Selfbuild Summer 2024

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SUBSCRIBER Subscriber benefits...

As a Selfbuild+ subscriber, you’ve got full access to, including news, advice, podcasts, videos and much more. Here are some highlights of the past quarter and what you might have missed on the platform.

Online events

Listen back on the ventilation and kitchen talks we just had.

Upcoming events: Build Cost Clinic and Bathroom Design.

Build cost hub update

Check out the new Build Cost Hub with the latest costings at your fingertips.
Selfbuild Extend & Renovate Live 18-19May RacecourseLeopardstown2024 Dublin
“As labour costs continue to rise, there’s no sign material costs can cushion the blow.”

Welcome to Selfbuild magazine – one of the many benefits of your subscription to Selfbuild+.

Our next show, Selfbuild Extend & Renovate Live Dublin, is on the 18th and 19th of May 2024, 10am to 6pm at Leopardstown Racecourse Dublin. I’ll be there hosting the Selfbuild+ Advice Theatre for fireside chats on each of the days; come say hello!

You can get your free tickets with the QR code on page 83.

In exciting news, supports for self-builders were extended in ROI – a big relief for anyone who’s starting their build now.

This means that development contributions (see pages 15 and 94), or the infrastructure fees local authorities in ROI charge for building a house, are being waived for another year. This will save thousands on your build.

And the Help to Buy scheme, which subsidises your mortgage deposit through a tax break to the tune of €4k, is also set to be extended for five years. This is open to first time self-builders.

Of course all this good news is tempered by the overall picture of building costs. As labour costs continue to rise, there’s no sign that material costs can cushion the blow (see p13).

Still, for those who are in the lucky position to be able to build a house, it’s not an opportunity to be missed. New builds command a premium in the resale market (see p11) and there really is no other way to get the home of your dreams than to build it yourself.

Remember that the cost of building the actual house, the structural elements, is only a fraction of the overall picture. To keep a lid on the budget for that element, and also to make your home more energy efficient, make sure to limit the amount of glazing to what’s needed. There’s no point in creating a greenhouse, even in Ireland (see p82).

Cost busters are in fact most often related to the non structural elements, like kitchens and bathrooms, floor and wall coverings, furnishings, landscaping. And many of these can wait until funds allow –it’s not ideal to move into an unfurnished house but it could be better than compromising on finishes.

And so in this issue we’re focusing on all of these elements,

The Pre Design stage of your Journey is where you will make key decisions that will have a big impact on how your house will be built, and on the final outcome.

If you have a question, want to share some insights, or simply let us know how you’re getting on with your project, we’d love to hear from you for our Letters page. Email us at

Astrid Madsen - Editor welcome SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 05 Your Selfbuild Journey... 87



24 The self-made house  Edel and Michael McDonough share how they went about their direct labour self-build to create a magical new build in Co Laois.

34 Triumph over turmoil

From a dream auction find to a self-build saga, this is the story of how Anita and Mark Jones overcame unexpected hurdles to build their family home in Co Antrim.

44 The sanctuary

How Craig Dee and Matthew O’Rourke of Co Waterford turned a damp, mud built cottage into a haven of calm in the woods, full of natural light, vistas and cleverly connected spaces.

62 A mighty transformation

By adding just 20sqm to their ground floor area, Stephen Arthur and Paula Robinson completely transformed their family home in Co Antrim.

70 Country style garden on a sloping site

With a large, challenging site and a set of adorable triplets bursting with energy, this rural garden in Co Galway needed some careful design to allow the family to fully enjoy their new property.


09 News

Get up to date with the latest in home building and home improving, in both NI and ROI.

76 How much does polished concrete cost?

Quantity surveyor Keith Kelliher reviews a quote for polished concrete in ROI, explaining what you can expect to pay and what the cost factors are.

78 Utility room inspiration

Your quick guide to the hidden potential of the most abused room in the house.

80 How to hire the right builder Project manager Andrew Stanway gives some pointers to help you pick out the best builder for the job.

82 Passive House Clinic

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

54 A cottage reimagined Braving challenges of dampness and multiple extensions, Mert and Deborah Thompson’s quest for a unique dwelling led to a reinvented space in Co Armagh.


74 Letters

This issue we look at insurance, grants, cash flow and more.

Barry McCarron and Seán McKenna report back from Selfbuild Extend & Renovate Live Limerick to share what advice they gave self-builders, and what they learned over the two days.

84 Budget busters

Structural engineer and architectural designer Les Triumph

over turmoil  34 The sanctuary 44 A cottage reimagined 54

O’Donnell gives us the main reasons projects go pearshaped. Spoiler alert: it mostly has to do with the clients.

Selfbuild Journey

Heather Campbell

Myles McCann

Shannon Quinn

Shaunie McLaughlin


Calum Lennon

Victoria Hunter

94 Local authority fees

102 Part philosopher, part engineer

88 Overview

An introduction to Stage 2 of your Selfbuild Journey: Pre Design.

90 Where an architect saves you money

Architect Edel Regan spells out the benefits of hiring a professional.

To build in Ireland, you need to pay the government for the privilege. Find out what fees you need to pay your local authority.

96 Building methods comparison

Architect Micah Jones compares the most common building methods used in

Construction industry veteran Louis Gunnigan’s dream build gets underway in Co Dublin.

108 The beaten track

Self-build advisor Gavin Connolly shares how he went about deciding how to build his home in Co Down.

114 Who’s who Mortgage brokers.



mighty transformation
Country style garden
Killen Maria Toland Nicola Delacour-Dunne ACCOUNTS Karen McLeigh Leanne Rodgers SALES DIRECTOR Mark Duffin MANAGING DIRECTOR Brian Corry CHAIRMAN Clive Corry 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. Selfbuild Ireland Ltd 90 24 Rebecca Ferris Lizzie


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Tipp man told to demolish log home

The Co Tipperary man who was ordered to demolish his mobile home clad in timber, will now be given ‘social housing supports’.

A65-year-old man who was refused planning permission for his ‘log cabin’ home will now be offered social housing supports, Tipperary County Council tells Selfbuild.

Sean Meehan applied for planning permission in 2023 for the retention of his mobile home that he clad in timber, on land he bought in his local area after divorce proceedings. Tipperary County Council turned down both of his planning applications.

The council has been in contact with Sean about the “unauthorised dwelling” since early 2020.

The applications to obtain planning permission to keep his home on his site were assessed according to the Tipperary County Development Plan 2022-2028 and planning legislation.

“The Council had no option but to issue refusals in both instances,” the council told Selfbuild, adding that the applicant could have appealed his case to An Bord Pleanala.

“As the unauthorised dwelling was not removed, there was a continuation of a breach of planning law.” The council added “it was necessary” for the planning authority to address the breach in the context of

planning law “which resulted ultimately in a court application”.

The courts instructed him to demolish his home.

Sean Meehan told Newstalk Breakfast he would rather go to jail than take the structure down.

Sean’s neighbour Keith O Brien started a petition on “He built a log cabin on his own land and now he’s being threatened with jail time,” reads the petition. “This is not just about Sean; it’s about the rights of property owners everywhere.”

“[He] is being punished for simply trying to provide himself with shelter and asking for no handouts along the way.”

“We believe that shelter is a basic human right and this elderly man should be allowed to live out his days in his home which he has provided himself at no cost to the state.”

Solar pays for itself in 7 years

Homeowners who add a standard 12-panel system can now cover the cost of the work in seven years – and they can make net savings of more than €24,000 over 25 years after installation costs, according to a new survey by the Irish Independent Swyft Energy Solar PV Index. The index says the repayment period has dropped by almost half – it was 12 years in 2021.

High electricity prices (53 per cent higher now in ROI than in 2021) and the removal of VAT on solar panel installation are contributing factors.

Meanwhile MEP Seán Kelly recently highlighted that ROI spends €1 million every hour on fossil fuel imports.

Doors stolen from selfbuild

A front door and garage door were stolen from a house under construction in Co Limerick, reports Limerick Live.

The doors had only just been fitted and there was a lock on a gate at the entrance to the site but criminals cut the lock and left with the doors.

Sergeant Ber Leetch, crime prevention officer at Henry Street garda station said: “I have seen this type of crime happen and it is very upsetting for the homeowners.”

“If you are building a new home in a remote location, ask neighbours to keep an eye on it and to report any suspicious activity to local gardaí.”

“These doors will probably be offered for sale, never buy property offered like this, it is very likely stolen property. Refuse and report the incident to gardaí.”

Image from petition on



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Vacant property grants ‘false hope’, says SCSI report

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland (SCSI)

Annual Residential Market Monitor suggests that residential property prices are expected to stay steady for a while, adding that conveyancing is becoming a concern as are ‘false hope’ vacant property grants.

Almost two-thirds (63 per cent) of those surveyed think that property prices have either reached the highest point and will start to go down or are very close to the highest point and will stay there.

The survey – which questioned over 140 SCSI estate agents – points to factors like how many houses are available, changes in interest rates and shifts in the economy as the main reasons for these expectations.

Looking back at 2023, the survey found that the median price of a house bought in the 12 months to October 2023 was €323,000, up from €241,000 in early 2013 or an increase of almost €82,000 over 11 years.

The counties that experienced the greatest price rises in 2023 were Tipperary, Clare, Limerick, Cavan, Donegal, Leitrim, Monaghan and Sligo, with approximately 6 per cent inflation. This is in contrast to Dublin, which recorded an average -0.6 per cent change in prices over the past 12 months.

However, as of December 2023, the Greater Dublin Area remains the most unaffordable region, followed by Galway. The most affordable locations are the Northwest, Midlands and Southeast.

“False hope” from vacant house grants

The SCSI report praised the increased Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant and feasibility grants for farmhouse structures. The grants aim to bring back old stock for habitable use offering up to €70,000.

However, agents expressed reservations about their impact on property sales. Some mentioned that the grants gave buyers “false hope”, leading them to withdraw from sales after researching the complex drawdown process.

Sales hit by slow probate and conveyancing

Property sales are continuing to fall through due to “inefficient and lengthy” probate and conveyancing processes, the report found.

27 per cent of estate agents surveyed said there had been an increase in the number of sales not going through in the last quarter of 2023.

Conveyancing involves the legal transfer of a property title from seller to buyer.

In its analysis, the SCSI found that estate agents are getting increasingly frustrated because things are taking a long time with probate (sorting out someone’s will and estate) and reaching the probate office.

Estate agents also commented on problems with a slow and inefficient process for transferring property ownership affecting sales. Other issues mentioned include problems with planning, not following building rules, disputes over property boundaries and slow lending decisions and approvals/ drawdowns from the banking sector.

Energy ratings boost resale

If, for whatever reason, you decide to put your finished A or B-rated self-build

Grants to do up a house

The Vacant Property Refurbishment Grant offers €50,000 for vacant properties (€60,000 for island dwellings) and €70,000 for derelict properties (€84,000 for island dwellings). The house must have been built before 2007, the property can be refurbished for rental or to be owneroccupied.

Applications are done through your local authority and are open to all regions in ROI, both rural and urban. You must be buying or own a vacant or derelict property to avail of the grant. VAT is included in the grant amount, shaving 23 per cent off the face value of the grants unless you hire a contractor in which case the reduced VAT rate of 13.5 per cent will apply.

Through a pilot grant, there’s also €7,500 available for expert conservation advice for those doing up a vacant farmhouse and availing of the vacant property grant.

After that the main grant is for energy upgrades through the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI); insulation (detached house €1.5k to €1.7k for attic or cavity wall, dry lining €4.5k, external wall insulation €8k), heat pumps (€6.5k), solar panels (PV up to €2.4k and thermal €1.2k), and heating controls (€700).

The SEAI’s example for a detached house shows homeowners spending €64.5k to do the work with a €24.1k grant meaning they were out of pocket €40.4k. There are other grants but these aren’t open to all; e.g. disability.

home on the market you can expect a premium on your sale price, according to the report’s findings.

61 per cent of agents believe that a property’s Building Energy Rating (BER) is an important decision making factor about the level of offer made on the property.

The SCSI survey found that there is a widening price gap between energy efficient homes (rated B or higher) and their less efficient counterparts (rated C or lower) due to the time and costs required for retrofit improvements, despite government grants.

Discussing the survey’s findings on RTÉ Radio 1, John O’Sullivan, Chair of the SCSI’s Practice and Policy Committee said that house buyers were attracted to A and B-rated properties due to growing environmental consciousness and attractive green mortgage rates from banks for properties with energy efficient ratings.

New dwelling completions heat map (2012 and 2022)

New guide to help you renovate an old building

The ROI Department of Housing has published a new technical guide to help homeowners renovate their old building, built before the 1940s.

A new guidance document aimed at helping homeowners renovate their historic properties emphasises that energy performance upgrades should be approached with caution, stating that “the integrity of our traditional buildings needs to be respected when changes are being made”.

“The energy performance of most of our historic and traditional buildings can be improved, helping them continue to be viable, both now and into the future.”

Thanks to the uptake of the vacant properties fund, which can see homeowners avail of up to €70k in grants, there has been a demand for more technical guidance when it comes to upgrading traditional buildings. For the upgrade of more recent builds including early solid concrete walls and early twin-leafed or cavity wall construction, check S.R.54:2014&A2:2022 Code of Practice for the Energy Efficient Retrofit of Dwellings.

New guide document to help renovate an old building

The guidance document published by the National Built Heritage Service of the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage (under the Climate Action Plan 2023) focuses on energy upgrades on older buildings.

The focus is on doing as little work as possible to make the building viable and liveable, using techniques that are reversible.

The guidance also emphasises that work should only be undertaken on parts of the building “that need it”, “do not replace them unless they can no longer do the job”. It also says that energy upgrades must only be undertaken once the building is in “good repair”.

The guidance document outlines statutory obligations, including

major renovations, and identifies the professionals and trades that will help you on your project, highlighting which qualifications they should have.

Typical traditional building types

Older buildings, the guidance document points out, are better at keeping in the heat than they are often given credit for, outlining its thermal mass properties. Moisture movement and management are also looked at in detail, as well as ventilation and indoor air quality.

The step by step guide to how to approach the energy upgrade of your traditional home looks at the process of making a plan over 10 stages, from the decision to undertake the project to implementation.

Evaluating whether or not you should undertake a specific measure is at the heart

of the guidance. Each building element is looked at in detail, from roof to walls to floor.

The guidance document also looks at when it is suitable to introduce renewable heating technologies such as heat pumps, taking into account the Heat Loss Indicator, which measure how energy efficient the building fabric is. The document outlines the other options with considerations for each.

More information and link to guidance document here

A killer for one-off housing in Ireland?

As the draft Transport Plan for ROI undergoes public consultation, rural advocates are calling for fairness and equitable treatment for people living and wanting to build in rural areas.

The proposed transport plan by the Department of Transport, aiming to reduce emissions, has sparked criticism from rural advocates and TDs alike.

The draft document, titled Moving Together: A Strategic Approach to Improved Efficiency of the Transport System in Ireland, prioritises ‘brownfield’ developments over ‘greenfield’ developments for housing, which has drawn criticism for its perceived discrimination against rural communities. The plans are aimed at cutting car usage.

What the draft proposal contains

Compact settlements and sustainable transport: The plan highlights the importance of compact settlements for sustainable transport options. This suggests a preference for developments that are densely populated and well-connected, rather than dispersed one-off housing.

Taxation measures: The document mentions the use of taxation measures to influence land use, with a focus on incentivising brownfield development over greenfield development. This could potentially make it more costly or less attractive to develop one-off housing in rural areas.

“Aggressively taxing someone to discourage them from building a rural home or living in rural housing is disgraceful and, if implemented, will devastate rural Ireland,” said TD Mattie McGrath. With its emphasis on compact settlements, taxation measures and zoning regulations, the proposed plan may present challenges for individuals seeking to build one-off housing, particularly in terms of cost, location and regulatory compliance.

Development contributions and land value sharing: There are discussions about the use of

Planning refusals for homes on N71

Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII) is preventing farmers’ children from building homes on their parents’ lands along the N71, reports the Southern Star. Councillor Joe Carroll was reported as saying the TII’s policy on planning in relation to national roads is a “killer for one-off housing in rural Ireland”, raising a motion at local authority meeting asking TII to reconsider its policy.

Timeframe for claims in NI could be extended

NI Finance Minister Caoimhe Archibald is looking at bringing forward legislation to address defective buildings in Northern Ireland. Currently, defective building claims are only valid for six years as compared to homeowners in England and Wales who have 30 years in which to make claims if an issue arises.

This comes on the back of residents of an apartment block in Belfast who were forced to leave over safety fears. They were refunded nearly five years of rates payments, following the minister’s intervention in their compensation case.

development contributions and land value sharing to fund infrastructure for housing developments. This could impact the cost and feasibility of one-off housing projects, especially if they are not within existing built-up areas.

Residential Zoned Land Tax: The introduction of a Residential Zoned Land Tax aims to prompt residential development on serviced land. While this may encourage development in designated areas, it could also add financial considerations for individuals seeking to build one-off housing outside of these zones.

Building material costs still high

There is “no real sign” that the price of materials crucial for building homes will return to pre-Covid levels any time soon, said a representative body of builder’s merchants in ROI.

Paul Candon, chief executive of United Hardware and president of Hardware Association Ireland (HAI) said “prices for building and construction materials are up about 40pc since 2019” stating that this represents “a huge percentage increase” when building a house. Materials affected included the likes of timber, cement, insulation, steel and sewer pipes, which are key for building houses.

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Levy holiday, Help to Buy extended

The temporary waiver on development contributions in ROI has driven the largest increase in new build starts since records began, as Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien indicates it will be extended until the end of 2024.

Incoming Taoiseach Simon Harris has pledged more supports for self-builders in the form of extending both the Help to Buy scheme and the waiver on development contributions.

In his first speech as leader of Fine Gael, he confirmed to the party’s Ard Fheis in Galway on April 6, that they will extend the Help to Buy scheme for an extra five years.

The following week, on April 13, Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brien told the Fianna Fáil Ard Dheis he would extend the waiver until the end of the year and extend the First Home Scheme until 2025. The First Home Scheme is a no interest loan for the first five years of repayment.

“I am bringing a paper to cabinet this week that will scrap the development levies and water charges for all homes, including rural homes, for the remainder of this year,” Housing Minister Darragh O’Brien told the party’s annual conference, citing average savings of €12,700 per home.

The temporary measure was intended to last one year, until April 24, 2024, and was conditional on the completion of the home no later than December 31, 2025.

The ‘Development Contribution’ levy, known as Section 48, is a payment towards the local council’s infrastructure, including neighbourhood amenities, roads and footpaths, and traffic management.

‘The waiver is working’

During a Seanad debate on Thursday, April 11, State Minister Joe O’Brien said that the levy holiday scheme (due to expire on April 24) had seen the largest increase in new build starts since records began in 2015.

In January and February this year, there was a 71 per cent increase in new build commencements (7,056 new homes) compared with the same period in 2023. Overall, there was an increase of 22 per cent of new homes started in 2023 on the previous year (32,801 compared to 26,957).

Minister O’Brien told the Seanad: “The temporary time-limited nature of the waiver and refund schemes has undoubtedly been a positive factor in influencing the speedier activation of

planning permissions by developers since they were introduced last year, including planning permissions that have been granted for a number of years and were not activated. The schemes have also assisted in enhancing the viability of developments and incentivising the bringing forward of developments that might not otherwise have been financially viable.”

Senator John McGahon, who introduced the debate to the Seanad, explained how well the levy waiver scheme was working in his constituency. “We have seen a huge increase in the number of commencements in the past 12 months as a result of it,” he said. “I see that through my office at home in Dundalk, where many people, who are predominantly my age, are building for the first time. They are going through the entire process and are now worried about the prospect of an added cost of €11,000 being put on top of all their building requirements and building costs by the end of this month. It is crucial that we extend the scheme. It is a very good idea that has been proven to work, especially over the past

12 months, when we see how many commencements have started, particularly in rural one-off housing.”

Backlog of 95,000 units

Commenting on the announcement, Martin Markey, CEO of Hardware Association Ireland (HAI), welcomed the new Taoiseach’s commitment to bolster support in addressing the current housing crisis but believed more measures are necessary. “With a backlog of demand for 95,000 housing units, the projected construction of approximately 33,000 this year leaves a significant shortfall,” he says.

“While the Help to Buy scheme and development levy waiver have made progress, HAI urges the government to expand the vacant and derelict property grants to include above-shop living units. Currently limited to single units, extending grants to multi-unit development could revitalise urban areas plagued by derelict properties and provide much-needed new homes.”

SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 15 news CAMPAIGN Sign the petition to extend the holiday indefinitely for self-builders
Minister for Housing Darragh O’Brie

Hotel-inspired upgrade bags award

A renovated 1920s terraced home in Dublin won RTÉ’s Home of the Year 2024.

Shane Murray and Marty Campbell, finalists from Episode 6 of RTÉ house programme Home of the Year, bagged the coveted end-ofseason award.

The couple purchased their 1920s terraced house in Dublin in 2022 in a state of disrepair. Renovating the home was a big project which involved upgrading the heating system,

replacing windows and knocking down a wall.

They also repositioned the kitchen and gutted the interior and exterior of the home and even changed the front garden layout to allow for an electric charging station for a car.

Shane and Marty’s style was inspired by their passion for hotels and travel and they love how their home represents

their personalities and their lives together.

The tenth series of Home of the Year saw the three judges Hugh Wallace, Amanda Bone and Sara Cosgrove visit 21 homes across ROI.

The other six finalists are profiled on the following three pages.


Episode 1 Finalist: Ian Humphreys and Sarah MacCarthy, Cork

Ian and Sarah live in an old school house built in the 1900s, which they purchased in 2019.

When they bought their home, they had a number of internal renovations to complete, such as removing plaster to expose the original brick work and levelling the floor in the great room. Their aim was to restore it back to its former glory. They wanted the original features and the character of the building to do the talking.

They describe their home as creative with a

brilliant atmosphere and say it’s a great place for parties, entertaining and playing music.

Sarah and Ian feel like they are caretakers of the home and love when people knock in to share their own memories of the school.

Episode 2 Finalist: Peter Carvill, Tyrone

Peter lives in a gate lodge in Co Tyrone. The house was built in the mid 1700s and Peter purchased this property in 2022. It is a Grade 2 listed building, and an extension was added approximately 25 years ago by the previous owner.

Peter saw the house as an inspiration and settled on a mix of country chic and cottagecore for his interiors which he felt fitted beautifully with the nature that surrounds his home, creating a warm and cosy vibe. It was also important to Peter to honour the history of the home while still putting his own stamp on it.

For Peter, his home is a place of solace, somewhere to unwind after a busy workday. It is also the perfect home to entertain his friends and family whether they are sitting by the fire playing the piano having a good sing- song or a BBQ in the garden, he loves every part of it.


Episode 3 Finalist: Kieran and Olivia McDaid, Derry

Olivia and Kieran live in a historic Georgian Rectory in Co Derry with their young daughter and Luna, the dog.

The Rectory was built in 1774 and they purchased the property in 2020. The building had been in use by the Church of Ireland since 1774 and Kieran and Olivia were delighted to find it in relatively good condition. They replaced some flooring, ceilings on the ground floor and breathed new life into the interior.

Olivia and Kieran were heavily inspired by their travels and filled their family home with

an eclectic mix of period pieces and items from abroad. They love the architecture, period features and high ceilings throughout their home and feel that these features lend themselves well to their bold and beautiful sense of style.

Episode 4 Finalist: Craig Dee and Matthew O’Rourke, Waterford

Craig and Matthew purchased their small 1930s cottage in 2018 when it was in a bad state of repair. They rebuilt the cottage section whilst retaining the vernacular shape of the existing building and added a link corridor and a two-story extension cladded in black charred larch.

Craig and Matthew have a keen interest in Danish design and the retro ‘mad men’ styling of the midcentury era and favoured simplistic and clean lines of contemporary living and pops of colour adding natural greenery throughout the home.

Their family and friends admire the aesthetic of the home and the couple love the space they have created, and how it’s full of warmth and represents them.

See page 44 for the full project profile.


Episode 5 Finalist: Rebecca and Eamonn McMackin, Offaly

Rebecca and Eamonn live in a renovated 1950s bungalow with their two young children in Co Offaly. When they purchased their home, it was in need of a full renovation, but Rebecca and Eamonn could see it had good vibes with lots of potential.

They left two original external sides of the house and gutted the rest. Their main goal was to create a large light filled functional kitchen, dining, living space to the rear of the property, so they extended out the back.

The couple wanted to incorporate ocean blues, greens, and sand tones throughout the home to create a relaxing calming environment which is near and dear to both as Rebecca grew up in oceanside Nova Scotia, Canada and Eamonn spent childhood summers in Donegal.

Episode 7 Finalist: Eugene McCarthy, Dublin

Eugene and his son Alex live in a 1920s terraced house in Dublin. Eugene purchased this property in 2022 and completed extensive renovations both aesthetically and structurally. The house underwent a deep retrofit and rear extension with a view to transforming it into a contemporary A rated home.

Eugene’s main aim was to create a modern home which is sustainable, so he added solar panels and an electric car charging station in the driveway.

He describes the interior of the home as contemporary and light

filled; he sees it as the perfect home for him and his son, that meets all their needs.


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Shower panels on trend

If you’re building a new home, chances are you’re likely to invest in a shower panel. That’s according to Sonas Bathrooms, a leading manufacturer of contemporary bathroom products, who’s seen the trend gaining momentum since 2020.

The company has reported an impressive threefold surge in wetroom panel sales, attributing it to a growing preference for modern, super-size luxurious showers, that offer an open and spacious feel with easy maintenance without moving parts.

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Summer’s delight

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You’ll find a complete range of paving, walling and building materials on offer. This

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NEW BUILDS, RENOVATIONS, EXTENSIONS & GARDENS THE SELF-MADE HOUSE Magical new build in Co Laois 24 SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 23 62 A MIGHTY TRANSFORMATION - Change in layout for Co Antrim home / 70 COUNTRY STYLE GARDEN ON A SLOPING SITE - Landscaped home in Co Galway TRIUMPH OVER TURMOIL Co Antrim new build ups and downs 34 THE SANCTUARY Cottage extension in Co Waterford 44 A COTTAGE REIMAGINED From damp to beautiful in Co Armagh 54 projects IN PARTNERSHIP WITH

Overview project

The self-made house

Words: Heather Campbell

Photography: Damien Kelly

Michael and Edel

McDonough’s hands-on approach shines through in every aspect of their self-build journey in Co Laois.

House size: 4,500 sqft

Bedrooms: 7

Plot size: 0.4 acre


Heating system: air to water heat pump, standalone stoves

Ventilation: centralised mechanical heat recovery

Build method: cavity block



From designing their dream home to overseeing every detail of its construction, Michael and Edel were in charge of their self-build every step of the way.

It’s a project that began with the couple living in an old cottage, which they found themselves staying in far longer than anticipated. “We did a lot of work on the property, extending and renovating, but at this stage it had outgrown its potential,” says Michael.

As a civil engineer with a wealth of experience in building and construction for major contractors, he led the charge to self-build their home.

“We were looking for potential plots and discovered a site on the edge of a lovely village in Laois,” says Michael. “It was close to family and adjacent to the golf course — an ideal scenic location— so Edel and I decided we’d try building again, this time from scratch.”

Crafting the blueprint

“Even though the plot wasn’t massive, we decided to go big with our house plans. We wanted to squeeze in as much as possible, so we went for a tall, two storey house with an attic conversion. This also helped us capitalise on the scenic views across the adjacent golf course.”

“The fact that Edel and I designed the house ourselves meant that we could make it fit and suit the site in the best way. I did all the planning permission application work, developed the construction drawings, and went on to manage the self-build without additional professional help.”

“However, I did have an independent supervising engineer for the purposes of quality control and drawing down the mortgage from the bank.”

“When we purchased the site, there was already outline planning permission for a different, smaller house. We held the permission until we were ready to proceed with construction.”

Saving up for the build and ensuring they were financially prepared while still living in the old cottage posed a challenge.

“Securing a bridging loan was difficult due to the economic downturn, but we obtained approval in 2016. Fortunately, we were able to sell our previous home just as the new

house was nearing completion, which worked out well for us.”

Michael and Edel relied on word of mouth and his previous connections within the construction industry. “I didn’t extensively shop around for quotes; I knew the specific individuals I wanted to hire. Through referrals and recommendations, one thing naturally led to another. The plumber we hired was local, as was the block layer, who happened to be related to the ground worker. We also received skilled help from Edel’s family, with her cousin and uncle serving as electricians. It was

important to us to assemble a team of individuals we trusted to deliver quality work.”

Tackling challenges

Managing the project proved challenging, with Michael and Edel working full time while juggling raising four children aged three months to six years. “We also had to sell our original home, which was probably a bigger job than building the other house, to be honest. It was a lot of work and quite stressful.”

“But when you can do it yourself –


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design and manage the build – you can save so much money, so it was worth it. I don’t think we could have built this house without direct labour; it would have been far too expensive.”

One of their biggest challenges was navigating the aftermath of the recession. “Banks were hesitant to offer mortgages for years after the 2008 crash. New building regulations required self-build houses to be supervised by a chartered engineer and built by a registered builder. Although the regulations had changed a year before we started, banks were slow to adapt, which delayed our project.”

An opt-out clause was subsequently introduced to allow self-builders to build their home without having to hire an assigned certifier.

Taking charge of the project themselves meant countless late evenings and weekend commitments. “Many times, we found ourselves arriving on site after dark, with the day’s work already completed, trying to catch up on progress. During weekends, we juggled various tasks around the house.”

“There was less opportunity to supervise than I would have liked, so that was a challenge. I probably would have done a lot of work myself, but I just didn’t have the time.”

“We were very fortunate to have Edel’s aunt and uncle help us out, they own a builder’s merchant in Monaghan. They and their staff were a huge help in giving us advice on products and sourcing products for us.”

“When we moved in for Christmas, conditions were far from ideal, but

we needed to get in. We had sold our house at this stage and had been living with Edel’s parents for a couple of months, so it was time to move. Despite having electricity for only two weeks and minimal heating for a few days, we made do with bare concrete floors, an unfinished bathroom and a rudimentary kitchen to get by.”

Hands-on design and build

The house’s structure is made up of traditional strip footings, concrete cavity block construction with blockwork and timber partition walls, a concrete ground floor, hollowcore precast first floor slabs and a timber floor on the upper storey. A non-structural screed was poured on the ground floor to facilitate the underfloor

Michael built the kitchen island, integrating an old dresser with modern storage units.


The roof is a traditional timber roof with two-tone fibre cement slates. “There is a flat roof component at the top of the house with a roof lantern positioned over the stairwell, which is centrally positioned within the house,” says Michael. “We also have a flat roof on our sunroom with another roof lantern.”

Michael took on much timberwork throughout the house, such as laying the reclaimed parquet flooring on the ground floor. “It was a lot of work — there were thousands of parquet pieces that had to be individually cleaned, planed, and laid— but we saved thousands of euros on installation costs, so it was worth it.”

Glazing and artifical lighting also played a critical role in the design. “We opted for a French-style window design that is in keeping with the house’s overall style, bringing in lots of natural light and making the most of the beautiful views around us. Placing larger windows and doors on the ground floor helped create an easy flow between inside and outside, making the space feel more open and connected.”

Michael and Edel opted for standard lighting and wiring plans throughout the house. “With the constant evolution of wifi enabled products, we’re relieved we didn’t invest in any specific lighting technologies,” says Michael.

An air to water heat pump and heat recovery ventilation complete the set up. Underfloor heating serves the ground and first floors, with radiators heating the

Q&A with Michael

What is your favourite design feature?

The sunroom is a lovely space, and I love the stairs. From the hallway, you can look up to the top of the house, and the roof lantern brings natural light right down through the core of the house, which is excellent.

What surprised you?

How exhausted I was at the end of the whole process.

What single piece of advice would you give a friend who’s looking to embark on a project similar to yours?

It isn’t easy to offer advice because I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do it the way we did, as you would need in-depth knowledge of every aspect of the build. So make sure you have the right advice and professionals advising you and always go with recommendations.

Would you do it again?

While I’m proud of the result, I’m not sure I’ll be doing it again.

Michael cleaned and laid every piece of the reclaimed parquet flooring downstairs.


second storey.

“We installed a wood stove in the sunroom, not because we needed the extra heat, but because it gives the room a cosy feel. The solar gain from the glazing in the sunroom — even in winter — is huge. Opening into the kitchen, this is the heart of the home all year around.”

A pellet stove installed in the dining hall, which is open to the central stairwell, helps distribute additional heat throughout the first and second floors of the house.

Next steps

“We’re thinking about adding solar panels to reduce our running costs,” says Michael. “While we initially wanted to include them, we prioritised other aspects at the time. However, it’s something we can still consider at a later stage.”

As for the kitchen, it came from the manufacturer that supplied the units for their original cottage. “I managed to buy this kitchen secondhand before we even started building the house. We liked the design so much that we wanted to incorporate it into our new home. I arranged the layout of the kitchen

around the units. But, since moving in, we’ve made significant changes.”

“We added another wall of storage units from a different supplier, and I also built the kitchen island myself. It features an old dresser backing onto modern units, all hand done in a shaker style.”

Michael and Edel felt it was important to create a safe environment for their children and visitors to enjoy outside. “We built the outdoor patio areas pretty soon after moving in, even though there was a lot to do inside. But we have no regrets about investing in the outdoors early on.”

Overall, they were happy with how smoothly the construction progressed, especially considering the availability of labourers at the time. “Things moved along seamlessly with the labourers, block layers and roofers until we reached the stage of making the house airtight. However, as we neared the end of our project, we noticed a shift. Securing contractors and labourers became increasingly challenging as demand for their services started to rise again.”

Fruits of their labour

How well does the house serve as a family home now? “It’s absolutely wonderful. We’ve designed spacious, open plan rooms that connect throughout the house,” says Michael.


“The kitchen is the hub, flowing into the sunroom and living area. Instead of compartmentalising the space with walls, we opted to limit the number of hallways. We have a ‘dining hall’ on the ground floor – a warm and inviting entrance to the house that opens up into a generously sized living space. It’s perfect for gatherings, with a dining area, cosy seating and a sleek pellet stove adding to the atmosphere.”

“Our home exudes comfort, with easy access to the garden via the patio. During the planning stages, we aimed to incorporate chimneys for their visual appeal, resulting in more than we initially planned. This allowed us to include an outdoor fireplace on the patio and even one in the bathroom.”

“Our primary objectives in designing our home were to create ample space, ensure comfort and make it operate as efficiently as possible. Looking back, I have to say there’s nothing we would change or do differently.”

“We wanted a secure and inviting environment where our children could thrive, and that’s exactly what we got.”



Site purchased

November 2012

Planning applied

January 2013

Conditional planning granted


Planning applied and granted for a slight change in design

November 2016

Build start

December 2017

Build end

Christmas Eve, 2017

Moved in


Project info

Find out more about Michael and Edel’s new build project in Co Laois...


Heat pump



ProAir Heat Recovery Ventilation, Co


Builder’s merchants

Fletcher’s Topline Hardware

Portarlington, Co Laois, and Grahams of Monaghan,

Attic insulation

Pro Spray Foam, Birr, Co Offaly


Rationel Windows, Edenderry, Co Offaly


Johnny Fitzpatrick Electrical, Mountrath, Co Laois


Damien Kelly,


Walls: cavity wall construction 100mm blocks, 50mm cavity filled with PUR boards with wall ties at 750mm centres horizontally and 450mm vertically, internal walls 50mm PUR laminate plasterboard, skim finish

Floor: 100mm powerfloated concrete slab on 100mm expanded PUR board on continuous radon barrier on well compacted sand blinding and hardcore filling

Roof: spray foam insulation

Windows: triple glazed timber aluclad

More photographs available at SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 32
N E S W Garage
En-suite Hotpress/
Bedroom 4
Wardrobe Bathroom Bedroom
Space Office/ Store
Family room
Bedroom 5 Bedroom 3 Attic Space Attic
Bathroom Hall Kitchen Sitting
Entrance Hall


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Additionally, Grant smart heating controls were incorporated into the heating package. Commenting on the process of heating his new home, homeowner of one property, David McGowan said, “Grant’s free of charge heating design service has saved a lot of time and hassle for our builders. We were content to know that our heating system had been professionally designed and all heating technologies sized and specified correctly by Grant. I was also particularly impressed that a representative from Grant came to our home to fully commission the heat pump and heating system as a whole. Additionally, they also gave us a step by step tutorial on how to work the full heating system to ensure we heat our home at its most efficient.”

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Words: Heather Campbell

Photography: Paul Lindsay

Triumph over Turmoil project

From a dream auction find to a self-build saga, this is the story of how Anita and Mark Jones overcame unexpected hurdles to build their family home in Co Antrim.



House size: 3,500sqft

Bedrooms: 4/5

Plot size: ¾ acre

Site cost: £24k

Build cost: £220K

Heating system: Oil boiler

Ventilation: Natural (trickle vent windows)

Build method: Blockwork



Anita and Mark weren’t actively looking for a building site, but when an auction alert popped up on Mark’s socials for a site with an unbelievably low guide price, they decided to go for it. “The land is located in my husband’s hometown and not far from where I’m originally from,” explains Anita. “When we drove up and took a look at the site, we just thought, why not? The reserve price was great value with full planning approval, it seemed like a fantastic opportunity.”

When the auction day came around, back in 2013, Mark was working abroad, so a pregnant Anita took along her fatherin-law for backup.

“My father-in-law and I agreed to cap our bid. However, it turned out that there were three repossessed sites up for auction on that lane. We stopped bidding for the first site when we reached our cap and it sold for not much more. My fatherin-law suggested that if the first one had sold for that amount, then the next one might sell for about the same. So, we increased the cap, he stuck his hand up again and we bought it.”

The Joneses weren’t in a position to progress with their building plan initially. “I was pregnant and we were finishing up an extension to our existing home at the time. However, because the foundations for the garage had already been laid, we knew that the planning permission was protected.”


Best laid plans

The couple picked up their self-build journey a little later, going on a search for the original plans.

“We phoned around a few local architects and happened to find the one who had signed the building plan in the planning commission. He gave us the contact details for the original architect and we went to him directly.”

“When we viewed the plans, the only thing we changed was the number of upstairs bathrooms – reducing from four to three – we didn’t see the need for the extra one. Everything else worked for us, so as the plans had already been submitted and approved, we just stuck to it.”

Externally, the house style is a timeless, storey and a half bungalow with dormer windows rendered and painted off white with a slate roof. There is a separate double garage with an upstairs office.

“Our friends had recently built their own home and recommended their builder to us, so we included him in the tender along with two other builders. We ended up choosing our friend’s recommended firm. His fixed price was really good for the house size and for all the things we wanted. It was almost a turnkey finish so we felt reassured that we wouldn’t need to stress or worry about it.”

“Yet, we were cautious. Though he estimated an 18-month construction period, we anticipated it could stretch to two years due to potential delays and rising costs so we aimed to solidify the plan to prevent unforeseen escalations.”

Anita and Mark had meetings with the builder throughout the construction process where he briefed them on the ongoing work. “At that time, I was on maternity leave, so I could be on site to make decisions,” says Anita.

“We were presented with choices regarding heating systems, the building structure (timber frame or blockwork) and various other aspects. The builder assured us he would construct the house according to our preferences. We deliberated on whether to opt for a concrete first floor or timber joists, but we chose timber ultimately. Having small



children, for me, it was more reassuring to be able to hear them moving around upstairs.”

Discussions also revolved around purchasing steelwork. “The spaces are quite large and open plan so we needed steels for structural support downstairs, so there were discussions about where to put them and how they would work.”

Bright ideas

The house boasts unique architectural elements, including stunning windows that allow natural light to permeate different areas. The hall window in the stairwell and the sunroom’s vast double height windows create a bright, airy space welcoming the sun throughout the day.

To maximise the efficiency of the downstairs underfloor heating, they chose a 100mm floor screed. “This allows for a faster heat up time compared to standard concrete,” explains Anita.

Drawing from Anita’s design background, envisioning their living space was a process. “We started with a large U shaped sofa in the lounge, eventually defining our interior style around it. Our kitchen, a blend of classic


and modern, features a blue island, granite worktops, off white units, a brick front pantry and a striking smoky glass splashback.”

“When the girls were smaller I could see them reflected in the splashback, so I could keep my eyes on them. The whole open plan design means I can have a conversation with them while cooking –so neither the food nor the children get neglected.”

“Designing lighting for a larger space was challenging. We came from an average semi detached house with simple pendant ceiling lights, so we wanted to give this a lot of consideration; we wanted to get it right.”

“The kitchen hosts spots and lighting in glazed cupboards and above the island and dining table, offering flexibility to switch between all, one or no lights.”

As for the bathroom design, it was complex. “We sought advice and found varying designs across different shops, each unique. The baths are substantial, showers spacious, and we’ve chosen different taps in each bathroom—black, gold, and chrome.”

In line with standard regulations, they have incorporated insulation for energy efficiency – spray foam and fibreglass. “Upstairs is so cosy, we don’t need to put the heating on for most of the winter.



Building control applied/ approved

2017 Tender start and finish

Dec 2018

Build start

Feb 2019

Build halted

May 2019

Build resumed as direct labour

Aug 2019

Moved in




Do your research and don’t be afraid to ask for advice.

Read magazines and speak to the right people to get advice. Suppliers and tradesmen will each have a take on things, so speak to everyone and anyone who has expertise in what you need at that point in time.

Go with your gut.

Friends and family like to get involved and they’ll say ‘You should have this’ or ‘You should have that’. But you’ve got to go with your gut feeling on it, don’t just follow the trend if you’re not feeling it. You’ve got to just stay true to your vision, design and what you like. There were many ways we could have changed the design to modernise it, but it wouldn’t have been the right home for us.


Although we wanted more energy efficient solutions, we had to consider costs at the time.”


However, with the house almost complete, the Joneses were delivered a bombshell. “Everything was going according to plan, or so we thought,” says Anita. “We paid our contractor with the funds from our third mortgage drawdown, but then a few days later, we got a call from our plumber who told us that the contractor’s firm had gone bust that day.”

“When the contractor confirmed bankruptcy, we faced a pivotal moment. Creditors began calling for payments we assumed had been already fulfilled.”

“We were left in a financial void, unable to secure more funds from the mortgage company, as they had just disbursed the payment. With no front door, back door or stairs installed there was no way our bank would release another drawdown. We were trapped between needing the final payment to finish the house and the mortgage company withholding it until the build was complete and signed off.”

Stuck in this quandary, Anita and Mark improvised. “A family friend, an electrician by trade, stepped in, and we transformed into self-builders. Using his industry contacts, we managed to start organising crucial on site tasks.

Q&A with Anita

What is your favourite design feature?

I love our entrance hall, it’s spacious and bright and has an interesting curved wall. It’s a lovely feeling when you come in the front door. There are still days when I walk around and go: “We’ve done this and we get to live here. It’s great.”

What would you change or do differently?

We were happy with the original plans, but now living in it there are some things I would change. For instance, our upstairs landing extends as a long corridor with a lightwell. In retrospect, extending the ceiling to create a double height landing might have been more aesthetically pleasing than having the current lightwell.

The layout of our daughters’ bedrooms and playroom, specifically, has some logistical challenges. To address fire safety, the playroom needed an additional door leading to one of the bedrooms. Looking back, I’d probably reposition a bathroom to form a more practical Jack and Jill arrangement.

What surprised you?

I suppose project managing was easier than I expected. When we put the build out to tender, we were told if we led this ourselves, we’d save maybe 40 per cent. We said, no, we wouldn’t trust ourselves, and we wouldn’t know how. But once you have to take it on, you figure it out.

Would you do it again?

I would love to, but I don’t think my husband or children would.



However, we had to pay for the stairs a second time as they were withheld by the previous contractor.”

“We faced another delay in getting further building work done due to the fact we didn’t have the NHBC certificate – a warranty. We had applied for it at the very beginning. We handed over £3,500 to the original builder who said he would take care of the process, but he never applied for it.”

“When I tried to find someone who would take over the build following the bankruptcy the first thing they asked for was the certificate, because that will stand over the work that previously had been carried out. It also meant our mortgage wouldn’t be signed off, so we paid a fee for a retrospective house guarantee.”

“There were a couple of months when we had a house that nobody could live in, and which we couldn’t finish because we didn’t have the money.”

With a house incomplete and finances tight, Anita took on the challenges of project managing. “I took on tasks myself, such as finishing laying the loft insulation, tiling and painting the hallway. With the help of our friends and family, we finally were able to finish the work, move in and the final mortgage funds were released.”

“When we started the whole self-build journey, we thought it was going to be fairly straightforward. We employed a

recommended builder, we were happy with his work, and then, out of the blue, it all went wrong. But I want people to know that it’s still doable.”

“My husband has absolutely zero experience of any of this. I have an interest in it, but it doesn’t mean I know what I’m doing. But you just plod along and ask the right questions. Call the experts and ask, ‘Can we do this?’ ‘Can you come and help us?’ ‘How much for?’ and you figure it out as you go along. If we can do it, anyone can.”

So how is the house working for them? “We’re into the swing of things now, and the house works really well for us. We’re still figuring out certain decorative choices, but the bulk of it is done. I still have some bare plaster in the hall upstairs landing and a ceiling somewhere, but I’m doing it myself, and that’s fine. I will paint it when I have time to paint it.”

“I visited a house recently; the kitchen had just been painted by a decorator. I was, maybe wrongly, looking a bit too close at the finish and I could see that there was paint down the side of the kitchen cupboard. I thought I could make that mistake, for free. I don’t need to pay someone else to do that.”

“What’s the worst thing that can happen? There’s not much you can’t take on yourself when you have to.”


The sanctuary project

How Craig Dee and Matthew O’Rourke of Co Waterford turned a damp, mud built cottage into a haven of calm full of natural light, vistas and cleverly connected spaces.

Words: Heather Campbell

Photography: Damien Kelly



House size before: 120sqm

House size after: 250sqm

Bedrooms: 3

Plot size: 1.6 acres

Site cost: €165k

Build cost: €450k


Heating system: heat pump

Ventilation: centralised mechanical with heat recovery

Build method: blockwork



The decision to buy this property was deeply rooted in personal history, says Craig. “It sits on the outskirts of the village where my parents and I grew up; on the road where my grandparents used to live.”

“We used to pass by it on walks with my grandmother down to see the horses at the end of the lane or when we went collecting conkers from the chestnut tree nearby. She would often jokingly warn us that it was the ‘witch’s house’, no doubt to keep us young ones in line. At that time, only the roof was visible as it was surrounded by a 20ft coniferous hedge and a forested area, so it was easy to believe the spooky tale she told.”

The warning didn’t put off the grownup Craig however, who ended up buying the cottage, renovating and adding a modern two storey extension.

“One of the first jobs we did, after purchasing it, was to cut down those hedges,” he says. “They were so high and close to the house meaning it was in shade throughout the day and this had created a damp, mossy environment. It was a major revelation to see the far reaching views we had once those hedges were removed.”


“The forested area, which in the springtime is filled with bluebells, snowdrops and daffodils, has been a part of the landscape for decades. By cutting down the conifers we let in the light and the beauty of the surrounding landscape.”

Flying start

Craig and Dee started off by looking for an architect. “We spent quite some time following local architects in our area prior to engaging with Agnes and Bart’s architectural practice,” says Craig.

“We admired their previous work and contemporary aesthetic on similar projects in our area. They were a dream to work with and really nailed our brief to maximise the potential of our property and budget. They made the entire process simple and we really enjoyed fine tuning the details with them.”

With the help of their architects, plans were submitted for alterations to the existing cottage and the addition of a new extension. “The planning office requested a change to the height of the old building so we amended that and reissued it.”

The existing building was originally a mud and clay worker’s cottage with lime mortar and stone. “It had a cavernous floor,” explains Craig, “effectively a mud foundation so we had to overcome that. While we reinstated the lime mortar, we also took the opportunity to incorporate underfloor heating and upgrade the whole structure.”

“We wanted to keep the impact of the

old cottage’s large bay windows which are 8ft high by 10ft wide but we opted to upgrade them to a more modern style.”

“To marry the old building with the two storey extension we raised the roof of the cottage to bring the profile in line with the new building and to make it look intentional. We linked the buildings with a glass box corridor.”

“That was kind of a planning trick. It didn’t qualify as a living area, but it gave us a little extra bit of space. When you’re in that space, you can see what’s old and what’s new and that is what we like. And even from the outside looking in, it’s pretty monochromatic. You know that the black part is new, it’s obtrusive and it’s different to the old part. Although they match in terms of profiles and sizes and so on, we wanted



to show what was there before and what’s been added.”

“We reinstated a natural slate to the original cottage roof but used a uPVC membrane, with a standing seam for the extension. It has the look of pressed metal but it’s a softer product for noise resistance. Aesthetically, it’s just a little lighter in colour, more anthracite than black.”

“Our master bedroom and the primary guest bedroom sit beneath the roof of the extension to which we have also incorporated large rooflights. We were conscious that heavy rain could prove to be a noise issue. During a casual conversation with our builder, he suggested that if we opted for a pressed metal roof, the noise of the rain hitting the skylights would be the least of our concerns. That got me thinking and looking into alternative solutions which is when I came across the uPVC roofing system and its noise-reducing benefits.”

“However, it’s very labour intensive, as opposed to the metal standing seam which is simply rolled out and pressed. There’s a lot of prep work with uPVC –heating, tarring and joining, similar to a traditional asphalt roof. So, in terms of labour costs, it was much higher but the product cost was more economical than the pressed metal particularly then because the cost of metal had gone through the roof. Material wise, it’s more cost effective, but I’d just flag that anyone exploring that option look at labour costs as well and weigh them up to see which is more feasible.”

Most utilities were already in place at the cottage and required merely upgrades rather than a completely new installation.

Modern nostalgia

“Inside, we installed wooden flooring in the original structure and opted for a polished concrete finish in the extension. We aimed to distinctly separate the old from the new within the spaces – that was our primary objective, to have that definition between what was older and what was new.”

“For the kitchen, we wanted the whole open plan living space to link together and create a social hub. When someone is cooking at the kitchen island they’re able to have a conversation with someone seated at the dining table. We have a cosy little lounge space where you can also chat with whoever’s doing the cooking. The goal was to integrate the kitchen with the rest of the living spaces.”


“We opted for a sleek black theme for the kitchen, complemented by a matte quartz stone on the island surface which absorbs the light rather than reflects it. We were conscious of the polished concrete and didn’t want to overdo the reflective surfaces so it was not overpowering or cold. It’s a warm space.”

“Lighting was a significant consideration for us. We took a three pronged approach, catering to various needs. For everyday tasks, we have bright lights for cleaning and cooking. However, for more relaxed moments, we predominantly use warm toned downlights, creating a cosy and inviting ambience reminiscent of candlelight. Additionally, we incorporated entertainment lighting, such as LED strips under cabinets, providing a subtle effect without flooding the place with light. We went for recessed lights in the ceiling, walls and stairs and low level lighting. They’ve all been plastered in and so they blend in with the walls. Your eye isn’t distracted by the light and fittings hanging down. It creates a glow without the origin of the light being immediately obvious.”

“We painted the walls in light colours and to warm up the building we went with a lot of leather and tan

Q&A with Craig

What is your favourite design feature?

The windows stand out as a favourite feature for me. The scenic surroundings, coupled with the changing seasons, make the views from the windows a constant source of delight.

What would you change or do differently?

One aspect I would reconsider is the approach to decision making, especially concerning significant elements like bathrooms. We made simultaneous decisions for all bathrooms within a short period, aiming for efficiency. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush to finalise everything, but some decisions, like bathroom design, have a long lasting impact and deserve careful consideration.

What surprised you?

What caught me off guard was the intricacies of coordinating tradespeople. Scheduling and timelines can be challenging, and getting ahead of it is crucial. Planning and working in tandem with the trades, whether it’s for plastering, painting or other tasks, helps in managing both time and finances effectively. Unforeseen bills, especially from plumbers and electricians, can disrupt the flow.

Would you do it again?

Despite the challenges and occasional stress, I would do it again. While the budget might get stretched, the rewards of a completed project are immensely satisfying. Even the late night painting sessions were enjoyable experiences.



shades to tie in with our midcentury furniture items. The choice of furniture, accompanied by the retro leathers and tan accents, brings a modern yet timeless feel to the space.”

“Bringing in natural light was a priority. In the downstairs area and the kitchen, we installed numerous windows, and every door is fully glazed. In the cottage, we replaced the original Georgian timber panelled door with glass French doors. The light shines right through to the opposite side of the cottage part where we installed full height windows. So as the light changes during the morning, afternoon and early evening it wraps around the building and gives you different perceptions.”

Cost challenges

“The timing wasn’t in our favour, especially with the onset of Covid. Labour shortages and increased material costs were significant hurdles. One of our major challenges was navigating through those changing material prices, especially during a time when the market was favouring housing developments, not individual builds.”

“Blocks went from 80c to €2 overnight. However, we strategically approached key elements like plasterboard and flooring, allowing us to mitigate some challenges. For

instance, we warehoused certain items to ensure availability. Yet, the cost escalation in areas like heat pumps, plumbing related materials and doors presented unforeseen obstacles, slowing down the pace of the project.”

“Labour shortages became a pressing issue, with many tradespeople gravitating towards more lucrative housing projects. This presented difficulties in terms of both pricing and timelines, as we found ourselves at the lower end of the

priority list.”

“Effectively, this was a simple extension project. A lot of services were already on site so it should have been a quick, 12 month build but it turned into an 18 to 19 month process.”

“The initial build costs for our project were estimated at €380k but we ended at €450k thanks to the hike in materials, particularly the windows. We changed the spec of the windows, rather than going with aluclad we went for a full aluminium system


August 2018

House purchased

March 2019

Planning applied

December 2019

Planning granted

June 2021

Build start

December 2022

Build end and moved in


because the price difference was justifiable.”

How is it all working out for them?

“The house has become a sanctuary for us, especially during the busyness of daily life,” says Craig. “It serves as a retreat where we can unwind, even if it’s just for an hour in the evening.”

“Initially, there was a flurry of decisions, from choosing where to hang pictures to completing the finishing touches. Over the summer, we focused on the exterior, turning our attention to the garden and landscaping.”

“Now, with everything in place, it feels like a completed project—a space to truly enjoy without the constant worry of pending tasks. Now, as we sit in our finished space, we can truly appreciate the decisions we made and the effort that went into creating our home.”


Take your time.

I would advise others to take their time, perhaps renovate one space at a time, and live in the environment before making permanent decisions.

Be clear about payment. It’s essential to maintain open communication with your tradespeople and plan for significant payments to ensure a smoother process. The drawdown process, especially with banks, requires a paperwork trail. Having a dialogue with tradespeople about payment schedules and obtaining invoices in advance helps create trust and prevents unnecessary stress. Whether under time pressure or not, spreading out payments and maintaining financial control contributes to a smoother experience.

Ireland's Leading Supplier of German Kitchens BOOK YOUR DESIGN APPOINTMENT TODAY Küche by Modern Design - German Manufacturing NATIONWIDE DELIVERY

Project info

Craig and Matthew’s renovation in Co Waterford...

Bathroom 2

Attic Stairs

Master Bedroom

Wardrobe Stairs Room Wardrobe




ROJO Studio Architects,


John Santry Contractor

Charlie Foley Construction

Roof covering Trocal

Aluminium windows

Drutex supplied by Home

Improvements Ireland


Evoke Kitchens

Polished concrete



Walls: Xthratherm CavityTherm; floor: Xtratherm Hyfloor 150PT


Damien Kelly Photography,


Walls: 15mm plaster and skim, 100mm inner concrete block leaf (thermal block to ACD), 150mm PIR insulation, 100mm outer leaf concrete block, 20mm sand/ cement plaster with weather barrier, 35mm vertical battens, 35mm horizontal battens, 22mm charred timber cladding.

Kitchen Utility

Bedroom 1 Sitting

Floor: floor finishes include tiles / engineered timber/architectural concrete, floor screed with perimeter insulation upstand with underfloor heating, separation layer, 150mm PIR insulation, concrete slab, damp proof membrane/radon barrier, sand blinding and hardcore.

Roof: uPVC zinc effect standing seam, structured separating membrane, 12mm Marine grade plywood, 50mm Battens to create air gap ventilation cavity, breather membrane, 150mm truss C16 timber, 150mm PIR insulation between rafters, airtightness, vapour control barrier layer, 50mm PIR insulation, 25mm cross battens to form service cavity, plasterboard and skim.

More photographs available at
Dining Den Wardrobe Bathroom Lobby Living Stove Stove

Overview project

House size before: 186sqm

House size after: 209sqm

Bedrooms: 4-5

Plot size: 1 acre

Purchase cost: £160k

Extension cost: £73k

House value: £350k

Heating system: Oil boiler

Ventilation: Natural ventilation with background ventilation provided by a PIV unit (no trickle vents to windows)

Build method: Blockwork and red brick


Words: Heather Campbell

Reimagined A cottage

Photography: Gareth Andrews

Braving challenges of dampness and multiple extensions, Mert and Deborah Thompson’s quest for a unique dwelling in Co Armagh led to a reinvented space blending tradition with modern living demands.



Driven by their vision for a distinctive home and captivated by a picturesque lough side setting, this is the story of how Mert and Deborah transformed an 1850s labourer’s cottage.

When they first visited the single-storey house, they could see beyond the damp walls and hotchpotch of previous owners’ extension projects.

“We were on the lookout for something distinctive, something with a touch of uniqueness and quirkiness and this property seemed to fulfil all those criteria,” says Mert. “Plus, it was in a gorgeous location, just a five minute drive from my workplace.”

“We knew it needed significant work done to make it workable for us as a family, but the potential was obvious to us.”

The original, 19th century cottage had a small floor plan, just two to three rooms, but had been extended several times.“There’s a 1970s extension made of rendered breezeblock,” says Mert, “followed by a 1990s extension that’s more modern in style and another one completed around 2010. Consequently, it’s a bit of a mix, but you can still see the original cottage – the frontage has retained its initial look.”

Mert and Deborah’s main brief for their new extension was to create a warm, better

functioning kitchen and dining space. “We bought and moved into this house in 2014, so we had many years living in its spaces and understanding what worked for us and what didn’t,” says Mert.

“We wanted a kitchen where we could cook in comfort and still be part of social interactions in the larger living area. We also wanted a space where we could chill out and listen to music or read a book.”

“It was also important to us to avoid interrupting the flow of the house. The completed work complements that flow –you can walk around the house following a

circular route inside.”

The damp problem was removed with the demolition of the gable wall in the kitchen which was replaced by the new extension.

“The other walls weren’t as damp, but they were cold, built from solid stonework which gave us condensation rather than dampness. Once those walls were correctly insulated there hasn’t been an issue with damp.”

At the same time, they took the opportunity to dig out the cottage’s original clay floor and insulate it before screeding and sealing the new floor.


All in the design

Finding an architect that shared their overall vision for the extension wasn’t plain sailing, as Mert explains. “We engaged with three architects, before the firm we went with. A lot of the designs presented to us included flat, zinc-effect roofs whereas we wanted a pitched roof, to complement the rural look of the cottage. The conversations we had with the architects went along the lines of, ‘You’re spending all this money on an extension, wouldn’t it be better just to buy a new house?’”

“But we loved the character of the cottage and knew when they said that, they didn’t get the concept of the project. We didn’t want a routine, standard new build.”

The influence of the style of the extension evolved from what the couple researched and ideas presented by their architect. “We gathered ideas of what we liked, what – to us – worked well together, such as the black windows and the red brick.”

“The architect offered us a couple of concepts at the start and then we agreed on the one we liked best. They went off, did the maths and sourced material for the structural components such as the walls.”

“It was a good partnership. Because Deborah and I had a fair idea of what we wanted but at the same time the architects were able to add something new. They

would ask us, ‘Have you thought of this… or have you thought of that?’ So there was a lot of back and forth between us – the design evolved so much from the architect’s original line drawings.”

Mert and Deborah asked the architect to take on the role of project manager. “The extension was put out to four builders for tender,” says Mert, “and the cheapest one happened to be the one the architect had worked with closely before so we were happy to go with him.”

“When considering the extension, we aimed to complement the original front part of the house while at the same time distinguishing it as ‘our’ part. We opted for a single storey extension with a pitched roof matching the height of the existing building. While the original cottage is finished in rough render, we aimed for a contrasting yet complementary style for the extension. Using block for the interior structure and reclaimed red Belfast brick for the exterior, our goal was to create a timeless appearance, making it challenging to pinpoint its era. The red brick ages gracefully and blends well without mimicking the original house. Instead, it enhances its features.”

“For the doors and windows, we selected black aluminium double glazed trifold doors, a tall window and a gable wall

window. The red brick gives a subtle vintage feel, especially with the gable window. These windows resemble a classic slimline steel frame style, perfectly harmonising with the red brick’s aesthetics. Overall, while there are elements evoking a 1950s style, the design maintains a harmonious connection with the existing structure.”

The original front door entrance remains, leading into a redesigned entrance hall. “We needed to adjust the size of the entrance hall to create space for a pantry within the kitchen, resulting in a squarer layout compared to its previous form.”

“On the left of the hall, you’ll find the old living room—a cosy space with a

Mert’s tips

Get to know yourself.

Before you even talk to architects, it’s key to have your ideas figured out in your mind. Know what you like and dislike.

Take the time to find the right architect.

It’s so important to find an architect who can enhance your ideas. Someone who challenges you a bit and brings fresh thoughts to the table. Initially, we planned the kitchen at the back and the dining area at the front. But our architect flipped that around, suggesting the sitting and dining spaces at the back for more sunlight. It was a simple yet brilliant idea we hadn’t considered. Find an architect who adds to your plans, not just executes them. Sure, they’ll give you what you ask for, but the real value is when they offer options you hadn’t even thought about.


When we were building, prices were going up and we had to just be kind of reasonable. Know which bits you are prepared to sacrifice and which you’re not. I think if you have that thought through beforehand, you can make decisions more easily if you hit a budget problem.



stove where we often watch TV. To the right is the new kitchen’s functional area, equipped with the sink, island and hob. Further toward the rear of the house, there’s a dining table and sofa. From this area, you can access the back part of the kitchen, connecting to the rest of the house, including the bathrooms and bedrooms.”

“Additionally, we installed a trifold back door and a fire access-type door, a requirement by building control, but surprisingly, we find ourselves using it frequently.”

The two boys’ bedrooms are part of the old cottage with the master bedroom located in the extension built by the previous owner.

The utility room also received an upgrade. “Because we were living in the house while they were doing the work in the kitchen, the utility room had to be temporarily used as our kitchen. So to make it function as such we put in a new sink. And because the floor layout changed, we had to brick up a wall in the utility room and put in a new window.”

Modern traditional

The new extension, with its vaulted ceiling, houses the living and dining area, while the new kitchen sits back inside the old footprint of the cottage. “We asked the architect for ideas regarding the lighting for the extension because we were unsure of what lights would work best in that space. The solution was to install drop down lights.”

“Double the usual insulation was fitted to blend the new extension with the thickstoned old cottage walls, ensuring a super insulated space. Consequently, what was once a chilly kitchen is now one of the warmest rooms, thanks to minimised heat loss. How to duct the ventilation system was challenging. Having a vaulted ceiling meant that it had to be installed in the existing building’s hallway.”

The new kitchen includes a contemporary, white granite topped wooden island. “We were going to paint it a cherry red colour but when we saw it installed in its raw wood state we decided we preferred that finish.”

“Initially, we intended to include a stove in the kitchen, but due to budget constraints, it wasn’t feasible. However, once we were cooking and using the space, we discovered that, thanks to all the extra insulation there was no need for extra heat.”

The cosy living room has been treated in a more traditional style, furnished with a few antique pieces and family heirlooms.

“We initially installed solar panels that generate electricity shortly after moving in, around 2014. They were placed on the existing kitchen roof but with the new kitchen’s pitched roof came shading. During the build we temporarily moved them to the shed and later relocated them onto the new


Q&A with Mert

What is your favourite design feature?

I love chilling out in the extension, I can enjoy the surrounding views thanks to all the glazing. But the biggest improvement to our lives has been provided by the kitchen update. It’s a different world compared to how we had to prepare and cook our meals previously.

What would you change or do differently?

You know, there are a few things I’d probably do differently if I had the chance. Marrying up the old house and the new one could’ve been smoother. Little details bug me, like when the windows aren’t quite centred on the gable wall. Maybe I’m too picky but once you spot it, you can’t unsee it. I bet nobody else even notices. Part of the issue was us living here while all the work was happening. Maybe I should’ve handed more control of the building process to the architect. Instead, I got involved and stressed out about it.

What surprised you?

The material prices during that time just skyrocketed. We’d already committed to the builder before the prices went through the roof. But when the project began, even the costs for things like wooden trusses for the roof went crazy. It was a bit of a stress point for the builder since we were already locked into the contract. So, we had to be reasonable and make compromises. For instance, we have this small pantry area where we do a lot of food prep, and we had to cut some corners there. We ended up using a lot of flat pack units and saved on finishing touches. We initially planned to have it done to match the kitchen, but for now, it’s sort of out of sight, out of mind.

Would you do it again?

I believe I would. Our current house is fantastic. While it may seem understated from the outside—no extravagant display—it holds its charm and is a lovely place to live in. So, absolutely, I would do it all over again.



kitchen roof. This was made much easier thanks to one of the builder’s men having happened to have prior experience as a solar panel installer on a previous job.”

Making space work

Merging the old and new sections of the house was the biggest challenge of the build. “Integrating a modern extension proved problematic as we had to align straight walls with the old curved ones, leading to unexpected design complexities,” says Mert.

“Living in the house during construction also posed challenges, especially with young children aged nine and seven. As well as converting the utility room into a temporary kitchen, we used one of the boys’ bedrooms as a dining area. Luckily, the boys were still happy to share a room at that time.”

“Working from home while builders were around made it potentially stressful, but looking back, we managed fine.”

Mert and Deborah were forced to forgo

the landscaping at first, due to budget constraints. However, the following summer, the local landscaper who had previously created the front garden for them came on board to complete the project. “We were able to use leftover materials from the build, including the red brick, which was incorporated into the landscaping and it ties together perfectly.”

So, what impact have the home improvements made on the way they use their home?

“The new extension and upgrades have had a positive effect on our lives. Gone are the damp walls, replaced by a vibrant kitchen that now serves as the heart of our home—perfect for cooking, living and sharing meals,” says Mert.

“We’re using the extension differently than we had originally anticipated, but it’s great. We don’t sit in there and watch TV. Instead, the kids will go off to another room and watch it. I can sit there and chill with a book and listen to music. It’s a nice, relaxing space – a wonderful and unexpected bonus.”


Architect and project manager

StudioPARK Architects,

Main contractor

LM Design & Build

Structural engineer


Aluminium doors

KSmart Aluminium Door Solutions

Flat pack pantry



Gareth Andrews Photography, website


Walls: Reclaimed brickwork outer leaf 102.5mm, cavity 145mm, rigid insulation within cavity 60mm, blockwork inner leaf (laid on side) 215mm, insulated plasterboard 37.5mm, U-value 0.19 W/sqmK

Pitched roof: Slates on battens, breathable membrane, timber rafters 150mm deep, ventilated cavity between rafters 50mm, rigid insulation between rafters 100mm, insulated plasterboard 62.5mm, U-value 0.16 W/sqmK

Floor: Timber floor finish, screed 75mm, membrane, rigid insulation 100mm, concrete slab 150mm, damp proof membrane, dust blinding 50mm, compacted hardcore 300mm, strip foundation, U-value 0.18 W/sqmK

Windows: aluminium black frame, U-value 1.6 W/sqmK



House purchased

March 2020

Planning applied

May 2020

Planning granted

June 2021

Build start

December 2021

Build end




Project info

Find out more about Mert and Deborah’s renovation and extension project in Co Armagh....

More photographs available at SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 61 N E S W Bedroom Bedroom Bedroom Play room Living room Bathroom Utility Living Dining Kitchen Roof Space Study Utility Hall Hall ST VOID Bedroom Bedroom Bedroom Utility ENS Bathroom Courtyard Courtyard Below HP Play room Hall Hall Living room ST Kitchen Dining Boiler Roof Space Study ST ENS VOID ENS ENS HP Boiler ST AFTER BEFORE

A mighty Transformation

By adding just 20sqm to their ground floor area, Stephen Arthur and Paula Robinson completely transformed their family home in Co Antrim.


House size before: 176sqm

House size after: 196sqm

Bedrooms: 4

Total cost (rounded): £230k

House value: £520k

Heating & hot water: Gas boiler

Ventilation: Natural

Photography: Luke McCallum

Why did you decide to do up the house?

Even though the rear of the house is south facing, the kitchen was dark and cold. It had very small windows and three external walls with zero insulation.

That was the first reason. But we also found the layout just wasn’t working for us. The kitchen was completely cut off from the rest of the house, and we wanted a better flow.

When hosting friends and family, we didn’t have an area for everyone to be together and socialise. There would always be separation across rooms, with someone stuck preparing food on their own.

We also wanted to improve the connection with the outside so we could make more use of our garden. Before the extension, we couldn’t even see our garden from inside the house.

Coming out of Covid, a home office was on the must-have list as we didn’t want to continue sacrificing a bedroom. We had an existing utility room and wc downstairs that had a lot of empty

unused space and we thought we could make better use of it by turning it into a bathroom.

How did the design evolve, changes along the way?

Before beginning work, we wanted to give ourselves enough time to get the design right, make any applications for approval and most importantly, save up some money. We gave ourselves a year for this. We were also coming out of Covid and were aware that there were backlogs and therefore more time would be needed for things such as planning permission. It took away the pressure of making any rushed decisions or worrying about applications not being approved quickly enough.

We decided to get an architect to design the space. We did a walk through and gave him a brief of how we wanted to use the house, where it wasn’t working for us. We also put together a moodboard to share some ideas on styles and other designs we liked.

Our architect provided three concepts and we worked together to take our favourite aspects of these to arrive at our final design. We didn’t veer away from the original concept.

Key features include our large corner windows, which have transformed the space, a view from our front door right through to our garden, a new open,

The covered patio is fabulous to sit in all year round to look out onto the garden no matter the weather.


light and airy space connected to our living area but with clear zoning and connection to our garden.

Whilst the new extension and existing living space and hallway are all connected, the architect’s design achieved the feeling of them still being separate rooms by sinking the extension so you have to step down into it.

This then allowed us to have different flooring and colours to zone the areas. The additional ceiling height increased the sense of space and aligns it with the original part of the house.

We wanted to have a contrast between the old part of the house (built in the 1930s) and the new extension. The new part has very clean, straight lines with a much more modern, nature inspired feel.

We chose to have polished concrete floors throughout, and installed underfloor heating connected to our existing heating system.

We also opted for aluminium framed windows with an internal timber frame (double glazed) and sedum roofs. We then chose two materials for our external cladding: fibre cement on our home office and Siberian larch wood for the covered patio.


Cost Breakdown

Architect fees covering concept designs, planning permission and building control submissions, tender and site visits: £7k

Building control and planning permission fees: £620

Contractor fees: £150k

Landscaping: £20k

Interior design and fit (kitchen, living space, utility and hallway/ under stairs): £40k

Items Stephen and Paula supplied such as tiles, sanitaryware (for two bathrooms), lights, switches, any white goods (although they reused most of what they had already), internal doors and handles, etc: £11k



Top tip

Don’t rush into building. If you can, spend time creating moodboards and researching the style you want. In our case it allowed us to get to the design we wanted. Working together with the architect to nail the finer details, getting all the paperwork in place and approved made such a difference. It made things less stressful and I feel it contributed to the fact we didn’t have to deviate from the design. As much as possible, we tried to get ahead of anything we could that was our responsibility. We started the interior design and fit out engagement before building work had even begun, for example. We wanted to minimise delays as much as possible.

How was the project managed and built?

We needed both planning permission and building control approval. Our architect completed both applications for us, which gave us the assurance that all the right paperwork was submitted, increasing our chances of approval which we got first time.

We then went out to tender for contractors to complete the build. We wanted to have the work done as quickly as possible so we could start enjoying it as soon as possible. We knew this would be a more expensive option but we felt by having a contractor, issues could

be addressed much more quickly by removing any dependencies on others.

Having undertaken renovation projects in the past, we knew things could take a long time if we were to do the project management. Especially as we both work full time.

Our architect managed the project working with our contractors directly and providing detail specs for our contract. This provided absolute clarity on scope of works and who was responsible for what.

We had monthly site visits with the contractor’s project manager, the architect and ourselves. Having the architect check in on the work regularly


was extremely reassuring, allowing any corrections or issues to be addressed that we would not have caught ourselves.

If our contractors required any decisions to be made, we did this in partnership with our architect. Our architect was also able to provide updated plans as and when needed. Our contractors also took care of arranging the building control site visits and obtaining the final certificates.

We tracked all our costings and were able to manage these closely against our budget. Another benefit was the clause in our contract for snags which means any issues over the next 12 months can be addressed, before we pay the final instalment.

How did you tackle the interior design?

We had a clear vision on how we wanted the interior to look and the materials we wanted to use. We wanted it to have as natural a feel to it as possible to tie in with the large windows bringing the outside in.

We worked with a designer to bring that vision to life. I shared moodboards, a brief on what we wanted and he was able to help us maximise the space and pick finishes. We then had a joinery company undertake production and fit out.

We already had a high spec kitchen and wanted to reuse the units as much as possible. The kitchen company was able to help us repurpose these to tie in with the new style. Having everything custom made allowed us to use the entire space.

For the bathrooms, the supplier helped us select sanitaryware and tiles, happy to work directly with our contractors to provide plans and arrange timings on delivery at no extra cost to us.

Trying to get ahead and give plenty of lead times, we picked our tiles and sanitaryware in 2021, guaranteeing no holdups. We designed and sourced the lighting ourselves.

Tell us about the garden design.

As part of our brief to our architect, we wanted to ensure the space opened to the back garden and we had different zones outside as well.

He helped us design a covered patio area which we’re in love with.

We changed the layout of the garden and brought in more hard landscaping with different levels to allow for more planting areas, different spaces to relax in and a way to enjoy the sun all day as it moves across the sky. Our contractors undertook the hard landscaping and we completed the planting ourselves.


March 2021

Begin design phase with architect

July 2021

Planning permission applied for

November 2021

Approval granted

December 2021

Tender start and building control applied

Jan-Mar 2022

Designs and specifications

March 2022

Contract signed with builder

April 2022

Build start

October 2022

Extension completed

January 2023

Landscaping and final building control certificates issued



Were there any changes during the build?

We were fortunate to not hit too many snags. We uncovered some rotten timber beams and other damp issues due to the age of the house. Some measurements had to be changed along the wall but thankfully they didn’t have a big impact on anything. We had factored in a contingency of £8-9k to allow for things like this.

How is the house working out for you?

Spaces in the house we weren’t using at all before are now used every day. Hosting is much more enjoyable but when it is just the two of us, we feel we have more spaces to share together. During the spring and summer, it’s a joy to have our bifold doors open all day long and sitting on our patio into the late evening.

The spaces are flooded with light and we can see greenery, especially in the office. It’s been a boost for our wellbeing and mental health. Our cat particularly loves sunbathing in all the light.

Biggest splurge?

Our biggest spurge would have been the custom joinery. This was more than we had budgeted for but being able to get this all done in one go and by the same company meant we got to use all the space available to us, it had a cohesive design throughout and all the materials tied in together and matched. For me, this really elevates the whole extension.

If we were to try and source items to fit ourselves we feel this would have taken a lot longer and would never achieve the same look and feel. We don’t regret that extra spend at all.


Project info

Find out more about Stephen and Paula’s project in Co Antrim...



Micah Jones,

Builder SC Developments

Timber flooring supply and fit

WFS Flooring & Tiles, Banbridge,

Interior designer

Michael Morgan




David Scott


Rationel (Ireland)

Bifold doors

Complete Window Systems

Internal doors

Doorways NI

Concrete floor

RTU, polished by Donnelly CPC

Fibre cement

Equitone Natura 8mm panels

Sedum roof

Greenroofs Ireland

Roof lights

The Rooflight Company


Luke McCallum, email


Walls: cavity wall construction 100mm blocks, 50mm cavity filled with PUR boards with wall ties at 750mm centres horizontally and 450mm vertically, internal walls 50mm PUR laminate plasterboard, skim finish

Floor: 100mm powerfloated concrete slab on 100mm expanded PUR board on continuous radon barrier on well compacted sand blinding and hardcore filling

Roof: spray foam insulation

Windows: triple glazed timber aluclad

More photographs available at
AFTER BEFORE N E S W Study Dining Dining Utility Utility WC WC Kitchen Kitchen WC WC Patio Storage Storage Bathroom Bathroom Snug Garage Garage Master Bedroom Master Bedroom Bedroom 2 Bedroom 2 Bedroom 3 Bedroom 3 Dressing room Dressing room Living Living Lounge Lounge

on a sloping site Country style garden

With a large, challenging site and a set of adorable triplets bursting with energy, this rural garden needed some careful design to allow the family to fully enjoy their new property.

Building your dream home is an absorbing and time consuming undertaking, so it’s not unusual to focus on the house itself and worry about the outside later. But in this case, it was clear from the outset that a careful plan for the garden was required.

The site sloped from left to right across the property, so level areas had to be created for the seating areas, driveway and paths, and the design had to incorporate a grass slope and raised mound running along the left-hand boundary, to separate the garden from the road just outside.

With a large extended family visiting frequently, the seating areas needed to fit different sized groups comfortably, with a separate but linked dining and barbecue area and an area with lounge style furniture placed to catch the last rays of the evening sun.

This was achieved by linking the two areas and running a hedge across the paving in between the two to act as a divider.


Hedges are often considered in relation to boundaries, but by using them as an architectural element within the garden, they have many more uses.

In this garden, hedging acts as a green dividing wall, a backdrop for colourful, country garden style planting, and as a protective barrier alongside planting to soften the impact of the prevailing south westerly wind.

It’s also used to create a separate

Anne Byrne The house with sloping site
Crocuses in spring
Green beech hedge

kitchen garden and along the raised mound at the roadside boundary as a screen offering privacy from passing traffic.

Green beech (Fagus sylvatica), used here, changes throughout the seasons and retains its leaves in winter after they have turned brown, but many evergreen plants make a good hedge too.

Consider the size of hedge you need (the height and width), and the rate of growth when making your choice. Vigorous, fast-growing plants will provide a tall hedge quickly, but will need more regular maintenance and trimming than smaller, slower growing species.

Country style garden

A country style garden was preferred by this family, so plenty of colourful shrubs, flowering perennials and climbing plants twining over a pergola were all used to achieve a pretty, inviting look.

The ridge or mound at the edge of the garden to add an extra safety barrier inside the wall is clothed on the road side with ground cover planting – low growing, spreading shrubs and perennials that spread out quickly and

cover the ground, keeping weeds down and needing little to no maintenance.

A long winding path meanders in a loop through the garden, offering the chance to explore and encouraging a sense of invitation and discovery.

Self-binding gravel is a good, costeffective option for a long, curving pathway, and allows a gentle wander through the garden without stepping on wet grass. It will also come in handy for three little bicycles and scooters.

Special features

A separate kitchen garden for growing fruit and vegetables was included in a corner of the site, sheltered from cold winds by a sturdy hedge.

As there are family links to the surrounding land, apple trees grafted from trees on the home farm will be added for sentimental value (as well as fruit). This is a lovely way to provide a physical link within the garden to previous and future generations of the family.

A dome made from living willow will grow very happily here and offers lots of play opportunities for little ones.

Mature beech trees already on site are incorporated into the design, with carpets or drifts of early spring bulbs to bloom beneath in February and March, helping early pollinators and bringing cheer to the chilly start of the year.

This garden design is a useful example of working successfully with the space you have, whatever its challenges – with careful planning even the trickiest site can be transformed into a garden for family and friends to enjoy.

Curved path through garden

Ground level planting. Low hedge for wind shelter

Evening seating

Raised bed & country style pergola

Dividing hedge


Think of hedging as an architectural element within the garden – it has many uses besides lining the boundaries.

Incorporate plants from your former home. It’s easily done and is a lovely way of creating a link between past, present and future homes, and family members. In the old days many of our grandparents would take ‘slips’, or cuttings, and grow them into plants for their new gardens.

Consider the country garden style. It’s a broad church and ideal for a countryside home, creating a relaxed atmosphere to complement a new build home and at the same time anchoring it in its rural setting.

Curved path self binding gravel Country style garden door Apple trees

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OPINION . ADVICE . INSIGHT . KNOWLEDGE POLISHED CONCRETE How much does it cost? 76 SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 73 advice 74 LETTERS - Insurance, cash flow, grants, damp and more 80 BUILDERS - How to hire the right one INSPIRATION Utility rooms 78 PASSIVE HOUSE CLINIC Your questions answered 82 BUDGET BUSTERS How to avoid them 84


Insurance cover

I’m building in ROI and I know it will take me at least two years to build my house; what’s the maximum timeframe for me to take out self-build insurance?

I’m not taking out a mortgage and am worried that insurance could lapse. I know I can take out an 18 month policy plus an additional six months but is there ever a case for this to be further extended?

We can offer an initial 18-month policy. If you’re not finished, we can then offer a further 12 months or alternatively we can continually offer three-month policies until the work is completed. The three-month policy would be a little more expensive than a quarter of the 12 months policy.

The 18 months policy is only marginally dearer than the 12 months (and in some cases the same if the case falls within our

minimum premium). The best thing to do is to get quotes from insurance brokers and see how they compare.

Cash flow with timber frame

Most timber frame companies are looking for 80 to 90 per cent prior to installation on site, which is broken up into staged payments to an extent. I don’t have the cash flow to pay for it.

The typical first stage mortgage drawdown from banks is at ground floor slab level. This still wouldn’t typically cover the amount required for the timber frame company to prefabricate the structure. Hence the gap in financing, where one doesn’t have circa €100k cash flow available.

We are due to start construction on our house via direct labour and I’ve received a number of quotes from reputable timber frame suppliers which I’m interested in pursuing. One drawback is the upfront costs involved i.e. around 80 to 95 per cent payment required

prior to installation on site. I understand this is required given design, material and fabrication costs upfront.

The issue is financing this outlay cost upfront which will likely be €150k. We will be mainly financing the build via mortgage however the banks have a set stage payment / drawdown system based on certified work done to date i.e. to ground floor slab, wall plate, roof etc. Banks don’t seem to be flexible regrading upfront payments such as required for timber frame.

At issue is the banks’ stage payment/drawdown system which is designed for traditional build approaches

with a main contractor. It’s not always suited for selfbuilders going direct build using prefabricated systems which require large lump sums upfront.

We’d like to go timber frame for its speed of erection and other benefits but if it’s cost prohibitive we’d be forced to go more traditional route, which all seems a bit mad in this day and age.

Write in to if you’ve come across this issue and how you dealt with it.

Kieran O’Dwyer of insurance broker Selfbuild Protect,
I’m looking for some help in relation to grants for a new build in ROI. There is a lot of information about grants for renovation projects but not so much for new builds.

1970s bungalow insulation Grants for new builds

We’re completing a renovation on a 1970s bungalow. We are going to counter batten the ceiling and put new slabs up 50mm below the current ceiling.

Any problem if we were to install a vapour barrier over the existing ceiling and tape to walls before we counter batten and install the new ceiling. Currently have 300mm of fibreglass in the attic. We are installing an air to water heat pump, wall insulation, floor insulation

We have a cottage on site but due to the condition it is in we have to demolish it. I am aware of the development levy which has been axed but would greatly appreciate information on any other grants I can apply for in relation to a new build.

You’re right, there are many incentives for existing homes but not that many for new builds. The good news is that the waiver for the development levy is likely to be extended for a year, which can save tens of thousands on your project. If you’re a first time self-builder and plan to get a mortgage, the Help to

Buy scheme can subsidise €4k in the form of a tax back payment as a deposit on your mortgage. In a similar vein, the First Home Scheme is a shared equity scheme and sees first time self-builders able to borrow money interest free for the first five years.

Also good to know is that the electric vehicle (EV) charger grants from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) are open to new builds. This is good news as provisions for EV charging points are mandatory on new builds. After that we’re not aware of any incentives for new builds unfortunately. - ED

and mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR). The intention is obviously to make the dwelling more energy efficient and quite a bit of money will be spent in the process.

The best approach to such renovation work is to achieve the correct levels of (1) insulation (2) airtightness and (3) controlled ventilation before calculating the heating requirements. I would question the wisdom of purchasing any MVHR or air-source heat pump (ASHP) systems before these three steps were properly addressed and would emphasise the requirement for having the heating system output properly calculated. Since airtightness is very difficult to predict, an as-built airtightness test should be completed to find out exactly how the dwelling is performing.

On the subject of ceiling insulation, I would ask why they don’t simply add to the existing insulation quilt. Cheaper mineral wool quilt type insulation will work just as well as the expensive PIR insulation boards as long as the correct thickness is used and it is kept uncompressed in the attic. Also, why is there a need to counter-batten the existing ceilings?

However, to answer the original question, the simple rule for vapour barriers or vapour control layers (VCLs) is that they must be installed on the warm side of the insulation, so in ceilings with an unheated attic above, the VCL should be fitted below the insulation. Likewise, it will be OK to tape the VCL to the walls as long as it is fitted on the warm side of the new wall insulation. Note that there should be no air voids between the layers of insulation. Careful attention

to detail at interfaces between walls, ceilings, floors, doors and windows, etc. is vital when fitting insulation and air-tightness measures around these areas.

My final advice is that this project should be designed by an independent professional (i.e. a design consultant with a proper working knowledge of achieving energy efficiency in buildings) who could design a holistic solution so that the reader’s financial outlay and subsequent running costs are no higher than they should be.

Les O’Donnell of Landmark Designs,
SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 75 letters

ask the expert

Ask Keith...

Q: I’ve gotten two quotes of €20k for polished concrete, 190sqm, new build, is that average?
A: Keith says: Sounds reasonable, but do your research.

To start with, as many will know from the various articles on cost I have written for the magazine over the years, I do not accept that the term average costs really exists in our industry. Average costs apply to similar works, similar specifications, for work carried out in similar conditions and of similar complexity.

In the world of self-building, average simply does not exist. Every house is unique in that it has its own unique design, on its own unique site, with its own unique conditions, location,

restrictions, floor layout, steps, divide, angles and the likes.

It is therefore a necessity that you estimate and budget your costs based on a reasonable assessment of your own specific property instead of average costing models. To do otherwise will most likely cause an issue at some stage in the process when the true costs of the works stretch budgets to the maximum. In respect to polished concrete floors generally, every supplier and specialist in this area generally charge different rates and have different specifications. In general, the market has various types of finish which largely relate to the extent of grinding and finish that is applied to the concrete surface.

In addition, the grade of concrete and amount and size of aggregate are important factors and also the addition or otherwise of colour. The size of the area involved and the location of the site relative to the specialist’s location are also factors.

Many companies use

different terms to describe the different specifications from standard to gold to platinum, to grade one, grade two and grade three, etc.

The cost of polished concrete generally starts at a minimum of €55/60 per sqm based on areas greater than 100sqm for the standard finishes and costs will increase through various specifications to over €120/130 per sqm for the higher end finishes.

The cost will generally increase for smaller quantities with most properties of less than 100sqm achieving rates of over €120/sqm. In respect to locations, it is often the case that rural or out of Dublin costs will be circa €20-30/sqm higher than in city locations as specialists add for things like travelling.

On that basis of the above, I would believe that a cost of €20,000 for a 190sqm or €105/sqm would be a reasonable cost for a midrange finish on a property of that size in a city location. I would expect the figure to increase in rural or isolated areas.


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Utility room inspiration

Your utility room is a versatile space with boundless potential, awaiting transformation into a hub of functionality and style. Rebecca Ferris looks at how to make sure yours is a haven of practical luxury.

Your utility room should be functional, stylish, comfortable and practical. Here we have all the inspiration you need to design one from scratch, or upgrade the pokey one you already have.


Invest in appliances that prioritise efficiency and functionality. High efficiency washing machines and dryers not only save water and energy but also perform better.

For smaller utility rooms, consider stackable washer-dryer combos to maximise space. Adding a foldable ironing board on the back of a door or within a cabinet can save valuable floor space while keeping essentials easily accessible.


Utility rooms offer a treasure trove of storage opportunities. Consider installing adjustable shelving units to accommodate various sized items. Wall mounted cabinets and hooks can effectively organise cleaning supplies, brooms, mops, and vacuum cleaners.

Labelled bins or baskets on shelves make it easy to locate and access specific items quickly. Use

Adding plants

Bring in nature by placing indoor plants on shelves or windowsills. Make sure you choose a plant that likes the light levels it will get in the space, and one that does well in humid conditions.

Wall and floor coverings

Add personality and style to the utility room with simple yet impactful changes. Experiment with removable wallpaper or decals to add visual interest to the walls. Introduce texture and warmth with a colourful rug or runner.

Rebecca Ferris Selfbuild+ contributor


A padded bench with storage underneath serves a dual purpose; providing a comfortable spot to sit while also offering additional storage. Pair it with a small side table to hold a cup of tea or a book, creating a cosy corner for relaxation within the utility room.

Dealing with moisture

If you are building new, chances are you will have a mechanical system to extract moisture. If you’re dealing with an existing home, an extractor fan will deal with the high moisture levels.

Clothes horses are clunky and hard to get around; consider foldable options, or accordion types.

Other uses

Some may use the utility room as a pantry or kitchen annexe. Everything from storage freezer, larder fridge, dry goods storage area, bulky kitchen gadgets and more can be housed here if near the kitchen. Adding a sink and dishwasher to hide away the mess of cleaning up can be useful if you have an open plan kitchen where you will be entertaining after dinner. You may even want to carve out a dedicated area for a home office or mini gym. Space saving furniture like a wall mounted desk or a foldable table that can be easily tucked away when not in use. Use vertical space for floating shelves or a pegboard to organise


As with your ventilation system, lighting is something to look at early on. Overhead lighting supplemented by task lighting in specific areas such as the laundry or workspace ensures proper visibility.

Consider motion sensor lights to illuminate the space automatically when entering. If feasible, maximise natural light by keeping windows unobstructed or using sheer curtains.

Shower area

If your utility room is doubling up as the back entrance/bootroom, adding a shower area might be of use, especially if you live in the countryside. Pet showers are growing in popularity for the same reason. The good news is, it doesn’t require much room to put in. For

Top 3 design tips

Here are three surefire ways to design your utility room layout with functionality in mind.

1. Arrange frequently used items within easy reach, placing them at eye level or within arm’s reach.

2. Reserve higher or lower shelves for items used less frequently.

3. Implement a labelling system for bins or

office supplies, books, or study materials. Ensure adequate lighting and add personal touches like motivational posters or framed artwork to inspire productivity.

A mini gym is possible by incorporating compact exercise equipment. Foldable treadmills, exercise bikes, or resistance bands can fit snugly in this space. Install a full length mirror to check form and posture while working out. Consider installing a small sound system or a TV for workout motivation or to follow exercise routines.

more utility room inspiration

ask the expert

Ask Andrew...

Q: I know it might sound crazy but I’m really worried about choosing the right builder for my new home. I hear so many horror stories and I don’t want to fall into the same traps.
A: You’re wise to be concerned because getting this right will make all the difference to your life over the period of your build… and to your bank balance.

As the manager of your project this will be the single most important decision you’ll make. You’ll need to be able to trust him to do what he says he will, to the standards you agree, on time and budget and to behave well towards you, your visitors and professionals.

This is asking a lot of someone you’ve never met, so the very best way of making the choice is to use someone who has already proven themselves either to you in the past; to friends or acquaintances of yours; or to one of your professional team. Your designers or architects may have a preferred contractor with whom they want to work, for example. Some people in your situation simply like the look of a particular building site and decide to approach the builder ‘cold’.

However you find a potential builder there’s no substitute for going to a site he is currently running. Here’s what to look for:

� How does the whole place look and feel, even from across the street?

� Does it look tidy, professional and safe?

� How are cars and other vehicles parked? Are they annoying the neighbours, parked across pavements, or on other public areas?

� Does his van have his name, address and contact details on it?

� Are skips being tidily managed?

� Have his vehicles left mud tracks on the public highway?

� Is there a name board on the site with his company details prominently shown?

� What do his workers look like? Are they properly dressed with high-viz jackets, proper safety boots and hard hats?

� Does the site look secure?

� Are radios blaring?

� When you approach workers are they polite and helpful?

� When on the site to see the

builder do you find yourself tripping over cables and pipes?

� Are materials neatly stacked?

� Is rubbish strewn around the place?

� Are workers doing dangerous jobs wearing protective gear?

But the most important thing will be how you feel about the person and how you think you could work together. And a lot of this will be based on intuition and gut feeling. Just because a very highly recommended contractor has worked well for someone else doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be a good fit for you. As you start to explore how he works and how he deals with your project early on, you should be able to get an idea of how you could work together. Involving your partner can often be helpful here, to get another head on the issue. As with any relationship, it will also take time and effort to build mutual trust and respect with your builder.


The Method Group

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Our team can provide the level of construction knowledge and know how necessary to successfully undertake and complete a wide variety of construction projects.

We are committed to providing a high level of service on every project, to meet and where possible, exceed the expectations of our clients.

New Age Concept Ltd

With over 20 years experience in the construction trade, New Age Concept strive to be the premier custom builder in Dublin and surrounding counties. We do this by delivering the best quality work, with the greatest value. New Age Concept specialize in new builds, extensions, renovations and all your building needs.

Castleforms Ltd

Specialising in the manufacture and supply of:

• ICF Therm Wall System

• Raft Therm Foundation System

• Soltherm External Render

• External Wall Insulation

• Floor Insulation

OS Holding Ltd

Dublin’s Best Construction Company. OS Holding Dublin: trusted construction company with extensive experience in house renovation, extensions, and conversions. Cost-effective solutions exceed industry standards, with privacy and safety as top priorities.

Builder’s directory SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 81

Clinic takeaways

Barry McCarron and Seán McKenna share what they learned from selfbuilders attending their Passive House Association of Ireland and South West College one-to-one clinic at Selfbuild Live Limerick in January.

This is what we learned from our clinic over the two days as we chatted to about 40 couples and individual self-builders, all of whom were undertaking a home building project.

General trends

Well informed but not confident enough. We were pleased to find that the level of knowledge, including on all things passive house, was excellent. We did however detect that the people we spoke to weren’t confident enough when speaking to suppliers and others in the industry. Pioneering spirit. We encountered a huge amount of conversation about build systems and indeed a surprising amount of open mindedness to newer systems. We noticed a significant level of interest in Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF). Uptake of Passive House modelling. We had about a third of people who had projects modelled in the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP), which was great to see. It’s also great to see that this expertise is out there for the selfbuild community.

Top 2 common misconceptions

The more windows the better. The vast majority of people we spoke to had large amounts of glazing baked into their existing project drawings or concept plans. In many

Disappointingly a lot of people we spoke to believe you can’t open a window in a passive house, which is very surprising and made us wonder how this myth gets perpetuated.

cases, with an apparent lack of care on glazing proportions to both the south and indeed the north facing elevations. With the current building regulations allowing natural ventilation, and the fact that we’re building our homes to be airtight, these glazing proportions are a concern.

North facing windows can bring about significant heat loss and yield minimal solar gain. In both my and Sean’s experience it was surprising to realise, from a simple visual appraisal of the plans, that many of these homes were going to be susceptible to overheating. The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) is very good at modelling the percentage of overheating.

You can’t open your windows in a passive house. Disappointingly a lot of people we spoke to believe you can’t open a window in a passive house, which is very surprising and made us wonder how this myth gets perpetuated.

It might lie in the perception that all the heat will escape out of your house if it is airtight, and you have a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system.

A good analogy is to think of it like your car. In the winter, the car recovers heat from the car

What’s solar gain? It refers to the sun’s energy building up in the house, which can help heat the house in the cooler months. It also refers to daylight and reducing the need for artificial lighting. Overheating happens when there’s too much solar gain.

Barry McCarron Chairman of the Passive House Association Ireland, advice Seán McKenna Architect and certified passive house designer

Have any questions about your project?

Come chat to Barry and Seán at Selfbuild Live Dublin on the 18 and 19 of May 2024, 10am to 6pm, at Leopardstown Racecourse Dublin. FREE tickets here

engine and filters it and directs it to where you’re sitting as space heating. However, if the car windows are down, that wouldn’t work so well to maintain comfort.

Then in summertime if your car has air conditioning, it’s still a regular expectation to open the windows but you would perhaps not be inclined to open them as frequently or down as much. Simply because you wouldn’t need to.

Cost busters

We noticed that many of the homes presented were of significant size, often well over 250 sqm.

I am currently working with a PhD student in TU Delft University in the Netherlands and she has highlighted in her thesis the increasing role of Sufficiency, Efficiency, and Renewables (SER) within EU policy going forward. An efficient house is one that caters to the household’s needs, in size and comfort.

As self-builders know, glazing is the most expensive element of the building envelope. My own project experience has me quoting a rule of thumb from €400 to €800 per sqm of window area. The common themes among the plans we saw were floor to ceiling glass, glass extending up to follow the eves, and corner windows. Over the two days we heard of quotes for windows averaging below €3,000 per sqm and one project even hit €4,000 per sqm. Shop around.

Passive house certification

We got a lot of questions about passive house certification: why people should do it, what is involved and how much it costs. The reason to do it is that it’s an independent third-party level of assurance. We are also likely to see a passive house mortgage product in ROI much like the one in the UK which offers a 0.5 to 1.5 per cent interest rate rebate for passive houses.

The certification process involves site visits, to certify the house is built to the passive house standard. As for cost we estimate an average of €2,000 - €5,000 and we highlighted that this can be reduced by taking ownership of some elements of certification like photography.

However, even if it was at the high end without doing this legwork yourself, you’re looking at €5,000 which is circa 1 per cent of the cost of a typical project. More than worth it from our point of view. Particularly with future qualification criteria around green mortgages down the line.

Passive house: A design and build methodology from the Passive House Institute in Germany that delivers a home that’s so energy efficient it costs very little to run.

PHPP: The Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) will guide you through specifying a passive house as defined by the Passive House Institute in Germany. It’s a voluntary standard so even if you design to this benchmark, you must still go through Building Regulation compliance with the government accredited software (DEAP in ROI and SAP in NI).


What’s a heat pump?

We expected to have more conversations around heat pumps than we did. The fridge analogy is the best one to explain what a heat pump is and what it does. A fridge is like a heat pump in that the fridge is basically a well insulated, thermal bridge free, airtight box which then works hand in glove with the little heat pump apparatus at the rear of the fridge which runs in reverse cycle to a heat pump only providing cooling to the fridge. If, for example, the fridge door lies open, then the heat pump will be never-ending working to cool the kitchen i.e. running up electricity bills and providing inferior performance.

What should I do about ventilation?

With the regulations where they are now with near zero energy buildings (nZEB) and soon to be zero energy buildings (ZEB) mechanical ventilation in the form of balanced mechanical heat recovery ventilation or demandcontrolled ventilation are the two best measures to pursue currently.

For more information on how the different systems compare, see Barry’s article about ventilation strategies here



Budget busters

The 13 mistakes to avoid when you’re project managing your new build or extension project, especially as they relate to the construction programme.

Whether you’re partially managing some aspects of the build or taking on a project on a direct labour basis, there are pitfalls to avoid if you want your build schedule to stay on track. Here are the most common mistakes I come across on site.

Top 5 rookie mistakes

1. Making changes after the work begins. This is important not just because it will usually throw the programme into disarray, but because it is one of the most common causes of time and cost overruns on any building job.

2. Not paying attention to preliminaries. The site investigation into soil conditions should have been taken care of at the design phase, but if not, do it before the tender phase. Making unproven assumptions on foundation design can be one of the other big ‘unknowns’ that jeopardises your financial planning. Also talk to your new neighbours to reassure them that you won’t be working with noisy equipment at unsociable hours, or blocking their driveway, or any other concerns that they might have.

3. You assume that you and your design team have all the answers sorted and that the contractors and tradespeople will arrive on site and execute the works exactly as planned. In reality, you will have all the answers only after you and your design team sit down with the construction teams before works commence and tease out any foreseeable difficulties with the construction phase documents, including the programme.

4. Failing to establish clear lines of communication. We all have our own preferences of which type of comms technology works best for us but I would suggest that you identify an app that allows you to at least set up groups and subgroups and ensure that everyone knows that on this project, it is the only method that will be used for one-off messages. In addition, everyone that needs access to drawings and documents should belong to the online project folder (free cloud solutions are available) and must be notified of any documentation

changes each and every time they occur.

5. Believing suppliers when they claim that certain products cannot be obtained and agree to them substituting the product you want with another. Never take ‘no’ for an answer until you check it yourself. Unless we get any other big unforeseeable events beyond normal human control, then supply chain requirements should have been properly addressed before work commenced. Do take time to vet your suppliers thoroughly before setting up an account.

Whether you’re partially managing some aspects of the build or taking on a project on a direct labour basis, there are pitfalls to avoid if you want your build schedule to stay on track.
Les O’Donnell Landmark Designs

Top 3 budgeting mistakes

1. Not getting prices sorted out in good time.

Ordering supplies is not a simple matter of getting a price and then placing an order. You need to get two or three prices for everything, checking to see if they actually match the design specification, compare them like for like, check availability and lead times; plug all this information into your programme and then finally order them. Failing that, at the pre-construction stage, estimate costs until you get firm quotations. Know the legal difference between estimates and quotations and check if any prices have time limitations. A well managed tender process should take care of all this.

2. Ignoring the difference between a cheap quote and a value for money quote.

Look for people with good reputations that you can check up on and verify yourself. A cheap quote from someone who puts an inexperienced or slack team on the job can easily turn out to be more costly in the long run. If a quote comes in significantly cheaper than the others, find out why if you can. It may signify that the supplier is keen to get the work, or has overlooked something. A quote that is significantly higher than the others may mean that the supplier doesn’t really need the work but if they get it, the high price is a bonus. On the other hand, it may indicate that this supplier has accounted for something that the others have missed, or that they are committed to achieving the highest quality. Some sub-contractors may be totally self-sufficient, whereas others may expect you to hire plant and equipment for them. Find these things out at the tender phase.

3. Failing to meet cash flow expectations.

Make sure that the pricing of the activity schedule is well balanced and make sure normal cash flow expectations of the various contractors can be met. In other words, the programme should inform you as to when payments are due and how much you need to draw down at each stage. Again, pre-construction meetings and scheduled site meetings should sort these issues out before they can become problems.

The role of project manager

If you are project managing the entire build, it means you are in charge of hiring tradesmen yourself and coordinating every other aspect of the build.

Expect to be spending a lot of time chasing subcontractors / tradesmen; even once the project has started, you may find yourself chasing them to show up. Check and record the insurances held by each subcontractor.

You’ll also need to ensure there is a dry, secure space for storage and break times as well as perform all the Health & Safety duties. And you have overall responsibility for complying with the building regulations.

You’ll be sourcing materials, hiring equipment, investing in basic DIY tools, and be in charge of site security.

Dealing with waste, tidying the site and preparing for the next trade will be time consuming tasks.

You are responsible for arranging for deliveries and checking same, and for lead times - items arriving too early and you will have to store them without them getting damaged or stolen, too late and the build could be held up waiting for delivery.

Above all, any mistakes will be your responsibility to fix. You will also be in charge of the snag list, which could entail having to call back tradesmen to site – not an easy task if they have been paid for the work already.

Leslie O’Donnell is a structural engineer and a chartered architectural technologist with over thirty years experience in designing and supervising the construction of buildings.


Top 5 mistakes when dealing with the schedule

1. Failing to ensure that everyone, including yourself, is on the same page for every single aspect of the job. Make your requirements on quality of workmanship and materials clear to all right from the start and ensure that everyone collaborates with you and with each other. Be curious. Just because you think you know what a particular term in a drawing or specification means, doesn’t necessarily mean that others have the same understanding. As they do in any technical work, abbreviations and jargon appear regularly, so take time to understand them when you are writing up the programme.

2. Missing opportunities to tie up work teams with each other and with the supply chain. A clearly presented programme will solve these issues, but only if you spot them in time. Check regularly with your teams so that they get everything they need, including plant, equipment and materials, on time. Check what preparatory work they will need to get started and any other help they need from others as they go along.

3. Presuming the average site operative will take time to read the drawings. Even with the most faultlessly produced drawings and specifications, this is a big mistake. General labourers should be properly briefed by the contractors or their team leaders, but above that skill level, everyone should regularly refer to the drawings and specifications before they commence work and at any time whilst they are on site. Keeping a set of up to date laminated working drawings fixed in a prominent position in the site hut is the easiest way to achieve this.

4. Failing to be accurate and realistic about project deadlines. It is much better to under promise and overdeliver than the other way round. You, as the employer, should have the power under the contract terms to instruct sub-contractors if and when works need to be stopped or postponed. Holding off wet trades in frosty weather would be one example of when you might need to do this.

5. Neglecting to ensure that tradespeople are up to date with the knowledge and skills required for your particular job. If it takes a week to sit down with joiners, plasterers, window fitters and bricklayers to make sure that they know what is expected of them, then that is time well spent. Trying to do this on site during working time is often a nightmare and your programme will suffer. Allow time on the programme for briefing your team leaders before they start work. Training may be required for non-standard methods of construction. If you are using less mainstream methods or materials, such as lime plaster or hempcrete for example, it pays to get someone with appropriate experience on the team.


Pre Design


Pre Design

stage of

your Selfbuild

Journey is in many ways the most important one. It’s where you will make the key decisions that will have a big impact on how your house will be built, and on the final outcome.

This early stage of your project is all about refining what you’re going to build and how you’re going to finance it.

Needs and wants

The best part about building your own house has to be being able to choose everything that goes into it. But it can be a curse too, when the time comes to make decisions and you feel you haven’t had the time to weigh all your options.

When you get on site, it all moves very quickly and you’ll be asked to make decisions on the spot. So the more legwork you’ve done in advance, the more likely it is that you’ll be happy with the finished product.

On a fundamental level, this is also the time to knuckle down and decide what you really need from this house. Size is an important factor as are current

and future needs, which will depend on your circumstances. It’s the time to truly discern between what you need and what would be nice to have.

To help you through this process, you’ll need an architectural designer. This can be an architect or an chartered architectural technologist, both of which are trained in design (see p90). Investing in good design will pay dividends. Crucially, it will also mean that a professional designer is double checking that what you are building is regulations compliant.

How to go about the build

Your choice of building methods and other structural decisions will need to be taken into account early on, especially if you choose to go with a modern method of construction (see p96). Structural decisions tend to have knock-on effects on things like where to put services or how far ahead you need to plan for finishes.

Another big decision to make is how personally involved you will get. Do you want to do some DIY? Will you manage the

“Your choice of building methods and other structural decisions will need to be taken into account early on...”

Selfbuild Journey Stages

88 /SELFBUILD/ SUMMER24 journey
Get started with the Pre Design stage of your Selfbuild Journey here

project in what’s known as direct labour? A direct labour build means you take charge of hiring all of the tradesmen yourself, from plumber and electrician to blocklayer (see sidebar for the pros and cons).

Pricing it up

Of course, another essential element is finding out how much you can and want to spend on

the project, what the financing options are (who will lend you the money and how), and how to get an accurate cost figure, and ways to stick to it (see p92). There are plenty of budget busters; to avoid them you need to know what they are – one of which are the development contributions in ROI (see p94, although these are now waived until the end of the year).

Pre Design

The second stage of your self-build journey will have you asking the following questions…

The Pre Design stage of the Selfbuild Journey on is organised as follows:

- Working out your requirements

- Choosing an architectural designer

- Collating your ideas

- Building methods

- Other key structural decisions

- Energy efficiency and the environment

- Budget & Financing

How much can you save going direct labour?

I get asked this question at least once a week, and while you could just simply say it’s going to save you between 10 to 20 per cent on average, that’s not the whole picture. That will all depend on what you see as value for money. What time do you have on your hands? Have you got the knowledge to manage/ organise and deal with the inevitable issues and problems that can arise?

Quite often the potential savings made on running the project yourself can be outweighed by loss of time making the wrong decisions, overordering /underordering, plus having to make snap decisions without the experience or knowledge to make them. All of which is likely to cost you money. There’s quite a bit more to project managing than meets the eye. Minor problems with a builder can be sorted very quickly. But on your own, without that experience and know-how, a small issue can quickly turn into a more serious one. Which can lead to a stressful and costly outcome, with your family life getting impacted.

So, yes it can save you money but this comes with a serious word of warning. Think very long and hard before undertaking a project especially if you have to work full time, have little knowledge of the processes, and don’t like stress. It can often end up costing more than employing a reputable builder, on all levels.

DJ Ramsdale DJ Build Cost Estimations


Where an architect saves you money

Self-builders often can’t see the benefit of hiring an architect, but professional expertise will pay for itself many times over, argues Edel Regan.

There are three building professionals you are likely to hire on your project: an architect (make sure they are registered with the relevant professional body - RIAI in ROI and RSUA in NI), an engineer (registered with Engineers Ireland in ROI or relevant trade body for NI), and a quantity surveyor (SCSI in ROI and RICS in NI).

It’s important to familiarise yourself with what to expect from each consultant you will hire,

and what they will deliver.

For instance while engineers can draw up house plans, they are not trained in architectural design, or site design, or understanding the brief to accommodate your requirements. An engineer is focused on the structural and civil integrity of the project, and a quantity surveyor is employed to guide you with construction costs.

To get the most benefit from your interaction with your architect, it is important to give them the brief and the budget so they can work effectively on your behalf.

After you’ve been granted planning permission, architects and engineers will produce a set of working drawings and 3D images and coordinate all of the drawings, both architectural and engineering.

So how does good design save money?

Maximise efficiency and reduce circulation. Every square metre of a house costs money to build; by saving on unnecessary corridors, hallways and other dead spaces, you are creating a home which is more compact, and which delivers the same usable floorspace.

How many windows you have and where you place them will also have an impact on the bottom line; a good architect will maximise light and views without the need for excessive amounts of glazing.

No need to make changes. You don’t want to have to deal with retrofit works, which will end up costing much more than getting it right in the first instance.

Kerb appeal. The inside/ outside relation of your home will enhance daylight, your quality of life and wellbeing, as well as the house value. In fact kerb appeal, or how attractive the house and surroundings are upon approach, is a key component of house valuations. An architecturally designed house is most likely to deliver kerb appeal.

What are the other benefits?

No time wasting. Your architect will be able to advise on how suitable the site is for development. There are sites that simply won’t get planning permission; there’s no point investing time,

“Your architect will be able to advise on how suitable the site is for development.”
Edel Regan E.R.Design Architects Ltd Renovation of a home in Baltimore, West Cork, by E.R. Design Architects

For more about choosing an architectural designer here

energy and even money in the form of site surveys and architectural drawings if you won’t be allowed to build there.

No regrets. All too often I’m contacted when it’s already too late to make any changes. Early intervention from an architect will mean you won’t have regrets about the design, and you won’t need

to make alterations further down the line.

Smooth planning process. A good architect can preempt pitfalls in what may otherwise be a long drawn out and painful process. This will save time and prevent the need to reapply or make major changes to your design.

Understanding the design process

What about renovations?

Better for the planet. It’s more eco-friendly to renovate an existing house than build new.

Maximise potential. A good architect will see the potential of a property; you may not think there’s much you can do with a renovation but there are plenty of properties in great locations that just need a bit of design flair to transform into a dream home.

An architect can save you money by minimising the amount of work that is required or providing a completely different take on how to enhance the space. The design will be sympathetic to your existing home and enhance it, not overpower it.

For a successful design, one that creates a home tailored to your needs, an architect will consider any constraints relating to the project (e.g. site characteristics), the programme (build schedule), financial constraints (max budget), the brief (your circumstances and needs) and what accommodation is required (bedrooms, bathrooms, living spaces, etc.).

Things to know

Orientation. 30 per cent energy savings can be achieved if a house is orientated within 15 degrees of South, provided its main living spaces are arranged to avail of the passive solar gains.

Energy ratings are


All domestic dwellings require a building energy rating (BER in ROI) or Energy performance Certificate (EPC in NI) before you move in.

Locals only. In ROI rural sites are hard to get planning for, unless you can prove you have links with the area. The planners are keen to promote residential development, i.e. development of sites near schools and areas where infrastructure services such as mains water, sewage and electricity are available.

Sight lines. The site must have a safe access with sightlines in both directions of a minimum of 80 to 90 metres. The speed limit on the road will have an impact on this. It may be appropriate to have an engineering consultant do drawings for the planning application, for site suitability and sightlines for access.

Edel Regan FRIAI, of E.R.Design Architects Ltd, is an award winning senior architect who has over 20 years’ experience designing everything from one-off houses to mixed use developments,, mobile 0868079502.
What’s an architectural technologist?Architectural technologists have a similar training to architects but are affiliated to a different professional body, the Chartered Institute of Architectural Technologists (CIAT).
Render of a renovation project by E.R. Design Architects

Budgeting for your build

Where do you start to cost your project?

How can you get your project financed?

Where can you save the most?

Before you start on your design, you’ll need to determine how much you’re prepared to spend on your project. It could be what money you have saved or the value of your current home, or the maximum amount a mortgage provider will lend.

Affordability is key so don’t overestimate what you can comfortably afford. This will be your starting point to start on your house design.

As a self-builder you can apply a conservative £ or € per square metre rule of thumb at the initial stages, to get your house designed. After that you can get a costing done up based on standard specifications, but it’s likely that you will want to go higher spec than what’s considered standard for a developer.

As self-builds are bespoke, a more accurate cost will only become available once a quantity surveyor has your fully detailed and specified set of plans (construction drawings).

This is when you can start itemising and making decisions on the specification. The devil really is in the detail as costing a project accurately will depend on availability and the current market rates. Have a list of items you are happy to compromise on, because during the build you may need to find ways to cut down on costs.

Using a per square metre or square foot figure beyond the very initial stages is misleading, and can lead to issues on site when you find out how much

Commonbudget busters: Location (with Dublin being particularly expensive for labour) and specification (high end finishes such as underfloor heating and high spec roof can easily add 40k to a project).

92 /SELFBUILD/ SUMMER24 Average costs for a standard specification journey NI £120£140/sqft ROI €150€200/sqft Average costs year end 2023, source: DJ Build Estimations.
“It’s unlikely you will be happy with a standard specification; most self-builders go higher spec.”

the finish you want actually costs. Cost engineering, or changing the specification to cut costs, should be done at the design stages to avoid panic buying.

Bar exceptional circumstances, there is no reason for you to go overbudget if you have construction drawings that have been costed by a quantity surveyor.

However, contingencies are still advisable. Foundations are the notorious wildcard in that they may require more groundwork than what’s considered standard (extra digging and/or need for more complicated foundations due to soil conditions).

Self-build mortgages

If you plan to borrow the money to build your house, speak to a mortgage advisor early on. In part because of insurance, some banks will not lend if the house does not conform to their standards. They may be wary about non-traditional roofs such as large flat roof areas, or sites with a shared road access, for example.

Self-build mortgages work differently from standard ones. Instead of a lump sum, the bank

releases funds in stages as your home is built. You only pay interest on what you’ve drawn down.

As the build progresses, usually over 18 months, the bank issues stage payments. Each stage requires proof of completion, signed off on by your architectural designer or engineer, before funds are released.

The first stage payment is often delayed due to the paperwork involved; once the process is set up the following stage payments tend to be released quickly. The last stage payment, which requires all completion certificates, also tends to be lengthy to release.

In NI, you can borrow up to 75 per cent of project costs or more if you own the land. In ROI, lenders offer up to four times your income, with a 10 per cent deposit required, plus a contingency fund.

You’ll need a site and planning permission before applying. Some lenders accept the site as a deposit.

Where to save

House size.

You may not need as big a house as you think; with good design, a smaller house can deliver the same usable space. Compact, rectangular shapes are most cost effective to build and heat.


It’s not just the size and amount of glazing that will save you money. You might be better off with a regular sized window on two orientations (better light quality) than one large expanse of glass on one orientation. Or you can look at breaking up the panes into sections, rather than have one large expanse of glass which of course is more architecturally striking. Remember too that a large expanse of glass at night will be a sheet of black, so you will need to think of how to dress it, i.e. curtains or blinds (it’s costly).


Limit the number of bathrooms, e.g. consider a Jack and Jill instead of investing in a series of small ensuites. Some simple hacks include only tiling portions of the bathroom and sourcing furniture secondhand.


The most common budget buster, the kitchen can easily add tens of thousands to the final bill. Plan ahead to get what you want within the budget you’ve got.

Shop around.

There are big savings to be had when you shop around, e.g. hot water taps thrown in for free. If you find a supplier you like and buy enough from them, discounts should be available.

Schedules of work vs bill quantitiesof

The schedules of work are usually done by your designer and it’s a room by room account of general costs, or it can be done by trade. A bill of quantity is a much more detailed document, devised by a quantity surveyor. It itemises the cost of every item that goes into the build and the labour rates for each job.

UPDATED COSTS FOR 2024 Selfbuild+ Build Cost Hub

What fees do local authorities charge?

If you plan on building or extending a house, know that you will have to pay local authority fees in both NI and ROI. This is your comprehensive guide to what you can expect to pay in your own county.

Starting a self-build journey is thrilling, but dealing with local authority fees can be overwhelming. Whether you’re building in NI or ROI, grasping these fees is vital for managing your budget and planning effectively.

As you dive into the process of building your home, it’s crucial to understand the financial impact of local council charges. Whether you’re experienced in construction or new to self-building, preparing for these expenses will help you avoid surprises and keep your project on track.

Planning Permission Fees

The cost of gaining planning permission varies depending on the type of application. In NI the planning application fee to extend a home is £327. For building a house, the outline application fee is £486, while a full application will cost £975.

In ROI the fee for an outline application to build a house is €48, and for full planning, it’s €65. Additionally, the fee for a house extension or garage conversion is €34.

Building Control Fees

In Northern Ireland, building control fees vary based on the type and size of the project. For a single new build domestic dwelling no larger than 250sqm, the plan fee is £121.50.

Similarly, for an extension plan fees range from £81 to £162, depending on the total floor area, while for a loft conversion, it’s £97.20. For a

detached garage or carport not exceeding 40 sqm, the plan fee is £113.40.

Plan fees need to paid for other aspects of a self-build or renovation project such as £81 for the installation of an unvented hot water storage system (which is not part of a larger project and needs to be inspected by the district council).

Replacement of an existing ‘combustion appliance’ (a fixed appliance – including a cooker

– which burns solid fuel, gas or oil; or an incinerator) carries a plan fee of £84.93. For the installation or extension of a heating system, the plan fee is £113.24. If you are installing microgeneration technology, such as solar PV, you will be expected to pay £113.24.

In ROI there is a single ‘Commencement Notice’ fee for all domestic projects of €30.

94 /SELFBUILD/ SUMMER24 journey Heather

Development levy costs for a 200sqm house

Development contribution levies (Section 48)

For self-builders in NI that’s where the planning fee trail ends, but in ROI from the end of 2024 when the waiver expires, you will also encounter the ‘Development Contribution’ levy known as Section 48. It’s a payment towards the local council’s infrastructure ranging from neighbourhood amenities, roads and footpaths, and traffic management.

As per the Planning and Development Act 2000, local authorities can create Contribution Schemes tailored to their individual jurisdictions. As a result, contribution amounts may differ greatly between city and county councils, as well as within specific districts, based on factors like square footage, location, whether rural, urban or within a new development zone.

These development levies, plus the Irish Water connection fees for water and wastewater, were temporarily waived for 12 months by the ROI cabinet in April 2023, as part of its Housing for All Action Plan to try and speed up the construction of new homes by reducing building costs for selfbuilders and developers. The waiver was further extended in April 2024 until the end of the year.

Self-builders and developers do not have to pay development contributions and water connection fees for residential developments that commenced between April 25, 2023 and the end of 2024 (at time of writing a specific date has not been announced). However, there will be a build completion deadline to qualify for the waiver –again this date has yet to be announced.

So how much will fees add to your overall build costs when the temporary waiver ends?

County by county breakdown

Selfbuild took a deep dive into each of the current development contribution schemes of the 30 city and county councils across ROI to provide a general guide on what you can expect to pay.

Some local authorities charge per sqm others a fixed fee per unit, so in order to provide a meaningful comparison we have calculated the levies in each district on a 200sqm detached house. We have also included per sqm fees for extensions

and detached garages where available (click on the QR code above for the full list).

On average, across all schemes, we discovered that the levy for a 200sqm house was €6,805. However, this figure varied significantly,

with the highest levy reaching €30,301.50 for a new build in Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council’s new Cherrywood development area, while the lowest was €1,060 for a rural house in Co Monaghan.

Carlow County Council
Clare County Council
Cavan County Council €4,800 Cork County Council €9,974 Cork City Council €2,500 Donegal County Council €22,764 Dublin City Council €19,278 South Dublin County Council €13,083 Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council €25,768 Fingal County Council €18,000 Galway City Council €2,176 Galway County Council €3,000 Kerry County Council €12,400 Kildare County Council €3,600 Kilkenny County Council €2,000 Laois County Council €2,000 Leitrim County Council €4,000 Limerick City and County Council €2,770 Longford County Council €11,646 Louth County Council €4,000 Mayo County Council €7,500 Meath County Council €1,060 Monaghan County Council €3,010 O aly County Council €3,600 Roscommon County Council €4,000 Sligo County Council €6,200 Tipperary County Council €5,750 Waterford City and County Council €4,010 Westmeath County Council €2,200 Wexford County Council €5,700 Wicklow County Council
Links to the relevant documents for each individual city and county council are available here CAMPAIGN Sign the petition to extend the holiday indefinitely for self-builders

journey Comparing building methods

Micah Jones compares building methods, including the ever popular modular homes.

My favourite building method is mass timber but all construction methods have their place.

For me, design always comes first. After that, we can select an appropriate construction method, and there will always be a best fit.

The considerations range from what finishes can be achieved to how the house will perform in terms of comfort and efficiency not to mention the ecological impact of the build and its materials.

Modular building has been

a buzzword for a long time, but it has been slow to take off and design is often limited by the overall system.

Kit houses still tend to be a premium product and so the question you have to ask is: what can it bring to the design or is there another reason for using it such as cost or speed of construction.

Furthermore kit houses can mean many things. From structural insulated panels, which means the walls are made off site and assembled to

be thermal bridge free, to log homes which can be hard to get planning permission for because of their appearance.

Volumetric construction, whereby the entire house is built offsite including all finishes, is cost effective but this is mostly

a commercial option. In reality one-off sites are hard to reach, which often makes delivery too difficult for it to be a feasible option.

Shipping containers were popular for a while but the logistics of insulating these structures to building standards, and adapting them (awkward shape) doesn’t usually lead to cost savings in practice.

Here’s a brief overview of the most popular building methods in Ireland, from our experience over the past decade or so:

Cavity wall construction is still probably the most common method in Ireland. It consists of two rows of blockwork with a cavity in the middle, which nowadays is insulated –typically with either EPS beads or PIR board. This is a versatile construction method and we have pushed it successfully to the level of achieving passive house with a project we completed in 2021. To meet

Micah Jones
Micah T Jones Architects,

the necessary U-values often results in cavities of 150mm or more, which can push up costs and inflate the footprint. A bigger footprint means more foundations and therefore more concrete. It is however possible to achieve great airtightness with good detailing and the external finish options are endless, as the outer leaf can support any cladding or finish. The key element of this method is the thermal mass of the walls, which store heat and balance the natural rise and fall in air temperatures.

Solid masonry with external cladding is quickly becoming a very cost effective way of building; this consists of a single leaf of blockwork insulated on the external side. Thermal bridges around windows and doors are easily dealt with and the walls provide excellent thermal mass. It’s a simple construction which reduces costs. This method is also potentially good for the self-

builder who wants to take on work themselves.

Timber frame is undoubtedly quick, and good U-values can be relatively easily obtained. When we talk of timber frame in Ireland, we refer to factory made insulated timber panels which are assembled on site, often requiring the use of a crane. Airtightness is achieved through a continuous membrane which makes for a simpler overall approach when compared with masonry construction, allowing multiple tests to be carried out before closing in the walls.

We have found in practice that on a one off build, timber frame is equally or more expensive than masonry construction. We would suggest

Method Benefits

Cavity wall Solid masonry

Timber frame


Mass timber


More about building methods here

to design in some thermal mass to help balance those fluctuations in temperature as the timber frame does not naturally have significant thermal mass. Timber frame is a more ecological construction method as are many of the insulation options associated with it.

ICF or insulating concrete formwork is quickly taking off in Ireland and a relatively common sight to see going up. This method consists of interlocking hollow EPS blocks that are strengthened with rebar and filled with concrete. Speed is definitely a major benefit; but find a builder who has used this method before or the speed gain may quickly evaporate in the

Builders are familiar with the method, provides good thermal mass (regulates temperature)

Simple method, some DIY possible

Quick to build and good U-values

Thermal bridge free build, speed of construction

Aesthetics, regulates temperature and humidity

Quick and usually cost effective

learning process.

We have used all of these construction methods over the years in practice, but my favourite construction method remains mass timber. I’m biased as I built my own home with CLT (cross laminated timber) and love the look and feel of a simple timber form. Mass timber is a relatively new and underused construction method and therefore more expensive, but worth it in my opinion. Ultimately the construction method has to fit the budget. In my opinion the priority is to get the design right first and select a method of construction to suit. Good design will be evident regardless of how it was constructed.

Environmental credentials Cost

Concrete is resourceintensive

Concrete is resourceintensive

Good credentials with natural insulation

The EPS casing is plastic based insulation and it is filled with concrete which is resource-intensive

Good credentials with natural insulation

Depends on the method; many systems are shipped from abroad and plastic based insulation tends to be the norm

To reach passive standard it’s no less expensive than other options

Savings can be made with this method when building a low energy home

Same as blockwork or more, depending on the finish

No major savings compared to other methods but offers a quick build

More expensive

Depends on the type

Micah Jones established his award winning practice in Co Down in 2012 and currently works across projects in NI and England. Prior to this, Micah worked in several practices in NI and in the Netherlands.

Trends for 2024

The Pre Design stage is when you gather inspiration and figure out what you need, and what would be nice to have. For some inspo, here’s what’s trending in 2024.

House design trends

Beyond aesthetics, three elements will define the external appearance of your home: the site (sun path and ground conditions for location and massing, sloping or narrow sites can lend themselves to modernist look, etc.), your budget (size and form may

be limited, rectangular compact shapes are most cost effective) and planning requirements (the planners

Top 3 interior design tips

Pantries. They’ve always been on the wishlist but now they’re included in every kitchen, even if it’s in the form of a large cupboard.

Multi-tasking utility rooms. The dog shower, human shower, where to put mucky boots and sports equipment. Throw them all in.

Hiring an interior designer. They save time, get you discounts, and if you go through a furniture retailers the service is either very affordable or free. Shop around.


Massing refers to the structure in three dimensions (form), not just its outline from a single perspective (shape).

may require some vernacular features).

As a result, externally what we’ve seen trending over the years is a mix and match approach – modern mixed with traditional

elements. Don’t think you have to copy the style of the area either; the planners are more open-minded than they’re given credit for. The main thing is to base your application on their development plans and design guidelines where available.

Modern interpretations of the bungalow remain on trend with stone cladding, a mainstay of Irish designs. While the farm building aesthetic remains popular, including barrel roof designs, it’s now often incorporated as straight cladding for an even more modern look. Other popular finishes include charred timber, larch and zinc effect (either uPVC versions or the real thing).

Brise soleil

For the past two decades the trend for ever more glazing (amount and size) has led to overheating. This means we’re seeing more overhangs, known as brise soleil.

Cost effective and timeless bungalow design

More about collating your ideas here

Theme: Quiet luxury

Interior design is always a step or two behind the world of fashion, and this year is no exception. Which is why we’re seeing the quiet luxury trend seep into interiors just now. It refers to a clean aesthetic, with understated touches of luxury. Think clutter-free and extra cosy.

While this isn’t quite a ‘less is more’ trend, investing in quality does mean the item will last longer and work better making it more environmentally friendly.

Upcycling is still popular, and doing it yourself will be kind to your wallet too.


Following on from the quiet luxury trend, earthy neutral colours are coming in fast after the recent dark greens and dark blues trending in kitchens.

Pantone Colour of the Year

It’s especially prevalent in bedroom design, meaning luxurious designs don’t have to be showy. No cables hanging off bedside tables, storage solutions that allow everything to be tidied away quickly, including clothes.

The term ‘kitchen sanctuary’ is trending up on Google searches and ties in with quiet luxury as does mixing old and new. Here you can make savings by buying secondhand online or in charity shops.

Consider adding pops of colour for fun and enjoyment as it helps lift the mood. With bedrooms, remember that the colour needs to be conducive to sleep so zoning the room can help. Calming tones include blues, greens, and creams.

But the key here is to find the colour that makes you relax and feel comfortable, and to find where your neutral colour

lies. Neutrals can be grey, white, or cream. Colours that signal calm and harmony – trending this year are creams. Greys have gone out of fashion but will no doubt make a comeback at some stage.

For 2024 the Pantone Colour of the Year is Peach Fuzz and you’re likely to come across the salmon hue in most furniture shops. It conveys a subtle cosy vibe, evoking feelings of selfcare and compassion.

That’s the theory at least, and as with all trends, you can take it or leave it. A low cost way to incorporate it is to include it with accessories such

Mood boards

Don’t know where to start?

Interior designers often turn to mood boards to show you what they have in mind for your décor.

A good place to start if you want to do one yourself is to scour catalogues; make a collage of styles, colours and textures you like. They don’t have to match, throw it all in and you’ll find a pattern will emerge – the pattern could be eclectic.

Social media is great for ideas but more often than not, items will be hard to

Every year the colour institute designates a colour that reflects current trends “For 2024 the Pantone Colour of the Year is Peach Fuzz and you’re likely to come across the salmon hue in most furniture shops.”

as cushions. Unless you know you’ll get bored of your interiors in five years, invest in quality. The longer it lasts, the more eco friendly it is as it means buying less.


Wood is always popular, simply because of how versatile it is,

source at an affordable cost. That said, don’t let what’s readily available dictate your style. There are always ways around these problems, and a good interior designer can help with sourcing materials or coming up with alternatives. Start early with this process and chances are you’ll get most of what’s on your wish list.



In the

bathroom black hardware

is on trend, being softer than chrome...

but this year it’s firmly back in the spotlight for its warmth and unrivalled texture. It can also readily complement an industrial chic style and as it so happens, metallics are also

interior designer or lighting consultant can help with lighting design but self-builders usually rely on their electrician’s experience. This often leads to two circuits for the main rooms;

trending, particularly among the younger generations. It offers a modern aesthetic and can be combined with a range of materials.

In the bathroom black hardware is on trend, being softer than chrome, and geometric tiles are still very on trend with subway tiles being stacked the other way around. In sanitaryware, self-cleaning toilets are becoming more popular too.

And in terms of textures you can expect a focus on soft and luxurious materials, with cosy and squishy bang on trend.

Natural finishes are also on trend and we’re seeing a move towards natural, tactile plasters including clay and lime, as well as polished plaster finishes.


As we spend ever more time indoors, artificial lighting is starting to be taken more seriously than in the past. An

one for task lighting, one for ambient lighting.

Lighting consultants will tell you lighting is all about layering

– one light pendant in the centre of the room doesn’t cut it. Kitchens might be designed with five circuits so you can change

the lights for different meal occasions, cleaning, cooking, etc.

The top three trends this year in lighting are:

Uplights. Wall lights are trending this year, especially sconces.

LED strips. It’s come a long way since it first came on the market; sleek and slim, smaller rooms especially benefit from LED strip lighting. On trend for kitchen drawers too.

Biodynamic lighting. It refers to artificial lighting that mimics sunlight and optimises circadian rhythms; there’s also quite a bit of research into reflective materials that bounce sunlight into the room for maximum exposure. A trend to look out for in years to come.


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Part philosopher, part engineer

Approaching retirement, construction veteran Louis Gunnigan finally got to realise his dream of building his own home. Here he chats about how he got on at the Pre Design stage.

My wife Gaye and I were in rented accommodation and fast approaching retirement. As the rented accommodation market is volatile, we needed to own our home when we reached retirement. And having worked in construction for so many years, building a house was something I’d always dreamed of. It was one of those bucket list projects.

Just before the pandemic kicked off, we found the site. It was Gaye’s daughter who spotted it and had us go look at it as soon as it came up for sale. It was a plot at the back of somebody else’s house, with a direct entrance onto the road. Three minutes from the railway station (with regular trains just 25 minutes duration to Dublin city centre),15 minutes from the airport, 5 minutes from shops, and it’s a 10 minute walk to the beach. The dream.

Choosing a Architectural designer

I had a lot of connections in the construction industry with people who are very innovative in design and I asked one of them to look at our options. The narrow site was tricky to work with and this first architect gave us some of what we wanted but not all. It became very clear to us after a short amount of time that he wasn’t the person to go with.

The main takeaway from this experience is that you have to know why you want things, not just what you want. Because if you don’t express that to your architect very clearly at the start, they will give you what they think you want. And that’s not necessarily the same thing. So we spoke to the architect about it, and he said he didn’t think he could design the house we wanted on this plot, and we said fair enough. We left it at that and then went to another architect, a local architect, who had designed lovely houses in the area. And he was a perfect fit.

Values Statement: working out our requirements

When we bought the site, we didn’t have all the funding secured yet to build the house, which meant we had a bit of time to look at our design options. And even though the site came with planning permission, the house that had been approved didn’t suit us, so we had to start from scratch.

I wrote a Values Statement for our architect; half a page to state who we are and what is important to us.

It included our circumstances - two people approaching retirement who need a home to suit us as we got

older. Low running cost and maximum accessibility were important. This would prompt an accessible design – ideally a bungalow, maximised use of space, and high energy efficiency.

We wanted to maximise the use of the building plot to suit a retired lifestyle, but we wanted this achieved in the most planet-friendly way possible. Whilst this home would be for two people, it would need to be designed so that future generations could adapt it into a family home.


Site size: 740sqm

House size: 95sqm

Bedrooms: 2

Site cost: €170k

Build cost: €340k

Heating: Air to water heat pump

Ventilation: Centralised mechanical with heat recovery

Construction: ICF


Self-build diary – Louis Gunnigan
The site

Between us Gaye and I, from our previous marriages we have six children, and two grandchildren as well, so we wanted a space where we can entertain people and also have the kitchen run seamlessly to the garden and south facing patio.

The issue of accessibility, specifically around thresholds was a big thing for us, as we had both witnessed our ageing parents struggle with steps as they entered old age. We were both conscious that in 20 years’ time that’s where we’re going to be. Being an engineer, I also gave the architect 10 pages of a technical brief of what I wanted. He said the Values Statement could have been written by a philosopher but the technical brief was definitely written by an engineer, such was the level of detail provided.

Energy efficiency, airtightness and the environment

At the design stage, we realised the building energy rating (BER)

was an A2 but right on the margin of A1. We got it up to A1 by adding more insulation.

We maxxed out on insulation everywhere and for the walls upgraded the specification from 330mm to 350mm EPS and added more solar panels. We’d planned for six initially and in the end went for 14. That brought us down even further and very close to passive standard.

Rainwater harvesting

I could never understand the logic of flushing your toilet with potable water and to avoid this we insisted on the inclusion of a rainwater harvesting system to provide water for toilets and laundry.

We put a 3,000 litre tank in the back garden, so that’s more than enough. We bought the whole thing for €2,350 (tank, pump, header tank, etc.). As an overall percentage cost of the project, it was small. While we won’t save money from it, maybe we will in future as water charges may have to be paid at some stage.

Design ideas and tips

Moveable island for small kitchen. The house isn’t that wide which meant adding an island to what was a small kitchen wasn’t going to be possible. But we still wanted the additional prep space. I had the idea to put the island on castors; it’s quite small 1400mmx600mm but effectively it’s a movable breakfast bar. We move it outside for barbeques, which is easy to do as there are no thresholds.

Foldable banquette. We put in a banquette at end of the kitchen with a table that goes up against the wall and that saves you 300400mm in space every time.

Dog shower in utility room. Very simple thing to do when building, harder to retrofit.

Create garden areas. It’s important to give some thought to how you’re going to use the garden. I’ve the back garden for vegetables which is my passion, including a greenhouse and shed, and the front garden is for flowers which is Gaye’s passion.

Storage. With a house the size of ours we had to be careful about storage; we didn’t want to have to lug stuff up and down ladders and didn’t want to use up precious internal floor space for things like Christmas decorations. So I got a shed that’s 8sqm in size, half of it is insulated with a chest freezer which gives off a bit of heat. It cost €3k in total as compared to adding storage in a house that cost €2k/sqm to build.

Futureproofing. The attic space is big and ready for future development.

Rainwater harvesting tank


Solar gain

From an energy point of view, because the site is on a North South axis we had to put the windows on the south side, which meant we also had to look into how to control the solar gain to prevent overheating.

House size

We were initially looking at a bigger house than what we ended up with. When we spoke to the architect, he said ‘to maximise the use of the site, a smaller house is better. And remember there are only two of you; do you want to clean rooms you don’t use?’ Those two arguments were enough to convince us.


We went for a high spec house because we wanted to do this only once. We quickly became aware that building a house can cost you anything

from €2,000 per sqm to €4,000 when you take into account the site, landscaping and everything.

And we knew we were going to be on the upper end of that. We told the architect straight off that’s where we’re going to be.

Taking into account our budget and the narrow site, he designed a 95sqm bungalow. It might seem small but that’s the size of an average three bedroom house on two storeys. In our house every square inch of space is usable apart from the entrance hall which is the only circulation space. A brilliant result. With the builder we went with a fixed price; we had both a bill of quantities and schedule of rates. The schedule of rates built up a final sum but we were aware some of those could shift – for example we took out a door and put in pocket doors as well as swinging doors – and

we changed the insulation.

From all of this I had a fair idea what it was going to cost, as the design was tailored to our budget. We had a price initially of €300k including VAT, but then building costs skyrocketed with the pandemic and that was the main reason we ended up with an inflated final figure.

We made a big saving thanks to the development contribution waiver; we weren’t charged any development contribution levies. For the Irish Water connection we had to pay the fees upfront and were entitled to a refund on completion of the house.

Exploring building methods

If you are going to go with a modern building method, you have to get the architect to talk to the people who provide the different options. Because there are things

they can and cannot do. You might design something of a certain size, and they’ll say ‘no we can’t do that with our manufacturing process’. Whereas if you designed it slightly differently they could.

We looked at volumetric construction first, because it would be quick and more cost effective. The cost was about 30 per cent lower than any other method of construction, even bringing it in from Latvia.

Site cleared ICF house with scaffolding

We were going to get the entire house built in three or four sections in a factory in Latvia. The architect designed the house so we could do that, according to their module sizes.

We’d spoken to a logistics company about how to bring it here – you can bring a load 10.3m long at the back of a truck and 3.2m wide so everything had to be built to modules of that size. It was going to take them 12 weeks to build it in the factory, and then it was going to take them three weeks to put it together on site. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing to make sure it was built to Irish standards; I was quite confident that with my experience in construction and the architect’s experience that we could do that.

We shortlisted three factories in Latvia and when we looked

at the finer details, we realised we couldn’t do it. While we could get the modules over here, to our road, there were so many overhead wires coming into the site that we weren’t going to be able to get it from the road to its final location.

ESB Networks and Irish Water were also going to be problematic as this was being planned as a non-standard build. The timescales from both of these organisations were just too long for us. We would be ready for connections 15 weeks from starting but Irish Water eventually gave us a connection in week 39, whilst it took ESB Networks a whopping 49 weeks from application to power on.

This is a major issue for anyone considering using volumetric construction. You might get your house faster,

but the utility companies are still working to a timescale that is only suitable to traditional construction.

Another setback was that volumetric construction comes with flat roofs, and we were going to have to get an A frame roof. We wanted the A frame for the solar panels, and because we wanted it to look like a cottage. Which it did in the end.

What was interesting about going through this process was that it opened up a lot of other discussions about getting the finishes in early, and that really helped the build to go smoothly. After that we looked at more straightforward timber frame builds but there was no huge cost advantage there. We ended up choosing Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF) for its


Feb 2020

Site found

Aug 2020

Site purchase completed

Autum 2022

Architectural design

Nov 2022

Planning applied

Feb 2023

Planning aproved

May 2023

Tender process

Read up on the rest of Louis’ diary on



speed and the guarantee that we’d get an airtight house at the end. It wasn’t any cheaper than the alternatives.

There are other perks with ICF, things like chasing walls are so much easier. And we could order the windows straight away as the window size was set from the construction drawings, unlike with a block build where the window company does a site survey to determine the window sizes.

Direct labour vs main contractor

I had looked into managing the whole build by direct labour myself, but I very quickly found out that the smaller builders in Dublin are really struggling to get people themselves, so I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it on my own with no history of dealing with those people directly.

Through the architect, we sourced a builder and negotiated the contract sum. I took a project management role to deliver the project.

106 /SELFBUILD/ SUMMER24 Foundations dug
Louis chose ICF as his building method in the end

What is construction?volumetric

This modern building method entails building the entire house in a factory, including the vast majority of finishes from sanitaryware to floor coverings. The house is built in modules and each of them is transported by truck to the site to be craned in place. The modules are connected on site to create the finished house. Commonly used for commercial buildings.

JE Architecture, Dublin, Structural Engineer

MTW Consultants Ltd, Dublin,

BER/Environmental Engineer

Certified Energy Ratings, Dublin Quantity Surveyor

Costing Construction Ltd, Dublin Contractor

TMC Construction, Dublin,

Heating and ventilation


Solar panels

Solar PV Panels Ireland, Longford,

Materials/Heating/Ventilation supplier



Tilestyle & LTB Tiles and Bathrooms

Lighting JR Lighting Newry, jrlighting.


Floor: Unilin Thin-R XT/PR-UF

Roof: Quinn Therm QR and Quinn Therm QL-Kraft

Windows and doors



Walls: 350mm ICF (Insulating Concrete Formwork) consisting of 100mm outer leaf EPS insulation, 150mm concrete core. 100mm inner leaf EPS insulation, U-Value 0.16W/sqmK

Floor: 150mm PIR inslation board in standard build up, U-Value 0.16W/sqmK

Roof: 150mm PIR between rafters, 62.5mm PIR under rafter, U-Value 0.13W/sqmK

Windows and doors: double glazed aluclad, average U-Value 1.2W/sqmK

Study WC Kitchen Utility Living Entrance Bedroom
Bedroom Ensuite Ensuite Walk
wardrobe Dining Suppliers Architect

The beaten track

Having worked in construction for most of his life, first time self-builder Gavin Connolly went with tried and tested methods to build his family home in Co Down. Here, he shares how he got on at the Pre Design stage.

Site hunting was the starting point. And it took a while. We had five or six sales fall through before this one came up in 2019, through our local estate agent.

The site was in an area we liked, with a view of the Mourne Mountains. A peaceful and quiet location. The estate agent told us it was coming up and as soon as it came on the market, we offered over the asking price. Thankfully, that sealed the deal. For services we were able to connect to electricity with a mains cable at the front of the site. NIE removed existing overhead cables which spanned the site and put them underground. NIE removed the overhead cables free of charge as they were too low for the roof level of the house. The only thing I had to do was

dig a trench across the front of the site for the cable to be laid in which is where my new connection came off. Water was a mains connection too.

Early stages

The site we bought already had outline planning permission for a bungalow and garage, and we knew we’d only need to tweak the internal layout. The size of the house at 200sqm was fine for us and even though there are two storey houses nearby, we didn’t feel a need to change the design.

There were few restrictions, mostly a ridge height of 5.5m. We knew a bungalow was suitable so went down the reserved matters route to apply for full planning permission. As for our wants and needs, we knew we didn’t want a back

door into the kitchen as is so common in Irish homes. But we did want a front porch and a big utility room. We also wanted a sunroom, preferably with bifold doors.

We chose our architect based on the fact that he’s local and was the person who got the initial plans passed for outline planning permission. He knew what way the site was.

I drew up initial plans and sent it on to our architect to draw up. We also kept him on to apply for planning permission and for building control approval.

Decision to go direct labour

I work in construction so I knew it would cost me £30-40k on top to bring a contractor on. That’s why I decided to take on the role

House size: 205sqm

Bedrooms: 4

Plot size: 1/2 acre

Site cost: £72k

Build cost: £250k

Construction: Cavity wall

Heating: Oil fired boiler

Ventilation: Positive input


EPC (SAP): B (84)

journey Selfbuild Diary – Gavin and Aisling Connolly
The site

Headline Costs

Plumbing and heating: £18k Kitchen (incl. appliances and utility room): £16k

Windows and doors: £10k Insulated floor screed + screed: £9k



of project manager.

With a main contractor, you have one point of contact versus having to hire and coordinate the individual trades yourself.

The way I saw it, this was going to be a time consuming project anyway and I’d have to be making the same decisions whether I went with a contractor or direct labour. So I went all in. This meant clearing up, tidying up for the next trade, organise materials, and get the trades on site when they were needed.

If I didn’t know the person I hired, they had to come recommended. I knew who I was going to need next, so I’d give a heads up to that person to let them know we’d need them on site soon. I told all of the people who worked on the project that I didn’t care when they did it, as long as they didn’t go past the deadline. I basically treated it like any other project at work. And I did as much as I could, inside and out. I’d be there evenings and most Saturdays.

Energy efficiency and the environment

We decided to invest in insulation only insofar as we needed to; we went with an insulated floor screed which was expensive. For the rest we went with standard build ups and plaster for airtightness.

We paid attention to key details like having the insulated walls meet the subfloor before we laid the insulated screed. We considered spray foam for insulation but needed a 50mm air break so just went with a standard build up instead, insulating with mineral wool between joists and rigid PIR board across the joists.

We considered an air source heat pump early on but heard mixed reviews on operating costs and we wanted to get a blast of heat. So we went with an oil fired boiler with underfloor heating and a multifuel stove.

Photovoltaics (PV) and rainwater harvesting we didn’t do because of cost, the budget



Site Bought

Oct 2021

Planning applied

Dec 2021

Planning approved and building control applied

April 2022

Site clearance

May 2022

Notice of approval from building control

Read up on the rest of Gavin’s diary on


wouldn’t have stretched. PV we may look at in future; we have the hot water tank in the attic ready to tap into and the back of the house is south facing and therefore a perfect orientation for solar panels.

Budget and Financing

I got a friend of mine to do the costings for me to get the mortgage, and his bill of quantities was £2-3k within the lender’s assessment. We got our self-build mortgage approved in April/May 2022 and interest rates increased pretty much straight after that.

There were other cost increases during the build, from labour to the cost of plant hire (because of the mandatory move from red diesel to more expensive but less polluting white diesel), and we had to request an additional drawdown. In the end, we went 10 to 15 per cent over budget.

Ways to keep build costs under control

Stick to standard specifications. We knew from the outset that we wanted a traditional build and one that was in keeping with the houses around us. We weren’t drawn to the new technologies. We wanted stonework at the front, a front porch and a sunroom.

Choose standard finishes. We went with basic flat black tiles, uPVC fascia and soffit, double glazed uPVC windows. All very straightforward and cost effective.

Go with a trussed roof. As for the roof, we went with prefabricated trussed joists to allow for storage, and in the sunroom a vaulted truss, where we doubled up on the insulation.


Suppliers journey

Architect: Fletcher Architects Ltd

Financial: Financial Directions Ltd

Legal: Andrea Reid Solicitors

Plant Hire: Kelly Point Hire, Down Hire, Beattie Crane Hire, John Rodgers Plant Hire, Bann Hire

Fuel: James Fitzpatrick Fuels

Concrete, quarry aggregates, blocks and sand: CES Quarry Products Ltd

General Building Materials: John Shilliday Ltd Castlewellan

Precast Products: Mackin Concrete, Newry

Roof Trusses: ATS Trusses

Roof Tiles: Breedon Roof Tiles

Special Lintels: Steel Lintels Ireland

Door Frames: Executive Wood Products, Mayobridge

Internal Doors, Ironmongery: The Door Store

Granite: Shanlieve Stone, Newry

Fascia, Guttering etc: Aluminium & Plastics Systems

Joinery: Mark Feenan

Retaining Wall: Maccaferri Ltd

Treatment Tank: Viltra Wastewater Technology

Windows and Doors: M.McAvoy, Hilltown

Precast Flooring: Ernecast

Floor insulation and finished screed: Alpha Flow Screed

Kitchen/Utility: AB Interiors

Quartz Worktops/ Spalashback: AR Robinson, Annalong

Heating, Plumbing, Bathrooms: PM Plumbing

Electrical: C.O’Hare Electrical

Tiling: Equisite Tiling

Carpets: Martin Phillips

Stoves: Woodstoves Ireland

Cavity Insulation, Pumped

Energy Store Roof Insulation: Northern Loft Insulation

Mechanical Ventilation: BEAM Vaccuum & Ventilation

Blockwork: M&M Bricklaying

Roofing: Martin Cunningham

Plastering: Laurence Tumelty & Donagh Steele

Stonework: Mick Fitzpatrick



Walls: cavity wall construction, 200mm wide cavity insulated with pumped EPS beads, closed off with insulation at head, 25mm PIR at reveals, U-value 0.16 W/sqmK.

Roofs: insulation 200mm fibreglass, between joists, 50mm insulated (PIR) plasterboard beneath, U-value 0.15 W/sqmK. Sunroom roof: 150mm PIR below rafters, 12mm ply uniderside with 50mm insulation and plasterboard, U-value 0.17 W/sqmK.

Floor: usual build up from subfloor, insulated screed 15.5mm with 55mm screed on top, U-value 0.19 W/sqmK.

Kitchen Living room Dining Hall Utility Bathroom Bedroom 1 Bedroom 3 Bedroom 2 Master Bedroom Hallway Porch Plant HP WD EN-SUITE WC Sunroom N E S W SUMMER24 /SELFBUILD/ 113

Find out more about who you’ll be hiring on your project here

Mortgage Broker

Mortgage brokers, also known as intermediaries or advisers, work on your behalf to guide you through the self-build mortgage process, offer expert advice and provide access to various mortgage products and lenders.

While some mortgage brokers are tied to a single lender, others can access a broader panel of lenders or the entire market. Their role is to offer continuous support during the mortgage application process, saving you time and money.

What they do and don’t do

• Mortgage brokers let you how much you can borrow based on your financial situation.

• Calculate the mortgage costs from different lenders. Access a wide range of lenders and mortgages.

• Compare mortgage deals to find the best one for your financial situation.

• Offer you a mortgage Approval in Principle (AIP).

• Help you prepare the documents you need to support your application.

• Check your paperwork.

• Track your application progress.

• Communicate directly with the lender on your behalf.

• Help with any issues or delays to help your application run smoothly.

• Offer advice on other financial products you need with your mortgage, such as life or home insurance.

• They do not guarantee mortgage approval.

• They do not provide legal advice or handle conveyancing matters.

• They do not offer financial or investment advice beyond mortgage-related matters.


In NI, as in the rest of the UK, a mortgage broker must complete a Certificate in Mortgage Advice and Practice (CeMAP) course (or equivalent) by the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA). A broker also needs to be registered with the FCA or work for a firm registered with the FCA. This regulation is important because it means the broker must provide you with a certain quality of advice, and

you’ll be able to access the FCA’s complaints and compensation service if something goes wrong. You can check whether a broker is registered on the FCA’s website.

All mortgage brokers (intermediaries or advisers) in ROI must hold a qualification such as the QFA (Qualified Financial Adviser) and are regulated by the Central Bank of Ireland. The Central Bank of Ireland website has a full list of qualifications.

The QFA is a professional certification that meets the Central Bank’s Minimum Competency Code (MCC) requirements for selling and advising of retail

financial products set out in the Code. Check who’s on the Central Bank of Ireland’s Register of Mortgage Credit Intermediaries.

How are they paid?

Many brokers will charge a fee. This may be a flat fee or one based on a percentage of the amount you want to borrow. In terms of when this is paid, some will ask for it upfront, while others ask for payment when you complete on your property.

Some brokers advertise themselves as “fee free,” instead receiving payment from the lender as commission. This is known as a procuration fee and is usually calculated as a percentage of the mortgage loan you receive.

114 /SELFBUILD/ SUMMER24 journey
             

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