Selfbuild Winter 2018

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WINTER 2018 £3.50 / €3.75

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Dream it . Do it . Live it







Welcome... If you have the time and inclination to build your home on a DIY basis, mud and timber are attractive options. Even though they’re labour intensive materials to work with they tend to be low cost too; see p126 for a guide to building with clay, p82 and p128 for projects using roundwood. This kind of DIY approach to self-building is however fast disappearing. One reason is that it’s more hassle for your engineer, or in NI Building Control, to certify. But new and unexpected DIY opportunities are emerging. Cross laminated timber, for example, is made in a factory and assembled for you on site. But what you BATHROOM BLISS have left on the inside, structural exposed timber, is It’s all in the planning an ideal backdrop for an industrious self-builder. And the leftovers from the cutting process can be used to make furniture, see p92 for more. The beauty of a self-build is that you can be as hands off or as hands on as you want. The point of it all is that you’re in control of creating your very own home. That basic premise will never change. With Selfbuild. Dream it. Do it. Live it.

HEATING CONTROLS Reduce your heating bills

KITCHEN DESIGN The ultimate guide

CROSS LAMINATED TIMBER The new way to build

Astrid Madsen - Editor

Follow the Selfbuild community: WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 05

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

Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it

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One of the cheapest and most effective ways to reduce your energy bills is to control how often your boiler comes on and for how long.

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


There’s more to it than choosing between paint and wallpaper.


How a humble electricity pole bust the budget for Lisa and Nathan Langtry in Co Armagh.


Keith and Romina McGreal of Co Mayo fought long and hard to buy and then build on their dream site.

48 OF RUMOURS AND ROOMINESS Tim and Mairead Andrew of Co Down managed to revive a grandiose house that had already gotten a few facelifts.


Tracy and Pete Collins literally shed blood, sweat and tears renovating their dream cottage on an island in Co Cork.

84 SENSE OF PLACE What started off as a retirement project in Co Kerry turned into a work of art.

112 BY GEORGE! Giving new meaning to the term tailormade, Mark Johnson of Co Armagh had to precision engineer with specialist equipment most of the tools he needed to build his mock-Georgian circular home.

102 INTEGRATED KITCHEN Sometimes a kitchen redesign is more about working with what’s already there than moving it to a new location, as John and Mary Shafferty of Co Dublin learned.

128 CERTIFYING AN ECO HOUSE Marcus Tindal of Co Donegal explains how he landed the fire safety certificate for his straw bale, clay and exposed roundwood building.


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

A low cost but labour intensive way to build your home.


Come meet the experts at Selfbuild Live Cork this November 10-11th in Millstreet, and bring your plans!





Your complete guide to building in ROI from the experts we gathered at Selfbuild Live Dublin.

How to make your bathroom work, whether you’re designing it from scratch or upgrading an existing one.

Cross Laminated Timber is the new kid on the self-build scene; we look at what this building method has to offer.

The tech gadgets that will make your life easier in five years’ time.





Wet rooms are all the rage and for good reason – find out what you need to know about them.

Kitchen design is at the heart of the home and budget so make sure you get it right with our handy guide.


How to protect the garden from cold and damp, give shelter to wildlife and grow some vegetables in the process.

Your self-build questions answered.

130 SCRAPBOOK Ideas for where to store your logs this winter.

All you need to know about biomass boilers and biomass stoves.

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


Latest products and services for selfbuilders.

35 FIND THE PERFECT FACADE Fibre cement cladding options from Cedral.

SELFBUILD: THE ALL-IRELAND 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.






WINTER 2018 £3.50 / €3.75

Annabelle Carvell

Jackie holds a BA in Interior Architecture and launched Style my Room in 2012 / ROI tel. 01 4948150

Annabelle is part of the Stovax Heating Group, one of the UK and Ireland’s leading stove and fireplace manufacturers that range solid fuel, gas and electric products.

Deirdre Coleman

Marion McGarry

Dr Marion McGarry is an author, historian, Deirdre trained and worked as an part-time Galway Mayo Insititute of interior designer in London before Technology lecturer and freelance setting up her first practice in 2007. She illustrator. She is the author of The Irish moved back to Dublin in 2015 and is Cottage published by Orpen Press. now the director and founder of Interior @marion_mcgarry Space Design, based in Malahide. / mobile 083 455 9915

ISSN 2515-5369

Jackie Carton

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Dream it . Do it . Live it



Cover Photo Paul Lindsay Editor Astrid Madsen Design Myles McCann Shannon Quinn Marketing Calum Lennon

Micah Jones

Niall Keenan

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Paul O’Reilly

Micah Jones is an architect based in Newtownards, Co Down. He built his home with Cross Laminated Timber and featured on Channel 4’s Grand Designs. / tel. 9744 5044

Niall is maintenance director at SAP Landscapes.

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

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

Subscriptions Becca.Wilgar Business Development Manager Niamh Boyle Advertising Sales David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Maria Varela

Karl Purcell

Andrew Stanway

Tony Traill

Tom Woolley

Karl is the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s behavioural economics unit’s programme manager.

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

Tony has over 25 years’ experience in the construction industry and has a vast array of experience ranging from award-winning low carbon building design to industrial energy efficiency.

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

Come meet more experts at our events in Belfast, Dublin and Cork - turn to page 82 for details NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0 ROI calling NI prefix with 048

Published by SelfBuild Ireland Ltd. 119 Cahard Rd, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7LA. Tel: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0570 / Fax: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0576 / 08 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

Accounts Karen Kelly 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.

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

BUDGET 2019 HIGHLIGHTS Mica repair fund available from ‘19 Homeowners suffering from defective blocks in counties Donegal and Mayo will be eligible for a compensation scheme similar to that administered by the government-appointed Pyrite Resolution Board created in 2013. Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy said it was a “key priority for the department” and that funding would be available from next year. The pyrite fund, meanwhile, will also get a fresh cash injection of €32 million, an increase of €2 million on 2018, to fund the remediation of a further 460 houses. The Mica Action Group has been lobbying for a redress scheme since 2014. The pyrite fund has spent €94 million since 2014, including €30 million in 2018, to remediate approximately 1,340 dwellings at an average cost of €70,000 each.

Affordable home loans extended to renovations Minister for Housing Eoghan Murphy’s Budget 2019 statement hinted that more people could qualify for the Rebuilding Ireland Affordable Home Loan launched in February of this year, and that it might extend to vacant homes in need of refurbishment. At the end of September, the Housing Agency, which is in charge of administering the popular mortgage said that it had assessed and recommended 1,134 loans for approval, with an average loan amount of roughly €210,000.

Self-build tax break scrapped The Home Renovation Incentive which refunds the tax paid for home improvement work done on your property will expire on the 31st December 2018. The Help To Buy scheme which lapses in December 2019 has not been extended either, but the Department of Finance could theoretically make provisions in next year’s budget to adapt it or renew it.

Guide to walk-in showers on page 90

New regs show PV and gas most cost effective The software ROI designers use to assess energy use, the Dwellings Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP), will be published in January 2019, Selfbuild has learned. The new building regulations dealing with energy use, Part L, was being published as Selfbuild went to print in October. It seems the changes will favour electricity in line with heat pumps becoming the technology of choice for heating and hot water in new builds. However a cost analysis by Aecom points to gas and photovoltaics (PV) as the most cost effective way to comply with the building regulations. Selfbuild understands that in homes

with no central heating, electric radiators won’t be as penalised as they currently are. The draft DEAP version 4.1 published on the ROI Department of Housing website envisages penalising extensive artificial lighting strategies and also plans to make provisions for dual heating systems (currently you must choose a primary heating system). Hot water calculations will be more fined tuned by taking into account things like flow restrictors on showers reducing hot water demand. The equivalent tool that NI designers use, the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP), is also undergoing review but it’s early days yet. It seems those changes will also favour electricity. SAP 10.0 is not under

consultation but is being reviewed by the Building Research Establishment, An implementation date for a new version of SAP is therefore unclear. The NI building regulations are also due for review to push towards nearly zero energy buildings but that timeline has not been set. Both DEAP and SAP are used to prove compliance with the building regulations and to calculate energy ratings (building energy rating in ROI, energy performance certificate in NI). The Department of Housing told Selfbuild Part F, dealing with ventilation, was undergoing review and the process would take at least two months. A final publication date is therefore not expected until early 2019.



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Department of Rural Affairs shelves idea of rural town grant Two years ago, then Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys had mooted the possibility of introducing a grant to get people to buy older properties in rural towns and do them up. A PILOT SCHEME was announced, and in January 2017 Minister Humphreys indicated on RTE Radio the grant could amount to €20,000. Last year, under current Minister Michael Ring, the Department set up a steering group to deliver a strategy for the pilot. The result will disappoint self-builders in that the focus is not on individual home upgrades but in creating infrastructure that will encourage people to come live in rural towns and villages. A spokesperson for the Department of Rural Affairs told Selfbuild the plan was to get each of the towns to submit a proposal that could include anything from boardwalks to digital hubs, by mid-2019. Full funding can then

be applied for in the following year’s rural fund, which in total amounts to €1 billion to 2040. The reasoning is that there is no “one-size-fits-all approach to rejuvenating towns and villages in rural Ireland”. “The factors which attract people to live in particular settlements can be many and

varied, including the availability of schools, shops, transport and other services. Apart from the need to identify suitable properties which may be available for residential purposes, it is important that the right infrastructure and services are in place to make the town attractive and safe for people and families to live in. This requires supports that renovation grants alone cannot deliver,” the Department told Selfbuild in a statement. With the Home Renovation Incentive expiring at the end of the year, that leaves very little in the way of supports for home improvers apart from the Better Energy Homes grants for insulation, heating controls, heat pumps and now PV panels.

Time to drive the cowboys out, says FMB NI THE FEDERATION OF MASTER BUILDERS (FMB) is calling on the UK Parliament to introduce a statutory register for builders. The FMB is a representative body that polices the builders on their register, including checking the financial health of its members, but operates on a voluntary basis. A lack of policing in the building sector is leading to poor workmanship, argues the FMB report Licence to build: A pathway to licencing UK construction. For example, roughly half of refurbishment projects sites the UK Health and Safety body surveyed in 2016 fell below the standard required to comply with legal requirements. “FMB Northern Ireland feel strongly that this review is the medicine the industry needs. We need to raise the level of quality of construction for clients

and drive the cowboys out,” Gavin McGuire, director for FMB NI told Selfbuild. “Seeing this policy become reality will mean more protection for everyone and improve the image of the industry.” The FMB calls on the UK government to adopt a scheme similar to those operating in Australia, Germany, Denmark and some US states which all have enforcement powers and penalties. In related news Judith Hackett, author of the UK’s building regulations review into fire safety, told a Chartered Association of Building Engineers conference in October that she “would be happy to never hear [the phrase value engineering] again. It is anything but value, it is cuttings costs and quality.” She wants “a tougher regulation regime that has real penalties and sanctions.”

In brief Self-build with self-care October’s mental health week highlighted some interesting statistics. The ROI Construction Industry Federation says a lot more workers die by suicide than by falls and while there are no statistics for self-builders, stress and anxiety tends to creep in with delays, budget overruns and pressure on the work/life/build balance. In the UK, the Health Service Executive reports around 100 times as many workers die from diseases caused or made worse by their work than are killed in construction accidents.

Bake a building For those who love architecture and can’t wait to get their hands dirty in the kitchen, the Ulster Architectural Heritage organised a bake-off in October. Historic buildings you were invited to bake included everything from cathedrals to museums.

RTE has no guidelines on climate change The ROI public broadcaster has no guidelines on how to cover climate change, a Freedom of Information request recently revealed. The impartiality clause, to give an equal hearing to both sides of an argument, continues to apply despite the evidence that climate change is a real phenomenon. The BBC recently published guidelines for its journalists including the broadcaster’s position that manmade climate change exists. The so-called ‘crib sheet’ tells its journalists to be aware of ‘false balance’ – “you do not need to be a ‘denier’ to balance the debate” states the briefing document. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 11


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Building regulations should lead the way in climate changes, says expert THE UPCOMING CHANGES to the ROI Building Regulations must ‘draw a line in the sand’, climate change expert Marie Donnelly told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Climate Change in September 2018, and should spell the end of oil and gas boilers in new Irish homes. The Building Regulations dealing with energy (Part L), which will bring new homes to the nearly Zero Energy Buildings (nZEB) standard, were to be published as Selfbuild went to print in mid-October (see p9). Part L contains two key parameters, the coefficient of energy performance and the coefficient of carbon performance which respectively limit energy use and carbon emissions in new homes. If the Department of Housing decides to set the Carbon Performance Coefficient (CPC) low enough it could effectively make installing renewable heating the most cost effective option. The draft Part L document that was put to public

In brief New RIBA and CIAT presidents both Irish

Both the representative bodies for architects in the UK and for architectural technologists have welcomed Irish presidents – Alan Jones for RIBA and Eddie Weir for CIAT.

Republic of sprawl

consultation indicated a CPC of 0.35 which Donnelly said “would permit oil”, at 0.3 she says oil would effectively be phased out and argued that we should be at 0.25. Marie Donnelly was up until recently the European Commission’s Director for Renewables, Research & Innovation and Energy Efficiency at DG Energy. Paul Kenny of the Tipperary Energy Agency explained: “0.3 would allow gas and 0.25 would effectively rule it out. [Donnelly]

requested 0.25 to effectively rule out fossil fuels from homes.” The Tipperary Energy Agency’s Part L public consultation submission argued for a CPC figure of 0.2 which Kenny said was “partly to encourage better standards for a climate emergency and partly to outline that 0.35 was ludicrous.” However even with a CPC set very low, no performance indicator can completely rule out gas and oil. It instead makes it cheaper to install renewable energy than fossil fuels to meet the building regulations.

The ROI suburban population grew by more than 150 per cent between 1961 and 2011, the sharpest rise in Europe, according to statistics gathered by this year’s VELUX Healthy homes barometer. Half of the homes built in ROI, meanwhile, are currently less than 40 years old.

Cheaper to buy than rent in Dublin The Irish Times shares figures prepared by Cairn Homes, a developer that sells housing estates, showing that it is now 42 per cent cheaper to buy in the ROI capital than it is to rent. Securing a mortgage, however, remains a major issue.

Top 5 tips for a home green home World Green Building Week’s focus this year was sustainable homes, what they are and how to build them. Performance ratings are useful tools; for instance an energy rating will tell you how much the house will consume in a year. In ROI an A3 building energy rating is no better than required under current building regulations, the new regs will go up to an A2 (see page 9). Environmental performance certificates are entering the market to go beyond energy and these take into account the entire lifecyle of the house, including the carbon footprint and environmental credentials of the materials you use to build it as well as the impact that living in the house will have on many aspects, e.g. transport. Here some tips from the Irish Green Building Council’s for creating a home green home: Location Can you walk or cycle to shops, work or school? The cost of

needing two cars is the equivalent of a second mortgage. Water Remember the water restrictions we had this summer? Consider European Water label A taps and showers. Fresh air Poor ventilation can have serious health consequences inside the home. In an airtight building, you need a properly designed and tested ventilation system. Natural light makes us healthier and happier; daylight calculations should be factored in at the design stage. Responsible sourcing If you don’t check provenance, no one else will. Where is the timber you’re using coming from, is it FSC or PEFC certified? Flood resilience Large areas of impermeable surfaces such as roofs and poorly designed drainage systems can lead to flooding – in your home or in neighbouring properties. Permeable paving allows water to penetrate between the pavers and are fast becoming the norm. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 13


N E W S / W H AT ’ S N E W

Grants for generating your own electricity The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) now offers grants of up to €3,800 for installing solar panels that generate electricity, known as photovoltaic (PV) panels. Who qualifies?

Support is available to all owners of dwellings built and occupied before 2011. The grant is only open to people installing PV panels after the 31st July 2018. If you installed them earlier in the year you will not be eligible for the grant.

How much is the grant for?

€700 for every kWp up to maximum 4kWp. Any installation over 2kWp must install a battery for which a €1,000 grant is available.

How many panels do I need?

According to the SEAI a well located 1.8kWp system (six panels) could generate around 1,500kWh of electricity a year. That is about one-third of the typical annual electricity demand of an Irish home. The SEAI Payback Calculator shows that a 2kWp unit is large enough for a domestic dwelling, even one with a high demand for electricity. Furthermore, systems that take up less than 12 sqm are generally exempt from planning permission, with some caveats including that they don’t take up half or more of the roof area, and this equates to roughly 1.5kWp to 1.8 kWp in size. A 1kW solar PV system is roughly the equivalent of three or four solar panels.

How much do the panels and the battery cost to buy?

The SEAI says roughly€4,000 for a 2kWp system including VAT but the price will depend on the hardware, size, monitoring equipment and the structure and type of roof or site. The cost of installing a battery is currently in the region of €6,000.

What are the savings?

According to the Department of Climate Action the homeowner of a three bedroom house would only be out of pocket €1,800 with the help of a grant and would save about €220 a year on their electricity bills.

What will I be installing?

A domestic solar PV system consists of a number of solar panels mounted to your roof or at ground level and connected into the electrical loads within your building. The solar panels generate DC (direct current – like a battery) electricity, which is then converted in an inverter to AC (alternating cu rrent – like the electricity in your domestic socket). Solar PV systems are rated in kilowatts (kW), kWp stands for kilowatt peak and refers to how much output you get at peak performance, i.e. optimal conditions such as full sun. Any excess electricity produced can be stored in a battery, or other storage solution like your hot water immersion tank. It can also be exported from your house into the electrical network on your street.

Can I sell electricity back to the grid? As previously reported by SelfBuild the grant does not include any provisions for selling excess electricity back to the grid.

Where’s the best place to install the panels?

Solar panels generate electricity on overcast days but perform their best in direct sunlight; a south facing orientation is optimal but they can face in other directions

too. Shading is an issue so keep away from trees or chimneys.

How about maintenance? Your monitoring system will tell you if there’s an issue with performance and this can be an indication the panels need to be cleaned. Installers generally offer a maintenance service.

How long does it take to install? Usually one day.

How long do they last? According to the SEAI the whole system typically has a design life of over 20 years. There are no moving parts which makes the system quite robust but the inverter usually has a lifespan of 10 years so will need to be replaced at that stage.

Where do I find an installer? To avail of the grant, choose from the SEAI list of installers. They have completed a solar PV course and are a Registered Electric Contractor with Safe Electric Ireland.

How long will the grant be available for? The grant is at a pilot phase and will be subject to a review in six months’ time to assess the cost of installation and to explore “further opportunities to broaden this scheme to other groups and other technologies.” The pilot will run until 31st December 2020. Online calculator, vetted installer list and full details on

Increase in home insulation grants The grant amounts for the Better Energy Homes scheme were also increased in July for attic insulation, cavity wall insulation and/or internal wall insulation. Grants for attic insulation are increased from €300 to €400, for internal wall insulation from €1,800 to €2,200 for semi-detached and end-of-terrace detached houses. Once approved, homeowners have six months to get the works completed by a registered contractor and claim the grant and the house must have been built and occupied before 2006. From August 1st, homeowners who are in receipt of Carers’ Allowance and live with the person they are caring for are also now eligible for free energy upgrades through the Warmer Homes scheme.

Cheaper, flexible solar The BBC reports Chinese researchers are working on making carbon and plastic solar panels as efficient at converting sunlight into electricity as their silicon counterparts. These Organic Photovoltaics (OPV) can be dissolved in inks and rolled on thin flexible sheets of plastic or even into clothing. Researchers are hoping to make OPV available within five years; the applications include everything from self-charging phones to building materials that generate electricity for the home. The research is being undertaken at the Nankai University in Tianjin, China.


Gazco Loft with Steel Log Store Base and Top Section. A

Advert Firing imaginations for over 37 years


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

Spoiler alert!

When you install a mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR) system in your home, you will find that the commissioning process – whereby the installer balances the system and checks it’s functioning as it should – will include making sure each room has a fixed amount of air changes per hour. How many air changes depends on how many people live in the house and what that room is used for. As this is a fixed rate, most systems have a party-mode switch you can turn on to boost the ventilation rates if more people are in the house. It would be too complex to ask the system to react to actual air pollution levels (humidity, CO2, etc.) in real time because a mechanical ventilation system has to be balanced in its entirety (whole house) to work effectively. But Aereco has figured out a way around it. By combining its know-how and experience of Demand Control Ventilation with state of the art heat recovery, the company says it has produced an MVHR unit that will provide room by room, minute by minute control of indoor air quality, combined with cutting edge user information and control. The product already has SAP ratings and is due to be launched early 2019; if you haven’t seen it at Selfbuild Live Dublin don’t miss the preview at Selfbuild Live Cork this November 10-11th in Millstreet.

Get in the TRV-ing seat To reduce your heating bills you need to look at conserving energy, and one of the best ways to achieve this is to add heating controls. In this field, exciting news comes from the Danfoss Eco thermostatic radiator valve (TRV) whose smart features have recently won it the coveted 2018 Red Dot Award: Communication Design (Smart Home) for high design quality and creative achievement. It was up against more than 8,600 international entries in the Communication Design category! The intelligent TRV is easy to install directly onto your existing radiators and,

with the Danfoss Eco App allows you to program individual radiator thermostats via Bluetooth technology. It’s a cost effective solution that can yield up to 30 per cent savings on your heating bills. Other smart features such as the open-window function help avoid wasting energy by automatically regulating heat when a room is being aired. And Eco’s away function can automatically reduce the home temperature while you are away, and warm it up again before you return.

Plain sailing So you’ve got your planning permission approved, where do you go from here? The next stage is to finalise how you’re going to build your home exactly and here to help in NI is Build Aviator from JP Corry. Bring them your planning drawings, or more detailed drawings if you have them, and they’ll sit down with you to have a look at what the build options are and how much these are going to cost, including all materials, hire, labour, preliminary costs and fees. Build Aviator’s energy consultants will

carry out your energy calculations with the Standard Assessment Procedure, which is mandatory to comply with the regs. The process will result in detailed drawings, a full on site compliance pack which will have Registered Construction Details, materials lists and useful hints and tips to help you manage your project. You can also get your airtightness test done by them and if required an acoustic test too. Build Aviator is available across the 17 JP Corry branches in NI. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 17









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

Tall order

Take a picture, measure anything Self-builders will tell you one of the best project management tools is taking pictures to document construction site progress. But imagine you had a smartphone-sized device that could take a photo and instantly measure anything in the frame. That’s exactly what the Leica BLK3D does, thanks to a unique combination of a highly calibrated stereo-camera (2 x 10 megapixel), advanced algorithms and realtime edge computing, fused with leading Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM) technology. The BLK3D measures everything in the photographs it takes, including hard-to-reach places. It estimates where installations such as ventilation ducting will go and creates CAD-ready floorplans.

Once a new trade comes on site you’ll be able to give them exact measurements of where services are running – a real time saver, especially if the area has been boarded up. Engineered by Leica Geosystems the BLK3D is robust and powerful. You can save hundreds of files on the device, share those via wifi, or upload them to your computer with the desktop software for measurements on a larger screen. The measurable images you take with the BLK3D can be analysed at any point in time – instantly or years later. It runs on Android 7 and is Google Play certified so the images are date, time and GPS location stamped. The Leica BLK3D will be available early in 2019.

Easy-cleaning paving Despite the weather, most of us have come to appreciate the benefits to having a patio area for entertaining and al fresco dining. But with the fun comes the mess. Unless you’re extremely well organised, spilled wine or ketchup will rarely get mopped up immediately and can be difficult to remove. In comes Tobermore’s Easy Clean, a paving range that’s coated to repel and protect against dirt and stains. The unique patented coating prevents spills from penetrating the surface of the flag, allowing you to wipe them away with ease. This built-in protection is part of the manufacturing process; Tobermore has in fact invested in a state-of-the-art manufacturing plant which pulls together

the best of mainland Europe’s expertise to deliver what the company says is the first easy to clean paving flags in Ireland and the UK. For more information about Easy Clean contact

If you’re looking for a contemporary addition to your living space check out Gazco’s new Nordic inspired gas stove, the Loft. The stove’s tall firebox is framed with reflective black glass, adding a striking two-tone contrast to the matt steel body. Soaring flames dance amongst a highly realistic fuel bed composed of hand painted logs. Visuals are mirrored on all sides by the EchoFlame Black glass lining – a continuation of the stove’s glossy exterior styling details. You can wall mount it for an ultra-modern floating installation that lends itself perfectly to contemporary minimalism, or fix it to one of the cleanly styled Plinth or Logstore bases available in a variety of finishes including matching steel, Castillo grey sandstone or luxurious Woodgrain sandstone. This premium gas stove is available in the conventional or balanced flue models and provides a generous 4.4kW heat output, which can be effortlessly controlled with the various handset options. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 19


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Grant Solo CompactMAX convector radiator

Paint by numbers

Radiant Two ranges of radiators are now available from leading manufacturer of heating technologies Grant Engineering. The Grant Solo Fan convector radiator range features intelligent technology in a small and aesthetically pleasing design that ensures quiet, efficient and effective heating. The Grant Alu Rads, meanwhile, are designed to work with both low and high temperature heating systems, making

them a great pairing for both an Aerona3 air source heat pump or Vortex condensing oil boiler. For more information on Grant’s range of new products visit Grant Engineering, Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, R42 D788, tel. 057 9126 967 Grant NI, Unit 117, 21 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1IJ, freephone 0800 0443 264

Choosing paint colours can be a nightmare – how do you pick them out from a set of cards? How do you know the colour you choose will look right on an entire wall, or on that upcycled chest of drawers? Most important of all, will you like it? Starting at the end is the ColorReader by DataColor. If you find a colour at a friend’s house, a hotel or pretty much anywhere, and think it would work for your very own kitchen, bedroom or piece of furniture, then the ColorReader can take a reading with a handheld device that communicates with your smart phone via Bluetooth. It will identify the exact RAL number (or equivalent) to bring to the paint shop for mixing.

The final frontier

When you’re looking at a set of plans on paper, it can be hard to visualise what your house will actually look like. This is why 3D modelling and Virtual Reality (VR) walk-throughs are gaining in popularity with self-builders. New to the scene is PrePlan 3D, a family run business with over 40 years’ experience in aerospace design, including 27 years in 3D digital design technologies.

They even used 3D software for their own self-build two decades ago. Today, their 3D modelling process allows you to not only visualise your house, gardens and surroundings, but also feeds back analysis (solar shading, interior lighting, etc.) and will help with visual reporting which is a great tool to have when the project goes live for dimensions and area/quantity calculations. With their VR headsets you can walk around the space, and the software can produce 2D CAD drawings if you need those too. PrePlan 3D, 3 Claughlin Lane, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, BT39 9JD, tel. (NI 028 / ROI 048) 933 23477,

Selfbuild had a go, and after an easy calibration exercise the device worked effortlessly – we tested two areas and got the correct RAL numbers. The rest of the functions such as colour matching were a bit more complex to grasp but at the end of the day, it’s identifying the colour that matters. ColorReader by DataColor,, €90+VAT / £119 via WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 21

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In for a shock There are some things you can plan for, like choosing finishes in advance, but others are unpredictable. Such as having to fork out £15,000 to get an electricity connection in a built-up area. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay






n every way that matters Lisa and Nathan Langtry’s project in Co Armagh is a prime example of how to tackle a new build project; they had a clear vision of what they wanted and enlisted the expertise of others to produce a family home suited to their exact needs.

Family configuration

“We originally lived in a townhouse with a family of five and we were cramped, we knew it was time to move on,” explains Lisa. “We got some land from my dad and went from there.” “Architectural designer Glyn is a friend of ours and we spoke to him about building new, he showed us a few options. We consulted plans and magazines and came to the conclusion that we really wanted to build a barn type dwelling with a modern extension.” “We just liked that design and Glyn really impressed us with his ability to turn it into a reality. He brought us to see a similar house and we just knew it was right.” “In terms of the wish list we wanted first and foremost a playroom. And four bedrooms. I also wanted an open plan kitchen, living and dining area with lots of


light.” “A big hallway was also high on my wish list, I wanted to come into an airy and bright and spacious environment,” adds Lisa. The sleeping quarters are in the barn and the living quarters in the extension. “There were no hiccups with planning, Glyn took care of everything for us and the planners were happy with the design; Glyn’s knowledge of the planning rules I’m sure helped secure permission.” 

‘We just liked the idea of building with stone and Glyn really impressed us with his ability to turn it into a reality....'


‘They had a clear vision of what they wanted and enlisted the expertise of others to produce a family home suited to their exact needs...'



Top choices Mechanised ventilation system; in this day and age of airtight homes it’s a vital investment. Wetroom in the ensuite for the kids. I find it’s a great feature, I can shower the kids without getting soaked, and for the older ones they can shower independently but I’m there if needs be.

“Glyn advised us to hire a quantity surveyor for the tendering process so we could compare quotes and know what to expect cost wise. We put the job out to five builders and we ended up going with the one priced in the middle based on Glyn having gone out to see houses he’d built before; the quantity surveyor was also familiar with his work and said it was good.” “The builder did everything – we just went to pick out the windows, the kitchen and bathroom including tiles and he then 28 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

sorted out delivery and payment with those companies directly.”

Building with stone

So far so good, until they hit *ahem* a stone wall. “It took us a year to get to this point of starting to build and all of that planning really did pay off. But we did come up against some delays which had to do with building with stone, so the construction phase dragged out a bit longer than expected. In total the build took 10 months.” 

Walk-in wardrobe in the children’s bedrooms. It removes the need for a chest of drawers that the children will grow out of. Privacy film on the windows facing the road, we added this feature whereby we can see out but can’t see in, it works very well.



The barn walls are built of thick stone insulated from the inside. “We picked a stone slate with an orange tint for contrast, Nathan and Glyn went to the quarry to pick it out and went to look at houses with similar stone.” “It took four months to build with four stonemasons working around the clock. That was the longest part of the build.” “We also decided to detail the stone to run coming in from the outside into the hall, we wanted it to connect visually from the 30 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

‘I wanted to come into an airy and bright and spacious environment...'


outside, to carry it on. So that required some planning too.” “Building with stone also meant we needed large cement heads for the window openings, we have an arched window and that lintel took the longest time to arrive. But once it was onsite the building went up very quickly.”


“We also thought of bringing in the services early on so we arranged for the telephone and broadband line to coincide with digging

the trenches for the electricity connection. But getting electricity to the house was more complicated than we had anticipated,” explains Lisa. “We didn’t realise we’d have to spend £15,000 considering we were on the main road with houses all around. The issue was that we couldn’t get hooked up to the existing electricity pole as it was operating at full capacity. We had to add a brand new electricity pole at our expense.” After the initial shock, and their contingency shot, Lisa and Nathan got on 

Q&A What would you do differently?

If we were to do it again I’d put concrete slabs for the upstairs floor, it seemed really expensive at the time and we felt that the noise wouldn’t last long because the children would be growing up quickly. I’d also go with a bigger utility room, at the moment if the clothes horse is out I can’t open the tumble dryer.

What’s your favourite part of the design/ house?

I love the glass staircase but it can be hard to keep clean with the three year old. The five and seven year olds don’t touch it so we only have a few more years of daily cleaning!

Would you do it again? I probably would but not for another decade or so.

What main piece of advice would you give a budding self-builder?

Get a really good architectural designer to guide you, we would have been lost without Glyn.

What surprised you?

The cost of the electricity pole!



with the build. “For our heating system we went with oil fired central heating, underfloor heating downstairs, radiators upstairs, and towel rails in the bathroom. We looked at a wood burner because we’re surrounded by a forest and knew we’d always have wood but we were advised against it with underfloor heating due to the low temperature required.” “The gas fire acts as a room divider in the open plan area; it’s three sided and conveys that sense of homeliness with the live flame.” The boiler is high efficiency and the pipework to the house was pipe in pipe (pre insulated). “We also went with heating and hot water controls with individual room stats in every room, both upstairs and down.” For illumination, they prioritised natural light with the glazing. “We’re so happy we invested in the rooflights in the hall and the floor to ceiling windows. Then for task lighting we have LED spotlights in the kitchen, and for low lighting we have pendant lights,” adds Lisa. “There’s actually LED everywhere in the house, it’s a great way to get light in winter, it’s bright and cheap to run.” 32 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

As for the finishes, they’re all modern and sleek; the kitchen grey colour theme with white granite worktop complement the barn style of the stone house. An all rounder.



Project information

More photographs available at &

Find out more about Lisa and Nathan’s new build project in Co Armagh including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


Floors: 100mm sand/cement screed on 150mm PIR insulation, U-value 0.11 W/sqmK.

House: ground floor 180 sqm, first floor 50 sqm

Walls: stone walls (barn) 225mm natural stone cladding,100mm blockwork, 150mm cavity (with 100mm PIR), 100mm blockwork, U-value 0.19 W/sqmK. Blockwork walls (modern part) painted sand/cement render, 100mm blockwork, 150mm cavity (with 100mm PIR), 100mm blockwork, U-value 0.19 W/sqmK.

Garage: 90sqm on two floors Plot: ½ acre Total cost: £330,000

Roof: warm roof construction, natural slate, 80mm PIR over rafters, 120mm PIR between rafters, U-value 0.18 W/sqmK.


Flat roof: proprietary membrane, 125mm PIR on plywood deck, U-value 0.13 W/sqmK.

Architectural designer Glyn Owen of The Designworks Studio, Portadown, Co Armagh, tel. 38852724,

Windows: Double glazed uPVC



Builder WR Jenkins Ltd, tel. 375 38338


Three sided stove Portadown fireplaces,

Pantry Dressing Mud Room Bathroom Kitchen


Hall Dressing




Master Bedroom

Family Dressing Hall En-suite


Windows McMullan O Donnell,


Kitchen Raymond Dougan at Brookwood of Markethill, Bathrooms Bassetts Portadown, Heating and hot water Grant Vortex module 120/155. Pipework from boiler to house Uponor Ecoflex thermo twin 40/175. Cylinder Albion Ultrasteel solar cylinder 400 litre Part number MST400. Controls for heating and hot water Heatmiser Neo System. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery Silavent HRX, Insulation Xtratherm xt/uf floor board, Xtratherm thin r wallboard xt/cw and Xtratherm fr/mg, Roofing membrane Trocal, Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic,


NI calling ROI drop the first 0 and prefix with 00353



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your home. Cedral Lap and Cedral Click fibre cement cladding materials offer homeowners the perfect solution for completing exterior renovation projects with ease. Available in 21 factoryapplied colours and two woodstain finishes, homeowners have the flexibility to select the style suited to their property. For further details about Cedral and to request your free sample visit:


P R O J E C T / C O M AY O


A river runs through it The site Keith and Romina McGreal chose to build on required an Environmental Impact Statement to secure planning permission. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: John Mee


hen we decided to build we were living in a three bed semi detached house; with two children space was getting tight,” says Keith. “We also wanted to move closer to my home village so we started looking at 36 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

second hand homes but soon realised that we’d have to do work on them and that the money would be a lot better spent on a new build. So a self-build seemed like the best and most cost effective way to get what we wanted.” “A piece of agricultural land then came up for sale within my home village

C O M AY O / P R O J E C T

and had two acres so we asked the estate agent if we could apply for planning permission on it but the owner turned us down initially because he didn’t want the time constraints of the application holding up the sale.”

Environmental Impact Statement

“When we saw the field was still on the market a year later we asked again and this time the seller said yes, this was in 2015,” continues Keith. “My brother is a civil engineer and he’d worked on residential projects before so he helped us with the planning and design from the outset. He knew the potential pitfalls, and which designs the planners were more likely to accept.” “The initial planning application came back with a request for additional information including an Environmental Impact Statement. The site lies in a Special Area of Conservation as the local river which runs at the back is a tributary of the Moy, famous for salmon fishing.” “I work in the area of safety and environmental so was able to draw on the

‘We started looking at second hand homes but soon realised that we’d have to do work on them and that the money would be better spent on a new build...’

expertise of a colleague to prepare the report for me. We were able to demonstrate no environmental impact by carrying out a flora and fauna assessment on the site.” “We also developed a plan for pollution mitigation measures. This included keeping the house to the front of the site, away from the river which was towards the back of the two acres and with a large hill in between.” “The plan also included minimising excavation during wet weather to avoid runoff and safe re-fuelling of any machinery on site. There was also some consultation with the Fisheries Board and National Parks and Wildlife Service that confirmed they had no concerns about the build.” “For the local needs criteria we also had to put together a file. The folio referenced how my parents didn’t own any land locally.” “We had to show that I was from the village so we also asked the school, church and local football team to write letters on our behalf and I put in a submission to explain I was from the area and wanted to move back. We also quoted a section from the County Development Plan that stated the local authority wanted to keep people in their communities.” “Thankfully the site has good drainage  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 37

P R O J E C T / C O M AY O

so that wasn’t an issue for the planners. We passed the percolation tests no problem, we were ok for a standard septic tank with percolation area,” says Keith. “As for water we were able to connect to the local group water scheme and this was done very promptly for us which was important when starting up on site” In total the planning process took about five months and cost approximately €1,500. When planning permission was granted, Keith and Romina finally bought the site and went about looking for an architect to 38 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

help them with the internal layout.

Devil in the detail

“What we put in for planning wasn’t the final configuration inside, we had a rough idea of internals but we wanted an architectural input into the finished product,” explains Keith. “We started looking for an architect and found Mark Stephens via an internet search; we read his blog and liked his honesty. He also appeared to specialise in self-builds whereas other architects seemed to be more 

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P R O J E C T / C O M AY O

Q&A with Keith What would you change?

The downside to the mezzanine is the high ceiling which can filter up noise from the kitchen and living room to the rest of the house but it’s not a big issue and something that will change as we get more soft furnishings in the house to absorb some of the sound. It’s still a lovely feature and has really opened up the space and light in the house.

What would you tell someone with a young family embarking on a self-build?

Have a babysitter to hand – there are a lot of decisions to make, trying to go see stuff at the weekend can be tricky. Picking out sanitaryware with the children at your side playing in the baths and showers is pretty much impossible without rushing into a decision. We had to arrange going in our own time, it can take a couple of hours to make the right choice. Having kids also means being realistic about buying new furniture and other furnishings – we kept the same couches from our previous house because with a five and three year old, new ones would not have lasted very long.


commercial leaning.” “He helped us immensely by changing the internal layout, especially with regards to the bathroom and kitchen and the open plan layout, and it was money well spent,” adds Keith. “We also hadn’t factored in having an upstairs in the house but as we went through the plans we decided to include a staircase and incorporate it into the living space. My brother suggested the idea of a mezzanine over the kitchen and did a drawing; Mark worked it into the build.”

“The site layout was perfect for a south facing living area, with the bedrooms predominantly north, north-east and west. The house is open plan in nature and we asked for as much storage as possible, that was a necessity from our experience living in a three-bed semi.” “We knew it would be nice to keep the kids close when we were in the kitchen, so a sunroom/toy room that would be close by was on the wish list too,” continues Keith. Keith’s cousin had recently self-built his home and provided plenty more advice. “He told us to think about doing daily chores and routines and how they work in terms of layout, and laundry quickly came to mind. If we were to come from the bedroom we’d have to bring our clothes through the hallway into the kitchen and out to the utility. It seemed like a trek through the house.” “We could have added a door in the hallway but that would have removed precious wall space in the utility. I’d heard of gravity fed laundry chutes but we needed a horizontal one as the main bathroom shared a wall with the utility.” “So we ended up installing a drawer between the two rooms with a simple set of rails. It works a treat because the main bathroom is near all of the bedrooms.”

C O M AY O / P R O J E C T

“As this was planned for, it was easy to install, we just slabbed out part of the wall, formed the opening and built a cupboard on runners underneath the countertop. You can pull through each side; it’s a very practical feature. As any family knows there is always plenty of laundry to be done.” When they were redesigning the internal layout Mark suggested some changes that would have required them to resubmit for planning because they would have had a knock-on effect on the exterior look of the house. “We didn’t want to go through another planning application,” says Keith. “Some of the suggestions would also have pushed up the cost of the build, such as larger sections of glazing in the sunroom and a reconfigured L shape.” “We had a boxy layout which we felt would be easier and cheaper to build as well as easier to heat (and keep cool). We initially regretted not adding the extra glass, but after living in the house for a year, and with the heat we had this past summer we’re glad we didn’t.” The staircase also benefited from Mark’s input. “We were looking at what was out there online, and visited loads of our friends’ houses. We realised we didn’t like open rails and liked the stairs we saw on another build that were fully closed.” “Mark designed it for us, he suggested adding a 90 degree angle based on the size of the hallway and we plasterboarded the sides and then plastered with a skim coat. It

Play room adjacent to the open plan kitchen

blends in with the rest of the build.” “We also stuck to our guns for the heating and hot water system. Mark suggested we look into an air to water heat pump but we had a fair idea from speaking with friends who had self-built in the area that we wanted a geothermal heat pump

because it seemed to perform better and more consistently and we had the room to install a horizontal bed for it.” “The heating is switched off in April and the heat pump just runs during the summer months for hot water. In terms of capital cost, geothermal probably cost a couple thousand more than air to water but it’s a long-term investment and will pay for itself over its lifespan.” “We have the geothermal loops in a horizontal bed at the back of the house. And even though we have two acres, the hill in the centre of the site left us with just enough available space once the septic tank and percolation area were factored in. The geothermal pipes need to run in 35m loops that have to fit into a defined area rather than running in a long narrow strip.” “Once we’d agreed on the internals we went to tender, and Mark gave us the options, we’d never done this before so his guidance was invaluable,” comments Keith.

Construction process

“We tendered to five builders and four came back, this was before things started to pick up again. We got in at a good time before prices began to rise and builders became hard to get. My brother gave me a contact, a builder he knew from the area and Mark  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 41

P R O J E C T / C O M AY O

Tips Measure on site. At the end of the project the decision making tempo increased dramatically and as a result I’d suggest getting as much as you can picked out upfront but I’d also recommend taking the time on site to measure the size of the beds and where the socket points should actually go instead of going with a theoretical measurement on paper. Some things are hard to visualise on a drawing. We picked out the wall colours with the painter which helped us a lot too. Listen to the advice of the expert trades that you are dealing with and don’t be afraid to ask for their opinion. Think of how you will live in the house. It needs to be a functional house also so think about the simple daily routines that you do and try and optimise the design around them. Romina’s ideas around the kitchen and utility layouts in consultation with the kitchen company paid dividends in the end. Also a simple thing like adding extra sockets in various locations, including outside, really helps. It’s great to have that level of detail before you start.


‘Take the time on site to measure where the socket points should actually go instead of going with a theoretical measurement...’

suggested some others.” “There was a huge variance in price. We picked out two builders based on price initially and also went to see work they had done previously and spoke to their clients. In the end we went with the recommendation from my brother.” “We were surprised there was such a difference in tender prices because, even though we didn’t hire a quantity surveyor, we had supplied a very detailed specification which Mark helped us with, everything was itemised down to the electrical points. One builder who didn’t tender said he’d only

C O M AY O / P R O J E C T


The laundry hatch connects the utility room to the master bathroom

seen that level of detail on a commercial build.” “We put in PC Sums [estimated cost] for sanitaryware and the kitchen so those were set, and we included the specification for kerbing, spreading of topsoil and the garage construction. We had the names of suppliers we wanted to use and factored that in to the build, e.g. for tiles, geothermal system, sanitaryware, we arranged it so the contractor paid them but we put in the order.” “The build started at the end of June 2016 and we needed an assigned certifier, the opt out option for self-builders hadn’t been introduced yet, and Mark did that work for us. From our point of view it was just an additional cost as all the paperwork was handled by Mark.” Keith kept an eye on the build as he was living a short 15 minute drive away. “I would pass the site on my way to work, checked on things every day taking pictures, any question I had I’d ring Mark who would either call out or work things out over the phone.” “There were two unforeseens for us during the construction phase. We had to hire a structural engineer which was an unexpected additional cost, he had to sign off as part of the assigned certifier process on both the roof and the foundations.” “For the mezzanine we had to add an additional row of blocks to take the weight of the cantilever so that added to the cost too.” “We also went with extra insulation in

the roof as we needed to put in a bigger rafter than originally specified due to the structural span of the roof but again extra investment in insulation is never a bad thing if you can lower your heating bills.” 

Research your ventilation options as it’s vital in an airtight home. Heat recovery ventilation is a great option as you are using your waste heat to heat up the incoming clean air but also make sure that it has a bypass feature, so you can use the external night time air in the summer to help freshen up the house (there is no active cooling function). We found the house very warm during the summer months initially until we figured out all the settings on the heat recovery system and supplemented the ventilation by opening windows and doors as needed. Visit people’s houses. We went to people’s houses for inspiration, and again don’t be afraid to ask questions about how they went about their self-build. In essence have your homework done!


P R O J E C T / C O M AY O

Q&A with Keith What surprised you?

The speed of the build, even our neighbours couldn’t believe how quickly we got it all done. It took 13 months overall, the builder had predicted nine but we had a few delays towards the end of the build getting some of the trades to finish up and move out. For what we got I think it was still quick.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

We love the kitchen, we both cook, Romina is Italian so loves her cooking, and we are delighted with the amount of work surfaces we have and the flow of the kitchen setup. Meal times are great, the big table with bench is very inviting and we get lovely natural light throughout the day. The fact that it’s open to the playroom and that the mezzanine is overlooking it makes it all that more special and there are lovely views over towards the village.

Central geothermal and ventilation units in plant room


‘The initial airtightness test was handy to ensure we were doing it right before we progressed any further.’

“We worked with the Building Energy Rating consultant on this detail to see what our savings would be so this worked out favourably.” “The other aspect had to do with the first airtightness test we did at first fix, before we did the internal plastering, the builder hadn’t done an airtight build before and the tape around the windows wasn’t sticking properly.” “It was a learning curve for us and the builder; Mark went through it all with him on site. Mark did the inspections and the airtightness test company pointed to the areas we needed to improve on.” “It was just a matter of applying more glue on the tape and ensuring all our sockets and pipes were properly sealed and the airtightness membrane was wrapped properly around the concrete hollow core initially.” “The initial airtightness test was handy to ensure we were doing it right before we progressed any further” adds Keith. Overall the experience was one that Keith and Romina found they enjoyed. “I think once you build a house you will always find things you could have done differently, you’re always learning. We were lucky to get loads of advice and inspiration from friends and family and that we had a very good builder and architect. We would definitely do it again.”

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Project information

More photographs available at

Find out more about Keith and Romina’s new build project in Co Mayo including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


Walls: 400mm cavity wall build up with 200mm cavity pumped with EPS graphite coated beads

Architect Mark Stephens Architects, Swinford, Co Mayo, tel. 094 92 52514,

Roofs: 225mm mineral wool with insulated plasterboard (50mm PIR) and 12mm plasterboard

Builder Noel Morrison Construction Ltd, Enniscrone, Co Sligo, mobile 0872052161

Windows: Triple glazed uPVC throughout Building Energy Rating: A3

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Bathroom Crean Ceramic City, Castlebar, Co Mayo and Hurst Heating & Plumbing Supplies Ltd, Castlebar, Co Mayo,


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Of rumours and roominess If, like many others in the area, you think this house is owned by a famous boxer – think again. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay t’s funny because we still have people asking us if we bought the house from a celebrity; he just happened to be looking at the same time we were,” chides Mairead. “All it takes is a ‘no comment’ at the builder’s merchant to get the rumour mill going. To this day people think he’s the rightful owner.” “It’s the kind of property we passed on our way to work every day but never dreamt of owning. It’s quite prominent on the landscape and well known in the area, it was more of a landmark than anything else. It looked too big and expensive for us.” Despite loving the home they were living in, its location wasn’t right and space had become tight with their twin boys growing up. “Our architect drew plans to greatly extend our existing house, but we would have had to pump a lot of money for little return in house value.” Tim and Mairead Andrew were on the hunt for quite a while. “We were looking at sites but the ones we found in the right area had too much land. The upkeep of 40 acres would have been too much so we would have had to rent some of it out,” says Tim. “Our architect advised us during the house hunting stage,” adds Mairead. “We looked at everything that was on offer, we even toyed with the idea of buying a brand new house our architect had just finished. We went as far as getting plans drawn up for a house on a site we thought we were going to buy but that fell through after a year.”


In need of TLC

It was in 2015 that they took their leap of faith. “When we went to visit the house, it had been on the market for some years and left abandoned for two,” recalls Mairead. “I was put off by the dead birds and the fact that there are no views of the sea but Mairead saw the potential,” adds Tim. “Our architect, as well as a builder, both said they could see no major reason why we shouldn’t buy the house.” “Even though it’s bigger than what we needed it’s 15 minutes from Belfast, near the children’s school and work. It’s also only got five acres which seemed more manageable.” “The kitchen had been stunning but had been removed. We saw from a photograph 




it had a high-end range cooker,” says Mairead. “We found some old photos in the roof space,” adds Tim. “The house was originally a farm, a single storey stone building with a later single red brick extension on top, which probably dates from the 1800s. A neighbour says the site was used as a hospital during the battle of Saintfield in 1798.” “The extension/return on the old house was built in 1996, they also rewired then. The original barn was converted and joined to the main house in 2002. It was quite dark in places and was used as an entertainment area with a hot tub, gym and bar. The walls of the barn were a metre thick in places.” “This was a brilliant site even though we could see it was going to be a lot of work,” continues Mairead. “We were a bit green, and quite naïve going into it. The estate agent told us he’d known the house in its previous condition and said if we spent £100,000 we’d make it look fabulous. We thought £200,000 was a more realistic figure but it ended up at double that amount.” “The reason we spent so much is we tried to keep as many of the features as possible and chose the finishes we really liked,” explains Tim. “There was damage to the cornicing on the old part, and there was quite a bit of repair work to do on the upper storey which

‘It’s the kind of property we passed on our way to work every day but never dreamt of owning.’


had been added on after the original house was built. We also improved the insulation in the walls upstairs because it was single skin (one layer of blocks).” “It was a choice to do all the cornices, bring back the sash windows. We could have cut down and done less – we have two patio doors and a lot of windows – but we would have been kicking ourselves if we hadn’t invested in the house the way we did,” comments Mairead.

Year in the planning

“We took our time planning the renovation. We gutted the house, put in new windows, took floors out, rewired, replumbed and got rid of the porch one of the previous owners had added. We added a double height entrance in the barn conversion which had a low ceiling in places.” “The previous owners had tried to match the windows on the barn to those on the original house and that didn’t really work so we went for contrast. The new part  50 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018


is black to make it look like the extension that it is,” explains Mairead. They kept the staircase but increased the height on the spindles which were very low, some of the steps were also repaired. “We also put in a new oak staircase in the barn because we realised we could do with another set of stairs as we added a gallery area in the new entrance. We use it for social gatherings.” “The previous owners had old school type radiators in the barn, which we upcycled into the original part of the house,” recounts Mairead. “We put in panelling in the lounge in the old part of the house; the previous owners had tiles in the entrance hall but we chose to replace these with parquet wood flooring. We liked the lighter tones so went with oak instead of a darker wood.” “The design was detailed, down to the arrangement of doorways. When you stand in one spot you can see through the width and length of the house,” she adds. “The playroom was designed so it could be converted into an annexe for mum, as it has an ensuite.” “Originally, every bedroom had an ensuite plus a family bathroom. Yet the children’s bathroom had no natural light and the layout didn’t really work. As there was only a stud wall dividing this and another ensuite we merged through the bathrooms for a Jack and Jill (one bathroom two doors) so now we have a larger room with natural light.” The heating and hot water system also took some time to finalise. “We had to 


‘We didn’t need planning permission... but had to go through Building Control’


Q&A with Mairead What surprised you?

We didn’t expect the amount of time it would absorb, but it’s necessary to make it look good. Also the fact that we had to bring a digger inside the house to drill through the rock for the new floors.

Would you do it again?

I wouldn’t simply because I want to spend my time doing other things. I restored an old car before, I enjoyed it, but now that it’s done I don’t feel the need to do it again. It’s the same feeling. It’s a great achievement but it’s time to move on to the next one.

What’s your favourite part of the house?

The door that links the old and new – we had it put in because we were worried about draughts, this didn’t end up being an issue, but it’s actually very good to have for the puppy. I also love our new entrance; the barn was ugly and long, we didn’t know how to break it up and adding an external door made it work.

What single piece of advice would you give someone who’s thinking of renovating? Spend as much time on site as you can, this I think is especially important on a renovation project because you’re uncovering things as you go. The reality on site will be different to what’s shown on paper so measuring things out on the spot is a great aid. We cut things out in carboard to understand the scale better.

What would you change?

We have bland tastes so there’s nothing we think we shouldn’t have done!



Mairead’s Tips Be available. Decisions have to be made quickly such as picking out sanitaryware, tiles, internal doors and handles. The builder will ask you if you have the things he needs the next day so try to stay one step ahead. We were amazed at the amount of time we spent choosing the finishes and we changed our mind a few times. Keep the children close. The open plan kitchen living area is good for family life, the kids can play independently but we can still see them from the kitchen. Magazines are useful to consult, especially Grand Designs and Selfbuild. Reuse what you can. We felt some of the fixtures that were there could be upcycled, such as the old light pendant in the extension. The rest of the lights we bought new, all LED.

Oak parquet flooring

replumb the house and it had two oil boilers that didn’t work,” says Mairead. “We chose a biomass boiler – it’s very large as is the hot water tank but we have the space for it and the silo. The most amount of work is emptying the ash pan, every three weeks in winter and every two months in summer.” “We get pellets delivered three or four times a year, using under two tonnes per month. The fire in the kitchen/living area is electric and even though it emits a bit of heat it’s purely decorative,” she adds. “One hot water tank was enough with a circulation pump; in general the heating is very good and we chose tall radiators which are a great addition because they don’t take up much space. We couldn’t put any radiators under the floor to ceiling windows. We have tall radiators in the kitchen, living and master bedroom too.” They also installed photovoltaic panels to generate electricity. “I was sceptical about solar panels but we had the opportunity to put them in work and they worked so we did it in our home too,” says Tim. “We availed of the government incentives of the time and thought it would help with our hybrid car.”


“Although we didn’t need planning permission because we weren’t extending or changing use we applied for it anyway to ensure everything was in order. Of course, we had to go through Building Control, and  54 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

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after a year of planning we went to tender. We sent the plans out to six builders and five quoted.” “The architect and quantity surveyor put forward names as did we, then went with the best price. The builder was local and had worked with the architect before,” adds Tim. “It’s a challenge working with builders, simply because house building and renovating is stressful for everyone,” says Mairead. “I devoted a year to the build, I was there most days, which was good because you get asked lots of questions so it was better to be there to answer them rather than assumptions be made. It was also great to get to know the guys, we got on well.” “It was such a big project and we didn’t know what we might find. We relied heavily on John our architect who oversaw a lot, he’d get calls every day from the builder. His fees were definitely a worthwhile investment,” adds Mairead. 56 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

“We actually ended up having quite a bit of fun with John. For instance when it came to the wet dash on the barn, John wanted clean straight lines but due to the nature of the walls that was going to be difficult. The barn stone was wonky and the plasterers said the finish was going to look wonky, but nobody had the nerve to say it to John so I fought my corner for the wet dash.” “I agreed with John the whole time, I figured he was the expert,” says Tim. “But he’d give in when he thought about it and that point about it not looking right was

‘It was such a big renovation project our architect would get calls every day from the builder...’


taken on board. He was flexible enough to change his mind. In other instances he professionally fought his corner and usually won.” Advice also came from the builder. “The major problem with the house was discovered quickly,” says Mairead. “Even though the extension part had been reroofed along with new guttering and soffits, on the main roof the original nails holding down the slates were rusty and tiles were sliding off, the builder said we were better off to reroof now otherwise we’d be replacing tiles every year.” “We also found a bit of damp and woodworm which we got sprayed, it was a good time to find it all as we stripped everything back.” The build took a year and they moved in May 2017. “It was unthinkable that we’d get this far and we’re delighted with the end product.”


As the house sits on a prominent site, it’s got the mature trees to go with it. “It’s triangular and no good as farmland because it’s too wet. We actually found an old well and the general advice at the time was that it would be cheapest to block it up, but we wanted to make a feature of it,” recounts Mairead. “We’re delighted we did because we’re now pumping water from it for the garden. With the hose ban this past summer, we were the only ones with green grass in the area. As for the trees we have a fruit orchard and also planted 14 varieties of local species. We put in 1,000 of them, we did that when we bought the house three years ago to let them mature.” “I find that too many people don’t pay attention to boundary walls or to the entrance and laneways, it’s really important to budget for landscaping – hedges take time to grow,” adds Mairead. The site is sectioned off with a zone at the back that’s safe for the children without any traffic, which means the cars are also protected from bikes and stray balls hitting them. There’s no doubt all the planning paid off, as proven by the fact that the few oversights were easily dealt with. “We forgot the outside taps but those were actually easy to add, sockets would have been nice but it’s not insurmountable to add them later on.” A knock-out build altogether. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 57


More photographs available at

Project information

Find out more about Tim and Mairead’s renovation project in Co Down including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


Ground and first floors as existing Roof: 400mm rock wool to existing roof space Walls to original house: 62.5mm insulated plasterboard to existing solid walls Walls to rear return and glazed link: cavity wall with pump filled EPS beads Walls to barn: 150mm rock wool insulated timber frame to inner face of existing stone wall Windows to house: double glazed uPVC sliding sash Windows to glazed link and barn: double glazed aluminium

Architect John Lavery of BGA NI, Kitchen Hannaway Kitchens, Windows W&C Glazing, Gates Timbergate, Stairs Annacloy Timber Products, tel. 4483 2020 Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic,


NI calling ROI drop the first 0 and prefix with 00353



13 12

11 11 12 9

1 Entrance hall 2 Guest room 3 Guest ensuite 4 Lounge 5 Larder 6 Kitchen 7 Living 8 Dinning 9 WC/coats 10 Entrance link 11 Double height dining 12 Office 13 Utility




9 10 1 Landing 2 Master bedroom 3 Dressing space 4 Master ensuite 5 bedroom 6 Ensuite 7 Walk-in hotpress 8 Dressing room 9 Gallery walkway 10 Void over dining space 11 Master ensuite 12 Master bedroom 13 Balcony

8 7



6 3






1 6







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‘We lived off manpower, rainwater and bottled gas’ Renovating a house on a remote island means that everything has to be brought in by boat. That was where the adventure began. Words: Astrid Madsen


e were looking for somewhere remote to be near nature and to balance life and work,” explains Tracy who is originally from England. “It took us two years to find somewhere. We were looking in Scotland, England, Wales but never considered Ireland. It was a continual search, all of the offers we made fell through. We discovered this cottage on the internet but dismissed it for six months because it sounded too good to be true. The write up described everything that we had dreamed of and more plus it was in our price range.” “When another deal fell though we were very despondent and disheartened by the whole process of dream hunting. So we went back to the drawing board to start our search all over again whereupon we stumbled upon the cottage again. We thought this must be fate calling, so we started to seriously consider that this might work. At the time we were living on a narrow boat in the middle of a three months continuous cruise. Pete decided that he would stay with the boat while I went off on adventures to Ireland to have a look. ‘If you think it’s right for us, make an offer while you are there.’ he said... Famous last words!”  60 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018


 WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 61


Q&A with Tracy Would you do it again?

We’re saving to do the byre dwelling next so a big yes. I think if we had known what we were letting ourselves in for we probably wouldn’t have done it in the first place, yet the dream was so strong as was the belief that we could make it happen. I am so glad we made it.

What would you do differently?

We used a limewash on the walls in the house and painted over it with regular masonry paint. So shortly after it started to peel and present signs of mould. The pain of inexperience cut deep. We had to scrape it all off again; that was my low point of the build. It was soul destroying to have to go back over something that you had done already. It felt that we were going backwards and that we weren’t achieving anything. As long as you can see progress it’s not too difficult to stay motivated. We ended up in the paint shop in Skibbereen with despair breathing down our necks until these guys saved us. They had all the right information about painting onto lime and the right paint. We ended up using a chalk based distemper.


‘The ‘vision’ outshone all the work required to turn this empty shell of a house into a home...'

“It was the most amazing magical place and I thought ‘Wow, this is it’ Standing on the pier on mainland looking over at the island I instantly fell in love with the place and would have made the offer there and then. It immediately felt like home, and that I had been here before and that I was being welcomed back. The wild Atlantic Ocean engulfed this wonderful little Irish island and created the haven of tranquillity we had sought. The cottage’s position was the icing on the cake for it compounded the sense of isolation being the only property on the east end of the island.” The cottage had no electricity or running water. “That was something we had become acclimatised to, to a certain degree, for living on a boat you have limited resources so this didn’t scare us off. The ‘vision’ outshone all the work required to turn this empty shell of a house into a home. The south facing views looking out over the ocean, with panoramic views of the other islands and Fastnet Lighthouse on the horizon, just took my breath away. I could see the potential, I thought to myself that we’d just have to grit our teeth and make this work,” she adds. The plan was to renovate the cottage to create a home and for it to act as a backdrop for Tracy’s business. “We have created an island retreat where people


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

The kitchen. It’s always the heart of a home. The old range is still there but no longer in working order. We are looking to restore or replace it in the not too distant future. I love the open plan feel to the kitchen. The views out to the ocean are breath taking. The kitchen is a big room by our standards as we used to have a galley kitchen in our narrow boat. The boat was a great stepping-stone to coming to live on an island.

What surprised you?

can come and stay. The aim is to share the magic and to create a place where you can just be. Time and space to breathe. Nature rules here and where better to go nurture your soul.” Tracy says that even though it gets busy in the summer months, the island only has eight permanent residents with Tracy the only woman.


“The cottage was built in 1912 in cast concrete mixed with pebble off the beach; the more vernacular stone dwelling which is now a barn or what I would call the ‘man cave’ dates back to 1860 and is the original byre dwelling that housed a dozen or more islanders along with their animals.” “Our move-in date was delayed from April to September so when we eventually got there, it was autumn and we had our first winter on the island without any running water or power to look forward to. There were probably bets that we wouldn’t last the winter, but we worked through the hardship in good spirits. Our first year found us living off manpower, candles and bottled gas.” “The house was sold with an old power generator that wasn’t working and the water supply consisted of rainwater in rain butts. Our drinking water was collected daily from

a well at the bottom of the land. We used to carry the water back in plastic bottles and buckets.” “Washing clothes and bedding by hand was hard work. I was amazed at just how much water we use and waste. This way of ‘being’ certainly gave us a good idea of what life would have been like when the cottage was first built.” “There was luckily a functioning wastewater system. The septic tank had been put in two years prior to us moving in, so we knew that it was up to standard. The bathroom hadn’t been done that long ago either, we believe this was to help with the sale of the cottage, but when we went to clean the tiles, they all moved, so a remodel was in order.” “The islanders were very helpful. We would seek their advice and insights into how to do things and the challenges of island living. We learnt so much from them. They really have been amazing. I don’t think we would have got by without them. We learnt over time that one of the islanders’ mother grew up in the cottage and that someone else’s family from the island had lived here too. This cottage has a lot of history. During the renovations we encouraged them to visit regularly to see how we were progressing and hoped that they approved.” 

The biggest surprise was how physical it was, but the rewards were far greater than the turmoil. Every day I’m amazed at how liberating an experience this has been, we’ve simplified everything in our lives. It’s much more enjoyable than having a big house. We have the security of having no debt, I think mortgages weigh on people more than they realise. We have found that simplifying our life has made us feel like millionaires. The freedom it gives you is priceless.



Tracy’s tips Be creative.

Colours bring a home to life. Let yourself be bold, experiment. The project has boasted many firsts and that included me starting to make blinds and curtains. It was an interesting process and if I may say so myself, quite a successful one at that. The curtains in the kitchen are all nature themed. I love them.

Reclaim and repurpose. “One of the first things that affected us was the amount of rubbish lying in and around the cottage. The garden was full of all sorts of junk. We burned what we could, upcycled and recycled what could be reused.” “One of the islanders arranged for someone to come and take the 12 car batteries that we had uncovered and some of the white goods were collected by the ‘once a year white goods collection’ provided for the island, so we’re chipping away at it. At least the rubbish is now all organised, all the metal is in the one place. We have a nice tidy small scrapyard in amongst our 11 acres.”


On a budget

“We didn’t have a huge budget going into this so it was clear from the start we’d be doing as much as possible ourselves,” continues Tracy. “Being so remote, and the house only accessible by boat, also made it difficult to get people to come over to work on the house. There’s also the aspect that they would always forget to bring something and it’s not like we can run down to the hardware shop.” “We insulated the roof and floor and replaced the windows, we didn’t want any drylining because the unevenness oozes charm. We finished the walls with a limewash.” 

The kitchen dining table is made from part of an electrical cable drum that was washed up on the shore. We discovered some lovely old chairs in a charity shop that had claw and ball chair leg. The chairs were heavily lacquered so we stripped them down to the bare wood and they look amazing. In the guest bedroom we have a reclaimed bed with lovely hand carvings; we believe that the old stuff was made to last so we love to go hunting for new treasures in second hand shops.


What are your first thoughts when visualising an outdoor space for your new home? Perhaps you imagine an area that allows for outdoor dining, for the kids to play on, or perhaps an area for entertaining guests?


An outdoor space is great for a multitude of activities, effectively adding another room to the house if the rain stays away. However, with the fun comes the inevitable mess, spilled wine, ketchup, animal paw prints… the list continues, and cleaning up after accidental spills can end up taking up a substantial amount of time.

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EasyClean is the perfect paving product for those who wish to keep their outdoor space as clean as the day they bought it. To find your nearest stockist please visit our website or call our sales office on NI: 028 79642411 ROI: 048 7964 2411

Mayfair with EasyClean


“The kitchen had no cupboards or facilities so we used the old concrete blocks found in the garden amongst the rubbish to create kitchen units. Some of the locals knew we were on a budget so offered us pieces of old furniture that were being thrown out. This was a real blessing, for it gave us the storage space that we desperately needed. We were given an old dresser painted a heavy dark green, which we stripped and polished up to create a wonderful feature in the kitchen.” “We laid the wiring ourselves as that’s the most time-consuming element and the electrician did the connections and the box.” But doing the grunt work presented its own set of challenges. “With the poured concrete walls we couldn’t channel the wires, the walls were way too difficult to cut through. We found copper piping in the scrap heap outside and ran wires in it as a feature. It saved on time and added to the quirkiness and feel of the fisherman’s cottage.” “We thought the electricity would be the back breaker as far as costs went but oddly enough the connection, which involved the installation of six poles, wasn’t as expensive as the borehole for our water supply.” “We ran into some delays with ESB 66 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

Networks, mainly due to paperwork being mislaid and weather conditions. When they came to inspect the area, they told us that they would have to zigzag the six poles up to us and also seek the permission from all the landowners whose land they would need to encroach. We agreed we would dig the trench of 50 meters to the cottage for the underground cable and to get the ‘box’ in place for the meter. The final cost was

‘...we used old oars that we found in the garden along with drift wood...'


around €3,000 which we were well pleased with as the terrain was not easy to work with.” “The borehole and well, on the other hand, was a much bigger expense, we expected it to come in at €3,500 but it ended up at €6,500 – they determined where the water was but due to us sitting on bedrock, they could not be sure as to how deep they would have to drill. With every 100ft they went down, the more money it cost. So on the day of drilling we held our breath for after the estimated 150ft they still had not hit water. They ended up drilling to 320ft, double what we were expecting.” “The hardest part for us was knowing that a huge part of our budget had just been swallowed up and that there was no real spare money for survival. It was very tight towards the end of the build and we sold what we could for some extra funds. Many sacrifices have been made to turn this dream into a reality. Seeing your bank balance going down knowing that nothing would replenish it, was very scary indeed!” adds Tracy.

Blood sweat and tears

Pete was a landscape gardener in a previous life; so taking on this renovation project was a real test of his skills. “We were both thrown into the deep end and it took a huge leap of faith. This faith was tested many a time I can tell you. To live the dream takes courage and determination,” relates Tracy. “Believe it or not, it was hard to dampen our spirits even when we had no running water or electricity and we rarely fell out. Besides… no one can hear you scream over the sound of the ocean!” Tested they were, living in the cottage whilst renovating. “The rubble, old plaster, mountains of dust and the upheaval made us feel like we were camping on a building site rather than it being home. We had no working bathroom (no running water) and we moved from room to room, setting up camp as we went, with the two dogs to keep us warm and comforted.” “Not sleeping on a proper bed did get me down so with protests ringing in my ears I went ahead and dug out our bed from our belongings in the old stone barn. When we got rid of sleeping bags, the inflatable mattress and got to climb into our own bed with a duvet it was like heaven.” “We started by ripping out what had to be removed to reveal any major issues. Thankfully the roof only required minor

repairs with some woodworm treatment taking up most of our time. The ceiling space upstairs was too low as it had been dropped down to create a small loft space above by the previous owners. Our first job was to raise the joists. We moved them one by one, replacing a few as we went along with just a handsaw as our friend,” continues Tracy. “We worked from the top down, taking the old flooring up and reusing the boards that hadn’t been damaged by woodworm to clad the ceilings. This also gave us the opportunity to treat the floor joists.” The theme of this self-build was salvage. “For the banister we used old oars that we

found in the garden along with drift wood. Offcuts of wood that were used along with pebble and stone from the coves too. We recylced some old doors to create a lovely colourful cladding on the tar-stained chimneybreast upstairs. We also hung up old fishing nets and buoys to try and keep the authenticity of an old fisherman’s cottage.” In the kitchen the worktops consist of three-inch planks to give it the farmhouse cottage feel. “On one of our island adventures, we discovered some old wood in a derelict building belonging to the ferryman, so we made a deal with him and exchanged our trailer for his wood and used it for our  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 67

PROJECT / CO CORK More photographs available at

Tracy’s tips Never be afraid to ask.

The guys at the paint shop really helped us sort out our challenge of painting onto a limewash. That was our only regret, not researching this aspect enough. If you’re using something you’re not accustomed to, ask people who know. Same went for the plumber’s merchant. I did most of the plumbing myself. The guy at the merchants was so patient with me and talked me through the basics so that I could do the work…brave man.

Appreciate the achievements. creation in the bathroom and for the kitchen worktops.” Sourcing the new windows also presented a challenge. “We eventually found a joiner in Skibeeren who came out to the island to measure up. The thick wooden framed picture windows with double-glazing look amazing. We brought them over to the island in a small fishing punt with ‘Fisherman Joe’. It took a couple of trips, which was an adventure all on its own. We decided to fit them ourselves as it was hard to find an installer on our small budget.” “All of our deliveries, from the washing machine to floorboards, were brought in by boat. Dropped off on the mainland pier, carried down the pier steps and into a waiting boat. Then transported across the channel to midland pier on the island where the reverse of what happened on mainland took place on the island,” adds Tracy. “Pure manpower and determination. Where there is a will, there is a way…the island way. We wouldn’t have been able to do it without the help of the islanders, their fishing boats and the ferry. Our new two seat sofa was brought over in a small fisherman’s punt with the fisherman sitting back on the sofa enjoying the ride whilst I manned the boat. Great memories.” “It’s not just the fact that everything has to be brought in by boat but we also have to bring the stuff up the dirt track to make its way to the cottage. We have an old island vehicle that came with the sale of the house. 68 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

There is a rope that holds the bonnet down and another to keep the back door closed… but it works – that’s how we got everything half a mile uphill. Nothing was easy but that was all part of the adventure.” Considering the amount of work this project represented, it’s a great achievement that it only took less than two years. “We now grow most of our own vegetables. We have carrot, parsnip, potato, cabbage, spinach and six hens joined us in May. They provide great entertainment as well as a plentiful supply of eggs. We try to bring in as little as possible from the mainland with our aim being to become self-sufficient as best we can,” says Tracy. “Fruit trees will come next along with a polytunnel when funds allow. We are now saving up to start our next project, which will be to restore the old byre dwelling. We are now thankfully more clued up as to what needs to be done and know that the roof will be the biggest expense. We’re desperate to get it watertight. The walls are good so it will be a question of bringing it back to life after that.” The cottage’s B&B ( profits will see the byre dwelling renovated. “This experience taught us to be ever more resourceful, we’d never done anything like this before, but with a ‘can do’ attitude, some research, and not being afraid to ask people for help, anything’s possible.”

Take time to look back over how far you have come, as it’s so easy to become transfixed on what still needs to be done. When we did come up for air we were able to put the ‘big stick’ down of not achieving and give ourselves a pat on the back as to what we had already accomplished.

BUILDING SPEC Insulation: PIR 40mm in roof, 50mm in floor Plot size: 11 acres House size: 95 sqm (1,020 sqft) Renovation cost: €30,000

SUPPLIERS Paint shop Fusion Home Interiors, Skibbereen, Co Cork, tel. 028 23162 Bathroom Buckley’s Tiles & Bathrooms, Skibbereen, Co Cork, tel. 028 23160 Windows  Ted O’ Driscoll Joinery, Skibbereen, Co Cork, tel. 028 21718, mobile 086 8706835 Builder’s merchant Barry Brothers, Skibbereen, Co Cork, tel. 028 21633 Plumber’s merchant Michael J Walsh Heating & Plumbing Supplies, Skibbereen, Co Cork, tel. 028 21675 NI calling ROI drop the first 0 and prefix with 00353


CLINIC Self-building in ROI Embarking on a building or renovation project can be a daunting prospect but as seasoned self-builders will attest to, once you’ve done your homework, building or extending your own home is in fact a gratifying experience. So to help you get started we brought together a range of experts to Selfbuild Live Dublin – they came together to host the Selfbuild Bootcamp by sharing their tips and advice on the key stages of building and home improving. SPONSORED BY



Self-build mortgages and insurance How much can you borrow? Do you need insurance? Find out from EBS mortgage master Brian Carey, Self Build Zone’s Kieran Dwyer, AIB Bank’s head of homes for Kildare, Laois and Offaly Alice Hynes and AIB Bank’s head of homes for Cavan, Monaghan and Louth Debbie Clarke

Do I need a deposit?

Brian Carey: If you own the site, this acts as your deposit and lenders can offer up to 100 per cent of the construction costs as long as the value on completion of your home does not exceed 90 per cent for First Time Buyers (FTB) or 80 per cent for all others. This is in line with the Central Bank rules. If you are purchasing the site you can get up to a 90 per cent loan (FTB) / 80 per cent (others) of the total site value plus construction costs.

Is applying for a self-build mortgage any different to buying a house?   Alice Hynes: The application is assessed in the very same way but there are some additional steps and information required. For a loan offer to be issued, you will need to show you have secured full and final planning approval (Grant of Permission) and submit detailed costings drawn up by a suitably qualified architectural designer or engineer with professional indemnity insurance.   Be clear whether this is an estimate or an actual contract price. Overruns can occur, it can be for a number of reasons, simply the quote being an estimate and not an actual price, design changes through the build or even bad weather delaying or damaging work. These risks need to be factored in with a contingency.  70 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

Make sure you have your research done and know what your outlays are going to be, from professional fees, including your solicitor, to council levies that need to be paid upfront or water connection fees.   The loan is then paid out in stages; your design professional must sign off on each of these stages to say they are complying with the building regulations before the stage payment can be issued.

How is the money advanced by the lender? BC: One of the major differences between a standard mortgage and a self-build mortgage is the way the money is released. With a standard mortgage, the funds are released in one go, whereas with a selfbuild mortgage the capital is released in

stages throughout the construction of your house. You only make repayments on the amount you draw down at each stage. You may also have the option of interest only repayments for the first 12 months of the build.

How is the site insured during construction?  BC: You may receive free ‘course of construction insurance’ from your lender for the first 12 months while you are building your property, but check for this as not all banks offer it. This will cover your property for fire, flood and storm damage during construction. There are specialist insurance providers who can supply further coverage, e.g. against theft.


Kieran Dwyer: Ideally you should take out your insurance policy before work starts however it’s possible to arrange cover any time from breaking ground up to close to completion. In the case of an extension or renovation your existing house policy will likely have certain exclusions but will definitely reduce cover to fire, lightning and explosion if the house is unoccupied for 30 to 45 days. It will also exclude liability cover for injuries to third parties (members of the public or builders) arising out of construction work. Your ‘bona fide’ subcontractors who bring materials on site such as the plumber and electrician must have their own insurance. All other tradesmen, labourers, casual labour, etc. are not required to have insurance. Your architectural designer and/or engineer should have professional indemnity insurance for failures due to the design of the house or extension (see warranties).

What costs are involved?  BC: Managing the cost of building your home is like managing a small business. Your build costs are influenced by the size, level of specification, number of storeys, and the extent to which you will be personally involved.  It depends on the lender but you can get a loan for the build cost, solicitors fees, engineer / architect fees as well as council and connection fees which can be high depending on where you’re building. The bank won’t normally charge you arrangement or consultation fees but might charge the valuation fee at the end to determine how much the house is worth (€150).

WARRANTIES: WHAT ARE THEY ABOUT? KD: Even if your architectural designer has professional indemnity insurance, I’d advise anyone building or extending to take a 10 year structural warranty cover. It’s the same principle as taking out a warranty on an appliance; the 10 year timeframe is common because that is when any defects in construction are likely to become apparent. Your current house insurance policy is likely to cover a defined number of risks such as fire, storm and escape of water. However a structural warranty policy will cover any defect, fault or failure in design, workmanship, materials or components of the structure causing destruction of, or physical damage, to the house. The warranty includes periodic site visits; surveyors carry out four to six inspections during the construction stage. The first of these will be when the foundations are being poured. Consider taking out the warranty before work starts. If works have already started and you decide to sign up midway, the surveyors will have to carry out a far more detailed survey which will result in a higher overall cost.

Would I qualify for a tax break? BC: The Help to Buy incentive helps first time buyers who are buying or building their own home to pay their mortgage deposit by giving them a 5 per cent tax rebate based on the value of their house. Self-builds qualify for the Help to Buy scheme as long as they meet all the conditions. So first time buyers building a new house with a mortgage that’s a minimum of 70 per cent of the house valuation can qualify. The first step is to apply for the tax rebate on to establish your maximum relief.

Standard build costs by region for masonry cavity wall, STANDARD BUILD COSTS BY REGION FOR MASONRY CAVITY WALL, 200SQM TWO STOREY/DORMER NEW BUILD 200sqm two storey/dormer new build Dublin region

€ 280,200


€ 228,600


€ 222,450


€ 221,550


€ 221,100


€ 215,700


€ 185,700

Indicative costs only, always consult with a building professional to determine your budget as each project will vary significantly in cost, including variances due to exact location Source: Build Cost Calculator on

What are the main self-build pitfalls?

Debbie Clarke: Time is a factor – consider how long it can take to get planning permission and that it can take longer to build than you estimated. In that case your living costs may increase if you are renting.   Understand the difference between going the direct labour route versus a fixed price contract and the pros and cons of each. It’s more costly to go with a contractor but it’ll be project managed for you and more likely to be delivered on time. If you go direct labour you will need the help of a qualified architectural designer or engineer to guide you.   Managing the budget, keeping receipts and reconciling the spend along the way is vital as is getting the right insurance to protect your construction at the very start, as some providers may not quote when the build is underway.   Having the right team is everything; do your research and get recommendations from family and friends for your solicitor, engineer, architectural designer, builder and any tradesmen you might need.   WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 71

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B U I L D C O S T E S T I M AT I N G / B O O T C A M P

The bean counters Keith Kelliher walks you through what a quantity surveyor does and how much you need to set aside for your self-build


y architect told me I would need to hire a quantity surveyor but I don’t know what you do. Don’t you survey buildings?

A quantity surveyor will help you manage your costs throughout your project, and indirectly advise you on the cost effectiveness of various designs. You should get a detailed budget plan well before you fully design your house or apply for planning permission. A simple dimensioned sketch is enough information for your quantity surveyor to develop a cost plan. A QS can then also help manage the tenders (quotes from builders) and organise payments too, i.e. they will tell you when to pay the builder for how much work they’ve done exactly. At the end of the process they will give you a final account tally. You can also call upon a QS for dispute resolution or for a second expert opinion on contract queries or arrangements. These are all separate services and are either charged for individually or as a package.

We went out to tender and the prices that came back are double our budget. We’d set it according to a self-build ballpark of €100/sqft but it seems like we may have to go back to the drawing board? It is not possible, and is often a dangerous mistake, to attempt to set a budget for a project based on a global average cost per square foot or square meter. A one-off domestic project can never be average – every single self-build is different and so is each site. Every house has a tailored design, with a bespoke shape, with a specific method of building and with a unique mix of finishes to roofs, walls, floors etc. One project may decide on uPVC windows but the next will be aluminium. Setting a budget based on averages cannot factor in these variables. As seen above the best way to start is

‘It is not possible, and is often a dangerous mistake, to try to set a budget based on a global average cost per square foot.’

to use the quantity surveyor at the initial design stage, to help you define the scope so you can then draw up your plans. With the resulting clear set of plans the QS will fine tune the detailed budget cost plan with specific allowances for items that have not yet been specified, e.g. windows, floor finishes, tiling, kitchen units and the like. This breakdown helps you know how much you have for each item when the time comes to select specific products. You

can revise these amounts by deciding to spend more on one element and less on another; it’s all about helping you identify what is your overall budget and stick to it.

What is the best way to tender my project?

Take charge of the process. All too often a bunch of drawings are sent out to contractors for pricing; this approach gives you little to no control over what  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 73

B O O T C A M P / B U I L D C O S T E S T I M AT I N G

information will be fed back to you. Contractors will provide varying degrees of detail; what is and isn’t included will depend on how much of a breakdown the builder wants to give you. To control the process, you should send out a detailed pricing schedule or a bill of quantities with your tender. This will ensure that all contractors are pricing the same items and to the same specification. It will also provide you with a detailed price comparison between contractors across all of the individual items in your proposed tender.

project. All too often when parties fall out and there is no contract, it can be extremely difficult to work out what the original ‘rules of engagement’ actually were. This further frustrates the relationship between the parties and a small dispute can quickly grow into a larger one. A contract binds each party to a set of ground rules. This usually involves the builder committing to building and progressing within a timeframe and the client agreeing to make decisions to a working schedule so as not to delay the

What is a PC Sum and is it any different to a Provisional Sum?

Within a tender or a contract, a PC or Prime Cost Sum is an estimate of how much specialist work will cost, such as the supply of tiles, timber for floors or kitchen installations. The client specifies a sum, e.g. €50 per sqm, for the supply of tiles, and the contractor includes this value within their tender. When the client comes to select the tiles, if they spend less then the overall contract sum reduces by that amount but if they spend more it increases. At all times the client controls the actual cost. A provisional sum is for items that are not fully known at the time and are harder to set a budget for. Common examples would be a provisional allowance for damp treatment in roof timbers or suspended floors. In the contract you will see a lump sum but the actual spend will depend on the as-of-yet-unknown real cost of the works. How much you end up spending on this item will entirely depend on understanding the extent of the issue and the architectural designer / engineer’s instructions.

The builder wants 25 per cent payment upfront, I’m happy to put this up for materials but is that common practice?

‘A contract is a good project management tool; it also helps if even a minor dispute arises....’ By way of example, if you send out a set of drawings most contractors will revert with a lump sum for electrical works. If you send out a pricing schedule you will be able to identify the individual cost of a double socket. This level of control can assist in ensuring best value but also controlling cost through to completion of the project.

Do I need a contract?

For a new build or extension project that involves a main contractor, yes. A contract is a written record of the details of the agreement, set out at the beginning of the 74 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

completion date. It also sets out what insurance is in place, how payments are made and under what circumstances, but also how instructions are given and how changes can be made. A contract is a good project management tool; it also helps if even a minor dispute arises. A standard form contract or indeed any contract with a properly worded dispute clause, can ensure that neither party will see the inside of a courtroom should they ever fall out on the project.

I wouldn’t advise you to do this, common practice is to pay the builder as he completes the work. In fact there is no standard form of construction contract that requires that the client pay money upfront. You’d usually pay the builder on a monthly basis, although how often you pay him will depend on what you’ve agreed to in the contract. It’s important to remember you’re only paying the builder for the work he’s completed to date. That said, you may agree to put down the deposit for high ticket items like windows, kitchens or even tiles. Deposits are commonplace to secure orders and many contractors simply do not have the cash flow in their business to make these payments. 

NEXT BOOTCAMP: JOIN US IN CORK! Back by popular demand, Selfbuild Live Cork will host the Selfbuild Bootcamp on all two days of the show, 10th to 11th November in Millstreet, covering everything you need to know about building and home improving in ROI.





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Find a plot and planning permission Site hunting for your dream home and securing planning permission may seem like two very different activities. But they can be intrinsically linked, writes Josh Maguire of The House Architects.


‘Rural Design Guides provide excellent graphics illustrating the types of design approaches the planners favour...’ employment, shops, etc. These seemingly circumstantial factors will have a direct impact on your quality of life once you move in.

County Development Plans

Each county and city council has a plan, published on their website, to control the physical development within their area: County Development Plan, commonly referred to as CDP, and City or Local 76 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

Development Plans. The purpose is to promote appropriate types of development in certain areas, for instance whether it makes sense to have commercial buildings next to residential, schools next to certain types of amenities. The overall aim of the development plans is to zone or earmark different areas for specific uses so as to benefit the community. Equally it may inhibit certain types of development in certain areas, such

Image courtesy of Christopher Day

any self-builders build their own home on a plot of land made available to them, oftentimes through a family holding such as a farm or even a suburban garden with road frontage. In such instances the choices around site location may be less relevant, however there may still remain fundamental decisions which may impact your chances of securing planning permission for a house, such as the location of the house on the site, where you will access the road and how the cluster of buildings, including the garage, affect the landscape. If you intend to purchase a site for your dream home the first key decision is which county or townland. The second is the location type, e.g. a remote rural location, a site adjacent to a town, a site connected directly to a town. Other considerations include proximity to public transport routes, schools,

as industrial sites close to housing, or the overdevelopment of rural areas. City and town development plans include coloured zoning maps which clearly identify land where new residential development is to be encouraged, e.g. in an established urban settlement, near schools, retail centres and areas where infrastructure services such as mains water, electricity and sewage are available. Sites that don’t have a sewage connection must take a percolation test to determine if the soil is good enough for an onsite wastewater system; if it isn’t you won’t get planning permission. If you’re concerned the planners might not grant you planning permission on a site you want to buy, e.g. in an area where there is a history of refusals or if the site is


within a particularly sensitive landscape, it can be a good idea to seek the permission of the seller to apply for Outline Planning Permission before committing to a purchase. This will test the planners’ views on the idea of a one-off house on that site. OPP takes the same amount of time to process as regular planning permission; you cannot apply for OPP if the site requires an environmental impact assessment. A planning application for a new house within lands zoned for residential is likely to be successful, provided it meets the design parameters of the development plan for scale (see next section). Outside of these zones and between urban centres, the plan will often show ‘agricultural’ lands. This category represents the majority of the land available in the country, however there can be significant controls in place to inhibit the overdevelopment of one-off private houses in these agricultural zones. Among the most common controls is the requirement to demonstrate a Rural Housing Need, colloquially known as the ‘locals only rule’ which is currently under review by the Department of Housing. In such instances you will have to demonstrate a connection with the locality, either through established family ties or employment base.

The planning process itself is straightforward. Prior to lodging your application you can request a pre-planning meeting with the local planner to discuss your proposals and seek informal feedback. This can be useful in highlighting any issues that might have a direct impact on the design or site layout. Before you lodge the planning application you must post two public notices – an advertisement in a local newspaper and

weeks the local authority will issue a planning decision based on the folio you submitted and feedback from the public. The decision will be to grant, refuse or request further information. If you secure planning permission know that it takes a further four weeks to get the final planning grant of permission, at which point you can file your commencement notice with Building Control. This is to give third parties time to contest the local authority’s decision to the appeals board, An Bord Pleanála. If your application is refused the local authority will usually tell you why, and you can appeal this decision to An Bord Pleanála within four weeks. Typical requests for further information often involve technical detail such as a requirement to demonstrate the suitability of the site for a septic tank or to comply with vehicular entrance sightlines. You need to wait four weeks for a new planning decision after submitting your additional information. This is an important (but not the only) reason why it’s a good idea to have a local design professional submit your application as they will know from

a site notice where you physically plan to build (it must be visible to passers-by). Planning applications are a box ticking exercise so to avoid delays make sure everything that needs to be done and submitted is in order otherwise you’ll be delaying the application getting processed. Once you’ve successfully lodged your planning application third parties can make submissions within five weeks. These observations can be in support of or in objection to the development. After eight

experience what the planners tend to need in order to make their decision. In general, careful consideration of your site selection and the design layout on that site are important factors in securing planning permission and there too you will really benefit from the input of a qualified design professional. The earlier they get in on the project, the better they’ll be able to tailor the design to your extract wants and needs – the gateway to your dream home. 

from the road. If it is, you will need to soften the visual impact. This means not building on the brow of a hill, where the silhouette of the new house would break the line of the landscape. If there are other houses round about you, you will usually be expected to match these. The planners also tend to encourage that rural homes use vernacular materials, i.e. ones that have been used for centuries and are prevalent on other buildings in the area. Again, the Rural Design Guides provide excellent graphics illustrating the types of design approaches that they favour for one-off houses in the countryside.

Planning process

Designing the house for the planners

After you’ve made all of these checks, you can begin selecting a suitable site. The Rural Design Guides, published by most local authorities and specific to each locality, serves as a useful benchmark when selecting a site and when deciding where to put your new home on the land. Crucial considerations should include the gradient of the site (not too steep), views from the site, water courses and orientation (position of the sun). How this plays out in relation to the road frontage is very important as this will influence where the rooms will go, and impact on the availability of shelter and views. The planners have strict guidelines in terms of access and sightlines so this aspect can be particularly important when considering the outside spaces around a house and where/when you want sunlight to hit it. Local authorities will tend to promote new house designs which are sympathetic to the landscape and that integrate well. What this means, however, can be subjective so don’t let that stop you from being creative. You can go modern or traditional but in rural areas the house shouldn’t be seen



Spoiled for choice There’s almost too much choice when it comes to building methods. Here to sift through your options is Noel Murphy, chartered architectural technologist, assigned certifier and director of FutureTek Homes Ltd.


ow you build your house is an important decision to make and I would broadly categorise the methods as outlined below together with variations on these themes, e.g. some self-builders choose to build the timber frame themselves (stick build). You might already have an idea of how you’re going to build your house

or extension, having perhaps personal knowledge of some of these systems or having had recommendations from friends, family or architectural designer. If you don’t, it’ll be a case of studying the benefits and downsides of each and making up your own mind. Take into account the advice of professionals, be it your architectural designer, engineer or your energy assessor. In many cases the building method

will depend on what you want to achieve on your energy rating (insulation and airtightness) but also the appearance of the house, the speed of construction, and building flexibility (how easy it will be to extend or adapt it for old age or disability). Here’s an overview of the main categories of building as I see them.






Traditional concrete blockwork

The wall consists of two rows of masonry blocks with a cavity in between; insulation methods include insulating the cavity and/ or insulating on the inside with insulated plasterboard and/ or insulating on the outside (external wall insulation); a single row of blocks with external wall insulation is a variation on this theme.

This can be one of the most cost effective methods of construction but external wall insulation will make it more expensive.

Masonry cavity construction has been in use over many decades and is well understood by builders, it’s a tried and trusted solution. Another benefit is that it is quite easy for the builder to make alterations as the building goes up. The concrete blocks’ strength is another draw.

It can be difficult to deal with cold bridging and airtightness. Building methods have advanced rapidly in recent years leaving masonry looking a little old fashioned and out of date. It is a slower way of building, also more prone to delays due to inclement weather.

Timber frame

The structural frame of the building is made of timber panels which are factory assembled and delivered on site and quickly constructed. Insulation may be factory fitted in a ‘closed panel’ arrangement. The external leaf is usually still constructed in masonry brick or block leaving a breathable cavity.

Perhaps a little more expensive than masonry construction however there are savings to be made due to the rapid construction method.

Precision engineered (timber frame kit put together in clean factory conditions), quickly erected and assembled on site. Once complete and with the windows and doors fitted, the structure is weatherproofed and works can continue both outside and in with associated time savings.

Communication is key for the timber kit to arrive at the agreed time with windows and doors to quickly follow. Alterations to the design must be made early on and not on site as this can cause delays.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

Lightweight, airtight, structural and prepared in precise factory conditions. On site they are assembled quickly and once connected the joint is taped making them airtight. The panels can be used in walls and on the roof giving high levels of insulation and airtightness throughout, especially in dormer construction.

A few percentage points more expensive than masonry or timber frame however with precision moulded insulation and airtightness, some savings can be made.

This could be considered as advanced timber frame construction, (boasts same benefits), the panels are versatile, clean and with high levels of insulation. Joints have an insulated spine thereby eliminating cold bridging.

Like other construction methods timber studs or steel must be factored in for large spans or cantilevers therefore specific construction drawings are necessary to ensure continuity of insulation in these areas.

Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF)

Akin to building a house out of Lego, interlocking hollow blocks of insulation are filled with reinforced concrete. Finished with row of blockwork as with timber frame, clad or rendered. Alternative methods of concrete house construction include factory prefabricated rooms delivered to site and stacked on top of each other to form the house.

On the more expensive end of the scale.

Easy to build the interlocking hollow wall blocks, suited to upper storey concrete floors, can easily facilitate curved walls. The prefabricated room construction method can have rooms fully fitted out before being delivered to site.

It can be difficult and/or costly to make alterations on site.



Project management: what needs to get done The project manager must look after the smooth running of operations as well as the rules and regulations; Roger Bell of Bell Associates helps you keep your head above water with his overview of what’s involved.


roject management is a specialist field and for good reason; there are many aspects to juggle. In the case of a single new build or extension, a project manager will usually get involved from the point of receiving planning permission and their duties will include:



Your planning drawings won’t provide an awful lot of detail, at this stage you need to start making decisions about materials, the heating system and other specific aspects of the build. You also need to be clear about what expectations you might have, including achieving a certain level of airtightness. To get quotations from builders you therefore need to put together what’s called a tender, this includes the drawings, details, technical documents, and specifications. The more information you provide the more accurate the builders’ quotes will be. Use brand names if you know the models/products you will be using. Your architectural designer will help you with the drawings and specification but a quantity surveyor is another useful ally at this stage to help drill down into a greater level of detail. Once the tender documents are ready you’ll need to: l Choose which builders you want to get quotes from. Recommendations from friends and family are a good place to start but double check the builder’s work and how they’ve dealt with setbacks - how quickly and how well they deal with issues cropping up on site. The building professionals you’re

‘To get quotations from builders you need to put together what’s called a tender, this includes the drawings, details, technical documents, and specifications...’ working with will also be familiar with builders they get along with; here too double check for yourself. I’d advise you send the tender out to five builders in the hope that three will make a submission. l Decide how long the tenders will be

out for (deadline for submissions). It’s common to allow three to four weeks. Many builders now tender with the help of quantity surveyors. l Receive and review each tender document. You’re likely to get a good, better and best price. If they’re all  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 79


similar it’s likely that they’re either colluding or costs are reflective of market prices. Sometimes you’ll get a very low price, treat these with extreme caution as the builder could be cutting corners to land the job. A very high price indicates the builder isn’t interested. Consider how local the builder is, this can impact on the price and timescales. l Nominate the successful builder. Reconfirm availability and price, proof of insurance and their tax clearance certificate. Change specifications and drawings where necessary and issue final drawings.

and submit a health and safety file to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA). This must be done for any project where construction will take more than 500 person days or 30 working days or where there is a particular risk. There’s a full chart outlining the requirements on the HSA website but most new builds and extensions would fall under this legislation. The requirements are twofold: Before you start on the design work, and before you put the project out to tender, you must appoint a Project Supervisor Design Stage (PSDS). Your architectural designer will usually take on this role but it can be given to the main

planning or time issues, how they’re to be dealt with and what control measures are to be put into place (if any). The PSDS also prepares a safety file for the homeowner where the risks are documented and health and safety information is filed. The PSDS must notify the HSA and the client of non-compliance with any written directions issued and where necessary issue directions to designers or contractors or others. Before you start on construction, you must appoint a Project Supervisor Construction Stage (PSCS), this will usually be your builder or your architectural designer. It’s a very similar role with the same obligations, except it’s for the construction stage. The PSCS must prepare a written plan specific to the risks associated to the construction stage and add to the PSDS’s safety file relevant documents such as records of scaffolding tags and inspections. It is the homeowner’s responsibility to appoint a PSDS and a PSCS.




Commencement notice

The bank wants to make sure the money they lend you goes into the build and not into a car or a holiday. To do this they require that the construction stages are signed off on by a building professional and this is done with stage payment certificates. Each certificate, which attests that the house is being built according to the building regulations, acts as an instruction to the bank to release the stage payment. Self-builds often overrun and managing the budget is an essential part of the project manager’s brief.

‘A contract is a good project management tool; it also helps if even a minor dispute arises....’ l Sign the contract setting out all of the details as above.


Health and safety

At both the design and construction stages you must appoint supervisors 80 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

contractor if it’s a design and build contract or a small project with minimal design input. In all cases the person or company undertaking the role must be competent.  The PSDS must prepare a written plan for the project outlining the risks, including those relating to technical, organisational,

Before you build you must file a commencement notice. This is done online, on the Building Control Management System (BCMS). There’s a list of documents to submit including letters of consent, drawings, specifications and provisional certs. This includes submitting the energy calculations that show you comply with the energy requirements and achieve at least an A3 on the building energy rating scale. You will also be asked to either opt in or opt out of appointing an assigned designer and an assigned certifier to the project: If you ‘opt in’ the assigned designer and assigned certifier will be the ones to lodge documentation onto BCMS to prove that the Building Regulations have been complied with.  If you ‘opt out’ you must file your commencement notice yourself on the BCMS, this can be done with the help

of your architectural designer. At this stage you will need to lodge a document stating that you will be opting out of the certification process. You will also need to supply the design drawings. If you wish to appoint a main contractor you can assign them to act as the builder, or you can appoint yourself. The opt out option is less cumbersome from an administrative point of view but it leaves you, the homeowner, entirely responsible for making sure the house or extension is built according to the building regulations.



This is an essential part of project management. Site visits and site meetings must take place regularly for everyone to be on the same page. There’s always a problem to be solved, a change in specification or criteria to amend. Cost variations come about when there’s an unforeseen. If you start digging and find that the ground is bad, this can lead to a costly change in foundations. An existing house might have damp problems that hadn’t been identified, this can lead to

a change in specification. The homeowner will have to agree to pay extra to do the extra work. Supervision also has to do with collecting data from builders and manufacturers. It mostly consists of documentation relating to the materials and systems installed in the house. For example quarry deliveries now come with a receipt certifying the products they supply are fit for purpose. You will keep the specification for the windows, the thermal insulation thickness and lambda value, etc. It’s all compiled in a file that can be reviewed at a later stage. If you opt in, the assigned certifier will have submitted his/her inspection plan to the local authorities and s/he will sign off on site visits as s/he makes them. If you opt out, the design professional that oversees your build will also carry out site visits but these aren’t necessarily signed off on and tend to happen at the homeowner’s request.



This is the paperwork tidy up phase. There are two main aspects, if you are

opting in you will have to file the final certification documents on BCMS to tell the authorities the building is completed and give them the final drawings, all variations included. The assigned certifier certification is the second document to submit to BCMS. If you opt out you can ask the design professional who oversaw the build, e.g. engineer, to issue a certificate of compliance. This document does not have to be submitted into BCMS but will be necessary for conveyancing if you ever sell your house.

NEXT BOOTCAMP: JOIN US IN CORK! Back by popular demand, Selfbuild Live Cork will host the Selfbuild Bootcamp on all two days of the show, 10th to 11th November in Millstreet, covering everything you need to know about building and home improving in ROI.

BUILDING CONTROL AND EFFICIENCY INTO EVERY JOB From design and planning through to procurement and completion we provide expertise and services to help make your build process smoother WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 81

Selfbuild Cork


10th-11th NOV 2018 MILLSTREET CO. CORK

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‘Adding a contemporary extension to a vernacular dwelling requires a deft hand to avoid spoiling the views...’



Sense of place The tactile nature of this cottage makes you feel like you can touch the views, smell the landscape and keep the company of goats. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Mark Watts for Unique Home Stays


dding a contemporary extension to a vernacular dwelling requires a deft hand to avoid spoiling the views. In this case it’s not just the cottage nestled within that enhances the landscape but also​ the contemporary addition​​which manage​s​to further ground the building. ​


The brainchild of a hands-on self-builder, with some inspiration from people like John Pawson whose architectural work is rooted in texture and environment (see book review p87), the project started as the straightforward renovation of an old house with two windows either side of the door and central fireplace. This cottage and many similar ones aren’t recorded in the County Development Plan as protected structures and therefore are not always sympathetically restored, some of them even knocked down. The Co Kerry planners were therefore glad to hear of this renovation, but planning permission wasn’t required. Derelict since the 1960s and occupied by goats, the cottage was sympathetically restored on a budget. Armed with a ladder, a hammer and a chisel the early days were full

of energy, spirit and aspirations. Advice came from craftsmen specialised in working with lime, a local carpenter and joiner. The process took nine months and was tackled on a day by day basis. First came the roof which was stripped of its insulative layers of turf, moss, hay and rusted-through corrugated metal. The walls

were in poor condition and brought down to a level where they were flat and sound, rebuilt with stone and lime mortar. The new roof structure was sourced locally from larch trees whose bark was stripped; they were cut in winter and let dry for a month in the round (150mm diameter). The roof trusses’ carpentry work was done with a chainsaw. To allow evening light to enter, the new roof has three rectangular rooflights and is made of corrugated Perspex on the exterior and frosted panes on the inside. To deaden the drum effect of rain, the insulation build up includes 150mm stone wool which has better acoustic properties than standard mineral wool. For added thermal insulation they added PIR boards. Lime was used as a plaster​finish both inside and out, a visually ‘warm’ material and one that doesn’t do hard edges. External plastering work is best done above 10 degC unless there’s some form of heat source,  WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 85


in hot weather it can dry out too quickly if left unprotected. The new plumbing and electrics are hidden in the wall, chased prior to plastering. The floor was originally cast in lime but it suffered from wear and tear so when the extension was built and underfloor heating installed throughout, they took the opportunity to replace them all with a white concrete floor above PIR insulation boards. Inexperience had another downside. Even though the original intent was to keep the fireplace, for the aesthetics, they realised too late they’d put in the wrong sized flue in the chimney – you need a minimum of 250mm for an open fire and they had 175mm. So a stove was put in its place. A major challenge during this initial phase was knocking through the gable end of the cottage that was facing the lake, this required four reinforced concrete sill beams. As for the glazing a local joiner took the existing sash windows and replicated them individually with hardwood; hand rolled glass provides a traditional distorted effect. Secondary glazing keeps the cold out yet isn’t noticeable. The details were all important at every point, from the Bakelite switches sourced from architectural salvage to two pin ceramic plugs for European travellers.


Then, a meeting of minds with architect Maxime Laroussi of Urban Agency who used the gently sloping site as an ideal backdrop for a shed-like extension. He designed the south-facing bedroom block so that from the vantage point of the bed, built up from the floor with simple formwork, you get panoramic views that stretch 100 square miles. As the project had to be contained within the 40sqm planning exemption guidelines, the new part could only be modest in size, broken down into two small hut-like structures as a reference to traditional Irish cottages and barns. In total the house is now ​ 90sqm​. Builders undertook this part of the project in part due to the homeowner’s work commitments but also because the addition is entirely made, walls and roof, of in situ (poured on site) concrete. The formwork for the concrete to be poured into was created using sandblasted Douglas fir on the exterior face giving a very pronounced grain. The concrete protects from driving wind and rain, echoing the style of surrounding barn structures clad in 86 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018




corrugated steel. The roof itself had to be cast in a single pour which proved to be the greatest challenge. T ​ he first builder ​left the project at this stage but luckily a local contractor stepped in. The extension is finished on the outside with an iron sulphate mix commonly used in agriculture, a low cost option that was also easy to apply. The resulting oxidation provides a natural rust colour that only needs to be ​reapplied​every 10 years. A nine inch cavity was added on the inside of the new build and filled with PIR; the roof insulated with closed cell spray foam. The heat and hot water come from an air source heat pump. ​The entire interior of the new block is also rendered in lime to match the cottage; the colour finishes are mineral paint which is compatible with lime. The house is so well insulated that with time it became clear there was a need for a mechanised ventilation unit, and a heat recovery ventilation system was installed retroactively.

Architect John Pawson has published a number of books over the years. The latest one is a photographic essay capturing light, texture and environment. He recounts his experience renovating rural dwellings, the effect of time on both materials and nature. One example is of a new house in which he used monochromatic bricks in a wild landscape full of colour; he explains “the two varieties of brick relate specifically to hues to the surrounding hearthland, to the blackened gorse and the light coloured rough moor grass”. His aim, he says, is to never detach architecture from the landscape. “It is true, however, that I tend to choose to relate an architectural palette to the quieter references in a context, because of the way strong colour tends to draw the eye and consequently distracts and disrupts the quality of seamlessness.” The 320 full page photographs transport you on a journey of light, texture and context. Enjoy! Spectrum, text and images by John Pawson, Phaidon,, ISBN 9780714875286, full colour throughout, hardback, 352 pages, £45

SUPPLIERS Architecture: Maxime Laroussi of the Urban Agency Lime work: Henry Thompson of Olde Builders Joiner: Terence Murphy Sofa: 1970s Ligne Roset Togo reupholstered in Belgium Photographer: Mark Watts for Unique Home Stays,

For those who would like to experience the house and see the architecture firsthand, Lost Cottage is available to rent for luxury self-catering holidays for up to four people through Unique Home Stays, with a week’s stay from £1,295.


T O P 5 / B AT H R O O M D E S I G N T I P S

Bathroom bliss How to think about bathroom design Soaks,

Words: Deirdre Coleman


ecause of its size the bathroom is often neglected and left last to plan, especially in a new build. Too often we just go out and ’buy’ sanitaryware and tiles and drop them in where they fit. But this approach is a missed opportunity to give yourself the luxury you’re aiming for. And those lavish extras are surprisingly inexpensive – they just require planning. Bear in mind too that the bathroom is the second most expensive room to fit out, after the kitchen, so mistakes are costly to rectify. But it’s precisely its size that makes it so appealing to me as a designer, and a control freak. It really is possible to tailor the room to your exact needs. Every millimeter can be made to account for itself.


Express yourself

The bathroom is your perfect opportunity to go mad and have some fun. After all, it’s contained and separate from the rest of the house, so it doesn’t have to ‘flow’. You don’t spend too much time in it, which means you can tolerate zany patterns that you might not want in your bedroom or living room. Liken them to an orange lining on a conservative suit – the bathroom gives a glimpse of personality without being overpowering. Adding wallpaper, with a decorator’s varnish to seal it, is a good way to inject some fun. This can only be done in Zone 3 of the bathroom (Zone 0 is the bath area where everything needs to be submersible and fully waterproof). Don’t buy an expensive kind and replace as often as you want to update the bathroom scheme. Tiles come in beautiful patterns for the walls and floor but they won’t be as easy to change as wallpaper or paint. Antique chandeliers are also ok in Zone 3, so long as the fitting has been 88 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

checked by a registered electrician. Bespoke fixtures can definitely add a touch of class and individual style, e.g. a glazed wall cut to size in a wetroom or custom-made vanity unit. The cheaper approach is to use standard size units but design the space in carefully so that they fit exactly. For example if you want to transform a space you could buy an inexpensive mirrored wall unit from a DIY retailer and fit it into a space especially carved out for it. It’ll look stunning but you need to be planning ahead for it.


Think of maintenance

When it comes to the wc itself, the least expensive is usually the close coupled – where the pan and cistern are both visible and sitting on the floor. It’s the hardest to keep clean though. The floor mounted back-to-wall wc is next up on the cost scale and it requires that you build a stud wall in which to conceal the cistern. The most expensive, but also the easiest to deal with in terms of maintenance is the wall hung which

B AT H R O O M D E S I G N T I P S / T O P 5

‘The planning is also important because in this tiny room, every trade will have to pitch in.’ requires a stud wall and a metal frame to hold the toilet up. The metal frames are designed to take weight so don’t let the thought of falling stop you. Where you choose a concealed cistern, always remember to allow for a removeable access panel for maintenance. Some cisterns come with a flush plate which is theoretically large enough for the plumber to use for access, but I have found that plumbers can find those very tricky. When it comes to tiling, stone will usually be more expensive to fit and often requires sealing prior to fitting – an aspect many self-builders tend to forget. Think also of the ongoing maintenance. In terms of grout colour, consider what they will look like in a couple of months – a darker shade from the start may be a good idea. When selecting shower tiles, remember smaller tiles require more grout which requires more cleaning. Specify the thickness of the grout lines, consider 2mm (less maintenance) versus 4mm lines (easier to install). Although not technically required for a residential build, I would always specify an anti-slip tile in a wet room area, ideally R11 (ask your tiler or tile supplier). Smaller tiles have more grout lines which in turn can increase the ant-slip properties but that increases maintenance and to my mind gives less comfort than using the correct tile in the first instance. There are companies that will apply a rubberised surface to a tile to make it slip resistant, but this is usually quite expensive for a one-off bathroom. Select sanitary ware and screens with an ‘easy clean’ finish; even when it is available sales staff may not always offer it as it is more expensive (often 10 per cent more), this is an extra that could very well be worth the investment as you’ll be using little to no cleaning products on these surfaces.


Worthwhile tech additions

The tech touches that will make you feel like you have a spa in your own home won’t be as expensive as you think.

Motion sensors (known in the trade as Passive InfraRed or PIR) are cheap to install, at €100/£80 a point. Use them to turn on ambient light in window-less bathrooms to create a welcome ambiance or to turn on the lights in the shower area. Think of how many light fittings and circuits you want to have, what can be controlled individually, and on what circuit to put the fan on. You might not want the noisy fan to come on every time you walk through the door. When it comes to the towel radiator consider investing in an electricity mains connection so you can turn it on in the summer when the heating isn’t on. Make sure it’s programmable so it turns on when you want and thermostatic so it switches off when it reaches temperature. Demister pads (small pads with electrical current installed behind the mirror) are reasonably low cost and work well if you want to shave or do your makeup after having had a shower. Electric underfloor heating is about €800/£750 to install in a small to medium sized bathroom and is worth the investment – you’ll be turning it on for short periods of time so won’t cost too much to run either. Just remember that it isn’t sufficient to heat the space, you will still need radiators.





Consider open shelving only insofar as you are prepared to keep it curated – messy items on display look worse than a cupboard door. Think of whether you need to store towels, toilet roll for the house, toiletries for teenage girls, etc. and where all of these will go. Every stud wall is a storage opportunity – you can create an alcove-shelf recessed into a stud wall in a shower – you only need a dept of 80mm. Ask the tiler to have a slight incline leaning towards the front so that you don’t get a pool of water at the back.

SMALL BATHROOMS Semi-recessed basins can be helpful if you’re designing a small bathroom. So too are bi-fold shower doors. If you can stretch your budget to a wall mounted toilet, then that will make the room feel bigger as the floor is uninterrupted. Wall mounted, mirrored slimline storage units will also help. they’ll give you a keen price, which will often mean they are assuming the most straightforward of installations – so a move away from those assumptions after the price is fixed can be costly – either in terms of relationship with your builder or your pocket. Some tiles for example are more time consuming to lay and will incur an additional fee. Small and patterned are generally more expensive than large format. If you need to do any demolition (clearing away your old bathroom fittings and tiles), you must be clear about what’s staying and going, who is going to rip it out and who’s removing the debris from the house and bringing it to a recycling facility. The bathroom is the perfect place to inject some fun

The planning is also important because in this tiny room, every trade will have to pitch in, from general labour, to plumbers, electricians, carpenters/joiners, plasterers, tilers, decorators. Remember that sanitary ware and tiles can have lead times; make sure they are not only chosen but on site before the work begins to avoid delays. Or at least have the first fix items. The labour costs and time associated with a bathroom can vary significantly depending on the type of fittings and fixtures that you specify. When a builder is pricing a job WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 89


Walk-in showers Wet rooms and walk-in showers are especially useful for the elderly and those with reduced mobility but they can add style and value to your home too. Words: Andrew Stanway

Divinity Tiles and bathrooms,




‘wet room’ is any part of a bathroom whose walls and floor have been properly waterproofed or ‘tanked’ like a swimming pool. It is dedicated to showering but has no visible shower tray. It has clean lines and lends itself to either contemporary or classic bathrooms. It’s become increasingly popular in recent years and many people now think them almost an essential for at least one of the bathrooms in a new build. In practical terms they’re pleasant to use, as the flooring of the bathroom extends into the wet room area as one single zone without a step or separate visible shower tray. Regulations Planning permission wouldn’t generally be required but as with any alteration, if you’re installing one in a listed building you might. If you’re planning a wet room in an existing, non-listed house you will need to adhere to certain building regulations, especially if you intend to move a wc. You’ll also have to be certain that your new pipework is tapped correctly into


the existing soil pipe. Building control in NI will be inspecting this part of your project in a new build; in ROI self-builders often ask their design professional or engineer to inspect it. Ventilation is another requirement of the regulations, it will also ensure the floor area isn’t permanently wet. Water evaporated by your showering, and underfloor heating will need to escape somewhere. A good extractor will do the job or you may have a centralised system for your whole house that will deal with this. Practical considerations If you intend to have a wet room you’ll need to discuss it with your designers very early on as they’ll have to think about how this will fit in with joist layout, drains, vents and soil pipes. A wet room cannot be an afterthought bolted on at the end of your build. A critical part of this planning is to ensure the correct positioning of the wet room waste pipe so it has a free flow of air. This usually involves running an independent wet room waste outlet. Layout Will the wet room be the only bathroom in the house? If so, where will you put the wc, bath and basin? Unless you have a lot of space you’ll need to have a full-height glass ‘wall’ to keep splashes off other items in the room. Be careful, too, about having people walk across a wet floor to get to the wc. Plan your layout around where the door is. If the wet room is for the sole use of an adjacent bedroom, you’ll be able to think more creatively. Universal design Plan for, or actually install, grab rails now; place the shower controls at a level that could be used easily by someone in a wheelchair, and take advice on loadings for support bars,

so they’re good and strong right from the start. Most important of all, though, is planning to have plenty of space so a wheelchair can be safely manoeuvred, and a carer can do their work comfortably and safely. Wet rooms are almost universal in the care-home and healthcare sectors where they are often the only way to make bathing possible. The critical thing when creating a wet room for wheelchair users is to be certain that the deck is constructed of very sturdy materials that can be guaranteed to take the weight. There can be formidable point loads

where the wheels meet the floor and the underlying structures must be strong enough to cope. Size A wet room can be almost any size, but to keep costs down select one that matches a standard tanking system tray. Most wet rooms therefore are about 120mm x 900mm (the size of a bath) but many people go for something about 2m x 2m. Anything more than this becomes a real luxury and will often be part of a much larger bathroom, perhaps with his and hers basins and bathroom furniture. Construction Although many years ago people said it was vital to have a concrete base (which is why so many wet rooms were installed downstairs), this is no longer the case. A wet room can be built on any type of floor including a concrete one. The most important features are the strong, waterproof tray onto which a special base is laid and a central, or offset, fast-draining outlet set into it. The surface is then further waterproofed and tiled so it looks like a continuation of the rest of the flooring in the bathroom. Waterproofing of the walls and an area of about half a meter outside the immediate shower area is topped off with tiles, to create a pleasing, watertight, easily-cleaned shower area. Drains Whilst most wet rooms have a central, or offset, drain there are now linear drains that run parallel to one side of the wet room – these are called ‘channel drains’. They look modern and sleek and work especially well if you’re using large format tiles. Linear drains are 

‘Wet rooms tend to be about the size of a bath up to 2mx2m. Anything more becomes a real luxury.’’




The waterproof barrier A popular myth about wet rooms is that they aren’t as safe as a shower tray and that they are prone to leaking. Not true. In fact, a properly installed wet room system is less likely to leak than a conventional shower tray and tile configuration. This is especially true in a retrofit where you may be dealing with wooden beams on a first or second floor. Over time, all buildings have some settling and especially with wooden flooring there is inevitably some movement between walls and floors.   A conventional shower tray with tiles sitting on top can then have a ‘gap’ appear between the two hard surfaces, and when the mastic eventually splits, you may have a leak. A tanking system involves the installation of a preformed tray with the correct gradient (1:40). Depending on the system there is then a waterproof membrane fitted glued over the tray and up the walls as well as out into the general bathroom.   This membrane is flexible by nature. Then the junctions of the membrane are sealed with a flexible tape and tar-like adhesive - all of which can tolerate some movement without leaking. It’s only then that the tiles are added on top. Any good tiler will try to ensure that the tiles themselves do their job and create a waterproof barrier, but if the junction then cracks, the tanking system provides a further line of defence.    The important thing is to make sure that your installer is using a recognised tanking system. What has given wet rooms a bad name is installers creating their own system using Waterproof Ply Board (WPB) as the base tray. While I have seen successful implementations done like this, they require a very skilled tradesperson. Ask your contractor what tanking system they are proposing to use and insist that it be from a reputable brand. If you are going to do it yourself, it’s crucial to take your time, read the instructions and do exactly as instructed. When choosing a tanking system you need to be clear on the type of drain you are installing - is it a channel drain on one side, or a central drain which will require an envelope? This will determine the shape of the preformed tray you select. Like everything else in the bathroom, it is all about planning ahead.   Deirdre Coleman of

also helpful where there are joist position problems as water can be drained from any one of the three locations along the length of the drain. DIY kits Various companies sell DIY wet room kits and the process isn’t technically difficult. This said, I recommend getting in the specialists because even the smallest mistakes or poor workmanship can wreak havoc in the future. The installation of wet rooms is all about meticulous attention to detail at every stage. A competent builder may well produce a good enough result, but a specialist will be up to date with the latest technology and will help you be creative on design as well. Glass screens Unless you have a low 92 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

powered shower and are extremely careful with how you use it, you’ll need to think about containing the splashes somehow, especially if you have a door or window, furniture, or even towel rails close by. Glass screens that are taller than normal shower cubicles will do the job. They can go right up to the ceiling if you like and can either be etched to provide modesty panels or be of completely clear or satin glass. It’s easy and not that expensive to have patterns or designs on this glass. The main issue with having more glass than you really need is that it’s a nuisance to keep clean; talk to your glazing company about protective coatings. Glass screens can be arranged to create an entire enclosure with one entry

point, or to have double entry points. Floor finishes Slip resistant tiles are rated by various means and the process isn’t standardised. Non-slip vinyl sheet surfaces tend to be the finish of choice for wheelchair users but bear in mind not all wet-room trays are suitable for vinyl flooring. Underfloor heating This is a good idea for a wet room and makes it feel luxurious to use. When starting from scratch it’s easy to build in electric heating mats under the tiling; this system of underfloor heating heats up faster than a piped underfloor type. It’s not necessary to have underfloor heating under the shower area itself as the slope on the floor towards the drain will mean water doesn’t lie there. Electrics Wet rooms are considered to be Zone 0, which means that, effectively, all fittings have to be totally immersionproof. No mains voltage can be fitted to the room, including shaver sockets, light switches or standard sockets. Lights should be enclosed and mounted on or in the ceiling, with a remote pull-cord to switch them. Electric and gas heaters should be installed at a safe distance from the shower area, with controls outside the shower area. Get your electrician to advise you about suitable IP-rated (ingress protection) fittings. Cost will obviously depend on size, whether you’re having to strip out an old bathroom, how demanding your design is and what you are prepared to spend on tiles and fittings. If starting from scratch, the cost of installing a wet room style shower is about 20 per cent more than a conventional, high quality shower tray. There are lots of stages and elements involved in the construction of a wet room including: a shower tray former; tanking materials; various drainage parts; underfloor heating; the shower itself; screening; tiles and labour (two people will take about five days to create the average wet room). This all adds up to about £5,000/€5,500 for a 2m x 2m wet room. This figure includes tiling, a cost that also applies to conventional shower tray installations. If you intend to build a whole new room from scratch, then costs will be higher. Grants In ROI check the Housing Adaptation Grants, up to €30,000 available to make the house wheelchair friendly, alongside Mobility Aid Grants with a €6,000 cap, and Housing Aid for Older Persons Scheme with €8,000 cap. In NI there’s the Disabled Facilities Grant which can fund up to £25,000 on a whole house upgrade depending on financial circumstances.

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B U I L D I N G M E T H O D S / C R O S S L A M I N AT E D T I M B E R

Next generation timber The concept of laminating wood to make it stronger has been around for centuries, but it’s only relatively recently that cross laminated timber (CLT) has made an appearance and is being used on self-builds. Words: Micah Jones


LT was first developed in mainland Europe 30 years ago where it is fast becoming a mainstream product. And even though in Ireland there are only a handful of completed CLT projects, its use is spreading fast here too. But what is CLT? Planks of timber are glued together and layered at right angles to produce a sandwich made up of three, five or seven layers which form solid timber panels 3.5m wide by up to 22m long. These huge sheets of CLT are then fed into an enormous CNC (computer numerical control) machine which uses precision engineering to cut the panels 94 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

needed for your project. Doors and windows are simply cut out like cookie dough and even drilling out ducts for plumbing and wiring can be done in the factory before the panels are finally stacked on the back of a lorry in the correct order for assembly on site. The structure is then usually externally insulated and clad.

Our home

Our home in Ballygowan, Co Down was what we believe to be the first CLT built house in NI. It’s made up of blockwork on the ground floor with a CLT first floor and roof. The CLT was used to create a simple tunnel of wood with open, clear spans. The only internal supports are three tie

beams with much of the structure on the outside buried within the roof build up. Adding strength too are the mezzanine floors; with CLT buildings every element is connected so that the structure is tied together as one and reinforced in the process. Our builder completed the ground floor and concrete first floor slab, then a specialised contractor came in to install the panels. We opted to chase our wiring externally between the CLT and the external insulation which meant we were first fixing the project in week four of the build. The builder then completed the insulation, roof and cladding as well as

C R O S S L A M I N AT E D T I M B E R / B U I L D I N G M E T H O D S

2.5 seconds to put up a picture or to sling up a swing for the kids. Every surface is structural and solid. � Sustainability. The timber going into the panels is sourced from PEFC certified forests and your home will be locking in carbon. � Cost. On commercial projects it is generally agreed that CLT costs the same as a cast concrete frame structure. For the homeowner, CLT offers savings when creating overhangs and cantilevers which would be much more expensive in other construction methods. The overall cost will depend on how much is required to form the various spans and other design detail. For example if there is a need for a larger span the panel might have to be beefed up to 200mm which would use twice as much timber pushing the cost up for the same square meterage. For our house the  all the internal work. The ‘waste’, which was cut from the windows and doors in the factory was delivered to site along with the rest of the panels and we used these pieces of CLT to create the stairs, breakfast bar, log store, tables and builtin furniture.

CLT extension in Co Cork under construction,


Call in the pros Professional input at both the design and construction stages is essential. It is key to have a professional designer who understands the properties of CLT, and who can produce a design that plays to the strengths the material has to offer. The erection of the panels is also a very specialised process; they can weigh several tons and fixings must be accurate and correct for the structure to work. Stairs in Micah’s house made of CLT


� Design flexibility. Designers are using CLT to create intricate roof forms, simple cantilevers and even lightweight structures placed on top of existing buildings. The design possibilities are endless. � Speed of construction. On our build it took just four days to put up the structure on site. � Easy to work with. Once the structure is up, CLT is very easy to work with as it has all the attributes of timber. It’ll take you

‘Once the structure is up, CLT is very easy to work with as it has all the attributes of timber.’


B U I L D I N G M E T H O D S / C R O S S L A M I N AT E D T I M B E R

structure cost £55,000 – that includes the design, manufacture and installation on site but excludes any finishes, windows, insulation or cladding.

Fire resistance

One of the big questions people have about CLT is “what about fire?” One of the useful attributes of timber is that it performs very well in a fire, unlike steel which bends and collapses. CLT consists of multiple layers of timber, and when it burns the outer face forms a layer of char which protects the internal layers. The panels are designed to meet 60 to120 minute fire ratings. The big consideration for a selfbuilder is the surface treatment. Building regulations require timber to be treated with a Class 0 surface spread of flame retardant, however there are other approaches which can be considered such as a fire engineered design, micro mist or sprinkler system, but expert advice must be sought for each case. With our house being upside down we went with a fire engineered design. This was about analysing the speed at which fire could spread and looking at the escape routes and travel distances. For me, one of the greatest attributes of CLT is how it feels to live in it. The smell of timber meets you at the door and its warmth and colour lifts even the greyest of days. It is robust and solid and is resilient to the smallest members in a family. We chose to leave the timber 96 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

untreated which means the colour and feel of the wood is much more natural. Most marks wash off and if it does get marked a light sanding does wonders. If you prefer you could protect it with paint, a white wash tint, or with varnishes and sealants.

Uptake in Ireland

In Ireland CLT is still in its infancy; the Timber Engineering Research Group at NUI Galway has looked into the possibilities of Irish grown and produced CLT, which will hopefully happen in the future. However currently all CLT is manufactured in mainland Europe, predominantly Germany and Austria, with new mills opening to meet the demand. In the UK an insurance firm has invested heavily in CLT over the past few years and plans to build 3,000 CLT

modular homes a year from their new plant in Leeds. It’s clear that with the new nearly zero energy buildings regulations rolling out in ROI over the next year and an overdue update to the NI regulations, the demand for a building material which is renewable and carbon negative can only be poised for growth.

Additional information Timber Engineering Research Group at National University of Ireland Galway, CLT supplier in ROI (design, manufacture and installation): Cedarlan, tel. 021 496 5233, CLT manufacturer: Stora Enso, CLT contractor: G Frame Structures,

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Tailored The kitchen is nowadays at the centre of family life but for the self-builder it’s also at the heart of the budget. Here are the basics to design it successfully. Words: Marion McGarry


Choose appliances early. Thinking about your choice of electrical appliances will avoid panicked decisions in a busy showroom, blurting out that you want a range when what you really needed was a hob. The reason you should consider the electrical appliances is that they will make a major impact, not only on your budget, but on the dimensions and overall feel. For example, an American-style fridge freezer takes up a significant amount of space, and a wider than average range-style cooker will require an appropriately large extraction overhead. Doing your research on your chosen electrical appliances now will allow you to shop around for bargains and have the measurements ready for the kitchen manufacturer and delivery organised for the fitters well in advance.


Spend time choosing the sink. Approximately 75 per cent of our time in the kitchen is spent around the sink: washing vegetables, filling pots, straining pasta, washing up, filling the kettle. Think about style, size and type of sink that fit your requirements and budget. Do you need a single bowl, bowl and a half,

Example of a peninsula bar

Magnet Kitchens,

Triangulate. For years the idea of the ‘working triangle’ was the holy grail of kitchen design: the kitchen, cooker and fridge in perfect isometric harmony. In reality, not all rooms are shaped to accommodate the working triangle. You just need the three to be close to each other, especially in larger kitchens. Keeping food prep (around the sink and hob) and

dishwashing areas (around the sink and dishwasher) separate is crucial, however. If you do a lot of cooking, it may even be worth considering an additional food prep sink – a small inset bowl close to the cooking area. An additional sink in a utility room is also a must, for messier jobs such as handwashing clothes and watering plants. What I find works really well is to have a single crockery storage unit right beside your dishwasher (to one side of the sink and away from the cooking area). That way you can stand at one point and empty the dishwasher while another person uses the kitchen to cook or clean.

Creative Wood Designers and Cabinetmakers, Westport, Co Mayo

t is a truth universally acknowledged - among kitchen designers, anyway - that kitchen planning for new builds should take place before anything is built, as soon as your house plans are ready. In the case of a refurbishment you may have to move a window or door to accommodate the design you want. This early planning is necessary to determine the room size and shape but also to know where to run services in the floor, for this you will need at least approximate locations for your sink, oven and hob but also your fridge if you choose to have it plumbed for water or ice cubes and your island if you need power points – sockets can be useful here for things like phone charging or vacuuming.


double bowl? How many draining boards? Would you prefer a traditional Belfast style or undermounted sink if you are going for a granite worktop? What about taps – would you like a water filter tap, hot water tap or even rinsing hose? Stainless steel, composite or ceramic? What about a soap dispenser?

Creative Wood,Designers and Cabinetmakers, Westport, Co Mayo

The island. Islands are very fashionable right now and on the checklist of many people’s dream kitchen. However, there is nothing worse than seeing a narrow, ill proportioned island shoehorned into the middle of a kitchen, with the bare minimum of space to walk around it. You need at least one meter to get around comfortably, and only after other kitchen units on walls are factored in. Island sizes increase exponentially when functions like using it as a workspace or seating area are added. My advice is don’t insist upon an island if it doesn’t suit the room. If size allows, a peninsular breakfast bar is sometimes a great alternative solution, as it continues the flow of worktop space and can provide a useful partition to traffic for the central kitchen space. Workman’s worktops. The key is to keep worktops plentiful and not allow gadgets and everyday appliances encroach upon this precious work space. It is worth considering building some of these in, especially microwave ovens and coffeemakers. A useful solution to electric kettles, toasters and food processors is to house them into a countertop ‘tambour’ unit (along with some of the foodstuffs that go with them) so that you can quickly and conveniently close them off when not in use.

Bulthaup (Hanover Quay, Dublin)

Storage. Don’t forget to look beyond everyday items and think of where you are going to house glassware, saucepans, large bowls and platters, herbs and spices. Would you prefer to shut these away or do you have a beloved collection that might merit glass display doors – with lighting? Consider having a large food cupboard and a large crockery cupboard to start off with, then think about convenient storage solutions, such as pull out racks and shelves. In kitchens where corner units are required there are no perfect solutions: if left as shelving these can be tricky to get into and may result in lots of items stored at the back which may never see the light of day. On the other hand, pull out shelves and carousels might be cumbersome and expensive. A diagonal corner unit (shelving with triangle at the back blocked off) 



Magnet Kitchens,

Tambour unit

might be the best compromise in such circumstances. Kitchen units. The choice is between standalone, bespoke or flatpack. Standalone consists of units or pieces that can be bought separately and require no fitting, mostly used with free-standing electrical appliances. If you’re creative, have a clear vision, and are able to source items individually, then this option might present cost savings; however if you are looking for a kitchen manufacturer to provide this solution they might not be able to offer a lot of choice. Next up on the cost scale are flatpack

kitchens, mass manufactured according to standard measurements, and these may be delivered to the fitter ready for assembly. These come with items like ‘filler panels’ for example, which can make up for any measurement shortages. Bespoke manufacturers pride themselves on providing made-to-measure kitchen solutions, which come in at the higher-end of the price spectrum and are delivered to site fully assembled. Bespoke kitchens offer greater design choice as they are tailor made. The interior of the kitchen unit (known as the carcase) is usually made from a basic functional and hardwearing

material, such as chipboard or MDF, and most carcases are similar. However, it is always worth checking out each individual manufacturer’s cabinet features: some may offer higher quality hinges and drawer sides or even solid wood carcases. No matter what type of fitted kitchen you choose, an experienced kitchen fitter is key to the whole process: a top quality kitchen is no use if it is fitted incorrectly. In all cases you will require an experienced plumber and registered electrician to install pipework, wiring and fittings. If you plan to use gas you will also have to avail of the services of a registered gas installer. Cost. A kitchen manufacturer will struggle to give you a quote without room measurements and your electrical appliance list. Typically, a basic kitchen might come in at €3,000/£2,800 but when the cost of fitting and electrical appliances is added it could increase to €8,000/£7,500 to €10,000/£9,500 and well beyond depending on your choice of materials, for example solid timber doors or granite worktops will inflate the figure.

Magnet Kitchens,


Get professional input. Talking to the pros is a good idea, they’ll be able to apply their experience to your particular circumstances. Bring your house plans or room measurements along with your list of preferences including storage needs, spatial preferences and whether you want the kitchen to be a social space. First consultations tend to be free when booked through a kitchen manufacturer. First article in a three part series also covering style, colour and material choices.

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Integrated kitchen A kitchen makeover is often part of a greater renovation project, as was the case for this seaside property in Co Dublin. Words: Jackie Carton


ohn and Mary Shafferty had always wanted to live by the sea and in January 2012 they finally found their  dream site in Co Dublin. The two bedroomed cottage on the land was in need of a complete upgrade, from an aesthetic and thermal point of view. John and Mary also decided to replace the windows, build a substantial dining room and sunroom extension as well as convert the roof space to maximise the potential of the property and take full advantage of the panoramic sea views. To keep a lid on the costs, the project 102 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

was split into phases over four years. The extension happened first, with the attic renovation undertaken separately and then the interior fitout including new kitchen and bathrooms at the final stages. The interior brief was to include as much of the existing furniture, fixtures and wall and floor coverings as possible. In terms of the layout, seating in the existing living room was repositioned to face out to the sea through the new large glazed sliding doors.   As it’s a very social house, the new extension contains the dining area leading to the wraparound patio for outdoor entertaining. It also includes a split level step up to a seating area facing the sea vistas.


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Top Tips Low budget revamps � A low budget option in an existing kitchen is to update just the doors; this is called refacing and can work well if the internal carcases are in good condition. � Almost any type of kitchen can be given a new lease of life by repainting by hand (this works best with a real wood kitchen) or with a spray – specialist companies provide this service at a reasonable cost.   � New handles and worktops add a fresh look to update the room. � Taking a long hard look at how you use your kitchen will help you carve out new storage spaces. � Accessories such as tea towels and the items that are permanently on show will help set the tone.

Kitchen deliberation

With a kitchen space, layout and functionality are key. Sometimes with large glazed extensions it’s difficult to find enough wall space to house all the necessary units. This in turn leads to the need for a large island to provide additional seating whilst adding valuable storage space. After much deliberation, John and Mary decided to keep the kitchen located in the older part of the property, leaving the new extension free as a socialising space. The redesign added a peninsula with some counter stools for early morning coffee, with the intention to sit at the dining table for all other meals. Whilst the basic layout remained similar, the addition of lots of wide, deep drawers meant no more rummaging around at the back of cupboards. Corner carousel pull out inserts permit access to all parts of the kitchen storage. A separate pantry area houses the dry goods and is a super addition but if you don’t have the room, tall pull out shelving is another way to accommodate this. The choice of worktop was quartz for the look and because it is low maintenance; under counter lighting (LED strips) meanwhile ensures the work and

preparation areas are well lit in the evening time. The other big budget items were the integrated appliances to give the streamlined look. If you can’t afford this straight away consider purchasing integrated doors in the same material as the rest of the kitchen so you can fit them when you upgrade the appliances. This ensures the door ‘ages’ with the kitchen and won’t have a different feel or colour later down the line. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 103


The kitchens of the future Even though the kitchen has become more popular than ever in larger homes, the space devoted to actual food preparation and cooking is diminishing. Words: Andrew Stanway

Kitchen units

These ‘boxes’ that hide things, store stuff and provide a base for our work surfaces have gone through many iterations. The trend here is for them to become more architectural – more furniture-like and less ‘kitchen looking’. This has come about as people living in smaller homes need to make their kitchen 104 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018



ack in Georgian and, to a lesser extent Victorian times, magnificent groundfloor rooms set the social and architectural scene, with a kitchen, scullery and larder tucked away in a small, dark place at the back of the house. Today, the kitchen doubles up as a living room, is a place for performing while cooking, a social hub, a homework station, a place to eat, a laundry, and much more. This has all been made possible thanks to the business of food preparation becoming simpler, cheaper and less time-consuming. The UN estimates that three-quarters of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050. A result of this trend in contemporary domestic design is the disappearing kitchen, sometimes reduced to a cupboard that houses a small sink, toaster, microwave and kettle. The paradox that we have to face in our lives is that on the one hand we seem to want to become more chef-like from time to time with access to more gadgets that are like those in a professional kitchen such as the blast chiller or sous vide machine. But we also, most of the time, just want to throw food together with the least possible effort, time and fuss. And with the trend for ever-easier, ready-made meals and take-aways growing year on year, it’s likely that this trend will grow.

a part of their main living space. The appealing aesthetic means that even those with enough room for a working kitchen choose to have a show kitchen alongside a smaller utility kitchen where much of the actual cooking is done. So, to make a truly contemporary kitchen look great, handles have to be removed, lighting has to be carefully designed, sliding doors and shutters have to close easily and aesthetically to hide everything away, lest a toaster, kettle, sink, or any sort of real kitchen paraphernalia remain visible! At the top end of kitchen furniture design this is carried out with meticulous attention to detail and quality and the result can cost scores of thousands. In general, those of us designing and installing kitchens observe that the more

people spend on their kitchen the less likely they are to cook in it. At the more ‘normal’ end of kitchen furniture design things are changing in this direction too. In general, as with the car industry, yesterday’s luxury extra has become today’s commonplace.

Tech additions

There’s much debate about how the kitchen of the future will look, let alone function but there are trends that are easy to see with major kitchen appliance companies envisioning our future five years from now. Sustainability and energy efficiency are at the heart of most current and future appliance designs, with automation taking centre stage. Here are some of the gadgets that


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a nutritional breakdown of these foods and dishes so you can plan your dieting. Other devices will allow you to add into your mixing bowl only the correct amounts of ingredients to comply with the recipe you’re using. Rubbish disposal will increasingly take place within the home with advances to help with sorting, crushing, vacuum-sealing and carefully labelling for pick up by third parties. Energy from food waste could become a reality soon. You could, one day, run your own domestic anaerobic digester to make electricity. Such kit might also be able to incinerate other materials to produce energy. Multi-purpose surfaces could see the kitchen table used as a cooking surface as well as an instant analyser of the food you put on it. The recipe information from your laptop shows up on the table too. Such a surface thus becomes something for eating off, cooking on, reading from and working on. Conserving water will become a major issue in the kitchen of tomorrow. Water from your sink will go to the sewers but other grey water - for example from the dishwasher - will be recycled within your home. This is already happening but will become much more commonplace. Smart frying pans will check the exact temperature of the inside of the food you’re cooking and let you know when it’s ready. Hoover,

already exist or are coming to a kitchen near you….and sooner than you think. The connected kitchen. Intelligent appliances are starting to really take off, from ovens that calculate the amount of energy consumption and time needed to cook your dish to perfection, to being able to control your kettle from your phone at the bus stop or run your dishwasher. The notion of someone hacking your toaster may seem surreal and unlikely but watch this space. Companies are designing and testing fridges that have cameras showing you what’s in them, so you can shop on the way home. Or perhaps a drone will bring it for you. Smart touchscreens will show us what’s in our fridges and when we need to reorder. Some will talk direct to our grocery supplier and order via wi-fi. The memory coffee maker will get to learn, via its AI and hand-print tech, exactly how you like it and then delivers perfection every time. Door less fridges and freezers will allow us to see exactly what’s in them, so food doesn’t get left at the back anywhere, going out of date. They also know when the area is half empty and adjust the energy needed accordingly. The stickers on foods will be automatically read by your fridge to tell you if a certain

item is about to expire and to adjust its temperature as required. All these tech advances in home freezing and chilling should, cumulatively, save huge amounts of energy. Magic wands will stir cooking food automatically, leaving your hands free to do something else, probably texting or instagramming! Dishwashers will use carbon dioxide instead of hot water. Some will also double as a storage unit so you never need to put dishes away. Tiny self-contained kitchens that open up to expose everything you’re likely to need, from table and sink, to dishwasher, plates and so on. Several companies are already making micro kitchens that hang on the wall, ready for use. Hydroponic garden systems could grow some of the green veg you need. Lessons learned from NASA will help us all with this. That is, if you haven’t already bought it from your multi-storey, inner-city hydroponic farm. Paper kitchens Forget those old unsustainable materials such as tiles, plastic and stone and have a paper kitchen. It’s already possible to buy paper cabinets, tables and chopping boards made from a material called paper stone. Intelligent scales will weigh and analyse the food you put on them, suggest (knowing what other ingredients you have) some dishes you could make, then come up with a recipe. Some will give you



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Biomass burners Biomass is organic matter used as a fuel. It covers everything from fish oil and bone meal to wood and energy crops; for your home it’s likely to mean a log, wood chip or a wood pellet burning boiler or stove as other fuel sources are not yet feasible on a small scale. Words: Tony Traill


lmost everyone is accustomed to burning wood or peat on an open fire to produce heat. In its most basic form this is biomass combustion. We all know that it takes time to light a fire, for it to become established, to burn well and to produce good heat. To do this it needs a regular supply of good quality, dry wood and adequate air for combustion. If the wood is too damp or the draught is insufficient it will not burn well. Alternatively, if there is too much draught all the heat goes up the chimney! Similarly, once you stop 108 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

fuelling a fire, it takes time for the fire to die down and eventually go out. These are the basic principles applicable to all biomass combustion and should be borne in mind when designing any system.

Sizing an installation

The regulations are many and complex so professional input is necessary; in both NI and ROI a HETAS registered installer will ensure safe installation. Also make sure the equipment and final installation is CE marked. There is no infallible rule of thumb for sizing but generally the start point is to calculate the heat losses from that room and ensure

How long does timber take to dry? Before you can use it as fuel, you’ll have to wait 18 to 24 months for your recently cut timber to dry in a well ventilated shed.

that the heat output from the appliance to the room (normally quoted in kW by the supplier) does not exceed the calculated heat losses. Any design of stove/cooker will heat the room in which it is located and, if the heat output to the room is too high, the room will become unusable when the appliance is in operation. Room heat loss calculators are available online for rough calculations, but, for modern houses, accurate heat and ventilation losses should be established by a professional. A stove with back boiler may need to dump heat and it may be possible to include a thermal store


for this (buffer tank) but this will increase capital costs substantially. In a well insulated house the design heat losses may well be so low that you cannot source an appliance with a back boiler with a sufficiently low room output. Sizing can be tricky for a standalone stove too but, depending on the configuration of the building, the heat may be able to circulate around the house. An alternative which will still give you a live flame is to install a gas or other low output stove that emits very little heat. Once the room output has been calculated, consider the other uses. Distribution losses and, where relevant, hot water demand must be added to the design heat load of the building or room.

Biomass vs. other boilers Biomass boilers take time to light, reach an efficient burn rate and to extinguish themselves. During all of this time they produce heat. Thus, they cannot modulate their heat output in response to changing heat loads in the same way as a modern modulating gas boiler (a modern hi/low oil boiler does modulate but not as well as gas). The level of automation of biomass systems is directly relevant to the type of fuel used. In general, the more fluid the energy source (electricity being the optimum), the more automatic the system can become. A heat pump, for example, requires only one ‘fuel’, electricity, normally delivered automatically from a mains connection. In contrast, a log boiler requires both wood and electricity and the wood must be handled manually. Even automatic pellet boilers require some level of manual intervention, if only to dispose of the ash. In general operation, thermal storage (a buffer tank) allows the boiler to operate over a smaller range and reduces the requirement for turndown so a 30 per cent reduction over conventional (gas or oil) design sizing should be possible with a biomass boiler. The practical limits will be dictated by the load pattern, the response time of the heating system and the thermal response of the building.


Dry timber is crucial for several reasons. If wet timber is burnt, considerable energy is used to drive off moisture, reducing the efficiency of the process, and volatile oils which would normally burn will condense as they cool in the chimney, depositing a layer of tar. When the wood dries out, some fly ash will inevitably be released and stick to the tar in the chimney. Ultimately, the chimney will become constricted reducing the available combustion air and it could eventually lead to a chimney fire. For 20 per cent moisture content logs, approximately 5.5 times the volume of oil will be required for the same energy content. So, if you burn 1,500 litres of oil a year (≈1.5 m3), you will require about 8.25m3 of wood. The equivalent of 1,000 litres of oil in wood pellets is 3m3 and for 30 per cent moisture content woodchip you would need almost 11.5m3. These are considerable volumes and, even if you are producing your own wood chip, will require transport, mechanical loading and storage. All of these must be carefully considered in evaluating a scheme. If pellets are exposed to damp, they soon take on the consistency of damp porridge oats and become permanently unusable. Similarly, wet wood chips will, in time, start to decompose creating heat and, in extreme cases, have been known to spontaneously combust! The method of collection and transfer from the store to the boiler must also be decided upon. This may be swept arm and auger, gravity to auger or vacuum fed.

Multifuel versus single fuel stoves

Multi fuel stoves are available for burning either logs or coal but, by definition, cannot be optimised for either fuel. Note that burning logs with coal at the same time in multi fuel stoves can produce sulphurous acids that can corrode metal surfaces and reduce appliance lifetime. Pellets have the advantage of enabling various levels of automation; the lighting, combustion and extinguishing sequence can be timed to occur automatically, providing sufficient

Are biomass burners more expensive?

Biomass boilers are on the expensive end of the scale, furthermore the need for a shed to house the boiler and hopper, mean they have lost favour when the NI grant (renewable heat incentive) was axed. Wood burners are however still good to consider if you have a good supply of dry fuel. Biomass stoves tend to be marginally more expensive than multifuel but this may depend on the model.

Can the stove’s heat be harvested by my ventilation system? While your mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery will deliver some of the recovered heat from the appliance to the rest of the building, the air flow rates are very low so it will only be a small amount.

fuel is available. Some burner designs deliver more reliable automation than others. Most pellet fed appliances have a combustion air fan to control the burn rate; this gives you more choice in terms of where to locate the appliance. Log burners are unsuitable for installations with inadequate draught or down draught. Pellet stoves can often be used in these instances due to the forced draught from the combustion air fan. Pellet stoves often include fan assisted room heat output for rapid space heating and there are models designed to duct blow warm air to other rooms. Pellet fed appliances with back boilers normally require some daily cleaning and a more thorough weekly clean.

Health and safety

All biomass systems can be dangerous if incorrectly designed, installed or operated. An important point to understand is that all biomass burners require an adequate supply of air to enable combustion. In today’s era of airtight building design, (compounded by the fact that mechanical ventilation systems can create negative pressure in a room with a stove), a dedicated airtight combustion air supply routed directly from the appliance to the exterior is necessary, even in refurbished buildings. Without an adequate air supply dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up and, ultimately, cause death. Regular maintenance will ensure the air supply pathways are kept clear for safe combustion. Water must be able to pass through boilers at all times to remove the heat from the fire. Should the water stagnate it will ultimately turn to steam, whose volume is approximately 1,600 times that of water (depending on pressure). To stop overheating and inefficient fuel consumption an effective method of protecting a boiler in the event of a power outage or mechanical breakdown, which can relieve the pressure and heat, is essential. The means of protection for all types of log, chip and pellet boilers should be specified by the system designer on a case by case basis. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 109

B A S I C S / H E AT C O N T R O L




Smart heating controls Adjusting your heating controls can have the single biggest effect on the amount of energy you use in the home; here’s what you need to know about them. Words: Paul O’Reilly


he factors influencing heat and warmth are specific to each human being, depending on age, fitness levels and even moods. Within a single household there may be many different personal requirements. So when it comes to heat and comfort, it’s not about how sophisticated your heating controls are, it’s more about having the ability to exercise control and strike a balance between thermal comfort and energy use. Heating controls have two simple functions, firstly they act as the on/ off switch. Secondly they set the temperature. How well they perform depends when they turn the heating on and off and at what temperature.


House type

The kind of house you live in will in fact play an important role in your choice of heating controls. As a general rule, the older and more traditional the property and the heating system are, the more the controls should lean towards manual/programmable rather than smart. A simple on/ off programmable control can often present the best method of adjusting internal temperature needs to match comfort levels required in older draughtier homes. This can sound counter intuitive because an old draughty house would benefit from greater heating control but the smart systems are still not smart enough to account for the multitude of changeable weather conditions that play havoc with temperature control in older

Did you know? Heating your home and supplying it with hot water usually accounts for about 60 per cent of your entire energy use.

houses. The algorithms in smart heating devices have a limited number of variables based on mimicking occupant preferences and then adjusting internal temperatures to suit. Hence the smart control system could potentially consume more energy as it reacts to every change in internal temperature scenarios. The modern energy efficient home is better controlled by full smart systems because the indoor climate is less influenced and changed by outside weather conditions. Hence the thermal envelope, i.e. the building’s insulation and airtightness standards should be taken into account before selecting the type of new heating control upgrades. A cost effective solution in an existing house that has some form of insulation and a compatible condensing gas boiler is to install

H E AT C O N T R O L / B A S I C S

weather compensation controls that monitor the weather outside via an outdoor sensor and adjusts the temperature of the hot water going to the radiators. If the temperature outside drops then the radiators will run hotter, however if the outside temperature is milder, the control will tell the boiler or heat pump to supply less heat, boosting energy efficiency by up to 15 per cent and extending the life of your heat source. Opentherm is a standard communication protocol used by boiler and smart thermostat manufacturers so that they will ‘talk to each other’. Both it and weather compensation controls are only suitable for Natural gas and LPG boilers. A multi zoned system will work with oil, gas or even a heat pump.  Instead of using the external temperature as a reference point you can use the temperature of each room to set the boiler flow and thus the temperature of each radiator – a fully zoned system set up that can work off a heat pump or a modulating controller with compatible gas boiler.

Manual controls

Added to heating systems or radiators, manual controls require human input to adjust them, to change set point temperatures or timings and setbacks.

The simplest form of manual control is the TRV (thermostatic radiator valve) fitted to most radiators in Ireland. These can be a DIY exercise with minimal cost outlay. It’s always best to set the temperature at the lower levels first and then raise to meet your minimum comfort level. It’s rare that manual controls are installed for full heating systems today because programmable and smart heating controls are cost effective. The traditional TRV today comes in a smart version, all installed on a DIY basis, and a multi zoned system can be achieved in any property with the addition of these wireless TRVs to control radiators. Modern wireless systems can integrate multi zoned underfloor heating, radiator and hot water control.

Programmable controls

These set the temperature at various times of the day/week/year. They do not respond to outside temperature changes or occupancy levels. Because programmable thermostats are more complex than manual ones to adjust, they tend to get set once and left alone. There are however many two-way communication programmable heating controls which now allow you to turn on/off and reprogramme heating times from

Grants According to the ROI’s Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) heating controls that are intuitive to use can save up to 20 per cent of energy in the home. Heating controls upgrade grants are available from the SEAI directly to a maximum value of €700. In NI and ROI it’s worth checking with your energy supplier as they regularly have incentives for heating control upgrades. They can also provide them on a reduced rate monthly charge, which obviously locks in some customer loyalty and the company can claim energy credits associated with your energy savings.


Do you know how to save energy Using your heating system more efficiently is the number one no cost option that will reduce your home’s energy use. But that’s not what people seem to think. From a survey conducted by the SEAI, it seems we tend to believe the best way to save energy is to switch to LED bulbs, then draught proofing and finally turning off appliances. But much larger savings can in fact be achieved with a timer for the immersion and using a timer to control heating times. Interestingly, when the same respondents had previously been asked to spontaneously list the day-today things they were currently doing to save energy, the most popular answer was “don’t know / I don’t do anything” then “switching off the lights when not in use” followed by “turning off appliances on standby”. The SEAI has recently published a study called Changing Energy Behaviour – What Works? that shows the following methods can motivate homeowners to save more energy: l Show homeowners how their energy use compares to their neighbours’ through ‘smart billing’, this can save approximately 3 per cent on energy bills per household. l Encourage people to set energy saving goals of about 10 to 15 per cent. Setting targets gives people a reason to save energy, motivating them to use less. l Get homeowners to invest in energy efficiency upgrades by running interactive behaviour change programmes in communities. Karl Purcell,

your smartphone or other device in real time. Programmable controls are most easily fitted as a replacement to an existing manual system that has been prewired to a multi zoned heating arrangement. In this instance the costs are usually below €400/£350 and even less if grants and supports are obtained. If you don’t currently have a multi zoned heating system you will have the added cost of electrical wiring and some element of new pump/valve controls needed to bridge the new programme mechanisms to the heating system. This is an important factor in terms of cost and disturbance and would require advice from a professional.

Smart heating controls

Smart heating controls are programmable heating controls with an added layer of automation that relies on complex algorithms to match occupancy habits with setting climate control. Comfort levels are optimised based on preset conditions coupled with occupancy detectors that have software packages that can analyse past habits and predict future behaviour. These often integrate with ventilation systems but also windows, doors, blinds, home security, carbon monoxide/dioxide detectors, and so on. Smart heating controls can also optimise set points for hybrid systems including back-up energy from renewables such as solar panels, heat pumps and micro-CHP. This is generally a straightforward installation as long as you stick to the one brand. If you want to add smart controls to your existing heat pump, an electrical professional will need to check the new controls synchronise with the pace of the heat pump’s more gradual and slow temperature response times. The installation of today’s new smart heating controls can be quite cost effective and easy to install, provided you do exactly ‘as it says on the box’. Any deviation from the standard installation to synchronise with different branded heating or hybrid controls can be complex and will likely require new electrical and communication wiring. Again professional advice, particularly electrical, is essential here. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 111


By George! Mark Johnson precision engineered most of the tools required to build his circular mock-Georgian new build. What inspired you to build a Georgian house from scratch?

Paris and London, but I suppose it’s the Roman influences on architecture in general that made us want to build it. The 17 oak trees on the site have been there for 150 years, and that contributed to it too. We wanted it to feel like this building had always stood there.

What was the design process like?

We started with the site and in terms of orientation we wanted the house to be facing dead south, with the kitchen eastward, the front door getting full sun at 12 noon and the orangery benefiting from it in the evening. We also wanted to introduce a lot 112 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018


How did you manage to build the circular features? I manufacture specialist equipment for a living, so I designed and made the tools. We had to design them in a computer modelling software then feed that information to a machine to make/cut them. There’s an extreme amount of detail that went into the design features. For example we needed a special jig for the joiner to lay the parquet flooring, the doors had to be curved as well so that presented another challenge. The dome ceiling had to be made with MDF and we sliced plasterboard very thinly on top – we used 6,500 screws to hold it all up. I then made a spherical trowel for the plasterers. We had to make the cornice at the bottom of the dome in metal, then we created a mould from it which allowed us to cast the cornice with plaster of Paris. The windows in the dome had to be redesigned a couple of times, we wanted the same geometry on the floor; it was finished in brass which I also made at work. 

of curves, simply because they’re more interesting than straight lines. We went the full hog with a circular hallway which in turn dictated we have a circular staircase. At the design stage we spent a lot of time on the kitchen and snug because these two rooms are where we knew we’d be spending pretty much all of our time. We wanted it to be big and workable and didn’t want anything modern on show, so everything is concealed apart from appliances that match the range cooker. The larder room hides the unsightly items. The range provides great warmth and atmosphere, we really enjoy it. Especially in winter when we close the shutters, you get a warm cosy feeling. The kitchen is a good size, the bar stools are a nice addition that we use quite often.

‘We looked up what was fashionable in Georgian times for door handle styles, skirting boards and architraves. Everything was bespoke.’

Did you come across any issues with the planners?

The main difficulty with planning had to do with the windows as they wanted it to be a storey and a half which would have taken away from the look. We had multiple meetings on site and showed that none of the neighbours had dormer windows, the buildings to the left and to the right of us were two storey. We eventually managed to convince them our design was better suited to the surroundings. WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 113


How did you go about sourcing other materials for the project?

We only wanted natural materials, no plastic. The wood in the kitchen is tulip wood, we chose it because it’s very stable – it doesn’t warp. We used the same joiner for the windows and the kitchen. We had to get precast concrete, made to order, for the window surrounds. We looked up what was fashionable in Georgian times for door handle styles, skirting boards and architraves. Everything was bespoke. The windows are sliding sash with small panes to add to the authenticity. They’re double glazed but the gap between the two panes is so slight it’s not noticeable. We also chose oak boards and parquet flooring to match houses from this era.

Did you buy anything second hand? The marble fireplace is from a 1720 Georgian house, it came from Italy. The marble floor in the hallway is Carrera and was also reclaimed. We liked the honed, dull look of weathered marble, the matt appearance is more attractive to me than the polished one which tends to make it look like a more contemporary material.  114 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

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

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

‘Let Fernhill be the Corner Stone when Building your Home’

NI: 0870 224 7201 / ROI: 1850 839 900 /


How was the project managed on site?

It was managed exceptionally well and looked after by Paul McAlister, the architect, and I was involved with all of it. We did have some instances whereby we had to knock down walls when we felt the architrave would be ill proportioned. There are some details that might look good on paper but not work out as well in reality.

How was the house built?

We chose volcanic ash block which is very good for insulation, we wanted deep walls for the window reveals so we went with 24 inch walls; the oversized cavity was filled with EPS beads.

What did you do for heating and hot water?

It was important to us that the house be very well insulated, we put in 175mm PIR board in the floor to ensure the underfloor heating would work at its best. The pipes are aluminium and plastic, they’re multicomposite. We have an oil boiler with integrated heat pump which can be controlled remotely 116 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

‘We have an oil boiler with integrated heat pump which can be controlled remotely through my smart phone.’


through my smart phone. When we built the house in 2009/2010 this was quite a feat, nowadays it’s very common and we continue to use this feature. We also have a heat recovery ventilation system.


What’s your favourite part of the house?


The stairs, I made them myself out of aluminium. The wood was clad onto it.

What advice would you give a friend who’s thinking of self-building?

House size: 4,300sqft Plot size: 1 acre

Architect Paul McAlister Architects,, tel. (prefix with 048 calling from ROI) 3835 5111 Range AGA, Photography Rayoo Photography,

Use the right people – research this aspect until you’re confident you’ve found them. I’d do it again in a heartbeat but I’m currently enjoying our house too much to put us through another self-build. Work is busy too! WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 117


Winterproofing Getting your garden ready for this winter. Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin


t has been a strange year; a mild enough start which didn’t really deep freeze the residual pests and diseases, then snow in spring to disrupt germination as well as budding and active gardening – a bit of a setback to say the least – followed by a summer of scorching temps and water restrictions. Altogether not ideal. And now it’s already time to be winterproofing our garden. In these shifting sands of climate change the oft traditional advice of lagging the outside tap and bubble wrapping the tenders may be very pertinent or totally redundant. Remember the time when lawnmowers were shed bound from November until mid-February? Now some years it is not so surprising to mow the lawn Christmas week and again in the new year. In other words you’ll need to prepare for both a harsh and a mild winter to hedge your bets. Most plants stop growing when temperatures fall to single digits. Weed killers and fertilisers are pretty ineffective below 6degC as the plant has 118 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

slowed its internal structures so much that not much is absorbed or translocated – hibernation is commencing. Above these temperatures you could get some growth.

Protect the plants

The truth is we are going to have to take each year as it comes, so start with the harsh winter plan of storm proofing and cold protection for plants: • Clear all general debris and tidy spent crops.

• Get the secateurs and sheers out and tidy up any taller, easily toppled plants and shrubs; a touch of thinning to allow snow to fall through rather than gather and crush those climbers and weaker branched specimens. • Use the pruning saw for any potentially vulnerable mature trees; you don’t have to go to town just open or lighten the load. • Check and secure all ties and stakes, trellis and other supports. Remove hanging baskets, wind chimes and other objects that may become airborne and three doors down on the first fierce wind. • Frost sensitive plants and edibles are best protected with a layer of horticultural fleece but I also secure an awning-type tarp to keep the rain directed away from my dry climate edibles. • Most of my herbs are in pots and they can go into the polytunnel to sleep off the winter – a conservatory or porch is just as good or you can cluster them in a sheltered corner of the yard against a warm wall. • If you have an exotic garden you may have to lift the more tender perennials to spend the winter indoors. Cloches or minipolytunnels may be deployed over tender or cold sensitive plants. • Rigs of horticultural fleece and polythene may be required for some fruit, from ornamental banana to sensitive strawberry runs. That said strawberries like a touch of cold to set their fruiting heads for next year so knowing how much moly-coddling each plant requires should be on your radar, search engine or fridge note.

‘The truth is we are going to have to take each year as it comes, so start with the harsh winter plan of storm proofing and cold protection for plants.’


having feet or blocks added beneath and/ or saucers removed – it will be wet enough and the extra height is gravity to better drainage. Just make sure it’s in a sheltered spot to avoid toppling in high winds.

manure added in spring delivers better humus around soil particles which improves efficient water retention and nutrient supply but also helps improve the structure of the soil, allowing a more free draining passage too. I find pots and raised beds are easier to control as this puts a bit of extra distance with the natural water table, so come a wet season there is less saturation or more room to drain away from roots. Lifting your plants above the water table, unless they have long tap roots means that hot summers will require some drip irrigation and plenty of rain catchment systems but we should be going in that direction anyway as tap water is less than ideal for most plants.

Protecting from damp

Productive winters

SHOULD YOU MULCH AND FEED? Mulch is ok as a heat layer over some precious roots but it can in other places just help slugs and snails overwinter. I’d give the feed a miss, you are only encouraging growth just prior to cold snaps and that makes no sense. As to adding manure to empty beds or to new sites earmarked for cultivation next year that’s ok, it will still wait until spring to really break down but the winter rain will wash out the stronger urea and that’s good. Winter manure crops are all good too.

• If dividing, transplanting or planting bare roots – fruit, roses or hedging – do soak them for an hour in a bucket of water with a tablespoon of Epson salts and a crushed up B-vitamin complex tablet. That concoction will negate the worst of any potential transplant shock.

Maintenance checklist

Working through a harsh winter just damages the lawn and can actually do more harm to plants and crops than the cold and wet, so avoid the temptation to tend to your garden and go ahead and tidy away your tools. • All garden tools and machinery can be cleaned, sharpened and oiled or otherwise serviced. It is a good idea to siphon off any unused fuel before storing away. • A check on greenhouse, polytunnel and shed doors is worth it now. This is also your chance to tend to broken glass, ripped plastic, rusty hinges and any rotten wood or weak links in the chain before the harsh weather hits and knocks the life out it. • If the shed or fence could have done with a lick of paint this summer do it now – not for aesthetics but waterproofing – same with benches and other garden structures. • Protect exposed wood containers. I have a lot of wooden sided raised beds and upcycled vertical pallets as herb units. I am not a fan of using creosote and other chemical wood preservatives in the veg patch. I do however use linseed oil on a regular basis; I also make up a sort of winter salve consisting of vegetable oil and beeswax that I can paint on while still warm and buff in to seal against the swell of the wet season. • Wet and frost sensitive equipment may also need protecting. Grill rails on a barbeque or pizza oven can be brought inside, so can fire grates on a fire pit or be greased. Fire pits are often used in late summer and autumn but not so much in winter. • Any thin terracotta or non frost-proof pots should be lugged inside or emptied of soil and stacked with a wrap of fleece. Pots that can stay out will benefit from

Ireland has a really nice climate, one that’s mild enough but not too mild to allow us to grow a whole range of plants side by side from diverse parts of the world, from Himalayan geraniums to Californian poppies, from Peruvian crops to edible South African perennials, from Nordic raised almond trees to Mediterranean herbs. For all of these plants it is not the cold but the damp that does the damage, starving roots of oxygen which leads to rotting. Unfortunately the fear with climate change is not that our winters may get colder but that they are primed to get wetter. Bubble wrap and straw or strategic cloches will therefore not be as vital as ensuring free drainage. It is a fine balance because we want a degree of water retention in summer. Ample compost and

If long hot summers with drought and water restrictions are the future then milder winters and spring may have to start taking some of the heavy lifting and start yielding more crops. Warmer winters mean continual growth. Wetter winters can spur this further. Overwintering is a traditional technique to give you a head start on your first spring crop. You plant out your vegetables in the early autumn and let their roots establish until the drop in temperature halts their growth. They spend a dormant period over winter but come spring you’ll be a month or more ahead than if you were to plant them early spring. Spinach, Swiss chard, kale, kohl rabi, turnip, peas, broad beans all fall under this category. Because of climate change some may continue to grow and even grow so well as to be part harvested into late December 

Cotoneaster shrub




Leaf mulch

Keep sweeping up leaves and start a soil enriching leaf mould process for next year by piercing a few air holes in the bin liner that you have gathered them into. Store in the shade or shed for the next six months. and beyond. Winter edible gardeners often use nets and fleece to shield crops from the hungry birds and to offer a layer of frost protection – just make sure daylight is getting through. The problem is that what starts as a mild winter may change direction in January and the snow drift will inhibit harvest and you might just lose a crop. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. Here are some of the best winter veg to cultivate now: • Leeks can be left in the ground to overwinter and picked in spring or as you go. Purple sprouting broccoli is generally sown back in June or July to overwinter as an early spring crop but stands some winter harvesting too. • Spring cabbage and other hardy brassicas are traditionally sown now for an early crop in the new year. A mild year opens the door for extra Asian greens and other leafy veg to continue until the first sharp frost which may well be closer to spring than winter – so a good season of growth. Day length as much as day temps play a part so we are not going to get bushels of spinach but baby leaves have all the nutrition and flavour for stir fries, soups, lasagne, salads and smoothies. • Micro greens and salad crops do well in autumn so if you have a polytunnel or mini-tunnel runs and/or long cloches, you can treat a mild winter like an autumn and grow and harvest quite a fair bit of produce. • Garlic and onion sets can be planted out from autumn to mid-winter. • This is also the time to plant bare root fruiting trees and bushes. If you are pressed for space there are many dwarf stock varieties, you can fan train against a wall or grow as cordons. One of my favourite space savers is an edible hedge, a mix of hawthorn, plums, quince, crab apple, and even cane fruits. A great wind break that fills the belly.

Supporting wildlife

Composts have slowed way down and most have stopped cooking altogether and will enter this limbo state until spring, you 120 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

can keep them cooking if you turn now, and continue to refresh with scraps and moisture. I let mine go into natural stasis, it thus becomes a giant insect hotel for the overwintering species and also a snuggleup den for the odd hedgehog. By throwing a tarp over it now stops it getting soggy – too wet a heap in winter is no good for the wildlife or for a quick start back into action come spring. Now is a good moment to make sure other insect hotels, hedgehog piles, wood log stacks and other bolt holes for garden wildlife are stable and secure against a rough wind or storms. Nest boxes are mostly vacated in winter and can be cleaned out now so that by spring all human scent and activity has long dissipated. Take care if giving the hedge a last trim not to denude it too much against the camouflage and cover it supplies for winter butterflies and perching birds that may nest or forage. Timely tidying removes pests and diseases but just be aware not to disturb any colonies of beneficial ladybirds, they

favour leaf piles, log piles and unkempt areas of the garden. No harm in leaving a scruffy patch which you can rebrand as a ‘biodiversity corner’. In terms of feeding birds during the winter, they do require fat to survive so suet balls and no salt peanut butter are good choices. Water may be falling but consider if there is something to catch it. The pond may freeze and some tennis balls bobbing on the surface should allow beaks to dip in. This also prevents a toxin gas build up in the pond. But a tray or bird bath is also helpful. A ground saucer is good for other wildlife in need of a drink. Plants that feed and shelter visiting birds in winter include pyracantha, holly, rose, cotoneaster, mountain ash, ivy, viburnums, dogwoods and hawthorn. Many birds will feed off your perennial seed heads so a total garden clean-up is one you might weigh against aesthetics versus environment/habitat. Personally I like the look of frost touched seed heads. Try leaving phlomis, eryngium, crososmia, echinops and teasel in place.


Ask the expert You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. And if we don’t, we’ll find out by scouring our Facebook group, calling help lines and talking to the experts. Q. I’m tempted to go for a gas stove but prefer the look of multi-fuel, what’s the best choice?

A. If you’re looking for rustic authentic

flames multifuel is probably your best bet but if it’s convenience and ease of use you’re after, I’d suggest going for gas. There’s more cleaning involved with multi-fuel and there’s also the emptying of ashes. The wide variety of styling options available do make multi-fuel stoves an appealing option and these burn either wood or smokeless fuels to get real dancing flames. Multi-fuel stoves that comply with EU Ecodesign regulations lower emissions to an absolute minimum. Gas, on the other hand, offers high heating performance and real flames at the touch of a button. Manufacturers have been working on the appearance of the fuel beds and the very latest gas stoves and fires are almost indistinguishable from real wood burning fires. Alternative fuel effects include driftwood or pebbles. They’re also often available in LPG versions for homes out in the country that have no access to a mainline gas supply. Many modern gas fires and stoves can be controlled remotely and some even allow you to program the fire to a daily or weekly schedule to suit your lifestyle, as well as gas saving modes to moderate gas usage. Whichever you opt for, get independent advice from a qualified retailer or heating engineer on the style, installation, and heat output to best suit your home. Sizing is everything. Annabelle Carvell, Stovax Heating Group 122 / SELFBUILD /WINTER 2018

Q. What’s all the fuss about Japanese Knotweed (JK)? A. JK (Fallopia Japonica) and its partners in

crime Giant Knotweed (Fallopia sachalinensis) and Himalayan Knotweed (Persicaria wallichii) are classed as invasive weed species. Very simply, they can’t be eradicated. JK spreads by throwing out new shoots underground; man has been equally guilty of spreading it by moving soil containing JK from one location to another. Even if you think it’s dead it probably isn’t. A 10mm, or less than half an inch, section of root can produce a new plant in 10 days. It will travel under structures such as roads and paths until it finds a gap it can push through, this is where it may start breaking foundations or underground services. Older structures are the most at risk. So if you plan to build where it’s present or have a property or structure close to where it is growing, it needs to be treated. You will also have problems selling a property with JK and will most certainly need to show a treatment plan is in progress. The only treatment available is containment, in other words controlling its spread. One option is to excavate, bury and seal it with membrane barriers or bring it off to be incinerated. Don’t try to move the plant from its existing site without consultation with a professional invasive weed surveyor or you’re likely to do more harm than good. In fact don’t cut or move any part of the plant. Also know that putting stems on a compost heap offers an ideal rooting medium. The most common form of treatment is to use a weed killer but it must be approved for JK treatment as other chemicals might not work. Approved chemicals will contain Glyphosate or Aminopyralid Potassium. It’s applied by stem injection near waterways; on greenfield sites it’s more common to spray it on the leaf. Neither method is foolproof. Chemically treating too frequently results in stunted, dwarf shoots which will not effectively absorb the chemical, prolonging the treatment process. Allowing the live sections of the stands to regenerate each year for a full growing season

Before treatment

After treatment using Glyphosate

and treating in September will produce bigger shoots that will take more of the chemical to the root system. Even at that you may only end up killing parts of the plant; it may appear to be dead on the surface but the same may not apply below ground. JK can lay dormant for many years. Rely on a professional to put in place the treatment plan. It will usually last three to five years depending on the size of the problem or what the site is being used for, with a yearly visual check after that. Niall Keenan of

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Wall finishes Although simple paint will continue to be a favourite wall treatment, there are now many exciting alternatives that needn’t break the bank. Words: Andrew Stanway ECOCEM


n inexpensive way to start thinking about wall finishes is to see what you can do using your existing structural materials. Some are potentially great wall finishes in their own right.


With very careful and creative shuttering and some experience in constructing finished concrete interior walls it’s possible to make exciting surfaces that don’t need any further work or expense. Of course, getting such a concrete wall as it should

be right from the start costs more than putting up some simple blockwork. It also needs protecting during the construction process. Discuss this option with your designer early on as it throws up all kinds of junction issues and finishing detailing that will need careful thought before you start the build. If you like this kind of industrial look, concrete can be a wall finish that, once sealed, looks stunning for years and is robust. As a masonry surface it can also store heat in the walls and slowly release it throughout the day (referred to as a thermal store).

Painted blockwork

If you plan ahead well enough, so you choose the best possible blocks, and your tradesmen produce a careful finish with excellent pointing and cleaning as they go, the blockwork you use for your structural walls can be a good, if rather commerciallooking, surface in itself. Use a suitable silicate paint and you could be pleasantly surprised at the great look you can achieve for very little money.

Exposed brickwork

A really good option, especially for the odd feature wall, that can give an instant ‘olde-worlde’, or farmhouse, look. There are literally hundreds of bricks you could use. Bricks ‘slips’ that are a fraction of the thickness and weight and simple to install (a bit like tiling). On completion, use a suitable sealant so the brick dust doesn’t rub off on people’s clothing. Be prepared to vacuum the surface every few months with a soft brush head as brick and stone finishes seem to be dust magnets. 


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kitchen worktops and feature walls. It is very hard, flexible, waterproof, has a good grip on almost any surface, and is very thin. Because it’s so thin it’s vital to prepare the underlying surface very carefully indeed. This can add to the already high cost. All kinds of colours and textures make it a very interesting product for those who can afford it.


Almost everybody who plasters their walls ends up painting them. Self-builders traditionally paint everything themselves as it’s a relatively simple job that doesn’t

40 per cent more likely to get lung cancer. Also producing one litre of ordinary paint produces up to 30 litres of toxic waste. Today it’s inexcusable not to use paints that are ecologically and user friendly which have low levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). The vast majority of paints used in domestic situations are now water-based. Most ceiling and wall paints don’t require an undercoat or primer but be sure to check this before you start. If you are prepared to spend much more, truly ‘green’ paints are available. Paints that contain VOCs outgas for up to five years after you’ve completed the job.

Exposed stone

An expensive solution that calls for careful pre-planning because unless you use stone slips you’ll need to allow for the thickness of the stonework in all your calculations. As with brick there are endless possibilities, but make sure the surface is sealed and with any surface that’s not flat be prepared for some maintenance (dusting). Great for a feature or fireplace wall.

Sand and cement

A very popular finish in Ireland that is inexpensive yet effective. Often called ‘plaster’, even though it isn’t gypsum plaster, it takes paint well. A major downside is that it is very hard (unlike plaster), so when hanging anything on it every hole must be drilled and plugged.


If the trowelled finish on your walls is good enough (perhaps after some additional rubbing down) you can leave gypsum or lime plaster as a finish in its own right. There are numerous possible coatings, from transparent sealers to normal paints (see below). A more expensive variant of this is polished plaster, from highly-polished Venetian plaster to various textured finishes. Some of them resemble polished marble or travertine. You can then choose your colours, even if these ‘natural’ materials don’t actually occur in nature.


A step up from using the wall surface as-built is microcement. This is an expensive but stunning finish suitable for contemporary designs. It can be applied very thin (3-4mm) so doesn’t change floor-screed heights or alter the heights of fixtures. It can be applied almost anywhere around the house but is popular for bathrooms, wetrooms, kitchen floors, 124 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

‘For exposed concrete or brickwork you’ll need to plan ahead...’

call for professional skills. This saves money. Today, though, things are changing. People demand better finishes and professionals are not as expensive as they once were. They are also usually proficient at using spray guns which can cut down the time and improve the quality of the work. When decorating a whole new build, spraying is worth considering. World Health Organisation research has found that professional painters are

Many ‘non-toxic’ paints from the usual sources still contain chemical pigments, fungicides and low levels of VOCs. If any of this concerns you, do your homework before buying the paints for your new home. Today’s multi-surface formulae allow you to paint on metal, wood, plaster and masonry. If in any doubt, always seek professional advice as paint is expensive and it’s all too easy to make costly mistakes. A recent development is graphene paint. Graphene is a specialised form of carbon that when added to paints makes them very hard and improves coverage. More expensive than standard paints from your local DIY shed, these are great for specialist projects, kitchens and food preparation areas, and for corrosive or demanding weather situations.


Wallpaper creates an instant finish that is usually straightforward to achieve directly onto a plastered surface. Online decorating tools enable you to see how things will

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look in advance and can even help you calculate the number of rolls you’ll require. When buying, be sure all your rolls are from the same batch or there could be tricky colour problems at joins. Cheap wallpaper is often thinner and much harder to hang. Go for the best quality you can afford. There are all kinds of different surfaces that suit different domestic situations. Take advice if in any doubt. If the wall surface isn’t that great to start with, use a strong lining paper. Be sure not to place the final paper over the same exact areas or the two joins could line up and look bad.

Timber panelling


Emulsion paint (for walls and ceilings) comes in two finishes: matt and silk. Despite some amount of VOCs, vinyl silk gives a high-sheen finish that’s really durable. It’s good for areas that get wet or are prone to damage from condensation. There are special versions for kitchens and bathrooms. Matt emulsion looks nicer but is much less durable as it marks easily and isn’t washable.

Other attractive options

For the more adventurous the possibilities are almost limitless. l Glass can look fantastic, for example as splashbacks in kitchens and bathrooms. l Sheets or panels of thin stone or porcelain are effective and practical in wet areas. l All kinds of metals can be used as panels. Corten steel and endless variations of aluminium are just two examples. l Fabrics, too, can look luxurious. Batten the wall first then stretch the fabric over the area. l How about preparing the wall then getting an artist to make a one-off mural or even some bespoke graffiti? If you have the skill you might want to create your own collage of photos or your own artwork for a feature wall. This can work especially well in children’s rooms.

The choice of tiles, be they porcelain or ceramic, is truly dazzling. In general, porcelain tiles are best suited to heavytraffic floors. This said, they can also be used on walls. When choosing, be careful to ask whether a particular tile is suitable for use on floors and walls, if that’s your intention. Try to avoid using floor tiles on walls unless you have a strong wall onto which to apply them. This usually means masonry or a backer board to support their considerable weight. When planning your proposed tiling, be bold. Take a chance to show your creativity. Take a tile or two to the location and see how they look in situ before committing yourself. Remember: light colours make a room look larger. Plan ahead when buying. Be sure to get at least 10 per cent more than you need. This allows for cuts and breakages and also allows you to keep a few tiles for the future should you need to replace any.


Almost any timber can be used for panelling but it’s sensible to take advice from your supplier. Panelling should be able to withstand moisture in the atmosphere (for example, a steamy kitchen) which usually means gluing it onto marine or similar plywood. The beauty of timber is its natural look and the way it can be coloured to suit your décor. If you use softwood panelling, this can be painted in the normal way. Be sure to cover the back of such timber with at least two coats of paint. This prevents moisture ingress and thus warping. Solid timber can warp easily in centrally-heated homes. Fixing most timber panelling involves first battening the wall, then fitting the strips or panels to the battens. This means timber panelling is pretty expensive but for a feature wall the cost can often be justified. Matching your doors to your timber panels is a luxury but looks great.

Although many people still think of grout as having to be white, get creative here too. Many grout colours are available and careful colour choices can make all the difference between a good enough job and a brilliant one. If your wall area involves lots of tile cuts, use a smaller tile, or even a mosaic. As with everything in building materials today, there’s little excuse for charging ahead and buying the wrong thing. Listen to suppliers and to the tiler you intend to employ before committing yourself to an unwise expense. Many a tiler finds himself wishing their client had consulted him before buying something unsuitable. Tilers are also worth listening to as they’ve seen so many situations (including some that work well and others that fail dismally) and can give useful advice about what would best suit your particular job.

 WINTER 2018 / SELFBUILD / 125


Clayfest images clockwise from top left: decorative clay plaster, unfired earth blocks, hemp clay wall sections


Building with mud Some might argue that earth building is a thing of the past, but the Clayfest festival in Wexford demonstrated how it continues to be relevant today. Words: Tom Woolley


he reason building with mud is becoming increasingly popular is that it’s relatively cheap, albeit labour intensive, and it’s an eco-alternative to manufactured synthetic insulation materials and concrete. While it might seem that solid earth walls (mud mixed with straw) cannot provide much insulation, the thermal mass of such construction 126 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

can keep a house warm. Earth walls also have additional health benefits by managing moisture, lowering humidity and creating a pleasant atmosphere. Much of the Irish population in fact lived in mud walled houses in the 18th and 19th centuries; Dr. Barry O’Reilly of Oxford Brookes University carried out an extensive audit of earth buildings throughout Ireland showing how widely spread was the use of cob up to the end of the 19th century.

What is cob? Cob is a mix of clay-rich soil and a strengthening agent such as straw. Wattle and daub is a traditional building technique that consists of wooden strips pasted with cob.

At Clayfest, Pat Ruane told the story of the Mayglass Farmstead in Wexford where a dilapidated mudwall farmhouse was restored and is now open to the public. Workshops also demonstrated the use of earth plastered wattle and daub and the reconstruction of stone walls with earth and lime mortar. Féile and Colin from Co Sligo showed how old cob and stone houses could be renovated with earth materials.


Structural material

Earth can also be a modern material for new or renovated houses. It can be dug up from the ground on a building site, providing it is clay rich sub soil, and used to build walls and even floors. Louise and Iain explained, at the conference, how they are selfbuilding a house in Co Monaghan using solid earth walls combined with other insulating materials such as foamed glass to achieve contemporary insulation standards. These walls can meet the building regulations’ thermal standards and can outperform lightweight walls due to the benefits of thermal mass and thermal storage. It is however important to point out that conventional U-value and energy/ compliance calculations tend to disadvantage natural materials as they do not take proper account of thermal mass.  So while it is feasible that the nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB) performance is achieved with cob, this can only be demonstrated by building and testing real buildings. The CobBauge project experts from Devon (UK) and Brittany (France) built a 750mm thick structural wall section at Clayfest demonstrating how a two-layer combination of earth and straw plus earth with hemp can achieve the necessary U- values to meet current building regulations. Another demonstration at

A 750mm thick CobBauge wall section.

Additional information Clayfest is an annual event organised by Earth Building UK and Ireland (EBUKI). Over 200 people attended workshops at Clayfest in the Wexford Heritage Park from September 24 to 29, 2018 and 100 were at a conference on the Friday. Next year it will be in June at the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Clayfest was of walling constructed with structural unfired earth blocks. The blocks were built into a two-metre high curved wall by Tom Morton and Becky Little, earth experts from Fife in Scotland.


To meet the building regulations, it’s now common for self-builders to use timber frame as the supporting structure. In NI we’ve developed a mix of hemp with powdered clay as an insulating infill to timber frame construction. Several wall sections, only 300mm thick, were constructed during Clayfest showing how quickly this composite can dry out. A wall section built on the Monday had dried out significantly by the Friday. Hemp clay walls are an extension of the well-established

EBUKI Féile Butler, earthen building courses in Sligo CobBauge cobbauge. eu/en/cobbauge-2 Becky Little Earth plasters and walling blocks ‘Strocks’

hemp lime or hempcrete construction method, but with a lower embodied energy. Strong walls of hemp and clay can achieve a very low density and thus excellent thermal performance with the additional benefits of breathability and moisture management. This project is undergoing more research (thermal testing as well as structural and advanced weathering) before a technical document can be issued in 2019.


Even where walls are not built of earth, it is possible to use earth plasters to create very attractive and highly beneficial finishes in houses. Athena and Bill Steen of Arizona (USA) demonstrated how to use local earth mixed with a little straw or hemp to make decorative clay finishes. Manufactured clay plasters are also commercially available from a number of companies, many of them based in Devon (UK).

Mixing cob with feet

Plastered earth block wall



Certifying an eco house A major stumbling block for self-builders who want to use natural materials is the building regulations which tend to favour modern methods. Here’s how Marcus Tindal’s eco-lodge in Co Donegal managed to prove his straw and mud building is fully compliant. key is to get a good cob mix, it needs to be compacted and left to dry for a good bit too. The exposed part of the roof is made of roundwood timber, which are a foot and a half in diameter and up to nine metres long. They were tied and placed in a circular pattern to build a reciprocal roof. We had Christy Collard who specialises in this type of construction to help us put it together. This timber ‘in the round’ was cut when there was very little sap in it, in December. We bought it locally and got them to the site with a tractor-trailer. We stripped the bark, planed and sanded them ourselves. There was no drying time required. The roof juts out a meter past the external wall to further protect the house from the elements.

From a fire safety point of view how did each element stack up?

You’re building a large round building, what is it made of? The Lodge will be a communal building for guests with a kitchen and dining area, loos, showers and a central hang out space with panoramic views. As we’re trying to make it as eco as possible we’re using locally sourced roundwood timber, standard timber frame, straw bales, clay from the site, and lime as the main construction materials. There is also a living grass roof made from the earth excavated from the site. 128 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2018

The 450mm thick walls are made up of a timber frame filled with straw. They’re plastered with lime outside and clay inside. On the outside the wall was plastered in lime to protect it from the elements; we applied coat after coat by hand, initially massaged into the straw and then layers added to create a uniform finished surface. In total the lime plaster took six weeks of hard work and about 20 tonnes of lime and sand. Inside we plastered the wall with clay for heat retention and moisture control; the earth plaster is 20mm to 40mm thick. The

As the eco lodge is a commercial building, we had to get a fire safety certificate. With a self-build we would have had to comply with fire requirements as well but wouldn’t have needed a fire certificate from the local authority. We built the walls out of straw, timber and mud, which was a bit off-putting at first for the fire department but we were able to prove that the clay plaster is inert and fire resistant, and that both the lime and the earthen plasters act as protective layers. We also relied on established industry charring figures although again the statistics were not the easiest to find – even though if you try putting a match to a log it won’t burn because it’s so dense. There were many hours of research put into getting the


information to prove how fire resistant the roof actually was. The exposed timber was the toughest part to get approved. Our Assigned Certifier Martin of October House Designs was kept busy – it took 10 months in total to get the fire cert mainly due to a lack of information being out there. We eventually were able to get details of a timber frame building having been previously approved in Co Meath where An Bord Pleanála had ruled on the suitability of the fire resistance of the clay and timber frame elements of that particular building. Our Assigned Certifier worked very closely with us to get the detailing right to ensure that we met building regulation standards throughout the project.

on the north west coast of Ireland although surprisingly it was actually the intense heat of the past summer that delayed us with the lime rendering process as there was a danger of the render drying out too quickly and cracking. We plan to finish up in the Spring of 2019.

What heating system do you have?

We installed an air to water heat pump and also have a heat recovery ventilation system (extracting heat from the shower rooms to pre-heat cold incoming air).

SUPPLIERS Lough Mardal Glamping: Assigned certifier: Martin McLaughlin of Octoberhouse Designs Ltd. Reciprocal roof & roundwood construction advice: Christy Collard, Design: Marcus Tindal and Christy Collard Design drawings: Bee Rowan, Straw building advice: Hassen Mzali and Bee Rowan Lime building advice: Stuart Ogier

Did you have to compromise on anything?

The foundations are of a traditional build up so there’s plenty of concrete in there. You have to pick your battles. We insulated as usual in the foundations with PIR and added underfloor heating. We did go for an earth floor finish after that. We also had to use more standardised timber frame elements in the structure to compensate for the use of the natural roundwood.

When did you start and when do you plan to finish it? The build began in October 2017. Not the ideal time of year to start a building project




Where to keep your logs and how to showcase them indoors

The shed

The basket

If you plan on large deliveries, or have your own woodland, you’ll need some shelter outside for storage.


Sheltered patio An indoor/outdoor area that’s part of the house.


Casa R in Chile by Felipe Lagos Novoa,

Built in

If you want to carve out a space to store the logs, make provisions at the design stage and stockpile where it’s easy to access.

Lug the wood indoors with a basket that you can leave by the fireside.