EXTENSIONS RENOVATIONS NEW HOMES INTERIORS GARDENS
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ALL IRELAND BEST SELLING MAGAZINE FOR SELF-BUILDERS AND HOME IMPROVERS
EDITOR'S LETTER / WELCOME
Welcome... 2019 will no doubt be another year with climate change grabbing the headlines – Met Éireann’s first forecast of the year set the tone by saying “human induced activities” influenced the weather in 2018. The Environmental Protection Agency also recently warned solid fuel burning and transport emissions continue to seriously pollute the air. Self-builders can play their part in many ways. One is by building low energy homes, even ones that can power their electric vehicles. The new building regulations in ROI due to be introduced early in 2019 will make sure all new homes are built so that they require very little energy to run. It’s a development that’s to be welcomed and that will hopefully help drive the price down of renewable technologies. And because the cost of building is at the heart of all self-builds, we’re starting a budget series to help you cost your project. Turn to page 98 to start at the beginning with the foundations. With Selfbuild. Dream it. Do it. Live it.
Beams with toast
Charred timber can provide a contemporary finish to your self-build
Your trend and style guide to shopping for kitchens
New series helping you cost your selfbuild
Astrid Madsen - Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
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48 06 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
W H AT ’ S I N S I D E / C O N T E N T S
Learn from the Irish self-builders who have been through the process of building and home improving
71 SELFBUILD LIVE CORK
In case you couldn’t make it to the event, we bring you the highlights from Selfbuild Live Cork.
24 LIVING THE DREAM
102 WHY ARE BUILDERS’ QUOTES SO SHOCKING?
Nicola and Dom Thorpe’s journey to build a contemporary home nestled in the Co Down countryside.
36 KITCHEN CENTRAL
How Kate and Lorcán Horgan designed their self-build in Co Monaghan around the kitchen.
48 MID-CENTURY MAGIC Cora Marshall and Philip Clarke transformed their two-up two-down house in Co Dublin by moving the staircase.
62 RIGHT FROM THE START
A box extension with a high specification is all it took to transform Gayle and Graeme Doyle’s home in Co Down.
For Sean and Eloise Duffy building their family home in Co Cavan meant combining architecture with the practicalities of dealing with muck from the countryside.
108 ONLY CHARRED, NOT SCARRED The DIY approach to charring timber shingles in Co Antrim.
112 CUTTING EDGE How Katharine and Matt Dooley extended their house in Co Wicklow with a structural system made of EPS, glass fibre and cement.
112 BASICS Basic information about building or improving your home in any of the 32 counties
80 BLOCK WORKS
Our guide to building with masonry, from bricks and stone to cavity walls.
86 BOARD VERSUS BEAD
The two most common methods to insulate cavity walls go head-to-head: board insulation and bonded EPS beads.
98 HOW MUCH WILL YOUR FOUNDATIONS COST?
First article in a series designed to help you budget for the specific elements of your self-build.
116 SAVAGE SALVAGE How to upcycle everything from chairs to fireplaces.
118 KITCHENISTA How kitchen design has evolved over the years and what styles to choose from today.
128 OVER THE RAINBOW An examination of what possesses people to go through the stress of a self-build.
Eight reasons why those tenders gave you a fright.
104 BEAMS WITH TOAST
Charred timber cladding has a wonderful look and provides great protection from the elements; we find out what’s involved.
110 MISSED OPPORTUNITY
The proposed changes to the ROI wastewater Code of Practice do not include willow beds as a zero discharge system – this would have made it possible to self-build anywhere regardless of soil conditions.
122 THE JOY OF SPRING FORAGING Once you’ve read our guide to harvesting your dinner, you’ll be donning your boots and woolly hat.
126 ASK THE EXPERT You have questions, we have answers. This issue: extensions that don’t require planning permission, insurance and radon membranes.
130 SCRAPBOOK An update on the latest developments in 3D design and architecture for self-builders.
INSIDE TRACK A showcase of Irish products and services from our sponsors
21 INSIDER NEWS
SELFBUILD: THE ALL-IRELAND
All articles equally cover the 32 counties; when we refer to the Republic of Ireland the abbreviation is ROI. For Northern Ireland it’s NI.
Latest products and services for self-builders.
89 BATHROOM TRENDS FOR 2019
The top 5 trends that will excite your design sense and relax your body and mind.
SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 07
CONTRIBUTORS / TEAM
EXTENSIONS RENOVATIONS NEW HOMES INTERIORS GARDENS
SPRING 2019 £3.50 / €3.75
Aileen is a leading authority and blogger in the world of upcycling in Ireland. She set up shabby.ie, an online one-stop shop for all upcycling supplies, and online training programmes. email@example.com
Keith is a quantity surveyor with over 20 years’ experience and is the founder of Kelliher & Associates Quantity Surveyors. quantitysurveyor.ie
Paul is managing director of SelfbuildZone, a leading site insurance and 10 year structural defects providers in NI and ROI. selfbuildzone.com
Dr Marion McGarry is an author, historian, part-time Galway Mayo Insititute of Technology lecturer and freelance illustrator. She is the author of The Irish Cottage published by Orpen Press. @marion_mcgarry
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ALL IRELAND BEST SELLING MAGAZINE FOR SELF-BUILDERS AND HOME IMPROVERS
Cover Photo Paul Lindsay Editor Astrid Madsen firstname.lastname@example.org Design Myles McCann email@example.com Shannon Quinn firstname.lastname@example.org Marketing Calum Lennon email@example.com
Fiann Ó Nualláin
Jeff O Toole
Steve is operations manager at Munster Radon, a company trained and certified for installing radon barriers. munsterradon.ie / tel. 061 574022
Award winning garden designer, author and broadcaster, Fiann has a background in fine art, ethnobotany and complementary medicine. theholisticgardener.com / @HolisticG
Jeff O Toole, BSc, MSc. ACIOB founded Waterford-based JOT Energy Consultants in 2010. JOTenergy.ie / tel. 051 874675
Marcus is torn between being an illustrator, an architect, an historian and a musician.
Subscriptions Becca.Wilgar firstname.lastname@example.org Business Development Manager Niamh Boyle email@example.com Advertising Sales David Corry firstname.lastname@example.org Nicola Delacour-Dunne email@example.com Lisa Killen firstname.lastname@example.org Maria Varela email@example.com
Andrew is a project manager with over 30 years’ experience. He is also a writer and the author of Managing Your Build published by Stobart Davies.
Mark Stephens, MRIAI is an architect and certified passive house designer based in Co Mayo. markstephensarchitects.com / tel. 094 92 52514
Sasha set up Toasted Wood to bring the art of Shou Sugi Ban, or charred timber, to Ireland. She’s based in Co Armagh. firstname.lastname@example.org / Insta @toastedwood_ / facebook toastedwoodni
Come meet more experts at our Selfbuild Live event in Belfast in February - turn to page 84 for more details and FREE tickets NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0 ROI calling NI prefix with 048
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H I G H L I G H T S / W H AT ' S N E W
THE YEAR IN 2019 Starting in ROI there are two major developments. On the one hand we’re expecting new building regulations: the energy and ventilation requirements are tightening up. Part L was meant to be published in December and hasn’t so the timelines for implementation will be delayed. Secondly we can expect changes to the now infamous ‘locals only’ rule. This is a planning restriction that consists of proving you have a connection to the land in order to be allowed to build on it. We’ve been talking about this for the past couple of years and we do feel like we’re beating a dead cat here but, apparently, the new Guidelines will be issued to the Local Authorities in the first half of 2019.
Cavity wall insulation on page 86
OPINION: Still no Building Control
Brexit shmexit Stoic self-builders and home renovators are defying Brexit uncertainty, according to a survey of 2,400 self-builders by the UK’s Homebuilding & Renovating Shows. 86 per cent of those surveyed said they were continuing with their project and 78 per cent said that there would be no change in their level of project spend. Additionally, there was no indication that homeowners had changed their minds on product choice or scale of project.
Instead of spending money on hiring local authority inspectors, the ROI government is spending millions on repairing homes that weren’t built to standard. First pyrite and now mica – Minister Damien English met with the Mica Action Group at the end of 2018 to thrash out how the government will pay for the repairs. The NI model is much more attractive, whereby inspectors from the local
authorities come out to check the building works as they
progress. But even in that jurisdiction there’s no solid method of regulating builders. This is why the Federation of Master Builders thinks that NI needs to be tougher on cowboy builders. In ROI it seems we may get a statutory register of builders (CIRI) but it will be regulated by the construction industry’s lobbying body, which has been described as akin to putting foxes in charge of the hen house.
Renovators snub engineers A survey by the Institution of Structural Engineers released in October shows that half of those who upgraded the structure of their home for an open plan renovation did not consult an engineer. Only 37 per cent of respondents believed that a structural engineer would be needed when creating an open plan kitchen diner; 18 per cent of those who had created an open plan kitchen diner in the past five years were uncertain if a structural engineer had been
involved. That said 78 per cent believed a structural engineer would be needed to create an extension but 26 per cent who said they had created an extension in the past five years had done so without consulting a structural engineer; 24 per cent of those who had created an extension in the past five years were uncertain if a structural engineer had been involved. istructe.org/building-confidence SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 09
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Septic tank grants to be extended in 2019 Homeowners who need to upgrade their septic tank will no longer be means tested in areas with ‘high status water bodies’, delegates at the Irish Onsite Wastewater Association conference heard in December. THE CATCHMENTS.IE MAP SHOWS the areas where the grant will be extended in red, indicating priority areas for the local authorities’ water cleanup initiatives. Ruth Hennessy of the Local Authority Waters Programme told delegates the full details had yet to be finalised by the Department of Housing, Planning and Local Government but are expect to be rolled out early 2019. “The Department are yet to finalise the revisions to the septic tank grant scheme so we cannot be certain that they will be extended to everyone in high risk areas. Based on recent discussions this is likely but still uncertain,” Hennessy said. She added the grant would apply to all homeowners, regardless of income level, that
are in a high risk area. You will no longer have to fail an inspection to be elgible for the grant in these specific areas. The current grant system is means tested and does not apply to regular system maintenance such as desludging. The current grant levels cover 50 per cent (income level of €50-70k) to 80 per cent (income level of up to €50k) of the cost of repairing, upgrading or replacing a septic tank that failed a local authority inspection. The maximum grant currently availble is €4,000. Hennessy told Selfbuild it was likely that the grant in these high risk areas would be at the €4,000 mark regardless of income level. The grant will continue to be for works to upgrade or replace the failing septic tank that is leading to water pollution and exclude
desludging. Local authorities inspect septic tanks and every year roughly half of all septic tanks inspected fail. The latest figures
presented by the Environmental Protection Agency at the conference confirmed this trend. Since 2013 work has been ongoing to evaluate the water quality of Irish rivers, with 1,400 out of roughly 5,000 deemed at risk. Of these 800 sections have been prioritised for cleanup in 190 priority areas. The recently established Local Authorities Water Programme is in charge of further investigations and community engagement to reduce water pollution levels in priority areas. In addition to agriculture, poorly functioning septic tanks have been found to be a main pressure on water quality. In 40 areas they were considered to be the only cause of water pollution.
ROI flat water fees to be introduced in April SELF-BUILDERS WILL BE CHARGED €2,272 for a new water connection and €3,929 for a new wastewater connection as of the 1st of April 2019, according to the Commission for Regulation of Utilities’ decision on Irish Water’s connection charging policy published in December. The CRU’s proposed decision is in line with Irish Water’s original proposal published earlier in 2018, which earmarked a total flat connection fee of €5,636. The total now is €6,201.
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Currently each local authority evaluates how much to charge self-builders for water and wastewater connections on a case by case basis. The new flat connection fees will be cheaper in nine out of 10 cases, according to Irish Water. The flat connection fee will cover the cost of connecting the nearest network point to the property boundary. The cost of bringing water and/or wastewater services from the property boundary to the
house will be the responsibility of the self-builder. The flat charges are primarily based on pipe size: in the case of water the standard size is 25mm, for wastewater 100mm. Connection requests outside standard parameters may incur an additional fee. However homeowners will not be charged for any additional treatment infrastructure necessary to accommodate the connection. If you have paid for your connection and have been issued
a connection offer but have not yet paid, you can apply again to Irish Water under the new flat rate fee regime. But a connection offer under the new policy will only be issued once the new rates come into force in April. Connection offers from Irish Water are based on the terms and conditions applicable at the time of applying, and these remain valid until the connection offer’s expiry date.
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Glimmer of hope
ROI homeowners are one small step closer to being able to sell electricity they generate from the likes of solar photovoltaic panels back to the grid, thanks to a private member’s bill put forward by TD Brian Stanley passing the second stage in the Dáil in November.
Light bulb moment
CURRENTLY IT’S VERY DIFFICULT TO GET CONNECTED to the electricity grid to export to it, and there are no mechanisms in place for you to get paid for the electricity you feed into it. But before the Microgeneration Support Scheme Bill 2017 can be enacted, and turned into law, it must go through three further stages. There is no guarantee the bill will progress into law. Earlier this year then Minister for Energy Denis Naughten had ruled out feed-in tariffs for homeowners. Current Minister for Energy Richard Bruton said that installing a microgeneration device such as PV panels can pay for itself in approximately eight years. He said the existing grant scheme for homeowners to install photovoltaic (PV) panels was proving very successful and that it was expecting to enrol 5,000 applicants a year up to 2020. Minister Bruton added the grant scheme will be under review early in 2019 to examine
Almost three months after the EU ban of the sale of halogen lightbulbs across Europe only 35 per cent in the UK were aware of it, according to a survey of 2,000 UK residents commissioned by lighting provider LEDVANCE. A third wished the ban hadn’t happened and about the same amount said the vast majority of the bulbs in their home were still halogen. The ban has phased out production but halogen bulbs on store shelves can continue to be sold.
the possibility of expanding it to other technologies or to other groups of people. He added carbon taxes will be another way to help with the government’s commitment to fight climate change. He also spoke about the success of the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s community schemes. Minister Bruton’s ‘misgivings’ are in relation to the cost of administering a feed-in tariff system, and whether it’s feasible
to ask suppliers with 10 per cent or more market share to have microgeneration account for 5 per cent of their supply. NI used to have a grant system for exporting renewable electricity to the grid in the form of certificates but this NIROC scheme was scrapped in its entirety in April 2017. However you can still apply for feed-in tariffs to get paid for each kWh of electricity you export to the grid.
Smart home devices and appliances are fast becoming part of our lives but according to a survey in the UK by showerstoyou.co.uk, many are still reluctant to buy into it. 39 per cent of homeowners said what stopped them was that they believed it would make them vulnerable to hacking. A similar amount said they considered the technology to be over-priced while 27 per cent said they feared getting locked out of devices as well as having more passwords/security to remember.
Price hikes in NI NEARLY TWO-THIRDS OF BUILDERS have had to pass skip price increases on to clients and a fifth have had to pass on diesel price rises, making home improvement projects more expensive for homeowners, the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) revealed in November. Three quarters of builders surveyed by the FMB said the price of skips has risen over the past 12 months; the average cost of an eight yard skip has gone up by £24 over the past year translating into an additional cost of £360 for the average extension using 15 skips. Nearly two-thirds of builders said they had passed skip price increases onto clients and three quarters said that skip price rises have
squeezed their margins. Almost 90 percent of builders believe that material prices will rise in the next six months More than one in ten builders said diesel price hikes have led them to turn down jobs they would have normally accepted as they are too far away. 17 per cent have raised the prices they charge clients to absorb the additional cost while 10 per cent have taken steps to reduce vehicle use. Meanwhile, more than half of the builders surveyed by the FMB said they had their tools stolen. To prevent van thefts the FMB advises bringing tools indoors at night.
Apprenticeships Apprenticeships also took a hit in 2018 raising concerns about the availability of tradesmen in the future. The drop in NI follows the government’s introduction of the apprenticeship levy – the percentage fell from 90 per cent of firms taking on apprentices in 2017 to 70.5 per cent in 2018. 72 per cent of those firms that offer such programmes have experienced difficulty in recruiting apprentices or expect to do so in the next three years. That’s according to research into employer demand for graduates in NI by the Pearson Business School released in December. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 13
O N L I N E / W H AT ' S N E W
Online reads Building costs Architect Isabel Barros has compiled self-build costs sources for ROI, including the Selfbuild cost calculator. isabelbarrosarchitects.ie
Inspiration isn’t just about magazine cut outs and the occasional drive-by, it can be captured in paintings and artwork too. 65 per cent of exposure to outdoor air pollution is actually breathed indoors, the Better Homes 2018 conference heard from Catriona Brady of the World Green Building Council. She also highlighted the issue of Short Lived Climate Pollutants which are tiny particles released into the air by the burning of fossil fuels for heating, cooking and driving. These are responsible for 45 per cent of global warming. igbc.ie
Instagratification The Selfbuild Instagram account has partnered up with self-builders who are in the process of building their home. Check out what tips and advice @building_ eden_house and @seanuahouse had to give on our account @selfbuildireland. From working with the planners to the challenges of doing most of the building work yourself, there’s plenty to learn from others who are going through the process now.
Image courtesy of Stephen Nolan, Co Wexford, stephen-nolan.com
selfbuild.ie wins Magazines Ireland award Selfbuild was over the moon to pick up the award ‘Digital Product of the Year: Consumer Media’ at the Magazines Ireland Awards – we bagged it for our website selfbuild.ie which showcases the latest news, project profiles as well as basic advice and information for anyone who’s building or renovating in any of the 32 counties. Pictured right at the ceremony are Niamh Boyle, Business Development Manager and Calum Lennon, Digital Marketing.
Photography by Paul Sherwood
Digital Product of the Year
Selfbuild Live Belfast Bag your free tickets to Selfbuild Live Belfast, the must attend event for anyone building or improving their home. It’s on this February at the Titanic Exhibition Centre. Get them on facebook.com/selfbuild
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N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W
Conservationist blames In brief Mushroom salesmen for botched insulation renovations
PRE-1945 HOMES UNDERGOING RENOVATION are the most at risk of mould and damp because of an inadequate use of materials, a leading conservation expert told a gathering of building
professionals in Dublin in October. Little to no understanding of how building materials perform and a lack of government support have conspired to damage rural Irish homes, argued Peter Cox,
managing director at Carrig Conservation, at the National Retrofit Conference organised by CMG Events. The main issue, Mr Cox said, is that people who own older buildings, defined as built before 1945, don’t know how to go about insulating them. “You need to use breathable materials such as wood fibre insulation or lime and hemp, but what’s commonly available on the market are modern products that, when used in historic buildings, can trap moisture which in turns leads to issues with indoor air quality,” he said. “Most people don’t usually know how to renovate old properties for an energy upgrade. And they’re misguided by salesmen, that’s what is causing a lot of the trouble.”
Most people try to keep mould out of their house but in the near future you could be harnessing the fireproofing qualities of the humble mushroom to insulate your house, thanks to research by Ehab Sayed, founder of Biohm.
Get shorty Co-living and micro-homes top the charts for a solution to the housing crisis in urban areas, according to research by the Federation of Master Builders. Building on the greenbelt, meanwhile, was listed as the least favoured solution. The FMB asked 2,000 homeowners across the UK if there is a housing shortage (two thirds agreed) and if so, how best to address it with just 17 per cent agreeing that building in the open countryside was a solution.
‘Scratch test’ your pipes THE MAJORITY OF NI HOMEOWNERS (68 per cent) don’t know if they have potentially harmful lead pipes in their home; that’s according to a WaterSafe survey of 2,000 homeowners. Older properties are the most at risk because lead has been banned since 1970. Water used for drinking and cooking which has been supplied through lead pipes can lead to a build-up of the metal in the body. This can be bad for health – especially for babies and children, whose development can be affected. To do the ‘scratch test’ WaterSafe says you should find the water pipe where it enters your home. This will usually be in a kitchen cupboard or under the
stairs. Then scrape the surface gently with a coin. If the pipes are painted just scrape the paint off too. Lead pipes are normally dull grey and soft; quite distinct from copper or plastic. The scratch test should reveal a shiny silvercoloured metal if it’s lead. The survey also showed 53 per cent of homeowners were unaware of their responsibility to replace lead pipes in their home, should they choose to replace them with copper or plastic ones approved for tap water. Watersafe is a free online search facility funded by the water industry to help consumers find competent and qualified plumbers in England, Scotland, Wales, and NI. A short film showing how to take the ‘scratch test’ and how
to reduce lead levels in water is available on watersafe.org.uk/lead SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 17
N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W
Dublin house bags World Architecture Award The 11th edition of the World Architecture Festival (WAF) crowned a Dublin project as Best House - Completed Buildings late last year. WAF’s architectural awards in Amsterdam announced winners in over 35 categories. THE ARCHITECT DAVID LEECH DESCRIBES the project as “a contemporary translation of the ordinary suburban house”. It’s located in a garden at the end of a short terrace of a 1940s suburban estate on the edge of Dublin city. The site is bounded to the south by an existing hedge of hazel and privet, to the northwest by the blank wall of the original terrace and to the northeast by a high wall backing onto a public laneway. Previous planning applications had been refused for a house larger than a one-bed due to the need for a minimum garden area. “We like gardening and David suggested that instead of the garden being the constraint that this should instead be the source of the project, and the scheme developed from this idea of the house and a garden, not separate entities but one,” explains homeowner Avril Bates. “The existing hedge and tall boundary walls meant that at ground level we could essentially build a glass house, with immediate direct connection to the outside but private from the estate and above this the upstairs reverts back closer to the more traditional pitched form of the original estate albeit more contemporary in the detailing and materials.” Photography: David Grandorge and David Leech Architects
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I N S I D E R N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W
The future is bright
Professional rugby player Joey Carbery is Tegral’s new brand ambassador
Roofing slate supplier Tegral has just completed its €18 million factory upgrade in Athy, Co Kildare, to further improve its technology and production processes. According to Claire Kelly, Tegral marketing manager, their slates are made stronger and more resilient than the European standard dictates. This is to deal with harsher winters, more storms and higher temperatures in summer months as well as Ireland’s geographical position as a windbreak from the Atlantic. “Our BES 6001 Excellent rating is
really positive as we are leading the way worldwide in adopting this standard for fibre cement slate manufacturing,” she said. “It relates to responsible sourcing of materials and is one of our key performance measures when it comes to reducing the carbon footprint of a build.” The company has also just welcomed Joey Carbery, professional rugby player and native of Athy, as their brand ambassador spearheading their Slate of the Nation campaign. tegral.com
Fully covered Natural stone cladding, which consists of sliced stone, is a hassle free way to introduce natural stone to your home. A new product line from Fernhill Stone shows just how good natural cladding products can be: Fernhill Donegal Slate which comes in an especially thin profile, between 10mm and 20mm thick. There are many different ways the Fernhill Donegal Slate cladding can be laid: you can achieve a dry or wet look, and pre mitred corners are even available to help with installation.
For a free quotation contact Fernhill Stone, Glaslough, Co Monaghan, tel. 047 88015, fernhillstone.com
Building materials provider Imerys, especially well known in Ireland for its range of quality clay roof tile products, was sold to private equity firm Lone Star Funds and has changed its name to Edilians. The new name combines ‘edification’, or improvement, with ‘alliance’. This highlights the company’s move away from selling products and focusing instead on turnkey solutions. Edilians plans to expand its roofing, solar, cladding and insulation offering through enhanced specification and to increase its international sales. Roof tile sales increased for the company in the UK and Ireland in 2018 and Edilians has bold plans for 2019 to become a major supplier of complete clay tile roof systems and to further expand its position on the UK and Irish markets. edilians.com
Go with the flow! A company with many years’ experience in the public sector in NI, Ace Drains Ltd has now officially launched its services across the entire island of Ireland. For both commercial and domestic properties Ace Drains can deal with anything from blocked drains and septic tank issues to guttering, property maintenance and emergency plumbing. Having recently increased its fleet from four to 12 vehicles, including up to 44 tonne vacuum tankers, Ace Drains is ready to tackle any desludging or drains blockage issues you may have. Their specialist dig team can be called upon to repair drainage systems or install treatment plants. Ace Drains now also has a new Tool Store for the trade and the intrepid DIYer. acedrainsni.co.uk SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 21
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‘We shape the wood, and the wood shapes us’ The therapeutic benefits of working with wood as told by Joel Bird, the author of Table Maker
IN MY NEW BOOK I DECIDED TO GO RIGHT BACK to the source for my wood. I bought a freshly felled piece of ash directly from wood cutters. I wanted to use the tree to teach me about all the procedures involved in table making, from milling, to drying, to woodworking, right through to making my own beeswax polish. As a carpenter I would have used different kinds of woods for different functions, pine for its accessibility and value, beech for its hardness and durability and oak for its moisture stability and high tensile strength. This was a different process. By understanding and taking part in all the processes involved in a craft, we are learning to connect. Not just to the world around us, we are also learning to connect to ourselves. Something special happens when you make an object from start to finish that is difficult to fully understand until you have experienced it. The act of working 22 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
with your hands to accomplish a series of tasks, the ability to simplify your thoughts and the focus required to do a job well
with skill and accuracy brings out the best in you. John Ruskin said: “The highest reward for a person’s toil
is not what they get for it, but what they become by it.” I think this is what carpentry has taught me more than anything else. There are occasions in these solitary moments of work that it feels as though time has stopped, as if nature is showing you that there is peace in the world if you will just allow yourself to see it. Through the process you see the fruits of your labour and to step back and cast your eye over something that you have brought into the world brings feelings of not just accomplishment, but a sense of wellbeing. Carpentry has changed my life; it has provided me with a living and I can honestly say it has made me a more confident, calmer and ultimately happier person. The Table Maker by Joel Bird is published by 535, blinkpublishing.co.uk, hardback, 256 pages, £20, colour throughout, ISBN 9781788700030
R E V I E W S / W H AT ' S N E W
CURATORS OF THE 2018 VENICE BIENNALE – the world’s largest architecture exhibition – the duo behind Grafton Architects, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, have attracted a lot of attention of late. This large format book is no doubt an acknowledgement of these achievement and according to its publisher it’s “the first and only monograph to shed light on [the practice’s] acclaimed portfolio.” The book shares the architects’ work from small projects and extensions to their largest commissions, including the acclaimed Bocconi University in Milan. Each is given a set of photographs and plans with descriptions and introductory chapters guiding the presentation of the architects’ work to date. Houses featured in the book includes mews conversions and notably Long House, a narrow infill site 6.5m x 20m inspired by Frank Llyod Wright’s Robie House
Mews Houses, Dublin (Photography Ros Kavanagh)
Inspiration as far as the eye can see
in Chicago with alternating internal and external rooms. Self-builds are also represented in this compendium; taking centre stage is the University of Limerick President’s House nestled within agricultural fields near a thick stand of trees lining the River Shannon. As described by author Robert McCarter: “For Grafton Architects the vernacular is less about a particular style or set of forms and more about a way of being, and how the building constructs a relationship between the inhabitant and the landscape.”
Grafton Architects by Robert McCarter is published by Phaidon Press, phaidon.com, 290x250mm hardback, £55, 256 pages, colour throughout, ISBN 9780714875941
Long House, Dublin (Photography Dennis Gilbert)
University of Limerick President’s House (Photography Alice Clancy)
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PROJECT / CO DOWN
Living the dream It was always Dom Thorpe’s dream to build a contemporary home, but his wife Nicola wasn’t convinced it was such a good idea… at least at first. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay
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CO DOWN / PROJECT
ver since I met Dom I knew he wanted to build his home but to me it just sounded like a lot of hassle and stress,” says Nicola. “We’ve both always liked watching Grand Designs houses. It was more the idea of building from scratch that I found daunting.” “We had done what we could with our home and even though we loved what we’d achieved, we knew we could use more room with the three kids. Over a period of 14 years we had renovated our kitchen and ensuite.” “Then I don’t know if it was a midlife crisis or what but it was very much me who was encouraging Dom to have a look at sites, to a certain extent I think I got bored with our house. We put it up for sale before
we even found the land to build on.” “We’d originally thought of buying a second hand house but to really get what we wanted we realised we had to build new,” she adds. “A big appeal for me is that you get a house that’s built for your own needs. It’ll give us 20 years with minimal upkeep, we won’t be renovating room by room as we did in the previous house.”
The perfect site
“Dom looked for land but it was hard to find suitable plots, they were all compromised to a certain extent. When we found the site we were hooked. I knew we would never get this plot again; it was close to work and Belfast, close to the children’s school. A two acre site that ticked all the boxes. As soon as we saw it, we put in an offer and thankfully it was accepted.”
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‘From our point of view, if we were going to do this we felt the house should be completely unique, and push the boundaries' You could think that with the right plot, the house nearly designs itself. But it’s architectural flair that will elevate it to something really special. “If you want to build a house like any other why bother? From our point of view, if we were going to do this we felt the house should be completely unique, and push the boundaries” says Nicola. “We’re fans of contemporary design, the Miami cube box beach house, all white, all glass, painted white throughout. That was our starting point.” Dom had the practical elements lined up too, four bedrooms, a Jack and Jill bathroom for two young children, and another two bedrooms both ensuite. “We looked online for an architect and through sheer luck we found John who was based locally. We didn’t want to have to hire an architect from too far away because we knew he’d have to come down regularly for site visits – from the get-go we wanted him to be the one to do the project management. We were amateurs and needed the guidance. Getting someone in from a different county wouldn’t have been practical.” “We gelled with John’s style, we thought 26 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
‘he’s for us’. The first time we met him, we actually brought him to another site, one that wasn’t completely perfect, so he was on board early on. Other architects we spoke to were very traditional, not what we were after, we couldn’t be happier with the choice we made.” And yet the brief wasn’t followed to the letter. “The end result isn’t what we had first imagined. For example we’d asked for stainless steel stairs; we wouldn’t want that now but it was on the wish list at the time. We also thought we’d put even more glass
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into the design but we ended up with less than I expected upstairs, instead we went with concealed soft lighting which helps make those areas more private,” Nicola explains. “As we’d sold our house before we started work, during the design and build stages we were living in rental accommodation, they were both quite dark. That was a great motivator to adding as much glass and light as we could into our new home!” They did have the zinc roof on their wish list but while John agreed on the finish, he suggested an agricultural shape. “I wasn’t fussed on the shape of the barn roof John first suggested so we changed that to a traditional pitched roof. I put my foot down for that one.” “What was on the list and were able to SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 27
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Watch Points Specialist suppliers can be hard to get. The island of Ireland is relatively small so if you’re going to buy floor to ceiling windows for example, make sure you source your supplier well in advance and make sure they’re able to do the job. There is no point in getting an architect to design the home of your dreams if you can’t build it. It can be really hard to get competent knowledgeable installers for those large windows in Ireland. The bigger the house the bigger the upkeep. We have cats and that means a lot of hair, the flooring is a light shade so it’s nice and bright but it also requires cleaning. We invested in a ride on lawnmower and I enjoy doing that; I also took a gardening course and introduced the little grasses, mini bay trees, olives tress. The glass is self-cleaning glass at the front and we can reach every window, but it’s a big area to cover!
add was a sauna/steam room, it was a real extravagance and we were so privileged to have been able to do it.”
Area of Outstanding Beauty
“At the time we were living in the house across the Lough, part of a development, so we felt really connected to this area and feel so lucky to still be living on the Lough.” “We had to wait 13 months from purchasing the land to getting planning permission because the site is in an Area of Outstanding Beauty. When we bought it, it had Outline Planning Permission, but was a virgin plot so there was no electricity, water connection or wastewater system on the site.” “We’re very grateful we got our full planning permission. The planners were particular about the location, we just had to put the house where the planners wanted it to be. Halfway down the hill was the spot, in the corner. It’s an unusual choice because it’s close to the neighbours and the site is actually quite big. People often ask why we chose to build where we did. But we’re tucked in and the house blends in the slope.” “In many ways we felt our architect John was building his dream house – he loves this house – so I do think we got 100 per cent out of him, it was detailed to perfection. He’s so fussy at times the
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builders found him to be too much. On the other hand we were delighted. We’d have no skill in that department so having John on our side made the build go so much more smoothly.” “My husband and I knew instantly we just couldn’t do it without him, and he did turn out to be brilliant. We certainly got our money’s worth and the more we progressed with the project the more it felt financially advantageous to us. Lighting, where to source tiles, colours, plumbing. Everything about the house he guided us on.” “With three young children and busy work lives, hiring an architect is money more than well spent.” But a meeting of minds on this level is quite exceptional. “I suppose it was lucky our taste and his taste are very similar. We mostly gave him carte blanche, we didn’t interfere much and he had fantastic ideas, we trusted him to produce it for us.”
“Originally we went for a zero carbon design but realised when we added up all the extras required that it would be too costly. We had our hearts set on the amount of glazing we wanted and didn’t want to compromise on that.” “Thanks to the triple glazing and loads of insulation the energy bills are low, the house is very warm, it’s never cold night or day. We have a wood burning stove, but it’s only there for aesthetics, the heating system is an energy efficient condensing oil boiler –
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‘We used to live in draughty cold houses and I love the fact that it’s never cold in here.’
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we looked at alternative green energy forms e.g. geothermal in combination with solar but the payback period was too long. We also considered wood pellets but didn’t want to deal with lorry deliveries and had heard of issues of blockages with the pellet feeder.” “We used to live in draughty cold houses and I love the fact that it’s never cold in here. The heat recovery ventilation system is an added bonus, the air is filtered and you can sense the difference.” Their architect oversaw the tendering process and five builders came back with offers. “We chose one who had built contemporary with John before,” continues Nicola. “There was a continual communications line between him and my husband, who was
Top Tips Gather ideas before you buy the site. Get a feel for what you want, know what you like, take the time to do this before you’ve even bought your site. We had gathered loads of pictures into a scrapbook, we loved the concealed curtains we saw in a hotel for example, so we had that put in. If you’re thinking of building, look about and take pictures and make the ideas you love part of the design remit. I have to admit we like to plan ahead and I’m fastidious. I have to get things right. I even took pictures for the planting scheme off a TV programme. I have all the visuals in a folder with the details. Dom knows every socket and screw in the house! Don’t rush in. If you make rash decisions on bathrooms, sizes and so on, you may come to regret them. Don’t trust the builders 100 per cent to do their job. You need to keep an eye on every detail even if you have an architect overseeing the project. Neither will know exactly what you want and several times we had to re-do things that had been done not as we wished or just didn’t look right. Check the budget daily. We didn’t go over by much because we had a fixed price tender and all variations were extra, Dom kept tabs to the last penny. He had total control of the budget and stayed on top of it. If there was something we wanted to add it had to be discussed and okayed by both of us.
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Q&A What’s your favourite part of the house?
The best part of it all is the open plan living room and kitchen, the view is always changing as the tide ebbs and flows. It always make me smile. I just love being home; money can’t buy that. The house sits beautifully, neat and seamless. Inside the minimalism is so neat and tidy, I love the clinical style, it gives so much room. I also love sitting looking out on the Lough, seeing all the way across, it’s so quiet and peaceful. The views are cathartic, why go to a spa when you’re living in the countryside? I love to dine in instead of going to the restaurant. I never want to leave the house! There’s a wonderful sense of wellbeing here.
What would you change?
The interconnecting garage is nice to have as part of the house but I’d also build a separate garage.
What surprised you?
The windows delaying us for so long. But I was also surprised the first time I walked into the finished house. When you look at drawings in 2D or even 3D you get a feel for what it really will be like, but to see the finished product is something else, it was lovely to see all of the finishing touches. The glass balcony overlooking down the stairs was great to see for the first time.
Would you do it again?
I’d do it again if the plot had been a compromise but we’ll never find another site as good as this one. That said I love putting together interiors and I’d love to do this for others. You become proficient the more practice you get. I know I would do it better the second time around but I would keep the same architect.
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at every site meeting. We were on site from January 2015 to May 2016; the meetings were once a month at first then weekly near the end and emailing was on a daily basis.” “I was interested but couldn’t dedicate much time to the project between full time work and three children. I did keep an eye on it out of interest – at one stage John and Dom both wanted shingles instead of roof tiles and I refused, no one could talk me into it!” “The only real headache was due to the German triple glazed floor to ceiling windows. We had a problem with the original installation company, they wanted to be paid in advance and we were very nervous about that so we had to look for another installer.” “This caused a delay to such an extent the architect nearly closed down the site for three months; at one stage I thought we were going to have to block up the openings and put in standard sized windows. We did
eventually find another installer, but they then had to get the windows made.” “There’s always a fear you won’t finish, but at least we didn’t go too far over budget – the main issue was having to pay rent for those extra three months.”
“Our aim long term is to grow vegetables and be self-sufficient with fruit trees. It’s a wonderful idea but we are very busy as it is as it is. ” They also future proofed the house. “We have plumbed everything so that the systems could be extended beyond the house into an extension. There’s scope for future development to add on from various angles.” The house has no doubt another project in it.
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PROJECT / CO DOWN
More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild
Find out more about Dom and Nicola’s new build project in Co Down including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION
House size: 335sqm / Plot size: 0.2 acre
Architect BGA Architects, Newtownards, Co Down, tel. 9181 5736, bga-ni.com Roofing Scrabo Roofing, Newtownards, Co Down, tel. 9181 6787, scraboroofing.com Kitchen Interior360, Belfast, tel. 9070 9360, interior360.com Bathrooms Beggs And Partners, beggsandpartners.ie Tiles Shellard Tiles, Lisburn, Co Antrim, tel. 9267 5119, shellardtiles.co.uk Stove The Stove Yard, Newtownards, Co Down, tel. 9181 4443, stoveyard.com Interiors Warden’s, Newtownards, Co Down, tel. 9181 2147, wardenbros.com Landscaping Orchardhill, Dundonald, Co Down, tel. 9188 4009, orchardhilllandscapes.com Sauna Oceanic Saunas, oceanic-saunas.co.uk Photography Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com
Architect’s note about planning permission: Site in an area of outstanding beauty; high quality bespoke design complying with PPS21 – CTY 10 Dwelling On A Farm accompanied with a Design and Assessment Statement detailing the concept behind the Clachan Style proposal specific to this site in terms of sloping topography, views towards the Lough, privacy form the road and solar orientation. Walls Masonry cavity wall with 150mm blown bead insulation and 62.5mm PIR insulation plasterboard, U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Floor Concrete slab with 150mm PIR insulation and 100mm sand:cement screed, U-value 0.12 W/sqmK Roof Timber cut roof with 50mm PIR insulation on top of rafter and 200mm sprayfoam insulation between rafters U-value 0.15 W/sqmK N FLOOR PLANaluminium system, U-value Windows TripleLOWER glazedGROUND thermally broken of openings 1 W/sqmK Systems Whole house mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, oil fired central heating and a secondary wood burning stove
UPPER GROUND FLOOR PLAN
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LOWER GROUND FLOOR PLAN
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Kitchen central The kitchen is at the heart of the home, so much so for Lorcán and Kate Horgan that they designed their new house around it. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay
s is the case with many self-builds, Lorcán and Kate’s motivation to build had to do with moving back home. “At the time we were living in a three bed semi-detached house and working in Co Antrim,” explains Kate. “We always had the idea we would move back to Co Monaghan but it increasingly made sense when we realised we spent all our weekends visiting family and friends. And because we had 36 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
land available to us, we only ever really considered a new build.” “We’re fortunate to have been able to build on family land,” continues Lorcán. “Kate’s father owned the parcel and passed it on to us. We were very lucky not only to get to build but on an elevated site with fantastic views.” The couple met with their friend and architect Donal in the early days to start on their creation. “We spent quite a few late nights bringing together some of our ideas
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and designs. We liked the Georgian style. We wanted an open plan modern approach to the interior mixed with the simple design features of the Georgian period.”
“Very early on we knew we wanted the entire house to revolve around the kitchen. As in any house we spend most of our time there. We wanted the option to be able to cook as well as being able to relax within the kitchen environment,” says Lorcán. “Then came Donal’s architectural input and his plan to allow for 360 degree views of the Monaghan countryside. “We wanted to maximise the views. Donal brought all our ideas together with some slight tweaks from us along the way.” As the design evolved there were some cutbacks. “We had to put in less curvature than originally planned, which helped with the cost but it was also a way to rationalise
‘We wanted to maximise the views and originally had a lot of curves to accommodate them’
the space. There were quite a few dead areas and some hallways were larger than they needed to be,” says Lorcán. “The landing for example was too big for its function so we made it more compact and actually got a more usable floorspace. All the rooms are a good size; even though it’s a four bedroom house we could have added another two but we didn’t want to scrimp on any of the rooms’ sizes.” They also took their time choosing the style. “We looked at houses driving up and down the country, and the Georgian style was always the type we preferred,” says Kate. “Adding the bay window and the look of the glazing in the sunroom was Donal’s idea.” “The idea was to have a traditional style for the front and a modern rear elevation. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 37
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Tips Add 20 per cent to the tender price for finishes, landscaping, furniture and unforeseens, we had to bring in an electricity pole at a big expense. We only thought about the house, the physical build cost, but other things cost a lot too. Keep the build in perspective Don’t get hung up or stressed out about things that aren’t important. Don’t forget the fuse box We thought the position of the electricity box was strange, it had to be near the front door. We negotiated and eventually got it to the side door but if we had known in advance that would have been helpful.
With views no matter where you sit. We always wanted a bifold door so the back is very open and glazed which provides contrast,” she adds. Then came the time to turn the vision into reality. “Luckily the home next to ours was built in Georgian times so our design was in keeping with houses in the area. Ours was a similar profile,” says Kate. “Donal helped us get through planning and partly because the house is not visible from the road the council accepted it.” It took them seven weeks which they say was quite surprising but a reward for all the work they’d put in looking at every aspect. “Also Donal spoke with the planners to make sure we were on track.” “We did however want the driveway curling up to the house in a zig zag pattern due to the steep profile of the site but the planners asked that we stick to the hedge to reduce the visual impact. That was one of the conditions. The downside is that it can get a bit dicey in winter because it’s quite a steep climb.”
“The design process had everything to do with the look and that took us three years,” recalls Kate. “Every element took time, every decision we made we agonised over at the design stage so we didn’t deviate from the design once on site.”
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“The changes that did occur were things like clarifying the type of windows we wanted, because we spent so much time getting the design on paper right it was all planned in advance.” Details they worked out at this stage include the Georgian timber wall panelling in the hall to set the tone, the double sided stove and fireplace as features as well as the brickwork. “We talked about the windows much more than we expected, sliding, casement, how many glazing bars, we didn’t believe how much we could discuss it,” says Kate. “Do they blend with the style? We had a long debate about double glazing versus triple but the benefit of triple wasn’t much more in terms of insulation and we saved quite a bit by going double.” The kitchen was also all planned well in advance. “We configured it with Donal and the kitchen supplier and it didn’t change after that,” adds Lorcán. As an engineer Lorcán had a special interest in the heating system: “I wanted something different to try and use some of the more modern approaches to heating and quickly looked into heat pumps. We went with an air source system as it ticked the box 40 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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to meet Part L of the building regulations.” “We also put in a heat recovery ventilation system because the house is completely airtight and there are no natural ventilation vents. We’re delighted with it, even in hot weather it never feels muggy in the house,” adds Kate. “Experience from previous houses told us what we didn’t want so we specified concrete floors upstairs and blockwork walls. It’s a traditional enough build.” They also went with underfloor heating. “It’s well suited to the open plan and we had no room for radiators anyway,” adds Kate. “In comparison to traditional oil burning heating systems it’s economical compared to our previous house.” Each house is unique in its configuration
‘Each house is unique in its configuration so commissioning, or fine tuning it for the house specifically, was an interesting process for Lorcán.’
so commissioning, or fine tuning it for the house specifically, was an interesting process for Lorcán. “It was trial and error,” he says. “The utility room is a bit small now, it was designed as big enough for everything we needed in there but the heat pump unit had to be on an external wall and this was the only room it could go into,” says Kate. “The design was sent to five contractors with a high quality finish specified. Donal had worked with these contractors before so we had comfort knowing that the end product would be of a high standard,” says Lorcán. “We were very hands on in the tendering process and right through to getting the sod turned on site. Most evenings and weekends were spent visiting site and monitoring progress.” “During the build we lived part of the time in Kate’s mum’s house, we were only two minutes away from site.” The process of building itself then took 42 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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Q&A What surprised you about the build?
You don’t realise how much time and effort a build consumes, you can’t foresee how many meetings you’ll be attending to constantly make sure everything is going to plan. We just didn’t think the process would take so long.
What did you do for drinking water?
another two years including a nine-month gap due to financing issues. “We were all systems go so the biggest shock to the system was having to stop,” says Lorcán. “It was a stressful time.” “When we did manage to get the build restarted there was the delay waiting for tradesmen; the tiler, carpenter and so on. The break in construction meant we missed our slot in the queue as they were working on different jobs,” he adds. This build was in many ways first and foremost about craftsmanship. “The painted oak staircase for example, Donal had done the initial sketches and we got a joiner who did a fabulous job,” says Kate. “He was out a couple of times to make sure he knew what we were trying to achieve; we had to elevate the ceiling for the 15 steps making sure each one was wide enough, not too wide. A real craft.”
We were too far away from a group water scheme or the mains to get a water connection so we had to sink a well. We’re no strangers to it as both of us grew up in homes that got their water that way. The first step was to get a ground survey and it showed two natural aquifers, which is quite good but the company that came out to bore the well was surprised how quickly we got water. We reached it at 460ft with a really good supply, he was expecting 800ft. The process only took two days. We didn’t get a reduced rate unfortunately! The lab then tells you what treatment it needs, there’s a UV light and a system of filters. There’s not much maintenance to it, the treatment system is just a yearly service. We also top it up with salt.
As the house was being built there was a change to the configuration. “There was a wall between the dining area and sunroom; SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 43
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Q&A What’s your favourite part of the house?
Kate: The kitchen. It’s fabulous for cooking and entertaining. The curve on the island also means people don’t venture in the cooking zone. When I’m at the oven people can move about but at the same time stay away from the action. Lorcán: There are lots of ones. I love the amount of glazing we have, the kitchen. The sunroom has the most unobstructed views. I really like the design and finish on the staircase.
Would you do it again?
Kate: No because I got everything I want! Lorcán: The stress at times can put you off; looking back on it it’s not that bad but it can be tough when living through it. We managed to get our dream home at the end of it.
when we were on site we felt it was better to leave it open so we could have a conversation yet be in separate spaces - and keep an eye on the kids!” says Kate. “We have two very young children and that was factored into the process – we had great fun picking out colours, the entire family was delighted to move in.” “But at the time we didn’t initially think of designing in a playroom,” adds Lorcán. “Now the front room with bay window,
Air source heat pump
which was meant to be a relaxing room for the adults, has been turned into the playroom.” “Everything evolves, we love the space we have now, having friends up here,” says Kate. “It’s airy, bright, we have lots of room. We’re in a year now and there are still bits that need to be sorted but it’s all relative. What we have now is our dream family home in our home county.” Even though they didn’t change jobs, their commute is only an hour. “It’s manageable, we feel an hour commute is reasonable. It’s more than worth it.” 44 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild
Find out more about Kate and LorcĂĄnâ€™s new build project in Co Monaghan including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION
House size: 180sqm ground floor, 135sqm first floor, 315 sqm total Plot size: 1 acre
Architect Donal McPhillips Architecture, Co Fermanagh, tel. 677 41813, mcphillipsarchitecture.com Main contractor McConnell & Dundas Building Contractors, Co Fermanagh, tel. 028 68641777 Kitchen LA Kitchens, Glaslough, Co Monaghan, tel. 047 88214, lakitchens.net Electrical Contractor Seamus Stewart Electrical Ltd, Co Fermanagh, tel. 6638 6523 Structural Engineer Derek Connor, Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh, tel. 6632 5538 Granite (kitchen and fireplaces) Murray Fireplaces, Ballindode, Co Monaghan, tel. 047 89450, murrayfireplaces.ie
Roof Insulated with 100mm insulation board between rafters, 37.5mm foil backed insulation board to underside of ceilings, natural slate finish with black ventilated clay ridge caps to match. Walls Cavity wall construction 150 mm cavity pumped with graphite EPS beads, 37.5mm insulated plasterboard to inner side of cavity walls, rough natural sand / cement / lime mix render finish to all main walls. Floor 100mm fine concrete screed on 125mm extruded insulation board on 150mm concrete sub-floor over usual build up with radon membrane. Windows Cream uPVC frames; windows to living room and front elevation to be sliding sash, others hinged.
Staircase Peader Greenan, Clontibret, Co Monaghan, tel. 047 80678 Sanitaryware Mullen Domestic, Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, tel. 6632 5278, mullendomestic.com Windows J&N Windows, Co Fermanagh, jandnwindows.com Timber floors Noyeks Flooring, Dublin, tel. 01 419 5700, noyeks.ie Paving and patio 30mm natural stone paving on blinding and hardcore base by Acheson & Glover, ag.uk.com Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com NI calling ROI drop the first 0 and prefix with 00353. ROI calling NI drop the first 0 and prefix with 0044
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PROJECT / CO DUBLIN
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Mid-century magic How Cora Marshall and Philip Clarke converted their compact 1950s two-up-two-down house into a bright and spacious family home. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne
y sister originally owned this house and I always loved it,” says Cora. “The garden is great. She bought it in 2005 and when she moved out to live with her partner, she rented it out. Phil and I liked it so much she sold it to us in 2017.”
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Tips Write everything down. Make sure to jot everything down that’s agreed to at the site meetings. The architect will be on call to guide the builders but you will want to stay in control of the build as well. Get a grant. We got three grants from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, for the attic insulation, external wall insulation and a small grant for installing heating controls. We have three zones, one for hot water, the others upstairs and downstairs. The zoning has made a huge difference to the way we use the house and saves on the heating bills too.
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This terraced house was built as part of a push to increase the Dublin housing stock, in the days when city limits were expanding. Made of solid concrete walls and to a distinctive style it presented the perfect opportunity for a makeover. Cora and Phil found Fergal their architect through an acquaintance and started on the project straight away. “We wanted a third bedroom upstairs and a two-storey extension, we also wanted a bigger kitchen so we could fit a table in there. On the wish list was also a music
room,” relates Cora. “Our Irish music instruments take up a lot of room. It would be nice to have a piano too.” “Fergal said that a good way to extend was to the side of the house instead of at the back, to encroach as little as possible on the garden. He said the side of the house was wasted space – the old maxim of building on the worst part of a site applied in our case. The fact that the house was end-terraced allowed us to move the stairs from the original house and create a spacious top-lit stairwell in the new
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extension,” explains Cora. “Moving the stairs is what made it. We would no longer need to use the living room as a hallway to access the stairs and it allowed us to change the layout and room sizes upstairs and down.” The shape of the site created an interesting cranked shape for the stairs which they finished with feature painted timber panelling and concealed doors to the wc and storage under the stair flight.
External wall insulation
“A lot of houses in the area have insulated their homes from the outside,” adds Cora. “One reason is that the walls are solid
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concrete and that’s a type of construction that lends itself to external wall insulation. But I think it’s also because you don’t lose any internal floor space, and the window reveals are not as deep which I think is also quite nice.” External wall insulation works best when new windows are being fitted and moved forward to the front face of the external walls, as was done here. “There was also only a small area of the original wall left exposed, on the side facing the street and on the first floor of the rear elevation. It therefore made sense to wrap the entire house to create a thermal-bridge free external envelope,” explains Fergal. One tricky area in terms of detailing was the existing concrete eaves which is a feature of this type of house throughout Dublin. “We could have created a thermal bridge at this point so we over-cladded the eaves with a thin covering of external wall insulation and placed aerogel insulation above the concrete eaves,” adds Fergal. With the work on the external wall insulation also came the need to replace the windows. “It took us a while to choose the window colour and the door,” says Cora. “The windows in general took time to make a decision on; Fergal designed them for us but we were debating whether or not we should replicate the panels. Fergal advised us against it; because the frames are so thick it wouldn’t have looked right.” “The old windows were single glazed with small panes and having replaced them
Q&A with Cora What surprised you?
The logistics of it all. For a while it seems like the build is going nowhere but then it moves very fast. All of a sudden you’re at site meetings every week instead of every two to three weeks. We had a long discussion about the stairs, trying to get them to fit into the space properly but it was all sorted out between the builder and Fergal. Also it was more difficult than I thought it would be to coordinate the arrival of the plumber with my brotherin-law who did the flooring. But everything worked out in the end.
Would you do it again? We don’t plan to but I suppose you never know!
What’s your favourite part of the house?
I love the stairs and the kitchen – it’s so quiet and peaceful. Looking out onto the garden is wonderful.
What single piece of advice would you give someone thinking of renovating?
Definitely get an architect; they have the best ideas for designing the house. And don’t wait too long to get started. We did it at a difficult time between the new baby and mom sick, but if you keep the end goal in sight you can remind yourself it’ll all be over soon and you’ll be delighted with it. If we hadn’t done it then, I don’t think we would’ve done it for another 20 years.
What would you change?
I’d get the landscaping done professionally. If we had more money we would have – I see my sister who built a house and in the blink of an eye it was all done. In our case we levelled and seeded the garden ourselves and my dad did the decking for us.
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‘...the shape of the site created an interesting cranked shape for the stairs’
we do get more natural light in the house now,” continues Cora. “The front door is bright yellow, we went for primary colours. Some people thought the colour was a temporary one but we love it.”
The initial stumbling block was securing the mortgage. “We had to get the amount we were to borrow to match the valuation of the house plus the cost of doing up the
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house. The bank sent their own valuer and we had to produce a cost for the renovation from a builder; we got someone our structural engineer recommended to price it up for us.” “We were ambitious at first; the original plan included a music room connected to the open plan kitchen/dining area. We didn’t have enough money to build that extra room so there was a bit of back and forth with the design and valuation before we could secure the mortgage.” “Fergal put together the construction drawings so that this additional living room could easily be added onto the house in later years as the budget would allow but we didn’t put in the foundation at the time they were poured. It would have added too much to the cost. We don’t really need the extra space, we already have a spare bedroom,” says Cora. “Even though the design only took a month to put together, it probably took five months to sort out the valuation and secure the mortgage. Planning permission after that took no time at all. We went to tender quickly too, we had a choice between three contractors, and in May 2017 we broke ground.” “We’d just had a baby at this stage, who was born in February,” adds Cora. “So as soon as the three-week groundwork period was done, including demolishing
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Tips Have fun choosing colours. We took our time picking the colour for the windows and doors but for the staircase too; the inspiration came from a photograph I saw online. The blue really lifts the hall up. Fergal designed the panelling for the hidden door and to highlight the shape. Reuse what you can. We kept old doors and fireplaces which we reused in the old part of the house; it keeps the character of the building. Even though we went with external wall insulation we made sure we kept the band on the front of the house to match the rest of the building. Factor in builder’s holidays. We had them fall in the middle of the project; that meant the window suppliers took two weeks off which in turn meant we were in a rush to get the order in.
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the shed, we moved out.” The contract with the builder excluded the floor coverings, the kitchen and painting. “My dad used to make kitchens with a neighbour of his and so we went with that company,” says Cora.
“We had ideas of what we wanted, such as the handles recessed into the doors, but we also got some extras like the pull-out spice rack which we hadn’t originally planned for. We were going to go with quartz for the worktops but to keep costs down we chose a laminate and we’re happy with it.” “From June to October we were in between houses, I was on maternity leave so spent some time home in Longford. We were hoping to move back in September but we had to do some extra work on the house we hadn’t originally anticipated.” The house had lead pipes. “We had to replumb the entire house. We were moving the boiler anyway, from a bedroom to the new utility room, so had some of it budgeted for. The gas boiler was fairly new and didn’t need replacing but it was nice to get rid of the electric showers when we realised we actually didn’t need them.” “What we really didn’t expect was having to rewire the entire house,” continues Cora. “It had only been done 10 years ago but the electrician wouldn’t certify the whole house without redoing it entirely. Then of course we had to replaster all of the walls because of this intrusive work.” Some other unexpected work had to do with the floorboards in the sitting room which had to be replaced as it turned out they were rotten; they also had to treat some of the timbers in the attic when they
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insulated it. Apart from the unforeseens there were very few headaches on site, one of which was skip/storage space to the front without encroaching on the neighbours’ parking. “Site access was also tricky at times to get materials in and out. We had no structural issues as the house is solid concrete so it was straightforward knocking through walls.” In terms of the snag list, there were only a few teething issues with the plumbing. “We had hot water going into the toilet – it was nice to have a hot cistern but not the most efficient of features! There were a few leaks but the builder came to fix them on the day. Because of the trouble we had, he told us he would guarantee all plumbing for two years. We haven’t had any trouble since.” The verdict? “We love the house, it’s very warm and flows so well. We’re also really happy to have a utility room, which was the old galley kitchen. When we come in from the garden that’s where we enter the house, it’s also where the bicycles are.” A house truly made for family life. 58 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild
Find out more about Cora and Philip’s extension project in Co Dublin including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION
Size before: 55sqm / Size after: 100sqm Total cost: €130,000 / BER: F1 upgraded to a B2
Architect Fergal McGirl MRIAI, Dublin 1, tel. 01 873 5441, fmgarchitects.ie Energy assessor IHER Energy Services, Dublin 3, tel. 01 4548300, iher.ie Kitchen Raymond Mcloughlin of Kilsallagh Woodcraft, Edgeworthstown, Co Longford, tel. 043 667 1704, kilsallaghwoodcraft.ie Builder Michael Creedon, Naas, Co Kildare, mobile 087 917 3672, creedonconstruction.ie Roof insulation Fibre insulation Moy Metac, isover.ie Floors Gerry O’Dowd of Advance Flooring, Dublin 12, tel. 01 626 8940 Decking Seán Marshall Grant Better Energy Homes, seai.ie Thermal-bridge information at eaves detail DIT School of Architecture - Digital Analysis in Energy Retrofit course which studied this exact building type as a project in 2015, dit.ie Photographer Dermot Byrne Photography, dermotbyrnephoto.ie
Walls insulated externally with 120mm EPS with silicone silicate render (which is, according to the architect, hydrophobic and has better self-cleaning properties than acrylic renders) onto existing solid concrete walls or on the new build over 215mmm solid concrete blockwork. U-value 0.2 W/sqmK Roofs insulated with 50mm PIR insulation fixed to underside of joists with airtightness tape to joints and junctions with walls. Plasterboard and skim plaster finish to ceiling. 200mm fibre insulation between rafters above (sloped sections of roof insulated with 100mm PIR insulation between joists fitted flush to underside of rafter and 50mm PIR insulation to underside of rafter). Existing solid ground floor which featured a tar/pitch DPM above the original slab was retained and damp-proofed from above before floor finishes were applied. Conventional insulated concrete slab construction was employed to the new extension.
FIRST FLOOR Kitchen
Bedroom Bedroom Bedroom Bathroom
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An ELAN g! Entertainment and Home Control System offers an almost infinite variety of music, from your media or from the Cloud, in true audiophile sound. And, a world of dazzling visual entertainment, from movies, sports, news and more, in any and every room you desire. And it’s all integrated seamlessly with the other systems.
With the Sonos Multi-Room Music System you can add music to every part of your life and every room in your house. Wirelessly, effortlessly, flawlessly. With the touch of a finger, you can play the same song in every room or different songs in different rooms. And Sonos gives you instant access to a world of music including iTunes, Napster, Sportify, Wolfgang’s Vault, Aupeo and many more.
Lighting in our homes can have a large impact on the way we live, our moods and the feel of our homes. We understand the impact of having control of your lighting, to suit your mood. We will work closely with you to get the most out of your Clipsal CBus digital lighting system whether it is just one room or your entire house and gardens. We are an Aquavision Authorised Installer. The ultimate in luxury, waterproof and in-wall televisions. The screen is offered with the simplicity of a frameless glass design and can be specified with Polar White, Black or Mirror vision finish. With its slim flush profile, your Aquavision Unit can be easily fitted to give that truly ‘built in’ look in any room.
GMS Intelligent Systems specialise in the management and integration of intelligent home solutions, via a structured cabling system GMS Intelligent Systems specialiseyour in the management integrationofofDigital intelligent home solutions, via a structured cabling system (at building stage), to future-proof home. Enabling and incorporation Lighting, Audio Multi-Room and Visual Equipment, (atTelephone building stage), to future-proof your home. Enabling incorporation ofWe Digital Audio Multi-Room and Visual Data Networking, Security Systems and Gate Automation. alsoLighting, offer a complete wiring package, from Equipment, the initial Telephone Data Networking, Security Systems and Gatethrough Automation. We also offer a complete wiring package, from the initial electrical installation (17th Edition IEE Wiring Regulation) to and including the conventional/intelligent package solution. electrical installation (17th Edition IEE Wiring Regulation) through to and including the conventional/intelligent package solution.
Digital Lighting / Phone/Data Systems / TV/Satellite/Blu-ray / Multi-Room AV Digital Lighting / Phone/Data Systems / TV/Satellite/Blu-ray Multi-Room AV Surround Sound / Security Systems / Plasma / LCD/Screens Surround Sound / Security Systems / Plasma / LCD Screens Authorised Installer Authorised Installer AUTHORISED INSTALLER AUTHORISED INSTALLER
11 The Oaks, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, BT66 6NY Northern Ireland The Oaks, Lurgan, Co. Armagh, BT66 6NY Northern |Ireland 0800 2985009 (after11 7pm) | 07754 789163 | www.gms-intellsys.co.uk email@example.com 0800 2985009 (after 7pm)
| 07754 789163
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EXTENSION & RENOVATION
Right from the start To get the most out of a renovation or extension project you need to have lived in the house for at least a couple of years to see what changes will work best for you, working from the inside out, as Gayle and Graeme Doyle of Co Down found out. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay
e bought our house in 2011 and were living here a good few years before renovating,” says Gayle. “We were talking about it on and off, how we would rejig the space if we could. By living in it small frustrations started to arise and we realised a more open plan layout would work much better for us so we started to look into making that happen.” “Graeme knew our architect Glenn Massey already and we arranged a meeting with him as a starting point. We initially thought we’d go out and meet other designers but Glenn got what we were after from the start and understood our budget. He also came up with some really good ideas so we were confident he was the right man for the job.”
‘We liked that inside/outside style so we included as much glass as we could afford. We were building a basic shape but high spec...’
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The project consists of an extension giving an additional room at the back and knocking through the kitchen and former dining room into that bright new space. “We needed more seating and we wanted to feel closer to the garden and the views. We liked that inside/outside style so we included as much glass as we could afford. We were building a basic shape but high spec.” “Quite a bit of work went into getting the extension to be at the same level as the garden which required us to add three steps between the old and new.” “There’s always the temptation to change everything but we didn’t need to – we stuck to our guns with what was a reorganisation of space. We left the kitchen as it was and just added a breakfast bar as an additional worktop.” “We watch a lot of Grand Designs and like modern, simple box shapes with a lot of glass. We liked the idea of a very deep flat roof with an overhang so we could leave the doors open even when it’s raining. We wanted to add texture which is why we chose to go with the aluminium finish with timber 64 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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panelling. The timber we were able to stain ourselves, it just adds warmth against the grey and the lights in the overhang yield an embracing glow at night.”
Windows and warmth
“Because we wanted as big a piece of glass as possible we had to get the windows double glazed; triple glazed would have required supporting structures and frames. We have a steel frame with a block rear wall and a lot of insulation in the roof to make up for the amount of double glazing.” Ventilation is incorporated within the windows in the form of vents. “The deep roof and overhang clad in aluminium were in the plans from the start and we spent a lot of time making sure we could get the doors to match the colour of the windows. We got a price for the windows early on, did the measuring up and Glenn gave us samples for colours.” “In terms of the rooflights we were originally going to have two but we decided we’d rather a single one and found a company that does them with a self-closing function. They did however take some work to source.” For heating they were able to draw on the existing system. “When we first moved in we had upgraded the heating system; the hot press is solar ready and we installed heating
‘There’s always the temptation to change everything but we didn’t need to.’
Tips Be prepared for the impact it will have on the rest of the house. We were still living here with two small children and were basically renovating our kitchen. The dust just gets everywhere especially if you need to cut concrete; the polishing was also kicking up a lot of dust. It’s very messy. You either clean more often or accept you can’t stay on top of it. We did try to seal up the room and it worked for a while with temporary hoarding and pallets which meant we could still use the kitchen. But even though the builders did their best to keep the place tidy we’d have to come home each evening and assess the situation. We decided whether or not to make dinner or if it’s another tip to McDonald’s. We’ve eaten more fast food in that year than we ever have in our lives! Spend time on the lighting scheme. It’s worthwhile to think about where to put lights, we hadn’t anticipated how important this aspect was. A single pendant light doesn’t always work; we have multiple sources of light in the room. We upgraded the lighting in the kitchen too and it’s made a real difference to our enjoyment of that space. Source things yourself to save time. We tried to help with the schedule where we could and this meant sourcing a few of the things we needed. The rooflight was especially difficult to find. It seems some of these items are hard to get in NI. We eventually found it through a builder’s merchant in ROI and organised delivery from there to the site. We did what we could to help keep within budget and stay on schedule.
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Q&A What’s your favourite feature?
I love the light. The extension is a bright relaxing space without too much furniture. It’s great to entertain in, especially in summer.
What single piece of advice would you give someone who’s thinking of a renovation?
Live with the house for a while. We realised we only needed to add a breakfast bar so didn’t have to go through the expense of upgrading the entire kitchen. Add as much storage as you can, we added a whole wall of storage to the back of the dining area which means that all the puzzles, games and colouring pencils can be put away easily. We had a few empty cupboards after the project but 18 months later and everywhere is full.
controls for upstairs and down.” “With this renovation we considered underfloor heating but it was too expensive so we installed standard radiators instead. The extension is south facing and the room is very warm anyway. Now the kitchen/dining area is the warmest bit of the house.” “Because we took out the back wall to extend the house it was an opportunity to take up the floors and add as much
insulation as possible. The insulation under the kitchen floor was non existent so we made improvements there too, while we had the chance. We also put in new tiles. You can really tell the difference in terms of heat retention.” “This summer was unusually warm and the kitchen did get very warm some days but being able to go out and leave the rooflight open definitely helped with ventilation. This is our second winter with the new space now and the low winter sun means this room is still pleasantly warm. With the extra insulation and the smart thermostat system we are spending less on oil than we did before the project.”
Time and money
One element they added after the fact was the polished concrete floor. “It was a case of ‘let’s see how much it will cost’ without really thinking we could afford it. We always liked the concrete/steel look and felt it would add a lot to the project to put it in.” “We made changes to the spec to make the concrete floor possible; the drawings initially included a line of upper storey windows in the only solid wall. We decided this wouldn’t add as much to the project as the concrete floor so in terms of the budget taking those windows out made the floor a possibility.” “We had very strong ideas about the kind
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of colour we wanted to get, you can end up with green or yellow tinges running through the concrete and we wanted to have it as close to grey and white as possible, to get as pale a colour as we could. The concrete company worked closely with us. They recommended a company to do the polishing and sealing of the finished floor.” “We tried different sealants and finally got to the colour we wanted. The most frustrating part was the fact that we had to stay off it for three weeks, nothing could happen with the build during that time.” “We originally asked Glen how much we could do all of this for but the market dictates the price. We went out to tender for builders’ prices and this gave us a more accurate steer. We chose a builder who was local and had a good reputation, known as someone who knew how to achieve a quality finish.” “Once we awarded the contract we were on site quickly. Even though we didn’t need planning permission as the extension is within permitted development, we had to get sign off from building control and this required adding a hard wired smoke alarm system.” As is often the case with building new, delays ensued that were outside their control. “Our original timeframe was ambitious at 15 weeks. We started in January and in the end
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it took seven to eight months in total. If you don’t count the snagging items we were done in August 2017.” “The delays were due to having to wait for windows and steel, also the foundations had to be dug deeper than anticipated. The concrete floor which was a last minute decision took three weeks to dry.” The foundations were signed off on by their structural engineer and Glenn carried out the inspections with Building Control checking the main stages. “We had site meetings at the house with all the trades. Even though we hired a single builder we got to meet everyone, we managed it all ourselves as we were still living there while all this was going on.” “What we have now was worth all the effort, it’s dead easy in terms of maintenance. The exterior is really easy to take care of and we don’t mind if the wooden cladding weathers or fades.” “The original idea was to do it under £40,000 but by upgrading the lighting, the concrete floor and the high spec windows it came in at around £45,000.” “We’re pleased we bit the bullet and went for the concrete floor, we love it now. It’s easy to keep clean and tidy. We ended up with a great space to suit modern family life.”
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More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild
Find out more about Gayle and Graeme’s extension and renovation project in Co Down including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION
Ground floor: 93 sqm / First floor: 84 sqm Extension: 22sqm / Plot size: 0.1 acre Total cost: £45,000
Design Glenn Massey, Lisburn, Co Antrim, mobile 07779 572289, gmarchitect.co.uk Structural Engineer Hanna and Hutchinson Consulting Engineers Ltd, Lisburn, Co Antrim, hannaandhutchinson.com SAP assessor Adrian Biggar, Thermal Matters, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 87747987 Builder Linton Solutions, Lisburn, Co Antrim, lintonsolutions.com Concrete pour CES, cesquarryproducts.com Concrete polishing Fagan’s, terrazzoireland.co.uk Foundations Roger Irwin Contracts
Extension: steel frame forming roof and cantilevered canopy with masonry rear wall and single ply membrane roof. The parapet is clad in PPC Aluminium (Polyester Powder Coated Aluminium) with secret fixings and clad in tongue and groove timber. U-values: roof 0.8W/sqmK, walls 0.27W/sqmK, floor 0.16W/sqmK Windows: double glazed low e toughened glass, overall U-value 1.1W/sqmK EPC (SAP): C (71)
Worktop/island Ronnie Bann of Kitchen Installation Services, mobile 07725510230 Windows Bann Architectural Systems, bannarchitectural.co.uk Rooflight Fakro, fakro.com Roofer Nigel Greer, N & G Roofing, Dungannon, Co Tyrone, tel. 867 35725 PPC Cladding Fabrite Engineering, fabrite.co.uk Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com ROI calling NI drop the first 0 and prefix with 0044
Kitchen Kitchen Utility
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OVERVIEW / SELFBUILD LIVE
Self-build tricks CLINIC of the trade Advice and tips we picked up at SelfBuild Live Cork 2018, the must-attend event for anyone whoâ€™s building or renovating their home. We dropped in to see what the experts had to say at the live theatres. Selfbuild Live is the unmissable event for self-builders throughout the island of Ireland. The show goes to Belfast in February, Dublin in September and Cork in November. See live.selfbuild.ie for more info.
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Timeline to building your house The Bootcamp Theatre runs you through the entire process of building your own home from finding a plot through to the snag list. Architect Edel Regan was one of the many experts there to give you a bird’s eye view of the process.
icture delivering a rugby ball to the goal post where the ball represents the timeline of the building process of designing your dream home. The planning permission stage marks the middle of this process with site design and approved design falling before the planning stage and construction drawings and construction supervision falling after the design stage.
Choosing a site
There is no point in designing your dream home on a plot of land that will never get planning permission. At the beginning of the process it is important to check the County Development Plan (CDP) to make sure development on the site is permissible. The purpose of the CDP is to make sure your site falls within a zoned category for development. If the site is earmarked for that purpose, then you should not anticipate any problems. However if it is zoned agricultural zoning the planners have enforced strict controls to prevent people building in what they refer to as a “ribbon development” pattern. The planners are not in favour of this kind of sprawling development and would prefer sites to be chosen close to already existing infrastructure near existing towns. For a site on agricultural land the onus is on the site owner to prove a local area need where a family member is local or where there is a reason to locate there for employment. That law is beginning to change but it is currently still in place. Access to the site also needs to be considered at the early stages of choosing a site. Having acceptable sightlines ensures 72 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
visibility on public roads in both directions. Minimum distances are required by the planners. If these cannot be achieved it will be unlikely you will achieve successful planning. Contact the local county engineer in the planning department to confirm that access to the site will be acceptable to the planners. Connection to the mains for wastewater is another crucial consideration when choosing a site or checking for site suitability for an onsite wastewater system. Contact a civil engineer to assess your site of choice or work with your architect to develop this connect with the required professional consultants. When you have
established these critical factors then the design process is ready to begin.
The design stages
An architect’s training is very different to that of a structural or civil engineer’s. While a project requires the input of the various disciplines a good registered architect can bring skills to the process such as spatial awareness and the ability to visualise a structure in three dimensions ahead of time. The architect will communicate the design concept through sketches and more finished design drawings. An architect can identify design opportunities on the site
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early in the process. Much of the budget can be saved and properly directed from this early intervention with an architect and self-builder working together at the beginning stages of the process. This intervention will ultimately affect the overall cost and design. On the first site visit an architect will get a good sense of the site’s potential. Site design is essential and needs a lot of consideration in order to ensure the best results. Good design permeates from the “general to the particular”. 30 per cent energy savings can be achieved just by orientating your home 15 degrees from south. How the house is sited in the natural contours is crucial to the overall outcome of the project as it is preferable to nestle the house into its surroundings rather than ignore the clues from the landscape. One might consider the direction of prevailing winds and provide a sheltered setting for the home. It might be important to consider the separation of vehicular access versus pedestrian access, for example the positioning of southern facing patio areas. Questions such as where the refuse will be located all need to be considered at these early stages. The early stages are where a lot of crucial decisions have to be made and these will have an impact on the final outcome. The more you can do preventatively and design well in advance the greater will be the success of your project. The most regrettable thing is when people come to me for advice after they have completed their home and it is too late to correct missed opportunities which could have been identified early on if an architect had been involved. The best piece of advice is to design ahead of time before your budget has been invested. The design process itself should be very interactive between the architect and the self-builder. It is important to listen to the needs and formulate a comprehensive brief outlining all of the project requirements. It is the role of the architect to take the lead in the building process and enlist the expertise of other professionals at the appropriate stages along the process including professionals such as engineers, both civil and structural, quantity surveyors, landscape architects and interior designers. The architect must advise that the selfbuilder put in place a health and safety plan and this needs to be implemented throughout the entire process from design to construction. Having reached design approval and having involved the review of structural and civil engineering, the design is now ready to be costed by quantity
Your design team The professionals who will be involved in your project; who they are and when you need them The architectural designer acts as the lead designer, coordinator and as your agent. The person who has an overview of the process and is responsible for delivering the product at the end. A civil engineer acts as a site assessor to help identify issues such as access to the site, sightlines and connectivity to water mains or site suitability for onsite waste water systems. This is carried out at the preplanning phase or when choosing a site. A surveyor may be required to take measurements of an existing property on site or to produce a drawing showing the levels and contours on the chosen site. The quantity surveyor costs the initial design that is to be submitted for planning permission to ensure it is within budget.
‘30 per cent energy savings can be achieved just by orientating your home 15 degrees from south’
Then the QS can cost the detailed working drawings to to give an accurate price before going out to tender. The building energy rating assessor will do a pre-planning assessment to ensure the house is compliant with the building regulations’ energy requirements and will advise on key choices: windows, underfloor heating, insulation and wall construction all affect one another. At the end of the construction phase you must get a final Building Energy Rating certificate issued before you move into the house. Each of these professionals have separate fees but because you know what the fees are and when you’ll need to use the professional services, the cost is relatively small and quickly absorbed. It’s about using everyone’s skills.
surveyor professionals. It is important to highlight that all of these links to various professionals are made under the direction of the appointed architect who is leading the design concept right through the design process so as to ensure the best outcome. The strength of carrying out the initial concept, agreed by the selfbuilder and delivering it to the end is vital. The design must adhere to all building regulations including all regulations relevant for energy requirements. We use a 3D design image rendering process which allows good communications with the self-builder, the builder and all of the professionals involved in the process including the planners. Once everyone is happy with the design, we make the planning application. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 73
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Planning permission, construction drawings and tendering
Now is the time to go through the administrative process to secure planning permission. This takes approximately two months but generally speaking if the design work has been done there should be no surprises. Sometimes further information is requested and must be dealt with the planners to achieve successful planning permission. Once planning is achieved, the structure must be built according to the planning application. The general rule is that you cannot change the external envelope but internally you are free to make some changes. However, it is preferable to have these design considerations considered before this stage. In some cases, there may be minor adjustments; as long as it’s not a material change the planners may allow it. Other times they may require a fresh application. After planning permission has been secured your architectural design needs to be coordinated with the structural drawings at a more detailed level. This is a very important stage because if a builder builds from planning drawings there is not enough detail on planning drawings to build it the way you and the architect intended. The builder might interpret the drawings in a different way to what was agreed by the architect and the self-builder. It is very important to ensure continuity of the original concept through to the very end, so you have a house that reflects all of the discussions you had along the way and gets the best energy rating for your house. A zero-energy house can be achieved where there will be virtually no utility bills. The working drawing stage is an involved process and you need to assign time for it. Once this is completed the project is ready to be costed again with the quantity surveyor for a more accurate price for tender. Any final design adjustments should be made at this stage. The contract documents, including working drawings and specifications are then sent out to tender to various builders for pricing. I would argue it is preferable to assign a single contractor who will be accountable for the project rather than many different builders. Communications could get fragmented if there is not one point of contact. Check the work and references of the preferred builder before appointing them and ensure they have all of the required insurances.
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Once your builder is assigned, the contract documents which are made up from the working drawings and specifications are the documents that will be referred to by the contractor and all team members throughout the entire construction phase. It is preferable to avoid making changes at this stage as it can lead to variations and potential disputes between the homeowner and the builder. For a domestic dwelling the architect
allows the self-builder to opt out from the assigned certifier obligation with building control. Every project however requires a commencement notice and a health and safety plan. Opting in requires formally appointing an assigned certifier on the Building Control Management System (BCMS) website. The process requires that the owner and builder and assigned certifier formally accept these roles and the appointed assigned certifier must upload all of the contract documents onto the
‘After planning permission has been secured your architectural design needs to be coordinated with the structural drawings at a more detailed level’
and structural engineer will usually visit the site every two weeks unless there’s something that needs to be urgently examined. Sign off is completed by the architect and engineer at the main stages, e.g. foundations, eaves height, ridge height, leading to the final cert when everything has been approved. On site you may come across unforeseen circumstances. For this it is advisable to have a contingency sum put aside for such unforeseen circumstances. There are two statutory aspects to be conscious of; building control and health & safety. In terms of building control, selfbuilders have the choice of appointing an assigned certifier (an architect, engineer or chartered surveyor are the only professionals who can legally be appointed for this role) for the project or they can adopt the “opt out clause” which
BCMS website. All of the subcontractors on the construction site must supply all of the warranties for their products and work to the assigned certifier which in turn gets uploaded on to the website. For domestic houses it is not required to appoint an assigned certifier. The process involving an assigned certifier apportions accountability throughout the whole process to anyone along the process who has been involved in the construction of the project on site. Edel Regan (B.Arch. Hons ) MRIAI of Edel Regan Architects, erarch.net, tel. 021 4899571, mobile 086 8079502
Using only authentic products from Italy, we can create stunning and unique Terrazzo floors. Built to last and designed to get better as they age, Terrazzo floors are durable, easy to maintain and keep clean and make an attractive feature in any building or home. We also offer polished concrete as a flooring option which are also easy to clean and maintain. Suitable for high traffic areas, by polishing the concrete it adds value to the concrete durability giving it a beautiful and high shine finish. 67 Drumlough Road, Rathfriland, Newry, BT34 5DP, Co. Down. T: +44(0)28 3085 1612 / E: firstname.lastname@example.org www.terrazzoireland.co.uk
S E L F B U I L D L I V E C O R K / E X P E R T TA L K S
Talking heads A selection of what some of the experts had to say at the Selfbuild and Daikin theatres. Q&A - Borrowing money to finance your self-build How much can I borrow if I plan to self-build?
First time buyers can borrow up 90 per cent of the site value plus 90 cent of the cost of construction, or 90 per cent of the market value on completion, whichever is the lowest. Second time buyers follow the same rules but with an 80 per cent value instead of 90 per cent. Loan to value (LTV) exceptions can be sought for second time buyers where they may be able to borrow up to 90 per cent subject to strict criteria set down by the Central Bank.
Can I use the site as my deposit?
Yes. In many circumstances where a site is gifted you may not need to use any of your
own money and we may be able to lend 100 per cent of the build cost. The calculation is simple; for first time buyers we can lend 90 per cent of the site value plus the cost of construction, or 90 per cent of the value on completion whichever is lower. For second time buyers the ratio is 80 per cent. So if the site is gifted, and the cost of construction is below the 90 or 80 per cent mark as noted above, we are happy to lend 100 per cent of the construction cost.
Are there other incentives?
Customers may also avail of the Help to Buy (HTB) initiative from the Government as long as they are using a construction firm approved for the scheme and once their loan to value on completion is above 70 per cent. In other words the full mortgage amount must be over 70 per cent of the market value of the property on completion of the build. Other terms and conditions apply; see revenue.ie for more information.
Do you allow Joint Mortgage Single Title Mortgages and is a Right of Residency acceptable?
We allow joint mortgage and single title for our customers. This is especially helpful for unmarried applicants who have a site that has been gifted. Having both on the mortgage enables them get mortgage approval and having only one person on the title prevents the second applicant from being liable to pay a large gift tax bill. We don’t accept right of residency and will only consider parties to the existing mortgage.
Can I get mortgage approval before applying for planning permission?
Yes. Even though it’s not required it is common for customers to get mortgage approval before planning permission. Our Approval in Principle is fully underwritten, and unlike other suppliers, it lasts for 12 months. This arms you with the knowledge of how much you can borrow, which may dictate the size of the house you wish to build and which in turn can be helpful in putting together your planning application.
How many stage payments are there? The normal rule is up to six stage payments but we are flexible and will work with homeowners and their engineers to allow more stages if required. Jeremy O’Sullivan of EBS Mortgages, ebs.ie
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STOCKISTS OF STANDARD CATNIC LINTELS BESPOKE / SPECIAL LINTELS MADE TO ORDER
email@example.com 028 406 23996 / 048 406 23996 www.steellintelsireland.com
S E L F B U I L D L I V E C O R K / E X P E R T TA L K S
TOP TIPS - Choosing your windows Some pointers to help you choose the right windows for your project. Technical parameters. It’s important to do your research into how well the windows will perform so brush up on what the U-value of the entire window is and what airtightness rating you’re getting (look for Class 4). But be aware there are tradeoffs when it comes to price. For instance consider a uPVC window built to the passive standard (U-value below 0.8W/sqmK). In order to achieve this very good thermal performance the window may not have steel reinforcement, in that case it won’t have any strength or rigidity. I would argue solar gain is not that important a factor in a country with a climate like Ireland’s. Other parameters include water tightness (9A highest rated class) and sound insulation which is primarily influenced by the number of glazing sheets you have, triple being the best. Quality of materials. While technical parameters are important on paper, also look at quality of workmanship and production. It’s true that unless you go to the factory it will be hard to know how well the windows are made. But you can get an idea from looking at them: the
BASICS - Air source heat pumps An overview of what types are available with pros and cons. We all have a heat pump in our homes and that’s a fridge. What we are trying to do with the fridge is take all the heat out of it; if you put your hand at the back you will feel hot air blowing out. A heat pump does the same thing in reverse taking cold air out of the house and making it warm. If you put your hand to a heat pump outdoor unit you will feel cold air being blown out. Heat pumps can produce both space heating and hot water for all your domestic needs. Heat pumps will extract heat from the ground, the air or if you have a river from water. Geothermal or ground source systems can be more efficient than air source, especially in Nordic countries where temperatures can drop below zero for prolonged periods. Most units in Ireland are the air to 78 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
handles and the joints will give you an indication. The hardware and locking mechanism as well as the company’s credentials and quality of service are important to check as well. Timing. Ideally you should start doing your research a year before you get planning permission; not much is going to change in that short period of time in terms of technology. The cut-off point to start looking at the windows is a couple of months, two or three at least, before the time the roof is up. The lead time, (the time it takes between ordering the windows and delivery), is generally four to six weeks but can take up to 12 weeks. It’s pointless to get quotes two years before you’re even ready because prices and even products may change. That said learning a bit about windows to be an informed buyer later is definitely a good idea. water heat pump which are easier to install but also better suited to our climate. We’re lucky here that we don’t get weather that’s too extreme. People call it moderate, I call it wet. But wet means warm. We have a high average ambient temperature annually which makes the air source more efficient in the long run. When choosing your air source heat pump, I’d always suggest people go with an integrated system. It’s an all-inone internal unit which has your tank, your diverter valves, your pumps, all the components are built into that one unit, it’s all pre-assembled in a factory and this makes for an easier installation. This is a type of split system which has both an outdoor and an indoor unit. The outdoor component has refrigerant running in the pipes which means they can’t freeze. To install a split system your plumber needs to be trained to install the refrigerant (F-gas trained). Therefore plumbers who aren’t F-gas trained will tend to go for a monoblock system which combines all of the heat pump components outdoors. This makes it
Security and functionality. Very important factors and often overlooked in Ireland, check both. The windows must be internally glazed and steel reinforced; look for an RC security rating. Tilt and turn technology, whereby the window can be opened fully or just from the top for ventilation, is definitely worth considering. Martin Labedz of Oknoplast Windows & Doors, mbcproject.com
easier to install than split systems for the plumber as they just need to run the flow and return water pipes to the unit but it also means the unit is susceptible to frost. Indoors the plumber then needs to add a tank, put pumps on it, sensors on it, bypass valves, diverter valves, etc. So it’s quite a bit more labour intensive than the integrated system. All new dwellings have to comply with the current building regulations and require minimum renewable thermal or electrical contribution, to achieve Part L compliance (ROI). In most cases an air-towater heat pump solution can meet these requirements without the need of any other renewables contribution. Shane McCarthy of Daikin Ireland, daikin.ie
171 Aughrim Road, Toomebridge, Co. Antrim BT41 3SH Tel: (028) 7965 1705 Fax: (028) 7965 1704 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.newbridgejoinery.co.uk
Newbridge Joinery Ltd (from Toomebridge Co Antrim) specialize in high quality bespoke timber joinery which we supply to UK and Ireland. We use only best quality hardwoods from sustainable sources. Newbridge Joinery Ltd are proud to offer you the personal care and attention you would expect from a bespoke joinery service. With a clear point of contact throughout your project, we take great pride and care in all of our joinery work.
We supply install and certify Radon Barriers and air tightness tapes all across the country
BUILDING METHODS / MASONRY
Block works From the great Egyptian pyramids to our self-build family homes masonry forms the basis of most of our built structures. Words: Andrew Stanway
asonry is the process of building structures from small, individual units, usually bonded together by mortar. The units can be of brick, stone, clay, concrete, granite, limestone, cast stone and much more. These small units, of which brick and block are the commonest in Ireland, are used to create the internal and external walls of buildings. The units when bonded together can be either load-bearing or used to make a visually pleasing veneer. Concrete blocks, and indeed all masonry, offer great strength in compression but much less in tension. This means that large areas of flat walls may need reinforcing to withstand high wind loads or earth movement. This reinforcing can be done by inserting vertical and horizontal steel re bars, filling or partially filling hollow concrete blockwork with more concrete, or by constructing piers that buttress the structure at regular intervals. But even though masonry is usually valued for its structural strength it can be used as a veneer on buildings that derive their strength entirely from timber. For example, timber-framed homes are often clad in brick or stone. Because masonry is so heavy it relies for its intrinsic success on being placed on a strong foundation, usually of reinforced concrete as, almost by definition, masonry isn’t a flexible building material, unlike timber. To help reduce cracking, long walls of masonry must have vertical expansion joints. Typically these are at 6m centres for concrete blockwork and 12m centres for brickwork. Care must be taken with mortar strengths. Too strong a mix and there’s an increased risk of cracking; too weak and the joints weather badly and let in water over the years.
Durability. There are Roman masonry 80 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
structures still functioning well after two thousand years. Masonry is not subject to rot, decay, moisture or UV damage, corrosion, or infestation. Acoustics. The sheer physical mass of masonry walls means they have very good sound-proofing properties. Fire resistance. Obviously, building in a non-combustible material has benefits. Thermal mass. Concrete and masonry in general absorb heat in hot conditions then release it back into the living space, acting like a whole-house storage radiator. Flood resistance. In areas where flooding is a risk, masonry walls can be designed to be resilient. They return to their normal strength once dried out. Good U-values. This is especially true of aerated concrete blocks. Available labour. Because masonry is so commonly used in Irish domestic building
almost every building contractor has tradesmen at his disposal who can do a professional job. Available materials. Many masonry materials are manufactured locally and are usually readily available from local builders’ merchants. This can be a huge advantage if you find yourself short of materials. Easy to modify and extend. This can be really useful in a changing world where people are tending to stay put and alter their existing homes rather than move house. Tried and tested. It’s the most popular method of construction in Ireland and tradesmen are used to building with it. A proven track record also means that lenders, insurers and warranty providers are happy with it. Recyclable. At the end of its life a
MASONRY / BUILDING METHODS
‘Care must be taken with mortar strengths; too strong a mix and there’s an increased risk of cracking, too weak a mix the joints weather badly.’
masonry building’s materials can be used again. Concrete can be crushed and bricks can be carefully cleaned and re-used.
Slow to build. Because masonry relies on using small units of construction, it is by definition time-consuming. Clearly, building in larger blocks of concrete or stone gets round this but as these materials are so heavy it is harder work for the masons and slows things down. Doesn’t tolerate extreme weather. Especially where frost is common, water ingress can cause shrinking and expansion of masonry structures and each freezethaw cycle depletes is strength even though by very little. The pointing of stone and brickwork may happen to make it look good but its real purpose is to keep water out. Talking of weather, the progress of masonry construction is adversely affected by bad weather. This can be a real setback in wet or cold climates. New work must be protected from the elements. It’s very heavy. Whilst, as we’ve already seen, this has its advantages, the cost of providing massive foundations to support it is high. In a world where we are all thinking ‘greener’ this is a serious consideration. Lightweight timber structures, for example, can be built on micro-piles and very slim foundations that are much more ecologically sustainable than truckloads of concrete. Ecological footprint. Concrete production including quarrying has an environmental impact from the point of view of water and the energy/carbon dioxide it takes to produce it. On-site storage. Because masonry units are fragile and bulky they need to be carefully stored, out of the wet, on site ready for use. A chipped brick or fractured block is no use to anyone. Requires skilled labour. Because the very nature of masonry is its creation from
many small units, the flexibility of design this allows has to be matched against the skilled labour required to achieve it. The use of masonry as a finished surface veneer requires great care and skill and cannot be rushed. This makes it expensive and hostage to the very nature of building sites as outdoor ‘factories’. Skilled labour is also required to achieve convincing airtightness with all joints completely filled with mortar, and with attention to other airtightness practices. Doesn’t like movement. In areas where the ground conditions are poor and a good foundation hard to achieve, or where tremors and earthquakes are likely, masonry buildings do not fare well. They simply don’t tolerate movement and crack easily.
Although most of us think of brickwork as a decorative veneer on the outside of our homes, bricks can also be used for the structural, internal walls. Bricks being of a smaller size than a block makes them very practical when creating curved, or other unusual, walls. Bricks are usually made out of clay, but can also be made of concrete, and come in literally hundreds of different styles and colours, many of which are dictated by the nature of the original clay from which they are made. The way the clay is baked also has a profound effect on the outcome. The brick units that run horizontally are known as ‘stretchers’ and those that run transverse to the wall, ‘headers’. Each row of bricks is called a ‘course’ and the way in which courses, headers and stretchers are configured can produce very different visual and even structural effects. Verticallystaggered bonds tend to be stronger – and suffer less cracking – than non-staggered ones. Bricks come in several different sizes but they all fit into the hand of the mason and most can be easily cut when necessary. Bricks that are heavier, stronger and suitable for use in situations where crushing strength is important – such a below ground level – are often known as ‘engineering bricks’. Brick veneers are connected to the structural wall behind at intervals by steel
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BUILDING METHODS / MASONRY
wall ties, leaving a gap between. This is known as a cavity wall. The positioning and nature of these ties is all laid down in the building regulations and these rules must be adhered to; the ties ensure the whole wall structure remains stable. The gap between the two skins of a cavity wall prevents water that gets through the veneer skin from reaching the inner skin and thus the house itself. This gap can be filled or partially filled with insulating materials. Great care must be taken when constructing such cavity walls to ensure that mortar doesn’t bridge the gap between the skins as it falls onto the wall ties. Ensure that these ties are cleaned off before you end your day on the site. It’s customary to create weep holes at the base of the outer skin to allow water that might penetrate this veneer to escape outside rather than collect in the cavity between. Mortar must be kept off the inner faces of cavity leaves so insulation boards can be properly located in the space between inner and outer skins. Cavity trays, with associated stop ends and weep holes, must be used above structural openings and above all external wall penetrations.
wall finish required. Synthetic fibres incorporated into the sand and cement finish can increase the strength of a block wall considerably. Concrete blocks that have a hollow centre can be reinforced with steel re bars and sections filled with concrete where required, to make the structure very strong. A variant of the concrete block that is gaining popularity is the clay block. This has hollow cavities within it to improve its insulating properties and can be used
blockwork. Because they are also lighter, the work is more pleasant.
Prefabricated concrete external wall units used to be the sole remit of commercial buildings but they can now be found on self-builds. The insulation is fixed to the rear or placed between two layers of concrete to form an insulated concrete sandwich. Panels can be designed to be load bearing, with the inner leaf taking the
There are three main types of concrete block. High-density ones made from cement and an aggregate; lower density ones made using cement and industrial wastes/fly ash as the aggregate; and lightweight blocks (including autoclaved aerated blocks) that are easy to lift and use, simple to cut, have good thermal properties and can be made of up to 80 per cent recycled materials. The standard size of a block is 440mm x 215mm x 100mm but larger sizes are also available, both solid and hollow. They are usually laid vertically (standing on their long thin edge) but can be laid ‘on flat’. This latter method makes for a very strong, solid concrete wall in situations where it’s not possible to cast one from poured concrete. The advantage of concrete blocks is that, being larger they go up faster than bricks. Some blocks, especially concrete types, also absorb less water than brickwork. (See Brickwork above for details on cavity wall construction). Concrete blockwork can also be used as a finished surface in its own right. Where budgets are tight, very carefully installed and well-pointed blockwork can be left as a finished surface which decorates well to produce an acceptable domestic look. Usually, though, structural concrete blocks are surfaced with plaster, sand and cement mortar, or covered with (often insulated) plasterboard to produce the internal 82 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
‘But even though masonry is usually valued for its structural strength it can be used as a veneer on buildings that derive their strength entirely from timber. For example, timber-framed homes are often clad in brick or stone.’
to build a single-skin wall in certain circumstances. Clay blocks are thermally more efficient than concrete blocks. They are light to use and easy to install, with extremely thin bonding material that is literally rolled onto the surface before applying the next course of blocks. Because they interlock there is no need for mortar in the vertical joints. They can be used as the inner leaf of cavity walls, or for single-leaf partition walls inside the house. They come with matching lintel systems. It is claimed that using these clay blocks is four times faster than building in concrete
loads. The outer wall of the concrete keeps the weather out and ensures airtightness. Non load bearing concrete precast wall units can be used for up to eight storeys or fixed to the steel frame. Precast units are quick and easy to install and are brought to site as needed so there’s no problem with storage. They provide a very good thermal mass. But they are also on the more expensive end of the scale. You can also find a super-insulated masonry system that allows singleskin, solid wall construction with good
MASONRY / BUILDING METHODS
insulation and airtightness. One such system uses 200mm-wide blocks that are quickly installed using thinbed mortar, then finished externally with EPS insulation, followed by several other layers to complete the watertight and airtight system. The inside of these lightweight blocks is completed with dot-and-dab plasterboard. It is claimed that this system can cost up to 20 per cent less than timber frame but it is, of course, still a wet trade involving the use of small construction units, just like any other masonry system.
Of course, the original ‘masons’ used stone and a few still do. Though it’s not easy to build homes in solid stonework today it is still a popular facing veneer material. Because this entails first building a cavity wall, creating stone-faced walls is very much more expensive than other, simpler methods such as rendering with sand and cement mortar. Dressed stone is also used as a feature at corners, as quoins, for door and window surrounds as well as door and window sills. Stone masonry using these types of dressed stones is known as ‘ashlar’ masonry and masonry using rough, irregularly-shaped stones is called ‘rubble’ masonry. Some stone masonry is coursed but much of it is laid un-coursed. Another unusual but highly effective use of stone is the ‘gabion’. This is a sort of basket made of industrial-quality, zincprotected steel wire that is filled with broken lumps of medium-sized stones. Gabions look great and are intensely practical as they can be placed easily with the correct handling gear, drain well, and have a long life. They are not used structurally but are good for holding back earth walls, for example. In the right situation can be very functional, and decorative, if a little industrial.
Pricing masonry walls is a specialist business because there are so many variables involved. For the simplest brickwork in a stretcher bond, using gauged mortar the cost can be as low as £60/sqm or €70/sqm. But brick costs vary hugely, according to the style and manufacture. Some cost ten times more than others. The type of bond used, the nature of the pointing (coloured mortars cost more), the type of block used (the thickest thermal block can cost twice that of a standard one), and much more, all contribute to the cost. Once you start to think about stone, the costs are totally different again.
Structural supports Adding windows and doors to your masonry wall will require the addition of a lintel to support the loadings coming from above, from the floors and roof. These are known as lintels or ‘heads’ and are usually made of concrete or steel. Concrete is cheaper but steel is required in many cases, e.g. over bifold or wide sliding doors, and tends to be a better choice in general because it’s stronger allowing for longer spans. To avoid thermal bridging, there are steel lintels available which are insulated. These tend to be more expensive but have the additional benefit of being lighter than steel-only lintels making installation easier. “Certified steel lintels accommodate modern building techniques including thermal efficiency and offer corrosion protection,” says Barney McConville of Steel Lintels Ireland. “Bespoke lintels can be designed to allow your architect to add custom features to your house. These can be corner, arch, apex, sunroom windows etc. A steel lintel is manufactured to achieve the architectural design and support the structure.”
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I N S U L AT I O N / C AV I T Y WA L L S
Board versus bead A popular method of insulating new build cavity walls is to fill the gap in between the two leaves, either by pumping them with EPS beads or by adding rigid board insulation. Words: Jeff O Toole
n NI and ROI partial fill cavity wall insulation is widely considered to be the most traditional wall construction build up. The cavity is there to reduce the risk of moisture soaking through the external wall. In a bid to reduce heat loss, nowadays cavities are built wider than in the past to allow for insulation to be installed within them. By insulating inside the cavity you reduce the need to insulate on the inside of the house or externally.
For current standard construction detailing, a typical wall build up would consist of a brick or block outer leaf, 40mm clear cavity, 80mm insulation, 100mm block inner leaf and internal plaster. The insulation is protected in the cavity and is installed by the block layer as he builds the walls. Housing standards have improved over the past two decades and so have insulation products. PIR insulation boards have replaced polystyrene because PIR has a lower conductivity which means you can achieve the same insulation value with less thickness. Phenolic foam is better again. A 150mm cavity with 110mm PIR can easily meet the current building regulations and achieve a U-value as low as 0.18 W/sqmK as outlined in the new ROI Part L building regulations coming into force this year. This means an insulated slab on the inner leaf of the wall is not required to boost the U-Value. This in turn has the benefit of maximising the thermal mass, (masonry’s ability to store and slowly release heat), in the building. While partial fill insulation makes a lot of sense and can be very cost effective, it is difficult to get it 100 per cent right. To achieve the calculated U-value, which measures heat loss, the insulation must be tight against the inside leaf. 86 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
Any air gap between the insulation and the wall on the warm side of the cavity causes thermal looping. Thermal looping happens when there’s an air gap between the insulation boards and the inner leaf of blockwork – this leads to heat getting drawn from the inside of the house into the cavity. This considerably reduces the effectiveness of the insulation. A study (see Further reading page opposite) carried out in the early 1990s shows that a 5mm air gap causes a 35 per cent reduction in insulation effectiveness, 10mm a 93 per cent reduction and 15mm a 180 per cent reduction. These are alarming results. If a wall is designed to meet a U-Value of 0.21 W/sqmK, the actual U-Value with 10mm gaps would be 0.4 W/sqmK. This does not even come close to complying with the building regulations. 80mm PIR will achieve 0.21 W/sqmK but with a 10mm gap it is the equivalent of 40mm PIR. A 5mm gap would be well within a block layer’s tolerance for accuracy but
Good Example of tight fitting full fill insulation
‘To achieve the calculated U-value, which measures heat loss, the insulation must be tight against the inside leaf. ’
C AV I T Y WA L L S / I N S U L AT I O N
considering mortar droppings and small pieces of aggregate falling into the cavity, less that 10mm is hard to maintain. This is a widely recognised problem and manufacturers have tried to address it with tongued and grooved insulation boards and full fill solutions (straight edge sheets installed on top of each other). This means that a 150mm board is added to the 150mm cavity as the block layer builds the wall. This leaves no tolerance for the block layer and the cavities must be kept spotlessly clean. When there is an obstruction in the cavity it is easier to cut out a piece of insulation than to take down the wall to remove the obstruction, which can lead to more thermal looping.
Many people are now opting for pumping the cavity walls with bonded EPS beads after the wall is built rather than relying on the block layer to put the insulation in as he goes. This also requires that cavities are kept clean but with a 150mm wide clear cavity there is much more space to maintain a clean cavity. The walls are drilled and pumped before the final coat of external render is applied. The bead is pumped at high pressure and mixed with a binding agent so the beads bond together in the cavity. The binding agent is very important as it allows the beads to become a solid mass. This helps to prevent moisture migration across the cavity, it also prevents the beads flowing out if the walls are opened for
Section of insulation cut to avoid obstructions in the cavity resulting in 25mm Air gap
HOW MUCH DOES IT COST? Contractors typically charge €10-€12/£10 per sqm to pump the walls with 150mm of platinum EPS bonded beads. It typically costs €9-€10/£8 per sqm to achieve the same value with PIR insulation boards so there is not much in the cost difference. Further reading: Lecompte, J. (1990). ‘The Influence of natural convection on the thermal quality of insulated cavity construction’. Building Research and Practice, No. 6, pp. 349-354.
Examples of badly fitted insulation with air gaps between the board and inside block
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I N S U L AT I O N / C AV I T Y WA L L S
alterations or drilled for services. This system is fast and cost effective. However some would say that the air gap in the cavity is there for a reason, so there is no bridge for the moisture to pass from outside to inside. This is a fair point and not all houses are suitable to be pumped. All bonded bead systems in ROI should have an NSAI Agrément Certificate (IAB)/ in NI a BBA Agrément Certificate with details of how the system should be used and where it should not be used. The NSAI certs state that the beads do not promote the migration of moisture across the cavity if the bead is applied as per the
NSAI Certificate. Also ensure the system is installed by an NSAI Registered Contractor. Caution needs be taken where houses are in highly exposed areas to make sure the external render has no weakness or defects that may allow driving rain to penetrate the wall. It is not acceptable to pump brick walls in areas identified on the certificate – coastal areas are off limits. Any wall that’s not plastered or consists of fair faced blockwork should not be filled with beads either. In addition to cavities and wall ties being kept clean and free of mortar, know that bonded beads should not be in contact with cables and ensure all cavities
are closed prior to pumping, especially at the wallplate (top of wall). As with any system, if you do not follow the instructions there is a chance of failure. 150mm of bonded bead can meet the current maximum U-Value requirement of 0.21 W/sqmK. Better U-values can be achieved by increasing the width of the cavity but this has structural and cost implications on foundations and wall ties. Alternatively, an insulated slab can be added internally to achieve a lower U-value. This adds more cost to the build but also helps eliminate thermal bridging.
EPS BONDED BEAD INSULATION
� � � �
� Can be installed as the walls are being built to ensure all sections are insulated � Lower U-values can be achieved without the need for wider cavities � Can meet the nearly zero energy building standard without an insulated slab internally � Some suppliers provide thermal bridge free details
Walls can be built faster Easier to keep the cavity clean No risk of thermal looping Fully fills the cavity to ensure insulation continuity
DISADVANTAGES � � � �
Must be installed correctly to avoid the risk of moisture problems Some limitations regarding where it can be used A wider cavity is required to achieve lower (better) U-values May need an insulated slab on the internal wall to achieve low U-values
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DISADVANTAGES � Difficult to install correctly and poor installation reduces the effectiveness of the insulation � 10mm gaps in between the insulation and the internal leaf can reduce the U-value by up to 97 per cent (thermal looping)
INSIDER TRENDS / INSIDE TRACK
Bathroom trends for 2019 Plants
For a sense of luxury and functionality – not to mention adding value to your home – look no further than Bathline sales manager Sonya O’Neill’s trends to look out for in 2019.
For more help and advice on the latest bathroom trends contact your local BATHLINE bathroom showroom or book an appointment for a design consultation. Bathline-Bathrooms.com
Using natural materials such as concrete, granite, metals, stone and wood not only add atmosphere but create the sought-after ‘wow factor’. An added bonus is that you don’t have to commit to this style; instead consider introducing these tactile materials in the form of bathroom accessories like trays and soap dishes. Coloured marble will definitely become more prevalent as 2019 progresses.
starting point of your design – it’s a stand-out feature that blends into contemporary or traditional bathrooms whilst also perfectly complementing a monochrome colour scheme.
The simple act of adding plants and shrubbery to your bathroom can do wonders to the atmosphere and your health. Plants produce a calming feeling and a sense of serenity and tranquillity. They brighten up your bathroom, adding depth and softening corners, creating a truly natural atmosphere that generates a sense of openness which goes beyond your bathroom’s dimensions.
Bathrooms should offer well-lit and dimmer options; in fact the right amount of illumination is paramount to a successful bathroom design. Self-builders are increasingly realising this and are taking the time to put together well thought out lighting schedules. Features such as back-lit mirrors, under-shelf lighting and wallmounted accessories make for effective but inconspicuous, soft lighting. Treat yourself to some mood lighting for a relaxing and reenergising feel. Use candles to set the tone and position your mirrors to reflect natural light into the room. There’s no doubt about it. Clever lighting schemes can make even a small bathroom feel bigger than it is.
Coloured Metallic Brassware
For years brassware was an afterthought in bathroom design, with chrome winning hands down as a finish. But a quiet revolution is now taking place with coloured metallic finishes fast emerging as an exciting trend. In all aspects of interior design metallic tones are gaining in popularity and in the bathroom, coloured metal allows your brassware to become the focal point. Embrace brass, bronze, gold or matte black brassware as the
Bathrooms are moving into the digital age at an astounding rate. Digital showers, SMART Mirrored Cabinets, Toilet Showers and SMART Lighting are just a few of the technologies you can bring into your bathroom. Bluetooth and wi-fi technologies that synchronise with Alexa and Siri will readily control your bathroom from your smartphone for the ultimate bathing and washing experience. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 89
P R O J E C T / C O C AVA N
Serendipity Taking the time to plan your self-build pays incredible dividends as Sean and Eloise Duffy learned after spending four years designing their house Photography: Aisling McCoy / TOB Architects
How did this project come about?
Sean: We had been talking about building our own house for years. We had land because we farm it and we always knew we wanted our own home done in our own style. We lived in standard residential accommodation, including terraced houses, and knew what worked and what didn’t. Eloise: We’d been toying with ideas in our heads and when we passed the architect’s tent at the Ploughing in 2012 we decided to pop in. We happened to sit down with Tom; he had a country background as we did, he had fresh ideas, he was enthusiastic and we felt like he was really listening to us. So when the time came for us to build four years later we got back in touch with him. Meeting him on that day was serendipity.
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C O C AVA N / P R O J E C T
‘We’d been toying with ideas in our heads and when we passed the architect’s tent at the Ploughing in 2012 we decided to pop in.’
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TOP TIP Make sure there’s good communication. Being able to get what’s important across to everyone is vital. Get a builder you can get along with and talk to. Also make sure the builder’s relationship with your architect is a good one. We have a friend who is managing the entire project themselves, hiring every tradesman. Going direct labour just seems so difficult considering all the effort and time that goes into it. That said, you can always expect some delays. We had to wait two months for our roofer because he’s specialised in awkward shapes, which is what we have. The delay was heart-breaking. It was worth it though; he’s a pure artist and did a fantastic job.
What was the driving force?
Eloise: For all of us to live harmoniously together. We have pets and we were very conscious of how difficult it was to segregate our living areas from theirs. In our previous accommodation the house would get destroyed by the dogs coming in the back door into the sitting room and you could never keep the house clean. Also Sean works on the farm so he comes home with muddy boots, in our previous accommodation the front door led straight into the kitchen which wasn’t practical at all. So number one on the list was a large utility room dedicated to Sean being able to hang up his dirty clothes and put away his boots but also a room for the pets to have their space. We made that area as comfortable as possible for the cats and dogs, we have deep shelves with bedding for the cats – they love it because it’s up high. Every surface is wipeable and low maintenance, and everything is enclosed in cupboards so there’s no more knocking stuff off the shelves. Sean: We like our privacy and outdoor living, and Tom really listened to us delivering a wonderful design. The only tweaks we made were maybe adding a door here or a division there to suit our lifestyle, but these were very small changes and we feel the house has stayed true to his original design. 92 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
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P R O J E C T / C O C AVA N
Cost Control We had the budget set out but there are always extras. Thankfully the builder was very good working with us, he was clear about how much extras would cost exactly and where we could save and by how much. It all adds up over time: choosing more expensive tiles, increasing the specification for the kitchen as well as the appliances. Our builder was very helpful in doing small things on his own, like putting in a concrete hearth which wasn’t initially part of the contract. In essence, you might as well do it right the first time. The builder told us to finish as much as we could before moving in, not too leave too much to do later on. I think that’s sound advice otherwise it’s likely you won’t get around to it for a couple of years. It’s actually more expensive to do it in bits and pieces. The polished concrete floor in the ktichen is a good example – we left it power floated, we didn’t polish or seal it prior to moving in. After a couple of weeks it was hard to clean and we had to ask the polisher to come back to finish the floor. Because we were living in the house, we had to try to seal the room off as best we could but that’s impossible with the fine dust. In this case we tried to save money by delaying the inevitable but some things just have to be done.
Did the planners object to the house being up so high?
Eloise: Yes the house was originally meant to be on the hill up quite high and the planners asked us to move it down a bit. It took about eight or nine months to get it approved in the end.
Did you do any of the work yourselves? How did you choose your builder?
Eloise: We were both working and wouldn’t have known where to start, we don’t have builders or tradesmen in the family, so we got a main contractor. Tom helped us here too in that he came up with all the builders to tender to; we sent the drawings to nine and three came back. We went with a local builder who lives two miles up the road. We felt that was a 94 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
guarantee of craftsmanship because in a small town your reputation is important. He’s a very nice guy; he brought us to see other houses he’d completed in the area.
How long did it take? Who was supervising the build?
Sean: It took 18 months in total, from February 2017 to April 2018, to build the house. Tom was involved by keeping an eye on things and he helped with the finishes too. As it’s on the farm we were always around but we didn’t want to be on top of people. But we were always available for any changes or questions. We were up every weekend, mostly to satisfy our curiosity. There are periods when it all goes very quickly and others when you can’t see what they’ve accomplished in a day.
C O C AVA N / P R O J E C T
‘‘We tried to save money by delaying the inevitable but some things just have to be done.’’
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P R O J E C T / C O C AVA N
ARCHITECT’S VIEW Architect Thomas O’Brien who likes “awkward absurd things” explains why Sean and Alisha’s house was designed to be “deliberately unharmonious” and “open to multiple interpretations”. Sean and Alisha’s house is embedded within the acreage of their farm; the driveway is almost 1km long and they are in more ways than one nestled within. It is no doubt a firm commitment to the farm and to their way of life. “They wanted to be secluded within the rolling hills, with a view over the land. Our discussions were about the translation of farmyards and other things we both liked from our rural backgrounds,” says Thomas. Here he first explains the concept then gives us a walkthrough of the house:
The house takes references from the Casino at Marino which is a derivation of Palladio’s Villa Rotunda in Italy. Both command the landscape and are implicitly inviting. As square Greek cross plans, they offer four equivalent elevations to the surrounding open landscape. Sean and Alisha’s house is also square in plan, the footprint being approximately 12m x 12m, yet departs from the rigorous order and symmetry of its neo-classical precedents. The house deploys ‘agricultural’ materials and unapologetically exhibits a deliberate awkwardness of form, which seeks to thwart aesthetic convention insofar as the predictive forces of good taste, beauty, style etc., continually return us to the same forms and structures. The work exhibits a robust and deliberate constructional legibility. Even though the plan is square each elevation looks different. This is due to the pyramidal roof and the eccentric location of the chimney. A Douglas Fir timber box gutter is propped along the length of the roof by vertical fins at regular centres. At the north-east corner these timbers form a portico. To the south elevation, the eaves is extended out by 1.1m from the wall, to shade the south elevation and shelter the main patio.
FIRST FLOOR House size 2,200 sqft Plot size 0.4 acre
Major visual axes through the building are maintained but here and there the walls are pulled or pushed off axis to form the necessary rooms or to create a recess or alcove for a door or bench. The ground floor rooms are relatively open to each other, arranged around a central double height hall. A 450mm step in section across the main east west axis separates the upper from lower quarters. Large oak doors close off the rooms if desired. The kitchen space is opened up to the south view by a long panoramic opening spanned by a 9.5 x 1.5m concrete beam. Precast concrete floor panels bearing on the walls or cast beams carry the upper floors. The walls are plastered in an off-white coloured sand cement floated finish and are left unpainted. Oak joinery and flooring bring some warmth to the masonry. Robust concrete benches and walls are set out around the house to enclose the stepped or ramped areas of the paths. The chimney is a narrow horizontal slot alluding to a pillbox bunker overlooking the terrain. It is the ‘strong centre’ of the house. The landscaping and construction of outbuildings will continue in the coming years as budget allows.
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BUDGET / SUBSTRUCTURE
How much will your foundations cost?
The first part in a series of articles helping you cost the specific elements of your self-build Words: Keith Kelliher
t Self Build Live Dublin this past September in Citywest, I was approached by selfbuilders who had problems identifying their cost of building. Mostly at fault was the illogical yet widespread approach of averaging out costs. Average costs are not confined to self-builds; they are prevalent across the construction industry. Averages may be useful when discussing things in general but rarely does anyone actually hit that average figure. This approach has resulted in many in the self-building community finding themselves with a dream design on a dream site with a full grant of planning permission only to find out the cost of building that dream is either above their reach or above the value they are willing
to commit to the project. In this series I will outline what can impact on cost, including material selection, shape and slope of the site as well as the specification. By providing an understanding of how projects are actually costed, I hope that future self-builders can approach the process of building and the estimation of costs with a far greater level of accuracy. Throughout this review, the inaccuracy and dangers of estimating based on average costs will also be laid bare.
In part one of this series I will outline the issues surrounding the costs of the substructure. This includes everything that’s below the finished floor level but excludes items like footpaths, paving or drainage which are dealt with later.
The main components that will affect the cost of your substructure are: � type of soil which is very much site specific – different parts of your site will have different soil conditions; whether or not the ground is weight bearing enough will determine if you need the simplest, cheapest foundation or a more expensive option. � level of the water table; if you hit water when you dig down you’re likely to have to reconsider where to build or invest in an expensive system to divert the water away from the building. � proximity to rivers, lakes or wells as this can again impact on the water table but it may also mean you need to take account of the possibility of rising levels over the lifetime of the property in a more concerted way than a site that is not located near any water source. � proximity to vegetation including trees, weeds, etc. These can provide guidance in respect to ground conditions and the need to address issues with root systems. � slope or site level; if you need to cut into a bank or the site needs to be levelled, you’re looking at added complexity and therefore more cost. � the design, (shape and size), of the house has a direct cost impact on the foundations. The bigger the house the heavier it is and the more it requires support. A large ground floor area also means more walls which means more concrete. Once all of these issues are known and understood, a foundation will be designed by a structural engineer for the property to meet the needs of the unique structure on the unique site. This specification can then be costed out including the level of groundworks required, getting concrete on site, how much of it, etc.
The most common type of foundation 98 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
SUBSTRUCTURE / BUDGET
BUILDING (Direct Costs)
Services (Mainly Piped and Ducted)
Services (Mainly Electrical)
Fittings and Furniture
(1-) Substructure Generally
(2-) Structure Generally
(3-) Structure Completions Generally
(4-) Finishes Generally
(5-) Services (mainly Piped and Ducted) Generally
(6-) Services (Mainly Electrical) Generally
(7-) Fittings and Furniture Generally
(11) Ground, Earth Shapes
(21) External Walls
(31) External Walls: Completions within Openings
(41) Wall Finishes Externally
(51) Heating Centre
(61) Electrical Supply and Main Distribution
(71) Display, Circulation Fittings
(10) Prepared Site
(22) Internal Walls, Partitions
(32) Internal Walls, Partitions: Completions within Openings
(42) Wall Finishes Internally
(52) Drainage and Refuse Disposal
(72) Work, Rest, Play Fittings
(20) Site Structures
(13) Floors in Substructure
(23) Floors, Galleries
(33) Floors, Galleries: Completions
(43) Floor Finishes
(53) Water Distribution
(73) Culinary Fittings
(30) Site Enclosures
(24) Stairs, Ramps
(34) Stairs, Ramps: Completions
(44) Stairs, Ramps: Finishes
(54) Gases Distribution
(74) Sanitary, Hygiene Fittings
(40) Roads, Paths, Pavings
(35) Suspended Ceilings
(45) Ceiling Finishes
(55) Space Cooling
(65) Security and Protection
(75) Cleaning, Maintenance Fittings
(50) Site Services (Mainly Piped and Ducted)
(16) Foundations and Rising Walls
(56) Space Heating
(76) Storage, Screening Fittings
(60) Site Services (Mainly Electrical)
(17) Piled Foundations
(37) Roof: Completions
(47) Roof Finishes
(57) Ventilation and Air Conditioning
(70) Site Fittings
(58) Other Services (Mainly Piped and Ducted)
(68) Other Services (Mainly Electrical)
(80) Landscape, Play Areas
(19) Summary: Building Substructure
(29) Summary: Building Structure
(39) Summary: Building Structure Completions
(49) Summary: Building Finishes
(59) Summary: Building Services (Mainly Piped and Ducted)
(69) Summary: Building Services (Mainly Electrical)
(79) Summary: Building Fittings and Furniture
(90) Summary: Site
in NI and ROI is known as the strip foundation. A trench is excavated generally in the region of 900mm in width for an external wall but again this is not always the case. The width, depth and makeup of any specific foundation will need to be designed by an engineer. The depth is usually approximately 1m below ground level and the bottom of the trench is filled with concrete and reinforcement to a depth of approximately 300mm from which blockwork walls then commence upwards. On average the first 700mm height of blockwork, generally known as the rising walls or dead-work, is located from the top of the foundation to the finished floor level. The blockwork is then used as a formwork for filling of stone to the underside of the new floor and for the pouring of concrete to the subsequent concrete floor slab.
The same process applies for internal and external walls; however, the majority of internal walls will require a narrower foundation due to different wall thicknesses. Raft foundations are for areas where the ground conditions are not as firm as those where a strip foundation can be used. Raft foundations cover the entire area of the ground floor slab of a property and they spread the load of the building over a larger area than other foundations, thereby lowering the pressure on the ground. In a raft foundation detail the entire structure is poured in one process. Raft foundations will generally require a substantial amount of additional formwork and steel reinforcement over and above a standard strip foundation making them more expensive. Where ground conditions are extremely
(-0) Site Generally
COSTS ROADMAP Projects are often and usually organised in accordance with the National Standard Building Elements and Design Cost Control Procedures (ERU, 1993). The purpose of this document is to provide a matrix for those involved in the construction industry to break down a building project into a clear set of elements to facilitate cost control. The figure to the left is the matrix of elements taken from the ERU document. By breaking a project down into categories, it allows for cost control within each element as a job progresses from an initial design through construction to completion.
poor piled foundations may be required. Piling involves a process of driving an individual column of concrete down into the ground until a firm level is reached. A foundation is then constructed from pile cap to pile cap with the weight of the property spread across all of the piles and down to the firm ground below. Piling is an expensive addition to any project and the costs of the work can only be calculated after a detailed design has been completed. With the cost of mobilising piling equipment to and from site, its is generally the case that even the smallest of piling operations will add substantially to the cost of the substructure operation. There is a danger in even attempting to cost piled foundations as they vary greatly depending on the number of piles required, the size of the pile and the kind of rig you will need. I had a job recently ďƒ˜ SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 99
BUDGET / SUBSTRUCTURE
which was putting a basement in under a four bed semi and the piling just to hold back the neighbour’s house cost €100,000. Another job we had in south Dublin for a new house of circa 3,500 sqft had piling costs of €60,000. Therefore soil investigations are definitely worth the effort before you spend time and energy in the house design.
I generally find that the cheapest way to build is to copy the way our grandparents built their homes. This stands across all aspects, from shape to material selection to manner of construction. If we look at the shape and style of properties constructed in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s in Ireland, most domestic properties were designed around simple rectangular shapes. Properties were generally constructed as a single level bungalow structure or standard two storey property. These building shapes were and continue to be the most economical shapes to construct. The less angles, turns, recesses or box outs that a design contains the cheaper the structure will be to build. It is obviously also the case that two properties measuring 139sqm (1,500sqft) in size where one property is a bungalow and the other is a two-storey property, will have differing costs of substructure with the two-storey property using a smaller footprint on the ground. The example on the next page shows the comparison in foundation and rising wall costs of the external wall of two typical 139sqm properties, the two storey has a ground floor of roughly 70sqm. It should be noted that the rates included are for information purposes only – you can never rely on costs from other properties for your own, yours will need to
Sample cost comparison for a 139sqm bungalow
excavation to reduce level
excavate foundations external walls
concrete to foundations
mesh in foundations
fill to underside of floor
insulation to underside of floor
reinforcement mesh in floor slab
deadwork / rising walls
dpm / radon
accessories - sump, pipwork
floor screed for underfloor heating pipes
excavation to reduce level
excavate foundations external walls
concrete to floor / raft foundation
fill to underside of floor
insulation to underside of floor
reinforcement mesh in floor slab
deadwork / rising walls
dpm / radon
accessories - sump, pipwork
formwork to side of foundation
floor screed for underfloor heating pipes
be individually costed. The figures also exclude VAT and relate to the labour, plant and material costs required to complete these works on a specific project. Again, every project is unique and it does not follow that the same rates apply to carry out the same work on different project sites. Location also tends to have a bearing on cost. In terms of pricing and costs, the initial works required on any site will involve the stripping of existing site vegetation, trees, and topsoil. The amount of each of these items will vary and, in some cases, a site may require little if any work. The site now clear, it’s time to level the site and dig the trenches for your foundations. The entire footprint of the 100 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
SUBSTRUCTURE / BUDGET
building has to be levelled to the point where the underside of the stone filling for the floor will be. It is from this level that you will excavate the foundation trenches. Once the reinforcements and concrete have been poured, it’s time for the blockwork rising walls (known as dead-work due to their location below the ground). Blockwork in strip footing arrangements will generally, subject to an engineer’s design for the specific project, be in the region of 700mm high starting from the top of the foundation. Once the blockwork is completed, the underside of the floor level is filled with stone backfill materials and then compacted into place. It is important that the material chosen is certified in order to confirm the absence of any gas materials like pyrite in the stone. On top of the stone is a layer of levelled and compacted sand. Then generally a 150mm concrete slab is installed across the floor to act as the main structural floor for the property. A damp proof membrane is laid across the floor and turned up to meet the top level of the blockwork where it will meet a damp proof course (DPC) in the blockwork. The purpose of these materials is to deflect any dampness away from the property. To prevent heat loss through the blocks laid on the foundations, you can specify materials that prevent thermal bridging at an added cost. Floor insulation to the required thickness as specified by the designer is then laid onto the membrane with an upstand of insulation turned up to meet the external wall around the perimeter of the property. A second concrete floor, generally referred to as the screed, is then installed
‘By providing an understanding of how projects are actually costed, I hope that future self-builders can approach the process of building and the estimation of costs with a far greater level of accuracy.’ on the insulation and this provides the ground floor of the property. In the case of underfloor heating, the pipes for that system will generally be laid on the insulation before the screed is poured. Oftentimes the insulation and screed aren’t installed until the roofing stage – this is to prevent damaging the floor. Blockwork to a raft foundation will generally only be 300-400mm in height above the foundation. Once the blockwork is in place and on the basis that the raft slab itself provides the main ground floor structure, the damp proof membrane is installed directly to the raft slab followed by the insulation and screed as outlined for the strip foundation above. In all cases, drainage within the floor, radon sumps and pipework and any ducting or similar items can be
Sample cost comparison for strip foundations
Unit Cost Element Total Amount Unit CostTotal
In the next issue, we will look at the element of external walls and outline how material selection can seriously impact on the bottom line of your budget when it comes to selecting how the house is to be finished.
designed and installed within the relevant structures. The example on the page opposite for a 139sqm bungalow compares the cost of the standard strip foundation detail to the raft foundation detail. Specifications and day rates are the same on both properties. The difference between the two options is €2,491.63 excluding VAT. Even though this is a small difference – with the average costing model it’s only adding of €17.93 per sqm or €1.67 per sqft – always remember that it is merely for one element of a project and in most cases it is the sum of these types of differences that cause projects to run over budget.
Excavation to reduce level
Excavate foundations external walls
Concrete to foundations
Mesh in foundations
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BUDGET / TENDERING
Why are builders’ quotes so shocking? You’ve put your project out to tender and then get a shock when the results come in. Here are the reasons why. Words: Andrew Stanway these other costs are ‘forgotten’. And they certainly never consider the approximately two thousand hours of personal time they’ll have spent over two or more years. If they might have otherwise been earning, this can amount to a lot of money. In a nationwide market it’s also easy to get carried away with prices in parts of the country that are not yours. It’s vital to compare apples with apples as construction costs may be very much less somewhere other than where you’ll build. Then, as a group, we self-builders tend to be optimistic and ever-hopeful that we can somehow, because of our unique talents, skills, force of personality, professional advice and so on, bring a great project in for less than anyone else could. This is nonsense and deluded. Building a dream house will not be cheap. Even building a ‘very good’ house is expensive. If you start from this position, you’ll be in for less of a shock.
ost self-builders do a lot of homework, possibly involving months of time, energy and money, before they even get to the tendering stage. Professionals have been involved, the planners had their say, topographical surveys done, bats and Roman ruins ruled out. Yet we can still get terrible surprises when the quotes come in. Many people immediately assume they’ve chosen the wrong builders, or that someone somehow seriously misunderstood the situation. Here are a few reasons why this occurs. 102 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
Unrealistic expectations A major problem with pricing one’s own new house is that many people are tempted to, if not lie, fool themselves. Most self-builders listen intently, whether this is on the grapevine, at the pub, on the web, or in magazines, to what others have paid for their build. The trouble is that the vast majority of these sums are wrong – or incomplete. Many people tell me with pride about their new home’s cost, when what they really mean is what the builder charged them. Of course this is only a fraction of the total project cost. Conveniently, for reasons that are best known to them, all
Lack of understanding of how builders work and make a profit Builders want to use their time and skills to make a profit, just like any other business owners. This means choosing realistic builds that go as planned, with clients who don’t change their minds, where all the wrinkles have been ironed out before they start, and on which they can make a twenty percent profit. Good builders are always in demand and today there’s a shortage of skilled people in the construction world. This means that builders can be picky about what work they choose and when they do it. Builders never charge you upfront for their work, so are always playing financial catch-up, doing the work first then getting paid for it. This makes them feel vulnerable. And indeed, many customers do let them down.
TENDERING / BUDGET
Even assuming identical costs, the more challenging the project the less attractive it will be to the builder and so the price will rise. Most of us want a simple life. Many builders will also be wary of self-builds because they fear the (ill-informed) owner will become over-involved, fussing around and changing their minds. Better do a run of four terraced houses for a developer. Get in there, know what you’re up against, get the job done and move on to the next one. In other words, many builders won’t share your ‘dream’ – it is just a job of work for them – one which has the potential to become their nightmare.
He doesn’t want your job at any price – and so gives you a crazy one Maybe you’ve chosen a builder who is so busy he doesn’t want more work. Or he doesn’t want the sort of work you are offering. It’s horses for courses, as in any industry. No good contractor will take on a project that will overstretch him in time, uncertainty, skills set or competence. Others will price high on the basis that if you can wait for them they’ll then grace you with their work! I’ve been in this position myself, where the construction challenges were so great that very few contractors could cope. Going this route puts the builder in a very strong position – and he knows it. He then prices accordingly.
Your designers have become unrealistic about your budget Obviously your designers will want to give you your dream house, within the bounds of planning possibilities, the plot and how buildable it is. But it isn’t this simple. The problem is that all too many designers end up designing a dream home for themselves, rather than for you. They forget you are the client. And they also forget that day by day every design change and embellishment has an effect on the budget – which is your hard-earned money. A good designer will keep you in intimate touch with how the evolving design affects price. Some architects and designers have had such negative experiences with budgeting that they say at once if they feel the client has an unrealistic expectation of what can be achieved for their money. I think the reverse should also occur. We self-builders should, in turn, keep a very watchful eye on our designers, to be sure they don’t get carried away with their enthusiasm. The trouble is that, even with value engineering or cutting costs on site, it’s usually impossible to go back to the drawing board after receiving
‘It’s vital to compare apples with apples as construction costs may be very much less somewhere other than where you’ll build.’
unexpectedly high builders’ quotes and rescope the project to bring the price down. Spend your time at this stage policing the budget rather than worrying about what sofa you’ll have.
You’ve left too much to the builder to second-guess The old saying, ’To assume is to make an ASS out of U and ME’ is all too relevant when pricing a build. You will feel you are ‘right’ about what you’d assumed the builder would know and he feels ‘right’ that he is making proper assumptions from his professional experience. Neither of you is right unless you’ve both agreed what ‘right’ is. The builder then tends to assume the worst, and builds this into his price, or even comes to the conclusion that he doesn’t want to work with you if you’re this undecided – because experience has shown him that he’ll have grief later with a client like you. He also fears being blamed for getting things wrong, in your eyes, and no one wants to run their working life like this. At a more cynical level, some builders love this lack of clarity. It is how they make high margins as they charge you for numerous ‘extras’.
You haven’t been sufficiently specific about fixtures and fittings Pricing the basic structure of your home is relatively easy for a professional. Once you’ve decided on a method – masonry, kit house, concrete, timber frame, straw bales – or whatever, it’s not hard to get to a pretty definite sum for the shell. But this isn’t where pricing problems occur. We all live with high expectations today. The glossy magazines have led us to believe we should have the latest fixtures, finishes and fittings and, as a result, the cost of these items can sky-rocket our budget.
If we haven’t taken the trouble to specify each of these items exactly, we can hardly expect our builder to be able to price them. To protect themselves, they will then tend to overprice as they try to guess what you’ll actually want. They won’t want to find themselves out of pocket. If you demand they give you a ‘turnkey’ price, they’ll have to make even more assumptions when pricing. This is all about reducing their risk. When all this goes wrong it can result in a forensic level of analysing who forgot what, who assumed what, and so on. This can be very unpleasant and ruin your pleasure in the build. It can seem very boring and even overpedantic to go to a detailed specification for your builder to price on but it is vital if you want to avoid disappointment, or worse.
Too much detail or over-complex documentation You might think it unlikely that this could be a problem, especially in light of what I’ve just said. But repetitive or complicated documents can make a builder anxious or annoyed and, worse still, assume a level of complexity that isn’t there. He then prices accordingly. Getting this level of detail right should be handled by your quantity surveyor or designer.
Inflation At the start of the journey we all have a budget in mind. We then ‘infect’ the system with this figure. From now on everyone works up to this (probably somewhat notional) figure, which often doesn’t include a realistic contingency sum. Because we get excited and enthusiastic about the project we then don’t like to have to say to professionals, planners and so on that it was, in reality, our knucklebreaking final budget. And time passes. Over the next months and possibly years, this budget becomes even more unrealistic. Of course we as the clients should police this very carefully – taking ownership and responsibility. If we allow our design team, or even the planners, to lose the run of themselves, obviously this starting budget becomes more and more unrealistic with time. And none of this allows for the very real inflation in actual build costs that can legitimately occur in the run-up to tendering. It’s vital to set a total gross budget from Day One that everyone works within, rather than seeing it as a starting point that can somehow be reinvented over time. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 103
FINISHES / CHARRED TIMBER
Beams with toast Shou Sugi Ban, or charred timber, can provide a contemporary finish to your self-build both inside and out. Words: Sasha Stewart
lso known as Yakisugi, Shou Sugi Ban is a term used to describe the ancient Japanese art of charring timber with fire. The United States, Australia, New Zealand, and many countries throughout Europe have seen a massive uptake in recent years. And itâ€™s getting noticed in Ireland now too. Charred timber is mostly used outdoors but people are increasingly toasting up their furniture, doors, feature walls, signage, bars etc. It can make a real statement inside or out, which makes it appealing to designers and architects. A heavier char on your exterior finish will provide a more resilient protective barrier. The oldest wooden building in the world is still standing in its Shou Sugi Ban cladding; it dates back to 711AD. There are two types; Sumi-tsuki is the traditional coarse, rough gator finish. Migaki is seen a lot in western design now 104 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
CHARRED TIMBER / FINISHES
and is the sleeker, smoother and more contemporary version.
Fire proof Have any of you experienced the dread of letting the campfire go out? Well, try relighting that blackened charred kindling fellow campers! The firing process essentially fire proofs the timber. Water proof Next up and something us Irish love discussing is the weather – charred wood protects against our wet Irish weather and has proven itself to be a very robust material indeed. In Northern Japan it endures extremely harsh Siberian winters, often spending long periods buried under four metres of snow. Your toasted timber is resistant to mould and spores as well, that means it won’t green up like you may see on painted or stained wood. Insect proof Insects can really cause problems to your home if they decide your cladding is their equivalent to Michelin star food heaven. Luckily they can’t stand the taste of charcoal. Virtually maintenance free Charred timber can last long into the future with very little attention.
‘It can make a real statement which appeals to designers and architects.’
There are a lot of stages to go through including charring at different temperatures and also finishing with a sealant. If you don’t seal the charred timber, the finish will wear off over time and charcoal dust will blacken anything that rubs against it.
Quality control comes from paying close attention to how the wood is reacting to the flame, this ensures a consistent, top quality finish. There are plenty of DIY videos out there so while charring is certainly something you could have a go at, without having the knowledge and techniques of the pros you may get a more ‘rustic’ and perhaps amateur look. Also it’s worth mentioning you shouldn’t underestimate how slow and dirty it can be. If you do have a go, please be careful with fire and gas. It is a combo not to be trifled with. As for the sealant, the Japanese traditionally use tung oil but after trying countless products and performing many high tech experiments (rock throwing included) we finally found a beautiful toxin-free, matt sealant that fully penetrates the wood protecting it from the inside out. It also has some tint options we can add to help protect against UV fade. We apply two coats front and back to all of our toasted timber.
Hardwoods do burn and some people have SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 105
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had decent results with ash and oak, but it has been debated as to whether they allow a suitable depth of char to fully protect the wood. They’ll work fine for furniture or indoor projects but for exterior applications we tend to stick to trusty softwoods, all of which are sustainably sourced. These include: Douglas fir Chunky wood with plenty of knots and wide cascading grain. Rustic in appearance with some big patterns. Siberian larch A beautiful elegant grain, smaller and tighter in appearance, and with smaller knots than Douglas. Very versatile with lots of different burns available. (Native larch is too weak because it grows too fast.) Western red cedar Stunning variety in the grain. Some will ripple and ribbon through the board, whilst others are much more linear. A very light weight wood due to having lots of air capsules which makes cedar such a great insulator. Smells amazing. Accoya A very strong, robust wood that takes the burn phenomenally well. This is the only wood we can guarantee a beautiful full alligator finish on. It’s a very sophisticated, sleek finish.
There is no getting away from the fact that you are investing in a luxury product that has been tailor made to your exact specifications with sustainably sourced wood. If you get a professional to do it, they should bring the attention to detail and quality of craftsmanship that will land
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you the result you’re after. Each project is completely bespoke and some of our finishes require up to seven different procedures for every single board. However, in saying all of that we are confident that charred timber is much less expensive over time (starting at £80/sqm) than the labour and maintenance costs required to stain, seal, or at worst, replace other cladding solutions.
Images on this page of a project in the USA by Schwartz and Architecture for the remodel work on the addition (the original house was by Min | Day as Design Architect and Burks Toma Architects). Photography by Matthew Millman.
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PROJECT / CO ANTRIM
Only charred, not scarred Burning timber is harder than it looks, as Gareth Boyd learned the hard way when he decided to char cedar shingles to envelop his self-build. Did you consider alternatives to charred cedar cladding, such as slate?
We had initially considered a couple of different options including corrugated metal sheets and fibre cement slates, but as the design of the house is very simple, we wanted a material which would add both texture and warmth. And timber ticks both those boxes. Cedar will last a long time, even if left untreated and can look beautiful once it has silvered down, but this process can take a number of years and typically different parts of the building will weather at different rates.
Why did you decide to char the shingles?
We really like the aesthetics of untreated cedar but the uneven weathering made us look at alternative ways to get what we wanted right from the start and for years to come, without constant maintenance. The charred shingles will slowly fade and lighten over time, but at a much more gradual and controlled rate, which we don’t mind at all. Even though the main reason was aesthetics, the fact that burning the shingles will significantly extend their lifetime is definitely a bonus.
How did you learn to do it?
I had worked closely with Toasted on a couple of projects through 2020 Architects and was familiar with the fantastic work they do. As it was a process I was very interested in, I wanted to try burning the timber myself to experiment with the different colours and finishes that could be achieved. Sasha from Toasted was kind enough to 108 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
give me a few lessons and tips on how to get the look I wanted, showing me each stage of her process and preparing a number of samples for me.
What was the process?
There are many steps to follow, which can be simplified down to burning, brushing and sealing. The technique for each can vary greatly and needs to be repeated in the same way to get a consistent finish.
How long did it take you per shingle and how many shingles in total?
As timber is a natural material, each shingle varied in the amount of time it took to burn. They all seemed to burn at a slightly
different rate, depending on the grain and other factors. They ended up with different levels of charring, which then required a varying amount of brushing. It’s difficult to put an exact figure on how long it actually took for each one, but it took a lot longer than we first thought. There were roughly 10,000 shingles needed and when we did the initial samples, it didn’t seem to take that long, but we didn’t account for the logistics of working with such large numbers… lifting, stacking and transporting that amount of shingles takes up a lot of time. At a guess, I’d say it took three to four minutes for each shingle from start to finish, which equates to roughly 15 weeks if a single person was working at them full time! Thankfully we have had a lot of help from
CO ANTRIM / PROJECT
family and friends, but as we only get to work at them in the evenings and weekends, it has taken a number of months and we’re not quite finished yet.
What did you seal them with? We once again looked to Sasha at Toasted for her expertise. She imports and mixes her own sealant, adding pigment where required, to get the desired effect. This sealant not only prolongs the life of the timber, but also stops everything that touches the wood getting covered in charcoal.
Did you fix them onto the roof yourself?
There are a lot of things I’m doing myself but I’m definitely not a skilled tradesmen and know my limits. With the amount of time and money spent on preparing the shingles, I wanted to make sure that they were installed with the same care and attention, so I brought a team of skilled joiners on board. Their previous knowledge and expertise have proved invaluable, helping resolve any installation and detailing issues that cropped up.
What ridge tile / guttering did you use?
I had initially planned to use a completely concealed gutter system, but due to going with a scissor truss roof instead of an on-site cut roof, I didn’t have the required depth to conceal the gutter. Instead we went for a black powder coated aluminium gutter, which sits almost flush with the shingles on the walls. Although it wasn’t what we
had originally planned, the change of direction saved us thousands of pounds in construction costs and the gutter actually complements the shingles beautifully. Traditionally on a shingled roof the ridge would be made using V-shaped shingles, overlapped on top of each other, all the way down the roof. However, as we wanted quite a contemporary look, we decided to go for the black powder coated aluminium ridge, which sits flat against the shingles and blends in seamlessly.
Would you do it again? What were the highs/lows? Honestly, no. I would definitely use the material again, but I wouldn’t attempt to do it all ourselves. The process has basically taken over our lives, and our families’ lives! For the past four months heading to the shed to work on them three to four hours every night and every weekend has been a real struggle. Having said that, there were
definitely some highs along the way, seeing the first samples in the flesh and the roof actually started on site were fantastic.
With hindsight what would you do differently?
I definitely wouldn’t tackle such a monumental task again. The biggest issue is not the actual work itself, it’s the fact that spending the time working on the shingles meant that other parts of the build got delayed. Our electrician and plumber are almost ready to start the first fix, but we haven’t actually got around to choosing the fixtures and fittings yet, so the process has had a bit of a knock-on effect. Having said that, we do love the finish we have achieved and the look of the shingles on the house so far, so I do think all the hard work will have been worth it…but next time, I’ll leave it to the professionals.
SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 109
D R A F T R E G U L AT I O N S / O N S I T E
Missed opportunity ROI’s draft wastewater Code of Practice (COP) for one-off houses falls short of providing solutions for all soil types. Words: Astrid Madsen
elf-builders in counties with poor drainage such as Leitrim and Wexford will continue to struggle to get planning permission in areas where a mains connection isn’t possible, the draft Code of Practice published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggests. Even though the draft COP is making it easier to pass the percolation test, increasing the T-value from 90 to 120, it provides no alternative for sites with very low permeability. “The draft COP offers another technical option and that will apply in areas that previously would have failed,” Stephen McCarthy of the EPA told Selfbuild at the Irish Onsite Wastewater Association (IOWA) conference in December. “It can be used in low permeability sites. But there’s still an upper limit so it’s potentially there as a new option for certain circumstances. We’ll wait to see how many cases that might apply to.” There was some degree of optimism that the changes would help self-builders on sites that currently can’t secure planning permission because they fail the percolation test parameters. “I hope the changes to the COP will mean more sites will become available to build on, but the T-value change does not represent a huge increase especially for difficult areas like Leitrim which may need more flexibility. Only time will tell how many more sites will come on stream as a result of this, but I am very optimistic it will help many more sites to be developed,” IOWA Secretary Joe Walsh told Selfbuild at the conference.
The EPA is updating the 2009 COP for Wastewater Treatment and Disposal Systems Serving Single Houses. That 2009 COP currently focuses on how to specify septic tanks and packaged 110 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
treatment systems. Drip dispersal (DD) is the new technology the COP is focusing on, in addition to low pressure pipes (LPP). The EPA currently only foresees using DD as tertiary treatment (third stage filtration) for sites with a T-value between 90 and 120. McCarthy told Selfbuild DD would be used for effluent from a septic tank and filtration system or packaged treatment system. DD would be used as a means to discharge the effluent to the ground. A site assessor told Selfbuild at the conference that in his experience, local authorities want the onsite wastewater system that’s specified for a house to be detailed in the COP. Even though the COP allows for alternative systems, including DD and LPP, in his experience the planners end up sending out requests for further
information if alternatives are specified, which in turn delays the process. This has led to the practice of specifiers opting for what’s fully specified in the COP. This issue has been identified in the update to the COP which states the code is not a specifier’s manual, instead it now refers to specific standards applicable to the technologies it discusses.
No solution for sites with very poor drainage
There was hope amongst site assessors that the draft COP would include an option for soils that would fail any percolation test. According to Laurence Gill of Trinity College Dublin, who also spoke at the IOWA conference, evapotranspiration (ET) systems in the form of willow beds could
O N S I T E WA S T E WAT E R / D R A F T R E G U L AT I O N S
De-sludging frequencies (years) for various sizes of tank
EMPTY YOUR TANK
How often you must desludge
Source: Draft EPA Code of Practice
be a viable option for these sites. Even though willow beds take up a considerable amount of space and can be costly to install, in the order of €25,000, tests conducted by TCD on several sites across the country and over many years show that there will be some runoff from the surface of these systems following heavy rainfall, particularly during the wintertime. “After heavy rainfall if the basins are already full, which is normal in the middle of winter, the additional water runs across the surface to an outflow point; we have monitored this discharge on all our systems and whilst it’s not 100 per cent free from all contamination, it is of very similar quality to the to the type of runoff you get from the adjacent land on the rest of the site following a rainfall event,” Gill told Selfbuild. For the EPA this qualifies as effluent and therefore requires a discharge licence. Even though homeowners in NI can secure discharge licences (check the NI Environment Agency for procedures in that jurisdiction), in ROI it’s nearly impossible to get one. “The monitoring of Irish willow bed systems showed no system managed to achieve zero discharge. The update to the Code therefore proposes that they can only be used in association with subsequent discharge to an infiltration/treatment area,
or to surface water with an appropriate licence ,” said McCarthy. An alternative mooted by a Leitrim councillor at the conference was to use septic tanks as holding chambers, known as cesspools, and emptying them periodically. Gill said that option would be impractical because the vehicles (desludging tankers) tend to be modest in size which in turn would require emptying the tank more frequently. For example, for a full-time occupied three-person household, a study TCD conducted for the EPA calculated that a cesspool would need to be emptied almost every month, resulting in annual costs of approximately €6,500. Given that the willow beds do not discharge during low flow, dry periods, which are the most critical for receiving waters, a last option which didn’t make it into the draft COP either was allowing for discharge licences to be issued for willow beds in the winter months only. Site assessor Feidhlim Harty who specialises in wetland systems, told Selfbuild: “As I understand it [the limited discharge licence] wasn’t a favoured option in the Department of Environment. If it’s not in the new Code then chances are that it was dropped by the editing committee.” The COP is up for public consultation until March 22nd 2019 and is available on epa.ie/pubs/consultation/cop
New desludging guidelines – or how often you have to empty your septic tank – are part of the draft Code of Practice. Before this Selfbuild relied on a table issued by the Department of Environment. This new draft desludging schedule is based on research by TCD. If the volume of the septic tank is known, you can follow the rates in both axes of the table. If it is not known, a volume of 2.5m3 can be assumed in the table. When desludging the septic tank, the pump chamber should also be desludged. After that, the pump unit should be hosed down and the washwater and sludge should be removed from the pump chamber. Remember you must hire a licenced operator to desludge your tank. The EPA may put up a calculator on its website to help homeowners calculate how often they need to desludge. Not desludging your septic tank can lead to pollution on your site and further afield. In fact inspection reports consistently indicate half of all domestic septic tanks are still not up to standard so a yearly visual check is advised to detect any ponding or other obvious failures of your system. In related news the Local Authority Water Programme, which was set up mid-2018 to tackle water pollution, is rolling out local clean-up initiatives and awareness campaigns. According to Ruth Hennessy who spoke at the IOWA conference, within the 190 priority areas the Water Programme is working on domestic wastewater treatment plants are a factor on 252 water bodies. In 40 cases septic tanks were the only significant pressure on water pollution.
Source: Draft EPA Code of Practice (DWWTS refers to domestic wastewater treatment system) SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 111
PROJECT / CO WICKLOW
EXTENSION AND RENOVATION
Cutting edge Houses are increasingly being built offsite to ensure they are well insulated, airtight and free of thermal bridging. For Katharine and Matt Dooley that meant building with an innovative expanded polystyrene (EPS) panel system from Poland. Photography: Conor Williams
What does this building method consist of?
Matt: The patented system this company has developed is especially innovative for the unique use of materials; the EPS is cut into structural shapes which, combined with glass fibre and cement, form a lightweight and eco-friendly structure. The ceilingâ€™s arched shape is self-supporting. All the panels are manufactured off site and are light enough to fit in place by two to three men. Katharine: I love the curves the arch shape of the ceiling gives to the upper storey of the building, which I find unique. The ceiling height really accentuates this space and gives the rooms a much bigger and open feel than a standard room height. The build has a light and airy feel which makes it a really comfortable home.
How quick was it to build?
Matt: We put in the raft foundations in November 2015 and the installers came in February 2016 from Poland to lift the structure in place. The panels went up in two weeks. What takes time is the fitting out â€“ I did a lot of the work myself so that delayed things. We moved into the house in October. If it were a new build it would have taken 14 to 16 weeks.
How did you come across this building method? Matt: My cousin Fran held the right to distribute this system and he set up a showroom in his yard in Kilcullen (Co Kildare). He built a three-bedroom house in 2012 and I was impressed by 112 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
CO WICKLOW / PROJECT
the result. Sadly, he passed away and his children didn’t want to take over the business so I was given the opportunity to get involved. My inspiration is Fran’s passion for this new building method; we’re very conservative here in Ireland. Only bricks and mortar seem to be the solution but with houses becoming ever more energy efficient, modular systems guarantee the highest levels of airtightness and insulation. With cavity walls it is very difficult to avoid thermal bridging. Case in point are the old walls in the sitting room. They are the weak point of the house. Even though we insulated them to a very good extent on the sides, down below they are in direct contact with the ground which is causing cold bridging.
‘Because the house is airtight we went with a heat recovery ventilation system which I find to be a great benefit.’
When you bought the house, what state was it in?
Katharine: Uninhabitable! It had an outside dry toilet and no running water, no internal plumbing. We spotted the house whilst out driving one day, there was a ‘For Sale’ sign so we decided to enquire about it. With the budget available to us, and with Matt’s knowledge of this type of building we felt it was a house that had great potential, although it required a lot of work. It was a two up two down house, which we doubled in size with the extension. Internally the house was quite dark and reliant on the range in the front room for cooking and heating. It has now been totally transformed.
Matt: The stone walls were straightforward to insulate and there was room for an extension so we went for it. The opportunity to build had never come up for us before and this semi-detached house seemed like an ideal project.
What was on the wish list?
Katharine: A master bedroom with en-suite and a walk-in wardrobe, two further bedrooms and a family bathroom. A functional kitchen/dining area and a re-design of the existing front room into a comfortable lounge/sitting room. After renting for ten years we knew what we did not want; it had to be bright, warm and the heating system had to be cost effective to run. Because the house is airtight we went with a heat recovery ventilation system which I find to be a great benefit as I suffer from asthma, and this makes a big difference. We also took into consideration our senior years and the problems we may face in the future, so in addition to the bathrooms upstairs on the ground floor we fitted a wet room and made sure all the doors were a meter wide to allow for wheelchair access. The design also allows for a small granny apartment to be attached to the side, or added as a standalone structure in the rear garden. SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 113
PROJECT / CO WICKLOW
How about heating and hot water?
Katharine: We chose to put in a below ground LPG tank – this had as much to do with security as it did with our choice to go with gas. We picked a condensing gas boiler and it does work really well. We get instant hot water and cooking with gas is a pleasure. The house is cost effective to heat too; we only turn on the heating for an hour or so in the morning and maybe two to three hours in the evening. The house retains the heat with little effort. In total we spend €31 a week for everything including gas and electricity. Matt: We dug up the floors to insulate them, we could have installed underfloor heating but we chose radiators instead. The house is quite compact and we need very little heat to keep it warm so it did not seem like something that was necessary. We have friends who put in underfloor heating in their kitchen but the pipes run under the fridge, which in turn seems to reduce the lifetime of the appliance. The running costs are probably higher too because the fridge has to work harder to cool down. But if we build again, we may consider underfloor heating.
What would you do differently?
Katharine: I really like the laminate flooring with the herringbone pattern in the porch area and I wish we had continued this design throughout the house.
Matt: I would do less myself, between work and family life there is already a lot to do. I am a joiner by trade so I was able to design and fit a lot myself including the in-built storage solutions and whilst I did not build the stairs I did fit them. When the time came to build the kitchen I realised I needed help! It had taken long enough to get to that point. The cost of getting a company in was also very comparable to me doing it myself.
Would you do it again?
Katharine: Yes, our dream is to build from scratch. We are lucky to have land locally and where Matt originates from, so we will probably go down that route. Matt: A new build is definitely on our wish list although I might miss the settee in the kitchen on a Sunday morning. With blinds open and a fresh cup of coffee, it is a really relaxing spot.
House cost: €63,000 / Renovation cost: €110,000 House size: over two stories existing 77sqm plus extension 79sqm Plot size: ¾ acre
Turnkey builder Passive Housing, passivehousing.ie (using M3 building system, m3system.pl) Thermal blocks Quinn Lite Thermo Blocks B7, quinn-buildingproducts.com HVAC Worchester Bosch Greenstar 25i ErP LPG condensing combi boiler and Beam mechanical ventilation with heat recovery system, both supplied by Smart Living and Building Services slbs.ie Triple glazed windows and doors Munster Joinery, munsterjoinery.ie Kitchen Concept Kitchens, conceptjoinery.ie Bathroom Kildare Bathrooms, kildarebathrooms.ie Render K-Rend, k-rend.ie Onsite wastewater system Eco flow, cmdenvironmental.ie Storage units Bneatstairs & attics, bneatstairs.com Photography Conor Williams Photography, conorwilliams.com
Existing house walls: walls insulated externally with 100mm EPS with thermal conductivity 0.036W/mK and internally with 22mm insulated plasterboard (10mm PIR board); party wall insulated with additional PIR. Rendered at the same time as extension walls for uniform finish. U-value 0.12W/sqmK. Extension walls: side walls 300mm EPS with 100mm steel box frame, gable walls 215mm thermal blocks with 250mm EPS, total thickness 465mm plus render, U-Value 0.12W/sqmK. Floor: 200mm concrete slab with A142 mesh top and bottom over 180mm EPS insulation on 30mm XPS on radon barrier on 50mm sand blinding on 300mm consolidated crushed stone hardcore floor. U-value 0.26W/sqmK. Roof: built as an extension of the EPS glass fibre and cement wall, 300mm to 1.4m at eaves height to 700mm at ridge level, the pitch 30deg, U-value 0.12W/sqmK.
114 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
INTERIORS / UPCYCLING
Savage salvage Upcycling is all the rage these days – taking something that’s old or dated and giving it a new look and lease of life. Here’s a taster course. Words: Aileen Hogan
pcycling is not just about painting furniture, it also includes refreshing the original finish or creating a new finish using different products and techniques. It’s about saving money but also saving quality furniture that may not look its best right now. Many of the pieces we see thrown aside are often wonderfully carved solid mid-century mahogany. When these are restained or painted they look so much better than any modern furniture 116 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
bought today. All it needs is a little imagination. There are no hard and fast rules about what kind of items can be upcycled and people’s opinions vary on this. Some think there is no point in restyling flat pack furniture for example while others would never touch anything in solid mahogany. But I think if you have a piece of furniture, regardless of quality, that either fits a space in your house, has a useful purpose, is an heirloom that you are emotionally attached to, is a hand me down that you cannot afford to replace, or is a piece that you simply do not like
Aileen will be taking her workshops and tutorials on tour in 2019 covering everything from upholstery and lampshade making to painting and staining wood. shabby.ie
the look of any more, then you’ve found an ideal project. Because to me the idea of upcycling is reusing something that perhaps would otherwise be heading to the landfill or fire.
Where to find quality pieces
For the salvage hunter, garage sales and house clearances, craft fairs, hotel furniture liquidation centers, charity/thrift stores, vintage pop-up markets and furniture clearance warehouses are all ideal hunting grounds. But you can also think
UPCYCLING / INTERIORS
outside the box and try reaching out to people working in the trade locally. Auctioneers and estate agents are often asked to sell houses with contents included. But rarely do new buyers want all the furniture that’s in it and the estate agent has to book skips. I have contacted all of the local real estate companies and they now call me first so I can take what I want before they get rid of the lot. Auction rooms should yield some results too. It’s worth signing up to their mailing lists to know when the next auction is coming up. In the early days this is where I got most of my pieces for reselling. Check out the posts on buy and sell websites or social media groups. You can even advertise you are willing to buy furniture in need of refinishing on these online forums. Be specific about what you are looking for and how to get in touch with you. Work via email or text with photos/dimensions. Last but not least spread the word to customers, family and friends. I’ve gotten countless amazing pieces because a friend told a friend that I buy used furniture. They want to get rid of it and you are a cheaper option than the skip.
Tips to upcycle furniture
The one thing that stops people giving upcycling a go is fear. Fear of getting it wrong and messing it up. This fear is alleviated by using the right products for the job and participating in workshops that will guide you, online or in person. To get you started here is an example of a fireplace I recently upcycled for a video tutorial and blog. The three steps for good preparation are: Cleaning. I cleaned the surround
with a mix of methylated spirits and water (50/50 mix) in an old shower bottle. Methylated spirit is a very strong cleaner which will not leave any residue to bleed through your water based paints. I sprayed it straight onto the wood, scrubbed with a sponge and wiped off the dirt with kitchen roll. Sanding. I rubbed down the surround with a medium grade sandpaper. This is not hard and gives a lot of adhesion/durability to your finish. This is called scuff sanding and all it does is create millions of little scratches in the surface which gives your paint/ primer something to sink into. I am not trying to take the factory finish off this piece. My millions of little scratches will cover it up instead. Applying the primer. I always say ‘your Prep is your Finish’ and you will get the best finish by applying a primer first. Now choosing your primer/undercoat is very important. If you don’t have any knots or potential for anything to bleed through, you can just roll on a water based primer but for the fire surround I used an oil based one as it gives super adhesion to shiny surfaces and it seals in knots and nasties. Very good for painting mid-century mahogany. I used a mini roller to apply the primer and it was very quick and easy and gave
What to look out for before picking a piece of furniture to upcycle Even though upcycling is a lot about rescuing furniture, before you start your project you will need to take a step back and take a minute to really check the piece over and look for issues that may be costly to repair or just downright unable to be fixed. Check for: � Water damage, inspect the legs and backs � Veneer that is peeling or chipped � Smells, check the inside of drawers and cabinets � Wobble, check for sturdiness of the piece, particularly the legs � Drawer/Doors, check for easy slide and good fit � Broken glass and discoloured mirrors � Missing or broken hardware: this can be an added expense if hardware needs to be replaced � Woodworm that may have weakened the joints
a super flat finish. Painting. This is actually the easy bit. For a fireplace surround choose a hard wearing washable paint, applied with mini roller and a small craft brush for the smaller areas. Make sure you buy a paint that goes on easily, adheres well, gives a really smooth professional finish and looks as good in 12 months’ time as the day it was applied. For this project I chose a type of paint referred to as satinwood. For furniture I would choose a lower sheen finish known as eggshell. Once you are very clear on the products you are using, why you are using them and how to apply them you have the confidence to start. People message me so often with before and after photos and they are still in shock that they achieved this themselves. The sense of satisfaction is incredible. Painting furniture is also proven to be extremely therapeutic and let me tell you… quite addictive! You will soon find yourself looking around for the next project.
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KITCHEN / STYLES
Kitchenista Your trend and style guide to shopping around for what is arguably the most expensive piece of furniture you will purchase for your home, comparing traditional to contemporary. Words: Marion McGarry
itchen showrooms can be an overwhelming place to be – what style is the right one? Do you choose from the current trends or opt for what you consider to be a timeless classic? As with nearly all aspects of your self-build the choice is a personal one but research goes a long way towards helping you make up your mind.
The cost components
In the world of kitchen design and manufacture all kitchens are created fundamentally equal because the interior or the shell, known as carcases, tend to be made from one particular type of material. This of course depends on the manufacturer and you should always ask what this ‘skeleton’ is made of. A few manufacturers may offer carcases made from solid wood or veneered timber which are at the higher end of the cost scale. But generally speaking most carcases are made from laminated manmade composite materials, usually chipboard or MDF. This ensures the interior is practical, hardwearing and easy to clean. Other elements that are hidden from view, including shelves, drawer backs and panels, also tend to be made from these materials. The cost of the kitchen will therefore have much more to do with your choice of doors, exterior-end panels and worktops than the structure upon which they’re laid. The door style is likely to be your first costly component as it will profoundly affect the overall aesthetics and feel of the finished kitchen. If you choose a door made from a manmade composite material that usually keeps costs down, the opposite is true of highly crafted or premium material doors, e.g. solid timber. Don’t forget that appliances as well as fixtures and fittings such as water taps all need to be included in the price of the kitchen to get a full picture of cost. 118 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
Traditional v contemporary
In terms of styles you’ll basically be confronted to two categories: traditional which evokes pre-twentieth century design versus the contemporary styles emerging from the post war period. As a big fixed piece of furniture the kitchen should usually fit in with the overall style of your home. Therefore a classical panelled door might suit a period Georgian house (traditional); a Shaker style might suit a cottage (traditional); or a plain wood panelled style with integrated handles would suit a 1970s bungalow (recent-modern) and so on. Traditional styles can hark back to nostalgia for kitchens past; the warm fuzzy feeling of a grandmother’s kitchen that may or may not ever have existed. They might also suggest feelings of country or
STYLES / KITCHEN
rural living as opposed to urban. Popular materials for traditional doors styles, from Shaker and tongue and groove to in-frame and large square panel doors, are solid timber (pine, oak, maple) sometimes with hand painted finishes (often from a palette of warm creams and greys). Traditional kitchen styles embrace decorative elements such as ornamental plate racks, fretwork, dresser shelves and pilasters. Traditional kitchens are often the realm of Belfast sinks and free standing range cookers. In contrast, modern style kitchens are chiefly concerned with function: with no decorative elements or dust collectors included. Doors are usually plain which aim to complement the high-tech appliances. For doors premium manmade composite materials are popular with either high gloss lacquered or heavy matt finishes. Flush doors with no panel mean they are practical and easy to clean. But some say these lack character and glossier styles can be demanding in terms of how often you have to wipe them down. An emphasis on manmade materials for worktops and panels, with glass and metal effects on doors and appliances, look more towards an industrial aesthetic as seen in the commercial kitchens of restaurants and hotels.
A brief history of kitchen styles
Of course, the key in understanding classic styles is to look at what has endured in the history of fitted kitchens rather than what is on-trend in showrooms now. Fitted kitchens have not actually been
around for very long, they are a twentieth century creation. Prior to this time a kitchen was something utilitarian: to be used by servants and hidden away at the back of the house or in the basement. However following societal changes after the first and second world wars kitchens began to adopt labour saving devices such as the washing machine. It became increasingly acceptable for the â€˜lady of the houseâ€™ to do her own domestic chores rather than servants. New house designs saw the kitchen wall disappearing and open plan living becoming progressively popular in the latter half of the twentieth century. The kitchen, no longer a thing to be hidden away, became embraced as the heart of the home and kitchen furniture became linked with aesthetics and lifestyle aspirations. ďƒ˜
People shopping around for kitchens soon become aware of the Shaker door, which refers to a plain door with a square solid frame and recessed inset panel. The name derives from the Christian religious sect the Shakers, similar in some ways to the Quakers, who settled in parts of New England from the seventeenth century and became renowned for their distinct yet simple style in architecture and furniture. Shaker doors became popular in kitchen design in Ireland in the 1990s.
Shaker doors in frame
SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 119
KITCHEN / STYLES
Magnet Kitchens, magnet.co.uk.
Magnet Kitchens, magnet.co.uk.
Scientific theories, such as the Taylor Technique so beloved by the likes of Henry Ford on his car production line, came to be applied to the ergonomics of the kitchen. An early example of this was the Frankfurt Kitchen (1927) designed by Margarete Schütte-Lihotzky (1897–2000) an architect involved in designing affordable housing. The Frankfurt kitchen was designed like a factory or laboratory based on workflow and time-motion studies and theories about hygiene and efficiency. Heights and depths became standardised for the typical human body. In Europe, German kitchen companies, like SieMatic and Bulthaup began to develop their own ranges with an emphasis towards function. In western society in the period following the second world war there was a great push to get the women – who had gone out and worked so hard during the war effort – back into the home. The concept of the perfect housewife became fashionable in the 1950s, and this affected the aesthetic of kitchen design. General Electric in the USA marketed pink kitchens, with the industrial designer Raymond Loewy designing graphics for worktops and new materials like plastics and Formica in buoyant brash and futuristic styles.
Fitted kitchens in Ireland
In Ireland in the 1950s, thanks to rural electrification, kitchen appliances were becoming more popular but fitted kitchens in the modern sense were the reserve of the middle classes. Irish rural kitchens still tended towards the holy trinity of range cooker, dresser 120 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
and kitchen table as worksurface. It was not until the 1970s and 80s that the number of companies in Ireland offering fitted kitchen furniture began to grow. In the 1980s the dark solid oak door with its cathedral arch panel, became popular and then in the 1990s the blond maple Shaker door. Late to the party, the Irish fitted kitchen became one of big money and aspiration. And so during the Celtic Tiger period the kitchen industry in Ireland boomed. In a country not renowned for its hot
weather American style fridge freezers with their built-in ice dispensers are now commonplace, while expensive granite became more associated with countertops than headstones. Irish kitchens moved to modernity with great speed; today contemporary styles focused on function and low-maintenance are now the most prized. Unless otherwise noted all images courtesy of Creative Wood, Westport, Co Mayo.
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GARDEN / FORAGING
The joy of spring foraging Nothing beats a wild nettle soup or wild garlic pesto with ingredients that you have not only cooked up but sourced from the wild. It may be chilly out, it may be unseasonably warm, either way there is a natural larder out there that is waiting to be discovered and availed of. Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin
ere in Ireland we are a month ahead of our British and European neighbours: we claim spring beings in February, the others have it start in March. This is not due to time zones or temperature/climatic conditions but has more to do with culture and pagan festivals and perhaps also because the Romans never invaded our land of ‘Hibernia’ as they called it, the land of constant winter. But before we go near the garden or hedgerow, here are the rules to follow if you’re thinking of having some fun foraging.
The rules of the game
If you plan on picking some wild plants for lunch today or supper tonight then there are some things you should consider to keep the experience safe, ethical and truly tasty.
Of utmost importance is checking the ID. Making sure you actually have an edible plant in your sights and not its poisonous cousin is essential. Invest in a good foraging manual with pictures and botanical descriptions. There are also many foraging courses led by experts; sometimes being shown ‘what and how’ beats a lifetime of reading and googling.
Know the difference between abundance and greed. That edible plant needs to keep growing and seed to be more abundant next year so don’t strip everything off it, raiding nature’s ladder doesn’t have to be criminal appropriation.
122 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
Always leave behind more than you take away. A walk a bit further on may find a yet more abundant crop and you can top up supplies there. Even with perennial plants and trees take care; for instance taking all the elder flowers now means no elderberries later in the year.
Location, location, location. Where you harvest is as important as what you harvest when it comes to safety, flavour and legality. Hedgerow fruits are free, while a polytunnel of strawberries is potentially several months’ community service – in less dramatic circumstances just consider that not all wild food is really wild, as some may be on farmland or private property. Permission may be
required and possibly refused. The second big issue with location is that you might think that because it’s in the wild it’s pesticide and fertiliser-free. That’s not always the case. If the field beside it is regularly sprayed there may be drift into the hedgerow and nearby wild plants. In an urban or roadside context – busy roads and places where dogs are walked can be contaminated. Wild foods in a waste ground of poor soil and rubble may not taste as great as the same ones self-seeded into a hedgerow or along a lush (clean) riverbank walkway.
Fresher after a wash. Eating from the bush is a delight, eating from a bush after a rain shower is bliss and
FORAGING / GARDEN
technically healthier with dust particles and debris removed. The produce is also juicer for it. Take only healthy samples, be alert to plants afflicted by disease, fungi, or environmental stress and leave them behind. Whatever you harvest it is no harm in rinsing it under a tap or with a flask of filtered water. It is nicer to make it home after a day’s fresh air foraging without a night of the runs or a sore belly.
Irish Spring foraging plants
February Hairy bittercress
Don’t be scared, be prepared. Don’t let the above put you off, it’s not that scary, it is just about due diligence and appropriate caution. Following all of the above can revolutionise your palate and outlook. Foraging is an easy, pleasant and healthy pastime. Put a bit of groundwork in before you start and the world is your oyster – almost literally.
In Ireland spring starts in February with Imbolc (meaning ‘in the belly’) when the lambs are in the ewes’ wombs and new life is burgeoning. Yet February is often the coldest month of the year, sometimes sustaining temperatures below which active growth can take place. Frost, snow or hail is not out of place and the ground may be too hard to source roots without the help of a pick axe or dynamite, but mild Februarys are a pleasant boon. And so in February, the patient foragers will fill their stores midmonth if not at the outset. Frosts sweeten many wild foods by altering the chemistry of their starch and sugars, so February forages are often sweet. Perhaps paradoxically most of these offerings are used as ‘spring bitters’ to detox the liver and kick-start bile and digestive enzymes after a stodgy winter. Here are some highlights. Crow garlic (Allium vineale) is a variety of wild onion found along field edges and roadsides; it has a deep garlic taste and aroma but looks totally different to wild garlic. Crow garlic is more akin to tall chives with smooth and waxy, long narrow leaves, emerging in bunches. The foliage is edible and great in a pesto or stir-fry but it is the bulb that is most prized. They are small, usually in the range of 10 to 20mm in diameter, round to egg shaped with a papery tunic and can be used raw or cooked. The plant exhibits the medicinal properties of culinary garlic. Wintercress (Barbarea vulgaris) is one of the earliest spring herbs to show itself, sometimes from as early as January in hedgerows and woodlands. Its edible foliage is deeply lobed, dark green and somewhat shiny. With a peppery cress flavour it’s good raw or cooked. It grows
Jack by the hedge
Fairy ring Garlic mustard champignon
Good King Henry
Velvet shank mushrooms Carragheen
tall and thin; the unopened flower buds which look quite similar to broccoli can also be eaten raw or cooked. Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) roots roasted and brewed as a coffee substitute have a similar taste to the real thing but without the caffeine. Traditionally harvested in autumn or spring but can be sourced year round. It’s currently
Common sorrel Cow parsley
Sweet cicely Morel mushrooms
Wood sorrel Winter cabbage
experiencing a resurgence as a healthy beverage filled with vitamins and minerals.
The march into March
We may have already celebrated spring back in February but according to the World Meteorological Organisation the first official day (and climatological commencement) for the northern SPRING 2019 / SELFBUILD / 123
GARDEN / FORAGING
hemisphere is the 1st of March. As the alpine passes began to thaw, for the Romans spring enabled reinforcements and supplies to the colonies and war zones. March is thus named after Mars, the Roman god of war. The tricky thing with spring is that true spring, the time when vegetation springs back to continuous active growth, takes place at the equinox or vernal point. It’s a moveable event triggered when the local mean daily temperature reaches a constant of 6 degC and above. March offers us a healthy progression in day length from the region of 10 to 11 hours at the beginning to 12 to 13 hours at the end of the month. This extra light fuels plant growth and diminishes the excuse not to venture out! Highlights include: Ground elder (Aegopodium podagraria) is believed to have entered Europe with the Roman legions who used it as a pot herb and as a remedy for gout – ‘podagraria’ is Latin for inflamed foot. Later monastic monks used it in their medicinal and culinary cannon too. With Spinach-like usage it is a perennial herb with toothed leaves similar in appearance to those of the elder tree. A source of vitamin C, the young leaves can be cropped for salads. Gorse (Ulex europaeus) is a familiar plant, a dense evergreen shrub with sharp spiny leaves, most common on sunny sites around heathland, field periphery, hilly land and clifftops. There is an old saying “When gorse is out of bloom, kissing’s out of fashion” pointing to the fact that it is rarely out of bloom. Fresh buds are emerging now and their almond-coconut fragrance can waft on the air and excite the mind to think of gorse cordial, jelly or even ice cream.
The arrival of April
April is believed to have acquired its name from the Latin word ‘aperire’ which means ‘to open’. April is, after all, the month when plenty of buds begin to open and it certainly is a month for a harvest of fresh herbs and even flowers to garnish a salad. Ireland is famous for four seasons in a single day but it’s true too that the ground is a lot warmer than previous months, ready for the harvesting of edible roots. The length of day continues to increase, on average by four minutes or so. We begin on April fool’s with 13 hours of daylight and we end the month on a nice high of approx. 15 hours. A great stretch in the day and comfortable enough temperatures and humidity levels to forage in the evenings. Some highlights include: Alexanders (Smyrnium olusatrum) is an ancient food crop used much as you would 124 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
‘Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is abundant in woodlands and damp ditches at this time of the year. It bears luscious green coloured leaves broad at the base, pointed at the tip...’
celery or lovage. Its species name features the Latin word olus, meaning ‘pot herb’. The stem is thick and succulent rather resembling a celery stalk. A tell-tale sign is the base of the leaf stem which is shrouded at the point it joins the main stem. Found along hedgerow and costal locations. A versatile vegetable, its culinary uses include blanched leaves in salads or the stems cooked like asparagus. The roots are traditionally roasted like parsnip. Often missing from some of the foraging books, the plant’s black seeds have become especially popular of late for their strong myrrh-like scent and unique flavour. These are best dried and used as an alternative to black pepper. It flowers twice a year, has dark stems and glossy, tri-part leaves. Sea kale (Crambe maritima) is a very distinctive plant growing along shingle and coarse sandy beaches with fleshy and waxy, bluish, crinkled foliage and honeyscented white flowers. It was cultivated as a vegetable in the stately homes of the 1800s and 1900s and still crops up today in garden centers but wild populations have not disappeared.
It is in the brassica family and the foliage can be cooked and used in similar ways to kale and cabbage. The stems are best steamed, the young flower buds are edible raw and even the roots can be roasted. All parts yield a very pleasant nutty flavour. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum) is abundant in woodlands and damp ditches at this time of the year. It bears luscious green coloured leaves broad at the base, pointed at the tip, somewhat similar to the poisonous Lily-of-the-Valley so caution in picking. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale) is an aquatic perennial plant that populates shallow, slow-flowing streams and the margins of damp ditches. It is actually an indicator of good quality water as it cannot thrive in polluted situations. An ancient wild food, found in the archeological record of early human society and now a popular superfood, often cooked as a soup. It has a cabbagelike smell and tastes peppery, its cousin fool’s watercress (Apium nudiflorum) smells and tastes more like carrot.
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ASK THE EXPERT / SELFBUILD Q&A
Ask the expert You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. And if we don’t, we’ll find out by scouring our Facebook group, calling help lines and talking to the experts. Q: For a house under construction, would the building work not require a different type of insurance to that required by my lender? If I use contractors do they not have their own liability insurance? A: Your bank or mortgage lender will
want to know that everything to do with the works is properly covered with no gaps, not just the liability of the contractor. The contractor’s responsibilities and what they are covering should be laid out in the contract’s wording. This is why properly detailed contracts should be used for the work and also for any variations to the work, all of which should be properly noted and documented. Even if the contractors say they are fully covered: l Demand to see an original policy or a letter from a reputable broker confirming the cover is in force and for the period of your contract. l Make sure an A-rated insurer sits behind the policy. It may be that the contractor has his own insurance but that it’s limited to just liability cover which effectively means that negligence will need to be proven for a claim to be paid. Under that type of cover anything else such as plant, materials etc., will not be covered by them. In reality even if you have a main contractor there is still a good chance that there will be elements of the project that need to have the benefit of a proper site insurance policy. Why? Because very few self-builders do not do a thing when it comes to their project even if it is internals only. Friends and family can fall off ladders. Without proper cover the project could soon run out of funds waiting on claims to be paid. Paul Kempton of selfbuildzone.com
Q. Radon is a naturally occurring, invisible, colourless and odourless, carcinogenic gas and I know the building regulations require that I install a barrier. Can I just put down a layer of polythene and have that act as a radon barrier? A. All new homes and extensions require a radon barrier to prevent gases from entering the building, even in areas deemed to be at low risk for radon. There are two main types: the reinforced membrane and the non-reinforced. Both do the same job; the main difference is that the reinforced membrane is more resistant to punctures. What’s specified comes down to your budget, what your engineer specified and your builder. Polythene is not radon gas certified and will not prevent gases entering your home or build. Radon membranes consist of multiple layers of polythene and other fibres to prevent gas ingress. Check for NSAI certification in ROI and BBA certification in NI. Choose manufacturerapproved installers. In terms of installation make sure there’s at least 25mm between penetrations, e.g. waste pipes, and the external wall. This will provide the access required for proper sealing. The membrane should always cross the cavity and extrude (stick out) a minimum of 50mm outside the external wall. This is to prevent gases re-entering the building. If the membrane tears, repair kits are available but best practice is to insulate the
Steve Meskell of munsterradon.ie
Q: I’m looking to extend without having to apply for planning permission; my property is 3.5m wide and is a terrace house so there is no way I can keep 2m from each boundary. Does this mean I can only have a single storey extension? Also the back yard is less than 25sqm as it is so does that rule me out of having any extension at all on my property? A: I’m working on a similar project to yours but unfortunately your specific circumstances would
require some space-time alteration as there’s the issue of having only 25sqm in the back yard and the fact that you don’t have 2m clear each side. My current project has 2m each side at first floor level and the remaining garden is over 25sqm. Mark Stephens of markstephensarchitects.com
126 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
floor within 12 hours, maximum 24 hours, after the radon barrier has been installed to prevent accidental damage. Research and don’t skimp on the cost of getting a specialist company to install your radon barrier. At the end of the day it’s there to protect you and your family. The Environmental Protection Agency says radon is linked to around 300 cases of lung cancer in Ireland every year and estimates that about 500,000 people are living in homes with radon concentrations above the acceptable level.
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OPINION / WHY SELF-BUILD
Over the rainbow Given that it’s far easier, quicker and less stressful to buy a second-hand home or a new one from a developer, why do so many of us still want to build? Words: Andrew Stanway
Necessity. Especially nowadays, it can be hard to find a home where you want it at the right price, whether that’s in an urban area or in a desirable rural location. In fairness, of course, building plots can also be hard to find.
Adventure. For the middle-aged looking for an adventure, taking on a self-build project can feed into a desire to either consciously, or unwittingly, add excitement and, hopefully, fun into their life. The children may have left home, work isn’t as exciting as it used to be or perhaps this represents a new milestone – we finally have the flexibility and perhaps the ability to free up some time and cash for the first time in our adult life. For others it’s a welcome chance to do something bold and different. For younger self-builders, and with housing shortages in mind, adventure might not rate as highly, but building a home still holds a seductive appeal.
Fulfilling the dream. There are those who have dreamed about creating their own home ever since they were young. They’ve envied others, perhaps in other countries such as the US where it appears that ‘everyone builds their own home’, or on TV shows here and have lusted after the notion that ‘one day that could be us’. There’s no doubt that building a home from scratch has a primitive appeal that’s hard to explain in our modern world. It satisfies a primal need to provide shelter and also gets you involved with rewarding creative activities that might never otherwise have been possible.
A legacy. Though few people talk much about it, I’ve found that deep-down many self-builders thrill at the sense of legacy. Not many mention it at the start – but after the event, it’s a different story. You pour so much of yourself, time, energy and money into the project for 128 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2019
‘The uniqueness and ‘specialness’ we create is hard-won even though it is well worth it. ’ two or three years but in the end you have something that’ll outlast you by a century, at least. Not many people get to do anything like this in their lifetime.
Getting exactly what you want. One of the commonest reasons people give for self-building is that they can end
up with a home that suits them and their family better than anything they could buy off the shelf. Such one-off design and build projects come at a cost, though, in terms of finance, effort, time and stress. When we build what is in effect a prototype, things are never as easy as for a mass-market company that, by definition,
WHY SELF-BUILD / OPINION
‘The huge learning curve, the endless decision-making, the drain on your energy, the money management and much more all mean that you as a person will end up in a different place from where you started.’
sets a design and then repeats it time and again. The uniqueness and ‘specialness’ we create is hard-won even though it is well worth it.
Have something to prove. Beyond it being on their bucket list, selfbuilders often want to show themselves that they’re still up for something brave and novel. It’s a challenge that many personality types will gladly take up.
Getting more bang for your buck. Although this is usually the conscious reason most people give for doing their own build it’s not, in my opinion, the most meaningful one. Of course there’s usually a saving to be made as one can often get a better home for the same money as a ready-built house, or a good-enough one for less money, but the experience of many self-builders is that they often don’t save that much. This occurs for many reasons, the main one being that unless they are very experienced - and most are not money inevitably slips through their fingers. Lessons learned cost money. Also, few self-builders ever factor in the cost of their own time. And this can add up enormously. Even if you employ a main contractor and all the professionals you need, experience shows that you’ll spend about two thousand hours of your own
time doing your build, from start to finish. make perfection the enemy of the good! Depending on what you rate your personal time at, this can mount up to a great deal Makes you a better person. Doing a of money. I always advise people to think self-build is a life-changing activity. very hard about continuing with their main Even those with considerable managerial job and employing someone to projectskills tell me it’s nothing like anything manage the build as this often works out they’ve ever done before. The huge cheaper. learning curve, the endless decision-making, A word about compromise. People the drain on your energy, the money embarking on their self-build often management and much more all mean that imagine that because they’ll be in you as a person will end up in a different control they’ll end up making few, if place from where you started. Although a any, compromises. This is not the case. few people are broken by their self-build There’ll always be compromises, just and would never repeat it, most say it has over different things than if you were been the most life-enhancing thing they’ve to buy a ready-made home. From your ever done and something that has made first dealings with the planners you’ll be compromising almost every day. Unless them a ‘better person’ in other spheres of you have unlimited funds your wishes and their life. desires will frequently be thwarted by your Perfect Water Systems budget. You may have to compromise on the Perfect water softener contractor you can get to work at the time you need them, and so on. The secret to a happy build is being Jump into a crystal clear, limescale-free shower... ...then snuggle into softer, cleaner, brighter towels. able to deal with these Find out more today; inevitable compromises Cork | Perfect Water Systems 063-89290 in a positive way that Laois | Aqua Treatment 087-2580318 Dublin | Perfect Water 01-2955867 ends up feeling good, Mobile | 085-7366006 as opposed to a defeat. www.perfectwater.ie It’s vital not to
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SCRAPBOOK / 3D DESIGN
Not only are we building more houses with robotic arms, layer by layer, but interior designers are now contributing to the 3D printing movement too...
The 48 hour house
A portable robot 3D printed a 100sqm house in 48 hours at Milanâ€™s Design Week 2018, pointing to where engineering firm Arup sees the future heading for sustainable architecture. 3Dhousing05.com
In the Dutch city of Eindhoven, five 3D-printed concrete houses are being built as part of a commercial housing project believed to be the first in the world. 3dprintedhouse.nl/en
Concrete without borders
3D printers either use concrete or plastic; to offer a more sustainable alternative Beer Holthius has created the Paper Pulp Printer. He says combining paper pulp with a natural binder makes the products endlessly recyclable. beerholthuis.com
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Concrete worktops and furniture are usually made from moulds, a timeconsuming exercise that 3D printing can weed out. Complex shapes and sizes are also easier to achieve; case in point are these woven concrete benches printed in 52 minutes. seven5.com