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SelfBuild &Improve SPRING 2017 £3.50/€3.75

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ISSN 2049-3630


Security in the home The prefab house: is it for you?

Design fees Deciding where to put your house

Hygge interior design

Snag lists

Garden: Wood block Populating Spring Extensions: gaining Surviving inWastewater a treatment: Deep your flooring pond bulbs planning approval high tech world zero discharge retrofit systems

Cottage Book review: renovations Medicinal plants

SPRING 2017 Cover Photo: Dermot Byrne Photography Editor: Astrid Madsen Sales Director: Mark Duffin Advertising Sales: David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Patricia Madden Maria Varela Graphic Designer Myles McCann Subscriptions: Leanne Rodgers Printing: WG Baird Distribution: EM News Distribution Ltd

2017 is going to be another big year for technology, with Google Home and the Amazon Echo now on your doorstep. But this offering is quite a departure from what the 1980s promised. Even though Back to the Future hoverboards and self-lacing shoes now do exist, in the home we’re not so much focused on rehydrating pizzas but rather on cloud computing. Instead of automation taking place on our periphery, it’s much more intimate, linked to our smart phones and our online identities. It’s no surprise therefore that hacking is becoming a serious concern when it comes to using these devices for surveillance and even as keys. For more on this topic and other matters related to security in the home, turn to page 59. High tech also has to do with the new materials and methods that have emerged over the past decade – all new houses are now built to exacting standards (page 130), some are made of Insulated Concrete Formwork (page 14), others come straight out of the box (page 70). If these very thoughts make your head spin, turn to our survival guide on page 52 and find

out, on page 42, how much it will cost you to hire a professional to help you navigate the maze of self-building and home improving. At the other end of the spectrum is the traditional Irish cottage, built of a handful of materials – we put it in the spotlight on page 46. Window taxes meant fewer windows, quite a departure from our house configurations today. In fact with our extensive use of glazing, we’re increasingly becoming prone to suffer from overheating (page 112) – to achieve the right balance turn to page 80. For less technical topics, and for a bit of fresh air, consult our hyggelig interior design article starting on page 38; there’s also plenty to keep you inspired including our wood block flooring masterclass on page 122 and a top 10 list of the easiest bulbs to plant this spring, it begins on page 92.


For more images of your favourite projects featured in this issue, join us on

Happy building and improving!

Astrid Madsen

Our panel of experts for spring 2017 STUART BLAKLEY Stuart is a freelance writer for design-led publications; he also holds the full-time position of Senior Development Manager at Taylor Wimpey Central London. Email

DEBBIE ORME Debbie Orme is a freelance writer and editor, who works across a variety of subjects including business, healthcare, property, pregnancy/ parenting and the over 50s. She also ghost writes autobiographies and proofreads for a wide range of publications. Email: or call NI mobile 07739 356915.



Jim is an engineer who has worked within the energy sector throughout his career, delivering projects at European, national and regional level for public and private sector organisations, in the realm of conventional and renewable energy, demand management and technology development. Jim currently holds the role of CEO at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Ciaran is a woodwork and construction studies teacher in Moyle Park College, Clondalkin, Dublin. He qualified from the University of Limerick in 2005 with an Honours Degree in Materials and Construction with Concurrent teacher education. He resides in Leixlip, Co Kildare, email

FIANN Ó NUALLÁIN Award winning garden designer, author and broadcaster, Fiann has a background in fine art, sculpture, horticulture, ethnobotany and complementary medicine. He currently is a co-presenter on RTE 1’s Dermot’s Secret Garden programme. Check out Fiann’s blog on or send him a tweet @HolisticG

PAUL O’REILLY Paul is an award-winning entrepreneur, speaker, and energy consultant with over 25 years’ experience in energy efficiency, cost-effective improvements and the role of successfully integrated renewables. He is a founding member of ORS, a project management and consulting engineering company, and director of Watt Footprint, an e-commerce website based on his book of the same name.



Jimmy Lenehan is a Kilkenny based thatcher who started his training in 1992. His main interest is in historic buildings and as a sideline he lectures in conservation. When not thatching he can be found delving into the murky world of marine archaeology where he works as a commercial diver. Email

Art Mc Cormack, B.Arch. M. Sc. Agric. (in Land. Hort.); MSC. Urb. Des;. FRIAI, MILI, is co-director of architectural practice Mosart and of the Passive House Academy.

ANDREW STANWAY Andrew Stanway 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 STEPHENS Following architectural training in the UK and working for several high-profile architects, Mark set up his practice in Co Mayo to create well designed and functional buildings that are sustainable and eco-friendly. He is a member of RIBA and the RIAI, a Grade III conservation architect, and a certified passive house designer. Mark Stephens Architects, Bridge Street, Swinford, F12 PX21, Co Mayo, tel. 094 92 52514, mobile 085 159 4084, email: info@,

Published by SelfBuild Ireland Ltd. 119 Cahard Road, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7LA. Tel: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0570 Fax: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0576 E-mail: Directors: Clive Corry, Brian Corry & Mark Duffin 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.




Stop Press


A stream runs through it Case Study


The latest happenings and products of special interest to self-builders and home improvers.

Insulated Concrete Formwork was Tony Casey’s solution to building a curved house on a budget in Co Wicklow.

Hot and cold Case Study


Craig and Claire Adair of Co Antrim chose to demolish and build new to get the views they dreamt of, and a house that would be easy to heat.

Home is where the hygge is


Professional fees


Quaint and quintessential


Danish Modern contrasts with the lighter toned Swedish designs; here we delve into Denmark’s hygge psychology and how it can help you create the perfect interior. What do architectural designers and other construction professional charge? What can you expect for your pound or euro? Find out in our Q&A.

A history of the traditional Irish cottage and what you can expect if you plan to renovate one.

Surviving in a high tech world 52

A back to basics class for those struggling to make sense of the new building methods and materials now available to self-builders and home improvers.

Selfbuild & Improve Your Home Show Belfast 2017 We will be at the TEC Belfast from the 17-19 February. Gain some facts and figures for your project or just pick up ideas to make your home brighter and better.

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Security in the home


An essential guide to keeping your building site, house, garage and contents safe from burglary.

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Putting your house where it belongs


Choosing where to position your house on your building site is fundamental; find out what’s involved. Plus, discover how house orientation helped get things right for Emmanuelle Quinlivan of Co Cork and Jim MacLane of Co Tyrone.

Top 10 low maintenance bulbs 92 Go with the flow and plant some spring-time sensations for colour and vibrancy.

Eye on the prize Case Study


Let there be light! Case Study


Old kid on the block


Eye on Ireland


Notice Board




This renovation project in Co Carlow was a true labour of love for Ian Walsh whose sheer determination was what turned his dream into a reality.

Returning home from Australia, Rhea Kipling of Co Antrim wanted to add light to her home, and plenty of it! Thanks to a clever design she managed to turn the house on its head with a 13sqm extension.

Find out how to install wood block flooring in this beginner’s guide.

112 Open the box


Prefabricated houses will save you time and money; find out what’s involved and if this route may be for you.

Snaglists: what are they about? 76 House building is not like a car production line where quality control standards can be maintained; this is where the snaglists come in to highlight any defects prior to your moving in.

Everything you need to know about ROI’s new Help to Buy scheme. Product and industry news from the world of self-building and home improvement. Forget the old approach of simply adding insulation to your attic; deep retrofit is the next big thing in energy upgrades.

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SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

The Belfast, Dublin and Cork SelfBuild & Improve Your Home Shows are well known throughout Ireland as the leading home building expos, providing a wealth of information to anyone building new or improving their house in any of the 32 counties.

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Goldmine And last year, three lucky winners literally hit the jackpot!

At the Belfast Show Soaks Bathrooms sponsored a £5,000 prize to spend on any of their bathrooms which Paul Townsend of Co Antrim won. Paul and his wife Lara are self-building a one and a half storey bungalow in Co Antrim, going down the direct labour route. The couple have planning permission granted, appointed their builder and are just starting foundations. The property will be constructed with block and rendered in a white finish with stonework.

At the Dublin Show Majella McDonald won our amazing €5,000 cash prize, to spend with any exhibitor, for her two-storey 1800s terraced house in Co Wexford. Majella plans to extend above her existing 20sqm kitchen extension and completely reroof the building, changing the upstairs layout. She’s currently debating whether to spend her prize on the roof or new windows. “This is most definitely going to be a labour of love for us,” said Majella. “We hope to make as much use of the space as possible and make it our perfect little home.”

At the Cork Show Shane Flanagan was delighted to win the €5,000 cash prize for his and Orla’s vvery own 1960s eco-renovation and extension project, which he intends to spend with Munster Joinery on windows and doors. He’s already started the renovation and reconfiguration process with the necessary demolition work and is pouring the foundations for his extension. As it turns out, this prize couldn’t have come at a better time as he recently had to install piles for reinforcement, so the extra money will help make up some of this outlay. We wish Paul, Majella and Shane the very best of luck with their projects and look forward to hearing about their progress this year.

Shane Flanagan with his wife Orla

Above: 3D rendering by David Sheridan of OC Architects and Design,

These ventures show the breadth and wealth of what’s possible in the world of self-building; the possibilities are literally endless! Find out how you can turn your dreams into reality at the next SelfBuild & Improve Your Home Show near you – log on to or


Aerstad Fitted

Aerstad Not Fitted

The Aerstad being fitted on a new build

You may have heard of the ‘fabric first approach’ – when building new it’s vital to get the insulation and airtightness right in the first instance, and only then build upon this base with additional energy saving components. In other words, it is counterintuitive to have a highly efficient heating and ventilation system in place if the house is losing energy through uncontrolled air leaks or cold bridges, which is heat loss around insulation points. In fact draughts can occur in places you might not imagine, including at the junction between the vertical and horizontal elements of the house. A new product on the market to help you minimise one such cold bridge, where the floor and walls meet, is the Aerstad developed by Atlantic Air. Designed to prevent air flow from the cavity walls passing through the floor and into the house, the Aerstad wraps around your precast concrete floor or joist to create an uninterrupted seal. The system consists of an end cap made of plastic into which the floor support is inserted; it’s then sealed in place with airtightness tape on all sides. According to a study by Queens University Belfast, the product can improve performance by up to 20% and the company says the typical payback period is less than three years. To get a supply and fit quote send your plans to Atlantic Air, 101 Dunamore Road, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone, BT80 9PF, tel. 8675 1025,

Floor ace

Modular or prefabricated building products offer many benefits – cost, speed of delivery, manufacturing in quality controlled conditions. (As a case in point, see our article on kit houses starting page 70.) New in this exciting and rapidly expanding realm of products is the Spantherm by Creagh Concrete, a thermally efficient structural flooring alternative to the traditional methods of forming the ground floor. The prefabricated insulated floor, replete with reinforced concrete, EPS insulation and services voids, boasts U-values as low as 0.12 W/sqmK (there is a choice of three performance options). Cold bridging at the wall and floor junctions is also kept to a minimum thanks to its integrated design which significantly boosts its performance within SAP calculations. The slabs are all 375mm deep, 400mm to 1200mm wide with varying lengths (dependent on the project), bonded together with a structural concrete grout. A levelling compound is added on top, or alternatively a concrete screed can be specified for underfloor heating.  Speed is another benefit; a typical 90 sqm ground floor can be installed in just 90 minutes, ready to be fully loaded after just 72 hours. There is no waste or products to store on site and build programmes can be reduced by up to one week compared to traditional wet pour, or beam and block systems. Creagh Concrete will supply the thermal calculations as well as the design drawings; the system is fully compatible with both masonry and timber frame construction. They can also fit the product for you or simply deliver it on site.   Find out more from Creagh Concrete Products Limited, 38 Blackpark Road, Toomebridge, Co Antrim, BT41 3SL, tel. 7965 0500,

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Seal the deal

Plug and play When it comes to innovative products, solutions that reduce cost and complexity come in time. In the world of home automation Hager has just launched the KNX easy for new builds, taking the programming headache out of hardwired installations. At its core is a compact configuration server that can easily be connected to your switchboard by your registered electrician. This interface then communicates with your KNX installation. Hager supplies compatible Berker products, including a GPS weather control unit for your blinds, which can readily be linked to the server. But if you already have KNX supported products, these can be used also. To make it all work, you need to add the EasyLink app to your tablet, phone or PC; the software will walk you through all the steps, and at the end, act as your control panel. With prices starting at approx. €18 per switching channel, whoever said home automation had to be a luxury? Find out more from Hager Ireland, Unit M2 Furry Park Industrial Estate, Santry, Dublin 9, D09 NY19, tel. 01 8835844, ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)


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case study

A stream runs through it Tony Casey always loved going down to the waterway at the end of his garden; so when retirement loomed he took it as his opportunity to build beside it.


e bought a one acre site in 1999 on which we built a timber frame house,” says Tony. “As we approached retirement a few years ago, we decided to build ourselves a mortgage-free, low maintenance house.” “Because we liked where we lived, we decided to split the site in two, build in the back garden and sell the original house.” Their first self-build informed many of their decisions. “Back in the early 2000s we acted as project manager and it was quite difficult organising the trades as we were in the midst of a property boom. I was on site every day dealing with all aspects.” “I knew that with this retirement home, a hands-on self-build would be too much of a strain. We both had day jobs and couldn’t commit.” adds Tony. The couple got planning permission for what they refer to as a ‘standard’ house. “We’re lucky to be near mains sewage so percolation wasn’t an issue, and planning permission was relatively easy to secure.” „

More photographs available at


case study The stream provides heat and hot water through a heat pump.


It’s only when they got the okay that their architect suggested tweaking the plans to achieve something special. “The children had all left the house so we didn’t feel a need for a traditional farmhouse layout with sitting room and dining room. We really wanted something different, yet a modern style,” continues Tony. “We’ve always liked the idea of simple lines and have an affinity for Art Deco. We decided it would be best to wait to get the design right.” “It took us two months to agree on the new plans – what our designer came up with we immediately fell in love with and we decided to go with it.” “The irony is we built an even bigger house than we had before, but we wanted a home in which we could happily spend our retirement, without feeling like we had to add or change anything.” The house makes the most of the stream views; the four bedrooms are upstairs, one of which is a study, and there’s a balcony off the master bedroom. “Our designer advised us to hire the services of a quantity surveyor, to get an idea of cost and what we could afford,” adds Tony. “This helped us navigate through the tendering stage.” “We priced the contract out to a few building companies but that turned out to be way too expensive so we hired a project manager. Having someone to be there, organise the trades and monitor progress, is vital. It made the build so simple to have him on board, nothing went wrong.” “Even though our budget was limited we spent money where it mattered most to us. The QS had given us a guide and we used that to direct our spend.” “In terms of tradesmen, we had some recommendations from our son, who’d just completed a self-build, but even at that it was just so much easier to have the project manager negotiate terms and prices with these companies.

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

It’s so much less stressful to be removed from that process yet still be involved.”

The building envelope consists of ICF.

Going on stream

A priority was to make sure the people who bought their original home would remain good neighbours so a lot of thought was given to privacy. “The windows facing the neighbours’ house are all high level, so while we do get light we can’t see out,” says Tony. The large expanses of glazing face the private side with the stream, a water course which provides heating and hot water for the house through a heat pump. The heat collector consists of an underground concrete holding tank; a 3m deep well was dug to get to a minimum temperature of 8degC. (Water from the well is also connected to the garden hose to prevent using mains water.) Stream water collected in the tank then enters the heat pump through the heat exchanger; this allows the heat to be extracted and disbursed throughout the house via underfloor heating pipes „


case study The plant room (open door above) was added during the build stage in a bid to rehouse large and noisy machinery away from the utility room.


both upstairs and down. The used water is dumped back into the stream without contamination. “There are no real fluctuations in the heat we can generate in summer and winter,” adds Tony. The system can also require boosting at night for hot water. “The only real problem we have is when friends visit from America, they expect a blast of heat in the house but with underfloor heating you just get a nice ambient temperature.” Their only utility bill is electricity including heating, cooking and appliances, and it comes in at roughly €160 per month. There’s a wood burning stove with sealed exit point (logs are lit in winter for cosiness) and a heat recovery system. “There’s no real maintenance to the place,” comments Tony. In terms of landscaping they were presented with an ideal situation; the garden was mature and the immediate area around the stream, having always held a special place in Tony’s heart, had been cared for. Within a couple of weeks, the building site was a distant memory. “I just love the garden and pottering about in it,” says Tony. The house is well above stream level to avoid the possibility of flooding. One change during the build which proved to be a very practical one was to move the plant room to underneath the ground level balcony. “There were no plans for this space, it was going to be left open, and since it really made sense to put all the noisy stuff away from the house we just added a room down there. It had the added

benefit of giving us more storage in the utility room as that’s where that heating equipment was originally meant to go.”

The ICF choice

Despite having gone down the timber frame route on their first self-build, insulated concrete formwork (ICF) was the chosen method for this project. “The same reasoning was behind both builds; we wanted it to be quick and easy as well as providing a thermally efficient building envelope. Because of the large amount of curves, we felt ICF was the most cost effective way to get the shapes we wanted. It also had the added benefit of concealing all drainage pipes, none are visible on the exterior of the house as they are embedded within the walls.” Pipes were concealed within the external wall insulation; drainage for the balconies was diverted through the vertical hollow structural steel supports. The ICF structure has two layers of polystyrene making the walls 250mm thick. These hollow insulation cases were then filled with concrete poured on site. “Our project manager specialises in ICF and knew someone who could cut out the semi circles without it costing an arm and a leg,” says Tony. “We reined in the costs everywhere we could.” The finish is a smooth weatherproof render. Due to the open plan design, cantilevered balconies and large window openings, the „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study The staircase was cast in reinforced concrete and clad with Tuscan limestone


structural engineer recommended the use of in-situ concrete floors, roof and balconies which incorporated an insulated connection bar system to avoid cold bridging. Steel supports were easily integrated into the ICF design. The feature staircase was also constructed in concrete. “We’d had a timber staircase in our previous home but considering the need to cast a curve it seemed logical to go with reinforced concrete,” says Tony. “It was cast in situ, with the walls wrapping around the staircase in a curve.” “It was built on site, the timber helter-skelter was put up first with ring beam and mesh, and then the concrete was poured. It’s a self-supporting structure.” The stairs are covered in Tuscan limestone. “Our supplier recommended we buy the same stone for all of the tiled areas of the house, so we put them in the kitchen and hall too, and I do think it works really well. We’ve also put them outside for continuity.” Further enhancing the connection to the landscape and to the views is the use of frameless glass guardrails. “The issue in terms of cost was getting the right balustrade and handrail for the staircase, you can spend a fortune on things like that. I went looking online and found the Prince de Galles hotel in Paris had a style we really liked, and we copied it – it looks like narrow slits of windows. Our project manager found someone local who could do it and the result is a lot more impressive than what it cost us.” For the roof, a concrete ring beam was placed on the ICF walls to act as a support for the flat roof deck, which was made of waterproof

concrete. “I was more nervous building this house than the timber frame one but it all went like clockwork,” enthuses Tony. “Another plus when it comes to building with concrete as opposed to timber is the upper storey – noise doesn’t travel between floors.”

The complications of simplicity

The art deco style of the house dictated some of the finishes. “The rooms are 10ft tall downstairs, upstairs 8ft, and you’ve got this line in the hall going straight to the roof so we had to put in a „

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


modern, quality, aesthetic, performance, beauty, functionality

From Scandinavia to Northern, Eastern and Central Europe the Amberline range of windows are the first choice for new build and renovation projects. Our windows meet the highest performance requirements in the most demanding weather environments so you can be assured of the quality and performance of our products. The team in Amberline Ireland have over 20 years experience in the Construction Sector and have been installing Amberline windows & doors for over 10 years. We specialise in large size windows and sliders. If you would like more information on our window and door ranges or a quotation for your project please get in touch

Amberline Ireland, Unit Q4 Marina Commercial Park,Centre Park Road, Cork - - Tel 085 724-3477/ 086 402-7882

case study The lampshades throughout are Danish Modern reproductions, found online.


statement pendant light to fill the space.” To achieve the minimalist look, the couple gave thought to colour – white walls, grey skirting boards – and hiding not only services but clutter too. The entire living room, kitchen and dining area is open plan with access to the balcony where they have their breakfast, weather permitting, above the stream running its course below. With so much going on in one space it’s hard to keep on top of things, as Tony explains. “Our utility room is hidden from view, accessible from the kitchen through a sliding door that looks like a cupboard. When guests come around, we throw everything in there out of sight, and the mess just disappears...” One benefit of having moved the heating and hot water equipment to the area beneath the ground floor balcony was saving space in the utility room. “The utility is also where all internet and other wired controls lead to, and it doubles up as

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

a wine cellar – I enjoy a good bottle of red and I’m lucky to get them as presents. Then there’s the laundry area. It’s a good thing we didn’t have to put much more in there!” In the kitchen all appliances are concealed, and for the extractor they went with a periscopic wall mount. “The extractor drops down about a foot when we’re cooking; to avoid hearing the fan we installed it in the utility. It’s controlled with a remote – the only problem with that set up is we can forget to turn it off.” The heat recovery ventilation system, meanwhile, was concealed within the building ceilings and connected to a heat exchanger unit located on the first floor. The lighting in the open plan was also given a lot of thought; when cooking, the area can be flooded with light thanks to spots and recessed lighting. There is no pendant light at the extractor to avoid casting shadows. LED strips were set up under the units to

allow for different colour variations. “We wanted ambiance as the minimalist style can tend to have a clinical look. Adding colour with lighting does help provide warmth. We have a few strategic spots to help with this, and architectural features, pendant lights in the living area and one above the dining table.” In the bathroom the sense of calm is achieved by their choice of using the same tile on the floor and walls. “We cut the colours down to keep the palette to a minimum. The furniture provided the opportunity to add more homeliness,” says Tony. “Many of the lights are of Danish design – we went online to get ideas, and found reproductions of 1920s models.” To echo the curves in the house downstairs the hallway was shaped in a similar fashion but built with standard partition walls and good plastering.

The open plan area required careful planning to lend a modernist feel; one strategy was to have the extractor hood deploy from a false ceiling above the island, another was to hide the utility room behind a kitchen cabinet door

Lessons learned

Tony’s advice for a stress-free build is to get a good project manager with an eye for detail who „


case study Ground Floor Plan First Floor Plan


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Astrid Madsen House size: 3,000 sqft Plot size: 1/2 acres Build cost including fees: around €500,000


Walls: monolithic ICF concrete super structure (ICF expanded polystyrene block filled with reinforcing bars and concrete) supported on solid blockwork on traditional concrete strip foundations and mini piles taken down to adequate load bearing strata. Internally gypsum plasterboard covering EPS fixed directly to integral recycled plastic webs; externally additional 100mm layer of EPS and finished in through coloured glass fibre mesh reinforced white polymer resin coating.

case study

can supervise the trades and who will insist on the highest standards. “Ours kept the build costs down and still made sure there were no shortcuts. The quantity surveyor’s guide price also helped us identify cost savings and overruns as we went along,” he says, thankful his self-build experience was such an enjoyable one. “During the construction process changes were discussed and their impact considered in relation to the budget. We had no surprises and so were able to keep the costs in line, whereas a fixed price contract would have resulted in expensive overruns for changes made during construction,” opines Tony. “As good as our suppliers were, having a professional there to back you and to fight your corner made the difference for us. We know that if we ever want to sell – if the house becomes too big to maintain and we want to get an apartment – we know that it will be easy to do, which provides peace of mind, and flexibility.” The house was completed a year ago and already Tony is getting excited by another selfbuild. “My son just finished building his own timber frame house and my daughter is now looking for a site in Australia. I’m eagerly waiting to hear more.” Whether or not she follows through, what’s clear is Tony seems to have passed on the self-build bug to his children! n

U-value 0.16W/sqmK. Windows: triple glazed, composite pine and aluminium with factory applied internal finish, soft coat low-e, argon gas with special noise reduction. U-value 0.82W/sqmK. Floor: reinforced ground floor concrete slab covered in 200mm EPS linked to EPS walling blocks and finished with a 100mm reinforced screed containing the underfloor heating. Subfloor radon soil gas control system comprising of membrane, sump, and external ventilation pipe capable of future fan installation. Polished Italian marble floor finish. Roof: warm roof system comprises of a reinforced roof concrete slab with waterproof additive, covered in 200mm to 300mm tapered PIR insulation boards to perimeter roof outlets and PVC waterproof membrane - single ply roofing membrane taken up and over parapets with patent capping trim installed. Airtightness: air permeability rating of 2cum/(h.sqm). The complete building envelope is thermally designed approximately 25% above the minimum Building Regulations.

The project manager oversaw all phases of the build.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architectural services Mark Davies MCIAT, Arc Design, Delgany, Co Wicklow, tel. 01201 0377, Engineer Rene McNally & Associates Project Management Laurian Nasaudeanu, ICF Amvic Windows & Doors Nordan Aluclad Triple Glazing from Carroll Door Depot, Dublin 12, Heating & Plumbing Open loop water source heat pump by Water Furnace Envision, heat recovery ventilation by Vent Axia supplied and fitted by Andrew Firman & Co Ltd, Latimerstown, Co Wexford,

Tiles Thala limestone for walls and floors from Fergus McCabe of Tuscan Stone & Bathrooms, Kitchen Design Supply & Fit Philip Patrick of The Design Yard, Electrician Paul Kennedy, Kenmac Electrical, Bray, Co Wicklow, mobile 0879791332, email Roof PVC membrane: Sika -Trocal; PIR insulation: Kingspan TT46 Photography Dermot Byrne Photography Brookhaven, Herbert Road, Bray, Co. Wicklow tel. 01 282 9560

ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)


case study

Hot and cold Highly glazed, well proportioned, angular designs have some very exciting qualities, lending homes a truly contemporary feel. But living in a house like this can take some getting used to, as Craig and Clare Adair of Co Antrim found out. The same red cedar was used on the house as on the gate.

More photographs available at



e’d always dreamed of living in an open plan house, but never got a chance to experience it. So when our architect suggested we visit a few homes he’d designed, we couldn’t wait to see what they would be like,” says Craig. “And we weren’t disappointed, we loved how bright and airy these spaces felt.” Their existing home was in need of an upgrade – its 900 sqft size was now too small as the family had expanded, and having been built in the 1930s the couple found it hard to heat. “Also the bungalow really didn’t make the most of the site; we have a lovely view but couldn’t enjoy it unless we went outside.” They first considered extending at the back and above, in parallel with a renovation, but it quickly made more sense to demolish and start from scratch. “Considering the amount of work that would have gone into the renovation, and as new builds are VAT exempt, both from a construction and cost point of view it was easier to build new,” adds Craig. “It also removed the headache of having to go through an energy upgrade as we wanted to get a really well insulated house. Considering our past „

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case study Craig and Clare pined for a modern style of architecture

experience we didn’t want it to cost a lot to run or be difficult to keep warm.” Craig and Clare opted for the timber frame route and chose a supplier early on. This company helped them find an architect familiar with this building method. “It was an instant fit, we loved his style,” says Craig. The site is sloping and this dictated part of the design. “It’s a 40m long site that’s barely 13m wide; and it’s on an incline so it was a challenge providing access to construction machinery. We also had to figure out how to make space for parking at the front. Those were the main challenges insofar as I was concerned,” adds Craig. Planning permission was secured without any major conditions and the architect acted as

project manager throughout. “I have a friend who went down the direct labour route and I think it cost him more in the long run; it was certainly a coordination nightmare and I didn’t want to have to go through this as we’d just had a son and we both work,” explains Craig. “So for the construction we went to tender and received four bids, we hit it off with the builder we chose and they came in the cheapest. It was an easy decision!” “We had monthly meetings and from day one the questions came in – where do you want the sockets? What tiles do you want? Each question had a deadline attached to it and this kept the build running smoothly. The builder was happy because we never kept him waiting.” The construction work started in May 2012 and was completed in February 2013, with the couple renting a house nearby while the demolition and rebuilding took place.

Stylistic choices

Being so compatible with family life, the open plan area is where they spend most of their time. “This is also where we get the views which we can finally enjoy,” enthuses Craig. “The kitchen designers helped us choose a walnut and cream finish, we also went with a butcher’s block, wine cooler, and a sink that all blend into a minimalist finish. We have an induction hob and an American style fridge freezer.” To complete the look they selected a composite stone splashback. Inspiration kept coming from various places. “Our builder found „


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case study Front door facing the road

the oak stairs, he recommended we use walls to enclose it instead of balustrades, which makes it feel very modern.” To continue in this streamlined style their flooring supplier helped them choose English wooden boards for the upstairs. Downstairs they installed the same tiles throughout, with marble in the main bathroom for a touch of luxury. “When we went into this I thought interior designers were just for the rich; I really wish I’d known from the start that you can hire someone to advise you on all the decoration and as long as you buy from them, there is no fee,” says Craig. “We originally went for an all-white scheme and it was a bit cold. Something was missing, it just wasn’t right and we didn’t really know what to do about it. We left quite a few aspects unfinished as we couldn’t decide on a style.” The composite stone they chose in the kitchen was reused for the fireplace hearths. “We agreed with the interior designer this was a good choice, not just aesthetically but because it’s so handy to

clean.” Around the fireplaces are wooden units spray painted the same colour as the walls. The interior designer in fact helped them pick out everything from wallpaper to silver paintings, from the mirrors to the light shades. “The home changed overnight! It was amazing. He got his painter in and his own joiner and electrician, as we not only added table lamps but also fittings. Hiring a designer really isn’t a luxury; I’d recommend it to anyone without a clear vision of what the inside of their house will look like.”

The artificial grass is maintenance free but the pavers require weeding


As they say, every house should sit well in its place and time. For Craig and Clare the house provides an ideal environment in which to raise a family, but there are times when they do dream. “It’s great having the children in the open plan area to keep an eye on them, but as they grow up we envisage using the living room at the front of the house a lot more as it’s very cosy with the gas „


case study 32

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case study

fire, it’s a wonderful place to retreat to.” They tend to turn it on in winter for effect, roughly thirty minutes at a time. An aspect they hadn’t factored in was the downside to having very large expanses of glazing without some form of brise soleil (solar shading and shutters) to block out the sun in the summer months. “I didn’t realise it could get too warm,” says Craig. “Even though we have triple glazing upstairs, due to the weight of the glass the sliding doors downstairs had to be double glazed.” “In the open plan area we can simply slide the doors open and get a nice breeze in to cool the space but as the heat rises, we found that it could get hot upstairs – opening the windows there didn’t really seem to help.” “In the children’s bedroom the temperature could reach 27 degC and even opening the rooflights didn’t provide relief. We just couldn’t cool the rooms enough so we put in reflective blinds and I eventually got a portable air conditioning unit.” In winter they keep warm downstairs with underfloor heating, which only kicks in for about an hour and a half per day, while upstairs they „

The large amount of glazing, and the lack of brise soleil, can bring the upstairs bedroom temperatures up to 27degC


case study The new house now provides the views Clare and Craig wanted to be able to enjoy

Below right: The stairs were encased between two walls to lend a contemporary feel and to avoid the need for balustrades


installed radiators. “We have a total of four zones: one for hot water, two are downstairs and the other is upstairs for the bedrooms. We put in an electric underfloor heating mat in the bathroom upstairs and I’m glad we did; it’s great to have when stepping out of the bath.” The thermostats are in the utility, off the front hall and the boiler is gas. “Our bills are now roughly £60 per month for electricity and £40 for gas. We installed solar panels so there is no need for hot water from the boiler up until October. There are three panels and they supply all of our needs; we also get a grant payment for seven years, which is helping

pay for them,” explains Craig. The finishing touch Craig couldn’t do without is their electric front gate. “We didn’t do it at the start but it really helped embed the house in its landscape. It finished off the project, it gave the façade a great lift. We used the same red cedar as in the house’s external cladding.” Outside they also love the addition of artificial grass. “No mud, no mess and with the trampoline and slide for the kids, we have an ideal space for them to play in,” adds Craig. “The only downside is that even though the brick pavers provide a wonderful surface to walk on, there’s still weeding to do. But that beats „

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case study

having to cut the grass on a slope on a weekly basis, as we used to when we lived in the original house.� It goes to show, getting a house to be truly maintenance-free is almost impossible to achieve. n Astrid Madsen The flooring upstairs is English oak, and in the bathroom marble for a touch of luxury

House size: 206 sqm Site size: 512 sqm EPC: 82 (B)


Construction type: timber frame with external blockwork Walls: 100mm outer leaf concrete block with sand:cement render, 50mm ventilated cavity, 9mm OSB ply covered in breathable membrane fixed to 140x38mm timber studs at 400mm centres to timber frame specification with 140mm mineral wool insulation between studs.

Vapour control layer fixed to inside of timber frame. 50x50mm counter battens fixed to timber studs with 50mm fibreglass insulation between counter battens with 37.5mm insulated plasterboard. U-value 0.13 W/sqmK. Roof: Fibre cement slates on breathable membrane to roof truss, vapour control layer pinned to underside of rafter, 400mm fibreglass insulation, ceiling to first floor 37.5mm plasterboard screw fixed to 50mm counter battens fixed to underside of joists. U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Floor: tiles on 50mm screed, vapour barrier, 150mm EPS with graphite board, DPM on 150mm reinforced concrete sub-floor slab on 25mm sand/blinding on 225mm compacted hardcore on adequate bearing strata. U-value 0.13 W/sqmK. Windows and doors: thermally broken double glazed polyester powder coated aluminium windows and cills to achieve a U-value of 1.6 W/sqmK or less.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect John Lavery, BGA Architects, Newtownards, Co Down, tel. 9181 5736, Builder W&R Moore Ltd, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, tel. 90842724, Bathroom Haldane Fisher, Landscaping Cameron Landscapes, Belfast, tel. 90826467, Artificial grass Lazylawn, tel. 90 795069, Screed RTU, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, tel. 90851441,

Tiles Terra Firma NI, Belfast, tel. 90403000, Gates CIM Engineering, Glenarm, Ballymena 07732436626 Kitchen John Teuton Design, Belfast, Co Antrim, mobile 07802 641411,; Sinquastone composite stone sourced from Lamont Stone, Coleraine, L’Derry, tel. 7032 8882, Insulation Floor: Springvale Platinum Floorshield; walls: Knauf FrameTherm 35

Boards Plasterboard: Gyproc Duplex, Wall OSB ply: Smartply Membranes DPM: Visqueen; wall breather membrane: Protect TF 200 Thermo; wall and roof vapour control membranes: pro clima Intello Plus Gas boiler Baxi, Photographer Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Belfast, tel. 9024 5038,

ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)


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Home is where the hygge is Scandinavian designs have been so popular of late that an entire nation’s approach to individual wellbeing and communal life, hygge, has started to enter our very own Irish psyches.


hances are, you’ve already heard about hygge, much touted as the antidote to our overly busy, stressed out and scattered ways. The concept is equally practical as it is existential, epitomising the Danish way of life. In the words of author Charlotte Abrahams, it celebrates comfort and gentle, understated pleasures. Here are some insights from her latest book on the topic.

Where does hygge fit in as a design style?

CA: In the 1940s most people in Denmark still connected the concept of hygge with upholstered furniture and curtains. Danish Modern, which was

Main image: Lene Bjerre Design

emerging at that time, changed that. Designers and craftsmen such as Borge Mogensen introduced a simpler style of furniture focused on natural materials, comfort and quiet, modest beauty. It’s an aesthetic that has come to characterise Danish design and therefore is now the one that’s most commonly associated with hygge.

What’s the difference between the Scandinavian style and Danish Modern?

CA: There are more similarities than differences, but Danish Modern tends to be darker in colour – teak was a popular wood. Historically, Danish design drew on English influences whereas Swedish design for example looked more towards France for inspiration.

How is hygge defined in the context of the home?

CA: There isn’t anything particularly special about hygge’s approach to homemaking: the desire to live


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somewhere warm and comfortable, somewhere that we find aesthetically pleasing and that speaks of who we are is age-old and universal – all hygge does is give that desire a set of tenets and a name. Hygge is far too self-effacing a concept to impose itself on anyone. A ‘hyggelit hus’ in fact translates to ‘a common house’. There’s nothing spectacular or showy, instead the house provides warmth in every sense of the word. The idea that a space must cocoon its occupants is important as is spending time with family and friends but there are many other elements too. It calls for total immersion in the moment; it’s about simple pleasures and the need to pay attention to our wellbeing. Parties with friends and family tend to focus on conversation and are therefore generally not big affairs, only a select few are invited, those who are close to you or those you want to know better. Hyggelig homes contain cosy corners to retreat into. Home cooked food is part of hygge so the kitchen is central to the concept too. Every room you spend time in needs to provide an embrace.

Of course, too much cocooning can be suffocating and there is a certain interiority to hygge that is troubling. It is a concept that looks in rather than out, that puts comfort and security at its centre; that advocates huddling around the home fire with family and close hygge? u pronounce hoo-ga, yo o d friends while strangers w o h h, So just ask, hue-ga and storms rage on who you s ick. d p n r e u p e yo d It you take , h u outside. -e t a Dane -g e w h-e hard to bea e b ’ll it , se The ease of hygge uld you choo robably wo Whichever hyggelists p is seductive, and it e lly th a s re a ’t so sn doe saying it of the day it would be easy to d do it. n e u e yo th s t a a as long agree, it ce n u o overdo things, easy to n you pro making its also slowly matter how is e g lapse into the kind of yg h , term nary as verb And yes, the self-satisfied withdrawal nglish dictio E e th s e to ti in ili y ib ss wa from the challenges of ive… the po ! noun, adject ss le d n e re a life that I have always with hygge resisted. But then to overdo hygge would be most unhyggelig. Everything in moderation is the hyggelig way, even hygge itself. „

a? h o o h f o t A lo



months of darkness – it does get cold and that’s another factor but I think it’s mostly a reaction to the lack of light in the winter months that have spurred on the need for cosy, conversational areas to eat, drink and chat in. I have asked lots of Danish people to tell me what they thought constituted a hyggelig interior and every one of them began by talking about the weather; the long winters mean that their homes are designed with shelter in mind. Danish furniture tends to be made from warm, natural materials and its forms are often rounded, womb-like and embracing.

You’ve renovated a 1960s bungalow, how did hygge factor in?

Do the Danes describe the weather as ‘soft’ or ‘drying’ as we do in Ireland?

CA: I’ve kept myself distanced from Denmark, and I make a virtue of this outsider’s position in the book as I think it gives some perspective. So I can’t really say whether their expressions are similar. But weather is clearly a fundamental reason why hygge was developed. They had to find a way to get through all those

CA: I hadn’t come across hygge when I moved into the bungalow but I did have a decorative plan that embraced both my pattern-loving maximalist, and Le Corbusian minimalist sides. I wanted a home that made me smile when I walked in. So even though I did not make this home with hygge in mind, I do feel it’s a commemoration of my true self which to me is quintessentially hyggelig. Once I discovered hygge, I looked at my house again and was interested to find other hyggelig qualities, the open plan is one. As it avoids shutting people in separate rooms, it’s an architectural manifestation of the concept. It encourages family togetherness above everything else. Zoning is a great solution to the dichotomy of large open plan areas and the small and cosy; the idea is to use the furniture to create intimate areas within the larger space. Danish furniture often looks good from all angles, I believe in part for this reason. I’m not averse to a little unnecessary glamour, and I do have a wish list of statement furniture in my head in case of an unexpected windfall, but it turns out the most hyggelig thing of all about my bungalow is not the abundance of commemorative clutter, the wooden furniture or even the cosy zones. It is its lack of grandeur.

What simple tips can you give for a hyggelig facelift?

CA: Warm light and comfy zones are two simple things to achieve. Artificial light, in the same way as natural light, works best when it comes from different angles. Consider mixing pendant, table and floor lamps to produce layers of ambient light. For those of us who can’t illuminate our homes with Danish design classics such as Poul Henningsen’s artichoke shade, you could instead opt for a shade with paper or fabric lining to allow light to pass through or a ‘light diffuser’ shade which consists of a disc popped into the bottom ring of a pendant light to cover the bulb and turn the glare into a hyggelig glow. If you have a small, single-function sitting room then making it hyggelig is pretty straightforward; simply pull the furniture in slightly from the walls, put a rug in the centre of the circle and add some strategically placed ambient lighting around the


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Poul Henningsen PH5 light

Hygge is often associated with candles – is it a philosophy that can be accessorised?

CA: The Danes love candles, apparently burning more per head than any other nation. You can mass them in the fireplace to great effect or create clusters on the table. I personally don’t like them as the flickering light gives me migraines but I do use the wood burning stove on winter evenings to give me some of that hyggelig warmth. Whichever way you accessorise your home it has to be done for your comfort. I have a great deal of wobbly handcrafted crockery bought from makers whose names I know and my windowsills are home to displays of unexceptional objects rich in personal meaning. Candles or not, hygge is all about your own life, the people and things around you that make it special and that will help you enjoy being ‘in the moment’. n Charlotte Abrahams


edges. A low-slung pendant in one corner and floor standing uplight in the other would be a good look. If there’s room add a floor cushion and don’t forget the soft throws over the backs of chairs. In an open plan or multifunctional room it may take more work; the success as I described earlier lies in zoning which means using your furniture to create intimate spaces that invite conversation. A fireplace makes an obvious focal point but you can also mark out spaces with rugs and a huddle of chairs (so people can talk to each other without shouting). In the bedroom you can also divide space with a corner dedicated to a two seater sofa or chairs; also consider a comfy armchair near the bath. DIY is the ultimate in hygge; the process of throwing your own pot or sewing your own quilt fulfils the requirement for mental presence. Plus, the finished piece not only carries your personal mark, it is also imbued of the memories of its making. Coming a close second is buying from the maker; you will feel a connection every time you use or look at the item.

Modestly beautiful furniture The two most important pieces of furniture in a hyggelig home are the sofa – squashy, piled high with throws/cushions and spacious enough for the entire family – and the dining table which should be both informal and egalitarian. For the table, oval and generally circular shapes work well. Long narrow ones matched up with benches (as opposed to chairs) also encourage conviviality and intimacy, elbows touching and food being passed on from person to person. Avoid showy or trendy pieces that can’t withstand the demands of family life, go for those that will last long enough to bequeath. And while statement pieces from famous designers will go a long way, you can get the hygge look even if your budget doesn’t stretch to a Jacobsen egg chair. Just make sure whatever you buy ticks the following boxes: Natural materials when it comes to wood, the richer the tone the better. Functionality inviting, comfortable and robust. Simplicity clean lines and simple forms. Craftsmanship there is comfort in knowing something was made well, and with care. Hygge A celebration of simple pleasures. Living the danish way ISBN 9781409167594, £20, 240 pages, hardback, colour images, 210x148mm (A5 size), Trapeze

Page opposite, top to bottom: minimalist design, Compass Chair, Alexandra Hotel lobby restored in keeping with 1950s Scandinavian design


professional fees Many design professionals will charge you a percentage of the build cost

Professional fees Getting independent advice on your self-build or renovation project will go a long way towards saving you money, but how much do these services cost?


s with all aspects of budgeting, pinning down the cost of hiring professionals to help you navigate the maze of self-building isn’t straightforward. Still, there is some degree of guidance available on the way construction professionals are paid, and on what you can expect for your euro or pound.

Who are these advisors?

An architect or architectural technologist will generally be called upon to design your house and draw up your plans. Engineers and building surveyors can take on this role too but it’s a much less common occurrence. Other construction professionals you may need during your project include structural engineers (to specify structural elements), quantity surveyors (to independently price the project and keep tabs on costs during the construction phase), landscape designers and interior designers. These may be hired by your design/ architectural professional or by you directly;


in all cases make sure you clarify what is – and importantly what isn’t – included for the fee you agree to pay. For instance some services such as energy calculations are often considered the purview of the design professional, but this isn’t always the case. Also, while mechanical and electrical engineers will be the ones best trained to specify your heating, hot water and ventilation systems, suppliers can often provide this technical expertise as part of their product offerings at no additional charge. Some companies will also offer engineering services as part of their supply contract, e.g. piled foundation details may be recommended by your specialist contractor or steel beams specified by an in-house engineer.

Percentage of construction cost Architectural designers, structural engineers and quantity surveyors (jointly referred to as the ‘design team’) will often charge you a percentage of the build cost. In the case of a landscape designer, a

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Philip Lauterbach Photography

The amount a design professional will charge you will depend on their level of involvement - will they oversee the construction process or just guide you through the planning stage?

professional fees

percentage may be charged on what it will cost you to do up your outdoor area (fixed price fees are also common). If you plan to hire one, it could be wise to involve them early on as they may be able to help with the design/connection between inside and outside. They may also suggest some work the main contractor could carry out to save on costs, especially if hard landscaping is involved. Design professionals will be actively working during the lifespan of the project, from initial design (sketching) through developed and detail design, all the way into construction. Even if the design professional does not act as project manager (this additional role typically commands a higher fee/percentage), it’s common for them to be available during the construction phase to advise on particular sticking points. While intuitive, this method of fee payment isn’t the most straightforward as the percentage will vary depending on the type of construction, the type of architect (so-called starchitects could charge higher rates as opposed to those just starting out) and the size or complexity of the project. The percentage will typically range between 5 to 15 per cent for an architectural design professional. A quantity surveyor or structural engineer will commonly charge around 2 per cent. These sums sound like a lot but it should be remembered that this total fee covers all stages. I have just returned from a field trip to Frank Lloyd Wright’s ‘Fallingwater’ and his fee for this project was 5 per cent of on the final contract sum of $155,000, so he was paid $7,750 for his services. It’s always important to have a clear budget but in this case it’s critical that both the client and design professional have a full understanding of the terms and agree on the definition of what constitutes a ‘construction cost’. The construction cost usually refers to the contract price specified by the builder including all elements of the project that are designed or

specified by or on behalf of the design professional. The construction cost would not typically include professional fees, land costs, free standing furniture (i.e. items not designed or specified), and other costs that are the client’s responsibility. My own personal work method is that if the client has appointed a separate kitchen designer then I do not charge a percentage on his/her work but equally in this case I don’t inspect or snag his/ her work. I also charge a percentage on standard fittings, „



professional fees What we’re seeing at the moment are design professionals becoming much more flexible in the services they offer as opposed to the actual units installed as prices can vary greatly and their premium cost doesn’t add to my workload. The exception is where I might have designed a light pendant or taken a large amount of time sourcing and specifying it. This method works well to reflect actual costs; if the scope and scale of the project increases so will the fee. And while some may say this structure encourages designers to put together the most complex and expensive building they can to increase their fees, codes of conduct stipulate that professionals act in the best interest of their client.

Fixed price

Above and page opposite: designs by Eva Byrne,, images by Philip Lauterbach


Interior designers may not charge anything and take a cut on the products they sell/recommend to you; otherwise they generally either charge a fixed price or an hourly rate. Depending on the complexity of the project the fee may be quite reasonable. Many other construction professionals will also charge a fixed price although some may alternatively ask to be paid an hourly rate. The

list includes those who carry out site suitability assessments on greenfield sites for percolation (this can set you back close to five hundred pound or euro for the test and the digger), those who carry out energy modeling calculations (DEAP in ROI and SAP in NI – these services can cost up to a thousand pound or euro for work including initial tests and final certificates on a large house) and those who are specialised in airtightness testing – these services can cost up to a thousand pound or euro for work including initial tests and final certificates on a large house. As an architect, I now tend to work on a lump sum basis because my clients generally prefer to know exactly the amount they need to budget for, and this approach provides peace of mind. I’ve gotten to a stage where I can price a project quite accurately based on previous experience. With fixed price contracts, I do however stipulate that if there is a significant change in scope or scale then a renegotiation will take place. It should be borne in mind that a fee calculated on this method may not be any cheaper than that based on the percentage method, and may in fact be higher when a contingency is factored in.

Hourly rate

This method is recommended for short, easily defined projects as the amounts can increase quite quickly when more time is spent. The advantage is that you’re paying for the exact amount of work undertaken. In this case the agreed hourly rate could be significantly higher (proportionately) than what would be charged in an alternative method. It is however possible to rein in spending with a “not-to-exceed amount” in the agreement and for the professional to give regular costing updates (weekly for example) so everyone can keep tabs on the budget. Roughly, per hour, the rate is fifty to a SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

any additional costs so that there are no arguments at a later stage; additional expenses may include (list not exhaustive): • VAT • Planning and building control fees • Site suitability assessments and surveying costs • Newspaper notices • Maps • Copying and postage expenses n Mark Stephens MRIAI Additional information: Eva Byrne MRIAI of Houseology,

Disclaimer: This article is for reference purposes only; take legal counsel when dealing with contractual matters.

professional fees

hundred and fifty pound or euro, depending on the professional. Again the hourly rate will depend on the type of service and profile of the professional you have appointed and whether you are paying for the partner or one of the staff. What we’re seeing at the moment are design professionals becoming much more flexible in the services they offer; for example I and others provide several consultancy packages that can booked and paid for online, ranging from initial consultation to staging or buying a property, through to complete (re)designs. The benefit is that this offers the possibility to dip your toe in the design process at a known, lower, fixed amount. On that basis you can then decide whether to proceed with additional services.


Whichever route you choose, it is important that a written agreement is made, especially when you enter into a contract with the person or practice that will design the house, as they will be your lead advisor. Construction professionals should insist on this as part of their Code of Conduct. Indeed, professional bodies will generally have standard appointment agreements suitable to self-builds and extensions. These contracts typically set out the work stages of the project, the terms of the appointment, what can be expected from both parties, the fees for the project and the basis on which they are calculated. It is important that this agreement also detail


irish cottages

Quaint and quintessential There’s nothing quite as picturesque or as evocative of ‘Ireland’ as the postcard picture of the whitewashed one-storey cottage with its stone walls and thatched roof. But how has the cottage as we know it evolved over the years, and, with vernacular architecture holding favour with the planners, is a revival on the cards? O, to have a little house! To own the hearth and stool and all! The heaped up sods upon the fire, The pile of turf against the wall Traditional one-storey thatched cottage


An Old Woman of the Roads by Padraic Colum (1881-1972)


rom its starring role in films like The Quiet Man, to its immortalisation in Seamus Heaney’s Thatcher, the Irish cottage is the iconic image of traditional Ireland. But prevalent as they may be on postcards, tourists are finding them increasingly difficult to locate. The fact is that one-storey cottages now make up less than 0.1 per cent of ROI’s total housing stock, while roughly half the population lived under a thatched roof in the 1800s.

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Irish cottages may give the impression of having been around for centuries, they only date as far back as the 1700s. Until then, people in both NI and ROI had lived in circular dwellings built in a hut style from wattle and daub (mud and wood). Over time these huts – built in small group settlements with a surrounding moat-like defence – began to form small communities. The early cottages, which had only one room, were known as Bothán Scóir. These were mainly used by travelling labourers and, as such, often came with mud floors, sparse furniture and no windows. Early cottages didn’t have foundations but, as they developed, trenches would be dug and filled with stones, clay and mud for stability. Floors consisted of compacted mud or clay although, as with most products used in construction at the time, people used whichever materials were available and so flagstones were a common floor covering. Roof construction also varied from region to region. While the midlands, eastern and southern regions of Ireland tended to opt for half-hipped roofs, the north-west and western regions favoured full gabled walls. Design apart, construction methods tended to be the same – coupled rafters, which were stuffed with insulation and covered in thatch. The fireplace or hearth formed the heart of the cottage and, as such, was situated in the centre of the house. A bedroom was usually built behind it so that heat could be transmitted throughout the dwelling but there are also many examples of fireplaces located on gable walls. In most cases, the hearth was constructed from wattle and daub; it’s the arrival of coal as a fuel that

introduced stone flues. Irish family life at this time revolved around the fire and all daily activities – from cooking to drying clothes, from heat to social interaction – took place around it. Since space in the Bothán was at a premium, furnishings were minimal; the table, for example, might be fixed to a wall and folded up when not in use to create more floor space.

irish cottages

Early cottages

Clay floors and limewash were common in 19th Century cottages

Byre dwellings

A byre dwelling was a cottage that was slightly larger and was usually shared with animals. This was partly because livestock was valuable and this was a way to keep them close. One variation of the byre dwelling could have the family living in a loft area over the livestock, with an external staircase providing access to the living quarters. This set up also helped heat the dwelling. As rural families became wealthier, this oneroom configuration gradually developed into two-storey thatched farmhouses. While they were still only one room deep, they were taller. In these extended cottages the hearth tended to still be at „

Left: A new build with a traditional farmhouse style and layout


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the centre of the living area, with a bedroom built at each end. A double height ceiling, up to the open rafters, allowed heat to circulate; the loft area over the two bedrooms was used as loft sleeping space. More northern cottages would often feature a nook or outshot, which was an alcove built into the cottage walls close to the hearth. The outshot was usually curtained off from view. Consideration was given to the elements, with cottages often constructed with the front door facing south. (Some had a door on either side, however, to help combat prevailing winds.) It was at this time that the iconic ‘half door’ became a characteristic of Irish cottages. This ingenious device kept children in and animals out, and also allowed light and air into the cottage. Window taxes were levied on houses with more than six windows from 1799 to 1851. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the resulting reduction in the number and size of windows led to respiratory problems. On the positive side, the changes helped retain heat in winter and keep the cottage cool in summer. As cottages developed, new features were added. Screen walls, for example, were built inside front doors to provide privacy and relief from draughts, although they often had a small window so that the occupants could see who was approaching. Parlour or ‘good’ rooms were also created behind the hearth, with another fireplace opened up into it. This was a feature that had been copied from large estate houses, but the rooms were not used for family and simply kept ‘good’ for rare visits by priests or doctors.

dipped in fish oils. Needless to say, the smell was horrific. Candles – just as with the parlour – were reserved for special occasions. The water supply for drinking and cooking tended to be via wells that were located by diviners – people who would be brought to find groundwater sources. Water for household chores such as washing floors or farm duties would be taken from rainwater which was collected in barrels. During the 1800s, the open hearth fireplace began to be replaced by range fireplaces, mainly because they not only provided more efficient heat, but could also cook. Access to a toilet would have been basic – to put it mildly! At best there would be an outhouse behind the cottage. At worst it was a trip outside with a spade. „

irish cottages

The traditional half-door

The location of many Irish cottages, in remote areas with no community services nearby, has contributed to their demise


Since electricity did not reach rural Ireland until the Rural Electrification initiative between 1946 and 1979, light in cottages was provided both by the hearth and by burning rushes which had been


irish cottages

to such dwellings, and the cost of hiring people with the required traditional skill set gradually made preserving cottages a more expensive endeavour than building a new house from scratch. For instance thatching a roof can cost between £10,000/€15,000,000 to £30,000/€40,000 depending on size and complexity. While it’s often quoted that thatch has a lifespan of 25 to 30 years, the fact that Hezlett House in NI – a thatched cottage dating from 1690 that is now a National Trust property – had its roof rethatched in 2006 and then again in 2014 – a mere eight years later – didn’t help to promote its use.


Conservation principles have it that if you extend, it’s best to choose a contemporary style


Downturn in popularity

Despite their essentially basic nature, the Ireland of the 1800s and early 1900s was awash with thatched cottages – hundreds of thousands of them in fact. However in Traditional Cottages of County Donegal, Joseph Gallagher and Greg Stevenson estimated that the number of thatched cottages in NI had fallen from 40,000 in 1950 to just 150 by 2005. The Report on the Present and Future Protection of Thatched Structures in Ireland, meanwhile, estimated that only 1,300 such buildings remained in ROI. The one-room configuration made these dwellings unattractive to more modern day buyers, also the fact that they were often located in very remote areas with no community services nearby. Furthermore planning restrictions began to apply

While the number of traditional Irish cottages has suffered a demise, there has been a recent increase in the number of people who are renovating those which remain. Planners encourage their revival – the best way to preserve a building is for it to be lived in – and designers specialised in conservation are relatively easy to come by. Their experience in tackling such renovation and extension projects is often considered essential. For instance specialised use of materials may be required, e.g. to preserve old wattle and daub buildings, carefully crafted lime mixes have been successfully applied to consolidate walls. The breathability of the building also often needs to be conserved, and the list goes on. These projects remain few and far between considering the small numbers of cottages still in existence; but there’s a great sense of satisfaction to be had preserving these buildings, whether it’s a traditional one-room cottage or a more recent addition to the Irish landscape in the form of a traditional farmhouse.

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If you’re ready to take on the challenge, the first step is to see if the cottage is a listed building: in ROI consult the Record of Protected Structures and in NI the Northern Ireland Buildings Database (both available online). It’s important to check this to understand what planning and building control laws you will fall under. If the cottage is a protected structure, check what redevelopments are permitted before you buy – a chat with the planners in your local authority is definitely worth the call, they may suggest you file a request to clarify what will be permitted. In fact some renovation work may not be possible and you may be asked to follow certain guidelines, e.g. use vernacular materials, which will in all likelihood require enlisting the help of tradesmen specialised in this type of work. As part of the planning requirements a conservation architect will probably have to get on board. Their advice will be invaluable as will your local authority’s heritage officer, who should be able to assist you on this journey, providing a wealth of experience and information. Know that if you opt for an extension, current thinking has it to use contemporary materials and not try to copy the original style. The upside to the building being listed is that you may be exempt from certain building regulation requirements, e.g. those relating to energy use. By their very age and nature, old cottages will not meet the current standards and, if the building is not a protected structure, may need to face a major overhaul simply to meet the basic requirements. To thatch or not to thatch? While these vernacular roofs are absolutely beautiful to look at and can certainly tick the environmentally-friendly boxes, thatch does require regular maintenance – you need to keep an eye on its condition – a yearly inspection by your thatcher should ideally take place paying special attention to the ridge. For those concerned about fireproofing, for new builds a proprietary barrier can be inserted between the thatch and the timber framed roof. For old existing thatched roofs the best way to to help prevent fire would be to have an up-to-date electrical inspection cert (and MCB board) and if possible a flue lined chimney. The environmental credentials extend to the fact that thatch is thermally efficient – warm in winter and cool in summer – and, unlike conventional roofing systems that trap heat and moisture vapour in attics, thatch requires no attic ventilation. Overall, guessing what you might spend renovating a traditional Irish cottage is somewhere up there with the proverbial length of a piece of string. But, scouring the internet for renovations of all shapes and sizes, a general ballpark figure seems to be in and around the £1,000-€1,500 per sqm. While grants for listed buildings are available, these generally only apply to those in a state of structural disrepair. n Debbie Orme & Astrid Madsen Additional information Orla Fitzmaurice,

between the covers

Straw, Hay & Rushes in Irish Folk Tradition To find out more about our vernacular heritage and how humble materials played a part in our everyday lives, look no further than this imprint penned by Anne O’Dowd, an academic who curated the National Museum of Ireland for 30 years. Like me, you may find yourself first drawn to the penultimate chapter, Building Work: shelters and homes. Even though it’s short, as a thatcher I found the text interesting, very factual and informing. While there is a general emphasis throughout the book on the range of materials produced from straw, hay and rushes, rather than on their use for construction purposes, you will find illuminating asides in other chapters too, e.g. straw used as an insulation material. In total, 12 of the 14 chapters deal with a miscellany of everyday and not so everyday items produced by the hands of skilled craft people. As the book was published by the Academic Press it is perhaps not surprising to find that referencing, cataloguing and the bibliography are given pride of place, and that each chapter is filled with enough information to fill a standalone book. I personally really enjoyed the folklore behind much of the items, be it the conversion of a pagan goddess into the cult of St Brigid as we know her today or the traditions associated with the ‘Last Sheaf’. Another aspect I liked was the inclusion of maker’s names. Being a Kilkenny man I was intrigued to find that in the 1940s two skilled Kilkenny brothers made a living by supplying potato baskets to farmers at harvest time. Within the chapters there are many fine photographs with some real gems including that of a man dressed in a straw cape (Fig. 10.1) but it would have been nice to see more objects in context or use. All in all, this book is a fantastic addition to the small but important collection of literature dealing with Irish vernacular traditions. It’s part of what we are, and where we came from.

irish cottages

Your cottage renovation

Anne O’Dowd, 560 pages, hardback, colour and B&W images, ISBN 9780716533108, Irish Academic Press,, €45 Jimmy Lenehan Master thatcher


surviving in a high tech world

Surviving in a high tech world A whole new set of skills and training are now needed to design and build the most basic of houses. Here’s a back to basics class for those building new or renovating.


uilding processes used to be much simpler than they are today. The builder pulled together a team of individuals, specialist subcontractors, in a sort of pick ‘n’ mix fashion from a small pool of locally available trades. This approach was successful because the building


work was traditional and each tradesperson knew what the other trades did. There were no gaps or mysteries that couldn’t be addressed afterward. Today there are specialist trades that never existed before: solar specialists, heat pump specialists, heat exchange specialists, smart heating controls specialists and many more. In each case SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Physics 101

property for upwards of 50 years, and this might be on the advice of someone who had just completed a three-day certification training course. So it’s time to brush up on some basics, including how heat and warm air move about. There are three ways: convection (the process through which warm air rises and is replaced by cooler air), conduction (heat moves along a material) and radiation. Radiators in the home work on the principles of convection moving air around the rooms; air leaks through cracks and around weather stripping are also due to convection. At the window, convection occurs when air gives up its heat to the cooler glass and sinks toward the floor. This movement sucks new warmer air toward the glass that is in turn cooled, creating a draught. Low emissivity coatings on glass will allow heat to be reflected back into the house when it’s cold outside and vice versa on a hot day. Heat moves straight through the window pane by conduction. This can be minimised by preventing the heat from transferring with additional glazing panes (e.g. triple glazing) and insulating with gas in between panes (e.g. argon). Radiation is the not the easiest phenomenon to understand; perhaps the best example relates to standing in front of a bonfire. The heat is intense yet the air around you is cold – this is because the fire is radiating heat from a hot body to a colder one (yours). Unlike other forms of heat transfer, radiation does not need air or a solid medium for heat to be exchanged. „

How heat escapes through your windows

surviving in a high tech world

the underlying technology is getting more complex and must be individually proven, tested, certified, and installed by trained and certified professionals. They arrive on site with a range of high tech systems that affect the whole house, but there seems to be a gap when it comes to explaining how best to integrate the technologies. The challenge becomes more acute in refurbishment projects because the various specialists have to adjust their technologies to suit the imperfect conditions met on site. Considering that around 80% of our building stock will still be around by 2050, this is an area that is increasingly getting attention (see page 130). Because the specialists all work as individuals, they can only, with some degree of accuracy, tell you what savings can be made using their particular process. What they can’t tell you is how their process interacts with other processes and what the overall savings may be. This leads to the impossible situation whereby more than 100 per cent savings can apparently be achieved by adding together all the individual savings claimed by the specialists. And, while some energy saving procedures will always work, including attic insulation or installing efficient motors and fans, other options, such as voltage optimisation and power factor correction, will only work in the right circumstances. Still other systems such as heating controls must be sized and commissioned accurately. Another caveat is that, while they may work perfectly when first put in place and tested, they may cease to operate efficiently if the homeowner does not have a full understanding of how they function.

Warm air rises and moves from warm to cold areas, which in the past, was ample knowledge to allow builders and tradespeople to insulate properties. There was no monitoring, measuring or compliance with regulation standards, and there were no energy certificates for display on buildings. That has all changed, and a little effort is now required for us to be well enough informed to at least be able to shop competently for insulation materials, to ask the right questions and know whether the salesperson is knowledgeable. Given that energy conservation is a new and developing industry, there will be a knowledge gap while employees upskill and gain much needed experience. You might be about to purchase a key product that will form an integral part of your


surviving in a high tech world

The quantity of heat transferred depends on the temperature of the material, so the hotter the surface the more heat that will be radiated. The sun gives us energy through radiation too. Radiated heat loss or gain can therefore take place through walls, roofs, floor slabs, windows and doors. Because heat transfer takes place between the surfaces of a hot and cold body the surface material, type and even colour are important. Most of the heat lost in our homes is in fact through radiation but traditionally very little is done to prevent this.

Not just about heat

The greatest savings in all buildings are the human influences, and these should always outperform the technological ones. The well-known paradox of heating bills remaining constant despite having undergone an energy upgrade is due to people setting the rooms temperatures higher than they did before. Nowadays we expect the environment in buildings to match our precise thermal comfort requirements. To say that we have become spoiled is an understatement. We have lost that intuitive ability to adapt to our indoor environment, apparently forgetting that we can regulate our own temperature and comfort levels with appropriate clothing. Arguably more important than thermal comfort, therefore, is the health of your building and as a consequence your own. Solving the “build tight ventilate right” conundrum is relatively straightforward with new buildings – proprietary ventilation systems are installed in airtight and well insulated homes – but difficulties arise where retrofitting measures can cause as many problems as they solve, if poorly executed. Balancing airtightness and ventilation in these buildings is probably the biggest challenge to energy efficiency. Ventilation is also important because with buildings, human comfort is not simply determined by room temperatures. Moving air has the effect of making us feel cooler, which is just what we need if temperatures are too warm. But if we are already cold, draughts will make us feel uncomfortable. This is why a ventilation strategy is important to put in place – establish where fresh air is coming from in an existing house and introduce appropriate methods to ensure the building can both be reasonably free of toxins and retain its

heat. When it comes to toxins, moisture is perhaps the least recognised indoor pollutant affecting both the health and comfort of occupants and the integrity of the building fabric. Whether it is ice, water, steam, moisture, or vapour, water is mistreated at our peril. A solicitor who works for a large law firm specialising in building-defect lawsuits tells me that 99% of the cases he dealt with were water/moisture related. In bathrooms in particular, excess moisture has the tremendous potential to cause damage, not just in the bathroom itself but this moisture can travel throughout the rest of the building causing further problems. Moisture condensing in the bathroom usually manifests itself in the form of surface mould growth and should be tackled in time with a good ventilation system. However if this moisture is not tackled at the point of origin it can travel to other parts of the building often condensing within the structure and fabric. This is refered to as interstitial condensation and is a very dangerous prospect as the building is being undermined in an area you are unable to see. The relationship that fresh air supply and moisture control have on a healthy and comfortable indoor environment is becoming ever more crucial in today’s homes. This understanding is also crucial, if energy savings are to be achieved, without degrading the internal living environment or the fabric and structure of our buildings. n Paul O’Reilly

Adapted from Watt Footprint: The Smart Citizen’s Guide to Save Energy in the Built Environment by Paul O’Reilly with image designs by Eduardo Goncalves ISBN 9781910179802, colour and B&W, €19.50


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From the minute you begin planning your self-build, you’ll need to do everything from keeping your site safe to ensuring your home remains secure.


ost self-builders don’t address the issue of security early on in their plans but planning the orientation of your home, where it sits on the plot, and how it relates to your neighbours can make big differences once you start living in your new home. Also, getting your overall garden design and landscaping planned out in principle early on can greatly help and will save money. Perimeter fencing, gates and walls can be planned and designed from the start to make life for intruders more difficult. Just how much you’ll want to invest in this and what effect it’ll have on your neighbours will affect your decisions. You’ll also want to decide how much you want your home to look and feel like Fort Knox!

Gardening and landscaping for security

Many people like to design their home so that the kitchen looks on to the front of the property, making the detection of visitors, or intruders easier, so it’s important to think about this sort of thing early on. Others like to have a neighbour overlook their front garden to make the property more secure, especially when they aren’t at home. Gravel driveways offer better security than do tarmac or other solid-surface ones as both people and vehicles can be heard approaching earlier. Planting, too, can make a real difference to security. Hedges can be a deterrent, especially if they are made of prickly plants or shrubs. However too much shielding from view could make it easier for burglars to break in without getting noticed, so here are a few ‘prickly’ suggestions: Anchor plant (Colletia paradoxa) – a deciduous shrub with triangular spines on stems. Barberry / Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium) – an evergreen shrub with spiky leaves. Blackthorn / sloe (Prunus spinosa) – a dense deciduous shrub with long thorns. Common holly (Ilex aquilfolium) – a large evergreen shrub or tree with spiky leaves. Golden bamboo (Phyllostachys aurea) – very dense, high evergreen clumps; but isn’t as invasive as many bamboos. Firethorn (Pyracantha ‘Orange Glow’) – an evergreen shrub with very thorny stems.

Fuschia-flowered gooseberry (Ribes speciosum) – a deciduous bush with thorny stems. Japanese bitter orange (Poncirus trifoliata) – a very thorny deciduous citrus-like shrub that tolerates moderate frost and snow but doesn’t flower well in exposed places. Oleaster / silver berry / Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) – a deciduous thorny shrub or tree. Purple berberis (Berberis thunbergil ‘Atropurpurea’) – a deciduous shrub with thorny stems. Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) – a very thorny deciduous shrub that does well by the sea. Flowering quince (Chaenomeles japonica) – a thorny deciduous shrub.

security in the home

Security in the home

Fuschia-flowered gooseberry

Of course, you’re unlikely to be thinking about actually planting anything at the very earliest stages of your build but having the whole site planned well in advance is a real help. If the plot is large enough and you can confine your building work to a section of it, screen off the rest and get some planting going. On one of my jobs I planted 3,000 trees and shrubs before I started on the build. Once I was done with the construction work I had a wonderful mature-looking garden with privacy and security. Building happens quickly in comparison to the growth rate of trees and shrubs.

Keeping your building site safe

Building sites are not only dangerous places from which outsiders should be excluded, for their own safety, but are also the temporary home for expensive materials, equipment and plant. It makes sense to talk with your insurance company very early on about exactly what they’ll expect from you regarding site security. They’ll be helpful as it’s in their interest as well as yours that things are done properly from the start. Theft and arson are the two biggest threats as only about 10 per cent of all plant and machinery stolen from building sites is ever recovered. When thinking about fire safety, be sure never to leave fuel around that intruders could use. Talk to your insurers, too, about signage. At the very least have a ‘No Trespassing’ sign and preferably another that says that building sites „


security in the home

are dangerous. There should also be a telephone number that people can call in case of emergency. This will almost certainly be your own mobile phone unless you’re employing a security company. The law about who is responsible if someone breaks into your site and then suffers harm is extremely complicated. You have a duty of care to make your site secure but just how much you can protect people from their own stupidity is a matter of legal debate. The more security you have and the more precautions you’ve taken, the better placed you’ll be if anything ever goes down the legal route. Professional perimeter fencing is vital. This should be a minimum of 2m high (preferably 2.4m) and, in my opinion, see-through. There’s a lively debate about whether hoardings that hide what’s stored on your site, making passing, opportunistic, theft less likely is preferable to having see-through

With today’s technology it is possible to install security cameras at very low cost. These should be placed high up and easily visible so they act as a deterrent.




mesh fencing that enables passers-by to see intruders and call for help. Whichever type you choose, be certain to secure the gates with strong (industrial quality) padlocks on the gates. Being able to see intruders 24 hours of the day calls for motion-sensor-controlled lighting. This is cheap to install and a meaningful deterrent. Make sure the lights don’t shine into your neighbour’s homes or gardens, though, or you’ll alienate them. In general, plan your site so there’s only one access point – preferably onto the main road. This makes securing the perimeter easier and dissuades intruders. With today’s technology it is possible to install security cameras at very low cost. These should be placed high up on strong poles or structures and easily visible so they act as a deterrent. You’ll then be able to view your site remotely on a PC or laptop, or even on your phone. Intruder alarms can also be fitted that send SMS alerts. Security cameras should be pointed at your tool stores and the main gate. All this technology is an enormous advance on what was previously possible but the good, oldfashioned methods still work. Enlist the cooperation of your neighbours so they can keep an eye out on your behalf. Most people are delighted to be helpful and some quite enjoy the responsibility, especially if your site puts their home or garden at risk in any way. Early on, try to work out what your biggest security risk is likely to be. Then you can plan accordingly. If local children getting in to play on your scaffolding is the main issue, make arrangements to combat this. If it’s international criminals stealing your major plant, this is another level of threat entirely. Suppliers of plant will willingly advise on the best methods of immobilising their equipment on your site and you’ll need a strong, lockable box or even a purpose-built steel container for hand tools and easily-removed equipment. It makes sense to keep a log of all your tools and then to check each night on locking up the site that they are all where they should be. Your insurers will be more likely to pay out if you have rigorous systems in place. This could mean marking and identifying all your tools and kit. Talk to the local police about this. At the end of each day, remove ladders from scaffolding, or install a scaffold security alarm from the start to save you the trouble. If all this sounds rather over the top, be assured it’s not. A building site is a temporary factory with all kinds of hazards for the unwary and huge amounts of expensive materials and equipment that would otherwise be kept safe under lock and key if they weren’t on your site. Security is a serious challenge that must be addressed from Day One.

Automated front gates

Automated (electric) front gates give a home a certain ‘something’, though some consider them pretentious. They may also not ‘blend in’ depending where you’re building. There are two main types – sliding and hinged. Each can be powered by a cable from the main house or if there’s no power available they can be „


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security in the home

Hinged electric gate

run off batteries (charged by a local solar panel). Each type can be controlled by a phone app, a swipe card, a key fob, a hand-held transmitter, or a fixed keypad. It is usual to set the system up so the gates open automatically to let cars out. Discuss with your supplier how they can be opened in the case of power cuts or emergencies. Never install any keypad or control device where someone could be tempted to reach through the gate to work it. This could be very dangerous. Be they sliding or hinged make sure you install suitably wide gates for the passing of larger vehicles, such as ambulances or removal trucks. Twelve feet wide (3.6m) gates are normal and I always suggest installing 16 ft (4.8m) ones if at all possible. Wider gates are much more expensive than standard ones and can need bigger motors.

Sliding electric gates • Are essential if your roadway or drive goes uphill from your gate. This would prevent normally-hinged gates from opening. • Take up very little space. • Don’t intrude into your garden design or planting. This can be very helpful if the area is small or restricted. But.... • They often run in, or on, tracks. These have to be kept free from obstructions and debris or the gates jam. • They can also be a bit noisy in operation. Hinged electric gates • Look more traditional and are favoured by most people. • Have fewer moving parts than do sliding versions, so need less maintenance. • Are cheaper than sliding versions.


When designing hinged gates try, if possible, to use a pair. This looks better than a single gate and takes up a lot less space as they swing. Always hinge gates so they swing into your property, not outwards. Hinged gates are operated by one of two systems. A ‘ram’ is a visible sort of bracket that attaches to the gate, pulling it to open or pushing it shut. The ‘underground’ system is a motor set into the ground at the hinge (by the pillar) that drives the hinge. This looks much better and is more durable than the ram system. The advantages of automated front gates are many: • They are very convenient. As they are controlled from your car remotely (or from a device at your gates) you’ll never need to get out in the rain again. • Keypad access means you’ll never lose your key. You can change the access code when necessary, or if unsuitable people have discovered what it is. Some models have anti-hacking software. • Children and pets can be kept safe within your boundaries. • They usually add value to your home. • Most makes are truly secure in that they can’t be forced open by hand. A really determined thief can, of course, force them open using a vehicle. • They need very little maintenance. Regular greasing of the hinges is all that’s usually required. The disadvantages are few: • The cost which can run into several thousands for large gates complete with the controls. • You could forget your code, or lose your fob. • Determined criminals can crack the code. • You’ll need to make arrangements so emergency vehicles can gain access when necessary. In addition to the features I’ve already mentioned it’s possible to incorporate an intercom system that allows visitors to talk to the main house. The gates can then be opened from the house remotely. This is, of course, vital for letting in visitors, who don’t have access to the usual opening devices the homeowner has. Automatic locks can be supplied to help keep the gates firmly shut in high winds. And I always install electronic photo beams that prevent the gates from closing when anything is in their path. This means people or vehicles can’t be hit or trapped by the closing gates.

Security cameras

The main value of cameras in domestic security systems is that their visibility deters potential thieves. At the very simplest level, it’s possible to install digital stills cameras that are set off by motion sensors. Most homeowners, though, settle for proper security cameras of some sort. There are two main types. ‘Active’ cameras with someone actually watching and controlling the image, and ‘passive’ (surveillance) cameras that simply record everything in their field of view hour after hour, day after day. With the latter, the recordings can be played back to look for evidence after an event has occurred. True security cameras are reactive in that they can detect motion, and send alerts to owners or security companies, even by text or email. The SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

security in the home

latest security systems can be monitored from a smartphone. Basically, you get what you pay for. Simple cameras don’t do much other than passively record what’s happened but for those that want to spend more, the cameras can be made to pan and tilt as well as zoom. And today, all this can be done remotely. It’s also now possible to get together as a group of homeowners to link your security cameras so you can look out for one another. All this is made possible by streaming the images over the internet. For this, your home and those of your neighbours will have to have not only broadband but wi-fi. Whichever type of security camera you decide to use, you’ll need a power supply to each unit. Thankfully for those who are putting in a system in an existing house, it is here that the cabling problem may end as most good cameras can be wireless. They transmit their images over radio frequencies to a central box via a receiver. This makes it possible to mount security cameras in places that wired ones could never be. But wireless cameras have their drawbacks; they need a direct line of sight to the receiving antenna and the reliability and picture quality may not be as good as their hard-wired cousins. Wired cameras can be linked long distances (up to 250m) to the DVR hub and even greater distances are possible if you use CAT5 cable. Wireless cameras can’t approach this sort of distance. While the higher end wireless cameras will offer the greatest range, what’s going on in the area, interference from other structures/trees and so on will all affect how far you can go. It can often be a matter of trial and error to get an exact answer for your particular circumstances. If in doubt, go hard-wired. By and large, modern security cameras are trouble-free in operation. But before installing a system, talk to your supplier about how and if domestic equipment in your home could interfere with their performance. Digital wireless systems allow two-way communication with the cameras. High-quality sound and vision are part of such a set-up which can also include features such as night-time infra-red recording, remote control of lighting, connecting multiple sources to one single recording device and much more. Such a system can be a godsend for keeping an eye on a family swimming pool, for example. If you need low-light security, an infra-red camera system is best. It produces high-resolution colour video in daylight and good black and white images in low-light situations. Such a camera can automatically ‘illuminate’ the area by switching from colour to black and white, is robust for outdoor use and doesn’t need any sort of camera housing. Dome cameras – like you see on commercial buildings and in shops – include indoor and outdoor versions, infra-red ones, vandal-proof ones and those that have pan and tilt capabilities. The smoked dome makes it near-impossible for people to see where the camera lens is pointing but has no adverse effect on the picture quality. While the main advantage of domestic security cameras is their visibly, and the deterrence value this affords, it is possible to install hidden cameras in „

Securing sheds and garages Garden sheds offer great pickings for thieves because they often contain valuable items that are neither secured nor marked. Such items are also easy to sell once stolen. But most dangerous of all is that inside your shed or garage are lots of implements that a burglar can use to break into your home. Even a simple spade can have a devastating effect. It may be the counsel of perfection but chaining all your main tools together can be a good way out of this. To improve your chances: • Don’t leave tools and garden equipment outside. • Always keep sheds and outbuildings locked. • Be certain your insurance covers everything in your sheds and garden. • Secure windows with internal mesh grilles and ensure they have window locks • Use two strong staples and hasps for shed doors, with two closedshackle padlocks on the outside. • If your hinges are screwed externally, replace them with nonreturnable screws to prevent easy removal. Bolting the hinges through with coach bolts is the best method of all. • Fit trellis along the tops of garden walls and good quality locks on garden gates. • If you have anything really valuable, such as a ride-on mower or expensive power tools, consider fitting an alarm. There are stand-alone versions made for remote sheds or garages, or you can extend your domestic alarm system. For garages, purpose-made locks are available for up-and-over doors. Wooden garage doors can be secured with two substantial hasps and staples and closed-shackle padlocks. An external, floor mounted, solid steel ‘T’ bar with a closed-shackle padlock will be a serious deterrent. Side doors should be secured with 5-lever mortice locks and two internal rack bolts, one near the top and the other near the bottom of the door.


security in the home

dummy alarm box it can be a good enough security system for those looking to save money.

Door and window security

Motion sensors, in the form of passive infrared (PIR), are a common form of security lighting

the most unlikely places such as in between fencing slates or in a bird box. You can even buy cameras that look like a rock. Generally, they are not as robust or weatherproof as other types and usually have no infra-red facility. It depends on who or what you are trying to detect as to whether this is a route you decide to take. There may also be issues with protecting privacy if your hidden camera has a view of your neighbours’ house or garden. Finally, as with everything in today’s high-tech world, change is taking place all the time. Talk to a few suppliers to work out exactly what you want to achieve and then get them to suggest the best system for your needs.

Outside lighting

It’s probably reasonable to claim that if your home is well-lit after dark the average thief will choose to go elsewhere, for an easier life. Decorative or practical garden lighting are two ways round this but it’s also wise to install some sort of security-only lighting system. This system can’t be accidentally switched off in the house along with the outside lighting. Security lighting is usually very straightforward. The fittings should be placed high enough up a building so they can’t be meddled with but not so high that a burglar can’t see them. Their very presence will act as a deterrent. At the front of the house you can use a dusk to dawn sensor which activates when it gets dark. More common is to use PIRs to trigger the switching but be aware (and this could take some trial and error) that moving trees and animals (wild and domestic) could set off the lights. This can be annoying, especially if the glare disturbs your neighbours. Ideally, place your lighting and test it out so that when it comes on, it doesn’t produce light pollution for you and others. Use this sort of security lighting only on parts of the house that can be seen by others, or you’ll just be providing a good working light for an intruder to work by out of sight. Windows and doors that can’t be lit and are out of sight can be protected by various types of bars and grilles or, of course, a camera. For very little money, security lighting such as this is the best deterrent to burglars. Used together with a


When choosing doors and windows for your build, look carefully at their security systems. The most secure standard to look for when it comes to windows and doors is EN1627 which points to installing powder-coated galvanised steel frames – the steel provides both rigidity and the casing for an inaccessible multi-point locking system. These doors can be fitted with timber faces and laminated glass and when in place look exactly like a traditional door. Another domestic security standard, one which tests for resistance to issues such as lock snapping and bumping, is the Publicly Available Standard (PAS) 24. It’s a pass or fail accreditation. NI and ROI companies also operate under the Secured by Design scheme (see end of article for details) to certify window and door products. Remember that with multi-point locking doors and windows, simply pushing the handle up does not lock it in place. You’ll still need to use the key to make it actually lock. When buying sliding doors or windows, be sure they can’t be lifted out of their tracks. Good companies have built-in systems that prevent this happening. Also consider the fact that most patio or ‘French’ doors open outward which makes them easy to pry open with a crowbar, so in addition to the correct cylinder locks it’s a good idea to have a locking mechanism that secures the door from the inside. But most intruders try to get in through actual doors, so this is where you should spend most of your attention when it comes to security.


Buy the best, strongest, most robust front door you can afford. uPVC and aluminium front doors almost always have built-in multi-point locking systems, along with hinge bolts. But timber front doors will need to be fitted with a substantial 5-lever mortice deadlock in addition to any sort of rim latch (for example, a Yale lock). The mortice lock should be placed one-third of the way up the door and the rim lock one-third of the way down. If you are in a highly-burgled area it makes sense to reinforce your door frame inside with a steel strip called a ‘London’ or ‘Birmingham’ bar. Having a door viewer is useful whatever type of front door you install. A door chain (or other type of limiter) can make sense too. Glazed doors should have laminated glazing or glass reinforced with security film. Internal grilles are wise if you are at real risk of being broken into through a glazed door. Timber front doors should be a minimum of 44mm thick. Never fit a letter plate in the bottom rail of your door as mail could be stolen, and fit an internal cover plate over the internal cavity of the letter plate, not only to keep out draughts but also for added security. When thinking about keys, always remove the key from the lock once you are inside. Keep your keys well away from the front door so they can’t be stolen through the letter box by someone using a SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Smart door locking


“The most secure standard to look for when it comes to windows and doors is EN1627 which points to installing powder-coated galvanised steel frames...”

Window security starts with the glass. Use laminated glass on all ground floor windows and doors (as well as those accessed via a flat roof). This will put off all but the most determined of thieves. With a new-build the chances are that almost any window choice you make today will include a builtin security system. But be aware that not only can the fitting of additional locks to uPVC be impossible (as the actual material itself won’t be strong enough to take the steel screws you’ll need to fit the lock) adding them could also invalidate your warranty. When buying windows or doors try to choose products that are internally beaded. This prevents burglars removing the beads that hold the glass in place then lifting out the whole glazed unit. If you are concerned, ask your supplier in case there are special tamper-proof clips under the external beading.

Electronic access control used to be found only in commercial buildings and hotels but can now be used on any house or apartment door. Some homeowners claim that the current combination of mechanical locks and traditional keys is plenty good enough but, as with all things electronic, the genie is out of the bottle and many people’s expectations about increasingly ‘smarter’ homes mean that electronic access control will become more popular. Indeed, recent research in the UK* suggests that most people are prepared to pay a premium for such a product. Electronic locks are easily installed but require a power supply, batteries, or both. Early types were hard-wired but now wireless locks reduce complexity and make DIY installation possible. According to the research most people say they’d like to be able to fit such a lock themselves. It is also interesting that the study found that most householders would rather have these locks powered by replaceable (as opposed to rechargeable) batteries. Ideally, such batteries should last at least a year. When people are asked about what they want an electronic front door lock to provide, the main

security in the home

hook on a long-handled pole and, though I realise most people rarely do this, change your locks and keys every so often, and always when you take over a new home from a previous owner. But there’s not much sense spending all this time and money on your front door if, by walking a few metres, the thief can simply get into your less-wellprotected back door. Use a sash lock plus mortice rack bolts (operated by a threaded key) top and bottom. Rack bolts are drilled into the timber of the door. Try to make your back door as secure as your front one. Whilst thinking about your front door, new products have entered the market such as supersmart doorbells. They let you see who’s outside on your tablet, phone, or PC and some models allow you to do this remotely. Some even allow you to talk to whoever is at the front door from anywhere in the world. All this can be very useful with the boom in online shopping as you can ask the delivery driver to leave a package with your neighbour, even if you’re nowhere near your home. Another version alerts the homeowner to anyone approaching the sensors on this smart doorbell. Audio and video is then captured and stored on the cloud for later access.

* Smart Home Security Report 2016 from IFSEC Global,

answer is, unsurprisingly, security. But they also express concerns about being able to override it if it malfunctions or if there’s a power cut. Being able to manage who is allowed to use the lock is also important. For a few people, again according to the study, being able to open the door lock remotely figures as a vital feature. This is now becoming more interesting as we all start to appreciate the possibility of being able to let in children, a cleaner, or a „


security in the home Smart front door locks are fast becoming a reality

tradesman, remotely. It also means that if you get to work worrying whether or not you’ve locked up, you can do so from your smartphone at once. The same study asked people how they wanted to access their ‘smart’ front door lock, and the majority said that cards, fobs and PIN codes were likely to be more secure than traditional keys. Many liked the idea of being able to unlock their door using their smartphone but had concerns that their phone could be out of batteries just when they needed it most. Smart locks already exist that can be opened only on a thumb print. And no doubt other recognition systems will soon be devised. The additional security of cards and fobs is that they can’t be copied as easily as can traditional keys. But even so, certain homeowners thinking about installing smart locks are concerned about hackers. Such individuals say that only a combination of traditional (mechanical) locking and an electronic system could improve on what we are all doing now. Once we start to consider the use of smartphone apps, the possibilities are endless. It is already possible to receive a warning when someone gains access to your electronic door lock and, as technology improves, it will be commonplace to be able to tell exactly who has come and gone through your front door....and when. A builder, for example, could be given a temporary access code that expires once he has completed the job he is doing for you. And other people who provide a service to you at home could be given temporary access. At the simplest level it would allow your neighbour to go in to water your plants while you’re on holiday.

Burglar alarms

Because about 92 per cent of all alarm activations are caused by equipment, communication or usererror, police forces everywhere are now very tough on the conditions under which they will respond to a call-out. Because of this, the very nature of the domestic security alarm business has been revised over recent years to raise standards. There are two main types of burglar alarm, each of which can be hard-wired or wireless. For maximum security, hard wiring is preferable. The first is a Remote Signalling Alarm that triggers a response at a remote monitoring station.


In NI and ROI such alarms have to be registered by the police/Gardai by creating a unique reference number (URN) for an intruder alarm response and another URN for a hold-up (personal attack) panic alarm response. The police reaction to their activation will be based on the assumption that an offence is taking place – panic alarms are always responded to. In ROI due to the incidence of false alarms, a call-out for an intruder alarm activation will only take place if two areas are triggered. If in the course of any rolling three-month period the number of false calls should reach three, Garda response will be withdrawn. In NI the police will modify their response to such an alarm according to how many false alarms that equipment has had over the past 12 months. Also in ROI a PSA-approved monitor needs to be installed and maintained by a qualified installer to get a URN issued. The second type is an Audible-only Alarm. These systems include bells-only and automaticdialling alarms. URNs are not issued for these. Police will usually come only if there is actual evidence of an offence in progress, such as a neighbour seeing an intruder. Another, much less common, type of alarm is a Speech Dialler. The owner can pre-record a message into the system. This is then dialled out and played to a series of phone numbers that have been preinstalled. Finally, dummy alarm boxes are effective in that they deter many casual thieves and are cheap to buy and put up. When deciding to install an alarm, use a properly accredited, professional company that is familiar with doing everything to the highest standards. Of course, a DIY installation can work well enough but won’t receive the same treatment from the police if it were to be activated. • When talking with a potential supplier, be certain about who their representative is, and get references that they and the company are who they claim to be. • Ask which of the professional security organisations inspects them. • Discuss what types of sensors they propose – always bearing in mind any pets you may leave in the house when you’re out. Types include: Passive Infra-Red sensors (PIR); Glass Break sensors; Photoelectric beams; E-Beams; Fibre-optic light detectors and H-field (radio-frequency) detectors. • Make sure you get something that’s as simple as possible to set on leaving your home, or you’ll never use it. • Talk to your insurance company. They may have very specific views about what you should install. To discover later that they won’t insure you could be a serious matter. • Ideally, seek quotations from at least two installers. • Always ask what they propose for maintenance and monitoring. • Finally, do they operate a 24-hour call-out service and emergency attendance within four hours? All alarm systems should have at least two keyholders who are trained to operate the alarm and able to get to it within 20 minutes. They must also be „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Using only authentic products from Italy, we can create stunning and unique Terrazzo floors. Built to last and designed to get better as they age, Terrazzo floors are durable, easy to maintain and keep clean and make an attractive feature in any building or home. We also offer polished concrete as a flooring option which are also easy to clean and maintain. Suitable for high traffic areas, by polishing the concrete it adds value to the concrete durability giving it a beautiful and high shine finish. 67 Drumlough Road, Rathfriland, Newry, BT34 5DP, Co. Down. T: +44(0)28 3085 1612 / E:

security in the home

contactable by their own phone and be able to get to the alarm using their own transport. If you group together with neighbours to set up a street or Neighbourhood Watch system you may find that the supplier will give you a good discount. Also, you may find that your household insurance costs go down with such a setup. But whatever system you use, most insurers will insist that it is set the whole time the property is unoccupied and that they’ll adjust what they’ll pay you in case of a claim if the alarm wasn’t set at the time of the break-in.

Never leave your keys on the door or hall table as thieves can reach through the letterbox to snare them.


Few people install safes in their new build unless they have substantial reasons for doing so. Those who run a cash business often need, or want, to bring cash home from work, and some people have valuable jewellery or documents they need to keep safe. Think about fire, too. For some homeowners, this is more important than the threat of theft. If you live in a flood area, then a waterproof safe could be what you’ll need. Hiding your safe is the best start to your journey. Ok, it’ll have to be in a place you’ll be able to easily get to but it shouldn’t be anywhere too obvious. Domestic-size safes are only as good as their fixings to the structure of the building. A small safe kept in a wardrobe is not really as effective as it appears because it can be so easily removed. To be a serious safe for meaningful amounts of valuables or cash, it’ll need to be a substantial structure in its own right or be built into the structure of your home or at the very least, bolted to a concrete floor. In-floor safes can be good and are easy to plan for while creating your floor slab. It’s best to start by talking with a safe company early on in your design process to discover your true needs, then to plan how you’re going to incorporate the results into your new build. As with all security systems, they’ll only be as good as the weakest link. A professional in the world of safes can talk you through this. You can also ask about how you’ll get into the thing. Keys and combination locks still exist, of course, but there are now fingerprint and other high-tech locks. And don’t forget that someone other than you will need to know how to gain access to the contents, in case anything happens to you.


When leaving your home

It’s all very well having thought a lot about security and spent whatever you can afford on various systems but if you then make silly mistakes when you leave your home unattended, from popping out to the shops or going on holiday, you’ll be back to square one. Here are some reminders that police forces everywhere endorse: • Close and lock all the windows on going out, even for a short time. I’ve heard of people being burgled because they left an upstairs window open thinking it was safe but forgot they had an extending ladder in their back garden. • It is also vital to remember that professional thieves use children to get in through very small windows. • If you have a burglar alarm, always set it. This means buying a system that is easy to set, or you won’t bother to do it. • Try not to leave valuable things on view. A quick glance through your downstairs windows will tell a thief whether it’s worth bothering with your home. • Check that your shed, conservatory, lean-to and garage are all locked. It is surprising how many people forget that their garage or conservatory has direct access to the inside of their home. • If you keep keys on the hall table, be certain they are out of reach of the front door. Thieves reach through the letter box with rods to snare keys. Sometimes they do this to steal only your car keys – they have no intention of burgling your home. • If going out after dark, be sure to close the curtains. And use timers to switch on lights upstairs, so it looks as if the place is occupied. • Never leave car documents or other valuable papers in obvious places. • Never leave front door keys hidden outside. Professional thieves know the places to look. If you’re going away for some time, ask a neighbour to keep an eye on things. Cancel the newspaper delivery and plan ahead so online parcels don’t sit at your front door for days. Your postman can be a helpful ally if you involve him in advance. If going away for any length of time, tell the local sorting office. n Andrew Stanway In NI mark and register your tools for free at For window and door products look out for the Secured by Design seal of approval, especially those that have been awarded Police Preferred Specification status

Additional information

Kenny McHugh of Police Crime Prevention Initiatives Ltd (Secured by Design) Ciarán O’Connell of Security Certified Doors Ltd, Unit 17 Western Parkway Business Centre, Lr Ballymount Rd, Dublin 12, tel. 014600016, SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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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, Sportify, Wolfgang’s Vault, Aupeo and many more.

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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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kit homes

Open the Box! Package suppliers aim to take some of the stress out of self-building; so what do you get when you sign up?


him to form one of the earliest self-build package suppliers. By the 1970s, a curious public was queuing to see timber framed houses at Ideal Home Exhibitions in Belfast and Dublin. Companies were offering not just design services but ‘design and build’ opportunities. Nowadays, self-build package suppliers offer a ‘one stop shop’ which can include design and planning, manufacture and supply of kit, external cladding, roofing and supply of external joinery, and even an internal fit-out of bathrooms and kitchens.

Choice of company

You will be able to specify your own rules of engagement with a package company. It can have as much or as little involvement in your project as you wish. The bare minimum is supplying the frame. A typical company will offer several routes. The cheapest and most common is a design and frame supply service which leaves the self-builder to project manage the rest of the build. You can be put in touch with a local project manager or instead opt for a full turnkey package.


Kit house in Co Wicklow that took just four months from the foundations to moving in

elf-build kit homes may be a relatively recent phenomenon but they have their origins in the pattern book builders of the 18th Century. Pattern books allowed people in one country to copy the styles and fashions in architecture from another and, by the 1730s, several were available. These were filled with engraved plates, essays on architectural theory and practical advice on construction and materials. James Gibbs’ Book of Architecture published in 1728 was a bestseller. It was aimed at “gentlemen who might be concerned in building, especially in remote parts of the country, where little or no assistance can be procured”. In the first half of the 20th century, more than 75,000 Sears kit homes were built across America and fashion crossed the Atlantic a decade later. The late Murray Armor (who went on to become probably the first self-build guru), and his wife, won money in a 1960s television show on their honeymoon in the US. On their return, they decided to build their own home in Nottinghamshire. Murray’s frustration at the lack of advice and information for self-builders led


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Green Oak Framing Co

There are three main criteria influencing your choice of supplier: a) A specialist in your preferred construction type. The most popular is timber frame, whether open or closed panel, or the more specialised oak frame. Structural insulated panels (SIPs), insulated concrete formwork (ICF) and steel frame are alternative build systems. b) Selection of materials is also important because ultimately suppliers will tie you into choosing these as part of their package. Some suppliers allow you to simply buy a timber frame from them but many will want you to go further. This is the moment when you should decide how flexible you want to be and how much control you want to have over your home. Before signing, make sure you are happy with the materials on offer. c) The in-house design service is another option. Kit homes of the last century are closely associated with period styles, but package suppliers have become increasingly adventurous and now usually offer a contemporary range as well. Opting for a bespoke design service will allow for lots of variations to concepts. You can of course also bring your own plans designed by an independent building professional. Written customer recommendations are a common feature of brochures and websites but ask to speak directly to former customers, privately. Ask what the project management experience was like. Even better, see if you can visit their homes to view the finished product. A visit to the factory is also common.

Pros of seDG UPV Windows Ltds There are many benefits to following the package route rather than going it alone. You will have the certainty of a fixed price based on your selected

kit homes

The most common type of kit house is timber frame, including oak as pictured, but you can opt for other building methods.

specification. The build specification is very detailed and generally runs to eight or nine pages. This is followed by a two or three-page summary of the costs for each scope of works. If you are obtaining a frame erection service, this price can be fixed as well. The supplier, though, can’t guarantee

Antrim Flooring Co. The Flooring Specialists „

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Manufacturers of bespoke architectural cast stone products

kit homes

prices for builders and subcontractors that you engage with directly. If you are involving a lender to help finance the build, they are often more amenable where it is a package. Apart from the certainty of the cost, they have the security of a large organisation behind the build, not a one-man band builder, and can see exactly when funds will be drawn with dates likely to be kept. Even if a lender is not involved, knowing the cash flow path in advance is extremely helpful. Most importantly, package suppliers act as a hand holding service, always there for advice and reassurance. This is particularly useful for novices who can rely on a wealth of experience from builders and material suppliers. When the supplier is carrying out the full service, the quality of finish should be of a high standard and less likely to vary with the individual trades. This is especially true where the attention to detail of some German, Austrian and Scandinavian suppliers in particular, has often been commented upon by self-builders. Design constraints are much less than they were in the early days and many companies offer the services of their in-house designer who has the advantage of knowing what is and what is not possible, in design and build terms, with the rest of the package. Computer generated 3D images as well as photos of previous projects make it much easier to envisage your own dream home. Design drawings aren’t always easy to understand to the untrained eye. As stated above it is also common for you to bring your design drawings, with planning permission, and for the kit supplier to adapt them, if necessary, to the building method. Time saving and efficiency are for many, two of the big advantages of a self-build kit. Typically, you can have a watertight structure on site within a fortnight but this can be achieved within five days. After that, the various workmen can all be on site simultaneously. Then allow three to six months for the finished turnkey product; some suppliers will

guarantee certain deliverables, e.g. never exceeding 100 days on a project.

Time saving and efficiency are two of the big advantages of a self-build kit

Potential pitfalls

As with all forms of self-build, there are things to look out for when commissioning a kit home. To start with, make sure you are certain you like the „


kit homes

styles offered by the company. The design that the company draws up for you remains its copyright. You can’t simply engage the company at design stage, terminate the service and take the plans elsewhere to be built. Do all your research before committing. You will be able to amend the plans and work with the designer until you are happy with them. Once on site, major changes are not permitted. This means there are a lot of design decisions to be made at the preliminary stage. But suppliers will work very hard with clients to make sure they have correctly interpreted your requirements. However, as one leading supplier said, “Over 90% of our work to date has been custom designed by the owners’ architect so the product has developed into a genuine bespoke build system that can be adapted to almost anything.” Since you are ordering bespoke work and materials which can’t be sold on, especially in the case of timber frame kits, you will often be asked to pay large sums upfront. Make sure you discuss payment terms from the start. One option is to ask your solicitor to facilitate making payments to your suppliers. Monies can be paid into a solicitor’s account and, after a satisfactory interim valuation has been agreed, funds can then be transferred to suppliers. This provides everyone – you, your supplier and your lender – with greater protection.

Points to ponder

Large glazed areas. which incorporate corners, provide transparency to this prefabricated house Hanse Haus

Many package suppliers nowadays will undertake the complete ground works. This is because the accuracy of the foundations is critical, especially with timber frame where there is very little tolerance of error. If you choose or are asked to oversee the work yourself, the kit supplier will generally provide foundation drawings with pop up locations as well as the critical dimensions along with the static load calculations. In this scenario the company’s responsibility only begins when they arrive on site to erect the shell and if this is delayed there may be liabilities that will have to be covered by you. There is a view that workers from Northern European suppliers tend to be more focussed and pay more attention to detail than local tradesmen, but this is not always the case and many won’t speak the same language as you, which can make communication difficult, especially if there are local people involved as well. A further twist is that both communities may feel that the whole job should have been done by them alone. Finally, and before you even get started, make sure that the large delivery lorries carrying the sections are able to reach your site. The alternative is to employ a crane, but many rural sites up a lane or surrounded by trees may not be suitable, without special arrangements, for a house fabricated in sections in a factory. Why not make good use of the rate of exchange between the euro and pound? If you live in NI, check out prices for self-build packages in ROI, and vice versa. One company based in Leinster has several houses built in NI and if a selfbuilder is able to obtain an end user certificate, it


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

kit homes ‘Since you are ordering bespoke work and materials which can’t be sold on, you will often be asked to pay large sums upfront. Make sure you discuss payment terms from the start’ can export at zero per cent VAT to anywhere in the UK where new builds are VAT exempt. Suppliers often prefer not to have PC sums but offer a fixed price so they work hard with clients in advance to finalise a specification. Enquire if you can choose from ‘no cost options’ included in a standard specification. But if you really want a Philippe Starck bath, you will have to pay a premium!

Paying the price

If you have ever watched Grand Designs, you will know that setting a realistic budget is essential for any self-build project. Package suppliers vary in their price structures, but typical estimated costs may include:  Free initial consultation.  £600 (€650) for design drawings.  £2,000 (€2,200) to progress the drawings through planning and building regulations.  A deposit of 20% for the kit.  The remaining 80% payable upon delivery.

 Delivery, scaffolding and waste disposal should be included in the contract price.

Gabled and flat roofs combined with projecting balconies in Co. Fermanagh

The good news is that a self-build kit can yield savings of up to 30% compared to buying a new house from a builder or developer. Other things to think about are:  Planning application fees.  Cost of connecting your site to services.  Cost of site.  Budget for decoration and finishes.  Site clearance.  Contributions to the local council (development fees) which can run upwards of €15,000 in ROI. n

Stuart Blakley Additional information: Rory Power of Ambihouse, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 539 4242,


snaglists Once the build is completed, the snag list will highlight what needs to be finished before you move in.

Snaglists: what are they about? Depending on how good or bad your builder was, you may end up with less than you expected. This is where the snaglist comes in – an inspection report highlighting defects in an existing home or recently completed project.


ouse building projects should ideally be completed to the standards stated, but they often aren’t. Even on a house that’s been completed by a professional builder with quality systems in place, 20 to 30 ‘snags’ are to be expected. An average three-bedroom house with a standard finish might average 50 to 80 items that will need correcting while a house built with little oversight may result in 100 to 150. For those of you who are still in the dark about the concept of a snaglist, it is defined as an inventory of the small pieces of work – commonly known as snags – that need to be finished at the end of the


build. The word ‘small’ is somewhat misleading as new homes and extensions can present serious flaws that should have been picked up by the builder’s finishing foreman or staff.

What items are on a snaglist?

Any visible defect is documented in the snaglist. Other issues that may be recorded include work not completed in keeping with best practice, e.g. the quality of workmanship in laying brick pavers. Photographs may be pasted into the report to document issues such as leaks or uneven flooring SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

The issue of oversight

When buying a second-hand house the advice is to have it properly surveyed and inspected, which is a prudent move, the same when buying a second-hand car whereby we get an independent mechanic to check it for us. But doesn’t it seem rather absurd to have to get a new house snagged and even more so to have to pay extra money to make sure the house is defect free? Surely it is up to the builder to highlight imperfections and correct them, a pre-delivery inspection if you like. But can you rely on the builder to do this for you? A relationship is likely to develop between a homeowner and builder and it can happen that it becomes too trusting. There shouldn’t be an instance where you dare not ask questions for fear of looking foolish. Perhaps it is more foolish not to ask questions and express concern over the finishes that are not up to expectation. In reality a newly built house or extension involves numerous different tradespeople and subcontractors bringing a range of different materials, finishes and systems together. For this to

be successful, the builder needs to orchestrate them all – this pyramid of dependency can have a lot of flaws and is prone to errors. Professional oversight may be provided by your project manager or architectural designer and/or engineer. And while you may rely on this as a means of guaranteeing the desired result, know that good working relationships are often in place between all parties – this usually helps the project run smoothly but can also make it a difficult environment in which to flag issues. As for regulatory oversight, in NI Building Control inspectors monitor certain critical stages, such as the pouring of the foundations, with regular visits to the site, however even they cannot be everywhere and they do not have any input where quality of workmanship is involved, they are only there to enforce Building Regulations. In ROI the self-certification system means that apart from the occasional inspection by your building control officer to enforce the Building Regulations, there is very little oversight from the authorities.


levels. Unintended damage by trades people is a common issue, as are materials not having been given time to dry out or forced to acclimatise too quickly which can lead to defects appearing. The moisture content in wood flooring, for instance, needs to adapt to the environment it will be in – timber will contract as the heat is turned on which will in turn lead to unsightly gaps if it hasn’t been given time to dry out and shrink. Usually your builder will have done up his own snaglist and in the case of developer homes in ROI, will also have paid for an assigned certifier to carry out their inspections. But no matter the scale of the work, (a simple extension or a brand-new house) it’s a good idea to get an independent snaglist drawn up by a professional you hire directly, to be implemented at completion and prior to final sign off. They will give you a ‘second opinion’ which won’t factor in how expensive something is to fix, whose fault it was or how difficult it will be to resolve. Even if you are the one overseeing the project, having a catalogue of what needs correcting before you move in can be helpful. What are the causes of poor workmanship? Likely culprits include the use of sub-standard materials, inadequacy of supervision by either the contractor or the professional appointed to oversee the project on your behalf, poor training of tradesmen, resources that are inadequate or stretched too thin, design flaws, lack of understanding and resulting poor installation of new technologies that building regulations – especially with regards to energy use – require to be fitted, and the list goes on. Whether building new, extending or renovating, poor design details can be a source of problems so choose a competent design professional and make sure they are totally independent of the builder you employ, this prevents a conflict of interest should problems crop up at a later stage.

Whether building new, extending or renovating, poor design details can be a source of problems so choose a competent design professional After and make sure they are totally independent of the builder you employ.

It’s time to stop accepting poor standards

Unfortunately it appears to be part of our make up to accept poor standards; we do not tive is due using execu like to complain and rvey In NI the ho condition su rather than make a fuss, s 2016 house st recent o m e th t n to release it ri ent to p w e w we allow ourselves to e I’s housing m N ti f lts; at the per cent o su 51 re , r 11 20 in be cheated from what e basic repai owed that ith an averag w statistics sh lt ilt u u b fa s e g we are legally and n dwellin least o quarters of stock had at perfectly entitled to. early three N . 23 ,1 s. lt £2 u f had fa es cost o It is reasonable uld find dat before 1945 survey we co y it al at u st q g ro n for you to expect that by Eu OI housi a 2012 study The latest R your self-build project I). However were very SR s (E ld 2 o 0 h 20 se back to f ROI hou o t n e EU ce will be finished to a er p 6 mpared to th shows that welling as co ally d er r good standard and ei en g th h so it tisfied w nt; ROI al sa ce er p 4 th an have a quality finish. Of less th age for e average of the EU aver an th er h course house building is ig h ing and scored at or trical, plumb ec el s it f o not like a car production y adequac allations. line where quality control heating inst standards can be maintained. Don’t expect perfection as this is impossible, there will always be some „

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Cost of snaglist?

You may do your own snaglist but don’t be penny wise and pound foolish, it’s a job usually best left to a professional. Costs generally range from £150/€200 to £350/€400; the scale (usually based on property size and location) and complexity will determine the fee. It is generally accepted as good practice to obtain three written quotes when looking for a snaglist professional to compare like with like. The benefit to you will be immediately apparent when you receive the report as you’ll soon realise the cost of repairing the problems highlighted may run 10 to 100 times the fee charged for the survey. While snaglists do not provide costings, they form a sound basis for separate third party contractor or builder to give you an idea of how much you will have to spend to repair the defects.


The point at which to have cause for concern is when there is a high level of imperfections or there are items that don’t function.


defects, but these should be kept to a minimum and barely noticeable (won’t catch your eye). The point at which to have cause for concern is when there is a high level of imperfections or there are items that don’t function. For instance, in the case of a €400,000 extension where the builder is owed €40,000 for the completion of the work, you may be reluctant to hand the money over if the house was poorly finished, e.g. foul drains overflowing onto the driveway during a party, leaking central heating plumbing resulting in brown water marks on the kitchen ceiling, foul smells emanating from the traps in the showers every time the toilets are flushed, badly scratched glazing on some of the newly installed windows, poor finishes to the paintwork generally, water tanks in the loft installed in breach of current Building Regulations, new plumbing which was not electrically bonded at the sinks, etc. In such a case, to give validity to your concerns a professional’s snag list report will outline the items not built to industry standards. It then could be a question of dismissing the builder from the agreement for breach of contract on the basis of non-performance, engage the services of another builder to complete the extension, and use the outstanding balance to pay for the remedial works. This is one of many examples, in any issues involving litigation, always get legal counsel. Each case is unique. For smaller works, it’s advisable to try to keep back 20 to 30 per cent for final payment; this will give you some room to get the snag list done, the issues resolved and the house re-inspected, to have the debris and builder’s materials removed (i.e. leaving the site in good condition as per the agreement) and get the paperwork finalised including certificates of compliance – not just relating to the structure, systems and finishes but also for things like gas and electricity connections.

When you engage the services of a builder you will generally enter into a legally binding contract with him. You will offer to pay an agreed sum of money and, in return, he will agree to provide you with the services and expertise required to build your house. Providing you honour your part of the contract you are entitled to expect the builder to honour his. There are always changes as the build progresses so it is extremely important to tell your builder about these in good time, and in writing. This may constitute a variation to the contract and it is quite common. However, any changes may have time and cost implications. At completion, the house should be what you expected, and that includes a good standard of build and finish quality. If not, then the builder has not delivered his part of the bargain and a way for you to provide evidence is to rely on your independent snaglist report. In ROI consumer contracts are protected by the Sale of Goods and Supply of Services Act, 1980 but as previous experience from defects at Priory Hall have shown, it can be difficult to get recourse in all instances. Insurance policies in the form of bonds include the NHBC (NI) and Homebond (ROI) but these only cover the structure for 10 years and the building envelope for five. The fine print and terms and conditions may lead to payment not being made. From individual suppliers, you can generally get a one year workmanship guarantee and for appliances/systems a one to five years’ manufacturer’s warranty on the product. n Adapted from original article by Rory O Connor C/Eng MIEI, Dip Law, with updates from Michael Fleming of Conspect Engineering and Disclaimer: this article is for reference only; always seek professional advice when dealing with building and legal matters. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Putting your house I where it belongs Where you decide to position your house and how you angle it on a given site in relation to the sun as well as views are among the first things to consider when building a new home. I’m currently site hunting, what features should I look for? There is no perfect site but if you plan to build a house out in the countryside, the rule of thumb is to look for about three quarters of an acre. This is to accommodate the house, a well, recreational areas, a fruit and vegetable patch, car park and garage/outbuilding, but also the inevitable but hidden septic tank with its percolation area. Inability to provide adequate space for the latter is literally a show stopper – planning will not be obtained. Where space is restricted, it’s worth exploring compact systems involving secondary treatment that can be more efficient than traditional systems and may limit the area required for percolation. There are, however, fundamental parameters for drainage systems generally requiring certain setbacks from the site boundary as well as distances

from the house that might be partially determined by the site shape and proportions. A safe bet in this regard would be to buy a site that already has outline planning permission where a drainage or site suitability assessment has been carried out with a system designed to comply with best practice standards and regulations. But these are not that commonly available. Be aware planning may also be difficult to obtain in certain areas, e.g. greenbelts. Safe access from the site to the road and providing good sight lines will also be required. A typical set-back distance for assessing road visibility along these sight lines is 2.5 metres from the road edge, which corresponds roughly to where you would sit in a car with the front bumper back a bit from the road. An integral part of both the site and sight line assessments is a topographic survey, concerning site levels or contours. Based upon this survey, the „

Views are an important factor in determining orientation



planning authority will determine the feasibility of the proposed development regarding drainage and road access. Each site is unique and solutions can be found for most, provided sufficient area is provided. Sites of limited area but which are narrow or broad will require greater skill in fitting all the required functions in a meaningful and useful manner. This is often most effectively achieved with the input of a design professional, such as a landscape architect or architect.

Each site is unique and solutions can be found for most, provided sufficient area is provided. Sites of limited area but which are narrow or broad will require greater skill in fitting

this access point in order to achieve the necessary sight lines. Mature hedges and trees around the site can create wind breaks, providing some shelter and helping to reduce heat loss from the house. Whilst this pertains to both evergreen and deciduous trees, the former may prove a critical impediment to solar gain, which would be especially problematic during the winter if located to the east, south and west of the house. Deciduous trees to the south, however, especially those which are light in form (without dense branching and foliage), may prove less of a problem as they can create dappled light and shade during the summer but only minimal impediment to solar gain during the winter. For example, the common ash tree is light in form, though as a fairly large tree would need to be set back from the house so as not to become overbearing, whereas mountain ash, also light in form but smaller, could be at a closer distance. If clearing trees, be selective as some may be retained to frame a view. Of course, you can always plant new trees so as to achieve the same effect. Still, regardless of your fondness for trees, as a rule it is better to avoid building the house too close to them, not just because the roots could apply pressure directly to the foundations and floor, but also because a species like willow can draw moisture from the ground which could undermine these sub-structures.

How about hard and soft landscaping?

Deciduous trees to the south provide dappled light and shade during the summer but only minimal impediment to solar gains in the winter months.


How might I best use trees and shrubs?

Generally speaking it is a good idea to retain existing trees and hedging, not least because they are likely to consist of native or semi-native species. At the very least, keeping what’s there will prove sustainable, preserve biodiversity and enhance wildlife, especially in the case of hedgerows. This approach is also more likely to ensure good integration of the new development into the surrounding area, particularly if rural. There is an understandable temptation to clear a site completely, especially along the road edge and then to introduce ornamental species that are not found in the vicinity of the site. However, you are more likely to conform to expectations of the planning authority by retaining as much of the existing roadside hedgerow as possible, thus reflecting the context. These are characteristics of traditional rural Ireland and can help knit the new house into the surrounding landscape. As a rule, avoid creating a suburban type boundary in rural areas. For instance, pink cherry trees in spring will look out of place whereas native or semi-native species are usually preferable and appropriate. Notwithstanding, adjustments will be required to the roadside boundary on either side of

It is worth giving careful consideration to the extent of lawn you actually need or would like. I often wonder whether this inclination is ingrained, deriving from our ancestors who cleared the land for tillage farming. While large expanse of grass may seem to be the norm, I would always try to imagine alternatives, especially those that will save time and energy you otherwise would require every week throughout the summer in mowing operations. Instead you could plant areas of shrubs and trees that cover the ground. Structure them in order to produce a more interesting, spatially and texturally, outdoor space. Perhaps layer areas of the garden so that some are subtly screened in whole or in part and the eye can both wander and wonder, resulting in a certain sense of mystery and intrigue. Such a creative and playful approach generates an excitement and curiosity which are experiences we humans actually need. The likes of clear stemmed and multi-stemmed birch are very effective in producing a partial screen through filtered views. Hard landscaping should also be used wisely; too much tarmac for instance, on a rural site, especially if wrapped around the house, can starkly disconnect you from the garden. The practice of encircling the house in tarmac and concrete paths is in fact all too common. As a result houses often appear as if dropped by helicopter, completely detached from their context. I’d advise minimising the extent of hard „

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orientation This holiday home in Co Wexford has two outdoor areas, built to enjoy at different times of day.

surfaces immediately around the building, instead bring planting and lawns right up to the walls to help you achieve a ‘soft landing’. Adequate car access can be achieved with driveways and carports which are visually shielded from the house.

What about the size and depth of the plot? Size and depth of house?

The preferred proportions of a site depend, for instance, on the location of car parking, on the one hand, and where you intend to position the main living rooms and contiguous outside spaces, such as patios and lawns. You need to plan these carefully. A narrow or shallow site will pose a challenge to the designer, but one that can give rise to interesting results. Such proportions may also determine the scale of the house itself. From an energy point of view, the more compact its form the better the energy performance is likely to be. Just compare a fist to an open hand with fingers outstretched – which retains heat more easily? Your designer or BER/EPC assessor could help here, aiming for a surface area-to-volume ratio of around 0.7sqm per cubic metre. A cube is the most energy efficient to heat but no one will actually build a house like that. Indeed, there may be reasons to produce an elongated form or one with projections, but at least be aware of the need to consider the ultimate energy balance of the house an how to compensate. That is certainly possible.


How should I orientate the house and its rooms?

By and large, it is ideal to position the living and bedrooms so that they face south in order to maximise solar gains and place service rooms and circulation areas, such as halls, corridors and stairs, to the north. This is not always possible, of course, and you can adapt your design without compromising on the solar gains. Similarly, the ideal position of a house on a site, at least in my view, is where you approach the main entrance from the north and proceed through the hallway towards the reception or living rooms which, in turn, open towards the south and west. This might leave the kitchen and utility room somewhere at the eastern or northern end of the house. Thus, the living rooms not only benefit from optimal solar gain, but also look out upon and provide access to the more private external areas. In an approach from the south you will need to balance the ‘semi-public’ area of car parking and entry with the ‘semi-private area’ of patio / garden space, achieving some sort of discreet separation. In such a case, it’s useful to have a wider garden – perhaps positioning the main entrance and car parking towards the east and living rooms towards the west. With a southerly garden facing the road, depth will assist in achieving separation between the semi-public and semi-private functions. Of course hedging and small trees as well as different ground materials can help to create spatial separation too. Computer software can help to model the house in terms of orientation and energy gains. The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) is a tool I find particularly incisive and powerful to predict the energy balance of a house although there are others including those that offer 3D modelling. PHPP will assist in, among other things, determining the amount of energy you will need SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Should the house be on a straight North South axis with living areas facing south?

It’s not necessary to follow this axis, you can angle it up to 25 degrees off that line and still get a very good result in terms of solar gains. There’s quite a tolerance in the calculations as the amount and positioning of glazing will have a significant role to play. Design packages like PHPP are comprehensive in providing information such as how far back the window reveal and head should be to achieve better solar gains. It’s a give and take between the amount of glazing and the amount of insulation you have to add to make up for the heat loss. In new builds, a fabric first approach should be adopted, placing emphasis on building the house to be airtight and well ventilated. Depending on the topography you may want to build the house at a certain angle to avoid the need for expensive foundations. So this could restrict your orientation but shouldn’t be a limiting factor. Very narrow sites, however, may mean having to place your living areas more northerly facing. My own house faces north because we built on the hillside and there’s a bank on the south side. Oftentimes views can face north too, be it of a tree, stream or a mountain, and you should make the most of these with picture windows. You’ll just have to make up for the thermal losses by adding insulation and investing in higher performing windows. The design software will help you determine how to achieve a good balance.

it near the shed, does it provide direct access to the garden and clothes line? I’d generally have it located to the eastern end, with access to the utility room.

Can I build on top of a hill? How can I make the most of the views?

The planners will want to ensure your house blends into the landscape and generally, building on the highest point puts the house too much on show. It will also expose you more to high winds and the weather, which will affect the energy performance of the building. When designing any building it needs to have ‘visual absorption capacities’, it should be a backdrop as opposed to a silhouette. Even in a built-up area the building needs to blend in with its peers. On a sloping site, a split level design will be more economical to build than cut-and-fill but if the terrain is very steep, you will in all likelihood need to dig. In that case you could consider adding a story beneath the cut and fill area, or build the house so that part of it consists of a basement. There’s a lot to dig out if you want a flat level and you also have to deal with the bank, including retaining walls and also waterproofing. When you do cut and fill you generally pick the lowest contour but it’s still a considerable dig and the costs can quickly mount if you hit rock. n


year-round and sizing your boiler accordingly, for the lowest possible running costs. It will also specify the systems required to achieve a comfortable interior, one without draughts and with a balanced temperature as well as healthy air supply throughout the building.

Art McCormack FRIAI

Where should I put my front and back doors?

In general, it’s good for your main entry point to be central in order to gain access to any area of the house when you come in – instead of having to walk down a long hallway, for instance. Inside it’s important to segregate the bedrooms and other private areas from the semi-public spaces. Visitors will generally be given access to one or two rooms and these should be connected. The typical bungalow design with gable access can be problematic for these reasons. You have to think of how the building is going to be read – in a cottage the front door is hugely important, there’s a whole narrative attached to it. You need to stay true to the rhetoric of the building. At the other end of the spectrum you have modernist buildings – the lines are all so clean and uniform it may take you a while to find the entrance! There’s a hugely utilitarian element to the back door, not only regarding how it connects you to the inside as seen above but also to the landscape – is



Passive aggressive Jim MacLane of Co Tyrone didn’t set out to build himself a low energy house but thanks to clever design that follows the sun he’s heating his retirement home for next to nothing. Jim wanted to build a house that would be warm, comfortable and easy to upkeep; environmentally friendly, energy efficient as well as cost effective. If this wish list seems demanding, his attitude was anything but. His very relaxed approach to this project may in fact have been the reason why the design, securing planning permission and construction phases, went so well. The context may have had something to do with it too. “We built behind the original home where I was born and reared. I’ve moved back to my roots to retire,” he says. “Living next door to our daughter, son-in-law and young grandchildren we wanted to do our part for the environment, we are setting an example for them and for future generations which is great as we are still exercising parental guidance,” he adds.

East west axis

On the eastern side of the site are spectacular views which the couple wished to make the most of. “The best views are from the front of the house which is located as close as we could to the old, original and now demolished, family home I was reared in,” explains Jim. A local builder specialised in low energy and zero carbon designs was brought on board to advise them throughout the project, and to build the dwelling for „

Houses are no longer automatically positioned to face the road; solar gains, views and topology now determine orientation.



Fibreglass insulation was chosen throughout because it’s economical, easy to install and leads to virtually zero waste on site as offcuts can be reused. Being less efficient than rigid alternatives such as PIR, thicker detailing was required – the walls and roof had to accommodate a higher volume of insulation – but as this was a new build the extra depth didn’t pose a problem. The choice of triple glazing aimed to contribute towards energy efficiency but also to prevent the transfer of sound as the house is close to a busy road.


them. “The orientation helps keep the house at a balanced temperature; the exposure of the rooms to the sun means it’s where it needs to be at various times of the day. It was so well planned in the design and layout – these are aspects we would never have thought of,” adds Jim. All the while accommodating the views, the house was tilted in such a way as to maximise solar gains; their builder used the passive house planning package (PHPP) to do the calculations. As a result this home benefits from natural light and heat in every room except the main bathroom; the front of the house gets the morning sun as do the two bedrooms, ensuite, hall and living room. Once the orientation was settled upon, it was up to the builders to construct the house so that it would live up to their promise. Attention to detail is the key to achieving a low energy house and, having been trained in this line of work, special attention at the construction phase led to good airtightness and low thermal bridging. The builders designed the timber frame, which they chose as their preferred build method over blockwork to speed up the construction process, and specified high levels of insulation.

The focal point in the living room is a wood burning stove which sets the tone on long winter nights. “It’s fitted with a back boiler so can assist with the hot water requirements when in use,” explains Jim. The primary heat source, however, is a condensing oil boiler with heat emitters consisting of radiators. Unable to decide where to locate the oil storage tank, Jim used a 20l jar to feed the burner and the first fill lasted them six weeks. He therefore estimates his annual heating and hot water bill to be less than £75/year at the current rates, but as he moved into the house early in the summer of 2016, only time will tell if his estimate is accurate. The cooker is electric and their overall electricity bills now stand at roughly £30/month. Most important is the comfort factor achieved. “There is a lovely temperature throughout the house,” says Jim. “To always have clean fresh air is fantastic, we both feel more comfortable and healthier in the house.” The lack of draughts and the fact that the temperature is constant, also add to the comfort levels. The mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery is in large part responsible for this. It harvests up to 90 per cent of the heat produced in the house to warm up the incoming fresh air through a heat exchanger. This system changes the air in the building every two and a half hours for a healthy indoor environment. Here’s to modern living! House size: 190 sqm Site size: ¼ acre Build cost: £110,000 for a builder’s finish (excludes kitchen/bathroom/flooring) House value: £180,000 to £200,000 Airtightness: 0.3 air changes per hour @50Pa


Walls: proprietary timber frame construction with 320mm fibreglass insulation, U-value 0.11W/sqmK Roof: 550mm of fibreglass insulation fitted in three layers, U-value 0.08 W/sqmK Floor: cement sandwich type with build up of 175mm PIR insulation, U-value 0.13 W/sqmK Windows and external doors: uPvC triple glazed, overall U-value 0.8W/sqmK, G-value 50 per cent


Design & Build Moffitt & Robinson Construction, Omagh, Co Tyrone, tel. 8224 3656,


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Too much of a good thing? Emmanuelle Quinlivan of Co Cork had to juggle tricky soil conditions with her desire to build a passive house

Four years ago Emmanuelle was looking for an antidote to the damp, draughty and hard to heat home she was living in. It was only when she found a greenfield site in the right location that she got her chance to go ‘passive’ – introduce large amounts of insulation, triple glazing, build the house to be airtight with a heat recovery ventilation system and have a minimal heat input requirement. “This was my pet project,” she explains. “From the very beginning I knew I wanted to invest in the building fabric. I had no interest in the finishes, my aim was to get the technology that would make this a comfortable, healthy home.”

Angling the house

The site is located on a broad valley but there was a lot of rock beneath the ground, which meant it had to be angled to avoid digging into hard material – as that would have increased the cost considerably. Emmanuelle’s architect used the Passive House Planning Package to determine whether knocking the house off the southern axis, to avoid rock, would make too much of a difference. Thankfully it didn’t the living areas could be positioned to face southwest and hallways/utility northerly. To keep to the vernacular style of the area, the house front looks like a traditional cottage but the back, where a two storey was possible, looks more contemporary.

Too hot in summer

The greenhouse effect caused by the windows in summer – despite low emissivity coatings – has brought about some significant discomfort to Emmanuelle and her young family. Therefore six months after they moved in they installed a shading device to allow the sun to enter in winter-time, but block it out when it is high in the sky during the summer. “The brise soleil makes a world of difference; it’s not something I think you can do without. Now the house is really comfortable all year round,” says Emmanuelle. But the brise soleil design they ended up with wasn’t the one their architect had in mind. “We had


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House value: €420,000 BER: A2 Airtightness: 0.4 ACH @50Pa

Inside she chose underfloor heating fed by an air source heat pump – while the efficiency of air source can be less than geothermal, the family’s passive house heating demand is low, which justifies using a small unit. The installation cost was also more cost effective. Emmanuelle also added thermal solar panels for hot water as well as a solid fuel stove, the latter she says they never use. “I think we’ve lit it three times to see the flame since we moved in four years ago,” she says. “It’s got cosmetic value but there really is no need for it with the underfloor heating.” “On the night saver tariff, we pay about €100 a month, which can rise to €150 a month in the depths of winter, but that isn’t bad considering electricity is our only bill covering all white and black goods as well as heating, hot water and cooking requirements.” The site is quite exposed to high winds and storms, which has an impact on the thermal performance of the house. “What’s funny is how quiet the house is. You almost feel like you’re in a bubble. The cocooning effect is so strong it can be hard to get the children to put on clothes in winter – they don’t understand it won’t be 20 degrees outside!” “The amount of natural light we get is also amazing, I love looking out yet feel completely enclosed in the house,” she adds.


House size: 360 sqm Site size: 1 acre Build cost: €367,000

Architect Mosart Ltd., Wicklow town, tel. 0404 25777,


run out of money at this stage and chose one of the cheaper options – timber slats.” “The problem with timber, as compared to the aluminium alternative, is that it requires quite a bit of upkeep being exposed to the weather,” she adds. “It needs to be well protected; ours is now covered in mould so we need to strip it back and repaint it to prolong its life. We’ll eventually invest in an aluminium version for the low maintenance aspect, once this one looks like it’s on its last legs.” She estimates the cost of a timber brise soleil to be roughly €800 and an aluminium one upwards of €3,000. To prevent overheating in summer, even with the brise soleil, opening windows is the perfect solution, says Emmanuelle. “While it’s true that bad smells are perfectly dealt with by the heat recovery unit, you do want to open your windows once in a while – especially in summer when it’s nice out and it starts getting a bit warm in the house,” she comments. There is however a school of thought that says heat recovery ventilation systems work best if you don’t open the windows, especially in winter to avoid a cold influx of air. The reasoning being the large amount of fresh air entering the house defeats the purpose of having a ventilation unit that preheats cold air to keep the house fresh. “There is a summer bypass on the heat recovery system which we do use when it gets very warm. Our solution therefore is to mostly open the windows in the summer and keep snug in winter with the windows closed.”

Structure: Timber frame Ground floor: 300mm expanded polystyrene insulation on standard build up; U-value: 0.1 W/ sqmK Walls: 100mm lightweight block work, 50mm cavity, 220mm factory-built timber frame insulated with high performance quilt insulation, 9mm OSB taped and sealed as air tight layer, 50mm PIR insulation, uninsulated 50mm service cavity and 12.5mm plasterboard. U-value 0.12 W/ sqmK Flat roof: clay tiles externally on 50 x 35mm battens on breathable roofing membrane on pre-fabricated roof trusses filled with 400mm fibreglass Insulation, air tight membrane taped and sealed, 50mm service cavity and 12.5mm plasterboard, U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Sloped roof: clay tiles externally on 50 x 35mm battens on breathable roofing membrane on 220mm rafter filled with 220mm high performance quilt insulation, air tight membrane taped and sealed, 50mm PIR insulation, 50mm service cavity and 12.5mm plasterboard. U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Windows: Triple glazed laminated hardwood, overall U-value 0.8 W/sqmK



spring flowering bulbs

Top 10 low maintenance bulbs Whether winter was bleak or meek, the arrival of spring flowering plants automatically lifts the spirits and raises the aesthetic of the garden. None so much as the bulbous beauties that pop with exuberance and delightful colour year after year. Right: Narcissus Salome JJ Harrison, Wikimedia Commons



pring just isn’t spring without a container overflowing or a garden border shimmering with crocus, daffodils, tulips or irises. For the novice these are an easy-peasy, plant-the-bulb-in-autumn and leave it to nature solution, because thereafter, for the most part the clump will multiply and spread on its own. For the expert, these pops of colour are a way to weave a tapestry through the garden in the early season and keep its interest level high. But they are also moveable feasts, filling gaps and refreshing tired places. The great thing with bulbs is that if you didn’t get the chance to plant them in autumn, then you can buy them ‘in the green’ this very week in your local garden centre. ‘In the green’ just mean with leaf, we divide and move bulbs ‘in the green’ because they are easier to see and manage (than a dormant bulb) but really ‘in the green’ in your garden centre is not just in leaf but in flower – so you get to see how great the plant is. You can keep bulbs in containers and move them around different places each year to keep things fresh or you can plant directly into the garden and let them naturalise and spread into the zones they will be happiest in. The majority of spring-flowering bulbs can be planted under deciduous trees as they will sprout and flower before the tree comes into leaf and the canopy shades out the area below, at which point they will go dormant. An important thing to remember about spring flowering bulbs is that you must not cut back their foliage until six weeks after they have finished flowering. The reason for this is that the bulb needs to recharge its ‘batteries’ for next year. If you cut them back too early they will go ‘blind’ producing lots of foliage but no flowers. To store the bulbs, after flowering let the foliage die back as much as possible – as this is really the leaf giving its sugars to the bulb to sustain it over

its dormancy. Then lift the bulb, brush off the soil and place in straw lined trays or net bags (the type you might have gotten bulk onions or potatoes in) in a dark, warm but well-ventilated place. I find the shed works for me. Plant out again next autumn into a different part of the garden or fresh container – a fresh spot or refreshed compost will help keep a step ahead of any tulip related pest or disease lurking in your soil. When it comes to planting, if it’s hard to tell which way is pointing up (growing tip) plant the bulb on its side – it will not only manage from that position but over time will self-correct. There are hundreds of spring flowering bulb species and then there are the staples with all their hybrids and cultivar varieties to choose from. Here’s a countdown of my top ten staples that like all soils and need no fuss – but which perform like the Bolshoi – and by that I not only mean to technical perfection, but are hardworking, elegant and breath taking, all at the same time. Life may be a dance but the garden is a choreographed ballet. These 10 bulb choices will keep you on point this spring.

/Jonquil 10 Daffodil/Narcissus You can’t beat a bright yellow daffodil

to trumpet spring but when it comes to those trumpeted blooms there are other colours on offer too. I love the white forms and those pheasant’s eye types known as Narcissus poeticus. I am intrigued (or should I say enticed) by the newer pink flushed forms such as ‘Salome’ and ‘Replete’ – that said they can be a bit more peachy than pink but perhaps that’s fitting for the plant kingdom’s version of the dance of seven veils. Enticing too is the fact that plants in the genus narcissus have fragrance, many exude a scent that is captivating, heady and sweet with green nuances. A smell that has been described as hypnotic and narcotic – its botanical nomenclature derives originally from the Greek ‘narke’, meaning ‘to „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



There are in excess of 4,000 varieties divided into over 20 flower shape types (single, double, ruffled, parrot, etc.) so you will be hard pressed not to find a colour or petal shape that’s your ‘cup’ of tea. Some cups don’t open until late May but anything sold as an ‘early’ will do its glorious thing in March/April. Guaranteed earlies are the Kaufmanniana, emperor, single early, double early and Greigiis. Mid spring would be more the Darwin and the triumph types followed by the lates of fringed, lily and parrot. Which shows you can have a succession of varying types from March to June – that’s impressive. Tulips are a little trickier than most other bulbs. Just a notch or two up on the care requirements that can put new gardeners off especially when they flower once to never return. Most commercially available types are considered bedding type (hybrids and cultivars, not species) and as the term bedding suggests, they are discarded after flowering and planted afresh each year. Alternatively, you can lift and dry the bulbs to store over summer and replant in autumn or get a type that bulks up on its own in the soil. Kaufmanniana variety


spring flowering bulbs

be numb’, later adopted by the Romans in the form of ‘narce’ and thus into ‘narcotic’ and also ‘narcissism’. As someone with a background in aromatherapy, I find the scent valuable as a natural tranquiliser to sedate a troubled mind, repetitive thoughts, panic, etc. Daffodils come in a variety of heights, colours and flower variations and as such are often sold under different names. To avoid confusion it is best to think of the cultivated varieties being roughly divided into three categories; daffodil, jonquil and narcissus. Daffodils bear a single flower with a long, trumpet like corona. Jonquils bear two to six flowers – smaller in size and with short coronas and Narcissi bear four to eight daf-like flowers but with shortened coronas. They all appreciate a welldrained soil and the only guarantee of failure is a soggy site.

stand out in winter and spring. Beloved by many in part because they are among the earliest to flower (often January if the winter was mild), nourishing the gardener’s hope that spring is advancing. I resisted the oft-quoted Wordsworth daffodil lines in the daf entry but the lesser known lines from ‘To a snowdrop’ are perhaps worth repeating here: “Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring, And pensive monitor of fleeting years!” That last line a reminder of the very long lifespan of snowdrops – other bulbs may give you a few years but snowdrops will see you out. The trick is to plant in soil that is humus rich, this will not only supply nutrients but the moisture retention„

Above and below left: There are in excess of 4,000 varieties of tulips Wikimedia Commons


Just like snowflakes not all snowdrops look alike – there are over twenty varieties with subtle and, on occasion, dramatically different markings. But in the main snowdrops can be described as an elegant combination of green and white that will


spring flowering bulbs

they like. I find they won’t spread into drifts on dry sites. They do like some partial shade too. Brilliant under deciduous shrubs and trees but also in borders and woodland or boundary edges. If you have squirrels nearby and are planting bulbs in autumn protect them with a chicken wire cage to prevent savaging. If you are planting in the green now, there won’t be any problems.


Striped squill/Puschkinia

Puschkinias are often nicknamed the Russian Snowdrop – a clue to origin and time of flowering. They are clump forming like snowdrops yet have more to show off. They are immensely free flowering and their petals, striped in blue and white, together form a star shape. They thrive in sun and semi-shade and are as happy in pots as in woodlands or borders but they like it well drained. There are several varieties yet you can’t beat Puschkinia scilloides var. libanotica for both exuberance and ease of care.

Below: Crown imperial Fritillary/Fritillaria imperialis




Crown imperial Fritillary/ Fritillaria imperialis

Perhaps the most aromatic of all the bulbs and certainly among the oldest in cultivation, going back to the earliest Greek and Roman gardeners, is the hyacinth. The five main colour tones are pink, red, white, blue and yellow – not sure if that covers everybody’s football team but it is an array to blend amongst other bulbs for a wonderful effect. There are early, mid- and late-season varieties too. Given that they can be a bit temperamental, the two tricks for success are to firstly grow them in a sunny location amended with sand and grit and after flowering is well over, do lift and dry to plant out again next year.

These show stoppers never fail to wow me afresh every year. I don’t grow them in my garden (it’s too full) but I take an annual April pilgrimage to the botanical gardens in Dublin just to marvel at theirs. Have done since I was a teenager. When it comes to having your own, there are two tricks. As always you have to get the position right – in this instance plant in a fertile (humus amended), well-drained soil that is afforded a good amount of sunlight (although they can also prosper in some shade) and a little shelter from wind. It’s in the lily family so if you can grow lilies you can certainly grow this stunner. The second trick is to break the rule of thumb – the general principle with bulbs is to plant them twice as deep as they are sized, so four inches deep for a two inch bulb, but with the Crown imperials the perfect depth to plant is at four times its size. It will seem deep but it makes them sturdier and protected from harsher weather, which is just what these tall ones need. Consider adding some grit to the hole to stop it slumping or chose to plant into an area well worked over. The only warning is they do have an unusual aroma, which to some is a nice bit of musky earthiness but to the olfactory sensibilities of others is more like must and foxes’ urine. Don’t let that put you off as you can mask the smell by interplanting with other fragrant offerings.


Allium bulbs

There’s a whole array of spring flowering wonders from the allium family – in shades of blue „


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spring flowering bulbs

and purple, white and even yellow. They can be as short as a few centimetres tall to hitting knee and even hip height. The majority are characterised by a ball-shaped inflorescence perfectly balanced on top of a single stem – elegant, refined and stunning in any border – but there is always an exception and the variety Allium Moly is one as it explodes into flower with a riot of stars and vivid yellow. It colonises freely and provides blocks of colour. While the pom pom balls are delightful for a bit of drama, you may also want to look at the alliums that break out from the tight ball and explode with petals. For a real fireworks display mid spring into summer I would opt for Allium Cristophii, A. Schubertii, A. Flavum, A. Cernuum or the wonderfully freaky Allium Vineale ‘Hair’. You will almost hear them crackle and frizz. Allium belongs to the family of garlic and onions and while they are all allegedly edible not all are palatable. I would keep the distinction between edible and ornamental.


Lily of the Valley/Convallaria majalis

clues us into the presence of a scent, and their perfume is pleasing. My personal favourites are Muscari latifolium, which is delightfully two-toned with light and dark blue, and Muscari botryoides, which leans more towards the purple end of the spectrum. Muscari armeniacum, meanwhile, is the most commonly found and can be either blue or white, often with a hint of green. They all self-seed freely and in no time you will get good clumps and drifts. They divide and transplant well too.



Top of my list because they are just so pretty and so easy. There are more than 100 species, all hardy and truly perennial. Single colours from pastel to vibrant, striped, flecked, two-tone – you name it – there are more treats than the entire sweet shop and to say I get giddy like a toddler in a garden centre at this time of the year is an understatement. I am however strict in what I grow at home: the excellent white ‘Jeanne d’Arc’, the white and mauve ‘Prinz Claus,’ and a purple unidentified vernus

It is always listed as a spring bulb – perhaps because it is planted in autumn with its spring flowering cousins – but really it’s a May time bulb. It is however worth the wait and the fragrance alone makes it an advisable purchase. It is also a brilliant coloniser of shady places, better than some other garden centre ‘shadys’. The beautiful white bell flowers are distinctive and emblematic but there is also a ‘Rosea’ variety that flowers pink – it is not nearly as vigorous as the white flowered but its perfume is as potent.


Grape hyacinth/Muscari

The flower heads bunch like grapes and many have a grapelike purple to their blue colouring although there are white varieties. Completely hardy, easy to grow, and with incredibly long-lasting blooms they will enrich any garden or patio planter. The hyacinth part of the common name


variety that I lifted from my grandfather’s garden. Varieties you might like to try are the Snow Crocuses (C. chrysanthus, C. sieberi, and C. tommasinianus). They flower early, sometimes before spring has arrived. Hardy, profuse, a good colour palette and full of impact. Of all the yellow varieties I find C. flavus a strong performer; it’s a species from the Balkans. Crocus vernus aka the Dutch Crocus, is actually native to Southern Europe, it is just Dutch by cultivation and commercial enterprise. It offers an array of cultivars in great colours – single and bicolored – and suits containers and garden alike. Whatever your garden style there is a bulb for you in the list above, but there are also a whole lot more out there to explore. Your local garden centre will have plenty in stock and if you are gardening on a budget then you can look now, note the names and come back for the bulbs in September. If you have the patience that is. Some things are just not worth resisting. n Fiann Ó Nualláin SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



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case study As the house is a protected structure, Ian filed a section 57 with the planners.

Eye on the prize Ian Walsh’s renovation project in Co Carlow illustrates the benefits of having a vision, and sticking to it.


More photographs available at


hen Ian bought a run-down property in the midlands, all he could think of was its potential. “I wanted to do something for myself and this seemed like the perfect opportunity,” he says. Ian had learned how to draw and design houses in school – he was in the second stage of his architectural studies at the time – so the beginning of the journey was much more exciting than it was daunting. It even had a bit of magic to it: “There’s a parallel with Newgrange, the front faces south and the first floor windows provide the most direct sunlight which goes deep into the house and joins the rear garden.” But Ian had actually learned how to carry out most of the DIY tasks he needed for this very special project during his childhood. “Dad was a carpenter and we were always working on something at home, he showed me all his tips and tricks,” he recounts.

“My dad is now a construction manager and during the build he kept me aligned with the plans and most importantly the budget. He helped from start to finish – the build itself lasted just over three years then more time to put the finishing touches.”

Historic building

The front façade is listed to retain the integrity of the streetscape. Built in 1897, the granite and limestone walls contained a relatively simple twoup two-down layout. “There are nine terraced houses on the street which are all protected buildings so I had to file a Section 57 notifying the local authority of the works I planned to carry out; they responded with a letter outlining what was permissible.” Ian met with planners, then the neighbours to tell them what he was up to. “There were no issues with overlooking or over shadowing but I wanted to let them know I’d be working on the house; the only real disappointment in terms of planning was not being allowed to add a conservation roof light SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

at the front of the house, which is south facing.” To maximise the amount of direct sunlight he could get into the house, Ian decided to flip the stairs – accessing them from the open plan area instead of at the front door. “We were then able to add roof lights on the garden facing side of the pitched roof,” he explains. To achieve this a new landing had to be created on the upper storey, which not surprisingly formed part of the bigger picture. “A great method to increase the sense of space in small areas is to add height; we used a portion of the extension to add more head room and lifted the ceiling in the kitchen and bathroom giving the opportunity to introduce a string of high level windows and infill between the lower level roof.” Upstairs the raked ceiling was maintained which lends intimacy to the bedrooms and ensuite. Despite not being allowed to bring as much light as he wanted to the front of the house, Ian made up for it at the back, adding three roof lights to a flat roof extension. One of the challenges to adding an extension was the difference in floor levels. “There was a big dip from the front to the back of the house so we did some work to make sure the ground floor was level throughout.” “To achieve this we retained the existing slab at the front of house and used that as our benchmark, (allowing for the thickness of timber battens and timber floor), then we excavated the existing concrete slab at the back down about

“A great method to increase the sense of space in small areas is to add height; we used a portion of the extension to add more head room...”


As part of the reconfiguration, the staircase was moved to face the living area instead of the front door. Above and left: Ground floor living room facing the road.



case study

case study

400mm and installed a new floor with insulation.” A different kind of challenge came in the form of finding asbestos. “We recognised it straight away, having worked on farms, so it was quite straightforward to deal with even though it was a big cost to get it taken away. It’s an expense you just have to resign yourself to paying, it’s too dangerous to go near that stuff,” says Ian.

Above: The flat roof extension with roof lights

The journey

“I bought the house in 2006, at the time I was working in Dublin and houses there were expensive, I searched around and this house in Carlow was within my mortgage approval budget. I was lucky enough to find a job in Kilkenny and move down there. In my mind this was my only way of getting onto the property ladder and becoming a homeowner,” adds Ian. “I was living in the house during the whole process – it was very dusty, especially in winter when I was less inclined to open the windows!” The old walls they removed to build the extension „


case study

and reconfigure the house were lime plaster and lath, which also created large volumes of rubble. The building work was done during his spare time; first the demolition and stripping out on

“It’s actually a very energy efficient house and I think we benefit from having adjoining neighbours, also being south facing at the front, we now get plenty of solar gain thanks to the internal reconfiguration.”


his long weekends and holidays with his dad and then the building work which only required the assistance of a small number of trades such as a block layer, plumber, plasterer, and second fix electrician. Ian also enlisted day labourers to help him load the many skips that needed filling. “I was lucky in that the new extension consisted of infilling between two houses, living in a terraced house we have party walls on either side.” “It’s actually very energy efficient and I think we benefit from having adjoining neighbours, also being south facing at the front, we now get plenty of solar gain thanks to the internal reconfiguration.” During the construction phase, this also meant there was no rear access point. “The house fronts directly to the street and the existing staircase leading to the upstairs bedroom had to be demolished to help speed up the delivery of materials and equipment to the back of the house where the extension was being built. We needed a straight route,” explains Ian. He used a ladder to get to bed every night, until the decision was made to build a moveable, temporary staircase which could quickly be taken out of the way, as required, with minimal effort. It was positioned with the reconfiguration in mind. “That was one of the first jobs we started, and worked really well, it only took two people to move the staircase.” Once sanded and painted, this temporary access was eventually kept as a permanent solution. And so, in 2008 they had demolished the back of the house, built and sealed the new extension. “Around that stage I was made redundant and „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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case study

It’s only when Ian returned home from working abroad that he put the finishing touches to the house

spent eight months unemployed at the height of the recession. This is when I did the majority of the work on the house. Achieving the balance was challenging – it’s either time you have, or money but seldom both.” His next move, to Canada for two years, wasn’t about to detract him from his task. “I returned twice a year, a couple of weeks at a time, and even though progress was slow I was reluctant to rent

out the house.” Next up was Kazakhstan. “I got a job on an infrastructure project in the oil and gas sector, it was a rotation based contract. I was six weeks there and two weeks home; I’d do work on the house on my visits.” At this stage he had received his Part 2 Architecture diploma and by the year 2013, he’d moved back to Ireland to put the finished touches to the house, and put down roots.

Small and spacious

“It’s a small house so the aim was to increase the feeling of space, flexibility and novelty which was the reasoning behind the big open plan area. I wanted to create a flow,” explains Ian. And yet the open space also provides comfort and an element of fun, enclosed as it is with textures that are used in a somewhat unconventional way. “I wanted to layer the rooms with materials, provide details and interest. The solid oak flooring was wrapped up the wall; there’s also a secret door to the study/bathroom space. Most visitors like this idea and are tricked into further rooms within the house.” “With small spaces it’s all about adaptability, and the dining table we have is what’s working best for me at the moment as it can be positioned in three different locations. During winter we tend „


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case study

Ground floor before

The rooflight in the pitched roof brings in light from a different direction.

First floor and ground floor after

to locate it close to the exposed stone wall and in the summertime we move it next to the window. Although I do now wish I’d added another roof light to the extension, just for symmetry.” The kitchen is at an angle, following the boundary with the house next door. “It tapers in so the idea was to get the cooker in first and then try to squeeze in all the appliances. It did take some tweaking, I actually used a kitchen handbook to get started and put it all into a computer modelling software.” “I had the dimensions but the angle threw everything off, so I put the cooker in the centre to allow for a 600mm countertop as I was told it’s important to leave plenty of space to work on. With the slimline dishwasher I managed to get in plenty of storage too.” The cooker is ready for gas but his hob is currently electric; heating and hot water is supplied by an oil boiler located in the back garden. “The pipes were all run in the house during the works. We had to replumb and rewire the entire building.” For fresh air, the stairwell acts as a passive ventilation system with the roof light above providing a chimney stack effect. The rooms are also ventilated with traditional hole in the wall vents, covered in cast iron plates. The walls were insulated on the inside with PIR backed plasterboard; Ian put the sheets on a batten frame to provide ventilation behind, allowing the walls to breathe.

Outdoor haven

Outside Ian also had to deal with differences in level. “The garden was originally sloping, three foot higher at the back. Instead of keeping the incline I thought it would be a good idea to create a platforms and zone it out,” he says. A block layer built a 500mm thick retaining wall with the leftover limestone from the internal demolition work. This created a sunken courtyard level with the ground floor. The white section at the end of the garden was a later addition, completed in the past two years. “I started that project really with just a hand sketch and without knowing exactly the construction details,” expounds Ian. “I started by hand digging and pouring foundations, building the walls and then I decided First floor before


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to go with a smooth plastered finish, painted white. I wanted simplicity, to create a clean impression. The aim was to have an outside room where I could put a couch and relax.” “Incorporating three recessed LED lights, when switched on at night adds a lovely intriguing glow especially with the blue hue emanating from one of the fixtures.” The shed that’s hidden by the white wall originally ran the full width of the site. “I didn’t need much storage so decided to cut the shed in half and create a focal point with the bamboo,” explains Ian. “My partner also had great ideas about what kind of planting to introduce; she helped define and create zones to maximise colour throughout the seasons. I do not think there is any time of the year where there is not some vibrancy that draws your attention.” “The curtains are always open to enjoy the view,” continues „

The garden used to be sloping; Ian zoned it out with a sunken garden/ patio and flat upper level.

case study

Ian. “The sun manages to break through into different parts of the garden. We get to use all of it depending on time of day and season.” And, looking back, Ian says selective naivety is not a bad thing. “During the build phase, a lot of people would ask me whether I’d finished ‘that house’ yet, implying it was taking me ages but the question never bothered me because I knew in my mind what it would be like, I retained that vision and that’s what kept me focused on the end goal.” “I believe as long as you have that drive and you fully commit yourself to it, you will get the best results. In my case life’s challenges and changes slowed things down at times but now I am finally getting to enjoy living in this very special house, and I am quite proud of how it’s turned out.” There is just one element that was put on the back burner. “The roof is in relativity good shape but the slates are original and in those days they did not felt the battens to waterproof the structure. Instead they installed a plaster type skim under the slates and this is beginning to deteriorate with the high winds,” he says, not too upset at the thought

of doing more work on the house! n Astrid Madsen House size: 95 sqm. Site size: 193 sqm. Build cost: €35,000 House value: €250,000

Build spec

Floor: rigid phenolic insulation, 150mm concrete slab, 50x50 timber battens, prefinished 22mm oak tongue and groove flooring. Walls: insulated plasterboard, treated timber battens on existing/new hollow block walls. Roofs: existing roof 150mm mineral wool insulation with continuous 50mm airgap, new extension roof consists of two portions – warm roof build up of fibreglass covered on 12mm marine ply on rigid phenolic insulation on 18mm marine ply on 50mm rigid phenolic insulation on 12.5mm foil backed plasterboard; cold roof build up of fibreglass on 18mm marine ply on tilting fillet on 175mm rigid insulation between joists on foil backed plasterboard.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Structural Engineer Michael Browne, Delgany, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 287 6949 Electrical (second fix) Eamonn Nolan & Sons Limited, Graigue, Carlow, tel. 059 913 5035 Painting & Decorating Enda Hynes, Carlow Town, mobile 0879072656 Kitchen Ikea Dublin, Insulation Kingspan Insulation, floor Kooltherm K3 Floorboard, walls Kooltherm K18 insulated plasterboard, roof Kooltherm K11 Roofboard Rockwool on existing roof, Windows Munster Joinery, Window Warehouse Ltd (England),

Local builder’s merchants Lamberts Hardware Limited, Hacketstown, Co Carlow, tel. 059 6471385 James Dempsey Hardware Ltd, Carlow town, tel. 059 913 1644 Doyles of the Shamrock, Graiguecullen, Co Carlow, tel. 059 913 1847 Planting Arboretum Garden Centre, Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, tel. 059 972 1558, Photographer Ger Lawlor, Kilcarraig House Park Wexford, tel: 087 646 0748,

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case study

Let there be light! Having returned home from Australia, light was everything to James and Rhea Kipling of Co Antrim. To get as much of it as possible, the couple transformed their home with a modest extension and reconfiguration, turning the house on its head.


Getting the necessary approvals to extend proved to be a challenge

ur family home here in Ireland was very dark; the sombre hall led to a poorly lit corridor and kitchen. Part of the problem was that there were few windows,”

explains Rhea. “We’d just returned from Australia where we’d rented a lovely house and the contrast couldn’t have been greater. Here we had to turn on the lights even on a bright summer’s day! We simply had to make a change.” “It was so dark and miserable, we fled the house every Saturday to bring the children somewhere else. Thanks to the renovation, we can now enjoy a chat in the kitchen and have people over. It’s transformed our lives,” she adds.


More photographs available at


“We had to turn on the lights even on a bright summer’s day! We simply had to make a change.”

James and Rhea also needed more downstairs living space to cater to family life; with all of these requirements they felt an architect would be best suited to help them find a solution. “James had a friend he’d gone to university with, who was an architect. We got along really well so we went to see previous work of his and fell in love with his style and the fact that he didn’t just focus on adding space, the flow was very important to him, and illumination.” “We wanted the house to be as open as possible and he found a way to do that by adding very little floor space,” says Rhea. The architect also helped navigate through the planning and building control processes: “Getting the energy calculations done was especially difficult as we had to make sure we kept to the energy conservation requirements,” continues Rhea. As windows are less thermally efficient than walls, insulation often has to be added to make up for the heat loss. “We did a lot of research to find the style we liked, we went to the SelfBuild show in Belfast and we got some good ideas, and found some of our suppliers. The design would obviously have to suit the house and our circumstances so it was a question of adapting these concepts to our needs.” They also went online and consulted magazines to see what options were open to them; their wish was to add as much glazing as possible. “We found out what we could and couldn’t do „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study The internal reconfiguration brought light into the new kitchen/living area but also in the hallway.

– for instance many of our neighbours went with brickwork, but we chose glass. Thankfully we were able to do this, and, despite the contrast I feel the glazing blends in really well.” “The greatest transformation came from the rooflights, they make us feel the extension has always been a part of the house. That it belongs

there,” adds Rhea. Trifold doors and the use of the same tiles inside and out make the 13sqm addition seem much larger than it is. “The bifold doors at the front of the extension allow a different quality of light – we have sun streaming in from every direction which makes it feel very airy. The house in Australia was big and bright and we wanted to recreate some of the things that worked there.” “Because of where we are, there’s also a management company we had to consult, we had to make sure they wouldn’t be adversely affected, and of course we also gave notice to our neighbours. Most of the work was done on our side so visually this wouldn’t impact on them but the construction does cause some disruption.” “Thankfully the architect, who project managed the build, and the builders were considerate, very neat and clean,” adds Rhea. This process took a few months. “As we had everything ready to go – we’d appointed our contractor at this stage – the wait felt longer than it actually was. We’d also just had our fourth child so it was a bit of a chaotic time.”


“We wanted underfloor heating in the extension, as we find it very cosy, but to accommodate it we had to move things around,” explains Rhea. „


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case study

“Even though the main boiler stayed put we had to upgrade the electrics and run the pipes for the heating.” The narrow hallway, toilet and cloakroom were reconfigured; the wc was moved to underneath the staircase which meant moving around plumbing, the electrical box also had to be relocated – to the floor above – as it used to be in the wc. The upstairs bathroom, which was spacious, was made smaller to create a boiler room/ utility. The existing immersion cupboard was incorporated into this new room and the washing machine/drier were moved there too, freeing up space in the kitchen. Reducing the floor space in the main bathroom meant they had to get rid of their shower. “We put a handheld shower in the bath; as we have walk-in showers in our two ensuite bathrooms we didn’t really use the one in the main bathroom anyway,” says Rhea. The project went to site, and as Rhea was busy with the family, James was more involved. “He „

The original kitchen cupboard carcasses were reused, only the doors were replaced


case study

“Having lived in the house through winters and summers, Rhea says that even though the high level of glazing can lead to some overheating in summer, they simply open the two sets of folding doors, which provides a pleasant breeze.� 118

case study

was working but also the one to call for any of the building issues; thankfully there were few.” They had to move out for four months while the work was taking place. One element that had to be added during the construction phase was the railing and walls outside, in keeping with the neighbourhood style. In fact the outdoor area was as important as building the extension and even though they encroached onto it to add the new living space, it feels bigger now. “It’s a bit of a paradox but the fact that we no longer have a step down to get to the lawn – we’ve levelled it out during the works – makes it feel much more spacious,” says Rhea. “The garden looks so much better, being on level now is also great for the children.” The couple swears by the artificial grass they installed and are over the moon with the outdoor lighting scheme. Not surprisingly, artificial lighting also took centre stage in the house. “We’re not really into „

The 13sqm extension brought light in from all angles


case study



“It’s a bit of a paradox but the fact that we no longer have a step down to get to the lawn – we’ve levelled it out during the works – makes it feel much more spacious,” 120

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



case study

showy or very ornate finishes but when the lighting supplier insisted we have a statement light in the hallway, we took his advice and we’re glad we did, the space did require some ornamentation.” There are spots in the kitchen along the party wall, which work well to illuminate the worktops. “The only issue we had was with the light above the kitchen table, it turned out to be too bright so we added a dimmer switch,” adds Rhea. They took this opportunity to upgrade their kitchen to a more contemporary style; thankfully they were able to keep the carcasses which resulted in a saving. They simply changed the doors and added new taps and appliances. Having lived in the house through winters and summers, Rhea says that even though the high level of glazing can lead to some overheating in summer, they simply open the two sets of folding doors, which provides a pleasant breeze. “In winter the underfloor heating is great, we didn’t want radiators taking up space on the walls or be subject to draughts. It’s a cosy space all year round.” Reminiscent of Australia perhaps? n Astrid Madsen House size before: 214 sqm House size after: 227 sqm Plot size: 280 sqm Build cost: £50,000 including kitchen and landscaping House value: in the region of £400,000


Construction type (extension): blockwork cavity walls Insulation: additional 200mm quilt insulation added to the existing attic ceiling. Extension cavity walls partially filled with 60mm PIR insulation to achieve U-value of 0.25 W/sqmK; floor screed with underfloor heating above 100mm PIR to achieve a U-value of 0.18 W/sqmK; flat roof 150mm PIR insulation to achieve a U-value of 0.16 W/sqmK Windows: hardwood painted and double glazed, average U-value on units 1.2 W/sqmK

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Dominic Morris MRIAI RIBA, Hillsborough, Co Down, tel. 9268 2316, Insulation Kingspan Insulation, walls: Thermawall, floor: Thermafloor TF70, roof: Thermaroof TR26, Photographer Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Belfast, tel. 9024 5038,

ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)


wood block flooring

Old kid on the block

Before laminated boards and carpet were the mainstay of Irish houses, wood blocks were the preferred choice of floor finish. To get a touch of old school class in your new build you may need to call in the professionals but it all depends on the complexity of the pattern you choose and whether you’re willing to take a few shortcuts…

Below: Tapestry Room at Russborough House, Blessington, Co. Wicklow. Photo by James Fennell

Across: Saloon at Russborough House, Blessington, Co. Wicklow. Photo by James Fennell



ood blocks have adorned the floors of grand buildings and ballrooms alike, showing a certain “je ne sais quoi” for those who could afford it. It came in many styles and timber types, colours and species.

You only have to look at the Saloon in Russborough House, Wicklow to see the extent and beauty of these magnificent floors. The skill and patience to lay them justify the price of this ancient and highly skilled practice. Not all wood block flooring – or parquet as it is sometimes referred to – has to be as extravagant as this and it is possible to decorate your own floors

with this highly impressive covering. The first decision that has to be made is the type of pattern you would like to create. The most popular is the herringbone – a timeless classic that consists of boards laid in a V shape. There are many variations, including the 45deg herringbone, 90deg herringbone and the stretcher bond. The complexity of laying these is best left to the professionals and not within the scope of this particular article but we will explore how you can try your hand at the square basket design, which is the most straightforward to lay. As with most jobs of this nature, planning the layout is time well spent and will guarantee the desired result. If you aim to get the authentic look, reclaimed timber can be bought either online or from salvage yards and always gives an extra sense of satisfaction as you give an old floor a new lease of life. Many companies also supply and fit, and from them you should be able to choose new or old timber according to your preference. In addition to standard blocks there are tongue and groove alternatives; from timber boards that have alternating patterns to give you a geometric effect, to boards with alternating designs that are fitted at an angle to one another. For more complex patters, tongue and groove tile size sheets are also available. Before you start on your project, make sure the wood has had enough time to adjust to its environment (two to three weeks). If you have underfloor heating ask your suppliers (flooring and ufh) about compatibility – if the wood block is too thick the efficiency of the system may be reduced. While some types will be unsuitable for underfloor heating, others such as those made of engineered wood will work very well. One common requirement with underfloor heating is to ensure the temperature doesn’t go over 27 degC. The timber used in the floor should also have been kiln dried for a low moisture content of 10 to 12 per cent. „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

0m m

0m m



class days by using the Pythagoras theorem or isosceles triangles. Whoever said “What’s the point of learning maths”?! For either method find the centre of your first line and mark this point.

0m m




“The wood blocks can be fixed to any floor surface such as concrete, levelling compound or flooring grade plywood. They should not however be fixed directly to floor boards...”



The square basket design consists of four narrow strips of wood glued side by side on a backing material to create a square block. These are then laid at right angles to make a pattern. To lay this wood block flooring, and any other type, setting up correctly from the start is crucial. It is worth spending the time to make sure that the pattern is centred and doesn’t look uneven or unbalanced in the room. To achieve this, the middle of the Chalk Leinciael marking room must be clearly established. is a sp The best tool to mark it out is A chalk line as a string enclosed th the chalk line. out tool tha f chalk dust. When o y Start by measuring one d e o k li in a b tring, much s e th t side of the room (it doesn’t u o ll in you pu it is covered ut , re u s matter if you start with a e m ta a tape tring is held or, s e the long or short end) and th n e h o dust. W gainst the fl A a mark the central dividing it p a n s u ind. h and yo e b ft le line with the chalk line. is lk a line of cha ple tool that does The next step is to strike y sim fantasticall says on the tin. another line through the what it centre of this dividing line at a perfect right angle. To make sure the lines are perpendicular, we have to revert back to our mathematics

new markings and scribe, above the central point, where they meet on both sides of your dividing line. When joined they will cross your central point at a right angle. As long as they are equidistant you can measure a shorter or longer distance from the center point to suit your needs (in this case 200mm). The main thing is for the two sides of your triangles to be the same length (in this case 400mm).


wood block flooring

Weaving the basket

If you’ve followed all that, congratulations! Hopefully the images will help illustrate the methods. You have now divided the room in half both vertically and horizontally. This central point is where you will start laying the blocks. It is common practice to do a dry run first, to ensure an equal amount of blocks are being used on both sides of the centre line. Although it may take some time, it will save you hours of work if your measurements did not work out. Start where the two lines cross and work towards the walls making sure to keep the blocks along the lines (no gap is necessary between the blocks). The wood blocks can be fixed to any floor surface such as concrete, levelling compound or flooring grade plywood. They should not however be fixed directly to floor boards as these can expand

Pythagoras method

From this central point, make a marking that’s 400mm away. From the centre point measure 300mm in the general direction of the line that is going to form the right angle. Return to the 400mm marking and measure 500mm and scribe an arc through the 300mm line. This resulting marking when joined to the central point will make a right angle.

m 50 0




Isosceles or rhombus method

Measure 200mm from the centre point on both sides and mark them. Measure 400mm from these


Finished square basket floor SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

wood block flooring

and contract and cause a whole host of problems later on. Any floor boards should be covered with plywood before fixing the flooring blocks. Bear in mind this will raise your floor level and could interfere with doors openings, etc. The method of fixing is with specialist adhesive bought in a builder’s merchant or flooring supplier. The type you use will be recommended by your wood block supplier and will be applied using a trowel similar in style to those used for laying floor tiles. A layer of adhesive is applied with the trowel and the flooring blocks are laid on top of this. In the case of tongue and groove boards applied to a timber subfloor, you could use secret nails instead. Continue working across the floor filling up the whole space. Don’t apply too much adhesive at any one time as it can dry quickly and your work area can become messy. Be mindful to leave a 15mm gap around the perimeter of the room to allow for expansion that is similar to a conventional wooden floor. The skirting board will eventually cover this gap. If you are using reclaimed timber, it will now be necessary to hire an industrial floor sander. Begin with a coarse grit and work down through the grades. When you are happy with how it looks, you will have to apply a protective covering. This is a personal choice and there are many products on the market; I would recommend a tough finish such as varnish. The last job is to fix the skirting boards back onto the walls. Maintenance is the same as for regular wooden flooring and if you find there is

an issue with the glued floor, it will pose as much difficulty to repair it as it would a normal timber floor – the problem area can be cut out and replaced. However bear in mind it may be very difficult to match the timber. Congratulations, now is the time to sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labour. And whatever stage you are at with your parquet project, keep an eye out for wood block flooring on your travels. They show up in places such as churches, libraries and also museums. Once you start to notice them, you’ll see them everywhere. Enjoy! n Ciaran Hegarty

Above: The classic herringbone pattern

know?ply Did you French sim

Parquet in ring made up means floo ts, so it refers of timber slaryday wooden to your eve h or without floor, wit pattern. geometric


eye on ireland

ROI’s Help to Buy Scheme factsheet

A self-build Q&A on the Help to buy scheme, which is for new builds only (does not apply to extensions). Who can avail of the rebate?

First time buyers and first time self-builders can avail of the scheme. If one applicant is FTB and the other not, you cannot avail of the scheme. Also, the first-time buyer must not have either individually or jointly with any other person (directly or indirectly), previously purchased, built or inherited a property. You must occupy the house as your home for at least five years from the date the property is habitable. You must also complete the build within two years of being awarded the rebate. Another requirement is to be taking out a minimum 70% mortgage and have drawn down your first instalment no earlier than 19th July 2016 (the scheme is being backdated). In the case of a self-build, this means you must have taken out a mortgage equivalent to “70% of the valuation approved by the mortgage provider”. The 19th of July coincides with the launch of the government’s “Rebuilding Ireland: Action Plan for Housing and Homelessness”. Another important criteria is that you must have been “fully tax compliant in respect of the four years immediately prior to the claim.”

What qualifies as a ‘new build’ in a selfbuild scenario? Does someone building a new house appended to an existing cottage qualify?

According to the Department of Finance press office, a new build is a property that has not been occupied before – extending a cottage would not qualify. In the wording of the Finance Bill: ‘self-build qualifying residence’ means a qualifying residence which is built, directly or indirectly, by a first-time purchaser on his or her own behalf; ‘qualifying residence’ means a new building which was not previously used, or suitable for use, as a dwelling, and [other requirements as listed above].

Would it be fair to say the value of the house needs to be similar to the cost of building it? Yes.


What does the scheme consist of?

It’s a “rebate of income tax paid over the previous four tax years”. The aim is for this to be a contribution towards your mortgage deposit – any rebate received under the scheme will be reckoned in full in the calculation of the deposit required to be eligible for a mortgage. So this effectively reduces the Central Bank’s minimum deposit requirement. The total you can get back is 5% of the purchase price on up to €400,000 but the exact amount is determined by the amount of income tax you have paid over the past four years. In order to qualify for the rebate you need to have paid at least that amount of income tax over the past four years, so even if you were abroad during some of this time if you have paid some income tax over the past four years you can still qualify. Where the new home is valued between  €400,000 and €600,000 the maximum relief (i.e. €20,000) will continue to be available. You will not be eligible if the valuation is more than €600,000. Applicants will be able to apply online via the Revenue website to see how much of a rebate they could be entitled to. It is expected that the electronic facility to avail of this scheme will be available from January 2017. The Department of Finance has published an example: Deirdre and Evan are planning to selfbuild their own home in 2017. They estimate that the value of the home will be €375,000 when completed. For this, provided they have paid sufficient income tax over the previous four years and they are taking out a minimum 70% mortgage, they will qualify for a rebate under the Help to Buy scheme of €18,750.

Tax relief for renovations If you’re a home improver or plan to extend your home, know that the Home Renovation Incentive now runs until the 31st of December 2018. The scheme involves getting VAT back, through your income taxes, on the work charged by tradesmen. For further details see our previous factsheet on the topic or the link at the end of this article. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Subject to Oireachatas approval the scheme will be backdated to the 19th of July 2016. This is the date at which the first mortgage payment was drawn down. This scheme will run until the end of 2019. Once the claim is submitted, the details will need to be verified by the Developer/Contractor or firsttime buyer (for a self-build), before the refund will be paid. At the time we went to print a calculator and application portal was to be made available from 03 January 2017 on the Revenue website (see end of article for link).

example does not seem to qualify, however, as each case is different, it is not possible to state unequivocally that the build in the example provided will or will not qualify as a new build. However, we must highlight that the onus of proof is on the taxpayer to prove that the property is a new build. If a building has previously been registered with the Property Registration Authority or registered for LPT, the claimant will have to prove that this property is in fact a new build, and not merely the extension of an existing building or a rebuild of an existing property. Detailed information must be supplied as part of the claim process.”

In calculating the mortgage’s loan to value ratio, how is the final house valuation determined?

I was abroad working for the last few years, can I still avail of the incentive?

You need to borrow an amount representing at least 70% of the ‘approved valuation’ of the house. In the case of a self-build the house is not yet built, so this ‘approved valuation’ is defined as current market value. In the words of the Finance Bill: “the valuation of the residence that, at the time the qualifying loan is entered into, is approved by the qualifying lender as being the valuation of the residence”.

In relation to the following statement: “The first-time buyer must not have either individually or jointly with any other person (directly or indirectly), previously purchased, built or inherited a property.” What if someone inherited land previously but that person is building their first house on another piece of land?

According to the Department of Finance: “Yes the person should still be eligible to apply under the scheme, subject to the additional terms and conditions.” The Finance Bill defines a qualifying loan as one that “is used by the first-time purchaser wholly and exclusively for the purpose of defraying money employed in the purchase of a qualifying residence, or the provision of a self-build qualifying residence (including, in a case where such acquisition is required for its construction, the acquisition of land on which the residence is constructed).”

What if you bought a property with an old house on it, and got planning for a new dwelling as the old one was not fit for purpose?

The Finance Bill states: ‘Qualifying residence’ means a new building which was not previously used, or suitable for use, as a dwelling […]. We have asked the Department of Finance whether someone demolishing a house to build new would qualify; the answer we were given is as follows: “A new-build is a property that has not been occupied before. The property must not have been used as a residence before. If the property in question falls within the definition of a qualifying residence for the purposes of the legislation then the property may qualify as a new build. The

eye on ireland

What are the timelines?

The relief is based on income tax and DIRT paid over the previous four years. You may be eligible for some contribution from the incentive depending on your circumstances. For example, if you had worked in Ireland in Year 1 and spent Years 2 to 4 abroad, you may still qualify for some relief in respect of the income tax paid in Year 1. Obviously, where no income tax has been paid, there is no tax available to refund. In all cases, make sure to contact Revenue to discuss your particular circumstances. Astrid Madsen Further information HTB Revenue website: tax/it/reliefs/htb/index.html Appendix D of the Budget 2017 document, on page B.32: Documents/Budget%202017%20-%20Full%20 document.pdf Better Energy scheme: Better_energy_homes/Better_Energy_FAQ/ Homeowner%20FAQ/How-much-are-the-grants-. html Home Renovation Incentive: http://www.revenue. ie/en/tax/it/reliefs/hri/index.html

This article is for reference only, always consult with a qualified professional when dealing with legal, fiscal and building related matters.

Grants for energy upgrades The Better Energy Homes grants to retrofit your home with insulation/ solar panels/heating upgrades have benefited from the budget too in that funding for the scheme has been increased. However according to informed sources, this will in all likelihood go towards offering the grant to more households (with a pick up in the economy, demand for the Better Energy Homes scheme has risen) rather than increase the individual grant amounts (these were augmented in 2015) or introduce new technologies/materials that might qualify such as heat pumps or triple glazing. Another, more long term point to note is that “deep retrofit” projects (energy upgrades that result in the house requiring very little fuel to run) have also been awarded funding. In 2017 the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is expected to devise strategies that will better advise and inform householders on how to go beyond simply adding insulation to the home (See comment piece page 129). As a point of clarification, the new Renewable Heat Incentive will not apply to households.


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Have you ever considered stashing your prized possessions in your wardrobe or desk? In a safe place that is! Thanks to the new Brixia range, exclusively available from The Safe Centre in ROI, you now can. As long as there is an anchoring point on the wall and/or floor to bolt on fixings, Brixia can customise their safes to match your desk, wardrobe or other suitable piece of furniture. Your safe will simply

look like an ordinary door or drawer. The range comes with numerous accessories allowing you, for instance, to stylishly store your watches with winders included. The unit is certified to EN1143-1 (a standard required by insurance companies), the electronic lock to EN1300 class B with time delay. For more about turning your furniture into a stylish and safe place to keep your valuables, contact The Safe Centre, Long

Seeing is believing Living off-grid, with near zero heating bills is a self-build dream we can all aspire to, even on a budget! That’s according to the owners of the Green Energy Store, Jenny and Graham, whose 3,000 sqft house in Co Down bagged this year’s Action Renewables Award for Most Environmentally Sustainable Construction Project. Built by main contractor A.S. Ballantine, the house features an airtight Insulated Concrete Formwork (ICF) construction, 226mm of insulation surrounding 150mm of poured concrete, supplied by IntegraSpec. The structure is so well insulated and the thermal mass of the concrete so efficient at retaining heat, the wood burning stove in the living room is enough

Meadow Farm, Surgalstown South, Swords, Co Dublin, K67 DH 39, tel. 01 840 3502,

notice board

Pride of place

Ushering in the new Retaining heat indoors has become a priority in new builds; from a fabric point of view this means achieving a high level of insulation and airtightness but it can be difficult at the junctions (e.g. between roof and wall) and around openings such as windows and doors.

to keep the entire house warm. For electricity, getting a grid connection was prohibitive so Graham designed a fully off-grid system, installing 36 photovoltaic panels on the south-facing roof, which not only power lights and appliances during the day but also feed a 48V battery bank to provide electricity for night-time use. A diesel generator provides backup

in the depths of winter. Other eco-features include triple glazing, 66 low energy LED light fittings, and a thermodynamic solar panel for water heating. To discuss your very own ICF project contact A.S. Ballantine, Aughafed Quarry, Domemana, Strabane, Co Tyrone, BT82 0SB, tel. 71398276,,

While Building Regulations do take account of this – windows and doors specifically are required to achieve a U-value of 1.8W/sqmK (NI) or 1.6W/sqmK (ROI) – the best practice standard for triple glazed windows is now 0.8W/sqmK. So if you’re looking for similar U-values for your external doors, check out Diamond H2O’s Excellence range with sandwiched PIR insulation and triple glazing. The manufacturers say their standard offering has a U-value of 0.92W/sqmK while their Premium range boasts 0.67W/sqmK. Prices start at £1,495 + VAT and all doors come with a five-year warranty. For more about the Excellence range contact Diamond H2O, Unit 12 Shane Retail Park, Boucher Road, Belfast, BT12 6UA,



Skimming the surface We should be doing much more than adding insulation to our attics if we’re serious about making our homes easy to heat and comfortable to live in.


new home built today under the current Building Regulations should achieve in ROI a Building Energy Rating (BER) of A2. According to the Housing Executive in NI the equivalent EPC would be a B (83). A similar home built in the early 2000s in ROI might have achieved a D rating, and likely consume four times the energy while a G rated home built in the seventies would be double that. So homes built today, and future homes as we move towards near zero energy buildings, should pose no excessive energy burden. It’s our existing housing stock that continues to pose a huge challenge. Up to one million homes built in the last century are languishing in the lower reaches of the energy performance scale, imposing significant cost and lower levels of health and wellbeing on their occupants. While this challenge is being addressed with the help of grant schemes these generally consist of one or more discrete upgrades, often referred to as shallow retrofit. Homeowners are attracted to these because typically they are simplest and quickest to do and least disruptive. Often, though not always, they are at the lower end of the cost scale.

Deeper levels of retrofit are needed, but what does that mean?

Rather than upgrading isolated parts of the house, the whole home should be assessed as a system, looking at how energy is used and retained. Modelling software enables all aspects of building fabric, air tightness, ventilation and renewables to be assessed. This analysis also looks at how the different recommendations interact with each other, for example between air tightness and ventilation, and how solutions

can be precisely tuned, such as individual window selection based on orientation. The result is an integrated, comprehensive strategy for dramatically improving the home energy performance.

If it’s so great, why aren’t we doing it already?

Understanding building physics represents a significant learning curve for those who might justifiably lack confidence when faced

Current homes are built to an A2 (ROI) / B (NI) energy rating but the existing housing stock continues to languish in the lower reaches of the energy performance scale.

with a significant investment decision. In our experience homeowners can also be sceptical when dealing with ‘experts’ whom they may believe might be overpromising. And in truth, the contractor supply chain does not always have the expertise – we’re on the cusp of a new era, professionals and tradesmen alike are in the process of being trained and gaining experience. Even for those who are already sold on the idea, there’s the high level of disruption to the home and the non-negligible issue of finding a way to finance the works. These are all matters which SEAI is now exploring, (and the Housing Executive

in NI), to identify the best ways to help homeowners overcome these barriers and unlock the hidden potential of their homes.

How we’re moving to deeper retrofit

To date, the SEAI has engaged in pilot studies testing both financing and technical solutions. One such pilot with a large employer showed how it is possible to implement a retrofit loan, akin to the Biketo-Work scheme, with employees getting no or low interest loans to complete works in their homes. Other projects are testing the feasibility of lower interest from Credit Unions, often a preferred lender in communities. Still other projects are looking at the role of energy suppliers and local energy agencies in providing the necessary bespoke advice to homeowners as well as assisting in appointing contractors. Budget 2017 has now provided us with additional funds to expand these pilots. In NI the Housing Executive is also moving towards this deeper approach; a best practice guide was published in 2015 (see further reading below). Given the variety of homes in ROI the SEAI will be examining a wider set of technical solutions that could be combined in different scenarios and in different regions. We will also be testing and seeking to develop the supply chains to advise homeowners, and to provide the technical solutions, including assisting the market to deliver at scale and to high standards. Deep retrofit is destined to be a major component of our efforts to make all our buildings, not just our homes, more energy efficient. So if you haven’t heard of it before, be prepared to hear a lot more about it. Jim Gannon Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland

Further reading ROI: The shallow or piecemeal alternative to energy upgrades can lead to issues with moisture build up, especially in the case of solid wall construction; see Hygrothermal risk evaluation for the retrofit of a typical solid-walled dwelling, 2016 Dublin Institute of Technology NI: Housing Executive Energy Efficiency Good Practice Guide for Refurbishment of The Residential Sector (Low Rise) 2015 and Home Energy Conservation Authority 20th Progress Report 2016


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SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Self build Magazine - Spring 2017  

An All-Ireland magazine for self-builders & Home Improvers

Self build Magazine - Spring 2017  

An All-Ireland magazine for self-builders & Home Improvers