Selfbuild Summer 2017

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SUMMER 2017 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it

Turn it around...

This Co Dublin renovation managed to get light into a north facing extension...


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Airtightness | External wall insulation | Council fees | Feng shui...and much more!

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Welcome... SelfBuild & Improve Your Home is now SelfBuild. Redesigned to Dream it, Do it, Live it. Over the past 15 years we've been busy bringing the Irish up to speed on the realities of building, extending and renovating their own home, and on how to maintain and improve it once in. Now that we're well settled in the digital age, we're taking the opportunity to introduce you to content that's shorter, punchier and a whole lot sexier. Airtightness How to build tight So go ahead, discover what's involved with and ventilate right our Basics series, Expert corners, and our exclusive Project profiles showcasing the tips and advice from fellow Irish self-builders. We also cover the technical and regulatory aspects specific to the Republic of Ireland (ROI) and Northern Ireland (NI) jurisdictions, taking the pain out of the design, construction, decoration and maintenance of your home. As you'll find leafing through these pages, we're here to guide and encourage you to take that leap of faith. Renovate. Extend. Build new. But above all, enjoy.

Feng Shui

Positive energy for the home

Lean mean machine

Project manage your self-build like a pro


With SelfBuild. Dream it, Do it, Live it.

Get acquainted with timber frame construction

Astrid Madsen - Editor

Follow the Selfbuild community: SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 05




Dream it . Do it . Live it





39 06 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017





Build tight, ventilate right is today's motto. But how do you get airtightness right in the first instance?


Discover how to feng shui your home.



Eilis and Liam Looney’s Co Cork design and build was executed with budget and time constraints.


Kevin and Amanda Fullerton’s Co L’Derry self-build benefited from a little help from their friends, and family.


Find out how Glenna Woods and Gerry Warnock of Co Dublin got their house to benefit from their north facing views yet retain light.

50 PROJECT: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A ROOM MAKES A simple reconfiguration transformed Mary Johnston’s life in Co L’Derry.


Sick of your neighbours' barking dog? Looking to invest in a home cinema? Get to grips with the Top 10 things you need to know about soundproofing your home.


There's nothing as tantalising as growing your own berries – find out how in our no-nonsense guide.


A new project management tool is within the reach of self-builders, we investigate what's involved and whether it's for you.


All you need to know about building energy ratings and energy performance certificates.


External wall insulation is increasing in popularity, and for good reason. We guide you through your options.



Before and after plans of how it's done, from a couple who sought our help at SelfBuild Cork’s Design Clinic.


Choosing the right finish for the job.


Harnessing the power of virtual reality on your project.

87 BORED WITH YOUR BOARDS? Advances in decking mean you can now get a lot more out of your outdoor platform.


How to get your house to blend into the landscape with long lasting planting strategies.


What are your option s and how much does it cost to cover your apex windows?


An FAQ with the NI and ROI building control authorities.

Some ideas that are inspiring us to make this the summer of self-building!

The intricacies of council fees explained on a tour of the landmass of Ireland.


Are you building a death trap, wonders Tom Woolley.


A whistle stop tour of the pros and cons of timber frame construction.

Keep abreast of the latest developments on and SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 07





SUMMER 2017 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it

Turn it around...

This Co Dublin renovation managed to get light into a north facing extension...


Aleyn Chambers

Nina Kati

Gordon Lennox

Blakely offers interior design services and a wide choice of fabrics, weaves and wall coverings. / NI tel. 4062 2666

Aleyn Chambers is an Architect and certified Passive House Designer based in Dalkey, Co Dublin. / ROI mobile 086 600 824

Nina Kati is an interior designer and feng shui consultant based in ROI; she set up her practice in 2000. / ROI mobile 086 812 6730

Gordon Lennox FSCI FRICS is a director at Sherry Fitzgerald with over 40 years’ experience in real estate agency management. / ROI tel. 01 286 6630

ISSN 2049-3630


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Airtightness | External wall insulation | Council fees | Feng shui...and much more!

Cover Photo Dermot Byrne Photography Editor Astrid Madsen Design Myles McCann Marketing Calum Lennon Subscriptions Leanne Rodgers

Astrid Madsen

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Paul O'Reilly

Debbie Orme

Astrid has 10 years' experience covering the Irish construction sector. She lives in Co Laois where she's taken on the task of renovating a listed building.

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

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

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

Advertising Sales David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Patricia Madden Maria Varela Accounts Kerry Brennan Sales Director Mark Duffin

Andrew Stanway

Mark Stephens

Tanguy de Toulgoët

Tom Woolley

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

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

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

Tom is an architect specialised in the renovation of old buildings and is the author of many sustainable design publications. / ROI tel. 44 83 09 88

Come meet the experts at our Dublin, Belfast and Cork events. More on page 110

Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it


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 /

Managing Director Brian Corry Chairman Clive Corry Print GPS Colour Distribution EM News Distribution Ltd The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions nor for the accuracy of information reproduced. Where opinions may be given, these are personal and based upon the best information to hand. At all times readers are advised to seek the appropriate professional advice. Copyright: all rights reserved.

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

30 per cent self-build growth in ROI

Virtual reality check on page 84 Andrew Bradley 2016

THE NUMBER OF commencement notices issued between 2015 and 2016 for oneoff units in ROI increased by 30 per cent from over 3,000 units in 2015 to over 4,000 units in 2016, statistics from the Building Control Management System/ Department of Housing reveal. This is in line with the growth in the house building activity, as presented in the Construction Industry Federation’s House Building Activity Report. According to the Department of Housing statistics, during the recession the self-build sector accounted for nearly two thirds of all new house completions; at the end of 2016 individual house completions represented 42 per cent of the total new house builds, with scheme houses and apartments accounting for the rest. In NI, government statistics group speculative and one-off housing development into the same category; these show a modest increase in both completions and registrations for new houses between 2015 and 2016. However replacement, extensions and alterations continued to represent a greater proportion of planning applications than new builds. Commencement notices issued (growth between 2015 and 2016) 1 Cork County 538 (25%) 2 Meath County 284 (49%) 3 Galway County 274 (17%) 4 Donegal County 211 (24%) 5 Kildare County 208 (30%) 6 Kerry County 183 (26%) 7 Mayo County 179 (40%) 8 Wexford County 179 (23%) 9 Clare County 145 (44%) 10 Limerick City & County 138 (34%) 11 Kilkenny County 136 (42%) 12 Tipperary County 124 (38%) 13 Dun-Laoghaire Rathdown 118 (17%) 14 Waterford City & County 118 (64%) 15 Fingal County 112 (20%)

DIY reinvented In March 2017 the Joseph Walsh Studio hosted a workshop with a difference, looking at how emerging technologies can enable a new form of craftsmanship, creating objects that stimulate the senses every time they are used. Pictured: Joseph Walsh Studio’s Enignum Shelves XXV and XXVI made of olive ash, Enignum Desk V made of olive ash, burr ash, white oil and Enignum II Chair made with ash, suede and white oil.

Slates that generate electricity AFTER ALL THE HYPE, it seems that building integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) are finally making their way into Irish homes. According to Irish manufacturers, it will soon become possible to buy roof tiles that double up as PV panels, with Danish manufacturers already offering this product to self-builders. Tesla for its part has announced it would be rolling out its version of 'solar roof tiles' sooner rather than later. The main unknown is cost but it's clear solar components in general are becoming cheaper. In terms of output, PV can generally supply, under Irish weather conditions roughly one third of the mean Irish household's electricity needs.


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

Percolation nation The ROI Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking at giving the green light to systems that would make it possible to build on sites with low permeability. The EPA’s 2009 Code of Practice (CoP) is in the process of being updated with new guidance for those who fail the percolation test, and the new document is expected to be published at the end of 2017. Currently if the test records a T-value of less than one or greater than 50 it is nearly impossible to get consent to build on the site as conventional wastewater treatment methods involving a percolation area are unsuitable. The change in the rules could allow a multitude of prospective selfbuilders to fulfil their house building dreams as 39 percent of ROI’s landmass is currently considered inadequate for domestic waste water

treatment systems. The EPA has confirmed to SelfBuild that the CoP was currently under review and that they aimed to put it to public consultation by this summer. The spokesperson said their target was to publish the new CoP by the end of the year but this will depend on the volume of comments and responses received. A presentation by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government’s Eamonn Smyth to the wastewater trade association IOWA late last year has revealed the new CoP would include drip dispersal (DD) and low-pressure pipe (LPP) systems based on EPA research into

low permeability sites. The EP A research indicates the LPP system could be a solution for sites with T-values of less than 90, and the DD system could be a solution for sites with T-values of less than 120 after secondary treatment. The research also provides a ‘decision support tool’ to assist local authorities in carrying out a strategic assessment of individual sites. In ROI roughly one third of all domestic wastewater is treated by domestic systems of which more than 87 per cent are septic tanks.

Also note that as of January 2017 all domestic wastewater systems must now comply with the NSAI’s SR66 of 2015 – Part H of the Building Regulations has been amended to make these requirements mandatory. Although many of the products on the market already comply to these requirements some may not, so always check that the system you choose is fully compliant to the current regulations, which also include abiding to the EN 12566 standard (see changes to Building Regulations).

Of starchitects & Bungalow Blitz ROI turf compensation system under threat A PILOT SCHEME is looking at reducing solid fuel use in rural communities. Those currently receiving turf or annual payments from the National Parks and Wildlife Service’s Cessation of Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme, could see their benefits revoked. Beneficiaries will be asked to participate in a pilot to determine if there is an energy efficiency package that could reduce/eliminate their reliance on solid fuels while making their homes warmer and more comfortable. The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland is working with the Department of Energy to finalise the details.

THE IRISH ARCHITECTURE ARCHIVE is celebrating its 40th year anniversary with an expo and associated book entitled House and Home. The archive conjured up an interesting selection of house plans from the past four decades, including a 1979 shelved project to build a Taoiseach’s residence and what the archive deems to be an early example (by Simon J Kelly and Partners) of the ‘one-off house’ showing “deftness of touch and a clear consideration for site”. From the mundane to the downright bizarre, you’ll find a great selection of prints to admire and ponder. The exhibition is scheduled to end on the 26th May but it may be extended so check their website For more insights into historical architecture, visit the archive’s dictionary of architects and craftsmen House and Home by Colum O’Riordan, hardback, colour throughout, 114 pages, ISBN 9780995625808, €20.


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

Hats off The 2017 Master Builder Awards for NI saw Kircubbin builder John Dynes & Son scoop the New Home award, and Dungannon builder Alskea Contracts bag both the Small Renovation and Heritage Project awards. The Energy Efficiency award, meanwhile, went to a passive farmhouse built by Castledawson builder Setanta to zero carbon and passive house standards. This house actually makes money at the end of year!

John Dynes & Son

For more log on to John Dynes & Son

Alskea Contracts

Alskea Contracts

Setanta Ltd

Changes to Building Regulations Building Regulations have recently been updated on five fronts, one of these in NI which has added requirements to technical booklet M in January 2017 for broadband connection points, another in ROI in relation to energy (see next article). In ROI and in terms of fire, know that a new technical guidance document specific to dwelling houses has been published this year: TGD B Fire Safety Volume 2. The requirements provide specific guidance on the means of early warning of fire and the means of escape depending on house height;

there are also new fire protection requirements between dwellings. More details are also provided for improved protection of occupiers from fire, compliance with, and reference to new European Standards and modified guidance to align with changes in standards and building practice


along with a general update of guidance and references. Still in ROI and for wastewater treatment, the regulations are now not only requiring that the system you install comply to EN12566 and to the EPA code of practice 2009, it must also as of January 2017 abide to the requirements under S.R. 66:2015.

SR 66 was published in May 2015 by the National Standards Authority of Ireland and specifies the design capacity for a dwelling based on the number of bedrooms rather than size. Scaling rules for increasing the plant size but maintaining the performance have also been introduced.

O N L I N E / W H AT ' S N E W

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Out there…

Selfbuild w w w. s e l f b u i l d . i e

Best online reads TED Talk: the emotional impact of architecture

Examine how the shape and angles of your surroundings can deeply influence the way you interact with the space and people around you.

Love Your Home Belfast: green with envy

The Pantone colour of the year is ‘Greenery’ – find out how to make your home bright, fresh and zesty this summer.

IT: Seven shipping containers become a family home

The first 3D printed house built in 24hrs Start-up company Apis Cor has 3D-printed a 38sqm house in Russia at a cost of $10,000. More to come on planet Earth but the company’s stated goal is to colonise Mars.

face off

You voted for your favourite self-builds during our weeklong Facebook case studies battle campaign. Here are the top three results: 1. The house the fireman built, log cabin - Co Monaghan 2. Inside Out but not Upside Down! - Co Westmeath 3. Grillagh Water house, shipping containers - Co Derry 1

Following in the footsteps of NI architect Patrick Bradley who built his rural home out of shipping containers (see below), a video showing how a Dublin based family built their version in an urban setting.

Recognised for our home improvement advice Top 100 Home Renovation Blogs & Websites In March 2017 was ranked 27th worldwide by Feedspot, an RSS feed and blog aggregator. Our ranking by the number of Facebook followers is 16th. There’s only one UK publication ahead of us and we come in Number 1 for Ireland!

Record number of visitors to SelfBuild Belfast Live 2


We're delighted to share the good news! We nearly reached the 20,000 visitor mark at our 2017 SelfBuild Belfast event which took place in the Titanic Exhibition Centre last February. Come and join us at the next exhibition near you for one-to-one expert advice, talks and inspiration. For more on venues and dates turn to page 110.




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

ROI aims for near zero energy buildings within three years The wheels are in motion to enforce near zero energy building (NZEB) standards as the minimum building standard in ROI. A detailed review and public consultation of the energy requirements in ROI under Part L – Dwellings will take place this year with the final technical guidance document expected in 2018. Part F dealing with ventilation will also undergo a public consultation process, SelfBuild understands, as higher levels of airtightness are expected in the new regulations. The airtightness requirements could be made align with current

best practice, which is twice as onerous as the current regulatory requirement. Also under revision will be the renewables rule; under current regulations solar thermal panels suffice but an electricity component may be introduced, including the possibility of battery storage. The move towards NZEB is driven by Europe's Energy Performance of Buildings Directive, which is undergoing a review.

Power from the people The ROI government is looking at introducing feed-in tariffs for renewable electricity generation in the home, sources in the Department of Communications Climate Action and Environment tell SelfBuild.

Photovoltaic panels installed by Electric Ireland which recently launched its retrofit PV product on the Irish market.


A cost benefit analysis is underway evaluating how homeowners might be paid to export electricity to the grid, and how to support communities becoming selfsufficient. The document is evaluating for all forms of renewable electricity, including solar (photovoltaic), anaerobic digestion, wind, hydro, micro-CHP, as well as at battery storage options. The results and a public consultation are expected in the second half of the year. “The first Technology Review public consultation on a new renewable support scheme was published in 2015 and following the completion of detailed economic analysis on the viability and cost

effectiveness of supporting a range of renewable technologies - including Solar (PV) - a second public consultation will be published in 2017, details of which will be advertised on our website,” a spokesperson for the Department told SelfBuild. “The new support scheme for renewable electricity is expected to become available in late 2017, though it should be noted that before any new scheme is introduced, Government approval and State aid clearance from the European Commission is needed.” The Government has in parallel approached the European Investment Bank to help fund innovative deep retrofit solutions for Irish homes.

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

From dreaming to doing

At the launch of Ask An Architect 2017, left to right, Ana Wilkinson (Friends of the Cancer Centre), Barrie Todd (Jill Todd Trust), Ciarán Fox (Royal Society of Ulster Architects) and Stephanie Palmer (PLACE)

IT’S THAT TIME OF YEAR AGAIN! If you’re at the dreaming stage and need the help and advice of an architectural designer, then book your hour-long consultation with the RIAI Simon Open Door campaign (ROI) or the RSUA’s Ask an Architect (NI). Both events will run from Saturday the 13th May to Friday 19th of May 2017. The events are each helping a good cause, the first goes towards the work of the Simon Communities of Ireland to help the homeless, the second will see the Jill Todd Trust in partnership with Friends of the Cancer Centre support local cancer research through clinical trials at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology (CCRCB) at Queen's University Belfast. The Simon Open Door consultation costs €90; Ask the Architect minimum donation is £40. To book your appointment: and

'Locals only’ planning rules on the way out A NEWS STORY FROM the Western People relates that Co Sligo councillors have persuaded their local authority to revisit their County Development Plan to address the ‘locals only rule’ whereby applicants must have lived in an area for seven years or worked there for five in order to qualify for planning for a oneoff house, as well as having to build within a 5km limit of the applicant’s original family home. Further investigation by SelfBuild confirmed that the Department of Housing was looking to revise the guidelines it issues to local authorities. “The Department is presently engaged in consultations with planning authorities regarding potential modifications required to the 2005 Planning Guidelines on Sustainable Rural Housing with a view to ensuring that rural housing policies and objectives contained in development plans comply with Article 43 (Freedom of Movement of People) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” a spokesperson

told SeflBuild late in March. “On conclusion of these consultations, the Department will be engaging with the European Commission on proposed changes to the Guidelines, with a view to issuing updated Guidelines to planning authorities on the matter in due course.” Securing planning permission is cited by ROI self-builders as one of the greatest challenges to building their own home. In Sligo, restrictions apply to two sets of selfbuilders, those that want to build in a green belt or sensitive area (locals-only rules apply) and those that want to build in a rural area under urban influence, in which case locals-only rules also apply. Councillor Michael Clarke told SelfBuild he had successfully argued that these policies were contrary to EU law in relation to restricting the movement of people and capital, an argument

which the he says was upheld by a 2013 European Court of Justice ruling on a similar Belgian case. The final Sligo County Development Plan, with amendments, is due to be published by the end of this summer, a spokesperson for the council told SelfBuild. SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 15

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

ROI tax breaks for homeowners represent billions in spending ROI homeowners have spent €1.2 billion through the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) since its launch in 2013, but interest in the scheme in 2016 fell significantly. In 2016 the total value of works undertaken under the HRI amounted to €327 million (13,550 properties) as compared to €455 million (18,800 properties) in 2015. Despite this drop, Construction Industry Federation (CIF) Director General Tom Parlon commented on the scheme’s success since its inception in 2013: “The Home Renovation Incentive has been very successful on several fronts. It supported an incredible €4 billion spend into the Irish economy in 2016. This money is recycled into the local community by the 9,000 plus domestic contractors

involved in delivering renovation construction across Ireland. These businesses employ a good proportion of the 140,000 people engaged in construction in Ireland.” The Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) allows homeowners to claim the 13.5 per cent VAT charged on home improvement work, including extensions. The CIF says the Home Renovation Incentive (HRI) costs about €85 million to the Exchequer, but supports over €10 billion spend in the economy since 2014. “Homeowners might otherwise not have spent this money or it may

have been spent in the grey market at a great loss to the Exchequer,” commented the lobbying group. The CIF added the increase in home improvement over the last three years now means that the overall Repair, Maintenance and Improvement (RMI) sector has grown to a quarter of the entire construction industry output. The Help to Buy (HTB) scheme introduced in this year’s Budget has however managed to pick up the slack with better than expected demand for the new tax incentive aimed at helping first time buyers and self-builders put down

Cash grants for refurbishing rural buildings CASH GRANTS FOR REFURBISHING old buildings in rural communities have been given the green light in the Government’s Action Plan for Rural Development, Realising our Rural Potential, unveiled on Monday January 23rd 2017. The scheme is aimed at luring residents back into rural communities damaged by unemployment during the recession. According to a radio interview by Minister Humphreys the grant could amount to €20,000 and would be aimed at people buying houses in designated rural towns. The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs told SelfBuild their aim was to launch this scheme on a pilot basis in the second half of this year. A Q3 date is recorded in the published Action Plan. Collaboration with various government Departments will be necessary to finalise the details. The DAHRRGA said the scheme was intended to “encourage people to take up residential occupancy in rural towns and villages”.


a deposit towards purchasing or building their home. To date, 413 claims have been approved, each representing on average €15,250 in tax back. The maximum tax relief available is €20,000. The HTB’s budget for 2017 was set at just €50 million but with over 2,000 applications already approved and over 2,300 pending approval, the scheme has proved more popular than originally anticipated. Statistics as of 24 March 2017 show that 12 per cent of  HTB scheme applicants to date were selfbuilders.

ROI flood relocation scheme A VOLUNTARY HOMEOWNER Relocation Scheme for ROI was announced as SelfBuild went to print. According to the Office of Public Works (OPW), the initiative will be open to homeowners whose family home has been damaged as a result of flooding between 4 December 2015 and 13 January 2016 and which cannot be protected from future flooding. Homeowners who are identified by the OPW will be contacted by government officials. The scheme is also open to applications (must be made before 28th July 2017). The total budget for 2017 is €2 million; at the time we went to print it wasn't yet clear how much each homeowner might be entitled to and whether the relocation might involve building new.

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

Free renewable energy advice VISIT THE NEW Energywise showroom in Cork to compare product sizes, noise levels, and how the system you choose will be integrated into your building. Or simply email your drawings for a no obligation quote. / tel. 021 430 8185

Good looks at the coalface

Step inside The Factory

SAiGE Longlife Decking Ltd, a family-run Irish company, is introducing a new line of composite decking products with a charcoal theme; the new board will have a weathered, deep groove, grain effect to make it look like an authentic piece of timber. The range is available in three colours: mixed charcoal /grey, mixed brown /charcoal and mixed oak /charcoal. The boards are made up of 50 per cent wood and 45 per cent recycled plastic with the remining five per cent allocated to colour pigments and treatment. SAiGE prides itself on its quality controls and guarantees the product fully for 10 years, so if the decking warps or splits within that time you’ll get a full refund. With a minimum life expectancy of 25 years and costs at just €55/sqm £50/sqm including all fixings (excludes installation), the time to deck it out is now. Visit or contact Woodford Ltd for delivery in ROI tel. 049 4333 133 / SAiGE for delivery in NI tel. 01789 721 576

WHILST ANDY WARHOL may have been known for his cellulose acetate prints, it’s Cork-based manufacturer Ecocel that has mastered the art of cellulose fibre insulation. And now you can see how it’s made by booking your FREE Tour of the repurposed Ford factory that Ecocel calls home. The process starts with recycled newspaper and ends in a compacted bag of loose fill material which can be blown into timber frame walls, sloping ceilings and attics. The insulation has a long life, acts as a carbon sink, is breathable, contributes to a high level of indoor air quality, is passive house friendly with its high airtightness credentials and is equally well suited to retrofits. Ecocel is also quite unique in that it’s 85 per cent made from recycled newspaper sourced locally, resulting in a very low embodied energy, a feat that’s hard to beat in the world of insulation products. The fully NSAI certified product also boasts excellent U-values (0.13 W/sqmK for 300mm thickness installed in an attic, roughly a third better performing than manmade fibre insulation) and acoustic properties (Sound Transmission Class of 50 or greater). The Factory Tour at Cork City’s Marina Commercial Park includes a walk around operational machinery, fireproof testing, a wall injection demonstration, and time for a Q&A. Go to to book your space or ring 021 432 4567. SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 17



Timing is everything Self-builders tend to have a knack for timing; the irony is they often decide to take the plunge at the worst possible time in their life, with a career and children in tow, as was the case for Eilis and Liam Looney. Words: Astrid Madsen


e only had the weekends open to us to get advice and source products,” recounts Eilis. “We started by doing plenty of research, attending SelfBuild Cork, reading specialised magazines and asking others who had gone through the process. During the design phase, then planning and tender stages, we used our Saturdays to strategise; with the children three and four at this stage, we had to be well organised.” “At the weekends we’d leave the house at 8am, it was the only way we’d manage to sort something out before lunchtime. You have a limited window of opportunity when you’ve got the children with you,” adds Eilis. “We weren’t afraid to travel either, we even went to NI, but mostly in the Clonmel, Mayo, and Galway areas,” says Liam. “There are a lot of semi-detached houses in the immediate Cork area, near the city, and we were looking for a different style. We travelled up to where self-builds consist of bigger houses.” Eilis says it’s funny to consider the fact that a large proportion of self-builders have children yet few of the premises they visited were kid-friendly. “We ended up buying all of our tiles from a supplier that had a kiddie zone with a 50 inch TV screen linked up to the internet so we were able to play the shows our children liked,” she comments. 1183 // SSEELLFFBBU UIILLD D // SSU UM MM MEER R 22001177

The stone used to clad the building was sourced in Doolin, where Eilis and Liam first met

In the beginning…

Eilis and Liam moved from Dublin to Cork seven years ago, a homecoming made possible by both of them finding work in the area. “We had put together a scrapbook over the years, we wanted to have quite a bit of room, an open plan living space and we wanted to maximise views as well as invest in good insulation. Very early on we decided that the cosmetic stuff we could change over

time,” says Eilis. “We got an idea of the style we wanted from different homes and countries we’d lived in as Liam had spent time in America. We didn’t want to have rooms that felt too small, we wanted a decently sized utility, and a playroom with sliding door and generally a feeling that none of the living areas would be cut off from one another.” With children in mind and practicality at the forefront, storage was designed into 


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




The living areas face south

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

The secret door from the kitchen to the double height playroom – we can leave it open in our day to day but close it off whenever we need to make the place look tidy. I love the fact that the playroom can eventually be converted into a den, office, gym or whatever else we’ll need from it. We have a young family now but we were very aware of our needs changing in the future. Our designer really helped us get this right, we had spent the time to know exactly what we wanted, with the next 10 to 15 years of family life in mind.

the building, as was family living. “The fact that 80 per cent of downstairs is open plan, with two small children, felt right,” says Eilis. “This was suggested by a friend of ours who is an interior designer and the structural engineer was able to make this wider open plan configuration work.” “Even though the rooms have different functions, most of the time we’re all together, so this type of layout really suits us. We do have a sitting room, our ‘good room’ at the back and even though it’s not getting much use presently we can see it turning into a teenager hangout as it has its own TV.” “At the design stage we also eliminated the need for a fourth bathroom by placing two bedrooms near the main bathroom, so there’s no ensuite downstairs.” The search for a site was long and arduous as working near Cork city dictated they find one close by. “There weren’t that many sites available so we were also visiting houses for sale,” shares Liam. “We found a site and agreed on a price but the deal fell through five years ago. There were issues with rights of way and needless to say, I was disappointed.” “At the time Liam was very keen on the location but I wasn’t so sure,” adds Eilis. “We kept looking but there were very few options open to us and we managed to buy 20 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

it. Once we cleared the site I saw the views open up and fell in love with it.” “Even though the site had had planning permission for a bungalow, we wanted to build a different and bigger house which meant we had to start from scratch. The permission was also about to lapse as it had been granted in 2005 so we were very dependent on getting it right the first time. We called the planners ahead of the purchase and while they weren’t forthcoming they weren’t negative either so 

What advice would you give a budding self-builder?

Be prepared to commit. It takes a lot of personal time to build your own house, it’s a big ask but you won’t get the same result if you don’t put in the effort. Or else you’ll have to pay someone to do it for you.


Most of the furniture in the house was repurposed; the kitchen too was bought second-hand

we thought it was a good gamble to buy the site,” she adds. It took them no more than three months to finalise the design with their architectural designer and, adding the usual 12 weeks for approval and a mishap due to a clerical error that added a few weeks, they were ready to go to tender within four months. “Our designer did a fantastic job helping us secure planning permission so quickly,” comments Eilis.

Plan A

“Our engineer drew up our design brief with as much detail as we could get in it,” continues Eilis. “It was very comprehensive, 18 pages long, which allowed us to compare all the quotes in detail and while it required 22 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

some time to do it was worth the wait as this helped us budget for the project accurately. Like everybody involved in a self-build, our budget was very tight and sticking to it was everything to us.” The couple had a face-to-face with nine builders, splitting the interviews between them. “Two to three builders offered really good value and we chose the one we felt we got on with best, and we had the right instinct,” says Eilis. “In fact we’re still

very friendly with him, even though we completed the build over three years ago.” “He was so easy to communicate with and very responsive,” adds Liam. “He had just finished building his own house and like me had also worked in the USA; he’s a carpenter by trade and panelling was only starting to get popular here so we got great materials for low cost, and it was quicker and cheaper than other alternatives so ticked all the boxes for us.”


“As a result there’s a distinct American feel throughout which I really enjoy with plenty of wood panelling, cornicing, wooden arches, subway tiles,” comments Eilis. “Liam and I love panelling and the wood effect in general, and it’s quite a dominant feature throughout the house.” The contract was fixed price which the couple updated once a week. “The budget was managed on a constant basis as we had no plan B,” comments Eilis. The nature of the site, on a slope and consisting of rock, and the choice of cut and fill instead of a split level design, meant that more work was involved for the foundations than originally anticipated and this swallowed up the contingency. “The site had been used as a makeshift quarry over 100 years ago, there’s a rock base, and a lot has been taken away over time,” adds Liam.

‘Two to three builders offered really good value and we chose the one we felt we got on with best, and we had the right instinct...'

Q&A What surprised you?

“We actually used some of the sandstone rocks to build feature walls in the garden but we do have some trouble growing plants – it may be a question of figuring out which ones like the soil here.” The build lasted 11 months, and with Liam and Eilis having rented a house a mile away, they were punctual for 7.30 am site meetings, before heading off for work. “We’d be asked to make choices on certain things and had the occasional Saturday or Sunday visit to discuss particular points,” relates Eilis. “We had a separate engineer overseeing the build, we wanted someone independent to keep an eye on things for us and that helped move things along smoothly.”  The open plan area is true to its name, consisting of three sets of furniture, with kitchen, living and formal dining areas

That we got planning permission on the first go with just a couple of queries from the planners, such as the size of the windows, so we resubmitted with these adjustments and the application was approved. We’d heard of others who had struggled getting permission in our area; the difference may have been that we submitted the plans with a very high level of detail, our designer is very rigorous and we gave the plans a lot of thought. He engaged with the planners, established a rapport. I think the due diligence that went into our application is what really paid off.

Would you do it again? Yes, despite the difficulties it was well worth the effort to get our dream home and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

What would you change?

Liam and I met in Doolin and to incorporate some of that magic into the house we sourced cladding stone in Liscannor. We bought it at a quarry off the edge of a cliff, saving about €2,000 by going direct. The issue we have now is that salt deposits are streaking the stone and we’re struggling to get rid of the marks. We’d left a gap between each stone that was laid but that may have been a mistake as the house is quite exposed and we get driving rain gorged with saltwater. The builder believes the lime in the water has led to this situation, but the common advice we got was not to leave a gap between the pavers.



Heating choices

“At the time of the tender, in April 2014, we felt we’d get the best value out of a concrete build. This is when things started getting busy again but prices were still quite competitive,” says Eilis. “We built the house to be well insulated and airtight, with triple glazed windows, an air to water heat pump for both heat and hot water as well as a heat recovery system. We have the heat on from October to April and the bills are roughly €140 per month during this time; we have underfloor heating throughout and the upper storey consists of a precast slab which also helps to prevent noise from travelling between floors.” “We found a local company for the air to water heat pump and they helped us find the

‘Two to three builders offered really good value and we chose the one we felt we got on with best, and we had the right instinct...'

best system for our needs. They have a really good product and helped us sort out the usual teething issues, their aftersales service was excellent,” says Liam. But as Liam and Eilis don’t have the possibility of using the heat pump for cooling, the house in the summertime can get too warm. “It’s beautiful to see the sun moving around the plot and in many ways it’s a nice complaint to have natural heat so what we do when it’s roasting is simply open the patio doors to get a bit of a breeze.” Eilis and Liam thought of getting a wood burning stove but decided against it. “Both Liam and I grew up with fires and it can be hard to think that a home could be without one. However considering the cost and the fact that the house should require minimal heat, we had a long and hard debate about installing one.” “We spoke to others who had installed 24 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Playroom off the open plan area


Liam & Eilis’ top tips  Ignore the current fashions, follow your heart – we loved the American New England theme and were lucky that at the time it wasn’t popular so we were able to get the panelling done at a very reasonable price. Because we had a style in mind that wasn’t stocked in the shops, we’ve been storing and buying stuff online for years. We upcycled a lot of furniture which we painted to match our new colour scheme. The same with couches, we bought quality second hand ones for a fraction of the cost and got them reupholstered. We found our kitchen in this way too, although we did have to store it for 12 months with family and friends.  Think long and hard about storage in the home too, and invest in it. Years of thought went into our design. Our approach was to consider how we’d tidy up the rooms, what would be the best place to put things away. We used some flat pack furniture and some units were made up of repurposed plywood that was painted over. The ideal situation is to have areas that are closed off out of sight, especially in the hallway where you will be shedding coats, shoes and bags.

the same heating system in their house and built to the same standard, and they said they only lit their stove for effect,” adds Liam. “They barely used it as there never was a need. In our case, we couldn’t see where it would actually go in the open plan area; we would have had to create a wall division, and as we wanted a double-sided stove (and had to obviously build a chimney), the decision would have set us back €5,500 so we chose to invest that money elsewhere.”

“She steered us away from that, she also helped us with the panelling by measuring heights, and giving us ideas of what type of doors to go with. We could’ve spent hours, which we didn’t have, deciding so the fact that she specified everything for us made the difference.” “I think her suggestions were all very helpful, for example the blinds on the windows facing the front of the house are a really nice touch,” adds Eilis. “Walking around the house the first week of moving in, we couldn’t believe it was ours! The contrast with the house we were renting during the build couldn’t have been greater – that house felt smaller than it should have considering its size as it was quite dark. It was also very poorly insulated and north facing so when you had the fire lit you were too hot, and as soon as it went out you were too cold.” “The first thing that hit us with this house was how warm it was – and the fact that were had no slippers on,” she adds. “It’s a fabulous experience living here.”

Finish line

In the last four or five months leading up to the time of their moving in, Liam and Eilis hired the services of an interior designer whom the builder recommended. “She was able to help us choose paint colours, bathroom finishes, tiles, worktops, you name it. We originally wanted to have a stone wall running throughout the ground floor but it would have been too heavy,” says Liam.

 Consider hiring an interior designer; ours cost €250 per consultation and we had her in three times. By giving us tips and advice on what to do and most importantly, telling us the best value places where to shop, she saved us more than that amount. For instance she told us there was no need to have curtains in the open plan area as we’re not overlooked, and this has worked out really well for us.



More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Liam and Eilis' new build project in Co Cork including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS House size

3,000 sqft Plot size

0.6 acres Build cost (including site cost)


Landscaping including tarmac



Concrete walls 250mm cavity blocks filled with EPS beads, U-value 0.28 W/sqmk




Triple glazed, argon filled, uPVC finish


Due to the nature of the steep site, an earth berm was specified at the entrance and at the back of the site. The wastewater treatment system's percolation consists of a mounded soil filter arrangement. Plants along house perimeter include jasmine, fuchsia, hydrangea and alder trees. House surrounded with tarmac driveway.


SUPPLIERS Architectural services Paul Ahern mobile 0876661234






Builder D Dwyer Builders Ltd mobile 087 221 2924




Windows Munster Joinery



Interior designer Fiona O’Keeffe mobile 086 85129


Heat pump, underfloor heating, ventilation systems Energywise Ireland Precast concrete slabs Ducon for upper storey Calling from NI prefix with 00353(0)









C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T


Group therapy Getting advice from friends, family and anyone who’s gone through the maze of house building is the best way to get you started on your own project. Kevin and Amanda Fullerton of Co L’Derry were lucky to get some hands-on help too. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Emma Stewart


ike any life experience, self-building can change your outlook on things, and may even get you to explore and discover different sides of your personality. “Don’t be afraid to ask anyone – even complete strangers – for advice,” advises Amanda, whose life was consumed by her house building project from the day she and Kevin started thinking about a self-build. “Someone in your family may know someone who’s building or renovating their home, and if not don’t be afraid to knock on doors.” The couple started their journey with research and exploration. “On Sundays we’d go around taking photographs of the houses we liked and asked everyone we came in contact with if they’d gone through a selfbuild or knew anyone who had.” “The experiences of others guided us through the process,” adds Amanda. “This is how we found out what we felt would work for us and what wouldn’t; which ideas were useable, which we might reconsider.”

Setting sites

Before Amanda and Kevin got married five years ago, they looked at houses but found none they really fell in love with. “This is when the idea of building for ourselves started to germinate,” recounts Amanda. “A couple of years previous Kevin’s dad had built his own house and worked with an architect. We brought him on board as we liked his style and went to visit other houses he’d designed.” “We wanted a traditional farmhouse with a modern twist and wanted to make sure that in five years’ time, it wouldn’t seem out of place,” adds Kevin. “The most difficult part of the project was finding the site. We didn’t want to move far from our local town, and we were looking for a useable space.” “We weren’t hundred percent sure what we wanted, I lost count of the number of places we visited, but Kevin’s relations, his uncle Frankie and dad Gerard, were really helpful,” says Amanda. “Before we purchased the site the architect came out to  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 29

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

tell us what we could do with the space, it gave us a good idea and made us realise the site was the right one for us.” Amanda’s aunt lives down the road and validated that they could integrate easily into the local area. The couple eventually decided they would benefit from buying another part of land too for a slightly enhanced garden. “We liked Kevin’s parents’ house but we didn’t really know what ours might look like until we’d seen the plans; these only had to be changed two or three times to tweak them to our requirements,” says Amanda. “After such an easy design phase, we thought surely planning would cause some trouble but it was all so easy. We couldn’t believe our luck – we were actually quite shocked!”

Kitchen delight

First time self-builders Kevin and Amanda approached this project with the usual mix of apprehension and excitement but one thing was clear from the very beginning, that the heart of the house would be the kitchen to allow for family and friends to visit. “We specified a big kitchen space for get30 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T

togethers,” recalls Amanda. “At my mum and dad’s we always spend all our time in the kitchen, and I knew it was going to be the heart of my new home with Kevin too.” But Amanda didn't fancy an open plan. “We wanted the living space to be off the kitchen, I didn’t want one long communal area. The solution was to run a wall three quarters the length of the kitchen and leave an opening onto the living room. There’s no door, which provides a nice flow.” “As a result, during family gatherings the sitting area feels connected to what’s going on in the kitchen but is separated from the smells and messiness.” They also used the same tiles throughout the ground floor including kitchen and hall to provide continuity. The living room is the only exception, with timber flooring, for a warmer feel. The other requirements were the need for three to four bedrooms and a study, as well as a walk-in wardrobe. “We were very open to ideas, our main precept was to have the house revolve around the main living area,” adds Amanda.

Mixing business with pleasure

Kevin and Amanda were working full time so the build phase was managed by Frankie and Gerard, a set-up that went beyond the couple’s expectations. “Frankie has worked on numerous self-builds, and he’s very good at what he does,” says Amanda. “There were no hiccoughs, everything ran so smoothly.” 

‘After such an easy design phase, we thought surely planning would cause some trouble but it was all so easy. We couldn’t believe our luck – we were actually quite shocked!’

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

The kitchen is wonderful and we do spend most of our time there. We also love our bedroom with ensuite bathroom and walk-in wardrobe. Then there are small details like the wonderful tile arrangement around the shower area in the upstairs bathroom.

What surprised you?

That the site hunting phase would be the most difficult part of the project! Everything else went so smoothly despite this being a direct labour project. We stayed on budget and on schedule, the only delay was the electrician for one week, we just couldn’t believe it.

What advice would you give a budding self-builder?

We had heard of so many selfbuilders encountering problems when building their house, things that didn’t fit, no-shows, and so on, that we put a strong focus on getting the right people in to do the job. You need to find the right team to see you through the project.

Would you do it again?

I would but I don’t want to move – we have the perfect house for us!

What would you change?

We made some alterations during the build, (such as enlarging our walk-in wardrobe at the expense of slightly downsizing our main bathroom and I’m so happy we did), so there’s nothing I can say I would change now.


P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

The glazed balustrade is easy to wipe clean

Connected yet separate spaces

They broke ground when a builder Frankie knew to be very good was ready to start immediately. “We didn’t need a contractor because we knew Frankie and Gerard had our best interest at heart, recommending suppliers on the basis of having seen their work completed to a high standard.” “We never had to run around looking for tradesmen, and we were able to keep it local too so we had practically no issues with people not showing up on site. Kevin did most of the calling and negotiating but it was very easy as we were guided; Frankie and Gerard were so good at getting in touch with us when they needed something or when we had to organise the next trade.” One change of heart during the build had to do with the upper storey walkway. “You could see straight down into the hall and when I went up the stairs I didn’t know if I really liked that feature so decided to close it off; which didn’t prove to be a major expense as we did it early in the build.” “I’m now very happy we did that, at Christmas we put up a tree there and it’s lovely because it can be seen from the outside. At other times of the year I have a reading chair beside the window which makes it a much more useable space than just a walkway.” The staircase design also underwent a reconfiguration. “It’s only when you’re on site that you can see what the space feels like. We decided against the stairs going up in a straight line like a ladder, we also introduced glass on the side to allow more light into the space.” “I love the glazed balustrade and the upkeep is easy, it only needs a wipe after  32 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Timber flooring in the sitting room

Closed off stairwell

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

The pantry and utility rooms (see page opposite) are hidden behind the doors on either side of the cooker.

a visit from children in our family leaving their prints. Because of the long panes that’s easy to do. We do have a lot of windows throughout, which is a bonus as in the summertime we hardly ever have to turn the lights on.”

Spoilt for choice

“Kevin’s brother recommended underfloor heating throughout and now I can’t imagine living with radiators ever again! It’s great not having to negotiate around them when planning a room,” says Amanda. The couple chose double glazing over triple as they felt the saving could be put elsewhere. “We have solar panels for hot water and a photovoltaic array to generate electricity,” adds Kevin. “We decided on

this as we are aware of rising costs and limitations in supply, and whilst the capital outlay was relatively high it will pay dividend over a larger number of years and we have no plans to move in the near future.” The heating system is oil with a wood burning stove to complement in winter. “We felt the alternatives weren’t established enough to give us a good idea of the return on investment, and there can be issues with availability of supply in the case of other forms of energy,” explains Kevin. “So our focus was on insulating the house to reduce our demand, and avail of thermostats to heat the right rooms at the right time,” adds Amanda. The oil boiler isn’t on from March to September and their bills are lower than the rental they were in,

which was a smaller house. Kevin and Amanda broke ground January 2014 and moved in March 2015. “We didn’t cut corners to get there, Frankie and Gerard were just very well organised.” But Amanda says it takes living in a space a long time before you can see what will work. “We still have so many things to do, we’re taking it one room at a time. We don’t want to rush it.” The outdoor area was also tackled by Frankie who landscaped with tarmac and kerbing around the house, and at the back sloped the layout to the natural incline. “There’s a wall splitting the patio area and we may put some seating out there eventually,” muses Amanda. A home for life is ever evolving.

The stove complements the oil boiler

'...our focus was on insulating the house to reduce our demand, and avail of thermostats to heat the right rooms at the right time...' 34 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T

Amanda & Kevin’s top tips


 Take your time kitting out the house; we had a spare room downstairs and it took us a while to decide what to do with it. Kevin had always dreamed of having a cinema room and we thought, why not? All we needed were block out blinds, a corner sofa, an inexpensive projector, and hey presto!  Our builder suggested a Z shaped wall between two of the guest bedrooms; this allowed us to incorporate walk-in wardrobes in both rooms with minimal impact on the floor space. With straight walls we would have had to add chunky wardrobes. It was reassuring to have people with so much knowledge guiding us and working on site.

Three quarter wall separating kitchen and living areas


 Keep things in their place; we have a study downstairs where I can throw all my books, close the door and forget about it. I used to have my teaching books lying around on the kitchen table of the house we were renting, which made the place look untidy. A similar example is the pantry; our utility room off the kitchen was going to be large so I decided to take some space out of it and put in a larder – it’s the only room without underfloor heating in the house. There are no cupboards, it’s all open shelving – and even if it turns into a mess I can always close the door…

The shower tiles are one of Amanda's favourite details


C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Amanda and Kevin’s new build project in Co L'Derry including the local companies involved... SIZE


House size

3,100 sqft



Cavity walls fully filled with 150mm tongue and groove EPS boards (100mm blockwork each side), U-value 0.17W/sqmK

Double glazed uPVC argon filled, low-e coating, thermally efficient spacing bars and thermal barrier around glazing area



100mm sand/cement screed on 25mm PIR insulation on 150mm reinforced concrete slab on 125mm PIR insulation on dampproof membrane jointed to DPC, U-value 0.10W/sqmK

Site size

0.4 acres

Living/kitchen/dining roof with 120mm PIR insulation between 170mm thick rafters and 62.5mm insulated plasterboard fixed to underside of rafters; roof over bedroom area 400mm mineral wool. U-Value 0.16 W/ sqmK




ensuite ENSUITE study/ library STUDY

bedroom BEDROOM

wc W.C.

kitchen KITCHEN

10 11 12 13 14 15 9 8 7 6 5 4 3


2 1

PLAYROOM playroom dining DINING



en suite ENSUITE


bedroom BEDROOM


wardrobe WARDROBE

10 11 12 13 14 15 9 9



Architect Slemish Design Studio Studio LLP, Raceview Mill, 29 Raceview Road, Broughshane, Ballymena, Co Antrim, BT424JJ, Tiles Bremar Tiles, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, tel. 867 62647, Kitchen Johanna Montgomery Designs, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 2175 8400, johannamontgomerydesigns.



LARDER larder

8 7


6 5 4

MASTER master bedroom BEDROOM

bedroom BEDROOM void VOID


Blinds BlocOuts by Bloc Blinds, Magherafelt, Co L’Derry, tel. 7964 4922

decked area

Windows McMullan O’Donnell, Benburb, Co Tyrone, tel. 3754 8791, living LIVING

Light fittings Yesss Electrical, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 25636758, Photography Emma Stewart Photography Ballymoney, Co Antrim, mobile: 07882 700 612 Calling from ROI prefix with 048 or 0044(0) for mobile




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CO DUBLIN / PROJECT This cottage extension faces the views



Turn it around How do you get your house to change direction, get it to move so that it’s angled towards the sun and views? Insert roller blades underneath? Glenna Woods and Gerry Warnock of Co Dublin found a way to design their way out of this structural problem. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 39



hilst building your house to face the road has some appeal, the need for privacy, the desire to avail of views and the sun’s ability to warm up the house, coupled with an aversion to noise, have conspired to make this a less desirable alternative than it may have been in the past. But when you’re renovating there’s little you can do about where your house is positioned. The only option is to change how that box is configured and make it feel like it’s been relocated. And as Glenna bought their two-bedroom Land Commission cottage with a view to extend, the change in orientation had to take place alongside an extension and renovation. “It took us three months to make up our minds on how we were going to turn the house around. The front door and porch were facing the road, to the south, but this set up didn’t suit us. We wanted to extend at the back however we struggled to see how these new north-facing rooms would get any sun. The solution was to use south facing rooflights in the hall and living/kitchen area.” “At the very early stages we’d actually looked at a two-storey design but this requirement for southerly light, and the budget, dictated we go single storey.”

The new front door faces east, located between the old cottage and new extension

“We then converted the original front door into a window and used the location of the back door, roughly, as the place to put our new front entrance. We still needed a back door, of course, so we enlarged the original kitchen window opening for that purpose,” adds Glenna. “Once we had the final plans, and before we appointed our builder, I met with a lighting consultant and that made a huge difference. He gave professional advice which took everything into consideration so there was no quandary where to place fittings.”

Progression from recession

It was a relative of theirs, a quantity surveyor, who advised them throughout for the costs, and recommended their architect. 

The south facing rooflights bring in light to the extension.



‘At the very early stages we’d actually looked at a two-storey design but this requirement for southerly light, and the budget, dictated we go single storey.'

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

The open plan kitchen and dining area, with views, is a great place to entertain and relax in. The kitchen designer/ manufacturer did a wonderful job; we have lots of storage and preparation space, the units are easy to wipe clean and can be repainted if we wish to change the colour in the future. But perhaps my favourite part, on a practical level, is our utility cupboard – we added a small radiator in it to help speed up the clothes drying process. It was a brilliant addition I now couldn’t live without!

What surprised you?

How delightful an experience it would be! I had a spreadsheet of what was going on, from the very beginning, even before we appointed our architect. I told myself I’d stick to one mantra: ‘everything will pass’ anticipating loads of stress, but it was actually a pleasure. I think the main thing is to trust your builder and designer, they’re the professionals, and it’s important to feel comfortable questioning what they’re doing. The builder was in constant communication with us and was always available if we had a query. That was very reassuring. If we wanted to change something they thought couldn’t be done, they’d explain their rationale. Another surprise was to realise what lovely views we had, and the fact that we owned an extra 20 feet of land! It’s only when we started clearing the site and ditches that the vista unfolded. Shrubs and hedges being cleared meant we unearthed the wood panel that marked out the site boundary much further than we expected. Those were some added bonuses.



“During the many months of house hunting I’d started compiling a scrapbook folder and coincidence had it that I had kept an article by this same architect, so I felt like I was on familiar ground.” Glenna and Gerry’s requirements were quite specific and their inspiration varied. “We’d lived in many houses, and I’ve lived in different countries – Australia, and the USA from coast to coast. So we knew the amount of space we wanted and that we needed plenty of light. I especially wanted a big open plan kitchen-living-dining area with a vaulted ceiling.” “We also wanted a detached house because we love to listen to music and tend to crank up the volume. Even though the thought of building our own house was appealing, it proved as hard to find a site as it was a house.” Glenna actually stumbled upon this cottage through sheer luck, on her way back from visiting another. “There happened to be a For Sale sign which I drove up to, and I immediately saw the house had great potential.”

The vaulted ceiling was on the wish list from day one.

‘A big selling point was that it was on an acre site, it was also only 200 metres from the nearest village...’

“A big selling point was that it was on an acre site, it was also only 200 metres from the nearest village and even though we’re eight minutes by car from the motorway, we’re in a very quiet spot, with pheasant and hares in the garden, cattle and vegetables in the surrounding fields, horses trotting up and down the road…” The property had been on the market for six months and there were further delays after their bid was accepted. “I saw the house in August 2013, called the agent and put down a deposit straight away but the banks took forever to sort out the mortgage. It wasn’t until Christmas that we got the keys.” Thankfully, the building process was much quicker, and, relying on her architect and quantity surveyor for the technical aspects, the tendering stage was painless.  42 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

North and east facing view of the garden

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Q&A What advice would you give a budding self-builder?

I never realised how much work was involved in choosing the finishes, there are so many different types of door handles to choose from! The variations are endless so my advice would

West facing garden with sitting area

be to go with your gut, and not worry, things end up falling into place. I was originally concerned of how one choice might affect another, whether I may create clashes. But when it was all done and signed off on, I just felt it was right. You have to trust your instinct. I would encourage people to just go for it.

Would you do it again?

Yes, this experience was so enjoyable I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at self-building a second time… and I would use the same team again. As they say, you probably need to build three houses before you get it right!

What would you change?

I’d add some rooflights in the attic; our architect was on holidays when they were putting the roof up and instead of asking the builders to do it, I let it slide. They were progressing so fast with the build, at our next meeting the structure was already up.


The builders were appointed and broke ground in May 2015. “The completion date was October 5 yet the builders finished in early September,” enthuses Glenna. “After that we had some finishing touches to add ourselves. To reduce costs we’d decided to paint most of the interior, bar the new open plan area as the double height would have been tricky. We took charge of ordering the carpets, and once they were fitted we moved in. The builders had put the tiles down which meant the bathrooms were finished.” Glenna had expected the building phase to be much more stressful than it turned out to be. “We let ourselves be guided by our design team, and by the builder,” she says. For such a reconfiguration, the demolition work was also relatively minor – only one wall had to be knocked down at the back. But it was during the stripping back indoors that they uncovered a gem. “The previous owners had covered up all of the walls and behind them we found the original grey stone, which we kept as a feature in the hallway but couldn’t keep exposed throughout as it doesn’t weather well.” “I love seeing the fossils in the stone, it keeps us in touch with the earth and nature, which was a great draw to this site in the first place.”


Despite the garden appeal, Glenna says there isn’t a worm in sight. “The ground is rock solid, I’m hoping that in time the soil will aerate so we can plant more.”

‘If I had realised what I know now, I would have done everything possible to put aside some money for a drainage system in the garden...’

“If I had realised what I know now, I would have done everything possible to put aside some money for a drainage system in the garden. If there’s a heavy rainfall the ground is quite soggy; even though that means we get rushes – they do look quite nice – it also means I’ve lost quite a few shrubs.” “It takes five to six years to establish trees, which we’ve started planting to protect us from the high winds; at the moment we only really have the neighbour’s Leylandii across the road to provide some shelter.” “We even looked at installing a wind turbine but the payback was 12 years. If we were younger, had a young family, we may have felt a greater need for more eco


There's a temperature difference between the cottage bedroom (below) and the one in the extension (above)

features; instead we kept the original boiler as it was able to cope with the extension.” “But just about! The plumber said that adding even one extra radiator would have been too much,” says Glenna wishing they had that extra capacity. “It’s a shame because I would have liked to have another heat source at the kitchen counter which is quartz; maybe it’s because the material looks cold, or maybe it’s because of the windows, but during cold spells I can feel it getting chilly around there.” “Even when sitting on the sofa my leg closest to the sliding doors will feel a bit cooler than the other. Thankfully in summer, overheating isn’t an issue as the rooflights provide cross ventilation.” Gerry wanted the sliding doors sized as big as possible, triple glazed at 12ftx12ft, and this worked out well as their views out onto the fields makes them feel very close to nature; on a clear day they can even see the Mourne mountains. The finish is alu-clad and the windows are double glazed. “We were going to go with grey but decided on navy at the last minute; I’m so glad we did. It’s a bit different and yet fits in nicely with the surroundings.”  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 45


Old and new

Glenna’s top tips BATHROOM

 Install a demister behind the bathroom mirror: every morning I’m thankful there is one.  Even if you have radiators in the bathroom, install underfloor heating – I wish I had done so in the cottage bathroom but we would have had to dig up the tiles. Thankfully we did install underfloor electric mats in the bathroom that’s in the extension.  If you live in a hard water area get a water softener for the shower and appliances, and a reverse osmosis unit for drinking water.  Consider self-cleaning glass in rooflights – these are hard to get at without professional help.


 Consider a covered wall vent in a downstairs bedroom. Window trickle vents may not be enough on warm nights when the curtains are closed.  If installing a wall vent consider the direction from which the wind blows. Avoid putting it on a wall with prevailing winds to avoid nasty draughts.  Place double the amount of sockets where you plan to put your TV. As a matter of fact, put sockets everywhere, you can never have enough.  We plumbed an additional circuit onto our existing cylinder for hot water – it’s a ‘flow and return’ piping system which prevents us having to let the tap run to reach temperature. Highly recommended!  If possible budget to insulate all parts of the house to the same specification.


Of course with an existing house, you have to work with what you have. The cottage had been dry lined by previous owners with composite insulation board battened off the old walls. “From opening up a wall vent cover, we could see that the inside face of the old wall was damp with condensation,” says Glenna. “Our architect recommended stripping the walls and re-lining them with an airtight/vapour open dry lining system but we didn’t have the money to do it. So we just topped up the attic insulation, replaced the windows and insulated the existing timber floor with 150mm fibreglass laid in netting under the floorboards.” The issue now is that the two properties are out of synch. “Whenever the heat isn’t on, there is a very noticeable difference in temperature between the extension and the cottage,” explains Glenna. Compounding this effect is that their heating controls provide two zones, one for the bedrooms, the other for the living areas. “As one bedroom is in the cottage and the other in the newly built portion of the house, they don’t reach temperature at the same time. When we have guests staying in the cottage bedroom, we crank up the thermostat and manually turn off the radiator in our bedroom. It’s a small inconvenience but one we’ll address when we upgrade the heating system.” In terms of design, Glenna says the flow of the house couldn’t have worked out any better. “There’s a really good feel to it, moving from room to room. There’s space, privacy, and room for entertaining guests. It’s all quite seamless.” Another addition they may make is to add a back boiler to their stove to save on heating costs. “We installed an insert stove Glenna and Gerry's past experiences have led their design choices.

The original grey stone walls, with fossils, framed as a feature in the hallway.

into our fireplace and considered a back boiler for that. We didn’t like the idea of having all of the radiators on all the time to take the heat from the stove, but it’s something that we may retrofit down the line.” On another practical note, Glenna says that she was keen to have a quiet extractor fan above her kitchen hob, one that would allow for chatting and cooking to take place at the same time. “I simply couldn’t get one with the motor located on an external wall, so went with a ‘silent’ version, which on the low setting does what it says on the tin. Thankfully the low setting is all we normally use as it deals very well with steam.” Despite the few glitches, has the house delivered on her expectations of that first day? “We’re very happy here, I think that’s a sign we did things right!”


More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Glenna and Gerry's renovation and extension project in Co Dublin including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS



100mm solid concrete block outer leaf with 18mm sand/cement render finish. 150mm cavity fully filled with EPS beads pumped in,100mm concrete block inner leaf with skim plaster finish on sand cement basecoat. U-value 0.2W/sqmK House before

Design and planning fees, furniture, landscaping, fencing, security, finishes & kitchen

105 sqm

House after

177 sqm


Site cost



150mm in situ concrete slab on100mm PIR underfloor insulation on IAB certified radon barrier, joints lapped and sealed on 50mm sand blinding on 225mm well consolidated hardcore. U-value 0.16W/sqmK

Market value (house only)

Build cost












Composite alu-clad windows, double glazed, U-value of units 1.2W/sqmK, solar factor (G value) 0.38



Composite roof tiles to match existing on treated on 35 x 50mm battens on IAB approved breathable roof felt (500mm 5U bitumen felt strip to eaves) on structural graded SW joists, 100mm PIR insulation between joists fitted flush to underside of rafter with 50mm spacer battens above 50mm PIR insulation to underside of rafter. Sealed joints in boards with foil tape and airtightness tape to joints with walls. 35mm battened wiring cavity. Plasterboard and skim plaster finish to ceiling. U-value 0.16W/sqmK
















Calling from NI prefix with 00353(0)

Quantity Surveyor Appliances Patrick Shanley, Duleek, Powercity, Co Meath, Extractor fan tel. 041 982 3349, Falmec sourced from Kitchen Showtime, Dublin, Architect tel. 01 816 2101, Fergal McGirl MRIAI, Dublin, External lighting tel. 01 873 5441, Illumination Swords, Dublin, tel. 01 890 3988, Builder Windows Rathcorbally Construction, Paul McDonald of Munster mobile 086 8060893, Joinery, EcoClad model, Wastewater system Carpets SIDE (WEST ELEVA O’Reilly Oakstown Ltd,(SOUTH ELEVATION) Gough’s Carpets of FRONT Trim, Co Meath, Ardcath, Dublin, tel. 01 835 4113 tel. 046 943 1389, Internal doors and fittings Eddies Hardware, Drogheda, Percolation testing engineer Co Louth, tel. 041 983 6292, Sean O’Connor of Enviropro Ltd., Bathroom mobile 087 220 8633, B&Q, Floor tiles Security System Tubs and Tiles Sandyford, Aztec Security Systems, Dublin, tel. 01 409 9222, Paint Colourtrend, Lighting consultant Insulation REAR (NORTH ELEVATION) SIDE (EAST ELEVA National Lighting, Dublin, EPS beads in walls: tel. 01 709 9070, EcoBead Platinum; floor Kitchen design PIR: Xtratherm UF xtratherm. Darren Moore of JDM com; airtightness tape: Siga Woodworks, Naul, Co Meath, mobile 086 353 Roof tiles 3351, Tegral Thrutone, Kitchen fittings Photography Flanagan’s Fittings, Dublin, BEDROOMDermot Byrne Photography BEDROOM 1 2 tel. 01 844 8400, Brookhaven, Co. Wicklow Kitchen lighting tel: 01 282 9560 IKEA,

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

‘Being inexperienced in actual building work, finding an architect willing to project manage got rid of our worries...’



C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T


What a difference a room makes By knocking down an internal wall and reconfiguring her living space, Mary Johnston of Co L’Derry transformed her day-to-day life for the better Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Christopher Hill


e renovated three years ago and I still enjoy walking into our new open plan kitchen, dining and den area. I’m so happy we took that leap of faith, and can’t believe the result for such a simple project,” says Mary. The reconfiguration consisted of converting her dining room into a den, removing the wall separating it from the kitchen and adding two bifold doors onto a patio area and garden she upgraded. “We’d had a bad experience when we moved into the house 20 years ago, which we’d bought on plans. There were many problems and as we’d just moved to the area that made things more difficult.” “Even though this experience was truly behind us, we were still apprehensive and didn’t want to go at it alone.” Once bitten twice shy, they found their architectural designer through a diligent search. “We rang architects we could find within a 30 to 40 minute radius, met Ben and hit it off. We visited previous work of his and liked his style; he was also available to oversee the construction and that was something we had our hearts set on.” “Being inexperienced in actual building work, finding an architect willing to project manage got rid of our worries. We were still erring on the side of caution,” she adds.

Outside in

A by-product of their unfortunate experience was that they were never able to

By knocking down the wall between living and dining, a bright and spacious open plan area was made possible

optimise the use of their patio – or of their garden for that matter. The patio is limited in size, a narrow strip sandwiched between the house and retaining wall. “The sun hits the patio from early morning to late afternoon so it was a shame not to enjoy it more,” says Mary. “As doors take up a lot of space to open, the bifold solution helped us overcome this obstacle and bring in much more light to the inside than what we used to have.” “The open plan configuration also makes us want to step outside. There’s a

completely different feeling; the patio and the garden above are more inviting.” The garden had been neglected due to a lack of access. “It was a steep hill we had to climb to get to the garden so we didn’t make it up there that often! We waited for the renovation to be finished inside to tackle the outside area, adding steps to access the lawn. This made a huge difference. It basically made enjoying our patch of green possible. The cherry on top was adding a seating and pergola area.” It was however tricky to design due to  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 51

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

Hands down, the dimmer master switch. When you come into the room you can set the light level of all the lamps at the same time; this immediately sets the mood you’re looking for.

Due to the steep hill, planting had to take place on different levels.

the steep hill so the planting had to take place on different levels. To continue with the theme of bringing the outside in, the flagstones used on the patio match the neutral colours in the revamped space. “We’ve added plants to the patio area too, including espalier apple trees up against the retaining wall. Hopefully we’ll get them to cover most of the unsightly wall, and if we’re lucky we’ll get some apples too. Our garden doesn’t lend itself to planting regular fruit trees so this is our only opportunity to grow our own.” Inside, they wanted to feel more connected to each other, to have more interactions within their living spaces. “We wanted to be able to enjoy spending as much time as possible with our grandchild, the old kitchen was shut off from everything

Espalier apple trees have been planted to eventually hide the unsightly retaining wall.


whereas now we’re all together. What I love is that the spaces are flexible – my daughters love to sit at the island while we relax in the den.” To enhance this feeling, the new flooring was kept uniform. “We wanted to keep it simple, choosing large format tiles, cream in colour.” Vibrancy is provided by a powerful burnt orange theme throughout. “The three 

What advice would you give to someone wanting to reconfigure their living space?

Go for it! You don’t need to spend a fortune to make a real change in your life and it’s easy to put up with the upheaval for a short period of time. The upgrade, even though modest, has completely transformed the way we use and enjoy our house. Engaging Ben to manage the project worked perfectly for us, especially after the negative experience when we bought the house. Architects have clout and it’s worth benefiting from.

The flagstones used on the patio match the neutral colours inside.

P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

paintings behind the settee are by a Spanish artist; we knew long before the building work started that they would set the tone. That’s why our rug is the colour it is, and our kitchen references it too.” The bespoke bookcase in the den was also an incumbent. “We used the same joiner to do our kitchen, we wanted the elements in the room to gel,” adds Mary. “For the kitchen cupboards we chose grey at the bottom and creamy white on top, with the timber countertop balancing things out. The kitchen cupboards echo the lines of the existing bookshelves.” Mary had her heart set on the island facing out to the garden and the light, which she says has furthered their connection to the outside.


During the planning phase their architect had directed them to various stores to source products and brought them to see other people’s homes to decide what they liked and how far their budget could stretch.

‘What I love is that the spaces are flexible – my daughters love to sit at the island while we relax in the den...’

“This helped refine what we wanted and what would suit the space. It seems simple but a lot of work goes into achieving a balanced interior.” All well and good on the designer’s side,  54 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Vibrancy is provided by a powerful burnt orange theme

C O L' D E R R Y / P R O J E C T

Q&A What surprised you?

In the original kitchen, a few years previous we’d employed a tiler to install new tiles. With this more recent refurbishment, when the builders went to put in the new floor they realised the tiler hadn’t bothered to remove the original tiles! We were busy at work when he’d done the job, which explains why we never realised we were walking on two layers of tiles for all these years.

Would you do it again?

I wouldn’t be afraid to tackle a new job, but the first thing I would do is get Ben back on board. His involvement is definitely worth the cost, which is quite small when you look at the bigger picture.

What would you change?

I might go with a slightly bigger island; Ben recommended we go larger but the kitchen designers’ plans specified this size. It’s not something that stresses me out, it’s plenty big, but if I had to pick something this would be it. I would actually have loved to go with Ben’s advice and incorporate the bay window in his design; he had redesigned it to match the bifold doors but it was too expensive. His design was of a rectangular shape with 90 degree angles and frameless glazing. As the bay window is wooden we painted it to match the walls and it blends in quite well. But I do dream!


P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

Mary’s top tips KITCHEN

 Make sure there’s a socket on your kitchen island; our family love to sit at it and invariably need to plug in their devices.


but how did they got on with their builder? “We went to tender and one of the people we asked to submit a bid was on the back of a recommendation from our plumber,” recounts Mary. “His dad had him build his house and had been happy with his work. He was a bit dearer than the rest but we felt he was the one who could see what we wanted, and we were confident he could deliver. We were still hesitant at this stage but he was brilliant. He told us from the start he was happy to use our plumber and electrician, which was very reassuring to us, we loved his flexibility.” His attention to detail clinched it for Mary. But that’s not to say the unexpected


didn’t crop up – one of the original walls wasn’t straight so they had to fix it up before they could tile the floor. “With the walls all at 90 degree angles, having one wall a bit askew would have been a challenge to make the tiles look right. We just had to fix the wall. It’s these little things you don’t always think about that can swallow up the contingency!” The existing set of doors in the den were replaced by one set of bifold door and the little kitchen window was enlarged to insert the other set; to prop up these wider 

 Think about how the interior design affects your connection to the outside; we rarely went outdoors because it wasn’t practical or very attractive. Having opened up the space into an open plan has let the outside in, we feel more connected, and the bifold doors entice us to go out. We feel there’s more room than there used to be even though the area is the same.  Hire a professional designer that is willing to project manage the build for you; this took the stress out of the process for us.


















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P R O J E C T / C O L' D E R R Y

openings steel lintels (RSJs) were used. Logistically the kitchen appliances and sink were moved around so they had to replumb and rewire. They’d also gotten their heating system upgraded a few years previous, and they’d taken that opportunity to zone the house. The main change in this renovation was to replace the old radiator with a vertical one between the bifold doors. “There was a certain amount of upheaval but the build only lasted a month so it was bearable. All we had to do was shut off the back of the house and use the utility room as our kitchen. It wasn’t ideal because it was only accessible via the garage but it’s something I could easily live with,” says Mary. “The result was well worth the effort.”

Project information

More photographs available at

Find out more about Mary's renovation project in Co L'Derry including the local companies involved... BEFORE






Project cost (everything except the landscaping)










Calling from ROI prefix tel. with 048

Architect Ben Wilson of Wilson McMullen Architects, Portrush, Co Antrim, tel. 7082 5865, Builder JJ Joinery & Construction Derry, Derry, Co L’Derry, tel. 71 357940, Landscaping Friable Landscapes, Coleraine, Co L’Derry, tel. 7181 2248

Bifold doors Sunfold Aluminium Bi-Folding Doors SFK70 with finger safe technology from Feneco Systems, Coleraine, Co L’Derry, tel. 702 20002, Joiner Patterson’s Kitchens Ltd., Derry, tel. 71342050 Photography Paul Linsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Belfast, tel: 90245038,

Manufacturers of Quality Timberframe & Modular Homes

Tel: +353 047 89845 / Mob: +44 0779 5445 407 /

We offer a wide range of high quality services from general builds, sunrooms, extensions, to kitchens and commercial renovations. T: 028 71 357940 - M: 07812 654 547 W. E: 133 Elmvale, Culmore Road, Derry, BT48 8SL

‘Let Fernhill be the Corner Stone when Building your Home’ NI: 0870 224 7201 / ROI: 1850 839 900 /


The taxman cometh When building new, local council development fees can take a financial toll on your project. Gordon Lennox travels the landmass of Ireland to prepare you for what to expect. Words: Gordon Lennox


aunting enough to consider building for yourself without the attendant extra costs – as the saying goes as Gaeilge “Tus maith, leath na hoibre”, “a good beginning is half the work” or loosely translated “fail to prepare, prepare to fail” – never so true as in this case. Seasoned observers and serial self-

builders alike will have noted the typical over-runs during a project – just watching Room to Improve you will pick up on that, and the word ‘contingency’. With any build comes the site purchase, or perhaps gift / inheritance; and common to all grants of planning permission are the local authorities’ dreaded Capital Contributions – ostensibly a payment towards the local council’s infrastructure


ranging from neighbourhood amenity, roads and footpaths, traffic management, and especially in suburban or village communities – connections to mains services. So, you’ve got your planning, sometimes after a struggle; you’ve tendered the build, or elements of it; you’ve maybe even got mortgage approval, but then you realise that development cannot proceed without paying the, let us call them, ‘levies’ and you breathe in deeply, muttering “what? – I’d forgotten about that”.

'Local authorities aren’t always clear about how they calculate levies; nor are they forthcoming in giving the market information on the individual value of charges imposed.'

This begs the question as to which local authority charges are most reasonable, or even transparent. On the higher end of the scale you’ll find that, outside of Dublin and adjoining counties, Tipperary seems to charge one of the higher rates of capital contribution in the country. At the lower end, Wexford is a good place to get a cheaper deal.

What’s included in the levies?

Local authorities aren’t always clear about how they calculate levies; nor are 60 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017


NOT SO TRANSPARENT Not all local authorities are transparent in how they break down their levies but an increasing number now publish their schedules of capital contributions in their County Development Plans, generally available online. Best in class examples include counties Kilkenny and Louth. However if the site you plan to build on got planning permission a few years ago, and levies were attached to it, it’s unclear whether these original levies can be updated to reflect current (presumably lower) charges.

ULSTER REGION: The BMW story is repeated

through most areas of the north-east with the exception of parts of Co Down and Belfast which are more expensive. In a rural context, the levy for a rural one-off house, including all roads, phone and electricity levies, in NI can range in the £5,000/£6,000 region subject to supply distance.

they forthcoming in giving the market information on the individual value of charges imposed. In fact, as a surveyor it’s impossible to be exhaustive in our quest for ‘how much’ without trawling literally every planning decision of every Local Authority to get an accurate measure of how much is charged where. BORDER MID-WEST (BMW) REGION: Against a We can however say scenic Mourne Mountains backdrop, much the same story with WILD ATLANTIC WAY: a site in 2016 was local planning levies of around €9,500 are now apportioned that there has been an sold with a contribution of €2,500 but anecdotal roughly €3,500 to Irish Water and €6,000 to the local authority overall drop in levies evidence shows there’s a significant range in levies (where some officials claim this as a council reduction!). Full from €5,000 to €20,000 in urban zones. charged. In my neck of marks to Co Louth for transparency, though; having told one 2016 applicant of our acquaintance that he’d have to the woods, in Co Wicklow, bore a well or make his own water connection arrangements a reduction of almost 15 they helpfully broke down the total levy of €2,875 as road per cent was observed on a improvements (€2,442) and community / recreational amenity (€433) so at least this applicant knows where his money is particular site between destined. 2004 and 2014 (planning permission and capital contributions issued three times on the same MIDLANDS: Kilkenny County Council produced a crystal-clear document which, inter alia, has a table on page 4 dealing with all DUBLIN AREA: Dublin and adjacent counties’ site), even taking into classes of development on a unitised charge rate-per-square-metre levies vary depending upon the suburban/rural divide, account utilities and Irish specifying a range of €15.00 to €22.50 per sqm for residential but all-inclusive figures seem to run in the region of development where rural housing applies, rising to €25.00 for Water’s apportionment. €15,000 to €20,000. One pal of mine, having bought Urban Residential. Top marks the “cats”! A Tipperary self-build in a mature infill suburban site in north Co Wicklow I mention Irish Water 2015 raked up €7,000 in contributions where there was no lighting, with previous planning permission, applied for a because, even though we observe no recreational amenities or anything in the area; on top of which revised house layout and was delighted when he was the local authority insisted on their using mains sewage for which granted planning with levies little more than half the the welcome apparent slashing another €7,000. Conversely, another applicant for mains water original €20,000+. The wine wasn’t even in the cooler of the local authority element the connection in the same county paid just €500. when he got a warm welcome from Irish Water reduction has in large part been demanding over €10,000 to connect the water and drainage, despite services being available at the gate. replaced in ROI by a substantial demand from Irish Water, deemed to have charge over everything involving a pipe. The situation in NI is different as NI Water’s connection charges for water and sewage is often considered quite reasonable. Formerly, one levy SOUTH EAST REGION: Boom-time rural did all; no longer is this contributions peaked from €6,000 /€8,000 but moderated in the case as utilities and local the downturn to around €2,500/€3,000 per unit. In 2013 in Wexford town, a grant for two houses carried levying charges authority community and of €13,600 (broken down into water €2,600, sewage €3,900, road contributions SOUTH WEST REGION: for a self-build roads €6,000 and community services €1,000) where mains site at the edge of a town which required its own are now charged services were available. More recently in Gorey, a levy of just wastewater treatment, in 2014 Kerry County Council €3,806 was demanded for two infill units on the edge of the separately. sought, (pre-Irish Water), €12,000 to €15,000 for town – or just €1,903 per unit. So, in development fees plus a council charge of €9,000 to connect to mains water; electricity meanwhile cost addition to €2,460 to bring in. water also consider other utilities such as electricity and even broadband as these could add up to a pretty penny if the site is remote. In the case of self-builds specifically  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 61


additional costs to factor in include the requirement for an energy certificate (in ROI the BER, in NI the EPC) and the appointment of design professionals, which can cost anywhere between €5,000 and €15,000 in ROI depending on whether you opt in or opt out of the building control requirement to appoint design and construction certifiers. In a rural scenario, water connection fees may be replaced by those associated to boring a well for a drinking supply, with installation and treatment costs, as well as installing a private wastewater treatment system for sewage which can eat up a fivefigure sum, whether in NI or ROI, with the stroke of a pen. In terms of community services and road levies, generally speaking, you’ll pay more in an urban context than a rural one. Urban meaning anything from suburban to nucleic village infill development, the latter strongly encouraged in ROI under recent government policy to identify underutilised zoned land in appropriate locations, in light of the housing supply crisis, and deemed by planners to be far preferable to ribbon development in scenic rural areas.

With the help of information gathered from: Dundalk’s Brian Carroll of Sherry FitzGerald Carroll, David McNellis of Lisney’s Belfast, Wexford based Adrian Haythornthwaite of Sherry FitzGerald Haythornthwaite, South Midlands’ Nenagh Sherry FitzGerald Talbot, Ennis’ Diarmuid McMahon of Sherry FitzGerald McMahon, Kilkenny’s Peter McCreery of Sherry FitzGerald McCreery, Mayo-based Sherry FitzGerald West’s Nuala Feeney, Enniscorthy’s Michael O’Leary of Sherry FitzGerald O’Leary Kinsella, Gorey’s Jim Kinsella, Dermot O’Meara who represents Sherry FitzGerald from his Athlone base servicing areas from Moate to Ballinasloe and Ballymahon, McAfees’ Mark Pollock, Portstewart/ Coleraine’s Philip Tweedie and last but not least Sean Daly of Sherry Fitzgerald Daly, Kenmare.



A healthy demand in urban and scenic areas Killarney Lakes,County Kerry Tourism Ireland Photographer: Chris Hill

'In terms of community services and road levies, generally speaking, you’ll pay more in an urban context than a rural one...'

AS A SURVEYOR it’s hard not to talk about supply and demand; on my trip around the country I set off in an anti-clockwise direction where colleagues in the BMW region were quick to relate that market demand for sites had been decimated due to post-crash sales valuing houses at less than their reinstatement cost. While other parts of rural Ireland tend to tell a similar story, the Leinster counties of Wicklow, Kildare and Meath surrounding Dublin, together with suburban areas of Cork, Galway, Limerick and Waterford show healthy market demand for one-off sites again. In the midlands, resale prices are still about 20 per cent below new build costs excluding the land input costs resulting in very few new builds and with most active surviving local builders commuting daily

to Dublin for work. Local authorities are also now aiming to prevent urban sprawl from spilling over into the countryside, which is resulting in planning applications being turned down. Passing the Glens of Antrim travelling west to Ballymoney and Coleraine, and L’Dderry, a local estate agent told me he’d sold more single sites in two weeks than in the preceding six months, citing a renewed confidence in the viability of self-building, especially the energy savings associated with A-rated new homes. Colleagues in the Belfast office say there is a better appetite for well-located single sites now, while rural non-scenic locations suffer from the all-Ireland issue of new houses being bought for less than what it would cost to build them. In NI there’s generally a lack of supply in prime suburban areas, or scenic

locations around the lough over to the likes of Helen’s Bay, where competitive bidding for what is effectively a scarce resource proves the real market value – capital contributions pale in comparison, echoing our Munster/south coast colleagues’ experience. In Cork and Kerry, and the “gold coast” of Waterford, nobody seemed too worked up about these levies either. In scenic areas especially they are seemingly just pleased to be granted planning permission and shoulder the charges; in suburban zones demand is still high and rising site values make the levies seem insignificant. In Munster during the boom it seems applicants absorbed or ignored the levies but, more cautious since the crash, people are now examining them in greater detail and seeking full transparency in their planning applications.

H E A LT H / E X P E R T C O M M E N T

Killer homes?


There is growing evidence that the use of chemicals and man-made materials are affecting our health and nowhere is this more concerning than in our homes where we spend a high proportion of our time. Here are some excerpts from Co Down architect Tom Woolley’s latest book. Words: Tom Woolley


here is little doubt that there is a significant section of the professional community interested in sustainable construction, but energy efficiency is all that is considered at the expense of all other issues. Adopting a more holistic approach to consider embodied energy, environmental impact such as pollution and health is frequently put to one side. This is justified on the basis that building owners and occupants are only interested in saving money by reducing their energy bills, or that reducing energy consumption will be the only way to ‘save the planet’.


“It is possible to divide the building design community into two factions, differentiating those who are convinced that mechanical ventilation is the way forward, even for the smallest of houses, from others who advocate an ‘Active House’ concept, where they believe that it is essential for occupants to take responsibility for managing

their indoor environment and not be totally dependent on [mechanical ventilation with heat recovery]. A number of businesses and universities have formed the Active House Alliance, partly due to concerns about the dominance of [Passive House]. “Some of the literature about [internal air quality] tends to focus almost entirely on ventilation and air conditioning, while ignoring construction materials and the sources of pollutants. Rather than removing the pollution at source or preventing it happening in the first place, it

is assumed that indoor air pollutants will not cause health problems if they are removed through mechanical ventilation. Research into this is urgently required and a scientific network investigating the Health Effects of Modern Airtight Construction (HEMAC) has been set up to bring together experts in the field. “Much literature on improving the thermal efficiency of buildings simply refers to thicknesses of insulation without specifying what kind of insulation. In practice different kinds of insulation perform very differently – some perform more effectively than others, some are airtight, some are vapour permeable, some have thermal mass and others do not. Recent studies about the so-called performance gap explain that many insulation materials rarely achieve the thermal resistance claimed by manufacturers and often how well insulations are installed can make a huge difference to their effectiveness.

Some solutions

“The best way to ensure good indoor air quality is to minimise the use of hazardous

chemicals in buildings, however this is not easy when most professionals in the construction industry have come to accept synthetic chemistry as the solution to many building problems. While traditional materials such as timber and bricks continue to be used, chemicals become more and more prevalent in buildings and thus affect the indoor environment. “Alternative products that contain minimal chemical inputs, such as those certified by Natureplus, can meet the needs of most buildings. “Timber frames: These should be used as much as possible. Radiation and cancer levels are much lower in countries where most people live in timber buildings. However care must be taken to ensure that chemical treatments for timber are not able to affect indoor air and considerable care must be taken to check the glues used in composite timber products.

Building Materials, Health and Indoor Air Quality: No breathing space? Tom Woolley MRIAI with a foreword by Lynne Sullivan. Routledge ISBN 9781138934498 paperback £34.99, ebook £24.49, 214 pages, b&w.


E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N / A I R T I G H T N E S S

DO IT Blower door test


A I R T I G H T N E S S / E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N

Seal of honour Build tight, ventilate right is the motto of today’s homes, but how do you get the airtightness right in the first instance? Words: Paul O’Reilly and Astrid Madsen


ave you ever worn a woolly jumper on a windy day? To keep the shivers out the only solution is to don the coat or parka. Insulation and airtightness barriers work very much in the same way; in fact the analogy also extends to insulation becoming ineffective when wet. So current thinking has it that to save on your utility bills you should aim to achieve a high level of insulation and airtightness. But as ‘build tight, ventilate right’ implies, you will also need a welldesigned and well-managed process for introducing fresh air and removing harmful household contaminants. Otherwise your home could become a health hazard. It’s important to note that any type of building, airtight or not, must be well ventilated to keep the air quality level high. A well-managed airflow, not draughts, is the best way of ensuring that we live and breathe fresh air within our homes.


ventilation is regulated through building physics, e.g. passive stack effect, and must be devised by a trained designer. In fact air leaks can often lead to condensation within the building envelope which in turn can lead to mould growth and structural degradation. Air leaks are generally at their most severe during the colder, windier, winter months when they lead to unpleasant draughts whereas they may have little effect during the warmer, calmer, summer period when increased levels of ventilation would be desirable. As air leaks lead to a reduction in thermal performance they can bring about overheating in the summer months, especially in lightweight buildings or within rooms inhabited in the attic. 

‘It’s important to note that any type of building, airtight or not, must be well ventilated to keep the air quality level high.'

Proprietary product to seal service pipes

Did you know?

We spend over 90 per cent of our time in buildings and the air quality inside is on average poorer than outside. Building codes and regulations traditionally control only air quantity, not air quality. This is an area that requires serious attention and further research.

Apart from the comfort factor why should air leaks be avoided? Air leaks or draughts are not considered acceptable natural ventilation because they cannot be controlled or filtered. In other words this is fresh air that is neither adequate to keep the indoor air quality high nor is it evenly distributed. Natural


E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N / A I R T I G H T N E S S


Sealing cables with proprietary products such as the one pictured ensure a truly airtight build

Sick Building Syndrome WHEN OCCUPANTS experience poor health that is in some way associated with time spent indoors, the house or office is described as having Sick Building Syndrome (SBS), a phenomenon originally referred to as Tight Building Syndrome. The symptoms usually include headaches, dizziness, nausea, dry cough, itchy skin, fatigue, flu-like symptoms, and many different combinations of these effects. A ‘Building Related Illness’ (BRI) is different from SBS as symptoms are diagnosable and more specific. Asthma attacks are often labelled as BRI. Some people are more at risk and display acute symptoms, whereas others in the same building suffer no ill effects. The causes of SBS are not fully understood, and very little research has been carried out on the problem to date. If airtightness standards are increased, ventilation standards and controls must improve accordingly. Otherwise this is an issue that is only going to become more prevalent.

Building Regulations

To meet current Building Regulations standards of TGD Part L (ROI) / Technical Booklet F1 (NI) on airtightness, air permeability (denoted by Q50) at 50 Pascals can be no more than 7cum/h/sqm in ROI or 10cum/h/sqm in NI. What this means is that no more than seven or 10 cubic metres of air can escape per hour for every square metre of the external envelope surface area, with an internal air pressure difference of 50 Pascals. This may be by negative or positive pressure but to gain the most accurate measurement, both a negative and


Up/down the chimney! OPEN FIRES WERE DESIGNED for a completely different era and mind-set. While they gave out tremendous radiant heat, 90 per cent of this energy escaped up the chimney. And that’s only half the inefficiency story. A roaring fire can extract an additional 90% of a building’s other heat because of something we didn’t previously understand, even if its effect was known, namely the passive stack effect. Sealing old chimneys is therefore essential.


‘As air leaks lead to a reduction in thermal performance they can bring about overheating in the summer months...'

positive pressure test should be conducted and the average result used. An alternative measurement for airtightness relates to volume and this is expressed as air changes per hour (ACH) also at a pressure difference of 50 Pascals (denoted as N50). While a standardised conversion is not available and each test uses different measurement and testing protocols, to get a very rough estimate divide the air permeability by 20 for the ACH due to air leakage, under normalised conditions. The Passive House standard specifies ACH in their methodology; remember that this is a voluntary standard and even if you design to this benchmark

A I R T I G H T N E S S / E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N

Blower door tests

In ROI an airtightness test, also known as blower door or air leakage test, is required to prove compliance to the 7 cubic meters/h.sqm requirement of the Building Regulations. In NI the specified 10 cubic meters/h.sqm can be entered as a default value in the SAP calculations but if the building does not as a result comply with the Regulations, an airtightness test must be carried out to prove actual airtightness performance. The tester must have the relevant approvals from the NSAI (ROI) or the BBA (NI). To carry out the test a temporary frame is built into an external door with a fan that is connected to specialised software; the fan will under pressurise and then over pressurise the house to find out what the air permeability rate is. The cost for a professional test on a standard house is in the order of £300/€350 plus VAT.

When should I complete the airtightness measurement?

Examination of areas that may give rise to air leakage should be carried out continuously during the build and thus avoid any gaps or holes being covered up, or service penetrations being added without careful sealing. Pre-test devices (smaller fans which can be inserted in windows) are available to builders – these are less accurate but provide a very good indication. When the dwelling is completed, a further and final airtightness test must be carried out for the building regulations requirement (ROI).

On the day of the test

The purpose of the test is to find the unknown leaks and to determine a value for them, not to catch the builder out! Cooperation is key to a successful outcome. The test should take no more than one hour during which there will be absolutely no access to the house. 

Top 5 tips for a quality airtight build


Go as low as you can but never forget ventilation

Obviously compliance with the Building Regulations dictates a certain standard but is it good enough? The incoming Near Zero Energy Building (NZEB) requirements are likely to ask that you achieve an airtightness level of 3cum/h/sqm or better. Best in class is the passive house standard of 0.6 ACH which is approximately less than 1cum/h/sqm. There is a one-time opportunity to get the airtight fabric right and you should aim to go as low as you can get but you must ensure the ventilation provision is adequate – a growing number of studies demonstrate there are now significant issues in both new build and retrofitted homes at all stages of the process of designing, installing, commissioning, operating, and maintaining ventilation systems. The risks of poor ventilation and exposure to pollutants are exacerbated in exceedingly airtight homes so great care must be given to this aspect.


Make sure everyone understands and is on board

The challenge during the construction phase is to ensure all operatives on site adhere to almost military style discipline needed to locate, install and protect the airtight barrier through all phases of construction. Sequencing the works through the various stages from foundations, floors, walls, roof, windows, doors, fixtures and finishes must prioritise sealing and protecting this airtight barrier.

Site photo courtesy of Fergal O' Malley RIAI Arch. Tech.

with their planning package (PHPP), you must separately prove compliance to the Building Regulation requirements with DEAP in ROI and SAP in NI. In relation to ventilation (TGD Part F in ROI, Technical Booklet K in NI) the key aim is to minimise the risk of condensation, mould growth or other indoor air quality problems. There’s also Part J in ROI, Technical Booklet L in NI, which are critical in relation to the supply of air for combustion appliances in a safe and efficient manner.

To reduce costs and improve results a toolbox talk should be carried out prior to any work commencing with all trades. Coordination of works and stipulated responsibility for key junctions are critical at this early stage. The design team, site management, trades and site labourers must be made aware of the importance of airtightness and their role in achieving an airtight dwelling. If not, it’s very easy for an electrician for example to cut an opening in the airtightness membrane for his cable without resealing it.


Ensure detailed construction drawings are available

It is important that airtightness is considered as early as possible in the design process so that the air barrier is correctly located within the fabric. The building must be designed keeping this airtight envelope clear and visible, avoiding complex

detailing. On site, constant checking of construction detailing is vital.


Test during construction


Get the as-built drawings

It is also important to ensure that the final blower door test is not the first, as by this stage it may be too late! There must be an intermediate airtightness quality test prior to the internal drylining or finish being applied. In this way leaks can be more easily found and remedied.

This essential step is often forgotten. Instructions with full as-built drawings, detailing the materials used and clearly identifying the location of the airtight barrier, should be provided for user information. This will help in the case of wanting to hang up a picture frame or introducing a new light pendant, allowing potential future breaches to be avoided and/ or repaired if necessary.


E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N / A I R T I G H T N E S S

Airtightness membranes must be planned from the start to ensure they are fitted correctly; above: installation at purlins, below: installation between external and internal wall, page opposite: correct sealing of pipes and cables is essential


Improving the airtightness of an existing house INFILTRATION OF cold outside air should be limited by reducing unintentional air paths as far as is practicable. Try to: l Walk around on a cold windy day to identify and document (photograph) air leaks, then devise a plan to deal with each of these. l Fit draught-stripping in the frames of openable elements of windows, doors and roof lights. l Ensure boxing for concealed services is sealed at floor and ceiling levels and seal piped services where they penetrate or project into hollow constructions or voids. l Include a draught lobby. l Address air leakages into the attic from the attic side, considering pipes and cables. Also seal around loft hatches.


Thermal imaging pictures highlight areas of leakage; the cold air entering the house is shown on the image as shades of blue, indicating a draught.

Testing an occupied house tends to be more time consuming and therefore more expensive. Tell everyone on the site ahead of when the test is due to take place as delays may incur an extra charge. No wet finishes (paint, plaster etc.) should be applied within the vicinity of the test as blown dust may damage the finished surface. All vent fans must be turned off, water taps filled and a temporary frame/ boarding fitted to an external door to allow the airtightness equipment to be positioned. All mechanical ventilation openings must be sealed prior to the test and all external doors and windows closed, (but not temporarily sealed), to provide a realistic measurement of the actual envelope leakage. Natural ventilation openings and smoke vents should be closed but not sealed. All internal doors should be wedged open to allow rapid pressure equalisation within the building during the test. As low wind speed is required, it may be necessary to change the day of the test if the weather is stormy. Pressurisation tests are generally only undertaken under moderate external wind speeds of less than 6m/sec. Wind speeds above this level can have a significant influence on the measured

‘All mechanical ventilation openings must be sealed prior to the test and all external doors and windows closed....'

envelope leakage rates and test results carried out in excessively windy conditions should not generally be accepted. Power: a 240V mains power or a generator producing at least 15kVA for the first fan and 10kVA per fan thereafter is required, as are several 13amp mains sockets close to the working area. Alternatively extension cables can be used over a reasonable distance. Repeat tests are normally 75 per cent of the original fee. If a test is cancelled after arrival on site due to noncompliance

A I R T I G H T N E S S / E N E R G Y & V E N T I L AT I O N

10 basic steps for improving air quality in the home


Open windows on alternate sides of the house to purge the air of pollutants and let fresh air in. Avoid drying clothes indoors as this can become a significant source of moisture.



Did you know?

According to the Building Research Establishment (BRE), a house built to be reasonably airtight (5 cubic meters/h/ sqm at 50Pa) consumes 40 per cent less energy than a house built to NI’s building regulation standard of 10 cubic meters/h/ sqm. Taking this a step further, a study by Ecological Building Systems' Darren O'Gorman shows that a 200sqm two storey dwelling built to the ROI regulations’ 7 cubic meters/h/sqm will cost €500 more a year in oil or gas bills as compared to the same house achieving the passive house standard of 0.6ACH. with the above requirements or others outside the control of the air testing company (apart from climatic), an additional charge, based on distance travelled, will be incurred. A representative for the main contractor, or the client, must be on site to discuss the initial results and any implications these may have for remedial sealing.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Grainne McGill, researcher at the Mackintosh Environmental Architecture Research Unit Niall Crosson of Ecological Building Systems Mark Shirley of energy consultants Photographs courtesy of Ecological Building Systems unless otherwise noted.

Common houseplants such as Peace Lily, English ivy and Spider Plants. While some will argue plants can remove harmful chemicals from the air, their effectiveness at improving IAQ is debateable. Still, as they generate oxygen and provide a green feel-good factor they can be a good addition to the living areas of your home.


Use a vacuum with a HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) filter as this will remove house dust mites and other forms of dust particles instead of scattering them around the room, as ordinary vacuums will do. Most importantly, remember to regularly change/clean the filter to ensure it remains effective.


Be aware that wallto-wall carpeting, especially in bedrooms, is a haven for dust mites. Where possible use tiled or wooden floors. If this is not feasible vacuum regularly.


Limit the amount of cleaning products you buy that contain household chemicals. There are plenty of non-toxic alternatives. Also reconsider the products used in family beauty regimes such as shampoos, face cream, soaps and gels, etc. as many of these contain nasty chemicals that are

not just toxic to us but also to the environment. Avoid using air fresheners which are ironically often the most toxic of all household products; bear in mind pesticides are an important source of indoor pollution too.


Candles can add great ambience to the home but only use natural wax candles without chemical fragrances; also remember gas cookers generate emissions so don’t forget to turn on the extractor fan when in use (some studies suggest using back rings of cooker can significantly reduce exposure too).


Get good quality doormats so that contaminants are not dragged into the home from the outside.


Monitor the toxin levels; there are of course plenty of good quality carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide monitors in the market place but you could also consider a domestic Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) monitor that measures tVOCs (total concentration of VOCs) which may help increase awareness of pollutants in your home. Note though that individual VOCs’ toxicity levels range vastly, therefore tVOCs cannot provide an adequate indication of risk to health.

neurotoxins. Common culprits include paints, varnishes, some forms of insulation and timber panels such as some types of chipboards, plywood and OSB boards, and flame retardant treatments. Choose building materials and cleaning agents which have third party approvals for low VOC ratings. Some paints and plasters have been tested to break down and neutralise harmful VOCs. These are often termed photocatalytic as they are ‘activated’ by daylight.


Consider introducing hygroscopic materials, and vapour permeable materials to help offset fluxes in humidity within the living space. While ventilation is the primary means of regulating humidity, lime and clay plasters, or pure sheep wool furnishings help regulate surface humidity, break down VOCs and in turn reduce the risk of mould or dust mites.


Try to minimise the use of building materials which emit high levels of VOCs and other chemicals of concern, such as carcinogens, mutagens, endocrine disrupters and



Example of good feng shui – when sitting on a stool at the island unit you can see who is entering the room (from right hand side) and you don't have your back to a door.


Inside the yin and the yang Get your chi on! How Feng shui can help you design and decorate your home. Words: Debbie Orme


eng shui consultants agree on two things: firstly, feng shui is most definitely not an ‘alternative therapy’, but rather an earth science, and secondly, an increasing number of clients are looking for the benefits that feng shui can bring to their homes and their lives. Developed thousands of years ago in China, feng shui is an ancient science that teaches how to balance the energies in any given space – whether that’s a house or 70 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

an office – to create harmony and ensure good fortune for those who inhabit it. It’s a balancing act of yin and yang, two opposing but complementary energies that practitioners believe shape the universe, and of the five elements, i.e. the five types of energy that exist in our universe – fire, earth, metal, water and wood. The aim of feng shui is to create harmony between buildings and occupants. To do this, a feng shui consultant will take the energies of the inhabitants (based on their dates of birth) and match them to

‘Feng shui is an ancient science that teaches how to balance the energies in any given space.'



Top 5 Feng Shui Tips


Keep entrances clear particularly around doors and hallways. Clutter gathered around entry points can prevent the flow of feng shui energy, which is called chi. Disorder of any kind isn’t recommended as, in feng shui, the energy will stagnate if the mess accumulates.


Take off your outdoor shoes upon entering the house. It is not good to traipse dirty energy through your sanctuary.

3 4

Healthy plants and happy pets bring vibrant chi into the home.

But in reality they are involved in many more aspects, including advising people who are planning to build or move house as well as people who are concerned about their home’s layout. In fact feng shui consultants will very often be called upon by someone concerned about the lack of harmony in the home due to the number of arguments arising, or about well-being following frequent bouts of ill health, or even to stem the flow of money and depletion of wealth. 

Call the doctor!

TV interior design programmes often feature feng shui practitioners advising on changes to a property, such as introducing aquariums to attract prosperity, using plants to revitalise the energy, and strategically placing furniture to attract beneficial energy into homes. Fire (hob) and water (sink) don't mix and when located opposite one another they clash, leading to arguments in the household.

Ventilate and brighten, in other words encourage good quality air to circulate and let lots of light into your house. These two elements are essential for good chi. Open bedroom windows first thing in the morning to allow moisture to escape (taking care not to leave ground floor rooms unattended for security reasons). And once you’ve exhausted all possible avenues to let in natural light, consider using full-spectrum lighting to further brighten up a space.

that of the buildings they live and work in (based on the date of construction, whether a past or future date). If the energy in a home is too yin, i.e. too heavy, dark, blocked or cluttered, then the occupants will complain of a lack of opportunities, career stagnation or health issues such as fatigue, possible weight gain and depression. If, on the other hand, the energy is too yang, i.e. too sharp, fast or direct, then good energy will be misaligned, cut up or lost, thus it cannot be harnessed within the home or workplace to capture good luck, gather money, or optimise well-being and this will lead to health, relationship, career and financial challenges in the lives of the occupants.

Bedrooms should be relaxing safe havens where the sleeper's head is not against a wall behind which is a toilet, and their feet are not lined up with an exit door. A large headboard will provide plenty of emotional support.


Bedroom no-nos include wind chimes, water features, plants and mirrors. Chimes disturb rest and relaxation, plants deplete the oxygen levels at night, and water features will encourage burglars. Mirrors should not be seen in bedrooms as they steal energy, disturb sleep, and you will wake up exhausted. Instead mount a full-length mirror on the inside of a wardrobe door.




Know your dragon from your tiger

Mimetic House - Dominic Stevens Architects


Photography: Karl Jordan

Landscape feng shui looks at the surrounding area to determine how the environment affects the people who inhabit it. The dragons which relate to luck, prosperity and wellbeing must control the tigers which wreak havoc on health and finances. This concept is a top priority in feng shui and takes precedence over every other school of practice, dictating how a feng shui practitioner will angle and locate the house, and where possible, determine the shape of the plot. The movie title Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon refers to bad luck (tiger) looming because the good energy (dragon) has gone. For example, if located correctly in the surrounding landscape substantial dragon mountains can dominate smaller rolling tiger hills, which will prevent the tigers from bringing harm to the occupants of the house and enable the dragon’s luck to shine through.

An appointment will involve a site visit that can last several hours. In feng shui, the sectors of the house are linked to the health, relationships and wealth of the occupants, and are dealt with in that order. During the visit the energy in each sector of a building will be evaluated to diagnose what is going on in the lives of the occupants and then will offer solutions to correct taboos, realign the energies in the building to match those of the occupants, and counter the effects of any negative influences. Practitioners can tell occupants exactly what’s needed both outside and inside the house to solve their problems and to bring back positivity and prosperity.

Every house has a story

Feng shui consultants use several schools of practice, the main ones being Landscape and Form, Compass, Eight Mansion and Flying Star. They are also aware of problems with predecessor energy or where certain occurrences or patterns of events happen, as well as identifying feng shui taboos that must be avoided, such as placing a mirror in a hall opposite the front door which will reflect away the good opportunities coming in, or lining up the foot of a bed with an exit door which is known as the coffin position. Landscape takes into account energy influences such as mountains and rivers


surrounding the property, as well as other factors such as plots and house shapes. Ultimately, the aim is to create a protective armchair formation for the house to sit in. Compass School is concerned with energy that comes from certain directions and which must be aligned with the occupants’ own energies. Practitioners work with an instrument called a Luo Pan compass divided into Twenty-Four Mountains, each measuring fifteen degrees. This allows the practitioner to be extremely accurate as to the orientation of the house and the specific energy of each direction. Eight Mansion is the non-moving feng shui energy that exists in a building and on a plot, which includes factors such as the five elements, and which affects each member of the household differently. Flying Stars is the energy that is constantly moving through the different sectors of the house, which determines what will occur in the home and in the lives of occupants over different time cycles that change each month, year, twenty years, 180 years and so on.

House buying and building

For those looking for a new home to buy, the thought of trekking around endless properties listed as ‘perfect for family living’ can be a little daunting. For that reason, feng shui consultants are increasingly being used to assist in the initial decision-making process. A prospective buyer will bring the specialist to visit each property individually to determine the house’s energy and become acquainted with its fabric and where it sits on the landscape. If many properties are being considered, some practitioners may use GPS coordinates and street view photographs to draw up a shortlist. Once they have determined ‘external’ factors, such as the house shape and the type of plot on which it sits, the advisor will then look at the interior layout and the design and decoration of each area

within the space, taking compass readings of exit doors and concentrating on the most important rooms, such as the hall, kitchen, bedroom, office, sitting room and the location of toilets in relation to these rooms. No property is perfect but the consultant can advise on the best one, along with any proposed changes to tailor it to them and their family. The house building process is similar; in this case the specialist is involved right from the earliest pre-planning stage, often assisting with the selection of the plot right through the design process, which is more cost effective and more practical than making changes post-construction. For example if there is a need to balance the energy of a part of the house by introducing metal, this can be incorporated into the build – e.g. with an exposed plinth – instead of availing of an ornament once the house is built.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Nina Kati Interior Design Feng Shui,, tel. 051 646 273, Tai Shan Feng Shui Consultants, 133 Holywood Road, Belfast,, mobile 07914412123 Feng Shui Design, Dublin,, mobile 086 2719292 Feng Shui Matters, Corncrake Cottage, Leemount, Cork,, tel. 021 487 8827, mobile 086 2835 705

'Within an existing home, the breadwinner is the most susceptible person to the prevailing energies in the house; if there are two breadwinners, both will be equally affected.'

Image courtesy of Christopher Day



A feng shui makeover


Once presented with their new design, many people find their initial excitement is replaced by a dawn of realisation. This is where SelfBuild’s Design Clinic can help with our expert Nina Kati. Words: Nina Kati Images: Tim Healy


first met Caroline, her husband Peter and their three young children at SelfBuild Cork, where I was manning the interior design clinic. They came to the event to get information, tips and advice on their new build project, for which they’d gotten plans drawn up. When their architect first presented his plans, Caroline recalls experiencing a great sense of excitement because the house looked very unusual with plenty of wow factor. But even though Peter and Caroline really liked it, there was something niggling her – something that wasn’t right – but she couldn’t put her finger on

it. Caroline began to feel the plans were too complicated and too unusual for their tastes. On hearing about the SelfBuild event, Caroline decided it was time to get another expert opinion. She realised they were beginning to feel the strain of making huge decisions about a once-in-alifetime outlay that would impact on the entire family for the rest of their lives. While the children played with their colourful new balloons and with only a few minutes to spare, Caroline listened intently as I quickly began to point out where I could see ways to improve the design all the while explaining my philosophy, applying authentic feng shui


Convoluted design

A Sharp, exposed corners cut

up energy that enters the building, creating problems for the occupants



THE PROBLEM: The rooms in Caroline and Peter’s new house design were fabulously big but the couple had become concerned about the cost of construction, heating and maintaining it. The original design gradually began to feel daunting and unmanageable, and didn’t really reflect their aspirations as a family. They couldn’t visualise where each family member would sleep, how they would live in the house, or what they would do to decorate it.

B Unimpeded view through the house to




the other side is unlucky especially for the breadwinner - opportunities cannot be harnessed or optimised and the heart organ is compromised

C Three or more doors or windows



in a row is most unlucky as energy is funnelled through the house too quickly and this puts a strain on the central vertebrae of the occupants affecting all aspects of their health

D D Irregular house shapes: consequences

for the entire household



The house is our outer skin and as such it should be a regular shape with no missing sections – just like our body which happens to function that bit better with all its organs and limbs intact! Caroline and Peter’s original house design was particularly difficult in this respect, hence our subsequent meetings, where much time was spent finding a design that would match the needs of the entire family, right down to space planning and interior concepts for each room.

principles, and even gave her an idea of top priorities when designing a kitchen. Interestingly (and this is not uncommon!), Caroline didn’t tell Peter about the first time she booked a design consultation in my studio with me as she wasn’t sure how he would feel about it, but she needed to address her concerns. She knew if she could present a case to Peter that made sense to him, then they could implement changes to the design accordingly, rather than taking Peter’s initial view which was to move forward quickly, get costings and quotations, start the build, and then make changes as they went along – all of which can be expensive and disruptive, or simply too late to implement. Both Peter and Caroline conclude that investing in the design stage helped the budget, and now translate into benefits the whole family can enjoy. They even got to add a few luxuries into the interior design, such as a shower with a rainfall head and wall-mounted body jets, to the possibility of installing a sauna in a private niche garnered from leftover space.

At SelfBuild Cork Nina presented 'The 9 Ps for Planning the Perfect Home'. / ROI mobile 086 812 6730 Log on to for the next show dates near you


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Simpler form THE SOLUTION: I encouraged a more straightforward design as woodland sites aren’t that well suited to a complicated layout or a sprawling footprint. As a result of suggesting a simpler house form, the build budget was slashed. The simplification of the outline shape meant no more nooks and crannies, of which there were many in the original design. These require a lot more material and labour, not to mention the fact that they would have increased the time required to plan and construct the building as well as impacting on future maintenance costs.


Nina’s feng shui approach to house design I BEGIN THE PROCESS by taking the dates of birth of each member of the household and working out their feng shui charts. I consider their personalities and characteristics, the way they communicate and function, their weakest organ and health needs, best career choices, places most suited to them in which to live, best and worst directions, best seasons and time of day, the right shapes for them (e.g. headboards), and good timing in their lives, i.e. when to avoid doing certain things at certain times. After all, good timing in life is critical – but divine

timing is even better! Once you know the energies of the people, you need to know about the building they will inhabit; the location, surrounding landscape, the plot shape and where the house will sit within it, the presence of water both over ground and underground, geopathic and electromagnetic stress, dates for when construction is planned to start, and of course the history of the place. For instance at an early stage in the process I usually suggest to clients that they bring in a geopathic stress consultant

to pinpoint where there may be underground streams or other issues to avoid positioning the house on or near them. This is a traditional method formerly called divining that is still in much use in Ireland today. Once I have this information I can then set to work on the layout of the house and its orientation, including calculating charts to work out the energies that will reside to decide which rooms should be located where, as ultimately this will greatly influence how the family members’ lives will evolve from the moment they move in.



On the QT


Whether it’s noisy neighbours, rumbling traffic or barking dogs that wake us at night, most of us experience problems with noise – at least some of the time. So what can be done? Words: Andrew Stanway Pete Souza via Wikimedia Commons

neighbour’s screaming children. And this can vary from time to time, even for the same individual. Many people say they can put up with a particular noise for a while but that once it becomes intolerable for them, they have to do something about it. One of my clients found the noise of the music from her local bar OK for a while but then it started to tyrannise her, leading to frustrating dealings with the local authority and, eventually, threats of legal

‘If you’ve built a really nice airtight, soundproof home, smaller noises will be more annoying than they would otherwise be.'

Decide whether your aim is to keep noise out (e.g. traffic) or contain it within a room.


he term ‘soundproofing’ isn’t really a sensible one because we can never hope to make our home totally ‘soundproof’. All we can do is to reduce the magnitude of unwanted noise, whether it originates from inside or out. All efforts at soundproofing leave us with two main options: stopping sounds getting into our home, and dealing with the noise we ourselves create. ‘Noise’ is a very complex concept. Almost everything in the world produces some amount of it yet most of us are 76 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

delighted by certain sounds, say the rustling of leaves on a country walk, but irritated by others, such as a neighbour’s barking dog. So when dealing with anything in the soundproofing world it’s important to understand what exactly you are trying to achieve. Experience tells me that one person’s ‘unbearable noise’ is another’s ‘What noise?’ Noise is simply unwanted sound but how this ‘unwantedness’ is defined will depend on subjective opinions. Some people are more upset by the loud tick of their bedside clock than by their

action. Same person, same noise, different circumstances in her life, and continued exposure to it. The bar owners’ unhelpful attitudes also made the noise ‘worse’ in her mind. All this makes deciding how much time, trouble and money to spend on dealing with unwanted sound very challenging. And probably explains why it is that most self-builders find it so hard to take the matter seriously early on in the design and planning stages.


Top 10


soundproofing tips....


Brush up on the Regs

Soundproofing measures must comply in ROI with Part E and in NI, Technical Booklet G of the Building Regulations. Note that the Regulations primarily deal with the sound insulation performance of party walls and floor construction, i.e. they don't address potential noise intrusion from aircraft, for instance.


Deal with noise at the design stage

Many self-builders discover too late that they haven’t spent enough time and thought on soundproofing. The result is that retrofitting is then often either impossible or very expensive. To avoid this situation, at the very beginning of your project discuss with your designer how you’re going to deal with noise, especially the kind that’s not taken into account by the Building Regulations, which includes all external noise produced by nearby roads, neighbours/schools/pubs and other environmental nuisances. Indoors you need to factor in build quality (including air-tightness because if you’ve built a really nice soundproof home, smaller noises will be more annoying than they would otherwise be) and construction method (masonry or timber, see next tip), party walls, internal walls, windows and internal doors, ceilings with hard floors above, and any special circumstances such as family noise or the home cinema.


Choose materials that fit your purpose

It's well known masonry construction usually ticks the soundproofing box but it's important to note that well-built timber frame homes can excel in this respect also. In fact very high levels of performance are often achieved by introducing wall linings or employing well-built timber frame walls. Middle concrete floors perform consistently well because they are very heavy (have a high mass). But this only works if they are well sealed around the perimeter/edges and other openings where airborne noise could seep through. The issue with concrete floors from

a sound point of view is about ‘impact transmission’ (if you bang on a concrete middle floor the people below will surely know about it) so when installing these, use soundproof matting or something very similar under carpets or hard floors. Timber separating floors, meanwhile, require careful specification to achieve the right level of performance (see Expert Advice).


Plug those leaks

Noise is a bit like water in that it freely ‘flows’ through the smallest of openings, ending up in places you wouldn’t expect. Nine times out of ten you can effectively limit noise intrusion by plugging air gaps around windows and doors, through the roof, around pipework and other penetrations that haven’t been properly sealed. Electrical sockets and switches in internal stud walls also leak air from space to space, carrying noise with them. Just as with water, your sound boundary is only as strong as its weakest point.

5 Add mass and cavities

After blocking leaks, the next important step is to add mass and introduce cavities wherever you can. Walls made from masonry are better sound insulators than those made of timber battens, which are lightweight. If you have to use stud walls, apply a second sheet of plasterboard (at right angles to the first) to add thickness but most of all, mass. You can also place batts of soundproofing material between the studs, ensuring that there are no air gaps. This absorbs (deadens) any sounds that are applied to the wall, such as someone knocking on the other side, or clicking light switches on and off. When retrofitting, consider blowing foam or cellulose (paper) insulation in between the studwork. This has a fair sound-deadening effect. If you’re trying to reduce the sound transmitted by banging and footfall though an upstairs floor to the room below use a specialist, heavy rubber acoustic underlay that adds mass and thus effectively dampens sound. A carpet on top of this adds yet more mass, and thus more soundproofing. Note that this measure will do very little to reduce airborne noise (e.g. from people talking). 

How can I soundproof a floor in my home? When people ask me this I usually find they mean they want to make a noise upstairs but not annoy those downstairs! The issues to address are impact sound and airborne sound. To reduce airborne sound, seal all the air leaks you can find. Use lots of silicone or foam sealant around the edges of the room as a start. Seal all the holes around pipework and other penetrations through the floor. Now buy some good, specialist, soundproofing rubber matting to reduce impact noise. Use this as your carpet underlay. Then use carpet if at all possible rather than hard flooring. If you have to use hard flooring (which obviously transmits more impact noise through to the downstairs room), then look at products that have a soundproofing barrier built into them. Acoustic flooring sheet material is not only very heavy but also has a soundproofing mat built into it. This then allows you to install a hard (wood or tile) floor on top. In the past I used to install sand trays between the floor joists and it’s still a good solution when converting older properties. Here you create a simple timber ‘tray’ attached to the sides of the joists and fill it with 50mm of sand. If you then seal round the edges of these ‘trays’ with silicone so there are no air gaps this is a really effective way of reducing sound transmission to the room below. Of course it doesn’t do anything about impact noises. But these can be overcome by sound deadening matting and/ or carpets in the room above and by dealing with the ceiling in the room below. Most people today use sound-deadening, mat-like, 100mm thick, materials that can be cut to size and forced between the floor joists from above or below.



What things produce how much noise? Sound is measured in decibels (dB). Some common sources and how much noise they produce Quiet extractor fan

Pneumatic drill at 3m

Rock band

Choosing fire-rated internal doors (that are much heavier than normal doors) provides added mass and, if provided with effective acoustic seals all around, can turn even normal domestic doors into effective sound barriers.


Don’t forget about the appliances, and ventilation system!

While it is now possible to choose very quiet vacuum cleaners, washing machines, extractor fans and so on, always look carefully at these ratings. With wholehouse ventilation systems, insulate the unit really well as it can be a source of vibration and annoyance, making sure the structure supporting it will not let sound travel to the ceiling and house below. Ductwork will need to be acoustically insulated too as it can allow sound to travel from room to room; pay speci al attention to ceiling junctions – the opening made for the duct needs to be sealed. In terms of natural ventilation, bear in mind that trickle vents in the wall or window will allow external noise to get into your house; some wall vents have acoustic dampening and can be fitted with

valves to stop high winds. In-line fans in ceiling voids keep the noise to a minimum.

the 7 Consider windows and doors

In a new build, to keep traffic noise out of your living space use good quality double or even triple glazing, or install secondary sheets of glazing inside the window frames that front the traffic. The main thing to bear in mind is the thickness of the frame – triple glazing, with narrow cavities, that is similar in overall thickness as double glazing will have a similar acoustic impact. Putting an absorptive sound-insulating board on the reveals of this newly created ‘box’ of glass also helps a lot. Laminated glass has even better soundproofing properties but it’s not worth upgrading your spec just for its small acoustic gain. When building new make allowances for curtains when designing window openings as they too will help absorb noise within the room. But in all cases the most important thing is care during installation. There’s little point paying for a great acoustic door or window if you then leave air gaps around the frame. Seal everything really well. 

Low-budget quick fixes to soundproofing your home:  Buy quiet domestic appliances  Use heavy drapes at your windows (they’ll also retain heat in the room)  Put draught-excluding strips around your front door....even fit them to your internal ones. Repeat this on leaky window frames. Anything simple and cheap like this that keeps air out will help with sound  Make sure that at least 25 per cent of the surfaces of your rooms are covered with absorbent materials such as carpets, drapes or soft furnishings. Use carpets upstairs rather than wood floors or tiles  Place thick absorbent pads under the feet of the washing machine  Place your speakers on stands so the whole house doesn’t turn into a sounding board


Deafening noise

THE VENTILATION CONUNDRUM To allow fresh air to circulate in a house, doors have a few millimetres (five to eight) shaved off the bottom. This very gap, while effective at ventilating your home, will allow noise to be propagated from room to room so again, there will always be some level of noise to put up with!



Block traffic noise with landscaping


Embrace the party wall

There’s probably not much you can do about traffic noise itself but there are a few things that can help, especially when building from scratch. Given the principle that adding mass is the best way of reducing any sound, how about creating an earth bund along the road boundary if you have the space on your site? This both reflects and absorbs sound. On one of my projects it turned the whole sound issue around. Planting hedges and trees also helps to visually shield you from the noise, and will provide calming greenery to look at instead of cars zipping by. Obviously, siting your new home as far away from the traffic in the first place will help a lot. If you can’t do anything as heroic as this because of a lack of space, or your new build is in an urban area, then take advice and use professional sounddeflecting front fencing.

‘With whole-house ventilation systems, insulate the unit really well as it can be a source of vibration and annoyance'

The first thing to remember is you make noise too so be sure to get on with your neighbours as best you can and try to be as considerate as you'd like them to be – noise travels two ways! Generally speaking, and contrary to what most people think, a noisy neighbour cannot be shielded out by applying soundabsorbing foam sheets or even heavy hangings on your side of the wall. These things absorb sound within your room but do very little to keep it out. Increasing sound absorption within a room typically only reduces intrusive noise by 1 or 2dB. If you want to use acoustic sheets to get rid of your neighbour’s airborne noise (TV, talking, etc.), know that the outcome is not guaranteed and that it will require some upheaval. After having removed skirting boards, coving, etc. and called the electrician to extend the cables, you’ll have to add a minimum 45mm build up to the party wall, something to consider if floor space is at a premium. The layers will generally include purpose-made dense rubber matting (sold in 1sqm sheets) which needs to stick to the wall (this can be tricky to achieve) and two thicknesses of sound-absorbing plasterboard which again need to perfectly adhere so there are no gaps. After that all electrical fittings and adornments need to be put back in place.

The only way to ensure that party walls transmit as little sound as possible is to pay attention to sound insulation in their original design and construction. This, of course, includes ensuring there are no air leaks or direct building connections between the properties. Stopping next door’s teen clomping up the timber stairs that are attached to your party wall can be near-impossible. You could suggest they cover their stair treads with carpet as part of the solution. If it’s really bad, how about going halves on the cost? Apart from seeking out air gaps and sealing them from your side there’s little practical you can do. Without going to the considerable lengths of building a secondary ‘free-floating’, acoustically isolated wall on your side (a second wall structurally isolated from the original), which will require the advice of a good designer or acoustic specialist to get right, you may have to put up with more noise than you’d like.

a home 10 Consider cinema

As seen in the previous tip, acoustic foam sheets help keep the sound in, so will work well for home cinemas. Soundproofing a ceiling meanwhile is not so easy and you’ll need to decide whether you want to retain your existing one as opposed to taking it down and doing major work to replace it with something entirely different. There are sound-deadening products that can be applied in sheets installed on top of your existing ceiling or, if you can stand the work, you can take down your whole ceiling, install sound-deadening materials between the floor joists and then double-slab the new ceiling or even create a suspended, floating ceiling of sound-absorbent tiles or sheet hanging from rubber grommets or vibration isolating brackets. This latter solution calls for advice from a specialist supplier. All floating (dropped) ceilings will mean you’ll lose some ceiling height, so this is worth thinking about well before you start.

Additional information Chris Dilworth, Director of Acoustics at AWN Consulting, tel. 01 847 4220, For more about the intricacies of soundproofing For more about home cinemas


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Energy-efficient external wall blocks

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Wood finishes W

ood finishes include paint, varnish, oil and wax. Varnish coats the wood with a durable, hard finish while oil penetrates the wood. Wax is in many ways an in-between in that it both coats and penetrates but to a lesser extent than oil. Oil and wax are often used in combination. Paints come in a wider range of

colours and applications, from floor paint to scrubable emulsions for walls that attract sticky fingers. With all finishes, be mindful that there will be upkeep in that you will need to reapply your chosen finish on a regular basis to keep it looking fresh. Wax generally requires a yearly application, for instance, straight onto the (cleaned) surface, while other finishes require a light sanding before the refresher coat is applied.

'With all finishes, be mindful that there will be upkeep in that you will need to reapply your chosen finish on a regular basis...' 82 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Prep, prep, prep Be mindful that wood finishes will not hide blemishes or uneven patches, it's therefore vital to prepare your surface as much as possible before you reach for the brush: clean it first, then fill gaps if necessary, and finally sand down as smooth as you can.


Varnish is often used for high impact areas such as floors or table tops that will get some abuse over the years. However as varnish provides a top coat, in bathrooms and kitchens moisture or water could penetrate beneath it and then find it difficult to escape. So while varnish can easily handle spillages, oil is much more efficient in situations where you need a consistently water repellent surface. You will however need to apply as many oil coats as you can before installation, and keep coating the worktop as you use it to ensure the wood gets fully saturated. If you are staining your floor, know that you can get oils with stain – using a stain on its own requires great care to ensure an


Before you start

The two most important things with finishing wood is to ensure its moisture content is adequate (around 10 per cent for centrally heated room) and that you’ve sanded it down with 240 grit or finer sandpaper to get a smooth finish. If you are using recently felled

timber – knots are more common in softwoods such as pine – apply a knotting solution made of natural resin that will seal them by preventing the sap from seeping out. Knots occur where branches were connected to the tree. If you paint, stain or varnish over a knot without first treating it, you could end up with a stain

Cladding External wood finishes need to be maintained according to the manufacturer's instructions; check previous examples of houses with the finish you intend to use to see how it will weather.

seeping through and looking very unsightly. A yellow stain will appear on a white paint job. Another way of dealing with a large knot is to remove it with a router, a drill or carefully chisel it out and set a piece in. This is normally done on high quality furniture or where the strength of the timber is in question.

Architect & Photography: miller & maranta

even application, especially indoors, and having oil as a carrying agent helps achieve this. For a smaller scale project, staining then coating with varnish can work equally well. If you’re using MDF or similar sheet material, know that it can be quite absorbent which can lead to a patchy finish if not prepared properly. It should be sealed first with a sealant or primer before any colour is applied. MDF primers are available but any primer should do. Make sure you prime the edges well as these are the most absorbent and will swallow your paint or varnish.


T E C H / V I R T UA L R E A L I T Y

VRooooom Get ready, set…. virtual reality is now on your self-build doorstep!

Compiled by: Gordon Chisholm of, Brian Monaghan of, Leona Hill of and Astrid Madsen


irtual Reality (VR), the simulation of realistic images and sound, first came to the public’s attention in the mid-1980s, even though Bob Sproull and Ivan Sutherland are credited for creating the first VR headset in 1968. Back then computers were not capable of creating the illusion; it’s only at the start of this decade that the advent of smart mobile phones led companies to experiment with the possibilities of high resolution screens to facilitate VR. The technology around gaming engines, video and graphic technology, research and experimentation with new forms of input devices, user interfaces, web 2.0, media and 360 degree equipment, all helped develop this field. Architects have long been looking to use VR to enhance projects but due to the high cost of hardware and the need for specialised software, it was an add-on for 84 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Walk around this project on

mega projects or mega rich clients. The fully immersive CAVE (Cave Automatic Virtual Environment) system was often used but this method requires a large dedicated space where several high-end projectors are cast onto the walls and specialised glasses allow the user to see in 3D.

V I R T UA L R E A L I T Y / T E C H

‘The market is now awash with VR products, in large part due to the popularity of online gaming.'

The scene

The market is now awash with VR products, in large part due to the popularity of online gaming. Google Cardboard is among the most popular; it superimposes glasses onto a smartphone at a low cost, allowing you to immerse yourself into a VR world by looking in any direction and interacting with that world through a magnet at the side that functions as a button/switch. Despite the launch of Google Daydream last year, which has helped improve quality, the experience is only as good as your phone can offer. The Gear VR is similar but offers a visually superior experience; it was developed by Samsung in collaboration with Oculus. The main drawback with entry level platforms such as these is that they don’t allow you to move around; in order to go anywhere, waypoints must be set up to allow you to teleport. At the other end of the affordability

scale, companies like Oculus offer dedicated Head Mount Displays (HMD) to provide a richer VR experience. The HTC VIVE has the added benefit of providing ‘Room Scale’ VR which allows you to seamlessly interact while moving around a room (minimum room area 1.5mx2m). However you do need a high spec PC costing at least £800/€900.

How does it apply to self-builders?

Using a headset to help you design your house is not outside the realm of possibilities, in fact it’s very much a ‘reality’. VR can be used to design every aspect of the house, both interior and exterior including full customisation of walls, floors, furnishings, doors and windows. The models are often generated on the back of products that are available on the market. Specifications range from branded sanitary ware to designer wallpaper. It’s not just architectural firms but bathroom suppliers that are now offering VR as part of their design package, a trend which could easily spread to kitchens too. In fact you as a self-builder could approach a specialised VR company directly to get them to put your 2D plans into a VR environment. By donning a VR headset and using handheld controls you can not only virtually walk around the house – a visual aid will let you know if you are approaching an obstacle in the real world to avoid bumping into anything! – but with the help of the controls you can also change the specification of floors, wallpaper, furniture, etc. as well as change window size, door position, and see the actual view from your windows and save the changes you make within the VR experience.

How much does it cost?

If a house is designed to a suitable design package, adding on a VR experience will depend on the level of detail required and  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 85

T E C H / V I R T UA L R E A L I T Y

user functionality. A walkthrough will be easier and cheaper than a fully customised VR experience which includes models of products that exist on the market, links to suppliers of selected fittings and the ability to save changes for architectural designers to update plans. The cheapest way to avail of VR is to design the house with 3D Building Information Modelling software, as BIM can feed the data to a games engine to make it VR ready. However you could also easily use 2D CAD plans, it would just add a day to build up the data from 2D to 3D. Though dependent on size and complexity, an indication of cost for 2D plans to be built up to a full functionality environment is roughly €2,000/£1,800. Running a VR experience from a basic 3D BIM model with no post production would cost approx. €500/£450. Following that a VR snagging process can be run providing a graphically smoother render, bringing the total closer to €1,000/£900. To process this into a high-end VR experience then additional post production editing is required, commanding roughly €1,500/£1,400 in total for a VR walkthrough.

What’s the difference between VR and BIM?

VR headsets are essentially an add-on to BIM, the software tool that’s replacing CAD (computer aided design) to help you design your house and put your plans ‘to paper’. This is happening for all building projects, including self-builds. BIM is a 3D interactive computer modelling software whose big advantage is that if information is changed in the data

All images courtesy of Gordon Chisholm Architects and BIM Collective For a VR bathroom experience visit

set, e.g. a window moved, it only needs to be inputted once and is then transferred to all aspects – all elevations, floor plans, etc. will automatically reflect the new input, and the calculations for U-values and other technical details will also be updated. This saves time and limits human error. From the self-builder’s point of view, 2D house plans can be hard to visualise – 3D models are much easier to get your head around and provide a sense of scale. However even with 3D Models it can be hard to imagine the room size and feel how much space you have after putting in your furniture and fittings. Feedback from the room scale VR demo stands at the Dublin, Cork and Belfast SelfBuild Shows demonstrated an overwhelming excitement to physically walking around rooms and being able to get a true understanding of house plans in a visual and immersive environment.

What’s the difference between VR and AR?

Augmented Reality (AR) is visualised on a camera enabled device such as a tablet or phone, which captures the world we see and layers information onto it. There are also glasses which allow you see AR through a lens. AR therefore does not generally use headsets, instead the models and textures are placed onto real world items that are being captured by your device’s camera. There are plans underway for AR apps which will allow you to use your phone or tablet at home to see what different products would look like in your house. 86 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017



Dermot Byrne Photography

Bored with your boards? Decking is a cost-effective, speedy and fairly straightforward way of transforming your existing home. Simple decking projects and most low level backyard decks can be undertaken by a competent DIYer. Here are our Top 5 tips. Words: Andrew Stanway


Find the perfect location

Most people attach their deck to the rear of their homes, slightly above ground level, but how about: l Using the area over a garage to create a first-floor sun deck, with suitable balusters for safety. l Nestling a deck into a hillside or mound in your garden.

l Decking over a disused area of driveway. l Making an island of decking somewhere in a sunny or sheltered spot. l Using decking to make boardwalks, or even bridges. l Decking around a pond. l Using it as a practical surround for your swimming pool, though this will have to be kept very clean and possibly coated with a non-slip stain.

l Wrapping a deck all the way round your home, to ‘extend’ your rooms. l Taking a decking pathway with steps and different levels down a hillside. l Decking into the wasted space in your side-return. l Creating a dramatic entrance to your house. l Using a flat rooftop to provide a private, breezy area with views. l Creating a system of pathways around and within your vegetable garden. l Setting off your summerhouse or children’s sandpit elegantly. The possibilities are endless.


Consider a pattern

Because decking comes in narrow boards, there is plenty of scope for creating designs within the deck to add that wow factor. However these require a lot more thought and planning, particularly in  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 87



Pro or DIY? COMPLEX DECKING projects that are integral to the property’s design, such as cantilevered balconies or outdoor living areas, may involve an architectural designer and will require a professional builder or carpenter, who will in turn liaise with a professional decking supply company.

It’s important to pick a professional decking supplier with good construction knowledge. The company will study your plans and liaise with your builder, carpenter, architectural designer or engineer, and will suggest design or structural improvements to save you money. Ask for references, slip resistance ratings, data sheets, structural warrantees and samples.


Safety first

Railing options include pressure treated softwood (pine or spruce). Softwood railings typically last eight to 10 years in Ireland. Lower maintenance handrail options designed to last 20 years plus include wood/plastic composite, uPVC, stainless steel and glass, stainless steel and wire, steel railings (galvanised and powder coated), etc.


relation to the direction and positioning of the supporting timber members, to ensure that the structure is load bearing and safe. Very large surfaces can look good with changes of pattern as they visually break up the area, and can also be embellished in the following ways: l Inset a pattern or inlay such as a compass, square, diamond or picture frame. This can be enhanced in a timber deck by using different coloured deck stains. Composite decks require a bit more work and inlays are achieved using one or two different coloured boards, contrasting against the dominant deck colour. l Create a chevron or herringbone design. This requires approximately 15 to 20 per cent more decking material, more joists and bridging, closer joist centres and a bit more care when setting out and building the sub-frame. l Define the handrail, perimeter or steps with a different colour to the main deck e.g. a dark brown deck with a sand border or a weathered oak deck with a cedar outside border can look stunning. l For a contemporary feel create geometric patterns using two colours in such a way that the dominant tint accounts for 75 per cent of the deck area. TOP TIP: Plan your deck in advance. Draw it all out to scale on squared paper then overlay your various patterns / designs to see how they’ll look. There are software programmes available that can help you with this.

UPM Decking

IF THE DECK IS AT or close to ground level you won’t need to secure the perimeter, but anything more than 300mm high will require a protective railing or barrier to eliminate any risk of falling over the edge. There are numerous types of decorative railing systems on the market and what you choose will contribute to the style of your whole raised deck.

UPM Decking

This category of projects includes terraces 400 to 600mm above ground level accessed from the home through patio doors, as well as upper storey decks which are laid onto an existing flat roof with an elevated batten system on rubber or plastic props to allow for drainage.


Add colour and life

Composite decking contains pigments and colour-fast UV inhibitors to prevent fading but the range of hues on offer is often quite limited (brown, grey, black). Natural timber decking is protected from premature decay using a chemical treatment process. Dyes present in the preservative are either green or brown and will disappear within a few years, which creates an opportunity to recoat.


There are many decking stains on the market, including non-slip versions. These colours are often referred to as ‘paints’ but strictly speaking, they are wood stains with additional wood protection properties and as such they need recoating every year to keep the deck looking smart. When thinking about what shade to choose, take a long, hard look at the palette used on your house, and try to imagine what’ll work best to set it off. Most people opt for natural wood because they decide to play safe but there are several, surprisingly different-looking, natural wood stains around. Leading manufacturers offer more than a dozen different colours so choose a planting arrangement that will complement the colour of your timber. These go particularly well together: l Orange decking: blue flowers l Grey decking: pink or yellow flowers l Bottle-green decking: lime-coloured flowers l Red decking: green foliage l Yellow decking: violet/purple flowers l Purple decking: orange flowers While softening the edge of a hard garden feature such as decking can greatly enhance its appeal, don’t allow plants to creep too far over the edges of your boards or the permanent wetness will eventually rot the timber. It also makes cleaning and repainting that much more difficult. An attractive way of using plants is to have beds set into decked areas. This can be especially useful for people with reduced mobility as it means tending to plants, vegetables and flowers from a dry, firm, access. Raised beds make this even easier. Consider cladding the boxes that contain the soil with decking, attractively

patterned so the whole thing looks like a solid, ‘sculptural’ piece in harmony with your decked flooring. Be sure to line the raised beds with a waterproof membrane so soil and water can’t seep out. Natural wood will grey over time due to UV rays degrading the surface – this shouldn’t affect the structural integrity of the timber but if you find it unsightly, a yearly maintenance regime of wood oil should help.


Budget wisely

A well designed and expertly installed decking will add considerable value to your home. However, getting your finances in order before you start is crucial. Deck size, design, height above ground level and the materials selected will have a significant bearing on the overall cost. Even your choice of stairs and steps (these can be premade) and railing material can have a big impact. 

UPM Decking

‘While softening the edge of a hard garden feature such as decking can greatly enhance its appeal, don’t allow plants to creep too far over the edges of your boards '


Build above ground, and ventilate The sub-frame for most decking projects will be C24 graded timber joists and purlins but make sure this structure is raised above ground level (on concrete piers, blocks or galvanised steel posts) and that there is an adequate air flow between the deck and ground to inhibit moss and fungal growth.

For the longest term performance low profile galvanised steel joists and composite battens and joists can be used instead, but these are mostly for higher level decks and cost about two to three times the timber alternative. Coated or stainless steel fixings and screws are widely available and should come with a

service life of 30 years. Be aware when using stainless screws that they are very soft by comparison with other screws you’ll be familiar with. This means that using them takes much more time and care (you can easily end up with a stripped screw). Because of this many people settle for coated screws.



Treated timber deck boards are typically around £2.50/ €3 per lin. meter, hollow composite decking boards are double the price and high grade solid composite decking cost even more. So, along with labour and sub-frame the actual cost can easily rise to several thousand euro or pounds for a 12 to 15 sqm installation. For a DIY project softwood decking boards will represent roughly 70 per cent of the outlay. The best way to calculate your costs is in square meters as the lengths will vary too. Remember to choose a long-lasting product (minimum 15 years), check for warranties and what maintenance regime is associated with your choice.


Composed of what? Composite decking (wood fibre mixed with recycled plastic) is more expensive than the treated softwood alternative because it costs more to produce. It’s a low maintenance (no painting or treating), long lasting and more slip resistant

solution which is also splinter-free. Composite decking manufacturers say a good quality composite deck, properly installed, can last up to three times longer than a pressure treated softwood deck in our Irish climate.

Solid composite boards are generally much higher quality and will last longer than hollow composite deck boards. In all cases, be weary of cheap composite decking products which can warp and decay easily.

UPM Decking


Laying the boards It is best to try and work the deck area to suit the supplied length of the boards; this will reduce waste and save money. Most boards are available in 3.6m or 4.8m meter lengths, so if possible dimension your deck to this length or multiples of these lengths, e.g. a 7.2m wide deck will require 2 x 3.6m boards or 1.5 x 4.8m deck boards. Don’t forget, if you are using more than one board length, stagger the joints by the same amount each time for a much more professional result. When laying the boards also make sure you leave expansion gaps, typically six to eight millimetres, to allow water to drain adequately and for the boards to expand and contract depending on temperature and humidity levels. Gaps larger than this become a hazard for high-heeled shoes, etc. For ease I use a pencil width. Perimeter gapping is also important, particularly between the deck boards and masonry and these slits can usually be wider. Your decking supplier will advise on construction method, approach and recommended gapping. ructural warrantees and samples.



Consider planning permission.... and remember the regs!

You probably won’t need planning permission as most decking and other ‘platforms’ are allowed as ‘permitted development’. Permission is definitely not needed if your deck is at or close to ground level. If you’re doing a new build, show all the proposed decking on the drawings so the planners can tell you what’s required. Don’t try to sneak it in later. If in any doubt, speak with the planners if: l Your deck is going to be more than 300mm off the ground – you may require planning permission and if so you’ll need to abide to the building regulations which specifies balustrade height, spacing between the uprights in any balustrade system, how the stairs are constructed and much more.

l It’s close to the road/pavement. l It’s the main means of access to the house. l It could impact on your neighbour’s privacy. l It’s at first floor level. l Any part of it (to the top of the balustrade) exceeds 3m in height. l You live in a flat or maisonette (a small apartment that is usually part of a larger building with two levels and that has its own entrance). l You intend to attach it to a listed building or you are in a national park or conservation area. And don’t forget the Building Regulations: the approach, access and circulation to dwellings must comply with Part M (ROI) / Technical Booklet R (NI) while steps, guarding and handrails should be built in accordance with Part K (ROI) / Technical Booklet H (NI).

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION David Hanna Bsc (Hons) of Deck 25 Darren O’Gorman Msc Cpm of UPM Decking John Keohane of SAiGE Longlife Decking Ltd For best practice guides refer to Trada’s Decking: A Builder’s Guide, the Timber Decking Association, and the Wood Marketing Federation’s guidance document on decking For our full decking guide see




Timber frame A

n increasingly popular build route, timber frame is the method of choice for offsite construction and is often used as the structure upon which to layer other ecobuild materials such as straw bale, hempcrete (lime and hemp mix), and rammed earth. Most common are layering with boards, often OSB, and specifying high levels of insulation and airtightness. With a platform frame, the floors are built in boxed sections while a balloon frame has a continuous wall structure from ground floor to eaves level which means it can’t go much higher than two stories because there is no timber long enough to reach further in one go. Balloon frames 92 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

are quicker to erect to a watertight stage. Prefabricated systems are either open or closed panel (fully finished wall): open is the most popular because it is easy to put together but it requires the fitting of services and insulation on site. Closed panels are made in their entirety in a factory, including insulation, wiring and window and door linings; once in place the walls don’t need to be drilled or cut, just decorated. As long as there is no damage this method ensures a high spec finish. The timber is usually graded softwood but you can go with stunning oak and keep them exposed inside, or full logs to give a chalet look. Log construction at its most basic consist of piling them up to form walls with dovetailed joints chopped out at the corners to

Above: An example of steam bent timber finishes

interlock. Post and beam is not as commonly used in Ireland and when imported from the USA often consists of structural softwood such as spruce or fir. Even though you can clad a timber frame house with anything you wish, in Ireland people often


build a row of blockwork on the outside for weatherproofing, and to ensure the house blends in with neighbouring buildings. Not to be confused with SIPS which are assembled insulated timber panels (there is no timber frame).

What are the benefits? Achieving a high spec in terms of insulation and airtightness is relatively straightforward, cost efficient and quick as there is no drying out period to factor in. However you should take into

the build route you choose, bear in mind noise travelling between timber floors are an issue to tackle at the early design stage.

What are the drawbacks?

The exercise of building in timber requires more precision and planning than a brick and block property and for economy, the elements of a timber frame are carefully designed and calculated to use as little material as possible for the strength required. As a result it is not straightforward to alter or extend the frame of an existing house, and the demolition of walls should not be undertaken without seeking structural advice. Also if anything is to be fixed to the frame, such as a heavy bookshelf, you must attach it to the studs to support the load. Contrary to what you might think, fire, rot and decay are not issues with timber frame; these are dealt with as part of the standard specification. The key lies in ensuring you choose a high spec product that will stand the test of time.

‘Even though you can clad a timber frame house with anything you wish, in Ireland people often build a row of blockwork on the outside for weatherproofing, and to ensure the house blends in with neighbouring buildings.'

account the amount of time it will take to build the structure offsite to your specifications. As long as sustainably sourced wood is used, timber frame has eco-credentials. The raw material is renewable and the wood locks in carbon dioxide. Also the manufacturing process is less energy and carbon intensive than many of the alternatives (concrete or steel) and leads to considerably less waste as most by-products are reused. Furthermore if built well, the timber structure will last for hundreds of years. Due to the high specification of timber frame construction nowadays, sound coming in from the outside is not problematic – in fact well specified and built timber frame walls are among the best performers to keep external noise out of your house. However, and even though this is independent of

Further Reading Kit and Modern Timber Frame Homes: A Complete Guide by Julian Owen ISBN 978-1861269508

everything from skirting boards, erection costs and the garage if you plan to build one. Clarify early on if there will be ‘extras’. The drawback is that you have to pay more upfront due to the volume of off-site components, incurring interest charges from your lender early on, but this may be offset by the quicker build time. When pricing timber frame some companies will calculate this on the gross area which includes the thickness of the walls as well as the rooms inside the house on each floor. Others use a net area which is measured alongside the outside wall not including external wall thickness. Also note that many small scale contractors will not be familiar with timber frame construction, and some could price the work after the frame has been erected at a higher rate. It will therefore pay to shop around.

What’s new or innovative?

Glualam is engineered timber that can span as far as steel and may be an alternative to steel for wide open spaces. A recent development is the use of steam bent timber as cladding on timber frame.

How much does it cost?

Open panel is usually the cheapest but make sure you compare the specification, bearing in mind the cost of the timber frame structure is only roughly one third of the total build and fit-out cost. As compared to blockwork, built to today’s energy standards, there should be very little variance in overall price but this is often on the caveat that you’ve invited tenders from manufacturers based on a design that’s already been drawn up. One benefit of timber frame is price certainty, as long as you’re sure the quotation includes

Images courtesy of Tom Raffield



Burst of summer Seasonality is everything when it comes to enjoying full flavour and aroma which is why juicy garden grown summer strawberries and fresh punnets from the markets are so much nicer than the bland and almost crunchy Christmas strawberries from the supermarket. Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin


e can perhaps be forgiven for mistaking what’s in season for what’s on the shelf but year-round pears, pineapples and grapes mean year-round shipping from warmer territories and commercial enterprises that grow under glass with heaters, high-tech controls, fertiliser and questionable GMO status. The best way to truly experience the difference is to grow your own. Growing your own summer fruit is 94 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

about choosing what to plant; for instance apricots require work and a lot of attention at key times, while aronia berries are as easy as just planting into good soil. To get you started here are three of the easiest and best known summer fruits – what’s best to have on the go right now.


The quintessential summer fruit and one of the easiest to grow. Even though there are many named varieties, they fit into three


Strawberries I GROW ALL MY strawberries in raised beds and containers and let the fruit tumble rather than run on the ground. Easy picking too, away from hungry slugs and snails.

Strawberry’s beauty bonus

The alpha hydroxy acids contained in the fruit juice and flesh helps to naturally whiten teeth by removing stain and plaque build up. However this is no substitute for healthy brushing and flossing; strawberries contain substantial quantities of citric and mallic acids which will, as most fruit do, soften tooth enamel. Those same AHAs are used in the beauty industry to make face masks and body lotions that exfoliate and rejuvenate your skin but again, to be used sparingly if you plan a DIY approach as sensitive skin may get irritated.


categories: those known as June-bearing (they yield in summer), ever-bearing (they produce two harvests per year, one in the spring and then again in the late summer or autumn) and day-neutral (which can fruit for a long time but the berries are often small). All are grown the same way and suitable for containers and hanging baskets too. Whether in a container or in the ground always provide strawberry plants with a sunny sheltered location for best results. Free draining soil is preferred and avoid planting where potatoes, tomatoes or chrysanthemums have been – some of the same pests and diseases affect them. If growing in the ground the tradition is to plant 18” (450mm) apart with 12” (300mm) between rows, into mounds or ridges often through plastic or membrane. The extra height means extra light and heat and a ridge gives sides for the fruit to spill over. The membrane keeps the fruit clean (off the soil); before plastic and garden fabrics, straw was used – hence the name strawberries. The drawback with covering soil is you will need drip irrigation under the cover. The best location to grow is full sun, out of strong wind but the smaller alpines and

‘Blackcurrant bushes like a winter chill – it boosts the harvest – so don’t protect with fleece as you might with other crops.'


Blackcurrants BLACKCURRANTS ARE more demanding of nutrients than most fruit so apply a thick mulch of well-rotted (not hot) farmyard manure or good home compost once a year in spring or autumn. This will break down and feed the soil and roots of the bushes. As with all fruit remember that foliar feeding of the plant means more leaf and stem growth, not necessarily more fruit.

Blackcurrant’s immunity bonus

some other varieties can take some shade. You can start from seed on a window sill anytime of the year but I recommend a tray of plug plants from your local garden centre because seeds can take a few years to bulk up and produce. These will bear fruit next year and if you’re lucky this year too. Plus, they’re ready to plant up straight away into a container, hanging basket or directly into the ground.

Rich in flavonoids such as beta-carotene, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin, this sour fruit hits a sweet spot when it comes to bolstering your health. Those flavonoids help slow the aging process, protect against neurological diseases, fight inflammation and boost immune system response.


These bushes are not difficult to grow but they need a small amount of TLC to perform well every year. They like a winter chill – it boosts the harvest – so don’t 


The benefits of seasonality There’s a healthy aspect to eating seasonal foods. Spring’s greens help you detox after a winter of comfort food and Christmas excess; juicier summer foods are good for hydration, so help you to avoid heat exhaustion, and are rich in vitamin C and plant pigments, giving your skin some protection against harmful UV rays. Autumnal foods have plenty of antioxidants and vitamins to prepare us for a winter of comfort foods, chills, aches and a brain chemistry about to deal with lower light levels.




Blueberries I COLLECT RAIN WATER as I find tap water harsh on crops but this is especially true with blueberries. You can get liquid feeds for azaleas and other acid loving plants that you add to your watering can once or twice a year to perk up your blueberry bushes.

I love a blueberry muffin; it’s actually how I first tasted the fruit. I know that’s not the healthiest way to enjoy your crop and yes they make great jam, sorbet, yoghurt and cereal topping and fruit salad too. But whichever way you consume it, apart from strengthening eyesight and circulation blueberries can help with weight management – the catechins contained within them are said to activate fat-burning genes in abdominal fat cells, helping you burn more.

Blueberry muffins and muffin tops.

protect with fleece as you might with other crops. Prune once a year in autumn to remove deadwood and crossing branches as this keeps good air circulation and light penetration which helps flowers set and fruit ripen. Big Ben and Ebony are varieties that boast some of the largest and sweetest fruit, cropping from late June often into August. Ben Cannon and Ben Sarek are early croppers with good frost and mildew resistance. Blackcurrants are generally grown in open sites in the ground, that said I have a mixed fruiting hedge and they grow great there – like a hedgerow bounty. If you are stuck for space or like the idea of containers then just bear in mind that you


Other summer berries to try


Boysenberries taste similar to wild blackberries and are perfect for pies, jams, syrups, cordial and even wine. Loganberries will fruit from July-September – they have a sharp flavour and are ideal for cooking. Hardier and more trouble free than other berry crops. Main season Gooseberry bushes will crop over July and often have the advantage of being more mildew resistant and trouble free than early and late season. Glen ample raspberries are mid-season variety which generally means July cropping. Quite delicious, almost thornless, nicely upright and tidy and low maintenance. Rovada redcurrant bushes will crop abundantly from mid-July into August. The very flavoursome berries are carried on longer strings than other currants which makes for really easy picking.

will need to repot them once every two or three years. The general rule is to replant into a container or pot that is slightly larger but you can repot back into the same container by simply removing the plant, teasing away some of soil from the root ball and trimming back some of the roots, discarding the soil from the container and replacing it with fresh compost and soil.


Blueberries are a superfood and very trendy at the moment but they are at the harder end of the scale to grow. The two tricks are to first of all make sure the soil pH stays at 4.0- 5.5 which is acidic and not


‘The darker ones are riper and so always sweeter. So while a bush yielding sapphire fruits may look stunning, a deep inky one may suit your palate more...'

generally what most garden soils would boast so growing in a pot or raised beds is a simple solution as you can amend the soil to suit. In the ground if the pH is wrong they won’t perform and will eventually die off. I grow mine outside in raised beds that I amended with sulphur and some bog turf. The former easily sourced in garden centers, the latter salvaged from a roadside spill on the way back from Offlay a few years back. Ericaceous compost is the one for filling your pots. Secondly you will need at least two varieties for pollination and fruiting to occur consistently. Blue crop is the most popular variety – it crops heavy and ripens in summer. Earliblue is also an early and decent cropper, generally ripening from early July. Reka, Berkeley and Blueray cross pollinate well with all varieties and have good sweetness over summer. It’s also important to note that not all Blueberries taste the same. There are many varieties, some leaning to sweet and some to tangy but even on the same bush you can get a different taste sensation. If you prefer the sweet to the tang then pick the darkest blueberries on the bush, and the darker varieties. The darker ones are riper and so always sweeter. So while a bush yielding sapphire fruits may look stunning, a deep inky one may suit your palate more. That said there is a tasty pink variety called ‘pink lemonade’ that is also self-pollinating. Blueberries are suited to polytunnel and container cultivation but remember that they are originally a woodland species and so won’t want their roots drying out in what can be a high evaporation environment with polytunnels or low water retention in containers. They can have shallow roots too so extra attention must be given to watering.


Top five reasons to grow your own strawberries


First of all they are So easy to grow! Strawberry plants are traditionally planted outdoors from June through to September. They are not fussy about soil types as long as they are not waterlogged or parched.


So economical Your strawberry plants will continue to produce fruit for five or six years before needing to be divided or replenished with new plants (although some growers do that every three years) but they also produce runners (new plants on a creeping stem that are easy to peg down to make contact with the soil and propagate) so you not only get great harvests but you get a ready supply of more plants. Rooted runners can be dug up and planted in other parts of the garden or potted up for friends and family.


So easy to maintain To avoid pest and diseases I spray mine with

garlic extract when not in fruit, I use horticultural grit to keep slugs and snails at bay and I pick off any dodgy leaves immediately. Strawberries can be prone to mildew and blights so watering the soil rather than the foliage is best practice. Avoid planting near potatoes. Otherwise they are a low worry fruit.


So good for you Strawberries are rich in bioflavonoids, which can help the body’s resistance to seasonal allergies. Even though ingesting a punnet won’t act as a quick fix to a bout of hay fever, eating a year-round healthy diet of fruits and vegetables rich in bioflavoloids may help decrease your susceptibility. Strawberries are also packed with a potent antioxidant flavonoid called quercetin which can help slow the aging process by mopping up free radical damage within our system and the pigment that makes them red is being researched for its potential to boost our skin’s ability

to resist sunburn. A cup of 100g will provide 58.8mg of vitamin C, that’s about 98 per cent of RDA and they are bursting with B-complex group of vitamins that act as co-factors in helping the body to metabolise carbohydrate, proteins and fats – boosting the nutrition we derive from other foods.


Last but not least, you’ll be Spoiled for choice. There are so many varieties to choose from and so many subtle variances in juiciness, taste and texture. There are seasonal croppers that vary between spring, summer and even into autumn but I like one of each. For early cropping, great taste and reliability you can’t beat the old cambridge varieties. For mid-summer, rich flavour and high yield I grow Elsanta (the choice of most supermarket chains) and for a late taste you won’t go wrong with Judibell or Symphony.



Are you a lean, mean machine? To project manage your project with a Lean attitude is just as difficult as going on a diet. In both cases motivation is key, but the results are equally impressive. Words: Astrid Madsen


ouse building is probably the only sector that allows, and expects, mistakes to be made. Being wrong is standard procedure – getting it right the first time is an anomaly. ‘Customers’ are forced to pay for what in any other industry would be called defects; in the case of selfbuilding they are called snags. But there is a methodology out there to remove snags, or at least to keep them to a minimum and, due to the savings to be had, it’s being espoused by all sorts of companies, from manufacturers to services to large engineering and building companies. In fact there’s a broad movement underway in the entire Architecture, Engineering, Construction (AEC) sector around the application of Lean in the building industry. Lean conceives that all processes contain waste and that the way to reduce waste is to map out what the procedures and task flows are, make necessary activities more efficient while reducing or removing wasteful ones. Intuitive as this may be, it can be hard to get it done, which is why there are some core principles and sets of tools available. The primary aim is to continuously improve processes and add value; engagement early and often is the mantra, the polar opposite of firefighting. Going Lean on your self-build is therefore all about getting the most value out of the building process; cost saving is a byproduct, not the primary aim.

Self-builders as leaders?

Due to scale, self-building may be the last place Lean systematically takes place but it can also be argued that self-builders 98 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

are quick to learn and are usually open to embracing new thoughts and processes. As with eco-building, self-builders could even become exemplars in espousing Lean thinking and practices. The methodology used on larger construction projects can be applied on the smaller house building and home improvement scale. The issue in the construction industry in general is that project management has not inherently been about collaboration but has rather focused on getting the job

accepting poor or low standards from anyone in the chain, i.e. not accepting defects, not creating a defect, and not passing a defect along to the next one in the chain. The perspective required is for everyone involved in the build to come together in the design phase – the selfbuilder can dictate this be so – and for tradesmen to see themselves as ‘internal customers’ of one another in the build or value chain.

‘The primary aim is to continuously improve processes and add value; engagement early and often is the mantra, the polar opposite of firefighting..' done irrespective of how it may impact on other ‘internal customers’ in the value chain. That is, each sub-contractor or tradesman is only concerned about doing his bit and getting off site as quickly as possible, not thinking about how they will impact on the next trade. Collaboration isn’t highly prized and blame games under various guises are common, even when only a minor issue arises. The result is an absence of the essential collaboration, early and often, required to ensure things are done ‘right the first time’ and that they stay as close to right throughout the build. To get things right the first time, quality must be built-in at source by not

Here’s how these Lean principles can help you improve flow, add value, reduce and remove process waste, and reduce costs on your self-build or home improvement project.

Identifying value

When mapping out the process, the first thing to do is to identify value, what is the objective of the task or activity? For each stage from planning permission through to completion and commissioning. Then break down the individual steps within the task and show which of them are value-add (VA) or non-value-add (NVA). Consider each step and change the process where necessary to optimise 


, Been there? at n donpelantnh ing a Lea

If you’re ugh ve gone thro a h r o d il u self-b love touch, we’d one, get in you've to hear how d some of implemente les. these princip

Waste can mean storing materials in such a way that the ‘travel time’ (moving materials from one place to another) around the site is unnecessarily high




The lingo Value-Add (VA) and Non-ValueAdd (NVA): The end client – so you as the homeowner – needs to define and drive what is of value. What you don’t want is NVA, which results in waste. Even work that is carried out beyond what you want is considered waste: as you are getting more than you asked for, more resources went to achieving it. Work that is carried out to bring about what you are willing to pay for is VA, activities that do not contribute to this end product and process are NVA and should be eliminated. Waste: It’s the result of NVA activities. In addition to material waste there is waste involved with delays, waiting and disruptions on site, unnecessary movement, as well as raw materials not having value added to them. In total, Lean has eight types of waste. In construction specifically, waste can arise from poor design or construction details, layouts that don’t work, excessive staff, lack of flow in the tasks, little or no coordination, inadequate planning, inefficient processes/ tools/ machinery, adversarial relationships, disputes, etc.

Having a tidy and well organised shed or van will go a long way towards saving you time, and therefore money

productivity, reduce time and cost. The budget should be broken down into stages so that if changes were to occur the purse strings could be adjusted on a phase by phase basis. Flexibility is an important aspect of the Lean philosophy, so as you are going through the process, record the changes and improvements made and the results. Continuous improvement should be embraced. The entire process is a flow and things need to move smoothly, physically and in time. What each worker has to do and how they do it must be clear and well mapped; for example if you are housing materials in the correct place you won’t be spending your time moving them from one area to the next. Lean also takes into account the domino effect that one simple change or adjustment can have, and planning for it. For instance if your ground conditions unexpectedly require that you use piled foundations, will this have a knock-on implication for something like plumbing?


The toolbox: never search for that hammer again! 1. Sort your tools and tidy the area in which they are stored. 2. Organise your tools – a box with all hand tools, for instance. Work out how they should be organised and where they should be contained. Top drawer contains most frequently used. 3. Have a specific spot for each tool and mark out shadows to visually show where the tools go (so-called shadow boards), helping you remember where it belongs and as important if not more, to be reminded to always return it. 4. Record the method you’re using. 5. Improve the method as needs change or when there is a more effective way.


If the plumber is not involved in the conversation early on it may be too late when he finds out, with delays ensuing, possible additional costs, etc.

Motivation and collaboration

As alluded to above, processes are carried out by people, and so communication is an essential component of making Lean work. Weekly, even daily (morning briefing), meetings to make sure everyone is on the same page can go a long way towards fomenting this collaboration. By saving time you save on labour costs and rework; the builder meanwhile can maximise profits by moving onto a new job (new profit margin) earlier. There also should be a saving for everyone in that the builder won’t have to return to fix defects. But if you are so efficient that the schedule is brought forward, you could become a victim of your own success! Tradesmen will have to come on site


earlier and if they can’t, this could mean the building site will be left idle for a month or two. Therefore a dynamic and collaborative approach all the way along is what’s needed to keep on track – to stay on schedule, not ahead or behind.

Contractual clauses

There is the possibility of building into the contract a requirement for all trades to be on site for a weekly meeting; the importance of everyone buying into the Lean concept – and not reluctantly be brought into it – is the key to success. Making Lean principles clear in the contract can focus the issue and bring about a meeting of minds. Lean is making its way into larger construction tenders, with vetting systems in place and clauses in contracts, so this is not unchartered territory.

wastes) and recording them, can be done by all participants. Some tradesmen will notice certain things, each bringing their own take on how improvements can be made. Examples include storing materials in an adequate environment, e.g. to avoid warping in the case of wood, reducing the ‘travel time’ around the site to get certain tasks done, availing of the expertise of a particular person that’s on site for an aspect the project manager may have overlooked, etc.


5S is a very effective methodology for construction sites: Sort, Straighten, Shine/ Sweep, Standardise, and Sustain. The first step is to declutter – if you have a shed or a van full of stuff, clear it out. Then catalogue what you have and

rate each item according to how necessary it is. Come up with a system to house all of these tools and instruments to make their use most efficient. If something is picked up daily, it needs to be close by and easily accessible; if something is seldom used it can be stored further away. The key is to make sure the system will be abided by, day in and day out. If the mess reappears within a month the configuration probably wasn’t devised well, or the message of why things need to be well organised not communicated to others on site. This very simple first step can save a huge amount of time – you won’t spend half an hour every day searching for tools – and waste will become less likely as you won’t be inclined to go buy a new bag of screws if the right ones are easy to find.

Production boards

Waste walks

One way of getting people involved is asking each tradesman what hindered them on previous jobs, common annoyances, etc., so as to learn from their experiences and avoid ongoing repetition of past mistakes. Waste walks, whereby people working on site go around identifying wastes (along the lines of the eight classified Lean







Lean Enterprise Institute Inc., Cambridge MA,

All tradesmen and suppliers need to be part of the process from the get-go, even if their presence on site is only required in six months’ time. As all of the building components are interlinked, their work could be impacted by what happens before – they may identify the need for an additional opening to be made or perhaps specify a material that would be more suitable. It also makes communication about what is happening on site clear to everyone, reinforcing every tradesman’s stakeholder status. Using ‘Production boards’ is a proven technique – a large board showing what everyone is doing on site and what the next steps are. Outlining the sequence of works for the following six weeks with sticky notes allows for a collaborative approach to tackling delays and unforeseens. A very useful tool is the ‘Last Planner System’ which looks at planning in greater detail as you get closer to doing the work; a fundamental premise is that all plans are forecasts and all forecasts are wrong. Progress is reviewed daily and weekly, and key performance indicators are established to monitor the progress of each trade in terms of productivity, quality and health & safety. These are based on your valueadded mapping documents.

‘One way of getting people involved is asking each tradesman what hindered them on previous jobs, common annoyances, etc., so as to learn from their experiences and past mistakes...' ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Darrin Taylor, co-director of the Lean Enterprise Excellence Group at the Waterford Institute of Technology, Irish Lean Initiatives and Lean Enterprise Institute Building Down Barriers Handbook


B A S I C S / E N E R G Y R AT I N G S



Energy ratings E

nergy ratings exist throughout Europe and consist of a certificate that gives your house a grade, on an A to G scale, much like your washing machine or fridge (A being the best). In ROI they’re called Building Energy Ratings (BER) and in NI, Energy Performance Certificates (EPC). The same methodology (in NI Standard Assessment Procedure, in ROI Dwelling Energy Assessment

Procedure) is used to prove compliance with the energy efficiency requirements of the Building Regulations and to draw up energy ratings. You must carry out an energy rating when you build your own house: you will need to get it done before you move in (ROI) or in NI, no later than five days after the build has been completed. In all of these cases you, the homeowner, are liable to pay for the cost of completing the assessment.

'The rating measures how efficient a user of energy your house is, not how much it consumes...' 102 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Are you applying for a grant? In order to qualify for an ROI Better Energy Homes grant to retrofit insulation and/or heating on your home (built before 2006) then you will need to get a BER done upon completion of works. As part of the grants system, you can get €50 to go towards this cost.

In the case of extensions in NI and ROI you do not need an energy rating. However, there is an exception in NI which relates more so to developers, i.e. if the extension will result in creating separate dwellings. If so, an EPC must be carried out no later than five days after completion, by the person responsible for the works, i.e. the builder. In both jurisdictions you also need to get an energy rating drawn up if you sell or rent your house. The BER and EPC remain valid for 10 years, unless significant alterations have been made to the building. If you are in breach of your BER/EPC obligations, in ROI you could incur a fine of €5,000, in NI of £200. The person who carries out your energy rating must be on

E N E R G Y R AT I N G S / B A S I C S

your jurisdiction’s official register. In ROI it’s the National Register of BER Assessors ( assessors/search.aspx); in NI it’s the Northern Ireland Domestic Energy Performance Certificate Register ( Note that in NI, only an OCEA (On Construction Energy Assessor) is allowed to produce the EPC on your new build, using SAP. If you require an EPC for an existing house, you can get a cheaper and shorter test carried out by a DEA (Domestic Energy Assessor) who will use a simplified version of SAP called rdSAP.

What are the benefits? The rating always comes with a recommendation report on how to improve the grade, even if the home is newly built. This is to make you aware of your home’s energy efficiency and what you can to do improve it; ultimately the authorities hope that A-rated properties will become more attractive to purchasers and builders.

What are the drawbacks?

The rating measures how efficient a user of energy your house is, not how much it consumes. Think of the washing machine analogy, its ‘A’ rating won’t guarantee low electricity bills if you do five washes a day! The rating also largely relies on as-built drawings so if workmanship and quality control measures weren’t in place during construction you may, in practice, move into a home that doesn’t perform as well as the energy rating might lead you to believe.

How much does it cost?

For an energy rating in NI, you can expect to pay in the order of £50 to £100 for an average dwelling whereas in ROI the prices can vary even more, starting at around €100, as the cost not only depends on the size/type of house but on how long it will take the assessor to reach your house, so think local!

'Homes built to today's standards in ROI are A-rated while those in NI achieve a B.'


Do I need to get an airtightness test done for the energy rating? AN AIRTIGHTNESS (‘blower door’) test may be done in order to verify compliance with the Building Regulations, but it is not essential for an energy rating. In ROI, to comply with the Building Regulations, you must conduct an airtightness test if your house is a new build, but not on an extension. This value will be used in the BER calculation (the minimum requirement is 7m3/h. m2 at 50Pa). In NI, to prove compliance you can input a default value of 15m3/h.m2 at 50Pa. However, if the SAP software indicates you will not meet the required standard in the regulations then you will have to do an airtightness test, which should yield a significantly better figure and get you over the minimum regulatory requirement.

What’s new or innovative?

The procedure hasn’t changed since the regulations came in ten years ago; a site visit by the assessor should take anywhere from half an hour to two hours for a three bed semi-d. The more documentation you can give him/ her, the better, e.g. specification of your windows and heating system, design drawings showing walls/ roof/floors sections, etc. Otherwise the assessor will plug in default values corresponding to the year of construction, which could lead to a poorer rating than the house deserves. The office based work should be done within an hour (data inputting and reporting). In NI, for new builds the rating can be made off the plans unless the assessor has concerns about the data, in which case a site visit will be made. In ROI, the situation is different as the BER can no longer be done from the drawings (unless the house is purchased ‘off the plans’ but another on-site assessment will be required once the house has been built).





Your guide to planning for, and installing external wall insulation in your Irish home Words: Aleyn Chambers


xternal Wall Insulation (EWI), which is also referred to as ETICS (External Thermal Insulation Composite Systems) is a method of insulating the outside walls of either a new or existing house, and involves directly applying insulation panels to the walls of the building before finishing with a rendering system to provide protection from impact and weather. Whilst this method of insulating your home can be expensive when compared with other alternatives, it has numerous advantages which include not only increasing thermal performance, but also improving the overall airtightness of the home by eliminating air leakage through the external walls. As compared to insulating from the inside this method has the benefit of not reducing your floor area; you are also less likely to run into possible condensation problems as you are in effect adding a layer of protection from the elements where they hit.

' has numerous advantages which include not only increasing thermal performance, but also improving the overall airtightness...' 104 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

This page and page opposite: Careful detailing is required at the window sills so the number of windows you have will have an impact on the cost of installation; pictured here an ROI semidetached property after external insulation works completed Durkan Ecofix


However having a professional supply and fit the product is the key to a successful installation – there are many systems to choose from but all are proprietary and the people fitting them will have followed training courses.


Things to know about installation

How much does it cost?

A ballpark figure for the supply and fit of an external wall is roughly £100 or €125/sqm excluding VAT. Every house is different and the circumstances in which the product is installed will have a bearing on cost; it’s advisable to get at least three quotations for your installation and compare like with like. A common factor that will increase your quotation is the number of windows as these will all require a sill section and additional work to the head and reveal details. In an existing house if there are a lot of fixtures and fittings on the walls, the prep work will be more onerous. Grants for homes built before 2006 are available in ROI via the Better Energy Homes Scheme, ranging from €2,250 for a midterrace house up to €4,500 for a detached house. You can also avail of the Home Renovation Incentive which allows you to claim an income tax credit (maximum €4,050 over a period of four years). In NI the Affordable Warmth Grant Scheme offers a maximum grant of £10,000 for houses with solid wall construction but your gross annual income needs to be less than £20,000.

Can it be used on any type of house?

External wall insulation is most suitable for masonry walls that are of either solid construction or cavity wall construction. Not generally recommended for timber or steel frame walls or when the wall is clad with timber.

So which insulation should I use?

There are a number of different manufacturers of insulated panels and these generally come in the form of either expanded polystyrene slabs or mineral wool. In ROI the National Standards Authority of Ireland (NSAI) provides guidance in relation to the application of EWI along with a comprehensive a list of Irish Agrément Certified EWI products so choose from this list. The NSAI has a directory of approved installers that can provide a guarantee and warranty for the installation. In NI the British Board of Agrément provides guidance in a similar manner to the NSAI and provides a current list of Agrément Certified products, manufacturers and installers registered in NI (and the UK). 


Carefully consider how the insulation is formed around all windows and doors. Where possible the insulation should neatly meet the window frame so that there is a continuity of insulation.


The insulation should start a minimum of 150mm over the finished ground level around the house, or along the line of the damp proof course of the house. A proprietary starter track is formed at this level by the installer to dress the underside of the insulation.


If no damp proof course is evident then an injected DPC should be introduced to prevent potential issues with rising damp behind the wall insulation.


At eaves level the insulation should meet the layer of insulation associated with the roof, so that there is a continuity of insulation at this junction. It

is important that the required path for ventilation of the roof area is maintained and not blocked as a result of this junction.


Expansion joints shall need to formed in the layer of external wall insulation to allow for expansion and contraction of the material over time. The exact placement and extent of these joints will depend on the product. With careful planning these can be arranged so that they form a considered part of the final appearance of the house.


Fire-stopping must be provided at the junction with a neighbouring dwelling so that there is no risk of external fire spread to an adjoining property. The material must be separated from a brick or block chimney by a minimum of 200mm from the flue pipe.


All fixings associated with the insulation layer should be

formed in accordance with the product requirements to ensure the material is securely and safely adhered to the external wall surface.


Prior to the application of the finishing render and associated reinforcing mesh, all existing windows and doors should be carefully protected. In sunny weather rendering work should be carried out on the shady side of the house to prevent the render drying out too quickly or unevenly.


Proprietary corner beads should be formed to all exposed and vulnerable edges and fully lapped with the reinforcing mesh. Upon completion, the

who has 10 contractor carried out the work

should issue a guarantee that covers the entire installation and associated performance of the work.



Before and after images of a project in Co Down, pictured here the front of the house Blue Build Energy

How much insulation do I need?

This will depend on the wall construction, the type of insulated panel and associated finishes you chose, but in ROI, generally speaking approximately 160mm of insulation would be required to meet the requirements of Technical Guidance Document Part L 2011 for a new build wall. The heat loss requirements for an existing wall are not as high, and approximately 100mm of insulation is generally required to achieve the necessary standard. In NI the Building Regulations requirements result in approximately 100mm of wall insulation for a new build and approximately 50mm for an existing wall.

Do I need to secure planning permission?

In many cases external wall insulation will be exempt from planning permission. In ROI, the exemption clause in Section 4 (1)(h) of the Planning and Development Act 2000 states: 'constituted works which do not materially affect the external appearance of the structure so as to render the appearance inconsistent with the character of the structure or neighbouring structures'. Despite the fact that a layer of external wall insulation has been applied to your home, the selection and application of external render may ensure that the external appearance of the house is not materially affected. The requirements in NI are similar. If you have doubts, it is advisable in ROI to apply to your relevant local authority for a Section 5 Declaration to confirm whether the work is considered exempted development 106 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

or if it will require planning permission. In NI either contact your local planning office or file for a Certificate of Lawfulness of Proposed Use or Development (Article 83B). In ROI if your home is listed as a Protected Structure or exists within an Architectural Conservation Area then a Section 57 application should be made to the local authority and the case will be reviewed in a not dissimilar manner to the Section 5 application. This application is accompanied by detailed drawings of the relevant property and will therefore require the input of a professional (the requirement is often to have a minimum of a Grade 2 architect). In NI if the works are being carried out to a listed building or if the building is located within a conservation area then it is ďƒ˜

Before and after of back of house in Co Down Blue Build Energy

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

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

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



High impact The reinforcing mesh associated with the rendering system is embedded into the basecoat before it dries. In areas where increased impact may be anticipated then this should be discussed with the installer prior to commencing the project.

'Where a cavity wall is to be insulated, it is very important that it is completely sealed along the top and at any other draughty points.'

Images of installation of Rockwool external wall installation by Durkan Ecofix

advisable to consult with the Department for Communities: Historic Environment Division. In all cases due care should be taken to ensure that whenever the installation is complete, the thicker wall does not encroach or over-sail a neighbouring property as this may create legal issues.

On site

Similar details are applicable for both new and existing houses and, with careful planning and specification most issues can be resolved in advance of installation. Be mindful of the following: In the case of an existing house, all external wall surfaces must be clean and structurally stable. The surface over which the insulation is to be applied must be smooth and suitable for the application of insulation material; any pebble dashed surfaces need to be removed in their entirety before works 108 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

commence. If the wall is of cavity construction, it should be established if the cavity has been capped at wall-plate level. All gutters, downpipes, gully traps and other services associated with the external walls such as satellite dishes need to be carefully considered. In the case of existing

houses these need to be removed in their entirety and re-fitted upon completion of the insulation layer. All surface mounted cabling must not under any circumstances be covered with insulation as this represents a fire risk. The EWI installer is not permitted to move or relocate such cables and therefore must coordinate the work with the electricity supply company so that the cable can be unclipped from the wall, insulation installed and finished and then cable refitted within a suitable external duct. If the electrical meter cabinet is located within an area that is to be insulated then an extension shall need to be formed to the cabinet enclosure to allow the depth to be increased to match the finished face of the insulation. Natural gas meter boxes, including the gas inlet pipes, isolation valves and meter box must not be covered or impeded by the installation of EWI. In advance of any work commencing it is advisable to contact the local representative of the gas company to determine what may be required in relation to the meter box and associated pipes. If there is a flue pipe to either a gas or oil boiler then the terminal point of the flue must be extended and fire-stopping provided around the pipe.


Ventilation The application of EWI increases and improves the airtightness of the dwelling, so when this work is carried out on an existing house it is important that either existing paths of ventilation into the house are maintained or new paths introduced to ensure good air quality. This could mean installing a new mechanised ventilation system – ductwork for same should be put in place before installing the EWI to ensure these exit points are airtight.

E X T E R N A L WA L L / I N S U L AT I O N Details courtesy of Aleyn Chambers; Acceptable Construction Details for External Wall Insulation are provided by the Department of Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government in ROI and by the Building Control Authority in NI Proprietary window cill to be formed over insulation at window junctions. Size and profile to suit system, with a minimumof 10 degree fall. In the case of existing houses the window cill shall need to be altered to accommodate the layer of insulation.

In both an existing refurbishment scenario and new build construction natural ventilation is to be provided along the eaves of the house and into the attic space. Clear path to be maintained from eaves to attic by use of proprietary ventilators and trays to provide path and also allow for insulation to be fitted snugly. There should be a continuity of insulation between the roof level and the external wall insulation to minimise thermal bridging.

Starter track to be formed at damp proof course level to carry lowest board of insulation. Allow a minimum of 150mm between this level and the surrounding ground level.

Overall thickness dependent on overall U-value required and chosen material.


Wall insulation to extend approximately 430mm below ground level to minimise cold bridging.

Insulation is to be adhered to the outside face of the masonry wall and then fixed in place with proprietary mechanical fixings. External wall insulation to overlap window frame as much as possible to minimise thermal bridging in these areas. Contractor responsible for fitting insulation to provide proprietary corner beads to all exposed edges of insulation. Tel: 046-9487410 Email: SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 109



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Axis of Eden


Knowing where to put things in the garden – including the house! – is an important part of landscaping, but it can be difficult to know where to start. Here are some tips to help you get house and garden to merge into one. Words: Tanguy de Toulgoët


f you have an existing plot of land and are planning a layout, make sure your garden is south facing. Every bit of light you can get will count. For instance trees must be staggered so as to avoid shady places, and to help light bounce through. Avoid planting big trees on the south side of the house as you need to allow light to enter your living areas too. After that, the garden should be sheltered from the other orientations, considering what the sun and wind do at different times of the day and year. Most of the growth happens from March to midOctober so assess the light coming in your garden mid-October and remove/cut any impediments. The house should be protected by a dense wind break (tall trees and hedges) on its north side and by low hedging on its western and eastern sides (low enough so they don’t shade the garden too much but provide gale protection). The flower and vegetable beds should be orientated North-South to optimise their energy intake. This ensures they all get an even amount of light throughout the day and that they won’t shade one another.

‘The flower and vegetable beds should be orientated NorthSouth to optimise their energy intake.' 112 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

Broadleaf or evergreen hedge? A broadleaf hedge creates the best shelter and can increase the temperature by up to 10 per cent within its bounds. A wall (or an evergreen hedge) is not as good as it creates more turbulence inside the garden.

Blurred boundaries

Planners and most self-builders aim to use landscaping as a means to get the house to ‘blend in’ and in a rural environment, hedgerows are the most crucial element to get right. They will also help optimise your microclimate. If possible your hedge should mimic the surrounding hedgerows in terms of species. The older the hedge, the more varied the composition of species becomes. Also, more mature bushes will usually have a bare base, allowing plants like primula vulgaris (primroses) and viola

riviniana (violets) to flourish and some bulbs like allium ursinum (wild garlic) and hyacinthoides non-scripta (bluebell) to thrive. This adds diversity, in terms of flowering periods and interest. If you wish to give an authentic aspect to a new hedge, choose a mix of native species instead of a single species and avoid the use of evergreens such as leylandii, griselinia, laurel and privet. These really stand out and are not compatible with our landscape. In an urban setting, it can be more complicated because there is no unity in



What if I’m building new? BUILDING A SPLIT-LEVEL house, following the natural slope of the garden, will really integrate it into a plot if there’s any kind of gradient. In general, consider the fact that building a house exactly in the middle of a relatively small site will make the garden feel reduced and prevent you from having enough south facing ground to cultivate your flowers and vegetables. If your plot is on a narrow north south axis it’s therefore best to have the house positioned on the north side with just enough space behind for a shelter belt, and to have all the garden in front on the south side.

the environment around you, each garden has its own style. Mimicking some aspects of your neighbours’ outdoor concepts could help bring harmony to the area; in terms of plants choose those whose colours, foliage or shapes you like.

Blending in with climbers

To give the impression that the house is one with the garden you could also consider climber plants which cover the house with a mass of foliage and sometimes flowers. These will disguise and soften an ugly concrete wall into an ocean of green leaves and flowers, and have the advantage of being cheap and reliable. Self-clinging climbers attach to the wall with their aerial roots; in terms of species consider: l Strong climbers such as parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper) will cover the wall quickly and efficiently. Best grown on the south side of a wall; anywhere else would result in a shorter growing season.

Avoid ivy if you plan to use climbers, as it keeps its foliage all year round and will create humidity problems in the walls.

l Especially good for north facing walls are hydrangea anomala subsp. petiolaris (climbing hydrangea) and schizophragma integrifolium (Chinese hydrangea vine). Pileostegia viburnoides is an evergreen climbing hydrangea that is nice to use too. The non-self-clinging kind will need the support of tying wires or trellises. Some are very vigorous and will need a particularly solid support; the simplest, unobtrusive, long-lasting system is the humble sheep wire fencing. It is solid and very easy to fix with hook vine. Note that the plant should not be allowed to grow between the wall and the wire. When trained on the outside of the wire only, the climbers can very easily be pruned and maintained without causing damage to the wall. Most of these climbers prefer full sun (southern aspect); noteworthy species include: l Jasminum nudiflorum (winter jasmine) that flowers yellow and trachelospermum jasminoides (confederate jasmine) that has highly fragrant white flowers, can be grown against a wall. They will both need to be cut back after flowering. l Clematis varieties Alba Luxurians, Étoile Violette, Ernest Markham and Ville de Lyon will grow around two to three metres high and are well suited to beginners. Most clematis need to be cut regularly to avoid turning into a mass of tangled stems; these just need to be pruned back hard in February and they will climb on a trellis happily.  SUMMER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 113


l Roses make lovely climbers and with time, they can cover a huge surface. I have planted Albéric Barbier that keeps its foliage during mild winters and flowers profusely during the summer. Wedding Day and The Garland are very good ramblers and can reach five to seven metres tall. But they only flower once. Roses prefer to be loosely tied and if possible to have their side shoots trained horizontally. l Wisteria with its pea-like cascade of blue flowers (although the Japanese variety wisteria floribunda Alba has a lovely white flower) must be planted on a southern aspect. Pruning has to be done twice a year: during the summer cut back the whippy green shoots to five or six leaves and in February cut back the previously cut back shoots to two or three buds. It would be better to buy grafted plants because they flower quicker. This climber can reach eight metres. l Vitis coignetiae (crimson glory vine) is an impressive vine from the grape family. Its large leaves yield spectacular colours in Autumn. It is a lovely unusual climber that can be grown facing west but a southern aspect is best. I grow an early white seedless grape vine called Perlette which supplies me with fruit nearly every year.

Roses trained on sheep wire fencing

Non-linear garden path

Bedding in with flowers

Once you have decided on your climbers, you can then start around the house, if possible on the sunny side as it is the one where you have a huge choice of colourful plants. Flower beds look wonderful right next to the house but you need to be aware of the drawbacks as foundations and concrete walls are prone to sucking up the water like a candle wick. To avoid that problem, insulate the bed from the wall with a piece of polythene. I usually use 1200 gauge DPM. Dig a trench along the wall a foot and a half deep and just spread the polythene along the wall before backfilling with good free draining topsoil. Many plants can be used, from small climbing roses such as the Penelope for height to smaller perennials like geranium Rozanne or nepeta Six Hills Giants that flower for a long time during the summer. In early spring and summer you can use bulbous plants, like snow drops, anemone blanda, daffodils, tulips, camassia, allium, which flourish into the beds to add more colour. There’s plenty to choose from but try to avoid invasive plants such as equisetum (horse tail), hypericum prolificum (shrubby 114 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

St John’s wort), aegopodium podagraria variegatum (variegated bishop’s weed), mint or saponaria (soap wort). Avoid creeping or running bamboo at all costs as they can easily lift foundations, are extremely difficult to control and then very costly to remove. If you use bamboo, make sure that it’s of the clumping variety.

Soften your hard landscaping

‘Avoid creeping or running bamboo at all costs as they can easily lift foundations...'

Instead of the ubiquitous airport style concrete path surrounding the house, consider providing car access with narrower driveways that branch out to the areas you want to reach with hard landscaping. It is best not to introduce tarmac right beside the house; the car park should also be kept as small as possible. For an alternative to tarmac or concrete, which are expensive to lay and high maintenance in terms of moss treatment, consider a cheaper hard core surface thinly layered with 10mm pea pebbles. This option has the benefit of providing good drainage, which should help limit flooding in adjacent areas. It looks much better too and gets the garden to blend with the house much more readily.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION List of invasive plants to avoid: All images courtesy of Tangy de Toulgoët taken at the Dunmore Country School


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Where are they now...


For the past 15 years SelfBuild has brought you the stories behind the making of Irish homes. In this series we reconnect with some of the first homeowners who opened their doors to us; they’ve welcomed us back in to share where they are now, what they’ve been up to, and what pearls of wisdom they’ve accumulated now that hindsight truly is 20/20. Words: Astrid Madsen

It does what it says on the log


ust over ten years ago Brian and Wendy Livingston moved into their log home in Tallow, Co Waterford. They’ve since lived an idyllic life, so much so that in such a long period of time, they haven’t changed a thing. “We left everything as is, every room has the same use. It’s just the two of us living here and when we built the house we knew the layout that suited us, and 116 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

haven’t touched it since,” says Brian. “People who come to visit tell us they can still smell the wood but we’re so used to the house, we can’t!” Brian says the best thing they did was add sheep’s wool insulation. “It’s ecofriendly and so efficient. We only have to light the log fire for five or 10 minutes before the entire house gets warm. If we don’t control it, it can even get too hot.” Backup radiators and hot water are supplied by a combi gas boiler. The one addition they did make was an outbuilding, and a chicken coop, all constructed on a DIY basis with the leftover timber from the build. “There were so many planks I had enough to treat myself to a studio,” adds Brian. They also landscaped by adding an orchard and veg garden with polytunnel. “It’s a two acre site on a wooden parkland and in many ways, the more you do the more upkeep you have so we tried to keep it simple,” says Brian. Wendy and Brian had protected trees during the construction and planted more afterwards. “Living here is like being in a luxury hotel 24/7, the views we have from the many windows are all fabulous,” adds Brian. “We never feel the need to go on holidays, and seldom do.” If there were one thing he’d perhaps change in the design are the number of lights in the living area. “We wouldn’t often need it as the open plan is filled with natural light, but I might add a length of


‘It’s a big undertaking and you have to be on site every single day. With a self-build you can’t really afford to be laid back.'

spotlights along one of the cross timbers above the sofa.” For Wendy it’s the location of the back door that she might change. “This is something for anyone designing a house to consider; if you have a back door this is where you’ll naturally leave your boots. Ours is in the utility room and whist it’s not a big deal I would say this doesn’t always work well with the laundry process.” Looking back on their self-build, Wendy says she had thought it would be a straightforward process, that all the tradesmen would be professional and know what they were doing from start to finish. “It’s a big undertaking and you have to be on site every single day. You need to supervise all aspects and you can’t really afford to be laid back,” she says. “I’d do it again because the finished product is beyond our expectations, and because there is great satisfaction at the end of it. But it’s something to tackle like a mission, and communication is essential,” adds Brian. “When we were self-building we’d been told to do things right the first time, because we’d never go back to fix things. This rang at the back of our minds the entire time we were building and was a really helpful tip,” considers Wendy. Wendy and Brian had moved from England to settle down in Ireland but now that they’re retired with nine grandchildren waiting for them on the other side of the pond, a move back to the UK seems inevitable. “Family is the most important thing; despite our love of this house we’ve decided to sell and move back.” Brian isn’t going through a broker so if you’re interested in the house, contact him directly on or 087 783 8967 to arrange a visit; the asking price is £385,000/€400,000. 

The new orchard

Outbuilding crafted from house's leftover timber

Read about Wendy and Brian's self-build journey as we covered it 10 years ago on



Read about James and Berni's full self-build story as we covered it 10 years ago on

A hundred and ten Words: Debbie Orme


Jeffrey's round house project


007 marked the 100th anniversary of Walter Segal’s birth, the year in which we first visited James and Berni’s self-build in Co Down. In 2007 the couple had been living in the property for just over ten years, and at the time their love and appreciation for their home already went beyond what you might expect for a self-build – the experience for them was almost spiritual, the process a true labour of love. Ten years on, that passion for their home is still overwhelming; their pride in it, and plans for it, continue to fill them with excitement. But is there anything that they would have done differently? “I have to say that, for the most part, we’ve been delighted with the work that was done at the time,” says James. “And most of what we did then we would repeat.” “For example the cellulose fibre insulation, made from waste paper, treated with borate for fire resistance and gypsum to prevent rot, has performed really well

in the walls and roof. The insulation is retained on the inside with a vapour control sheet and air cavity hidden behind the plasterboard and on the outside with a breather board and another air cavity hidden behind the rendered woodwool boards. This method allows moisture to migrate through the insulation material with the moisture evaporating out of the house rather than condensing in a cold wall or ceiling.” “Having said that, one thing that has let us down is the material that was used for the subfloor. When we were building in 1994, bitumen-impregnated softboard was specified so that’s what I used,” adds James. “Unfortunately that subfloor is now sagging and even dropping out in places. It wasn’t sturdy enough and we will have to retrofit some new insulation with a modern board, a 13mm structural vapour permeable squared-edged sheathing board to be precise. It’s an external lining board that provides racking and enhanced vapour transfer for timber frame construction.”



Berni for her part is more reflective of how she uses the house. “I think I would have given more thought to storage in the kitchen – we have no wall cupboards but opted instead to have ceiling to counter windows. It was basically a choice between having more storage and availing of the fantastic views. By putting the windows in, we’ve also allowed more sun into the house, which is a definite plus.” “I’d also have put in a utility room, although we’ve commandeered one corner of the kitchen and have installed a ‘quasi’ walk-in pantry in which to house the washing machine.” Minor complaints apart, this Segalinspired home has proven a delight for the entire family – and for the many visitors who come along just to look at it! Recently James and Berni’s son Jeffrey used the opportunity of a university building project to add a roundhouse, insulated with straw bales, to the site. The outbuilding adds to the house’s ‘wow factor’, coming as it does with its spectacular reciprocal roof. At the top of the outside wall, the eleven main rafters are each pinned onto a steel bar housed deep into the top of each post. These steel bars also fix together a ring of horizontal tie beams which are secured with half lap joints at the top of each post. At the centre of the roof, the rafters overlap one another to form a circle. The effect is breath-taking. A protective sheet was then placed over the roof to layer on topsoil which was cut from the land, creating a green ‘living’ roof. The roundhouse is perfectly functional and now houses a small kitchen area, sleeping quarter and living space. With its wood-burning stove, its carbon footprint is, just as with the main house, practically neutral.

Future plans

James and Berni may well be living in their dream home now, but they haven’t finished with their plans for the house in the future. “Ten years ago we talked about wanting to do the reed bed and composting waste management system,” says James. “Unfortunately, at the time of building, coping with the building as well as trying to source a composting toilet we could use on a regular wc, with separator and composting process, meant that something had to give. Eventually the local authority had had enough and I was forced to accept a septic tank.” “Due to prohibitive costs, the composting wc dream is still unfulfilled but is most definitely still on our wishlist. I do 

James and Berni’s Segal story Back in 1991 James and Berni attended a lecture at Queen’s University in Belfast by the Walter Segal Self Build Trust and got hooked to the Segal approach to house building, loosely based on the medieval wooden frame English home. With Segal, however, the timber frame was calculated and based on modular dimensions, thereby avoiding waste and facilitating alterations and enlargements. In order to reduce the weight of the building, Segal sought to eliminate the ‘wet’ trades of house building, such as concreting and bricklaying and instead focus on cladding, insulating and lining materials. The design features of his houses were simple but highly effective. His quicklybuilt and environmentallyfriendly dwellings featured a lightweight timber structure, with no foundations apart from paving slabs, used standard

cladding materials and lining in market sizes so that they could be reused, took only two weeks to build and cost only £800. Inspired by the Segal structure, James took himself – by bike – to Holyhead in Wales and attended a Segal self-build course at the Centre for Alternative Technology. Once home, James put everything he had learned on the course into practice – not by building a ‘real’ house but on a children’s version. So successful was he in his first building experience that this prototype still sits in the garden of the family home today! In 1992, James began work on his home-tobe. Although he was new to self-building, the Segal method proved very suited to his relative inexperience. The basic post and beam timber frame on a rectangular floor plan with a small bay and overhang were all within

his capabilities, but James believes that the time he spent on the design was the most important thing he did. “I must have spent about three weeks with the footprint of the house, just placing poles in different places and imagining what it would be like to look out at the veranda,” says James. “Those two or three weeks were very well spent as they gave me the opportunity to decide exactly where the house would sit and how it would look. That’s good advice I’d give to any prospective self-builder – visualise everything before you build!” When James and Berni first started their self-build, it was just the two of them camped out in a mobile home on the site. Five years later, as work was just being completed, the couple had been joined by four children, two dogs and two cats. There’s still plenty of life in the house today!




What’s a reciprocal roof?

OFTEN USED ON round timber frame construction, it’s a selfsupporting roof structure that’s got DIY appeal. The basic premise is that the first rafter is propped up on a temporary support and the other rafters placed on top, all lining up in a circular motion until the last rafter is put in place. When all the rafters are in position and strapped together as a top ring, the temporary support is removed, freeing up the central space in the room. There are some calculations to do to make this work, and due diligence.

think, however, we should have a better chance of getting this system passed since the councils are more open to them now.” “We’d also like to install solar panels at some point, but we just want them for hot water,” adds Berni. “We can easily heat the house with the stove in the living room.” So, ten years on, what do the couple love best about their Walter Segal home? “Well, apart from the fact that we love everything about it,” says Berni, “it’s also very inexpensive to run. We don’t have big oil bills and we try to use wood from natural sources such as fallen trees as much as possible. We’re definitely living ‘off grid’, but that’s the way that we wanted it, so we’re delighted. The great thing about this house is that, anytime there was a power cut, there was very little in the house that was affected and the kids loved being able to toast their bread over the stove. They had so much fun I think they used to pray for an outage!” ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Cellulose fibre insulation in walls and roof from Warmcel and composting wc system to be sourced from Aquatron




SUMMER 2017 £3.50 / €3.75


Dream it . Do it . Live it





SUMMER 2017 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it

Turn it around...

This Co Dublin renovation managed to get light into a north facing extension...


ISSN 2049-3630

Find out how Liam and Eilis Looney of Co Cork survived house building with work and children in tow. y(7HC0E9*NQNKKM( +?!$


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ISSN 2049-3630

Airtightness | External wall insulation | Council fees | Feng shui...and much more!

Airtightness | External wall insulation | Council fees | Feng shui...and much more!

£12/€14 P&P INCLUDED

RRP including P&P is €25/£22





Building Control Building control NI Which is the most cost-effective, pumped cavity wall insulation or drylining? Both methods have their advantages. Pumped cavity wall insulation involves minimal disruption as the insulation beads can be injected directly into the cavity from inside or outside the building. There is also little or no waste of materials with this system and is generally a very cost effective means of upgrading the insulation of an existing

cavity wall. The width of the cavity is the limiting factor as this determines the thickness of insulation that can be installed and therefore the thermal performance of the wall. Dry lining is also an effective means of insulating an existing external wall, whether solid or cavity construction. Various systems, methods and insulation materials are available. These generally involve a layer of insulation, possibly fixed to the wall on battens, adhesive ‘dot and dab’ fixed or fitted within a stud wall construction. A board is


fixed to the room side of the build-up which can then be plastered in the case of plasterboard or in the case of a cement fibre board, the joints taped and filled, and finished to the client’s specification. There is no real limiting factor in terms of maximising the insulation, but bear in mind the reduction of floor area within the room; thinner insulation products are an advantage here. There is more work involved in this approach, but significant savings can be made on heating costs over time. Externally applied

insulation is also an option, with a number of similar systems on the market, these effectively wrap the outside of the house in an insulated envelope. Systems involve a mechanically fixed layer of rigid insulation with a covering mesh, to which render is then applied. Overhangs of roofs and window sills are important factors to consider here. Ideally, insulating the window and door reveals should be considered as these can be areas for ‘thermal bridging’, however this may not always be practical. In considering which


system(s) to use, I would advise that the U-value of the newly insulated wall should be calculated, and costings of the work established to enable a comparison to be made. A Building Energy Assessor may be able to assist in producing a payback calculation. In all of these cases a Building Control application is required. Insulation products should be fitted with workmanship and attention to detail paramount, and in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions, BBA certificates and the Building Regulations Technical Booklets; for further guidance contact your local Building Control office. David Millar, Building Control Officer at Ards and North Down Borough Council

Building control ROI Having opted in, I’m now thinking I should have opted out. Is it possible to change? To comply with the Building Control regulations, you need to either opt in, whereby an assigned designer and assigned certifier are appointed, or opt out of having a professional oversee the design and construction of your home in a statutory capacity. You must notify your local authority if you’re opting in or out when you apply for your commencement notice, online, on the Building

Control Management System. The Department of Communications, Climate Change and Environment’s Building Control office informed SelfBuild you can

only switch from opt in to opt out before construction has started. If you’ve broken ground already you can’t go back unfortunately.

Image courtesy of Peter Donegan



In Frank Lloyd Wrights’ designs, Fallingwater is nestled in the trees and waterfall (nester home) whereas its neighbour at Kentuck Knob is high on the hill overlooking the valley (percher home). FLW images from Wikimedia Commons

Are you a nester or a percher? Frank Lloyd Wright is said to have categorised his clients into two types: nesters and perchers. Words: Mark Stephens Photography: Paul Lindsay of Scenic Ireland


n nature, perching birds do not sleep in their nests, which are reserved for laying eggs and raising chicks. Instead, they sleep (or roost) safely tucked away in dense vegetation, including trees and shrubs. They spend time high up on branches, gazing at the landscape before them. When it comes to people, perchers love huge open plan and expansive spaces – brightness, openness and fantastic views from high up. 124 / SELFBUILD / SUMMER 2017

On the other hand human nesters prefer small areas carved out of a bigger space; they tend to be introspective and favour nooks for sitting, eating and reading. They instinctively don’t gravitate towards large open plan rooms. So whilst some people may perfectly align to one of the archetypes, as with many things in life, you’re likely to have a bit of both in you. You may of course also be cohabitating with someone on the opposite side of the bird fence. These factors have conspired to make semi-open plans come of age.

‘Even though some people may perfectly align to one of the archetypes, as with many things in life, you’re likely to have a bit of both in you.'



Scandinavian influence

So whilst the idea of fully open plan living is great, the lack of privacy, noise and smells may not be for everyone. Enter the idea of the ‘semi-open plan’ or sometimes called ‘broken-plan’ spaces and you may be onto a winner.

FRANK LLYOD WRIGHT'S midcentury modernism is credited for having come up with open plan living, but at the same time Scandinavian modernists were busy bringing hygge – the Danish cosy and embracing philosophy of life and design – from the dark velvety overtones of the 19th Century to a fine tuned version of open plan living which we now know as semi-open plan. For more on hygge interiors check out our guide on

Danish modernist Jorn Utzon's semi-open plan house

Semi-open plan designs keep what you like about open plan living while subtly separating the spaces to retain privacy and to give each zone a distinct ambience and use. In effect the semi-open plan is the perfect compromise between the nester and the percher. It’s not always easy to balance the large and cosy, the open and closed so here are some tips on how to make your semi-open plan work for you.


Think architecturally

Whether building new or planning a renovation, the first step is to think of the ‘flow’ from space to space. An open plan doesn’t have to navigate in a straight line; the kitchen and dining room could be together and the living room could be at an angle to these. For the wow factor you really can’t beat architectural elements although these may stretch your budget. The items described below should be factored in as build costs, adding about €135/£115 per square foot (€12/£10 per sqm) but this will depend on

the level of finish and complexity. One method is to go for a change in level. It’s not normally recommended to have just a single step; we tend to use two or three to accommodate a 400-600mm fall. This provides a good separation that is easy to navigate and that complies with Building Regulations requirements to avoid tripping hazards. You could even consider incorporating a mezzanine with an internal balcony to add a vertical delineation. Another possibility is to build a half wall to separate a kitchen from another space such as the dining or living area. This is a wall slightly higher than the worktop (say 1000-1100mm) that visually demarcates the kitchen from the other spaces as well hiding the messy pots and pans behind it whilst you eat.


Consider sliding doors

Still in the case of a new build or renovation, you could go a step further by incorporating sliding pocket doors (doors that disappear into the wall) that allows the room to switch from open plan to closed in an instant. The price of these  start




Delineate with colour, materials and rugs

Our minds are programmed to group similar items together. For example an open plan space with a single colour will be seen as a single room whereas a room with different shades will be viewed as having distinct zones. Vibrant paint colours can be used to achieve this. You can take this a step further by using different materials for the floors and even the walls, for instance by using a tile in the kitchen and wood in the living room or cladding the walls in maple veneer in the cosier sitting room areas contrasting with harder finishes in the kitchen. Arguably the easiest way to create distinct spaces in an open plan is to use rugs. You should coordinate the style and shade with your room’s chosen colour scheme in order to make it cohesive.

at approximately €750/£700 for a doubledoor set plus labour costs.


Splash out on feature lighting

Another straightforward method of separating a space is by including a feature light over it. For example a set of spotlights in a coffered ceiling over a kitchen island or a contemporary chandelier in the dining area. In existing spaces large floor lamps can do the trick remarkably well too.

‘In effect the semiopen plan is the perfect compromise between the nester and the percher...'


Screen with open shelving and internal glazing


A simple and straightforward method of screening one area from another is with a portable room divider or screen. They are normally foldable and easy to store. The next step on from a solid screen is one that is perforated to allow light through – these normally come as open shelving to hold books and ornaments. Screens can also be glazed in the form of a glass wall or partition. This allows light to fully pass across yet visually separate the area. One of my favourite architectural devices is to incorporate internal windows. These are windows that look from one space to another; either horizontally on one level or from a higher level down to a lower. Be careful however to abide to the Building Regulations as there are rules that ensure the installation is safe in terms of how high the window needs to be positioned. These can even be without glass and rather act as a picture frame but this option will also allow sound to travel freely. On the plus side, hearing what's happening in the kitchen while you're in the study will make you feel like you're part of what's going on in the rest of the house.


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Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it





Window dressing As we build our homes to bring in ever more light, blockwork at the gable end of the house has increasingly been making way for glass. One of our readers is now faced with the problem of physical and emotional warmth.... “I am struggling to cover my large expanse of glass for a reasonable price,” he said. “So far I have only looked at shutter blinds for it but they are too expensive.” The Blakely team provides the answer:


hile apex windows are architectural, when your large expanse of glass makes you feel exposed, or allows too much light in or too much heat

to escape, any money spent on window dressings is sure to be an investment. However as you found out they can be tricky and expensive to dress from the inside. The most expensive option, ranging from £300/€325 per


Main image showcasing shutter blinds; above louver blinds

sqm, are indeed the shutter blinds because there’s a lot of work involved in getting them to fit to your window shape and size – the slats of wood will be crafted and built into your specific window. They do however give a flawless finish and offer shading or complete privacy. They also keep the integrity of the architectural shape, usually come in neutral colours and work with all interior design concepts. Louver blinds are cheaper – starting at roughly half the cost of shutter blinds


Christopher Hill Photographic

depending on the choice of finish and dimensions of the window – but in our opinion they’re not as pleasing to the eye. They come with overlaying horizontal or vertical slats and therefore do not fully close off the window; being made of a sheer fabric they will not completely block out light either. The slats can be moved to alternate their position to an open, shaded or closed option, providing a level of privacy when closed. Curtains are probably the most popular; we find they soften angles and offer privacy as well as light filtering options depending on the fabric. There are two means of hanging them, track or pole. Track systems are the most common as they can be fitted closely to the wall and when correctly placed are easy on the eye. While uPVC tracks are inexpensive and flexible they’re only suitable for light and medium weight curtains. Aluminum is more expensive but stronger and more durable; it can withstand heavier weight fabric and tugging by children! The pole option depends on how much space there is above your apex window.

They are bulkier and will add an extra aspect to the finish. There’s an endless range of poles and accessories, including wooden and metal designs with a myriad of finials, holdbacks and curtain rings to choose from. Whether you go for track or pole, you can then choose a pencil pleat or a pinch pleat for the heading. In all cases the curtain must be attached to the track to allow you to hang it elegantly from the centre of the apex window at

a 45 degree angle. Otherwise gravity will take control of that for you – not a good look! In terms of cost, tracks can range from £25/€30 per meter and a pole can range from £55/€60 per meter, all depending on the finishing length and design, but it’s the choice of curtain fabric that will be the biggest factor in determining the overall price. Whether you choose voile, embroidered cotton, printed velvet or plains (designers such as ourselves have an extensive textile library), prices can range from an affordable £20/€25 per metre right up to an exquisite £235/€250 per metre.

'Curtains are probably the most popular option; we find they soften angles and offer privacy as well as light filtering options depending on the fabric.'

Mark Tumilty


S C R A P B O O K / S U M M E R I N S P I R AT I O N


This issue we’re sharing a bit of summer inspiration


Green roofs don’t always have to be flat!

As long as the roof can withstand the weight and the surrounding landscape is amenable, a pitched turf roof could be just the ticket.

As self-builders aim to get their house to ‘blend in’, barn style designs are increasing in popularity. Pictured here is a photo from an early adopter in Co Down…more in our project profile on

Natural swimming ponds For those looking to splash around without touching the budget, why not consider a natural swimming pond? One of our readers from Co Leitrim told us the system is especially well suited to Ireland as the water-filtering plants are constantly replenished by the rain to keep the pond clean.

Outdoor composting loo For those days when we actually get the time to enjoy the weather, why not make your own composting toilet? Pictured here is a self-build example by Invisible Studio made of reclaimed materials. The solids are captured via a series of stacked (donated) wheelie bins, and will be used as fertiliser once left for 12 months.

Build an outdoor oven...

Pizza never tasted so good! Pictured here the outdoor oven made of fire bricks in Abbeyleix Community Garden, Co Laois.


Eco toilet...