chambers

Planning | Heating & Ventilation | Home automation | Bijou homes and much more!

Cover Photo Paul Lindsay Editor Astrid Madsen Design Myles McCann

Ciaran Hegarty

Paul Kenny

Diarmuid O’Grada

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Ciaran is a woodwork and construction studies teacher in Tipperary with over ten years’ experience in carpentry.

Paul is the CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency, a non-profit that supports homeowners to increase the energy efficiency of their homes. / / ROI tel. 052 744 3090

Diarmuid is a longstanding member of the Irish Planning Institute. His planning consultancy is based in Dublin 14. / ROI tel. 01 2884629

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

Marketing Calum Lennon Subscriptions Leanne Rodgers Advertising Sales David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Patricia Madden Maria Varela

Paul O'Reilly

Debbie Orme

Andrew Stanway

Mark Stephens

Paul is an award-winning energy consultant with over 25 years’ experience. He is a director of ORS consulting engineers and of Watt Footprint. /

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

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.

Mark is a member of RIBA and the RIAI, a Grade III conservation architect, and a certified passive house designer. / ROI tel. 094 92 52514

Tanguy de Toulgoët

Alan Walsh

Gary Wilson

Tanguy started gardening at the age of 10 and now runs well attended gardening courses at the Dunmore Country School. / ROI mobile 087 125 8002

Alan is a senior construction project manager at Jacobs Engineering with 35 years’ experience in the industry. He’s also an enthusiastic DIYer in his spare time.

Gary is an Ubiquiti Networks specialist, HDL Automation Certified Reseller Installer and CasaTunes Home Audio Certified professional with 20 years’ experience in the home automation industry. / NI tel. 9261 2002

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 / 0 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

Come meet the experts at our Dublin, Belfast and Cork events. More on page 88

Accounts Kerry Brennan Sales Director Mark Duffin Managing Director Brian Corry Chairman Clive Corry Print GPS Colour 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

Will ROI get a Building Control Authority? A PRIVATE MEMBER’S BILL passed by the Oireachtas in June could be the first step towards setting up a Building Control Authority in ROI, but legislation has yet to presented or enacted to put this motion into effect. As it stands building control inspections in ROI are few and far between, with roughly 60 local authority building control officers employed to carry out spot compliance checks. NI’s system of Building Control, on the other hand, sees officials inspect building sites multiple times during the life of every building project over which it has jurisdiction, including self-builds. It’s a model that we at Selfbuild have been promoting for ROI as it provides not only technical guidance and support at key stages but also necessary oversight. However, it seems in large part due to staffing issues, the ROI Department of Housing continues to favour a risk-based approach to inspections. For more details on the motion and future developments go to the News section of

Energy saving kits EVER FANCY BECOMING A LEAK DETECTIVE? You can now rent one of these award-winning kits in any Dublin City Library. A little bird tells us there may be plans to expand the scheme throughout ROI.

Waste not, want not

Top self-build regions

ANYONE INVOLVED IN POLICY MAKING will be familiar with the regulatory push towards building a circular economy, whereby waste is reused as a raw material for making new goods. Top of the list when it comes to contributing to the rubbish pile is the construction The aim is to recycle 70 per cent of all construction waste by 2020. industry; two tonnes of builders’ waste is generated annually for every person in the EU. To turn this mountain of discarded items into an economic and social opportunity, experts from the industry and the European Commission have drawn up the EU Construction and Demolition (C&D) Waste Management Protocol. The guidelines are intended to help industry reach the Waste Framework Directive’s C&D recycling rate target of 70 per cent by 2020. ROI’s Environmental Protection Agency has also recently published guides on how to reuse and extend the life of household items. See research reports 202 and 213 on With environmental issues surrounding landfills, the increasing global scarcity of raw materials and the serious matter of illegal dumping all high on the agenda, the circular economy approach is seen as the way towards a more sustainable future. No doubt measures will eventually be introduced to encourage self-builders to do their bit.

FIRST QUARTER FIGURES for 2017 commencement notices are in, top of the league in ROI are counties Cork, Meath, Galway, Wexford and Donegal. In NI, new dwelling starts by district show Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon topping the list, with Mid Ulster and Lisburn/ Castlereagh coming in second and third.

Test it Tuesday WHEN IT COMES to house fires, smoke or heat detectors are the real lifesavers, which is why on a new build you need to install hardwired smoke detectors in most rooms, including bedrooms. The key, of course, is for the detectors to be in working order. You should therefore aim to check them weekly, especially if they’re only battery operated (not hardwired). More on fire p70

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Homes of the year Behind the glitz and glamour of architecture awards are beautiful homes. This year’s RIAI (Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland) awards have introduced a total of five regional best house categories.

Prices Lane, Dublin City

Bleach Road, Co Kilkenny

ODOS Architects walked away with the RIAI Dublin trophy for Prices Lane, a new family home located on a tight site off a narrow laneway in Dublin city centre. By splitting the plan into two main spaces, the open central courtyard resolves the issue of light and has the benefit of creating an outdoor room. Boyd Cody Architects bagged two awards, one for Munster with the renovation of an old farm settlement at Teeroneer, Co Clare and another for Leinster with Bleach Road, the renovation of a cottage located in an old abandoned quarry with a new build on the outskirts of Kilkenny. Tireighter Cairn, Co.Derry

Broadstone Architects took home the RIAI Ulster trophy for Tireighter Cairn while Aughey O’Flaherty Architects was awarded the Connact House of the Year award for Killsallagh, a newly built house in Co Mayo which boasts views of Croagh Patrick to the east and Clew Bay and the Atlantic Ocean to the west. Teeroneer, Co Clare Killsallagh, Co Mayo

This year’s Royal Institute of British Achitects’ Northern Ireland winners weren’t of homes, but shortlisted was Clogher House of Lisburn, by McGarry Moon Architects.

Clogher House, Lisburn

Alice Clancy Photography

The Architecture Association of Ireland, meanwhile, rewarded House on Belgrave Square, Blackrock, Co Dublin by Clancy Moore Architects and Heated Brick Extension, Dublin by Daire Bracken Architect (pictured left).

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Building costs on upward trajectory Building costs in 2017 are set to rise more quickly than in 2016, according to reports. IN ROI, THE FIRST SIGNS of price inflation came from the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland’s Tender Price Index it increased 6 per cent over the course of 2016. “If price inflation continues to grow at the current level, it is anticipated that pricing levels will return to the levels last seen in 2006 and 2007 in the next few years,” commented the authors of the SCSI PwC Construction Survey Report 2017. 90 per cent of the survey’s resondents expected an uptake in residential construction activity in 2017. The good news for self-builders is that despite the increase in tender costs, the cost of building has only increased

marginally over the same period. The ROI House construction cost index, which monitors only labour costs and the cost of building materials but not profits or overheads, increased by 0.60 per cent from 2015 to 2016. This level of growth has however already been exceeded between January and March of this year. In NI the situation is the reverse of ROI’s; the latest Ulster Bank PMI indicator shows that construction firms in NI have seen a growth in activity, an increase in prices they charge, but overall a much greater increase in their input costs. The Royal Institute of the Architects of

Ireland’s 2016 construction costs document shows self-builds - new homes and renovations costing in the region of €1,500 to €1,900 per sqm for an average specification in ROI.

Hot under the collar With record breaking summer temperatures, those of us with highly glazed homes may find ourselves sweating more than somewhat this Autumn.

Brise soleil

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AND THAT’S NOT TOO SURPRISING. Appealing as it may be, building your home with fabulously large windows can have its downsides – you need to factor in how that reduces the performance of the building (walls are much better at insulating) and the fact that in the summer, you may find yourself in that ole 1980s conservatory conundrum. Many of the homes we’ve featured in Selfbuild magazine have suffered from this issue and it seems the easiest solution is to install some form of ‘brise soleil’ which is an overhang that blocks out summer sunshine (high in the sky) yet allows low winter light to filter through. A win-win solution.

The good news now for those at the building stage is that you can more readily, and uniformly, factor in overheating in your design and ventilation strategy. For further reading on the topic, and nifty calculations for the technically minded, turn to the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers’ free handbook Technical Memorandum 59: Design methodology for the assessment of overheating risk in homes (CIBSE TM59). The guide was put together in response to the industry concern that the UK is “creating a generation of homes destined to overheat”. Will we end up calling them millennial homes?

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New ROI energy grants ROI homeowners will now be able to claim up to half of the cost of their home’s energy upgrade, under a new Deep Retrofit scheme launched at the SEAI Energy Show, however you will have to group with your neighbours to qualify. €5 million has been ring fenced for homeowners who want to upgrade their homes to an ‘A’ rating on the Building Energy Rating (BER) scale. The scheme is being rolled out on a pilot basis and will require a fabric first approach as well as introducing a low carbon heating system (non fossil fuel). The grant will fund up to half the cost of upgrades for individual householders and will be administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI). Deep retrofit is a significant upgrade to bring a home as close as possible to Nearly Zero Energy Building standards, which is due to be transposed into law in 2019 with a public consultation phase to start early in 2018. The €5m scheme will be administered by SEAI and will make funds available on a rolling basis to community groups, to

Local Authorities and to Energy Agencies. “It is available to any group that can pull together groups of people who want to invest in a major energy efficiency improvement to their home,” noted the Department of Communications, Climate Action & Environment’s press release. The programme is in line with

government policy that aims to encourage a more collaborative approach to energy upgrades; district heating schemes for example are rare in Ireland but provide a much more efficient and less carbon intensive way of heating our homes. The Tipperary Energy Agency’s Superhomes programme provides a similar

Deep Retrofit incentive, funding up to 50 per cent of the energy upgrade and without the community group caveat (homes are upgraded individually). ROI Minister for Energy Denis Naughten, meanwhile, announced the introduction of 95 per cent subsidies for those in energy poverty at the SEAI’s first deep retrofit conference in June. The Minister said almost all of the 1.3 million homes in ROI needed a deep retrofit,with SEAI figures showing the Irish energy retrofit market could be worth over €35 billion to 2050. Naughten also hinted at the importance of the Internet of Things and the rollout of broadband to rural areas as a key measure to reduce energy use at source. SEAI chief executive Jim Gannon also commented on the need to inform consumers on the benefits of deep retrofit - from health, comfort and energy savings - highlighting the challenges associated to the €25,000+ investment required for a significant upgrade.

What makes us tick SELF-BUILDERS WANT THEIR ENERGY EFFICIENCY INVESTMENTS to have a pay back of less than four years, highlights a study by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) entitled Behavioural insights on energy efficiency in the residential sector. The reoprt estimates that a ‘deep retrofit’ – bringing a property from a G on the Building Energy Rating (BER) scale to current standards – could cost a whopping €30,000 to €40,000. Over 150,000 dwellings in ROI are G-rated with over one million dwellings with a BER rating of C or lower. The report also estimates that more than one in four ROI households could be in energy poverty (defined as more than 10 per cent of household income required to maintain set comfort levels). While comfort and health are key factors in decision making, cost unsurprisingly remains

the most significant barrier to a significant uptake in energy efficiency measures. Over 70 per cent of respondents stated that “not having sufficient funds” was the main reason

for putting this type of home improvement work on the long finger. Grants are another important part of the equation, as they have an ’emotional impact’ – the SEAI quantifies that a €1 grant corresponds to €1.30 in consumers’ minds. Getting homeowners to carry out deep retrofits at their ‘trigger points’ – the time when they decide to invest in an energy upgrade – was a key finding. This is because a homeowner who has just carried out an extensive renovation but has not installed all the potential energy efficiency measures might not consider renovating the house again for 15 years. That said, households who had previously completed a retrofit were found to be willing to pay more than twice as much as homes retrofitting for the first time. AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 3

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Over 5,000 homes with defective blocks identified

In brief

As many as 4,800 private dwellings in Co Donegal and 345 in Co Mayo are likely to have been affected by defective concrete blocks, an expert panel commissioned by the ROI Government has found.  The Report of the Expert Panel on Concrete Blocks published by the ROI Department of Housing has identified the nature of the structural cracks first identified in Donegal in 2013 on self-builds and contractor-built homes. The report issued a set of eight recommendations, one of which is to remove the Optout clause out of the Building Control Regulations which allows self-builders to build their own homes; the panels believes the opt-out option “may contribute to further building failures such as those experienced in counties Donegal and Mayo.” The report also recommends that Building Control Inspectors carry out more

inspections. Minister English has said he would be taking action to implement the report’s first two recommendations, which have to do with testing and categorising the extent of the failures and introducing professional oversight on the remediation of the buildings. There is no mention of compensation in the report but Minister English has hinted the Government may consider some form of redress: “In light of the information contained in the report, I have asked my Department to consider what further actions may be required to assist the parties directly

involved in reaching a satisfactory resolution to the problems that have emerged in the two counties”. The disintegration of the concrete blocks are of a structural nature, and first appeared as cracks on the render. The report states the reason for the widespread pattern of cracking “is primarily due to excessive amounts of materials in the aggregate used to manufacture the concrete blocks which gave rise to deleterious effects. The material in County Donegal was primarily muscovite mica while in County Mayo it was primarily reactive pyrite.”

Self-builders open their doors in Sligo and Leitrim The fourth edition of Green-Door, the festival of rural architecture and design will take place Friday 29th September to Sunday 1st October 2017 with openhomes, talks, tours, workshops and exhibitions. Don’t miss out as this FREE event only runs every two years; in 2015 over 2,600 visits were made to homes, buildings and events. This time around funding comes from the Arts Council, the Heritage Council, the Leitrim Arts Office and Leitrim County Council. Find out more about the programme and the homeowners who are opening their doors for the weekend on and take a look at the Green-Door interactive documentary by award-winning filmmaker Róisín Loughgrey at

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John Bent’s Cottage

Niamh McCabe’s house

A recent Freedom of Information request has brought to light emails from the ROI Department of Housing which referred to a statistical analysis of housing completions. A department official said in one string of correspondence that specific tables showed “fairly sizable non compliance with the regulations going on – particularly (probably) in regards self build (we also think this is the case in respect of commencement notices)”. Selfbuild has asked the department for the statistics mentioned but at the time of going to print, we had not received them. Check for updates. A Universal Design competition awarded €50,000 to the Abhaile Project, a scheme aimed at renovating two storey homes in city centre locations with a granny flat downstairs and student accommodation upstairs. homesforsmartageing-ud.

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New ROI Building Regulations will put pressure on renovations too As of 2019 if you are renovating more than 25 per cent of your home, you will be required under the Building Regulations to invest in the building fabric to bring the property up to a B3.  The moves comes as the ROI Government introduces the Near Zero Energy (NZEB) requirements of the European Buildings Performance Directive (EPBD) into Irish law, Seán Armstrong, senior technical advisor to the Building Standards section of the Department of housing told delegates of the SEAI Deep Retrofit Conference in June. Technical Guidance Document L (known as Part L) dealing with energy use is already undergoing a major revamp for new builds, with NZEB requirements to be introduced into new legislation next year. The NZEB definition, Armstrong also indicated, is currently under review.

ranging from €230/sqm to €566/sqm for a detached house with cavity walls. Painting, rendering or replastering will not be considered as major renovation work but alterations involving walls, roofs, replacing windows and floors, including cladding an external

SR:54 published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland is the current guidance document for renovations but has come under criticism for not sufficiently taking into account the issue of capital cost versus relative increase in health benefits and energy savings.

presumably bring the building into the A category. “We have to do a further set of cost optimal calculations to [present a revised definition of NZEB] and that’s going to be taking place later this year and at the start of next year,” said Armstrong.

surface, dry lining an internal surface, and stripping down the property to its structural elements, will count towards the 25 per cent calculation. The change will be introduced into legislation for dwellings in Q1 2018 and will become mandatory as of January 2019. Current requirements for existing dwellings are set out in Part L Section 2. Table 5 details the maximum backstop U-values required when renovating your home, but these are not stringent.

New builds

Final technical guidance documents for the NZEB version of Part L were expected in 2018, but this now seems more likely to be in 2019 to allow for a public consultation period. As SelfBuild revealed in its Summer 2017 issue Part F dealing with ventilation is most likely going to be revised as well. This review will take into account the increased airtightness and thermal performance requirements of the new NZEB version of Part L and may require whole house mechanical ventilation.


Armstrong said his department is looking at introducing a new requirement for homes that renovate more than 25 per cent of the surface of the building envelope. These properties will have to bring the entire building up to an energy efficient standard, referred to as a ‘cost optimal performance level’. In a typical semi-detached house this will require you to upgrade the walls, roof and boiler or alternatively achieve a B3 performance level on the Building Energy Rating scale. The cost optimal performance requirements for different types of dwellings were calculated by the Department of Housing in 2013. The analysis shows costs

Armstrong also told delegates the Near Zero Energy Building definition was currently under review for new builds. A definition taken from the EPBD directive had been set out in an amendment to Part L of the Building Regulations this year and the building standards division is now looking at how to apply the technical definition to Irish homes. To be considered NZEB the building fabric could have to achieve a C1 to B3 with the addition of renewables, which will

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Build cost calculator

Portuguese architectural firm Fala Atelier,


We’ll soon be launching a build cost calculator for both NI and ROI self-builds on our website where you will be able to input your project specific information. Watch this space…

Selfbuild Live Post-digital drawing by

Selfbuild Live Dublin is heading for a scorcher THIS AUTUMN, WE’RE GETTING READY for an Indian summer at Selfbuild Live Dublin, 8-10 September 2017, 10am-6pm, at the Citywest Convention Centre. Planning permissions are through the roof and we’re already seeing a record number of tickets booked. For those of you who haven’t already, know that when booking your FREE tickets to the event you’ll get to see your 2D plans transformed into 3D for just €50! Sign up to this exclusive deal by booking your tickets on and using promo code MAG3D At Selfbuild Live in Dublin we’ll also be showcasing our first panel of self-builders where homeowners will be on hand to share their stories and answer your questions on all three days. Plus our unmissable design clinics, expert presentations and loads of ideas, inspiration and advice from the 150 high quality exhibitors who can help turn your dreams into reality.

Post-digital drawings Forget hand sketches, CAD or even 3D – the future of house representation is upon us and it’s called post-digital drawing. Provocative and sensory, the post-digital drawing is ingeniously able to convey the true ‘feel’ of a house, something many of its predecessors have been aiming to achieve. According to Metropolis magazine author Sam Jacob: “Instead of striving for pseudo-photo-realism, this new cult of the drawing explores and exploits its artificiality, making us as viewers aware that we are looking at space as a fictional form of representation. This is in strict opposition to the digital rendering’s desire to make the fiction seem ‘real’.” Some call it collage, others staging. Perhaps because it’s so evocative you could even describe it as art.

Join the community WHEN FACEBOOK finally allowed business pages to set up their own groups, we joined the fray and created the SelfBuilders & Home Improvers Ireland group. The group is where you’ll find recommendations, costs as well as tips and advice about self-building and home improving, warts and all. It’s in many ways a support group, a community of likeminded self-builders, where novices and seasoned professionals share their thoughts, opinions and experience. groups

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Doors and floors: a whole new level

THERE ARE FEW THINGS AS DIFFICULT to visualise in your home setting than new doors and floors. But with the help of the Door & Floor Centre’s new 5,000 sqft showroom in Co Meath you now can. Designed to draw you into the vivid world of home décor, the showroom offers a fully immersive user experience – and walk through where doors, floors and wall colours are all synchronised. In addition to an exclusive door and floor range, the Door & Floor Centre offers an expert supply and fit service for a hassle-free experience with a professional finish. There’s also a wide range of ironmongery on offer with individualised handles and locks guaranteed to suit every taste. Come meet owner Eoin Mac Sweeney at the Dublin 2017 Selfbuild Live event in Citywest or visit the new showroom at the Door & Floor Centre, Lady’s Road, Ardbraccan, Navan, Co Meath, tel. 046 9023878,,

Stroll of honour WINNING AN ENVIRONMENTAL IMPROVEMENT AWARD is always something to be proud of, but to get it for a promenade is no small feat and definitely something to write home about. RTU’s Exposa Decorative Concrete has been awarded just that badge of honour from the Concrete Society for its 2,300 sqm work on the Portstewart promenade. Two colour tones were used to create a red wave in the middle surrounded by sandy beach. In your home too Exposa can have that same stunning effect. An attractive alternative to traditional paving, asphalt, tarmac and loose gravel, your imagination is the limit to the designs you can create. You can even use other materials such as cobble or paving stones as movement joints or to form a border. The possibilities are endless. The low maintenance natural aggregate finish has the durability and structural integrity of concrete and with its slip resistant and robust finish impervious to heavy traffic and extreme weather conditions, Exposa is ideal for use on driveways and footpaths. RTU manufactures Exposa under stringent quality control procedures, ensuring conformity to the requirements of BS EN206. RTU Ltd., Cloughfern Ave, Netownabbey, Belfast, BT37 0UZ, tel. 9085 1441,

FREE eco consultations If you’ve missed Ecological Building Systems at Selfbuild Live Dublin in September, or still want to learn more, make sure you get to their free Open Door on Saturday 7th October at their training centre in Athboy, Co Meath. In addition to one-to-one consultations with eco building experts (bring your plans!) the event will feature live demos of award winning products, a solutions orientated Q&A, spot prizes and much more. Go to or call 0469432104 for further information and confirmation of the Open Door date.

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Spoiled for choice AS WITH MANY ASPECTS OF YOUR DESIGN, shape, size and your preferences will all dictate what you can do with your bathrooms. Ensuite or wetroom, full bath or shower, there’s a lot to consider. In terms of style, retro or eclectic, modern or minimalist, the choice is yours. To see what your options actually look like, come along to Divinity Bathroom’s new 4,000 sqft showroom. It’s divided into 20 full suites with walls and ceilings to get a sense of scale and a clear view of what combinations will work for you. On show are also a wide range of vanity units and tiles. Centrally located, it’s just 15 minutes from Finglas (Dublin) so call in today to Divinity Tile & Bathrooms, Unit 2, Rath Cross Retail Park, Ashbourne, Co Meath, tel. 01 835 1626,

Know thy enemy AIR QUALITY IS A HOT TOPIC, not just due to climate change and pollution but also because of the way we build and furnish our homes. We are increasingly relying on products that emit high levels of Volatile Organic Compounds such as wood laminates, chipboard, insulation, wood finishes and solvents. Combined with inadequate ventilation, the result is likely to be low productivity and poor health. But indoor air quality (IAQ) is not as easily detectable as, say, dust or mould. And even though sometimes it’s a good idea to open your windows, this can lead to discomfort. There’s the added variable of outdoor air quality, which may be poorer than your IAQ. Wouldn’t it be nice to see invisible threats in the air, understand where they come from and take control? Enter the AirVisual Node, available in Ireland from Watt Footprint, a smart air quality monitor designed to medical-grade standards. As one of the most precise consumer air quality monitors on the market, the Node displays real-time particulate matter (PM2.5) and CO2 levels, as well as temperature and humidity, on a 5in/12.7cm LED screen. Outdoor air quality data from local official sensors is also displayed in addition to a three-day air quality forecast, allowing you to plan upcoming activities. The device is on sale now for €249/£219 on Alternatively visit the Watt Footprint store at the National Ecology Centre at Sonairte, Laytown, Co Meath.

Check it’s SR66 certified

BY NOW, SELF-BUILDERS WILL BE AWARE of the changes to Part H of the ROI Building Regulations which state that all domestic sewage treatment plants in Ireland must, in addition to previous requirements, be compliant with the NSAI’s SR66:2015 standard. So when it comes to building your home, your choice of domestic sewage system is now crucially important, as uncertified systems will prevent planning permission from being granted and if installed, will represent a breach of the Building Regulations. As one of the first Irish manufacturers to gain the SR66:2015 accreditation across its BioFicient treatment plant and Gamma/ Alpha septic tank ranges, Kingspan continues to set the standards in wastewater treatment solutions. “We’ve always strived to design and manufacture premium tried and tested wastewater management solutions, which is why when the guidance of SR66:2015 was amended, our treatment solutions were already compliant across the entire range,” commented David Best, Commercial Director for Kingspan Water Management Solutions Ireland. Through the Kingspan network of accredited installers, homebuilders can avail of advice on selecting compliant wastewater treatment solutions for their home. For further information, call (ROI prefix with 048) 3026 6799, email, or visit AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 9


'...we wanted to have quite a bit of room, an open plan living space and we wanted to maximise views as well as invest in good insulation.'

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Functionalities included Even though Heather and Stephen Grills’ design is a minimalist one, they managed to cram just about everything they ever wanted in a home. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay

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eather and Stephen had always dreamt of building their own home, and when a small site came up in Antrim, the opportunity seemed just too good to pass up. “Stephen was very keen to buy it but I didn’t like the shape, and it was quite expensive,” recalls Heather. “A few months later it so happened another nearby site came up for sale with planning for four houses on, it was double the size. The sale had fallen through because of some issues with planning. We were at the right place at the right time.”

we wanted inside.” “The house had to work for two children, I was pregnant at the time we got planning permission and our eldest, who is now five, was three at the time. So a playroom was in order. We also asked that the office be separate from our day to day activities. In our previous home, it was linked to the bedroom and we found it Process really hard to switch off from work in the “We ended up paying less for this larger site evenings.” with mature trees, exactly what we were The couple settled on a design they felt looking for,” adds Heather. “It was a fluke but would work best for their family life. “We it was a good thing. Then we met different architects on site to discuss what we might do. chose to keep the ground floor for the kids to Ben was the only one who seemed to be really run around and do whatever they liked, and keep the upstairs as a sanctuary so there’s a listening to what we wanted. He came back living room loft for watching movies, a space with some basic sketches straight away, and for the adults to relax in. It’s basically a we loved them.” chillout lounge with its own rooftop terrace.” “We asked him to design three different The L shape of the building allows houses, on three different locations, and the the bedroom wings to be separate from only real direction we gave him was that it the commotion, while the corner of the L had to be contemporary, unique and a bit proved to be the perfect secluded spot for different. We ended up merging two of his the office. designs to come up with the final layout.” The heart of the home is of course the They kept up to speed with TV kitchen, with the open plan area feeding to programmes and magazines for inspiration and from it. The design was the brainchild and also gave their architect a functional brief. “Maybe it’s because we’d never started of keen cook Heather and a specialised company that also fitted out their food store from scratch before, but we loved the very and utility. “I always wanted a pantry and first design Ben presented to us. This was a really fun stage of the project, deciding what got my dream – the company we worked 

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“Circumstances had it that we ended up paying less for this larger site with mature trees, exactly what we were looking for...”

Q&A What’s your favourite feature/room?

My absolute favourite is the kitchen, my stress release is cooking. But I also love the terrace, it’s magical. It never gets windy thanks to the glass protection, and the overhang means we can enjoy it even if it’s raining.

What would you change?

I would make our ensuite bathroom smaller and make the master bathroom a bit bigger – even though they both function really well when you walk into the ensuite it feels huge and the main bathroom is a bit on the small side.

What surprised you?

That we got planning permission without any problems, it took just four weeks. The other thing that surprised me are the small things that can go wrong, which can have a knock-on effect and lead to delays. Also how important it is to have a really good relationship with the people who are working with you, it makes the whole project run much more smoothly.

Would you do it again?

I can’t imagine going through another house building project but if I had to do it again, I’d project manage it myself. Even though that can lead to a lot of stress and hassle, requires time and doesn’t necessarily save you a whole lot, it gives you much more control.

What advice would you give to a budding selfbuilder?

It’s always going to cost more than you expect! We were told some changes would be cost neutral but didn’t turn out to be. Anything that’s not captured in the tender can lead to the price creeping up – for instance we weren’t overly specific about which doors we wanted, to get something we liked we had to add £40 per door to the budget. It all adds up. Overall we spent about £15,000 more than we’d originally anticipated.

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Heather’s Top tips LIGHT & AIR

Corner windows We had chosen a frameless design for the corner windows. However at the right angle you can see a demarcation where the three layers of glass meet. Since we were going to see a line anyway, we chose to have a frame, which really helped reduce costs, by about a third. We have three corner windows in the house. Noise We have a railway line nearby and when you’re indoors you can’t hear a thing thanks to the triple glazing.

with was so helpful, they delivered within the budget we gave them and I think that says a lot considering the end result.” The worktops are 12mm thick ceramic stone and the sink tap in the 2.5m long island is the only real break in the horizontal lines, contributing to the sleek contemporary look the couple was going for. All appliances are integrated, even the indispensable coffee machine. The site they bought had a 1970s rundown chalet and an ancient barn which they got permission to demolish. “We secured a replacement dwelling planning

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permission but didn’t build on the same spot or use the barn as originally hoped as there were virtually no foundations,” says Heather. “We had a quantity surveyor who told us it would cost in the region of £292,000 which our architect agreed was in line with what he expected. But when we went to tender the costs ranged drastically. The lowest bid came in at £330,000 and the highest £488,000! That was scary. It was the first panic.” To reduce costs they specified steel instead of zinc for the metal roof covering but in one of the many twists of this story, 

Install a good ventilation system The showers never steam up, and I now rarely have to take my asthma medication – for 30 plus years I was taking medicine every day, now it’s once a week, if I remember! We went with mechanical ventilation with heat recovery.


circumstances had it that zinc was eventually installed.


Once the builder was appointed, and the on-site project manager was on board, the project ran like clockwork. “Six months in and the structure was complete and the roof was on,” says Heather. “There were however some hiccups, the first being the month and a half delay on the window delivery.” Heather’s keen interest meant she was on site nearly every day, but had little control over the delays incurred. “When the project manager was moved off the job, I found the situation became really stressful,” she confides. “The last six months of the build were difficult for me as I like to be involved, and I felt a lot of the decisions that were being taken on site were out of my hands.” “For example we had some issues with

‘The last six months of the build were difficult for me as I like to be involved, and I felt a lot of the decisions that were being taken on site were out of my hands...'

the fireplace – it was awkward enough as the flue connected to the outdoor chimney on the terrace, and it didn’t fit because of the steel beam that cantilevered the terrace.” The stove is three sided with glass panels facing the dining and kitchen areas. “In the end we had to get a different stove, we got gas instead of multifuel, and the chimney had to be rebuilt.” Not surprisingly, a lot of thought was given to the house’s heat and hot water. “The idea of wood pellets fascinated us at the time, but we researched the heating and hot water aspect quite a bit, a horizontal ground source heat pump would have not been possible because we apparently didn’t have enough flat ground – despite the large site. This meant we would have had to go with two boreholes, setting us back £22,000,  2 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

All of the kitchen applicances are built-in



Take the time to check references. We chose our architect based on his work but also on how well we got on with him; his input throughout was invaluable. He’d come out on site to check what had been done which really helped to know how much to pay the contractor, as I often wouldn’t know. The on-site project manager was really helpful too, flagging issues before they happened, and I cultivated a good relationship with him.

The upstairs living room

Keep a diary. When things get stressful, it’s helpful to have a record of all the things that were said and agreed. Jotting down the highlights of your conversations with those on site, and dating them, will help you keep track of everything and as a result, not doubt yourself. Get drawings from your designer for everything. If there isn’t a drawing, your builder is likely to do it his own way to move the project along instead of consulting with the architectural designer.

Roof terrace with outdoor chimney

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Bespoke contemporary concrete landscaping


so we went back to our original idea,” explains Heather. “From a financial point of view the biomass was by far the best choice too, and I do love it. It’s very simple to operate and it costs very little to heat the house to be cosy warm.” But there were some snags. “We had thought we’d ordered a boiler with a three tonne hopper to feed a smaller hopper to feed the boiler but instead we just got a basic boiler with small hopper which means that we have to load pellets every two to three days in winter instead of every two weeks.” There is underfloor heating throughout and the rooms have thermostats. “There is a thin screed so there is no waiting for the temperature to ramp up, it gets warm within half an hour,” adds Heather. “We actually don’t use the heating that often, the house seems to self-regulate.”

All moved in

Once moved in, there was one last building issue to tackle. “We realised the plaster started to ripple – not due to workmanship but to the product that had been used (recalled by the manufacturer).” Despite the delays – moved in July 2015 instead of March – and the stress of the build, Heather and Stephen feel the house did deliver on their expectations. “Now that we’re here I can’t think how I could improve on our home, I love it. It’s got everything we ever wanted,” says Heather. The connection to the site is particularly striking; the terrace is one element but so is the unusual hard landscaping. “I have a dislike of paving yet I wanted a hard surface, which is how I came up with concrete slabs,” says Heather.

“Having an idea and finding someone to do it are two very different things and it took me months. I wanted irregular shaped slabs and some pebbles in between, it’s another one of my contemporary additions and I did have my heart set on it.” Heather eventually found a concrete polishing specialist who was happy to take on the challenge and who delivered in full. “We love it. Then for the rest of the garden we seeded a lawn and have a sunken trampoline,” comments Heather. “Parts of the site are elevated and were left wild; there’s a railway line 20 feet behind us but we can’t see it, and you can’t see our house from the road either.” A hidden gem. AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 2 9


More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Heather and Stephen’s new build project in Co Antrim including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS House size

3,000sqft Plot size

1 acre


Kitchen, utility and pantry (incl. appliances):


Mortgage valuation

Windows and doors

Walls 150mm full fill PIR insulation within cavity wall, U-value 0.15 W/sqmK. Zinc clad roof with PIR insulation between and over rafters, U-value 0.16 W/sqmK. Standard floor construction with 150mm PIR insulation, U-value 0.14 W/sqmK.


Build cost


Front door U-value 0.75 W/sqmK, windows triple glazed uPVC/aluminium U-values 0.72 W/sqmK to 0.81 W/sqmK depending on size.



B with SAP rating of 85. Architect’s note: It’s very hard with a spread-out floor plan to get higher than a B rating especially when highly glazed; you would need a much more compact and boxy layout generally to achieve this and you also need to wall the North elevation more than we did.

Environmental rating 94 (A)



























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Architect Ben Wilson of Wilson McMullan Architects, On-Site Project Manager Jason McCullough of JA McCullough & Co, Windows and Doors Internorm supplied by Feneco Systems Internorm AT 410 Aluminium entrance door without letter box, windows KF 410 Ventilation Beam, Kitchen, storage and furniture Interior360, Bathrooms Beggs and Partners, Fireplace Wilsons Fireplaces, Furniture Living Space, Landscaping Polished Concrete NI, Insulation Kingspan Insulation, Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic




Crossroads If you plan to build a house using an innovative design and materials, the chances are some things may not go as planned. Phil Byrne and Marie O’Kelly share what they learned from their Co Leitrim build. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Steve Rogers AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 3 3



ain was certainly part of this house building equation yet the result remains a positive one, with two concepts that make this home not only a beautiful space to live in, but an outstanding piece of architecture. The first is its location, on a nine-acre site, nestled within centuries old hedgerows that mark the boundary between four fields. As a result, you can only see the house as a whole from the sky. “You’ll get a different view of the building depending on what field you’re standing in. Conversely inside, each of the main rooms faces a different meadow with views framed by floor-to-ceiling windows. You feel very close to nature, tucked in wildlife,” explains Phil. “The exterior was designed to mimic an agricultural building, but also to be as unobtrusive as possible in the landscape.” The grass roof is aligned to the tops of the hedgerows. ​“From any window all that is visible are the un-spoilt meadows, hedgerows and fields of the site. You get light, solar gains and a

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The covered patio/veranda area that wraps around the house nearly doubles the floor area.

complete sense of seclusion,” adds Phil. “The irony is it took us a while to secure planning permission due to ‘visibility’, this was in 2005 during the boom, at a time when so many new houses were poking into the sky.”

How it stacks up

The second striking design feature is the extensive use of a veranda – there’s almost as many square meters in the sheltered areas surrounding the house as there are in the living quarters. “I love having this in-between space all around the house, it allows us to enjoy the outdoors at all times of the day, and throughout the year. We eat outside from spring to autumn. On a very practical level it also makes drying the laundry a cinch.” The sundecks are accessed from different rooms; the south-easterly end floods the main bedroom with the morning sun, southerly and south-westerly corners feed the living and dining areas, while the westerly end of the building services the second bedroom. It’s possible to walk from some of the terraces straight into its adjoining field. The GRP (glass reinforced plastic) external face material of the porch slides on sets of rails. In summer the space is left open while in winter these sheltered areas act as a heat sink. Cedar cladding complements the outdoor finish. 


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

The entire design is very ‘us’ but my favourite part is the skyroom – whenever I go up there my heart lifts. It’s by far the smallest room in the house but there’s just something about being way up there. There are uninterrupted views of the Iron Mountains to the North West and of the treetops to the South. Sitting up here, you are transported into the landscape. It’s the perfect place to write.

What surprised you?

How resilient buildings actually are and that any building can be saved. Despite the high levels of moisture we recorded in the straw bale walls, we have found that they have been drying out. Buildings have a great capacity to cope with what we throw at them. We learned a lot throughout the process; an aspect I wish I had known about is that you’re not meant to collect rainwater from a grass roof – it can’t be treated to be used as drinking water.

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What would you do differently?

There is one thing in the design I would specify and that’s to put the utility at the bottom of the stairs to provide some heat in the hall (from the appliances running). I would also plan better for access for getting wood to the kachelofens.

Would you do it again?

I couldn’t go through another new build project. Making wonderful ideas manifest requires great skill. And I’ve come to learn how little we can live with; at the time we bought this site we were a bit land mad, probably because we’d just returned from London and we didn’t realise that we didn’t need acres and acres to feel like we had space.

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The three masonry heaters provide ample space heating, pictured here in the living room.

“The site is sloping, but we didn’t want steps and stairs between levels. Also, during our travels in Australia, we’d fallen in love with houses on stilts. Our building is a traditional Walter Segal post and beam timber frame with the main house sitting on a wooden platform raised on a mounted frame. There were three advantages to this structure; adapting the house to the slope, raising us out of the damp that comes with Leitrim weather, and giving us the pleasure of the aesthetic we’d loved in Oz. We also knew, with floor to ceiling windows strategically placed at the edge of the platform, that we’d bring in much needed light. Overall we were looking at a low maintenance, low cost house with sustainable features. That was the dream.” Any exposed timber in the house is either clad in cedar or protected from the weather by the single glazing and GRP membrane which alternate around the porches. The internal walls are straw bale rendered with lime and the ground floor incorporates cellulose insulation. Utilitarian rooms such as the bathrooms, kitchen, dressing rooms, entrance, stairs, etc. are housed in a series of structural components. These timber frame walls are papered with vibrant wallpaper prints which contrast with the white lime-rendered straw bale walls. A basement with concrete floor is used as the utility room. The solar panels supply hot water from spring to autumn and warm water in winter. Three masonry heaters, custom designed and installed by an Austrian company, provide 3 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

The 8sqm skyroom

ample space heating. Also called kachelofens, these super-efficient stoves operate on an armful of wood to generate radiant heat for between eight to ten hours. “Alder stands have been planted on the site for wood provision; we currently buy timber and use some from the site but the house could soon be self-sufficient. There are two acres of alder, it’s a species that grows quickly around here.” Apart from the kitchen and kitchen table which were custom built from German alder, all the wood used on the build was sourced from a local sawmill; all of the floors are white pine. “The main bedroom was treated with beeswax, the living room with standard

matt varnish, and the second bedroom with a hardwax oil. The floor that has stood up best is the one treated with beeswax.” As there was no mains water on site for the first 18 months, the house had a composting loo in the main bedroom and a flush toilet in the guest bedroom was fed from an underground rainwater harvesting tank. Using a system of filters, this was also the source of drinking water until the mains connection was made. “It wasn’t that bad, and we were prepared for it. The composting loo was fine, but there was some work involved. As soon as we could, we switched over to a flush toilet.” 

An ELAN g! Entertainment and Home Control System offers an almost infinite variety of music, from your media or from the Cloud, in true audiophile sound. And, a world of dazzling visual entertainment, from movies, sports, news and more, in any and every room you desire. And it’s all integrated seamlessly with the other systems.

With the Sonos Multi-Room Music System you can add music to every part of your life and every room in your house. Wirelessly, effortlessly, flawlessly. With the touch of a finger, you can play the same song in every room or different songs in different rooms. And Sonos gives you instant access to a world of music including iTunes, Napster, Spotify, Wolfgang’s Vault, Aupeo and many more.

Visit us at the Love Your Home Show - TEC Belfast 13-15 October ‘17 Lighting in our homes can have a large impact on the way we live, our moods and the feel of our homes. We understand the impact of having control of your lighting, to suit your mood. We will work closely with you to get the most out of your Clipsal CBus digital lighting system whether it is just one room or your entire house and gardens. We are an Aquavision Authorised Installer. The ultimate in luxury, waterproof and in-wall televisions. The screen is offered with the simplicity of a frameless glass design and can be specified with Polar White, Black or Mirror vision finish. With its slim flush profile, your Aquavision Unit can be easily fitted to give that truly ‘built in’ look in any room.

GMS Intelligent Systems specialise in the management and integration of intelligent home solutions, via a structured cabling system (at building stage), to future-proof your home. Enabling incorporation of Digital Lighting, Audio Multi-Room and Visual Equipment, Telephone Data Networking, Security Systems and Gate Automation. We also offer a complete wiring package, from the initial electrical installation (17th Edition IEE Wiring Regulation) through to and including the conventional/intelligent package solution.

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The inspiration for the bathroom tiles, meanwhile, was the London underground, a reminder of where Phil and Marie had previously lived. “The sink in the second bedroom was custom built (by a local man) from a single sheet of steel which was then polished and given a coat of varnish, which was a bit of an experiment.” The blinds are artist canvas made into Roman Shades by a local seamstress, echoing the eco-lifestyle the couple have espoused. The main piece of furniture they bought was the L shaped leather sofa with many of their belongings having come from relatives and previous homes.


Somehow in life, when things start turning sour they tend to grimly follow Murphy’s Law. “Issues just cropped up, the site was even robbed at one stage,” says Phil. “During construction the first thing that didn’t seem right to us were the foundations. The roof, for its part, never kept the house weather tight.” With their list of grievances the couple started proceedings and received an insurance pay out which was enough to cover the mortgage; further litigation was undertaken to recoup the other costs. “In preparation for the High Court, we commissioned a series of top-class specialist reports detailing what had gone wrong,” says Phil. “It took seven years to get us to the point where the case was going before a judge.” “We spent an epic amount of money on the litigation process, in the region of €175,000, to achieve a basic settlement figure. We ended up settling out of court, falling short of recouping our outgoings by about €60,000 (that figure doesn’t include my loss of earnings through illness).” “We were told the case could easily have taken a gruelling and hugely expensive ten weeks in court, and as every lawyer we met informed us, in spite of us having an excellent case, if we got the wrong judge on the day, we could lose everything.” “And now, because of the simplicity of the Walter Segal construction used, we expect expect most of the issues to be relatively easy to remedy. A new roof should cost in the region of €8,000 to €12,000 and that should resolve the most serious problem.”

New beginnings

The stress of the court case took a toll on Phil’s health; she was diagnosed with mitochondrial dysfunction. “I collapsed and couldn’t walk for a long time. I couldn’t tolerate noise either, so the house turned out to be a wonderful place to recover. The most traffic we hear in these parts is the distant 3 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7


Top tips Get first-hand references for everyone involved in the build. Speak with previous clients and evaluate their current relationship. If they’re not on speaking terms, ask why. Ask if the build came in on time and on budget – if not, the reason can’t just be the client’s fault.

The London underground inspired bathroom.

hum of a tractor.” “Despite the difficulties, I never stopped loving our ramshackle house,” she adds. “It’s gorgeous to live here. The big windows frame the most wonderful views.” The connection to the land was strong from the beginning, and Phil and Marie cultivated it organically. “The meadows and fields have never been artificially fertilised and therefore have a high degree of species diversity which we have attempted to maintain. The presence of abundant lichen on the trees testifies to the pure quality of the air.”  The long winding drive is lined with native birch trees interspersed with mountain ash, guelder rose, cherry and ash, and underplanted with daffodils, geraniums, montbretia and other perennials. The gates to the property were made to the couple’s design. “We’ve concentrated on nurturing the wildlife on the site. Birds have thrived, we get 

Ask to visit previous projects the builder and architect have worked on. There will always be problems, so check how these were resolved. If there’s a claim that problems never arose, steer clear. Check the insurance. Confirm if there is a cap on any of the insurances. Make sure the builder’s insurance isn’t only for public liability, but also covers any mistakes in construction. Read the fine print. I tend to glaze over these but even though it is tedious, take the time to read through every detail of your contract to know where you stand. Make sure the contract stipulates that your builder doesn’t work on other projects simultaneously. You want him on your site every day till the job is done.

“Despite the difficulties, I never stopped loving our ramshackle house... It’s gorgeous to live here. The big windows frame the most wonderful views.” AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 3 9


The stilts were a convenient solution to the sloping site.

Top tips Be careful how you choose your designer/builder/engineer. Shop around, interview and choose individuals you get along with well, and feel are best suited to each of the roles. Hire a project manager. In the spirit of having as many independent parties working on the project in your interest. Don’t despair if you run into problems, and trust yourself. If something looks wrong, it probably is. Don’t be afraid to fight your corner and get third party advice if you feel strongly about something.

flocks of chaffinch, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, and goldfinch populate the site, as well as blackbirds, cuckoos, wrens, pheasants and wood pigeons. Swallows nest every year under the porches, returning early every summer, raising their young. Occasionally a kestrel or sparrow-hawk can be seen swooping down to carry off one of the smaller birds.” “We’ve planted approximately 4,000 trees on the site, all native deciduous species,” continues Phil. “The planting is around the edges of the site, so that the meadows are still in existence.” “One of the fields has been designated the ‘garden area.’ Here we have a fully functioning 40ft poly tunnel, 3 x 40ft outdoor raised beds, and a fruit cage with 4 x 40ft raised beds. Another of the fields has a small orchard; cherry, plum, pear and apple trees planted in a circle.” The time has now come for Phil and Marie to sell the house, having bought another in Galway. “We always planned to retire in Kinvara, where we have many friends, and with the recession house prices collapsed and we were able to afford the move.” “The house we just bought is everything I said I didn’t want, it’s a dormer bungalow that requires some external wall insulation to bring it up to standard,” says Phil. “It is with great trepidation that we’re leaving our home behind, but we’re moving closer to the sea. It’s a new beginning.”  “We know this hedgerow house belongs in a niche market. We’re looking for someone 4 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

who will love the land as much as we’ve done, who will use the two other buildings on the property in a way that works for them, who will value the silence and privacy, the birds, the organic garden and polytunnel, the native deciduous trees we’ve planted, someone who will love cutting their own wood from the site, someone who will be committed to the elements of the lifestyle that’s possible here.”

Check how tidy and organised the builder is. If the builder’s van looks like a madman’s backside, the building site won’t function much better. Don’t fall too much in love with the design. Love can be blind and if the design isn’t practical you could end up with rooms without windows. Keep a critical eye and visualise how you will be living in the house.


More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Phil and Marie’s new build project in Co Leitrim including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS Main house: 165 sqm living space at the main level, 8sqm

skyroom at roof level, 145 sqm external sundeck/veranda/porch space, 55 sqm under-build (the ‘utility’).

Outbuildings: the ‘pod’ is a 32sqm building with two 12sqm

workrooms. The third building on site is a 20sqm hexagonal artist’s studio with private deck overlooking a spinney of wild cherry trees; this building has planning permission for a living room extension and could provide accommodation during restoration of the main house.

Site cost: €60,000 Professional fees: €48,000 House and studio building cost: €287,000 Pod building cost: €40,000 Interiors: €90,000 Current value as renovation project: €385,000 Potential value post renovation: €550,000














SUPPLIERS Kachelofens (custom built masonry heaters) David and Isabella Haas (Austria) tel. 0043 664 3435306 Kitchen and wardrobes (custom built) Gesa and Guido Jannerwein (Germany) tel. 0049 5141 381890 Galvanised gates (custom made) North West Tool Hire, Carrick on Shannon, Co Leitrim, tel. 071 9641458, Paint and wallpaper Farrow & Ball, Photography Steve Rogers NI calling ROI prefix with 00353

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Specialist reports and remedial work (prepared for court or to identify immediate concerns with the building – these suppliers were NOT involved with the original building process) Colin Bell Architect for design and planning reports, Sligo, tel. 0719169982, Colm O’Conaire Consulting Engineer for structural reports, Ballindine Co Mayo, tel. 094 938 5020, John O’Regan for construction consultancy, Galway, tel. 091 530 199, Dr. Jim Carfare of the University of Plymouth for straw bale wall assessment, Ronan Rogers for the Thermography Assessment, Energy matters, Galway, tel. 091380631 Irish Drilling Limited for the site investigation report, Loughrea Co Galway, tel. 091841274, Darren O’Kelly of Evolve Construction for remedial works, Dublin 3, mobile 087 122 2206,


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Scaling up Deirdre and Frank Spillane’s renovation project in Co Antrim saw many of the things they liked in their previous home replicated. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


t all started four years ago. Even though we were living in a fabulous home at the time, it was too small – we had a third baby on the way and simply needed more room. A renovation would have been too difficult so we started looking at houses.” “To help us on this quest, we got an architect to advise us – someone we found through a personal recommendation. We looked at three properties we really liked, in the right location and at the right price. Some of the houses were older but had new kitchens, which ironically made a renovation project more difficult as we had a set type of kitchen in mind.” The house they chose was the most suitable to do work on, and the easiest to convert. “This one we’re in now was especially stunning, dating back to the 1900s with stained glass and plaster cornices. Even though the garden needed quite a bit of work, of all the properties we visited this house was the easiest to renovate,” adds Frank. By extending at the back they were able to introduce the open plan kitchen they wanted and a bedroom with master bathroom upstairs. The most striking feature of renovations of past were the windows, all uPVC. “For the extension we chose an acetylated wood for the window frames, and from the back of the house all the windows look the same,” says Frank.


Deirdre and Frank’s previous home had an oak and granite kitchen. “We love to cook and our kitchen worked really well for us,

so we just scaled it up in our new home. We have built-in appliances, and handles with a pewter effect which are timeless. We considered an island but it would have taken up too much space and I’m not sure we would have used it all that much. The open plan is zoned with dedicated areas to cook, eat, lounge and just as importantly store toys!” In terms of the design, what was replicated were the original features. “Our architect was very keen to link old with new, to maintain the same features throughout the house. As some of the historic materials cost quite a bit – matching the Bangor Blue slates for example would have cost 

‘This house is especially stunning, dating back to the 1900s with stained glass and plaster cornices...’

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Frank’s top tips l Spend the time to find the right designer – you need to make sure you will work well with them and that they understand your needs. In our case Dominic supported us throughout, finding alternatives where needed. Your home project shouldn’t be a source of stress, just a process. l Think of the mess you create on a daily basis. We made sure our utility would be large enough to accommodate our needs, in fact we increased it by 40 per cent on the plans to include a wc and sink and it’s been a real success. It keeps the kitchen clear of clutter. The cloak room is a great thing to have too, it keeps the hallway effortlessly clear.

us £4,000 extra – we found suitable alternatives.” “Whilst the house isn’t listed, it has great features. The imperial brick was one so on the new build we kept the same size albeit with new brick to help with the budget. An unusual feature is the layer of bricks used to support the gutters, which we’ve retained around the house.” Small details like the upstairs bedroom door matching the front door provide continuity. The dado rails are another clear indication of the period of the house, as were the wall coverings. “There was an embossed wallpaper between the skirting boards and dado rails made of linen – I was amazed to find you could still get exactly the same stuff. We bought some rolls to replace portions that were missing in the hallway,” relates Frank. The dado rail was continued in the extension upstairs. “We had a fabulous joiner who was able to make an exact copy of the dado, he also did the wooden panelling on the side of the bath which is fabulous. He was instrumental too in helping us sort old doors to keep to the period style.” Deirdre designed the bathroom classic white with period touches. 4 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

In the thick of it

Their architect put in the planning application which was granted without any issues. The tender went out to five builders and the one Deirdre and Frank chose so happened to have worked with the architect before. “The contract we had was for building work, plumbing and electrics, with our architect overseeing to construction,” adds 

l Think about the cost of tiling and flooring. These aspects really finish things off, you’re going to be looking at it for a long time hopefully so go for something that won’t date and even though nice stuff can be dear it doesn’t always have to be if you look about.









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Frank. “We were on site regularly and that made it easy to make decisions.” “The tradesmen we hired were all recommended,” continues Frank. “Our kitchen designer we found at Selfbuild Live Belfast. Upon hiring him he called to the house after we’d put the children the bed. That was really helpful in juggling family life and a self-build project.” “We were very happy with the finished product, we got high quality German carcasses and exactly what we wanted in the kitchen.” “During the build, an interesting thing happened with Building Control, on one of their visits they told us we had to double up on the plasterboard on the ceiling in the kitchen, it’s my understanding this was done for fire safety,” comments Frank. As for the logistics of where to live during the renovation, Frank says they were in a fortunate position. “We were able to keep our house and not sell until we were

‘...we had to double up on the plasterboard on the ceiling in the kitchen, it’s my understanding this was done for fire safety...’

ready,” he recounts. “We were lucky that it sold when the market picked up, and bought the house during the recession. We moved into our new home in 2014.”

Connection to the outside

“The great thing about the amount of glazing we have in the extension is that it’s still bright in November and the room is kept warm. The downside is that the summer months can get uncomfortable but when it gets too hot we just open the windows and that does the trick,” says Frank. “The solar hot water panels are excellent but the tank may have been undersized as we can get too much hot water. When we’re away we just turn it off to avoid any issues.  4 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

The period features attracted the couple to this property.


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In this regard I think photovoltaic panels might have been a better investment as we could have fed the excess electricity back to the grid.” The existing boiler was kept with underfloor heating added to the extension, and new radiators introduced upstairs. “We plumbed pipes for a bespoke radiator to heat the kitchen but we use the underfloor heating instead. It’s so convenient, the children readily play on the floor in winter.” The garden, for its part, was also intrinsic to this project. The lower portion is paved; a retaining wall, field drains with topsoil and lawn completed the extensive landscaping works. “The site was elevated and we wanted to level it for the children, so they could play football, have a patio to cycle or scooter on and in autumn allow them to use their diggers.” The connection to the outside is enhanced by the sympathetic use of floor covering inside and out. “The patio paving looks similar to the tiles we have in the kitchen for a seamless effect,” says Frank. A period house with mod cons is the result of this renovation, an inspiration for all those looking to inject new life into a historic property. 5 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7


‘The site was elevated and we wanted to level it for the children, so they could play football, have a patio to cycle or scooter on and in autumn allow them to use their diggers.’

Q&A What’s your favourite room?

The kitchen, our master bedroom and the link to the garden. We love to cook and at the same time be able to keep an eye on the children playing outside. I also love the sitting room with piano.

What surprised you?

The cost of the lorry loads of soil being brought off site – we spent thousands of pounds to level the garden! We could’ve spared ourselves the expense but I think it was worth it. I was also surprised that some things are hard to find. We thought our 70 litre bin would be easy to integrate into our built-in kitchen but in the end we couldn’t find a pull-out bin that could accommodate that size so it’s in a cupboard.

What would you change?

Cloakroom connected to utility room

We’d probably give more thought to renewable energy and we may have introduced dimmable lighting in the living area of the open plan. We have LED strips in the kitchen which are quite subtle but for a Christmassy feel we end up relying on the lights over the cooker and on the judicious use of lamps. It’s funny we didn’t give that much thought to lighting, it all seemed straightforward, but there is more to it than you might imagine.

Would you do it again? Yes, but we’re not planning to, the home really is lovely and we already take it for granted. When you live in it, see the children in the garden, it’s great to be here.

What advice would you give a budding renovator? Bathroom with wooden paneling.

Never, ever pick a tradesman out of the blue. Go see work they’ve done previously and go on personal recommendations from people you trust.

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More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Deirdre and Frank’s extension and renovation project in Co Antrim including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS Total renovation and extension cost

£140,000 with landscaping House size before


House size after (areas within refurbished)

257 sqm Plot size

1,000 sqm

Cavity walls with partial fill 60mm PIR insulation board, U-value 0.25 W/sqmK

Existing house insulation upgrade added 200mm quilt insulation to the attic ceiling roof.

Traditional screed floor with underfloor heating, 100mm PIR insulation board, U-value 0.18 W/sqmK

Windows: hardwood painted and double glazed units achieving on average 1.2 W/sqmK

Pitched roof construction with 300mm mineral wool insulation, achieving 0.18 W/sqmK

200 sqm


SUPPLIERS Designer Dominic Morris MRIAI RIBA of McNally Morris Architects, Hillsborough, Co Down, tel. 92682316, Builder Peter Cassidy, Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, Stone paving John Haddock, Glazing and bi-fold doors Woodmarque Joinery, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 08456 728 005, Joinery Gerry Steenson of Bespoke Joinery Solutions, mobile 07826357523 Windows Carlson, All Ireland, ROI tel. 01 462 5777,, Accoya acetylated hardwood frames Period wallpaper Gothic Dado by Lincrusta, Photography Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic

















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Calling from ROI prefix with 048 or 0044 when calling mobile



On the straight and narrow Building a family home in a sought-after area, such as the Dublin commuter belt, may leave you with a renovation project on your hands; for Breen and Suzanne McManus of Co Kildare the makeover consisted of a house just 10m wide in Co Kildare Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne


e lived nearby and walked by the stream that runs in front of this row of houses, and thought it was a nice place to be. When we saw a sign that it was up for auction we decided to go, more in hope than expectation,” recounts Breen. At the time, Suzanne and Breen were living in a three-bedroom semi-detached house with a growing family, initially toying with the idea of an extension but as the property didn’t lend itself to one, they were keeping an eye out for opportunities. “This was in 2011, at the bottom of the crash, and as I had no experience with auctions my father came along to help us navigate,” says Breen. “We’d gone to see the house, it was narrow but the site was 40m long which we thought would make a great extension project.” “From the inside it was run down, it had been rented and not really taken care of. Despite this we knew it had huge potential,” adds Breen. “There were quite a few people at the auction but only three were seriously bidding.” “We had a figure in our head and almost reached it – the auctioneer said it went for a third of what it would’ve gotten three or four years previous, during the boom,” continues Breen. “After we bought the house, we took a big sigh, and decided not to jump right in. 5143 // SS EE LF T UM LBFU BIUL IDL /DAU / S MN M2E0R1 72 0 1 7

We thought we’d do nothing for two to three years.”


But things started moving more quickly than anticipated. “We made contact with our architect, who advised us on how to proceed with the design and the planning application. As it became more real, we became more excited and that’s what got the

ball rolling,” says Suzanne. “Our architect was our guide throughout and we kept him on as project manager. This was probably the best decision we made. He was very thorough and his attention to detail second to none.” “We also started learning more about the history of the house, built in the 1880s, rumour has it these terraced homes belonged to factory workers who made the 



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carpets for the Titanic,” adds Breen. As there was no rush to move the couple took their time with the design, dedicating a year to it. “We’d originally thought of a family sitting/kitchen open plan area but then changed it so that the kitchen would be separated from the hustle and bustle, to make it more private,” explains Suzanne. “We also added extra rooflights as we wanted as much light as we could afford. With the vaulted ceiling and dormer style we had quite a bit of roof space.” Under the guidance of their architect, the couple went to tender in January 2013 with four builders. “Some we’d sourced ourselves others via our architect,” continues Breen. “We were confident all four could do the job, but had to choose one and he 5 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

turned out to be excellent. The build started May 2013.” Both Suzanne and Breen were working full time and expecting their third child. “Building your own house is a stressful process, you have to make decisions, quickly, all the time,” says Suzanne. “And there’s the need to be on site on a regular basis to keep on top of things.”

Courtyard solution

The renovation was an extensive one; the building was gutted and the 1950s lean-to

addition was demolished. The four original walls of the house were left standing to make room for a new layout. The older part of the house now contains two small bedrooms upstairs, and the master bedroom with family bathroom downstairs. The new portion consists of a courtyard and extension with open kitchen area. “From the beginning it was clear the narrow site presented some challenges, but also opportunities. There was not much width to work with and so the courtyard 


solution came up early on,” says Breen. “We’d gone to Italy on holidays and really liked the concept of atriums, and external gardens in the middle of the house.”

‘All of the functional aspects are in the darker areas to make the kitchen as bright as possible, and that has paid off. In our previous home it was dark and we didn’t want a repeat of that.’

The challenge was to bring natural light where it mattered most. “All of the functional aspects are in the darker areas to make the kitchen as bright as possible, and that has paid off. In our previous home it was dark and we didn’t want a repeat of that.” As can be expected, a lot of thought was given to the windows. “We ruled out triple glazing as we felt the insulation of the walls was already so good we didn’t need to spend extra.” They got planning the first time around and kept a good relationship with their neighbours throughout the process. One of them even allowed access into their back garden to help with construction. “The builder was excellent at keeping the site tidy and minimising disruption,” comments Breen. The elongated shape of the house also meant they had to get some custommade furniture. “Our L shaped sofa was handmade to fit the narrow space. We thought a standard two-seater with armchair may have felt too fussy,” adds Breen.

Go with the flow

As with the majority of self-builds, the budget dictated some key decisions. “We looked at a heat pump and renewables in general but the cost was too high, and we  5 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7


Q&A with Suzanne What’s your favourite feature/room?

The kitchen is fantastic, it’s where we spend all of our time as a family. A lovely design feature is the window seat, from it you can see the front door from the island. The only downside is people who are at the front door can peer in too!

What surprised you?

That it would take over our lives – we were consumed by the project, all we talked about was the house. With a young family and both of us working, there wasn’t time for anything else. Also surprising were the number of things we had to pick out, even though you know you’ll have to, it still comes as a surprise to have to choose absolutely everything, down to the sockets.

What advice would you give a budding self-builder?

‘Rumour has it these terraced homes belonged to factory workers who made the carpets for the Titanic.’

Get a project manager to guide you during the construction, our architect carried out this role and his input was invaluable. Having a good relationship with your builder is also key to a successful outcome. The budget will dictate a lot of your choices; every square foot adds to the cost so do as much prep work as you can and visualise the house. Our specification was extensive and we made sure it was detailed enough that nothing came up during the build. And be prepared that things can move quickly on site, we stuck to the schedule and sourced items as necessary but this took a lot more time than anticipated.

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Q&A with Suzanne Would you do it again?

Solar panels were installed to meet the renewables requirement of the Building Regulations.

decided we’d rather spend the savings on the finishes.” “Considering the surface area we installed underfloor heating downstairs, radiators upstairs, and a gas boiler, with solar panels for hot water to comply with the renewables requirement of the Building Regulations.” Their house is twice the size as their previous one yet they spend half in fuel bills and keep the home at a steady 20degC. “The underfloor heating is zoned, we can control the living areas and the bedrooms separately. We have a setting for the hot water too,” says Suzanne. “If I were to change one thing it’s to upgrade the thermostats – they’re a bit fiddly, for instance you have to change the time for daylight savings, it’s not done automatically.”

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There wasn’t enough room in the attic for a gravity fed system so a pump was installed, which has the benefit of providing good water pressure. “We provided as much detail as possible in the specification and I think that really saved us, our architect was very thorough and didn’t leave any stone unturned, and our builder delivered. Nothing came up during the construction that wasn’t in the original tender,” adds Breen. “The main consideration in terms of cost was the high water table, so the drainage design took a bit of working out. 

I would love to do it again, if the children were older and one of us were working part time. We found the logistics very difficult at the time we embarked on our project. Still, I’d like to try my hand at it again, possibly on a green field site although I must say seeing an old house transformed is really satisfying, so it’s a tossup what the next project will be… that’s if I can get Breen to agree!

What would you change?

The utility is probably on the small side for a household of five but we had to make the budget work, and this is one area where we made a saving. Every additional square meter has a cost.

The courtyard injects natural light, which the new hallway benefits from (left).

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The L-shaped sofa was custom made for the living room.

Top tips  Keep on good terms with your neighbours. Give your neighbours regular updates of what’s happening with the build.  Put in a centralised lamp switch. Our architect suggested we install a switch that controls a set of lamps in the living room and we’re really glad we have it.  Visualise how you’re going to live in the house to decide on fixtures and fittings. Despite the models and the drawings of the house, we found it very hard to imagine ourselves in each of the rooms and how we were going to interact with them.  Wait for the sales. The summer and new year sales can be worth waiting for, you can get great deals on appliances.

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We put in a Sustainable Urban Drainage System (SUDS), a lot of work went into this aspect and it was all included in the tender price.” “Thankfully the weather that year was unusually clement; it didn’t rain all summer. With our drainage issues, if the conditions had not been favourable it could have been very messy as we found fresh water springs at the back door.”

Outdoor connection

A strong connection to the history and the surroundings was a key aspect of this project, with the budget dictating some of the solutions. “To replace the original slates would have been too expensive, so we went with replica concrete slates, which I think work well,” comments Breen. “At the courtyard between the new and old we’d chosen zinc but the cost was prohibitive so we used a proprietary membrane instead that looks like zinc. It was important to have a nice finish as the two bedrooms upstairs have windows looking onto it.” Then of course there is the stream at the front which sets the scene. “When we bought the house, the garden was completely overgrown, so we basically flattened it out and seeded a lawn,” adds Breen. “There’s a chestnut tree in the middle we debated getting rid of. Instead we cut it back and added shrubs around it. We always liked the tree there.” As with all home projects, there’s still plenty to do. “We have recessed areas along the hall ready for shelving and we’ve yet to get a mantelpiece for the living room,” considers Breen. “It’s a work in progress, and we’re enjoying putting our touches to the finishes.” “Self-building is a bit like a marathon, in the middle of it you tell yourself ‘never again’ but at the end you feel great.”

Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it


More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Breen and Suzanne’s extension and renovation project in Co Kildare including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION Floors

75mm calcium sulphate underfloor heating screed on separation membrane over 100mm PIR insulation on 150mm reinforced concrete floor slab over radon barrier. U-value 0.16 W/ sqmK

External Walls

All new external blockwork walls either 300mm or 415mm cavity wall construction with 100mm cavity pumped with EPS insulation. Lined inside with 75mm mineral wool insulation, airtightness membrane, service void formed with timber battens, plasterboard with skim. U-value 0.20 W/sqmK New timber framed walls to courtyard finished with western red cedar boards laid in a board-onboard pattern on battens and counter battens over breather membrane on timber sheeting. Pressure treated timber studs insulated with 150mm mineral wool insulation between studs. Airtightness


membrane, mineral wool insulation, plasterboard with skim. U-value 0.20 W/sqmK Existing walls:100mm mineral wool insulation between vertical pressure treated timber studs formed to the internal face of the existing walls. Airtightness membrane fitted over, 50mm mineral wool insulation, plasterboard with skim. U-value 0.27 W/sqmK

Roof Sections

New Pitched roof sections to extension: slates over battens and breathable felt, 120mm PIR insulation board between rafters with airtightness membrane to underside, 90mm mineral wool insulation fixed to underside of the rafters, with plasterboard finish. U-Value 0.16 W/sqmK. Existing Pitched roof sections to extension: slates over battens and breathable felt, 70mm PIR insulation board between existing rafters with airtightness membrane fixed to underside, 70mm mineral wool insulation


with plasterboard finish. U-value 0.25 W/sqmK

Flat roof Proprietary finish with raised profile detail laid to fall over 110mm PIR board on decking over flat roof structure. Airtightness membrane to underside of roof structure and lapped, taped and sealed to membrane formed within wall sections. U-value 0.20 W/sqmK

Windows and Doors Aluclad timber frame, double glazed. U-value 1.4 W/sqmK; flat roof window U-value 1.24 W/sqmK

Airtightness 3.38 Cubic Metres / Hour / Sqm at 50 Pa


SUPPLIERS Design Aleyn Chambers MRIAI, Dalkey, Co Dublin, mobile 086 600 8244, Structural engineer TOBIN Consulting Engineers, Dublin 15, tel. 01 8030401 Building contractor Seamus McGrath, Futureproof Construction, Co Kildare, mobile 087 211 1129 Electrical contractor McKenna Electrical, Co Kildare, mobile 087 969 5065 Heating & plumbing contractor Dave Gaffney Heating and Plumbing, Co Kildare, mobile 086 812 8558 Kitchen & Utility Noel Fay Fitted Furniture, Co Kildare, tel. 045 879 632 Damp-proofing Contractor Horizon Preservation Ltd, Co Kildare, tel. 045 840 320 Sanitaryware Grohe sourced from Arcon Bathrooms, Dublin 12, tel. 01 454 1384 NI calling to ROI prefix with 00353

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Tiles & grouts/adhesives Nationwide Tiles & Bathrooms Ltd., Co Kildare, tel. 045 447 283 and SMET Building Products Ltd., Newry, Co Down, tel. 3082 5970 Timber floors Floor Design, Dublin 10, tel. 01 623 4157 Windows Carlson, All Ireland, ROI tel. 01 462 5777, Insulation Mineral wool: Rockwool; PIR: Kingspan Slates Roadstone Gemini Concrete Roof Tiles in an Amber Mix colour mix Flat roof finish Alkorplan F 35176 Reinforced Sheeting Flat Roof-light windows Fixed flat roof Vitral Skyvision roof-light sections, Supplied by QEF Ltd, Kilkenny Heating & Plumbing Condensing wall-hung gas boiler with dual coil solar cylinder and Kingspan Thermomax HP400 evacuated solar panel system mounted on pitched roof section to extension. Photographer Dermot Byrne


With a lifetime of experience and a passion to improve our knowledge as the industry changes we provide a wide range of styles from classic to the contemporary. Our mission is to take your vision, and work with you throughout the design phase to create a bathroom beyond your expectations. We are passionate about customer services and our goal is provide you with the ultimate experience when undertaking a project in your home. Our extensive showroom provides clients with opportunity to see the quality of the tiles bathrooms and workmanship we provide. Unit 2, Rath Cross Retail Park, Ashbourne, Co. Meath

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The path to perfection At the very beginning of your self-build project, before you turn a sod, you will need to go through these ten steps.



Consider if you have or can raise the funds to finance all of the following: l Site investigation/survey including percolation – this is an upfront cost you will have to bear at the beginning of a new build project on a greenfield site, unless you have connection to mains wastewater. l Professional fees including design professionals, structural engineer, BER/EPC assessors, etc. l Statutory fees - Planning - Building Control 6 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

- Water service, electricity, broadband/telephone line - Council development levies l Finance charges (interest and mortgage protection) l Legal costs l Accommodation costs (rent while building) l Insurance/warranties l Shell build cost l Insulation and airtightness l Systems (heating, ventilation) l Kitchens/Bathrooms/Fixtures/ Finishes l Health & Safety l Extras, e.g. well l Contingency (typically 10 to 20 per cent of the build cost)

Project management

Deciding whether you project manage the build yourself, giving you full control of the build, or leave it to a professional is a key decision to make. Hiring all trades yourself is a very time consuming exercise and, for the uninitiated, a difficult one.



What you want in terms of style, number of bedrooms, heating system, finishes, landscaping, etc. Put together a scrapbook and ideas on layouts. Decide on what build route to choose – project manage yourself, hire a project manager, hire a contractor or a mix of these.


CHOOSE YOUR PROFESSIONAL TEAM l Personal references l Fees l Design alteration costs


l Terms of appointment l Professional indemnity insurance l Assignments: clear tasks to be fulfilled



Full planning permission must be secured on your plans before proceeding; this process can be time consuming.





Approach your mortgage provider early in the process; they will require proof of planning permission and costings which will often be done by your lead designer or quantity surveyor.

If finances allow, this can be done at an earlier stage of the project. It is best to buy a site you know you will be allowed to build on, so a pre-planning meeting before

the purchase is often a good idea or in NI, securing outline planning permission. Physical aspects to consider include trees, slopes, ground conditions, access to services. Legal aspects include covenants, rights of way, visibility splays and boundaries.



Based on the realities of the budget, review your wish list, design, build route and management ambitions. Then it’s time to put together construction drawings – the more detailed they are, the less confusion on site. The Health & Safety regulations also kick in which means you need to appoint an H&S manager for the design stage who will put together an H&S design plan for your build (you can do this yourself but must be competent to do so).

‘Based on the realities of the budget, review your wish list, design, build route and management ambitions.'


This article is for information purposes only, always seek advice from construction professionals for guidance.



Tender process to appoint builder / line up tradesmen. Deciding on finishes early on can help reduce stress later on during the build phase.



There are self-build insurance products that cover the minimum legal requirements; insurance products include public liability and employer’s liability, all risks insurance, house and contents insurance and mortgage cover insurance (life cover, personal accident cover and redundancy insurance).


In ROI register online on BCMS to state whether you opt in or out, and to file your Commencement Notice. In NI get Building Control Approval Green Form – regular site visits will take place by your local inspectorate. In both cases appoint a supervisor for Health & Safety at construction stage and have your H&S plan in place dealing with all aspects of the build (you can do this yourself but must be competent to do so). AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 6 7

I N S I D E T R A C K / M E E T T H E B R O A D B A N D I N S TA L L E R S


Newsite Engineers (left to right) John Watt, Bobby Sloan and Matthew Stafford

The future is broadband for new build homes Over 94 per cent of premises in Northern Ireland can now access Superfast broadband via fibre connectivity and the number of premises currently installed with fibre is now approaching 300,000, writes Garret Kavanagh At BT, we understand that taking on a self-build project can be both an exciting and overwhelming time. With many installation decisions to consider, it is now widely acknowledged that fibre broadband is regarded as the future, so there has never been a more important time to get your new home ready for it. Even if fibre broadband is not yet available in your area, by ensuring your home is prepared for 6 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

an upcoming fibre installation, you will save potential disruption in the future. In Northern Ireland, our Newsites team is here to help guide you as you take on your self-build project. Installing fibre technology from the outset of your build will ensure that fibre solutions including Superfast and Ultrafast broadband can be provided to customers. There are 28 different communication providers to choose

Garret Kavanagh Head of Infrastructure Delivery at BT in Northern Ireland

from who use our fibre network to supply Superfast broadband speeds to their end user customers and as we start to deploy Ultrafast, we are already seeing seven different providers offering the service via our fibre network. There are numerous benefits for consumers who install fibre into their homes. Depending on the package you buy from your chosen service provider, you could be able to make phone calls, stream 4K films and music, catch up on TV on demand, make HD video calls, play online games, upload photos and video clips to social network sites, or work from home – without speed or connection disruptions. To install broadband technology,

M E E T T H E B R O A D B A N D I N S TA L L E R S / I N S I D E T R A C K

there are two main factors to consider at the early stages of your project.

Getting the fibre cable into your home

During your build you should ensure that a fibre cable is put in place. Typically your builder will lay a copper cable from your home to the curtilage of your site but ensuring that a fibre cable is also installed

the materials and typically your builder will do the installation work. Considering installing all services to your house around the same time to save on ground works costs.

Getting the best from fibre broadband in your home

It is important to think about how you will use broadband in your home. What is the best location for

'...fibre broadband is regarded as the future...' will future proof your home. We recommend that you contact us to register your site at least six weeks before you are ready to do the ground works to install your services. Once you have registered your site, a BT Surveyor will meet with you to give advice on your options and agree the best solution for your home. We will provide

the hardware associated with fibre, such as the modem, router and the power pack? While home Wi-Fi is a popular choice for domestic broadband usage, will this be enough for future technology? Wi-Fi can also have limitations on speed and depending on the layout of your home and thickness of your walls you may have blackspots.

Contact the Northern Ireland Newsites Team Email: newsite.btni. Phone: 0800 085 7546

You should ask yourself, how will you use broadband in the future? Will you be converting your spare bedroom into an office or are you planning to start your own business and use your garage as a business premise? How your house is wired internally and the positioning of data points and power sockets are important factors to consider now to make life easier for future broadband consumption.

How to register your site

To register your site visit and click ‘Registering your site.’ This website will also give you other useful information on additional services including help to locate and alter our existing network.

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H E A LT H & S A F E T Y / F I R E


7 FB UM 604 // SSEEL L FU B IULIDL /D AU / STU MN M 2E0R1 72 0 1 7

F I R E / H E A LT H & S A F E T Y

Against the clock Fire now spreads twice as quickly in modern homes due to the flammability of modern materials. But do the latest developments in fire retardants make up for it? Words: Debbie Orme


ronically, despite the fact that we no longer have to use candles for lighting at night-time and, thanks to Building Control and Building Regulations, mains-wired smoke detectors with battery back-up are now standard, modern life has actually increased the risk of fire breaking out, with mobile phone, wheelchair charging as well as plug-in air fresheners posing particular risks. Where 30 years ago you had about 12 minutes to escape a house fire, today it’s down to three or four minutes.

Building fabric

When fire breaks out in a home there are two issues to be considered. The first is the fire itself and the rapidity of the surface spread of flame. This can be accelerated not only by soft furnishings, such as curtains, sofa fabrics and carpets, but also by the materials used in the walls and ceilings. From around the 1950s, domestic upholstered furniture underwent major changes, with foam fillings replacing the traditionally used natural, fire-resistant materials, such as horse hair. While this meant that cheaper furniture became available to a wider population, it came at the cost of flammability. A fire can reach temperatures of up to 800 degC in a living room, with curtains and sofas combusting through radiant heat. Synthetic materials will always burn hotter and faster and the fact that they’re also in ‘hidden’ sources such as carpet backing and mattresses heightens the risk. The Building Regulations don’t address the flammability of furnishings – it is nearly impossible to regulate as the risk boils down to the materials we, as consumers, choose to decorate our homes with. Considering this threat, it’s a good idea to check the fire resistance of your choice of coverings in key areas such as the staircase. Fire retardants do thankfully

minimise this risk. Secondly, because smoke kills faster than flames there is the issue of how the fire and smoke can be contained within a compartment/room and how to ensure the exit routes remain protected. This is where we’re doing better than previous generations and where the Building Regulations place their emphasis (Technical Guidance Document B Volume 2 dated 2016 in ROI and Technical Booklet E in NI dated 2012). In the Building Regulations flame spread over wall and ceiling surfaces is controlled by specifying materials that are either classified as non-combustible or of limited combustibility, such as plasterboard linings with non-combustible core. The aim is generally to be fire resistant in key areas for 30 minutes (in ROI increased to 60 minutes for separating walls).

‘Where 30 years ago you had about 12 minutes to escape a house fire, today it’s down to three or four minutes.'

Intumescent materials

By its very nature, wood forms a key part in almost every domestic building structure, but the surface spread of flame across timber surfaces is one of the biggest concerns for fire safety in the home, 


The case of downlights DOWNLIGHTS, OR LIGHTING DIFFUSERS as they are known in the Building Regulations, are a fire risk. If a fire breaks out it can take as little as three or four minutes for flames to go through the gaps around the fixture, enabling smoke to pass through to the upstairs rooms. The Building Regulations in NI and ROI don’t allow the use of downlights if the ceiling is defined as fire protecting or fire resisting unless the downlight has been fire proofed.

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H E A LT H & S A F E T Y / F I R E


Flammable insulation A FACTOR INVOLVED in the spread of fire and its toxicity, is insulation. Here’s a list of the most commonly used insulation products in Ireland, with the least fire resistant listed first:


Polystyrene (EPS), often used to fill cavity walls, will initially soften and shrink away from a small flame, but will then melt and burn. At the outset of the fire, development is fairly slow and contained. Then the voids created by melting admit oxygen, which intensifies the fire (fire requires oxygen, heat and fuel), and molten flaming droplets further spreading it. Delamination and collapse may be sudden. Extruded polystyrene (XPS) is a thermoplastic product equivalent to the flame retardant grade of EPS, but behaves similarly to EPS in fire conditions.


Polyurethane (PUR) is combustible but it forms a char layer which tends to inhibit further combustion. The char layer is relatively fragile and it may break off to expose fresh combustible foam. PUR also contributes to fire growth in a fully-developed fire, giving off black smoke and toxic fumes, including hydrogen cyanide at very high temperatures.


Source: Dispute resolution firm Probyn Miers

Polyisocyanurate (PIR), commonly found in insulation boards, is a variant of PUR with improved fire properties. It is difficult to ignite and exhibits a pronounced charring which enables it to withstand fire for longer, but is ultimately combustible.


Phenolic foam is difficult to ignite. It chars, gives off fumes and burns with black smoke, but flame spread, smoke and toxic fume generation are moderate.


Fibreglass and mineral wool insulation which consists of inorganic fibres bonded together with small amounts of combustible binder, are naturally non-combustible.

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particularly with the resurgence of interest in exposed timber panelling/linings. In the case of wall and ceiling timber panelling – painted or stained plywood sheets, tongue’n’groove or other hardwoods – intumescent paint or varnish will ensure that the substrates/linings meet the requirements of the Building Regulations. Intumescent products such as the paint are a sodium silicate-based material which has proven reliability performance characteristics when challenged by fire. The material is activated at temperatures of between 100-150 degC, forming a rigid foam with a high level of thermal insulation, which expands to between five and ten times its original size. When applied to wood, intumescent paints and varnishes create a ‘sacrificial layer’ by bubbling up and creating layer upon layer until the intumescent material begins to burn off. If applied to a door, for example, the intumescent paint can burn for a significant period of time before the flames get to the wood, thereby ensuring that appropriately-treated doors can provide 30 and 60 minutes integrity. It is not just evacuation that matters but also ensuring the integrity of the structure during the critical phases of rescue and firefighting.


The fact that doors have to be able to open and close means that there are gaps around all four sides of the leaf. These gaps are naturally a point of weakness, allowing fire to take hold of the door and destroy it, and allowing potentially lethal smoke to flow through. To make your internal doors reasonably fire resistant, each side must be protected with features such as drop seals, door bottoms and threshold plates, but in order to provide a permanent barrier to smoke an effective smoke seal should be maintained at both hinges and other ironmongery. Note that the Building Regulations in NI and ROI do however stipulate the introduction of certified fire doors in certain circumstances, including in the case of loft conversions whereby an extra storey is, for escape route purposes, in effect being added to the dwelling. For peace of mind on existing doors, intumescent seals can be fitted into the head and jambs of door frames or, alternatively, into the top and sides of the door leaf itself. Surface-mounted materials can also be fitted retrospectively with panel pins and an adhesive backing. Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only, always consult with qualified individuals when dealing with Building Regulations and other construction aspects.

This is a low carbon home with an external wall U-Value of 0.13, built in Newcastle, Co. Down. The external facade has been finished in Cedar Cladding.

PASSIVE HOUSE DESIGN A passive house is one which is so energy-efficient that it does not require a conventional heating system to provide heating within the building, relying instead on a combination of green energy sources, high levels of insulation and airtightness to reduce heat loss. A passive house typically consumes up to 90% less energy than a house built to the minimum requirements for building regulations.

Kilbroney Timberframe, Valley Business Park, 48 Newtown Road, Rostrevor, Co. Down, N. Ireland. BT34 3DA T: (028) 4173 9077 F: (028) 4173 9933 E:


The future of natural building materials Ecological Building Systems’ Niall Crosson shares how his career started in the building industry and what a perfect world for self-builders might just look like.

Niall Crosson is a Senior Engineer, BTech, MEngSc, MIEI, CEPHC, at Ecological Building Systems and a member of the board of directors of the Irish Green Building Council.

Why did you decide to pursue this career? What drove you?

What would you like to change in the world of self-building?

I was born and reared on a farm, always conscious of the human environment and our influence on it. This also gave me an appreciation for insulation and trying to keep warm on them cold wintry nights! I suppose it’s no wonder I went to study thermodynamics and eventually completed a Masters of Engineering Science.

I think it would very helpful, for both builders and clients if there were a requirement to attain a basic Foundation in Energy Skills Pass, similar to a SafePass in order to be employed on a project. This will both create greater certainty and confidence for homeowners and specifiers, and as building standards rapidly evolve, builders will be upskilled on basic low energy building principles.

Who and what have influenced you?

Our director Tom Barbour has provided invaluable guidance and support over the past 15 years. Another big influence for me is Lothar Moll, the founder and CEO of pro clima, whose guidance, knowledge and energy knows no bounds.

What was the most challenging project you worked on and what did you learn?

The new Woodland Trust Headquarters in Grantham. The project was on such a large scale with a construction method which was still relatively new in 7 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

to control energy use and comfort levels with the help of smart technology. Increased levels of airtightness has also led to greater awareness about the importance of ventilation and managing indoor air quality. Smart IAQ monitors will help increase awareness among the general public. The growth of CLT (Cross Laminated Timber) in the market is also very exciting and has huge potential. I visited the Earth Sciences building at UBC in Vancouver where the mix of beauty and structural integrity of CLT is displayed in all its glory. Combined with the environmental benefits it ticks all the boxes. The shift towards natural materials within buildings for technical reasons rather than just environmental criteria is exciting.

the UK. I provided guidance in the field of airtightness, thermal insulation including fixing methods and weathertightness. This project confirmed to me the crucial importance of clarifying details and the drawing stage and to back this with site support at key stages. Details drawn on the plans aren’t always what materialises on site!

What building trends inspire you most?

The move not only to higher levels of energy efficiency in buildings but making it easier for homeowners

Ecological Building Systems supplies pro clima Intelligent Airtightness and Windtightness Systems as well as GUTEX Woodfibre, THERMO HEMP, THERMAFLEECE sheep’s wool and cellulose insulation. Natural insulation products offer superior thermal insulation all year round due to their high thermal mass increasing comfort in winter and summer. They also provide exceptional acoustic performance and reduce the risk of condensation as they allow moisture to dry out more rapidly. They are non-allergenic, easy to handle, reduce exposure risk to VOCs, are sourced from sustainable sources and have a low environmental impact. / tel. 046 943 2104

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S Y S T E M S / V E N T I L AT I O N

Fresh start


There’s more to a healthy lifestyle than a balanced diet and exercising on a regular basis. Your wellbeing is also linked to how your home is ventilated – a truly vital element that must be factored into your design from day one. Words: Paul O’Reilly, Xavier Dubuisson and Astrid Madsen round of the regulations. It appears too that Part F dealing with ventilation will be amended in parallel to these increased energy efficiency standards. ROI will be also introducing airtightness requirements in the Building Regulations for homes renovating 25 per cent of more of their building fabric. If you aim or achieve 5 m3/hr/sqm or less, a purpose-built ventilation system becomes essential. Of course you won’t know what result you will get until the house has been built and tested, but your

’If you aim or achieve 5 m3/hr/sqm or less a purposebuilt ventilation system becomes essential.’


ou will need to make provisions for whichever ventilation route you choose at the design stage – natural ventilation will require a large number of vents to be specified and planned for while mechanical ventilation will require careful thought for ducting throughout the house. Adding a ventilation system as an afterthought, during construction, will cause upheaval and will add to the cost. This will also mean the installation may not operate in the most effective way. 7 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

Statutory targets

In a new build scenario, in NI the airtightness value to achieve is 8m3 of air leakage per hour per square meter of external fabric when tested with a blower door test at 50 Pascals (air infiltration representing approximately 0.5 air changes (AC) per hour at average ambient conditions). In ROI the requirement currently stands at 7 m3/hr/sqm at 50Pa but as the Building Regulations for energy loss come under review it appears likely a figure of 3 m3/hr/sqm will be introduced in the 2020

designer should be able to indicate what you might expect to achieve based on the specification. Airtight homes specifically deal with the issue of energy loss, as they prevent cold air from making its way into the home from the outside and warm air leaking out. This also helps eliminate the discomfort caused by cold draughts. Making the building envelope airtight should also help prevent warm, humid air generated by your household activities from moving through the fabric and gradually cooling to the point of condensation. This is referred to as interstitial condensation and can lead to structural damage through rot, corrosion, frost, etc., and to mould growth. Wet fabric, in particular insulation, also

V E N T I L AT I O N / S Y S T E M S

significantly increases the incidence of heat loss.

What’s a good ventilation system?

A successful ventilation strategy for your home can be achieved with natural ventilation, mechanical ventilation or a combination of both (mixed-mode or hybrid ventilation). A good ventilation strategy will help you achieve high indoor air quality, reduce heat loss (system optimally sized to minimise the external cold air displacing the internal warm air), keep the house cosy and warm (preserve thermal comfort against cold air flows and high air velocity), reduce capital costs and ongoing maintenance costs, and avoid discomfort due to noise (e.g. fans or ducting ‘whistling’). With any mechanical system operating continuously, quieter products should be specified and precaution should be taken to avoid noise disturbance from the fan, e.g. avoid locating the fan over a bedroom. System design and balancing, as well as the ductwork type and installation will also have a bearing on noise. The system should be simple enough

to operate and you should make sure you understand how it works (including maintenance requirements). The installer should train you on how to operate the system and give you all relevant documentation. If you are opting for a heat recovery system in an airtight house, it is essential, as a matter of safety and efficiency, that combustion appliances are sealed in an airtight manner from the room (fresh air should be taken from the outside with a sealed duct, the appliance itself and its exhaust pipe should also be sealed). You should also install a carbon monoxide detector in the rooms where you have combustion appliances (this also applies to houses with centralised mechanical systems).

Minimum requirements

The building regulations (Part F in ROI and Technical Booklet K in NI) require the following to form part of your ventilation strategy: Extract ventilation is required in rooms where most of the water vapour and/or pollutants are released (so-called ‘wet’ 


What is Ventilation? Ventilation consists of replacing stale air with fresh air, a process referred to as air renewal, and this is achieved by two means: air infiltration (uncontrolled ventilation) and purpose-built ventilation. Air infiltration consists of draughts. A draughty house will need to be heated to a much higher degree than a home that is considered airtight, which is why building an energy efficient house often means putting in lots of insulation, then making it all airtight and ventilating it in a controlled manner. Purpose-built ventilation systems control how fresh air enters the home, either passively through openings in the house envelope (natural ventilation) or mechanically with fans.

Why ventilate? We should be as concerned about the quality of the air we breathe as that of the water we drink. We spend about 90 per cent of our time indoors; in our homes the build-up of moisture, carbon dioxide and toxins can be the cause of serious health problems. The following sources of air pollution are of real concern to our indoor air quality (IAQ): SECOND-HAND SMOKE Second-hand smoke from burning tobacco products can cause cancer and serious respiratory illnesses, especially among children.

COMBUSTION POLLUTANTS Combustion pollutants such as carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide can be released by fuelburning appliances (stoves, heaters, boilers, fireplaces, etc.) that are poorly vented and maintained. Carbon monoxide can kill and nitrogen dioxide causes serious irritation and increases the risk of respiratory infection.

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS VOCs are chemicals found in many modern building materials, furnishings, paints, cleaning products, air fresheners, etc. They are emitted into the air (off-gas) during use or storage and cause irritation, headaches and nausea, damage to internal organs and the central nervous system. Some of them can cause cancer. DAMP: Excessive humidity levels are not comfortable for humans, and when humidity condenses on cold surfaces, things like bacteria, mites, and mould start to form. Mould consists of living things (fungi) that produce spores which float in the air, land on damp surfaces and grow. Certain types, when found at high concentrations indoors, can cause hay fever-type symptoms such as sneezing, runny nose, red eyes, and skin rashes.

RADON: Ireland has a high incidence of radon, a radioactive gas formed in the soil which can enter the home through cracks, openings in floors and walls in contact with the ground. Between 150 and 200 people in ROI and about 50 people in NI die each year of lung cancer induced by radon exposure.

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S Y S T E M S / V E N T I L AT I O N


Specifying a heat recovery unit The HRV unit needs to be properly sized and specified to the highest level of heat recovery possible (try to aim for 85 per cent or more, but be weary of sales pitches that claim efficiency in excess of 90 per cent). Note that heat recovery ventilation systems have one aim and that is to ventilate the building – the heat recovery component increases comfort and reduces heat losses (the cold incoming fresh air is preheated) but in no way replaces a heating or cooling system. You will find two types of products on the market: manifold (each leg of pipework to each room runs back to a central manifold) and branch/tee’d (one long duct connects several rooms/ terminals). The controls should allow you to alter the ventilation rate from low, for when the house is not occupied, to boost, for when the house is very busy (party mode). Technical advances allow self-regulating controls, based on humidity levels. In all cases make sure the fans are highly efficient so as to reduce electricity consumption. It is also very important to select a quiet HRV unit and apply all the precautions required to avoid noise pollution (maximum 25dBA in living and sleeping areas). Sound transmission through the ducting from the fans and between rooms should be eliminated by the use of silencers (sound absorbing sections of duct). The unit itself should be installed in utility spaces or in the attic, away from bedrooms, and centrally located. The design and layout of the house will have to allow for the circulation of ventilation ducts to every room, typically within a false ceiling or floor cassette, and within the attic (all distribution ducting within the attic must be insulated). Correct design, balancing, commissioning and expert installation will all contribute to a quiet system.

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rooms). This helps minimise their getting into the rest of the house. Extract can be intermittent, e.g. a cooker hood, or continuous, e.g. mechanical ventilation with heat recovery. The required extract rate will vary according to the type of room and its function, e.g. minimum air flow of 30m3/hr in a bathroom, 50m3/hr in a kitchen, etc.

Mechanical fans are necessary to extract moisture.

General or whole building ventilation provides an ongoing level

of air renewal to consistently supply fresh air. It supplies the oxygen you breathe and disperses the water vapour and the pollutants released in the building that are not dealt with by extract ventilation. Recommended values vary from a third to full air renewal per hour with half an air change per hour (AC/hr) being a good target.

Purge ventilation must be available

throughout the building to aid the removal of high concentrations of pollutants or water vapour produced by occasional activities (painting, decorating, etc.) or by accident (burnt food, water spillage, etc.). Purge ventilation is normally provided by window and door openings.


There are a large variety of whole building ventilation systems available on the market, which can be broadly categorised as follows.

Natural ventilation

What it is: A ventilation system based on two natural means of driving the air flow through planned openings (vents) and unplanned ones (air infiltration). This happens as a result of wind pressure on the building envelope, and of air buoyancy whereby warm air rises (also referred to as the stack effect). In Ireland, the air movement resulting from the stack effect is often limited and wind is typically the Standard wall vent for natural ventilation

main natural ventilation driver. Passive stack ventilation strategies can however be very successful to cool and ventilate buildings in countries with warmer climates. The most common approach to natural ventilation in Ireland is to install a series of vents through the walls or trickle vents on windows (referred to as background ventilators) and mechanical extract fans in the wet rooms (kitchen, bathroom, utility room, etc.). While extract fans are used intermittently to deal with water vapour and smells, it is assumed that the air movement through the vents provides good cross-ventilation and air renewal throughout the house in addition to the minimum extractor and purge ventilation requirements. Applications: In the case of a new build built to an airtight standard of 5 m3/hr/sqm, which nowadays can readily be achieved, you will need to install at least one vent per room (requirement can be 5’’/125mm or more depending on the specification) which could result in draughts. The problem then arises when these vents are closed or taped over by the homeowner to avoid them. This practice tends to lead to a build-up in water vapour and other pollutants, and eventually mould growth. The size and configuration of the vents will depend on the size of the house and level of airtightness the designer expects to achieve. Some argue that in some situations the number of ‘holes in the wall’ are excessive which defeats the purpose 

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S Y S T E M S / V E N T I L AT I O N


Mechanical ventilation ducting Ducts should be kept as short as possible and the number of bends, reductions and other obstructions to air flow should be kept to a minimum to avoid the loss of air pressure and ensure good air distribution throughout the system. Ducting should be adequately sized and follow as simple a layout as possible to allow the unit to deliver the required volume of air at the lowest fan speed. Semi-rigid ducts (ridged polyethylene duct with internal smooth bore) are recommended, while flexible ducts generally are not for HRV systems. They tend to create too much of a pressure drop and are prone to dirt embedment. The ducting should be planned in such a way that it can be cleaned periodically, at least every five years. Supply and exhaust duct sections from the HRV unit to the outside (assuming the unit is located inside) should be well insulated (50mm for short duct lengths and 100mm for duct lengths superior to 5m), and the insulation material protected. against vapour diffusion to avoid condensation.

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of building the house airtight in the first place because on a windy day, chances are cross-ventilation may be excessive (cold draughts and significant heat loss). On a calm, mild day, it might be that the stack effect mentioned above won’t be able to deliver the ventilation rate required. The climatic conditions in your area will have a bearing on this. Cost: While natural ventilation as envisaged in the building regulations has the benefit of low initial investment (approximately €800 to €1,300 in ROI or £650 to £1,100 in NI) and low running costs (say €40 or £30-£35 a year for electricity consumption of intermittent fans), it is difficult to recommend this approach in view of the potential pitfalls of discomfort and excessive heat loss, as well as the risk of ending up with inadequate ventilation when the vents are tampered with (taped up to avoid draughts).

Whole-house mechanical extract ventilation What it is: Whole-house mechanical

extract ventilation is a system which removes stale air from the wet rooms with a central fan on a continuous basis. In the dry rooms fresh air is simply let in through inlets (wall vents or window trickle vents that are about half

the size of what is required for natural ventilation) and the transfer of air from the dry rooms to the wet rooms ensures air renewal throughout the whole house, including in transition spaces (corridors, stairwells, etc.). Doors must be undercut (1.5cm to 2cm free passage) to allow air transfer between rooms. Demand Controlled Ventilation systems feature air inlets and extract grilles that are ‘selfregulating’, i.e. air circulated according to a simple mechanism that measures humidity or in more sophisticated and expensive systems, carbon dioxide. This applies to dry rooms (in the living room in the evening or in bedrooms at night) where an increase in the number of people who are breathing (producing carbon dioxide and vapour) will result in higher humidity levels, which in turn will act as a trigger for the air inlets to respond by allowing more fresh air in. Air humidity (or carbon dioxide) is basically used by the system as an indicator of air contamination. In wet rooms, extract grilles respond to higher humidity levels caused by activities such as bathing, cooking, etc. The grilles open wide and the extract fan boosts up the air extraction rate to remove excess moisture. When humidity levels are down, e.g. when the house is unoccupied during school and work hours, the air inlets and extract grilles close, which reduces the house’s ventilation rate. These self-regulating systems allow the extract and supply air flow rates to be adjusted on demand. This achieves an overall reduction in air renewal rates (and associated heat losses) by ventilating where and whenever needed. Humidity-sensitive mechanical extract ventilation systems can in fact reduce heat losses due to ventilation by about a third as compared to natural ventilation with intermittent extract fans, while achieving good indoor air quality. However, provisions against draughts through wall or window air inlets, particularly in exposed areas (prevailing winds), should be made to ensure the highest level of comfort as possible. Applications: This system, as with any mechanical ventilation system, proves most beneficial in the case of an airtight house, where the level of ventilation can be much better controlled than in draughty houses. Simplicity of installation and relatively low cost also make it an attractive ventilation solution for retrofitting into existing homes.

V E N T I L AT I O N / S Y S T E M S

Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery What it is: Mechanical ventilation with

heat recovery (MHRV) is another wholehouse ventilation system which supplies fresh air to dry rooms and extracts stale air from wet rooms. This system, however, is completely shut off from the outside (there are no trickle vents). All of the air flows are ducted and driven by two fans, one on the supply side and one on the extract side. The key element of this system is that it transfers the heat from the warm exhaust air (the humid air extracted from bathrooms, kitchens, etc.) to the fresh incoming air by means of a heat exchanger, achieving up to 85 per cent heat recovery. The reduction in heat loss due to letting the cold air in to ventilate the house is very significant because the air supply is warmed before entering the rooms. And, the occupants’ comfort is increased in the process. The HRV unit which houses the heat exchanger and the fans is also equipped with filters which prevent outside particles as small as pollen from entering the system and larger household dust particles depositing within the unit (thereby reducing its efficiency). Filtering the outdoor air (dust, pollen and other allergens) can be of great help to people suffering of respiratory problems, including asthma. For filters, the greater the number the finer the filtration – at a minimum supply air filters should be graded F7, extract air filters G3. Note that quality filters can’t be washed and must be replaced (new) regularly. Applications: For those who have respiratory problems and wish to have a filtered air ventilation system installed in their home, a closed-off mechanical ventilation system is best suited and heat recovery systems are the most readily 

Cost: The installation cost for such a system in an average 200 sqm home is roughly €2,300 to €3,200 (£2,000 to £3,000). By keeping ducting requirements to extract only (from wet rooms to central fan), the installation procedure is greatly simplified as compared to a centralised mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery. Since the system only requires one fan, which modulates its speed and is equipped with a very efficient motor, electricity usage is relatively low (estimated at €30 or £25 per year). Maintenance is also reduced to a minimum, most notably due to the absence of filters. However filters help prolong the life of units that are fitted with them and can be changed easily every year or two at an approximate cost of €35/£30. Ceiling valves can also be fitted with filters.

Vaulted ceilings need a bit of flat roof at the top to install the vents, which also helps with the lighting.


Top installation and maintenance tips for MHRV systems


Consider why you’re choosing a particular ducting system. There are no clear-cut answers to which option is better – manifold balances the system on a room by room basis and is quieter but it is more expensive than tee’d ducting and the installation is more complex.


Consider the ceiling aesthetics. Think of where your vents will go in relation to downlighters, smoke detectors, speakers, etc. In most cases the ventilation system is devised before the lighting plan has been put into place. You could lose valuable time on site if, say, your vent happens to be where you want your kitchen downlights.


If you plan a vaulted ceiling design, finish the apex with a small portion of flat roof to put in the vent. The ducting performs much better when it ends in a horizontal louvre, as opposed to an installation on a sloping ceiling. This is especially vital in kitchens.

On site, make sure everyone understands the basic principles of ducting installation.


Prevent water condensing in the ducting. Ducting shouldn’t run in a straight vertical line over more than one storey, especially when extracting moisture from a wet room. Otherwise condensation is likely to lead to water dripping from the vent. A rule of thumb is to have a 1.5m horizontal run before leading the ducting up in a vertical line.

design stage should always be cross referenced with an as-built test (calibrated anemometer test at system completion).


Consider breaking out the extract and intake vents in the gable wall. If your breakout is in the roof, the roof slate needs to be perfectly sized – if it isn’t your installer will find it difficult to balance the system. Also consider the prevailing wind when deciding where to locate these entry/exit points.



Clean the ducting every three to four years as dust and other allergens will build up, especially at the extractor vents; it’s difficult to do on a DIY basis and you may be better off contacting ventilation suppliers to compare what cleaning systems they use and how much it costs to get it done professionally.


Gareth Fitzsimons Homecare Systems Ltd

Define the function of each room. If there is a potential condensation risk, e.g. you plan to introduce an ensuite in a few years’ time, let your ventilation supplier know. System balancing can take place by individual room (manifold system) or on a whole house basis (tee’d system). Once the system is installed, insist on a commissioning report. Airflow calculations at

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S Y S T E M S / V E N T I L AT I O N


Five steps to a healthy home The most effective way of making sure that your home is healthy is to prevent anything nasty building up in them – here are some basic precautions you can take:


Select products which emit a low amount of VOCs; be particularly mindful of cleaning products and things made out of plastic, including furniture


Inspect and maintain fuel-burning appliances regularly, and vent appropriately. Install carbon monoxide alarms in rooms with fuel-burning appliances


Test for radon and prevent ingress into the building (Ireland has a lot of high risk areas so do consult the maps – NI and ROI authorities have these up on their websites)


Reduce asthma (and coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, etc.) triggers by removing materials harbouring dust mites, prevent people from smoking indoors, and make sure to regularly dust and clean your home to prevent the buildup of dirt


Prevent moisture build-up in the building fabric by repairing leaks, draining foundations, sealing cracks, etc.

available balanced systems on the market. A moisture/demand controlled system monitors the moisture level as a proxy for indoor air quality. However, bear in mind that if the house is not airtight (5 m3/hr/sqm at 50 Pa or less) it is virtually impossible to balance the system and get it to operate properly. Indeed, in a house that is only compliant with the current building regulations, the energy efficiency gains achieved through heat recovery would largely be negated by uncontrolled air infiltration. It is estimated that the energy benefits of a MHRV unit are only achieved when the airtightness of a building is better than 5m3/hr/sqm at 50Pa where nearly all the air passes through the heat exchanger. The passive house methodology specifies MHRV as standard. In existing homes, the ducting requirements might lead to intrusive work which can add to the cost of installation. Cost: The installation cost of a heat recovery system in an average 200sqm house can be estimated to be between €6,000 and €8,000 / £5,000 to £7,000, or twice that of the centralised mechanical extract ventilation system. The running costs are also higher, because the system uses more fan power (€80 to €90 per year, or £70 to £80 per year) and the filters need to be regularly replaced (at least once or twice a year, costing about €60 to €100, or £50 to £90 per year).


The key considerations when assessing a proposed ventilation system are: does it provide a high indoor air quality? Does it do it in an energy efficient manner? Does it preserve comfort? Does it suit my budget? And is it expensive to run and maintain? The table below will provide you a summary of how the ventilation

options discussed in this article can be rated (relative rating: - low; + medium; ++ high; +++ very high):

And what about ‘breathable buildings’?

Breathable buildings, those made up of cob, straw, hemp and other natural materials, will also require a tailor-made ventilation solution. Whilst breathable walls may prevent moisture becoming trapped in the fabric, it doesn’t remove the need to extract heavy loads (vapour, pollutants, etc.) and provide fresh air. A breathable airtight building needs to be specified for the local climatic conditions and for the materials used – a hemp lime wall will be different to straw bale, for instance. The airtightness specification must allow for some movement during the building’s lifetime, this is critical at points where cold bridging is common. Indeed the junctions between wall and roof, windows and wall, etc. are all critical to get right. On site, great care will have to be taken to allow the house to dry out to the greatest extent possible before applying the airtight barrier.

Natural Demand-controlled Mechanical Heat Ventilation with Mechanical Extract Recovery Intermittent Ventilation Ventilation* Extract Indoor Air Quality + ++ ++ Energy efficiency - ++ ++ Comfort - ++ +++ Capital cost + ++ +++ Running costs - + ++ *When the house is airtight, the system is balanced and high quality filters are installed and regularly changed, MVHR delivers the best levels of IAQ and energy efficiency.

NB: All prices listed are excluding VAT. Prices are indicative; information specific to your requirements should be obtained prior to use. This article does not deal with ventilation of structural members (roof, floors) or combustion ventilation.

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ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Gareth Fitzsimons of Homecare Systems, Michael Kane of Home Ventilation Solutions, Radon: and IAQ: Building regulations: (ROI), (NI), (UK tool to compare the heat recovery and electricity consumption of different ventilation systems)


Low cost ventilation but at what cost?


There is a misconception that you can’t have an airtight building with natural ventilation. Architect Aleyn Chambers looks at how it can be done and the downsides to this approach. Words: Aleyn Chambers


atural ventilation (fresh air supplied through holes, often in the wall or integrated in windows) is the most cost-effective way to comply with the Building Regulations requirement for fresh air in the home. However this approach has fallen out of favour with self-builders as it is prone to result in uncomfortable draughts and high energy loss. That said I have worked on self-builds that specified both a high level of airtightness, defined as achieving less than 5m3/hr/sqmK at 50Pa, and natural ventilation.

Example of an airtight, naturally ventilated house

Whilst it would appear like a contradiction to build an airtight house and then puncture holes at various points to provide ventilation, it is important to remember that these are the only apertures in the fabric and they have both been designed and sized to meet the ventilation requirements of the Building Regulations. Indeed, if natural ventilation is your chosen method of ventilating your home you will have to factor this in at the design stage as the construction drawings will need to ensure provisions are made for each of these

openings – building an airtight house requires essential detailing at all openings. If a through wall vent is formed then the airtightness membrane must be carefully sealed around the pipe with proprietary gromits and tapes. If the details aren’t worked out early enough, it may not be possible to make the openings airtight. For example to avoid draughts, in some instances you may need to make a ventilation opening through the roof, as opposed to through the wall, and provisions need to made for this early on. In a 170 sqm airtight house, with specific meteorological conditions, I calculated a requirement of 140,000 sqmm free area of ventilation. This meant specifying a 5’’ (125mm) vent in most of the rooms and the standard size 4’’ (100mm) vents for the bathrooms and kitchen – in these wet rooms 4’’ mechanised extractor fans were also installed to deal with steam and condensation. In total we had 15 standard ‘hole in the wall’ or ‘hole in the roof’ vents (excluding the intermittent fans). Because of the high amount of wall vents we had to install, we had to plan these throughout the home to avoid the possibility of providing too much ventilation in certain rooms. As a result we had an opening in the dressing room, plant room and corridor areas, which do not typically

‘...building an airtight house requires essential detailing at all openings.' require ventilation, to evenly distribute the air flow. As would be the case in all homes, regardless of the ventilation system, we installed an additional background ventilator in the living room to allow for the ventilation requirements of a fuel burning stove.

Living with natural ventilation

We achieved a good standard of airtightness and feedback from living in the house for over a year has indicated that it is warm and efficient to heat. However not long after the homeowners moved in, the

vent in the utility room was inadvertantly blocked up and this had an almost immediate impact. Condensation started gathering within the room, visible as water forming on cold surfaces such as door handles, due to the fact that warm moist air from the washing machine and drier could not escape. Once the vent was unblocked the condensation issue was resolved just as quickly as it had appeared. This goes to show that with natural ventilation, all vents must be kept open at all times, even if this can at times result in some discomfort. AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 8 3


Cutting edge designs from Kerry Firmly established in the London architectural scene since 2004, the award-winning practice healycornelius design is a company with Irish roots that recently expanded its operations to the South West of Ireland. We catch up with Managing Director Niall Healy and Regional Director Michael O’Keeffe to learn their views on a rapidly changing industry. L to R: Tony Lynch ACIAT, Michael O’Keeeffe MCIAT ICIOB, Niall Healy MCIAT and Patrick O’Sullivan ACIAT

Affiliation: Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (Registered Practice) Memberships: Certified Passive House Designer Services Provided: Bespoke residential design for new build and refurbishment, planning applications, Building Regulations and technical drawing packages, tender and contract administration. All services delivered as a menu from which clients can select a perfect fit to their project and needs. Expertise: Architectural design, planning, Building Regulations, construction documents

Which building trends excite you most?

NH: Developments in technology are the biggest and most exciting influence on my work. New building techniques and improvements in insulation and airtightness are delivering much more energy efficient buildings, while digital technologies are making more and more of an impact. The terms ‘smart home’ and ‘internet of things’ are becoming part of our vocabulary. At the practice, to get the best value we approach our ‘smart home’ designs by selecting only what is relevant for the homeowner’s needs without overcomplicating the solution. MOK: With the European Performance of Buildings Directive making Near Zero Energy Building a requirement for all residential properties from 31st December 2020, I think passive designs will 8 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

become the de facto method of achieving the criteria. Last year, I qualified as a Certified Passive House Designer and I firmly believe, with the materials and technology that are available today, this methodology should, and eventually, will become the standard for the benefit of the environment and of our wellbeing.

What would you like to change in the world of self-building and home improvement?

MOK: I believe the main issue today is the cost of building for the selfbuilder. To offset this, ROI should adopt the NI approach to new build properties whereby the self-builder, who is building for themselves and will occupy the premises as their sole residence for a certain period of time, is entitled to zero-rated VAT.

Areas Covered: Kerry, Cork and Limerick, as well as the Greater London Area

What would your dream house look like? What features would it have?

NH: My wife and I were fortunate to purchase a beautifully appointed house in need of lot of care and attention which overlooks Cork harbour. The property was built in 1802 and has not been maintained for many decades. We have taken the building back to its original structure and are currently refurbishing it with care. The project has given us the opportunity to use traditional building techniques which work with the existing structure while adding some modern technologies such as heat recovery ventilation. It is a joy to spend our spare time working on site and it will be a joy to spend time there once completed. MOK: To quote Frank Lloyd Wright ‘No house should ever be on a hill or on anything. It should be of the hill. Belonging to it. Hill and house should live together each the happier for the other’. For me, my dream house would be a modest sized dwelling, embedded into the south-facing slope of a green field site where the landscape above would extend onto a flat green roof, concealing it from the adjacent roadway. Extensive glazing to the south would be a primary feature with highly insulated external fabric, renewable technology (geothermal heating and photovoltaics) and universally designed (accessible / adaptable) all capped off with a minimalist interior (simple, clean detailing and furnishings).

Healycornelius Design Ltd. Unit 15 KTI Centre, Deerpark, Killarney, Co Kerry V93 FP74 Tel. 021 234 8421

H E A LT H A N D S A F E T Y / F I R S T P E R S O N


That little home job When we carry out work at home the safety aspect seems to the be the last thing on our mind, until something happens that is! Here’s a real-life example of how to get the builders on board without sounding like a schmuck. Words: Alan Walsh


t some stage, we will all have someone in our home doing a little bit of painting, plumbing, carpentry or perhaps even proper building work. It could be a large undertaking with a project manager to handle the job, and you may even be lucky enough to vacate your home and leave the professionals to it.

So, should we leave it up to them to take care of everything including all safety matters? The first thing to consider is whether your project falls within the regulations (see next page). But even if they don’t, there is the ethical question – should we ignore safety for ourselves or indeed the people working in our home, even on the smallest of jobs? Would you leave your child alone in

the middle of a construction site or indeed would you wander through a building site in your nice shoes and casual clothes? Sadly sometimes that’s exactly what we do when we have work going on in our homes, most times it turns out ok but why take the risk when some simple precautions could possibly prevent an accident to you or your family members or to the person working in your home. Even if the job is only going to take an hour or less, doing it in a safe manner should be at the top of the list and the number one priority for all concerned. How many times do we have to get or do something overhead? So, we use a chair or a stool of sorts (Ah sure, it’ll only take a sec!) rather than getting the step-ladder or a proper step-up platform. If there is an architectural designer or a builder involved, let them know from the outset that you are anxious to have all precautions in place to prevent anyone getting hurt. Make safety a specific topic at  AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 8 5

F I R S T P E R S O N / H E A LT H A N D S A F E T Y


H&S requirements on self-builds IN BOTH NI AND ROI, for projects that last longer than 30 days or involve a particular risk, the owner must appoint project supervisors for the health and safety aspects – one for the design process and another for the construction stage. You can as the homeowner fulfil these roles but only if you are competent to do so. These roles entail carrying out risk assessments and drawing up a health and safety plan to show how to carry out the work in a safe manner. Certain safety documentation must be presented by subcontractors and compiled in a safety file. There are some basic rules such as everyone having to wear safety gear, including hard hats and steel cap shoes, as well as abiding to working at height regulations. Other safety requirements on site include worker accreditation for using certain types of equipment. For more information refer to the Autumn 2016 issue of Selfbuild magazine, available online. Also note that in ROI the Health and Safety Authority has produced a guidance document for homeowners and in NI the Health & Safety Executive has a helpline for homeowners (0800 0320 121); Part 4 of the Construction, Design and Management Regulations which came into force August 2016 outlines your NI obligations. At a corporate level, construction firms are now being heavily fined for breaches of health and safety, and custodial sentences for directors and managers may even be on the cards. According to law firm BLM new guidelines set out in England and Wales in 2016 entitled ‘Health and Safety Offences, Corporate Manslaughter and Food and Safety and Hygiene Offences’) could be applied by NI courts.

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How many times do we have to do something overhead and how often do we actually use a step-ladder or proper step-up platform?

the beginning to ensure that everyone puts as much focus into this as area as they are with all of the other elements, such as the budget. For larger projects even if your builder acts as the health and safety supervisor, you still have obligations as a homeowner to take every precaution to make the site safe. As you are probably most likely to be on site on a regular basis at the very least to check out the progress and the quality of the works or, probably more important to you on a personal level, to check that you are getting what you want and are paying for, you should also check basic safety aspects.

‘For larger projects even if your builder acts as the health and safety supervisor, you still have obligations as a homeowner to take every precaution to make the site safe.'


On a general front, even if you are not trained in safety it is pretty easy to see if the workers are carrying out the work in a safe manner, no matter if the job is big or small some basic observations can give you an immediate feel if the safety aspects are being respected. This is where it will help to visit the site your builder is working on before you hire him. Simple observations for example could include: l Are the work areas being kept clean? l Is cleaning being done as the work progresses? l Are there any trip hazards such as trailing cables and such like? l Depending on the work involved is there personal protection available such as dust masks, safety goggles (it goes without saying that the basic safety

shoes, high viz vests and hard hats should be in place) l Is the access into and from the work area clear and without obstructions? Is there a safe means of entry/exit – e.g. a sturdy step? l If the work is above ground level does the access platform look safe? If it is a scaffold has it got handrails, toe-boards and is it fully boarded out? Is there an access ladder in place? It is common knowledge that most accidents occur in the home, however when there is work being carried out either by ourselves or others the risk increases.

H E A LT H A N D S A F E T Y / F I R S T P E R S O N

My ‘safety talk’

My own family laughed at me when I gave a safety talk to the builders recently when they were about to start work on an extensive kitchen/dining refurbishment in my own home (complete strip out including ceiling, a new rooflight, new window and plasterboard with insulation). I did my best to make this very casual, carefully trying to make it sound that it was not a safety talk but just that I was pointing out a few things, including: l The location of the fire extinguishers, joking that I hoped they would not need them l Where they would find sticking plasters and basic first aid kit l Location of the toilets and the kettle – very important to builders l Pointed out that I hoped they would use a scaffold outside when they were installing the rooflight, which is at a fairly low level but the roof pitch is quite steep l Location of the electricity board (ECLB) and the mains water stop valve Less than 30 minutes later (I kid you not) as they were taking off the wall ceramic tiles, one of the workers came looking for the first aid kit, it happened that he needed a plaster as he had cut his hand rather badly. He did not need stitches but I was glad we had put some protection on the carpets. Then a few days later when the roofer came to install a new

rooflight I happened to hear him arguing with the builder that he needed to start immediately as he had to go to another job that day and that he did not need a scaffold as it was a low roof. I was delighted to hear the builder insisting that he did and made him hold off until the scaffold was installed, this took about 15 minutes. Less than three hours later the rooflight was in place and the roof sealed. Despite the cut finger, we were really pleased with the way the builder progressed the works, always working in a clean manner, courteous at all times – which is actually a very important aspect when you’re practically living with your builder for the time of the works – taking care to ensure good quality, and taking our comments and minor changes on board with no hassle. We were delighted with the end result, a modern kitchen and dining area, with additional storage units and electrical sockets, and lots of natural daylight from the rooflight over the dining area and the bigger window giving a nice view of the back garden.

Although now we feel compelled to do a bit of landscaping work!

Success or failure

To put this in context, despite the number of books and articles written on project management and construction, having started as a carpenter and spent my life in construction, in my own career as a project manager I used to say that in simple terms there were really only five elements to get right: l Health and safety: did anyone get hurt during the job? l Functionality of design: does everything work, is it fulfilling the brief? l Cost: was the job within budget? Did the builder make a profit, as he should? l Schedule and planning: was the job finished within the estimated time schedule? l Quality of work: were you satisfied with the quality of the finish and of the materials?

If one element doesn’t deliver, then the project fails in whole or in part. Health and safety is in many ways the most critical aspect and one you need to take ownership of – legally but also morally.

An informal safety talk will cover the basics including how to escape in the event of an emergency and the location of the fire extinguisher and first air box.

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B O I L E R S / H E AT & H O T WAT E R

Don’t get into hot water... Your no-nonsense guide to generating heat and hot water in the home

Y IENC EFFIC ting pean ErP ra

The Euro s iency rating assigns effic to G and from A+++ on a is displayed r boiler. label on you

Words: Andrew Stanway


asically, a boiler is a device that heats water. The most common fuel for a boiler is natural gas. But diesel oil, liquid petroleum gas (LPG), electricity, biomass, heat from the air or the ground, and even logs or coal can be used as fuels. Whatever type of boiler you currently have, if it’s more than 15 years old there’s often a good case for replacing it as the efficiency of new boilers is dramatically better; they are very much ‘greener’ and running costs are generally substantially lower. But before you replace an old boiler with a new one, take advice about flushing out your existing system. Over time, oxygen in the water reacts with the metals of the pipes, radiators and working parts of the boiler to produce sludge which starts to clog up your pipework and, indeed, the whole system. So be certain that all this material has been thoroughly flushed out and a rust inhibitor put in place. Be aware, though, that caution should be exercised on older systems as power flushing can expose leaks that may not have been evident in normal operation. For safety reasons, only registered gas installers and registered electricians can be involved in the installation of gas boilers in your home. OFTEC is a trade association that sets standards in the world of oilfired boilers. They manage a ‘competent person’ registration scheme, to help you find installers who really know what they’re doing. In ROI check the official HARP (Home-heating Appliance Register of Performance) database to compare boilers on a like for like basis In the UK, check the NCM database In terms of the regulations, in ROI boilers must have a seasonal efficiency of

at least 90 per cent. In NI all new boilers have to be condensing ones, although there are rare exceptions to this rule. Non-condensing boilers usually take their air from the room but condensing boilers are sealed units that take their air from outside through the flue. In general the regulations are gradually squeezing out fossil fuels as an energy source for newly built homes.

standard boilers but that isn’t the case. They are no more difficult or expensive to service, not difficult to install, and always substantially more efficient than standard boilers. Unfortunately, condensing boilers are more expensive to buy because they are more complex in design, manufacture and function.

Condensing boilers

A combination or ‘combi’ boiler combines a highly efficient water heater and a central heating boiler in one small unit. It takes cold water direct from the mains when you turn on a tap, passes it through a heater and supplies hot water. Though oil and electric combis are available, the vast majority are fuelled by gas or LPG. People often get confused when buying a combi boiler, thinking that if they get one that has a large heating power (lots of kW) they’ll have a better system. This isn’t the case. The quoted ‘flow rates’ for combi boilers are determined solely by the flow rate of your incoming mains water. Obviously a boiler with a higher kW rating will heat the water faster but this will not increase the flow rate to your taps. On one job I did, my first task was to put in a new (larger) incoming mains feed to the home, to enable a good flow rate of hot water from the combi. 

These are usually fuelled by gas or oil and make more efficient use of the fuel they burn than do non-condensing boilers. The technology behind them means that they achieve better than 90 per cent efficiency by also condensing the water vapour in the exhaust gases, so recovering the latent heat of vaporisation that would otherwise be lost to the outside air. Most modern noncondensing boilers are only about 80 to 90 per cent efficient because so much heat is lost in their outflow gases. This heat is largely recovered by a condensing boiler when a low return flow temperature is maintained. Condensing boilers went through a period of being seen as less reliable than

Combi boilers

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Drumderry, Bunclody, Co Wexford M: Michael 087 979 8032 E:

B O I L E R S / H E AT & H O T WAT E R

Advantages: l Because they heat and deliver water at once, you won’t need a hot water storage tank. This is good because it means that you won’t have to buy one, find space for it, or lose heat from it while the hot water is stored awaiting use. l Because a combi boiler delivers water at mains pressure, provided your pressure and flow rate are good and the system is well designed, water coming out of your taps will all be pressurised, so you won’t need pumps etc for showers. l Because combis are very compact they are great for small properties and flats. l Because there is no need for a cold water storage tank to ‘feed’ the boiler, it frees up your loft for conversion and also avoids any freezing-up issues in the winter as your loft gets cold around your cold water tank. l They are more efficient than older-style boilers. l They can be cheaper to install as the plumbing required is often simpler than for a conventional boiler with its associated tanks, pipework etc. l They are good for the water comes out of the tap predictably and rapidly! This is good if you lead a busy life that means you sometimes forget to ensure your hot water cylinder is full when you need it. l Can be a good point when you sell your home as the boiler’s details will show on your home’s energy rating – BER/EPC. Disadvantages: l You must have good mains-water flow and pressure to your home. Without this, you can’t have a combi boiler. l It’s not necessarily the best system if you need to be running several taps at the same time. The boiler can only produce so much at one time. This is limited by the number of kW of heat it can produce and the flow of water available to it from the mains supply. l As there is no hot water cylinder you can’t have a back-up immersion heater. This leaves you vulnerable should your combi boiler break down. l You can’t have a power shower with a combi because water pressure is set by the mains supply coming into the house.

Traditional boilers

Also known as ‘heat-only’ boilers, traditional boilers are best for homes that already have an existing, traditional, heating system linked to a hot-water cylinder. Such a boiler needs a cold-water storage tank in the loft to feed the hotwater cylinder and another tank that maintains the water level in the central


Should I compare heat pumps on the basis of COP?

heating system. Advantages: l Good for replacing a boiler in an old system that might be incapable of dealing with the high pressures delivered by certain combi or system boilers. l Ideal where there’s a big demand for hot water at any one moment. l Can be used effectively in combination with other forms of heat (solar, etc.). Disadvantages: l The tanks required in the loft can restrict what you can do with your loft space. l Because a larger home with several bathrooms will need lots of hot water, you’ll need space to install a large cylinder. 

COP or the Coefficient of Performance is designed to show how many kW units of heat you get out of 1kW of power consumed by the heat pump when operating. Whilst COP is of course important to consider, you must first of all investigate which system is most suitable to your site – what are the soil and meteorological conditions like? Also think how long the system will last and what maintenance is required. There is no point installing a system that needs replacing in five years’ time, considering the cost of replacement and upheaval in changing heating systems. Bear in mind COP figures are tested in laboratory conditions and the reality on site may be very different, especially regarding air to water. COPs range from 3 for basic air to water and 5 for geothermal systems or stream collectors measured at 2degC. There are many more factors that determine operating efficiency, including the operating flow and return temperatures (ideally 35degC) to the heating. Design and commissioning are critical to get a system to perform close to the laboratory COP results. In fact, crucial to the successful installation of a heat pump is proper sizing – for example, a 15kW ground source heat pump properly sized running 2,000 hours/year for 30,000 hours will last you 15 years, if under sized to 10kW it will run 3,000 hours/year and last only 10 years. Gerard Duffy

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H E AT & H O T WAT E R / B O I L E R S


It’s possible to install a wood-burning stove that doesn’t just heat your room but also hot water.

Safety first with fossil fuel boilers Although you should have your boiler professionally serviced each year there are lots of things you can do yourself to ensure the efficient and safe running of your system between professional services.

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Check your boiler regularly for any signs of leaks.

Make sure your boiler’s condensate pipe is properly lagged so it doesn’t freeze in winter. Run your central heating two or three times over the summer months, to keep the pumps from seizing up. Bleed your radiators regularly to remove air from the system.

Look for any sooty, black marks around your boiler and if you see any, call for professional help at once. Keep a careful eye on your boiler’s air supply....don’t restrict it by piling things around the boiler or blocking up vents. Make sure there is a good air supply at all times.

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Check that your external flues are all free from blockages.

If you have an oil boiler, be certain to check the oil level in your tank frequently. If you run out of oil, debris and gunge can be sucked into the boiler, causing expensive problems.


If your boiler is in a room, be sure to have a working carbon monoxide monitor installed in that room. Check once a month that it works. If you can see your pilot light, check that it is blue and strong. If the flame is yellow or smoky, get professional help at once.


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System boilers, meanwhile, need a cylinder (hot water tank) for storing hot water but don’t need a tank in the loft. These are good for homes with more than one bath or shower room, where the demand for hot water at any one time can be high. Most of the main components are built into the boiler, making it easier and quicker to install than traditional boilers.

Wood-burning stoves and furnaces

It’s possible to install a wood-burning stove that doesn’t just heat your room but also your hot water. Depending on the size it can also run several radiators. Such stoves don’t rely on electricity to circulate their hot water but usually require a pump to run radiators, so are good if you have an unreliable hot water supply. If you decide to install a wood-burning boiler you may need a thermal store which can store the excess heat as hot water for taps and space heating. Furnaces that use wood pellets are becoming more popular today. The beauty of these boilers is that they can run totally automatically, feeding themselves from a hopper of wood pellets, controlled like you would an ordinary oil or gas boiler although they do require regular cleaning and ash disposal. The only real downside is that you’ll need a lot of space to store

a large volume of pellets. This means, in effect, being able to accommodate three tonnes (about 80 per cent of a typical house’s annual needs) in a clean, dry place that has been approved by your local building and fire regulation officers. A gasification boiler is a large wood burner designed to burn big loads of firewood at high efficiencies and would normally be in an outhouse, connected to an accumulator (heat storage) tank. In all cases, the frequency of loading depends entirely on how the system is sized in relation to the load. Loading may be required daily.

Electric boilers

Many people don’t realise that electric boilers exist but they can be a life-saver if you are off the gas grid and have no space to store oil or other fuels. This makes them ideal for flats and small homes. Such boilers can produce both hot water and space heating but aren’t suitable for large homes because they can’t supply enough heat. Advantages: l They are small and can be tucked away almost anywhere. This makes them ideal for small rental properties. l They are silent in operation. Because they have almost no moving parts and

B O I L E R S / H E AT & H O T WAT E R

‘The modern type of ‘boiler’ is the heat pump, an alternative heating source very much becoming the standard on Irish self-build projects...'

don’t burn anything you don’t hear them firing up, or indeed, working at all. l Compared with any other sort of boiler they are cheap to install and easy to maintain. l They are safe because nothing burns, there are no fumes and you don’t need a flue. l They can be linked to solar panels or other sustainable heat source, so saving on electricity. l They don’t need to be regularly inspected and certified each year... another feature that makes them attractive to landlords. l They can be programmed to use offpeak electricity, storing hot water in a separate tank for when you need it. Disadvantages: l They are limited in how much heat they can produce at any one time. l They still need a hot-water storage tank. l They are not nearly as efficient (‘green’) as heat pumps, as they use electricity on a one-for-one basis. That is, you only get out

what you put in. This, in turn, means that they are often more expensive to run than oil or gas boilers as electricity is the most expensive energy source.

Heat pumps

The modern type of ‘boiler’ is the heat pump, an alternative heating source very much becoming the standard on Irish selfbuild projects as the need for renewable requirements in the ROI Building Regulations squeezes out fossil fuels. A heat pump is a device that transfers heat energy from a source of heat (soil, air, water) to a destination called a heat sink, working like a fridge in reverse. A heat pump uses a small amount of external power to accomplish this transfer. The efficiency of any heat pump is maximised when the difference in temperature between the heat source and the heat sink is minimised. Thus, the most efficient systems are suited to low temperature heat distribution networks such as underfloor heating. The lowest efficiency is usually experienced when producing domestic hot water but that depends on the output temperature. The most tried and tested type of heat pump in Ireland is the groundsource horizontal collector which relies on solar energy to replenish heat in the soil. Moisture movement in the ground is important because it works as a heat transfer agent replacing the cooled water in the collector field. The area required will depend on the thermal conductivity of the ground and can be significant. Groundworks can set you back quite a bit in terms of cost unless you manage to reduce this by laying the pipes at the same time as you install your septic tank or drainage. In recent years, the air source heat pump has taken over the market with two main types, one has heat pump components indoors (split) and the other

has all parts located in the one unit outdoors (‘monoblock’). Considering Ireland’s mild weather, this plug and play heat pump option has grown in popularity but efficiency starts to drop at lower air temperatures and higher water temperatures. Whilst these units make some noise, and you will have to consider neighbouring properties (as well as its location in relation to your bedroom windows, etc.) avoid locating the unit far from the house as this will reduce efficiency (heat loss in the pipe run). Vertical (borehole) systems are the most expensive but can be the only solution for some sites. If you have a stream or a lake, an easy, and highly efficient option is laying the pipes as in the horizontal groundsource system but in the water. However gaining planning and environmental consents for these may not be straightforward. A type of heat pump that’s entering the market in a big way is the exhaust air heat pump, which combines heat recovery ventilation and a heat pump – the hot air generated within the home is used to supply heat and hot water and the house is ventilated in the process. This option is especially useful for apartment upgrades or a small house (200 sqm or less) that is built to very high energy efficiency standards. All heat pump systems work on the same principles and the component parts are similar; it is the extraction method that differs. Heat pumps can be bolted on to any existing system and there are hybrids which allow the heat pump to be complemented by a fossil fuel boiler (another alternative is to install two heat pumps). Maintenance will depend on the type of heat pump but get acquainted with your system and check, once a year, that all parts are in order and that the software is up-to-date. 


No more ash for cash IN NI YOU CAN AVAIL OF A GRANT to replace your boiler but to be eligible you need to earn less than £40,000, be an owner-occupier and have a boiler that’s at least 15 years old. The allowance doesn’t apply to Economy 7 heating, stoves used only for cooking, back boilers or room heaters. The grant of up to £1,000, dependent on gross annual income, is there to help replace an old, inefficient boiler with a more energy-efficient condensing oil or gas boiler; to switch from oil to gas; to switch to a wood pellet boiler. You must get permission in writing from the Housing Executive before you replace your old boiler. IN ROI THE BETTER ENERGY HOMES GRANT APPLIES, which will fund €700 towards a boiler upgrade with heating controls. You also need to have a Building Energy Rating (BER) carried out before and after the works, but a €50 grant is available to go towards this cost.

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H E AT & H O T WAT E R / B O I L E R S

Advantages: l For every unit of electricity you should get a minimum of three units of heat, a ratio referred to as the coefficient of performance. The higher the COP the higher the savings as electricity costs more per unit of energy than fossil fuels. l Unlike gas, oil, LPG, or biomass heat pumps only run on electricity, an energy source that is becoming cleaner (low carbon emissions) as the renewables share increases in Ireland’s energy mix. l As there is no fire, there is no need for a flue, chimney, or fuel storage area, making them safe to fit inside or outside. l Heat pumps can cool in summer, heat in winter and provide hot water all year round. l No combustion makes them easy to maintain and already there are heat pumps thirty years old working in Ireland. l A well designed and installed system can increase the value of your home. l If you already have solar thermal panels in your home, you can integrate the heat pump so the hot water is heated by the solar collectors first, increasing efficiency. l Deluxe models allow the heat pump to automatically switch between heating and hot water with weather controls. l The planners like them and they tick the renewables requirements of the ROI Building Regulations. l Some heat pumps can produce 65 degC flow temperature suitable for heating radiators in older buildings. l Off-grid living is made possible with photovoltaic (PV) panels and battery storage, but do choose a heat pump with Smart Grid that monitors the PV output and household use to optimise efficiency. Disadvantages: l Poor quality cheap heat pumps can work out more expensive than oil or gas to run and have a short operating life, between five and ten years. Often used on build-to-sell properties. l Expensive to buy and install when compared with a standard boiler. This means, in effect, that most people who can use another system usually do, missing the opportunity on investing to save. l Contributing to the expense is the cost of the hot water tank; to get the best out of any heat pump system you generally need an 800 litre capacity tank (at a cost of around £/€1/litre) which also takes up considerable space. That said, an air source heat pump may require only a 200 to 300 litre tank. l When installing a heat pump into an old building to replace oil you need to carry out an energy upgrade to get the best results – insulation, airtightness and ventilation standards – which further 9 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

‘The most tried and tested type of heat pump in Ireland is the groundsource horizontal collector which relies on solar energy to replenish heat in the soil...'

increases capital costs. l The refrigerant gas used in the heat pump must be ‘green’, which comes as standard in heat pumps that comply with European standards but carefully check other provenances. l New regulations require heat load calculations be done by an expert as system sizing is the key to a successful installation. l The nature of the installation is also more complex and few installers have the required experience compared to fitting oil or gas boilers. This means it is more important to rely on the manufacturer’s recommendations rather than the installer’s to secure a good result.

FURTHER READING Heat Pumps - A best practice guide for Businesses in NI ‘Ground Source Heat’ and ‘Shallow Geothermal Energy’ Note: The scope of this article does not cover dry heating systems.


Operation fenestration Apeer managing director Asa McGillian reveals what new products the Lumi range has up its sleeve.

also limits furniture damage. “I have solar control on the front elevation of my house because that’s where the sun hits; and in my case I find the tint also helps with privacy,” comments Asa.

In the pipeline New horizon

Now well implanted in Ireland and mainland UK, Lumi is setting its sights not across the channel but across the Atlantic. Asa says the USA is familiar with fibreglass but has no window product like his, providing great opportunity for growth. But due to homegrown demand, Lumi won’t be going stateside for another two years.

Composite door manufacturer Apeer is the company behind Lumi, the frameless triple glazed window and door range that’s taken the Irish self-build market by storm. Not too surprising considering the person who’s behind the brand. Asa McGillian started working on the factory floor at the tender age of 16 pressing panels for uPVC doors. He went on to complete his studies and with a decade of experience under his belt, came up with the Lumi concept.

Inside Lumi

For inspiration, Asa didn’t have to look much further than the wet, cold and salt-laden meteorological conditions of the North coast

of Ireland. There, only glass can withstand the beating the weather gives it, which is what Lumi’s outer shell is entirely made of. This means no raised, mounted frame, no painted surfaces and no exposed joints. The colour border is fused into the glass on the inner surface of the outside pane and frames the window to conceal the fibreglass structure beneath. “About 92 per cent of the components parts are made in our Ballymena factory,” says Asa. “The only element we outsource is the fibreglass, which we have commissioned with our design to a specialised Swedish factory.” In terms of glazing specification, you can choose from standard low-e coating to the high spec solar control coating which reduces UV light by 75 per cent; the latter not only helps with overheating but

Not one to rest on his laurels, Asa and his research and development team are constantly adding to the Lumi product line. “We brought on the market French doors made in Lumi’s signature style in March, and that’s been a hit. We introduced this because we realised that on some projects we were supplying all the windows but not the patio doors so we corrected that.” Asa confides he will be launching a new product aimed at renovators called Lumi ‘Lite’ at SelfBuild Live Dublin in Citywest, 8-10 September 2017. “Lumi ‘Lite’ is a double glazed unit (U-value of 1.2 W/sqmK) with the same look and feel as our standard triple glazed units, which boast at least 0.6 W/sqmK.” Also in the pipeline is a colourless frame – when looking from the outside you will see a single clear sheet of glazing with a bronze or silver tinge throughout. And whilst there is yet another product waiting to be unveiled, it’s Top Secret and not even Selfbuild could get Asa to drop a hint.

Ireland’s first radically different, superior performance glazing system.

NI tel. 033 0041 5014 / ROI tel. 048 256 32200

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Dispelling heat pump myths Some of your heat pump questions answered. Words: Paul Kenny What’s the cheapest way to meet the ROI Building Regulations’ renewables requirement for a new build? How about a retrofit? In a new build situation, the payback with a heat pump should be three to five years at the most. The marginal cost of installing a heat pump, appropriate cylinder and potentially

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larger radiators is likely to be similar to the fossil fuel alternative. This is because a gas + connection to grid (and associated developer infrastructure) or oil + tank will require the addition of photovoltaics to comply with ROI Part L of the Building Regulations. Even though you can currently comply with Part L with a high efficiency boiler

and solar thermal panels, (with a very high specification in every other respect), the spirit of the regulations is to encourage renewable heating sources. The upcoming changes to Part L will see this requirement become even more stringent with, possibly, the need for heat pumps and PV to be installed on all new builds.   In terms of retrofit, the

economic case is slightly less generous. The catch is that the cost of a retrofit of this nature including the airtightness measures, the ventilation system and the heat pump is unlikely to be less than €15,000 (plus the cost of insulation measures) and over the next 20 years this is about €3.75 per heating day, gobbling up about 50 to 70 per cent of the energy efficiency savings. If we take energy price inflation into account, using the last 15 years as an indication of the next 15, you’re likely to break even in 10 to 12 years. The 50 per cent grant available within the Superhomes programme for homeowners brings this down to seven to 10 years. So economically you will not win or lose in the short term, but environmentally and from a comfort point of view, you will be significantly better off, and if you have children, at least you will have the peace of mind that you did your bit from a heating point of view. Just don’t go spending the savings on a trip to New York!

I was told air source heat pumps don’t work when the temperatures drop, is that true? There are many myths surrounding heat pumps, and this is one of the most common. The majority of the Irish market uses the R410a refrigerant which works down to -20 degC and will, if sized correctly, heat any Irish home. Ireland isn’t that cold, with average winter temperatures of 7 degC and the mean daily minimum above 2 degC all year round. At 7degC air source heat pumps work really well with 35 degC flow temperature (typically COP of 4.5 in the lab, and over 4 in the real world). Another common misconception has to do with the heat emitters.


‘economically you will not win or lose in the short term, but environmentally and from a comfort point of view, you will be significantly better off...'

Radiators are not radiators, they are really convectors, and they put out heat at all temperatures above the room temperature they are located in, so if your boiler used to run for six hours and now runs for 24 hours, the flow temperature versus the room temperature can come down by 75 per cent, e.g. to keep a room at a steady 20degC you’d typically need a 60

degC flow temperature from your fossil fuel burner for 4 hours but just to 30 degC flow temperature from a heat pump over 24 hours. Heat pumps can also comfortably heat water to 55 degC, and a top up heating cycle using an existing immersion heater for legionella control uses a few kilowatt hours per annum when required.

Also bear in mind that with heat pumps you do not need a backup immersion, boiler or anything else. We do generally ensure a high efficiency stove is installed in our retrofitted buildings, but we find most people don’t use them with cheap, constant heat from the heat pump.

Can I get a grant to install a heat pump?

At the moment there are no specific grants for heat pumps in Ireland (NI and ROI) but, for the past two years, at the Tipperary Energy Agency we’ve managed to secure funding through the Better Energy Programme to help homeowners throughout ROI retrofit their homes with air source heat pumps under the Superhomes scheme.

Our non-profit agency has in fact been supporting homeowners and housing agencies to retrofit their homes since 2004. Back in the day, we had come to the conclusion on reading the data from the EU SERVE project (retrofitted 350 homes from D2 to B3) that the retrofit was not deep enough and the homes still relied on too much fossil fuel to reduce costs sufficiently for householders. This is what led us to our deep retrofit programme, Superhomes. From a policy point of view, there’s also now a clear expert consensus that the future low carbon approach to heating Irish homes (low density buildings) will heavily rely on heat pumps.

Scandinavian Mechanical Ventilation, Heat Recovery & Central Vacuum Systems

DELIVERING FRESHER HOMES FOR YOU AND YOUR FAMILY Visit Our Stand at Selfbuild Live Dublin 8-10 Sept l 40 years UK installation experience l Indoor climate control specialists l True demand control ventilation l All units now with Passive House Certification l All units Eurovent Certified


Tel: +44 (0)28 8776 9111 AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 9 9




Green light Securing planning permission can be an uphill battle, here’s how it’s done and some tips on working with the planners. Who needs planning permission?

Those building a new house need planning permission, and those extending or who are changing the use of their house (e.g. garage converted to workshop for business use) may require permission. Even a small change to the front of the house generally requires planning permission, with the exception of small porches. Always check whether your project requires permission before proceeding.

What’s the FPP process?

For Full Planning Permission (FPP) in NI in the first instance you should 1 0 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

contact the Council Planning Department who will help you to determine what type of permission you need and the relevant forms. Completed forms plus all required documentation and the fee should be sent to your Divisional Planning Office. ROI applicants should also contact the Planning Department of their local authority in the first instance, they will advise on the forms and drawings they require. A lot of this legwork can now be done online. The list of submissions includes copies of Ordinance Survey maps, site/layout plans, elevations, sections, etc, along with all other supporting documentation such as

Additional information Donaldson Planning, 50a High Street, Holywood, Co Down BT18 9AE, tel. 90423320, BPS Planning Consultants, 23 Saval Park Road, Dalkey, Co Dublin, mobile 087 2615871,

rights of way. In ROI notification must be published in a local newspaper approved by your local authority for the purpose and a clearly readable site notice erected as well, within two weeks of your application being lodged. The site notice must be kept up for a minimum of five weeks. The process is similar in NI except that the local authority contacts your neighbours for you. With your application you send in form NN1 giving the addresses of all occupiers of adjoining premises that abut the application site. In both ROI and NI a copy of your plans is also placed on the Planning Register for public viewing.


In NI you will require approval of Building Control as well, to whom you will need to send (yet another) set of plans. In ROI you register on the Building Control Management System after you’ve secured FPP. The FPP schedule of events is on the table below.

Do I need to secure Outline Planning Permission first?

No. An outline planning application will tell you whether, in principle, you will be allowed to build/extend/ renovate – this can be useful to obtain before purchasing a site (in NI only as in ROI you must own the site to lodge a planning application) / incurring the costs of

authority of providing infrastructure for new housing, such as water and sewerage, is set regionally and varies from county to county, but it can be quite substantial (see Summer 2017 issue for more on local development levies for self-builds). Other fees to consider are administrative such as legal outlays in the case of conveyancing, purchasing of Ordinance Survey maps and other documentation, as well as professional fees.

What is the timescale?

In both NI and ROI you should have a decision or at least communication from the relevant authority within eight weeks of the application being correctly lodged. However it is rarely a

How much does it cost?

The cost of an application for FPP for a house in ROI is currently €65 and €34 for an extension or conversion. The fees in NI are: OPP £425, FPP £851, Material Change of Use £692, Extension £285. Additional fees in relation to the cost to the local

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Read, consult and reference your local authority’s planning policy. To the greatest extent possible, sort out all other paperwork in advance. Secure a pre-planning meeting with your local authority. Consider hiring a professional to put together your application. Keep your neighbours informed of your plans ahead of the official notification.

For more details on the tips above see

'Always check whether your project requires permission before proceeding...' a fully worked design. For this you will need to provide information on the siting, layout and ridge height. OPP normally remains valid for three years in both ROI and NI during which time you apply for Approval of Reserved Matters (Detailed Planning Permission) in NI or Consequent Permission in ROI. Work on site can only begin after receiving these or FPP.

Tips: How to improve your chances

simple apply-and-receive process. Nearly every new build design will require amendment with changes suggested by the local authority, or more information required. It is a process of negotiation and clarification. Therefore obtaining FPP can take months or even years. Failure to provide the correct documentation also delays the process as your application will not be lodged in the system until everything is in place. FPP is valid for five years in both ROI and NI.

What is retention?

If you begin work on site before your plans have been passed you seriously jeopardise your chances of success – a recent case in Co Navan,

whereby a couple was given a year to demolish their 588sqm house that was built without planning permission, indicates what kind of penalties can be imposed when the courts deem there was a deliberate intent to ignore the law. Applying for retention or retrospective approval is really there for genuine cases of ignorance that planning permission was required, i.e. small breaches. When it comes to selling your house, retention will need to be secured on aspects that don’t abide to the plans approved by your local authority.


In many instances the grant of planning permission will come with some conditions, which you will have to abide to. If you are not happy with these or the application is rejected, you will be given the reasons and you may appeal the decision within four weeks to An Bord Pleanala (ROI) or within four months to the Planning Appeals Commission (NI).

FPP schedule of events NI

- Application received, fee receipted. - Application checked, validated, copies sent to statutory consultees e.g. Road & Water Services. - Advertisement placed in local press and/or neighbours notified, representations/objections received. - Site inspected, report prepared. - Report considered by Development Control Group meeting, and opinion on application formed. Most decisions will be delegated to officers, but more contentious ones (usually where there are objections) may be referred to the Planning Committee for decision. - Decision taken, decision notice prepared and issued. Those who made representations/objections notified.


- Application checked and validated, confirmation sent of receipt. - Application placed on Planning Register in Local Authority offices, also public libraries and certain interest groups. - Site inspection. - Acceptance of representations/objections by other parties. - Decision taken by local authority to grant, refuse or ask for Further Information. If FI is requested, you have six months to provide the information; then the planning authority will make a decision to grant, refuse or ask for Clarification of FI. Then, once the CFI is in, it has to either grant or refuse. Then an appeal can be lodged adding 22 weeks minimum. - Written details of decision sent to applicant and anyone who made representations/objections.

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The extension must not take up too much space to be considered exempted development.


Can you extend without planning permission? Yes you can, but there are five rules of thumb you need to follow. Words: Mark Stephens


here are many rules to building an extension that doesn’t require planning permission, and you must abide to all of them. So if there’s only one piece of advice to give, that is to get design professionals involved to ensure that your proposed extension can be considered exempted/permitted development. Then obtain confirmation from your local authority’s planning department. In ROI you can request a Section 5 Declaration; the equivalent in NI is a Certificate of Lawful Development. Permitted development in ROI, under 1 0 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

the Technical Guidance Documents (TGD), is approached differently than in NI, under Planning Policy Statement 7 and the Technical Booklets, but the rules can broadly be grouped together:


The extension must not take up too much room on the site NI: The rules state that the ground area covered by the extension and any other buildings within the boundary of the property, excluding the original house, is not more than half the total area of the property.

‘...get design professionals involved to ensure that your proposed extension can be considered exempted/permitted development.'


ROI: Any extension does not reduce the area of private open space, reserved for the occupants of the house, to less than 25 sqm.


The extension must not be too high

NI: Any part of the extension is not higher than the highest part of the roof of the existing house. The eaves should be no more than three metres in height if any part of the extension is within two metres of the property boundary. The eaves height is worked out as seen in both diagrams. ROI: The extension must not exceed the height of the house. There are three scenarios to consider, bearing in mind a gable is the upper part of a wall (normally triangular), between the sloping ends of a pitched roof: l If the rear wall of the house does not include a gable, the height of the walls of the extension must not exceed the height of the rear wall of the house;

l If the rear wall of the existing house has a gable, the walls of the extension (excluding any gable being built as part of the extension) shall not be higher than the side walls of the house; l In the case of a flat roofed extension, the height of the highest part of the roof may not exceed the height of the eaves or parapet. In any other case, no part of the new roof may exceed the highest part of the roof of the house.


The extension must not be too big

NI: The rules work on the basis of distance rather than area; a single storey extension should not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by more than four metres for a detached house or three metres for any other type of house. In both cases the height of the extension must not exceed four metres. And for an extension of more than one storey the extension should not extend beyond the rear wall of the original house by more than three metres. ďƒ˜


Rules, regs and precedents

AS YOU CAN SEE there are a lot of rules to take into account before contemplating your planning exempt extension; there are also rules within rules that are not covered here. This article, therefore, is only a synopsis of the key elements to consider; competent legal and building professionals should be consulted to inspect and issue reports. This includes checking with your local authority what the status of your proposal is prior to any development. There is also a heap of precedent case law that you can wade through regarding exempted and permitted development appeals through An Bord PleanĂĄla (ROI) and the Planning Inspectorate (NI).

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Period buildings require consultation with the planners.

For an exempted development, eaves height must be carefully considered. Hugo Borges Photography

‘...if you have constructed a flat roof extension, you are not allowed to use that roof as a balcony with handrails...'

ROI: Where the house has not been extended previously, the floor area of any such extension shall not exceed 40sqm. It is important to note that if the house has been previously extended the floor area of any such extension, taken together with the floor area of any previous extension or extensions constructed or erected after 1 October 1964, including those for which planning permission has been obtained, shall not exceed 40sqm. There is an additional rule for terraced or semi-detached houses where the floor area of any extension above ground level taken together with the floor area of any previous extension or extensions above ground level constructed or erected after 1 October 1964, including those for which

Do you need to match the look of the original house? In NI the regulations state that for an exempted development: “The materials used in exterior work, except in the case of conservatory should be of similar appearance to the existing house.” This implies copying the original style. But in ROI an extension that doesn’t require planning permission does not need to use similar materials. It is only in the construction of sheds or garages to the side of the house where the materials need to be similar.

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The extension must not project further than the ‘principal elevation’ of the house

For example, in both NI and ROI you would not be able to add a bay window to an existing house without planning permission as it projects further than the principal elevation. Small porches are however allowed under certain circumstances. NI: The regulations state: “Any part of the extension does not extend beyond any wall facing road if it forms the principal or side elevation of the original house.” Log Outdoor World


planning permission has been obtained, shall not exceed 12sqm.


This implies that you are allowed to build a planning exempt extension to the side of the house as long as it doesn’t project further than the principal elevation.

A crash course in extension design

ROI: You can build an extension without planning permission only to the “rear of the house”. In my opinion this means that no part of the extension should be visible to the side facing the front. The definition of ‘front’ is also interesting as technically it is the side facing the main carriageway and this may not necessarily be where the front door is located. An exception to this is a garage, shed or store which is located to the side (or rear) of your house and that you plan to convert for a different use unless the change of use leads to you building forward of the building line.



The extension must respect your neighbours’ privacy Something that is incredibly important in both jurisdictions and is often overlooked is that if you have constructed a flat roof extension, you are not allowed under permitted/exempted development to use that roof as a balcony with handrails. This is because it can easily lead to issues with overlooking and privacy.

NI: In addition to the eaves height requirement, no part of a single storey extension can be within 3.5 metres of any property boundary with a road opposite the rear wall of the house. In an extension with more than one storey; no part of the extension can be within seven metres of the property boundary opposite the rear wall of the house. An upper floor window on a side elevation within 15 metres of a boundary with another house must be obscure glazed; and be non-opening unless the parts which can be opened are more than 1.7 metres above the floor of the room in which the window is installed.

Additional information Dominic Morris MRIAI RIBA, Hillsborough, Co Down, tel. 9268 2316,

It sounds obvious but the function of the extension comes first; is the room to create a new living area? A bigger kitchen? An additional bedroom? You then need to consider the context of the site in relation to the plan. We used curved walls in one extension to incorporate a garage that needed to be kept. In the same way that you factor in the path of the sun and the prevailing wind direction for a new house, you should undertake the same careful analysis for your extension. Think carefully about the sun’s path throughout the day, which rooms get light when. For example you may want sun in the kitchen in the morning so you should orientate it towards the east. Also consider how the extension will impact the

rest of the house; you could inadvertently darken your sitting room due to your extension casting a shadow. Then there’s the question of where doors are placed in relation to the wind; if you have more northerly or westerly winds, avoid placing them on these elevations. Same goes for ventilation openings. Last but not least.

the way you connect the extension to the house will have an impact; it’s up to you whether you want separation, enclosure, intimacy, openness, cosiness, etc. You can use a change in level in the ceiling to create excitement or in the floor to separate one area from another – the eating from the cooking areas for example.

ROI: Any extension above ground floor level is at least two meters from any boundaries. Any windows proposed at ground floor level as part of an extension should not be less than one metre from the boundary they face; any windows proposed at above ground level should be not less than 11 metres from the boundary they face.

To make the most of your exempted development you really should concentrate your efforts on the design, however small your extension.

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Chatting with Alexa


Now that Google Home has managed to muscle its way into DIY home automation territory, we take a look at how voice-controlled low-cost alternatives stack up in comparison to hard-wired home automation systems. Words: Astrid Madsen


ince home automation came on the scene, excitement was palpable amongst Irish self-builders and home improvers. The smart home was the home of the future, the solution to centralising and controlling all electronical equipment, from thermostats to security devices. However due to cost and complexity it was only a reality for some and a dream for many. Now with Amazon’s devices, activated by the ubiquitous name ‘Alexa’, and Google Home firmly on the scene, it seems the smart home truly is within the reach of most homeowners. Voice-controlled devices are intuitive, much easier to set up and install than traditional DIY home automation configurations. The term ‘smart’ refers to being internet enabled, controlling devices from a wi-fi router. In the case of a smart home all of your lighting, security systems, thermostats, smoke alarms, television and sound system are connected. The benefit of having it work off the wi-fi is that you can send commands from your phone, wherever you are. It also connects you to the internet to find out what the weather’s like and answer any other questions from an online search engine. Surround sound is also a great thing; with voice controlled systems you can command all speakers in the house to play a tune from the central command unit by installing Bluetooth connected speakers. But there are a few drawbacks due to the fact that these products are still at the early stages of development, 1 0 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

with market-leader Amazon Echo just launching last year in Ireland (end of 2014 in the US). So as with all smart devices, the product is in continuous development.


l The most attractive feature is, arguably, its low cost: a central Amazon or Google unit will set you back less than €200/£180.

‘ seems the smart home truly is within the reach of most homeowners...'


l The voice-controlled units support a wide range of apps including proprietary lighting controls, thermostats and security systems, making your home a smart one with simple and straightforward voice activation. With a hardwired system you generally control the house from your phone or remote controls/wall mounted units. l You can organise your life with calendar, weather, personal assistant functions and alarm clock as basic functionalities. You can also introduce commands to, for example, lock all doors in the house. It’s basically as intuitive to use as your phone on handsfree mode.


l When setting up new features the DIY installation of a full voice controlled home automation system is more than plug and play. Bluetooth connected speakers must be initialised, separate routers must be set up for certain functionalities and you will in all likelihood need to type in the serial number of each bulb in the house for lighting controls, to name a few. l You need to buy a unit for each room you plan to use the device in, although Amazon has a battery-operated alternative you could carry around with you (but the speaker on that device isn’t great). l Requires internet connection although you’ll still be able to turn on the lights (can still use the switches) and use your thermostats manually if you lose connection. On a hard-wired system, commands for music (offline library) and TV (switching to cable) will continue to work. l Reliance on wi-fi and Bluetooth means the range can be limited, especially in larger houses or those with thick walls. l The artificial intelligence functionality is limited – the computer can struggle to understand some basic commands/ questions and according to some reviews, won’t always switch off when asked. Then there’ the fact that speaking with a computer may not be to everyone’s taste, while privacy is another concern, especially now that camera enabled devices are being introduced. Amazon’s Alexa also seems quick to get you to do some online shopping when querying certain topics. 

Additional information IKEA recently entered the home automation market with its plug and play smart lighting range,


Do I really need to install Cat6 cables throughout the house? Isn’t wireless a less expensive and more convenient way to ‘wire’ the house? From a technical point of view, it is hard to beat a physical connection although wireless is a good option for retrofits where cabling is too difficult. To communicate with smartphones and tablets it’s always necessary to have wi-fi. The difficulty is with large houses where wireless signals do not reach all areas. In this case cables running to multiple wireless access points is the best solution for reliability. If this is not an option wireless repeaters may be used instead. In new builds I would recommend a good wired infrastructure of Cat6. Wired installations can guarantee 8,000 MB transfer speed whereas wi-fi outputs will depend on the kit and are subject to interference (not just walls but other electrical devices). As outlined above, distance is also an issue. For smart home technologies wired structured cabling to light

switches, thermostats and security systems is also more effective than the wireless kits available for the same reasons. Consider too that when troubleshooting, there are a lot more variables to consider if the wireless system isn’t working. Even if you choose a wi-fi setup I would recommend hard cabling to the office, for a reliable internet connection, and to all TV points. Most TV sets are now smart so a physical hard-wired connection to these eradicates potential problems when streaming content over the internet (content skipping or not loading). For the TV an HDMI

matrix can also be used over Cat6 so high definition signals can be sent from your central hub (with cable television, DVD, streaming device, etc.). This removes clutter around the TV and allows you to have multiple TV points set up all connected to the central hub. Even though Cat7 cabling is now available and allows greater data transfer, the cables are very thick and it’s hard to get adaptors. Also very few inputs (cable TV for instance) require the speeds Cat7 have to offer so there’s no major benefit. Gary Wilson

‘The difficulty is with large houses where wireless signals do not reach all areas...'

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T E C H / M U S T- H AV E A P P S

Must-have apps Architect Mark Stephens’ favourite apps, available on iOS and Android, to organise his day-to-day as a house designer and project manager. AutoCAD 360

Previously known as AutoCAD WS – AutoCAD 360 is the official AutoCAD app that allows you to

‘solar compass’ setting so you can choose to view the sun in plan or 3D augmented view for any day, including the current day or solstices.

is not like anything else I’ve used. Produced by the same Moleskine that make the lovely notebooks (adored by architects); Timepage combines your events, maps, contacts and weather into a single app – plus it’s very easy to use. What’s clever about the app is that after I’ve input an event it will give me reminders, when I should leave to get to my destination (by working out where I am and where my event is) and then what the weather will be on the way there! The perfect app for selfbuilders to organise their day and meetings with builders, suppliers and professionals.

self-builders who ‘opt-out’ of the requirements of S.I. No.9 of 2014 and I’ve also used the app when I have not been appointed as AC but still undertaking inspections. The app works alongside desktop software ( where the reports are compiled.

U-value Calculator

Unable to find a simple U-value calculator (a U-value is the overall heat loss rate through a complete building element) and having a son studying coding at the

Construction Inspector open, view, annotate and even create new DWG files in the cloud. This allows the self-builder to access engineers’ and architects’ drawings remotely. Need a measurement on site? Open up a drawing using your phone or tablet and simply measure between two points. It allows me as an architect to be able to view AutoCAD files sent via email from a structural engineer (for example) even though I do not use AutoCAD. The software I do use (VectorWorks) has a similar app (Nomad) that allows me to access my own files in the cloud in a similar way to AutoCAD 360.

I’ve been using the Construction Inspector app for the last couple of years for all my site inspections. As an Assigned Certifier (AC) in


Not an app specifically for designers and self-builders but this has been so useful to me recently that I had to mention it. Effectively Timepage is a ‘Calendar’ app but


Using 3D augmented reality SunSeeker superimposes the sun’s path at any time or day in the year over the image shown through the camera. This has great advantages when designing as you can see exactly where the sun will rise and set in your design and whether there is anything that will cast shadows. There is also a 1 0 8 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

ROI, I find the app essential for the inspecting of projects and then compilation of reports for clients. It could in theory also be used by

University of Limerick combined with support from the County Mayo Local Enterprise Office, my son and myself developed U-value Calculator. You can input materials, thicknesses and conductivity values for all construction elements and you get a U-value compared to the Passive House standard. As a Passivhaus designer I use it to quickly check U-values prior to inputting exact figures into PHPP (the Passivhaus software).



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The Cloughjordan Ecovillage in Co Tipperary consists of a sustainable community of self-builders, and is an alternative model of development to isolated one-off houses.



Can of worms Getting rid of ROI ‘locals only’ rules for one-off housing may not necessarily be the answer to haphazard development in the countryside, says planning consultant Diarmuid O’Grada There are some reasons why we should keep ‘locals only’ rules in the countryside – one is the case of wealthy foreigners outbidding locals to live in rural areas. Also in the Gaeltacht, there’s a cultural aspect. In some areas of Kerry it is necessary to speak Irish to gain planning permission and that should 1 1 0 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

continue to be the case. There’s a commendable movement at government level to revive the Irish language which I think needs support. Padraig Pearse himself went to the Gaeltacht to enrich his Irish language ability, why not have more follow in his footsteps? Still, there are other

'The bottom line is that planners should continue to have discretion – each application, evaluated on its own merit'


sustainability aspects to consider when building out in the countryside. While people should have a right to build their own home, this must not be at the expense of the environment or coherent planning strategies. Vacant sites should be developed before greenfield ones. For instance, should we be encouraging a two-car life with the spectre of drink driving a serious concern? In terms of wastewater treatment, is there enough done to protect our complex network of groundwater? There are about 500,000 one-off houses in ROI and not all of these have registered their septic tank with the authorities. These concerns aside, taking care of parents is a common reason for moving to the countryside and this can’t be undermined. There is an argument to encourage only those who are working in the area, as opposed to those who happen to be related to someone farming the land, but this too may become problematic.

I used to work in a local authority as a planner and there was a pressure on us to grant planning permission to Gardai building their home out in the countryside, even though it’s a job that moves people around quite a lot. The bottom line is that planners should continue to have discretion – each

application, evaluated on its own merit, should provide enough scope to limit development in the countryside, allowing those with a genuine, pressing need to build their home on a greenfield site and encouraging all others to buy vacant dwellings to renovate.


What our readers say on Facebook about ROI planning restrictions for building new homes in the countryside “I might be wrong, but I think it’s absolutely ridiculous that I can’t build a house I want on my own land and [that] I have to go through [a] bureaucracy machine.” “If you’re planning to buy land to build a home then you get planning permission. It’s not rocket science.” “If the [planning] process [to build your own home] weren’t so difficult people wouldn’t [build without planning permission].” “I’m from Dundalk town, so I’m discriminated from buying land which is open for planning permission as I’m not from the area.” “Rural planning is a very difficult area. While we feel we should be able to build on our own land, there does have to be some control. There are parts of this beautiful island we live on that have been ruined by over development. I’ve been in Africa several times and when you see what happens in a country where decisions are literally taken on how much money was in the brown paper bag, I’m glad there is at least some control here.”


10 years in the (un)making In many ROI rural areas, planning permission for a new home is only granted to those living in the area, originally from the area or related to those faming the land. Because this contravenes EU laws, the European Commission issued a formal infringement notice to Ireland in 2007 “regarding discriminatory restrictions on the granting of dwelling authorisations in Ireland”. It was however only last year, in 2016, that the Irish authorities informed the Commission of their intention to review the rules in question. The Department of Housing told Selfbuild it was indeed looking at modifying the 2005 Planning Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing – the guiding principles local authorities are given by the Department – to comply with Article 43 (Freedom of Movement of People) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. Despite repeated requests for an update, we’re told consultations with the local authorities “are still ongoing”. Once Ireland’s new rules are agreed to, the Commission services will assess them and decide on the next steps. No one seems to be in too much of a hurry, which is why local councillors have recently started to fight their corner. Whilst locals only rules have not yet been successfully removed from County Development Plans, a Sligo councillor managed to remove some especially restrictive requirements, such as having lived on the land for at least seven years and building within 5km of the original family home, and get the following clause introduced (emphasis added): “The main criterion for assessing application for single houses in all rural areas will be the suitability of the proposed development in the context of the broader and long-term proper planning and sustainable development of the area.” In NI ‘locals only’ rules do not apply. For more on the background to this story refer to the Summer 2017 issue on

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Getting started in carpentry


You don’t need a shed full of tools and a background in construction to become a proficient DIYer. The first step is to instill confidence in yourself. Words: Ciaran Hegarty


he story goes like this… There once was a church built in Santa Fe in 1872. The architect died and it was soon discovered there was no plan for a staircase to access the choir loft. Most carpenters who looked at the job said that a ladder would be the best solution as a standard staircase would be too large. The nuns didn’t fancy climbing a ladder in their attire so they made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth day, a stranger arrived on the back of a donkey with a toolbox and a few basic tools. He is said to have spent three months undisturbed in the chapel working on the stairs. As soon as the staircase was constructed the man vanished, never to be seen again. Upon examining the winding staircase with two complete revolutions and no central support, it was discovered that not a single nail was used, only wooden pegs. According to the nuns he had nothing more than a saw and a square, requesting warm water on occasion. This magnificent piece of work is said to be miraculous in its construction (although there is a bracket!). To the uninitiated, tackling a carpentry project is without doubt going to be daunting. But if you approach the task with the right attitude and a proper plan in place, you’re halfway to the finish line.

Eat the elephant

With any seemingly monumental task, breaking it down to the simplest of steps is a good way to approach it. Like the old saying “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!” carpentry projects require patience. As with all aspects of construction, the planning stage is the most important. 1 1 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

Once you have the right plan in place, the job before you feels more achievable. This will increase your confidence and allow you to foresee any bumps in the road ahead. It is much easier to preempt any possible problems and think of solutions beforehand when you are still thinking straight than charging ahead and running into a problem in the heat of battle. Looking for solutions midway through a job is frustrating and takes far longer to figure out on the move.

be figured out. A great example of bad planning! So what is required when planning a job? Research is always the first step, whether it be a wooden floor you want to lay, a unit you want to make for the bathroom or a shelf you want to hang. Information can be available from so many sources. Magazines, the internet and books can inform you but the best knowledge is usually from the experts who are doing

‘Even though I find the internet to be a great source of inspiration, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. Wherever possible consult with the experts that do this day in and day out.' An example of poor planning would be from an apprentice I recently heard of. He was given the job of flooring a room with 22mm solid oak flooring. He was a very competent carpenter and being a square room with no real obstacles he was entrusted with this task. He began on the furthest wall away from him and worked towards the door behind him. When he eventually finished the floor and turned to leave the room he discovered the door couldn’t open. His only option was to take up the boards which was a bit of a problem as they were nailed down. Whilst the door could have been given a shaving with a planer to allow for the height, a saddle to make up the difference in floor level in the hallway would also need to

this day in and day out. When buying a wooden floor from a specialist for example, the supplier can inform you on the best method of laying it, what base layer is required, how long it needs to adjust, etc. There is so much information available now at the touch of a button but a lot of it should be taken with a pinch of salt. Even though I find the internet to be a great source of inspiration, there’s a lot of misinformation out there. The next stage in the project planning is gathering the materials that are required to complete the job. A picture, a drawing or a plan of some sort is the first stage and then from this the materials can be deduced. Here the dimensions of 


a floor can be worked out to order the proper quantity of boards and underlay or the amount of timber required to make a TV unit. With a simple sketch, the main measurements and the finer details of how things will join together can be thought about. With a bit of research and planning the best materials can be chosen. There are several ways to hang a shelf from a wall and each fixing has its own merits. Cost, tools required and ease of installation all play a factor. Personal circumstances such a skill level, time and available instruments can influence your decision but doing the research first will eliminate the possibilities of buying a fixing that requires tools you don’t have or that won’t withstand the weight you intend to subject it to. So with proper planning and research you will choose the right materials for the job, order the correct quantity and work out the steps required to start and finish efficiently.

Carpenter’s tools

To get started in carpentry you need to have some basic tools. Only buy what you need and try to buy the best you can afford. Everyone knows of the tradesman who blames his tools, but only until you use ‘the good stuff’ will you understand how much of a difference it makes. Luckily, tools have come down in price and you can now get a good set of basic tools for approximately €300/£275. The bigger discount stores can offer great value on power tools and these can be fine for the occasional hobbyist or part timer. So, what should we put into our toolkit?

Marking out tools

A good tape measure and steel ruler are a must. This allows you to measure the length and width of a room, a wall for a shelf or even the length of the legs on a coffee table you want to build. Most tape measures come with both imperial and metric measurements. Single unit tapes are available and could suit some people better. Steel rulers are great for smaller work such as making picture frames or marking out joints on projects. A try square is the next thing and these come in various sizes and quality. They are used for drawing perpendicular lines to the edge of a workpiece for cutting and marking out. A badly made try square is often  AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 1 3



Did you know...

You don’t need a lot of tools to get started; it’s better to have a few that are of good quality than a shed full of average tools. This will make the jobs you do undertake that much easier and will encourage you to take on more.

l The bigger the teeth on a saw, the rougher the cut. I always have two on hand, one with bigger teeth for cutting planks quicker while the smaller teeth are great for sheet material such as MDF or plywood. l The Robertson screw head is one of the strongest of the head types and was used on the Ford assembly line for this reason. However, the length of time it took to insert the screw bit, tighten the screw and remove the bit again was slower than its rivals and is no longer used for this reason. l Proper eye protection must always be worn when operating power tools. The longer you work in construction, the more you see how important it is to limit the risk of injury. Wearing protective gear is the only way to do this.

referred to as a traitor in the camp as it can throw off your project and leave you with crooked lines and badly made pieces.

Cutting tools

After all of your marking out and accurate dimensions, it is now time to cut the pieces to size so they fit into whatever space you need them to. Quality handsaws are cheap as chips and readily available nowadays. They have tempered teeth and comfortable handles. A tenon saw is also another handy saw to have in your kit for smaller bench work. It has a brass strip across the top to prevent the blade from bending. Very nifty for cutting mitres (45deg angles) and smaller pieces. A hacksaw is useful for the cutting of metal or aluminium e.g. hanging rails for your wardrobe.


A good set is essential for all sorts of jobs around the house. You need as many types as possible for all the different screw heads you will encounter around the 1 1 4 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

home. The most common are the Phillips, the position drive (pozidrive) and the flat or slotted head. You will also come across the square headed Robertson and the star shaped Torx screw.

Hand tools

A good selection of hand tools is desirable for most carpentry jobs. Although power tools will save you a lot of time, hand tools are necessary for the final fitting and sometimes they are as fast to use if only doing a once off. Noise and dust is also eliminated and I personally find them much more pleasurable. Hand tools you need would be a hammer for all sorts of tasks such as inserting nails and pins, assembly of pieces. Look for a hammer which has a claw at the opposite side to help in the removal of nails or fixings. A plane is used around the house for fixing sticking doors or drawers and smoothing rough timber. A plane is pushed over the surface of the timber and the blade at the bottom peels a shaving. You can adjust how aggressive or fine you want these shavings to be by winding the blade up or down using the adjusting wheel on the body.


A set of chisels can help to fit locks, remove unwanted timber and making trenches in battens for placing over pipes. These are only as good as their edge so it is important to keep them as sharp as possible. An oil stone can be used for this purpose.

Power tools

The number one power tool that I would recommend anyone to buy is a cordless screwdriver. These have revolutionised the craft and helped speed things up no end. They can be used for what it says on the tin but also for drilling timber and even drilling into walls. There are loads of different brands, different voltages and even different amp hours which is an indication of how much energy can be stored by the battery and in turn, how long it will last. The prices can vary from €50/£40 all the way up to €900/£850 and beyond. Again, buy the best you can afford. If you are only looking to drive screws once in a blue moon, then a lower powered drill would suit but if you intend to drill into walls more regularly, a high end, high quality, high powered drill is what you need.

are more suited to final preparation before applying a new finish.

A jig saw is a nice little saw to have around the house as well. It can cut both curves and straight lines and is safer and more user friendly than a portable circular saw. It’s ideal for ripping boards to length for projects, trimming doors, cutting scribes, etc. The last power tool on the DIYer list is an electric sander. These come into their own when looking to prepare projects before sanding such as window boards, wooden doors, door saddles and exterior woodwork. There are many models available for different jobs. A belt sander removes material aggressively and can strip a finish down to bare wood quickly. An orbital sander is a bit more subtle. It can still sand material down and strip finishes back but at a slower pace. They

Whilst the above list is not definitive, it it is a good place to start. Buy the tools as you need them and don’t be afraid to try them out from other people first. There are fantastic woodworking shows to visit at retail outlets and this gives a great taste of what tools are available and what they can do. Carpentry is possible for every ability level. I believe anyone can do well in this craft. Whether it be hanging a shelf, a picture frame or even as complicated as laying a floor, don’t be afraid to experiment. Plan out the project carefully, do your research on different materials and enjoy the process. Like the game of golf, it can be the most therapeutic and rewarding of pursuits but if not carefully executed it can become a frustrating exercise very quickly. All the best in your carpentry journey!

Check out Ciaran’s full essential DIY toolkit article on

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Go nuts


Growing your five a day makes it more likely that you will eat your five a day. But one crop is often over looked – the nut. Here’s a list of specimens suitable to the Irish climate.

Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin Almond tree


Nuts hit the spot Nuts contain high-quality protein, dietary fibre and plenty of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Research shows that the regular moderate consumption of nuts helps reduce the risk of type two diabetes, heart disease, stroke and even some types of cancer. So why not seize the day and get some nuts on the go – they are the perfect complement to fruits and veg and will beautifully extend your garden larder.

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he resurgence in recent years of growing your own fruit and veg at home has consolidated beyond a trend or hobby into a genuine healthy activity – with not only the physicality of gardening stimulating the immune system but also bolstering our feeling of wellbeing. Nuts provide wonderful flavours and the extra health benefits of the good fats and healthy meal within. Be it almonds, hazel or even beech – the tree before the yield of food is a wonderful aesthetic and also air purifying addition to the garden. I will admit that growing nuts is not exactly a short-term proposition. Patience is required to let the tree mature but if you can wait three years for good asparagus yields or four years plus for a garden centre wisteria to flower then in the context of a lifetime of perennial treats, it’s worth waiting for. All nuts can be interplanted with ornamental trees and shrubs and easily integrated into the garden if a veg patch is not your thing. Now is the ideal season to source both container and bareroot/

‘The tree even before the yield of food is a wonderful aesthetic and also air purifying addition to the garden.’

rootball specimens and get your general landscape more edible or even dedicate a section of your garden to a nut orchard.


Not every nut has to be a tree in the garden; your hazelnut croppers can be cultivated as hedging, managed as specimen shrubs or forageable woodland.


Hazelnuts are the fruit of Corylus species – the most popular being cobnuts (Corylus avellana) and filberts (C. maxima). The difference being that the cobnut has a short husk from which the nut protrudes, while the filbert has a long husk encasing its nut. Cobs can be a little sensitive to cold in that bad winters equal small yields. There are several cultivars of each type and all are easy to grow. They like a bright, sunny situation in free draining soil but overly fertile soil can produce more leaf than nut. Pot grown plants can be planted at any time of year while rootball are traditional between late autumn and early spring. Hazels are wind pollinated and so will crop more reliably if grown in twos or groups. There are some self-fertile varieties so ask in your garden centre if you are stuck for space. The sweet nuts are harvestable from late September to October once the foliage and burrs begin turning brown. They are generally self-shedding so you will see some on the ground as an indicator to commence gathering. Delicious and nutritious eaten raw or dry roasted. Weight for weight with hen’s eggs, hazelnuts contain 50 per cent more protein and five times the carbohydrate content.

Sweet chestnuts


Top tip

Mulch after planting and water regularly for its first year in the ground, initially protect with chicken wire or barrier if you have bark gnawing rabbits – thereafter they are no trouble at all.


Hazelnuts have an antioxidant capacity to rival blackberries, dark chocolate and other edible medicine. But hazelnuts are also rich in the natural vasodilator arginine, linked to reducing blood pressure, combating erectile dysfunction and generally facilitating cardiovascular health.

Sweet chestnuts

Castanea sativa is a large vigorous deciduous tree and needs the space to not only thrive but be appreciated for its majesty. A large garden is required or a wood with other allotment holders to share its bounty from communal planting. Sweet chestnuts also do best in full sun but prefer a well-drained fertile soil. Water in well after planting and for the first few months until the roots establish a foothold. It can be a squirrel magnet but otherwise pest free. The spiny green fruit ripens in October and is self-shedding; the outer casing can be removed to yield one to three sweet nuts inside. There are recipes for raw and pickled but you can’t beat them cooked or roasted.

Top tip

I would recommend a self-fertile variety such as Marigoule, Marron De Lyon or Regal – each of which crop within two to four years. Not to be confused with the inedible horsechestnut tree (Aesculus hippocastanum).

High fibre

A lack of fibre in the diet is a contributing factor to many illnesses and chestnuts are great source of it, higher than most other nuts, making them a low glycemic index food and a contributor to lowering cholesterol. Sweet chestnuts are also exceptionally rich in vitamin C and B-complex as well as being packed with minerals.


Prunus dulcis are in the same family as plums and peaches so not a stretch to grow. Care with early frosts and a good sheltered but sunny position in freedraining soil will go a long way. It can take two to three years to fruit and the main point of cultivation is that almonds flower/ fruit on second year wood so prune only after it has flowered and set fruit. Gathering can commence late August– September, traditionally when threequarters of the hulls are split open by the warmth of the autumn evenings, drying and ripening the edible kernel inside. They are not self-shedding and require a shake to loosen. Raw, roasted, made into milk or butter.

Top tip

In recent years varieties grafted onto plum rootstock, chiefly on to the dwarfing St Julien A, have shown remarkable tolerance for the weather patterns of Ireland and northern Europe. One particular variety – Ingrid – earning her Scandinavian name is exceptionally hardy. Another variety ‘Robijn’ is self-fertile and has resistance to peach leaf curl which can affect some other varieties. 


Garden centre trees WHEN YOU BUY A NUT TREE in your garden centre, you’re likely to be given what’s known as a graft – a section from another tree that has taken root. When planting these grafts do ensure that the union/collar (knobbly bit) is above the level of the soil or else you may get more vigour from the rootstock than the graft. Planting too deep could also lead to rot and disease.

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Triple whammy

Almonds are high in protein, high in fibre and low in fat and even though their calorie count is high they will fill you up quickly, producing a long nutrient-rich release. In other words they help reduce hunger levels and dial down impulses to eat later in the day. They are a rich source of Vitamin E to repair our cells and packed with monounsaturated fat – that’s the ‘good’ fat that helps lower your cholesterol.


Nuts that’ll make you go bananas you could chance some Buartnuts (Juglans x brixby) - a natural hybrid between the North American butternut (Juglans cinerea) and the heartnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). Not yet a popular variety in


Beech nut tree


Juglans regia are best when given the room a large garden affords. They prefer full sun and sheltered sites and perform better in alkaline soil. Grafted trees will crop after about four years. Some walnut varieties can be partially self-fertile but yield is improved if planted near a companion. If a single tree is all the space you can provide, try the self-fertile cultivars such as ‘Broadview’ or ‘Buccaneer’ for good reliable yields. There is a tradition of gathering some ‘green’ walnuts early in June–July for pickling before the shells develop and then a main harvest of the ripened nuts in the autumn. In part a tradition to ensure a crop as squirrels and deer are partial to the fruit. The kernels are the edible part and can be broken out of the husks and dried or enjoyed raw. The outer casing will stain skin in the collection so glove up.

Top tip

Deer and rabbits can damage the bark of newly planted trees so protect for the first years until established. Once established walnut trees are generally trouble free.

Why not start by growing the hedgerow staple that is the beech nut Fagus sylvatica. It may sound strange but they are a cousin of the sweet chestnut, both being in the Fagaceae family. Traditionally beech is kept clipped to an immature phase and so rarely matures any fruits but if allowed go to a tree then it will crop. It is not a frequent cropper, in fact the fruits come in ‘mast years’, often four to five years apart. The triangular shaped nuts can be eaten after removing the furry casing and soaking the inner nut to leach out the bitter tannins or pressed for culinary oil. Mediterranean stone pine trees (Pinus pinea) have the potential to grow well and crop regularly in Ireland once established. They do however take eight to 10 years to produce so you

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Heartnut (Juglans ailanthifolia cordiformis) is a self-fertile nut – a heart shaped case for its sweet kernel. A relative of the walnut originally from Japan, it strictly requires a sunny position sheltered from strong winds and prefers deep well-drained slightly alkaline soil. Generally pest free it crops well once established. Or Chilean pine nut or Monkey Puzzle Tree


Walnuts are amongst the healthiest nuts we can grow and consume – they contain the highest levels of antioxidants compared to other nuts and in a potency that is between two to 15 times as powerful as vitamin E in treating free radical damage to our cells.

might just have to buy in some for your pesto while you wait. The Korean pine (Pinus koraiensis) is also edible if you have the patience; the bonus is it’s extremely ornamental while you wait on a first crop. Technically all pines including our native Scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) contain edible seeds in their late season cones – but it’s the seed you eat not the cone – and it’s an option if you have an adventurous palate.

Mediterranean stone pine tree


Europe but hardy, disease resistant and delicious. Last but not least there is always the Chilean pine nut or Monkey Puzzle Tree (Araucaria araucana), a native of the south-central Andes long established as a garden ornamental in Ireland. This is more of a ‘I dare you’ recommendation as it is a long wait for a harvest, generally 30 to 40 years but eventually mature trees will produce large cones containing up to 200 nuts each. The other complication is you may need up to six mature specimens to get the right cross pollination to fertilise the flowers and yield fruit. The nuts are nice but life is short. It does however put the two to three year wait for all the other nuts in perspective!



Bigger than life It’s delusional to think you can ever have enough storage space, say Susan and Graham Rushe of Co Armagh Words: Astrid Madsen


BQ paraphernalia, lawnmowers and Christmas decorations have a way of filling up empty spaces, especially double garages! “Sometimes I wonder if we haven’t become hoarders,” muses Graham. “Do we really need 17 boxes of Christmas decorations? But then again, all four trees add to the magic of that time of year so it’s hard to see where to cut back. Maybe I should have built a basement, or have made the garage two storey.” Contributing to the pile up are a friend’s classic car and belongings from Graham’s dad. “Having a garage I could put my car in would be nice,” he jokes.

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Graham’s advice WHEN WE COVERED this story over ten years ago, we called it the House that built itself. Here are Graham’s secrets to a smooth build. l Do your homework, rubbing a line out or drawing a new one on paper costs nothing, on site it is a different matter. l Perhaps being pedantic helped us as it made sure switches, lights, doors being hinged on the right side were all dealt with before the construction process started.  l Visit lots of show houses, look at lots of plans. Immerse yourself in the design. l I think it helps being able to walk through your house in your mind so as to assist the positioning of hardware.  l Wait for the trades people you know, you want, or come highly recommended. It is worth it.  l Don’t despair; even after nights where the maths showed an overspend, there was always something else that came in as an underspend to make up for it. l Enjoy! I really loved the experience and would do definitely do it again.

The kitchen is very functional and big enough for more than one person to comfortably navigate.

Entertainment value

Thankfully indoors Graham finds the family has plenty of space to entertain. “My favourite design feature is probably the kitchen – we’re never in each other’s way. There is no choreographing around one another, even when there’s a party. The dining room is also fantastic, the table can sit 12 people for dinner very comfortably, an important asset as we do quite a bit of entertaining.” “There are only three of us living in the house but we continue to use every bit of it,” adds Graham, who shares his 3,500 sqft abode with wife Susan and son Connor, 15. “I think the proportions are just right; even though the house is big we never get a feeling of being lost or hear an echo, which has happened to me in some homes I’ve been to.” Connor was three when they moved in and despite the size, they’re still looking for places to put things. Graham had hoped to convert the attic into a music room for his son but as this space would have been considered habitable, and the house is already two storey, he would have had to put in fire doors to comply with the Building Regulations, and a staircase. “As a result that project became too expensive; also the amount of space that would have been required for a staircase would have meant sacrificing our study and moving it up in the attic.” So instead Connor put his 11 piece drum kit on the

landing and the xylophone under the stairs.

Add-ons and click-ons

The only addition made to the house since we profiled it over ten years ago was to tarmac the driveway, put in a lawn and install 50 sqm of decking in a spot that 

Plenty of room for Connor’s xylophone under the stairs.

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‘The one thing I would change, were I to do it again, is to add an isolation valve for the outdoor water supply.'

New decking area

gets sun for the longest part of the day. And up until recently, Graham wishes he had put in better cabling in the house: “Until wifi became more readily available I had regretted not having either structured multi-functional cabling or more RJ45 sockets in the house. Thankfully the wireless installation has cured that problem.” “The one thing I would change, were I to do it again, is to add an isolation valve for the outdoor water supply. It would be good to be able to stop the water getting to the outside taps in the winter to prevent the possibility of a burst pipe. The solution after the fact has been to put in a heat lamp above the pipes, it automatically switches on when the temperatures drop.”

Connor’s drum kit on the upstairs landing

Recirculating heat

The heat emitting system they chose has worked out especially well for the couple. “It’s a recirculating system, which is an alternative to underfloor heating. Vents in the walls of each of the rooms expel hot air, with thermostats to control the temperature. There are two zones upstairs and another two downstairs. The way it works is for the air to move around so in winter I’m always opening doors as opposed to closing them!” “It’s a great system, by the time you get home, take your coat off and put the kettle on, you can feel the house getting warm. The big rooms heat up within five minutes. The only thing I wouldn’t do again is add the air conditioning option, it turned out to be an extravagance we could do without.” At the end of the day, most selfbuilders aspire to building a house that can adapt to their changing family needs; Susan and Graham achieved just that. “What we’re really impressed by is that it very quickly went from a house to a family home,” adds Graham. 1 2 2 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

Upstairs landing ten years ago

The dining room Outbuilding crafted from house's leftover timber can seat 12 guests

CO WICKLOW / A LOOK BACK Wicklow Mountains house

From the Mountains to the Savanna Brian and Orla Jacobs arrived in Ireland in 2001 and after a three-year search, they found the perfect location to build their house. It was a four acre site in Co Wicklow with a rundown bungalow they eventually knocked down to build a 3,000 sqft German timber kit house.


ot exactly revolutionary but happy to espouse new ideas and methods, the couple provided a shining example of how to build an energy efficient, luxury home in just one month. Their advice at the time was to go for a full turnkey package to minimise stress. When we reconnected with Orla and Brian, they told us they had left Ireland in 2011. “We couldn’t have moved at a worse time so in a way we were lucky to sell. I think the reason we did is the house was a great concept, well built and very energy efficient. We sold it to someone in the

entertainment business,” confides Orla. “We did take a bit of a hit financially but we had a project waiting for us in Zambia – Brian was going to build an office block – we went where opportunity beckoned.” Brian had kept a hand in his Zambian construction business when he was living in Ireland. And with an affinity to self-building, the couple couldn’t pass up another unusual chance to build their dream home. “When we got there we bought six acres of bush on a proposed golf estate! We were the first to buy into it; thankfully we’re now at a stage where the 18 hole 

‘We couldn’t have moved at a worse time so in a way we were lucky to sell...the house was a great concept, well built and very energy efficient.' AU T U M N 2 0 1 7 / S E L F B U I L D / 1 2 3


House in Wicklow

Zambian home interior

Thatched pool house in Zambia

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House in Wicklow

Zambian home built of blockwork

international course is nearly complete,” says Orla, who’s still as effervescent and trail blazing in her approach as she was in Ireland. “From thick bush we have carved out our new home and garden. Our chosen build method this time was very different; we went for a Dutch gable style and solid block construction.” “And we have a thatched pool house – not exactly the same kind of thatched houses you’d get in Ireland but there are similarities!” “The problem here is not so much cold and damp, but heat, so we chose blockwork to maximse thermal performance. Our aim is to keep the house

cool; there is no need for a heating system instead we have fans and air conditioning with backup solar panels and battery invertor. It’s a different way of life.” The build process took much longer than their flash build in Ireland. But in this case going slowly was their preferred method. “We took our time to get all the details right as we weren’t under any pressure to move,” says Orla. “We found rental accommodation ten minutes up the road which was very comfortable.” But then disaster struck. “Our rental house, which was thatched, literally went up in flames. Thankfully no one was hurt but once the embers died down all we had left were the clothes on our back and whatever we were carrying.” “Luckily we were close to finishing off our self-build and were able to accelerate the pace. But we still had to find interim accommodation; our neighbours kindly let us use their cottage. We live in a wonderful country.” Their three – large – dogs and one grey parrot were farmed out to friends during this final phase. It’s funny to think that for their Irish self-build project, kinship and family played an important role with Orla’s mom living in Dublin, and that this proved to be the case in Zambia too with Brian’s family and friends. Sometimes the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Beekeeping the natural way


Even though beekeepers are at their most active in the Spring, Autumn is the time to get started on building your hive and ordering your bees for the following season. Here’s a guide to the Warré hive, an easy and biodiverse solution for novices.

Did you ? knorew pigs and

Words: Tanguy de Toulgoët

Long befo rst s were the fi e e b , ry lt u o p ave been animal to h farmed, industrially rian around Victo times.


he conventional way to get honey out of a hive is efficient but it has, in my opinion, many downsides. The first thing to consider is that the hives are quite complicated to make and rely on buying pre-made comb foundations (wax that is often loaded with pesticides). In addition you will have to feed the bees with sugar syrup – apart from the maintenance aspect, this will give you very sweet low-pollen honey which results in less flavour. Biodiversity is also often compromised as a result of conventional beekeeping because it is very common to import nonnative strains, and to produce grafted queens. Bees have developed to be genetically diverse to survive pests and diseases, by means of the weaker strains dying off and the stronger ones surviving, in true Darwinian style. Honey production therefore takes a back seat for api-centred beekeepers; the

‘conventional hives are quite complicated to make and rely on buying pre-made comb foundations which are often loaded with pesticides’ 1 2 6 / S E L F B U I L D / AU T U M N 2 0 1 7

focus is instead on cultivating healthy and diverse strains of local honeybees.

The Warré system

The conventional way of beekeeping replaced the very old skep system which was used in Europe up until the end of the second world war. Back in the day every small farmer managed skeps which consisted of a small hive made from straw, twigs or even bark, protected with a cover of cow dung and placed in a bee-hole or under a roof. As the native colonies were swarming,

the numbers would then expand threefold. The beekeeper killed these bees as the aim was to have the same amount of bees in winter and in the spring, a practice that has gone out of favour with all beekeepers for obvious reasons. In the wake of the second world war the conventional system was devised with wax foundations providing convenient inspection chambers. But around the same time a French abbot called Warré developed a way of running self-sufficient bee colonies. Wood, wax and sugar were scarce after the war and so he devised his


eponymous hive, a low cost hybrid skep/ wooden hive. Warré trialled over 350 different designs. Whilst his is the smallest one by volume, boxes can be conveniently stacked to increase output. The structure is technically called a vertical top bar hive, (the top bar is where the bees start attaching the comb), and it mimics a vertical hollow log. The Warré hive has the advantage of being easy to make and of keeping the core principle of skep beekeeping: the bees can make their own nest and do not rely on recycled wax foundation. Instead, bees can decide the size of the cells. Warré discovered that most of the feral colonies would build eight combs wide and that the combs would be attached to the side. Honey is always stored on top and acts as an insulation buffer. The nectar flow means more honey and this pushes the colony down, forcing it to build fresh combs. During the colder months, the winter cluster will come up through the honey, cleaning cells that will later be used for rearing the spring bees.


After you’ve built your hive, how should you start? As you are not going to be buying foundations that may be impregnated with pesticides, the bees will have to draw all the combs themselves which means you need a good flow of nectar. The best time to house bees in an empty Warré hive is May during the hawthorn flowering season. A strong swarm will be able to build two to three elements before the winter and the colony will have plenty of stores. This is what you are aiming for. The scent of a fresh wooden box is not very appealing to honeybees and it helps to rub the inside with lemon balm or lemon grass (called a swarm lure). A swarm is definitely the best way to start but bear in mind that it should, if possible, come from a non-swarmy strain (some types of bees will swarm very often and this leads to loads of hives with few bees – not a good combination for making honey). The second option is to buy a 2kg pack of bees with a queen from a reputable queen breeder in May-June (but order it as soon as possible to avoid disappointment). It’s very important that the provenance of your bees is verified. The bees should be Apis Mellifera Mellifera (Native Irish Black Bees) as they retain biodiversity and perform very well in a Warré hive. In Durrow, Co Laois, I never have had to feed them in winter. 


Glossary l A swarm is a large collection of bees made up of a queen bee and worker bees who have left the colony to form a new one. l A colony consists of honeybees that live in a hive. l The queen is at the heart of the colony, mother to all 50,000+ bees in the hive (a queen can lay up to 2,000 eggs in a day). If the queen dies a worker bee larvae is converted by the other bees into a queen bee larvae by making it larger and adding more royal jelly. l Grafted queens are made in batches, mimicking the natural process described above. However, as they are manmade the process can greatly reduce biodiversity. Warré hives simply consist of stacked boxes.

l A drone is a male bee. l Worker bees Any female bees that lack the full reproductive capacity of the colony’s queen, they build the comb and collect pollen and nectar, among other tasks. l Honeycomb Where honey is stored and eggs/larvae are laid. l Wax Honeycomb building block. l Propolis Natural antibiotic secreted by the bees and applied throughout the hive. Technically it’s a resinous mixture that honeybees produce by mixing saliva and beeswax with exudate gathered from tree buds and sap flow. l Winter cluster A tight, compact cluster of honeybees that forms on the honeycomb when temperatures drop below 10 degC. This keeps the bees warm in winter. l Nectar flow Literally when nectar flows from plants; March to September in Ireland. Nectar is used to make honey, and honey is what feeds the bees in winter. Pollen feeds the larvae and the bees too.

Pollen rich honey from pesticide-free Warré hives.

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Warré hives, two and three boxes tall.


Blood suckers Wikimedia Commons

VARROA, AN ASIAN MITE that breeds more quickly than bees, entered Ireland back in the 1990s with honeybee imports. The mites suck the bee’s blood and inject a cocktail of deadly viruses leading to the rapid collapse of colonies. While in winter vaporised oxalic acid and in summer thymol can be used to control infestation, it is a well-known fact now that most bee hives are nowadays infested with varroa when left untreated. It is very common therefore to spray bee colonies with pesticides to kill off the varroa but this has the big disadvantage of allowing the weaker bee strains to survive. A more long-term way to control varroa, in the view of those practicing treatment-free beekeeping, is natural selection by allowing the bees that are susceptible to the parasite to die off.


Build your own hive Want to learn more? Tanguy’s step by step guide to building a Warré hive is exclusively available on

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How can you manage the colony the second year?

The first year, the bees are going to build their new home and are going to gather enough honey for the winter and late spring the following year. They need around twelve kilos of honey, the equivalent of one Warré box. The second year, they are going to swarm. Some people leave them to swarm and they trap the swarm with a bait hive (a Warré hive with a swarm lure). They can be artificially swarmed by ‘driving’ the bees into an empty box with the help of smoke and noise. A much easier approach is to ‘split’ the colony. You take the top box, containing eggs and move it three kilometres away (if you move it closer some bees are likely to follow their known fly paths and return to the original hive). The bees are going to raise a new queen. It is very straightforward to get plenty of colonies with this system.

When are you going to harvest the honey and is it dangerous?

Late spring is the traditional time to harvest honey as it is the safest for the bees. If you have a colony going through the winter on three boxes with 20kg of stores, you will have the top box filled with honey in May and you could harvest at that time. The Warré system requires very little manhandling but when it is necessary to open the hive, always wear protective gear – bees will aim for the eyes so a veil and straw hat are a minimum. To keep the bees happy, it’s also best to position the hive eastwards and not mow the lawn nearby. Even though climatic conditions can also agitate the bees, generally speaking native Irish black bees are quite docile and shouldn’t cause any trouble. The one thing to avoid at all costs is mixed breeds – yellow bees bred with black, for example – as these tend to be aggressive.

Photographs courtesy of the Dunmore Country School ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Beekeeping is very complex and further reading is required. Some places to start: Books Natural beekeeping with the Warré hive, a manual (2013) by David Heaf ISBN 9781908904386 Beekeeping for all (1948) by Abbé Warré ISBN 9781904846529 At the hive entrance (1985) by H. Storch ISBN 9781502864703 Websites Natural bee-keeping Warré forum:ébeekeeping David Heaf website: David Heaf video on treatment-free beekeeping: Other resources:,,

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Scrapbook: Essential reading

Here’s a look at off-the-shelf and off-the-wall bijou homes.

Wiki plans

We’ve been following the progress of open source project Wikihouse with great interest and you can now download the Microhouse plans for free.

Small Homes is a case studies compendium of homes ranging 400 to 1,200 sqft (37 to 111 sqm) in size, built by the hands of their owners. Whilst most of the examples in the book come from across the Atlantic there are plenty of UK self-builds to get inspiration from too. The same publishers are behind the Tiny Homes and Shelter eco-warrior books.

Lap of luxury The ‘plug & play’ VIPP Shelter comes from Danish homeware designers of the same name. The company will make and furnish the entire 55sqm building at a cost of €580,000 including all interior finishes; freight/installation costs €58,000 (NI and ROI), excluding crane rental. Delivery time is six months and installation takes just three to five days.

Sold as seen

Small Homes: The Right Size by Llyod Kahn (2017 edition) ISBN 9780936070681, paperback, colour photographs throughout, 9’’x12’’, 232 pages, Shelter Publications In Ireland you can get your copy at Easons or online on

Andres Garcia Lachner

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Shipping containers A low-cost solution that continues to capture our imagination. Pictured here a self-built house made of two shipping containers for $40,000 in Costa Rica. The connecting roof is made of the metal taken out for the windows. Design by Benjamin Garcia Saxe of

James Sugrue Architectural Design Please contact us for a leaflet on tips, architectural principles and insights on renovating and extending your home. Also, includes ways to add value to your home.

- Building Energy Rating Certificate - Property Reports - Site Supervision - Project Management/ Co-ordination

Contact Details: James Sugrue Ballinvosherig West Tralee Co. Kerry

Our architectural expertise span a wide range of services: - Architectural Design - Planning Permission - Building & Land Surveyors

Projects include: - Residential New Build - Residential Extensions/ Refurbishments - Commercial Projects

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