Page 1



WINTER 2017 £3.50 / €3.75


y(7HC0E9*NQNKKM( +$!&

ISSN 2049-3630


Glazing and natural light | Tiling | Kitchens | Foundations | Stoves and much more!



Welcome... Building your own home is a very natural thing to do, and the process intuitive. That was the message from the self-builders’ panel discussion at Selfbuild Live Dublin (see p17). But with the building regulations now so demanding, visitors at the event were asking if it was still possible for self-builders to get their hands dirty. Compliance is of course key but even though there are now a lot of constraints on how you are legally allowed to build your house, you can still do it yourself – as long as you follow the expert guidance Biophilia of a building designer or engineer. In NI you’ll have Designing your home the additional support of Building Control inspectors to mimic nature who will supervise key stages of the project. This is not much unlike how our ancestors used to build their homes, with the best local materials available and guided by the experience of the generations that came before them. Living without But a self-build doesn’t have to mean you get central stuck in; what it’s about is creating a home in the heating Passive House form of an extension, new build or renovation. The checklist common thread is that you get to choose what goes into your new digs, what the place will look like and Daylight enhancers how it’s built. You put your stamp on it, in more Coaxing the sun ways than one. It’s an empowering experience that into your home continues to bear fruit long after the housewarming party. With Selfbuild. Dream it. Do it. Live it.

Window shopping

Glazing guide

Astrid Madsen - Editor astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie

Follow the Selfbuild community:

selfbuild.ie WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 05

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



Dream it . Do it . Live it





All of our articles equally cover all parts of Ireland, including each and every one of the 32 counties. The regulations, work practices and everything else you can reasonably think of, we’ve got it covered from both sides of the border. When we refer to Northern Ireland the abbreviation we use is NI, when we’re talking about the Republic of Ireland it’s ROI.



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



To reduce the stresses of modern day life, consider designing your home along biophilic design principles.


How to make sure your kitchen caters for family life in the decades to come.


Colm and Siobhan Hatton picked a flat pack solution for their house building project in Co Wicklow, making the construction phase as hassle-free as possible.


Tim and Claire Millen of Co Down found ingenious solutions to the planners’ house orientation requirements, and to their desire for clean modern lines.


Matt Jones and Imelda Ryan-Jones really got stuck into their renovation and extension project in Co Sligo, with Matt doing all the construction work over a four-year period. Find out what kept them going.

54 PROJECT: GOOD THINGS COME TO THOSE WHO WAIT Bruce and Roisin Crane of Co Antrim undertook a farmhouse makeover centred around family life and retaining the original cottage feel.


How much will your project cost to build?


Your vertical glazing guide, with a section on the latest technologies on offer.


Ways to bring more light into your home.


Want to know what insulation to go for? Here’s an overview of what’s available.


The foundations solution for your project and what it involves.

86 BASICS: SELF-BUILD ROADMAP What to expect once you get on site.


The most widespread standard used in Ireland to design your house without central heating.


Stoves are the most popular way to add a fire to an airtight home. Find out what they’re about.

114 INTERIOR DESIGN: TILING TIPS What kind of tiles go where, and why. Plus a section on anti-slip tiles.

118 TILING 101

All it takes to get started on your own tiling project is a good deal of preparation. We show you how.


Daire Bracken is an accomplished musician, architect and dad whose work reflects all aspects of his life.


Decorate your home with what’s in the garden this winter.


Keep your appliances in tip top shape with this checklist.


We revisit the home of Ann and Andrew Healy of Co Antrim to find out why it’s a good idea to futureproof – even if you don’t always avail of the integrated features.


We revisit the straw bale home of Linda and Richie Murphy who self-built back in 2001. It’s a testament to what you can achieve when you pursue your dreams


In the wake of the Donegal floods, find out what you need to protect your property.


Ideas from the world of technology and design to make your house run more smoothly. WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 07


Contributors Annabelle Carvell

Aleyn Chambers

Joseph Clancy

Ciaran Hegarty

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

Aleyn Chambers is an Architect and certified Passive House Designer based in Dalkey, Co Dublin. aleynchmabers.com / ROI mobile 086 600 8244

Joe is an Irish Landscape Architect and Chartered Member of the Landscape Institute. He regularly speaks on the subject of biophilia at conferences. BiophilicProjects.com / @biophilic_talks

Ciaran is a woodwork and construction studies teacher in Tipperary with over ten years’ experience in carpentry. ciaranhegarty007@gmail.com

Cover Photo Tim Millen thismodernlove.co.uk Editor Astrid Madsen astrid.madsen@selfbuild.ie Design Myles McCann myles.mccann@selfbuild.ie

Karen Hughes

Caroline Irvine

Martin Mallon

Kieran McCarthy

Karen is the director of Emerald Interior Design, a practice based in Co Meath, and is the vice president of The Interiors Association. emeraldinteriordesign.ie / ROI mobile 087 988 2077

Caroline in an architect and award winning interior designer who set up her practice Irvine Nash in 2003. She’s based in Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. irvine-nash.com / ROI mobile 087 2987401

Martin is the Marketing Manager of the multi-award winning Armatile, one of Ireland’s leading tile importers and suppliers of high quality tile solutions. MartinM@Armatile.com / NI tel. 37527007

Kieran is Design & Build director at KMC Homes, a Cork based company that specialises in the delivery of individual, newly built homes. kmchomes.ie / tel. 021 4319395

Shannon Quinn shannon.quinn@selfbuild.ie Marketing Calum Lennon calum.lennon@selfbuild.ie Subscriptions Leanne Rodgers leanne.rodgers@selfbuild.ie Advertising Sales David Corry david.corry@selfbuild.ie Nicola Delacour-Dunne nicola.delacour@selfbuild.ie Leanne Kernohan leanne.kernohan@selfbuild.ie Lisa Killen lisa.killen@selfbuild.ie

Paul McNally

Pamela Murphy

Leslie O’Donnell

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Paul is the director of the PassivHaus Architecture Company, an RIAI award-winning practice based in Cork and established in 2004. passivhausarch.com / ROI tel. 021 2429455

Pam is the Specifications Manager with Halo Tiles and Bathrooms and an experienced Interior Designer with over 15 years of experience. pmurphy@halotiles.ie / ROI tel. 0539383700

Les is an engineer and architectural designer who runs Landmark Designs, a CIAT registered practice in Co Tyrone. landmarkdesigns.org.uk / NI tel. 8224 1831

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

Come meet the experts! Our next exhibition is in Millstreet, Co Cork from 11-12 November 2017, see page 126 for more. Paul O’Reilly

Andrew Stanway

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

NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0, ROI calling NI prefix with 048

Published by SelfBuild Ireland Ltd. 119 Cahard Rd, Saintfield, Co Down BT24 7LA. Tel: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0570 / Fax: (NI 028 / ROI 048) 9751 0576 info@selfbuild.ie / selfbuild.ie 08 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Maria Varela maria.varela@selfbuild.ie Accounts Kerry Brennan kerry.brennan@selfbuild.ie Sales Director Mark Duffin mark.duffin@selfbuild.ie Managing Director Brian Corry brian.corry@selfbuild.ie Chairman Clive Corry clive.corry@selfbuild.ie Distribution EM News Distribution Ltd The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions nor for the accuracy of information reproduced. Where opinions may be given, these are personal and based upon the best information to hand. At all times readers are advised to seek the appropriate professional advice. Copyright: all rights reserved.

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

Biomass gearing up to rival heat pumps

BIOMASS SUPPLY constraints could soon become a thing of the past with the development of Bord na Móna Bioenergy, a new division of Bord na Móna which aims to become the largest supplier of sustainable biomass in Ireland. The move could make the option of installing biomass boilers more attractive to self-builders as finding biomass suppliers has been a hindrance to a wider uptake of the technology in Irish homes. Wood pellet fuel deliveries, for instance, would now typically only be done once a year in an Irish home with biomass boiler, which has the knock-on effect of requiring large fuel stores (the need to build a large garage and installing a high capacity hopper).

More mortgage approvals than drawdowns DUBLIN AND ITS COMMUTER BELT continue to pay the highest first-time-buyer deposits and suffer from the poorest price-to-income ratios, according to an analysis by the Banking and Payments Federation. According to the BPFI Housing Market Monitor more than 3,700 people were approved for a mortgage than actually drew one down (ratio of self-build mortgages not available) in the second quarter of 2017. The good news is that if you’re outside the Dublin area, the median deposit for first time buyers fell by 5.5 per cent year on year to €34,000. bpfi.ie

Buildings may not necessarily fade but fabrics do, find out more in our glazing guide p66

Planners ‘inconsistent’, says RIAI THE ROYAL INSTITUTE OF THE ARCHITECTS of Ireland (RIAI) published a report in September blaming ‘lengthy timelines and complex administrative processes’ for delays in the delivery of new homes. The Housing Timeline Report was published ahead of the Central Statistics Office’s second quarter figures for planning approvals which showed there were 26 per cent more one-off houses granted planning permission than the same time last year. Limited resources, inconsistency in the interpretation of regulations by officials, slow provision of public utilities, as well as a lengthy statutory planning process, were cited as hurdles to the smooth running of house building projects. For example, in practice there is a lag between

the expiry of old County Development or Local Area Plans and publication of the new Plans. House building projects that start during this period of limbo are, as a result, left waiting for the new Plans before designs can proceed. The RIAI also commented on inconsistencies surrounding pre-planning meetings, which are helpful for selfbuilders to present their drawings to the authorities and get feedback on them prior to lodging a planning application. The RIAI identified that pre-planning meetings currently were not standardised, as different planners would attend different meetings and that no formal minutes were produced by the authority. The latter would help homeowners and

designers better respond to the feedback given at the pre-planning meeting, and incorporate these changes in their planning application. “In some cases, an applicant may wait up to three months for a preliminary pre-planning meeting,” noted the report. Technical Guidance Documents (TGDs), which outline how to comply with the Building Regulations in practice, were also a bone of contention. The RIAI argues they are “open to wide interpretation, even within the same Planning Authority”. The architects’ representative body suggests that more specific directions for each of the TGDs are needed. To achieve this, a National Referrals Body could be established to which questions on interpretations of building regulations could be sent.


N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W

NI takes FMB Awards by storm This year in its 13th edition, the bi-annual Federation of Master Builder of the Year Awards awarded the Master Builder 2017 prize to NI firm John Dynes & Son in a competition that saw all UK regions battle it out for the coveted distinction. The prize rewarded the company’s work on a family home in semi-rural Knockbracken, which also won NI’s Master Builder Awards earlier this year in April. With an imposing façade and contemporary kitchen with views of the fields, the unique and innovatively designed house has many bespoke and original features, including a floating walnut staircase and hanging stone fireplace. FMB Northern Ireland secured four wins in total, with Setanta Construction scooping the Energy Efficient Project trophy with its passive modern farmhouse in Dunloy, which bagged the same prize in the NI edition of the Master Builder Awards in April.

‘The unique and innovatively designed house has many bespoke and original features, including a floating walnut staircase and hanging stone fireplace.’ WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 11

W H AT ' S N E W / N E W S

Get a Building Energy Rating before you move in! ROI Self-builders seem to be in breach of their legal requirement to get a Building Energy Rating drawn up before they move in, statistics shared with Selfbuild by the Department of Housing indicate. SELFBUILD HAD ASKED the Department to clarify a statement that self-builders “presumably” showed signs of “non-compliance with regulations”. The Department of Housing’s George Hussey told Selfbuild his comments had been made in January when the department was still “early in the process of reconciling data sets” from Building Control Management System commencement notices, planning permissions, ESB connections and Building Energy Rating data. He said the comments were “speculative” and presented a “tentative conclusion”. The BER data that is currently

published does not go into great detail about one-off houses; Hussey clarified he had gotten access to more detailed statistics which showed that less than 3,500 BERs were registered from 2010 to 2016 for his proxy of one-off houses, Detached House (H2) and House (H1). Hussey said that considering the number of commencement notices issued, there had not been enough BER certificates produced, indicating that some self-builders may not be getting their BER certificates done up as is required by law. Building Control Management System (BCMS) data is only available for two full years. One-

off housing commencement notices for 2015 stood at 3,111 and at 4,012 in 2016. There is likely to be a shortfall in that some builds could take longer than a year to build or could have started late in the year, but the difference is significant enough to remind self-builders there is a legal requirement to get a Building Energy Rating done before moving in.

EPA publishes checklist for wastewater systems The ROI Environmental Protection Agency has published a set of leaflets to help homeowners who either plan to install, or already own an onsite wastewater treatment system. For those buying or selling there’s also a checklist for handover of the system. The campaign is called systemsafe with documents available on epa.ie/water/wastewater/info/ In related news the Irish Onsite WasteWater Association’s Annual Conference taking place Wednesday 15th November 2017 in Co Laois will shed light on the EPA’s Code of Practice Review. As covered in the Summer 2017 issue of Selfbuild magazine, the changes are expected to provide wastewater alternatives for houses built on areas with poor drainage (houses which currently cannot get planning permission because the site fails the percolation test). The early bird price to book a place at the conference is €140, more details on iowa.ie 12 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W

Between the covers New books of general interest to self-builders and home improvers

Habitat: Vernacular Architecture for a Changing Planet

Fertile Edges

This hefty tome chronicles the roots and evolution of the concept of abode and how it fits into the landscape, presented along five major climate zones, covering polar, temperate, tropical, desert and continental, in more than eighty countries worldwide. Contemporary takes on the vernacular include the Irish example of Jeffry’s house (below right) designed by Thomas O’Brien, a thatched, larch timber frame built in 2014. All in all, an inspiring study of design, use of natural materials and sense of place. Edited by Sandra Piesik, 301 pages, ISBN 978 0 500 343241, approx. 1,000 colour illustrations, £98 hardback, thamesandhudson.com

As October 2017 marks Permaculture magazine’s 25-year anniversary, co-founder and editor Maddy Harland chose to mark the occasion by chronicling how the movement grew from her point of view, starting in Australia in the 1990s. Interspersed with anecdotes about her personal life, the book in large part consists of a compilation of editorials written for the magazine and a timeline of events in the world of off-grid living, and all that affects it. Maddy Harland, ISBN 9781856233095, b&w, 164 pages, £9.95, permanentpublications.co.uk

Castle Hyde: The changing fortunes of an Irish country house

Learn about the people and the history behind this stunning mansion, originally built in 1801, with Terence Dooley’s academic account of its life and the circumstances that saved it from extinction. The book charts the fortunes of the castle ending with its current owner, Michael Flatley, who invested more than the current asking price of €20 million (the house has been on the market for two years) to sympathetically restore and renovate it. Terence Dooley, ISBN 9781846826436, b&w, 64 pages, €9.95, fourcourtspress.ie

Fuel cost analysis favours heat pumps HEAT PUMPS ARE THE CHEAPEST way of heating your home, reveals an analysis by University College Cork’s Paul Deane.  Based on ROI energy data from the Sustainable Energy Agency of Ireland the research shows how much a unit of useful heat costs to warm your home in Ireland, with peat costing the most and heat pumps the least.  The graph compares heating costs on a common base per useful unit of heat output to a room in cent per kilowatt hour for high and low efficiency equipment (boilers, stoves, heaters, etc). Deane told Selfbuild he plans to eventually factor in capital costs in the analysis. Source: Paul Deane UCC, costs include VAT and data is from April 2017. Associated CO2 emissions for higher and lower efficiency levels shown with black markers  


W H AT ' S N E W / N E W S

Locals only rules unlikely to change until 2018 Locals-only rules from the ROI 2005 Rural Housing Guidelines remain in place until further notice, the Department of Housing told Selfbuild. LOCALS-ONLY RULES prevent people without proven ties to the community to get planning permission on some greenfield sites, a policy that has led the EU to take legal proceedings against Ireland ten years ago. “The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Ireland in 2007 regarding discriminatory restrictions on the granting of dwelling authorisations in Ireland,” the European Commission told Selfbuild. “The Commission has since been in contact with the Irish authorities.” That same infringement case is still open and in 2016, the Irish authorities informed the Commission of their intention to review the rules. Once new rules are notified to the Commission, the Commission services will assess them and decide on the next steps. “Discussions are still ongoing with the local authority sector on the revision of the Rural Housing Guidelines, specifically the local needs criteria therein,” a Department of Housing spokesperson told Selfbuild. “It is hoped that the revisions will be finalised in the coming months, by year end at the latest, after which revised guidelines will be issued to planning authorities.” Taking into account the need for consultation with the European authorities, Selfbuild understands this means revised guidelines for the local authorities are unlikely to come to light until 2018. In May 2017 the Oirechtas Library & Research Service published the EU’s position on the


“The Commission sent a letter of formal notice to Ireland in 2007 regarding discriminatory restrictions on the granting of dwelling authorisations in Ireland,”

In brief Water refunds are expected by the end of the year in ROI with Irish Water customers expected on average to be refunded in the region of €300. The review into the Help to Buy scheme has been delayed. The report is expected to inform the Cabinet on whether or not to scrap the scheme in this year’s budget. A spokesperson for the Department of Finance told Selfbuild mid-September the Minister of Finance had yet to see the report. The publication date, he said, was “a matter for the Minister [of Finance]”. The Minister for Housing had indicated in June that the report would be published on 31st August. Tis the season for architecture festivals so if you’re in need of inspiration, know that selfbuilders will be opening their homes in the context of the Open House days, a global initiative that’s taking place in all major Irish cities.

Flemish case, which is cited as the basis for removing locals-only rules in Ireland. The EU Law and Local Residency Requirements for Planning Permission refers to the Law Society report on locals-only dated 2005: “The [Law Society] authors state that discriminatory measures framed around family connections to an area are likely to be found to breach EU law, as the purposes they are intended

to achieve (such as preserving rural characteristics etc.) can usually be attained without such discrimination,” summarised the Oireachtas note. However Galway Councillor Jim Cuddy told Selfbuild he was hopeful a circular would be issued to local authorities in the second half of this year, instructing them to remove the locals-only requirement from their development plans.

Accidents while cooking in the kitchen account for half of the fires started in the home, a new publication by the Department of Housing reveals. The Framework for Enhancing Fire Safety in Dwellings Where Concerns Arise encourages homeowners to use oil or gas fired heating systems instead of open fires or portable gas heaters. A safe alternative, the report says, is the fixed electric convector heater. As Selfbuild went to print the Commission for Energy Regulation announced the roll out of electricity smart meters to all ROI households would take place between 2019 and 2024.

N E W S / W H AT ' S N E W

Material price hikes hit timber and glazing Inflation is taking its toll on self-builders in NI and ROI. A THIRD OF SMALL UK building firms say that soaring material prices are squeezing their margins, according to a survey by the Federation of Master Builders (FMB), with almost a quarter passing these increases on to consumers.   In NI the greatest material increase was recorded in relation to the cost of timber, while in ROI news reports indicate it is the price of insulation products that has led the charge in rising costs. However, according to the ROI Central Statistics Office’s wholesale price index for building and construction materials, there was an increase between August 2016 and August 2017 of 21.7 per cent for glass and of 14.7 per cent for sand and gravel. Plaster and structural steel also recorded significant increases, in the order of 8.5 per cent and 7 per cent respectively. Since the depreciation of sterling following the EU referendum in June 2016, construction SMEs in the UK have in fact reported a range of material price increases to the FMB.

Small building firms were asked which materials had increased the most and the results were as follows: 1) Timber 2) Insulation 3) Bricks 4) Blocks 5) Windows 6) Plasterboard / slate (joint sixth) 7) Boilers and radiators 8) Porcelain products The impact of these material price increases have been wide-ranging

and include: l 85 per cent of builders think material price rises could drive consumers to hire rogue traders in an effort to save money on their building projects; l One third of construction SMEs (32 per cent) have had their margins squeezed; l Almost one quarter (22 per cent) have been forced to pass material price increases onto their clients, making projects more expensive for consumers; l More than one-in-ten builders

report making losses on their building projects due to material price increases. Brian Berry, Chief Executive of the FMB, said: “We’re calling on home owners to hold their nerve – they’re better off commissioning a more modest project from a professional builder than a high spec project from a cowboy. Don’t take the risk.”

Cash-in-hand seems widespread WITH AN UPTAKE IN BUILDING and renovation activity, research by plentific.com shows that the black economy could be alive and well with 45 per cent of NI adults admitting to having paid a tradesman in cash to get a cheaper deal. Plentific is a website that allows homeowners to find and pay tradesmen online; the research was conducted by Opinium Research on the 21st July 2017 fielding 2,006 adults throughout the UK. The finding does not imply that cash payments are a means to subvert paying value added tax, but it does raise the question. VAT is applicable on renovation projects in NI but is refunded on new builds. The majority of those who had paid cash in hand in NI (over 55

per cent) admitted to doing so in the past 12 months. Throughout the UK adults aged 55 and over were the most likely to pay cash in hand (56 per cent) compared to young adults aged 18 to 34-years-old (33 per cent). According to the research: “While this suggests that the older generation may be more thrifty when it comes to hiring a tradesman, it could also be a reflection of the changing times, with cash payments becoming far less frequent in today’s economy.” Stephen Jury, spokesperson for Plentific, commented: “Tradesmen are often painted in a bad light by the media when it comes to things like cash in hand payments. Our statistics show that actually, it can be the customers who are driving this option to save a few pounds.”


O N L I N E / W H AT ' S N E W

ROOMY HOUSE 25 deg roof pitch. Two rooms deep. Within Planning Authority 7.5m height limit. Increased ceiling heights to ground and first floor. Sloped ceilings to first floor. No attic. Ground floor all one level.

45 0

3956 2835







2400 2535

2835 300

STEP HOUSE 25 deg roof pitch. Two rooms deep. Within Planning Authority 7.5m height limit. Typical 2.4m high ceilings internally. Low attic. Possible to increase ceiling height to part of the ground floor by forming a sunken external terrace (implications for whole life use).




SUPERSIZE HOUSE 45 deg roof pitch. Two rooms deep. Height not allowed by local Planning Authority. Very large attic – really a 3 storey dwelling.



TRADITIONAL FARMHOUSE 45 deg roof pitch. Single room deep. Coved ceiling to first floor.



0 45

Log on to live.selfbuild.ie for more information and to book your tickets.

0 45

SELFBUILD LIVE DUBLIN this past September in Citywest was in many ways a celebration of firsts; we got to see new products launched (from the Lumi double glazed window and Dungannon Window Company’s new Eurosash aluminium range to the Selfbuild cost calculators), we unveiled our new look for our events and inaugurated what’s to become a steadfast addition to our line-up of talks and one-to-ones, the Selfbuild Panel of Self-Builders. People who’ve been there and done that were on hand to share their insights – if you missed it check out the Facebook Live videos facebook.com/selfbuild. As a teaser, on the first day (Friday) we heard from: Richie Murphy who built his straw bale house on a DIY basis. Richie and Linda had to build a shed before work could commence on their house; this was to get an electricity connection. The silver lining was that they were able to test their chosen method of render on their outbuilding before committing to it on the house. It consisted of lime plaster finished with a very inexpensive limewash and ferric sulphate mix. Find out more about Richie’s story on p124. Mike Harris of Green Door confided he’d never built anything before coming to Co Leitrim where he extended and renovated an old cottage. Doing it entirely on a DIY basis he relied on the expertise of his architect who guided him throughout the construction process with plans, drawings and advice. Even though it was gruelling at times, and slow (six years) Mike took his time to get everything right and to save up for what he and partner Jo wanted in a home. A similar story and take on self-building can be found in Imelda and Matt’s story on p45. We plan to bring a similar panel to the Rebel County, with self-build stories from the southeast and southwest areas at Selfbuild Live Cork on 11-12 November 2017, Green Glens Arena, Millstreet so come along to ask your own questions to those who’ve already gone through the process.






‘MAKE THE MOST OF IT’ HOUSE Steeper roof pitch. Two rooms deep. Within Planning Authority 7.5m height limit. Increased ceiling heights to ground and first floor. Sloped ceilings to first floor. No attic. Ground floor all on one level.

Irish self-build typology Seeking architectural quality whilst balancing cost, floor area and construction complexity, by Co Carlow architect Helena Fitzgerald helenafitzgeraldarchitects.com

Let’s talk

How much is your house worth?

THE SELFBUILD FACEBOOK group is currently chatting about the pros and cons of air to water heat pumps versus gas/oil heating alternatives, and about concrete versus wooden upper floors. Join the conversation and ask your own questions by requesting to join the SelfBuilders & Home Improvers Ireland Group via facebook.com/ selfbuild/group

HAVE YOU JUST BUILT YOUR HOUSE and wondered what it might be worth? You can now find out how much, on average, properties are going for in your area with GeoDirectory’s GeoView Residential Building report. Outside the Dublin area, Kinsale in Co Cork recorded the highest average property price at over €362,000. The lowest average property price was registered in Clones, Co Monaghan at €65,000.   A table listing eircode areas is available on geodirectory.ie; for a breakdown of individual transactions by specific address see the Property Price Register propertypriceregister.ie  WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 17

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

Fibre cement reinvented

The road to Cork

TECHNOLOGY IS TAKING THE SELF-BUILD market by storm, and the roofing world is no exception. The latest development comes from the realm of fibre cement slates with the launch of the SIGA Man-Made by SIG Roofing (formerly CAPCO Roofing). The SIGA Man-Made range has five product lines, from smooth surfaced square edge slates through to textured surface slates with a riven edge, all of which are available in three colours (black, blue-black and Welsh blue). “We are confident that we have commissioned the strongest, most durable slate to suit the aggressive Irish Climate,” said Declan Duignan of SIG Roofing. “The slates themselves belong to Class B – the strongest class rating, and also have high UV resistance and a super smooth surface which does not promote moss or algae.” In addition, the slates come with a 10 or 20 year colour guarantee, depending on your selection and all come with a 30 year structural guarantee. All of SIG Roofing’s product lines, which include natural and fibre cement slates as well as clay and concrete tiles, are complemented by an extensive range of ridge tiles and other roofing accessories. Not only that but SIG Roofing’s highly specialised sales and technical teams are available to assist you with the whole process and can come out to visit your site to help make your dreams a reality.

THE ROADSTONE QUICK FLOOR SCREED manufactured by Gypsol has now expanded its network to the sunny south, where it has recently opened a new production plant in Castlemore, Co Cork. The company’s three other plants in Dublin, Galway and Tullamore supply screeds to the capital and to the Midlands and West areas. Screeds are especially well adapted to contemporary new builds and have become the norm for underfloor heating – Roadstone’s High Thermal Conductivity screed is especially well suited in this regard. Roadstone’s technical manager Colin Heffernan and Gypsol’s Daniel Gordon have already trained their sales team at Roadstone Cork on the new product. CPD courses are available for architects and contractors too; contact Daniel Gordon at Gypsol NI mobile 07889 810046 for more information. For screed and concrete enquiries specifically in the Cork area, contact the Cork office tel. 021 733 6336, roadstone.ie/products/quick-floor-screed

Contact SIG Roofing to discuss your roof finishing options on ROI tel. 01 623 4541 (Dublin), 021 432 1868 (Cork); NI tel. 9068 6380 (Belfast), 8224 6220 (Omagh), email enquiries@sigroofing.ie, sigroofing.ie

Flame with a view NEW TO THE GAZCO RANGE OF GAS STOVES is the Vogue Midi T whose bevelled cast iron exterior offers a three-sided view of impressive, extended flame visuals. Resembling a real wood burning fire, the vivid flames are reflected about the sides of the interior thanks to Gazco’s EchoFlame Black Glass lining. Incorporating advanced gas fire technology, the Midi T ensures a high efficiency of up to 84 per cent, and ample heat output of up to 4.8kW. Available in four different models, the Midi T series presents a wealth of installation choices, including a wall mounted version for that contemporary floating aesthetic. Find out more about marrying elegance with height at gazco.com 18 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

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

Tiles for every occasion IF YOU’VE MISSED HALO TILES’ stand at Selfbuild Live in Dublin this past September, make sure you head on over to their new branded showrooms. You can find them at the Wogan Build Centre on North Road in Drogheda and in Tom Doyle Supplies in Camolin, Co Wexford. See their latest range of products and get plenty of advice and inspiration from tiling professionals. For more on Halo’s range of tiles see halotiles.ie, tomdoylesupplies.com and wogans.ie




When time is of the essence It’s perhaps little surprise Colm and Siobhan Hatton of Co Wicklow chose a rapid build kit house for their project. It took them two years to sell their house and another two to find a new place to call home… Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne


e tried to sell the house we’d lived in for 19 years a couple of times before we were successful. This was at the start of the downturn in the market and the sale actually fell through twice. We eventually sold it and ended up renting for more than two years before getting the site and building our dream house,” explains Colm. “We decided to sell because the family had grown and we needed more space. Our previous home only had one bathroom and was generally quite small.” “We visited so many houses,” recalls Siobhan, “but none of them appealed to me. Colm could see their potential but I just couldn’t imagine myself living there. We also looked at buying land but the location never was quite right.” Eventually a site came up for sale in the village where their boys go to school, and near Colm’s parents’ house. “We were very lucky to find this site, it was perfect. We had a local connection to the area, with Colm’s family having lived there for generations,” continues Siobhan. “I’m really glad I stuck to my guns and got the opportunity to build new. We eventually got our dream home, the way we wanted it.” 2103 // SSEE LF T EMRM 2E 0 1R7 2 0 1 7 LBFU BIUL IDL /DW/I N SU

“This coincided with my mum getting sick and going into a nursing home,” she adds. “I didn’t want my dad to be on his own so when it came time to build it was great to be able to include enough space for him. Everything that’s been done in the garden is down to his hard work, it’s wonderful having him with us.” Their choice of a kit house, meanwhile, had to do with two things self-builders often 





have a limited amount of: time and money. “We knew we could build the house within four months, and it was much more cost effective than going down the concrete or blocklayer route,” adds Colm. “The design

‘We couldn’t believe how quickly it went up, in just three and a half months. A friend of mine built a similar house and it took him a year longer.’

process was also actually quite quick as we’d lived in a few houses previous to this one and knew exactly what we didn’t want.” “We chose from various models on offer and mixed and matched. We got a price and proposal and signed on the dotted line quite quickly,” remembers Colm. Even though planning permission did take a while to secure, the house building process was thankfully much less lengthy. “At this stage I let Colm sort out all the details – the only change I made was to move the utility room from the front of the house to the back,” says Siobhan. “I couldn’t imagine myself traipsing across the living room with my load of laundry to get to the garden. It also meant I now had a back door, which is always good to have in a utility room.”

Zipping along

“This was our first self-build so we didn’t really know what to expect,” adds Colm. “In September we were ready to go and broke ground, but there was a legal delay that meant we started building in October. Once the slab was poured we worked through the winter and moved in February.” “We couldn’t believe how quickly it went up, in just three and a half months. A friend of mine built a similar house and it took him a year longer.” The foundations were poured first and the timber frame kit, with prefabricated walls, then quickly followed to be craned in place. “It took only two days to put up the structure and for the work on the pitched  22 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017




Q&A with Siobhan What’s your favourite feature / favourite part of the house?

The open plan set up with living area works really well for us, it’s very conducive to the family being together. We also have a separate sitting room where the children go play their video games, so it’s a win win.

What would you change? I might look at changing the specification for the upper storey – you do tend to hear everything that’s happening above as the floors are timber. I might also make our bedroom a bit smaller because it really is quite big, to make the bathroom bigger. Then again I have no complaints about the size of the bathroom, so I’m not sure I’d change anything at this stage. The only room that I’d like to make bigger is the utility, you can never have enough space for that. A nifty feature is the pull down airing cupboard, you can fold it up when not in use. It means there’s no laundry hanging in the house.

What surprised you?

How easy it was. We had problems with planning initially but the build process was so quick and hasslefree we couldn’t believe it. Nothing was a problem to the builders – we had a vent in a bedroom and I mentioned to the builder that we planned to put a wardrobe there. The next day they had the vent moved to another wall.

Would you do it again?

I would but I don’t think I will. I have the house I always wished to live in, so I don’t plan to embark on a new project any time soon.

What advice would you give a budding selfbuilder?

Getting a decent builder is half the battle. We could have moved in a week earlier than the scheduled date if it weren’t for the bank delaying the last drawdown.


roof to get started; it was very exciting,” confides Colm. Siobhan was on site every day and she got a fright early on. “When we saw the footprint of the house we had second thoughts,” she says. “We felt the house looked tiny! Thankfully as soon as the walls went up it felt spacious again. You need to take a step back to see how it’s going to end up. It can be hard to tell otherwise.” “It’s funny because the house feels spacious now, we have room for everybody and for the children to grow into,” she beams. “Our eldest is 6ft4 and in our old house his bedroom was the box room – he

wouldn’t physically fit in it now! Our other son’s bedroom is plenty big too, there’s even room to invite friends to stay over.” They got a window supplier to fit all of the glazing. A separate kitchen and bathroom company came to finish those areas too, while the electrics, plumbing and plastering were done by the builders. “For the finishing touches we hired an interior designer who helped us choose colours,” explains Siobhan. “We put together our dream kitchen by picking out features from a showroom. I especially love the pantry, and I’d always dreamed of an island so had all my wishes come true.” 

BIOGREEN WASTE WATER SYSTEMS  Large Primary Chamber  Certified to EN12566-3 & SR66


 Certified to EN12566-1 &SR66

RAINWATER HARVESTING  Domestic and commercial solutions


   

Slurry Storage  Rain Water Effluent Storage  Clean Water Dairy Washings Reservoirs for farms Fully Slatted Lids with poor water supply

Visit our website to see our NEW installation videos


Drumderry, Bunclody, Co Wexford M: Michael 087 979 8032 E: build@carlowtanks.com


Walk-in wardrobe

Spacious bedrooms

Children’s bathroom


“It’s got a maximum amount of storage, which means in our day to day everything goes back where it should be,” continues Siobhan. “And no matter how many people are in it, we don’t get in each other’s way. The novelty was how big it was, now I’ve gotten used to it but it’s still my dream kitchen.” For the wardrobes and other furniture the couple spent an entire day at a flat pack store. “We were there for seven hours and didn’t argue – we can’t go to the supermarket without getting into a row!

Everything was so straightforward. The only time there was a bit of frustration was the last week – there was the snagging and making sure everything was in order. But that was a small price to pay.” The housewarming party coincided with Colm’s fiftieth birthday. “When the extended family gets together we’re 19 in total and we’re able to have everybody over. We’d never have been able to do that with any degree of comfort in our previous house. We integrated a barbeque area outside which we got to inaugurate.” 


Practical tips Step into the bath. When shopping around for baths, try them out in the showroom, I really should have given mine a go. The one I picked for the master bathroom is so uncomfortable I never use it – it’s a free-standing model with straight sides and you can’t even lie in it fully. I use the children’s bath when I want to have a soak! Also check the taps. The waterfall taps looked lovely in the showroom but the reality is, I get drenched every time I turn them on. The trough is quite shallow so that may be the reason why I’m getting soaked.

Master bathroom

The builders had in fact made some helpful suggestions for the landscaping. “We had budgeted for a pathway to lead to the end of the garden and they gave us the option of adding a patio instead; they also helped lay out the front garden, which really helped,” adds Colm.


“My advice to others would be to make sure you have a contingency. Things will always crop up and add to the cost. In our case, we were caught with the water services, we had to pay for a connection which we hadn’t expected,” warns Colm. He also says it’s important to get the timings right. “The toughest thing was to think early on about where to put the showers, the kitchen sink, and all other plumbing requirements. You think you have loads of time to figure it out but that actually


needs to be done at the very beginning, before the slab is poured.” The relationship they had with their builder made all the difference. “For instance when they went to build the cantilever over the porch it turned out to be too small; they changed it without any problem or any hassle for us,” he comments. “Any changes made were documented by the builder and sent back with additional costs listed. It was very clear, you could see some changes we made increased the price while others reduced it,” adds Colm. A breeze of an experience for a first self-build!

Consider adding doors within your walk-in wardrobe. I love my walk-in wardrobe but am now thinking of adding sliding doors inside, to prevent dust from building up. Then again, Colm probably would never close them…

The courtyard injects natural light, which the new hallway benefits from (left).


More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild

Project information Find out more about Colm and Siobhan’s new build project in Co Wicklow including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS



House size:

Project cost:

U-values: ground floor 0.15 W/sqmK, roof 0.13 W/sqmK, walls 0.12 W/sqmK

Architect Kenneth Byrne of Project Design Architects, Kilcoole, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 657 2973, projectdesignarchitects.com

Plot size:

with architect and site costs

Windows: overall U-value 1.1 W/sqmK triple glazed

Builder Ambihouse, Roundwood, Co Wicklow, tel. 01 287 2468, ambihouse.ie

1,200 sqm 2,400 sqm


Heating: air to water heat pump

Kitchen Noel Dempsey Designs, Rathnew, Co Wicklow, tel. 0404 64548, noeldempsey.com

Airtightness test: 1.98 m3/(hr.m2) BER: A3

Photography Dermot Byrne, dermotbyrne.ie

Ventilation: demand controlled ventilation

Calling from NI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0

























Fintastic Because Tim and Claire Millen couldn’t build their house to face the sun, for planning reasons, they used fin shaped walls to coax sunlight back inside. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


e were lucky enough to get the plot of land from Claire’s family,” says Tim. “They have been in the road since the 1960s and her dad grew up there, so it has been fantastic to continue the chain. Her grandfather still lives next door.” Claire’s grandfather had in fact previously attempted to build a house on the strip of land Claire and Tim eventually built their house on. “The site at the time was quite narrow, 50m long but just 10m wide, so he intended to build a house perpendicular to the road, which the planners had objected to.” “By giving us an extra 10m width from his own garden, we had enough room to face the road,” continues Claire. “Due to heavy planting on both sides, this initially meant that we could not capitalise on the light. But our architect solved this with some clever design. The shape of the house, angled portrait windows and seven rooflights flood the house with natural light.” “We also have three double height rooms to give a real sense of space. Even though the footprint of the house is minimal, which we’re happy with because that goes along with our sustainability principles, thanks to all this overhead space it feels massive.” “We were keen to build a modern, minimalist house that still felt cosy and at home in its location so this approach ticked all the boxes,” adds Tim. The architect is a good friend of Tim’s and, knowing his client better than any other, he came up with a design the couple immediately fell in love with. “We have always loved Jono’s taste in pretty much everything,” recounts Claire. “So we gave him a simple descriptive brief of how we wanted the home to feel, how many bedrooms, what working spaces we needed, and so on, and asked him to design something creative, whatever he wanted. We were surprised and delighted with what he came up with and just went for it.” But as previous experience forewarned, obtaining planning permission wasn’t straightforward. “We had the usual objections from local residents, we also had a number of meetings with objectors who had enlisted some local politicians, and with the planners. But as we had been very careful to 



The main part of the house had to be finished with blockwork to secure a mortgage.



abide by planning policies, the meetings were straightforward and friendly. The planners (Downpatrick office) were open minded and flexible; we were going for contemporary vernacular elements, such as the fibre cement corrugate used on the roof and back of the house. We referenced their own planning policy documents which probably helped us get over the line,” explains Claire. “Sensitivity to the existing landscape was key for us,” adds Tim. “We built the house in the middle of existing mature trees and planting, so it looks at home in the plot, almost hidden in parts from the road. Even though we had initially wanted to keep to a modern style at the front of the house as well, we decided to use conventional render instead to better fit with the neighbouring houses.” The design stage took a couple of months; the couple then lodged their planning application in October 2013 and got permission in June of the following year. “We poured the foundations in February 2015, the delay was due to selling our previous home and getting the mortgage in order,” says Claire.


“We wanted a minimalist, uncluttered feel to the house, but without coldness or hardness. So our choices were led by a desire for simple, natural materials. We love exposed concrete but with children we opted for engineered oak floors in the living areas instead. Concrete was also quite an expensive option and difficult to do,” continues Claire. “What we did instead is clad the wall in the open plan area with concrete tiles to make a feature of it. It’s very tactile, while the texture and colour (neutral, but quite rough and

organic) add an interesting contrast to the white walls everywhere else.” The downside to hard surfaces and very high ceilings is acoustics. “As we were working with a tight budget, at the time of building we could not get excited about putting a poured cement screed on the upstairs floor, so we skipped it. But it turns out that our kids are very noisy. We also plan to introduce more fabric to help with the sound insulation in the living areas,” continues Tim. “The issue is that it’s not so easy, or cheap to make the floor less noisy or the rooms have less of an echo. That said there is excellent noise separation between inside and outside thanks to all the insulation and triple-glazing.” Timber is used throughout the house, keeping with the natural theme. “We have a lot of birch plywood – the walls of the hall, the walls of the office, the entrance from the hall into the kitchen. And there is a recurring motif of wall to ceiling plywood cupboards (in the hall, playroom, master bedroom...). We 

‘We have always loved Jono’s taste in pretty much everything...so we simply gave him a simple descriptive brief of how we wanted the home to feel...'

Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

One of our favourite things in the house is the bi-fold door in the kitchen, which is often flung open, and gives us a real feeling of space and outside living, even in the Northern Irish drizzle. We spend so much more time outside now. And inside, the comfort and happiness of our new home has transformed the way we live, cook, eat and even how we hang out with the kids.

What surprised you?

That we couldn’t get a mortgage on a timber frame house that was finished with timber cladding – the banks insisted we have blockwork finished with a render on the exterior of the house. We were able to secure a very small loan from an ecological building society but it wasn’t enough to build the house so we had to add the blockwork to get the mortgage, even though it’s not necessary from a structural point of view. We got away with the cedar cladding on what was considered to be the extension, but the main part of the house had to be block.

What would you do differently?

We never really had any of those Grand Designs moments, where the bespoke windows arrive from far away and don’t fit. So any problems we’ve had were very small scale. One thing we would do differently if we ever built again would be to give more thought to where all the extra wall and ceiling vents, dials, smoke alarms and thermostats should go. We had charts for all the usual electricity points, lighting and light controls. But we hadn’t realised with the extra technology (mechanised ventilation, underfloor heating, etc.), comes so many wall mounted controls. Without prior planning for this, installers will arrive on site and have no choice but to put things where it seems logical at the time but not always in accordance with the overall design.

Fibre cement corrugate finish with bi-fold doors

Cedar cladding



Q&A Would you do it again?

At the time we had just had a new baby and we were in our busy season for work so we had to be quite hands off. That said, if I were to do it again, I think I’d go with the exact same set up, it made our lives so much easier.

What advice would you give to a budding selfbuilder?

The concrete tiles on the wall add texture

loved the organic and honest feel this brought into the house,” adds Claire. “Most of the design choices for fixtures and fittings were led by a similar single principle: simplicity. Everything from the taps to the wall lights are as unfussy as possible, with simple lines and block colours.” “We have softened the minimalist feel of the house in a number of ways: carpet upstairs, plants and soft furnishings. And books everywhere you look. But mostly through just living a busy life with two little kids. The clean white walls are usually peppered with children’s paintings of robots and rabbits.” Storage was another key aspect of this build. “We’d lived in houses with so little


storage we put cubby holes everywhere we could. We’re not very tidy by nature, in the playroom it’s especially helpful to have a full height cupboard we can throw everything in and not look back.”


“Most of the houses on our street have been heated by oil but we wanted to do something more sustainable and future-proof so we have an air source heat pump which generates heating and hot water,” says Claire. “Along with this goes a heat recovery ventilation system. We also have a wood burning stove (with a pipe exposed throughout the lower and upper floors of the house for heat gain) which we light in winter for a little extra heat.” 

In addition to the need for a robust design and build team, make sure you have a contingency. Our big headache was an expensive electricity pole. We had to solve a few issues with visibility splays at the site entrance which involved moving the pole one metre back from the road. The work by NI Electricity to move the pole and, consequently, to replace a few ageing poles up and down the street cost us nearly £10,000.


But heating a home with a heat pump is very different to a traditional boiler set-up. “We used to turn it on and off like you would a boiler but heat pumps with underfloor heating work best when kept on all the time, at a steady low temperature. It’s a question of shifting our mindset. We also had the

bills as compared to our previous house, which was a semi-d with a gas boiler,” comments Claire. “To become more self-sufficient we’re toying with the idea of adding solar panels to generate electricity in five years’ time – the technology is fast evolving and we’d like to become as self-sufficient as possible. We factored this at the early stages so we can easily make a connection in the attic when we want to.” “We actually did have a problem with the heat pump,” says Tim. “The engineer came out and did all his tests, scratching his head. All the readings were normal. He went to the electricity board and, lo and behold, what did he find but the remains of a fried slug. It took us a week to figure out what the problem was. A high-tech system scuppered by a humble garden slug.”

‘We bought a lot off the internet, we knew exactly what we wanted so we’d place bulk orders. Our guiding principle was to go for the plainest finish...' hot water set at a higher temperature than necessary so we’re working on the fine tuning. There was also a question of the speed at which the water would reach each room,” says Tim. “Even though we weren’t being very efficient about it, we still halved our energy 38 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Ninja builders

“Our builders were amazing; it was a fixed price contract and the timber frame panels were made off-site in their workshop. They were very precise and delivered ahead of schedule, despite the need to figure out how to build some of the tricky junctions,” says Claire.

“There were a lot of bespoke solutions, for instance we wanted a clean connection where the fibre cement corrugated panels met so we got a specialised company to come out to put in a bracket. It’s the same stuff that’s used for gutters so the company ended up putting up gutters on the entire house. We hadn’t asked for this so it had to be taken down, which wasn’t an issue but it goes to show that you have to keep an eye on progress quite closely to make sure your vision is executed.” Their builders were sympathetic to their novel approaches. “By the middle of the build, when we got to the finishes, they wouldn’t do anything without asking us first. They were very patient, they’re natural problem solvers so we worked well together. They were also interested in helping us source new materials.” The build took place over the summer months, the busiest season for their photography practice. “We bought a lot off the internet, we knew exactly what we wanted so we’d place bulk orders. Our guiding principle was to go for the plainest finish so it was actually quite straightforward to choose fixtures and fittings.” Things got trickier when they had to integrate these ideas into the build. “There were very few things we could buy off the 


Tim & Claire’s Top tips Leave it to the professionals

We didn’t have the time or skills to project manage the build. For us, trusting our architect and our builder was the key to an enjoyable and actually pretty trouble-free build. As photographers, we always do our best creative work when the client trusts us and gives us a certain amount of freedom to push the boundaries so we gave that same freedom to the team working on our house.

…But keep an eye on things too

We’d also recommend making regular site visits, especially each time something important is being installed. We worked with the builder to find different and creative solutions to a variety of problems that cropped up during installations. For example we added a couple of extra rooflights at a late stage which was easily accommodated by the builders. And as we went for a very minimalist finish we had to find ways to create shadow gaps (no skirting boards) without it costing a fortune.



shelf, like skirting boards which we didn’t want, so we devised our own hacks and had to fabricate some bits. A lot of thought went into back of the envelope sketches.” “We did have an incredible amount of work to do during the build, making design decisions and coordinating our small parts towards the end. And all of this in addition to running our own business and raising small children. I’m not sure we could have retained our sanity, if we had become involved in an even more hands-on way,” muses Claire. “We couldn’t be on site more than every two or three days, we were heavily reliant on our architect and builders to deliver the project, and that they did. In spades.”


Building a studio for their photography business was an important aspect of this project. “I’ve been self-employed for longer than I can remember and worked from all sorts of places, from my bedroom to an office in town,” says Tim. “A split level design was the ideal solution, we have the business end of things on the ground floor and upstairs is the creative studio, which has a connecting door to the bedroom.” There’s a door to allow clients to enter the office without having to go through the house; the area is covered so it’s easy to walk from the immediate outdoor area studio to the back door of the main house. “The more physical separation between work and family life the better, and this layout really works. We’d originally intended to build a pod in the garden for the office but it’s much more practical to be connected to the house,


Tim’s creative studio with connecting door to the master bedroom

one reason is making tea. It was cheaper too.” For the garden, Tim and Claire were inspired by naturalistic planting designs. “We are huge fans of the Dutch garden designer Piet Oudolf. We didn’t have the budget left to get the landscaping done professionally, so I turned the office into a greenhouse and grew nearly everything from seed myself. It was a huge task and not everything survived but in just one season we have managed to plant up nearly all of the gardens, which are pretty big. Think alliums and echinacea emerging from feathery and ornamental grasses. It looks good in all seasons, with bright colours in summer and interesting, structural seed-heads and grass colours in winter,” says Claire. “There were a lot of mature trees already on the site, so our number one priority was to keep as many as we could. We only removed what we had to for visibility splays and to make room for the building’s footprint. The location of the house in the plot was somewhat dictated by a large Eucryphia tree which we wanted to keep.” “This tree especially adds a lot of privacy and conceals much of the house from the road. There are many more mature trees in the gardens, for example mature cherry, eucalyptus conifer and birch. Any felled trees were retained for firewood to be used in the wood burning stove.” “The position of the windows and light throughout the house gives a real sense of inside/outside living, heightened by the planting,” adds Claire. “We’re surrounded by green and it’s good for the soul.”


More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild

Project information Find out more about Tim and Claire’s new build project in Co Down including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS Plot size:

¼ acre

House size:

1,800 sqft


Total cost:

£240,000 Value:


Roofs: corrugated fibre cement roof finish on timber battens and counter battens, breather membrane, 80mm PIR insulation on 200mm roofing joists with PIR insulation in between, on vapour barrier on service void and 12.5mm plasterboard finish. U-value: 0.12 W/sqmK.

space, rest of build up same as for corrugated fibre cement. U-value: 0.13 W/sqmK.

Walls: corrugated fibre cement cladding on timber horizontal battens on breather membrane on 9mm OSB on 140mm timber studs with PIR in between on vapour barrier on 60mm PIR insulation on 50mm service void on 12.5mm plasterboard. Cedar clad finish on timber battens and counter battens with continuous air

Windows: triple glazed, overall U-value 0.8 W/ sqmK.

Floor: Hardcore, 100mm concrete slab, 200mm insulation, 100mm screed with underfloor heating. U-value: 0.1 W/sqmK.

Airtightness test: 1.29 m3/sqm.h at 50Pa EPC (SAP): B (86)


SUPPLIERS Architect Jono Johnston at W M Given, Coleraine, tel. 7035 1111, wmgivenarchitects.co.uk Builder Setanta Construction, Castledawson, tel. 7946 5333, setantaconstruction.com


Kitchen & plywood cupboards Johanna Montgomery Designs, Ballymena, tel. 2175 8400, johannamontgomerydesigns.co.uk


Concrete Wall Tiles Concreate, concreate.net Windows and Doors Swish Windows, Cookstown, tel. 86766147, swishwindows.net




Light fittings & other features wearemaven.co.uk, paperrooms.co.uk, made.com Photography Tim Millen This Modern Love thismodernlove.co.uk


Calling from ROI prefix with 048 or 0044 when calling mobile






Here at K&K Windows ltd. We take exceptional pride in the work we do and customer service we provide. For 22 years now we have been providing outstanding quality windows, doors and conservatories for both residential and commercial projects. With NO MIDDLE MAN, we sell, manufacture and install, your wish is our command! 30% Discount, HRI Tax back and grants available Free no obligation quotation. Visit our must see showrooms. Opening times: Monday - Friday 9am - 5.30pm & Saturday 10am - 2pm

Rossminogue, Craanford, Gorey, Co. Wexford Y25 N2T7 T: 1800 250 260 - E: info@kkwindows.ie





Pioneering spirit An 1860s concrete shed is an unusual choice for a renovation project but Matt Jones and Imelda Ryan-Jones of Co Sligo were the perfect couple to take on the challenge Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Steve Rogers WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 45



elf-builders are in many ways key drivers to innovation, often seeking the most environmentally friendly and cutting-edge solutions to their home building projects, almost always going above and beyond the building regulations requirements. Matt and Imelda are a perfect example of this phenomenon; when the couple moved from Wales to Ireland back in 2005, they embraced technologies that were hard to come by, yet nowadays are run-of-the-mill. Their challenge was to convert an old stable, cattle shed and hay loft into a dwelling. Imelda grew up in the adjacent parochial house, which her parents had turned into a family home in the mid 1970s. “Sometimes it helps not knowing what’s ahead,” jokes Matt. “If I’d known how hard it would be I probably would have chosen to build a new house instead.” But Matt did have some expertise under his belt; in Wales he’d renovated his Edwardian semi-detached home, learned to plaster and got acquainted with carpentry. Matt is in fact a professional wood turner so has a way with timber. In the early days, his interest in ecobuilding had originally led him to investigate straw bale construction. “Every building has a carbon footprint,” he explains. “It doesn’t matter what kind of house you build, building new always has an environmental impact. So instead with this house our aim was to salvage as much of the original structure as possible and reuse materials from the site.”

Tech savvy

Matt and Imelda’s choice of external


insulation led them to import many of the materials they would need. The build-up consists of three inches of phenolic board topped with a polymer render sourced in America. “It has a heavy texture, the topcoat is a mix of cement and lime rendering – the house had originally been plastered in lime. I fixed the panels and did all rendering work,” explains Matt. The windows were taped up to provide a continuous airtight layer and vents were installed in each of the main rooms for fresh air. In terms of heating, as the garden was deemed too small for a horizontal collector, they originally decided to go with boreholes. “We hit shale within a couple hundred feet and the hole kept collapsing. The contractors bailed out after two days. So we had to install a horizontal collector.” “The difficulty with that is the site is on different levels and of an odd shape, but we still managed to get the pipes laid. We had to pull them across the entire site, very close to the house. We were lucky that at the time a leading practitioner in the country, Alex Byrne, was living down the road from us so he was able to source everything we needed and provide advice.” 


The shed was extended with a timber clad extension and entirely reroofed and renovated

Q&A What’s your favourite feature/ favourite part of the house? The front of the house has to be my favourite – when you look at the building it looks almost exactly as it did before the renovation. It sits really well in its environment, low in the landscape with huge trees around it. You come in through a lane lined with beech trees, accessed from a road through the R.C Church car park in the village.

What surprised you?

I didn’t think it would take so long, it took us three years to move into the house and even then, there was another year with us in the house and me working at it daily. Even now there are aspects that need to be finished off – whenever you selfbuild there will be certain problems you will have to solve to move onto the next task, knowing you will have to return to it to finish off. The silver lining is, by that stage, you’ll have more experience, time, money and know how.

What would you do differently? ?????????????? ??????????

?????????????? ??????????

Imelda’s parents live in the original parochial house, renovated in the 1970s

I’d think long and hard about knocking it all down and starting from scratch. We added another building in 2009, a gallery space, it’s a timber frame structure on stilts. It was such a pleasure to build, all the walls are straight. We could use plasterboard! With the house everything seemed like a struggle, I could spend days to get something seemingly simple done. At times it was exhausting. The boosts you get, the small triumphs, on a regular build are achieved weekly. Those moments for me were every couple of months. Progress was so slow sometimes you’d wonder if you were ever on site.



Matt & Imelda’s tips “We dug one meter down into the ground – the hardest part was figuring out where to put the mounds of soil as we were excavating the entire garden. The heating system is by far the most expensive thing we have, it cost us over €20,000 including the unit, underfloor heating upstairs and down. But it works beautifully, never had any trouble with it.”

Segal inspired

The outbuilding was L-shaped which the couple originally thought would provide enough space for them. “After we cleared out the stable section, which was divided in four, we came up with a second draft which included an extension. It just made more sense to put the living room to the south facing side of the house and this had knock on effects on the overall design. There wasn’t an awful lot we could do because the internal walls are structural, In the original plans the sunniest room was the bathroom,” adds Matt. The extension turned the L into a T. “The mass concrete walls date back to the 1860s, which is when the building was erected. It’s probably an early example of the use of mass concrete in Ireland. The walls are 12 inches thick (300mm) and were built in layers of 18 inches,” continues Matt. “As a result nothing is plumb or straight, the walls are either leaning in or out.” The structure of the original building had started to show its age but was watertight; cracks in the walls, one above a door and the first floor timber floors were rotten through. 48 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

“We saw some signs of subsidence, the wall that leaned with a large crack was repaired with new blockwork. We didn’t try to add foundations to the house as it has been standing for 150 years. The potential rising damp was dealt with by tanking the walls.” For guidance on detailing, Matt sought out an expert. “I looked around for an architect with an eco bias and found Colin Bell. When we met him we knew he was the guy,” recalls Matt. There were no issues in securing planning permission. “It took us a full year to get the integrity of the shed back to where our architect was 

l Plastering in this weather takes forever. Consider how long each task will reasonably take by speaking with suppliers and others who have gone through a similar process. l For a DIY self-build you need enthusiasm and a lot of energy to get the finish you want, make sure you have plenty of both. l Get advice from someone you trust who has the experience and qualifications to help you with the practical aspects of building.


happy for us to build the roof,” continues Matt. “The building was used as a cattle shed and stables so many of the new windows had to be cut, which we did with con saws and a kango. The few original windows had small cracks above, so we added three lintels to give 12 inches of support.” It was very heavy initial work, removing tonnes of material. “5mx5m sections of concrete had to be opened up in the corner for the extension. All the rubble was used as hardcore on site. It was myself and my brother in law Ed employing mediaeval means, propping steel on timber. The back of the building was buried and we had to clear it out too. So a lot of digging involved.” Then came the arduous task of putting a roof on top. This had to be done on both old and new at the same time so the erection of the timber frame structure was done in parallel to the site clearance. “We’d priced the timber shell but the quotes that came in were too expensive. At the time, timber frame wasn’t as commonplace as it is today so we were probably getting charged a premium because of it. I ended up building it all by hand and Colin helped with the airtightness specification.” Then came the first floors, to make the roof building stage easier and safer.

Hats on

To build the roof, Matt took down the existing rafters, each of which he lengthened individually to get the eaves to extend over the external insulation. “It took some figuring out, using the original rafters as a template on how to build the roof. When I made a mistake, I went and did another. I bolted a 3ft piece of wood onto the end of each rafter, I made them extralong and cut them to size when the fascia board went on.” “Colin advised that instead of collar ties we use a flitch beam – steel sandwiched between timber – that runs underneath the ridge board which is in turn supported by posts on beams. This required some engineering as we had to sit it in the wall at first floor level. It was a trial and error operation and the only time we had a crane on site.” The day the crane came Matt, Imelda, their friend Ciarán Donnelly and Ed worked together to ensure it all went according to plan. “We had friends from London visit at different stages of the build,” relates Imelda, “to lend a hand, which was wonderful, but the day of the crane sticks out most in my mind. When we got the steel in place, with help from Ciarán and Ed, the feeling of 50 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

The walls were externally insulated, the concrete inside was painted and acts as a thermal sink


Q&A What advice would you give to a budding selfbuilder?

gratefulness and relief was enormous.” A lot of time, and care, meant that when Matt got to the roof plate it was in line and reasonably straight. “But if I were to do it again I would use new timber entirely.” “Looking back my approach to salvage as much as possible was probably overkill but I was really keen on reusing as much as we could.” Matt also kept the original Bangor blue slates from the building and bought a reclaimed batch from a salvage yard to match. “We had to get 200 to 300 Bangor blues at €7 a slate, we’d managed to salvage three quarters of those on site. Despite the cost, it

still came in cheaper than a new fibre cement roof covering.”

Settled in

During the construction Matt and Imelda were renting a home in the village, so coming home, so to speak, was an important milestone even though work was still ongoing for a year in the house after that. Thanks to the external wall insulation the internal cast concrete walls are left beautifully exposed, with no flat surfaces and the bonus of acting as a storage heater. “We painted them and don’t have much hanging on the walls, partly because it takes forever to drill. There’s a lot of stone in those walls. As a result we don’t have any kitchen presses above head, most of the furniture is freestanding,” says Matt. As can be expected Matt did all the tiling and internal timber work. “I made the doors and the panelling to provide a straight run for the stairs. We also salvaged some doors that originally came from Imelda’s family home and from the local church.” The sense of place you get in the house, and out, is exemplary. “The back garden is man made with veg plots and a utility garden. At the front we left it the way it was when we first came although we added an orchard. We are surrounded by mature hedges and trees.” Thanks to Matt and Imelda, this unusual building has been given a second lease of life. This is what restoration and preserving the vernacular is, in many ways, all about.

Renovating an old building is an exercise in patience, there may be some element of ‘grin and bear it’. The main thing is not to lose heart. You’re going to make mistakes and you’ll laugh at yourself down the road when it will seem so obvious but that’s ok. Something I think is important to remember is that everybody used to build – it’s a vernacular activity, using materials that are lying around to make something of them. There were no tape measures back then or other tools we take for granted nowadays. It was all done with common sense and basic materials. Everyone has an innate ability to tackle this kind of project. I think modern materials can be alienating to the average person – building sites are now specialist spaces but in fact, it can all be done by people who learn by doing, if we can take the macho element out of it.

Would you do it again?

Yes, now I would. If you’d asked me five years ago I would have said no way! The memory was still painful, but the urge to build does overcome me once in a while. Whenever I do get a chance to build, even a shed, I really enjoy it. If I were to do it again I’d do something totally different, start from scratch, probably a passive structure, high tech straw bale with timber frame and panels on the outside. All the walls would be plasterboard.



More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild

Project information Find out more about Matt and Imelda’s extension and renovation project in Co Sligo including the local companies involved... SIZE & COSTS House size:

325 sqm Site size:

½ acre

BUILDING SPECIFICATION External wall insulation: 75mm phenolic board with polymer cover and lime/cement finish.

Build cost:

€200,000 House value:


Timber frame extension: all first floor 9x3 timber joists slotted in with a joist hanger to carry concrete screed on OSB with blown newspaper, plasterboard ceiling, screed 2.5 inches for pipes.

Floors: Engineered oak. Roof insulation: 300mm of hemp roll in the roof, and 100mm of phenolic board in the ground floor.



Design and supervision Colin Bell Architect, Sligo, tel. 071 9169982, colinbell-architect.com Insulation, airtightness materials, etc. Ecological Building Systems, Athboy, Co Meath, tel. 046 9432104, ecologicalbuildingsystems.com


Heat pump Alex Byrne, Sligo, mobile 0862625002, eil.ie





Photography Steve Rogers Photographer, Co Sligo, mobile 0872654352, steverogersphoto.com

NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0












Good things come to those who wait Especially when you are about to make a significant investment in your life Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


he best way to plan a renovation project is over a long period of time, whilst living in your house. That’s how you get to know what will really work, what you actually need and it will give you the time to put the money together to get what you want. This is what Bruce and Rosin Crane of Co Antrim were lucky to be able to wait for. “We moved back from Scotland 10 years ago and bought a house in Co Antrim,” explains Bruce. “We bought it at the height of the market and despite viewing hundreds of new builds we couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for.” “We liked the cottagey look of this house and felt it was quite different, its 100-year-old walls oozing character. Most importantly we knew it had good potential for a renovation or extension project. The back of the house was bland as compared to the front, and we knew there was room for improvement there too.”

Planning stage

“We mulled our options for a long time, deciding what we wanted to do,” adds Bruce. “We lived in the house five years before we started and we gave it a great bit of thought.” Their children also helped them prioritise. “With young kids in a big farmhouse, the kitchen is a big piece of the puzzle so we knew we wanted to keep the existing kitchen as the core of the house.” “At the start, we were going around at shows, such as Selfbuild Live, to get advice

The outhouses were demolished and rebuilt (right portion of the house on this photo). The door on the right gives access to the playroom.

and inspiration,” continues Bruce. “We had our hearts set on adding a sunroom at the back of the house, which is where the views are.” “When we bought the property there was a shed attached to the house and the original kitchen was used as a store room/ gym as, twenty years ago, the owners extended on the left hand side to add the current kitchen.” “The solution for us was to convert the outhouse into useable space and extend towards the garden. This added a toy room, a sunroom with bedroom and shower room upstairs, along with a bigger back hall. The larger back hallway is now there for the  WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 55


children to run around and the new toy room will easily convert into a teenagers’ den when they advance in their years,” continues Bruce. “Our usable space doubled.” Helping them further their plans was their architectural technologist. “We found a practice that was reasonably priced, and whose eco philosophy appealed to us. We also liked their way of marrying old with new. They came back with how to improve the insulation, and design ideas such as adding corner windows. They also suggested using more roof lights to avoid potentially dark recesses.” “In the sunroom we chose light colours, and in all the new parts we were influenced by our travels in France and Italy. During our holidays we fell in love with mezzanines, split

‘With young kids in a big farmhouse, the kitchen is a big piece of the puzzle so we knew we wanted to keep the existing kitchen as the core of the house.’

levels, and ceramics. So we chose to finish our floors with Italian style tiles to evoke the Mediterranean. The hall is an orangey amber colour to complement the scheme.” In terms of furniture some items were moved around, others were bought to fit in with the style they wanted. “We moved the leather sofa into the living room, and got new patio furniture for the sunroom,” adds Bruce. Due to the size of the extension Bruce and Roisin had to secure planning permission, but this turned out to be a straightforward process. “Two existing rooms had to be knocked and rebuilt because we wanted cavity walls, from a heat conservation point of view. As we kept the original features intact it seems the planners were happy with our changes.” They got planning permission in March 2013 and finished the renovation a year later. The existing roof ’s Bangor blue slates were complemented with Spanish slate and to maintain the cottage style, the new windows are timber and double glazed. 

The front of the house was renovated

The extension provides shelter from the wind which means the family now enjoys more barbeques



Q&A What’s your favourite feature/ favourite part of the house? I love the sunroom with windows around the side and the kids love it too. Thanks to the extension we benefit from a wind break to barbeque so we’re actually outside a lot more now. The balcony to the river and valley view is an added bonus.

What surprised you?

We didn’t expect we’d have to install a pump for the wastewater system.

What would you do differently?

On whole we’re very happy with how the build went, there were very few hiccups. Now there are only little things I’d change, for instance the smoke alarms are at the top of the new 3m high ceiling which means changing the batteries isn’t always very practical. I might also lower the windows at the front, I was set on having them line up to the original house but it would be nice to see the garden when sitting on the couch. It is how we wanted it to look from the outside so I can’t really complain!

Would you do it again? The extension consists of a sunroom downstairs and bedroom with balcony upstairs

I would definitely do it again. We’ve always been into old buildings, keeping them as they are. Our previous home was a flat, it was our first purchase and we did up the interior, there was no structural work involved. So we were sanding floors, upgraded the house in general which gave us inspiration for this house. At the time, we were young and enthusiastic.

What advice would you give to a budding selfbuilder?

Be flexible – the house may throw up some surprises so be prepared to have the schedule pushed back.



The original kitchen layout with range were left untouched

Bruce & Rosin’s Top tips Delays are likely. We had a deadline of six months to complete the project but it all takes time, things crop up. In our case we discovered a burst pipe in the central heating system that set us back four weeks as we’d originally thought the water ingress was rising damp. We even had put an electrical wire around the wall to soak up the damp, a foot off ground, four inches in low voltage current. We had to get the insurance sorted and all this sets you back.

“When it came to choosing our builder we were very aware that we’d be working with them for six to nine months so we made sure we could trust them, and their workmanship. We planned to live in the house during the upheaval so good communication was essential. We got the job priced up by three parties, just as we had done when looking for an architectural designer.” “What clinched it for us with our

builder was the extensive breakdown he provided. And as it turned out the itemised cost stages held true. We split the payments into five instalments and project managed the build ourselves in conjunction with our builder. His itemised breakdown gave us the roadmap for the works.” Being in NI the building stages coincided with Building Control inspections. 

Check delivery dates. The tiles we ordered from Italy came in later than we expected because the company shut down the entire month of August. You have to factor these things in and be accepting of them.

The rear lobby



Lounge with rear facing roof lights

The Mediterranean tiles remind the couple of their travels in France and Italy; pictured here the reception hall with amber colour


When the couple moved in there was an oil fired range in the house already which ran the hot water. “We kept it and added a central heating boiler for the radiators. Whilst there already was an oil boiler, it was over 20 years old.” “The new parts of the house have underfloor heating – the bedroom upstairs and sunroom. In terms of electricity we put in a new fuse box for the extension, to integrate it with the old system.” Before the renovation, Bruce and Roisin had installed photovoltaic panels to generate electricity from the sun on their south facing garage. “We’re still in the payback phase but our electricity costs have been cut in half. To maximise the savings we never turn on the dishwasher and washing machine at the same time.” “We’re very happy with the underfloor heating – we installed it in the new part downstairs but it would have been nice to extend it to the upstairs bedroom and bathroom. To do this we would have had to get it zoned, so as not to turn on the heating unnecessarily in rooms that weren’t used but that meant adding controls to the old heating system which we couldn’t do.” 60 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

The new playroom



Upstairs landing

Bruce & Rosin’s Top tips Nurture the relationship with your builder. We talked our way through the snags and issues. Things can get quite fraught, but there’s no point getting too upset. We called on our architect to work out details that weren’t clear from the drawings, e.g. insulation, and these details were worked out on site.

New upstairs master bedroom with balcony

Take your time. We started on the renovation eight years ago but we’re still working on the house. For example outside, we created a driveway at the front. This past year alone we added a stone wall at the perimeter and did a bit more landscaping.

Renovated upstairs bathroom



More photographs available at facebook.com/selfbuild

Project information Find out more about Bruce and Rosin’s renovation and extension project in Co Antrim including the local companies involved... SIZE


House size before:

House size after:

(including outhouses which were demolished)

Plot size

2,650 sqft


Extension 300mm blockwork walls with 100mm cavity filled with EPS beads.

3,400 sqft



500mm fibreglass insulation to flat ceilings, 100mm PIR insulation between rafters and 50mm PIR insulation below rafters

75mm sand cement screed on vapour control layer on 150mm PIR insulation on vapour barrier on blinding on hard-core

0.3 acre


SUPPLIERS Architect FMK Architecture, Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 2587 8650, fmkni.com Builder J&M Contracts, Morris Shannon mobile 07903 524773












Plumber JR Plumbing Heating Services, john_robinson320@hotmail.com Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic, scenicireland.com



Tiles throughout Tuscany Tiles & Bathrooms in Ballymena, Co Antrim, tel. 25 632049, tuscanytiles.co.uk


ROI calling NI prefix with 048 or when calling mobile 0044 dropping the first 0



Window shopping A simple guide to choosing windows, finding the right supplier and tips on installation. Words: Paul O’Reilly & Astrid Madsen


hen deciding which windows to choose, you must first and foremost ensure you satisfy any requirements stipulated when receiving planning permission and ensure you abide to local and national Building Regulations. There are ratios to consider and minimum overall U-value parameters you will have to abide to, which your window retailer should be aware of. Check for yourself the technical guidance documents (ROI) and technical booklets (NI). Thereafter you’ll need to consider the following:



Windows are often said to be the eyes of a house and aesthetic considerations should be a priority. Get them right, and they will be the jewels 66 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

in the crown of the building façade, in terms of appearance and their key role in regulating heat flow into and out of the building. One aspect of this which may or may not be of importance to you is keeping a seamless line between the frames of windows that open and ones that don’t. Some companies are able to make these match (same thickness). For a contemporary look, there are now also frameless windows on the market – the entire window exterior is made of glass. A related issue is double versus triple glazing; double is not as wide and heavy as triple and this may have a bearing on your house construction. Consider too that some materials have thicker profiles than others. Also, if some of your windows are very large and wide they may not be able to be opened. Bifold doors in fact usually come double glazed due to weight. One way

‘...double glazing is not as heavy as triple and this may have an impact on your house construction.’


around this is to section off a top light in order to reduce the height. You could also make the window slightly narrower or split it in two. These elements highlight why you need to address the question of a window supplier very early on, before the options become restricted. As for the frame colour it can be quite a difficult thing to visualise, especially if you have a lot of windows, and you may find it helpful to see a rendering of your finished house on screen and then try the various colour options. When the colour will be permanent, such as in aluclad or uPVC, it’s important to get it right, as well as for the overall look of the house. Especially in these cases, consider checking the guarantees available in relation to maintaining colour density. If you choose timber windows the frames will have to be painted. This is best done in the factory at the time of manufacture as it should ensure that they arrive on site sealed and not susceptible to absorbing moisture. Check the paint specification and treat with caution any suppliers who do not offer this option. The industry uses a set of RAL colours, but suppliers are likely to accommodate other colour ranges too. You may however be charged extra if you don’t choose a standard colour.


Technical specification

The way in which we design and construct windows and glazing has changed dramatically over the past 20 years. Windows have become a precisionengineered piece of building technology with a number of interchangeable features that can add significantly to overall energy efficiency. Modern windows have a central role in controlling heat flowing into and out of a building. If this element is right, other benefits such as natural light and ventilation will follow. In most countries, windows are sold with an energy-rating label that lists the key essentials of their performance such as U-value, emission level or e-coatings, solar heat gains, and air leakage. When comparing technical parameters, the basic point to remember is that there’s a big difference in performance between the glass on its own and the overall window with frame. In the case of U-values, (the measurement of rate of heat transfer between outside and inside), the figure for the glass only will always be quite low, often between 0.5-0.8 W/sqmK. The lower the U-value, the better performing the window. When you factor in the frame,

and how the sealing and thermal breaks are achieved, this increases the U-value substantially, to generally 1.5 to 1.2 for double glazed and usually 0.8 for triple glazed. Interestingly, double glazing can provide U-values very close to those for triple, (which costs more), but the difference lies in the comfort factor. With double you will tend to get much more of a cold sheeting effect internally because the third pane and second gap of triple glazing help to soften the difference, and triple glazed windows are also more effective for sound insulation if that’s a consideration. The usable space in a building increases with better comfort because, quite simply, people won’t sit or use the space beside a cold window surface. It is standard practice in colder climates for all windows to have a 12mm gas-filled cavity with sealed spacers to prevent the gas from escaping. If for any reason the gas escapes, the efficiency of the window will be reduced. This may not be detectable unless moisture displaces the gas and the window unit fogs up. This can happen with any air- or gas-filled multiple glazing units and effectively represents a failure of the unit. Consider too that double glazed will let more light in than triple. The G-value, which shows the amount of solar gain and is usually given as a percentage, for the glass only will give you a figure of 70 per cent for triple glazing and 90 per cent for double. With the frame included, the G-value generally falls to 55 per cent and 80 per cent respectively. Whilst solar gains are usually considered to be beneficial, introducing free heat to 


On planet krypton

YOU’LL FIND THAT the gas between your panes of glass will probably be argon because although krypton is better performing in U-value terms, it’s about four times the price. Xenon gas is yet another step above on the cost and performance scale. The other alternative is to use a silica aerogel instead of gas between the panes, which is meant to replace low-e coatings and be highly insulative.



winds, it may make sense to invest more in the window specification for that particular elevation. Where relevant install security windows certified to BS PAS 24; existing glazing may be protected from being smashed with the addition of accredited adhesive window film. Whatever materials are used, good thermal breaks are essential if the overall window is to achieve high energyefficiency ratings.


Is triple glazing always necessary? THE QUESTION IS, do you need triple glazing on the south side of your house? Some argue that double glazing is more effective in areas that are most exposed to the sun while others say triple glazing should be installed all around. Here are the pros and cons. If you have a restricted budget but wish to consider triple glazed windows as part of a new build project, then a sensible approach may indeed be to use triple glazing for the northern elevations where there is no opportunity of solar gain, with a combination of triple and double glazed windows on the remainder of the dwelling. If increasing solar gain into your home is of interest and benefit to you in terms of your heating strategy, double glazing should be selected instead of triple glazing on the southern elevations. This is because double glazing allows more light and heat to filter through. On the flip side, triple glazing will be better at limiting the potential for overheating within the room. It follows that where heat loss is your primary concern in relation to your home, then triple glazing should be selected instead of double glazing. Whether you choose double or triple glazing, if you plan to have extensive glazing on the southern elevations, you will need a solar shading system externally to reduce overheating in the summer months. In an existing home, before you choose triple glazing consider a whole house insulation strategy so that any heat loss benefits that are achieved by using triple glazing are not lost due to poor insulation standards elsewhere in the house. To make your final decision you will need to rely on the DEAP (ROI) / SAP (NI) analysis of the overall design of your home. This will accurately compare the difference that including either double or triple glazing shall make to the final energy consumption of your specific house. Aleyn Chambers aleynchambers.com 68 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017


the home, they’re the cause of overheating in the summer months. With more daylight also comes more ultraviolet (UV) rays being admitted which will affect plants and will fade colour in fabrics and pictures. To minimise this effect a see-through UV film can be applied to the glass, or you could alternatively specify high tech glazing (see sidebar on opposite page). Shading devices or overhangs also considerably help reduce overheating. Driving rain and other environmental parameters will also have to be factored in, for example aluminium in coastal locations must be anodised. Consider too that if one side of the house will be more affected by the elements than others, e.g. prevailing

Practical considerations

The handing of windows refers to which side they are attached to and how they will open. Imagine yourself in the house using them and think through any problems there might be or in which direction they are best to go when opening one way or the other. For example, you don’t want to have a door opening in such a way that it collides with a window if they are open at the same time. In general, doors should open outwards so that they close against a seal, making a much tighter fit. Some windows are tilt and turn mechanism, others fully reversible. The latter may be easier to clean and operate. Are the windows best to open outwards or inwards? That is, does the seal form a part of the opening section or does the opening section close against the seal? You also need to consider how any rain that might penetrate round the edge of the window can escape. All of this requires close inspection of an actual sample; diagrams are helpful but don’t tell the whole story. Also with triple glazing the added weight means hinges and opening mechanisms need to be more complex, which contributes to their higher cost. Some companies have a large range of window furniture, (handles, childproof locks etc.), others only one option. If they


Protect your deposit A USEFUL PROCESS TO PROTECT your deposit is called putting in ‘escrow’ where it is held by a neutral third party, (called an escrow agent), who works for both you and your supplier, and is often a solicitor. Their role is to carry out the instructions agreed upon by both parties. The money is released when all the terms of the agreement are met. Remember that until the windows are literally secure on your site they can be re-possessed.




Top 5 advances in glazing technology Solar Squared by buildsolar.co.uk launched earlier this year, is a glass block at prototype stage that generates electricity

<pic credit> Solar Squared by buildsolar.co.uk launched earlier this year, is a glass block at prototype stage that generates electricityf.

only give you one and you don’t like it, ask if they can do a special order for you. Last but not least self-cleaning glass is a tremendous advance for those areas that are hard to reach such as roof windows or where the ‘wall’ is mostly glazed. There is a coating on the external glass which reacts with daylight to break down organic dirt. When rainwater lands on the glass, instead of forming droplets it spreads evenly, running off in a ‘sheet’ and in so doing carrying the dirt with it. You are then left with nice clean glass which dries without leaving streaks all for no effort, but, as you would expect, there is a cost involved.

Tips on choosing a supplier

To help you select your windows, when there are so many factors to take into account, draft a simple spreadsheet to score each manufacturer and quotation on the key points that matter to you. These may be along the lines of: Design, Performance, Quality, Thermal Value, Installation Methods, Maintenance, Value for Money, Warranties for frames/glazing units/furniture and Manufacturer backup/ service. When you receive a quotation shut yourself away somewhere you won’t be disturbed and go through it with a fine toothcomb. There are likely to be mistakes. It could be a window marked as opening the wrong way, an incorrect measurement, missing windows, etc. You may need to undertake numerous revisions before getting the spec right. It’s up to you to make sure there are no errors / that the order is placed correctly. Note too that a manufacturer will be inclined to give you the optimum U-value for the style of window you are considering. Whilst this is a useful guide, your windows will be different. You may find that one window might be better and three the same, but the other 20 might be worse and so the overall U-value will be higher than that quoted for the example window. You can of course only judge this once they have got your window schedule and assessed each one. Prior to ordering, before you finally sign up, you may wish to have sight of the certification for the following: U-values to EN 10077-2, Air Permeability to EN 1026 (aim for air leakage class 4 or better), Water Tightness to EN1027, Wind Resistance to EN 12211. These confirm that the product as described on the certificate has been tested to the standard given by an independent testing house. Other technical things to check for are the presence of a soft low-e coating and insulated spacer bars. Bear in mind too that you will be required to make a substantial deposit 

Whilst the possibility of quadruple glazing remains an option to increase thermal efficiency, it does raise the issues of weight and the quality of light entering the house, in return for U-values of around 0.4 W/sqmK. So nowadays the research and development focus has instead shifted to issues related to overheating and ultraviolet (UV) light fading fabrics, which is where many of the technological advances are coming from.


Smart windows can switch from being see-through to opaque when, in ‘active’ versions, voltage is applied. Glazing like this can remove the need for unsightly blinds or shades or even curtains, and when opaque they block UV light too. The colour of the window can also change to block out heat and light. ‘Passive’ versions do not require an electrical input, and vary their light transmission characteristics according to ambient temperature swings. Apart from the cost, which is why domestic versions are still quite rare, installation is more expensive, durability is untested and for small scale applications the speed of control may be an issue along with the ability to dim and the degree of

transparency. There are, however, now films you can buy that can be applied to the window for a similar effect. Manufacturers are also looking at harvesting energy from wind and rain to independently power smart windows.


allowing the full amount of light to pass through. The coatings can be adapted to local climatic conditions by customising what gets filtered out.

Solar power generators. Roof slates can now double up as electricity generators (even though they can’t power an entire house) so why not windows? These do exist but they are not, as of yet, fully see-through. There is however a company that has placed photovoltaic (PV) collectors along the outer edge of the window, allowing for a regular seethrough window within. PV glass blocks are also entering the fray (pictured).


Spectrally selective coatings. Considered the next step in low-e technology, spectrally selective coatings filter out 40 to 70 per cent of the heat normally transmitted through clear glass while


Phase change technology. These windows deal with overheating by physically absorbing and storing heat from the sun during the day and releasing it at night as the internal temperature falls. This is done through a salt that melts when temperatures are high and recrystallises when it’s cooler.


Bird friendly. If you’re concerned about birds breaking their neck on your window panes, you could consider a featherfriendly glass which looks clear to the human eye but shows up streaked to the unsuspecting avian.

Sources: Solar Window Technologies Inc, GlassX, Ornilux, US Department of Energy, Polysolar, Physee, Build Solar




Don’t forget about your doors!

DOORS SEEM TO BE the forgotten element in the building fabric when it comes to insulation requirements. Even the Passive House standard certifies overall compliance without a Passive House door. The average single-panel timber or uPVC door hung at the front or rear entrance of the vast majority of properties has a U-value of 5.0W/sqmK. When you consider that windows routinely achieve a U-value as low as 0.8W/sqmK, with a little bit of thought and not too much cost, doors should at least reach 1.0 W/sqmK. Insulated doors tend to be very heavy and require well-anchored hinges to ensure that they swing smoothly as they open and close. Newer models, made from glass fiber and laminates with insulated cores, are considerably lighter, and can be hung using normal fixing mechanisms. Key elements to consider when insulating doors are their airtight seals and the way in which their mailboxes and keyholes are detailed.


with your order, often 50 per cent, which makes doing your homework on your intended supplier all the more critical.


Delivery and fitting

Delivery is quoted at the point of order and given in weeks, but this doesn’t allow for holidays. Some European manufacturers close for a month in the summer so check this. The final part of the whole process, fitting the windows, is naturally critical and often included in the contract with the

supplier because, understandably, they do not wish to be accused of supplying faulty windows when it is the installation that is not exact. In fact the installation process is of crucial importance and absolutely critical to the performance and longevity of both windows and dwelling; in particular, good taping is essential. It’s of little benefit having a window manufactured to achieve a thermal performance of 0.8 W/sqmK or less if it is leaking air at its fixing points. As installation cannot be factory controlled in the way that production can, you are reliant on your installer to use the method best suited to the windows you have selected and the type of construction. The days of ‘expanding foam and hope for the best’ should be long gone and installation in cavity block work construction will not be the same as that

for timber frame, for example. Reputable manufacturers will include correct installation and testing (water hose test and air test), for each element as part of the contract but do not assume this, include it in your order specification. Any windows failing these tests should be removed and re-installed correctly. Above all, high performance seal design and attention to detail during installation will pay dividends. Finally, remember that the windows and doors go in quite early in the build

process, when there is still a lot of action and mess on site. It’s therefore a good idea to protect them with a polythene cover for as long as you possibly can, both inside and out. And of course, in the long run, looking after your new windows and doors will help to keep them at peak performance. Don’t paint over seals, clean using recommended products and procedures and if damage occurs, repair immediately so that it, and any cost, can be kept to a minimum.

Additional information Paul Vajda, Lumi Technical Officer, lumiwindows.com, tel. ROI 048 25632 200, NI 03300415014 NSAI Window Energy Performance Scheme (ROI); window energy ratings also available from Kitemark, British Fenestration Rating Council and Certass (NI)


How much does a house cost to build per sq foot? This must be the most debated topic outside of ‘Brexit’ and rising property prices in Ireland.


Words: Kieran McCarthy What drives up the cost per square foot? 

As a general rule, the more complicated the design, the more expensive to build. More elaborate houses have more irregular shapes meaning more insulated external walls, more structural steel, more roofs, more tricky areas to weatherproof and finish, etc. Site conditions are also important. Is the site on a slope? Is it well drained? Is there rock in the ground? Do the foundations need to be piled?

What about extensions?


good analogy is to think of what a car costs per square foot. It’ll depend on whether it’s new or second hand, a people carrier or a German luxury sports car, whether it leather seats, two doors or four. It is the very same for building. Almost every house is different, some have double glazed uPVC windows, some have quadruple glazed aluclad. Some have red deal floor boards some have American White Oak wide plank solid flooring. Some have fibre cement slates on the roof,

some have copper or zinc. In this context, a bog standard house could conceivably be built for approximately €80 per sqft plus VAT but this is for a simple design (rectangular, plaster finishes, fibre cent slate roof, double glazed uPVC windows) with no finishes (tiling, flooring, decoration, patios perhaps not even a kitchen sink!). In NI you can claim VAT back so while the figure is around the same mark it excludes VAT. There are many examples of this type of house scattered in housing estates throughout the 32 counties.

Extensions will command a higher cost per square foot and are much more difficult to pin down but certainly well over the €100 / £80 plus VAT mark. In NI extensions are not VAT exempt. Costs can quickly rise with issues surrounding restricted access, demolition and propping, tricky detailing to connect the house and extension, drainage and service diversion, to name a few.

Why are my tender prices coming in at different rates?

Builders will price projects differently – some may use previous experience, others may employ a quantity surveyor. They may add a percentage to factor in risk factors which could price them out of the running. Sometimes they get it

right, sometimes they don’t. Remember that a building does not cost the original estimate quotation, but the final account. So tender drawings and construction details are essential to get comparative quotes. Don’t be lulled into a false sense of security, get the tenders in for the spec you want to see where you stand. And remember, if a quote looks too good to be true, it probably is. You do get what you pay for.


SelfBuild Ireland has just launched a range of build cost calculators powered by online budgeting tool ProntoCalc. The Build Cost Calculator gives you a rough idea of how much your project will cost, contractorled. It’s free, quick and easy. The Build Cost Manager meanwhile provides a more detailed cost breakdown with a bill of quantities. The online software can also double up as a project management tool. You can avail of the Build Cost Manager for FREE for two months or, if you subscribe to Selfbuild magazine, the free trial can be extended another six months, giving you eight months of unrestricted access. Find out more on selfbuild.ie/calc


N AT U R A L L I G H T I N G / I N T E R I O R S

Daylight enhancers Daylight can be emotive, it can amaze and affect behaviour; if you have ever been stopped in your tracks by a beautiful sunset or crossed to the sunny side of the road you’ll know what I mean. Here are the ways to inject this precious resource into your home. DO IT

Words: Caroline Irvine



xposed to sunlight daily, (albeit to varying degrees), we tend to take this powerful resource for granted, underestimating its value to our health, wealth and happiness. Scientific research now shows that in addition to making the physical visible, an appropriate exposure to natural light increases the recovery rate of patients in hospitals, improves workplace performance, affects mood, and meets our psychological need for contact with the outside living environment; reasons for making the skilful use of daylighting a critical element in the design of buildings today. Daylighting is always variable and frequently unpredictable. These very characteristics make it attractive but also challenging to work with. We want sunshine and natural light but we don’t want glare, drafts, loss of privacy, ultra violet damage or severe temperature swings.

The sun will fade fabrics which is why protective coatings in the glazing should be considered early on.

Building orientation and layout

Building with reference to site and sun is not new, the principles remain the same as for our ancestors. Vernacular architecture in Ireland shows cottage clusters with the main house facing south where larger windows were positioned on the south elevation with smaller windows on the north. Outhouses would form a square to the rear of main house and protect it from prevailing winds. People gravitate towards the light so generally rooms are organised according to function, how much time is spent in a room, how much light is required, for how long and at what time of day. On this basis (though not set in stone) it follows that living areas should be positioned on the southern side of the building with overheating protection provided by way

of overhanging eaves, blinds and natural ventilation. Areas such as utility rooms and storage areas (where not much time is spent) can be located on the north side; but as the lack of glare in north light makes it an excellent light to work by, the northern side could be a good location for an office also. Typically, eastern and western aspects are prone to glare, when the sun is at its lowest. Blinds, louvered shutters or exterior shades (which tend to be more expensive to install and maintain) can be used to overcome this factor though they also have a greater impact on the 

‘Building with reference to site and sun is not new, the principles remain the same as for our ancestors.’


I N T E R I O R S / N AT U R A L L I G H T I N G


Top 5 recipes to instantly brighten up your home


Furniture. Clutter is well known to make spaces feel smaller, but also darker. Remove knickknacks and keep furniture profiles low (think contemporary low back couches) to make the ceiling appear higher.


Colour. White is bright, so apply liberally on walls until you find the perfect match; for anything other than white always buy a test pot to make sure the colour is right for the room. Also consider how artwork and other wall mounted artefacts might be absorbing light. Floor coverings such as rugs and floor finishes in general may too be the cause of light absorption.


Mirrors. It’s an old trick but they do work well to casually reflect light. Also consider reflective surfaces on table tops and other pieces of furniture to maximise the effect.


Cleanliness Godliness. Oldest trick in the book but make sure your windows are kept clean; a tidy and spotless room will also brighten things up.


Artificial lighting. When all else fails, throw the light switch – lights aimed at the ceiling can complement fading daylight in the evening.


aesthetic of a building. When addressing the orientation of a building solar technologies should also be considered; due south being the optimal direction for photovoltaic and solar thermal panels in Ireland with an ideal pitch of 37 per cent.


The design possibilities of the ‘window’ are multitudinous. Whether treated simply as a hole in the wall or as a complex three dimensional element it makes a fundamental contribution to the quality of the interior spaces and the external expression of a building. A rule of thumb is to have windows on at least two different elevations, so that you get more complex light patterns emerge in the room. The way in which it frames a view, captures light or channels warmth and air help determine the character of a room – whether it is intended to be merely a comfortable living space, a working environment, a visually exciting entertainment zone or a quiet place for reflection. Technological advances mean windows can come in purer forms – in wider expanses of glass without the intrusion of framing elements. A window head that is too low, a sill

that is too high, or an awkwardly placed transom (horizontal cross piece separating door from window) may cut across the line of sight of people sitting or standing in the room. In larger spaces higher windows generally work best to allow those at the back of the room to still enjoy the view.

N AT U R A L L I G H T I N G / I N T E R I O R S


Why natural light matters Kostas Wootis

Don’t impede the view with plants or other furniture, and for that matter, look at what obstruction are outside – a nearby tree could be blocking the sun, which can be resolved by pruning. Rooflights Because the sky is usually brighter at its zenith than near the horizon, horizontal rooflights admit more daylight per square metre of glazed area than (vertical) windows – proportionally three times more. Rooflights also cast their light in a more uniform way and are less likely to be obstructed either internally or externally. Direct sunlight from horizontal openings can be diffused by translucent glazing and glare controlled by baffle systems. Beautiful effects can be created by fitting angled reflectors below horizontal roof lights or locating the rooflight beside a wall so that ceilings or walls are washed with light. A disadvantage of horizontal rooflights is that compared to vertical windows they collect more light and heat in summer than in winter; usually the opposite of what is desired. For this reason vertical or near vertical rooflights – clerestories, saw tooth or roof monitors with suspended baffles to direct light may be used instead. Tubular Daylighting Devices The most compelling reason for using TDDs, also known as tubular skylights, light tubes, sun pipes and light tunnels, is to bring natural daylight to areas where traditional rooflights and windows can’t reach. Aside from their functionality TDDs can be designed to achieve specific lighting effects such as wall washes and soft lighting. They can even provide illumination for special applications such as living walls and aquariums. Additionally daylighting systems are designed to control the problematic aspects of sunlight by reducing glare and inconsistent light patterns. They also screen infrared that can overheat interiors as well as ultraviolet rays that can fade furniture and fabrics. Walk on Glass With the built environment becoming more densely populated there is a growing trend towards converting basements and underground spaces. While TDDs are an option is such instances, walk on glass also provides a visually striking solution. Advances in glass lamination technology has given strength to a range of glazing products that can be used as flooring internally allowing light to flow through one floor to another or from a garden (using anti slip glass of course) to basement level below.

Colour and methods of controlling daylighting

Daylight entering a room is reflected repeatedly off walls, floor, ceiling and fittings, some of its energy being absorbed each time. The reflectance values of room surfaces should therefore be as high as possible. The amount of light lost depends on the colour and texture of the surface. A smooth brilliant white wall may reflect 85 per cent of the light that falls upon it; a cream wall perhaps 75 per cent and a yellow wall only 65 per cent. Bright colours such as orange or vermillion absorb as much as 60 per cent of the light that falls upon them but on the other hand may create an impression of warmth in places that sunlight cannot reach. Light colours will make spaces larger while dark colours will make them feel smaller. Matt finishes will will reflect reflect light more evenly than gloss, which can increase glare. The orientation of a room will affect your perception of a colour. Grey in a north facing room can make a space feel lifeless and cold but cool and sophisticated in a south facing area. But, before you confront a colour card think about what kind of rooms you enjoy – do you like rooms that are bright and airy, cosy and cluttered or minimal and sophisticated? A love of all things ‘seaside’ for example could be translated by way of colour using aquamarines, turquoise and chalky buff’s greys and whites. Know too that when working with interior lighting, designers often use a 3:1 ratio of brightness. This means that the featured element, a painting for example should be three times brighter than the background.

THE CHANGING LEVEL and intensity of natural light over the course of a day acts as a cue for our body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm in turn helps regulate our hormone and neurotransmitter production. This includes the stress hormone cortisol, along with serotonin and melatonin, which are important for regulating sleep and mood.  Having too much exposure to artificial light, which occurs in the wrong colour spectrum at the wrong time of day, and lack of exposure to natural light can lead to problems with hormone production and sleep. Dysregulation of hormone production has been linked to higher incidences of diabetes and certain cancers. To address this issue, there now exists circadian lighting or low glare electric light sources that illuminate in the correct light spectrum. Aside from more positive health responses, natural daylight has been shown to increase productivity levels and enhance psychological mood. For instance according to a study, in schools with natural light, children progressed 26 per cent faster through curricula and achieved higher test scores. Joe Clancy WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 75

B A S I C S / I N S U L AT I O N


PIR boards Mineral wool


Sheepâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s wool (Ochre Wool Thermal Insulation)

Your guide to insulation


s with all building elements, you must satisfy the requirements in the Building Regulations which includes making sure the product is NSAI AgrĂŠment (ROI) or BBA/LABC certified (NI). Then specify as much as you can afford to get the best possible U-value, above and beyond the current statutory requirements. Consult Technical Guidance Documents Part L and Part F of the ROI Building Regulations housing.gov.ie and Technical Booklet F1 and K of the NI Building Regulations buildingcontrol-ni.com for guidance on the conservation of energy and associated ventilation requirements. The U-value takes into account the thermal conductivity of all the component parts (wall, insulation, 76 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

plaster etc.) and thickness of each to give you a measure of how well the building element reduces the exchange of heat between two areas. The lower the overall value the better the build-up is at keeping the heat in. Insulation is what most reduces this number. Unfortunately it is not a simple matter of increasing insulation thickness and getting the same increase in performance, this is only true up to a point and this is where you will start weighing in the cost of adding more insulation. There is an optimum thickness for each type of construction based upon not just the performance of the material, but also the space available in the wall, roof or floor. These calculations are done in DEAP (ROI) and SAP (NI), which will help you compare your options.

Acoustics As a general rule of thumb, quilt insulation will absorb sound much more readily than boards.

Mineral wool

Made from molten glass, (glass wool), or stone (stone wool), spun into fibres, which account for up to 98 per cent of the product. Glass wool insulation can contain a large proportion of recycled glass, stone wool is usually volcanic rock. Rock wool generally has superior acoustic qualities. Thermal conductivity of 0.031 to 0.044W/mK.

Poly family

Polystyrene, made from mineral oil, comes in two forms, Expanded polystyrene (EPS) and Extruded polystyrene (XPS). EPS is made with trapped air in beads, and has a thermal conductivity in the same range as sheep and mineral wool, 0.038W/mK with some modified types achieving 0.030W/mK. The incorporation of minute particles of graphite throughout the

I N S U L AT I O N / B A S I C S

‘The lower the overall U-value the better the build-up is at keeping the heat in. Insulation is what most reduces this number. ' polystyrene gives a performance that is 15 to 20 per cent higher. XPS is formed by forcing the polystyrene through a die which closes the cells and is thus denser than EPS; thermal conductivity of 0.029 to 0.038W/mK. Polyurethane (PUR) and polyisocyanurate (PIR), are either sprayed on or come in boards, and are often made with a blowing agent (usually pentane). They have a similar range of thermal conductivity, 0.022 to 0.028W/mK. PUR and PIR come closed or open cell; the latter is resistant to moisture and vapour while the former is breathable.

Phenolic family

Phenolic (PF) insulants are normally produced in rigid board form. They are amongst the most thermally efficient insulation products readily available, with a thermal conductivity of 0.021 to 0.024W/mK due to their fine cell structure.

Reflective insulation

Reflective insulation is a sandwich with outer layers of foil separated by insulation while multi-foil insulation contains a number of layers of both. Most certified products require that it be used in

conjunction with other insulation types such as PIR.

Insulation from renewables

One of the earliest to be widely used – and still is – was the bark of the cork tree. Insulating plasters may include mixes of cork and clay. More common these days is sheep’s wool with a thermal conductivity of 0.038W/mK. Recycled newspaper, cellulose or wood fibre is grey in colour, like the sheep wool it is treated with inorganic salts, (usually boron), to provide resistance to fire, rot and pests. It is applied as loose fill for most applications bar floors and the cavity of a cavity wall because of its ability to absorb moisture. Cellulose and wood fibre boards are also available. Thermal conductivity from 0.035 to 0.040W/mK. Cotton fibre is the new kid on the block made from recycled industrial denim and cotton sheets and in general is very similar to sheep wool. Calcium silicate boards (sand and lime) are now popular for period properties that require an internal breathable insulation with a high diffusion rate. The boards can be directly applied to the walls. Thermal conductivity around

External wall insulation Insulated panels applied to the outside of your house generally come in the form of either EPS slabs or mineral wool. Whilst more expensive than insulating from the inside, this option doesn’t reduce floor space and some argue it reduces the risk of condensation. Our full external wall insulation guide is available on selfbuild.ie

0.059 W/mK. Hemp is an alternative very similar to sheep wool when in roll form; it can also come in the form of semi-rigid insulation boards (0.04 W/mK). In construction hemp can be mixed with lime (‘hempcrete’ with typical thermal conductivity of 0.07 to 0.09 W/mK) to make walls and plaster. Also available in pre-cast blocks.

Site Practice

Insulation that is not correctly installed, with gaps in-between, will never perform to its best. Boards for instance should be held in place by stainless steel wall ties, usually covered by a plastic disc, against the inside of the inner leaf, when batts or boards are being used in a partial cavity wall. The ties should be kept clean of mortar as this could cause moisture to travel from the outside in. If the insulation is blown in post construction, it should be evenly dispersed throughout the wall cavity with no gaps. Ventilation is just as important as insulation and where a vapour barrier or vapour check is used, this should always be to the warm side of the insulation to prevent condensation.

Spray foam insulation is often PUR open cell

SIPs and ICF

Pre-insulated houses Structural Insulated Panels are formed like a sandwich of two boards, usually OSB (Oriented Strand Board) or plywood with a ‘filling’ of insulation, normally EPS, XPS or PUR. All the openings for windows, doors and services can be cut in the factory and the panels delivered to site with the frame of the house erected in a matter of days. Using a similar idea, only inside out in a sense, is Insulating Concrete Formwork. A shuttering of expanded polystyrene is erected and concrete poured into the ‘mould’. The double layer of polystyrene results in low U-values ranging between 0.31W/sqmK (EPS) and 0.26W/sqmK (XPS). WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 77



Alive with the sound of music Daire Bracken is an accomplished musician, architect, and yes, self-builder! For his own house renovation project he tapped into all five of his senses to deliver a unique family home. Words: Astrid Madsen / Photography: Alice Clancy “To match the neighbouring buildings, I had to choose between brick and render. I chose brick,” explains Daire, whose terraced home is sandwiched between buff brick Dublin artisan dwellings and storey-and-a half rendered dormer houses. And so brick both inspired and dictated many of the design features. “It started off as a finishing material but ended up representing much more with the masonry stove, which is made up of fire 78 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

bricks. The heated chambers and channels absorb the heat from the stove into its mass for a comfortable slow release warm surface.” Even though this form of heating is not that common in Ireland, it’s not unheard of in Russia, Germany and other European countries with harsh winters. This is in fact where Daire discovered the technology, while travelling with his band around Austria. “I couldn’t get over the comfort of masonry

stoves, it gets all your senses going. It was so comfortable I had to replicate it here.” But Daire didn’t know of anyone building these in Ireland. He had to look further afield. “I tried my hand at it on a project in Scotland, with an expert from the Czech Republic. We had to lodge it with Building Control, which wasn’t easy. How do you prove compliance when there are no proprietary products? In a way it’s sad to be moving away from this old craft,

so it was appealing to me to experiment with it and eventually introduce it into our contemporary Dublin home.” The stove mason came to Ireland to work with Daire on the Dublin project. “This was a time when everyone had to appoint an Assigned Certifier on their build, before the introduction of the exemption for self-builders (opt-out). I appointed myself as the AC and applied the same due diligence we did in Scotland. I’m not sure a novice selfbuilder would have been able to get an Assigned Certifier to sign off on the stove, it’s so unusual to do here I don’t know who would have had the expertise to oversee it.” Instead the challenge for Daire came down to building it. “We had to do it ourselves, there was no one to turn to. Sourcing the materials alone was a challenge. I was looking for clay for ages and ended up having to get it from a potter. It’s just so much more difficult when you’re not ordering a product with a brand name!” “The builder’s merchants were in fact very intrigued by my order of fire bricks – I was ordering pallets of them. Most people order a handful to put around their stove. For the insulation, one that could withstand the high temperatures, we had to order it online, the flue connection was also non-standard and therefore hard to find.” But the experience of building it made up for the slow start. “Volunteers pitched in and for a couple of days, there was a real self-build buzz around the place. The design was the stove mason’s but I’d learned quite a bit in Scotland so was able to help direct the building work too. I won’t lie, it was a lot of work.” If there’s one thing that Daire says should theoretically be changed, it’s the location of the stove. “We should have centred it in the house so as to benefit from the heat from all sides. But that wouldn’t have looked right so I’m still happy where it is.”


Other senses


Masonry heater

The tactile nature of the masonry heater is echoed by his extensive use of concrete. Once a hidden building material, it has become a design statement in many contemporary homes. “You might think concrete is a cold surface but it’s actually very tactile and comfortable,” he says. “We associate concrete to the damp, cold outdoors but in reality it has very different properties, it’s got the same radiant comfort as timber.” “In Italy they sit on travertine in their hot stone

Q&A with Daire What was the first item you designed and was it a building? It was a bridge, for the Junior Cert and it’s stayed with me. I’ve brought in the viaduct look into my own house and the stairs are encased in thick, structural walls, which remind me of a bridge. Why did you decide to become an architect? On the CAO form Architect was the first profession I liked the sound of so I signed up! Looking back, I’d say that what drew me to it were both the creative aspect and the fact that it’s connected to science. Also my dad was always fixing up the family home, a Georgian building, and I used to help him so it seemed like a natural progression.

spas. It’s very comfortable. Our floor is always warm in winter with the underfloor heating and it’s embracing, comforting. And with rugs you can soften the visual impact further.” Both in terms of colours and materials, Daire kept the

palette as limited as possible. With the frameless windows, the undeniable visual aesthetic is complete. But as a musician, acoustics also comes into play. “If there’s one finish I wouldn’t be happy with, in terms of

how the sound propagates, it’s plasterboard. Flat surfaces really don’t do it for me, which is why I like brick and concrete surfaces. They reflect sound much more deeply, it gets to bounce around a bit more. The vaults in the music room create pockets, which help focus the sound.” The funny things is, none of the acoustic aspects were deliberately thought out. “I didn’t consciously go out to build a house I could play and listen to music in, but that’s how it turned out.” And if you look up, in the vault there are openings within the bonding patterns that form niches protruding as shelves. As for the gustatory, Daire spends plenty of time in the kitchen experimenting, as much as he does with his music.

What was your first professional commission and where was it built? On my own, it was an extension in Co Mayo for someone suffering from progressive Parkinson’s disease. The challenge was not to make the home look like a hospital yet cater for everything this person would need in the future. I put in things like grabrails in the wainscoting so they wouldn’t be visible and recessed presses so they could be held onto. Every edge was rounded off to minimise injury. I did a lot of research on the condition and apparently people can freeze up when they’re confronted with uniform finishes so it was important to incorporate broken patterns, and not have one single finish. Who and what have influenced your style? The use of natural materials. People include Louis Khan, Frank Llyod Wright and in terms of contemporaries Wespi De Meuron.


B A S I C S / F O U N D AT I O N S

From the bottom up


Foundations support the weight of your house, here’s what you need to know about them. Words: Les O’Donnell


oundation design and performance depend on two factors, the nature of the ground on which they are placed and the load, which in the case of a house isn’t huge. For self-builds foundation design is therefore mostly about matching house type to ground type, and this is only a job for a structural engineer. A site visit will come first, e.g. are the neighbouring houses showing cracks or their rooflines sagged – both may be an indication of subsidence caused by ground movement. (Sagging rooflines could also indicate spreading walls or weakened roof timbers.) Trial holes give more detailed information on the site conditions. Before any excavation, including trial pits, commences, it’s very important that you locate any services running through the site. Your local council may have plans showing their location, as will the telecoms and gas companies. Neighbours may also be able to help. It should never be assumed that the site is free from services. Protect open trenches and have the site well signed warning of the dangers, not just the entrance but also around it and on access roads. All machinery should be properly parked and locked when not in use.

Strip foundation trenches

’Protect open trenches and have the site well signed warning of the dangers, not just the entrance but also around it and on access roads...’


Contemporary timber frame construction Because package timber frame panels are built off-site there is little room for error when it comes to the foundation fixings, these need to be level to within 20mm and square to within 12mm. Many timber frame companies therefore arrange to put the foundations in themselves.


Soil types Oak trees tend to flourish in heavy soils, conifers in peat, willow and alder in wet loam, beech light clay and lime trees in limestone. Nearby trees, groundwater as well as water streams all need to be examined as they could impact on your foundations. Sand and gravel soils, which can move or settle during heavy rain or long dry spells, often call on raft foundations. Clay tends to compress gradually and houses built on this type of ground may settle gently over time, with the common solution of strip foundations. Peat is mostly found along the western seaboard and midland areas of Ireland and is unsuitable for building on – options are to dig out and fill (with raft or strip foundations on top) or piled foundations. Rock is very common in coastal areas and appears sporadically throughout the rest of the country. Whilst this is a good base to build on, rock breaking if required is an expensive process.

Foundation types Strip

The most common type of foundations for Irish self-builds. It consists of a strip of concrete laid in a shallow trench, forming

F O U N D AT I O N S / B A S I C S

a stable base for each wall element. It can be used for both lightweight and heavyweight buildings where the soil is uniformly firm and deep, or for lightweight buildings which have a firm layer over a soft layer. Minimum depth according to NI Building Regulations for example, is 450mm which is required to avoid the adverse effects of frost.


Your foundation layers


This type of foundation spreads the load over a bigger area of ground and is more expensive to form than strip footings because it is a slab of reinforced concrete the size of the house footprint. The slab is deepest immediately under the outer walls, the edge beam, and load bearing internal walls, cross beam. The steel reinforcement for the edge beams and cross beams is often pre-fabricated and lifted into position. Mostly used in cases where the soil type is uniform across the site and consists of either deep, soft soil or filled soil which is holding water. Where very wide strip foundations would be required, it can sometimes be more economical to use a raft instead.


These are concrete columns sunk deep into the ground to support the foundations. Specialist contractors drive them into the ground in sections, or they may use steel tubes later filled with concrete as an alternative. Either way the piles are located to an engineered design, and are very common in filled or soft ground. A mini-piling service is normally sufficient for houses with some companies offering a complete subfloor system. ‘T’ shaped concrete beams support the sub floor slab with the beams in turn being supported by the piles. Concrete is poured between the beams forming a raft-like slab, and the sub-floor is ready for the follow-on trades. The system is engineered to suit the specific house and is ideal for filled ground. A third system is similar to that above and involves pre-cast concrete planks placed on the beams to form a sub-floor. This is quicker to install but may be more expensive.

Pads and Beams

When piling isn’t possible, concrete pads can be poured to support cross beams. They are tied together by steel reinforcing to prevent movement. They are made on site from concrete poured into temporary forms. 

The hole

Excavations will be required in most situations and ideally should be filled as soon as possible. With strip footings, concrete should be poured immediately to prevent the sides of the opening from falling in. This is vital in wet weather. Open excavations should be fenced off to prevent accidents, even to trespassers. Plan where to place heaps of topsoil or other excavated material so that it will not be in the way of delivery trucks or interfere with the storage of other materials. Any water must be pumped or bailed out before concrete is poured. In NI Building Control will want to inspect the ground prior to any concrete being poured; this is not a requirement in ROI but should be overseen by your engineer.


The concrete used will depend on the foundation type and the engineer’s specification, and whether or not steel reinforcements are introduced. Make sure the builder does not weaken the specified mix by adding water to it (adding water makes the concrete easier to work with).

Radon barrier

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas found throughout the island, but to varying levels. After smoking, it’s the most common cause of lung cancer in ROI. Radon protection normally takes the form of a fully sealed membrane covering the footprint of the house. It is vitally important that the membrane is not damaged during or after installation. Special sealing collars are available for placing around sewer pipes etc. protruding through the barrier. The membrane may be placed either above or below the concrete floor slab. Below the membrane (usually in the hardcore), a collection chamber is placed, normally in the centre of the house, and perforated collection pipes gather any radon and direct it to the chamber. Different levels of radon are found throughout the country and the design of the prevention, collection and removal system will depend on the levels of gas anticipated for that area. A pipe from the chamber leads to the exterior where the gas will disperse. If the house is very large, more than one chamber may be required. Other gas risks to be aware of are methane

and methane mixtures, e.g. from boggy land or a nearby landfill.

Insulation & services

Insulation can’t be placed under the foundations, as it would compress under the weight of the house and cause foundation failure. In the case of slab or raft foundations, it can go under the concrete, since the loads are spread over a much larger area. Usually it is inserted between the finished ground floor and the sub-floor for heat retention. Avoid placing insulation immediately under cross-walls because it would compress under the weight of the wall. Thermal blocks are available instead. Water and central heating pipes, ducting for telecoms etc. are normally placed on top of the insulation. Waste pipes are usually located under the sub-floor and taken outside the building through the rising walls above the foundation. For this reason it is important to get their location correct and ensure that any bends or joints are correctly fitted as it will be extremely difficult to reach them once the slab is poured. Taking photographs of all of these or drawing a plan to scale provides a very useful record.


B A S I C S / F O U N D AT I O N S

The unsuitable strata due to the site’s proximity to the shore was the primary reason for piled foundations

John Coreless Raft foundations

‘For self-builds foundation design is mostly about matching house type to ground type.'



Rubble trenches we commonly associated with our old stone-walled houses, but it was also popularised by architects such as Frank Lloyd Wright. The construction was usually of a shallow trench, filled with rubble which may or may not have been cemented with a basic mortar such as a clay and lime mix. More sophisticated foundations would use a rubble fill between built stone facings, similar to a dry-stone wall, but in a trench. Nowadays, these types of foundations are increasingly being used where a light eco-structure is to be built, such as rammed earth walls or strawbale and timber walls. The rubble trenches can also be drained out to a soakaway to improve the site drainage and maintain a dry void under suspended floors. Since the rubble is essentially flexible to some degree, some care must be taken to ensure that either the structure can absorb a bit of movement or that the foundation is suitably compacted and load-tested for the avoidance of differential settlement. The technique is generally regarded as unsuitable for bearing on soft or expansive soils. Earthbags, meanwhile, are of particular value in countries where concrete is too expensive to transport

to remote areas, but where spare fill material is plentiful. The method involves filling a trench with bags or tubes which are filled with compacted soil. Often, barbed wire is used between layers to help anchor them together. If there is a scarcity of materials for building more traditional types of walls and roof, the layers can be brought up into a dome shape to form the walls and roof of the structure. The bags are then plastered to keep out the weather. If the soil is not free-draining, the bottom layers can consist of gravel-filled bags and incorporate a drain out to a soakaway. Padstone is perhaps the simplest and most environmentally-friendly of all foundation types. A similar form of foundation is the staddle-stone (also known by various other names), often similar in appearance to a mushroom – consisting of a domed top stone on top of a columnar one, which were typically used to carry the building above ground to prevent vermin infestation of foodstores. These types of surfacelevel foundation – or variations on the theme, will easily allow structures to be deconstructed at the end of their designed lifetime. Screw piles are now available for small or light structures; they are removable and re-usable too.




Setting sites A bird’s eye view of the construction stage of your project.


epending on your budget, time, ability and interest you will decide on a project management route, whether architectural designer, main contractor (building contractor), project manager or direct labour. Even if you are taking a hands-off approach keep a diary of everything that you are aware of happening, and of every phone call you make. With direct labour take photos at least once a week to keep a record. The first thing to do is apply for services – you will need electricity and water so make sure this is in place before you begin. If you have to apply for a permanent connection, you may need an 86 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

outbuilding first to house the new services. You will also need a wc which can be hired (portable). Your commencement notice also needs to be in place. Contact network operators to ensure there are no services on site/ to locate them if there are. You also need a designated project supervisor for the construction stage (PSCS) and a health and safety plan. There are Building Control requirements too which are outside the remit of this article (opt in/out options in ROI, and NI Building Control application and inspection stages).



Having agreed a price and a date to begin, the next task is to set up accounts with at least two local

Schedules How long your house will take to build depends on the construction method. Houses built off-site can take a month to erect, for example, but you have to factor in the time it takes to fabricate in the factory. With blockwork construction, six months should give you a weather tight shell with most fixings installed.

builders merchants, the rationale being that if one doesn’t have what you need, the other will and so work on site will not grind to a halt. Keep in touch with lead times for items not in regular stock, and check everything carefully when it arrives on site for damage, incorrect quantities or the wrong materials. Obtain VAT receipts (NI only) for everything, and store them carefully as you can only make one application to the VAT office to claim it all back at the end of the build. As soon as you begin to store goods on site, secure the area against theft. Alternatively, if you can, even better is to sequence events so that the materials arrive when they are needed. This has the


added advantage of keeping the working area free of clutter.


Ground floor

Arrange for groundworks machinery and a skip, which are expensive to hire so good scheduling will keep them working. Remember to do as much landscaping as you can whilst they are on site. Plant trees early so they’re semi-mature by the time you move in. With the site marked out using pegs and string, trenches for services can be dug and piping laid. Marking out the foundation levels and correct wall lengths is one of the most critical areas of the build because it sets the base upon which everything else sits. On top of the foundations the footings are built to the engineer’s specification. Check that the concrete is the mix specified, making sure the builder did not weaken the mix with water to make it easier to work with. The area between the footings is the ground floor of your house


Going up

We have now reached the point at which you will need scaffolding, always an irritating expense because the money you spend on it is not actually going 


April B

Ground works

20 Days

Provide hard standing, Access, Storage

5 Days

Excavate foundations, Service Trenches Pour Foundations

May E



June E



July E



August E



Sept E



Oct E



Nov E





5 Days 1.5 Days

Build Foundation B/Work

5 Days

Damp Proof Course

2 Days

Lay Ground floor SLAB

3 Days

Build Brick / Block work to W/Plate

30 Days


10 Days

Build Gable Ends

5 Days

Build up Chimney

3 Days

Fix Trusses in Place

5 Days

Felt, Batton, Tile Roof

10 Days

Fit Facia, Soffit

5 Days

Paint Fascia / Soffit

5 Days

Fix Guttering

5 Days

Joinery First Fix, External, Doors, Windows

10 Days

Lay drains, Services into house

5 Days

Backfill Trenches

2 Days

Plumbing First Fix, Central Heating

10 Days

Electrical First Fix

10 Days

Plaster Walls

15 Days

Lay Screed

2 Days

Electrical Second Fix

10 Days

Plumbing Second Fix

15 Days

Power, Water On


1 Day

Joinery Second Fix, Architraves, Skirting

15 Days


10 Days


1 Day


Trust Project Management

Task name

and nearly everyone, as they walk around it, is gripped by a sense of panic, feeling that it is far too small. The only antidote is to compare it to your existing dwelling, which will help to give you a sense of scale. This area has had the topsoil removed (if you can, have it spread over what will be the garden to prevent double handling), and is filled with hardcore which is then compacted, followed by finer gravel or a sand bed, on top of which is laid the damp proof and radon membrane. A radon membrane is not essential in NI, you will be advised by your local building control officer, in ROI it is mandatory. Finally comes the concrete slab which can be poured or precast using either beam and block or hollowcore slabs (these have to be craned in, a more expensive option).


into the house, but you need it to build the walls and then the roof. Again good time management (and weather), will keep the hire period to a minimum. Ensure that it is erected by a company that is qualified and with all certificates up to date, and that the scaffolding is tagged to reflect this. Most falls on building sites are from scaffolding; negligence may be proven on your part if you supply the scaffold. Therefore consider having your builder take responsibility for providing it. Due diligence on your part, as the owner, is always necessary. In a cavity wall construction, both walls are built simultaneously with insulation and wall ties placed as the height rises. In timber frame construction houses are delivered in the form of large sections to a ready prepared site. Building the timber frame yourself (stick build) will require the input of an architectural designer or engineer with previous experience.


Topping off

Quickest of all is to buy prefabricated roof trusses, or you may have opted for a cut roof made on site; it will be structurally designed with purlins etc. If you intend to use the roof space, and it has a sloping ceiling, the ceiling joists of the floor below will be heavier to carry the weight. Any roof trusses will be of a ‘room in the roof’ type. With a ‘cold’ roof construction the insulation lies between the ceiling joists, a ‘warm’ roof has the insulation between and over the rafters. The chimney, if you are having one, is the final piece of building work on the roof, hence the ‘topping out’ ceremony signalling the completion of the house envelope. Whilst this is being done, windows may be fitted, also facia boards to protect the rafter ends and support the lower line of tiles, providing also a fixing for guttering. Barge boards may be used at the gable ends to close off the roof

Additional information Check out the Selfbuild Cost Manager for a step by step bill of quantities selfbuild.ie/calc

slopes. The soffit board closes off the underside of the roof overhangs. With all of these in place and any finishes applied to the external walls, at last the scaffolding can be taken down and plastering/ plasterboarding of walls and ceilings can begin, followed by second fix electrical and plumbing work. Second fix is when all the internal fittings such as light switches and sanitary ware are fitted, following completion of most of the plastering work.


Disclaimer: This article is for information purposes only, always seek the advice of a building professional for your specific project.

Signing Off

In NI, Building Control will make a final inspection visit and, if they are satisfied that you have followed all their requirements (which cover everything from heating systems to fire escape), will give you a Completion Certificate. The snagging list is the last major hurdle, but if you have kept a watchful and competent eye on proceedings to date, then this should not be a major headache.

www.midlandrenewables.com Tel: 046-9487410 Email: sales@midlandrenewables.com 88 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017



Nature and nuture With the stress of modern day living, designing our homes in a way that enhances our health and wellbeing has become increasingly important. One way to achieve this is through the back-to-nature approach of biophilic design, which is about rediscovering the intuitively obvious. Words: Joe Clancy


t’s well known that we spend on average over 90 per cent of our time indoors, most of it at home, but did you know that children in the UK are now spending less time outside than prison inmates? That’s according to a survey conducted by Persil last year which found 74 per cent of five to 12 year-olds spent less than 60 minutes playing outside each day. Inmates get at least an hour.  In tandem, pressures of our modern lifestyle and employment are taking 90 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

their toll with higher levels of stress and anxiety-related illnesses – according to the World Health Organisation, depression is set to be the number one global disease burden by 2030. To tackle these issues, a relatively new design ethic called biophilic design has emerged. The biophilia hypothesis suggests that we have an innate tendency to seek connections with nature and other forms of life because our brains are hardwired to them. When we are in natural or biophilic environments, our mood, creativity, productivity and self-esteem function at

their optimum. This is due to our brain’s ability to process sensory information present in natural environments with such ease that they expend little energy in doing so, and are given a chance to rest our cognitive facilities and allow them to recharge. When we get stressed, tired or down, our brain, bodies and moods are affected. Being in a natural or biophilic environment acts as a trigger to restore our health baselines. This can be seen through a drop in both blood pressure and stress hormones. Therefore biophilic design can be thought of as a


salutogenic approach to health. When we talk of applying biophilic design, we talk of doing so in patterns, much akin to Christopher Alexander’s work A Pattern Language. Patterns are not formulas, they are meant to guide and inform. Alexander defines patterns as: “.....a problem which occurs over and over again in our environment, and then describes the core of the solution to that problem, in such a way that you can use this solution a million times over, without doing it the same way twice.”


Biophilic design tips l Use actual nature over fake but fake is better than nothing l Use minimally processed materials, exposed wood grain and natural textures

Out of Africa

Biophilic design embraces various design principles, one of which is the Prospect and Refuge architectural theory. Effectively, the idea is that human beings favour places that have the spatial characteristics of the African Savannah. ‘Prospect’ offers an unimpeded view over a distance through one or more spaces. When implementing this in the home, allow for views through multiple spaces at once with the help of low partitions and elevated viewing points. This has been shown to increase feelings of safety and relaxation as it is easier to survey the surrounding environment. Prospective views should have focal lengths of at least 6m, distances of 30m are ideal. Few houses span 30m, which is why incorporating external views becomes important. Aim for them to contain bodies of water and tree groupings. ‘Refuge’ is a space that allows for withdrawal, away from the hustle and bustle of busy spaces. It protects an individual from all sides, while allowing for external views. A house is effectively one big refuge, allowing for prospective

views over the back garden and surrounding landscape. But within the home lies numerous opportunities to create additional spaces of refuge, quiet corners and incidental spaces ‘away’ from the main congregation areas of the house. This can be achieved through the correct positioning of a high backed chair overlooking the garden, a covered walkway, or a porch. These are spaces for reflection and incorporate varied levels of light and temperature, through the use of lowered ceilings, adjustable blinds and partitions. When combined with prospect, refuge delivers a much stronger, positive response than when it’s achieved on its own. High ceilings will enhance prospect while low ceilings will enhance refuge so a biophilic house design will generally go for a combination of both.

Biophilic house guide

From the first site visits and surveys, existing (natural) biophilic elements should be identified on site, e.g. a prospective view over a valley, a natural water course/water body, a woodland edge, etc. Each should be assessed on how they can be incorporated, maintained and/or enhanced. Sustainable design principles are all incorporated into biophilic design, e.g. house built relative to its environment and to the sun’s movement, radiant surface materials, etc. Another key point to remember is that it’s not all about the house. Your garden will provide the most immediate external views from your interior. The use of ornamental grasses and other shrubs 

l Colour and light can make a space feel bigger or smaller, thus enhancing prospective views: use dark colours to draw the eye to a long distance view l If you can accommodate a water feature, incorporate movement, e.g. mini waterfalls l For movement consider too a crackling fire l If you have a garden, design a planting scheme that provides year-round interest and promotes biodiversity to benefit from the flutter of bees and butterflies l Get growing – your connection to nature is sensory so tasting it and feeling it may be part of the solution: use a veg plot, an herb garden, green wall or even an apiary, to plug into nature l Use materials that age or react with the atmosphere to create a sense of character that develops over time, e.g. weathering steel or copper l Make access to the garden easy, e.g. with double doors that contain an element of glazing to entice you to go outside l Glare should be avoided wherever possible so consider using natural, matt surfaces indoors



short the experience, build up over time to ‘trigger’ a restorative response. These individual experiences are classed as being ‘micro restorative’. You can integrate multiple micro restorative spaces around your home with a well framed view, an interior green wall, a water feature, biomorphic patterns in the decor/wallpaper, use of natural materials in the furniture, rooflights, etc. These micro restorative spaces should be placed along key traffic routes and adjacent to congregation spaces.

Reconstruct nature


will help create movement which will catch your eye and engage you. With a retrofit, you’ll already be dealing with an established sense of place or character, but this can work to your advantage. Biophilic design must nurture a love of place, the way to achieve this is unique to each setting and individual. Here are three ways to get started on your design:


Plug into nature

Our brains pick up on the smallest incidental ephemeral experience of nature, such as swaying grasses in the wind or a bird taking flight. We even receive benefits from nature when we seek to experience it, an impulse that can be triggered by a sound (water, wind, etc.). We are so hardwired for nature, we will relax in a natural environment even when we’re not trying. While biophilic design is more than tokenistic greenery, the inclusion of plant life in the home can have dramatic effects on the feel of the space and the occupants’ health. These responses are further strengthened where bodies of water are present, especially when it is possible to physically touch it. Combining all of these will create a strong restorative response. Furthermore, using materials that reflect the local geo-ecology of the site will create a bond between your home and its landscape, giving it a high degree of legibility. By incorporating existing ecosystems (or establishing new ones) or using natural stone from the area for example, you can make occupants aware of natural processes, including seasonal and temporal changes that are characteristic of a healthy ecosystem.

With the strategic use of windows you can embrace the nature that surrounds your home to frame the views of trees swaying in the wind, or, inside by constructing a green wall for a direct experience of nature. Living walls, or vertical gardens, are bought as DIY kits or can be professionally installed. Daylight is of course also a key consideration (see article p73), especially when you take into account seasonal changes and varying intensities of light. In tandem with daylight, shadows can be used to grab people’s attention, through movement of light and dark along a surface (such as dappled light under the canopy of a tree or light reflecting off a body of water onto a ceiling or wall). These tend to create fractal shapes and patterns, which attract and hold our attention because our human brain easily processes them. As seen above, the brain performs ‘better’ when it deals with things that require little effort, and fractals are one of these things. A school of thought says this is because the brain is hardwired to repetition, in this case of the geometric patterns.


Create micro restorative spaces

Biophilic design and natural environments give the impression that they are demanding of space, cost and maintenance but this isn’t necessarily true. For instance, in a 2007 study by Richard Fuller et al, it was found that psychological mood increased with higher levels of biodiversity and not with increases in vegetative areas. Variety is the spice of life. Secondly, the effects of natural environments, no matter how small or

When direct experiences of nature are not feasible, due to space restraints (as occurs with retrofits), lack of soil, water or associated maintenance costs making it unfeasible, we can use simulation. Indirect evocations of nature or natural analogues can be symbolic or representational of patterns and shapes found in nature. They are one degree of separation from actual nature. These can include ornamentation, artwork and use of natural materials, such as wood and stone. They can be integrated into the decor with fabrics, carpets, window designs and even masonry. Billowy fabric or screen materials that move or glisten with light or breezes. Plant oils work too. Another method of simulating nature is through ‘Techno Biophilia’ with screensavers, digital representations of nature and recorded natural sounds, to name a few. While they don’t elicit as strong a restorative reaction as actual, direct experiences of nature, they still trigger a response that can enhance mood and productivity.

Further reading Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design (Jacobson, Silverstein and Winslow, 2002) The Wright Space: Pattern and Meaning in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Houses (Hildebrand, 1991) 14 Patterns of Biophilic Design: Improving Health and Well-Being in the Built Environment (Browning, Ryan and Clancy, 2014). The patterns described in this book are based upon a large body of science and research across various fields, including neuroscience and endocrinology. Biophilic Design: The Theory, Science and Practice of Bringing Buildings to Life (Kellert, Heerwagen and Mador, 2008) Repetition and Perceptual Fluency, American Psychological Association apa.org/pubs/highlights/ peeps/issue-76.aspx bregroup.com/biophilic


B A S I C S / PA S S I V E H O U S E C H E C K L I S T

Wain Morehead Architects Passive House project in Co Cork, photography by gm-photo.com

Wolfgang Feist founded the PassivHaus Institut in 1990. Photo by Peter Cook


Living without central heating The most widespread standard to building a house that doesn’t require a heating system comes from the PassivHaus Institut. Here are the basic precepts.


o qualify as a passive house from the Passive House Institute in Germany, you need to heat your home with very little energy, roughly 10 per cent what you’d normally use in a conventional house.

Design tools

The software used for designing 94 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

your building envelope, i.e. to determine the build-up including insulation type and thickness, is DEAP (Dwelling Energy Assessment Procedure) in ROI and SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) in NI. The passive house methodology uses similar software, the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) which will guide you through specifying a passive house. This can only be used in addition to DEAP/ SAP, which again is the software

Additional information PassivHaus Institut website: passivehouse.com Technical database: passipedia.org Examples of passive houses worldwide: passivhausprojekte.de

required by the ROI/NI authorities to prove compliance to the Building Regulations. The PHPP software is free and can be used even if you don’t get your house certified, which many Irish self-builders do as there is a cost associated to certification. However as with all certification, it is worthwhile to consider investing in as it will not only guarantee the design but also the construction.



PA S S I V E H O U S E C H E C K L I S T / B A S I C S

‘To qualify as a passive house from the Passivhaus Institut in Germany, you need to heat your home with very little energy, roughly 10 per cent what you’d normally use in a conventional house.'


The Space Heating Energy Demand is not to exceed 15 kWh per square meter of net living space (treated floor area) per year or 10 W per square meter peak demand.


The Renewable Renewable Primary Energy Demand, the total energy to be used for all domestic applications (heating, hot water and domestic electricity) must not exceed 60 kWh per square meter of treated floor area per year.


Outdoor air


In addition to a minimal form of heating in the bathroom (e.g. towel radiators), you will require no heat input as the heat recovery


Supply air

gh Airti tness Exhaust air

Outdoor air Solar panel (optional)

al insul at erm Th

Supply air

Extract air

Supply air

bridge red al u m

Extract air

Supply air

esign dd ce

In practice

Extract air

n io

As not all buildings are able to meet this standard, the institute has also devised a ‘low energy building standard’ which allows you to double the heating demand (30kWh/sqm.yr) and achieve a renewable primary energy demand of 75 kWh/sqm.yr. whilst still foregoing the need for a dedicated heating system.

Exhaust air

ve House w ssi i

ows nd

Thermal comfort must be met for all living areas during winter as well as in summer, with not more than 10 per cent of the hours in a given year over 25 degC.

entilati on te v ua

ategy str

In terms of airtightness, a maximum of 0.6 air changes per hour at 50 Pascals pressure (ACH50), as verified with an onsite pressure test.

ventilation system keeps the house fresh and snug during the winter. If you are not convinced that this will be enough, you could choose to add a stove, or make provisions for adding one (a flue with airtight seals) but be prepared to open the windows when the stove is in use. This is why homeowners now tend to opt for hybrid or compact heat pumps which provide hot wa­ter and heat­ ing in com­bin­a­tion with a heat recovery ventilation system. Open fires, which suction heat up the chimney, cannot be incorporated in passive house designs. In the summer you will be at risk of overheating so a shading device is normally incorporated in the build. This can consist of an overhang installed on the south

The boxier the house, the cheaper it is to build, which is why many early Passive Houses were of a rectangular shape. This has led to their gaining a reputation of poor architectural merit but this has been disproven over the years with plenty of examples worldwide of unique designs showcasing various architectural styles.

The r

According to the PassivHaus Institut the four rules of thumb are:

Ade q



facing side of the house to block high summer sunshine. In practice the low heating requirement means incorporating the following: l Quality insulation: the U-values you are aiming for the floor, walls and roof are in the range of 0.1W/sqmK to 0/15W/sqmK which means very thick insulation, about 300mm as compared to today’s run of the mill 150mm (this is all worked out in PHPP) l Airtight and thermal bridge free design: all edges, corners, connections and penetrations must be planned and executed with great care, so that thermal bridges (temperature differences where two elements of the building fabric meet, e.g. window and wall) can be avoided. All areas to be taped up for airtightness and number of taped junctions minimised. l Triple glazed windows: with overall U-value of 0.8 W/sqmK and G values of around 50 per cent l Energy efficient ventilation: mechanical ventilation with heat recovery is specified to allow for good indoor air quality and to provide some heat contribution l House orientation: to make the most of solar gains, the living areas are south facing, taking into account overheating.

Subsoil heat exchanger (optional)


G A R D E N / D E C O R AT I O N

Winter boughs


The best present winter-time has to offer is being able to decorate your home with what’s left in your garden.

Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin


am a huge fan of bringing the outside in. I have houseplants in most rooms and shelves and countertops are filled with bog oak, beach wood, pebbles, pinecones and various reminders of days out and happier times. We humans have a tradition of marking memories with artefacts from nature. Psychologically speaking, the connection to nature is healing and fortifying. So at the dark end of the year we have, for perhaps the length of human civilisation, gathered sprigs, branches, cones and natural objects to decorate our space and alleviate bleak winters. Today we have scented candles, electric lights, central heating, televisions and laptops, plenty of comfort food and other distractions. We don’t need as much cheering up as we once did but the notion of enlivening the home with evergreen boughs, table settings and even door wreaths is not only charming and traditional but fun. To harvest your garden, to forage the local woods, to get some wire, ribbons and few tranquil hours is a wonderful gift to give yourself. While some are busy reacting to their mindful app or you-tubing how to destress, what is more mindful and peaceful than engaging in the flow of your creativity? Making something from items you have gathered is so rewarding. It doesn’t have to be for Christmas and it doesn’t have to stop after Christmas. Bringing greenery and natural decoration inside can happen all winter – right through to spring when spring bulbs lure you back outside. So be it a bough for the length of your stairs, a front door wreath, a bathroom Ikebana or a table setting, here are some of the best plants to incorporate.


Pine (Pinus spp) Pine is not only a traditional choice, its high aesthetic makes it suitable for standalone displays or in a mix with the other examples here. What it also brings is natural aromatherapy; 96 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

‘To harvest your garden, to forage the local woods, to get some wire, ribbons and few tranquil hours is a wonderful gift to give yourself.' that fresh, resinous and camphor-like aroma actually promotes deep breathing, pumping oxygen into the lungs and up to the brain which in turn helps rejuvenate our spirits and activate our physicality. Pine has long been associated with Christmas and the previous pagan festival of winter due to its evergreen symbolism and its uplifting nature. I grow a scots pine (Pinus sylvestris) in a large tub which has a slight dwarfing effect due to root containment. If I were to

plant it in the ground it would skyscrape. I harvest the large shrub sized plant regularly for aromatherapeutic purposes and occasionally for needle tea. You can of course select a non-native pine to cultivate in pots, something like Pinus mugo aka the dwarf mountain pine would be ideal. It’s much more of a bushy shrub, pleasantly dark green with attractive dark brown, ovoid cones. Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) Sitka was introduced to Ireland from the west

D E C O R AT I O N / G A R D E N

Sweet chestnuts

coast of the United States of America and it is now the tree of choice in Irish forestry. No need to grow at home as you should find one near you. But if you like it or are coastal and fancy a shelter belt then just remember that it requires a deep moist and well-drained soil. It is one of the faster growing conifers and it can reach 50 metres in height. Sitka spruce branches are highly susceptible to decay when injured so clean and sharp secateurs will be required for your harvest.

Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis)


The Korean Fir

Evergreen foliage The Korean fir (Abies koreana) is just a stunning plant with dark green needles with a silvery underneath. It bears distinctive cones that begin green move to blue to purple and mature to tan, and, unlike other conifers they stand upright on top of the branches. A bit of a slow grower but worth all the patience in the world. It can reach a maturity height in excess of 12 metres with a four to eight metre spread but that’s over a 50 year period. You won’t have to wait for the cones which even the youngest plants bear. Best grown in a moist but well-drained deep soil – it has a preference for a slightly acidic pH. Juniperus horizontalis

If you haven’t the room or the desire for a steadily expanding conifer then there are dwarf varieties aplenty and some low growing conifer-style plants suitable for winter bough cutting. I like Juniperus horizontalis ‘Blue Chip’ not just for its pleasing-to-the-eye blue hues but its cultivation versatility – adaptive to all soils bar waterlogged. A prostrate variety, it yields easily to long harvests and brings some green fragrance to the home. Juniperus communis ‘Repanda’ is also a low spreading, aromatic conifer but of a deep green hue that becomes bronze-tinted as the winter temps drop.

To supplement or complement a conifer sprig, choose an evergreen foliage. Most used of the non-coniferous plants is holly (Ilex aquifolium and other varieties). There are more than 400 species of evergreen and deciduous hollies – all synonymous with winter boughs and solstice ceremonies in their native regions. Ilex aquifolium is our native hedgerow variety and the one most prominent in garden centre cultivars. Despite being a winter producing plant it will reward more if protected from cold winter winds. Adaptable to full sun or partial shade. For the most part, holly plants are dioecious (separate male and female plants) so if you want a berry bearing female you will need a male pollinator in the vicinity. However thanks to modern breeding techniques you can get a selffertile female. Ilex aquifolium J.C. Van Tol is one such and it’s less prickly too. While Ilex aquifolium Alaska is also a self-fertile holly it has the full-on prickle of the traditional kind. I really like Skimmias (skimmia japonica and skimmia x confusa) in floral arrangements and in a garden context – they are attractive, fragrant, evergreen and

berry bearing. They are a shade preferring plant and will become chlorotic (leaves become pale) if over-exposed to sun or planted on poor or dry soil otherwise they are hardy, easy to grow and no fuss on maintenance. There are many cultivars but just like with holly there are few self-fertile varieties. The males are more fragrant but the females deliver the decorative berries. There is even a white-berried form called Fructu Albo. Self-fertile varieties Skimmia Japonica Temptation and Skimmia japonica subsp. reevesiana come highly recommended. Sarcococca confusa aka Christmas Box is a delight in the garden with its dark green, glossy evergreen foliage and the honey-like fragrance of its ivory flowers that announce the coming of its persistent glossy black berries. The plant is tolerant of a variety of garden situations but thrives in dry shade.  Sarcococca confusa



G A R D E N / D E C O R AT I O N

Oregon grape


Deciduous favourites Dogwood

I like to include Oregon grape (Mahonia spp) in my winter displays – the radiating crowns of sumptuous yellow flowers just dazzle. The blue berries are eye-catching. The spikey foliage injects a touch of the exotic too. You can also grow a non-prickly version known as Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ (Mahonia eurybracteata subsp. Ganpinensis). It has the additional benefits of sweet fragrance and a compact nature. All mahonias appreciate a sheltered position. Sweet Laurel aka bay (Laurus nobilis) is a staple of winter dressing with a beautiful leaf form that will enhance any display. In the Middle Ages laurel was often placed at the front of a house for protection and to promote success, its unwithering Sweet Laurel aka bay

nature evoked victory and eternity. Its camphorous and herbaceous scent, for its part, lends itself nicely to any bough and wreaths that might also feature oranges, cinnamon sticks and dried herbs with its sage-like and spice aroma. Most bays are sold in pots to place still at doorways but it is hardier when planted in the ground. It


Willow wreath

Not every display has to be based on evergreen. There are many plants that bear colourful branches that make impressive decoration. I love the stems of dogwood (Cornus spp). They brighten the garden and with plenty of stems for cutting they also light up a room. It’s no wonder many of them have cultivar names with ‘fire’ or ‘flame’ in the title. Varieties of Cornus alba, C. sericea and C. sanguinea bear spectacular orange, yellow or red stems. All three types are suitable for a variety of soil types and are even tolerant of damp sites. Willow (Salix spp) also makes great displays and a fine armature for door wreaths and table displays. There are many wild willows by streams, in local parks and even in hedgerows so it’s easy to source. There are a few dwarf varieties for

gardens and if you plant a tree you can always coppice or pollard to keep in check. Some garden centers even sell bundles of cut stems at this time of year. In terms of colour variances Salix Alba Vitellina is aptly known as the golden willow. Salix Purpurea you might think is always purple but the variety known as “Eugenii” bears a rich green stem, “Lambertiana” bears lime green stems and Salix Purpurea “Abbeys” has orange/red stems. Ivy (Hedera spp) is traditionally used to bind green boughs and other arrangements, or hung onto hall doors. The thing with ivy is that it does not entwine itself round its support. Instead, it produces numerous short roots along its stem, which possess adhesive discs for holding firmly to bark or stone. It can be peeled off and cut to length at source.

Really any garden plant still in leaf or showing berry can be included in a display. Seed heads can be added and even sprayed silver, gold or in other hues to match your theme or décor. Colourful twine or invisible fishing line will bind and strengthen your displays. Ribbons, pine cones, candy canes and cinnamon sticks are the tradition to make a display more Christmassy but you can be as adventurous as your spirit. Table displays look great with fruit in the mix. Wreaths and stair rail boughs take natural decorations and baubles in their stride while mantle boughs look great with lights. But in truth the only limit is your imagination – so make it your way and have some fun with it.

D E C O R AT I O N / G A R D E N

can withstand low temperatures, to -5degC (23degF) but you can use horticultural fleece to cover during bitter winters. It doesn’t have to be all greenery. I find the red glossy and bronze-green foliage of Photinia x fraseri ‘Red Robin’ really enhances a display and there is bound to be a hedge or public planting of it near you that won’t miss five or six snips. If you want to grow it for yourself it is ideal in sunny borders, as a specimen shrub or even in large statement containers. Pruning the tops keeps the juvenal red foliage coming. ‘Red Robin’ has a better resistance to leaf spot, fire blight and powdery mildew which can affect other varieties. Scent can’t be underestimated in a display. Most foliage carries some degree of herbaceous notes but you can go for the more floral perfume too. Try something like Viburnum × bodnantense – it and all its cultivars are deliciously sweet. Even though it is deciduous in the depths of winter along its bare, woody stems burst dark pink packages of intense scent. The fragrant flowers can perform from as early as November and last right through to March or even April the following year. Best of all is their winter sturdiness; even if a frost hits hard, they repeat flower soon after. It likes a moist but well-drained soil. In sun or partial shade. Viburnum tinus ‘Lisarose’ is a hardy evergreen cousin. A shrub with scented creamy white flowers and glossy black winter berries. Low maintenance and very easy to grow; takes well to sunny or semi shaded positions. Just provide a moderately fertile, well-drained soil. With the use of sphagnum moss and some florist oasis you can even incorporate fragrant flowers into your winter displays.

Phontinia x fraseri

Vkiburnum x bodnantense

‘Scent can’t be underestimated in a display. Most foliage carries some degree of herbaceous notes but you can go for the more floral perfume too.'

Vkiburnum tinus ‘Lisarose;



Planning the perfect kitchen


The key to a perfect kitchen isn’t just the ‘triangle’, it’s making sure it will adapt to your changing needs as a family. Words: Paul McNally


oughly every five years your needs as a family will change. As the children grow up and, eventually move out of the house, you’ll see a shift in how living areas are used and what is needed from them. I think open is the way to go for family life – it just works, especially if both parents are in full time employment. Evenings are short and precious, you will want to spend time together. It’s not ideal to have the children in one room while you’re cooking in another. The design and size of the space will of course be dependent on budget and layout but I do think the bigger the space the better. For family life it’s preferable to have an area dedicated to dining and use the island as a breakfast bar. The most compact set up would be doing away with the dining area and using the island for mealtimes. Remember though that the rule of thumb for circulation space, is to provide between 1200mm to 1800mm between opposing work surfaces, so make sure your plans allow for this and the island. 1300mm between opposite work areas is perfect, it allows enough room to manoeuvre

‘For family life it’s preferable to have an area dedicated to dining and use the island as a breakfast bar.’ 100 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

According to Universal Design principles, kitchen units and worktops need to be arranged to limit the number of activities that involve crossing the space so an L or U shape layout is recommended

without being so great that unnecessary steps are taken. In terms of creating ‘zones’ I’m not an advocate of lowering ceiling heights in the living area. I think more is more in this case, so don’t settle for less than 2.5m in ceiling height but if you can go more in the kitchen area, do. Of course then there’s the important matter of taste and style and whether you want to consider introducing Universal Design principles, which aim to cater to people of all mental and physical conditions. For instance, Universal Design factors in the fact that many people can find blank elevations to cupboards confusing. The

methodology therefore suggests a mix of open shelving and glass fronted units to act as a reminder of what’s inside and to allow easy checking of contents. I personally prefer the clean contemporary look that sleek, uncluttered lines afford (see top tips on opposite page).

Kitchen milestones

Here are my suggestions to design your kitchen so that it caters to your growing family’s needs: Ages 2+: With toddlers and young children, the true open plan lifestyle is ideal. You can potter about while keeping an eye on what the kids are up to. Children this age will explore so give them access to some


parts of the kitchen to help satiate this need, e.g. with easy to reach, hazard-free presses. Also be conscious of discouraging the use of items that pop in and out, e.g. concealed sockets, as they may quickly become a favourite toy!


The golden rules to a contemporary kitchen

Ages 7+: As your children gain independence, their need to be in your company diminishes. To cater to this, segregate the open plan area with French or sliding doors. This will help break things up to achieve privacy in the living area, on demand. In fact, in a typical semi-detached house from the 1960s or 1970s, knocking the front room through to the kitchen with a set of doors is the most straightforward way to create an open plan. With demolition work, the addition of French doors can set you back around €2-3,000 or £1,500-£2,500 while sliding doors, due to the mechanism and need for second partition, will cost double that.

Ages 18+: It’s no harm thinking about the children fleeing the coop, how will the space work for you as a couple? That set of doors could come in very handy and the island, which is likely to double up as your dining table. Will some of the children continue living at home? That spare sitting room will be a godsend if they do.


Paul McNally Architects

Ages 12+: If you’re building new consider adding a small, separate sitting/tv room into your design. That’s an optimal set up, built to last. You will end up using this room as a teenager hangout – with social media so invasive nowadays it beats sending them to their room. It will be a place for you to get a break too.


Keep the form simple. The number of elements shouldn’t exceed much more than three, e.g. island, tall storage, counter with integrated sink. Use colour to visually merge zones. Integrate your appliances and consider handless units for a crisp finish. A hot water tap will remove the need for a kettle, also consider popup sockets and a telescopic extractor fan.


Introduce subtle, warmer detailing. Timber shelving has a visual tactile softness while atmospheric lighting will set the mood.

Contemporary design with a dedicated dining space, island breakfast bar and hob ‘facing the action’

The kitchen triangle

It’s impossible to talk about kitchen design without talking about the ‘triangle’ which refers to the path between your cooker, fridge and sink. The route to each should form a triangle for ease of use so the idea is not to align your cooker and sink on the same worktop, for example. But as with most design rules, it can be broken. For some cooks it will make sense to have the hob and sink on the same surface. Furthermore according to Universal Design principles this alternative provides a way of reducing the need to carry hot food or liquids from one worktop to another. An ‘L’ or ‘U’-shaped layout, where pans and containers can slide from hob to sink, is another option. In terms of placement ideas, I would suggest putting the hob on the island to face the living area, it’s much more sociable and interactive. Placing the cooker on the  WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 101


wall means you’ll have your back to the action. Other basic tips include not crowding the sink in a corner, it should be 460mm away from any return in the work surface. Also think of where you will need to put things down – allow 300mm on either side of the hob and to one side of the oven and fridge/freezer (with fixed worktop space or a pull-out shelf). To abide to Universal Design principles and future proof your house so that it can be used by people of all abilities, you should aim to make your worktops 900mm high. Ideally have some sections of worktop height adjustable or use a combination of fixed height worktops between 760mm and 900mm high.


Storage is the key to a successful design – make greater allowances than you think necessary. Tidying up won’t take as long if everything has its place, and you won’t have to do it as often. A revelation in our house has been the chargeable vacuum cleaner. It’s so easy to use and light, we now vacuum in the kitchen on a daily basis. The first requirement in terms of storage space is to allow for a utility room. To reduce noise it’s imperative that you move the washing machine and dryer out of the open plan area. I don’t find that dishwashers nowadays are that noisy, and they don’t really impact on tv viewing anymore. For some chefs a pantry is also a musthave, with all items on view in a walk-in


Overhead extractor fans: an eyesore! I have a strong dislike of overhead extractor fans, probably because I’ve banged my head on one too many! They’re at eye level too and not particularly nice to look at. Thankfully periscopic extractors have come a long way and are now very effective. You will however need to make sure you have the right ducting put in place early, at the pre-slab pouring stage (all extractor fans need at least 150mm or 6’’ ducting but periscopic goes into the floor) and that

you make allowances for the mechanism under the

area, but for others kitchen cabinets provide sufficient food storage. For universal access, wall units shouldn’t be placed higher than 450mm above worktop level. Consider too that pull-out drawers are easier to use than, say, deep shelves under your worktops. Even though some people introduce small radiators in the kitchen to warm their

countertop (this will reduce your storage space).

tea towels I don’t like to see mine so I make use of the waste heat from the hot water tap to dry them out. My drawer is right above the tank and airs them out.


On self-builds, hiring a lighting designer is not the norm but it’s worth considering if you have the budget. Lighting may seem easy but it’s actually quite tricky to get right. What I’ve done in the past is use integrated lighting, on the splashback. My kitchen has birch ply shelving with a groove that houses an LED strip, to provide task lighting at the sink. If you have deep drawers consider adding LED strips inside them too. In my open plan I have six pairs of directional LED downlights, which brighten up the island and cover all angles. Directional lights are flexible in that they can be orientated to hit the spot where you want the most intensity, after the kitchen has been installed. I’ve also introduced dimmer switches for mood lighting as this becomes important when the family winds down and prepares for bedtime.

FURTHER INFORMATION A Universal Design Guidelines for Homes in Ireland by the Centre for Excellence in Universal Design universaldesign.ie


H O M E M A I N T E N A N C E M A N UA L / K I T C H E N


Your kitchen maintenance checklist The first in our home maintenance manual series, we explore one of the most important rooms in the house. The kitchen. Words: Andrew Stanway


or most of us the kitchen is our most used room. It also has the greatest diversity of equipment compared with other parts of the home. Maintaining everything not only ensures that it is in good working order when we need it but also that we stay safe. 104 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Fire Safety

Most domestic fires start in the kitchen so it’s vital to have smoke or heat alarms installed – it’s also required in the regulations. These can be either battery or mainsoperated. Testing your smoke alarm l Let everyone in the house know. Warn the fire brigade if your alarm is directly

monitored. l Push the test button and hold it for a few seconds. This should set off the alarm. If it doesn’t, replace the batteries. l If replacing the batteries doesn’t work, try vacuuming the device, or gently cleaning it with a feather duster. l If none of these things work, replace it at once. l Some models turn off

K I T C H E N / H O M E M A I N T E N A N C E M A N UA L

automatically after a few seconds’ testing; others will require that you press the button again to turn it off. l Experts advise monthly testing, and fire services weekly testing, but very few people do this. Every three months is probably more realistic for most households. Smoke alarms are meant to last only about ten years. Replace them if yours are older than this. Some people feel safer testing their smoke alarms with actual smoke. There are two ways of doing this, the first is to light three matches and hold them together 300mm under the alarm. Gently blow out the flame and see if the smoke activates the alarm. If you are a smoker, you could use a cigarette. Alternatively you could buy an aerosol can of smoke for such tests. This is probably worth doing if you have lots of smoke alarms.

Testing your heat alarms

These are best for kitchens because they can’t be accidentally set off by, for example, burning the toast. Many people are so annoyed by their smoke alarm going off when it shouldn’t that they disconnect it

or even mask it off. Obviously, this is dangerous. The same principles as for smoke alarms apply; press the test button to see if this works. This may be enough to satisfy you, but you could test it more realistically, with a hair dryer held 300mm away from the device (this should set off the device). As with a smoke alarm, clean the device regularly and, if in any doubt, replace it.

to inspect it once a year, or it could get out of date and not function when you need it. l Check the pressure gauge, it will usually tell you if it’s still working. l Be certain that everyone in your home knows where to find it and how to work it. In too many homes, it gets hidden behind things that then make it hard or impossible to find in a crisis.

Fire escape

Taps and sink

Once a year, check that any doors and windows you would use as an escape in case of a fire open freely and are not obstructed in any way. See that the keys are in a prominent place that is known by everyone in your home....and check that all securing bolts and locks are working as they should.

Fire equipment

Invest in a fire blanket and ensure it is ready to use and kept where everyone knows about it. A fire extinguisher is another wise investment. Just remember: l Wherever you keep your fire extinguisher (and many households keep theirs in the kitchen) be sure

‘Maintaining everything not only ensures that it is in good working order when we need it but also that we stay safe. '

Plumbing and heating l Check your taps for drips. Replace washers as necessary or replace taps entirely. A leaking tap can be a serious waste of water. l Fill the sink with water and watch how fast it disappears on removing the plug. If you aren’t happy, use a plunger, or a proprietary sinkunblocking liquid. l Check all the joints under the sink. People frequently ram things under their kitchen sinks, forgetting that the pipework is usually plastic and cannot take much abuse before it works loose. If there are leaks, tighten everything and call a plumber if this doesn’t work. l Check your waste disposal unit. An old American trick for freshening up a waste disposal is to make a tray of vinegar ice cubes then put them through the appliance. If the disposer isn’t working properly, get professional advice. Be sure to isolate it at the wall before attempting anything yourself.


l Check that the set temperatures are, in fact, correct by looking in the owner’s manual/handbook. l Check your door seals are intact. If you can trap a banknote between seal and frame, the seal is doing its job. If not, have it replaced. l Vacuum the back of your fridge twice a year. Fluff builds up on the coils here and can not only reduce the efficiency but could become a fire hazard over time. l Consider stocking up your freezer. A nearly empty one uses more energy. Clear out frozen food twice a year. l Check for areas in the fridge or freezer that are collecting ice. This can occur even in automatic de-frosting models. Get professional help. 


H O M E M A I N T E N A N C E M A N UA L / K I T C H E N

l Check extracted-air outlets for obstructions and cleanliness.


l Keeping the oven clean doesn’t just make it more pleasant to use but also contributes to safety because built-up grease will burn. Professional cooker-cleaning companies take the hard work out of caring for your oven – when buying new appliances you can often sign up for this service. They can also clean your cooktop better than you can. l Check interior lights. l Check all gaskets and seals. Replace if necessary.

Kitchen cabinets


l Check the caulking once a year. Cut out and replace all mouldy sections. l Check for and replace any broken or loose tiles. l Check if grouting needs cleaning. A hand-held domestic steam device can be very effective for this otherwise tedious task. l Check that face plates on wall sockets are tightly screwed. l Check wood worktops and re-condition if necessary. Apply a yearly top up coat of oil. l Deep clean around the edges of worktops, and especially under the rim of under-slung sinks, where dirt becomes trapped very quickly and easily.

Washing machine

l Check the washing machine filter every few months. You’ll be amazed at the debris that collects there, especially if you have a young family. l If you usually run your machine at very low temperatures (30-40 degC), use a proprietary product to disinfect the drum and pipework to remove accumulated bacteria. An alternative is to do a hightemperature (90 degC) run once a week. l Check behind the machine for leaks.

Tumble dryer

l Remove lint from the tumble dryer filter after every use. l Check the air inflow isn’t obstructed. 106 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

l Look at the air outlet, too. Even small amounts of lint and other debris can obstruct the air flow and make your dryer less efficient and more costly to run. l Never leave the house with the dryer running. Many house fires have started this way. l Vacuum around areas that trap lint. l Clean out the condenser unit every few months if you have a condensing machine. This greatly increases its efficiency.


l Clean the food debris filter at least once a week. l Check door gaskets for water leaks. Clean grease from gaskets. l Check salt level (if you don’t use a product that already adds salt to your washing up). l Every few months run a proprietary cleaner through the system using the hottest temperature setting. This cleans out not only the interior of the machine that you can see but also the hidden pipework.

Cooker hoods and extractors l These need checking at least twice a year. They can be degreased in the dishwasher, or in very hot water in the sink, using either normal detergent or a proprietary de-greasing agent. Keeping these clean and fresh increases your suction dramatically. l Replace carbon-containing filters twice a year. l Check lights are working.

The drawers and cupboards in your kitchen are heavily used. Once a year, go systematically round every drawer and cupboard: l Check every handle is tightly screwed. l Make sure all the drawers slide easily and don’t jam. Clear out things that have fallen behind drawers. l Tighten up all the hinges. They tend to come loose over time. Check that the soft-closers are working as they should. l Remove the plinth under the sink and dishwasher to look for leaks.

H E AT I N G / S T O V E S

The mighty stove


As we build our homes ever more airtight, the go-to solution for a live flame is the stove. Words: Andrew Stanway


here’s nothing quite like a real fire and in many homes a stove is the most practical way of enjoying one. Wood burning stoves are popular for many reasons but people say they like them mainly because they can control them. In a ‘primitive’ sort of way they connect us to our ancient past. This is especially true for those stoves that have glass doors or panels so the flames can be readily seen and enjoyed. However efficient any other form of domestic heating is, there’s nothing like a friendly, real-flame fire to enliven a room. Dovre Bold 400 in Pure White enamel dovre.co.uk


Do I need a shed to store the fuel?

If you’re burning logs you’ll need a lot of storage space. If you are using your own cut logs, to be safe, allow at least four cubic metres. This is because newly-cut logs take about two years to dry out, so you’ll need enough room to store three years’ worth of logs. If you buy ready-dried (kiln-dried) logs, you can get away with a smaller storage volume, as they can be used straight from the crate in which they come.

How do I choose the best stove for my needs?

First, you’ll need to decide whether your stove is to be just a nice addition to your home or whether it’ll form a part of your entire heating system. If it’s the latter, see p110. If it’s only for heating your living room you’ll need to think about the following: l The size of the room l The room layout: is it open plan? l How big the windows are l How well your home is insulated l How old your house is l Whether you’ll be prepared to have another source of heat as a backup or addition to your stove

S T O V E S / H E AT I N G

Nordpeis Orion nordpeis.co.uk

Clearview stove from Co Down Stoves & Flues cdsf.co.uk


The pros and cons of wood burning stoves However lovely a woodburning stove is, there are some downsides too, here are the pros and cons. Advantages

As a broad rule of thumb, if you want your room to be 21degC and the outside temperature is 1degC you’ll need 1kW of heat for every 14 cubic metres of air. So multiplying the height by the width by the length of your room and then dividing this figure by 14 will tell you how big (in kW output) a stove you’ll need. If you want to be more certain, get your local, manufacturer-approved, retailer to come along and advise you. They should be able to confirm your heating requirements, along with the suitability of fitting the woodstove in your home. Remember, some manufacturers will only offer the minimum required warrantee and aftersales support for products purchased from the internet. Why this is important is because buying and installing a stove isn’t like picking up an electric fan heater from a local DIY shed. It’s a serious, expensive, decision that can’t easily be remedied if you get it wrong. It’s just as annoying to over-specify your stove and then find yourself roasting hot and having to open windows (not at all ‘green’!), as it is to find yourself colder than you’d hoped.

Are they difficult to install?

No, but it’s a job for a professional. Once you’ve decided on your product, you should ask your retailer to recommend a qualified installer and ask them to visit your house to complete an installation survey. They will consider your existing fireplace and chimney suitability, along with the hearth requirements, clearance to combustible materials around the stove as well as ventilation air requirements. Also most importantly, they will be able to confirm the cost of installing the product.

One very important point to consider is the need for additional air ventilation into the room where the stove is positioned and the effects of any extractor fans in the same or adjacent rooms. The amount of additional air needed will be dependent on the heat output of the stove and the house construction, and it is important to maintain safe operation. Some stoves will have a dedicated air supply from outside the building. The final safety point is the need to fit a carbon monoxide monitor in the same room as the stove, and this should be fitted before the stove is used. This is the stage to work all this out, not once you have your expensive purchase sitting proudly in its box on your living room floor! Of course, with a new-build all this will be thought out well in advance with your designer and/or an approved installer. When first firing up your new stove, open windows and doors to let out the unpleasant smell produced by the oily coatings on the metal and by the fresh paint getting hot for the first time. This is all normal.

l Woodburning stoves are considered cheaper to run than other heating methods l A stove is more ‘green’ because wood is a sustainable fuel l Wood prices are fairly stable l The emissions are very low in a modern stove l They’re a great solution if you have your own source of logs l Radiant heat warms the walls and floors, not just the air l Many are so well designed that they are like a piece of attractive furniture in the room. Disadvantages l The capital cost is high (from £500/€600 to £2,000/€2,500) l You’ll need lots of space to store and dry logs l You’ll need a method for disposing of the ash safely l It’s more work than central heating as you have to carry logs and ashes around l It means dusting the room much more frequently l The chimney will need sweeping once a year l Most woodburning stoves should not be left to ‘slumber’ overnight although some multi-fuel stoves can be

What regulations do I need to comply with? If you live in a Smoke Control Zone / 


H E AT I N G / S T O V E S

Stovax Elise 850 Edge+ stovax.com

Smokeless Zone in NI you can only burn wood on a DEFRA-exempt product, however you can burn smokeless fuel on a multi-fuel stove. DEFRA is the UK department of environment and rural affairs and they require the stove to comply with a strict, low level of particulate and smoke emission requirements, before it can be approved as suitable. In ROI you can’t buy or burn smoky coal in smokeless zones and must only burn smokeless fuels (cities and large towns are smokeless zones). Stoves have become much more efficient over the last decade. An open fire is only 30 per cent efficient (because most of the heat goes up the chimney); a gas fire is about 20-50 per cent efficient; but most stoves are about 75 per cent efficient. But efficiency isn’t the same as polluting fumes, smoke and particulate emissions. Emissions result from the incomplete combustion of fuel. Most modern woodstoves incorporate internal air distribution systems to ensure the correct amount of air is added to the burning gases, to maintain complete and efficient combustion. These are also known as ‘secondary combustion’ systems. There are various proprietary names for this type of setup. New Ecodesign regulations mean that by 2022, stoves will have to comply to stringent emissions limits. Building Regulations govern the installation of any wood or multi-fuel stove. These will determine the exact detail of fitting the stove, covering items such as flue/chimney size and height, size and construction of the hearth, and distances to combustible materials. For guidance, listen to your installer whose guidance will come with many years’ experience in what is not only safe and legal, but also practical and will be tailored to your unique installation.

‘However efficient any other form of domestic heating is, there’s nothing like a friendly, real flame fire to enliven a room.'

How do I get the flue right?

Designing a new flue or chimney is a job for a professional, as is assessing if an existing flue is suitable. Specifying a flue is difficult because of air conditions/ draughts/neighbouring structure and much more can adversely affect how a flue draws; getting the height of the flue just right, installing cowls, etc. is a job for the pros. Your stove installer will give you advice on this and confirm what is needed. If you have to install a new flue, you will find most manufacturers will offer a design service. However, this is no substitute for having a full site survey completed and assessing the local conditions around the house.


Can I run some central heating off my stove?

Yes. But everything needs looking at very carefully before you buy a stove that will also do some, or all, of your central heating. It’s best to get a specialist heating contractor to look at what you already have and to discuss what you’d like to do. Sizing your stove will be crucial as you’ll need enough heat to warm your room and still have plenty left over for your domestic hot water, radiators or underfloor. This sizing should include a full heat load calculation for the house so you can specify the most suitable boiler

stove. The best solution is to create a new system incorporating a thermal store. This ‘store’ is usually a well-insulated, highly specialised water tank into which heat from your stove is ‘dumped’ and then stored pending your needing it for space heating or hot water. Such a heat store can also be connected to a gas or oil boiler, or a solar collector, using a ‘Link-up’ system so you can have hot water and space heating even when you don’t want your stove lit. However, the design of these systems is best left to a heating specialist, to ensure effective operation. Once you decide to go down this route be prepared for a lot more log usage. Having a wood burning stove as a nice adornment to your living room is very different from relying on it as a major heat source for your whole home.

What’s the difference between a wood-burning stove and a multi-fuel one?

According to a Which? survey in the UK, about 60 per cent of stove-owners have wood-burning only and 40 per cent multi-fuel stoves. Multi-fuel stoves are designed to burn wood or manufactured smokeless coal or peat effectively. Wood burns best on a bed of hot ash with air coming from 

H E AT I N G / S T O V E S

above, while smokeless fuels require a grate with air coming from below. If you plan to burn only wood it is best to buy a dedicated woodburning model. Remember that burning smokeless fuels is not a carbon neutral solution. Burning of normal house coal is not recommended by most stove manufactures as it can damage the interior of the stove and is a source of pollution. Kiln dried, hardwood logs are recommended as the most suitable wood for burning and are best purchased from a certified supplier who can confirm that they come from sustainable production and are of the recommended moisture content.


Double sided stoves: the low down

How do I look after my stove?

You will need to have your flue checked and swept once a year, and your stove will need an annual service to check it is good condition for the heating season. This can normally be completed by your stove retailer, and the requirements will be in your instruction manual. It will cover the checking and replacement of door and glass seals, if needed, and cleaning and checking of internal parts. The paint finish can be refreshed using a manufacturer’s recommended paint. On a regular basis, you will need to remove any build-up of ash in the stove and clean the door glass to prevent an excessive build-up of soot and tar that will become difficult to remove over time. Take care when disposing of ashes as they can remain hot for a long time after using the stove. During the summer months, when not in use, do not leave any ash in the stove and leave any air controls slightly open to keep it ventilated and minimise any internal rusting.

What about stove fans?

These great little gadgets sit on top of your stove and use the heat to create a minute amount of electricity by a clever bit of physics known as the Seebeck Effect. They don’t need their own electricity supply as their in-built thermoelectric module produces its own. Most of these fans start up on their own when the surface of the top of your stove hits about 65degC. They then spread the hot air from over the top of the stove into the body of the room. They work best if placed as far from the flue as you reasonably can. Try moving your fan from place to place on your stove top to produce the best results. 112 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Yeoman Devon Double-sided with double-doors yeomanstoves.co.uk

Where can I install a double-sided stove?

Double-sided stoves make a stunning statement to your interior, and are ideal for heating two rooms at once or for creating a focal point in an open plan living space. They allow you to enjoy the flame visuals from either side, but can only be installed where there is a central chimney between two adjoining rooms. If you don’t have a chimney, you may be able to have a pre-fabricated system fitted which works in the same way an ordinary chimney would and could allow you more flexibility regarding the placement of the stove.

Can I build the wall opening before choosing which doublesided model I want?

You can build the wall opening before choosing which model you would like, but it is best to research which stove to go for first. Consider the kind of style you’d like: inset or freestanding? Contemporary or traditional? Once you have decided on the aesthetics, visit your local expert retailer who will be able to advise on model, heat output, and will also be able to perform a site survey for you where they will assess your chimney, or advise on your options if you do not have one. Building the wall opening before choosing your model may hinder your options. Every stove, including models that are not double-sided, have distance to combustible materials limits. Building the wall opening beforehand, whether

opting for an inset or freestanding model, may mean that you will have to carry out additional building work should your stove not fit the opening or comply with these limits. Equally, building the wall opening prior to choosing a model may affect the integrity of your chimney, and the wall may not comply to the Building Regulations requirements.

How can I find a reputable installer?

While there is no regulatory body for solidfuel installers, many will have been trained by an organisation called HETAS that approves biomass and solid fuel heating appliances, fuels and services, including the registration of competent installers and servicing businesses. With HETAS installer registration now available across Ireland, many installers will be able to demonstrate the HETAS registered installer logo. This will give you confidence that the installation has been carried out to Building Regulations by an appropriately qualified installer. In all cases ensure your installer is qualified, and do feel free to ask to see their credentials. To put your mind at ease after the installation, contact a registered chimney sweep who will inspect the stove and flue. They also may be able to assist you with getting a refund if the installation is faulty. Annabelle Carvell stovax.com

â&#x20AC;&#x2DC;Let Fernhill be the Corner Stone when Building your Homeâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; NI: 0870 224 7201 / ROI: 1850 839 900 info@fernhillstone.com / www.fernhillstone.com



Dark Grey Polished 30x60 with Dark Grey Matt 60x60cm by Armatile

Tiling tips Tiles, unlike paint colours or even carpets are not something you will want to change on a whim. So careful consideration is required in the selection process.  Words: Karen Hughes


he vast choice of floor and wall tiles on the market today is both a blessing and a curse. No longer simply considered as just a way to protect walls and floors, the huge selection of tiles available is wonderful and exciting but it’s also very intimidating when it comes to narrowing down our choices. As tiles are a longer term proposition it is important to choose colours, patterns and designs you like, that suit your lifestyle and your home or particular space. Here are some tips to help you along the way.


Size matters

As with all aspects of interior


design, you need to first and foremost ensure that form follows function. Some people argue that small spaces look better with larger tiles or vice versa. I am however a firm believer in choosing the largest tile possible in any space. I find larger tiles give a feeling of expansiveness in a room as they reduce the clutter associated to multiple grout lines. That said selecting a grout colour that’s very similar to the tile’s will minimise this effect. Less grout incidentally results in an easier cleaning regime, especially in bathrooms and busier floor areas, such as kitchens, where continuous foot traffic tends to have more impact. In terms of patterns, while mixing

tile sizes in the same room may lead to a cluttered feel it can also add warmth and homeliness. Wood flooring effect tiles in rectangular plank style formats laid lengthwise will trick your eye into thinking there is a lot of room; blocky grid woodblock patterns will on the other hand consolidate the space.


How to make small beautiful

Even though I do think large tiles work in most instances, care must be taken when selecting tiles for narrow areas, like a hall for example. A long continuous grout line, or a single tile, can accentuate a narrow space and make it feel cramped. You will need at least


three full tiles across the width to prevent the area looking like a landing strip. A good alternative is to lay the tile at a 45 degree angle or to choose a patterned or checkboard design.  Another great way to bring interest into small spaces is with smaller decorative tiles. Most halls are dark and have limited natural light. Adding a patterned floor tile against a light wall colour will make this space immediately look bigger and airy. This works exceptionally well in small bathrooms and cloakrooms too where a predominantly neutral palette allow a bold floor to take centre stage. A mosaic or geometrically shaped floor tile can boost personality and provide contrast.


have) they can be a great alternative as they are scratch and stain resistant, and very easy to clean. With wood, this makes them a product of choice to allergy sufferers.


which means that decorating the floor and walls with patterns or bold colours will overwhelm the space. Go with a neutral palette and bring in pops of colour with towels and accessories. 

When to shift to neutral

Tiling in Bedrooms

In bedrooms, tiling is also becoming increasingly used, especially as improved digital printing technology is enabling manufacturers to make wood effect tiles more and more realistic. I have to be honest, I’m not a fan of tiling bedroom floors. We don’t exactly have a Mediterranean climate in this country and the thought of putting my little pinkies onto a cold tiled floor first thing on a winter’s morning fills me with dread. However if used with underfloor heating systems (which many new houses

Wild Gris tiles 23x120cm by Halo Tiles

Conversely, if you are thinking of having some statement colour on your walls and possibly ceiling, you should definitely stick with a neutral palette for your tiles. This will also be the case if you are laying tiles in a room you might update relatively often. For example in a living space, choosing a neutral colour is usually your best bet as it will allow the walls and soft furnishings to set the tone. Also when the time comes to changing your upholstery or window treatments you won’t be restricted in your choices.   And remember to consider the finish, whether glossy or matt. A high gloss tile in a lighter shade will reflect light and make your room seem bigger. Black glossy tiles look wonderful but are more likely to show dust and dirt than a lighter tile. At the moment matt tiles in a cement or grey stone colour are right on trend. In bathroom areas where both walls and floors are tiled, again less is more

Seurat 22.5x22.5cm digital printed tiles with Blanco and Gris wall tiles by Armatile

R11 slip resistant tiles by Armatile




Choosing slip-resistant tiles

Inside Outside Living

If your budget can stretch to have a usable area outside your living space, choosing a tile suitable for both indoors and out can bring a seamless transition from one space to the other. Again neutral colours will be easiest to decorate around. Porcelain tiles are suitable for outdoor use as they are non-porous, will not soak up water nor crack in frost. Several tile manufacturers also make porcelain tiles 20mm thick with a slip resistant finish designed for use on patios, garden paths and even driveways. The non-porous characteristics of porcelain tiles will inhibit moss and algae, they are also highly durable and easy to clean.



Argenta Kursaal Ashen (R10 slip resistant) by Armatile

‘No longer simply considered as just a way to protect walls and floors, the huge selection of tiles available is wonderful and exciting.'


Lastly, one of the most important aspects in any tiling design is the installation. Regardless of the cost of your tiles, if they are not fitted properly they will be a disaster. Always ask for advice from the retailer, builder and fitter. Talk to the references your tiler gives you, and make sure you are happy with the quality of their work.

Additional information: Armatile, Armagh, Belfast and Newry, armatile.com Halo Tiles & Bathrooms, Co Wexford, halotiles.ie


SLIP RESISTANT TILES GET a bad rep for being ugly and hard to clean. But that could soon become a thing of the past as manufacturers have recently risen to the challenge of addressing these design issues. While you’ll still be presented with a limited choice, the variety on offer is increasing and now much more stylish too. No longer the mainstay of the elderly or those with mobility issues, slip resistance is now a mainstream consideration. This has come about with the now prevalent use of walk-in showers. A wet room is in fact an ideal spacesaving solution, creating a more open space, removing obstacles and making it easier to move around the bathroom. This is valuable for people of all ages and circumstances, including families. With no shower tray a gentle slope will ensure all the water is channeled toward the drain. However slopes increase the potential for slipping. Here, the use of mosaic tiles in the shower areas is ideal as they are easier to install on slopes and all the grout lines help create a non-slip surface. They can then be matched up with complementary larger tiles for a beautiful design aesthetic. It must be noted that floor tiles are not slippery when clean and dry. In general, the slip resistance of a floor tile will increase with texture (roughness) and will depend on other factors such as whether soaps or other contaminants cover it regularly. A change in surface textures, e.g. from a rough tile to a smooth tile, is also likely to cause a trip hazard, as is lighting or glare, so locate any changes to the floor finish at predictable locations such as at doorways

or wall openings. There is guidance and recommendations regarding minimum slip resistance within the relevant tile standards but it’s important to note that not all tiles are rated for slip resistance. This is because there are no specific slip resistance requirements in the building regulations for dwellings; it’s common sense that will dictate where they are of most use. Tiles that are rated for their slip resistance tend to rely on different methodologies, e.g. ramp or pendulum test, which means that when comparing tiles you may not get analogous slip resistance values. In terms of maintenance, the more slipresistant a tile is the more difficult it is to keep clean as the textured surface grips the soles of shoes and feet and holds onto the content. For this same reason, and due to wear and tear, slip resistance can decrease over time. The use of mats at the door and shower entrance, to rid feet of water and dirt, will help make upkeep easier. A regular tile cleaning and maintenance regime is also important to sustain slip resistance performance. Only use specifically designed tile cleaners that are recommended by manufacturers and apply them according to the instructions on the pack. Selecting the best tile products to meet both your design and slip resistance requirement is not an easy task. The best advice is to ask for advice, you designer and tile retailer will be happy to help. Martin Mallon armatile.com



















Would you like truly independent advice on new build or renovation? Reinco brings the experience of over 960 unique projects all over Ireland to your own build, regardless of budget and size. Guiding you through every aspect of your build & protecting you from costly mistakes from biased industry people and wellmeaning friends. Reinco sells no products. We do not take commissions on any product that may be used. The client pays a fee for independent, practical advice which is typically less than 0.25% of the build cost. Visit our website for results and testimonials. For your free initial consultation call 0772 912 5002 / +44 772 912 5002

11Westland Road, Cookstown, Co. Tyrone BT80 8BX Email: eric@reinco.co.uk


Tel: 0772 912 5002

practical independent advice



Tiling 101 Tiling is a simple concept. What makes the process complicated is the lack of planning before you even lay your first tile. Words: Ciaran Hegarty

The basic premise of tiling is simple: apply adhesive to either a floor, base or a wall, press the tile against it and finally fill the gaps in between the tiles with a grout when the adhesive dries. But as with any aspect of building there are some pitfalls to be aware of. 118 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Thankfully these annoyances can be avoided with proper planning. I remember my first tiling job as a teenager. I made a coffee table and I wanted to tile the top of it. I think I must have seen it in a magazine somewhere. It was a great introduction to the simplicity of the idea but

'Remember to factor in any unusual cuts. Bathrooms have many obstacles such as bath tubs so draw these out on the floor and wall...'


the complexity of setting it out properly. Lacking in sufficient patience at the time, it took several attempts before the tiles lined up correctly.

Setting up

The one thing tilers want to prevent is to end up cutting tiles that have to be really narrow to meet the edges. Cutting a small piece off a tile is not easy, a small sliver is almost impossible. Most of us DIYers won’t have access to an expensive

tile cutter (above) so it compounds the problem and we end up with a chipped tile or even worse, several broken attempts before we actually get it done properly, if at all. So how do we end up without cutting slivers of tiles at the edge of the walls or floors? It’s all in the planning. For explanation’s sake let’s take the simplest of circumstances. A square floor in a bathroom. The first thing we must do is start in the middle of the room. Never start at a wall as unfortunately the wall may not be perfectly straight, even if it was just built, which can throw the whole project off.

Find the centre both horizontally and vertically. Place a tile in the middle with the centre of the tile in the centre of the floor. Using the tiles or a length of timber with the width of the tiles marked out, lay the tiles out on the floor and see how and where it finishes with the wall. Remember to mark the space/gap in between each tile that will represent where the grout will be inserted. If you find there is sliver of a tile left, it’s best to adjust the middle tile left or right to make sure you end up with a decent cut on both edges. The same has to be done for the length to see where the last tile will meet. Remember to factor in any unusual cuts. Bathrooms have many obstacles such as bath tubs so draw these out on the floor and wall to know where/how the cut will need to be made. When you have the position of the middle tile established, the next step is to fix a batten or straight edge against the floor, perpendicular to the wall, so that the first row of tiles will be guided by this straight line. After this often time consuming set-up, you can start to lay your tiles.

Floor preparation

When laying tiles on either a wall or floor, it is best to work on an even surface. For the floor, a levelling compound can be used to provide a flat base from which to start. This option is in fact your best bet to prevent any movement that could disrupt the tiles. Plywood is sometimes used as a base above floorboards because it will not move to the same extent as timber slats but there will be some degree of movement. If you do choose plywood, it must be screwed solidly to the floorboards every 200-300mm to provide 


Open plan area with different floor levels

In our open plan house, we plan to put porcelain tiles (10mm) in the kitchen and engineered wood (18mm) in the living area. To have a level floor our builder suggested we put plywood under the tiles. Is this a good idea and will it work with our underfloor heating? You shouldn’t apply tile directly to a plywood subfloor. No matter how firm the subfloor the plywood will naturally expand and contract at a different rate as the tile, causing cracks to develop in the grout lines or tiles over time. The level your tiles will need to match is likely to be 20mm, as engineered wood underlay is usually 2mm thick. On the side of the tiles, I’d advise to firstly brush apply a diluted primer (1:2 ratio depending on the porosity of the concrete) on the concrete surface. Then level the floor with a fibre leveller, which is a single part floor leveller with added fibres for increased strength and flexibility that can be used on most interior

floor surfaces, from timber to sand:cement screeds. The fibre leveller can be laid at depths of 3mm up to 60mm in one application and is ideal for use with underfloor and undertile heating systems. The tiles should then be embedded in a suitable floor tile adhesive (rapid-setting, semi-pourable, thick-bed). Mixed with clean water, the floor adhesive can fix large format, fully vitrified floor tiles including porcelain and natural stone. The thickness of the tile adhesive will be subject to the size of the tile. This depth could range from 4mm to 7mm. In this example a 4mm adhesive bed will require a 6mm buildup of floor leveller, while a 7mm adhesive bed (large format) will require a 3mm build-up of floor leveller. As usual you need to ensure that all substrates are clean, dry, sound/ solid and flat before any treatment or tiling commences. Pamela Murphy halotiles.ie



DIY jobs will often use an angle grinder to cut tiles, with a diamond blade. The proper use of safety glasses is a must, also make sure the grinder disc is securely tightened.

a stable base. The idea is that, when walking across the floor, no vibration or movement should be felt to crack the grout or even worse, the tiles. When dealing with an uneven wall, it might be advisable to call a professional depending on the severity of the problem. If itâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s only a slight discrepancy, you can build out the adhesive to level up that particular tile but this can be tricky to do.


Laying tiles

Tiles are fixed to the floor or wall using a tile adhesive. This normally comes in a bucket or tub and is applied to the floor/wall with a trowel. The trick is to apply only to a small area as it can set quickly and go off. Apply the adhesive and using a tiling trowel, hold the trowel at approximately 45deg to the floor/wall and spread the adhesive. A tiling trowel has notched teeth on the edge. (Photo 1) This allows for all tiles to receive the same thickness of adhesive so they are uniform and level. When the adhesive is 120 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

applied, place the tile into position and apply a bit of pressure to allow the adhesive to stick. When laying the next tile, use a spacer to separate them. A spacer allows for a layer of grout to be placed in between the tiles. Grout stops the tiles from chipping off one another due to expansion and movement. Spacers come in various thicknesses and provide a consistent gap. (Photo 2)


Grout is a decorative material that is made up of coloured


pigments and cement and is inserted into the spaces between the tiles. It serves a number of purposes. It adds to the structural stability, keeps out water or any splashes and gives the floor/ wall a finished look. It is available in a number of different colours depending on the colour of your chosen tiles. The gaps between the tiles should be first cleaned out as best you can and hoovered if possible. Add water to the grout mix and apply into the gaps using a rubber float. (Photo 3) The grout is left proud. When


the grout is just starting to go hard and dry, use a sponge to wipe the residue off. This leaves the grout only in the gaps between the tiles and cleans it off the face of the tiles. This may have to be done several times to remove all the residue off the tiles. For your specific project, learn from others and also get advice from suppliers and manufacturers. As for style, plenty of inspiration can be found from showrooms, online and brochures. So go on, have a go and see what beautiful creations you can produce yourself.

Head Office: No. 4 Drumbrughas Ave, Drumbrughas North, Lisnaskea, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland, BT92 0QQ T: 028 (048) 677 22217 F: 028 (048) 677 21713 E: sales@cadconi.com W: www.cadconi.com Cork: T: 02 1421 2023 Dublin: T: 01 885 3801


PVC Rainwater Systems


At Choice Heating Solutions we will help you make the best choice for your individual heating needs, from our award winning range of boilers. We are committed to keeping you warm & comfortable whilst providing you with safe, cost saving & environmentally friendly alternatives, including design, supply & installation.

Choice Heating Solutions Complete Alternative Heating Solutions Including Design, Supply & Installation Coolymurraghue, Kerrypike, Co. Cork, Ireland Tel: 00353 87 2754012 Email: choiceheating@eircom.net Contact: Bill Moloney

Underground & Drainage Plumbing & Insulation PVC Plasterbeads Aluminium Systems

www.cadconi.com Depots in Fermanagh, Dublin and Cork

www.choiceheatingsolutions.com Alternative Heating & Cooling Ltd. Heatpump and Underfloor Heating Systems

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

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

This is a low carbon home with an external wall U-Value of 0.13, built in Newcastle, Co. Down. The external facade has been finished in Cedar Cladding.


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

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

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

Find out more today; Perfect Water 063-89290 Laois | Aqua Treatment 087-2580318 Cork | Perfect Water Systems 063-89290 Dublin | Perfect Water 1890 989098

Kilbroney Timberframe, Valley Business Park, 48 Newtown Road, Rostrevor, Co. Down, N. Ireland. BT34 3DA T: (028) 4173 9077 F: (028) 4173 9933 E: info@kilbroneytimberframe.com



New house, new baby The only thing that changed in the house since Ann and Andrew Healy moved in 14 years ago is the family makeup. Words: Astrid Madsen


hen Ann and Andrew tackled this refurbishment project, it was for a family of four with a master suite, a bedroom for each of their two boys and another one for guests. “We unexpectedly welcomed a new member to the family a few years after we moved in, which is when we realised we could’ve done with an extra bedroom,” says Ann, who has a feeling the unexpected new arrival had something to do with the ‘new house new baby’ syndrome. Their architect, perhaps more in the know that the couple themselves, advised them to futureproof the games room,



just in case they might need an additional bedroom. “It would be very easy to divide the playroom in half, there’s a provision to add a partition and all the sockets and lighting fixtures are already in place to accommodate the change. But the space works so well for us we never went through with it. The size is great and it was getting a lot of use.” “So for a while we just had to shuffle children around when people were staying over, but we managed,” says Ann. “One of the boys has since moved out, that’s now the guest bedroom. The other is in uni and still has a claim to his bedroom, and our little girl will be with us for a while still.” This shift got them to thinking of their evolving family needs. Ann had at one stage contemplated renovating an outbuilding for an older relative to stay but this didn’t come to pass. “Who knows, when the time comes we may downsize to a refurbished outhouse and leave the main house to one of the children. But that’s a long way away and we’re not thinking about it yet,” she says.

Magic wand

Despite the reduction in the number of family members living full time in the house, Ann would like to change the size of the kitchen. “We thought we were building a big kitchen but as we spend all of our time in there, and as the family has grown, I would have liked it to be even bigger. If I were to extend the house, I’d put in a huge kitchen,” laughs Ann.

‘No matter which side of the house I look at I love. It’s a unique home. There’s not another one like it.'

“There are other items on the to-do list and we probably should prioritise them like re-roofing one of the stone outbuildings before we extend the house.” Everyday things that she might change, with a magic wand in hand, include perhaps a light bulb positioning here and there, and having underfloor heating in a small corridor and toilet downstairs. “The ground floor is lovely and warm underfoot but the corridor and toilet, which is in what used to be the barn, didn’t have underfloor heating in the original plans. However as as there were some changes to the plans as the project progressed we could have had underfloor heating there.” Would she consider another self-build? “I have no intention of self-building again but I definitely would give it another stab

if we had to leave this house. The main piece of advice I’d give is either make sure you know what you’re doing or hire someone who does. Our architect Jane Burnside definitely saved us money by acting as project manager.” “For instance we ended up having to knock down the barn to rebuild it and the estimate originally came in higher than the original plan, which was to refurbish it. We thought fair enough, it should cost more to build new. But apparently, in this case, it didn’t. Thankfully our architect set the record straight and the price was revised downwards.” So what’s the final verdict? “After 14 years living in the house, I think it still has the ‘wow’ factor. I love how it looks, the views, everything about it. No matter which side of the house I look at I love. It’s a unique home. There’s not another one like it. Thanks to Jane.” A new build and refurbishment project, tailor-made for life.




The house in 2003

Straw bale livin’ When you build a home for life, you generally tend to hang on to it. That’s because you not only get what you want, you’re intrinsically connected to the ‘bricks and mortar’, which in this instance, consist of straw bale and timber. Words: Astrid Madsen


he house was built as a family home and that hasn’t changed,” explains Richie who embarked on his self-build adventure with wife Linda in 2001. “The house hasn’t changed either. The only difference now is that the meditation room has been turned into a homework room and the playroom is now our sewing room.” The straw bale house was designed by an architect but the process was entirely driven by Linda and Richie. Their designer encouraged them to consult A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander to 124 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

help with the design process. They were also advised to draw the house in sand, to the exact dimensions, to move from room to room, and make a scale model in balsa wood for a 3D walk-through. “The surprising thing is that a design feature takes about two seconds to draw on a piece of paper, yet it’s incredibly time consuming to get it built,” adds Richie. “Our eyebrow window was designed with a twist of the wrist but it took us five weeks to get the timberwork right. At the time of building I was cursing myself but now I can’t imagine the house without it. I’m very pleased with how it turned out.” Richie had gained experience building

‘A design feature takes about two seconds to draw on a piece of paper, yet it’s incredibly time consuming to get it built.'


with straw bale in California and had his architect help with orientation. Angling the house to make the most of the sun is an important aspect in all builds but crucial to the success of a straw bale house. This personalised approach paid off as now the couple can’t think of anything they would alter. Preparation also pays dividends on site, with the couple building their home in just five and a half months. “We started in the summer and moved in December 2001,” says Richie. “Both Linda and I took time off to work on the house, physically but also as project managers, seven days a week.” “It was important to be there to make sure the tradesmen had what they needed and to coordinate all activities. Tradesmen are known to say they need to go pick something up in the hardware store and not come back, so we’d get it for them, whatever it was. We kept on top of every aspect.”

All moved in

Despite loving his house, Richie did find himself wondering about the next self-build. “I considered selling when property prices went through the roof,” he confides. “We got a good offer but the family said no way. So we’re still here and enjoying the house as much as we did when we first moved in.” “But it’s a lot like when people have a great view, after maybe seven or eight years they start taking it for granted. That’s what happened with us, people will walk in and say ‘wow’ but to us, it’s simply the family home,” adds Richie. One change had to do with the colour of the render. “The original colour on the house was ferric sulphate mixed with lime The house in 2017

The fireplace now has a stove

wash which is a very inexpensive coating, approximately €25 to coat the whole house,” says Richie. “The current colour is earth pigments I picked up mixed with lime wash.” So how is it working out? “It’s incredibly comfortable and we’ve had zero issues with the walls – not a single hairline crack on any of the plaster. The straw bale walls are lime rendered inside and out and painted with clay paint on the inside, which regulates moisture, retains heat and has an ability to block electromagnetic fields, a feature which anyone who suffers from headaches will appreciate.” The geothermal heat pump with underfloor heating is only on during the colder months and costs about €1 a day to run, continues Richie. “One change we did make was to add a stove to the large

fireplace – even though we have a nice constant temperature with the underfloor heating, we wanted to get a boost in the living room, for the evening time. We got the smallest one we could (6kW) but even at that, it can get too hot. Still, it’s nice to have a fire.” Richie says if he were to do it again he would install solar thermal panels. “I would love to get them installed one of these days. At the time they were just too expensive.” As for his favourite feature, it’s the location of the kitchen. “To leave the house in the morning you have to pass through the kitchen, which is a great way to make sure you grab something on your way out. It’s an asset to family life. When we were living in San Francisco I’d rush out the door and not eat.” The hallway leads to the open plan kitchen, living and dining area, which is also where the staircase is located. “There are three degrees of privacy in the house – if a salesman comes calling at the door I can entertain on the porch which is sheltered, then there’s the hallway which is fine for a quick chat. The kitchen is where I’d invite someone to have a cup of tea.” The only downside Richie can think of is the cost of home insurance, the insurer considers the straw bale house a thatched home. “We’re paying an insurance premium on the house, even though it has a two-hour fire rating,” adds Richie. Looking back, Richie says the best decision he made was moving back to Ireland and deciding to build a house. “Having the kids grow up around family and friends is a huge asset. It’s really important to us, we’re delighted we made the move,” he beams. WINTER 2017 / SELFBUILD / 125

Selfbuild Cork


11th-12th NOV 2017

The GO TO resource for anyone building new, extending or renovating in any of the 32 counties of Ireland. Visit us in Dublin, Cork and Belfast for an unrivalled interactive experience: chat with independent experts, meet those at the coalface of turning your dreams turn into reality, and immerse yourself in the latest technologies.

KITCHENS BATHROOMS INTERIORS BUILD EXTENSIONS RENOVATIONS IMPROVEMENTS... l Kitchen Design Clinics l Bathroom Design Clinics l Garden Design Clinics l Interior Design Clinics

l Resident Experts l Construction Expert Talks l Home Style Talks l Selfbuild Advice Talks

This past year we hosted... 40k Visitors / 9 Theatres / 480+ Exhibitors / 45+ Seminars / 55+ Talks





In a flash


Fire may have been on top of people’s minds these days, but water damage is yet another risk we’ve had to contend with in recent times with the Donegal floods. Claims Assist Ireland claimsassistireland.ie


Did you know...


Due to global warming, sea levels and major storms, you’re more likely to experience a flood than you are to be burgled.


Flooded house, west coast of Ireland


n the past few decades flooding has become a significant concern, and local authorities in conjunction with government departments have been working hard to identify the catchment areas at risk, devise and carry out the plans to protect them. But as a homeowner there are things you too can do to protect yourself. When it comes to floods there are actually three types, all of which are equally disruptive but do have different impacts in terms of their origin, the damages they likely cause and how they’re forecast. First is the coastal or surge flood, one of the most common in places that border an ocean or large body of water. Fluvial or river flooding, meanwhile, is the result of excessive rainfall, snowfall or ice jams causing rivers to break their banks. With

rivers often running inland (often through towns), this type of flooding can affect almost any area of a country where there is a river present. Finally pluvial or surface floods are also caused by heavy rainfall but you don’t need to be near an open body of water to be affected. There are two main types, the first has to do with intense rain overwhelming drainage systems and excess water slowly rising to street level, causing floods. The other type usually occurs on hillsides, where the ground becomes too saturated and can’t hold any more water, so the excess rain runs downhill. Pluvial flooding is usually experienced alongside coastal or fluvial flooding, and even though the standing water can sometimes be as shallow as a few centimetres, it can cause major damage to structures and homes. The severity of any 

River flooding is the most common flood event to happen in Ireland.

3 4 5

40 per cent of businesses affected by flooding never re-open.

Around 300 parts of ROI need mitigation measures due to being built on floodplains. It cost around €8 million to clean up the January 2016 floods and 37 major flood relief schemes are currently underway in ROI.



‘The most commonly used flood defence for homes, sand bags are effective and temporary, designed to stop water until it has drained away to a level that is no longer a threat...'

flood is determined by factors including strength, speed and size, as well as the direction it is heading in.

Floodproofing your home

If you’ve been warned about flooding or you’ve noticed the rain gradually getting heavier and the river swelling, then you best start preparing. Early precautions could be the difference between your home staying relatively dry and turning into a swimming pool.

Flood barriers

Flood barriers come in all shapes and sizes, on a larger scale they can be deployed in seas and rivers to control the flow of water. The idea is to keep the water at bay and preventing it from entering your home through windows, doors, air vents and basically any other point of entry it can find. Whilst flood barriers might not keep

deployment, meaning hopefully even when caught by surprise you’ll be able to minimise potential damages. l Reinforced concrete wall This is a permanent structure strong enough to hold any water and debris at bay, keeping your home dry and safe. They are however, not guaranteed to work due to them being built to certain heights. You can expect prices to range from £100 - £1,000 (€115 - €1,150) or potentially more. l Water-gate flood barrier A temporary option that’s been used by the US army to help combat flooding. You can however get permanent ones that deploy automatically. They’re often made of aluminium with a rubber jacket to seal openings and use the weight of the flood to keep the water out. They’re rapiddeployment in that they take a moment’s notice to install. This option of flood defence is pricey, ranging anywhere from £500 to £2,000 (€575 -€2,300).


your home bone dry, they certainly will provide you with some extra protection. There are three common types: l Sand bags The most commonly used flood defence for homes, sand bags are effective and temporary, designed to stop water until it has drained away to a level that is no longer a threat. Your local council will sometimes provide you with sandbags but in situations where they do not, you can buy your own for anything from £5 to £7 (€6 - €8) for a pack of 10. You can also purchase a sandhopper, which allows you to fill your sandbags for quicker 128 / SELFBUILD / WINTER 2017

Steer clear of any electrics during a flood as they represent the second largest risk to life after the water itself. If you catch the flood early, you can take precautions to keep everyone safe, by turning off all electrics within the home and move electrics out of harm’s way. You can also aim to protect sockets by using plug protectors/covers to keep water from entering them. You should never turn the electrics back on until you have been advised it is safe to do by your electric company. Water damaged electrics can cost thousands to fix.

What should you do if flooding happens? During a flood, we’re at the mercy of nature but there are ways to protect ourselves even then. During and after the fact, it’s a good idea to have all the numbers you’re going to need in order to sort the mess out. Contacting your local authority is an excellent starting point but here are the


other numbers you should be aware of. l Emergency services: The emergency services will be out in full force aiming to help everyone they can, but should you find yourself in an emergency (danger to life, risk of serious injury etc.) you can call them on 112 or 999. l Electricity supplier: In NI call Northern Ireland Electricity on 03457 643 643, ROI call ESB Networks on 1850 372 757. l Gas supplier: In ROI contact Gas Networks Ireland 1850 20 50 50 (24hr emergency service), the NI emergency line for gas is 0800 002 001.

defeated. Get straight to work on cleaning up the mess and hopefully saving some money in the process. l Protective clothing Floodwater is very unclean, carrying potentially dangerous germs and other hazards. While you are cleaning up after flooding you should aim to wear rubber gloves, eye protection and any other safety precautions you think may be necessary. All clothing that has come into contact with floodwater should be washed thoroughly at 60 degC with detergent.

Wikimedia Commons

l Rubbish and damaged goods While it might be tempting to just throw your rubbish out onto the streets where it will float away, you’re adding to the problem. Keep it, bag it and bin it. Your council may arrange for skips or collections to help out. Note that the ROI’s Office of Public Works has put in place a Voluntary Homeowners’ Relocation Scheme for people whose home was flooded, significantly damaged and made uninhabitable during the major floods from 4 December 2015 to 13 January 2016. It provides financial assistance to buy or build a new home, including relocation costs. The recent floods in Donegal (August 2017), which is believed to have damaged 400 homes, saw families given €150 per person from the Department of Social Protection to help cover emergency costs such as clothing and food.


New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina: Couple in protective gear in front of formerly flooded, now mould infested, home they are salvaging posessions from.

l Water supplier: In NI Northern Ireland Water can be reached on 03457 440 088, in ROI it’s Irish Water on 1850 778 778. l Report Potential Flooding: In NI you can report flooding to the Flooding Incident line on 0300 2000 100.

After the fact

After a flood, your insurance company will advise what they will cover. If the damage is not extensive, you may be able to complete the work yourself but if you’re unsure on how to, contact a professional. If despite your best efforts nature still came out on top and you find your home now filled with dirty water and most of your belongings damaged, don’t hang

Removing water from your property is one of the hardest tasks after a flood. If you have a floor below ground (basements etc) they can often become full with water and removing this with a few buckets is going to be a challenge. While the water sits, it can slowly deteriorate and damage the strength of the structure of your home. Investing in a flood pump will help with this process by removing water quickly, potentially saving you from the extensive costs of rebuilding damaged walls and structures. Flood pumps can be expensive, but if your area is often hit by floods then it could be a wise investment, with pumps ranging from £100 to £300 (€110 to €350) and upwards depending on size and model. You can also rent them through local hire companies.


The aftermath Everything in your home is likely to be waterlogged, from furniture to cupboards and everything in between. It’s best to start drying out as soon as possible. l What should you use The best way to dry out your home is to use your central heating system (provided it is safe to turn your gas back on), dehumidifiers (these remove moisture from the air) and open doors and windows (this will create a proper airflow throughout your home). Do not use generators indoors. Diesel and petrol generators are effective but produce carbon monoxide which when confined to a small space like your home can be potentially fatal. l Water damaged walls They hold your house up and will likely seem fine after the water has gone and you’ve started drying everything out but you should have someone come and check to ensure they are safe. Water damaged walls are a potentially lethal hazard if left untreated as the water weakens the structure of your supports. You must, however, ensure that all walls are dried out before attempting to restore them. l Insulation Insulation within your walls will hold moisture even after you think you’ve dried everything out, it will take months to dry completely and can start creating mould and odour issues. Get an inspection done and replace where necessary.

Additional information: lion-trading.co.uk




Electric cars and PV roof slates may be all the rage but there are other tech advances that are poised to revolutionise the home.

Must read

The Frame TV

The TV no longer needs to be an eyesore...

You’ve been hacked! Samsung’s Yve s Beha r-designed ‘The Fra me’ TV samsung.com

Auto-laundry A pattern language If you want to learn all about the process of designing just about anything, there’ll need to be a method to the creativeness. This timeless classic is a reference for anyone involved in design, be it urban planning or house building, as it will arm you with the cognitive tools necessary to find individual solutions to your particular project.

Who doesn’t dream of chucking their laundry into a machine to find it cleaned, dried and folded at the other end? Dream no more, the Sustainable Maintainer is upon us… although not yet for sale. A large appliance with robotic arm does all the work, it scans the label for composition and washing instructions, analyses how dirty the item is, implements the best laundering process, dries it and folds it into a neat shelf for dispatch (pictured).

stainable M Panasonic’s Su m panasonic.co

A pattern language by Christopher Alexander et al., 1977, Oxford University Press

Fridge camera

The New Scientist reveals voice assistants such as Siri and Alexa have been successfully hijacked by university students who used sounds above the range of human hearing. Once in, hackers were able to make phone calls, post on social media and disconnect wireless services, among other things. newscientist.com



With smart refrigerators still not within the reach of most people’s budgets, running in the thousands of pounds/ euros, in comes a product that delivers on one of the most attractive smart fridge features. The FridgeCam, at just £99, is a wireless camera that allows you to see what’s inside the fridge and helps you keep track of expiry dates from your smart phone.


Profile for Selfbuild Ireland Ltd.

Selfbuild Winter 2017  

Selfbuild Winter 2017  

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded