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SelfBuild &Improve WINTER 2015 £3.50/€3.75

Eco renovations The antidote to toy chaos

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ISSN 2049-3630


Plumbing and heating jargon buster Grow your own wood fuel

Buying a house to renovate

Biomass Garden: PopulatingGarden Extensions: paths gaining Self-build Wastewater DIY: play treatment: table backboilers your pond and walls planning approval warranties zero discharge with chair systems

Near Book Zero review: Energy Buildings Medicinal plants




Winter 2015 Cover Photo: Paul Megahey Photography Editor: Astrid Madsen Managing Editor: Gillian Corry Subscriptions: Patricia Madden Sales Manager: Mark Duffin Advertising Sales: David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Maria Varela Graphic Designer Myles McCann Printing: WG Baird Distribution: EM News Distribution Ltd

AS WINTER APPROACHES, this issue of SelfBuild & Improve Your Home takes a look at what you can do to stay warm. Keeping the house at a minimum of 18 degC is usually considered optimal. The question then is how to reach and maintain that temperature, (most of the time), and not break the bank. There are some low cost options (turn to page 44) and in an ideal world one of these would be to get rid of that old faithful, the boiler. On page 129 find out how Ireland and Dublin in particular could benefit from the solution the Danes have adopted, district heating. In many cases existing homes will require an energy upgrade; typical examples start on page 48. A very sensible option when looking at upgrading your walls is external insulation – but will your home require planning permission if you choose to go down this route? Find out on page 64. If building new, you could go the whole hog and opt for the zero energy standard. This is what Jonathan and Sinead Willox did in Co Tyrone – find out how they got on, it starts on page 14. Other ways to future proof your house for energy savings include the PassivHaus standard, as chosen by Jim and Nellie Morris of Co Kildare back in 2009. Go to page 24 to find out how their home has been performing since. From a building regulations point of view, NI and ROI are preparing to implement Near Zero Carbon standards on all new houses and renovations. Turn to page 52 to see how you can stay ahead of the game. Two key points to remember: ventilation (you need fresh air) and skill (only hire people who

have practical knowledge of fitting high levels of insulation and air tight membranes). If you’re planning to upgrade your heating system know that adding a biomass stove or cooker with a backboiler may not be as good an idea as it appears if your house is well insulated. This is due to the fact that the appliance may give off too much heat! Turn to page 70 for more. And how about growing trees to make your own wood fuel? If that option appeals to you make sure to check out Teagasc forestry advisor Steven Meyen’s article on page 76. Staying outdoors, are you building a boundary wall or garden path? Fiann Ó Nualláin has some words of wisdom to share on the subject on page 90. More advice comes from interior designer Caroline Irvine on dealing with toy chaos (page 84), quantity surveyor Stephen McDonald on self-build warranties (page 116), Ciaran Hegarty on how to build a children’s table and chair (page 120), and much more including a case study in Co Louth that will make you wonder how old the ‘timber kit’ industry actually is…


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

Happy building and improving!

Astrid Madsen

Our panel of experts for winter 2015 BRENDAN BUCK


Brendan Buck, BA (TCD), MRUP (UCD), Dip. (UD), Dip. (EIA/ SEA), MIPI is a Town Planner and head of BPS Planning Consultants. 23 Saval Park Rd, Dalkey, Co Dublin, mobile 087 2615871,

Before setting up his practice David Donaldson, BSC Hons MRTPI, worked within the DoE Planning Service for nearly two decades. Donaldson Planning, 50a High Street, Holywood, Co Down, BT18 9AE, tel. 90423320, mobile 07920873600,


TIM LAVIN Tim Lavin, Architect Ciaran is a B.Arch. SC Dip. woodwork and Arch PG. DAER construction MRIAI, leads an studies teacher award winning in Moyle RIAI Registered Park College, Grade 1 Clondalkin, Conservation Dublin. He qualified from the practice, Lavin Architects. He University of Limerick in 2005 is a qualified environmental with an Honours Degree in Materials and Construction with consultant with specialist residential retrofit training. Concurrent teacher education. Lavin Architets, 40 Mulgrave He resides in Leixlip, Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co Kildare, email Co Dublin, tel. 01 2845648,,




Steven Meyen has worked in forestry since the mideighties with experience in Belgium, Nepal, Rwanda and Ireland. Since 1999, he has worked as a Forestry Adviser with Teagasc providing independent advisory and training services to forest owners.

Stephen Musiol runs the architectural practice small spaces, helping homeowners find the best ways to increase their space, and the best ways to improve what they’ve got. He focuses on designing changes to houses that make them livable, lovable and lasting. Dublin, Tel: 01 454 7287

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

BRIAN PATRICK O’REGAN Brian is an Architectural Technologist and directs a family construction firm specialising in bespoke design and build projects. He has over two decades building experience and 15 years in architectural design and detailing. O.R.C., Ardbrack, Kinsale, Co Cork, mobile 087 2835709, tel. 021 4774618,

STEPHEN  MCDONALD Stephen McDonald, BSc MRICS, has over 26 years’ local and international experience providing professional quantity surveying and project management services, claims preparation and negotiation, as well as cost effective solutions to contractual issues and dispute resolution. He’s based in Ballymena, Co. Antrim. Tel: 07933-165-130

SIMON MCGUINNESS Simon McGuinness is a Certified Passive House Design consultant and Architect in private practice with over 25 years’ experience in Ireland and abroad. He leads DIT’s MSc in Energy Retrofit Technology, advises the Practice Committee of RIAI on sustainability and energy and represents DIT on the Irish Green Building Council.



Niamh is a journalist who reports on a broad range of subjects from current affairs to features with experience in writing about homes and the construction industry.

Dominic Stevens divides his time between building, architecture and teaching. His practice focuses on making buildings and theoretical projects in the Irish countryside. He is a lecturer in the Dublin School of Architecture DIT.

TONY TRAILL Tony Traill is a director of Element Consultants; a small, multidisciplinary consultancy specialising in energy and resource efficiency at all scales.

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





Are you in or out? ROI’s new building control regulations explained.

Stop Press

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

No pain no gain Case Study

11 13 14

Jonathan and Sinead Willox’s zero carbon home in Co Tyrone was tricky to build and then there were the inevitable teething problems. They’ve now been living in it for two years and couldn’t be happier with the finished product.

East side story Case Study


Project transformation


Jim and Nellie Morris of Co Kildare built their home to the PassivHaus standard over five years ago; find out what it’s been like to live in. House hunters beware! Architect Stephen Musiol has both helpful advice and words of warning if you want to buy a home in need of repair.


Selfbuild & Improve Your Home Show Cork 2015 We will be at Millstreet Cork from the 7-8 November. Come and join us! Bring your plans for copying and leaving with suppliers for pricing, gain some facts and figures for your project or just pick up ideas to make your home brighter and better.



Energy sappers


Moving up the energy ladder


Zero energy for all?


Character building Case Study


Low cost solutions to saving energy in your home. Energy upgrade solutions if your walls are solid or narrow cavity.

Near Zero Energy is the new standard houses will be built and renovated to; find out what’s involved. Plus tips on a range of wall build types and general considerations for the floor and roof. This Victorian home in Co Dublin shows the challenges involved in achieving an energy upgrade on a building that has so much character!



SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Talking turkey… with your plumber


Ireland’s first timber kit house? Case Study


If you don’t know your bushing from your elbow, check out our heating and plumbing jargon buster.

This unusual bungalow was built at the end of the 19th Century; its renovation was surprisingly straightforward for such an old building where the original timber frame structure is still intact.

In search of excellence Case Study


Does it warrant a warranty?


Hours of fun


Eye on Ireland


City living may be stylish but it does bring along with it space constraints. Find out what the MacAllisters did in Belfast to tackle the problem.

108 What the planners want… when you’re eco-renovating


The planning permissions you will need if you want to insulate or install a renewable energy system in your home.

Putting your back into it

What’s involved in a biomass backboiler installation.


Wood as fuel: Grow it, burn it 78 If you’re looking for a hobby that pays dividends, why not consider forestry? Here’s what you need to know before you get started.

Getting to grips with toy chaos 84 Storage solutions for your little ones’ playthings and general ‘stuff’.

Garden travels

Fiann Ó Nualláin shares his tips on providing passage in your garden and ponders your boundary wall options.


Self-build warranties aren’t an obligation but they are an important tool in hedging risk.

Time to get your hands dirty and build a table that can store all of your children’s Lego blocks (most of them!). What’s been happening that’s essential knowledge for anyone building or improving a home.

Between the covers Book review 125 A Frank Llyod Wright anthology by Taschen and a poster-style, site-friendly guide to house building.

Advertiser Index


Plug and heat Comment


Notice board


How to contact the companies appearing in this issue. Goodbye boiler, hello district heating! Product and industry news from the world of self-building and home improvement.

98 8 8

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



ROI’S BUILDING CONTROL AUTHORITIES are now asking you to make a choice between getting your house fully certified through the statutory process or taking responsibility to keep on top of quality control yourself…

The Department said in its report on the consultation process that “the question of cost is central to consideration of this issue.” Professional fees being charged for statutory certification were deemed excessively high in some instances. By opting out you don’t have to get the design or the construction certified by a building professional, and therefore don’t have to pay the fees associated to those services. Your obligations

Regardless of whether you opt in or out of the certification requirements of the building control regulations, when building new or extending beyond 40sqm, you will need to: l Comply with the Building Regulations: you need to follow the Technical Guidance Documents. l Comply with the Health and Safety Regulations: you must appoint a Project Supervisor for the Design and Construction stages (you can nominate yourself but only if you are competent to do so) and follow the H&S plans they produce. l Comply with Planning law: file necessary documentation with your local authority including planning application with ancillary documentation. Once planning permission is granted, you must file a commencement notice (30€ fee) within a certain delay on the Building Control Management System (BCMS). l Appoint people who are competent to work on your home building project, taking every necessary step to ensure a quality build. This includes architects, engineers and builders. l Liaise with banks (in case of mortgage) and insurance companies; they may require that you get the building signed off at certain stages as part of their standard procedures.

However this means that you lose the benefit of having a professional officially sign off on the various stages of the building works; it’s also not clear how it will affect real estate, i.e. whether it will devalue your house as compared to a statute-book certified home built in the same year (only time will tell). If you ‘opt out’ you can of course still hire a building professional to oversee the works; they just won’t lodge statutory certificates with Building Control but they can sign off on the various stages for bank purposes, for example. Also, if you’ve opted out and you want to sell your house your solicitor is likely to look for certificate of compliance; as there won’t be one an opinion of compliance will probably have to be issued by a building professional as was the case on all houses before the first amendment to the building control regulations came into force in March 2014.

overseen by the assigned certifier. If you ‘opt out’ there is no need to have professionals on site but you must of course still abide to the Building Regulations. If you choose to go down the direct labour route, you must hire individual tradesmen you are satisfied are competent to do the job*. In both cases it’s recommended to follow the Sample Preliminary Inspection Plan for Single Dwellings published by the Department of the Environment. This sets out the stages to go through when building a one-off house.


If you ‘opt in’ you’ll be appointing an assigned designer and an assigned certifier; they will be the ones to lodge documentation onto the building control management system (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; 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 Department of the Environment has signalled that while a stronger onsite presence from Building Control is necessary, it will not be taking place on all new builds. The legislation states that responsibility to build a house to the building regulations lies with the homeowner. The Department has indicated a target of 15% inspections on one-off houses that opt out of the certification process. According to building professionals, the current figure seems to apparently be very close to zero. The focus now is on training the building control officers as to what their job actually entails; as pointed out by a stakeholder at the SelfBuild & Improve Your Home show in Citywest in September (referring to commercial projects), building control officers don’t tend to check on every aspect of the building regulations when they do carry out inspections. n

Direct labour options

Astrid Madsen

Administrative procedures

If you ‘opt in’ you could appoint yourself as the builder and sign all documents that the builder normally would. You must hire individual tradesmen you are satisfied are competent to do the job*. This would allow you to go down the direct labour route but have the work

Intro – New ROI Building Control Regulations

In or out?

Required reading: Available under the Building Standards section of the website is a homeowner’s guide to the new regulations and the Sample Preliminary Inspection Plan for Single Dwellings.

* A statutory builder’s register called CIRI is in the works; at this stage it will probably be put into place in 2016. Once it becomes mandatory (when legislation is passed) all builders and tradesmen, bar the professions that have separate statutory accreditation, e.g. electricians, will have to be registered on CIRI. Those who aren’t will be committing an offense. CIRI is currently operating but runs on a voluntary basis, see



THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION and the way in which it has completely transformed most of our lives, at least to some degree, has rather overshadowed another revolution that affects everyone; the cost of energy. In the course of a similar time period, energy has gone from being cheap and plentiful to expensive and a dwindling resource. From barely a consideration when designing or building a house, it is now a critical factor in both of these. The possibility of flexibility in the design to take advantage of the best views for example, or configure the floor plan to

better reflect the way you live, is the ideal. Combining these with virtually no energy requirement is the concept of ‘Nearly Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB)’; it’s one that will appeal to many readers. Even better, you can visit, for free, the results! The third NZEB Open Doors Day takes place on the 13,14 and 15 November 2015 to visit properties throughout ROI and booking opens in mid October at . The website contains data on each one and in some cases a technical summary is available at the property for you to view. You should allow 1- 1.5 hours for each visit to enable you to discuss any points of interest with owners, architects and builders. Although not every home will be exactly at the standard set for NZEB building in Ireland (45kWh/sqm/yr, an A2 rating), most will be close to it and will feature many examples of high specification insulation, glazing and the latest heating and ventilation technologies. There are also deep retrofit projects on view. Mark the dates in your diary and book your tour at or for more information or telephone Michael Hanratty of IHER Energy Services, IDA Unit 14, Newmarket, Co Dublin on 01 454 8300

On the boil A WOOD PELLET BOILER is now very much one of the main options for providing hot water and space heating. Making this choice even easier for selfbuilders in NI are boiler manufacturer Grant NI who have just launched their Grant Eco-scheme. This is an incentive providing £1,500 towards the cost of a new boiler and is in addition to the £2,500 available under the NI Government’s RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) scheme, for purchases of the Grant Spira condensing wood pellet boiler. As well as this ‘golden hello’, the RHI scheme provides ongoing payments for up to seven years based on the potential heat demand. The boiler is floor mounted and fits into a garage or store room and is available from a wide range of plumbing and heating merchants. Details and qualifying conditions for both schemes can be found on tel. 0800 279 4796 and

Golfer Louise Wilkinson helps to officially launch the new Grant NI Eco-Scheme at the recent Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle.

Getting to grips with the launch of the Grant Ecoscheme at the recent Northern Ireland Open at Galgorm Castle are Ross Oliver, Assistant Pro, Galgorm Castle Golf Club (right) and Mark Eccles, Grant NI.

Join the smart set

Stop Press

When less is best

DO YOU LIVE IN AN OLDER PROPERTY and wish you had the energy saving heating of newer homes? JG Speedfit may well have the answer with the launch of the JG Aura wireless thermostatic radiator valve (TRV). Designed for use with radiators and controlled wirelessly by a thermostat in every room, you can adjust individual room temperatures, wherever you are. The app, compatible with iOS, Android and Windows users, gives remote control with internet access via a phone, PC or tablet to turn the boiler on or off. Suitable for new builds also, installation is quick and easy. If an existing TRV doesn’t need replacing, all that is required is a few hours or less to fit the wireless controller and boiler receiver; the wireless coordinator simply plugs into the main power socket. The room thermostat is accurate to within 0.5 degC of the overall room temperature and the system is suitable for all forms of heating. It’s also flexible as you can alter the temperature of the thermostat via the app. It’s all available from a wide range of stockists (Builders’ Merchants, DIY stores, online) or contact JG Speedfit, Horton Road, West Drayton UB7 8JL tel. 01895 449233




Your walls, windows, everything gets supersized. This of course has knock on effects, especially structural. Triple glazed windows are much heavier! At first we didn’t appreciate all of these unintended consequences, we were just thinking zero carbon is great, let’s do it.

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

No pain no gain A few months into their self-build Sinead and Jonathan Willox of Co Tyrone decided to go zero energy, but was it worth it?


hen you’re building your own house it’s quite fascinating – not to mention frustrating! – to see the knock-on effects one decision can have. The choice of a certain type of finish will dictate what goes beneath, for example. In the Willox’s case it went much further than that: they chose to build their house to require no energy input for space heating, hot water or electricity. The decision was made all the more difficult in that they’d originally drawn up a standard design, which had to be adapted. “It was a challenge and commitment for our architect and builder. They were the ones through conversation to propose the idea, when Jonathan and I were talking about wanting the house to be reasonably economical from an electricity point of view.” According to Sinead, this was the second zero carbon home to be built in NI. “It entailed more than we’d bargained for!”

The low carb diet

The main difference with other building types, says Sinead, is that everything has to be specified to be much thicker. “Your walls, windows, everything gets supersized. This of course has knock on effects, especially structural. Triple glazed windows are much heavier! At first we didn’t appreciate all of these unintended consequences, we were just thinking zero carbon is great, let’s do it!” „

More photographs available at


case study

in the country is a great feeling, you’re in this rural landscape, you feel a part of it but at the same time you’re cocooned.” For hot water they also chose solar energy and as the house is extremely well insulated and airtight, they opted for heat recovery ventilation to supply them with fresh air. Two units were required due to the layout of the house, which had the added benefit of cutting down on noise as compared to installing a single unit. “If we were going to do it, we knew it had to work right. We went all in!”


Above and right: The balcony was insulated from the top. Below: The solar panels are south facing; photovoltaic on garage (for electricity) and thermal on main house (for hot water)


“We really didn’t want to have to use any electricity, gas or oil if we could help it, so it took us a while to decide on what mechanisms to adopt. We knew we wanted underfloor heating but that was the extent of it! Even though it’s more expensive we really didn’t want radiators.” “We looked at our green energy options and chose to go with an air source heat pump. This had the effect of requiring electricity so we had to decide on a method of generating it.” “We chose photovoltaic panels for solar electricity; it’ll take a lifetime to get our money back but at least we’re one step ahead, we can go offgrid and be fully independent. It’s a way of future proofing the house.” Of course to require the minimum amount of energy input, the house had to be well insulated and airtight but also positioned to take advantage of the sun. And so they’ve strategically placed glazing all around the house to make the most of the solar gain. “All of our external doors are glass, and we have a lot of windows,” says Sinead. “With two year olds running around with mucky hands that’s a lot to clean!” “A great side effect is the extent to which it cuts out noise, you don’t even hear the wind. Being out

Jonathan and Sinead were living in England when Sinead’s mum offered them land to build on in Ireland. “At the time we had no grand plans to do anything with it,” recalls Sinead. “We just thought ‘let’s have a look’ and consulted with architects to see what we could do.” “Moving back was always a case of when, not if. And if we were to start a new life we needed to think about the project seriously so we came over to Ireland to move things along. We met with four or five architects, and the one we ended up choosing was young and had just set up his practice; he had lots of ideas, we felt he had the right energy and passion for the job, especially as we would be abroad for most of the time. The others were quite conventional.” This was in 2009; planning permission was sought and granted. “At this point we decided to put in foundations. We felt it gave us a certain amount of time before we had to do anything.” Years went by and at the end of 2012 Sinead and Jonathan were expecting their first child (children – they had twins!), a common reason to speed up any kind of decision making process… “We were facing a big change to our lifestyle, starting a new life on the other side of the Irish Sea, and as we knew we’d be building a family home, we knew we wouldn’t want to move again. We wanted it to be able to adapt to our needs as required,” explains Sinead. In terms of design, top of the wish list was to have an open, modern and large living area. “The communal and social element is important to us,” she says. The size of the house in large part hinged on what kind of consent they could get from the planners. “We initially asked to build a two storey house but that was rejected, they only really „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



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case study

Cost In this purpose built family home, cleaning the windows is a regular occurrence!


wanted a bungalow,” adds Sinead. “They granted us a storey and a half so we worked along lines of cutting out the roof space. We still have the height and the design is roughly the same with a bathroom upstairs and down. We also have walk-in wardrobes throughout.” “There were however restrictions on where we could build; we would have liked to be situated along the drive coming down the hill but they asked us to build nearer the top of the slope. I’m not sure why as there’s nothing facing us and you can’t see anything from the road.” There were other conditions such as the distance from which the house had to be located in relation to existing boundaries.

“In terms of cost we were slightly ahead in that we had the foundations in, so were able to save in the intervening years.” They were however under pressure to start the build before their self-build mortgage approval lapsed. “We went through a brief tender stage; everybody came back to us but most didn’t provide any detail on how they came to the price they quoted. Stephen wasn’t the most expensive but he was the one who provided the most detail, breaking down every element. He really thought of everything, the others simply didn’t.” “We met him and had a good rapport; he has twins, as do we, so that clinched the deal!” At the time the couple were living in England so most of the on-site communication was done online. “At first it started with emails, then moved on to videocams. We were in regular contact up until „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


case study Some things can’t be rushed, says Sinead, such as the tiling.


plastering; at that stage it became apparent we really needed to be on site to make decisions.” “The architect would send on lots of pictures, as he was in charge, signing off the stages,” adds Sinead. “He was quite ruthless, if he didn’t agree with something, if he thought it should be better, he would make sure it got sorted.” Despite being far away they didn’t worry about how thing were going. “My mum had just retired and our builder told us we certainly wouldn’t need security with her around!” To be able to lock away materials, they got the garage built first. The first year was a slow process, relates Sinead. “It was a real challenge and required a commitment from our builder, who was following the original architectural drawings that didn’t take into account the zero carbon challenge. The architect and builder had weekly on-site meetings to iron it out.” “The airtightness was particularly important and not that easy to achieve, especially when the design and layout is not uniform in shape with a lot of angles, dormers and a balcony! We had to do some fine tuning but the final test was passed.” In fact the builder found it especially challenging to insulate and make airtight the external balcony, which is above the kitchen and protrudes 1.5m from the house’s footprint. Part of the first floor wall is supported by a steel beam which spans 8m across the kitchen; the concrete slab balcony runs from the external wall of the kitchen back onto the beam. The balcony effectively acts as a flat roof and was insulated to warm roof specifications, the difference here is that it was insulated from the outside, on top of the slab. They had to ensure all nooks and crannies where the balcony slab and first floor wall met the beam were filled with foam to limit thermal bridging and air leakage. They also had to pay special attention to the damp proof course of the wall just above the beam, ensuring it was lapped

and taped with the damp proof membrane of the balcony. “At first the work was done at a relaxed pace, as we couldn’t always get there the next day if they needed us on site,” says Sinead. “We could usually make it in a few weeks but that made things drag on a bit. We flew over to meet the electrician and choose the location of sockets, to visit manufacturers for the windows and doors, also to make a decision on the fixtures and fittings. Things like that.” There was also the issue of choosing the stone for the kitchen, and finishes such as the ceiling in the front room. “We were asked if we wanted to finish the apex with the beams still visible or if we wanted them concealed. It was impossible to make that kind of a decision without being there.” At this stage the move to Ireland materialised, and they arrived in August 2013. “Our girls were born in May and they spent their first six months in England, after that we decided to be closer to the build to get things moving faster. We lived at mum’s house until mid-December, which is when we moved in. Because we wanted to be in by Christmas it was a bit of a rush at the end with things like tiling!” “We had to put on a lot of pressure; we really didn’t appreciate the amount of work that goes into finishing off a house.” As a result of the tight build schedule, they had to change their tiler halfway through the project because he couldn’t commit to finishing it on time. “You can’t rush these things,” she laments. “The „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study Jonathan and Sinead have found that in their house, winter heating is optimal at 19 degC. Clockwise from top: air source heat pump, solar hot water cylinder and underfloor heating manifolds, indoor heat pump equipment with solar buffer tank


tilers we ended up choosing weren’t nearly as good at our original, he really was excellent. We should have waited!” Hindsight is 20/20!

Proof is in the pudding

From the zero carbon point of view, Sinead says they’re still learning. “As the systems we installed are interconnected, between electricity, water, controlling rooms, it’s definitely been a learning process,” she says. “We had to get to know our home, the different rooms, how much heat we needed in each and what happens when the temperature drops.” “We’ve been in two years now, and we’re just beginning to fully comprehend how it works; there’s water pressure to consider and the heat level to minimise electricity consumption. We’ve been tweaking the temperature and have come to a happy medium, in winter, at 19 degC. It was a question of achieving a level that feels natural and that doesn’t cost too much to reach with the heat pump.” “From April to October there’s no heating at all and the front room is 22 degC. When winter rears its head, we turn the system back on; it takes four or five days to get to temperature.” They are selling their excess electricity to the grid, in the form of ROCs (Renewable Obligation Certificates). “Our electricity supplier bills us as if we didn’t have the solar panels and at the end of the year they give us our money back. The first year we paid a lot, despite the panels, which is why we were so focused on fine tuning the system. I think we’ve finally figured it out!” The hot water solar panels have, for their part, surpassed their expectations. “We’ve had absolutely no problems, I was quite surprised as I wasn’t so sure about that element. When we have people staying, we just boost the hot water with the „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


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case study

Airtightness result: 1.7m3/h.sqm Build cost: £278,000 Total cost: £350,000

Build spec

immersion.” The heat recovery system is also working out better than expected. “It has an added benefit in that you get no odours when you’re cooking.” Peace of mind came to them from the quality of products they installed. “In the first year if we had any problems the suppliers came straight out to help us make tweaks to the systems.” But the house, as most self-build houses, still isn’t completely finished. “We have rooms upstairs to tile, decorate, you name it! It’s been a project that reflects the programmes you see on TV – it was a slow process and we did what we could based on what we could afford.” Overall, Sinead couldn’t be happier with the finished product. “It is great, I’m delighted we did it. It took us a while to get used to but it was well worth the effort.” n Astrid Madsen Plot size: 4 acres, house set in ¾ acres House size: 3,500 sqft + 500 sqft garage EPC: 97 (A)

Floor: solid sandwich floor of 100mm Sand/ Cement Fibre Screed on 25mm PIR insulation on 150mm reinforced concrete slab on 125mm PIR on damp proof membrane jointed to DPC with airtight tape on internal skin. U-Value 0.10 W/ sqmK Walls: 150mm cavity concrete block wall with full fill tongue and groove EPS cavity board. U-value 0.17 W/sqmK Roof: As living area cut into loft space, roof specification made up of 400mm mineral wool to main ceilings and all sloping ceilings and dormers made up of 120mm PIR insulation between 170mm thick rafters with 62.5mm insulated plasterboard (50mm phenolic insulation) mechanically fixed to underside of rafters. Airtight tape used to all joints in plasterboard and where plasterboard meets blockwork prior to plastering. U-value 0.16 W/sqmK External balcony: from bottom to top 100mm concrete slab with 50 mm sand/cement screed laid to fall to each gutter outlet at the two ends of the balcony. DPC laid across the entire deck and bonded to wall DPC. 125mm PIR board laid on top of membrane with 25mm marine ply on top, all mechanically fixed to slab.  150mm insulation upstand with 25mm PIR board to wall fixed around perimeter of parapet wall and first floor wall at 90deg to the balcony deck. Liquid covering then applied to plywood and up the 25mm insulation board, then lead flashing of the four walls dressed over the 150mm upstand to make watertight. U-value 0.17 W/sqmK Windows: 44mm triple glazed units made up of two 16mm argon gas filled cavities which consisted of two panes of very low emissivity (0.01) soft coat glass. Thermally efficient spacer bars and thermal barrier around entire glazing area. Insulating foam also with outer frame chambers to give a total window U-Value of 0.8W/sqmK.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Builder Stephen Mulligan, Forthill Design & Development, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, tel. 867 58928,,, ForthillBuilders Architect Damien Teague, Belfast, mobile 077 6588 2487, Stairs/Balcony MacSpec, Ballynahinch, Co Down, tel. 9756 2591, Renewables Green Energy Technology, Craigavon, Co Armagh, tel. 3888 1228, Tiles and bathroom BJ Mullen, Moy, Co Tyrone, tel. 8778 4357,

Insulation Kingspan Insulation (floor Thermafloor TF70, sloping roofs Kingspan Thermapitch and Kingspan K18, Platinum Fulfil Cavity Board with Neopor graphite component for the cavity wall insulation) and Knauf Insulation (living room roof Earthwool loft roll) Heat Recovery System and airtightness tests Atlantic Air, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, tel. 8675 1025, Stone to balcony and internal gable wall of sun room Coolestone, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 8774 6274, Electrician Anthony McNally, Stewartstown, Co Tyrone, mobile 07798 732 816

Plumber Heatwaves NI, Banbridge, Co Down, tel. 4066 9639, Concrete products Barretts Concrete, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 3754 8646 General building products Simpsons Builders Centre, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, tel. 8676 2211 Lead cladding to dormers Bovill Lead Ltd, Toomebridge, tel. 2587 8305, Wood burning Cassette stove and slate internal cills PM Fireplaces, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 8772 5212, Photographer Paul Lindsay

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SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


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SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

East side story Jim and Nellie Morris’ story is peppered with familiar Irish self-building themes: the recession, building to passive house standards, planning issues and an ever expanding family…


hen we first considered becoming homeowners, house prices in Co Kildare were through the roof,” recalls Jim Morris of Co Kildare. “This was at the end of 2006, early 2007, and we really couldn’t find anything special, definitely nothing offering value for money. So we decided to self-build.” When Nellie’s parents gave them the opportunity to build in their front garden, they started by looking at possible designs. “One in particular caught Nellie’s eye, the German PassivHaus methodology, at the time there weren’t many companies with that offering.” A ‘passive house’ is laid out to make the most of solar gain (south facing living areas with large windows), is airtight and insulated to the point that it requires very little space heating, a stove usually suffices. It must also be equipped with a heat recovery ventilation system.

Best laid plans

“The idea appealed to us, the concept made sense, and we thought we might as well build the house to passive standard if we could,” continues Jim. “We chose a German company that had built one or two houses in Ireland; we flew to the factory where their houses were prefabricated, and used an architectural practice they’d partnered with.” But when the time came to submit their application to the planners, they came across some issues. „

More photographs available at



“The council was twitchy about the location of the house as it’s within the town,” says Jim. “We ended up having to appeal to An Bord Pleanála and finally gained approval. In total it took us about three years to process, which was right on time for the recession to hit!” “We then struggled to get mortgage approval from the bank and the German company went bust. But we didn’t give up that easily!” They spoke to another turnkey PassivHaus manufacturer with plenty of experience building to this standard in Ireland. “We’d been in touch with them initially but at the time had felt their designs were quite standard,” says Jim. “We actually found that they were able to slightly modify one of their models to what we planned to build and to suit their construction methods.” By the time they got quotations in, processed them and managed to convince the banks they were loan worthy, Nellie and Jim were well into the year 2011. “In May we sorted the contracts and started groundworks in August.” The PassivHaus foundations were laid by their turnkey provider. The kit delivery from the Swedish factory then arrived in September and by the end of the first day the ground floor walls and upper floors were laid; by 10am on the second day the roof trusses were in. “We were meant to be weather tight by the second day but due to wind we were delayed by 24 hours.” The fitting out was done by the same company. “Their electrician and plumber were familiar with the kit, which was an advantage,” adds Jim. “In total it took a few months to put together and we were in before Christmas.”

In winter with a newborn… and no heating!

“Our first child was six months old when we moved in,” recalls Jim. “I felt a bit apprehensive to be moving in the middle of winter with no heating but it never actually gets cold.” Sometimes it gets cool, at which point they turn on the stove in the sitting room, a couple of hours is generally enough. “The rest of the house gradually warms up.” The wood burning stove is complemented by „


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

electric underfloor heating in the bathrooms to make the tiles feel warm. The hot water solar panels supplies them with 60 per cent of their needs whilst the electric immersion picks up the slack. “Our bills on average are €105 per month, since we cook with electricity we have no gas bills (induction is able to deliver roughly 80 to 90 percent of its electromagnetic energy to the food in the pan, compared to gas, which converts a mere 38 per cent of its energy) and of course no oil supply,” adds Jim. “In every aspect the house surpassed our expectations.” The timber frame arrived pre-insulated from the factory and all of the untreated offcuts were left on site for the family to use in their stove. “We have about a couple of pallets left over and I’d say from the rate at which we’ve been using them there’s plenty for another few years.” Over an average of four months of winter in „

The pine floor was oiled with a white pigment to prevent it from turning yellow.


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

any given year, Jim says he lights the stove once every three days. “The lowest outdoor temp we’ve had to date is -5 degC and even then we didn’t have to light the stove every day,” he says. An unexpected bonus has to do with the ventilation system, which gathers the heat from the extracted stale warm air from the ‘wet’ rooms to preheat the fresh incoming air. “As the damp air is constantly extracted in the utility room, there’s nothing easier than drying clothes! We have a pullymaid rack suspended from the ceiling.”

get an electrical plan drawn up. “A friend of ours is a vet and when she moved into new premises, she told us the best decision she’d made was to hire an interior designer to look into her lighting scheme. We did the same and gave them the plans, and on that basis they suggested where to put switches and sockets and of course they specified all of the lights.” “We tried to use low energy lighting where „

Jim and Nellie employed an interior designer to devise a lighting schedule which they say was well worth the couple hundred euros it cost them.

Home for life

When Jim and Nellie designed their home, they didn’t have children but the possibility was at the back of their minds. “We thought, if we build a house in this particular location it will have to be a home for life. We decided four bedrooms would give us a nice size if we eventually had kids. We are now married and have two!” As for the style, they opted for a classic Scandinavian look with timber flooring throughout. “We have timber window surrounds and reveals too,” adds Jim. “We were going for a nice clean look and the result is very tactile.” The pine floor was oiled with a white pigment to stop it from going yellow. “To complement the scheme, the kitchen has an off-white cream gloss finish and wooden worktops. It opens up to the dining room, which is great for entertaining but also for kids running around. No one feels shut off.” Jim and Nellie employed an interior designer to


case study

agree.” For those who are considering a passive house, he warns of… overheating! “The building fabric will keep you warm in winter but you have to be careful not to let it get too warm in summer,” he says. “On the hottest day last summer we had 29 degC in parts of the house, to us it never felt uncomfortable.” “Under the PassivHaus standard up to 10 per cent of the time over 25 degC is not overheating but everyone has different comfort levels. We currently have no shading over our south facing windows, which is the recommended procedure to avoid this,” added Jim, who hopes to eventually fit solar shading or brise soleil over these so that the summer sun is blocked out but the full winter sun, which is lower in the sky, can get in. “So on very hot days in the summer, we just leave a couple of the windows and doors open; we enjoy it while we can!” n The solar panels provide 60 per cent of their hot water needs.

we could, for instance the spotlights are LED downstairs. We also went for a layered look; in the open plan area there are three pull down lights over the dining table as well as spots and lights in the hood above the cooker.” When the electrician came around, he was delighted to get the plans. “It avoids all confusion and was well worth the couple of hundred euros it cost us; if it hadn’t been for that I know we would have been in a panic choosing lights and sockets at the last minute!”


“Back when we were building the rule of thumb was that passive house building added 10 per cent more to the cost of a standard house but nowadays with the new building regulations it doesn’t cost much more. The main factor to get right is attention to detail and that holds true to this day.” The building method is so appealing that local authorities around the country are looking at making it their new house building standard. “When you see Dun Laoghaire Rathdown, Dublin City Council and Kildare County Council all leaning towards passive house, it makes you realise it’s got merit. It’s relatively simple to follow which is why I think it’s had so much success,” opines Jim. “Disappointingly the current government doesn’t

Astrid Madsen House size: 165 sqm Plot size: 580 sqm

Build spec

Wall build up from inside: 13mm plasterboard on 45x70mm studs filled with 70mm mineral wool, layered with another 120mm mineral wool, 13mm plasterboard on 45x145mm studs filled with 145mm mineral wool, 9mm hardboard. Ventilated facade: 28mm airgap, 15mm cement-fibre board with maintenance free coloured through silicate render. U-value 0.11 W/sqmK Floor build up: 22mm stone tiles on 2mm cork mat on 120mm powerfloated concrete over 280mm polystyrene insulation with 75mm expanded polystyrene and 60mm special insulated baseunits with 140mm polyurethane around the circumference, 300mm rubble base. U-value 0.13 W/sqmK Roof build up: concrete roof tiles on 28mm battens and 22mm counterbattens, roofing felt, 17mm timber sarking on roof trusses spaced at 1.2m, 700mm blow-in cellulose insulation on top and between 220x45mm joists. U-value 0.06 W/sqmK Windows: timber sash and fixed, triple glazed, argon filled, double low-e coating, alu-clad , overall U-value 1.2 W/sqmK

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect/Timber frame kit Scandinavian Homes, Moycullen, Co Galway, tel. 091 555 808, Fit-out Flaherty & Goaley Construction, Corrandulla, Co Galway, mobile 087 8301250/087 6387967, Glazing Scandinavian Homes using NorDan Norwegian windows, Dublin 12, tel. 01 4600210,

Ventilation Paul Heat Recovery Scotland, model: Novus 300 Wood burning stove Jydepejsen, model: Zeus,, supplied by Scandinavian Homes Solar panels Joule, 2 x 20 tube Acapella heat pipe evacuated tubes with 400L tank, Dublin 10, tel. 01 623 7080, Photographer Dermot Byrne

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SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Buying a fixer-upper Hidden potential Storyboard of a house in Co Cork that underwent a whole house refurbishment. Above is the kitchen before and after: partition wall and pier between windows was removed; larger, triple glazed windows were installed to airtight standard. External cavity walls filled with EPS insulation.

Project transformation Few endeavours give more satisfaction that taking a rundown property and transforming it into a home, but don’t just rely on instinct when buying a fixer upper...


ipe for refurbishment”. “In need of a sympathetic upgrade”. “With potential to extend”. “Would benefit from some modernisation”. “Will make a wonderful home”. “Offers wonderful potential”. “Is essentially in good condition, but…” These are just some of the ways estate agents describe what is sometimes known as a “fixerupper” – a house for sale that will need work to be made liveable. Houses like these probably attract three types of buyer, with three distinct mind sets. First is the quasi-investor – as seen on TV property shows – looking to scrub a place up and ‘flip it’ for a quick and easy profit (or so they hope). Second is the pragmatic or reluctant refurbisher, someone who might not particularly want to take on a project but who has an eye for a bargain, or sees that the walk-in option in their price range or preferred location is not going to materialise.


Third is the dreamer who positively wants to get his/her hands on a wreck and transform it. A positive, optimistic soul more focused on the potential that a house has than on its obvious drawbacks. In reality, the purchaser of a house-in-needof-refurbishment-or-extension probably needs a mix of all three; you mightn’t be refurbishing with a view to profit but you don’t want to devalue the property or invest in an element that doesn’t provide enough value, either ‘in use’ or in some future sale. At the other end, most of us display the ability to imagine our dream house, and to enjoy the daydream. And we all have a streak of that middle mind set of thrift and pragmatism – sometimes more than is good for us. If you are reading this because you have bought or are thinking of buying a fixer-upper, the first step is to recognise where the balance lies in your own mind between these three approaches. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

When you start assessing the house, hopefully before but also after the purchase, a few universally important considerations need to be taken into account. One is your time frame: how long do you anticipate living in the house for, and what is it in your circumstances that would make you move? Two is your money, both for the purchase and the subsequent work: how much is available, where does it come from, what conditions are on it, and what will it buy? These two are related; you won’t want to pour big money into a five-year house. Next is how you want to live: how much space do you need and how would you like to use it, including some predictions on your future needs. Then there is the potential of the house itself, what are its good points and opportunities? And last but by no means least there are the potential pitfalls – obvious and hidden disadvantages and things that need to be fixed. When you sit and think for a minute about how much there is to consider in that last paragraph, it’s amazing that the decision to make an offer on a house can be made on the basis of one or two short viewings, almost entirely on instinct, especially as regards two key aspects: the cost of doing it up and the potential it has to work in some new or extended configuration. The points below might serve as a bit of a checklist wakeup call before you let your subconscious make any quick decisions…

“In need of some modernisation”…the structural survey

The list of things to be fixed should be dealt with by the condition survey, commonly but incorrectly referred to as the structural survey. The best of these will be very thorough. They will itemise what needs to be done, give reasons why, prioritise, and put ballpark costs against them – or at least be detailed enough that a builder could do so. Remember, you don’t have to renovate the entire house in one go. So if you’re on a budget it’s a good idea to ask the surveyor to break down the work into three stages: what has to be done immediately, within the next five years and what is likely to be required over the next 10 years plus. The more cursory surveys limit themselves to answering the question “is it going to fall down?” and sometimes they do a poor job of being clear even about that! A good condition survey is essential, but even a thorough one is restricted to assessing what’s there – it doesn’t pick up on the possible issues that might come up for a house that is being purchased with the aim of having significant work done on it. An example might be a crack that is seen and assessed as being stable but that might not be accurate if that area is one where a new opening is needed and thus have an undermining effect.

Another example would be where a previous extension might have been decently built, but badly planned – condition surveys don’t comment on that kind of disadvantage and it’s amazing how a badly planned addition can tie your hands, unless the budget is there to get rid of it. In that sense it’s almost better if it’s badly built as well – then you won’t feel too bad about knocking it down! Condition surveys also don’t generally indicate which internal walls are loadbearing and the old staple of knocking on walls basically tells you nothing – you often get structural walls that sound hollow because of how they were plastered for example. And while the survey might comment on how sound the roof structure is, they often don’t comment on how easy or difficult it might be to convert that attic space (there exist both technical and regulatory issues to consider). One last thing to be aware of in relation to the condition survey is that where the house is old, and of traditional construction, then the survey should acknowledge this, and not be just a list of how many ways the old construction doesn’t meet current building regulations. Not everything about an old house can or should be brought up to current standards – some forms of traditional and modern construction are simply incompatible, and mixing them can do unanticipated damage. So if the house is old then advice from someone with traditional building experience is essential.

Buying a fixer-upper

What to think about, in a nutshell

Changes made to the front room are the same as for the kitchen with partition wall removed; the flat roof was also insulated with mineral wool and vapour control barrier.

“Will make a lovely home”… one size doesn’t fit all

The spin of estate agent description knows few bounds (buyer beware!). Better to park it and evaluate the house in real terms instead of as advertised. The two aspects that I often find misleading are ensuites that are a feature on paper, but of no use in real life, and box bedrooms – often too small to use as such*. „

*A box room generally refers to a single bedroom, slightly less than 8’ / 2.4m wide and about as long. Often losing some floor space to provide headroom to the stairs, these room can make fitting a single bed awkward.



“A unique opportunity to invest”… budget considerations

The question of the budget is complicated on projects like this because of the balance between the purchase part and the refurbishment that comes afterwards. The two interact and probably the mix is quite fluid during the house-hunting phase, as properties that need more or less work are compared with each other and assessed against the mortgage offer and any other funds. Build costs are really something that only a professional can make an off the paper estimate of, lay people’s projections are invariably overoptimistic with an unrealistic view of what can be done within their budget. Also, too much tends to

Buying a fixer-upper

There is a campaign in the UK to have houses advertised by area rather than number of bedrooms, and that is something that would be very useful, not least because once people have bought, say, a 3-bed, even when the third bedroom is useless, they are reluctant to get rid of it because of the effect on resale value. I’ve noticed that people in similar circumstances can live happily in very different amounts of space, but it does make sense to get your head around how much you think you need – based on where you live now, on houses you’ve lived in in the past, family, friends and relatives’ houses etc. While trying not to become a square footage bore in the process of course! While smaller houses have less fabric to maintain and can be cheaper to heat, you must also consider the layout and exposure. For instance a two storey mid terrace benefits from party walls and even though it has the same square footage as a bungalow, the bungalow has a bigger footprint and all walls exposed to the elements. Moving beyond size to layout, one big thing to think about (and one that many old and even recent houses don’t cater for) is the type of space you want to live in. How open-plan would you like the house to be and do you see yourself using a kitchen that’s functional and self-contained, big and central, seamlessly integrated into a bigger living area? These are all important aspects to be factored in. Do you want a separate space to escape from a more bustling living area, and if so does it need to be big or can it be cosy? Do all bedrooms need to be on the same level? Do you need a bedroom at ground level – for yourself or family visitors? Do you need to add practical spaces to the house – another bedroom, a playroom, a utility space, a downstairs bathroom, a home office area? And don’t neglect the need for storage – which becomes more important the smaller the house is. It can be easy to be won over by a house having attractive spaces (or spaces you can imagine being made attractive). It can sometimes take a conscious effort to go back to the checklist of what you need, especially on the mundane side, and truthfully assess what the new house provides so you know what else you’ll have to create.

be left unmeasured when the offer is made. Clearly everyone’s circumstances are different, but usually this type of comprehensive refurbishment project is one where bank money is going to fund the additional work, and that money is going to come with various conditions, one of which is going to be establishing how much your plans are going to cost and having that stated clearly. It also may involve the bank limiting the loan to a figure that’s less than the purchaser was hoping for. The reality of all of this in my experience is that the purchaser tends to make a very rough judgement call on the house, based largely on instinct. That judgement is often then tested by a bidding war for the house, where the purchase price creeps up to take more of the total fund, leaving a smaller pot of money for the refurbishment. If you are the intending purchaser of a house that might or might not go your way you may well be reluctant to spend the time and effort on getting a rough design, rough scope of work, and rough budget worked up – all of which will cost money. The total cost mightn’t be huge, but it is hard to part with money for something that is still speculative. A quantity surveyor, builder, or architect might be approached to advise briefly on the basis of costs per square metre for both refurbishment and for extension, and although those rates are extremely blunt, they might allow some rough comfort to be had. At the house-hunting phase it probably only takes one such study for one house to give you a sense of costs, and you can extrapolate for others. For peace of mind, add a 10 to 15 per cent contingency to the costs you were given.

To create the open plan area a steel structure was added to support the existing upper floor. Core team: Architect Paul McNally, Engineer James Kelly, Builder Finbarr Falvey, Insulation and airtightness products Niall Crosson

“Offers wonderful potential”… getting creative, plans in hand To finish, there is the aspect of the house that makes you forget for a while about the budget, „


Buying a fixer-upper

Current state of play


First time buyers are facing a shortage of homes suitable for them, so it’s little surprise many are turning their sights on fixer uppers. As there is still value to be found in the marketplace, this avenue offers great potential. However at the moment mortgage companies aren’t generally willing to facilitate stage payments or multiple mortgage drawdowns, which means that if the property is not in a habitable condition it will be difficult to secure a loan. As a first time buyer, therefore, check with your bank before you fall in love with a property that is in need of serious repair. As you’re probably already aware, location will have the largest impact on the property price – so when buying, remember that it will be easier to eventually sell if the house is in a desirable neighbourhood. However you need to bear in mind there is a relatively fixed price range for every area, even in sought-after ones. This dictates what the very cheapest property in the worst state of repair will sell for, and what the very best property in the best condition will fetch.  In other words, do not buy a fixer-upper thinking you cannot lose. Do not to make the mistake of thinking that any amount of money spent on renovation can make your house exceed the area’s price range because this simply doesn’t happen. I’ve come across a recent example in Dublin of homes on sale on the same street. They were at various stages of readiness; however this did not reflect the renovation costs. One house required approximately €75,000 to bring it to the standard of another that was selling for about €30,000 more. Finally, if you want to add value to your property when you’re renovating – employ a good architect! I understand that not every home buyer can afford to have one employed for the entire project, however it will be money well spent to pay for a consultation and a design-only service. This design can be handed over to the construction company who will ensure that the property is renovated to the optimum standard. The reason I say this is the difference between architectural touches or simply reconstructing the original home can be huge and when well executed will have an impact on the end value of your home. Carol Tallon

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. A&H Nicholson (Builders) Kilkeel, Co Down Tel: 4176 9397 CES Quarry Products Ltd (Floor Screed) Saintfield, Co Down Tel: 4176 2707 Contech (Suppliers of Tec7 products) Maynooth, Co Kildare Tel: 01 629 2963 Fast Floor Screed Ltd (Floor Screed) Enfield, Co Kildare Tel: 087 066 5239 Gyproc (Wallboard) Dublin Tel: 01 629 8400 Hannaway Hilltown (Kitchens, Bedrooms & Bathrooms) Hilltown, Co Down Tel: 4063 0737 Keylite (Roof windows) Cookstown, Co Tyrone Tel: 8676 2184 Perfect Water Systems Ireland Ltd (Water filters & testing) Charelville, Co Cork Tel: 063 89290

Roofblock (Masonry roof overhang) Newtownards, Co Down Tel: 9181 8285 RTU (Ultraflo screed, Exposa decorative concrete) Newtownabbey, Co Antrim Tel: 9085 1441 Soaks Bathrooms (Bathrooms) Belfast Tel: 9068 1121 Schneider Electric Ireland Ltd (Electrical components) Maynooth, Co Kildare Tel: 01 601 2200 Screwfix (Building Supplies) Nationwide Tel: 0500 41 41 41 Stira (Folding Attic Stairs) Dunmore, Co Galway Tel: 093 38055 Topps Tiles plc (tiles, stone & wood flooring) Nationwide Tel: 0116 2828 000 Xcel Products Ltd (supplying high-performance products for the construction, manufacturing and service sectors) Castlewellan, Co Down Tel: 0845 544 2156

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the list of repairs, the hassles, the practical requirements. When you look at a house that needs work, a lot of what you are looking for is potential. This is a creative impulse, even if you don’t usually consider yourself the creative type, as it is all about imagining something. Assessing the potential of a house does involve a great deal of instinct (again), but there are a few pointers that might help. The first one is the most basic – get the plan down on paper. Make sure you have a decent, drawn-to-scale set of plans of the house (and the site around it), ideally with the loadbearing and non-loadbearing walls indicated on them. The difference between an estate agent’s blueprints and the accurate measurements can be quite significant. The ‘real deal’ will be hugely useful to look at and play around with. Some of your preferences might be easily covered, but where they’re not you need to see if it makes more sense for you to rethink how you might do things based on what the house will lend itself to, rather than just ploughing through the place like a bulldozer. Give yourself some time to work this out. If you need to add space, be aware of any restrictions that might come into effect – limits on what you might get planning for, good parts of the layout that you don’t want to interfere with, etc. When you are in the house, identify what you feel are its sell out features. Where is the best daylight and what spaces benefit from it? How does it connect to the outdoors – do you need to open it up to make better connections or take account of views (sometimes even quite mundane views can be lovely if they are captured from the right places inside). Are there spaces that you wouldn’t want to change? Does it have original features or well worked aspects – they don’t have to be grand or old to have value, they just need to ‘work’. Most people have the ability to sense potential in general but not everyone can think spatially. Oftentimes if the solution isn’t obvious, we tend to be cautious. The first source of assistance to turn to is probably someone you know who is better at it than you are – a friend or a family member that you can bring to the house with you. For houses where it’s not likely that you’ll have to reinvent things too much then that’s probably enough at this early stage. But it can make sense to turn to the experts, especially if there is a big gap between what’s there now and what is needed to realise a house’s potential and make it work for you. The bottom line is, if you’re looking at a house for sale and you can’t quite visualise how to make it work, but you can’t let it go either, then that’s probably the point where it might be worth seeking some help. n Stephen Musiol MRIAI Small Spaces, 114 Parnell Road, Dublin 12, tel. 01 4547287, Additional information Carol Tallon, Buyers’ Brokers,, SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



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Heat loss through the fabric of a typically uninsulated building in Ireland

Roof 30%

Air Infiltration 10%

Wall 30%

Floors 20%

Windows and Doors 10% NSAI Retrofit Code of Practice, 2014

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Keeping warm can weigh heavily on the family budget; the good news is there are some low cost solutions that can help you tackle the problem.


n your home an energy source will always be required to generate heat, hot water and if you are making your own, electricity. Of course the best starting point is to reduce the need in the first place! For a new build this is much easier than in an existing house – you could insulate and make it airtight to a point where there is virtually no heating system required. However hot water remains a necessity and for most people, so does electricity, so when building new the ideal is to rely on inputs that are renewable, such are sustainably sourced timber/biomass or products that harvest energy from the elements.

Heating habits

As a society we’ve generally become more sedentary – a lot of the activities we take part in don’t require much movement. Which is why it isn’t surprising to hear that people who have built or upgraded to more energy efficient standards don’t always spend less than they used to. Instead they turn the temperature up! This phenomenon is called ‘comfort taking’ and in a recent report by the SEAI the estimate is that over a third (36 per cent) of energy savings are invested in comfort, or depending how you look at it, wasted in this way. (On nearly zero energy buildings, this ‘comfort taking’ or ‘rebound’ effect is minimal; it takes very little to no energy required to heat the house in the first place.) So if you can, try lowering your comfort threshold. For a living room 20 degC is considered adequate while 18 degC is good for bedrooms. And there’s an added benefit: losing weight! If you lower the room temperature your body will have to work harder to maintain its constant 38 degC, which means it’ll have to use up energy and burn a few grams in the process. Apart from your own temperature preferences, tinkering with your boiler settings could result in savings too; the temperature it’s working at could be higher than necessary, in particular, condensing boilers will save 10 per cent of the fuel costs if the return water temperature is below 48degC vs. above 55degC. Heating systems should be balanced, and flow temperatures minimised for the required seasonal output.* Also try switching on the heat half an hour later than you currently do and turn it off an hour earlier to see how happy you are with the heat level; play around with the amount of time you leave the heat on to achieve an optimal time frame. Turning the dial on your radiators according to your needs will also avoid having the heat turned on

unnecessarily. And remember to leave the curtains open if you have rooms facing south to get passive heat from the sun, but close them all at dusk to retain it. In terms of hot water a low cost, DIY job is to insulate your hot water cylinder and all hot water pipes within the hot press. If you have oil and you let the tank run low, know that heating the water with the immersion only (electricity) is usually not cost effective. Then there’s the less obvious, such as your energy use in the kitchen which can be reduced by* l Setting your fridge to 2 degC to 3 degC, your freezer at -15 degC. l Cooking multiple meals in the oven at the same time; bread used to be known as oven bottoms for a reason! Indeed, heating the oven uses a lot of energy so it’s a good idea to make the most of it by baking two dishes or an extra large batch (freeze the extra). In the same vein, don’t open the fridge or oven door unless you really have to; 20 per cent of energy is lost in this way. l Putting the lid on a saucepan and reducing the heat saves almost 30 per cent; an added benefit is to reduce the amount of humidity you’re adding to the air. l Cooking veg in the microwave uses 1/5th to a quarter of the energy that boiling in a pot does; microwaving (and steaming) retain more nutrients too. * The SEAI provides guidance on their website’s Power of One section

Law of diminishing returns

Energy Saving

Energy sappers An interesting study in NI on fuel poverty (the Morris Report dated August of last year) points out that the cost of deep energy retrofits may not always be worth the money. According to the report in NI the average SAP score is 60, the equivalent of an Energy Performance Certificate of a mid-D. To get people out of fuel poverty it seems a minimum of 78 is required, a high C. This is where it gets interesting; if the aim is 90 (high B, nearly A range), the authors point out the cost could be more than £3,000 per SAP point gained while a basic retrofit from 59 to 77 would cost just £1,000 per SAP point gained and would provide three-quarters of the energy savings of the SAP 89 retrofit.


When it comes to building works insulate first: new windows and solar panels may look the part but they have a long payback and won’t make a significant difference to your utility bills (though with windows that are correctly installed you do feel more comfortable in the absence of a draught), if your walls, floor and roof are letting loads of heat out. As heat rises it’s best to focus on the roof space first, it’s also the easiest to do. Walls and floors can be tricky, see following articles for more on this topic. If you have some money to spend, here are some other heat saving options: l Considering the profile of today’s housing stock in Ireland, after behavioural changes the greatest energy savings can be made by installing a more efficient boiler and heating controls (insulation is a very close second). Heating controls in the rooms you use most will give the best return and keep the „


Energy Saving

Every little helps…

Overview of the grants situation in NI and ROI (excludes low income schemes): Grant Categories ROI NI Internal insulation

€300 (attic or cavity wall), €1,200 to €2,400 for drylining

£150 (attic or cavity wall)**

External insulation

€2,250 to €4,500

Heating controls


Boiler upgrade

€700 (with heating controls) £1,000 (if income is less than £40,000 and boiler 15yrs+)

Solar thermal (hot water)


£320 + ongoing 13.7p/kWh*

Renewable electricity Can sell electricity back to the grid and generation get renewable certificates (value varies every year) via Ofgem Heat pumps £1,700 (air source) + ongoing 3.6p/kWh to £3,500 (ground source) + ongoing 8.3p/kWh * Biomass £2,500 + ongoing 5.7p/kWh * Conditions A BER must be carried out, (grant of €50 available), and a contractor appointed from the SEAI approved list. Bonus payment also available for third (€300) and fourth measures (€100), see

*To qualify for the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive you need to supply an EPC which will prove you have cavity wall and attic insulation in place **from Energystore, SSE Airtricity, Warmfill

In ROI there’s also a tax break available for renovations called the Home Renovation Incentive (details are available in a fact sheet on or from the Revenue Commissioners); the scheme closes on December 31st 2016 radiators in other rooms on a very low setting. This can be done wirelessly so it may not necessarily require much intrusive work. In unused rooms you could just turn the rads off but only if the room is adequately ventilated otherwise you could end up with mould growth. l Manage your air quality. It takes significantly more energy to heat damp air than dry air. If your house has condensation on the windows on a frosty morning, you have too much moisture in the building. Open all the windows every day for 15 minutess (less on a windy day). Over a few days, the moisture in the fabric and furniture will slowly migrate to the air and be purged**. l If you’re using an open fire, consider installing a stove but make sure to check how this will affect ventilation (in older houses chimneys often contributed to supplying the house with fresh air; in some instances blocking these could result in mould growth and poor indoor air quality). l Air leaks can be costly and uncomfortable, but if you have no other fresh air, then they are vital. Consider sealing up the leaks around windows, doors and services, but when you do, make sure you ventilate right through natural or forced ventilation. l If you’re putting in new windows, install double glazing on the south side and triple everywhere else. According to a study, due to solar gains fully south facing, double glazed units have a better energy balance than triple glazed units over the course of a year. l If you have the money to spend on renewables the


most widely used product is the solar thermal panel (to generate hot water); the benefits can be quite significant as it can typically generate about 60 per cent of your hot water needs. l Appliances and products monitoring usage are designed to help you reduce how much energy you consume but they can be expensive to buy. n Astrid Madsen Additional Information Paul Kenny B.E. C. Eng. MIEI, CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency, tel. 052 7443090, If you’re interested to future proof your home check out the TEA’s Super Homes project whereby up to 40% of you energy upgrades could be funded: ** If the outdoor temperature is 15 degC and you have a relative humidity (RH) in your house of 80 per cent, then if you open the windows you will let your house temperature drop to 15 degC and dehumidify to an RH of 55 per cent. To heat your house back up to 20degC at the new 55 per cent RH level, you will be spending about 15 per cent less energy than if you were heating your house at 80 per cent RH. If the outside temperature is 12 degC and you have 90 per cent RH indoors (damp bedsheets are a cause of high humidity) the estimated saving is 30 per cent. If your house isn’t very humid then you’ll of course be saving more energy by heating it without opening the windows.

Energy Saving In both NI and ROI the average house rates a D on the BER/EPC scale

Moving up the energy ladder Do you want to improve the energy efficiency of your home but don’t know where to start? With the help of careful planning, research and a good team of consultants, you will be well on the way to reduced energy bills and a healthier home.


n the building trade, a ‘retrofit’ usually means an energy upgrade; it’s not to be confused with a refurbishment which is a cosmetic exercise. A carefully devised retrofit will reduce your energy bills and will add value to your property but as with any poorly carried out building works, a poorly thought out and poorly executed energy upgrade will have the opposite result !

A form of investment

When investing your money it is typical to consider the advertised options available like bank savings, the stock market, oil futures or carbon emissions


trading. It’s very unlikely you would consider investing in your home. But as with any financial instrument, the best advice is to invest in something you understand. ROI has almost two million dwellings, 52 percent of which are houses which were built prior to the introduction of the Building Regulations. Over half of the houses which have been assessed using the Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP) have achieved a D1 BER (Building Energy Rating) rating or lower. NI has over 750,000 thousand dwellings, half the houses assessed using the Standard Assessment Procedure (SAP) achieved no more than a 59 or D on the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) scale, „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Description of Measure

U Value of

Approx. cost based on

Impact of

fabric element*** typical 100 sqm Measure Semi-detached house (incl. installation, excl. grants)

Roof Replace any existing mineral 0.13 W/sqmK €800 / £585 Improves baseline is likely to have lost most of U-value by 96% its insulating value, with taking BER/EPC 100mm of mineral wool rating from an packed between the ceiling F to E2 joists with an additional 100mm dressed over the ceiling joists

Energy Saving

Proposed fabric and building systems measures

Solid Wall 150mm of external insulation 0.14 W/sqmK €11,500 / £8,400 Improves baseline applied to the face of the U-value by 95% existing external wall with a taking BER/EPC polymer render finish rating from an E2 to D1 Narrow Cavity Wall Pump the cavity with 0.16 W/sqmK €2,100 / £1,540 insulation beads and apply 125mm of external insulation to the face of the existing external wall and finish with a polymer render coating

Improves baseline U-value by 90% taking BER/EPC rating from an E2 to D1

Windows & Replace existing windows 0.9 W /sqmK €11,500 / £8,140 Improves baseline External Doors and doors with new triple U-value by 80% glazed thermally broken units, taking BER/EPC installed and sealed with air rating from tight tape. a D1 to a C Floors Remove existing ground floor 0.09 W/sqmK €5,500 / £3,895 Improves baseline and replace with a new U-value by 94% concrete screed floor with taking BER rating under floor heating, 200mm from a C2 to a of insulation on a reinforced C1 concrete floor slab on top of a radon membrane on compacted hard-core Primary Heating Replace with an air to water €10,100 / £7,400 Improves rating from a source heat pump with C1 to a B2/B 380-420 per cent adjusted efficiency; it’s essentially that the HP is sized carefully to suit the dwelling* with two separate heating zones with both time and thermostatic control and independent water heating. Secondary Heating System

Upgrade to a high efficiency €2,500 / £1,770 (min 76 per cent gross efficiency) stove that is suited to the room. Stoves should be as small as possible for the room, in this case it was 6.5kW. New ROI regulations (Part J) all but insist that you line the chimney before use.

Improves rating from a B2 to a B1/B

Hot Water Storage Replace with factory €300 / £212 Improves rating from a insulation (50mm of spray B1 to a A3/A foam applied to cylinder). Solar Water 3.2sqm of solar heating panels €4,500 / £3,300 Improves rating from a Heating installed on the southern A3 to a A2/A aspect of the house. Lighting All lights replaced with 100% €80 / £57 low energy bulbs. Note that LED bulbs should only be purchased from well know lighting brands.

Rating remains the same but overall energy usage reduced


Energy Saving

which is very much in line with the ROI situation. Not sure what DEAP or SAP is? They’re Ireland’s (ROI and NI respectively) official methods for calculating energy performance and carbon dioxide emissions as a result of heating water, central heating and lighting your home. Rising energy prices will increase the running costs of these houses considerably in the coming years, which will decrease the attractiveness of these properties in the future thus reducing their value to potential buyers.

“A carefully devised retrofit will reduce your energy bills and will add value to your property...” 50

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

In addition your retrofit will create a healthy environment for you, the occupant, and for your surroundings by reducing the level of energy your building consumes, which results in a reduction in the level of pollutants released into the air.


To carry out an energy upgrade you must start by establishing what you have. The approach is to calculate your existing energy rating with a survey (baseline BER or EPC) carried out by a suitably qualified professional consultant. The survey first looks at the existing fabric to identify the type of construction. This can often be done quite easily; wall thickness and type of material s used can be established by unscrewing any ‘hole in the wall’ type ventilation panels and simply photographing the opening and measuring the thickness of the fabric. If wall vents are not present, measure the external wall thickness at door

Solid and narrow cavity wall homes

Now let’s take two house types commonly found across Ireland and describe some of the things that can be done to reduce energy costs and carbon dioxide emissions. Firstly a solid wall type house, built between the 1930s and 1950s and secondly a narrow cavity wall house built between the 1960s and 1970s. Both are suitable candidates for a deep energy retrofit. The solid wall type house typically has a 215mm thick mass concrete wall with an 18mm cement pebbledash plaster finish externally and an 18mm ‘wet’ gypsum plaster finish internally. The narrow cavity wall house typically has an empty cavity of between 50-100mm with a 100mm brick or concrete block and render outer wall and 100mm inner concrete block wall. Detailed below are typical issues with these house types**: l Roof is pitched with no insulation resulting in a roof U-value of 3.91 W/sqmK. l Solid External walls with no insulation resulting in a wall U-value of 2.47 W/sqmK. l Narrow Cavity Wall with an empty cavity of 50mm with no insulation resulting in a wall U-value of 1.66 W/sqmK. l Floors are solid concrete with no insulation resulting in a floor U-value of 0.61 W/sqmK. l Windows are double glazed air filled frames resulting in a window U-value of 3.1 W/sqmK. l External doors are solid timber resulting in a U-value of 3 W/sqmK. l The primary heating is a gas fired boiler with uninsulated pipe work with 65% * fuel efficiency. l The secondary heating system is an open fire with 30% * fuel efficiency. l Water heating is provided by the primary gas fired boiler with an electric immersion used during the summer. l The hot water cylinder has a loose fitting lagging jacket of 25mm thickness with no thermostat. l The only system control is a programmer.

“ is very important when considering retrofitting your home that you seek professional advice in advance from an architect or engineer with specialist retrofit skills.”

Energy Saving

or window openings, this should give you a good indication of the form of construction. The attic is then inspected to establish if insulation is present – type and thickness. Windows and doors, meanwhile, can quickly be identified as either single (one pane of glass) or double glazed. The type of heating (or systems data) in your home is also inspected. Do you have gas or oil, with or without immersion? The boiler model, presence of insulation on heating pipes and lagging jacket on the hot water cylinder and type of heat emitters (radiators or underfloor heating) are all recorded. In ROI the collated data is inputted into DEAP to establish your building’s baseline BER, while in NI this is inputted into SAP to establish your baseline EPC. Once the baseline is established you can set your goal for the retrofit, so if the existing house has an F rating and you want to take it to an A2 or a C2, this survey will help you to establish this while setting your budget and specification for the works.

All this data is collated and inputted into DEAP to establish a baseline BER for these examples. The solid wall house typically achieves an F Rating, while the narrow cavity house achieves a G Rating. An alternative to solar water heating is to install 2kW of photovoltaic (PV) panels – solar electricity – along with an immersion dump. This will provide all the hot water and day time electricity that is required for a normal house. If you are installing a heat pump, then using night rate electricity for hot water may render this uneconomical.

In conclusion

These examples achieve an 84% reduction in energy usage and an 85% reduction in CO2 emissions per year. A house with a BER rating of F typically has a primary energy use of 429kWh/ sqm per year with annual fuel costs of €1,437 per annum (based on current fuel cost data***). While a house with a BER rating of A2 typically has a primary energy use of 44kWh/sqm per year with annual fuel costs of €98 per annum. A retrofit like this is clearly repaying the investment. Fortunately it’s also something you can do in stages. The net result for you the occupier is that you have invested in the future of your home, reduced your energy bills and increased your home’s value while creating a healthy environment for all. Finally, it is very important when considering retrofitting your home that you seek professional advice in advance from an architect or engineer with specialist retrofit skills. n Tim Lavin MRIAI Lavin Architects, 40 Mulgrave Street, Dun Laoghaire, Co. Dublin, tel. 01 2845648, Additional information Paul Kenny B.E. C. Eng. MIEI, CEO of the Tipperary Energy Agency, tel. 052 7443090, * Efficiency levels are taken from the DEAP manual Table 4a. and the SEAI Harp database ** U-Values have been calculated using a dedicated professional software package, note retrofit U-value results will vary depending on specification of materials *** SEAI Energy Data Portal


Energy Saving

Zero energy for all? From 2020 onwards all newly built or renovated houses in NI and ROI will have to comply with the Nearly Zero Energy Building (NZEB) standard. How that requirement will be put into practice remains unclear but there are some general rules we already know will have to be followed…


urope has been driving the recent changes to the building regulations in both NI and ROI, through its Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD). The EPBD’s aim is to get to a stage where all buildings are of such a high thermal performance that they require nearly zero energy to be comfortable to live in. The EPBD definition also states that the “nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent by energy from renewable sources”. The changes envisaged in the EPBD are far reaching; new buildings and any existing buildings undergoing major renovation (defined as any work affecting more than 25 per cent of the floor, or façade, area) will have to comply with this standard, Europe-wide, from the end of 2020. There is also a requirement on member states to plan for the retrofitting of the entire existing building stock with a view to making it too conform to the


NZEB standard. This is likely to require an agreed plan for each building which can be phased over several interventions, such that one measure does not preclude, or add to the cost of, a subsequent measure in the plan. In practice, NI and ROI haven’t as of yet published detailed regulations showing how the standard is to be applied. However, in ROI, the Irish government is proposing a minimum target for newly built houses of 45kWh/sqm/yr primary energy use, whilst deep renovations would be required to use no more than 150kWh/sqm/yr. (before the addition of renewables energy systems) to meet the NZEB standard. Work done by the Zero Carbon Hub suggests a similar effective residential NZEB target will be introduced in 2016 in the UK, albeit measured in carbon emissions savings rather than energy. Make no mistake, the 45kWh/sqm/yr NZEB new-build target is quite a challenge: it is about the same as the Passive House standard in terms of U-values and thermal bridging. The 150kWh/sqm/ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Getting NZEB ready

To complement the National Retrofit Strategy of the Irish Government, a detailed Code of Practice for Retrofit (S.R.54:2014) has been published by the National Standards Authority of Ireland. This outlines the kinds of fabric upgrade measures that will deliver the projected energy savings envisaged in the EPBD. It’s also got a lot of examples of energy upgrade measures and is a document homeowners, specifiers and contractors should consult before undertaking an energy upgrade. Given that the NZEB targets have yet to be defined, and may be subject to upward revision, a range of four targeted U-values are included, with wall U-values of as low as 0.15 W/sqmK accommodated. Roof and floor U-values are also considered, commensurate with each of the four wall insulation levels. This document is freely available and can be downloaded from the

website. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings publishes a very good interactive on-line Responsible Retrofit Wheel which may be used in conjunction with S.R.54. A conservative adherence to the advice contained in both documents, in combination, will be required to confirm that any proposed retrofit solution is safe. Regrettably, few of the major insulation suppliers have taken up the challenge of providing holistic retrofit advice beyond the limits of their own product ranges. Government supports for single measures has also not helped in this regard. The specifier therefore needs to exercise caution when following supplier advice and always seek collateral warranty, Agrément certification and actionable product liability insurance.

Energy Saving

yr standard is close to current building regulations requirements for “new thermal elements” defined in NI Technical Booklet F1 or “backstop” U-values defined in ROI Part L, 2011. However, as the EU is targeting an 80 per cent emissions reduction by 2050 from all sectors, it would appear that the 150kWh/sqm/yr retrofit figure may not be accepted by the Commission as sufficient to achieve long-term carbon emission reductions and energy savings. This is especially so as at least 70 per cent of our current buildings will still be in use in 2050.

Cavity wall upgrades

Full-fill pumping with a bonded bead, which will not retain moisture but allow it to percolate to the base of the cavity and drain to outside, is the most popular cavity wall solution in ROI, whilst blown fibre is preferred in the UK Approved Document L1B. Other forms of cavity fill are available but some suffer from an increased risk of moisture crossing the cavity. Filling the residual cavity is not suitable for brick outer leafs in exposed sites where the volume of moisture absorbed by the brick is such as to require ventilation on both sides of the outer leaf to achieve long-term durability. It may be possible to upgrade such exposed, „


Energy Saving External insulation before rendering. Larsen Contracts


or absorbent, brick leaves by the application of a vapour permeable, but hydrophobic, coating (which has to be reapplied periodically). Rendered block outer leafs in good condition do not generally pose a moisture loading, or frost heave, risk. However, full-fill cavity wall solutions may only take you part of the way as the U-value is largely dependent on the width of the cavity available. To achieve a specific U-value target may require an external or internal insulating layer in addition to a fully filled cavity. External insulation is generally better as it eliminates more thermal bridging (particularly around openings) and, because it draws the dewpoint outwards, reduces the risks from interstitial

condensation. It also retains the thermal mass of the wall which can help reduce the risk of overheating in summer. Such additional benefits, and peace of mind, come at an inevitable cost premium and may, in the wrong hands, impact on appearance.

Solid wall upgrades

There is sufficient evidence of failure now to indicate that external wall insulation provides the most robust, long-term solution to upgrading solid walls. Internally insulating solid walls is inherently problematic and should only be considered after careful modelling using hygrothermal simulation software compliant with EN 15026:2007. Any internal wall insulation solution that relies on a polythene or foil vapour control layer (VCL) on the warm side of the insulation should be treated with caution and be subjected to specialist hygrothermal modelling for the effects of both solar driven moisture in summertime and any possible puncture, or discontinuity, of the VCL on site. In particular, it may be necessary to remove all timber, or gypsum, trapped on the cold side of the insulation as its moisture content may exceed safe limits, promoting mould growth and even structural decay. The mould risk posed by interstitial condensation even extends to existing wallpaper and wallpaper paste trapped behind any new insulation! This may not leave many safe internal wall insulation options, especially for protected structures, but there is little point denying building physics. Humidity monitors, placed behind insulation, can be SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Timber frame

Additional internal insulation should normally only be added to a timber frame construction directly to the existing insulation layer. A vapour diffusion balance of at least 5 to 1 is recommended with the outermost diffusion-open layer facing a well ventilated cavity. Any interruption in the 5:1 rule, like retention of a pre-existing VCL, or racking board (which can be plywood, OSB or gypsum board) can result in interstitial condensation being trapped within the upgraded wall. As the racking layer is structurally important, its relocation will require the input of a structural engineer. Alternatively (and preferably), it may be possible to remove the outer rain screen, add external wall insulation and then reinstate a ventilated rain screen, provided the 5:1 diffusion balance is achieved. Where a timber frame is enclosed within a masonry rain screen external leaf, external insulation may be possible by a combination of external wall insulation outside the masonry leaf in combination with pumping the cavity but this again will require specialist hygrothermal analysis to select the right combination of hygroscopic and hydrotropic insulation materials. In detached properties, it may even be worth considering removing the external masonry leaf entirely and applying a suitable, diffusion-open mineral fibre, or wood fibre, external wall insulation solution fixed directly to the timber frame. In the absence of specialist hygrothermal modelling, the requirement for a 50mm well-ventilated cavity on the outside of a timber framed wall should never be compromised.

Structural insulated panels (SIPs)

The inherent airtightness of structural insulated panels makes them relatively easy to upgrade. However, successful upgrading demands careful control of air leakage. Before and after air permeability testing is advisable to ensure that the upgrade has not introduced additional air leakage. Foil-faced insulation boards with taped joints are easily installed and can then be finished with a services cavity and plasterboard layer. Similar concerns exist for progressive vapour diffusion through the wall based on a 5:1 outside to inside diffusion potential, it’s just that in this case, the internal layer will have to be extremely diffusion closed to achieve the 5:1 ratio. Solar driven moisture is not generally a concern in this form of construction because of the ventilated external rain screen construction.

Steel frame

Lightweight steel frame construction has the potential for repeat thermal bridging reducing its overall thermal performance and inducing interstitial condensation. Internal insulation can be effective but the

diffusion profile of the wall must follow the principles outlined for timber framed construction above. In this case, whilst the steel studs are unlikely to be structurally weakened by interstitial condensation forming as a result of the additional insulation, the linings are as likely to promote mould growth as with timber frame. If internally insulating, the existing lining and vapour control layer may have to be relocated to inside the additional insulation layers to avoid the risk of interstitial condensation forming on (or being held within) any trapped lining/racking layers.

In preference, if an external insulation can be added, this will help neutralise the thermal bridging effect and reduce the risk of interstitial condensation. A diffusion-open insulation board can be particularly suitable in that instance.

Energy Saving

useful to keep track of moisture levels in walls where modelling fails to rule out a risk of mould.

A SIP house under construction in Co Limerick. John Hayes


Insulation above the ceiling is easily done, cheap and effective, provided that sufficient air circulation can be maintained in the roof space above the insulation. There should be a noticeable draught at all times, a requirement that can present difficulties for blown insulation materials. Approved Construction details are available on the ROI Department of the Environment website showing how to maintain the ventilation at eaves level all around. Care is needed to ensure that the roof space insulation overlaps the wall insulation and any possibility of air infiltration into the roof space insulation is avoided. This is best done from above by removing the lower rows of roof tiles. Insulation between rafters, beneath rafters and above rafters are all possible but each has a different condensation risk profile. Some combinations may also have town planning implications, if for example, the ridge height is increased or the eaves line extended. Battening and counter battening with a breather membrane is required above the insulation to prevent condensation forming. Old style bitumen sarking, or any impermeable sarking, should not be used as this will “sweat” with condensation and cause mould growth. Ultimately structural damage can occur as rot takes hold, fed by the condensation „


Energy Saving “Insulation between rafters, beneath rafters and above rafters are all possible but each has a different condensation risk profile....It is not advisable to insulate at both ceiling and rafter level as this creates confusion in assessing the moisture risk profile.” Kingspan

and lack of air circulation. It is not advisable to insulate at both ceiling and rafter level as this creates confusion in assessing the moisture risk profile.


Raised timber ground floors are best insulated from below or by removing and replacing the floorboards. A wood fibre board should be securely fixed to the

underside of the joists and the void between filled with mineral wool, wood fibre or cellulose. Care is required to insulate between the wall and the first/ last joist, even if it is only 20mm. Expanding foam can be useful to fill this gap. It is vital to produce an air-tight seal of the insulated raised floor. Solid floors in new build work should be insulated with at least 150mm of suitable board insulation with at least 50mm edge insulation all round. All walls in new construction which pass through the floor insulation will require a thermal break of foamglass block or a structural polystyrene foam blocks. If light weight masonry is used, it must be fully waterproofed below dpc level. Often a fully insulated raft foundation is cheaper. Very good results are achievable in existing solid ground floors by extending the external wall insulation all the way down to the top of the foundation. It is a little appreciated fact that Irish floors lose most of their heat horizontally out through the perimeter, not downwards. Extra thick external insulation, up to 300mm, below ground level can dramatically improve overall floor U-value without the need to replace the floor, with all the disruption that might entail. A Thermal Modeller will be required to determine the resulting floor U-value to be applied in compliance documentation and heat loss calculations. Given the cancer risk posed by radon gas, no floor upgrade should be considered without achieving a durable seal against its passage from the ground into the dwelling. In summary, NZEB new-build or retrofit is not something that should be undertaken without careful consideration of hygrothermal (condensation) impacts. In other words, mould growth is a real risk if the designer and installer don’t have the skills set to avoid it. n Simon McGuinness MSc programme in Energy Retrofit Technology at the School of Architecture in the Dublin Institute of Technology. The views expressed in this article are his own.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. AC Heating (Heat pumps & controls) Clashmore, Co Waterford Tel: 058 23749 Aerhaus Ltd (Heat Recovery Ventilation) Waterford Tel: 058 41850 Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd (Waterfurnace heat pumps & underfloor heating) Skibbereen, Co Cork Tel: 028 23701 Beam Vacuum & Ventilation (Vacuum & heat recovery ventilation systems) Magherafelt, Co Londonderry Tel: 7963 2424 Choice Heating Solutions (Alternative Heating Solutions) Kerrypike, Co Cork Tel: 087 275 4012

DK Windows (Windows, doors & structural glazing) Dublin 12 Tel: 01 424 2067 Dunne Eco (Energy specialists - solar PV to wood pellet stoves) Tullamore, Co Offaly Tel: 057 9322 468 Firebird Heating Solutions (Heating Solutions) Ballymakeera Tel: 026 45253 Homecare Systems Ltd (Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery) Donaghmore, Co Tyrone Tel: 8776 9111 JG Speedfit (Underfloor heating controls) Middlesex Tel: 01895 449 233

Keltic Renewables (Renewable/alternative energy) Ballylinan, Co Laois Tel: 059 8625411, 085 8014339 Kingspan Insulation Ltd (Insulation) Castleblaney, Co Monaghan Tel: 042 979 5000 Moy Isover ltd (Insulation) Dublin 22 Tel: 01 629 8400 www.isover.i.e Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Dublin 8 Tel: 01 454 8300 Warmflow Engineering Co Ltd (Boilers, Renewables, Cylinders, Solar, Air Heaters, Flues) Belfast Tel: 9262 1515

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


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Energy Saving Case Study

Character building Period homes have so much charm it can be hard not to fall under their spell. However in this day and age of low maintenance, cheap-to-heat homes, they can leave much to be desired…


e were freezing!” says Caitríona Fisher of Co Dublin. “When I saw frost on the inside of the bay window in the sitting room, I knew I had to do something. It was terribly cold. Also it doesn’t help that this particular room is north facing and shaded by vegetation!” “These Victorian houses just weren’t built for the kind of cold we’ve been getting in recent years,” she adds. The house has been renovated in the past and currently has radiators throughout which are fuelled by a gas boiler. “Because it was a Victorian house, we asked the Georgian Society to recommend someone with experience to guide us through the renovations. We needed a well thought out plan.” As the building isn’t listed they didn’t require planning permission to carry out internal works but wanted expert advice to guide them through preserving the building’s integrity while carrying out an energy upgrade.

Plugging leaks

The living and dining rooms are built as is typical for the time with suspended timber floors, both of which have a three foot deep void underneath. “You could feel the cold between the gaps of the old boards. The wind actually came up through them!” The kitchen, which is at ground level and accessed via a series of up/down steps, needed attention too. “The floor there was also cold but for different reasons. Tiles had been laid in a previous restoration straight onto the original terracotta floor, which was the only thing separating the house from the ground below,” she explains. “We had to take it all up and at this stage we considered underfloor heating; the estimate came to €9,000 and just decided to do it. It’s the best

thing I ever did! It’s a different, much gentler heat, simply amazing. It’s just a pity I couldn’t do it on the rest of the house.” Another thermal element that required attention was the front bedroom floor, which was partly over the porch so they insulated the porch ceiling to plug the leak. The main reason for that bedroom being cold was its north facing orientation and window. “The very small ensuite and a walk-in wardrobe in the northeast corner were freezing cold with mould against the wall,” shivers Caitríona. “The solution was to insulate the walls from the inside and it really is a much warmer space now.” The old lime walls require breathable materials so the wall was lined with a 50mm calcium silicate board which was lime plastered over. „

This Victorian home isn’t listed but care was given to retain the original features.


Energy Saving Case Study 60

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

The best piece of advice Caitríona says she can give is to take daily photographs of the work that’s been completed. “My daughter took pictures every evening of wherever the builders worked; afterwards when there were problems we were able to go back through them and see why.” “Even simple things like where a stud was positioned is good to know – reality doesn’t always exactly match up to design drawings!” They’ve come across two issues since the works were completed; one is that the kitchen party wall is damp – the wrong type of plaster was put on it – and the other more immediately worrying is in the sitting room. “Last July, a year after the floor insulation work on the floor had been completed, we found a mushroom,” she confides. “There had been dry rot in the bay window from a blocked rain pipe which was treated during the insulation work but had now re-surfaced in a different areas.”

Out of the gutter

Mould growth is due to damp or humid conditions so the architect and builder set out to find the root cause; they were convinced it was due to a crack in a gulley. “This however didn’t really explain why the humidity was so high – data loggers that were later put in the underfloor void showed 90% to 95% levels. As there are walls supporting the floors which had no gaps for cross-flow of air we started talking about boring holes for ventilation, to allow air to pass freely in the subfloor from the front to

the back of the house.” As discussions were ongoing, another type of mould appeared. “It spread right across the floor! We were told the speed at which it invaded the wood indicated that it was cellar rot.” Caitríona eventually decided to hire a drain surveyor for €400 in an effort to identify the source of the high moisture levels in the subfloor walls. The source of the problem was a front gully. “It turned out the original gully cement seal around the front footpath had completely gone, something we’d all missed!” “It was impossible to see as this particular „

The ground floor was also completely insulated.

Energy Saving Case Study

Say cheese!


Energy Saving Case Study The north facing bedroom and walk in wardrobe used to be mouldy and cold. Calcium silicate board, which is breathable and compatible with lime, was used to internally insulate the walls.

drainpipe goes into another and what happened was the pipe slipped out by the wall, which is why we didn’t notice, and water dripped onto the old exit of the drainpipe, near the base of the wall.” “That’s all it took for water to seep into the rising walls. We’ve decided to go ahead and bore

the holes in the subfloor walls; we’ll then be leaving it to dry out.” The rot has been treated and the insulation removed; once humidity levels drop they plan to put the insulation back in again. The situation is actually a common one; rainwater goods cause the most harm to buildings, which is why an annual maintenance regime, while onerous is essential. But as Caitríona points out it’s easier said than done. “You need binoculars to see what’s happening on the roof ! In our case, things were let go but in fairness some were so hard to see.” “But despite the headache you do need to spend the time once a year to have a look at the gutters and at the minimum clear them out,” she adds.


Caitríona says their conservation architect managed their expectations from the beginning. “He warned us an energy upgrade would not make the house excessively warm but just more liveable, and he was right.” “We didn’t save on our energy bills, as we heat it more, but it is so much more comfortable.” The attic insulation was upgraded from an existing 100mm mineral wool to 300mm. The internal walls were insulated in the return where there were no cornice/wall features with 50mm calcium silicate board. Again the reason for its use is hygroscopic; it’s vapour permeable and capillary, allowing the wall to dry out as they were intended to deal with the humidity caused by driving rain. The warm walls required a window upgrade as there was a concern that an increase in the heat retained by the walls would lead to condensation on the single glazing; also less than 40% of the sash windows had retained historic glass. They were able to keep the original Victorian sashes; while „


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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they had deep frames standard double glazing unfortunately couldn’t be used due to weight so they chose a slim line version with krypton gas, instead of the usual argon. The house is now a C3 on the BER scale (theoretically at least, as the under floor insulation needs to be reinstated), which indicates roughly the same energy loss as what you could expect in a typical Irish house. “I’m still reeling from the rot experience. If I won the lotto I’d build a passive house!” But would she miss the centuries-old charm? Chances are, she just might… n Astrid Madsen House size: 180 sqm Site size: 350 sqm Year of construction: 1890 BER: From an E1 to a C3 Construction type: brick walls, two storey semi-d, finish red brick laid in Flemish bond

Energy Saving Case Study

The kitchen is at ground level and now benefits from underfloor heating.

List of retrofit measures with costs Before/After Cost Performance (including VAT at 13.5%) (U Value W/sqmK) Insulate suspended timber floor 58m2

0.65 / 0.17


New ground floor under 0.73 / 0.15 floor insulated slad to return 38m2


Retrofit slim double glazing to existing sashes (14 windows)

4.8 / 2.5


Calcitherm Lining to walls of return 60m2

2.1 / 0.81


Relocate boiler internally, New hot water cylinder & controls


info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Fergal McGirl MRIAI, Grade II Conservation Architect, Dublin 1, tel. 01 873 5441, Builder Steven Masterson/Wyckham Builders Ltd, Manor Kildbride, Co Wicklow, mobile 086 2523537 Remedial treatment Fintan Farrell Conservation Services, Dublin 12 and Co Wexford, tel. 01 4278333 / 053 9137630 / 087 1192740,

Sash window double glazing MJ Duffy Ltd, Dundalk, Co Louth, tel. 042 937 1470 Insulation board for internal walls Calsitherm board supplied by Ecological Building Systems, Photographer Paul Tierney Drumcondra, Dublin 3, Co Dublin

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


Planning permission: eco-renovations

What the planners want…when you’re eco-renovating

Econospace site office and construction project, with wind charger in the background. Living Architecture Centre

Do I require planning permission for external insulation? ROI: There is widespread confusion over the planning requirements for externally insulating a house. External insulation suppliers and the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) say it may be exempt from planning permission requirements. It is indeed possible to argue that externally insulating a structure can, in many cases, be considered exempted development. This argument would be based on Section 4(1)(h) of the Planning Acts 2000-2010, which states: 4.—(1)The following shall be exempted development for the purposes of this Act— (h) Development consisting of the carrying out of works for the maintenance, improvement or other alteration of any structure, being works which affect only the interior of the structure or works which do not materially affect the external appearance of the structure so as to render the appearance inconsistent with the character of the structure or of neighbouring structures.


If you wish to act on this stated exemption and carry out external insulation works without planning permission, you must ensure, ideally in advance, that the external appearance of the house is not materially altered such that the changes detract from the existing building or from adjoining buildings. But what happens when you cannot be sure if you would comply with Section 4 (1) (h)? If there is any doubt about whether or not the external insulation will affect its character; you are normally advised to contact your planning authority to discuss it. But, from a phone-call or brief meeting, even they may not be able to provide a straightforward answer upon which to proceed confidently with your project. Due to the ambiguity over complying with this exemption, those proposing to use external insulation are increasingly resorting to Section 5 of the Planning and Development Acts 2000-2010 for an official declaration. You apply to your local authority using a Section 5 Form (Declaration of Exemption), pay the €80 application fee and provide two site location maps (purchasable online from the Ordnance Survey). The application then goes before an area planner who decides if planning permission is needed. Decisions are generally given within four weeks of its receipt. There are two possible conclusions; after externally insulating your home, the building with either look l Similar or identical to how it does now and will not cause projection (mainly of the front elevation) past adjoining elevations, e.g. in a terrace situation, then your works are likely to be exempt under Section 4 (1) (h). or l Different or substantially different to it does now and your elevations (especially your front elevation) will project past adjoining buildings, then your works are not likely to be exempt under Section 4 (1) (h). In the case of Protected Structures, Section 57 of the same Act allows for the owner or occupier to make the same request. Section 57 (1) states: „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Planning permission: eco-renovations

The Cob House Living Architecture Centre

“ would be sensible to discuss the matter with the local planning authority prior to undertaking significant work...” Notwithstanding section 4 (1)(h), the carrying out of works to a protected structure, or a proposed protected structure, shall be exempted development only if those works would not materially affect the character of - (a) the structure, or (b) any element of the structure which contributes to its special architectural, historical, archaeological, artistic, cultural, scientific, social or technical interest. Your local planning authority can provide you with the details of how to make a Section 57 application; its complexity will vary depending on the local authority and you may require professional help to complete it as detailed drawings of your property will be required in the case of external insulation.

NI: The situation in NI is similar. In effect, you are permitted to improve or alter a dwelling without the need for planning permission, subject to certain conditions. The most important of these conditions is that ‘the materials used in any exterior work shall be of similar appearance to those used in the construction of the exterior of the existing dwelling house’. Whilst the phrase ‘similar in appearance’ may be open to interpretation, it would seem clear that planning permission is likely to be required for most forms of external cladding or insulation. As in ROI, it would be sensible to discuss the matter with the local planning authority prior to undertaking significant work. If a formal decision is needed before carrying out the work then it is possible to apply for a Certificate of Lawful Development for a Proposed Use. Forms are available on the Council websites. 68

Do I need planning permission for internal insulation? ROI: No, the installation of internal insulation affects only the interior of the structure and is therefore exempt under Section 4(1)(h) of the Planning Acts 2000-2010 which is set out in the answer to Question 1 above. Protected structures are a different matter and you should consult with your local authority before undertaking any work (a Section 57 can be applied for; detailed drawings may not necessarily be required). NI: No, internal insulation does not require permission but if you live in a protected structure you may need a listed building consent so check with the NIEA or your local council. Do I need planning permission to replace my windows and doors? ROI: Upgrading windows and doors does not generally require planning permission as such works are considered to be exempted development under Section 4 (1) (h) of the Planning Acts. However, if a property is within an Architectural Conservation Area (ACA), Special Amenity Area Order or is a Protected Structure, these exemptions do not apply. In these latter instances, property owners are advised to contact their planning authority. It is possible in the case of an ACA for the planning authority to determine works to be exempt if those works would not materially affect the character of the area. „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



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Planning permission: eco-renovations

Similarly, for Protected Structures, it is possible to make a written request to the planning authority under a Section 57 request. No such provision exists for SAAOs.

NI: Changes to doors and windows do not normally require consent unless they materially alter the appearance of the dwelling. Same situation as for internal insulation applies to protected structures. I want to erect a small wind turbine on my land. Do I need permission?

I want to install solar panels on my roof. Do I need permission?

ROI: If you follow a number of rules, one wind turbine can be placed within the curtilage of a house without planning permission. But to comply with the rules, your garden must be bigger than those most urban dwellers own. These rules are:

ROI: A solar panel can, whether thermal or photovoltaic, be installed on a house, on any building or within the curtilage of a house without planning permission being required as long as:

1. The supporting tower must be a distance of

1. The maximum area which can be covered by

not less than the total structure, turbine included, height plus one metre from any party boundary. 2. It can’t be erected on or attached to any building including the house. 3. It cannot be placed forward of the front wall of the house. 4. It can’t be more than 13 metres in height. 5. The rotor diameter cannot exceed 6 metres. 6. The clearance distance between the lower tip of the rotor and the ground must be 3 metres or more. 7. Maximum noise levels apply. 8. It must have a non-reflective finish and be made of specific materials. 9. No signs or logos can be exhibited on the turbine.

NI: Unlike ROI, there are no permitted development rights to erect wind turbines. Planning permission will be required. Any planning application will be determined with regard to the visual impact, noise, shadow flicker, etc.

solar panels is 12sqm or 50% of the total roof area (whichever is lesser). 2. The solar panel cannot be raised more than 15cm off the plane of a wall or a pitched roof surface to which it is attached. This distance rises to 50cm for flat roofs and 2 metres from the ground. 3. The solar panel must be located 50cm from the edge of any wall or roof on which it is mounted. 4. Free standing solar panels cannot be located forward of the front wall of a house or reduce the size of a rear garden’s area to below 25sqm.

NI: The legislation on the potential for domestic solar panels is quite lengthy, and care is required to ensure that all requirements are met. Basically however, microgeneration systems (i.e. up to 50kW) are permitted provided: 1. the panels do not protrude more than 20 cm beyond the plain of any existing roof slope which faces onto and is visible from a road; 2. no part exceeds the height of a ridged roof; 3. no part is more than 1.5 metres above the plane of any flat roof; 4. no part would extend beyond the edge of the existing roof; 5. it is not within the curtilage of a listed building, unless listed building consent had been granted; vii) if it is in a World Heritage Site or conservation area it should not be visible from a road. Stand-alone solar may also be permitted within the curtilage of a dwelling provided the area does not exceed 14 sqm and it is no more than 2 metres in height.

Erecting a wind turbine within the curtilage of a house generally won’t require planning permission in ROI but it will in NI


I want to install a ground or air source heat pump – do I need planning permission? ROI: Ground source (horizontal or vertical) or air source heat pumps can be installed within the SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

1. The level of the ground can’t be altered by more

than one metre above or below the level of the adjoining ground. 2. The total area of heat pump(s) installed within a property cannot exceed 2.5sqm. 3. The heat pump must be a minimum of 50cm from any edge of the wall or roof on which it is mounted. 4. A heat pump cannot be installed forward of the front wall of the house. 5. There are maximum noise levels to follow.

NI: Ground or water source heat pumps are permitted provided the heat pump and its housing are not closer than 3 metres to the site boundary, or exceed 4 metres in height. They should not be closer to a road than the dwelling, should not be in an area of scientific or archaeological interest, or in the curtilage of a listed building (unless listed building consent has been granted). There should be no more than one air source heat pump within a curtilage, it should be at least 30 metres away from any other dwelling, and it should not be in front of a wall which faces onto a road. The external unit should not be on the roof or exceed 2 metres in height. Other restrictions apply in conservation areas, listed buildings, or world heritage sites. There’s a small stream on my land, do I need permission for hydro? ROI: Small hydroelectric schemes require planning

permission. The standard planning application process applies; however, before considering making a planning application, you should read the Central Fisheries Board’s ‘Guidelines on the Planning, Design, Construction & Operation of Small-Scale Hydro-Electric Schemes and Fisheries’ which are available from the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. These guidelines detail the process which you should follow in developing a hydro scheme. You could also contact

the SEAI for further advice.

NI: Development which involves hydro will normally require planning permission. My eco property needs a back up heating system – do I need planning permission to install it? ROI: Many of those who built passive houses or very energy efficient houses have found a back up heating system is needed in winter. Whatever fuel you intend to use – biomass, gas, oil, etc. – the components of such a system (a chimney or flue, a boiler house and a fuel storage tank or structure), can all be installed without planning permission so long as the capacity of any associated oil storage tank does not exceed 3,500 litres.

Poncelet Wheel

NI: Normal domestic heating systems do not normally require planning permission. Oil or liquefied petroleum gas tanks are permitted of up to 3,500 litres, provided they are not more than 3 metres above ground level or face onto a road. On listed buildings such tanks require listed building consent. Note: In ROI full details of the exempted development rights for renewable technologies are contained in the Planning and Development Regulations 2007. These are available online or from the Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.

Planning permission: eco-renovations

curtilage of a house without planning permission. Again, there are rules to follow:

In NI the full legislative requirements can be found in the Planning (General Permitted Development) Order (NI) 2015. This is available online. If in any doubt the legislation should be thoroughly checked or advice taken from a planning expert. n ROI: Brendan Buck, BPS Planning consultants, Dalkey, Co. Dublin, Tel: 087 2615871. NI: David Donaldson, Donaldson Planning, Hollywood, Co. Down BT18 9AE. Tel: 9042 3320

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Advanced Timbercraft Ltd (Timberframe house construction) Newtownabbey, Co Antrim Tel: 9083 8951 Amberline (Window & Doors) Cork Tel: 085 724 3477 APS Ltd (glazing solutions for architects, fabricators and developers) Lisburn, Co Antrim Tel: 9266 0500

Biorock Effluent Treatment Systems (compact non-electrical waste water treatment plants) Dublin 9 Tel: 01 893 4948 Internorm Windows UK Ltd (Windows) London Tel: 020 8205 9991 Phoenix Natural Gals Ltd (Natural Gas) Belfast Tel: 03454 55 55 55

Tegral Building Products (Slates) Athy, Co Kildare Tel: 059 863 1316 The Camden Group (manufacturers of PVCu windows, doors and glass units) Antrim, Co Antrim Tel: 9446 2419

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




“...all biomass burners require an adequate supply of air to enable combustion. In today’s era of airtight building design, this means that in most modern buildings and often in refurbished ones as well a dedicated air supply must be provided.’ ”

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Biomass stoves generally provide local space heating only, and cookers heat for cooking only, but those equipped with back boilers are designed to also produce hot water and/or space heating.


n the previous issue we covered the basic principles of biomass combustion; quality and moisture content of fuel; combustion air supply; the burning cycle; fuel types; storage and sizing. Most of those principles also apply to stoves and cookers with back boilers with the exception of some fuel sources and sizing techniques. These are important to understand so you should familiarise yourself with that article before proceeding. Because the appliances covered in this article are usually designed to be located inside the living space of a building, fuels are normally restricted to wood pellets and logs. Wood chip appliances are normally placed in a garage or shed due to the high volume of fuel required. As some appliances can supply a variety of heating loads (local space, cooking, hot water, general space), sizing must take account of each of these elements.


The health and safety risks associated with biomass appliances in the home are often misunderstood. There is a popular misconception that biomass fuel, being an un-reactive solid, is less dangerous than oil or gas. This is not the case! Gas appliances have integrated safety systems that cannot be fitted to biomass stoves and boilers. Flue gas carbon monoxide concentrations from natural gas boilers are low compared to those of biomass burners. Oil burners are sophisticated devices carrying little risk of uncontrolled combustion whereas uncontrolled combustion is always a possibility with biomass burners. 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, this means that in most modern buildings and often in refurbished ones as well, a dedicated air supply must be provided.

Biomass back boilers

Putting your back into it Without an adequate air supply dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up and, ultimately, cause death. Many modern buildings include a Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) system. Where these are present, it is essential that negative pressure cannot be created in the same room as the appliance. In these circumstances, it would be wise to ensure that any biomass appliance is fitted with a dedicated, sealed, combustion air supply routed directly from the appliance to the exterior of the building. Regular maintenance is required to ensure combustion air supply and exhaust gas pathways are kept clear. This contributes to safe combustion, reducing carbon dioxode or monoxide risk. You should employ a registered professional to carry out the work1. Bearing in mind the principles discussed in the previous article on the combustion cycle (the necessity for the biomass burner to dissipate heat from initial ignition through to the extinguishing of the fire), it is obvious that water must be able to pass through the boiler 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). Thus in a sealed system if the water turns to steam and the pressure cannot be alleviated, a potential bomb has been created. In a system open to the atmosphere, the water between the steam and the exit point will be evacuated. Therefore, it is essential that a safe system is designed where the situation described cannot develop. If you are in any doubt about the dangers, simply type in your search engine “wood stove boiler explosion”. There are a myriad of regulations in force designed to ensure health and safety in biomass installations including Building Regulations, Safety, Health & Welfare Regulations and Legislation and „




Logs vs pellets

Fuel types, volumes, moisture content and automation were covered in some detail in the previous article; other points to note specifically about the difference between log and pellet systems with back boilers are as follows. Log fed systems rely on manual lighting and feeding, which takes time, not forgetting also the manual labour involved before the appliance reaches useful temperature. 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 fuel is available. Some burner designs deliver more reliable automation than others. Log burners are unsuitable for installations where the flue/chimney doesn’t provide adequate draught or is susceptible to down draught. Pellet stoves, which have a combustion air fan to control the burn rate, 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 blown warm air to other rooms (some log burners can do this too but they’re not the common model you’ll find on the market). Pellet fed appliances with back boilers normally require some daily cleaning and a more thorough weekly clean. Cleaning is a messy process!


The principles of system sizing were covered in some detail in the previous article and most of those principles apply here, and also to fossil fuel systems. However, systems with back boilers generally provide at least two functions. In the case of a stove with a back boiler, the functions will be local space heating and hot water and/or wider space heating. In the case of a cooker with a back boiler, it will be cooking, providing some local space heating by default and hot water, and/or wider space heating. Therefore, each of the loads must be fully understood and the system designed to address them. 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. Therefore, the start point is to calculate the heat losses from that room and ensure that the heat output from the appliance to the room (normally quoted in kW by the supplier) does not exceed the „

Biomass back boilers

Construction (Design & Management) Regulations. The Regulations are many and complex so it is advisable to employ a HETAS2 registered installer to ensure safe installation, in both NI and ROI. Also make sure the equipment and final installation is CE marked.

2 3 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.


Biomass back boilers

store will increase capital costs substantially. Many modern buildings include MVHR systems. There is an expectation that, where present, these systems will deliver recovered heat from the appliance to the rest of the building. While this will undoubtedly take place, the air-flow rates are very low on MVHR systems and the end user should understand that only a small amount of heat will be moved around the house by such a system5. The great benefit of installing such a system is that you’re not allowing cold air to be driven through the house in winter. There is no infallible rule of thumb for sizing, but the end user’s requirements, their expectations and the loads must be fully understood to optimise it.


Pellet stove with backboiler

Pellet stove with backboiler

calculated heat losses3. It is important to understand that, in a modern, 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. If you choose to go with an oversized boiler the room will be uncomfortably hot. Once the room output has been calculated, consider the other uses. In any event, the system must be able to dissipate the full boiler output at all times. Thus, if the boiler is to heat a hot water cylinder, a system must be designed to ensure that, once the hot water cylinder is hot, the heat is diverted to another load. Similarly, if, for example, the heat is then dissipated to a space heating zone, either another load must be available to accept the heat when that zone reaches temperature or the zone must be left open at all times to allow the boiler to dump heat. Also bear in mind that during the year, the amount of heat required to keep a building warm varies according to the outside temperature. So if the boiler output is designed to meet the maximum space heating load, for much of the year the appliance will be unusable as it will need to dump too much heat. Again, the end user must understand that, in a modern, well-insulated house, the space heating load may be low and that, even though the rooms are hot, the back boiler may need to dump heat. The previous article discussed thermal stores, and it may be possible to include a thermal store4 in the design. However, the addition of a thermal

Traditionally, back boilers were plumbed into an open vented, gravity fed system supplying a second hot water coil in the hot water cylinder. In this design, the hot water cylinder is placed directly above the boiler and a ‘heat leak’ radiator is fitted above the cylinder and below the expansion tank to allow excess heat to dissipate. Large bore copper pipe work is required along with a metal expansion tank and a brass float on the ball cock in the expansion tank to ensure that high temperature water can escape and that it cannot melt the tank or float. A thermostatic blender is required on the hot water from the cylinder to ensure it does not exceed safe temperatures. This system is in widespread use6 and often extended to deliver hot water to the central heating system with the addition of at least a pump and a minimum return thermostat (that controls the pump based on the temperature of the water returning to the back boiler). There are specific connection requirements too which need to be expertly installed.

4 Also known as an accumulator tank or buffer tank 5 A full calculation should be undertaken by the MVHR supplier to explain this if in any doubt. 6


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Financial incentives

As far as we are aware, there are no financial incentives for biomass back boilers in ROI. At the time of writing, the Domestic RHI11 in NI gives an initial support payment of £2,500 and an ongoing support payment of 5.6 p/kWh. The ongoing support payment is based on a calculated annual heat demand if all reasonable energy efficiency measures had been carried out at the property12. In addition, it is capped at £2,500 per annum. The support lasts for seven years and the tariff will be reviewed annually. Both the equipment and

the supplier must be accredited under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) for projects <45kW to avail of financial incentives. n

Biomass back boilers

Sizing of components is essential, but the system has the advantage of remaining open to atmosphere. If there is a power cut or the pump fails, the heat can dissipate around the heat leak radiator and the robust metal fittings ensure that a supply of cold water is always available at the expansion tank. There are many variations on this theme, but ensuring that a good, gravity fed flow is available is the key to success. The author has visited a site where a bucket of sand was located beside the stove to put the fire out in the event of a power cut as the stove creaked alarmingly if the pump failed to operate! More recently, systems have evolved that are pressurised and protected by both temperature and pressure control valves with automatic cold water wash through. Some of these7 have been accredited by the UK MCS scheme (see Financial Incentives below). Installation requirements are detailed and stringent for both products8 and installers9. If you would like to know more about installing biomass burners with back boilers there are some good websites with a variety of useful diagrams10.

Tony Traill Elemental Consultants, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, tel. 93 340 311, Additional Information Xavier Dubuisson, XD Consulting, Clonakilty, Co Cork, mobile 086 0476124,

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. County Down Stoves & Flues (N. Ireland’s official stockists of Clearview Stoves with over two decades of experience in the solid fuel industry) Dundrum, Co Down Tel: 4375 1555 Dunne Eco (Energy specialists - solar PV to wood pellet stoves) Tullamore, Co Offaly Tel: 057 9322 468 Grant Engineering (Condensing Wood Pellet Boilers) Birr, Co Offaly Tel: 057 912 0089 Ian A Kernohan Ltd (AGA) Conlig, Co Down Tel: 9127 0233 Stovax (stoves, fires and fireplaces) Devon Tel: 01392 261 900 ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)

L to R, thermal store, biomass boiler, pressurised cylinder.

7 Such as the Broseley eVolution 8 9 10 11 12 Based on the Energy Performance Certificate


Growing your own fuel There are three main wood fuel types (from left to right): firewood, wood chip and wood pellets.

Wood as fuel: grow it, burn it Nothing is as handy as oil. That’s why we got addicted to the stuff. But if you’re up for a challenge, planting trees is a much better option for the planet.


f you’re considering growing your own wood fuel know that it will require planning, suitable land, a storage area, labour, skill and appropriate equipment. Having said that, wood fuel is probably the most sustainable, renewable and value for money source of energy suited to Irish conditions.

Wood fuel types

There are three main wood fuel types: firewood, wood chip and wood pellets. Firewood is often the most appropriate option if you wish to grow your own. It can be burned in a woodstove or a log boiler providing all your hot water and central heating requirements. One of the great advantages of firewood is the minimal handling and processing required producing a very good fuel. It is also cheap. A distinct disadvantage is that manual feeding is required so it may not suit people with mobility issues.


Wood chip may be a suitable option if you have a (very) large heat requirement. If you have your own timber supply, the wood will need to be chipped. You can either buy your own or hire in a powerful wood chipper for a day. Making good quality wood chip is not as easy as it sounds as moisture content, dust content, size of particles, etc. all have a major bearing on the fuel quality produced. There is also the cost of the hire and fuel for the chipper. Wood pellets are highly compressed sawdust. But be warned: this is an industrial process and can’t be replicated successfully at home! When buying, choose these products from companies that participate in a reliable quality assurance scheme.

Before you start

There is a wide range of both conifers and broadleaves that will make good fuel. You can start by having a look at what is doing well locally. This will ensure that they are suitable and will help the „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Growing your own fuel

trees blend in with the surrounding area. Rather than getting fixated about a particular tree species, it is much more important to plant the right tree in the right place. What is the soil like – damp or dry, acidic or alkaline? Is it exposed or sheltered, is it a frost hollow? Are animals such as deer and rabbits likely to damage the young saplings? Your local Teagasc Forestry Adviser in ROI or DARD Forest Officer in NI can help you answer these questions. The adjoining tree species table may also help you choose the right tree for your site.

divide this area in ten different annual sections (or coupes) so that a tenth is cut each year. This means that after ten years you’ll be back at the first coupe. These three hectares should give an annual production of about nine tonnes of well-dried firewood. This is the equivalent of about three thousand litres of home heating oil.

Moisture content and storage

Most tree species make good firewood. The crucial issue is moisture content. A cubic metre of freshly cut wood weighs roughly one tonne and (usually) has a moisture content of about 55 to 60 per cent. After one year of drying in appropriate conditions, it will lose 300kg of water. After drying for another year, it will have lost another 100kg of water. This will give a moisture content of about 30 per cent. For example, one tonne of spruce firewood with a moisture content of 20 per cent has a similar calorific value as one tonne of ash firewood with the same moisture content. However, because ash wood is denser, one tonne of well dried ash will result in a smaller volume and will therefore require less storage space. To give you an idea of the size of the shed you will need, a thousand litres of home heating oil has a volume of about one and a half cubic metres. Wood pellets replacing 1,000l of oil will require double this storage space; firewood logs four times this volume while wood chip will take up eight times the space!

Management options Remove the wood from the forest and stack it in a highly ventilated area, covering the top while leaving the sides open.

Attractive forestry grants may be available to get you started (see info) but bear in mind that by establishing a woodland, you will be legally required to retain it. The financing available may be attractive but it is a one way street, so be forewarned! Another option is to purchase an existing woodland. Occasionally small woodlands come up for sale and present great wood fuel growing opportunities. However if you are planning to build a house within the woodland, it is essential to consult with all relevant authorities prior to getting into the planning phase as several limitations may arise.

fuel h c u m w o H ed? ce a e n u o y l l i w to repla

Plot size

The amount of land required to grow some wood fuel can be surprisingly small but if you wish to be b m u th f g o in t le a u e r h fully self-sufficient a e As of hom s e s r t e li n in central heating n d o n t a thous ed two e n l il and hot water for an w , r u o o oil, then y uality wood pellets ied average-sized house of good q e tonnes of well-dr es then you will need about three hectares. about thre r three to four tonn If you will manage o . d s firewoo -dried wood chip your woodland of well as a coppice (see Management section),


As the trees grow, they will start crowding each other out. This process will start when the trees are between ten and twenty years of age and it’s only then that you will start getting free fuel. By removing poorer quality trees you will be providing more growing space for the remaining trees; this thinning process will provide substantial volumes of wood fuel and will encourage ground flora, benefiting wildlife and leading to a richer ecosystem. If you don’t want to generate wood fuel by thinning your woodland, regular coppicing is another great way to grow your own wood fuel. This process can start once the trees are ten to fifteen years old. Certain tree species will sprout producing multiple stems when cut at the very base of the tree. This operation can be repeated many times. Suitable species include ash, sycamore, willow, alder, hazel and oak. Coppicing takes place in winter and the new shoots will appear the following spring. The number of years between cuts depends on tree species and use but is usually every eight to twelve years in the case of wood fuel production. A modern take on coppice is short rotation forestry (SRF). Extremely fast growing willow varieties are grown on two to three year rotations. Large agricultural machinery is required and it’s therefore not a realistic option for homeowners. Harvesting willow on a small scale can be very difficult and is very time consuming but it can be done, for example when used in conjunction with zero discharge sewage treatment systems. „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

* Tree native to Ireland Soil preferences

Species Moisture Texture Acidity Height Growth Tolerance Bio- Uses Tree Attractive rate diversity age features value Alder, common * 1 23 23 2 1 1234 123 2 3 Alder, grey 123 2 23 2 1 123 2 3 Ash * 2 2 23 3 2 23 134 123 3 Please note: ash should not be planted due to the serious threat of the very infectious ash dieback disease.

Beech 3 12 23 3 2 123 24 125 2 34 Birch, downy * 1 23 12 23 12 3 123456 1 1 14 Birch, silver * 3 12 12 23 12 123456 1 1 14 Blackthorn/Sloe * 2 123 123 12 2 23 12 345 2 12 Buckthorn, purging 12 2 3 1 2 12 1 2 Buckthorn, alder 1 2 1 1 2 12 23 1 124 Cherry, bird * 12 12 12 12 2 12 123 3 124 Cherry, wild * 23 123 23 2 12 12 123 3 124 Chestnut, horse 12 23 12 3 12 3 56 3 2 134 Chestnut, sweet 2 12 2 3 12 1 123 2 34 Crab apple * 2 23 23 12 3 12 23 2 124 Elder * 123 123 23 1 1 12 3 1 12 Elm, wych * 12 23 23 3 2 23 2346 13 3 4 Guelder rose * 12 23 23 1 2 12 5 1 124 Hawthorn * 23 123 23 12 12 23 12 345 2 12 Hazel * 23 23 23 12 12 1 1234 135 1 13 Holly * 23 2 12 12 23 13 124 2345 2 125 Hornbeam 12 3 23 23 2 1 1 1235 2 4 Juniper * 23 1 23 1 3 3 4 3 25 Larch, European 2 2 2 3 2 1 1 34 Larch, Japanese 12 12 2 3 12 23 1 1 34 Limes 2 23 23 3 2 24 3 4 4 Maple, field 23 23 23 1 2 1 24 35 1 4 Maple, Norway 23 123 23 3 12 2 13 2 4 Oak, pedunculate * 12 23 2 3 2 3 12456 123 3 34 Oak, red 23 123 12 3 12 123 2 34 Oak, sessile * 2 12 12 3 2 3 12456 123 3 34 Pine, lodgepole 13 13 12 3 12 23 12 1 35 Pine, scots * 3 1 12 3 2 3 1234 12 3 35 Poplars 1 23 2 3 1 2 3 1 Rowan * 23 12 12 12 1 23 124 3 2 124 Spindle * 12 23 23 1 2 2 2 24 Spruce, Norway 12 23 12 3 12 12 1 35 Spruce, Sitka 12 23 12 3 1 23 12 1 35 Sycamore 12 23 23 3 12 23 14 13 2 4 Whitebeam * 123 123 23 12 2 12 12 3 2 12 Willows * 12 23 23 2 1 23 12456 3 3 14 Yew * 23 12 23 2 3 13 1 35 4 25

Growing your own fuel

Tree selector

Legend: Soil preferences: Soil moisture: 1. Damp 2. Average 3. Dry Soil texture 1. Light 2. Medium 3. Heavy Acidity vs. alkalinity 1. Acid 2. Medium 3. Alkaline

Height (in metres) 1. Small (-5) 2. Medium (5-15) 3. large (+15) Growth rate 1. Fast 2. Medium 3. slow Tolerant of 1. Shade 2. coastal sites 3. exposed sites

Biodiversity value 1. Birds/bats 2. insects 3. red squirrels 4. lichens 5. fungi 6. deadwood Uses/suitable for 1. Timber/stakes/etc. 2. Firewood 3. coppicing 4. prickly deterrent 5. hedging

Tree age (years) 1. 40-70 2. 100-150 3. 200-250 4. 500 + Attractive features 1. Flowers/catkins 2. Berries 3. nuts/cones 4. autumn colour 5. evergreen


Growing your own fuel

A firewood processor produces firewood quickly and efficiently.

In most cases, you will need a felling licence before you can cut down any trees (NI and ROI). How to go about this, application forms and worked out examples are available from Teagasc and DARDNI. For specific queries in relation to felling regulations, contact your local Teagasc Forestry Adviser (ROI) or DARDNI Forest Officer (NI).

Harvesting and processing

A quad bike and trailer are very useful to extract small amounts of timber from the forest.

It is absolutely essential to dry wood thoroughly before burning, whether for fire wood or wood chip, as moisture content is directly related to calorific value (how much heat you get out of the fuel). That is why ash has an excellent reputation as a firewood because of its naturally low moisture content. It is necessary to remove the wood from the forest to dry it sufficiently. Crosscut (and split if necessary) the wood and stack in a highly ventilated area covering the top while leaving the sides open so that the wind can blow through it. Another great place to dry your wood fuel is by stacking it in an old fashioned hay shed. At least one and maybe two years of drying in good conditions will be required.

Steven Meyen Forestry Adviser with Teagasc providing advice and training to forest owners in Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim Steven also runs wood energy workshops at the Organic Centre in Leitrim All photographs courtesy of Teagasc

Accidents do happen so be safe and wear all appropriate safety gear.


Probably the most useful tool to have is a well maintained chainsaw. It is used to harvest your trees, crosscut the timber and even to process small amounts of firewood. However, firewood can be produced much more efficiently by using a mechanical firewood processor. You can either consider buying one or hire one for the day. There are several ways to extract timber from the forest. For the homeowner, either a quad bike with trailer or a small tractor are the handiest solutions. The above mentioned tools are very useful but they are also dangerous and accidents do happen. Make sure that you know how to use equipment safely and wear all necessary protective gear. It is clear that growing, harvesting and processing your own wood fuel is not for the fainthearted. It will require time, good health and skill. However, it can be very cost effective, benefits both the local and wider environment hugely and above all is deeply satisfying. n

Grants, felling licence and general advice: ROI grants apply to minimum 0.1 ha (1/4 acre) – know that some requirements, e.g. for felling licenses, are due to change with implementation of the new Forestry Act; NI Forest Service uk/forestry – know that grants for the 2015/2016 planting season are to be announced late autumn 2015. Quality assurance schemes: Önorm, DIN, WFQA

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Timberland Forestry Dermot Houlihan B.Agr.Sc.(Forestry) MSIF MACA of Timberland Forestry, Forestry Consultancy and Management, 27 Bushypark Lawn, Circular Road, Galway, tel. 091 527580, mobile 086 2687476 ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0) SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Bespoke low energy homes Advanced Timbercraft is a forward-thinking family business with over 50 years’ experience in building bespoke homes of unrivaled quality

Superb New Home in Sligo. Manufactured, supplied and erected by Advanced Timbercraft Ltd. Architect: McGarry Moon Architects Ltd

Photographer: Adam Currie

To book an appointment, and visit one of our homes, go to or call +44 (0)28 9083 8951

Toy storage solutions

Getting to grips with toy chaos Are you overwhelmed by toys that have overstayed their ‘play date’? Do you find yourself endlessly picking up, stepping on or tripping over your child’s playthings?


o you dream of a minimalist interior but would settle for a tidy one? If your answer is resounding Yes! then it is time to fight the toy invasion and introduce some storage sanity to

your home. But first, you must cull the clutter. Most of us will have come to realise that it’s much easier to make decisions and think clearly when we’re in a clean, neat space. Have you noticed how quickly your child will go play in their room if it’s tidy? As adults, we use only 20 per cent of what we have 80 per cent of the time, and the same goes for children As the festive season will soon be upon us, now is the perfect time to declutter, not only to create space for new toys but to possibly make another child’s Christmas brighter by donating.


Reduce, reuse, recycle

A good place to start is by labelling some boxes ‘keep’, ‘discard’, ‘donate’, ‘recycle’ and sorting toys accordingly. When asked, children are quick to select the ‘keepers’ and may surprise you with the number of toys they have finished playing with. But then again, sometimes limiting the amount of toys entering your home can be difficult. While you can certainly curb your purchasing habits, controlling gifts from others (especially around birthdays and holidays) can be tricky. One helpful clutter prevention technique is the ‘one in, one out’ rule. Alternatively, you could find an out-of-the-way area to stash a portion of the toys and work on a rotation system; this will reduce clutter while giving your child a treat when SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Holistic approach

Keeping toys hidden away in children’s rooms sounds ideal, but isn’t always realistic. More often than not toys ‘spill over’ into all areas of a house. Instead of fighting it, go with it! Low level cupboards within a child’s reach can be used to store and conceal toys, with shelving for books over. Equally, put often-used playthings such as blocks and dolls on shelves your child can have easy access to. If they can see it, they’ll more readily tidy up on their own (instead of having to open a drawer). The bottom drawers of a living or dining room credenza or sideboard can also be devoted to toys with maybe a drawer dedicated to each child. And the next time you’re going furniture shopping, think multi-functional. Wherever possible, buy pieces with built-in storage such as ottomans, stools and even beds. Indeed, beds with pull-out storage drawers, and built-in wardrobes can store just about everything, but remember to ensure easy and safe child access to toys and games. If you’re handy at DIY or can afford to get a carpenter in, think of adding built-in storage to your fireside alcoves. You could also consider raising the bed off the floor to use the space underneath as a play / storage area. Similarly, a raised floor design provides a novel way to incorporate an additional sliding bed for sleep overs or additional storage space for toys in a children’s bedroom. And how about built-in bookshelves in creative shapes? A boat, castle, or doll’s house… A bit of imagination can also transform the space underneath your stairs into another world for children… a den!; of course it can be used for storage too. Consider using drawers in place of risers in the stairs to make the most of this underutilised space.

It may be obvious but always choose storage containers that are secure, durable and affordable. And always remember the ever humble, always handy basket which meets most storage needs and suits nearly all rooms. For the more adventurous there’s the wooden boxes or crates on wheels. Take a wooden crate, paint it if you like, put casters (in fabulous pink or blue) at each corner and hey presto you have a mobile toy box! You can then attach a piece of plywood (cut to size) as a lid, add to that a foam cushion and you have a toy box / seat! For specific toy needs if your child loves puzzles, you probably have a lot of bulky boxes. Placing each puzzle in a large zippered pencil case and remembering to put the image box’s cover on the front of each pouch will save on storage space. You can then put all pouches in one larger ‘Puzzle Tub’. For action figures, a clear, plastic overdoor shoe holder is ideal. Fabric and jute storage bags work well too as do toy boxes that double as bench seats. Storage containers that provide small compartments and are fun to play with include buckets, pop-up tidies and wall tidies with multiple pockets. „

Toy storage solutions

something they haven’t seen in a while reappears! As for keeping toys for posterity and perhaps prosperity, you could always make room in the roof space for one or two. According to Leigh Gotch, head of the toy department at auctioneers Bonhams, toys from the not too distant past which are rising in value include hand-held electronic games and toys from fast-food meals. “The original Barbie and Action Man already have a great collectable value, with the accessories and outfits sometimes more desirable than the doll,” he said. “Thunderbirds figures (from the late Sixties to early Seventies), Star Wars toys (1977-83) and Hornby trains also appear to be as valuable as ever.”


Choosing matching storage containers will reduce the visual ‘noise’ in a room and make it look more organised. Using clear storage boxes makes content identification easy and is helpful when you are looking for a particular item in a hurry! Alternatively, you could label the boxes or affix a contents picture on the front for younger children who may not be able to read yet. Each child’s belongings can be identified with name tags, an image or colour coded stickers.



Up the walls

Wall space is an organiser’s best friend so scale the heights with floor-to-ceiling built-in shelves and cabinets, all the while ensuring easy child access to toys and games at lower levels. A top tip is to buy adjustable shelving; the kind that you choose should be able to conform and adapt to all of your stuff, not the other way around. Another is to opt for adult-size storage furniture; skip the diminutive children’s shelving as they provide less storage and aren’t necessarily more practical. Also, children grow up very quickly which means you’re unlikely to get much use out of them. Used independently, in addition to, or in combination with built-ins, many wall systems/ panels are available that introduce a wide range of storage possibilities too, such as: - Slatted Wall Panels: fitted with hooks, rails and shelves, these walls can be can be used to hang anything from a basket to a bicycle. - Peg Boards: hooking supplies onto pegboard is a great way to keep your craft space organized.

Thinking outside the toy box The hobby table

Do your children like train sets? Then consider installing a permanent play/assembly table. This will keep pieces off the floor and act as a design statement, too. Adding drawers below will provide storage to hold all the related bits and bobs when it’s not in use. This could also work for Playmobil and Lego. Add casters and the table can be moved as necessary.

Spice racks

A spice rack can be perfect for storing glitter, beads, googly eyes, and other small craft pieces. Choose a select few; too much choice can stymie creativity. Taking a ‘less is more’ approach to craft materials could spark your child’s imagination.

Magnetic boards

Feel like getting ‘crafty’ yourself ? Magnetic boards are an increasingly popular storage solution; simply place toy cars on the board or glue a little magnet to any small item you want off the floor. Framing the board with picture moulding will transform it into a work of art! You could stick magnetic spice jars to the board too if you don’t have a spice rack for your craft supplies.

Magnetic strips

Using magnetic strips to display your toy car collection is similar to the idea of using a magnetic knife rack / strip but on a larger scale. However, many new toy cars do not have enough metal in them to actually attach so you might want to do an ‘attach’ test first.

Child safety

Toy storage solutions

They may even encourage your child to tidy up if each compartment is dedicated to a specific toy. For the un-stackable you could make up a frame and attach a series of bungee cords top to bottom; this is especially handy to have in your garage for sports balls and other bulky objects as it provides easy access and keeps things tidy.

Some basic precautions to follow when dealing with toy storage: l When painting furniture, use child safe paint as chewing is bound to occur. l Free-standing furniture must be sturdy. If it has drawers, it is likely to be used as a ladder and toppling is a risk. l Built-in wardrobes: divide storage into small, manageable compartments. Large, high shelves always suffer from ‘black hole’ syndrome where things disappear never to be seen again. l Adapting adult furniture: install good drawer runners for ease of movement and to ensure that drawers cannot be pulled out on to a child. l Smooth off any sharp edges on the insides of mass produced furniture with sandpaper. l Storage units must be well-made, safe and practical.

Deep shadow box display frames

For those trinkets and toys that you can’t bear to part with and don’t want to hide, present them in a shadow box and display them as wall art.

Curtain tension rods

Using wire or plastic baskets fixed to a curtain tension rod above your bath is a great way to store bath toys in a way for them not to get mouldy. You could also use a washing machine net, hung on a wall hook.

Gift boxes

More often than not, it is the tiny toys that can literally get under your skin! Small cardboard gift boxes could be put to work as mini display areas for favourite ornaments, and add a touch of fun to any room. Make something similar by sticking a number of boxes together with double-sided tape, and attach to a wall; covering their inside backs in decorative paper (offcuts) keeps things looking pretty.„


Toy storage solutions

Garden baskets

Wall-mounted garden baskets can make great toy storage / bins. Hang them low so little hands can reach them.

Tin cans

Thoroughly cleaned up, sanded at the edges, and painted food cans can be hung sideways on the wall for storage or the right way up on a magnetic strip for art supplies.

Old drawers

Turn old furniture drawers into under bed storage by adding casters or if the drawer has got compartments, screw it to the wall for cubby hole shelving.


Both Clip and Pin boards are a great way to display children’s artwork on walls.

Plastic cups Novelty items

Trinket boxes, decorative hooks/pegs hung within the child’s reach and teddy hammocks are all fun examples.

Picture ledge

A slim shelf that holds books and frames upright makes it easy to display cheery covers. Mount them low enough so your children can take, and put back, the books themselves. Picture ledges can also be used to display toy cars or other small playthings.


Not only for jam, the ubiquitous jar normally seen on shelves can equally be used for under shelf or counter storage, fix the lid of the jar to the underside of the shelf or work surface and screw the base of the jar (containing, glitter, beads, or Halloween ‘creepies’) to the lid. The same applies for other household screw top containers.

Baking pans and plastic take-away containers

Shallow baking pans, plastic take away containers and cutlery trays all make great drawer dividers. Alternatively you can custom make your own from balsa wood or card and sort the beads from the buttons!


Cut to size some cardboard to fit the inside of a plastic storage container. Then glue the base of some plastic cups to the cardboard sheets and tier/ layer inside the container. This is a great way to store seldom used craft materials or even Christmas decorations. Having a place for everything and everything in its place is satisfying and for most people, an orderly environment helps them feel more energetic, creative and cheerful. Teaching children how to maintain their living areas is a life skill so if you’re sorting out your wardrobe or organising anything around the house, involving your children in the process will help them understand the benefits, and the need to do it on a regular basis. Providing children with attractive, imaginative storage will add decorative interest to their rooms and encourage them to take care of their belongings. Finally, and maybe more importantly, being storage savvy before Christmas should ensure that any new arrivals, ‘Stuart’, ‘My Friend Freddie’, ‘Barbie’ and ‘Action Man’ won’t have to sleep on the floor! n

Caroline Irvine MRIAI Architect, Dun Laoghaire, County Dublin. Mobile: 087 2987401 SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Garden Walls & Paths

Garden travels Walls and paths define a space and enable access but they add personality too.


The creative use of brick bonding, with or without contrasting or complimentary brick colours, can have a dramatic effect on the appearance of a building.

English Bond


rom a design point of view, one of the greatest self-build challenges is to ally style with function. Even the humble wall will make a statement so be prepared for what it has to declare. You may want it to say ‘keep out’ and so build it high or you may simply need to secure your boundary with something aesthetically pleasing, whatever the chosen height. Something that functionally encapsulates and protects the garden from drying wind, salt breeze or cold air, but feels good too. This will require more time and dedication. If you already have a wall and think it’s unsightly, apart from covering it with render and painting it a colour that either ‘pops’ or disappears into the background – you could grow against it. Make it work for you by hosting edible or fragrant plants; nothing beats a walled garden to extend growing opportunities. You can’t train fan pears or espalier apples against a hedge! Vine wires or trellis will provide support and in no time that wall will be clad in greenery. Another trick to take the weightiness away from a large surrounding boundary wall is to create some seats, raised beds or lower retaining walls in the same finish. The eye puts the mind at

Flemish Garden Wall Bond

Flemish Bond

Stretcher Bond

English Garden Wall Bond

Raking Bonds

ease when it looks at varying heights of the same material. This space will become a place to escape to, not to escape from. You can also incorporate lighting, a built-in seat or host a water feature. A hung door that goes nowhere is a designer trick to lure you into thinking there’s ‘more’. It also delivers a focal point that will break up a large wall or dress a smaller one. Recesses also work well – not just as a design feature to locate a night-time illumination (adds drama) but as focal points in daylight too. Placing an urn or sculptural work inside adds instant impact.

House style Ultimately your budget will narrow down or broaden your options but bear in mind garden walls are extensions of your property and it’s good to let them match or at least hint at what’s to come. If you have a modern design then any wall material can be used but if your building is red brick you might want to stick with it for your boundaries or at least have pillars and caps in that style. Quarried stone might not suit every pocket or

indeed every building; as outlined above it may look out of place next to a brick house. However if you are going to go to this expense then let it be a feature, don’t hide it away under a mass of Boston ivy, even if you adore that russet look in autumn. You may however want to block some of it out so it doesn’t feel like a stroll around the keep – however much you want your home to be your castle. In this case some judicious planting should help; think fan trained pears, espalier apples, a column or two of yew. The intermittent positioning of clipped hedging will also let the wall shine through but add an extra layer of structure to please the eye.

Red brick. Ever popular, you can’t go far wrong with a redbrick wall. And they are not all the same! They have bonds (patterns of how they are layered) that make them interesting; the most common are stretcher, English and Flemish. Stretcher is a neat pattern with little waste and so no extra cost for brick cutting. Beyond the extra aesthetic the English pattern provides, it is perhaps the strongest construction bond for a one-brick-thick wall. Flemish bond is a lovely pattern but more expensive as it is more labour intensive, requires more cutting and requires a skilled tradesman. Stretcher can be fancied up by breaking the pattern at points – say every five or seven courses. You can have a border course in a different SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Garden Walls & Paths

bond intermittently, or as a top course to add an extra feature to it. Border/capping courses include soldiers, sailors, shiners and rowlocks. Funnily enough soldiers and sailors often scare off the cowboy builders even though they are not that technically complicated. A ‘soldier’ is a brick laid vertically to expose the long narrow side of the brick. A ‘sailor’ is a brick laid vertically to expose the broad face of the brick. A ‘shiner’ is simply the brick on the long narrow side with the broad face exposed. A ‘rowlock’ is a placement with the brick laid on the long narrow side to expose the short end of the brick.

Block work is what it is and should be rendered. Be that a smooth-ish layer of plaster to take a good masonry paint, a pattern in the plaster for effect or a dashing. Block work can also be faced with stone, tile, wood, and even mosaic. Who says your wall has to boring? I love the work of mosaic artist and award winning garden designer Dawn Aston. A wall can celebrate your personality too. Retaining walls are great to give a variance in level or to turn a hill into a wonderfully planted terraced garden. They look their best when they match the materials used in your boundary wall. The essential component is to incorporate a waterproof membrane during construction. Moisture can accrue behind a retaining wall, from the hose or rain. It will seep into the structure if there is no barrier and then when it meets the other dry side, evaporate off often leaving behind a stain of mineral efflorescence or an environment for mildew and moss colonisation. A simple membrane will keep the face of your wall trouble free. Retaining walls are generally small scale affairs to alter a level or create a raised planting area, if your ambitions or plans are more than you might achieve in a weekend project then a skilled professional will be better placed to asses any issues pertaining to additional drainage or structural integrity. Living walls also known as green walls or vertical gardens, are as popular in modern interior design as in landscaping. From the most expensive hotels in the world to the upcycled trendy pallet herb garden – a living wall is essentially a self-sufficient vertical garden whereby plants are grown in a structure attached to the existing wall surface. Initially developed by the French botanist Patrick Blanc over 30 years ago, vertical gardening has grown to become a high aesthetic and super practical way of extending your patch of green. Many urban buildings and cultural institutions across Europe have adopted the method to clad their buildings in seasonality. Be it filled with herbs or ornamentals it can suit any location and style of home. There are kits available and many specialist vertical landscapers too.


Paths provide more than a route between your back door and your shed. They are a device, a tool that shapes how you and your visitors will experience your landscape.

Beyond the utilitarian necessity of getting from A to B, a pathway holds the promise of a journey. A curve or a sweep can direct one around a border of tall grasses and mixed herbaceous that hide more behind, more that soon will be discovered. It’s literally a revelation, each step of the way. Every move you make will not just get you nearer to your destination but will offer another opportunity to discover the wonder and beauty of the garden it brings you through.

Retaining walls look their best when they match the materials used in your boundary wall.

Straight vs. curved. Sometimes straight lines

are a necessity, there may not be a garden to discover but rather a lawn or gravel driveway to traverse. Taking a diagonal route cuts a crisp design line across any space and makes a statement too, showing that a path can be as much about adding a bold design feature as providing passage. Functionality is always improved by good design and good design thrives on built-in functionality. If your garden is laid out in a formal pattern then a straight path all the way through will echo that ethos and suit the space, if your garden is informal then a curving or meandering path will rhyme with that style. If you are starting afresh then a curved path can make a small garden appear longer/larger as the eye is tricked into following it, observing every detail as it sweeps around the path. Straight paths get you to the focal point immediately so if you choose this option make sure you have something to showcase; a great front door or a seat, urn or sculpture. This works especially well when positioned at the end of the back garden. Length and width. Your path’s length can be whatever you decide the distance of the journey should be – if not as the crow flies then the gentle „


Garden Walls & Paths

functionality or budget. Your path can mirror the material of your boundary walls or the construction materials of your home. If you are opting for a solid alternative such as brick, slab or concrete then edging details might not matter much – that said a redbrick edge to a poured concrete path elevates it. If you are opting for gravel or hoggin or other softer, more dispersible materials then edging is vital to hold your path surface in place. Redbrick, granite sets, other stone materials or indeed terracotta tile or metal framework will do the job. An underlay of stabiliser – many are a honeycomb of recycled plastics – is an excellent means of further retaining the surface material and essential if you wish to drive over it. You keep the crunch of gravel but you won’t sink in or displace stones as you traverse.

A good rule of thumb is to make your garden’s walkways close to one metre wide (3ft)


meander or a full on circuit past the best features of the space. However the width is an aspect with a degree of rules. The proportions of aesthetic pleasure apply but so too does user comfort. A skinny path is fine between your vegetable plots; one that’s just wide enough to drag the lawnmower from the shed to the lawn is ok too but your front entrance or main pathways are another matter. They need to accommodate normal human perambulation – as in, think of other users. Don’t have the postman mimicking a tight wire act just because you like a narrow red brick course or want to maximise growing space. A good rule of thumb is to make garden walkways close to one metre wide, or about 3ft, that’s enough to pass the postman, allows for carrying shopping bags without decapitating flowering plants, and provides ample access for broader items such as wheelchairs and other mobility devices. The width is a dimension that will anchor your path and to a certain extent, define it. Smaller may feel more like a trail, with a psychological impact – you may find yourself quickening your pace to get to the destination! Wider could seem like you’re open to the public. One great design trick that many professional landscapers use is to widen the pathway at its end, that is at the front door, the patio area or other observance area of the garden or even the entrance to the veg patch. This gives a sense of arrival. You’ve made your entrance after having accomplished a journey; it’s a very satisfying feeling and whets your appetite for what’s to come, enhancing your experience of the space. Paths can also be widened along the way for reasons to pause – a shady bench, a stunning view, a sculptural work, an arbour. Again we are simply elongating the experience of the journey with these extra moments en route. Style. The interesting thing with paths is materials – this is an extra layer of style that can support

Hoggin vs. gravel. Hoggin is a sort of quarry dust, a particulate in varying dimensions of grain. It was originally used as a layer between hard core and the final top layer of your patio or path. It tampers down well and is a great even surface to work with. It does such a good job that many designers use it as their surface material. Tampered as is or resin bonded for extra finish and durability. Gravel holds a long tradition and it does the trick. Stone aggregates in all their wonderful shades have outshone the simple pea gravel in the past few years but as is the case in many aspects of building, the cyclical trends are moving in gravel’s favour once again. Redbrick path. Just as with walls, the bond

provides the aesthetic; herringbone and basket weave are the classical styles. Herringbone is a crisscross pattern with bricks set at either 45 degree (more expensive because the bricks on the edges will all need to be cut) or 90 degree angles (looks great too). Basket-weave has several variations and is more labour-intensive but its pattern suits all styles of gardening. There is a ‘running bond’ option which is simply bricks laid in simple rows much like a stack bond in a wall.  If you like the brick finish and style but don’t fancy a redbrick path to your glass and metal structure (but that really works) then brick is also available in many colours, including pinkish, buff, cream, various greys, tan, brown, and black. Sand-set brick is cheaper and easy to repair, but it can become uneven over time. Mortar-set brick is not that much more expensive for what you get – a rigid flat surface with no space for ants or weeds. Bricks weather well but if you have shade or damp or are looking to revitalise an old brick path then a hard bristle scrub with vinegar can be as good as a power-wash.

Poured concrete is perhaps the cheapest path and perhaps plainest but I have noticed it creeping back into show gardens and landscaping over the past two years. Generally brushed, often dyed and sometimes broken with inlay of setts or other materials. It may be patterned and coloured to look like something more expensive, e.g. brick. It’s hard wearing and functional and there are even concrete mixes that have a low carbon footprint.„ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Garden Walls & Paths

colonisation between pavers. This keeps you sure footed and a solid walkway always provides a more pleasant journey. Pavers can be square flagstones, bricks or tiles or even crazy paving with some gaps left or the odd one removed to house the plants. Once mature it looks and smells amazing.

Weedy path? Of course solid paths, those well

Straight paths get you to the focal point immediately so make sure you have something to showcase. Dawn Aston Mosaics

Paving slabs and setts offer extra style. Granite, marble, sandstone, limestone, reconstituted concrete – the materials offer a broad range and make it easy to match the home. Hardwearing and perennially chic it might be the perfect choice. If your path is curvy then your budget will have to stretch but if straight or diagonal there is a sophistication in these materials worth considering. Wooden walkways. While the ancient roads

of Ireland were made of alder and other native woods – and good enough for Queen Maeve and Cú Chulainn’s chariots – I have a problem with wooden paths. Decking gets slippery in winter and no matter how much care is given to it, will need repair and some replacement every few years. Beams and sleepers have a bit more merit but because of their look, they may make you want to pull the train whistle half way there! That said as spacers between gravel/hoggin, in a costal garden or as part of a biodiversity habitat it can really work.

The living path. Depending on your style of gardening, you may prefer to keep a lawn with turfed paths through your borders. Green always looks good but it is extra mowing-time commitment and grass is not always forgiving of bad weather, neglect or even traffic. I am a fan of herb paths whereby when you walk you release the aromatic fragrances of the plants below your feet. Plants such as chamomile and thyme make excellent spreading specimens. It is best if not a solid block of plants, but a

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Garage Door Systems (Garage Doors) Ballymena Tel: 2565 5555 RTU (Ultraflo screed, Exposa decorative concrete) Newtownabbey, Co Antrim Tel: 9085 1441

The Slate Paving Company Ltd (paving & driveways) Drimoleague, Co Cork Tel: 086 679 2639

bonded with concrete or resin, are weed free. However pavers or sets laid in sand are open to the potential of a seed nestling in or a rhizome pushing up. Gravel or hoggin likewise. Weed barriers between your paving layer and the soil below will only stop those weeds preexisting in the soil from emerging, it will not stop germination at surface level. So there may be occasion to treat your path for weeds. Hoeing, scraping, pulling by hand and other methods that agitate the weed out of the crack or space it it’s growing in will only agitate the soil around its roots and make it more amicable to future weeds; it is hard to put down roots or send up shoots in compacted soil – so don’t loosen it! Instead kill the weed in situ – this doesn’t mean you have to spray it with a chemical herbicide to poison the top growth and roots, there are other options if you have the patience. I say that because an organic approach results in a slower outcome, as effective in the long run but not overnight. The quickest solution is to use boiling water, pouring hot water onto weeds parboils the foliage so that it can’t photosynthesise and feed itself (starving the plant off over several days) and the heat also damages the top portion of the root, inhibiting regeneration. Some people use gas fuelled weed burners to do a similar trick but while that flame incinerates the top growth the weed may regenerate from the root and the paver may mark a little from the charring. Some of the organically certified weed killers available today are based on vinegar – using its acidity to inhibit the growing functions of the plant, which works really well. Or you could go Punic and ‘salt the earth’ – the salt will kill off the weed but its salinity remains in the soil and inhibits further germination. They’re all viable options, just don’t let chemical, vinegar, salt or hot water make its way onto your lawn or ornamental plants. Target weeds only, with small directed doses, for several days in a single week as necessary and repeat later in the year if needed. Once the weed is dead you are back to the dilemma of pulling it out and opening the soil to more unwanted visitors or leaving something unsightly to rot away. A pair of scissors will trim it back to become unnoticeable. All that may seem labour intensive in the immediate, but a stich in time… Whatever you choose according to your personal tastes, remember that walls and paths are functional devices; what makes them interesting is how you use them. n

Fiann Ó Nualláin @holisticG

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Plumbing and heating jargon buster

Talking turkey… with your plumber Whether it’s meeting a plumber for a consultation, having a system explained, or doing a DIY job, some plumbing and heating terms can sound like a foreign language! To help you to understand their meaning, this jargon buster tackles a list of the most common terms plumbers are asked to explain. Air Lock: Where air gets caught in a high point in a hot/cold water system or central heating system. You can get rid of it by venting (releasing air from) radiators. Ballcock: is a float operated valve that shuts off Ballcock

water levels in cold water storage cisterns in the attic space or in the toilet cistern. <Pic> Borehole: A well. In other words a hole drilled into the ground, passing the first layer of rock to obtain water for drinking purposes. Must be checked for impurities before use as it may need to be treated. Boreholes in the context of heat pumps (defined below) refer to the holes that are drilled down to access heat (for geothermal systems).

Cistern: A vessel open to the atmosphere


Dual flush: A toilet that gives users the choice of flushing with the maximum amount of water allowed by law (6 litres) or less water. Dual heating system: Heating from two

different heat sources like oil and solid fuel, or gas and solid fuel, etc.

Efficiency: How much energy you need to use (e.g. gas) to get another form of energy (e.g. space heating), expressed as a percentage. When one form of energy is converted into another, especially in the case of fossil fuels, there’s usually some of it that’s wasted (heat is often lost in the process). The higher the efficiency, the better.

used to supply cold water to sanitary fixtures and to the cylinder in the hot press that makes hot water. Usually found in the attic space (see Gravity system), it should be fitted with a lid to prevent contamination. Not to be confused with a toilet cistern which stores water to flush it.

Electric shower: A shower that

Condensing boilers: High efficiency boilers

Fitting: Used to join two pieces of pipe together,

that extract heat from the flue gases by sending it through a second heat exchanger which reduces the exhaust gas temperature within the flue. The exhaust gas condenses and is drained away through a separate small discharge pipe.

Copper pipes: Pipework used to be copper

but due to cost and ease of installation uPVC is now much more commonly used. Unlike uPVC copper will resist rodent attack, e.g. when run under suspended timber floors. It also has a much longer proven track record (long lasting).

Diameter: The bore or size of any pipe in

millimeters, e.g. waste pipe from a sink is generally 40mm, sewage pipes 4inch (100mm) while hot and cold water is usually supplied in ½ or ¾ inch (125 or 200mm) diameters depending on the pipe run and other factors.


Dual Element Heater (Immersion): An electric water heater with an upper and lower element for heating water. It is normally an electric element that can heat quantities of water for a bath or just for sink use. It is principally there to act as a back-up or top up to the main boiler or heat pump.

instantaneously heats water. A pump shower combines two separate hot and cold water feeds.

Feed pump: A pump that supplies water to a boiler or a tank.

e.g a bend to change direction, T-piece to make a connection to a straight length. Other examples include couplings, bushings or elbows.

Flush valve: Releases water from the tank

into a toilet bowl when the toilet is flushed and seals the valve shut when the toilet is not being flushed. Often controlled by a push button.

Gravity system: Unpressurised system where water heats and circulates without the use of a circulating pump. In this type of hot and cold water system mains water is pumped to the cistern (see definition) in the roof space and the water is then distributed throughout the house; pressure is generated by gravity. In the case of a cold roof construction the tank needs to be insulated all around (but not under) to prevent freezing. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

goes down the sink, bath or shower. Water from the toilet or bidet is known as brown water or waste water. Greywater can be reused to flush the toilet after it’s been collected and filtered. Rainwater can also be collected in large holding tanks, allowed to settle and if used for general water needs, treated. More common is to use it for flushing toilets and feeding the washing machine only as treatment can be expensive and requires more maintenance.

Heat pump: A unit that operates similarly to a fridge only in reverse, in this case using a very small amount of electricity to extract energy from the ground (known as geothermal) or air to convert into heat. Some can achieve more than 400 per cent efficiencies (for every 1 unit of electricity supplied 4 units of heat are produced), compared to the efficiencies of fossil fuels, which roughly vary from 60 to 95 per cent. Low temperature radiators: Radiators that emit higher outputs at lower temperatures and are more efficient. Often made from aluminum.

Magnetic filter: A device which fits onto

heating systems and collects iron deposits, which helps to prevent build-up of sludge and corrosive materials in radiators and piping. A chemical referred to as an inhibitor, can alternatively be run through the system to the same effect.

Mains water: Water supplied by your local

Pressurised systems: Whereby water is

pumped to give better flow rates to plumbing appliances like taps and showers.

Reverse osmosis: Water softener that is

pumped under pressure through banks of fine filters and removes most dissolved particles in the water including lead, but not bacteria.

Softener: Water with lime scale is referred to

as ‘hard’ and is usually treated to be softened with systems that rely on salt (another option is reverse osmosis). Lime scale build up damages appliances as well as heating and plumbing systems. A water softener system is usually installed between the mains and the house, preferably outdoors and well insulated. Note that the cold water taps in the kitchen sink will be supplied with mains water, even if hard, as it’s best not to drink soft water.

Soil stack: Pipework that connects the sewage

Stop valve: A lever you use to cut off water supplies (for servicing purposes). Generally found in the ground outside your gate or under the kitchen sink. Temperature and pressure release valve: A device fitted to pressurised cylinders which will release water if the system overheats or exceeds recommended working pressure.

Trap: A device or fitting that provides a liquid seal to prevent the emission of sewer gases (smell) without reducing the flow of water going through it.

Manhole: An

Thermostat: This controls the temperature

Manifold: A center point where heating

and plumbing pipes all run back to and can be controlled. Often found in the hot press. Generally used for underfloor heating applications; other uses are for zoned systems.

Open vented: Whereby water is supplied from open tanks, normally low pressure.

Overflow pipe: A discharge pipe from tanks and cisterns to prevent overfilling of same. As these are only used in case of malfunction the discharge pipe must be located where you can see it (often at the back door). Potable water: Drinking water, supplied from mains water or from a deep well (borehole).

Low temperature radiators

pipes (see definition) to the atmosphere, above top window level; this prevents the build-up of gases and smells within the sewage pipes.

authority; the pressure it comes in at depends on your area and may be enough to provide adequate pressure to the entire house. Much more common is the gravity fed system (see definition) and nowadays, the pressurised system (see definition).

inspection chamber. This is an opening into the ground from which drains can be inspected, rodded or cleaned out; towards and away from a house.

Magnetic filter

Plumbing and heating jargon buster

Grey water: greywater refers to water that


of water or heat automatically. It can be fit on the radiator directly (TRV) or can be controlled separately.

Underfloor heating: There are two types. The

first is where pipework is run underneath the floor to heat a room using heated water. The second is where electric elements are run for the same purpose (known as trace heating).


UV filter: Water treatment to eliminate bacteria. Vent: Found on radiators; they are opened during the filling of the heating system and closed when water sprays out/all air has been released. It can release air from plumbing and heating systems.

Wastewater pipes: Sewage pipes and fittings discharge waste water from sanitary appliances such as basins, baths and wcs. They can be either black (not UV light sensitive) or brown (used internally/below ground) and at bends should be fitted with a spy hole for maintenance. Niamh Áine Ryan

Additional information Fergus McGuinness, Plumbing Department. Dublin Institute of Technology Bolton Street,


case study

Ireland’s first timber kit house? Offsite construction may seem like a modern building method but in Ireland it dates back to at least 1895, the year in which Ken and Patrice Brennan’s unusual bungalow was built….


More photographs available at


t’s also out of the ordinary because the entire house was brought in from overseas; the story goes that it was imported as a prefabricated timber frame kit from either America or Scandinavia. Even the nails used were different, oval in shape these were only widely introduced to Ireland 50 years later. Timber frame wasn’t widespread either, in this case post and beam, nor was the concept of diagonal bracing with infill studs. The house is raised about 700mm above ground level, with a timber suspended floor built on concrete tassel walls; at the base the earth was dug out and infilled with clean stone to form the subfloor. It seems all of these measures have played an important role in preventing the timber from rotting and generally preserving the building, which is near the sea, over the centuries. “Our house was one of four semi-detached

properties near the golf course, used as short-term accommodation,” says Ken. “It, along with the nearby hotel which managed them, were built by the London and North Western Railway company, as was housing for the railway workers further down our road.” The railway company developed the DundalkNewry line with associated port and ferry services to Holyhead. “Ireland was exporting cattle from Greenore to Asia at that time,” muses Ken. “The hotel was in large part built to cater to passenger traffic, and it was eventually shut down after the railway and ferry services closed in the early 1950s. The Bungalows had been rented out early in the 20th century and subsequently sold off,” he explains. In fact the whole area is heritage protected but as might be expected, many houses underwent conversions over the years – to Ken’s dismay. “Some double glazed their windows with white „

Ground Floor Plan

First Floor Plan

case study

plastic. I’m not necessarily the biggest fan of wavy glass but the old timber sash frames really are much nicer.” The hotel, meanwhile, became derelict and was knocked down about 10 years ago. There is a silver lining though – the builder managed to find salvaged bricks from it to rebuild the chimney over Ken and Patrice’s kitchen. Their roof is made up entirely of clay tiles, including the valleys, and was repaired 15 years ago; the architect believes the tiles were all replaced during the renovation. The chimney stacks are corbelled brick running the full height of the building.

The walls, meanwhile, are clad externally with painted timber sheeting or split logs and were surprisingly intact given their age and location. Some repairs had been carried out over the years, so most of the timber decay was found at the bottom ends of the split logs, which were replaced with fencing posts from a local sawmill. “There was also some wet rot on the timber sills and sashes and this was dealt with by splicing individual members,” says Ken. “Care was taken to retain the original glass.” Bases of the timber posts to the veranda were replaced with salvaged pitch pine timber.

New beginnings

“We originally had set our sights on restoring a house near Omeath, on a hill overlooking the lough but planning restrictions meant it would have been simpler to demolish the existing cottage and build a new one, since seemingly the windows in the old cottage could not be enlarged.” “When this ‘railway’ house came up for sale I felt it made more sense to renovate than build new, and thought it might be a good idea to be closer to civilisation – there’s a small town with a shop, a coffee shop, a large hall and a basement with a model railway in the old co-op premises that were built at much the same time as our house.” Ken is a Dubliner who’s lived abroad most of his life and only just returned to Ireland with his American wife Patrice. Both of them are retired. “Also, truth be told, given my interest in railways I found it hard to resist. But I am often reminded by Patrice that I went ahead and bought the house with little consultation!” „


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case study

Yet Patrice plunged right in, bringing along with her an invaluable input to the project. “She knows exactly what she wants, and more importantly what she is willing to pay, and the guys (they are guys normally) eventually know not to come to me for decisions on precisely what is to be done, but to go to the source.” Ken also had a soft spot for Victorian houses, envious of his sister who owns one in Greystones. And his previous home in Brussels did have some age to it too: “Almost 40 years ago I bought a tall narrow terraced house built in 1911,” he recounts. “Quite a bit of renovation was done including adding three huge beams to extend a long broken up room – unfortunately what broke up the room was the support for the whole back wall of the house so it was expensive to do. Since then I have always been clued into load bearing walls and the expense of doing something with them!” The architect they’d brought on board for the new build in Omeath followed them to the railway house but he quickly recommended a conservation


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

architect as the building was listed and required specialist advice. “When we bought the house in July 2012 it was full of plush old flowered carpets and bulging wallpaper. I probably could have lived in the house as it was but my wife found the heavy furnishings, dainty lights, brick fireplaces, pink and yellow bathroom furnishings, the small kitchen and many little rooms (to name a few!), not to her liking.” “We had ideas of what we wanted and there were several possibilities,” continues Ken. “At one stage we thought of restoring the original configuration by moving the entrance, with the hall door at the side, and convert the front room back into a study but this would have involved altering the look of the house from the outside and we were keen to avoid having to go through a planning application.” Their architect spoke with the county council’s conservation officer, who happened to live down the road from the bungalow. “It was agreed that the proposed internal works would not require

planning permission, on the condition that at the end of the project a conservation report was submitted to the council and that the project would be overseen by a conservation architect. So the decisions were taken by us and guided by Fergal.” The works were carried out by local contractors listed on the Louth Traditional Building and Conservation Skills register; the tender process and subsequent building works were managed by their conservation architect. But once things started moving, Ken found it difficult at times to keep on top of it all. “You end up deciding things on the hoof, it’s hard to know what to choose when you have little experience in this type of thing.” “It can feel like a long drawn out process, and despite the help and support it is a lot of work. From our point of view, the timing of some elements led to cost overruns as we’d moved from Belgium and had to keep our stuff in storage for a month. We were renting a place down the road, which incurred extra costs, but it wasn’t a whole „

The neutral finishes highlight the house’s original features


case study They kept the old cooker with back boiler despite the installation of a new heating system

lot in the grand scheme of things.” They signed for the house in July 2012 and got in touch with the conservation architect in September; drawings began in November and tenders issued in January. Works commenced in February 2013 and they moved in August 2013, so overall it took them over a year to bring the project to completion.

Layout and style

The work mostly consisted of conservation but


some minor alterations were made in order to address the cramped layout and the outdated style of the interior decoration, which was not original to the house. There were originally three small rooms downstairs; when Ken and Patrice bought the house one of the walls had already been removed and they decided to get rid of the other to combine the two rear rooms into a kitchen/dining area open to the rear garden. At first floor level, the existing en suite was modified with an additional door to allow access from both main bedrooms and to remove the need for a corridor. The new door was specified as a sliding door to facilitate furniture placement (and because Patrice loves them!). “We also found some extra space in the eaves in two places which we floored and insulated. The attic was also insulated with 300mm of fibreglass and a folding ladder installed to provide access. We use all these spaces as storage but one, off the master bedroom, could function as a dressing room.” Throughout the house there were several 1950s/1960s fireplaces, many in brick, which were removed or in the case of the sitting room replaced by a Victorian style equivalent more sympathetic to the period of the original house. The cast iron surround is historic but the tiles are reproduction. All carpets were removed and floorboards revealed, which were machine sanded and varnished. “Some parts were in poor condition and had to be replaced but as it turned out, since we

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tiled some areas we were able to salvage enough planks to reuse for that purpose,” adds Ken. Some loose floorboards provided access to the crawl space beneath the house, which is how they were able to insulate without damaging the wood. Internal doors, frames, architraves and skirting boards were disassembled, numbered and dipped in caustic soda off site to remove paint before they were all reassembled and refitted in the same position with existing ironmongery repaired. The doors were stained and varnished. The choice of neutral colours, meanwhile, highlights the house’s original features such as the paneled ceilings and exposed timber structure which contrasts with a dark timber stain. As for the wallpaper, it was peeling and bulging in parts so they chose to go back to the internal boarded lining; what was especially surprising was that the original timber framed external walls were insulated with sawdust, contained by horizontal boarding on both sides. Behind the wallpaper was original hessian backing glued to horizontal sheets of boarding made of softwood; this original lining had been removed in most areas, leaving the sheets exposed. Following consultation with the conservation officer, it was agreed to line the walls internally with a 6mm thin calcium silicate board which fire protected the structure while allowing the existing window architraves to be retained in their original position. A standard 12.5mm fireboard wouldn’t have been possible due to the conservation officer

wanting to retain the architraves in the position they were in. During the build, water and fire damage were also at the forefront of the builders’ minds with plumbing works heavily supervised and hot works avoided where possible. For long term protection, the house was completely rewired with additional smoke detectors installed. Interestingly, the original electric servants’ bell system was operational and was also rewired, while piping associated with an early gas lighting system was also discovered during the works. In fact there were some tricky bits to overcome, especially with the electrician who had not done a house quite like this before. “His task was a pretty tough one since contrary to appearances the timber walls had diagonal trusses and dropping wires was not an easy matter!” The notching of timber for service routes was minimised where possible by routing cables in cavities or attic voids or by using existing notches. “A number of things need to be refined for a house that is surrounded by the sea on three sides,” states Ken. “Gales last summer took down many of the trees which used to protect the house and this has had a domino effect on the trees in our immediate garden, and to next door’s.” “Large trees out the front had to be taken down and last October one of our neighbour’s huge trees, which had not been taken down, fell and broke the hatchback of our car as well as putting a serious dent in the garage. So work on the trees and tree root removal has been ongoing since. It is clear „

Original features were kept where possible.



Heating and hot water

The heating system was also upgraded; the existing oil boiler in the shed was replaced with an A-rated condensing version and the pipework to the house relaid with pre-insulated pipe while the lead pipe to the mains was also replaced. A modern 200 litre cylinder was installed, as was a water softener with a separate untreated supply to the kitchen cold tap. A new pressurised plumbing system with pump was also set up along with a digital programmer to control heating by smart phone/tablet. “I love this feature, I can see what the temperature is in the house if I’m abroad and turn on the heat if I need to,” says Ken. Some existing radiators were kept and other new ones were installed. “One decision that turned out to be a very good one was to move the pump to the basement. Initially it was going to be installed upstairs next to the bathroom but questions were raised regarding noise and it was decided to put it away. Thank goodness this was done since all you need to do is flush the toilet or turn on a tap at night to even vaguely hear the pump working in the depths of the house!” “However one thing that there does not seem to be a solution for is the delay in getting hot water out from the new kitchen tap. You need to run half a basin before it gets hot! While I appreciate the nonsense of heating water always for the chance that someone might turn on a tap I had thought there might be a happy medium, but apparently there isn’t.” “On the negative side I insisted on keeping the Aga (coal converted to oil) range in the old kitchen, against a unanimous view against it. While it may

use too much oil, in deep winter it can be cooked on, heat the water, and heat much of the house. Patrice thinks it is totally inefficient, and I guess it is, especially as it can get too hot in the summer. But I actually really like it, and the heat it projects.” As with all building projects, the tweaking never stops. “We’re now tiling the enclosed veranda in the same style as the old kitchen. I’m also thinking of asking the electrician to change around the light switches as some aren’t positioned in a way that makes sense to me! My own logic is that, facing the switch at one end of a corridor, the nearest light would be turned on from the left switch and the furthest one from the right, but it’s the other way around in our place!” These of course are small things to complain about; what’s important is both Patrice and Ken are delighted with the result. As Ken says, it works! n

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that given the location and weather a wooden house will need very regular upkeep!” “When the rain comes in from the east the windows, which could not be double glazed for obvious heritage reasons, tend not to be totally watertight depending on the paint film at the edges. They also fog up in winter because of the cold.” In addition to touching up the paint, the solution may be to introduce some secondary glazing, essentially a second window behind the original but for now, they’ll be using heavy curtains.   On the topic of glazing, the previous owners had added windows above and around the veranda at the front of the house, creating a greenhouse which buffers the external walls from the elements.

The Victorian fireplace with wooden surround.

Astrid Madsen House size: 215sqm Plot size: 1,000sqm (1/4 acre)


House: €200,000 Main contractor building work: €118,000 (with later work on the garage and repairs to the hall door costing €2,600) Kitchen: €18,000 Appliances: €3,400 Lamps and lamp fittings (in total 34): €2,000 Victorian fireplace with wooden surround: €1,000 Value: €400,000

Build spec

Insulation: suspended timber floor insulated with 180mm fibre insulation between joists and breather membrane attached to underside of joists, with 80mm non hygroscopic wood wool board on underside of joists. Poorly insulated central heating pipework in the underfloor void was absorbed into the insulated build-up of the floor to reduce heat losses. Attic: top-up fibre insulation. Localised areas of dormer roofs were insulated with woodfibre boards where accessible. U-values: Existing external walls with sawdust insulation 0.42 W/sqmK, floor 0.15 W/sqmK, attic 0.16 W/sqmK.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Fergal McGirl MRIAI, Grade II Conservation Architect, Dublin 1, tel. 01 873 5441, General Contractor Niall Duffy, M.J.Duffy & Sons Ltd. Jenkinstown, Co Louth, tel. 042 9371470, email Kitchen Fearon Bros., Newry, Co Down, tel. 3084 8693,

Plumber Turlough Cranny, Rockmarshall, Co Louth, mobile 087 935 7845, tel. 042 937 6595, email Heating controls Climote, ROI tel. 042 939 5020, Electrician Kevin McMahon, Rockmarshall, Co Louth, mobile 087 254 8221 Tiler Fintan Duffy, mobile 086 382 8505

Materials Calcium silicate fireboard (walls): Promat Masterboard Floor insulation: Moy Isover Metac and Gutex Thermosafe Insulated pipework from house to boiler: Microflex duopipe Composite countertops with integrated sinks: Corian

Photography Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Clarence Street, Belfast, BT2 8DY, tel. 9024 5038

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


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

In search of excellence

Sometimes it’s hard not to get carried away when you’re renovating your home…


aura and Ian MacAllister of Belfast undertook a renovation project that transformed their home into a very contemporary space, epitomizing city living. “We would have liked something slightly bigger,” says Laura wistfully as she looks back on her renovation project, “but it just wasn’t possible with this house. We were actually looking to move because we knew we couldn’t extend by much, but we really like the area and do love our house!” The site is sloping and there are neighbours all around. “We had to stick to the existing proportions, also we didn’t want to be crowding out our neighbours, we didn’t want to create any issues with overshadowing or taking light away,” she explains.


“The site is awkward and of an irregular shape so extending in whichever direction was difficult. Since we needed a bit more of a living area the compromise was to add about 700 sqft in the least obtrusive spot possible, on one side at the back of the house.” Altogether the conceptual and planning stages took four years, as Laura and Ian worked towards a design that ‘fitted’. “Initially we went with the ‘keeping with tradition’ model as our house has some nice period features but we actually really wanted a modern extension. But we didn’t want to graft a box onto the building either! It took a while to find a happy medium.” “We weren’t very specific in what we wanted so it was a slow process; it’s only as we saw the proposals that we knew whether we liked them or not. We chose to go with metal, glass and wood… Our architect is thankfully very patient!” The inspiration for the architect was in fact the garden, with its mature trees (beach, sycamore and eucalyptus) and amazing shrubs (cordylines, hydrangea, etc.) reminiscent of the south of France or the Cork Riviera. Inside they added a dining room and extended to create a small breakfast nook, where they have their coffee in the morning. This area was intended

to give them the illusion of sitting within the tree canopy. But for Laura it’s the French doors leading out to the garden that inspire: “From the sitting room I really enjoy being able to access the garden so readily.” They’d renovated two years before the build, in 2009, to upgrade the style from the 1960s/70s to a more contemporary look, but retained original features such as cornices, panelled doors and the turned wooden balustrades to the staircase. They hadn’t tackled the kitchen, which was small and cramped with 1930s to 1960s cupboards. “In this round of renovations we wanted a larger kitchen, a new utility room and a generally more open feel to the rear ground floor.”

Costly process

While Laura and Ian knew what they liked, they didn’t pore over every detail. “Looking back I’d go at it differently, at times we didn’t know what we wanted because we hadn’t the time to research all of our options,” she says. “For the kitchen we knew what we liked, most More photographs available at importantly no handles but also a stone surface. We „


case study Before


After SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

decided to go with a professional company that knew their stuff, to make sure we got it right. The upkeep is lovely and what we got is of very good quality. The design works really well as we never have any clutter but we did spend £18,500 on it!” “The lesson I’ve learned is the need to be clear about the budget,” she adds. “We got a bit carried away, we thought a couple thousand here and there wouldn’t make much difference but in the end it really adds up. We didn’t know much about the process so it was a question of relying on the advice of people who were very good at what they do, but also have ideas that cost money!” “To some extent I felt we were being carried along too. There are some lovely features and I don’t regret the finished product, I suppose you just need to have a very clear idea of cost. We refocused our attention on that when we realised we were going over budget.” There are ways to get the same look for less money, she adds, which their architect advised them on. “We worked out exactly all of the aspects „

The high spec kitchen cost £18,500


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of price and how to modify the design to bring costs down. So for the copper roof we substituted a polymeric material of the same colour that had similar looking ridges.” In fact their architect guided them throughout the process. “He organised everything for us; three companies bid on the job, one was twice the price of the other two, ruling himself out. When it came to choose between the other two, we eventually decided to go for the builder recommended by my brother.” Dealing with professionals also meant the couple were removed from the building part of the process, which is what they sought. “We didn’t want to be dealing with direct labour, so our builder took charge and that took pressure off us, it was well worth it for the peace of mind. The builder was „




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really good and we had great dealings with him, so it worked out very smoothly on site.” Delays, however, were on the cards. “We were waiting on the copper, glass and timber! But as it was a fixed price contract that didn’t affect the budget.” They finished in July 2012.

Rotten apple

There were some other unexpected elements. “We ran into problems during the build; it turned out there was dry rot! We did an insurance claim for it as the areas affected were the bathroom, hall and stairs. Thankfully all of those were refurbished with a repayment.” “We detected the problem in the middle of September and got the claim approved by December, as we had to prove we hadn’t been negligent and the rot wasn’t our fault. The areas in which it spread in the bathroom were so hidden, we really couldn’t have seen it coming!”


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Astrid Madsen House size: 920 sqft / 85 sqm Plot size: 6,370 sqft / 590 sqm Build cost (excl. kitchen): £47,000

Build spec

Build up: Timber wall, 20mm thick Siberian larch cladding boards on timber battens on breather

membrane on plywood sheathing on timber frame dry-lined internally with 12mm thick plasterboard complete with vapour control layer. Insulation between timber studs: 70mm thick PIR board. Roof, polymeric roof membrane on polyester fleece on 22mm thick plywood sheet on timber rafters. Insulation between rafters 120mm thick PIR board. Underside of rafters drylined with 47mm thick plasterboard laminated PIR board to form ceiling. Floor, ceramic floor tiles on 30mm thick EPS tile backer board on reinforced concrete floor slab. Underside of slab dry-lined with 76mm thick laminated PIR board. U-values: roof 0.16 W/sqmK, timber wall 0.25 W/ sqmK, rendered wall 0.188 W/sqmK, floor 1.1 W/ sqmK. Windows: Double glazed, argon filled, low-e inner pane, polyester powder coated aluminium. U-value 1.1 W/sqmK

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The demolition and re-plastering costs were covered by the insurance company; the claim was made through the builder, the architect wasn’t part of the process. Overall, it’s hard to achieve what Laura and Ian did with less money; features of this quality are costly. But for a reason. “It does suit city living,” says Laura. “And when we crave some more space we go down to our farmhouse in Donegal.” Best of both worlds? n

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Alastair Macnab Architects, Belfast, tel. 9065 7260, Builder McLaughlin & Woods Building Contractors, Belfast, tel. 9070 2539, Structural engineer WYG, Belfast, tel. 9070 6000,

Kitchen Robinson Interiors, Belfast, tel. 9068 3838, Lighting scheme Lighting Design Belfast/ Lighting Design Online, Photography Paul Megahey Photography Carrickfergus, Antrim BT38 8PF, mob: 07973 376465

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Garden Walls & Paths



Although a warranty scheme effectively becomes an insurance policy upon completion of the construction works, it should not be viewed as an alternative to insurance during the construction phase.



SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Warranties aren’t just for appliances, they’ll help hedge your bets on your self-build or renovation too…


n the previous issue we covered the insurance cover that’s required on a self-build, extension or renovation project; while a warranty is in contrast usually optional, it’s a good idea to consider getting one too. A structural warranty policy on a house works much in the same way as it does on your appliances, e.g. washing machine. It guarantees the structural integrity of your building and steps in to pay for the correction or repairs subject to policy terms, conditions and exclusions. Although a warranty scheme effectively becomes an insurance policy upon completion of the construction works, it should not be viewed as an alternative to insurance during the construction phase. As there is no public liability or employers’ liability cover contained within warranty schemes, there must be appropriate insurance cover during construction to manage the risk, and subsequently, suitable Home Insurance put in place after construction, otherwise your assets will be in jeopardy.

The wall falls down…

Consider the scenario where a wall within a newly constructed building collapses. If this wall collapses during the construction phase and there is insurance in place either under the building contractor’s insurance covering liability and contract works or a specific self-build policy then: - It will be rebuilt under the Self Build policy Insurance and/or Contract Works Insurance and/ or Contractor’s All Risk Insurance policy. - Any injury to a neighbour or damage to his property will be covered by the Public Liability Insurance section of the contractor’s liability insurance or the Public Liability section of the Self Build policy. - Any injury to subcontractors will be covered by the Public Liability insurance section or the Employer’s Liability section of the contractor’s liability insurance or the Public Liability section or the Employer’s liability section of the Self Build policy. If the wall collapses after the construction phase and there is a home insurance policy in force

covering the building then: - It may be rebuilt under the Buildings Insurance section of the Home Insurance policy depending on what has caused the wall to collapse and providing there is accidental damage cover on the building. There will be exclusions such as any loss or damage arising from defective design, defective materials or faulty workmanship, or building settlement. - Any injury to a neighbour or damage to his property will be covered by the public liability or personal accident section of the Home Insurance policy.

Structural warranties

Does it warrant a warranty?

If the wall collapses during the period provided by a warranty scheme, whether during or after the construction phase, then: - It may be rebuilt under the warranty scheme subject to the terms, conditions and exclusions of the policy.

The small print

Most warranty providers will inspect your approved design drawings before offering you their terms. They will then carry out periodic inspections of the work in progress to validate the warranty. Like the building control inspector in NI or the assigned certifier in ROI they may require you to notify them that construction has reached a certain stage and invite them to verify this, prior to work continuing. They may also turn up unannounced. It is important to note that warranty inspectors are not in any way linked to building control and certification, they may require standards above that which would normally satisfy statutory requirements. Deregulation in NI has allowed Building Control to offer a warranty scheme option but this does not change or overlap with your statutory obligations. Where warranties differ from statutory building control compliance is that they eventually become an insurance policy against which you or a future owner can make a claim in the event of specified defects. From a resale perspective or if you intend to convert your home to a conventional mortgage after construction, it is important to ensure that your warranty scheme is accepted by your potential mortgage lender. „


Structural warranties

There have been cases where a new mortgage lender to the local market has had to be furnished with additional ‘professional certificates’ before accepting an existing warranty provider. Although the costs of providing this additional information fell to the warranty provider, it can lead to a considerable delay in the legal process in a seller/ purchaser scenario or a frustrating and stressful cash-flow problem for a self-builder converting to a mortgage.

“Many lenders also require you to have a warranty before they are willing to lend you money, primarily because it will further validate the quality of construction they are lending against...” Full responsibility: who pays?

wish to protect themselves from having to sell an un-warrantied property in the future. In fact in NI, your mortgage provider will often require that you have a 10-year warranty in place while in ROI this isn’t typically a condition of approval. But why not get a building professional to certify your build stages instead? Having an architect or building surveyor certify your build stages with a final certificate stating that they are satisfied with the quality of the work is indeed a tried and tested alternative. In fact most lenders are happy to accept such certification as long as the construction professional is suitably qualified and carries Professional Indemnity Insurance (PI). However having problems rectified under a warranty scheme is much easier than having to sue an architect for professional negligence as s/he is unlikely to volunteer the costs of remedial works in the first instance. In practice in ROI very few homeowners have gotten redress via this means (the legal fees being one reason but also difficulty to assign blame).

Some warranty providers offer schemes whereby How to choose the the builder is solely responsible for any defects right warranty occurring in the first year, while others offer joint The identity and relative security or financial liability between the builder and the warranty strength of the Structural Warranty provider is provider in the first year. of the utmost importance. Unlike other forms of It is however possible to find some providers insurance which deal with claims occurring in the who will take full responsibility from the point short term, e.g. during the construction phase or where construction is fully completed. If you the twelve month term of your house insurance are project managing your self-build and using policy, Structural Warranty Insurance will typically subcontractors, then a structural warranty which takes full responsibility for the guarantee from Leading UK manufacturer, presented by registered chimney technicians. Famous for crystal clean window, completion of construction may be external air systems, smoke control approved & one of the the best option. most efficient environmentally sound stoves in the world It is best not to inform your builder if your warranty provider takes full responsibility after completion. There have been instances where a builder did not employ best practice methods as he knew there would be no redress against him. Schemes that require the builder to be approved and registered may The exclusive home of offer additional protection in this regard.



It is not essential to have a warranty scheme in place, but regardless of whether you are building a new house or converting, renovating or extending an older property, warranty schemes provide an additional incentive for a potential future buyer should you ultimately have to sell your property. Many lenders also require you to have a warranty before they are willing to lend you money, primarily because it will further validate the quality of construction they are lending against, but also because they


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Structural warranties

provide protection for a period of ten years from completion of construction. For the policy to be of any value to the homeowner there must be a high probability that the insurance company who issued the warranty will still be in existence much further down the road when a claim may occur, typically seven or eight years after completion. For this reason the homeowner should be discerning when choosing their warranty provider. Look behind the name of the warranty product / promoter and find out who the insurance company / underwriter is, what is their financial rating (as issued by a credit rating agency, which you can check online), and then make an educated decision on whether the warranty is likely to be of any value to you or whether you would be better putting the cost of the warranty in the bank for a rainy day! Both insurance and warranties are therefore a necessary cost to protect your investment – and ensure that due to action, inaction, accident or calamity you don’t end up homeless and broke. Early research will allow you to consider your options carefully: ensure there are no gaps in your insurance cover and plan for the costs within your project budget. And remember, your insurance and warranty provisions may also have a huge impact on your ability to finance the build or eventually sell the property. As with all legal and financial arrangements it is best to consult with a suitable professional. n Gillian Corry, based on an original article by Stephen McDonald BSc MRICS tel. 07933 165 130

Additional information

Billy Redmond, Group Development Director, Arachas, The Courtyard, Carmanhall Road, Sandyford Business Estate, Dublin 18 tel:  01 213 5000     M: 087 219 7197

Building disputes tend to be messy and a warranty will provide an extra layer of protection.

Jim Majury FCII, Chartered Insurance Broker, Kerr Group Insurance, 10 Lisburn Street, Ballynahinch, BT24 8BD tel. 9756 3114 Federation of Master Builders, Unit 10, Kilbegs Business Centre, Plasketts Close, Antrim BT41 4LY tel: 9446 0416

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Frost Insurances (Site insurance for new buildings & extensions) Limerick Tel: 061 608 438 Sortsy (App to help you find local tradesmen & make appointments) Belfast ROI calling NI: prefix with 048 NI calling ROI: prefix with 00353(0)


DIY: play table with chair Lego store and play table

Hours of fun Ciaran Hegarty shows you how to build a table and chair suited to the size and energy of your children


t is fascinating to watch babies and children discover the world around them. They are like little sponges, absorbing everything. My own son is just over a year old and each object he picks up is examined for weight, feel and most importantly how loud it is when he hits it off something! His latest interest at the moment is stacking and assembling Lego and timber blocks.


I was a great fan of Lego and love the way it can improve my child’s coordination and dexterity among a whole host of other positive attributes. At the moment he can assemble three pieces together (proud dad speaking!) and every day you can see an improvement in his ability. It was then I decided to make a dedicated Duplo (‘baby Lego’) table. The brief I set myself was that the table had to be sturdy, tough, contain a place for storage and also space for colouring or playing other games. With this in mind I decided to make the table out of birch plywood. Birch ply is of better quality


than the standard material. You do pay a bit extra for this luxury and the 18mm sheet that I got came in at €65. It has a whitish colour on the front and back and has very few voids in between the different layers. When it is varnished up it looks very well with its elegant straight lines. For sturdiness I chose to angle the legs so as to prevent lateral movement when leaning up against it (also generally makes the table a lot more secure). I knew I needed a tough finish but also one that was child friendly and safe so I went for an oil based paint that would withstand the punishment of a toddler and also be non toxic if they decided to chew on it while teething! To solve the problem of storing the blocks, I sank a plastic storage box into the table top to hold the spare pieces.

From the top

The first job was to purchase all the bits I required such as the base plate, the storage box and the sheet of timber. I laid out the base plate and the box on the sheet of timber and decided on the overall width and length of the table top. I wanted the SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Picture 3.

Picture 1.

DIY: play table with chair

surface to be wide enough to allow for the other activities as well. Picture 1. I used a circular saw to cut the pieces to size. With this machine make sure you apply a strip of masking tape along the line you are about to cut; this helps avoid splintering / creating an unsightly edge. Or you could use a handsaw to do the same job. Picture 2. With the table top cut to size, a recess had to be carved out to allow the storage box to sit into. Measure the size of the box and mark this on the top. Picture 3.

Picture 4.

Picture 2.

Drill a hole into each corner of this recess Picture 4 and use a jigsaw to cut it out. Picture 5. Round the corners of the table top at this stage as well with the jigsaw and sand smooth. Flip the table upside down and mark out the position of the rails, 45deg from each corner. Picture 6. By how much you step in is your choice. The rails are 40mm wide so using the circular saw and a guide, I made up a couple of strips of 40mm wide timber. Hold up one of the strips against the 45deg lines and mark the length of each one. Use a chops or mitre box to cut these angled pieces to length. Picture 7.

Picture 5.

matter what method you use because the holes can be filled and sanded and then painted over. The table is now ready for a finish. Sand the top down with 120grit sandpaper and round off the sharp edges. There should be no sharp corners. Prime the plywood before applying the paint; two coats are usually necessary to seal the timber and provide a base for the colour. Sand between each coat with 240grit or less. To apply the colour I used a foam roller for a very smooth finish (doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t drip or leave brush strokes). Just pour the paint into a roller tray and use a small amount at a time.

Picture 8.

Picture 6.

Place them into position to get the lengths of the other rails. Cut each of the other rails and place them around the table. Fix the rails to the underside of the table using screws, brackets, pins or even a nail gun as I did. Make sure to apply a bead of glue as well for extra support. It doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t

Picture 7.

Picture 8.


DIY: play table with chair

Use the jigsaw to cut this taper and plane smooth or use a sander. Cut the corners off with the jigsaw or handsaw also. Sand smooth to remove any marks on the timber and round over the edges to remove any sharpness. Apply two to three coats of varnish, (sanding between each one with fine sandpaper) to seal the timber, which allows for easier cleaning and protects the wood from damage. Picture 10. Connect the legs to the table top with nuts and bolts. I used an M6 bolt with a countersunk head and tightened it to the tabletop with a washer and nut. The reason I used a nut and bolt was for maintenance. If the leg becomes loose you can tighten a nut and bolt. A screw could pull out and damage the timber and repairing becomes a lot more hassle. Picture 11. I also used a chisel to form a fancy chamfer on the top of the legs. This is optional and is to blend the top of the leg with the table top and make it a bit more appealing.

Picture 9.

Little feet

To make the legs, measure the width of the angled piece where the legs will join and cut strips of timber this width. In my case they were 120mm. The leg height I went for was 450mm so I cut four pieces this length. I wanted the legs to taper on both sides for aesthetics and also to lighten the piece. I also cut the corners off at the bottom to eliminate the chance of rocking (less material against the floor) and felt it would look better as well. To mark out the taper, draw a centre line down the entire front of the leg. Measure an equal distance either side of this centre line and join back up to the top. This will form the taper. Picture 9.

Picture 11.

Happy feet

Picture 10.


With the table made I focused my attention on a small chair to go with it. A childâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s chair is a lot simpler than building one for an adult. Children weigh a lot less so tricky joinery does not need to be used (as long as the parents donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t sit on them!). I did however incorporate four halving joints but the rest is held together with screws. Firstly, I drew a full size end view of the chair. This allowed me to tweak the design such as the height of the seat off the ground (275mm seems to be standard toddler chair size) and also the angle of the back. When I was happy with the design, I cut out the back leg with a jigsaw and using this as a template, cut out another. The frame of the chair is made from 40mm wide strips of plywood so I cut a strip and used it for the front legs and the rails. I made the two sides of the chair first and joined these with the front and back rail. To make the SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

DIY: play table with chair

sides, I joined the front and back legs to the side rail using a halving joint. Measure 40mm down from the top of the front legs and square this all the way around. Measure down half way using a marking gauge or ruler. Cut down this line and saw off the waste. Repeat this process for the top and bottom of the rail. The back legs are a bit different. Mark the position of the joint and saw down both sides. Chisel out the waste. The pieces should look like the following photo. Picture 12. Glue the three pieces together and leave to dry. Apply clamps to hold the joints together while drying. When the pieces are dry, plane and sand the two sides smooth. To connect them together, we will screw the front and back rails into them. Drill

Picture 13.

Picture 12.

pilot holes in both the sides and at the ends of the rails to accept the screws (the timber will split if you donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t). Screw the assembly together. Picture 13. Sand smooth and give two to three coats of varnish as with the table legs. The seat of the chair is made from 12mm MDF. The reason for this is that the 18mm plywood would be too heavy and would look very unbalanced in my opinion. Therefore the seat and the back rail are made from the thinner MDF. Cut the seat to size and round over the front corners. Cut the rail to size also. Sand each of these pieces and give each one two coats of primer and two coats of the same paint as used on the table top. Screw the seat to the frame and also the back rail. You can add in your own design elements such as rounding the tops of the chairs or adjusting the measurements to suit yourself. The above project is enjoyable to make, will last generations of abuse and should make you proud. It is extremely satisfying to watch your own children getting so much enjoyment out of one of your creations! It will also encourage them to use their imagination when creating their own masterpiece with Lego blocks. n Ciaran Hegarty


eye on ireland 124

Eye on Ireland F

ollowing on from the changes to building control on our Intro page, home building news in ROI continues here. The Home Renovation Incentive, the tax break on home improvement projects, has been extended for another year so there’s no huge rush to get that quote signed off on! See for more details. Meanwhile Minister for the Environment Alan Kelly has announced Dublin’s 25 year-old smoky coal ban will be extended to the rest of ROI by the end of 2018. The Minister quoted research by University College Cork (UCC) showing that pollution in Killarney at night is 10 times higher than during the day. He also announced ROI’s first national Clean Air Strategy will be published early next year. Turning our sights to NI know that there’s a new means to rate newly built homes – no, it’s not the Code Bob Martin Clear, a company that makes flea treatment products, says that if for Sustainable Homes, it’s called the you have pets you need to treat for fleas all year round remembering to vacuum Home Quality Mark and works on a carpets and soft furnishings before and after each treatment. five star scale, making it more consumer Infographic courtesy of Bob Martin Clear friendly. See Speaking of quality homes, getting purchase of LEDs and a bridge to connect to the a good night’s rest is on everyone’s automated system. mind when designing bedrooms. But could the trend of building two master bedrooms take off All home automation categories are expected in Ireland? A recent article in the Sunday Times to increase; the smart appliances market, quotes a UK estate agent saying he noticed this meanwhile is still developing. ‘snoring room’ trend starting nearly a decade Due to the vast sums of money that go into ago among the wealthy, and it seems to now be building and renovating our homes, cost is always spreading. a consideration. In September the Irish Independent In both NI and ROI, meanwhile, you published the breakdown of house building may have noticed the trend towards home costs from the Society of Chartered Surveyors automation. It refers to having control of your of Ireland; for a developer-built 100sqm three house, i.e. lighting, heating, security, etc., from bed semidetached house in Dublin the bricks your tablet or phone, and one of the great benefits and mortar component came to €105,000 is in energy savings. which includes everything from foundations to Deloitte has recently conducted a Mobile wardrobes. Additional costs, from bringing water Consumer Survey 2015 and the UK results are services and building footpaths to the developer’s interesting; it points out that while connectivity, profit margin and professional fees, brought the or the Internet of Things (IoT) is on the increase, total figure to over €255,000. home automation hasn’t taken off as much as you To close, some international news. The web might expect with just 3 per cent of households house letting platform Airbnb has started connected to a security system and 2 per cent collecting a tourist tax on all transactions in connected to smart thermostats or lighting Paris, following moves in Amsterdam and the systems. US. No need to fret, though, as it amounts to less The study points out smart TVs did well as than a euro per person per night; considering on they come as standard in higher end models, average Airbnb guests stay 5.2 nights and spend which could pave the way for smart lighting, €865 over the course of their trip, it seems like a as the authors believe smart lighting “may well small price to pay to avoid tax evasion. n be purchased as standard in a decade”. Today however, they note that the technology remains “expensive and cumbersome” requiring the Astrid Madsen SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

An illustrated guide to building energy efficient homes THIS BOOK IS A PRACTICAL HOUSE building guide set out in a clear and concise fashion with diagrams and sketches, outlining what to do and what to avoid, e.g. poor use of rigid insulation in cavity walls, an important issue for Irish houses. The authors intend the book to be used as a ‘tool box talk’ for traders at site meetings. The individual pages act as site posters which can be printed out and used for site guidance in both A3 and A4 size, which I think is a very unique idea.  The book highlights typical details and practices but it’s important to note, however, that the standards set out are not appropriate for passive or nZEB detailing. As the book states the guidance provided is for information and good practice purposes only and does not form part of a Building Regulations approved specification. It is compliant with NHBC standards and reflects LABC registered construction details, two organisations which are UK based. That said, the same issues apply to mainland UK as to Ireland as a whole. In my opinion we need more books like this. All those engaged in construction need

to be better informed about the variety of construction methods, heating systems and insulation. The excellent presentation makes it easy to understand and use. On the can-do-better side, I have read and used other publications in the past, such as the ROI Technical Guidance Documents and Home Bond’s House Building Manual. In comparison to these publications, this book would benefit greatly from providing more information, mainly in the areas of ventilation and material build-up of sections.  For instance while thermal bridges (which lead to mould growth) are addressed – the book rightly focuses on the need to avoid non-continuous materials, especially around windows – there are examples where a bit more detail would have been beneficial to avoid confusion on site. One example is of a missing insulation

detail (between the ventilated subfloor and slab/ block wall) on the periscope ventilation page. Another is the reference to optimum window tolerance fitting of 10mm, which appears lax in the context of current airtightness and thermal bridging standards. However this guide does act as a very good introduction to building better, more energy efficient homes, as per good international practices. There is currently considerable confusion on Irish building sites about the construction process. What this book does is help simplify these aspects for construction workers by giving them clear instructions with diagrams.

between the covers

Zero Carbon Hub Builders’ Book

Brian O’Regan  By Tom Dollard and Pollard Thomas Edwards, pdf format only, printable in A3 and A4 formats, free to download from

between the covers Frank Lloyd Wright THIS BOOK IS a celebration of an amazing life of architectural creation. It begins with the central position (along, perhaps, with Le Corbusier, Mies van der Rohe and Louis Kahn) that master architect Frank Llyod held in twentieth century architecture. This clear and straightforward introduction is useful to both the casual reader for its clarity and order and to the professional for its attention to detail. From its beginning “Wright was born on June 8th 1867” to its closing paragraph “Wright died in April 9th 1959” it traces his life from his early education in the Froebel kindergarten system and teenage influences of Thoreau and Emerson that fuelled his life-long understanding of the relationship between man and nature, all the way through to his design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York, his last great masterpiece, still completely at the top of his game in his eighties. Each project is then described in great detail including inspirations and story of each along with an appraisal of how it fits into the overall cannon of his works. This book feels old fashioned, in a good way. It is a whole other experience, a place that one could be

absorbed for days, weeks or even months as you explore the breadth and depth of Wright’s buildings, projects and ideas, it reminds us that great things require patience, determination and an eye for detail. The quality of reproduction is extraordinary and this really stands to the drawings, from concept sketches, watercolour renderings through to hard-line detail drawings of building elements. These drawings describe a pre-computer world when the manual creation of a design through drawing was somehow closer to the manual creation of the final building. There is much to look at and study here, partly thanks to the large format of the book and its full page images. I have found myself immersed for ten minutes on a single, quarter page image absorbed by the skill of draughtsmanship and once again, the attention to detail. The photographs used to describe the buildings are largely those contemporary with the completion of the works and in this way are very much period pieces. This

is charming yet somewhat disappointing to me as a user of buildings, it fixes them as a creation that existed at a single moment in time. Buildings have a life of their own separate from, and out of the control of, their creators and it would have been very interesting to discover through photography and written description the further life of the buildings and their positioning within a contemporary world, not as museum pieces. This life of use, abuse and reuse that buildings live is something that Wright was famously uncomfortable with and perhaps in their chosen material this book the editors have fixed the world of Frank Lloyd Wright exactly where he would have wanted it to be, of his creation and within his control. Dominic Stevens By Bruce Brooks Pfeiffer and Peter Gössel, Taschen,, hardcover, 33.2 x 25.7 cm, 504 pages, €49.99 / £44.99, Multilingual Edition: English, French, German, ISBN 9783836555982


advertiser index

advertiser index A

A&H Nicholson............................................................. Pg 127 1 Sheemore Crescent, Kilkeel, Co Down, BT34 4FA Tel: 028 4176 9397 Web:

Flogas Ireland Ltd........................................................... Pg 02 Knockbrack House Matthews Lane Donore Road, Drogheda, Co Louth, A92 T803 Tel: 041 9831 041 Web:

AC Heating.................................................................... Pg 113 2 Seanchluain, Clashmore, Co Waterford, Tel: 058 23749 Web:

Frost Insurance Ltd......................................................... Pg 64 3 The Crescent, Limerick, Co Limerick, Tel: 01 832 8921 Web:

Advanced Timbercraft Ltd.............................................. Pg 83 Beechvale 10 Brown’s Road, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, BT36 4RN Tel: 028 9083 8951 Web:


AerHaus Ltd.................................................................... Pg 95 Coolnagar Dungarvan, Waterford, Co Waterford, Tel: 058 41 850 Web: All Interiors..................................................................... Pg 69 Units 2-3 Maghera Business Park Station Road, Maghera, Co Londonderry, BT46 5BS Tel: 028 7964 5747 Web: Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd................................ Pg 127 Unit 3 IDA Industrial Estate Baltimore Road, Skibbereen, Co Cork, Tel: 028 23 701 Web: Amberline....................................................................... Pg 23 61 Cluain Cairn Station Road, Carrigtwohill, Co Cork, Tel: 085 724 3477 Web: APS Ltd........................................................................... Pg 63 50 Enterprise Crescent Ballinderry Road, Lisburn, Co Antrim, BT28 2SA Tel: 028 9266 0500 Web: B Beam Vacuum & Ventilation......................................... Pg 132 Opus Business Park 35 Aughrim Road, Magherafelt, Co Londonderry, BT45 6BB Tel: 028 7963 2424 Web: Biorock Effluent Treatment Systems............................... Pg 93 The Crescent Building Northwood Santry, Dublin 9, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 893 4948 Web: C Calor Gas........................................................................ Pg 23 c/o Calor Teoranta Longmile Road, Dublin, Co Dublin, D12 XP79 Tel: 01 450 5000 Web: CES Quarry Products Ltd................................................. Pg 09 Doran’s Rock 124 Crossgar Road, Saintfield, Co Down, BT24 7JQ Tel: 028 9751 9494 Web: Choice Heating Solutions................................................ Pg 41 Coolymurraghue, Kerrypike, Co Cork, Tel: 087 275 4012 Web: Contech.....................................................................Pg 64/83 Unit F12 Maynooth Business Campus, Maynooth, Co Kildare, Tel: 01 629 2963 Web: County Down Stoves & Flues........................................ Pg 118 8 Main Street, Dundrum, Newcastle, Co Down, BT33 0LU Tel: 028 4375 1555 Web: D DK Windows & Doors Ltd............................................ Pg 03 Unit C, Westland Business Park Willow Road (Off Nangor Road), Dublin 12, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 424 2067 Web: Dunne Ecofit Ltd............................................................. Pg 89 Unit 3 O Moore Street, Tullamore, Co Offaly, Tel: 057 9322 468 Web: F Fast Floor Screed Ltd...................................................... Pg 58 Cappagh, Enfield, Co Kildare, Tel: 087 253 6688 Web: Firebird Heating Solutions............................................ Pg 101 Udaras Industrial Estate, Ballymakeera, Co Cork, Tel: 026 45253 Web:


Garage Door Systems..................................................... Pg 58 Unit G3 Wakehurst Industrial Estate, Ballymena, Co Antrim, BT42 3AZ Tel: 028 2565 5555 Web: Graf................................................................................. Pg 61 2nd Floor, 13 Upper Baggot Street, Dublin, Co Dublin, D4 Tel: 01 903 6025 Web: Grant Engineering (Ireland)............................................ Pg 79 Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, Tel: 057 912 0089 Web: Gyproc............................................................................ Pg 04 Unit 4 Kilcarbery Business Park Nangor road, Dublin 22, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 629 8400 Web: H Hannaway Hilltown........................................................ Pg 07 44 Main Street, Hilltown, Co Down, BT34 5UJ Tel: 028 4063 0737 Web: Homecare Systems Ltd................................................... Pg 17 The Beam Centre Unit 3, TVI Business Pk, Donaghmore, Co Tyrone, BT70 2UD Tel: 028 8776 9111 Web: I Ian A Kernohan Ltd....................................................... Pg 115 Fir Trees Greenway Industrial Estate, Conlig, Co Down, BT23 7SU Tel: 028 9127 0233 Web: IHER Energy Services...................................................... Pg 41 IDA Unit 14, Newmarket, Co Dublin, D8 Tel: 01 454 8300 Web: Internorm Windows UK Ltd............................................ Pg 86 Unit D, Colindale Business Park 2-10 Carlisle Road, London, , NW9 0HN Tel: 020 8205 9991 Web: J JG Speedfit..................................................................... Pg 67 Horton Road, West Drayton, Middlesex, UB7 8JL Tel: 01895 449 233 Web: K Keltic Renewables........................................................... Pg 93 Ballylehane, Ballylinan, Co Laois, Tel: 07507 711 888 Web: Keystone Lintels Ltd........................................................ Pg 58 Ballyreagh Industrial Estate, Cookstown, Co Tyrone, BT80 9DG Tel: 028 8676 2184 Web: Kingspan Environmental................................................. Pg 64 180 Gilford Road, Portadown, Co Armagh, BT63 5LF Tel: 028 3836 4400 Web:


Perfect Water Systems Ltd............................................ Pg 127 Ballysally Business Park Railway Road, Charleville, Co Cork, Tel: 063 89290 Web: Phoenix Natural Gas Ltd................................................. Pg 35 197 Airport Rd. West, Belfast, Co Antrim, BT3 9ED Tel: 03454 55 55 55 Web: R Roofblock........................................................................ Pg 41 5 Bramble Wood Old Shore Road, Newtownards, Co Down, BT23 8WZ Tel: 028 9181 8285 Web: RTU................................................................................. Pg 21 Cloughfern Avenue, Newtownabbey, Co Antrim, BT37 OUZ Tel: 028 9085 1441 Web: S Schneider Electric Ireland Ltd......................................... Pg 74 Block A Maynooth Business Campus, Maynooth, Co Kildare, Tel: 01 601 2200 Web: Screwfix.......................................................................... Pg 28 Branches Nationwide Tel: 0500 41 41 41 Web: Soaks Bathrooms............................................................ Pg 25 5-7 Apollo Road off Boucher Road, Belfast, Co Antrim, BT12 6HP Tel: 028 9068 1121 Web: Sortsy.............................................................................. Pg 89 4A Heron Wharf Heron Road, Belfast, Co Antrim, BT3 9LE Tel: 028 9018 3254 Web: Stira Folding Attic Stairs Ltd............................................ Pg 95 Baunogues, Dunmore, Co Galway, Tel: 093 38055 Web: Stovax......................................................................Pg 47/113 Falcon Road Sowton Industrial Estate, Exeter, Devon, EX2 7LF Tel: 01392 261 900 Web: T Tegral Building Products................................................. Pg 83 Kilkenny Road, Athy, Co Kildare, Tel: 059 863 1316 Web: The Camden Group...................................................... Pg 131 Unit 4-7 Steeple Road Industrial Estate, Antrim, Co Antrim, BT41 1AB Tel: 028 9446 2419 Web: The Slate Paving Company Ltd........................................ Pg 69 Cahcragh, Drimoleague, Co Cork, Tel: 086 679 2639 Web:

Kingspan Insulation Ltd.................................................. Pg 10 Bree Industrial Estate, Castleblayney, Co Monaghan, Tel: 042 979 5000 Web:

Topps Tiles plc.............................................................. Pg 106 Thorpe Way Grove Park, Leicester, Leicestershire, LE19 1SU Tel: 0116 2828 000 Web:



MacNaughton Blair & Co................................................ Pg 57 10 Falcon Road, Belfast, Co Antrim, BT12 6RD Tel: 028 9038 5363 Web: Moy Isover Ltd................................................................ Pg 38 Unit 4 Kilcarbery Business Park Nangor road, Dublin 22, Co Dublin, Tel: 01 629 8400 Web: O One Step Insulation Ltd.................................................. Pg 53 10 Lower Rashee Road, Ballyclare, Co Antrim, BT39 9JL Tel: 028 9521 1753 Web:

Warmflow Engineering Co Ltd........................................ Pg 12 Lissue Industrial Estate, Moria Road,, Lisburn, Co Antrim, BT28 2RF Tel: 028 9262 1515 Web: X Xcel Products Ltd............................................................ Pg 95 25 Fruitvalley Road Ballyward, Castlewellan, Co Down, BT31 9RE Tel: 0845 544 2156 Web:

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd. Heatpump and Underfloor Heating Systems

Many Services - One Quality • Loft Conversions • Refurbishments • Alterations/Extensions • Garage Conversion • New Builds • Kitchens • Electrical Services • Plumbing Services • Bathroom Fitting • Plastering • Bricklaying & Stone A&H Nicholson Limited is a construction firm dedicated to achieving customer/client satisfaction and service. We have the necessary skills to give our customers the standards they require. We refuse to compromise on quality and all work is completed to the highest of standards. Our teams are fully trained and qualified, and offer excellent craftsmanship and service.

Unit 3 IDA Industrial Estate Baltimore Road Skibbereen, Co. Cork T: 028 23701 E:

Tel: 07834 436714

Perfect Water Systems Transform your life with a Kinetico water softener - the best kept secret in every home

Our ground source/geothermal/Air source range of heat pumps are market leaders in the renewable energy field. • “Waterfurnace” Water/Water ranging from 6 to 145kw, • “Euronom” and “Panasonic” Air/water from 7 to 72kw. We offer heating and cooling design solutions for both the Domestic and Commercial markets, ranging from 100sqm apartments to sports complexes, libraries, nursing home and innovative systems for the fish farming industry. New build, renovate or waste heat recovery, we offer a nationwide service,with sub-dealers operating in various locations throughout the 32 counties.


product selectors

A&H Nicholson

Jump into a crystal clear, limescale-free shower... ...then snuggle into softer, cleaner, brighter towels.

Find out more today; Perfect Water 063-89290 Laois | Aqua Treatment 087-2580318 Galway | Arqtech Laboratories 087-6688769 Dublin | Arqtech lo-call 1850451850


ADV E RTI S I N G W I TH S E L F B U I L D & I M P ROV E YO U R H O M E To Advertise Your Product Please Contact Us On:

(NI 028/ROI) 048 9751 0570 SHOW

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Boilers could become a thing of the past if Ireland decided to adopt the low cost, sustainable alternative of District Heating


Plug and heat


istrict Heating (DH) is a utility system which delivers heat to households through an underground network of hot water pipelines. It operates in much the same way as other utilities which deliver gas and electricity to your home. DH is not widely used in Ireland, but it is far from a new concept, and has developed to futuristic levels in countries such as Germany, Sweden and Denmark. Over 60 per cent of all households in Denmark heat their homes with highly efficient DH and these systems utilise many sources of low cost heat. The Danish systems particularly look to use heat which would normally go to waste, and all types of waste heat are reused from the heat generated during electricity production down to the waste heat from crematoriums, meaning DH can be supplied to Danish families at a much lower cost than traditional forms of fossil fuel heating. By connecting to a DH system, households can take advantage of its many additional benefits, such as little or no maintenance, no domestic boiler required, no risk of carbon monoxide leaks from boilers and no space required for oil storage. Although there are no large scale systems in Ireland, there have been some recent successful examples of small scale DH systems, particularly the network developed by Kerry County Council in Tralee. The Mitchels-Boherbee area DH network produces heat through two large highefficiency boilers fuelled by locally sourced wood-chip, with heat provided to customers at a lower cost than the oil-fired heating alternative. Customers also use a convenient pay-asyou-go system which means no large bills arrive at the door. This system also retains more money within the community, uses local renewable resources and displaces the emissions from the use of oil. Another example, the Carlinn Hall private housing development in Dundalk, also includes a biomass fuelled DH system as part of an overall low energy design where residents benefit from 30 per cent lower energy costs. DH has been shown to work effectively and positively in Ireland, and we at Codema have produced maps showing areas which

District Heating and Combined Heat and Power Image courtesy of

are deemed feasible for DH in Dublin, based on Danish best-practice. Dense urban landscapes are most suitable for DH as the pipelines to connect a large number of customers are shorter, therefore reducing pipeline costs and heat losses. We have found that 75 per cent of Dublin City’s heat demand could be supplied through DH networks. There is no shortage of sources of waste heat within the city which could easily be utilised within a DH network to supply low-cost heat and displace individual fossil fuel heating systems in homes. European based research has indicated around 30 per cent of Ireland’s total heat demand could be supplied by DH. Furthermore the heat currently going to waste from power generation stations* could be sent to thousands of Irish households. Currently there is more heat being wasted in Europe than is required to meet all building heat requirements, something that is almost impossible to believe, but true. New EU strategies for tackling efficiency and fossil fuel use in the heating and cooling sector are due to be published at the end of this year, with DH being one of the main topics. This may influence the way heating is provided in Ireland, but without enforced policies or targets, it is hard to see where the drive needed will come from. What is required is a high level of political support, such as that given to the wind energy sector, in order to see the development of DH in Ireland.

Codema’s research has shown DH development would have far more societal benefits than costs in the long term, would have a major impact on household heating bills and on emissions in the heating sector. From personal experience, having lived in Denmark in a house connected to DH and experienced first-hand its many benefits, such as no timers or waiting to fill hot water tanks, on demand hot water at high pressure, no immersion worries and low cost heating bills, if DH was available in my area, I would sign up tomorrow. Although there are no current plans for large scale DH systems in Ireland, with added pressure from the EU and the key role DH plays in creating successful sustainable cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen, DH could be coming to your area in the near future. Donna Gartland is Strategic Sustainable Energy Planner at Codema, Dublin’s Energy Agency. She’s currently working on project proposals that involve DH in Dublin. To see areas which are deemed suitable for DH in Dublin, maps can be found in Codema’s Spatial Energy Demand Analysis reports at * If power stations such as Aghada and Poolbeg were to operate on combined heat and power (CHP) mode and pipelines were installed to transport the heat generated by them, they could supply nearby towns/ cities.


notice board

Clean air act IT’S WELL KNOWN THAT HOURS, days, weeks, months and often many years of research goes into every self-build or renovation. The overall design usually has the lion’s share of that, but sometimes it’s the things you can’t see which are the most important – like ventilation. We’re all familiar with MVHR (Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery), but there are alternatives, one of which is designed to respond to how you use the house because it’s completely bespoke. It’s called Demand Controlled Ventilation or DCV. It is designed to obtain and maintain optimum indoor air quality so that for each space the incoming flow rate is controlled, it’s very energy efficient because it only ventilates the wet rooms that need it thus maintaining optimum comfort. It does this by measuring a combination of indicators

(humidity, VOCs and/or CO2) depending on which room the stale air is extracted from. The new Healthbox©II from AerHaus is a DCV system that works from a TouchDisplay control with four programmable settings: Eco: ventilation for minimum heat loss during the heating season Night: optimal protection whilst sleeping HDC: ventilation in accordance with the Regulations for ventilation systems in new homes Boost: a temporary program for maximum ventilation when more people than usual are in the house. There’s savings to be made with low running costs, and prices for the Healthbox©II are competitive too.

Help (on)line

To find out more about what’s best for you and your home talk to AerHaus Ltd, 18G Dungarvan Business Park, Dungarvan, Co. Waterford. Tel: 058 20005,,

Tight fix New from specialist adhesive manufacturers Xcel Products Ltd., is Xcel MGA an MS polymer adhesive with instant masonry grab, specifically developed to bond natural and manufactured stone to a secure substrate. With a strong initial bond, it fixes veneer stones and panels without support or mechanical fixings, and has high tensile strength of 29kgs/cmsq. It cures without shrinking, resists vibrations and remains permanently flexible.

MODERN APPLIANCES and systems are generally very reliable but not everything in our homes is new and nothing works perfectly forever. Because we rely so heavily upon these machines, when something goes wrong or wears out it’s usually fairly critical and we need help as soon as possible to get things working again. Or it could be a DIY job that isn’t turning out quite as you’d planned and it’s time to call in the professionals. The next problem is, how to find someone in your area who’s able to help you out in your time of need? Sortsy co-founders Peter Layland and Richard Campbell say it was exactly the frustration of finding a reliable and skilled tradesperson in an urgent situation that led to the development of the Sortsy app, as Peter explained, “I saw there was a need to have a reliable link between


tradespeople and consumers that would enable immediate bookings for household emergencies as well as planned projects.” Via the app, tradespeople will be able to find projects in real time and potential customers will be given the option to book a tradesperson immediately for a range of jobs, from burst pipes to hanging wallpaper. Free to use for consumers, the service costs £30 per month for tradespeople with unlimited job alerts. The Sortsy team interviews trade professionals, checking their identity, business and insurance credentials, and tradespeople can grow their feedback through customer ratings. The app will launch this autumn and the service will expand soon to other service providers in additional categories such as Hair & Beauty and Health & Fitness. To download the app go to

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

Delivered in 290ml tubes costing £9.99 including VAT, the glue is white or grey to match the use. It is also odourless, non flammable, adheres to wet and dry surfaces, cures quickly and, with a high resistance to UV and fungus, can be used inside or out. These qualities will last for at least 30 years and it’s all available now from Xcel Products Ltd., 25 Fruitvalley Road, Ballyward, Castlewellan, Co Down BT31 9RE tel. 07753 225 189 which is where to phone to find your nearest stockist. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Profile for Selfbuild Ireland Ltd.

Selfbuild Winter 2015  

An All-Ireland Magazine for Self Builders and Home Improvers

Selfbuild Winter 2015  

An All-Ireland Magazine for Self Builders and Home Improvers