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SelfBuild &Improve WINTER 2016 £3.50/€3.75

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Building with bamboo

Underfloor heating


ISSN 2049-3630

Polished concrete floors

Nailing your design brief Renovating with a modern twist

Building control explained

Garden: Bathroom Populating Range Extensions: gaining Winter Wastewater In treatment: your design pond cookers planning approval plants zero discharge memory systems

Lautner’s Book review: space age Medicinal architecture plants

WINTER 2016 Cover Photo: Robert Logan Editor: Astrid Madsen Subscriptions: Leanne Rodgers Sales Director: Mark Duffin Advertising Sales: David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Lisa Killen Patricia Madden Maria Varela Graphic Designer Myles McCann Printing: WG Baird Distribution: EM News Distribution Ltd

Here at SelfBuild & Improve Your Home magazine we’re celebrating our 15-year anniversary; a proud moment that managing editor Gillian Corry, who sadly passed away this August, was looking forward to (more details on page 13). To celebrate this event, and Gillian’s legacy, our Winter 2016 edition looks to the past to reinvent the future. One of the themes we explore is renovating older properties with a modern twist. From the traditional cottage (page 68) to the timeless farmhouse (page 100), from the derelict rectory (page 112) to the red brick terraced house (page 68), soak up the inspiration and let your home be your guide. And don’t be afraid to put your stamp on the redesign – colour schemes as well as furnishings will go a long to make that house your home. Speaking of contemporary design, on pages 60 and 80 respectively, we cover everything you need to know about polished concrete floors and underfloor heating – a match made in heaven? The purists, meanwhile, will point out that ‘modern’ has a specific meaning. The work of John Lautner, an American of Irish descent who studied under Frank Llyod Wright, is a

perfect example of this style and he is the topic of a new book by Taschen; the review is on page 130. For those who are about to start on their project, we bring you a cautionary tale that highlights the lack of protection afforded to self-builders in ROI. It starts on page 28. Related to this story is the topic of Building Control – many readers have come to us for advice on this confusing requirement; the answers to your questions start on page 122. There’s lots more to warm up to this winter, so go ahead and set your garden alight with fragrant plants (turn to page 96), start looking for your dream range cooker on page 94 or discover – if you haven’t already – all that’s possible to do with bamboo, the journey begins on page 90.


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 2016 KAREN HUGHES



Karen is an interior designer who founded Emerald Interior Design in 2008. She is the vice president of The Interiors Association. She is also an active blogger. Karen Hughes, Elkra, Pelletstown, Drumree, Co Meath, mobile 087 988 2077, email

An award winning interior designer and architect Caroline Irvine MRIAI set up her practice in 2003. She is also a lecturer. Irvine Nash, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin, mobile 087 298 7401,

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



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

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

Published by SelfBuild Ireland Ltd. 119 Cahard Road, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7LA. Tel: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0570 Fax: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0576 E-mail: Directors: Clive Corry, Brian Corry & Mark Duffin The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions nor for the accuracy of information reproduced. Where opinions may be given, these are personal and based upon the best information to hand. At all times readers are advised to seek the appropriate professional advice. Copyright: all rights reserved.




Stop Press

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


The design brief for your dream house


Groomin’ marvellous


Irish designers’ homes


A polished performance


A 12 step guide to nailing your design brief.

The contemporary bungalow Case Study


When push comes to shove Case Study


This storey and a half design in Co Down delivers a lot more than what it says on the tin.

The self-build nightmare that was Fiona and Cormac O’Connells house building project in Co Cork lasted six years. Now that the story has a happy ending, Fiona reflects on her experience.


The bathroom may be the smallest room in the house, it’s also the most frequently visited. Find out how to design yours to make it fit for your purpose.

Take a look inside Robert Logan’s proportionally designed dwelling in Co Antrim and Geraldine O’Daly’s Victorian pad in Co Dublin.

Polished concrete may look simple to achieve, it’s anything but. Find out what’s involved.

Meet the fixer uppers Case Study 68 A terraced, red brick house in Belfast and a traditional cottage in Co Laois are given a contemporary makeover.

Piping hot


Selfbuild & Improve Your Home Show Cork 2016


Underfloor heating is all the rage, and for good reason, but you need to understand how it works to get the most out of your system. Find out what’s involved.

We will be at Millstreet from the 12-13 November. Come and join us! Bring your plans for A3 copying and leaving SHOW with suppliers for pricing, gain some facts and figures for your project or just pick up ideas to make your home brighter and better.


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Winter fragrant plants

Learn how to grow flowers that’ll pack a punch throughout the frosty season.


All rhyme and reason Case Study 100 For Lory Higgins it made perfect sense to come back home to refurbish his dad’s house in Co Wicklow, but it did take wife Sandra to give him the push.

The house with nine lives Case Study


Clear as mud?


Getting a loan?


Notice Board


A derelict property isn’t for the faint hearted; Wendy and David Campbell of Co Down grabbed this challenge with both hands.

We answer your questions relating to the ROI Building Control Regulations.

Splendour in the grass

Bamboo has long been recognised as a sustainable building material and it’s finally made some inroads in Ireland, but can we build with it here?

Home on the range



A range cooker is in all likelihood on your wish list but as with all high-ticket items, it pays to do your homework. We bring you the main points to consider.

We review the consequences of the ROI Building Control Regulations with a roundup of ROI selfbuild mortgages available today. Product and industry news from the world of self-building and home improvement.

Between the covers Book Review 130 Modern architect and self-builder John Lautner mixed Frank Llyod Wright’s open plan layouts with his own naturalistic style to create unique designs.

100 8 8

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Flower power Just launched at the Dublin 2016 SelfBuild & Improve Your Home Show by Unipipe Ireland is the smartflower POP – a photovoltaic (PV) collector with a difference. Mounted in your garden, this flower’s PV ‘petals’ deploy every morning when the sun rises, follow it throughout the day, and retract at sunset. The first Irish smart flower was installed in Co Wicklow

A two-axis controller is what allows the flower to move and tilt 360 degrees to capture the maximum amount of rays, which, according to the Austrian manufacturer raises the electricity-generating yield by up to 40% as compared to a roof mounted system. The flower’s stem is over 2.5m tall and the maximum height with leaves deployed vertically is nearly 5m (safety perimeter is 5m). The 2.3kW system should generate roughly 3,500 kWh per year and the petals are self-cleaning (snow and dirt are wiped off when the petals fold). The system (electrics) comes with a two year warranty, the structure 10 years, with the lot costing €15,000 excluding VAT and installation. Unipipe Ireland, 40 Southern Cross Business Park, Boghall Road, Bray, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 2864888,,,

Soaking up the rays If you’re building a house or renovating you’ll have come across the myriad of stand-alone products that can make your home more energy efficient and comfortable. The very fact that there are so many has led to hybrid systems entering the market in a big way – as single units that offer multiple functionalities, these nifty contraptions make installation much easier and once moved in, controlling the components more manageable for the simple reason that there are less of them. In the realm of solar panels Cork Enterprise Service’s new plug-and-play 2Power system is one that allows you to double up on the sun’s energy by supplying both hot water and electricity. As with all building services components, each house will require a tailor made solution but to give you an indication, in an 180sqm detached family home in Co Cork with an 18sqm collector area (12 modules), a 3 kW system is roughly generating 3,300 kWh per year in electricity and tops up the gas fired boiler’s hot water tank with 2,400 kWh/yr. According to the German manufacturer these hybrid panels work best in conjunction with low temperature heating systems such as heat pumps, which means there is scope to increase the hot water contribution. You can also add less costly standalone PV modules to the hybrid panels, with optional storage. 2Power comes with a 10 year warranty, is registered for SEAI solar grants in ROI, and if you’re in the Cork area, you can benefit from a free site survey. Cork Enterprise Services, 6 Friary Gardens, Friar’s Walk, Cork, tel. 021 431 5881,,

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We’re all familiar with tongue and groove (T&G) wooden floorboards and wall panels; but what if you’d rather go for a polished concrete finish? Then look no further than Concreate, the 14mm thick, pre-polished, pre-sealed, engineered concrete T&G plank that weighs less than 6 kg per sqm. The product can be used virtually anywhere, on wall and floor, from the kitchen to the bedrooms, living room to the bathroom (but not wet rooms); you can use it as a worktop covering, splashback and as it’s fire resistant, around chimney breasts too.

Available in Ireland exclusively from Flame Fireplaces, Concreate is made of a 4mm layer of polished concrete on a 10mm lightweight magnesium oxide cement base to look and feel just like

poured concrete. Concreate is available in three shades: natural grey, dark grey or mineral white. A smoked white oak wooden floor option is also available and can be installed right beside the concrete planks without the need for a clumsy transition bar. Being lightweight it’s an ideal solution in an existing house, especially on raised and upper floors. It’s also perfectly suited to those who are looking for a cost effective (prices start at just £55/per sqm) and speedy installation – the planks are fitted on a bed of fast drying adhesive which means the new floor can be walked on straight away. Patterns can even be engraved and, while the 10-year guarantee is for indoor use only, you can get creative in the garden/patio too.

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Tongue and groovy

Find out more at and Flame Fireplaces. Old Scotch Stores Glendale Buildings, Enniskillen, BT74 7JY, Co Fermanagh, tel. 6632 6327,


This Winter 2016 edition marks SelfBuild & Improve Your Home magazine’s 15 year anniversary. Following several years of Information Bulletins, the very first issue, Autumn/Winter 2001, was put together by Gillian Corry, a homeowner who’d gone through the maze of selfbuilding and wished she and her husband had some help along the way. And so the magazine was born, the first ever to provide technical yet digestible, informative yet unbiased advice to Irish self-builders. In this spirit, Gillian, who passed away this August after having completed her second self-build, co-founded SelfBuild Ireland, the company, brand, show and of course magazine, and spearheaded many other related initiatives, such as the Love Your Home show in Belfast. Supported by husband Clive and son Brian along with their team, Gillian’s commitment, hard work and insider

knowledge of the self-build industry – she was the first energy rating surveyor in NI – has made the magazine, in print and online, what it is today, the go-to resource for self-builders in all 32 counties. Gillian’s keen attention to detail and her affinity to the realities of building a house, on site, came first. Her commitment to sustainability was steadfast but also very practical, her passion for quality and workmanship second to none. The entire team at SelfBuild will continue in Gillian’s galvanising spirit; whether you’re self-building or tackling the day-to-day, it’s what you make of life’s challenges that matters. As long as you have your toolkit in place, your i’s dotted and your t’s crossed, you’ll find that building a new house or any other seemingly daunting experience will turn out to be not only rewarding, but life-asserting. That’s something else to celebrate.

The first issues of SelfBuild & Improve Your Home magazine, followed the NI SelfBuild Information Bulletin.

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case study

The contemporary bungalow For Rodney and Emma McKay of Co Down, building a ‘traditional’ bungalow was out of the question. And the result is very different indeed to what you’d expect a one and half storey house to look like…


ight is everything in modern builds, and for her family home Emma wasn’t going to pass up on such an invaluable asset. “We wanted something modern, bright and if we could, incorporate a stone feature,” she says. “We didn’t want it to look the same as the houses we’d seen before, but wanted to keep some form of the vernacular architecture.” This design was a bit unusual in that the staircase came first. “From the very beginning we had plans for a nice staircase so we started there and built around it,” says Rodney. “As a result of this, and of the architectural features, we don’t really have any ‘standard’ rooms as there are many angles, all designed to get the most of the views.”

Beyond the bungalow

Rodney had owned the land they built on for a long time and had tried to get planning permission on it but as it is in a greenbelt area, it wasn’t until they could use PPS21 that they got the green light for a four-bedroom house. For inspiration they went to different houses, built by family and friends. “We were fortunate to be able to get their advice and expertise,” adds „

More photographs available at


case study Plenty of light and a stone feature were among their must-haves.


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

Emma. “We got inspiration but also a lead on who to hire for the design.” Their designer suggested a one and a half storey bungalow with plenty of corners to maximise light. “We went through numerous designs, due to planning restrictions it was never going to be a true two storey – although at the back it is,” explains Rodney. “Even at the front it doesn’t look or feel like a bungalow.” “The glass is wonderful, and the solar gains amazing,” adds Emma. “It can however get too hot in summer – in those rare instances we just open the windows. In winter we barely need to heat the house, the wood burning stove in the living area supplies most of our needs.” But if they could change one thing it’s the specification on the bifold doors. “They’re brilliant and offer a great view but in winter if you’re sitting near them there can be a draught, you can feel the difference in their being double glazed,” adds Rodney. Emma says that the main downside to the „

The two storey feel Emma and Rodney wanted was achieved at the back of the house.


case study Clever storage solutions are essential when you don’t have an attic, says Emma.


bungalow design or building into the roof space, is not having an attic. “So you need to be really clever about storage throughout,” she says. They decided to use some of the eaves space in the bedrooms for wardrobes and cupboards. “The issue is we don’t have high storage to hang things, our room is the only one that allows for that,” adds Rodney. “We chose timber frame to make sure we could pile in the insulation as we wanted a house that wouldn’t cost much to run, and our main contractor helped us specify the house to build it to their methods,” adds Rodney. Solar hot water panels were installed and these supply most of their needs from March to November; the unit they say will have paid for itself within seven years. “We’ve got an oil boiler for heating and for topping up the hot water, and 200 litres gets us through the winter,” he says. Rodney and Emma had their hearts set on photovoltaic panels, to get electricity from the sun, but as they trimmed down their budget it wasn’t meant to be, at least for now. “We have provisions to add the panels at a later date and we also installed a flue at the end of the house in case we eventually wanted to add a stove there,” says future-proofer Rodney. With such a well insulated and air tight „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study Above: Having invested in insulation and airtightness, the heating costs are low. Right: The house was designed around the staircase.

house they installed a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system to ensure they get enough fresh air circulating throughout. Considering the fact that they had a new-born in December, and heated the place to a toasty 21degC continuously, their low heating costs are a good sign the house is performing as it should.

Practical to the core

There is no doubt that a well laid out home will help you live more comfortably, but it will also help you retain your sanity during parenthood! “We have a large bathroom downstairs with a big shower, coming home with muddy boots it’s very handy to have right at the back door,” says Rodney.

The couple uses their ensuite bathroom, which has a bath, to groom the children. “Our main bathroom upstairs rarely gets used, it’s mostly for guests,” adds Rodney. “It contains a freestanding bath, which is what we wanted, it’s got the look. We chose to invest in it as it stands out as a nice design feature.” Every last details was thought of, even hanging up family photos and artwork but the budget got in the way. “With timber frame houses you need to find the stud to hang up pictures and I do wish we’d spent the £2,000 to put plywood onto the entire structure, that would have made hanging up shelves much easier too!” “We chose to plasterboard but we find it can „



SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study To make the most of the views and maximise light, the house is angled in different directions.


leave marks quite easily so a harder, plastered alternative may have worked better, on top of the ply,” he adds. In terms of their every day, the couple says that their kitchen / dining / sitting open plan layout works really well. “We have the cooker and stove in the middle, which is actually very good with the kids, the whole downstairs is a joy to be in,” confides Emma. Their electrician gave them invaluable advice, including the layout for the spotlights in the open plan area. “We can sit 10 to 12 people which is ideal for parties, so the lighting had to be right,” says Rodney.


“We both work full time; we felt a contractor would be quicker and actually cheaper in the long run. Less time and effort and less stress and money. The challenge then was to find the right person,” explains Rodney. They’d originally thought of a package ecobuild but the complicated nature of their design meant a main contractor was better suited. “We got three different prices, spoke to two who were very helpful and ended up going with the most expensive one! But he was the only one to give us a price for everything, he supplied the minute details and that gave us great confidence,” „

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Astrid Madsen Plot size: ½ acre House size: 2,400 sqft Cost: £160,000 + £10,000 in solicitor and designer fees Value: £230,000 EPC (SAP rating): B (89)

The windows and doors bring the outside in

case study

continues Rodney. “If we had to add extras we knew how much they would cost. In the end I think he was actually the most reasonably priced.” “He’d done a house that appeared on television and we thought it looked great, and for us he did do amazing work as well,” adds Rodney. “He also gave us advice and told us how to use our budget in the best way, he helped make sure we didn’t go over.” “This even meant he was flexible on whether or not he did some of the stages, we did our own groundwork for instance,” he adds. The foundations were poured July 2013, and they officially moved in February 2015. Changes due to budget include veranda with bifolds – the span was reduced. They also got rid of an internal wall between the kitchen and lounge – Rodney says it actually works better in that it brings in more light. “Everything else was perfect, down to the last detail,” says Emma. Despite their efforts to eliminate stress, it came from a somewhat unexpected source. “Our mortgage had been agreed on and everything was ok to go ahead, we’d gotten signatures from the solicitors but the bank turned out to be very slow in signing off on each of the stage payments, which created hold ups,” laments Rodney. “Getting trades in at the right time is difficult enough without this type of problem, that’s another reason why we were so happy to go with a main builder.” Outside, they put in a septic tank with filter system and also chose to landscape insofar as possible. “We have sodded out the immediate area around the house for the children to play but when we have more money we’d like to add a water feature and a more complete recreational area,” says Rodney. “Then of course there’s the possibility of extending our veg patch and incorporate zones for eating. Also a wildflower garden,” adds Emma. When you’ve got the house of your dreams and an idyllic setting, where better to expand your energy than outdoors? n

Build spec

Walls: 140mm timber frame with blockwork and weatherproof white render finish on outside, 140mm mineral wool fitted inside panel, 60mm PIR fitted to internal face of panel, plasterboard; U-value 0.15W/sqmK Roof: 200mm mineral wool between rafters, 80mm PIR fitted to upper side of rafter, batten fitted on top ready for felt, lathe and tiles, airtight membrane to internal side of panels; U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Floor: 150mm PIR, 60mm around perimeter of floor to minimise thermal bridging, cast finished floor in 30kn concrete; U-value 0.14W/sqmK Windows: triple glazed, argon filled, uPVC black wood effect, U-value of units 0.8 W/sqmK Air tightness: 0.686 m³/(h.sqm) @50Pa

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architectural practice FmK Architecture & ECOHomes, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 25878650, Main contractor   Setanta construction, Castledawson, Co L’Derry, tel. 7946 5333,

Tiles  Tuscany tiles, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 2563 2049, Staircase J & S Stairs, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 2765 7091,

Photographer Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Belfast, tel. 9024 5038,

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case study

When push comes to shove How Fiona and Cormac Mitchell’s dream self-build in Co Cork turned into a nightmare


More photographs available at


alking into Fiona and Cormac’s home you’d be forgiven for thinking it was the result of an exemplary self-build. It’s well designed, well built and offers wonderful views. It’s made to live and entertain in. However the road to get there was arduous, literally and figuratively. Fiona explains: “A mix of very poor management, absenteeism and numerous mistakes that had to be fixed, resulted in our 12 month contract being dragged out over three and a half years. We moved into an unfinished home, with many second fix elements and serious snagging issues left for us to resolve, including a dangerously steep driveway.” “The irony is that we specifically chose a turnkey contract because we didn’t want to spend years completing the build. As we were very busy with work, we thought it’d be the quickest and least stressful way.” “I had intended to write a book comparing the two experiences, of building our first house by direct labour and of doing things differently and more easily – or so I thought – with a main contractor.”

and I were established in our careers, we had grandchildren, friends, colleagues and family we wanted to see more of and be able to invite and stay.” “We wanted a larger kitchen, a more open plan home incorporating the garden and yearned to live in a two storey again, like our first two family homes.” “We self-built our third house, a four bedroom, split level bungalow with double garage. This was in 1979, we were in our twenties with two small children. Even though it was hard work, it was exciting,” Fiona fondly remembers. “We had designed the house ourselves with advice from Cormac’s brother, a civil engineer and a relative who had experience in self-building. While the direct labour route was stressful, as project managers if we made a mistake, being in control meant we could recover and keep on track. We completed that build successfully in just 12 months.” “That home has served us well and we loved where we were living so we decided to build this new house on the land adjacent to it.”


“We got planning permission and during the tendering process two main contractors contributed ideas to converting the plans into construction drawings.” “We chose the company we felt had the best quality finish, which was achieved by a team of subcontractors who we were assured would also work on our build. ” “We made enquires about the company, visited several of their builds and even met people who had run into problems with them but what they described didn’t match our experience so we dismissed concerns.” “We read SelfBuild & Improve Your Home magazine to get up to speed with the current state of technology and other publications for interior design.” “We were excited about all the new technology introduced since 1979 and wanted to know as much as we could about the new systems. One of the directors of the building company enjoyed explaining the benefits of extra insulation, airtightness packages, heat recovery ventilation, „

“When we decided to self-build, both Cormac

Warning signs

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study Due to the changes to the foundations having been built too high, there are steps to access the house. Below: Driveway with grandchildren in foreground.

and underfloor geothermal heating. We got along really well.” Fiona says they were over the moon signing the contract in their solicitor’s office in the summer of 2010. “Our solicitor dampened my enthusiasm by saying he hoped we’d still be as ecstatic at the end of the build; I brushed off his comments but was perplexed by them.” Maybe his comment was because the first warning sign came at this early stage. “Our solicitor advised that we use a standard legal contract, which he said would protect us more than the contract the builders had drawn up.” “We wanted to start the project on a positive note, and we were in an atmosphere of trust. Now I’m not sure whether signing a different contract would have changed anything considering that the legal system does not seem to be able to protect

self-builders when they come up against issues with their contractor.” Fiona says the contractor advised them in writing that they would only need an engineer to sign off on the stages and to draw up the snag list and that they would take on all architectural and engineering services at no extra charge, including plans for all of the systems to be handed over at completion. “They said this would ensure a seamless build progression which they preferred.” “Alarm bells should have rung but didn’t, they should have rung again at the first stage payment,” continues Fiona. “We were invoiced for €9,000 more than the contract indicated for the foundation complete stage – there had been a price per row above ground level in the contract, but the builders justified the extra cost by saying the original contract calculations hadn’t been correct.” “The contractor refused to progress if we didn’t pay the excess; our solicitor insisted this wasn’t in the contract and we were not liable. But because we wanted to maintain good relations he reluctantly advised we pay the excess as an ex gratia payment on condition that nothing like this happen again.” “This was at the foundations stage when the driveway route and fill should also have been in place, but we had only a temporary drive yet we paid in full for that stage in good faith.”

No way driveway

The driveway was the main problem from the very beginning. The 120 meter long access route into the property was over a steep incline and a 1:10 gradient was specified to allow for safe access. „


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study The kitchen is now a great source of enjoyment, having been lovingly designed as well as expertly built and fitted.


“It was agreed that the contractor’s best option route including drawings be included in the contract. There’s a 12 metre difference between where the driveway starts and the finished floor level (FFL) of the house; it required a lot of fill.” “Our self-build next door presented similar site conditions so we knew how important it was to get the gradient right,” adds Fiona. “We also knew how important it was to start the project with the driveway foundation; the fill needs to be bedded down and machinery from site works is ideal to do this.” “The day the site was opened the contractors asked if they could put in a temporary access which didn’t follow the contract driveway route and arrived at the back of the site several meters below the FFL.” “We agreed as they told us this was to facilitate deliveries for foundations only.” “Throughout the project the contractor refused to build the contract driveway and towards the end we felt compelled to accept the temporary route as permanent, the contractor agreed on a new set of drawings that the gradient would be 1 : 7 or better, but this gradient was never delivered.” “We were left with a compromise driveway

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

gradient of 1 : 3.9 and had major safety concerns; at that steep an incline all you can see going up is the bonnet of your car and going down you feel like you’re falling off a cliff!” “Shortly before the builders withdrew from site a tradesman’s car ended up hanging perilously over an unprotected three metre drop into the adjoining field, this confirmed to us just how dangerous the driveway was.” “Unfortunately it was also partly constructed outside our site boundary. We are currently negotiating with the owner next door to buy the land as moving such a complex driveway would be extremely difficult and costly.”

The saga unfolds

“When we got to the blockwork, at the stage where the lintels for the windows and doors had been installed, I realised there was no space to fit curtain rails or blinds, and that the internal door heights seemed to have been built for giants,” recounts Fiona. “When asked about this the blocklayers,

who were doing a fantastic job, said they were required to follow the plans given to them by the contractor.” “Several calls to the contractor who was overseeing our build were made before he visited the site. He later sent an email saying that there was an error in transferring drawings across computer packages and all walls would have to be knocked to sill and lintel level.” “They said that these things happen and it was their problem to deal with.” “We discovered after the contractors had withdrawn from site without completing the build that they had built the foundations 700mm too high.” “This was actually apparent when we got to the roof ridge, we were very disappointed to find that the dormer part was lower than on the plans and we had to lose floor area to facilitate the roof slope staying compliant with what we got planning permission for.” This discrepancy at foundation level had many „

The house was built to have friends and family over.


case study The home office had to be moved from the garage to the main house

knock on effects, including the addition of seven steps to their front door and the need for fall protection barriers. “As we didn’t know at the time what had caused these issues we didn’t realise the price of their mistakes were being passed on to us as extra costs.”

And then they got to the roof

“We were weeks behind schedule when felting was done just before Christmas 2010. It was a cold winter and snow remained on the membrane for at least three weeks.”

“The roofers returned in January to put up the natural slates; as we later found out the felt wasn’t up to standard and I noticed tears in the membrane. I contacted the builder to arrange for a site visit but it wasn’t until 8,000 slates on the house and 5,000 on the garage had been installed that the builder came to have a look,” continues Fiona. “Their hope was that they wouldn’t be judged by the problem but by their approach to fixing it, and we really bought into that. They asked for our engineer to do up the plans for how the stripping was to be done.” “The aim was to reinstate the roof in five „

The views and the quality of life it affords make this place very special


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

“This was a turning point; the builder refused to return on site until we contributed to half of the slates’ cost and we agreed to a number of conditions including advanced payments.”

Inching towards the finish line

The staircase was a central design feature

weeks. The first step was to remove all the slates, battens, damaged felt from both buildings, the lead valleys and 13 roof lights. All other work on site was on hold.” “The slates were replaced as the quarry wouldn’t stand over the product otherwise. An agreement was made between the builder and the supplier to take back the damaged ones, allowing an amount against them on the new order. In the end it took four months to complete the roof.”

“We just wanted to get our house finished and were desperate to speed things up. We agreed to employ an additional engineer and project manager to smooth the way to the following Christmas; the new finish date.” “But this date came and went with very little progress. Our project manager declined to renew his contract as the contractor was not cooperating in the process. Tradesmen were sympathetic and as shocked as us about the situation saying they had to go where they were sent.” “At all times we maintained a good working relationship with our contractor, there was always a degree of light hearted banter and good humour,” adds Fiona. “Part of the build agreement was to have regular updates, both weekly and monthly. But the schedules kept being pushed back, and the updates eventually stopped after the roof problems arose. Attendance on site became erratic with long periods of non attendance.” “It came to a stage where we were asked to choose finishes, paint colours and tiles for bathrooms and floors. It was so exciting to work with a great interior designer and get this right.” “But my excitement soon turned to horror as we watched the first painters employed do no preparation, painting walls over mould and grit with colours we had not picked. They failed to cover windows, pre finished wooden floors and doors, stairs, oak window boards. All of these were splattered with paint.” “It was so bad the builders paid for a company to clean up the paint and restore the floors and doors; they also got an excellent replacement painter in afterwards”. The situation was rapidly souring and exchanges became less pleasant with the builder.

Financial distress

“While the contractors took on many new projects


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study

in this third year of our build they seemed unwilling to finish our house. They seemed to be pushing us to terminate the contract but our solicitor advised us against this; he had seen too many clients locked out of their boarded up houses. He advised us to keep moving the project towards the finish line, this was really sound advice.” “Our mortgage lender was worried about the slow progress and insisted on full house insurance. This required that the house be occupied. The second fix stage had been ongoing on for 18 months; in March 2013 a guaranteed move-in date of May 2013 was agreed with our solicitor. House insurance and a furniture removal firm were booked. It was the coming together of these pressures that resulted in us gaining possession of the house on that date, the contract had not been completed and we were never given all the keys.” The last direct dealing with the builder was when they showed up on site with machinery to finally do the driveway and remaining groundworks. “Throughout the build all our stage payments were paid on time and many payments were paid in advance. Only Build Completion Stage and Retention were pending. A sum was also being held by our solicitor until the driveway, the remaining second fix items and the snag list were completed. “Our solicitor had stipulated that no further payments be made until all works were completed, because according to our accounts we had already overpaid by tens of thousands.” “The builder asked for the sum being held by the solicitor be released. He said they could do nothing until we paid them that amount,” continues Fiona. “We desperately wanted to be finished with the

build so ... with our solicitor on leave that day and Cormac off I very unwisely caved in to getting the money released.” “After picking up the cheque they did a small amount of work over a few days; then they stopped. A week or so later a machine operator arrived and without notice drove the remaining machinery off site.” “Weeks passed before we got a letter saying they had withdrawn from the project. I took this very personally and felt really betrayed, but also relieved they were gone, we thought at least the continuous pressure and stress might stop.”  “But the negotiations dragged on, with the contractor claiming we owed them huge sums of money. Not knowing what was going to happen next was really stressful.” „

The dormer portions are lower than intended due to the foundations having been built too high.


case study

“We filed for arbitration as was stipulated in the contract but they asked for mediation. We agreed, and were required to pay half the €6,950 mediation fee up front; we also had our solicitor, engineer and QS to pay for their attendance.” “We thought this would give us some closure but the process failed and we filed again for arbitration but the contractors refused; a few months later they liquidated the company’.”

Clouds and silver linings

What salvaged the build was the tradesmen’s meticulous work and keen attention to detail.


Fiona and Cormac were fortunate that they were able to shoulder the financial strain this experience has put them under. However the toll on their health was in many ways more worrying; they both became very ill and an additional knock on effect was of Fiona having to take early retirement on

health grounds from a career she loved. “When the contractors left we gradually began to recover, finding many of the symptoms had been due to chronic stress. One of our best decisions was to finish our landscaping,” adds Fiona. “The first year living in the house was tinged with regret, I think I was still struggling with feelings of betrayal.” Small reminders in their every day didn’t help as endless work remains to be done to make the driveway safer, even though barriers have been installed to lessen the likelihood of accidents. And yet, they’ve managed to move on. “This debacle took six years out of our lives, it’s not taking any more,” says Fiona. “Looking around our home we see the magnificent work the subcontractors and tradesmen brought to the build. The electricians, plumbers, tilers, the second painting company and others. Every corner is perfectly plumb, the curved walls beautifully executed, the plastering admired by everyone, our lighting plan one of our best decisions, and a kitchen well designed and a joy to bake, cook and entertain in, the amazing curved stairs the centrepiece of our hall.”  “This house feels like home now and the memories of the trauma and stress of the build are being replaced by joyful occasions; our daughter’s and our son’s wedding celebrations last year, having our grandchildren here to stay for holidays and watching them explore the garden.” “The awful nightmare was really difficult to live through but it is over now and the dream has come true; this house is a great place to be and will continue to be at the centre of great gatherings and intimate times to come.” Maybe it is time she tackled that book… n Astrid Madsen

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Ground floor: 150mm PIR insulation, 150mm concrete and 75mm screed. First floor: Precast slab with 75mm screed.

Walls: Outer leaf 100mm concrete block, 150mm platinum bonded bead and 100mm concrete block inner leaf. Roof: In situ cut roof with Spanish natural slates, 50mm x 25mm. Windows: Black double glazed uPVC; aluclad double glazed patio doors BER from spec: A3

Words of advice

Fiona and Cormac’s harrowing experience is in many ways a product of the recession, and while the story did end with a really lovely house built to the highest standards, it also provides the opportunity to share some advice with prospective self-builders, including making sure you have a system of checks and balances in place. This automatically happens when you lead the project but can be more difficult to achieve in a contractor-led scenario. “We had all of our eggs in the same basket, having the builder act as architect, engineer, builder and project manager,” explains Fiona. “This was a bit like the spider legislating for the fly but we trusted our builder totally.” Even if you have a great relationship with your builder, it’s a good idea to have your own quantity surveyor and designer accompany you throughout the project to identify any possible issues along the way. Insisting on this shouldn’t impact on your relationship with any of the parties and if it does, that should

case study

House size: 370 sqm Garage size: 190 sqm Site size: 0.45 hectares

ring the alarm bells. To fully protect yourself, Fiona believes it’s best to have penalty clauses linking the contract to each stage and release only the corresponding money (no exceptions) when each stage has been completed. If they genuinely need it for materials that indicates their cash flow is probably in trouble. “We should have listened to our solicitor’s advice on everything, including withholding payments and not making payments that we were not liable for. Arbitration and legal recourse are best avoided,” she adds, “as they’re expensive and are unlikely to have a positive outcome.”

The opinions expressed in this article are not those of the publisher; they are presented as the homeowner’s experience.

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Planning drawings Jacqueline Manley MIEI, Civil, Structural, Architectural, Planning. Email: BER and air pressure test Collins Energy Consultants, Charleville, Co Cork,, mobile 087 2254886 Block Layer Eamon Fuller, email, mobile 086 2672896 Plasterer McAuliffe Bros, mobile 086 8138662 or 0868258446 Electrician A & J O Callaghan Electrical, Buttevant, Co Cork, mobile 086 2672899, email Plumber and installer for underfloor heating Kevin O’ Donoghue & Co., mobile 087 2132640 External windows and doors Munster Joinery, Ballydesmond, Co Cork, Internal doors, handles and hinges Ryans Doors & Floors, Cork, Kitchen, utility and Neff electrical appliances Celtic Interiors, Douglas, Cork, Ground source heat pump Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd., Skibbereen, Co Cork,

Heat recovery ventilation Proair from Munster HRV, Cashel, Co Tipperary, Central vacuum system Cyclovac Ireland, Dungarvan, Co Waterford, Lighting plan David Cahill, Lighting and Living, email, mobile 0862674667 Light fittings and sockets Lightplan Electrical Distributors, Cork, Colour consultant and interior designer (painting / bathroom tiling) Barbara Hanan, Crosshaven, Co Cork, email, mobile 087 2508109 Curtains and blinds Catherine Troy Interior Design, Midleton, Co Cork,, mobile 087 2103727. Stoves Cork Stoves & Gas Fires, Cork, Exterior glass rail Cork Glass Centre, Cork, Fireplaces, kitchen island, worktops and ensuite bathroom shelves Elm Marble & Granite, Foynes, Co Limerick, Wastewater treatment plant W&M Kiely Ltd., Blarney, Co Cork,

Patio slabs Kilwaughter Cork Ltd., Ovens, Co Cork. Roof slates Killoran Slate, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, Tiles and timber floors JMR Centre Ltd., Mallow, Co Cork, Bathroom fittings MD O’ Shea, Ballincollig, Co Cork,, tel. 021 4810200 and Irish International Trading Corporation, Cork, tel. 021 4705800. Internal and external painting (second contractor) Apex Painting Ltd., Clonheen, Co Cork,, mobile 087 2544429. Driveway surface and drainage RCM Tarmacadam Ltd, Enniskeane, Co Cork, mobile JJ McCarthy 087 1201002 Garden design Planting design and Stonework Dominick Cullinane, Glounthaune, Co Cork,, mobile 085 7820736 Stone mason Ger Harrington, mobile 087 2759380

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


the design brief You need to clarify at the outset what your style preferences are

The design brief for your dream house Follow these 12 essential steps to make your house really feel like a home.


riting a design brief is the single most important thing you can do when remodelling, extending, building or renovating a home, as it provides the foundation from which all else follows; ultimately the blueprint to deliver a home that embodies the functionality and style that you desire.


The design brief should be formulated by you in collaboration with a professional building designer. You will start by assessing the constraints and opportunities, e.g. positioning of the house based on restrictive site conditions, the views, planning requirements, local authority regulations and conservation issues. At this early stage you will identify any areas requiring further investigation. Focusing on your needs and desired outcomes, your design brief will be pivotal to the success of


your project. It will set out clearly defined goals and objectives and these will inform and direct your chosen solutions. In the initial stages, the design brief is honed through reappraisal (many drafts!) to address the function of the building, aesthetic, project completion date and budget, to ultimately serve as: l the starting point for a building designer’s plans l the measure by which designs are tested throughout the process l the basis from which the end result will be judged. Most people will have an idea of their preferred architectural style; be it in keeping with the features of an existing building, high tech, contemporary, sustainable or ecological. One way to become acquainted with the aesthetic possibilities of an architectural commission is to study a number of buildings of the same type and some of the best inspiration can be found online;, or other SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

the design brief

design-led sites such as Pinterest or Abduzeedo will provide lots of ideas and sumptuous photographs. Smartphone technology also makes it possible to capture an image of interest at any time. Once gathered and filed, these records will inform the design brief to ensure your preferred aesthetic is achieved at every stage.

A how-to guide

Not everyone embarking on a building project will have experience writing a design brief. The points outlined below provide a guide:

1 Budget and value for money

Design and cost are closely linked and it is important to ensure that projects are delivered within their approved budgets and that the plans represent value for money. You should take into account both capital and operational costs – from whole-life/lifecycle considerations to maintenance for the key components, including the cost of heating your home. Don’t forget to factor in a contingency sum (usually 10 to 15 per cent) for any unforeseen items.

2 Sustainability and

environmental impact

To minimise whole-life costs consider adopting internationally recognised standards that will make the most of solar gains and optimise energy use; also consider other impacts such as water use and your own environmental footprint, e.g. from car travel.

3 Site layout, context and


When embarking on a new-build project, the site layout is fundamental to good design. Considerations will include services, access, topography, natural light, views, the wind, vegetation, drainage, soils, neighbouring buildings. Houses need to contribute to making the places we live, work and play in, healthy and sustainable, so the people and community around you need to be factored in. Interiors should also be a product of their place, purpose and time.

4 Light

It is important to remember that all interiors benefit from natural light and good design will make the most of this invaluable resource. The advantages that daylighting brings extends beyond architecture and energy to include psychological and physiological benefits: improved mood, reduced fatigue, increased productivity, reduced eyestrain; importantly daylighting meets a psychological need for contact with the outside living environment. When remodelling or decorating your interior space, examine possibilities to exploit and/or increase its use. Consider where you spend most of your time, and whether the rooms in the house are used in a way that suits their natural daylighting conditions. „

Good design needs to take into account how light will interact with the building.

Steve Larkin Architects Photo:

Christopher Hill Photographic


the design brief

Christopher Hill Photographic

Philip Lauterbach

buildings are ample and that the house can benefit all users equally, regardless of age, size or ability. See for guidelines.

7 Interior layout and flow

Bigger houses and odd shapes will require more time at the design stage but also in supervision at the construction stage.... An example of form following function

5 Size and complexity

Bigger houses and odd shapes will require more time at the design stage but also in supervision at the construction stage; these elements will add to the cost so explore which features are must-have and which you can do without.

6 Function and universal


As per the modern design premise ‘Form follows Function’, our homes are shaped by our needs. Determining and maximising the use of space and light to meet our varied lifestyle requirements (for both now and the future) is essential; think ahead with flexibility in mind: - Our homes fulfil many functions: as places to work, relax, entertain, etc. - Prioritise your space requirements and determine the area required by each. - Make a wish list – you’d be amazed at what can be achieved in a small space. - It’s vital to ensure that access and exit points to


Once you have determined the right use and size for each space, consider the relationships between them and which spaces work best together. ‘Open’ floor plans, accredited to Frank Lloyd Wright who incorporated this feature into his Midwestern Prairie Houses in the late 19th and early 20th centuries are increasing in popularity today. Benefits include a greater sense of space, good natural light, connected areas, good visibility and a connection between indoors and outdoors. These floor plans work well for families, the most successful configuration combining kitchen, dining and living areas; some may consider connecting a further (play)room with a view to converting it to a study, snug or ground floor bedroom at a later date. The downside is that there is less privacy, more noise and the ‘cocooning effect’ is not easily achieved in the living/TV area. Smells emanating from the kitchen and permeating into the living spaces can also be an issue, so invest in a good extractor fan. Take function into account when devising your floor plan (for instance, keeping your kitchen close to the dining room), but also consider materials and colour. A continuity of style from room to room — flooring, ceiling and woodwork — will allow your home to flow visually.

8 Measurements

‘Measure twice and cut once’, also without the correct allowances for walking, working or storage you can have a beautiful looking space that doesn’t function properly. Measurements are particularly important when planning kitchens, dining rooms and bathrooms where adequate clearance between furniture, cabinetry, appliances and plumbing SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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the design brief

Christopher Hill Photographic

Measure the rooms you are currently living in and compare them to your drawings to get a sense of scale

of the past and at the same time devise a living environment that is built for now and the future.

10 Privacy

Many households contend with the comings and goings of people at different ages and stages: babies, teenagers, grandparents, nannies and their friends! Everyone needs their space and the provision of quiet zones away from this hubbub is essential.

11 Materials

Insofar as possible, all building materials should come from reputable sources; for instance always check for sustainable forestry certification. Your choice of building materials will also be contingent on the first three points. fixtures, is essential. Pay attention to the minimums and maximums that your space provides, and how they will enable the room’s assigned functions. Draw your plan to scale and by arranging individual furniture pieces determine the best internal layout for your rooms. To get a feel of the space, measure the rooms you are currently living in and compare them to your drawings; you can then enlarge or reduce as required. If you are more comfortable in feet and inches, request that your designer provide these measurements on the drawings – this is straightforward to achieve as all plans are now done with computer software.

9 Architectural preservation

Unless you apply for an exemption with your local council (under Section 57 in ROI, Listed Building Consent in NI), the interior fabric of a protected structure will have to be preserved. However, with all buildings it is possible to respect the traditions

12 Comfort

The user experience is core to the design process; of course comfort and style aren’t mutually exclusive but comfort should always come first. Equally, because a good percentage of the daily workload is performed in the kitchen, ergonomics, workflow and clearance requirements are fundamental in successful kitchen configuration. As a final note and in the words of Frank Lloyd Wright remember that when designing your home: You can use an eraser on the drafting table or a sledgehammer on the construction site. n Caroline Irvine

Additional information

Mark Stephens MRIAI, ARB, RIBA, Roosky, Foxford, Co Mayo, tel. 094 92 57621,, Christopher Hill Photographic


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It may be the smallest room in the house but the bathroom is also the most important. Take the time to plan it out to make the experience of using it an enjoyable one.


oday’s modern bathroom serves many purposes; it needs to be functional for all family members, (both the adults and the little folk), there should be adequate storage for things like towels and toiletries, and it must be well equipped – good ventilation is essential as is good lighting to ensure cut-free shaving/smear-free makeup application. And unless you fancy spending the money for a statement bath in the middle of your large bedroom, it’s also the place where you’ll come home to relax after a long and weary day. For the smallest room in the house, we certainly demand a lot from it! Before starting on a new design or bathroom refurbishment, carefully consider your functional requirements as well as the aesthetics.

Who will use the space and how? Will the bathroom be used by both adults and children? If so are all required appliances accessible to everyone and just as importantly are they safe and out of harm’s way for smaller occupants? Heated towel rails for example are a great multifunctional option. But while they won’t necessarily burn little hands (or bottoms for that matter), they may cause discomfort if touched accidentally. Would underfloor heating be a better option if youngsters are regular visitors? At the risk of getting too personal, how you use your bathroom is another important consideration. Are you a shower or bath person? Do you want to relax and soak in a hot bath with soft candlelight or perhaps you prefer a quick shower and shave first thing in the morning. Do you need/want or even have space for both options? How many people will simultaneously use the bathroom, do you need dual basins or a vanity area for applying makeup? Will the bathroom house towels and linen – if space is very tight consider using the hot press or a closet in the hallway for overflow.

Bathroom layout

Think about your current bathroom layout in respect of what works and what doesn’t – space, layout, ventilation, light, etc. If you’re renovating, pay special attention to where the existing water pipes are located, and are they connected via the floor or the wall? Of course anything is possible, but ‘anything’ comes at a price and relocating pipework may eat unnecessarily into your resources. Note for instance that basins need a

Left: Planting seeds is the most economical way to grow plants.

bathroom design

Groomin’ marvellous

Think about your current bathroom layout in respect of what works and what doesn’t – space, layout, ventilation, light, etc. 32mm waste pipe to the soil pipe, while baths need 40mm. Due to their size baths can be tricky to relocate but toilets are arguably even more difficult as the waste on a toilet is 100mm. It may however be possible to do without too much work, depending on there being floor joists and their direction. Another option is the wall hung toilet, which requires that the cistern be hidden in a stud wall. You will then be able to bring the toilet waste along the newly built stud wall to easily get it to an outside wall or where it needs to go. Water pressure is another important factor to take into consideration. Do you have a gravity water system, a combi-boiler or a pressurised system? Is it adequate for a high pressure shower or does your existing hot water tank have the capacity to fill that large double bath you yearn for? A standard water pipe measures 15mm diameter which is fine for a bath, but if you have a larger shower head, changing to 22mm will provide a much faster and stronger flow. Nowadays new shower heads, taps and cisterns use minimal amounts of water but to further reduce your consumption, consider shower heads with variable settings – you can adjust the spray to a „

Towel warmers and underfloor heating should make for a comfortable experience on those frosty mornings.

Merlyn Bathrooms


bathroom design

minimum 350mm at each side). Shower tray enclosures require a minimum 760mm square area and baths need at least 700mm to allow easy access (most are 1700mm long but more compact options are available). While small bathrooms can create a challenge, clever use of lighting and reflective surfaces (large mirrors, glass shower enclosures) help prevent the space from feeling pokey. Also consider multifunctional items, for example placing a countertop above a hidden cistern wc and basin will provide a worktop for applying makeup, or displaying toiletries or even a vase of fresh flowers. Other techniques to make you feel like you have more space is tiling floor-to-ceiling as this will draw the eye upwards, and installing a floating wc and basin to give the illusion of a greater floor area. When planning your layout, also think about the line of sight from the bathroom door. If possible don’t position the toilet directly in front of the door and in full view when left open.

Sanitary ware and style

When choosing your sanitary ware bear in mind that the bathroom is the one room where you want to design it and forget it. What’s in trend today may not be true of tomorrow so choose it carefully as it will need to stand the test of time. Stick with neutral shades (there’s a reason why most fixtures come in white!) and develop your colour scheme with the flooring and wall finishes. I’m at an age where I still get shivers when I think of the avocado and plum bathroom suites we grew up with. Introducing pops of shades with towels and accessories is a cheap and easy way to give some punch to your design and can be changed on a whim. If you are adding a new shower, it’s worth investing in a shower door – these start from around €100. A wise investment as I find shower curtains to be messy, both aesthetically and when in use. Also note self-contained shower cubicles with acrylic panels can be easier to maintain than the tiled alternative which invariably requires grout cleaning. Feeling of space achieved with boards lapping up to the ceiling; the Roman blinds allow light to filter through while providing privacy.


soft pattern that uses less water than pulse settings. If you are considering a bath know that there are shallower 430mm models available (as compared to the conventional 500mm depth models). If you don’t have room for one, try a corner version or sit down tub. A bath doesn’t need full head height along its length so you could fit one under a stair or sloping attic ceiling too. And then of course there is how much floor space you actually have. There is not much point lusting after the stand alone claw foot bath if you haven’t got the room for it. Look realistically at your bathroom’s dimensions and what you plan to fit in it. Bringing pen to paper, scale plans of both the room and fixtures to work out the most effective scheme. Remember to allow space for doors and windows to open, work out the position of taps, lights and thermostats and make sure that bidets, basins and wc have elbow and knee room (1m clearance for wc, 500mm in front of basin and

Lighting and electrics

Generally speaking a combination of both wall and ceiling lighting works well with down-lighters being a better alternative to a single central fitting. Wall lights either above or beside the mirror provide ample illumination for applying makeup or shaving but beware of overhead light sources casting shadows. When considering your electrics think beyond task lighting and include ambient and accent lighting features to give the desired effect. Up or down lighters in alcoves, backlit shelves, even LED lit bathtubs can all create drama. Apart from a shaving plug, there are no sockets in bathrooms so if you want to introduce some music consider wiring speakers in the ceiling. Television is another possibility as is the nifty heated demister option on your mirror, which is a mat that’s wired into the lighting system to prevent the mirror from steaming up. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Despite being among the higher cost options, tiles have long been the firm favourite when it comes to bathroom floors. They’re water resistant, possibly slip resistant, and are easily maintained. They come in a huge variety of finishes and design styles to suit all decors, from ceramic, natural stone, wood effect, mosaic, the choice is endless. In regard to slip resistance, you should be aware that not all tiles are. Porcelain for example is not anti-slip certified but still proves very popular in residential use. It’s up to you whether you choose a certified product or not, but if you do require antislip, confirm with your supplier that the tile has a minimum R9 Rating. However they are cold underfoot so underfloor heating may feel like a good investment first thing on a January morning! Electric underfloor heating and a thermostat to control it is not very expensive, only a few hundred euro for an average sized bathroom, and while running costs can be high, if the system is on a timer/programmed you should be able to keep these to a minimum. If you can afford to increase the floor height you could plumb a wet underfloor heating loop instead (see article on page 80). A budget friendly option, vinyl flooring has come a long way since the 1970s and today’s product is available in a vast range of colours, patterns, and styles, even stone and wood effects. Vinyl is also much warmer underfoot than tiling and has a foam backing so is less noisy than tiles. Wood, laminate, cork and bamboo are also popular choices in bathroom flooring. Solid wood should be stained with a waterproof finish for bathroom areas whereas laminate, cork and bamboo come in pre-treated waterproof finishes. „

bathroom design

Floor coverings

Update your existing scheme If splashing out on a new bathroom is not in your budget, there are still some ways you can update a tired and dated bathroom. l Replace the taps, shower head or hardware. A contemporary towel rail and toilet roll holder can readily uplift a dated scheme, as can a new high tech wc. l Splurge on some luxury towels to bring texture and colour to your space. Add accessories in complementary colours to create a visual impact. l Cleaning or re-grouting can do wonders for restoring grubby tiles to their former glory. Elbow grease goes a long way!

Ravello Bath by Victoria & Albert


bathroom design

In my opinion, the only no-no when it comes to bathroom flooring is carpet. Never ever carpet! It’s unhygienic, retains water and is susceptible to mould.

Window treatments

Ideally your window treatments should let natural light filter in yet maintain privacy, particularly if you are overlooked. Roman blinds tend to work better than drapes as they can sit inside the recess, just make sure you choose a suitable moisture resistant fabric. Slat blinds or shutters also work well in bathroom areas as they obscure the view but let in light when open and can be closed up for complete privacy.


Storage options include cupboards and shelves in the shower/bath area. Soaks Belfast


When it comes to bathroom storage, less is definitely not more; there’s nothing worse than underestimating your storage needs. Bathrooms are busy places and it’s one area where you can never have enough. Optimise as much space as possible and keep necessary but unsightly items out of sight with under basin storage or vanity units and use decorative shelving or alcoves to display pretty toiletries, accessories and towels. A vanity unit around the basin and wc cistern set into the wall look neater and add extra shelf and cupboard storage. Use odd corners for this as well. Make use of walls for towel rails, hanging hooks, etc. and consider alcoves in the shower area for holding shampoo and shower gel (this means you don’t have to step out, wet, to get the soap). And as always, think creatively: use the wasted space at the end of the bath for example for storing towels, toiletries, and use the back of the door as hanging space.


The Building Regulations require that you install extractor fans in bathrooms; these must have a rating of at least 15 litres of air per second and be fitted with a timer if there are no opening windows in the room. If you want to install the extractor directly above a shower, you must use a low voltage model. You will need a 100mm diameter hole in the exterior wall or into the ceiling with ducting through the roof space. Windows are always an added asset so if suitable, consider adding a roof light. If it’s a main bathroom on the ground floor it needs to provide adequate access for people with reduced mobility – doorways must be wide enough for a wheelchair to enter and then manoeuvre in the space. Your plumbing system, or any changes to an existing bathroom must comply with local water authority bylaws and changes to the drainage system must comply with Building Regulations. Check out your plans with a qualified plumber before starting work. And finally, electrics. All the metal pipework and any metal baths or other fixtures must be crossbonded to earth. If you replace a section of copper pipe with plastic you may interrupt the earthing so make sure everything is handled by a qualified electrician. Building Regulations divide bathrooms into zones for the purposes of electrical installation (see drawing on the previous page). n Karen Hughes

Additional information

Wayne Lyons, Director of Soaks Bathrooms, Belfast, tel. 90681121, and designer Mark Ramuz.

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

The butt of many jokes, what happens in the bathroom never fails to make people laugh. Here are some fun and quirky facts from a place that some would say best reflects the evolution of civilisation.

toilet humour

Toilet humour T

he ‘unsung hero of humanity’, the bathroom is a very special place indeed. But do you really know how weird and wonderful it can be? Did you know, for instance, that while over 80 per cent of modern households today have showers, on the Titanic more than 700 third class passengers had to share two baths between them to keep clean? Or that dinosaurs were the first to communally go to the toilet in the same place? These 240 million old dumping grounds have been discovered in 2013. The history buffs may also like to know that the earliest known wooden toilet dates back to Roman times. To add comfort wooden seats were placed over the stone block where the hole was. The Romans would sit next to each other in a row and instead of toilet paper to clean their behind they used a natural sponge on a stick – a gulley of fresh water ran in front of the toilets to wash it. This could be the origin of the phrase ‘holding the wrong end of the stick’! If you’re interested in celebrities, there are a few prominent figures to be aware of in the toilet realm. Sir John Harrington who lived in the 16th Century was an innovator of the first flushing toilets in the UK – his name is thought to be the source of the American expression ‘going to the john’. But perhaps best known is the eponymous Thomas Crapper who popularised the toilet we know today in the late 19th Century. He was a plumber who invented the ballcock valve. And yes, toilet deities do exist. In Roman times, Cloacina used to preside over the good functioning of the sewage system while in Japan, the god Kawaya no-Kami was said to have been born from the excrement of the goddess of earth and darkness Izanami. He was blind and lurked in the toilet pits with a spear, so the practice developed to enter the toilet with a cough to make yourself known to the god and, bizarrely, ensure your children would be born beautiful. Other rituals were performed for Kawaya’s benefit, and the harvest’s as

the waste was used for fertiliser. Now why don’t we still do that? The recycling part, clearly… n These insights were gathered from The Ultimate Bathroom Book written by Peter Hirsch, the director of online bathroom supplier Soakology (deliveries to some BT codes only), and Richard Forsyth. Design by Jenny Dack, publisher Varn, ISBN 9780993559907, £14.99, colour throughout, 230x230mmm, 78 pages, paperback.


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Irish designers’ homes

We bring you the homes Irish architects, engineers and other house building designers live in.


designer houses

Robert Logan RSUA/RIBA This self-build was a calculated choice… Anything unusual?

As an architecture student, I had a fixation with the use of ‘proportion’ systems in building design. From Vitruvius to Le Corbusier, many architects historically employed mathematical and geometric systems to help formulate the layout of their buildings. This approach has been largely abandoned by contemporary architects and designers. This house was my opportunity to explore the practical challenges of developing a design where the ratios of the plan, section and elevation dimensions were all interrelated. The controlling influence of the system is extended beyond the house to external landscaping beyond.

Favourite design feature

This is an ‘upside down’ house. The primary living accommodation is laid out in an open plan arrangement upstairs, enjoying panoramic views over surrounding farm land. Bedrooms are located downstairs and have a more traditional layout. Having the living accommodation upstairs allows the vaulted ceiling to be incorporated as a feature of the main living space.  The ratios of the plan, section and elevations are interrelated and proportionate

Favourite room

Not so much a room as favourite space. A direct interrelationship between the open plan living space, dining area and kitchen is a core attribute of this house. While all three areas are positioned within the one vaulted space, the kitchen and dining areas have a more intimate setting within it. This has been done without doors and large screens, instead the kitchen units and a small area of flat ceiling have been used to create the subareas. The living area has large window panels and access to a cantilevered balcony. The balcony is sheltered by the overhanging roof and has frameless glass around it to ensure unimpeded views of the surrounding countryside.


Approx. £875/sqm

Robert Logan Architects 19 Main St, Doagh, Ballyclare, Co. Antrim Tel. 9334 2855


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

designer houses


designer houses

Geraldine O’Daly MRIAI The story of a detached, double-fronted stone building dating from 1860.

The garden and interior were reconfigured to make the space more family-friendly


Anything unusual?

This Victorian house consists of a typical central entrance hall with one room each side, same layout replicated upstairs, with a two storey return to the rear. The first floor plan is unusual in that the two bedrooms to the front and the bedroom in the return have the same floor level with a staircase to each from the half landing. A single storey lean-to kitchen had been added to the rear in the recent past, demolished as part of the renovation, and a separate single storey building was retained for use as an office and store. The remodelling took place in 2008; the dividing wall between the front and rear rooms to one side was demolished and the floor levels aligned to form a new kitchen/dining area. A large opening was made in the stone wall

„ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Above: Japanese style courtyard water feature Below: Sliding screen that provides access to the study

designer houses

facing the garden and triple glazed timber sliding screen inserted. The same screens were installed in the new extension, which is used as a TV room and provides access to the office annexe. A resin-bonded timber deck wraps around the buildings at the back and the garden was remodelled as a Japanese-style courtyard with hard and soft landscaping and a small canal. The walls, which are of granite, were built up, repaired and consolidated. While the front elevation remains true to its Victorian origins the style throughout is modern. There were no fireplaces of any significance on the ground floor so a decision was made to install a modern glass and metal gas-fired enclosed appliance in the sitting room. The kitchen is red and grey glass with a stainless steel drain housing plumbing and sockets. Underfloor heating was installed on the ground floor and finished with large porcelain tiles.

Favourite design feature

The black-painted screen at the end of the hall with the oriental paintings on it. This is a sliding/folding screen which can open into the garden room/study. Older buildings offer the opportunity to be creative; in this case two door opes with different head heights were disguised by forming a series of storage cupboards across the openings.

Favourite room

The kitchen/dining room, originally two rooms, make a really bright modern space with light streaming in from front and rear.


Approx. â‚Ź1,500 per sqm

O’Daly Architects 12 Garville Road, Rathgar, Dublin 6 Tel : 01 496 7159

Ground & First Floor new layout



In our homes concrete has become an attractive, albeit relatively expensive, alternative to other floor and countertop surfaces. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

concrete finishes

A polished performance Concrete is much more than a building material but if you plan to use it as a finish, it’ll take time and dedication to make it look right. Here’s how.


ong gone are the days of raw, unfinished concrete floor surfaces, once the mainstay of commercial and industrial buildings. Now we can make the most of this versatile material and have it look good too. Over the past decade concrete has been used for many purposes. In its raw form it can be shuttered and designed in a way that makes its shape and surface aesthetically appealing for walls and many other architectural features. In our homes it has also become an attractive, albeit relatively expensive, alternative to other floor and countertop surfaces.

Raw vs polished

Concrete is a seemingly simple material that can withstand a lot of abuse in general construction. But extra care must be taken when creating a concrete surface that will remain visible. Once concrete has cured (dried out) it has a somewhat unimpressive appearance. In normal construction this doesn’t matter to anyone as it gets covered up. Polished concrete is very different from this basic poured finish material as it involves taking off top layers to reveal the sand and/or the aggregate beneath. This time-consuming and skilful process can transform concrete from a workaday building material into one of stunning brilliance. You’ll need an early discussion with your supplier about exactly what type of finish you’ll want on the surface of the concrete. Some people enjoy the individual aggregate pieces showing when

ground down; others like the look of a smooth, stone-free, almost ‘cement looking’ surface. It can be made to be very shiny or totally dull. It can even be coloured with stains or dyes. The size of the stones in it can also be controlled. Scoring to create bands, lines or borders can produce interesting effects. Stencils and handcrafted saw cuts can produce logos and other decorative effects, although this will greatly increase the cost. It is also possible to sprinkle various types of decorative aggregate into the top layer of the concrete before it dries. This, when ground down, can then look wonderful. You can alternatively choose to have concrete made with ‘designer’ aggregates chosen by your supplier. But again, this is an expensive route to go.

Left and below: Polished concrete floors add a contemporary touch. Images courtesy of PMac Ltd, left photograph by Ros Kavanagh Photographs below by Hugo Borges

What does it cost?

Probably the commonest question on this subject and the most difficult to answer. Costs depend on whether the concrete is new or existing, on what scale you’re thinking as larger surface areas can be relatively cheaper, how complex your final finishes will be, and much more.„


concrete finishes Concrete floor after polishing PMac Ltd

Prices can vary from £20/€25 to £150/€180 per square metre but I’ve known people who have spent £400/€480 per sqm! If you’re thinking of going this route then get quotes on a like-for-like basis from more than one specialist contractor. Be sure to see examples of their work in the real world, not just on a website or in photos. Anyone who promises you a great effect for little money should be avoided.

Can you polish an existing floor?

Yes but it’s worth taking advice about the condition of your existing slab before starting out on the long and expensive road to a polished finish. Cracks, delamination and dusty surfaces can usually be dealt with but if your concrete is beyond repair it’s crazy to start. If your surface is too poor to polish, talk to a specialist company about concrete overlays. You must also take into consideration the levels, as when grinding you will be taking up to 5 mm off your floor. Obviously, the colour of the concrete, determined by the colour of the sand used when making it, and the aggregates in the original mix are all out of your control when you opt for polishing an existing concrete surface. This means you could end up disappointed; but it also means you’ll have a very sustainable floor, as it’s there already!

Construction phase

In my opinion the best route to a perfect result is to involve professionals right from the start.


Your main contractor will install the sub floor – a slab of concrete with reinforcing bars, plus insulation beneath – ready for the specialist polished concrete floor contractor to install his, usually 100mm thick, concrete floor on top at a later date. Your heating contractor will need to install the underfloor heating pipework before the finished floor concrete people come. When your specialist contractor installs the finished concrete floor, he’ll take care to measure slump, as it’s best to install the concrete fairly dry. If too much water is used, cracking is more likely. This is in contrast to ‘pourable’ cementitious flooring screed that is pumped into place as a liquid, finds its own level and then left to harden. It’s important to note such material is not concrete as there is no aggregate. These types of floors aren’t suitable for polishing. Special care is required during and immediately after the concrete placement. Power floating will be needed to produce a smooth, level, surface but when placing concrete destined to become a polished floor extra special care and attention needs to be paid to the perimeters. These can often be botched in normal concrete floor situations, even with power floating and hand trowelling. The levelling, floating and finishing of the concrete needs this high attention to detail because when the surface comes to be ‘polished’ – ground down using a heavy duty, diamond-encrusted sander type piece of kit – the surface you are left with will become your final one. The better the surface when the concrete is placed, the less work there’ll be to do when it is polished. A repair will always look like a repair. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home





Curing and avoiding cracks

If the weather is likely to be either hot or frosty during installation, the surface of the newly installed concrete must be properly protected, as any small cracks or imperfections occurring during the curing process – that would normally be hidden under other flooring surfaces – will be evident as

permanent blemishes in your floor. Similarly, your specialist installer will advise how to prevent, as far as possible, any settlement cracks that under normal circumstances wouldn’t matter but are now on public view. Such cracks can appear many months or even years after installation. There has to be a plan for how to deal with these. They are more likely to occur if you are using underfloor heating (see Heating/insulation). Once installed and cured, the concrete should be well protected while other construction takes place. Pieces of scaffolding, for example, dropped on to the surface can cause blemishes that are near impossible to remedy. Of course, once the concrete is polished and ‘finished’ it has to be lovingly protected as if it were a timber floor. In this regard it’s vital to get the surface protected so decorating and other liquid building materials don’t stain it. Your supplier will tell you how he intends to do this. In practice this calls for a very good general contractor who cares. One of the challenges when installing such a finished concrete surface is how long to leave it to cure. The answer is that concrete takes years to dry out completely! But the reality of building sites means someone has to take a view about how long to leave things before covering up the concrete to protect it, which inevitably slows the curing process. Your specialist contractor/supplier will advise on this. Most will want it to be a month old before starting on their grinding work. Therefore be mindful not to cover the floor with plastic or any other material that will cause the concrete to sweat and thus stop it drying out. Dust sheets are best. It’s acceptable to dry out a ‘normal’ concrete floor which will subsequently be covered with conventional flooring materials by running the underfloor heating gently for a week or so. But with a polished concrete floor this wouldn’t be a good move as it could cause shrinkage and cracking which would then be there for ever. Something to be aware of. And something that slows the construction cycle. „

concrete finishes


Stages to a new polished concrete floor: the concrete is poured (1), allowed to cure (2), ground down (3), impregnated with a hardener (4) and finally polished, sealed and buffed (5).


concrete ????????????? finishes

Opting for a polished concrete floor is not for the impatient!

How the polishing is done

External concrete polishing PMac Ltd Photograph by Hugo Borges

Whether you’re starting with a new floor or an existing one the polishing process is roughly the same. Diamond-tipped polishing machines are used, much like wood sanders, to cut through the top layers of the concrete to produce the finish you want. This usually involves several graduated steps and can be done wet or dry. Dry grinding is better in some ways because it is easier to clear up afterwards. However, great care must be taken to ensure you don’t inhale the dangerous dust. Professionals use machines that collect the dust at source and they also protect themselves with highly effective masks and clothing. The reason for such precautions is that it is possible to cause serious lung damage by inhaling this silica-rich dust. Grinding concrete wet is better in many ways

The secret of successful concrete polishing is to use a material called a densifier or hardener

but produces a slurry which then has to be disposed of. If you have a skip on site this can work well but this slurry cannot, of course, be put down gulleys or drains or it’ll block them. The secret of successful concrete polishing is to use a material called a ‘densifier’, which typically consists of high-solid lithium silicate or sodium or potassium silicates, at the correct stages of the grinding. This makes the concrete surface harder as it dries and, once solidified, allows one or more abrasive cuts to polish the floor to the desired level of gloss. It also helps seal the floor. All this grinding takes a long time, even in the hands of professionals, because in small areas, such as in the average domestic build, it’s not possible to use commercial, large grinders like those used for a warehouse floor, for example. By definition, on a domestic scale there are lots of edges relative to the actual floor area, and this also slows everything down. Grouting materials can be used to fill holes, cracks or imperfections. Although it’s possible to hire smaller grinding machines I think grinding is a job for the pros. DIY type polishers can be hard to control, especially in small spaces, as they ‘float’ away from you easily and can be dangerous. It’s also a matter of considerable expertise to know how to grind the surface to best effect, when to use the densifier at the most appropriate stage, and so on. Polishing the concrete to a 3000 grit gives it a natural high gloss finish. Sealing with an impregnating seal, which doesn’t alter the appearance will give you a polished stone-like appearance. Topical seals or multi coat seals increase your maintenance, and can rip and tear if furniture or sharp objects are dragged (see Maintenance).


Generally speaking, underfloor heating is the preferred heat emitter type for rooms with concrete floors. This is because concrete is a surface that’s ‘emotionally’ hard. Wood that is only slightly warm feels subjectively warmer than concrete at the same temperature. In other words, you’ll never want to have the combination of ‘cold’ and ‘concrete’ whereas it’s possible to get away with ‘cold’ and ‘timber’, for example. On a practical level, bear in mind that concrete is a good thermal conductor, so it’s vital that sufficient insulation be placed under the concrete subfloor slab so heat doesn’t go straight from your underfloor heating into the ground. It is normal building practice to avoid this from happening. Your heat-conducting, water-filled, underfloor heating pipes will be laid within the thickness of your final concrete floor. This is a very good setup as the concrete conducts the heat from the water into the room’s air very efficiently. The use of rugs will lessen this effect (see Of sound and rugs). On the topic of cracks (see Curing and avoiding cracks) if you have a polished concrete floor the water temperature – not the floor temperature – in your underfloor heating pipework should never be more than 35degC. Anything higher makes cracks


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Of sound and rugs

A concrete floor is hard and reflective, which makes rooms that have them feel acoustically ‘live’. Not only do surface noises such as scraping chairs, sound louder but reflected noises are also heightened. This ‘live’ sound can be unacceptably intrusive to many. This leads many people with noisy children/ domestic and electronic gadgets/equipment, etc. to use rugs. These can, of course, also break up the surface colour-wise and introduce another texture. But as soon as you place any such fabric on the surface of a concrete floor that has underfloor heating you start to lose heat. I’ve seen concrete floors covered with so many rugs, for softness and sound deadening, that the efficiency of the underfloor heating is severely diminished. So if you are likely to go down the rugs route, be sure to overspecify your heating pipes’ density at the design stage to compensate for the heat insulation caused by future rugs. Rugs also aren’t suitable for wheelchair users, or elderly people, who can find them a trip hazard. A way round the ‘live’ sound issue is to ensure that other surfaces in the room, such as furniture and curtains, are especially sound absorbent to compensate.

once the floor starts looking terrible but don’t wait too long – if the floor is too damaged it may require much more work than a simple resealing.

concrete finishes

much more likely. Note that if your home isn’t often used it’s going to be important to plan your heating very carefully. It is generally held that during the cold months of the year – which in Ireland means about eight months! – it’s wise to keep the underfloor heating running low the whole time so the floor never gets totally cold. But even if left on this low setting, your concrete floor may take more than a day to heat up to working temperature. This means that in a not-much-used home it’s important to remember to switch on the heating at least a day or more before you intend to use the house. If the heating has been off for many days or weeks this catch up process can take several days. Of course, such control is now available remotely from your phone if you install the right kit from the start.

Living with concrete floors

Concrete floors in a domestic setting aren’t for everyone as they are somewhat industrial in appearance. But this very characteristic appeals to those who like a sharp, contemporary, emotional ‘feel’. Of course they are, in reality, ‘hard’ to live with: - Drop anything on to such a floor and it will break/shatter. Concrete is totally unforgiving. - Especially if they are polished to a 3000 grit mirror-like surface, polished concrete floors will become slippery when wet. In a kitchen, spilled oil becomes hazardous. - The surface must be resealed every year and as with natural flooring materials, can stain (see Maintenance). - Standing for long periods is found by many to be tiring on the feet and legs, especially hours spent at the sink/kitchen. - Unless the floor is heated you and your family may find the finish very hard/cold to lie or play on. Rugs can lessen this effect (see Of sound and rugs).

DIY type polishers can be hard to control, especially in small spaces, as they ‘float’ away from you easily


On a daily basis don’t use chemicals on your floor; soapy warm water should deal with any kind of spills or stains. You may however find that children’s colouring materials/paints/felt tips/certain foods etc. may cause stains you can’t remove. This applies, of course, to any natural flooring material. Discuss this with your supplier. If you want to remove small scuff marks yourself, you could hire an industrial type pad cleaner. Ideally, concrete floors should be resealed once a year; this can be done within a 24-hour window but all of the furniture will have to be taken out for the day. It’s a good idea to get the professionals in to do this; they will be best able to deal with scuffing and damage and will have access to the latest products which may not be available on the DIY market. Costs range from €5/£4 to €15/£12 per sqm depending on size and location. Realistically you may only call in the experts

- You’ll also need a skirting board as repeated mopping and hoovering can otherwise leave unsightly residues at the junction of wall and floor, and plaster can get damaged easily. The skirting can be of standard timber or a stone/porcelain alternative if you wish to match the concrete. Some people, determined to keep to a minimalist design statement and able to control their cleaning equipment, try to get away with the concrete floor going right up to the wall. What you choose will be entirely up to you. - If you opt for a high gloss finish, be prepared for a lot of reflected light glare, especially if you also have large areas of glazing. „


concrete finishes High gloss finishes reflect light. PMac Ltd

On the plus side, polished concrete floors: - Can look highly decorative, e.g. can be scored in patterns to look like huge ‘tiles’, or in other ways. - Can have a high gloss or matt look and can be coloured. - Are easy to keep clean. - Avoid the need for grout joints, which get dirty/ require upkeep. - Can get very wet and be mopped easily; some other types of floor coverings may be sensitive to water. - Are pet-friendly. - Are very long lasting. - Don’t scratch, except at thresholds and other heavy-wear areas, where the surface sealer wears off over time. For instance, studded football boots, roller skates and the like won’t damage the concrete but they will scuff the sealant surfaces. - Act as a heat sink for underfloor heating, feeling warm long after the heating has been switched off. - Can be covered over with other flooring materials if you get tired of the look.

Concrete worktops

Many people who consider polished concrete floors also often like the aesthetic of concrete worktops. They can look very stylish, can be finished in several ways to make them look interesting, are easy to clean (if properly sealed from the start), are robust and can take under-mounted sinks and drainer grooves. There are specialist companies that can create something in their workshop or cast one on site for you, to your design. It is also possible to make a worktop for a kitchen or bathroom yourself if you have the time


and skills. The basic steps are: - Make a form (a melamine, or similar, base with a softwood frame) to your exact dimensions. Make sure it’s no less than 50mm deep. - Lubricate the whole of the form thoroughly with olive oil. - Insert a suitable steel mesh for strength (if it’s for a cut-out sink then ensure you use rebar around the edges of the form to brace it). - Use a semi-dry mix of concrete to avoid cracking as it dries. You can get specialist mixes online. - Trowel the top of the surface (this will end up being your under surface). - Cover it to prevent it drying out too fast. - Leave it for at least three days before removing the formwork and starting to grind the top surface. - Use diamond pads and a wet grinder to get the finish you want. Use a slurry mix to fill holes. - Grind off the edges to make a bullnose; sharp corners are to be avoided. - Final finishing won’t be possible until the concrete has dried out for at least a month. - Seal everything thoroughly with several coats. n Andrew Stanway Additional information: PMAC Ltd., 1C Greenmount Industrial Estate, Greenmount Avenue, Harold’s Cross, Dublin 12, tel. 01 473 3666, em, Worktops: specialist worktop product Litracon is made of 94% concrete and 6% optical fibres to allow it to transmit light SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

contemporary makeovers

Meet the fixer uppers Thinking of buying a house to renovate? Here’s some inspiration from two sets of homeowners, one in a rural setting (ROI) the other in an urban context (NI). Both of these families continued renting before they could move into their self-designed and self-built refurbished digs, but in both cases the result was well worth the wait…

Edwardian Belfast terraced house Renovation 2013-14 “


e bought this house the year we got married, in 2012. We were looking for somewhere central but with good space, potential for improvement/extension and a garden – a house in which to start a family,” says Aisling who’s welcomed her second child to their new home this summer.

More photographs available at

The house had an old-fashioned décor at the time of buying, with heavily patterned wallpaper and carpets and dark furniture and colour schemes, and yet it immediately jumped out because of the amount of outdoor space – both a yard and a garden beyond – which is rare for this part of Belfast, and the potential to extend and improve. “I had the idea of filling in the yard to increase floor area right from the beginning, before even setting foot in the house. By inspecting aerial photographs, I could see other houses on the terrace had already done this in various ways, so I knew it was possible.” Buying it was complicated; a previous owner had carried out work without the correct Building Control approvals, and retrospective approval wasn’t granted because a chimney breast had been removed downstairs without providing adequate support for the remaining one above. “In order to complete our purchase, we ended up paying £3,000 to have the chimney breast reinstated, at risk, in a house we didn’t yet own,” exclaims Aisling. “Thankfully, it all turned out well in the end.”

Retaining originality

The large garden allowed Aisling to extend at the back without losing too much outdoor space, which she wanted to keep for family life.


“We really love period architecture, and wanted to retain the original features the house had such as cornicing, doors, baluster and cast iron fire places, but at the same time introduce something much more open, bright and contemporary,” explains Aisling. “I love the understated simplicity of Scandinavian design and its selective use of timber. Externally, the default in Belfast tends to be to extend a red brick period house using „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


We bought this house the year we got married, in 2012. We were looking for somewhere central but with good space, potential for improvement/ extension and a garden...

contemporary makeovers

modern red brick, but that can often look unattractive. We wanted the new bit to look new, not like it had always been there, because that seems more ‘honest’,” she adds. Within Belfast’s industrial heritage of mill buildings and factories, white glazed bricks were often used to illuminate tight rear spaces and courtyards – and so Aisling decided to use glazed brick, too – white in the internal lightwell and black to the rear. “An early conversation with a local Planning Officer suggested some potential discomfort with us deviating from red brick, but in the end we persevered and there were no issues,” she adds.


“The new extension reads as an insert between the two adjacent original rear returns, respectfully stepping back ever so slightly.” Inside, they aimed for a simple, stripped back interior. “The walls are painted white to maximise light into the spaces, and the original brick party wall has been left exposed to add texture and colour.” “We have favoured compact, mid-century vintage furniture (often on legs to help small floor spaces feel as big as possible) and embraced an industrial aesthetic when it came to elements such as lights. We took our time to select just the right pieces, in materials like metal and concrete.” One of the most successful and inexpensive lighting features is above the dining area where Aisling used electrical conduit and bare bulbs to create a dimmable feature strip. And to make their long, narrow bathroom work well, Aisling sourced a straight-edged corner bath from a German company to give them a decent-sized, full-width bath. “It has been very successful, despite a long lead-in time which caused a slight delay,” she adds.

Fine tuned

Aisling designed and detailed the extension and gained all the necessary consents (Planning and Building Control). She then put it out to tender to local contractors to construct the project, based on recommendations from friends and structural engineer found their builder in this way. „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

contemporary makeovers Underfloor heating (no radiators) and furniture with legs help enhance the feeling of space Above: The addition of a light well brightened up the middle of the terraced house

“After one meeting I had already decided that it was Ian I wanted to build our extension, because he seemed to get what we were trying to achieve and wasn’t trying to convince me to downgrade our specification for cheaper items such as plastic downpipes rather than cast iron, as others were,” says Aisling. “In the end he came in the cheapest, anyway, so that was good. I acted as contract administrator, overseeing the build through regular site visits and meetings.” The first step was to remove the uneven,

non-original concrete floor throughout and replace it with a new, insulated one with underfloor heating for the revamped kitchen/ dining/living room at the rear. “We opted to put the insulation beneath the concrete slab so that we had seven inches (slab plus screed) of thermal mass to hold the heat from the underfloor heating for slow release – it is slower to heat up but also slower to lose its heat – we keep our heat on at a low temperature throughout the winter and have found this an extremely cosy house and very inexpensive to heat.” The heat source is gas with a condensing combi boiler. With a young child in tow, their sights were set on completing the garden fairly quickly after the build. “We did our back garden a few months after we moved in, with the same contractor, using bricks that had been removed from the house, and leftover black glazed brick for the planter/retaining wall,” says Aisling. “Although it’s small, we were keen to have even a little bit of grass for the kids – it’s also a really cost-efficient ground covering. The manhole is concealed within the lawn.”

The verdict

“It’s a lovely house to live in, and we’re really happy here. One compromise is storage – now that we have two kids we could definitely do with more of it, but we have floored the loft and put in a loft ladder, which is a great help. If we were to do the project over again we might also make the kitchen roof light openable for added ventilation flexibility – you can’t have too much air flow in a kitchen! But otherwise we wouldn’t change a thing.” „


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Existing Ground Floor Plan












The rear yard was filled on two storeys between the house’s rear return and the neighbour’s. Much of the inner yard wall was removed – all of it at ground floor level, requiring a large steel beam to be installed on two columns, one of which was left exposed in the new kitchen. Some of the rear main house wall at ground level was removed, but was left intact upstairs. The front of the house was untouched. Downstairs, a long galley-style kitchen and outside toilet and coal shed have been replaced with a large open-plan kitchen/ dining/living space that opens out onto the garden (which was previously disconnected from the house by the yard). The new extension has a flat roof, covered in a proprietary membrane. The original front room, formerly knocked together to form a front-to-back reception room, has been reinstated, with the addition of a ‘book nook’ and a WC/ utility room squeezed in between the two ground floor rooms.   Upstairs, a fourth bedroom and a familysized bathroom have filled the void above the old yard. Aisling created a lightwell on the upper storey, which illuminates the existing second bedroom, landing and new bathroom, as well as the kitchen below.

contemporary makeovers

Existing First Floor Plan

Existing First Floor Plan







Proposed Ground Floor Plan STORE









contemporary makeovers

The bright colours enhance the feeling of space

As for advice to others, Aisling says it’s a good idea to speak to an architect whose work and approach you like early on, who might help you to see opportunities you, or even a seller or estate agent, haven’t imagined. She adds: “Make the most of what’s there when looking to extend. Roof spaces, outbuildings and rear yards can provide good, cost-effective opportunities for extension/adaptation with minimal new construction; existing old walls can be left exposed to add texture and interest; and materials that are removed can be reused as a feature elsewhere, as we did using bricks from the house for our garden steps and planter.” n Astrid Madsen Original house: 120 sqm Extension: 24.5 sqm Purchase cost (2012): £140,000 Construction cost: £36,000 Total project cost: £58,000 including professional and application fees, kitchen and bathrooms, finishes, full garden works, lighting, appliances, etc. House value: £250,000

BUILD SPEC (extension)

Walls: Timber frame with outer leaf of glazed brick. Insulation 100mm PIR framing board with additional 50mm PIR attached to dry-lining board to the inside. U-value 0.16 W/sqmK Roof: Original slate roofs retained and a new flat roof added to extension, warm roof construction, with 150mm PIR above joists and 85mm PIR between them. U-value 0.10 W/sqmK Floor: 150mm PIR insulation under 150mm concrete slab, with 75m screed over, containing the underfloor heating. U-value 0.10 W/sqmK Windows: Most new windows are aluminium double-glazed, (argon-filled, low-e glass with U-value of 1.6 W/sqmK), except for the rooflight and feature rear window which are frameless double-glazed units, set into metal brackets with silicone sealant. EPC (SAP): C (76)

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Architect Aisling Shannon Rusk, Co. Antrim, 07740351013, https://aislingshannonrusk. Contractor Conzac Construction, Co. Antrim. Ian Philpott mobile 07920559118 Aluminium windows Alutect, Co. Antrim, tel. 90612302 Frameless windows Kerry Glass and Glazing, Co. Kerry, tel. 068 53457 Wooden floor The Hardwood Floor Company, Dublin,

Concrete polishing Fegan Terazzo Flooring, Co. Down, tel. 30851612 Insulation Kingspan K12 in walls; Thermaroof above roof rafters, Kooltherm between; floor Kooltherm K3. German bath Duravit, Flat roof covering Sika-Trocal, Photographer Christopher Martin,,, mobile 07882749346

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contemporary makeovers

Co Laois farmhouse cottage Renovation 2008-16


rian Burke and Julia Moran returned home from America in 2006 with a view to moving closer to Brian’s family. They started putting down roots by renting a house in a town in Co Laois with their three children, and started to look around for a house to buy. “We found an old cottage in need of restoration and despite the condition it was in, it ticked all of the boxes,” recounts Julia. “We were closer to the school the children were attending, it was a stone’s throw from the motorway to get to Dublin for work, and it provided ample space for Brian’s gardening business, as there are plenty of sheds and outbuildings on the property.”

Retaining originality

Brian and Julia are both involved in construction; Julia is a quantity surveyor and while Brian has the same training he branched into landscaping while working in the US. He won RTE’s Super Garden competition in 2015 and has since built award winning gardens at Bloom In The Park. It’s no surprise therefore that renovating this house was a team effort. Julia acted as project manager while Brian helped organise the trades and did some of the work himself.

Obtaining planning permission for the refurbishment and extension project proved straightforward and was processed quickly. The previous owners had extended at the back, and the couple added to it on each side. In the Mud Room (see floor plan on page 79), a temporary kitchen (which they now use as a utility with spare oven and sink for Christmas and parties) was fitted as well as a Shower Room. A new structural insulated slab was installed throughout the existing cottage floor, replacing the original clay floor, and this required excavations to a depth of 600mm. The ceilings were all removed and replaced by following the line of the existing rafters. Roof lights were also installed, and, despite being new and contemporary these paradoxically enhance the farmhouse feel as they bring in a new dimension, making you appreciative of the space you’re in and of course, by adding much sought-after light. The long hallway linking old and new also echoes the cottage feel. After this first phase the family was able to move into the original, long and rectangular footprint of the house with the rooms leading one into the other.

The three phases of the project: the original cottage roof to the right with roof lights, the extension to the left and the new porch (door detail above).

Fine tuned

The use of rooms changed as the house was converted, extended, and their family needs

More photographs available at


contemporary makeovers

The double glazed timber sash windows and the hallway linking the original cottage footprint to the first extension

Right and below: the new open plan extension


changed. In fact something that really worked for Julia and Brian was having the time to live in the house in between renovation stages. For instance what was to be the utility room, adjacent to the open plan living/kitchen/dining area, is now an office. “It’s the perfect place to work, separate from the bedrooms and connected to everything you need in the day time,” says Julia. All of the electrics and plumbing had to be put in new, and they decided they wanted underfloor heating throughout. “When we

first moved in, our plumber used a stove with backboiler as our heat source for the underfloor heating and it worked really well,” adds Julia. “When we added the open plan extension we installed a ground source heat pump to take over all heating and hot water requirements. And, with electricity as our only utility bill, we spend roughly €1,800 a year.” This keeps the house warm and of course feeds all appliances and other modern day electronics. The living area, meanwhile, has a new stove (the one with backboiler was sold) which

SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

contemporary makeovers

Right: The temporary kitchen was retained as a utility room and overflow for parties and Christmas.

Below: The Lounge/Play room that was converted into a bedroom in the final stage of the renovation

provides more than enough heat in the winter. “We’ve never turned on the underfloor heating in the open plan area, we actually often have to let air in through the roof lights if the stove is lit,” says Julia. The underfloor heating is self-managed via controls and outdoor temperature sensors. But there is a downside to the open plan dream, she says and that’s the echo. “I added rugs to try to deaden the sound, but if others are talking around you, it can be distracting when you’re watching TV.” They had also originally chosen to go with an all-white scheme but she felt a need to add colour and introduced dark blue on the walls in the sitting room area, which adds cosiness. Then of course, there’s the garden. With self-builds demanding so much time and energy, and work and children making life very busy, on many projects landscaping tends to take a backseat. But Brian did take the time to lay out his outdoor area, which is subdivided into five distinct zones: 1. The old farmyard and sheds is a staging and storage area for Brian’s garden design and construction business; 2. Animal paddock where Charlton Heston, the donkey lives; 3. Family garden with play structure, patio, lawn and planting; 4. Rear and eastern side of house consists of mature orchard and newer fruit trees and bushes; 5. Front garden consisting of car park, various densely planted beds and front patio.

The verdict

The final result is one which affords privacy and communal areas – no small feat considering Julia and Brian live with five kids, two dogs and one donkey! “We originally chose this house because it was close to the highway to Dublin for my work, but now that I’m based at home it’s Brian that


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

contemporary makeovers

Ground Floor Plan

This project was tackled in four phases:

benefits from the short trips up to Bloom and to his clients. The house has worked out in a way we would have never imagined, but couldn’t be happier with the result.” Julia’s advice is to think about daily use, and maintenance. “We could have spent an extra thousand euros to electrify the roof lights in the open plan area, and I now really wish we had. Even with the telescopic handle they’re difficult to open and close, let alone clean!” “The same goes for changing light bulbs. Your 16 feet high ceiling may look lovely but you should factor in these practical elements at the design stage.” n

Phase 1 (2008) was the renovation of the existing cottage; the front door was kept to access the house and Bedroom 2 was used as the reception/dining room while Bedroom 3 was the sitting room. Phase 2 (2009) consisted of building the back extension – the left side extension was built and made weather tight but was not finished. The heating system was completed throughout the house – underfloor heating and heat pump installed. The Lounge/Playroom was used as a sitting room and the Open Plan/Study Area used as the dining room. Bedroom 3 was converted back to sleeping quarters. Phase 3 (2010) saw the left side extension completed. Access through the original front door was shut and Bedroom 2 allocated to one of the children. The Open Plan/Study Area was converted into a playroom and the Lounge/Play Room into a bedroom. Phase 4 (2016) saw the addition of the front wooden porch at the Main Entrance (not shown on the plans) – the perfect place to remove boots, also prevents the cold from getting into the house.

Astrid Madsen Site size: 2 acres Original cottage size: 800 sqft House size after: 2,800 sqft


Walls: existing stone walls battened out and covered with PIR backed plasterboard, new cavity walls pumped with EPS beads Roof: 32.5mm insulated PIR plasterboard with 300mm fiberglass between rafters on new and existing Floor (extension): 150mm hardcore, 50mm blinding, DPM, 150mm slab, 100mm insulation and 75mm screed Windows: on existing house new double glazed timber sash units, on extension triple glazed

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Quantity surveyor Julia Moran, Landscaping Brian Burke Gardens,, mobile 086 407 3688 Windows Marvin sash windows on original cottage, Nordan on the extension, Interior doors Doras, Dublin,

Oak countertops and splashback (joiner) Dairwood Furniture, Killenard, Co Laois, mobile 087 794 7569, Plumbing Anthony Ryan, Portarlington, Co Laois, mobile 087 2493792 Rooflight Velux, Kitchen IKEA, Photography Dermot Byrne

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underfloor heating

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UFH is considered more cost effective to run than other heat emitting sources. Suppliers say the savings are in the order of 15 to 25 per cent.


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

For many self-builders and home improvers underfloor heating (UFH) is now the preferred method of emitting heat, but it’s a good idea to get to know how it works to get the most (the lowest energy bills possible) out of your system.


ou may remember UFH from the 1960s, when it was installed with inadequate materials and in poorly insulated homes. This led to heating systems having to work extremely hard to compensate for the constant heat loss through the building fabric, resulting in floors getting too hot and high energy bills. Half a century later, these problems have been overcome. In fact with materials that are now fit for purpose, system designs that are tailored to your building, and reasonable costs, it seems UFH is even going through a bit of a renaissance.

General overview

The vast majority of systems use warm water in pipes; electric cable or mats have a very small market share because running costs (cost of electricity) are high. They are particularly popular in the case of small retrofit projects, such as bathrooms or small extensions where adding floor depth may be an issue. The capital cost can be relatively low with electric mats and even though you will need an electrical input there is no plumbing required. Hot water systems use high tech plastic pipes containing water heated to between 2545degC. Screeds generally should not be heated beyond 50degC and some anhydrite screeds must be kept below 45degC, the controls will help ensure this is the case. The screed helps to support the pipes, hold them clear of the insulation and encourage good contact between the outer surface of the pipe and the floor screed for evenness of heating. The screed acts as a thermal store and, with thermostatic digital controls, the system should be economic to run, reliable and virtually maintenance free. In other words, it will provide the right amount of heat at the times when it is needed and in the cheapest way possible. The screed creates a high thermal mass which, from cold, can take anything from one to three hours to heat up when first commissioned, but don’t be put off by this! Thereafter, it will take about one hour. Accurate and easy to work programmable thermostats and weather compensating controls on the heating system are essential if you want to get the best response and lowest heating bills possible. There are two options when it comes to a solid floor buildup: the first uses high mass





floors to store more heat, the second uses very low mass floor structures for a quicker response time. The type of top floor covering – carpet, wood, tiles etc. – must be included in the calculations when designing the system. You can choose any type of floor covering as long as you don’t use an insulant (e.g. foil backed and other types of underlays to be avoided) or some glues. And for the (very) occasional day when it feels too hot inside in summer, remember that the system can be used to cool the house as well. However this requires that the heat generator, typically a heat pump, has cooling capacity and that there is anti-condensation controls in place to prevent the screed dropping to dew point which would result in moisture on the floors. Another unlikely but possible use is outdoor UFH for ramps and other access areas that may be prone to frost. The cost is arguably prohibitive to use in a home setting, especially considering our mild Irish weather.



Bottom left: Water is normally used to pressure test a system but if your installation is done in the winter months before the house is protected from the elements, the pipes could be susceptible to frost so air testing may be the best option.

underfloor heating

Piping hot

Energywise Ireland

Is it cost effective?

UFH used to be quite a bit more expensive to install than a radiator system but now the cost is comparable. And with fewer draughts (radiators will circulate hot and cold air due to temperature differences) and less wasted heat at ceiling level, UFH is considered more cost effective to run than other heat emitting sources. Suppliers say the savings are in the order of 15 to 25 per cent. It has been measured that to achieve a temperature of 21degC at shoulder height with radiators the average room temperature needs to be about 23degC. With UFH this figure drops to 21degC. The floor itself should be a comfortable 24 to 27 degC. When used in conjunction with a condensing boiler, there are further efficiencies because a condensing boiler works best when the return temperature from the heating system is below 55degC as in UFH. With heat pump technology, the lower the temperature that the heat pump produces the more efficient it is, using UFH with heat pumps allow for the lowest supply temperature to the floors possible and thus the best possible efficiency from the heat pump. A modulating heat pump or modulating gas condensing boiler is best because it will adjust its heating output to „

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UFH was d ans in by the Rom fifth nd the fourth a AD. centuries 81

underfloor heating

Finding the right supplier There are many companies that offer UFH products, and they will provide the engineering services associated to sizing the system. There are self-build kits available and your supplier should give you full drawings in electronic format (Computer Aided Design) to assist you in the installation. But be aware that the wiring of the controls (different for each room, the hot water, and perhaps a towel rail) is possibly the most demanding part and requires an experienced electrician or an UFH specialist. Each vendor will sell a specific product and be trained in its use and commissioning so check out the company that’s behind the product too (the pipes and systems are often imported). Check who the contract for the materials is between. It’s often the manufacturer and the merchant, which could give problems if the system does not perform as it should. Does your installer have up to date Professional Indemnity insurance against which you can claim should the need arise. Ask for a performance rating, with minimum guarantees on temperature and fuel consumption. And while there are no trade bodies that deal specifically with underfloor heating in Ireland you should be careful to choose a supplier with some form of accreditation or alliance to an ancillary association (e.g. in renewable heating, installers may be MCS vetted in NI for instance) and of course do your homework: how long they’ve been in business (a minimum of two years) and what their warranties are like. Also talk to previous clients and see how their system is working out now that it’s in place. If your room layout is unusual and contains alcoves and angles, try to see previous work handling similar situations. Ask your supplier for a good plan of the layout, together with electrical wiring details, a pressure test for each circuit, instructions for the commissioning of the system if it is not being installed by the supplier, help contacts, insurance against failure and product liability making sure the work is covered by an up to date guarantee for materials, workmanship and performance, backed by third party insurance and with consequential loss included, for example if the pipe fails and the ceiling comes down, or an expensive floor is damaged. Insurance should be provided by a guarantor independent of the supplier.


allow for the faster warm up time of the fabric. UFH also works well with solar panels due to the low temperature required. UFH appeals also to those who wish to run a more fuel efficient heating system, but, in practice, sometimes the gains are not as great as anticipated because, human nature being what it is, the even and comfortable heat generated tends to make people use it more! Some users of UFH have found it can guzzle energy – the reason for this is often the way in which it was installed. Under earlier building regulations the required insulation level for the floor was not as good as it is now causing a lot of the heat to be lost to the ground. Also it can be related to how it is used and to system sizing (conservatories may require a radiator to offer that blast of heat you may be looking for in winter!). UFH does not work like radiators. You shouldn’t be turning it on and off – if the house is occupied the system should be left running constantly with the controls adjusting the temperature levels. There is no blast of heat with UFH. You will not feel heat but you will feel comfortable in the room. So if you crank up the thermostat on the underfloor heating you will be forcing it to work at a higher temperature, which is not an efficient (i.e. an expensive) way to heat the room. Also if you force too much heat, the room will then continue to be warm long after you’re left it, even if you’ve switched it off as heat is stored in the floor. So yes, it can be very cost effective but make sure you get well acquainted with how it works and with your controls - these should run automatically and ideally be linked to the weather.

How It Works

Very simply, insulation is laid down first to ensure that the heat travels upwards into the room and not down into the ground, then piping is laid on top, usually a wet screed covers the piping, after that comes your chosen finish, e.g. floorboards, carpet, tiles etc. If you’re working at floor level, insulation around the perimeter is added to ensure heat does not escape through the walls. With solid floors it’s preferable to insulate between the slab (the concrete that’s laid directly on top of the radon barrier/damp proof course) and the screed as insulating below the slab means the entire floor structure has to be heated thus giving a slow response time and heat is often lost through outside walls as well, unless insulation has been incorporated in the subfloor. Good contact between the heating elements (pipe or electric cable), and the upper surface of the floor is essential to get the best from the system. Air gaps should be avoided as air acts as an insulator. Electric: uses cables or mats incorporating heating wires (sheathed in metal) or ribbons (unsheathed), connected to the consumer unit/distribution board. It is arguable that, because the ribbons are wide and cover at least 25% of the floor area, this results in a more energy efficient, quicker and cost effective system. The sheathing is there primarily for strength, SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Adapted from Quality Plastics Ltd.

The pipe in insulation set up

not to prevent electric currents transferring to humans should a needle, for example, be pushed through the top covering and make contact with the wires below. To guard against this, all electric UFH systems should be fitted with an RCD (residual current detector) or GFCI (ground fault circuit detector). Each unit should be tested as it is laid. The mats are laid under a screed or boarding or tiles directly, using these as a heat store. Hot water (hydronic): a hot water UFH system is very similar to a radiator based one with boiler, hot water cylinder and valves. The only difference is how the heat goes into the room, via the floor instead of radiators, and the lower flow temperature. Each area, usually a single room, has its own branch to the manifold, called a circuit. The flow of water is controlled by a thermo actuator on the valve for this circuit, with the actuator being controlled by a room thermostat.

Good Design Guide

UFH looks simple to install and it is normally quicker to do than a radiator based system. But the essence of simplicity is that it hides a lot of hard work. The first step is to work out the heat loss for each room, remembering to omit losses through the ground. In today’s highly glazed, well insulted, living areas, solar gains are factored in too. Next choose the form of UFH best suited to your floor type and, from the top floor covering, the heating output required. Sometimes there is one room, often the bathroom, where the output is not quite sufficient at normal pipe spacing so it is often reduced to ensure a greater heat output. When a boiler is being used it is an option to top it up with a radiator or heated towel rail as the

underfloor heating

The standard pipe in screed set up

There is no blast of heat with UFH. You will not feel heat but you will feel comfortable in the room. So if you crank up the thermostat on the underfloor heating you will be forcing it to work at a higher temperature, which is not an efficient way to heat the room (expensive). boiler would have an output temperature more suited to a single radiator than a heat pump system. Another option is a standalone electric radiator. If you have very large expanses of double glazing, you may want to consider adding trench heaters to prevent it feeling chilly in winter when sitting near the windows. In fact as well as running the UFH and possibly radiators and other heat emitters, the heat generator will usually have to provide hot water as well. For most installations a heat generator sized to do both simultaneously works well because the lower heat output of UFH means that it is able to cope far better with dual demand. If you wish, there are heat generators with controls which can be set to give priority to the hot water, something of particular interest to households with teenage children perhaps… With warm water UFH, temperature control is essential to keep the floor constantly warm. This is achieved by fitting a two or three port mixer „


underfloor heating

Insulation is placed above the subfloor, before laying the pipes, to avoid the UFH heating the subfloor instead of the floor covering. Above: Fixing the pipes in channels. Below: Fixing the pipes with plastic clips. Uponor

valve to combine both flow and return water. Heat pumps and more advanced gas boilers have a modulating burner to achieve the same. Controls are critical, as is the efficient and effective running of the system with a 24 hour programmable thermostat in a well insulated building (so that it is more cost effective for the structure to hold the heat instead of being constantly warmed up and allowed to go cold.) Weather compensation controls allow for changes in the outside temperature to adjust the UFH flow temperature; this ensures the system is running at its most efficient level at all times and are a wise investment. Individual room control with a programmable thermostat, especially in a dwelling that is not open plan and has bedrooms on an upper floor also with UFH, is the way to achieve the right comfort levels at the lowest cost possible. For example, bedrooms should be about 18degC, living rooms 21degC and bathrooms 24degC. With a programmable thermostat you can

set it to different temperatures for different times of the day and not waste heat in rooms not being used, because with UFH each room has its own circuit, controlled from the manifold. Knowing the amount of heat you will require (hence the importance of the room by room heat loss calculation), is of course the basis for sizing the system. With increasingly well insulated houses, and especially those that are well sealed and with mechanical ventilation, there is often no need to heat the upper floor regularly. A small electric heater to top up the warmth rising from below on occasion may be more cost effective. Broadly speaking in a well insulated house, built to today’s standards, you will need 20 to 30 W/sqm but in an older building you may need double that or more so in a retrofit scenario you may need to consider supplementary heating. Most UFH systems will supply between 70 and 100 W/sqm, an output that can be dampened by the choice of floor covering. Tiles and stone are ‘neutral’ which is why in the early days they had the reputation of being the only possible floor covering


for UFH. The type of insulation and how much to use depends upon the floor structure and Building Regulations in a new build (maximum heat loss U-value permissible 0.25W/sqmK in NI and 0.21 W/sqmK in ROI; 0.15W/sqmK is considered ‘adequate’ in ROI for floors with UFH), and in a retrofit, the space available (or U-value of 0.45W/ sqmK if the ground floor is being replaced in ROI, in NI if introducing new thermal elements 0.22 W/sqmK and if upgrading or renovating 0.70W/sqmK or 0.25W/sqmK depending on your project).

The set up

Pipe in screed An insulation board with pipes attached is laid on a sub floor with extra insulation around the perimeter of the room. A screed of 65mm to 95mm is poured over which must be allowed to dry out completely before putting down any fixed flooring. Some installers add a polythene barrier above the insulation (before laying the pipes) to ensure the screed does not set between the insulation boards (in a perfect world the insulation would be continuous); this is to avoid a cold bridge between the screed and subfloor. This type of installation is the most common in Ireland with, usually, a solid concrete slab base. Other bases include suspended concrete slabs or beam and block. A metal mesh is often incorporated with the screed to help maintain the position of the pipes and clips; in addition it provides a useful first line of defence against the onslaught of the builder’s wheelbarrow! It is also an aid to conductivity. Cutting mesh does take some effort and it may not lie flat at first, but any ripples will be ironed out by the weight of the screed on top. Other products incorporate a mechanism for holding the pipe into the insulation so that you do not need staples, clip rails or moulded system plates. The sides of the pockets can be shaped so that the screed is encouraged to make good contact with, and wrap right around, the pipe, thus achieving good heat transfer. It also means that screeds can be wheelbarrowed across the floor more easily without damaging the pipes. Where the pipes are clipped in place, use a foil faced board if there is an air gap, to improve heat transfer, but this is not necessary if the pipes are to be covered by a screed, as described earlier. Expanded polystyrene is cheapest if there’s plenty of space, otherwise choose from polyisocyanurate, urethane or phenolic foam as these have the lowest thermal conductivity and therefore the insulation layer does not need to be as deep. During installation bear in mind that the clip rails are at risk of being knocked out by the person pouring the screed, resulting in a sea of rapidly setting screed with pipes adrift from their moorings. More subtle is the loosening of a single clip, not obvious at first but, as the screed dries, a straight line appears signalling a length of pipe that has floated to the top. Proper workmanship by the installer, by using the correct amount of clips and/ or tracking rails, should however ensure that this is not an issue. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

layer of insulation and the output should be about 50W/sqm. The contact between the plates and the chipboard is not 100% and so some of the energy will be heating air. The impact of this largely depends upon the finished floor surface. Pipe on insulation Warm water UFH pipes are laid on insulation suspended between the floor joists. There must be good contact between the pipes and the underside of the floor otherwise this arrangement will lead to the warm air situation described above. The heat output is generally 20 to 30W/sqm. „

Underfloor heating manifold Energywise Ireland

underfloor heating

Pipe in insulation Extruded polystyrene insulation has channels pre cut into it with factory fitted aluminium heat diffusers and a polythene film over the top surface, thus you are laying a fully floating floor. Sometimes a screed is infilled between the pipes to act as a heat diffuser instead of the aluminium. Using aluminium plates makes for a quicker response time, it’s quicker to lay and there’s no waiting for the screed to dry. The screed option has a lower capital cost and slightly better heat output. Extruded polystyrene has the advantage of being able to support a fully floating floor (whereby the insulation carries the weight of the covering) and is a better insulator than the cheaper alternative, expanded polystyrene which requires battens around the edge of the floor to hold it in place, both of which add to the basic cost so make sure to include these when budgeting. Pipe in board This is standard flooring grade chipboard or plywood panels manufactured with an integral pipe. Panel modules Speedy to lay and with an excellent heat output, pre-piped and pre-folded these can be used in floors, walls, ceilings and from underneath a floor.

Specific arrangements for suspended timber floors

Suspended timber floors have timber joists spanning between the walls; these joists are then covered with floorboards or chipboard. The UFH pipes run parallel to the joists which are notched to allow the pipes to cross over. At ground floor level this arrangement can cause a few problems, especially in systems where the design heats an air space below the floorboards/chipboard (the space below the joists is ventilated to keep them dry and prevent rot). Super thin, foil faced and flexible insulation is stapled to the joists, but remember that it is the performance of the material that is of greatest importance. If the insulation gets squashed or there are air gaps then its effectiveness will be compromised. Further problems can occur from fitting square edged planks (as opposed to tongue and groove) over the battens or joists because the dry, warm air in the void in turn dries out the planks above and these reduce in width. As they do, the gaps between the planks widen and heated air escapes into the space above. The net result is a low power, warm air heating system which, in our air leaky houses, tends not to be very effective. In an attempt to get a better temperature, users turn up the temperature but this only makes things worse by drying out the planks even more and increasing the gaps. The options for suspended timber floors, both at ground floor and upper floor levels, are: Pipe in plate Warm water UFH pipes held in place by aluminium or steel diffusion plates sitting across the joists with heat transferred from the pipe through the diffuser, which is in direct contact with the chipboard sub floor above. Below these lies a

Can it be installed in an existing house? There is a misconception that UFH is only for new builds but just because you’re not starting with a greenfield site doesn’t mean you can’t have UFH. The main obstacles have to do with how well insulated your house is, if it’s not you may have to top up some of the rooms with other heat sources or preferably retrofit the house with additional insulation, and with the way the house was constructed. If you can get access from below or the top floor covering can be lifted, an existing suspended timber floor can be fitted with any of the UFH configurations, and the floor height will be unaffected. An increase in floor height does happen when retrofitting on a solid floor with warm water UFH because the minimum increase to allow for the pipes is 50mm, with pipes set into plates. However there are panel module products that can now offer a height increase of just 15mm using 12mm pipes or 30mm when using standard 16mm pipes. This difference in floor level can create problems for doors, skirtings, sockets etc. Electric mats are possibly the best option where space is tight as they can be laid on a very thin layer of insulation. Even with a double layer, using the ribbon type of mat results in a thickness of no more than 2.2mm. In any case with an existing floor, if the floor insulation is not sufficient it would mean that the UFH system would be inefficient to run. UFH systems can bolt on to existing radiator pipe work and are therefore suitable for a single room, such as an extension. In the case of a conservatory while the heat gains in summer will be high in winter you may need a supplementary heat source to make the space comfortable.


underfloor heating

You may also find some installers add corrosion inhibitors to the heating system water as an additional protective agent.

Testing the system

There is no blast of heat with UFH. You will not feel heat but you will feel comfortable in the room. Each circuit of underfloor heating consists of a continuous loop - the only joints are at the manifold. Unipipe Ireland

Pipes suspended in void This system avoids the problem of air gaps occurring in floor boards because it relies upon warm air diffusing into the room above. The pipes do not actually make contact with the floorboards/chipboard and instead lie upon foil faced aluminium insulation to help direct heat upwards. However, the presence of air bricks will reduce its effectiveness to less than the estimated 20 to 30W/sqm. Pipe in pug Warm water UFH pipes are laid on insulation sitting on chipboard with the whole suspended between the joists. A dry, weak sand and cement screed or ‘pug’ is poured around the pipe. The resulting heat output is excellent at 100W/ sqm but it is more expensive to install because of the extra labour and you may need heavier joists to carry the weight of the screed. The greater thermal mass will also have a slower response time.


Although a system may be well sealed, it is possible for oxygen from the atmosphere to be absorbed through the wall of the pipe unless there is some form of resistance in the form of an oxygen barrier, (which now comes as standard but do check), either aluminium or EVOH plastic, both of which are equally effective. Cross linked polyethylene, polyethylene with an integral aluminium layer and polybutylene are the three main types. Cross linked polyethylene (PEX A) is the most popular one in use; it is very pliable but does require fixing into position. Polybutylene is slightly easier to straighten and lay in place.


A reputable installer will test each part of the system before it is covered. Typically it will be tested to the rating of the pressure relief valve plus 10 per cent. In a standard low-temperature-lowpressure heating system, the test pressure would be 3.3 Bar. UFH systems operate at a working pressure of between 1 Bar and 1.5 Bar. If there is any area of weakness it will immediately show at this stage before the pipes are covered. Failure to do this test could give problems later once the floor is covered and you try to find the trouble spot. The pressure test also covers the fittings which should carry the same certification as the pipework. The choice for pipe connection fittings lies between plastic push fit, or brass compression fittings, both of which provide a secure junction. Care must be taken when using brass not to either over tighten and damage the pliable plastic of the pipe, or underdo and not be secure. In any event, the pressure test will expose any faulty connections. Note that unless there’s been a mishap on site (nail going through a pipe which had to be mended with a fitting) there are no joints in the pipework – these should all be at the manifold (continuous loop for each zone). Water is normally used to pressure test a system as it will give the pressure meters a more instant reading (air escapes slowly, think of slow punctures on tyres). But if your UFH system is installed in the winter months before the house is protected from the elements, the pipes could be susceptible to frost so air testing may be the best option as your installer may not necessarily remember to flush the system after testing.

On Top

Because all materials differ in their ability to conduct heat, what you intend as the final, visible, walked upon surface must be allowed for when designing the UFH – the correct thermal conductivities must be added to your calculations. The better the conductivity of the surface, the quicker the response time will be and less heat output will be required to achieve a comfortable temperature and so there are fuel efficiency gains also. Natural wood A moisture content of 10 to 11 per cent is necessary to reflect the ambient conditions of most modern homes. Wet plastered walls and a wet poured floor screed will all raise the moisture content of the air considerably above that of the new flooring, so, naturally, the timber will absorb moisture and swell. If you lay it at this point then it is only to be expected that, when the heat is turned on, it’s going to dry out and shrink, causing gaps to appear. If you’re in a hurry, use a dehumidifier. You should also seek the advice of your flooring supplier as they will have lots of experience of different types of installation and will, of course, want their product to live up to your expectations. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

the screed into the room but beware of rugs (see article on page 60).

Engineered wood On a solid floor an engineered finish is generally preferable but a hardwood finish is also possible; in this scenario the planks ‘float’ over a 2 to 3mm sheet of foam underlay with expansion gaps left around the edge (the gap is small enough to be covered by the skirting board). An alternative to the foam underlay is to lay marine ply directly on top of the screed, with the finished hardwood or engineered floor secret nailed to it. The wooden boards should be tongued and grooved and glued laterally making a single piece that lies on top of the foam underlay. It should not be fixed down, unlike a suspended floor where solid planks can be nailed to the floor joists. Beech floors are best avoided as they crack easily, even at low temperatures. Laminated flooring should sit on a layer of flooring grade chipboard laid on the joists, or, if it is a ground floor, marine ply which is more resistant to moisture.

• The most visible difference is clear walls and no radiators to get in the way of curtains and furniture. Radiators can have sharp edges and sometime get very hot. They also tend to make a ‘ticking’ noise as they warm up and cool down. • Equal heat distribution: all parts of the room will be at the same temperature. • In older properties, it is well known that modern central heating is not good news for antiques because it dries out the air more than UFH. • Dust allergy sufferers feel better because with fewer air currents dust particles do not travel so freely.

underfloor heating

Wood is an insulant, so if you go with this option 25mm thickness is the max; also avoid a buildup of timber boards over ply.

Why Underfloor Heating?

Stone, marble and slate These should be between 20 to 50mm thick and set in a bedding with an additive to allow for slight swelling and shrinkage – natural materials again! It’s also a good idea to add some flexible adhesive to the grout. Because of their good conductivity, stone, marble and slate are excellent with UFH, but remember that the thicker the flag the slower the response time. Tiles Ceramic and terracotta, like stone, slate and marble above, are good conductors, that is they do not inhibit the passage of energy from below into the room. Make sure they are laid with adhesive and grout compatible with UFH. Note that the UFH should not be running before, during and immediately after laying. Some brittle stone or tiles such as Terracotta can often get a hairline crack due to the settlement of the under structure, so a Latex additive could be used with the grout. Attention should also be given to adequate expansion joints in large areas and also weak points such as doorways between tiled rooms. Linoleum, PVC and vinyl Not all vinyls are compatible with UFH so check their temperature range for suitability. The tiles are glued directly onto the cold screed which should be left unheated for 48 hours after laying. Use an adhesive formulated for UFH. Carpet Despite what you may think, carpet won’t be an issue as long as the TOG value is 1.5 or less. However the underlay may be: felt and rubber crumb types are best avoided. Instead choose one with good conductivity that is especially designed for use with UFH. Polished Concrete There is a growing trend in houses to use polished floor screed rather than laying a traditional floor covering. This obviously works very well with under floor heating as there is no floor covering to resist the transfer of heat from

• Carpet mites need both warm air and moisture to breed. UFH produces a drier floor surface than convection systems where the floor tends to be the coldest part of the room. • Fewer air currents means fewer draughts – even a warm draught gives a cooling sensation. • UFH works particularly well with the new generation of heating systems including heat pumps, condensing boilers and solar collectors, but can equally be used with standard boilers or stoves. • Feel good feet factor! It is no coincidence that aromatherapy, acupuncture and especially reflexology concentrate on the feet; they are not only extremely sensitive but also critical to our feeling of wellbeing, as is warmth. n

Insulation around the perimeter of the room is necessary to prevent heat from escaping through the walls. Unipipe Ireland

Original article by Gillian Corry updated by Astrid Madsen.

Additional information

Bryan Buckley BEng (Ord) of Energywise, Unit 6 North Point Business Park, Blackpool, Cork, tel. 021 430 8185, Paul O’Donnell of Unipipe, 40 Southern Cross Business Park, Boghall Road, Bray, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 2864888, John Gordon MCIPHE, registered plumber and member of the Association of Plumbing & Heating Contractors Ireland, em:





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building with bamboo This page and opposite: House in Bali

Splendour in the grass There’s no doubting that the beauty and power of bamboo as a building material, is there? But just how feasible is building with bamboo in Ireland?


hen you first begin planning a selfbuild and are considering potential building materials, the chances are that you’ll immediately focus on the most common and widely accepted ones used today: wood, stone and concrete. There’s no doubt, however, that when it comes to aesthetics in building, you would have to go a long way to beat the style and beauty of bamboo. Once associated with tropical huts, bamboo is now being used around the world to build everything from luxury homes and holiday resorts, to churches and bridges. One fabulous example is the Green Village resort in Bali – a gorgeous collection of individually-styled bamboo houses! When you look at the pictures of these exclusive homes, it’s difficult


to not be carried away by the thought of creating a similar type of dwelling at home. In fact, architects around the world are increasingly becoming interested in – and excited about – working with this alternative building material. But what exactly is bamboo and can it ever provide a viable option for construction in Ireland?

Background to bamboo

Bamboo is actually a wild grass, which grows on otherwise unproductive land such as deep ravines and mountain sides in (mostly) tropical regions of the world. Widely used in Asia, the Pacific Islands and Central and Southern America, it is a sustainable and sturdy building material. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Building with bamboo in Europe While bamboo construction is on the increase around the world, in the UK and Ireland it is still used primarily for aesthetic and decorative purposes. Many people mistakenly believe that bamboo construction is not feasible here due to the climate, but it is in fact not permitted because, at present, Europe does not have approved standards for permanent bamboo structures.

The bamboo we get in Ireland is imported and often treated, engineered and tested to meet certain specifications. While the engineered material is certainly versatile for interior and exterior use, poles that would be the correct length for construction purposes are not available (suppliers say construction grade bamboo poles can only be obtained for lengths up to 6 metres) as the engineered version doesn’t meet EU load-bearing specifications. Fortunately, the engineered bamboo which is readily available throughout NI and ROI, does meet EU specifications for virtually all non-load bearing applications, from flooring to panelling, and so it’s easy for architects and designers to both obtain and work with. As a result, the last few years have seen an increase in how bamboo is used in homes throughout Ireland helped by the increasing number of companies which readily supply it here. Externally the grass is used for a variety of tasks: guttering on sheds, coverings for wall and balconies, screening for walls that can’t be raised any higher, pergolas and design features, decking, façade cladding, water features, sensory gardens and outdoor educational purposes to name a few. Internally bamboo can be used in the same way as hard wood, e.g. for doors, ceilings, wall coverings, staircases, kitchen worktops and all aspects of furniture and cabinet making. The fact that bamboo always has to be imported to Ireland obviously creates certain issues, but, since most hardwoods are also imported, „

building with bamboo

One of bamboo’s main advantages is that it grows extremely quickly – the record is 100cm in a 24-hour period – and its regeneration rate far surpasses that of wood. Where trees require 25 to 50 years to regenerate, bamboo has the potential to be harvested every three to six years. Each of bamboo’s 1,450 species – of which only around seven are suitable for construction – comes with its own structural properties. While some are hollow, for example, others are solid. Similarly, while some will only grow to around seven inches, others will reach heights of 130ft! It has the tensile strength of steel, the compressive strength of concrete, and one pole can hold up to four tonnes. Yet, while it’s considered to be heartier than oak, bamboo is also flexible and lightweight, and so can be easily cut and repositioned with no need for sophisticated equipment. Bamboo also wins in the ‘environmentally friendly’ category since it is CO2 neutral: a fact confirmed in December of last year by a new report released at the COP21 Paris Climate Conference*.

* Environmental Impact of Industrial Bamboo Products: Lifecycle Assessment and Carbon Sequestration used a lifecycle and carbon footprint analysis to evaluate bamboo flooring, decking, cladding, panels and beams, and the results clearly highlighted that these products had a carbonneutral footprint.


building with bamboo Bamboo, which needs the same care as wood, is popular as a floor covering


self-builders are used to dealing with such issues and challenges. This is where certification will help you make an informed choice. Unlike in its native habitat, where it is easily procured and comes with a low price tag, the import process can make bamboo less cost effective, but it can also impact on the material itself during the treatment process. Bamboo stems are ready for harvest after four to five years: an extremely fast time compared to tropical hardwoods and one of the main reasons why the material is ecologically viable. When it’s harvested for use in its native territory, bamboo is handled while it is green with workers employing both their hands and machetes to cut it. Fresh, it is full of moisture and, as such, is easy to cut. The bamboo is always dried out prior to being transported. Bamboo poles and screening (raw material) is never shipped in containers when fresh or wet, as this will cause it to rot. Once harvested, the poles are stored horizontally and supported to prevent sagging or bending. Good air circulation is vital, so they are stored in a dry, shaded and well-cooled area about 50cm above ground level. At this point they also have to be treated to protect the canes against insects. Once the bamboo has been harvested, the stems are split length wise to strips or fibres and the outer skin is removed. The natural colour of the strips is light yellow but they can be steamed in order to give them a light brown or dark brown SelfBuild & Improve Your Home


Protective measures must be taken with all natural materials to ensure that they withstand any elements with which they are faced, and bamboo is no exception. For instance, if used as a worktop you should oil it as you would any timber; impregnate the wood if bought untreated and oil regularly thereafter / as you see it dulling. Bamboo poles used indoors, or those protected from direct contact with soil, rain or sun can last well over 30 years without any maintenance. While bamboo pole material performs extremely well in our Western European climate when used outdoors it does need to abide to an annual maintenance regime to protect it from weathering, in the same way that wooden products do. Despite its strength, bamboo is still susceptible to deterioration agents, such as rot, insects, fungi and fire, so it’s vital that it’s treated every few years. If left untouched, it will only have a natural durability of less than two years. The effect the Irish weather has on them is that of discolouration, and any reputable supplier will treat the bamboo with oils to bring life and colour to the material and help it look good.

The future for bamboo

While it is increasingly used externally and internally in homes across Ireland for its aesthetic appeal, all hope is not lost just yet for bamboo construction in the future. In fact, a team of British researchers from the University of Bath, Coventry University and the University of Cambridge is currently exploring the use of bamboo for the widespread construction of homes. The research team is working to develop an understanding of the anatomy and structural applications of bamboo in the hope of modifying it to overcome these limitations, while still maintaining its unique mechanical properties. But at present there is no management of bamboo plantations that has been developed on a scale that is sufficient enough to support the projected demand from industry and households**. Even though there are efforts to tackle this supply bottleneck, (initiatives include targeted management policies and research into propagation), bamboo could very well face the same supply crisis as wood. A very ironic fate for the material of the future! n

**’Ketukangan: Kesadaran Material’ or ‘Craftmanship: Material Consciousness’ by Imaji – Dlingo, Yogyakarta. ISBN 9786029260236

building with bamboo

colour. The strips then undergo an engineering process where they are either pressed together horizontally (known as plain pressed), vertically (side pressed) or the fibres are compressed (high density).

Debbie Orme

Additional information

Nicola Moran, BSc Architecture Martin Mc Nulty, Bamboo Ireland, Peamount Industries Yard 2, Lock Road, Peamount, Newcastle, Co Dublin,, tel. 01 628 1682

Bamboo can equally be used outdoors Hillside Nurseries


range cookers

Home on the range The ins and outs of range cookers

Right: The classic AGA


he range cooker is at the top of many self-builder’s wish list, especially in countryside homes. They make a great statement piece and add instant glamour to any kitchen. However they are big (over 600mm wide) so you’ll need to think carefully about the amount of space the unit might take in your layout. Most kitchen designers and suppliers will be able to help you with this critical phase of your project, but here’s a look at your cooker options, from bottom to top.


On a range cooker, ovens can be single or double cavity, incorporate a microwave, fan, rotisserie, kebab unit, steamer, defrost facility, use only half the grill and finally, thankfully, clean themselves. Fan ovens are credited with producing a more even heat allowing much larger quantities of food to be evenly baked at one time, without having to take it out of the oven for turning. Some models have telescopic shelves so that you don’t need to reach right into the oven to lift items out, and insulated doors, as well as being cool and safe to touch, also save a lot of energy. If you have young children you will appreciate safety control knobs which are pushed in when the oven is on, or have a special switch ensuring that the oven cannot be turned on accidentally.

Electric hobs


Gas and induction hobs


Below: Rangemaster Hi-Lite 110cm model

If your acquaintance with the oven is very fleeting and your culinary wizardry is of a more instant nature and likely to feature a wok, then what’s happening on the hob will be your priority. Most of us are familiar with the traditional radiant electric coil ring which changes temperature quite slowly. The newer generation of electric hobs work

using radiant heat through a ceramic or halogen ring and are very much faster as a result. When in use, a ceramic hob glows beneath heat resistant glass which has a smooth finish and is easy to keep clean. Older models still have the ring element arrangement but a star shape has been found to heat up more quickly. A word of warning if you intend to use pots and pans you already have. Copper, aluminium and pans with a rough base should not be used on a ceramic glass surface as they will damage it. Using a lamp instead of a ring, the change in temperature is almost instantaneous with a tungsten halogen hob. Whilst this feature makes them very competitive with gas, unfortunately the price is not – they tend to be expensive. With some models the burners are covered with a ceramic glass surface which, apart from easier cleaning, allows you to move pots and pans around. The controllability of gas has long given it an edge over other types of hobs, but this position is being seriously challenged by the new generation of induction hobs which work in a similar way to microwaves and can boil a pan of water in four minutes. Using induction allows the hob to stay cool, whilst the radiant hob glows red when in use. With electromagnetic induction, using a spiralled copper coil with a ceramic glass surface, no heat is released until the base of the pan touches it, and some are sophisticated enough to adapt the heated area to the size and shape of the pan being used. Oh and don’t worry if you leave a spoon on top by mistake, the presence of a detector ensures that the ring only heats up when there is a pan on top. Purchasing an induction hob could provide a good excuse for a new set of cookware because pans must have a modular base. To check your own, see if a fridge magnet will stick. SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

All cooking produces water vapour and in our increasingly well sealed homes the threat of unwanted condensation is never very far away so a hood has to be an integral part of your design. If possible, duct it to an outside wall, but, if this is impractical, use a hood lined with a charcoal filter which will recycle the air. Especially good are extract systems with the controls at the same height as the worktop so that you don’t have to lean perilously over boiling liquids to reach them. As you might expect, filters are not only quieter, they remove grease as well, whilst some models are fully automatic and switch off when the kitchen air is clear. There are four basic styles of cooker hood. The canopy which is set into an existing or an artificial chimney, telescopic, activated when pulled out, integrated where the hood is co-ordinated with your kitchen units and is switched on by opening the front flap, and finally the classic type which is fixed to a wall or under a unit.


Stainless steel and aluminium are the current cool in kitchen finishes. Very hygienic, they don’t chip like enamel, there is no rust, are moisture resistant and can withstand very hot foods or liquids spilling onto them. Fingerprints are quite visible on smooth polished surfaces, but cleaning is quick and easy with warm water and mild detergent, which must be dried off otherwise the surface will become spotted with water marks. For touch marks on any cooker, avoid using scouring pads or abrasive cleaners as they can scratch the surface. Better instead to use a proprietary cleaner suitable for chrome, enamel and china. A stubborn stain on stainless steel will probably yield to a hot solution of sodium bicarbonate and, if buffed up afterwards with a few drips of baby oil, will regain its showroom shine in no time.

these too have come into the modern world and offer customised colour enamel finishes, if they have a dual function of heating the hot water and/or radiators as well, they can never be just quite as flexible as a purpose designed cooking instrument. Sometimes in the interests of economy compromises have to be made and these types of cooker are undoubtedly popular for good reason. With a continuous heat source in the kitchen many owners don’t feel the need to invest in a microwave as well, not to mention the comfort factor. An oil, solid fuel or gas fired range will hold its heat for many hours without electricity if there is a power failure, and many now offer some of the features of stand alone cookers such as a pull out section to provide more hob space, or a combined gas/electricity unit. If space is tight mini models are also available, e.g. for an apartment. There’s even a gas fired flueless range cooker which can go anywhere – it’s on castors!

range cookers



Last but not least, consider buying second hand. Cost is always an issue as these items are more of an investment than an impulse buy, so if your budget is tight, look out for re-conditioned models of old friends like the Aga. A properly re-conditioned cooker will have new burners, new insulation and even new enamel, if you wish, and are an excellent option. If you are buying second hand and you already have a gas registered installer and electrician on site it would be a good idea to get the unit checked by them before you buy. n Original article by Gillian Corry, adapted by Astrid Madsen



Safety is always an important feature and most ceramic hobs come with touch sensitive controls, a cut out feature if there is a spillage, and a hot hob symbol when in use to warn children. Cookers and ovens are potentially dangerous areas which also eat a lot of energy so before you buy, check out some other features such as automatic switch off after a pre-set time, and ovens which stop heating when you open the door so saving energy, as well as your make up! Temperature control is now much more accurate and some manufacturers offer a unique residual heat function whereby the electronics decide when there is enough heat left in the oven to finish the cooking and it can safely switch off.

Heat and cook

How about cookers that also provide heat? Range cookers were once synonymous with back breaking stoking or nauseous fumes, but times have changed and there are now electric models of old friends such as the Aga, Redfyre, Esse, Stanley, etc. Whilst



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fragrant winter plants

Sense and sensibility Too often we plant for summer fragrance but the winter garden needs all the help it can get to continue to be appreciated. So while we may have less choice when compared to the summer wafters, what we do have is quality over quantity. In fact winter flowering varieties are arguably the most highly scented of all.

Right: Fragrant Mahonia (top), Witch hazel (below)

Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ will fragrance the air in late January / early February



ur scent detector is known as an olfactory bulb and it is linked to the limbic region of the brain where memories and emotions are activated. It’s no wonder therefore

that modern science is starting to use aromatherapy in the context of dementia patient care, to boost recall and treat aspects of the condition. While research in this area is as of yet limited it seems to hold great promise. Studies have also been done on what fragrances make shoppers buy more, what odour boosts confidence in exam settings and what aromas calm people in dentist waiting rooms. There is even a weight loss program based on what to smell before

you eat to make you feel fuller. All of this to say that fragrance can be a direct means of hacking into emotions and perceptions. I have worked for many years as a horticultural therapist and use aromatic plants in a big way – not just in sensory gardens but as cutting plants for aromatherapeutic sessions. I use garden fragrances on myself whenever I need a moment of pure mindfulness and I find nothing beats lavender for a refreshing burst of real-time pure sensation! Pollinators also need to be attracted; as they are thin on the ground in the colder months, our winter perfumeries really have to pack a punch to get some attention. No big blousy petals, no garish colours – just pure concentrated musk. Here are some of the knock-out performers that will enhance your gardening experience. Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postill’ offers a captivating scent – sweet with a hit of lily to my sensibilities. That fragrance fills the air in late January or early February when the gorgeous white flowers burst out from their tiny pink buds. The clusters of flowers are often followed by the ornamental value of black berries. It is evergreen throughout the year so really earns its place. Does well on any reasonably well drained soil once it is planted in a sheltered location – meaning a small city garden or against a wall. It can grow to a height of 2-4m (6-12ft) and spread up to 1.5m (5ft) or be pruned to shape. There is an earlier flowering and equally intense variety you could choose called the Daphne bholua ‘Darjeeling’ which can start flowering as early as Christmas. All daphnes are of note when it comes to olfactory stimulation but these two top my picks for winter time. You can extend the daphne delights into spring with either Daphne x burkwoodii or Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’. Daphnes although hardy, don’t like cold weather and don’t do well in sun-baked or south- „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

fragrant winter plants

Right: Winter honeysuckle will meet your nose long before you see it.

Below: Muscari armeniacum, also known as Grape Hyacinths

facing environments either as they prefer a cool root run. While pest free, they may over time get a touch of leaf spot but this is easily treated with an organic garlic and chamomile tea spray (blitz the two with water in your blender) and a light denuding of any effected parts. Arrowwood ‘Dawn’ Much hardier and less fussy than a daphne but equally tangy is Viburnum × bodnantense and all its cultivars – deliciously sweet. Deciduous but in the depths of winter you will find along its bare, woody stems bursts of dark pink packages of intense scent. These flowers will slowly fade to white before forming pretty purple berries that will add texture to your summer garden. I love this one as it offers autumnal foliage changes too, earning its place as a plant that offers long seasonal interest. The fragrant flowers can perform from as early as November and last right through to March or even April. Best of all is their winter sturdiness; even if a frost hits hard, they repeat flower soon after. Plant in a moist but well-drained soil. In sun or partial shade the plant can reach a height of 3m (10’) and spread 2m (8’) but it clips well if you want to keep it more compact.

Arrowwod ‘Dawn’ is hardier and less fussy than a daphne but equally tangy.

Winter honeysuckle does what it says on the tin. There are two types I can highly recommend, the first is Lonicera fragrantissima – just for the name alone – but a name that delivers on its promise to be fragrantissimally potent. It is a spreading bushy deciduous shrub, often beyond the label description of ‘to 2m’, with cream flowers that meet your nose long before they meet your eye. It blooms mostly from mid-January to March but in milder winters it can begin in time to pep you up for Christmas shopping. The second winter honeysuckle is Lonicera × purpusii which flowers from December to March in full sun or partial shade. It really delivers those heady volatile oils if grown on fertile or humusrich, moist but well-drained soil. It is one of those deciduous come semi-evergreen shrubs (depending

Christmas box or Sarcococca confusa spreads quickly but provides great fragrance and evergreen leaves.

on climate and location), but its flowers are worth it alone – bright white with prominent yellow anthers and powerful wafters of the delightful honeysuckle perfume. Sarcococca confusa is a total thug that colonises more and more ground each year. I like it as a low hedge and I am ruthless in cutting it back but it always returns. I keep it because it’s evergreen, it fills a shady dry spot really well and also for its amazing fragrance. I could rip it all out and replace with the neater and more mannered Sarcococca hookeriana. Both are known as sweet box or Christmas box and fill the air with delightful fragrance. Witch hazel varieties Hamamelis × intermedia, H. japonica and H. mollis are favourites of mine. Gallons of homemade witch hazel extract and best of all, a clean fragrance exudes from their stunning winter flowers. Their autumnal foliage offers a


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Narcissus ‘Thalia’ can be planted now for spring scent.

Rosemary is also still about in winter and its fresh, camphor-like fragrance is invigorating to inhale. A stamina scent that looks great in any garden. It has the benefit too of being medicinal, it’s an aromatherapeutic agent that quells headaches, mental fatigue, nervous exhaustion and memory loss as it helps with cognitive function. Juniper is another plant with that fresh, camphorlike fragrance. As with rosemary the aroma will lift your spirits on those shortened days. Steam inhalations of the needles are a traditional remedy to ease and relieve bronchial congestion. Scots pine (Pinus Sylvestris) also acts on the limbic region of the brain as a mood elevator and helps alleviate stress and depression via its uplifting aroma but also due to its boost to respiratory function and oxygenation of the brain. It is also used in aromatherapy to treat adrenal fatigue. Wintersweet (Chimomanthus praecox) will gift you with sweet floral notes and an underscore of spiciness. It can take a few years to establish but it’s worth it. It has medicinal, cosmetic and culinary applications but as a cut flower in December it will fill the whole house with a deep embracing bouquet – as strong as jasmine. It is an extract used in some popular perfume blends. Mahonia’s blue black berries are edible.

Mahonia plants in winter are now doing their glorious thing. Fireworking yellow candles in the diming light and on closer inspection wafting a little lily-of-the-valley-scent on the air. They will flower all through the winter and then follow up with blueblack berries that are edible, full of vitamin C and which supply a piquancy to savoury rice, curries, pies and jams. And when it comes to mindfulness their sour berry really bursts with the reality of the moment. To prove you really can’t beat fragrance in the garden, you only need to admire the Sanskrit word ghrā which means both kiss and smell. Enjoy! n Fiann Ó Nualláin

fragrant winter plants

great colour show too. The soil needs to be a bit acidic so I grow them in large pots and top dress with tea leaf compost and pine needles.

The ins and outs of what to plant this winter Frosts, floods or gales permitting, it’s not too late to plant some fragrant shrubs and bulbs this weekend – including some bareroot roses that will kiss the face off you next summer. Even though Viburnum × burkwoodii is often ranked as a ‘top ten winter fragrant plant’ it actually is much more of a spring performer. Evergreen in milder winters, its highly fragranced white or pale pink flowers come at the onset of spring. So while it will extend your season it won’t fill the winter air. But winter is the perfect time to plant it. It’s also a good time for winter jasmine (jasminum nudiflorum) which has no winter fragrance at all – don’t be deceived by a name. Many of the winter fragrant plants I have mentioned have an olfactory element of lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), probably because when it comes to fragrant bulbs you can’t beat it – it packs a real punch (in aroma but it’s also lethal if you ingest it). And winter time is not too late to plant it; think about growing it in the front garden if you have wild garlic (Allium ursinum) in the perennial veg plot out back as the two look similar enough to act as reminders of each other. In fact apparently a lot of people mistake lily-of-the-valley for wild garlic, which has great medicinal value, and as a result die or almost die. At least that’s what I’ve been told. But they are totally different in flower. The leaf is kind of similar but there is a very big distinction between the almost cloying sweetness of lily-of-the-valley and the full-on almost gym shoe waft of wild garlic. Hyacinths can also go in now for spring scent. As can the musky Muscari spp and the aromatic Narcissus ‘Thalia’. All of these are traditionally forced to the confines of the home to provide indoor fragrance in the run up to Christmas. But in my opinion for indoor scent you can’t beat a scented geranium (Pelargonium spp.) or Chinese’s jasmine (Jasminum polyanthum). The latter, profuse with winter blooms from now until the New Year resolutions have become a bore. The former requiring a rub if not a crushing of the foliage. Also, indoors jasmine performs better with cool temperatures so don’t leave it by the radiator.


All rhyme & reason Stunning views, a family connection and the prospect of an original design prompted Lory Higgins, his partner Sandra and their young family to leave Dublin and set up home in Co Wexford.


More photographs available at

he farmhouse Lory grew up in was typical in many ways, in its rectilinear courtyard layout and small windows. It was a happy childhood, and as they often are, one in which sweaters were worn to counteract the draughts! This home is also one that his partner Sandra got attached to very quickly. “The house is really well located, in the Co Wexford countryside, and it has so much history,” says Sandra. “It dates back to the 1800s and I felt strongly about preserving it, and the

stories that unfolded there.” Lory on the other hand had different ideas. “To be honest I had my sights set on a greenfield site, building a low energy house, no headaches or problems attached. But as often happens Sandra won the debate!” As an engineer Lory was acutely aware of the challenges that lay ahead of him, but once the commitment was made he got really excited. “It’s only when we decided we were moving forward with it that I felt this great sense of joy and anticipation.” SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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“There was another consideration. Now that my dad had moved out – to my sister’s house that she’d built on the farmland – I wasn’t too sure what would have happened if we hadn’t moved in. At the end of the day, it just felt right to preserve the house.” Lory’s dad had renovated the farmhouse in the 1960s and added a flat roof extension which contained a small kitchen, dining room and a boiler house. “Having lived in the house for so long, I knew what worked and what didn’t,” explains Lory. “It didn’t make the best use of the space available and needed to be reconfigured.” After having spent over 15 years working as a dairy farmer, Lory decided to leave the land and take up a third level course in construction engineering. This house renovation project was his first major commission and, it being so close to his heart, it was a challenge he was really looking forward to.

Right from the start

For design inspiration the couple didn’t have to go very far; a chartered architectural technologist by the name of Joe Fallon who lived down the road

had just finished refurbishing his very own rural cottage. “We came down from Dublin one weekend and stayed at the farmhouse,” recalls Sandra. “One sunny day I went for a run and passed by this house and I loved it. I told Lory we would have to do something like that, a renovation that would retain the character of the building.” Lory had met Joe briefly a year earlier and contacted him to see if he would be interested in „

A contemporary take on the traditional farmhouse


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designing something for their house. Joe was very enthusiastic about it and asked Lory and Sandra to come up with a brief. Not surprisingly light was a priority, as was warmth. “We needed four good size bedrooms, including a master bedroom with ensuite, and a family bathroom,” says Lory. “A large kitchen, dining room and living room, a utility and playroom for our expanding family and a small office as both me and Sandra planned to work a lot from home.” Joe’s reconfiguration hinged on removing the stairs from the old farmhouse and relocating it to the porch; in doing so he instantly created a large amount of extra space. “We were amazed at how much more room we got by simply moving the staircase,” enthuses the couple. This provided enough room to create three well proportioned bedrooms and a bathroom on the first floor of the original building. The ground floor contained a downstairs Parlour or Visitor’s room as many farmhouses of this era did. Beside this room was a wc and utility room which was accessed from the outside. Joe recommended converting the parlour and the room beside it into the fourth bedroom with its own ensuite. And with the stairs gone Joe suggested removing the gable end wall that was adjacent to

the flat roof extension. This 1960s extension was converted into an open plan kitchen, dining room and sitting room and a new extension was built to add a utility room and downstairs toilet to the side. This small addition provided access to an outbuilding which was converted into a playroomcum-office. The flat roof of the existing extension was replaced by a pitched roof to ensure the roof line wouldn’t be broken. The main sticking point with their designer had to do with the porch treatment, which would now contain the new stairway. “We went over a few designs back and forth, fine tuning all the details,” „

The porch redesign, being central to the reconfiguration, was given special treatment.

The 1960s flat roof extension was replaced with a pitched roof and a small extension added to connect to the adjoining shed, which was converted into a playroom.


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says Lory. “The main issue was how to make sure the new porch wouldn’t be too overpowering,” explains Sandra. “We eventually settled on the design we now have, with the curved element echoing the nearby farm buildings, many of the sheds around us have similarly arched roofs. We are really pleased with it because the old farmhouse is low for a two storey building and the porch perfectly sits into it.” Despite it being the most controversial design element Sandra says they couldn’t be happier with the result. “Joe provided invaluable advice and challenged our thinking, he told us to be brave and take a chance and we’re so glad we did,” she adds. The next challenge was finding a suitable roof covering. “Joe managed to convince us to clad it in zinc,” says Lory. “He designed a fabulous picture window for the playroom which offers great views of the surrounding countryside and this he also wanted clad in zinc… The total bill came to €6,000! He did push us but we’re delighted we have it now. It’s not something you can retrofit and it has „

A traditional farmhouse look with range cooker adapted to modern day open plan design.


case study The reconfiguration hinged on relocating the staircase to the porch area, which freed up floor space in the main house.

such a huge impact on the aesthetics.” “We said from the start if we were going to do it we would do it properly. No short cuts, no regrets,” adds Lory. “I was also determined not to skimp on insulation. I may have even put in too much but I was only going to get one chance to properly insulate the house.” Sandra had always wanted a range cooker in the kitchen, and, since new ones are very expensive they compromised and ended up finding a second hand oil fired one for heating and cooking. “It was

the right colour and spec, at 100,000 BTU, and it only takes 20 minutes to warm up the house,” says Lory. He reckons they saved almost €4,000 by buying it second hand. “I had planned to install a condensing boiler for heating but the cooker killed two birds with the one stone – with the solid fuel stove in the sitting room and the cooker in the kitchen the house stays amazingly warm even on the coldest days. It pays to insulate!”

Trials and tribulations

With his motto of no regrets in mind, Lory decided to install a new septic tank and percolation area. “I’d say if the old system had been inspected, it wouldn’t have passed,” he half-jokes. This was the only element of the design which required planning permission and that was duly got. Design in hand, they approached a number of builders in July 2014 but the response rate was low. “A lot never came back to us with a quote, one or two redesigned the house to suit their budget,” says Lory. “It was pure luck we found our builder – his name came from a friend and as soon as we met him we gelled. Nothing was a problem for him, he priced everything up, and of course it all came in way above our proposed budget!” To save on some of the costs, the builder was happy for Lory to act as project manager and be subcontracted for some of the work. “He allowed „


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me to break down the different elements of the build and for me to hire my own tradesmen, for instance some of the demolition, plumbing and electrical work was done by others.” “Being involved in construction myself, I was eager to play an active part in the project and I really enjoyed it,” adds Lory. There were a lot of extras on the project, which were in part expected. “Once you strip a building like this back you can be in for a nasty surprise or two. The chimney was leaking so we were especially afraid of how the rafters had held up. As it turned out only a few roof timbers had to be replaced.” The chimney however was in too poor a state to keep. “We removed all the brickwork and built a ring beam on top of the remaining stone chimney. Then the chimney was rebuilt from there up,” says Lory. “Two metal flues were installed for both fireplaces and the remaining void was filled with vermiculite to stop heat building up in the open space. This can be a major health and safety issue in old wide chimneys that are relined with flues.” Thankfully, a lot of the slates were in good enough condition to be reused; these were kept on the outbuilding and on the back of the existing house while some slates had to be bought new to match at the front. As for the existing farmhouse floors, which consisted of a thin layer of concrete on top of clay soil, they were all stripped back and replaced with an insulated concrete build up.


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During the build Lory and Sandra came up with the idea of using another outbuilding as an office and leaving the playroom totally for the kids. This building received the same treatment as the old farmhouse. The budget on such a large project can be difficult to rein in but they were lucky to be able to invest where it mattered. “We nearly spent €30,000 on extras which was about what we thought it might be, although converting the outbuilding to an office was not in the plans and was expensive,” recounts Lory. “The only real grief I got was when the guy who was to install the zinc cladding never turned up. The roof had been formed using marine ply „

Before and after plans


case study The new bedrooms and circulation areas are airier and larger than in the original farmhouse

and I covered it as best I could with a tarpaulin but the water still got in. It was very frustrating .” They found another contractor and this added an extra €1,000 to the bill. “We did have to spend more than anticipated but the quality of the finish was well worth it. I am actually glad I was let down as the person who did the work eventually was a top tradesman.” Lory and Sandra also pushed the boat out on the windows by installing triple glazed units throughout. “Again they were more expensive but over the medium to long term we believe it was worth paying the extra cost.”

All in the family

They moved in May 2015, so how are they feeling over a year in the house? “I suppose it’s only when you have lived in a house for a while that can you know if everything you have done has worked,” says Lory. For Sandra the verdict is clear: “So far we are absolutely delighted with it.” “Joe had configured the space to allow a lot of light in,” adds Lory. “This he has certainly achieved. The house feels bright and airy, and we couldn’t be happier here.” Especially now that the latest addition to the family, baby Conor, arrived in August! n Astrid Madsen

House size before: 1,800 sq ft House size after: 2,200 sq ft Plot size: 1 acre Cost: €200,000


Build type: masonry with white sand cement finish Walls: all external walls and roofing were lined with 45mm insulated (PIR) plasterboard, U-value 0.25W/sqmK. New build porch area 100mm PIR board. Roofs: Low roofs and ceilings on first floor of farmhouse lined with 60mm insulated (PIR) plasterboard, U-value of 0.18 W/sqmK. Pitched roofs in the kitchen and dining room and playroom: Spray foam insulation - closed cell closest to the exposed roofing material and open cell underneath to help the timbers breathe, U-value 0.16W/sqmK. Floor: standard floor build up with U-value of 0.2 W/sqmK Windows: triple glazed, argon filled, U-value of units 0.65 W/sqmK

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Designer Joe Fallon Design Architecture, Bunclody, Co Wexford and Dublin 6W, email, mobile 087 2566808 Project manager Lory Higgins BSC(Hons) Constr. Mgt Eng., NISO, mobile 087 908 7833, Builder Chris Gahan, GR8 Construction, email, mobile 087 1308028

Builder’s merchant Heiton Buckley Gorey, Liam Ryan 087 2593831, Windows Munster Joinery, Co Cork and Co Antrim, Electrical contractor Kiltealy Electrical Services, email, mobile 087 0505366 Roofer Willie Colfer, mobile 087 2297378

Zinc roofing Audsley roofing, Wexford,, mobile 087 2588370 Plastering Paul Brennan, mobile 087 6109478 Carpentry Paddy Kehoe 087 9707820 and Ger Dunphy 087 2219083 Second-hand range Rayburn, Photographer Dermot Byrne Photography, tel. 01 282 9560

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The house with nine lives Fire, theft, water damage, what this house lived through reads like an insurance claim gone mad. Saving it from the brink were Wendy and David Campbell of Co Down. Top: The rectory as it now stands. Above: The house when it was bought two years ago. Right: Photographic record of the house after the 1922 fire.

More photographs available at



tarting their own business was perhaps the best training Wendy and David could have wished for, as the same qualities were required when they tackled the renovation of this historic building; courage, determination and hard work. The business was in fact the reason why the couple decided to risk everything on a derelict property. “When we started off we ran the business in Dundrum from our home and had a separate showroom, we also had two warehouses in Newcastle,” explains Wendy. “When it was time for us to find a new place to live, we realised it was our opportunity to have everything in the one place. We wanted to live the

dream of the 30 second commute!” “The barn was an ideal location for a showroom and I simply fell in love with the „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

case study The bay windows and staircase were lovingly refurbished.


rectory,” she adds. “Despite the fact that it was a ruin I could picture it as a family home.” “Wendy brought me down to see it on April Fool’s day and, needless to say, I thought it was a joke!,” says David. “It was a bit daunting, and we realised it was a massive gamble. But we had been through an extension a few years previous, which made us feel well equipped. We also had friends and family to help. We consulted with architects and builders and did a lot of research.” The same electrician and the same person who did the groundwork for their extension were brought back on board. But the rectory is three times as big as their previous house and four times as big as

Wendy’s first digs. “This kind of experience will undoubtedly test any marriage,” she comments. “If you’re energetic enough to take on a project like this, make sure you and your partner are on solid ground.” “Wendy sold this to me as a ‘wee project’,” says David. “But what it really entailed was me taking a back seat from the business while project managing a lot of the work, often spending seven days a week pushing on, which is probably why we have achieved so much in a relatively short period on a limited budget and not having a big workforce.”

Fire, theft and water damage

The rectory was built around 1830 and in 1922 a fire destroyed the house, leaving only the walls standing. A new roof was instated, new windows, all the lead work was redone. “I think the building isn’t listed because it was essentially rebuilt after the fire,” says Wendy. As a result very little of the original plaster was left. “We still find scorched timber in the walls,” she adds. The house was extensively renovated in the 1980s including some replastering work. When Wendy and David discovered the rectory in 2014 it had been earmarked for demolition, as it had been ravaged by neglect. “The house was purchased from the previous owners by a developer who planned to demolish it. No effort was made to protect the structure so it fell into disrepair,” explains Wendy. “The building had been left empty for eight years; during this time vandals stole the copper, lead and smashed everything. All of the window panes were broken, „ SelfBuild & Improve Your Home



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as were all the light fixtures.” The carpets had been lifted and some of the floorboards too to access the copper pipes. “We did however salvage enough timber to lay down original boards in the living and dining rooms, which we sanded and stained,” adds Wendy. Covering the bay windows and porch were flat roofs entirely made of lead; two smaller roofs at the back also contained large amounts. The lead was stolen which resulted in water entering the building and causing damage. Wendy and David reinstated the original apex over the two-bay windows by following the patches on the wall. “In many ways the house led us as much as it was us leading it,” adds Wendy. “For the first three months we spent our time taking things apart and putting them back together again.” Thankfully the main roof was in good shape; they only had to deal with minor repairs – a few cracked and slipped tiles. The roof space is now used as storage and an electrified ladder provides access. “As the upper „

The kitchen stove has a back boiler to feed the hot water tank and three radiators (the towel warmer in the bathroom and two on the landing)


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floor ceiling is 12ft high we needed something custom made anyway so we chose to get an electrified model, and considering the weight of the ladder I’m thankful we did.” Making an unusual entrance to the building site was Wendy on her first hard-hat visit. “My foot went through the floor in the upstairs bathroom,” she recounts. “It was a sign we might need some reinforcement. There had been damage to quite a few joists which we replaced with steel; the company that supplied the beams was able to do all the structural calculations so that saved us having to get our engineer to do them.”

Adding warmth

David and Wendy sell stoves for a living, so it’s not surprising to hear they have eight of them installed in the house. In fact they used their home to demonstrate it’s possible to entirely heat, and provide hot water for, an historic property exclusively with stoves. Even though it’s well known that passive houses only require one stove in the living area for warmth throughout the house, older properties aren’t nearly as well insulated or airtight. “Despite the fact that we’ve retained the single glazed windows, because the eight chimneys are no longer open fires but are closed appliances with an 80mm duct feeding them, we suffer very little in the form of draughts,” explains David. The only issue is condensation on the single panes which they’ll be tackling with a positive air ventilation system. “Our first priority was to make the house watertight – the lead roofs were missing so we had massive leaks,” says Wendy. “But the very first thing we did, after battling the ivy to get to the front door, was get the fireplaces unblocked and lining the chimneys.” The windows were refurbished with single glazing and draught proofing at the front; new double glazed units were installed at the back. Below: New lead pattern on the landing window.


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case study Eight stoves keep the house warm

The stoves helped the house dry out at this early stage – and they were advised to do this very slowly. The kitchen stove has a back boiler to feed the hot water tank and three radiators (the towel warmer in the bathroom and two on the landing). “Looking back we should have installed that radiator in the entrance hall as that’s the only room that can get cool in winter. After all, heat rises,” says Wendy. The four bedrooms also have a stove each, which are lit from October to March before bedtime. In the winter months the kitchen and living room stoves are lit 24/7. “You do have to be careful not to light the fire

too early in the season,” cautions Wendy. “We put in a couple of logs in our bedroom on a cool September evening and had to sleep with the windows open! “ There are an additional four stoves in the showroom and another in the office. “In the depths of winter the stoves only need to be cleaned out once a week,” says Wendy. “As they burn very efficiently there isn’t much ash.” To retain all of this heat the couple decided to add some insulation. “The roof space was fully insulated and we lined the walls of some of the rooms with insulated plasterboard – the bathroom for instance has three external walls.” The suspended timber floors weren’t insulated „


case study The couple invested in items that couldn’t easily be replaced

but with carpets and rugs they are comfortable. “We didn’t want to rip up any more than had already been, and we were conscious that the subfloor had to be ventilated, which it is with the cast iron grates.” The hall floor was badly damaged so vinyl was laid on top of ply. “I would love oak floors but we needed a hard wearing option that was low cost. When the budget allows we’ll invest in a more permanent solution.”

Balancing the books…

The budget was in fact pivotal in driving this project, which is what made it so successful but also at the same time, quite stressful. “We couldn’t get a mortgage initially because the house had to be habitable,” says Wendy. “We spent the first six months renovating the upstairs to live in and the kitchen downstairs, leaving the rest to finish off while we’d be living in the house.”

The master bedroom was the living room at this time. “You get used to living on a building site,” tempers Wendy. “It took 17 months of hard work to get where we are now.” Replacing the original lead roofs would have been prohibitive so they simply chose to felt it for now, with a view to replacing them in the future. Another example of their budget-savvy approach are the curtains. “We didn’t invest in things that could be changed easily – the curtains were bought off the shelf, we were glad to find it was possible to buy 3m lengths.” A low cost replacement she’s now very happy with is of the leaded window on the landing. “I designed something simple to keep us going and now I quite like it. The original was stained glass though, a photograph I have of it shows it in a bad state but you can see it was quite ornate, in the 1920s style.” They refurbished the existing sash windows with single glazing as they felt it was important to keep with the original style of the house. The draught proofing on the windows has proved very effective, says Wendy. At the rear of the house new double glazed timber windows were installed.

.. in style

“It’s very important to keep the character, the essence of the house but we also live in different times,” explains Wendy. “There is one room furnished to close to what would have been there in the 19th century; my parents gave us a dining table and chairs from 1840.” On the modern, thrifty and stylish side, the kitchen is flat pack but the worktops bespoke; not


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surprisingly they splashed out on the hearths and fireplaces too. For paint she let inspiration guide her. “I armed myself with a colour chart and went around the rooms, choosing what I thought would suit each use, and went with the hues I preferred,” says Wendy. “Despite the size, it was surprisingly easy to furnish the house; we had some pieces already – we brought wardrobes with us – and we were given a lot, which essentially furnished the rooms downstairs.” “The sliding wardrobe in our master bedroom was custom made and also houses our hot press as well as storage right to the ceiling,” adds Wendy. A fun addition, and reminiscent of the times when jugs of water and shaving bowls were left out in the master bedroom, is their sink and coffee machine concealed behind cabinet doors in their bedroom. “I can’t ever imagine this to have been a ‘wee project’ considering what I know now,” reflects David. “But we have a home to be proud of, a beautiful setting for a special showroom and storage all on the one site so we have everything streamlined with a work/life balance which we have yearned for, for eight years while the business was fragmented.”  David and Wendy did allow the house dictate what needed to be done, with guidance from the evidence of what once was, but it wasn’t until they got photographic records 12 months into the build that they really got a sense of the house as it had originally been. “We have a plan to replicate a lot of the features, we have a list of things to get done in the next three to five years,” says Wendy. “We’re excited to have achieved this already, but it’s only the beginning.” n Astrid Madsen Site size: 1.5 acres House size: 4,500 sqft

info The companies listed below provide products & services relating to this article. Stoves Clearview Stoves by County Down Stoves & Flues, Naghan Lodge, 200 Newcastle Road, Seaforde, Co Down, tel. 44811783,, showroom opening hours Monday to Saturday 10am-5pm. Kitchen: Clearview 750 High Canopy stove with baffle boiler (charcoal colour) Games room: Clearview Vision 500 Low Canopy stove (metallic black) Living room: Clearview Vision Flat Top stove (Welsh slate blue colour) Dining room: Clearview Vision Inset stove (metallic black) Master bedroom: Clearview 400P stove (charcoal colour) Guest bedroom: Clearview 400P stove (golden fire brown colour) Both other bedrooms (not photographed): Clearview Pioneer 400 stove (metallic black)

The rectory sits on 1.5 acres of land

Living room fireplace, kitchen worktops & hearths A. Robinson & Sons, Annalong, Co Down, tel. 43768213, Remote control attic stairs Stira, Dunmore, Co Galway, tel. 093 38055, Steel beams and structural steel calculations Walter Watson Ltd, Castlewellan, Co Down, tel. 43778711, Timber & joinery / Showers & some bathroom fittings JW McCall, Building materials John Rodgers, Dundrum Industrial Estate, Newcastle, Co Down, tel. 4372 4410 Glass & glazing units Glasseal (NI) Ltd., Ballynahinch, Co Down, tel. 9756 2932, Kitchen units, curtains et al. Ikea Belfast, Photographer Paul Lindsay at Christopher Hill Photographic, Belfast, tel. 9024 5038,

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building control

€ £ The changes to the Building Control regulations have led to confusion and some degree of controversy

Clear as mud? Confused by ROI’s opt-out option for self-builders? We’ve asked Building Control officers to answer your questions.


f you’re building a new house or adding an extension that’s above 40sqm in ROI, you will need to comply with the Building Control Regulations and its amendments (among other requirements!). The purpose of building control is to ensure the current, statutory building standards are abided by. There are two ways to do this: by ‘opting in’ or ‘opting out’. Whichever route you choose, it’s important to note that the ROI building control


system remains self-certified. This means that compliance with the building regulations is not routinely checked by the authorities. While your local authority may inspect the works and demand that documents be produced to prove that the building has been built to the required standards, and ensure that elements they have inspected are rectified to be brought up to standard, they are in no way in a position to vet or sign off on the build or indeed on any of its stages. There is no signing off by the authorities at SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

Do I have to file online? What does it involve?

If I’m opting out what documents do I need to file to comply with the Building Control Regulations?

In addition to the requirement to appoint people to various tasks, as per the statute, when filing your

In contrast to NI, Building control officers in ROI do not routinely check compliance with the building regulations

The first requirement is clear enough, you must have construction plans, sections and elevations of your building project. The second and third points require that you include additional documents to support your claim that you are constructing your home to the building regulations’ Technical Guidance Documents (TGD).

It is your responsibility to submit documentation that is valid. Building Control will not check the quality of the information you provide to award a commencement notice.... There are 13 TGDs, from A to M and they relate to every building element, from structural (Part A) requirements to ventilation (Part F), energy efficiency (Part L) and accessibility (Part M). Note that that for dwellings, fire safety certs are not required. „

Illustration: Marcus Patton

Yes, on the Building Control Management System (BCMS) as there is no paper alternative. In order to get a commencement notice issued by the authorities, you must register your project on the BCMS. Most of the questions within BCMS have drop down menus/boxes for things like whether you intend to build a garage, what the construction type is (timber frame, block, etc.), the number of stories, etc. You are then asked to ‘nominate roles’ so you must let them know who the designer and builder will be – you can nominate yourself to both of these roles. The designer you appoint doesn’t have to be registered, e.g. does not need to be an accredited architect or engineer. You must print and sign documentation to do so and upload them in pdf format. You must then print, sign and upload the commencement notice request, the notice of assignment (builder – this can be yourself), and your declaration of intent to opt out. Things get tricky on the last part when you are asked to submit your supporting documents. This is done just before you pay your €30 fee per building (a large detached garage is considered a building but, depending on its height, if it’s single storey and under 25sqm it’ll be exempt from the building regulations and building control regulations).

commencement notice you must supply: “[S]uch plans, calculations, specifications and particulars as are necessary to outline how the proposed works or building will comply with the requirements of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations relevant to the works or building concerned, and including: (I) general arrangement drawings including plans, sections and elevations, (II) a schedule of such plans, calculations, specifications and particulars as are currently designed or as are to be prepared at a later date, (III) the completion of an online assessment, via the Building Control Management System, of the proposed approach to compliance with the requirements of the Second Schedule to the Building Regulations […]”

building control

completion either. Compliance checks are instead done by individuals (the owner/self-builder or an assigned certifier). This is the big difference with the NI system, whereby Building Control departments come to inspect every construction project at various stages to make sure the work is being carried out correctly. They are partners in your project and may even help you find ways to comply with the regulations on particular sticking points. In ROI the opt-in option puts all of the inspection and paperwork requirements in the hands of the assigned certifier (and to a lesser extent on the assigned designer and builder). In this case a Certificate of Compliance on Completion must be signed by the owner and the Assigned Certifier. The opt-out option, meanwhile, puts you in the same position as you were before the building control regulations were amended in 2014 (SI9 which introduced assigned designers and certifiers) and 2015 (SI365 which introduced the opt-out option for self-builders). If you opt out of the certification scheme, in terms of the legislation the only difference with that pre-2014 situation is that you have to file documentation in an official database.


building control

Illustration: Marcus Patton

The construction drawings need to be so detailed that a builder should be able to construct the house without having to ask any questions/seek any clarification. A tall order but it’s what you should aim for. Critics of the self-certification regime argue the system needs more oversight

What are these additional documents? Is this a grey area I can overlook? In order to get a commencement notice issued to you, you must tick all of the boxes, that is, you must submit documentation for each of the fields listed on the BCMS, including the requirement to provide supporting evidence that you will be complying to the TGDs. It is your responsibility to submit documentation that is valid. Building Control will not check the quality of the information you provide to award a commencement notice, Building Control will simply check that the documents have been duly submitted.


In other words, it is not because a commencement notice has been issued that the documents attached to it are of sufficient quality to prove compliance to the building regulations. This is what a self-certified system means. Most people agree the legislation is unclear on what supporting documentation you should submit exactly. Speaking with Building Control officers, a good rule of thumb is for you to upload your DEAP calculations (see opposite page), and ensure all of your plans, sections and elevations are consistent with one another (make sure the versions match) and that they are detailed (make sure they’re construction drawings, not those you submitted to obtain planning permission – these are not comprehensive). The construction drawings need to be so detailed that a builder should be able to construct the house without having to ask any questions/ seek any clarification. A tall order but it’s what you should aim for. So while there is no need to submit detailed structural calculations, you should submit plans that explain how you intend to build the house including how to deal with the tricky junctions, e.g. what will the build-up be between the wall and roof ? Every building element much be accounted SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

building control

for so whether you submit extra information or put it all on the drawings, it’s up to you. For instance, the foundations’ specification is often marked on the construction drawings as ‘to be built to the engineer’s specification’. Every single engineer’s specification should therefore be submitted as additional documentation.

Do I need to pay for a professional to sign off on the documents I submit?

No, your plans and specifications don’t need to be signed off on in an opt out scenario. However, unless you are in the construction business yourself you will need the help of a qualified professional to put together your (very) detailed construction drawings, you may also need another to do your DEAP calculations to comply with Part L and do up your BER, and perhaps specialist companies to put together some of the trickier specifications, e.g. your foundations or flat roof detailing. It’s all about due diligence: make sure every building element is given clear guidelines on how it is to be constructed.

Why do I need such a high level of detail, shouldn’t my builder know what to do?

Some builders are still used to building to previous versions of the building regulations and some practices are no longer acceptable; the TGDs are regularly updated and not every builder keeps up to speed with the changes. Arguably the TGD with the greatest impact is the one relating to energy use; for instance before the amendment to Part L, 100mm cavity walls were standard but now we are building them twice as thick to allow for additional insulation. On a structural level this has the effect of requiring more wall ties than would have been the case before. Small details like this are crucial to get right.

What is the point of gathering these mounds of paperwork?

In a sense it forces you to plan your project well in advance; the key to a successful build, after all, is to have everything detailed to the greatest extent possible before you get on site. This is just a means of documenting all the hard work you put in! And then, if things were to go wrong the documents will provide you with the information you need to see who is responsible. If a wall falls down and, upon investigation, it’s clear the specification was wrong or information on the drawings was missing, whose fault was it? A judge will look at what documents were filed to determine liability. If you didn’t file any documents relating to the wall structure it’s hard to point the finger at anyone but yourself. On the other hand if you did get specifications drawn up by an engineer or a company specialised in this type of work, that could be a different matter. Of course litigation lawyers will tell you

The DEAP end

When it comes to energy use, the building regulations have come a long way. In order to prove compliance to Technical Guidance Document Part L, you must get your Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure (DEAP) calculations done. Remember to get this done BEFORE you start building in order to specify the correct amount of insulation, the right heating/hot water balance, and your level of airtightness. It will be expensive to retrofit the building to comply to Part L after the fact so this really has to be done from the get-go. Also crucial to bear in mind is that before you move into your new house you must submit your Building Energy Rating (BER – it’s automatically generated on the basis of the DEAP calculations) to the authorities. The BER can only be done by an SEAI (Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland) vetted professional; see

...the key to a successful build, after all, is to have everything detailed to the greatest extent possible before you get on site. This is just a means of documenting all the hard work you put in! that it is very difficult to be able to clearly assign blame in construction cases, even when there are specifications attached, which can make it very expensive and oftentimes impossible for homeowners to find a recourse were things to go wrong. n

This article is for information purposes only; always seek professional advice when dealing with technical, legal and regulatory issues.

Astrid Madsen


building control

Getting a loan? Remember that even if you opt out of the Certification Scheme, your mortgage provider will in all likelihood require that you have various milestones signed off on by a design professional to release the stage payments. Here’s a roundup of the main banks’ policies in relation to self-build mortgages. Basic conditions

Registered architects (on the RIAI statutory register), chartered engineers (on Engineers Ireland or ACEI statutory registers) and chartered building surveyors (on the SCSI statutory register) automatically qualify as Assigned Certifiers (AC). Chartered Architectural Technologists are working towards getting on the statutory list but many are also building surveyors and therefore qualify as AC. The banks arguably do not require an AC but a suitably qualified building design professional (referred to as ‘professional’ in the table below), with Professional Indemnity insurance, to carry out the supervisory functions they require. However Bank of Ireland requires that ACs act as supervisors on the self-build projects they fund, and Permanent TSB does not accept certification from architectural technologists in a self-build scenario. Banks may use this term (AC) to refer to such design professionals but this does not mean that the banks require that you ‘opt in’ to get a mortgage. All banks listed below accept ‘opt out’ applications on the terms listed, including Bank of Ireland. The banks also require that the property be valued before and after completion of works and that full planning permission as well as insurance be in place.

Note that the bank must be made aware of all onerous clauses, e.g. agricultural clauses, rights of way, etc.

The affordability factor

The Construction Industry Federation put together a table to highlight the affordability issue associated to the Central Bank rules: House price/Self-build project cost






Deposit required by Central Bank rules






Min annual income required to get loan






Max loan amount






Indicative monthly loan repayment on the above*






Source: Adapted from the CIF, September 2016/*BOI Mortgage Calculator Mortgage over 30 years


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

You can opt in or out of the building control amendment at your own discretion but additional requirements apply for each of these loan providers as listed in the table below. Note that the Central Bank mortgage rules apply to self-build mortgages (maximum LTV 90% for first time buyers on house worth up to €220,000, 80% on the balance and for all other buyers; loan to income level max. 3.5 times full time salary).

What about insurance and property value?

Your construction project will require insurance, there

is no way around this. There’s a legal obligation attached and a moral one too. Your lending institution will also ask to see proof that you have adequate cover. But does choosing to ‘opt out’ of the assigned designer/certifier requirement make you more susceptible to be turned down for an insurance quote, or more prone to be charged a higher rate? It’s difficult to get a sense whether this will happen or not. The opt in vs opt out debate has also raised the question of whether properties would be valued differently; while it’s still early days we did get a reply from AIB about this question in September: “We have not experienced any difference to date or any issues highlighted on the valuations.” The other banks surveyed did not comment. n

Source: Details gathered August/ September 2016 by SelfBuild & Improve Your Home from the financial institutions. LTV: loan to value ratio, in other words how much you’re borrowing divided by how much the house is worth in today’s market

Costing details drawn up by…

Supervisory conditions

Stage payments issued

Other details


Full costings from professional required.

Whomever certifies the costings confirms that all regulations will be adhered to one way or the other and payments are released on foot of a certificate signed by that individual.

No maximum number of stage payments but bank aims to ensure that the minimum stage payment is no less than €20,000 in normal circumstances.  

LTV 90% for First Time Buyers and 80% for Non FTB subject to Central Bank Macro Prudential Guidelines. The Bank requires the final valuation prior to issuing the final 10% of the funds (retention).

Bank of Ireland

A report in a format AC to supervise the provided by the Bank project. must be completed by an AC outlining, among other details, builder’s fixed price or detailed costings if direct labour. 

A ‘Property Report certificate’ from the AC is required at each stage. There are usually four stage payments.

Certificate of Compliance completed by the AC and the builder at the end of the project. LTV up to 90% on site and build costs. 10% retention applies pending receipt of final documentation.

Ulster Bank

Fixed price drawn up by builder or detailed costs (five building stages + professional fees + contingency) drawn up by a professional.

Construction of the property must be either registered with Homebond (HB47 Scheme) or supervised by a professional.

‘Architects Certificates’ on the Bank’s standard ‘Stage Payment Certificate’ is required at each stage (maximum of 5 build stages + 1 stage allowed for retention).

A minimum retention of €10,000 is withheld pending a final satisfactory valuation and Certificate of Compliance with planning and building regulations. Funding for site purchase available.

Permanent TSB

If choose to opt out, same requirements as pre BCAR with detailed costings by a professional or, provided the works are being supervised by an indemnified professional, by a builder.

Inspection and certification by a professional at the Commencement Notice stage and at specified stages of completion. Also required to complete the Certificate of Compliance with building regulations on completion.  

Maximum of six stages, money relating to each is released upon receipt of certificate signed by professional.

LTV 100% build costs or 75% value when completed, whichever is lowest. No funding for site purchase alone, must be part of a selfbuild project. Minimum 10% retention.

building control



notice board

Seeing is believing Energywise Ireland has just opened a new 65 sqm showroom in Cork. Its best sellers, the air-to-water split integrated heat pump by Daikin and the SolarEdge photovoltaic panels are on show alongside heat recovery ventilation models (with Energywise’s very own Wiseair semi-rigid ducting manifold distribution system), LED lighting, underfloor heating (with associated five layer aluminium barrier pipes and stainless steel manifold) as well as a wet/dry central vacuum system that empties the dirt in the soil pipe, among many others. This top of the range offering is

complemented by Energywise’s team of in-house building services engineers and project managers who will design and specify your system with full plans and drawings. Be energy wise and contact the team in Cork tel. 021 4308185 or Kerry tel. 066 401 7028 Energywise Ireland Unit 6 North Point Business Park, Blackpool, Cork or Unit 2 Ardoughter, Ballyduff, Co Kerry


Across the pond Irish exports are going strong, especially for quality products such as Irish handmade kitchens. Case in point is Hannaway Hilltown Ltd, which manufactures and designs the bespoke range of Brookwood kitchens. After 45 years serving the island of Ireland, the company has expanded its operations to mainland UK with eight showrooms and a further 20 planned by the end of the year. Brookwood kitchens feature 32mmthick doors, with optional 18mm-thick birch plywood carcass, solid wood dovetailed drawers and an array of other distinctive features, such as in-framed doors that can be crafted to any size, shape or curve. For your own Irish designed and hand crafted

kitchen contact Hannaway Hilltown Ltd, 44 Main Street, Hilltown, Co Down,,, tel. 4063 0737

No degree of separation Stoves and gas fires are much more energy efficient than open fires but the glass does put a visual barrier between you and the flame. This may now be a thing of the past thanks to Gazco who has just introduced nonreflective glass to enhance the visuals of some of its existing gas models. For gas fires two new installation kits will make the technical side of things easier too; the Zero Clearance Kit allows you to insert your unit into an opening or enclosure made of combustible materials while the Riva2 500 Balanced Flue Renovation Kit


Be proud of what you build is a tagline many Irish self-builders will be familiar with. Not only because it was used by the Co Kildare based fibre cement slate manufacturer Tegral, but also because self-builders have a propensity to build with the best materials available to the best standards known. Investing in the building fabric does pay real dividends and Tegral too has been focusing on what really matters, with innovation at the core of its business.

Cleverly hidden within the new logo are 10deg and 70deg angles (min and max possible roof pitches), as well as + 90deg angles to reflect the other brand offerings. The Reflex 75T model

Going strong for 80 years, the company has chosen this milestone to introduce a new corporate identity, highlighting how it’s evolved beyond its roof slate heritage with a comprehensive range of metal roofing, cladding and flooring systems now also on offer. As for the new tagline Building for generations it thoroughly cements Tegral’s dedication to high standards.

allows you to fit a balanced flue system within your existing chimney with easy-toinstall mounting plates and flue terminal. Find out more from

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

For more about Tegral’s product offering visit Tegral Building Products Ltd, Kilkenny Road, Athy, Co Kildare, tel. 059 863 1316, SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

If you’re based in NI you’ll be interested to know that Silverbirch Contracts, the groundworks and plant hire company, now carries the Tricel septic tank range (Novo, Vento and Vitae models). Full installation is possible in North Down, the Newtownards Peninsula and Greater Belfast areas; a repair and maintenance service is also available. To arrange a free site survey call 07863 343 459. Silverbirch Contracts, 123 Main Street, Carrowdore, BT22 2HW,,

Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd. Heatpump and Underfloor Heating Systems

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

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.

Whether building or renovating in ROI, chances are you’ve come across CIRI, the Construction Industry Register Ireland, a database of vetted builders. However you may have found that at the moment mostly large companies are listed. To help fill this gap, the Construction Worker Skills Register was set up by QualiBuild to list all tradesmen who have completed one of their energy skills courses. Find out more on

J & S Staircases We design and manufacture some of the finest staircases you will ever see. Each staircase is individually created and handcrafted to your specific requirements and taste. Using only highest quality imported timber, our craftsmen turn your ideas into a staircase which you will be proud to have admired as the centre piece of your home. We also produce exquisite bespoke dining tables individually designed to complement your kitchen, dining room or hallway.

71 Bridge Rd, Dunloy, Antrim BT44 9EH T. 028 276 57091 /

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Silverbirch Contracts have been established since 1999. We are a family run business who pride ourselves on our ability to complete projects with safety, cost and environmental impact at our fore front. We carry out a range of services from demolition, site clearance, foundations, ground works, utilities and infill reinstatement. We have machines with a range of attachments suitable for any project. We work with other contractors or direct with the individual client. We are insured, licenced and experienced.

notice board / product selectors

Adding a string to their bow ROI register launched

123 Main Street Carrowdore BT22 2HW T. 07863 343459 /

Advertising with SelfBuild & Improve Your Home Courtbrack Blarney, Co. Cork Tel: 021 4385872 - Web:

- Concrete Septic Tanks - EN12566-1 Certified - Kiely BioKast Wastewater & Sewage Treatment System - EN12566-3 Certified This system was used in the main ROI case-study in this issue of the magazine - Rainwater Harvesting Tanks & Interceptor Tanks - Precast Insulated Walls - Effluent & Water Storgae Tanks - Up to 4000g - Cattle & Pig Slats - EN 12737:2004 certified

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between the covers

Self-builder extraordinaire Of Irish descent, John Lautner (1911-1994) was a mid-century modern architect who put self-builds at the heart of his practice. When he opened his office in 1940 he oversaw his own house building project and went on to assist his first clients in undertaking the same direct labour approach. “Architecture is for people and that is forgotten. Most of it is for rent, for sale, for lease but not for people,” Lautner said in 1991. This introductory book by Taschen sketches out John Lautner’s life as an architect with 20 examples of his work. Part of the Basic Art Series, it’s intended to give you a glimpse of his achievements, and, as a reader interested in open plan, bringing-theoutside-in, self-built homes, you will no doubt find yourself intrigued to find out more – and possibly turn to the internet to satiate your appetite. The author, Barbara-Ann CampbellLange tells us about Lautner growing up in Michigan surrounded by the “infinite variety of nature” and how this setting influenced him to incorporate nature’s “basic life-giving qualities” into buildings. His mother, a painter, designed their family cabin which John, at the ripe old age of 12, alongside his father built on a rocky peninsula. It’s tempting to use this early life experience as a guide for his later years; many of the homes Lautner designed brought forward clever solutions to tricky site conditions, and, when studying and then working for six years under Frank Llyod Wright he made it a point to be involved in the build process. Lautner moved on from Wright’s designs and created his own template, adopting an instinctive and experimental approach,

seeped in how the building is to be used and lived in. Freedom, growth and a lack of confinement are common themes. In his own words: “It’s thinking right from scratch and having a major idea, from inside. I’ve never designed a façade in my life.” Disappearing space, for Lautner, is the “most durable and endurable and life-giving quality in architecture.” Open plan, wall-less, highly glazed designs were his mainstay; and in keeping with his visionary approach he was also an avid adopter of 3D design. He’d visualise the project first and then make models to communicate the spatial dimensions (he found renderings misleading). Design and construction plans, meanwhile, only served a practical purpose. “Unlike much media-driven architecture, for him the drawing held no cosmetic

importance,” wrote Campbell-Lange. It’s quite surprising that Lautner is not as famous as he deserves to be – two of the coffee shops shown in the book were bulldozed – but perhaps that is due to the fact that he mostly designed houses, and these are very rarely accessible to the public. Thankfully his work has been getting recognition in more recent times with their addition to historical monument registers, and books like these should help bring him a little bit closer to the general public. Astrid Madsen Lautner or Space age architecture: Going back to the future with the visionary West Coast architect, by Barbara-Ann Campbell-Rice, edited by Peter Gössel, Taschen, ISBN 9783836544115, colour and B&W, €9.99, hardback, 21 x 26 cm, 96 pages.


SelfBuild & Improve Your Home

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Come and see us on STAND P6 at the Cork SelfBuild Show

Profile for Selfbuild Ireland Ltd.

Selfbuild Winter 2016  

An All-Ireland Magazine for Self-Builders & Home Improvers

Selfbuild Winter 2016  

An All-Ireland Magazine for Self-Builders & Home Improvers