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SPRING 2018 £3.50 / €3.75

Dream it . Do it . Live it


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ISSN 2515-5369







Welcome... 2018 could be a pivotal year for the self-build sector – that’s if two initiatives see lift off. In the Republic of Ireland (ROI) we’re hoping to witness the establishment of a Building Control Authority which would presumably result in local authority inspectors overseeing the key stages of construction, on all building sites. Self-builders would greatly benefit from getting advice, on site, from an official interpreter of the Building Regulations. However the private member’s bill, expected to be published early in 2018, may not necessarily be passed by the Oireachtas as the government continues to support a self-certification Staircase design system. The right staircase In Northern Ireland (NI), meanwhile, we’d love to for your home see the Right to Build being brought to our shores – it’s a UK government policy that puts the onus on local authorities to ensure there are sufficient plots with planning permission to meet local demand. Roofing guide to design Plans are afoot to roll it out in NI but due to the Yourand maintenance high number of self-builders already busy building their own homes, significant movement seems unlikely. At a grassroots level, we could still see some form of community model emerge, whereby costs Passive house are shared by self-builders. A recent example is Grá revisited Tog which is seeking crowd funding. Switching from wood pellet


Financial help when building or renovating.

boiler to heat pump

With Selfbuild. Dream it. Do it. Live it. Astrid Madsen - Editor

Follow the Selfbuild community: SPRING 2018 / 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 refer to 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


Find out what incentives are available when building or renovating in Ireland.


The lowdown on roof design, types and methods



A low energy build entirely project managed by homeowner Peter Williams, who shares his tips and insights.

INSIDE TRACK A premium section showcasing the latest news, thoughts and trends from the companies that can help you turn your self-build and home improvement dreams into reality.

21 INSIDER NEWS: Product and industry news in the world of building and home improving.

66 MEET THE BROADBAND INSTALLERS: Open Reach advises you to cable your home for Ultrafast Fibre Broadband now, even if you’re not currently in a high speed area.

81 MEET THE SYSTEMS ENGINEERS: Beam Vacuum & Ventilation experts share their insights on healthy homes.

94 INSIDE THE BATHLINE SHOWROOMS: Builder’s merchant Haldane Fisher unveil their exciting bathroom range in this exclusive profile.

102 INSIDE THE HONE HOUSE: Find out how the HONE house, an average semi-d, was upgraded from an E to an A2 with cutting edge technology.


The ups and downs of designing and commissioning a staircase.


The DIY alternatives to on site packaged wastewater treatment systems.





A contemporary take on the vernacular in Co Westmeath, built to passive house standards.

You don’t always need to extend to give your home a facelift; for Malcom and Siobhan Humphries of Co Antrim all it took was a kitchen revamp.


Debbie Lee and Roger Conroy of Co Wicklow are enjoying their garden a lot more now that they reduced it in size.


The superstitions and community spirit behind the design and construction of traditional Irish cottages.


Will robo brickies and drone deliveries dominate self-builds in the future?


Co Down architect Micah Jones shares his thoughts on what makes his home, as featured on Grand Designs, truly sustainable.

90 POETIC POTENTIAL 109 INSIDE THE CEDRAL FIBRE Shane Cotter and Kathryn Wilson’s CEMENT HOUSE: Find out how Cedral Co Wicklow practice Architectural Farm Click and Cedral Lap cladding can add style and individuality to your property.

The top 10 things to remember before embarking on your self-build adventure.

talk about injecting more fun into home building projects.

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. This issue some thoughts on glazing and LED bulbs.


A yearly checklist to help you care for your roof.


How to organise the space below your stairs.


Experts tips on successfully sowing seeds this spring.


Find out what changes were made to the first passive-house certified self-build, constructed over 10 years ago in Co Wicklow.


A low maintenance garden is one that’s easy to water, our guide shows you how.


How to declutter before embarking on an extension or renovation project.


Bioconstruction materials and a look at the first ‘biological’ house. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 07




Selfbuild Dream it . Do it . Live it


SPRING 2018 £3.50 / €3.75


Marion McGarry

Féidhlim is the director of FH Wetland Systems based in Ennis, Co Clare, as well as the author of Septic Tank Options and Alternatives (2014) and Permaculture Guide to Reed Beds (2017), both published by Permanent Publications. tel. 065 6797355 /

Christophe is a building engineer and member of CABE, CIAT and the CIOB. He runs his own practice from Dublin 20. tel. 016208135 /

Dr Marion McGarry is an author, historian, part-time Galway Mayo Insititute of Technology lecturer and freelance illustrator. She is the author of The Irish Cottage – History, Culture and Design (2017) published by Orpen Press. @marion_mcgarry


ISSN 2515-5369

Christophe Krief

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Féidhlim Harty


Cover Photo Micah T Jones Editor Astrid Madsen Design Myles McCann Shannon Quinn

John Morehead

Fiann Ó Nualláin

Paul O’Reilly

John is the managing director of Co Cork practice Wain Morehead Architects. He’s a certified passive house designer, WUFI user and a member of the RIAI. / tel. 021 230 7150

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

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

Marketing Calum Lennon Subscriptions Becca.Wilgar Advertising Sales David Corry Nicola Delacour-Dunne Leanne Kernohan Lisa Killen

Sarah Reynolds

Andrew Stanway

Tanguy de Toulgoët

Sarah is a professional organiser, author and broadcaster. She runs Organised Chaos, a decluttering and organisation service for residential and corporate clients throughout Ireland, and just released her first book Organised published by Gill Books.

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.

Tanguy started gardening at the age of 10 and now runs well attended gardening courses at the Dunmore Country School. / ROI mobile 087 125 8002

Come meet the experts! Our next exhibition is in the TEC Belfast from 16-18 February 2018, see page 122 for more. NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0, ROI calling NI prefix with 048 Patrick Waterfield Patrick is an engineer and energy consultant based in Belfast. tel. 906 41241 /

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 /


Maria Varela Accounts Karen Kelly Sales Director Mark Duffin Managing Director Brian Corry Chairman Clive Corry Distribution EM News Distribution Ltd The publishers cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions nor for the accuracy of information reproduced. Where opinions may be given, these are personal and based upon the best information to hand. At all times readers are advised to seek the appropriate professional advice. Copyright: all rights reserved.

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

Self-building activity on upward trend THE LEVEL OF HOUSE BUILDING for privately funded homes in NI increased in the second quarter of 2017 to reach levels not seen since 2010, according to the latest figures released by the Land & Property Services division of the NI Department of Finance. More than 2,000 new dwelling starts were recorded between April and June 2017, a figure that includes speculative development such as housing estates. From July 2016 to June 2017 a total of 7,051 new homes broke ground in NI. Figures in ROI are more up to date; from October 2016 to September 2017 a total of 4,646 commencement notices for one-off houses were filed. However the NI and ROI figures are not directly comparable as data specific to self-builds is not available for NI (the NI figure includes speculative development). Also, the figures still fall short of the highs of 2004 to 2007 which saw over 14,000 new privately funded homes in NI breaking ground per year at the peak, and 19,000 in ROI.

Changes to stamp duty STAMP DUTY IN ROI was increased for those buying land to build their house, from 2 per cent before October 11 2017, to 6 per cent. Stamp duty is the tax paid on property transactions (for land and/or a house). A refund scheme is in place but at the time of going to print the details had yet to be made clear. In NI, meanwhile, up until the end of March first-time buyers purchasing property costing up to £500,000 will no longer have to pay stamp duty on the first £300,000. First time buyers in NI already do not pay stamp duty on homes costing up to £125,000 so the move only benefits those buying a house for the first time priced between £125,001 and £500,000. First-time buyer properties costing above £500,000 will continue to pay the 5 per cent stamp duty rate.

Construction sites in 20 years’ time on pg 72

Homes to be fitted with e-car charging points THE CONNECTED HOME IS ONE STEP CLOSER to becoming a reality, thanks to a push by the UK government to introduce e-charging points on all newly built homes and a grant of €600 now available to ROI homeowners who wish to do so now. The new ROI grant for installing an e-charging point in the home can go towards paying 100 per cent of the total investment, including the charger and installation costs, however media reports indicated the charging points were worth €900 two years ago. The grant is administered by the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) and is open to people who bought both new and second-hand electric vehicles as of the 1st of January 2018. There are over 3,500 electric vehicles currently in ROI. The UK budget stated that it would “make sure all new

homes are built with the right cables for electric car charge points.” In NI grants of up to £5,000 are already available to buy a new electric car. Electric vehicles are also exempt from motor tax and the vehicle registration tax is £55 for all new car registrations.  The move comes as the ROI budget in October only announced e-car supports

for company-owned vehicles. Currently in ROI homeowners can however avail of a grant worth up to €5,000 to buy an electric car. VRT is paid whenever a car is registered for the first time in ROI; relief for electric vehicles is in place until the end of 2021. Motor Tax for an electric vehicle is €120 per year. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 09


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

First self-build to get environmental certification A project designed in Co Cork is the first self-build or one-off house in Ireland to be certified by the Home Performance Index (HPI), achieving a Gold label for environmental performance. THE CERTIFICATION PROGRAMME is run by the Irish Green Building Council (IGBC) and it rates buildings for not only energy efficiency and low running costs but for access to amenities, indoor air quality, the ecological impact of the development, options for transportation, and the impact of the construction materials used. There have been other attempts to put together similar certification schemes in Ireland, often referred to as Building Environmental Assessment Methods, but this is the first house to be fully certified by such an Irish-grown programme. The HPI allows several levels of achievement based on good, better and best practice. The award of the certificate is based on the overall attainment across all categories. There are three levels of certification: certified, silver and gold. The Co Cork house which was awarded HPI gold certification also has an A1 Building Energy Rating and is Passive House certified. It was designed to have exemplary levels of water efficiency and should use up to 85 per cent less than a typical home based on standardised usage. The IGBC is also in the process of developing a lifecycle assessment certification system to provide transparent information on how environmentally damaging the construction products you choose for your project actually are. The methodology produces an Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) outlining the manufacturing process, lifetime behaviour and end-of-life impacts. Lifecycle assessments form part of most Building Environmental Assessment Methods.

‘The Co Cork house which was awarded HPI gold certification also has an A1  Building Energy Rating and is Passive House certified.’ SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 11


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

Building regulations ROI The ROI building regulations are currently under review to make nearly zero energy buildings (nZEB) mandatory for all new builds by 2020. THE CHANGES, SELFBUILD UNDERSTANDS, are expected to make whole house mechanical ventilation a requirement for selfbuilds. The details of the new energy efficiency (Part L) and ventilation (Part F) Technical Guidance Documents are expected to be published in draft form in the first quarter of 2018 as part of the public consultation process. The public consultation period is expected to last two months and the department hopes to finalise the legislation within six months. The current version of Part L, in place since 2011, on average achieves a Building Energy Rating (BER) of A3. Between 2015 and 2017, 94 per cent of all new builds achieved an A on the building energy scale. This next round of Part L is expected to aim for a BER of A2. The most significant changes to Part L will therefore have to do with increasing the airtightness requirements for new builds. Selfbuild understands they will be tightened up from the current 7m3/hr.sqm at 50 Pa to a more commonly achieved figure, on site, of 3 to 4m3/hr.sqm. Another important aspect is setting a requirement to calculate thermal bridging; default values are acceptable in current regulations. The renewables component may be tightened up too. At the moment a Part L compliant house can include fossil fuel sources but must have at least one renewable source of energy, e.g. solar thermal panels. The new regulations may for instance require more contribution from renewables. Examples of renewable technology include heat pumps, biomass and microgeneration (on-site electricity production). The ROI feed-in-tariff regime however does not apply to selfbuilds which means you can’t get


New ROI contract forms The standard form of construction contract in ROI, the RIAI’s Building Contract Yellow and Blue Forms, have been updated to reflect changes in law and practice since the publication of the 2012 edition. Changes relate to technological advances, including BIM and safe use of data, and regulatory control requirements among others. The contracts are sold in pairs for €59.04,

The public consultation period is expected to last two months and the department hopes to finalise the legislation within six months.

paid for the electricity you might want to feed into the grid. In NI the incentive that was in place (renewable obligation certificates) was phased out last year but feed-in-tariffs still exist (you can still get paid for the electricity you export).


The knock-on effects of increasing the airtightness requirement will be tackled in the public consultation for Part F to deal with indoor air quality and ventilation. Poor indoor air quality can lead to health problems,

especially respiratory conditions. Part F currently makes provisions for natural ventilation, which in practice consists of introducing a set number of holes-in-the-wall or vents in windows. This method has been criticised by design professionals because it tends to lead to draughts (and to subsequent blocking up of vents by occupants) and does not always ventilate to the level required at all times, especially in bedrooms which need more ventilation at night.


As previously covered by Selfbuild, the new building regulations will also require that renovation projects comply to nearly zero energy requirements. There will be two ways for renovators who upgrade 25 per cent or more of their building fabric to prove compliance with the new Part L. The method will be in line with how commercial buildings can prove compliance, by either opting for a menu of options or achieving a set standard such as achieving a value on the Building Energy Rating scale.  The level of energy efficiency required for buildings undergoing significant renovation will depend on a cost benefit analysis that has yet to be published. The department’s latest costbenefit analysis dates back to 2013 and at the time it indicated that achieving a B3 was cost effective but it is possible that the new study will recommend a better performing figure as low energy products have now become mainstream. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 13

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

Grants for turf cutters and private wells As previously covered by Selfbuild, the government is looking at amending the Turf Cutting Compensation Scheme with a view to reducing the need for it. IN THIS CONTEXT, a new energy efficiency grant is being introduced on a pilot basis offering 50 per cent financial support to families who want to invest in energy efficiency improvements that would bring their home up to a Building Energy Rating of A3. In practical terms, this will mean investing in measures such as external wall insulation, windows, doors and renewable

energy heating systems, such as heat pumps. This new pilot scheme announced by Minister Naughten involves his Department and the National Parks and Wildlife Service at the Department of Culture, Heritage and Gaeltacht as well as Bord na Móna. Six bogs have been identified where all families with rights to this bog will receive an offer

of a tailored package of energy efficiency improvements with significant state supports. The Department of Energy added that Irish Rural Link is liaising with families in the areas in question and public workshops on the scheme started in January 2018. Grants for private wells are also on the way, the Department said, with details to be published in the first quarter of 2018.

Shops to be converted into homes without planning permission ROI MINISTER FOR HOUSING EOGHAN MURPHY announced plans to exempt commercial premises from seeking planning permission to convert shops, and ‘over the shop’ spaces, from commercial to residential use, although further deliberations are necessary before the draft regulations are approved. Currently you must secure planning permission to convert premises from commercial to residential. Similar moves are afoot in NI with the UK budget announcing that there will be no need to secure planning permission (under a permitted development right) to demolish commercial buildings and replace them with homes. Policy changes will also be introduced in NI to support the conversion of empty space above high street shops and to make it easier to convert retail and employment land into housing. 16 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

In brief Water companies in the UK have admitted they are still using divining rods to detect leaks despite the lack of scientific evidence for its effectiveness, reports The Guardian. Only one, Wessex Water, said it did not use the technique, and one, Northern Ireland Water had not replied. The other nine confirmed the practice was still used in some form in their areas. According to Eurostat almost a quarter of ROI households’ spending (23.3 per cent) goes towards housing and energy, up from 19.5 per cent in 2006. ROI also has the fourth highest electricity prices in the EU. ROI house price rises will cool this year, especially in Dublin, as banks hit the limit on money they can lend outside of the current mortgage lending rules, stockbroking firm Davy told the Irish Times. Lending rules allow only 20 per cent of new mortgage loans to exceed the current loan-to-income regulatory threshold, which limits people to borrowing 3.5 times their income. Central Bank data shows that 18 per cent of new mortgage loans exceeded this threshold in the first half of 2017, up from 13 per cent in 2016. 16 per cent of all deaths worldwide are due to pollution, according to Richard Fuller, co-chair of the Lancet Commission on Pollution and Health speaking at the Clean Air Forum in Paris this past November.

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

Heat pump renovation grants available from April HOMEOWNERS IN ROI WILL, as of April 2018, qualify for a €3,500 grant to install a heat pump but will no longer be eligible for a grant to replace their fossil fuel boiler. Grants for heating control upgrades and external wall insulation are also being increased with changes taking effect in January 2018. The measures introduced by ROI Minister Naughten aim to ensure energy efficiency subsidies move away from fossil fuels.The grants are part of the Better Energy Homes scheme and only apply to homes built pre-2006. 2017 grants

New grants €3,500

Heat pump (air to water, ground – source, water source, exhaust air) Heat pump (air to air) – Heating controls €600 Boiler upgrade with heating controls €700 External wall insulation Detached €4,500 Semi-detached or end of terrace €3,400 Mid terrace or apartment €2,250

€600 €700 – €6,000 €4,500 €2,750

Septic tanks fail inspections More septic tanks failed government inspections in 2016 than in 2015, according to the ROI Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) review of the National Inspection Plan for Domestic Waste Water Treatment Systems. THE REPORT SHOWS that 49 per cent of  septic tanks failed inspection in 2016, up from 45 per cent in 2015. Most of the failures were due to a lack of proper operation and maintenance with a quarter of septic tanks failing due to owners not removing sludge build-up from their tanks. Homeowners are responsible for ensuring all parts of their onsite wastewater treatment system are performing as they should.  Also concerning was the fact that half the sites with a septic tank and a private drinking water well onsite failed inspection, even though inadequately maintained septic tanks are likely to pollute waterways and private drinking

water wells. Commenting on the results Mr. Darragh Page, Programme Manager of the EPA’s Office of Environmental Enforcement said: “Homeowners may be putting themselves, their families and their neighbours at risk of ill health if they do not maintain their septic tank system adequately. There are simple steps that homeowners can take to ensure their system is managed properly and will pass an inspection.  These include: having the sludge emptied from the tank on a regular basis, using a permitted

contractor and retaining the receipt and, if the homeowner has a package treatment system, having it regularly serviced and keeping a record of servicing.”

In brief One-stop-shop home renovations: the EU Commission has endorsed the Super Homes Ireland model of home renovations, whereby a not-for-profit energy agency (in this case the Tipperary Energy Agency) coordinates the work and grant payments for the householder to carry out deep retrofit renovations. Satisfaction guaranteed? Among UK residents who bought a home in the past five years, twice as many (36 per cent) said they were ‘very satisfied’ with the quality of their new build home if purchased from a small or medium house builder, compared with those whose home was built by one of the top 20 large builders (17 per cent satisfaction rating). The survey was conducted by the Federation of Master Builders among 2,000 homeowners. Of these, 292 had bought a new home in the past five years.


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

Top searches It’s now well known the most googled how-to in ROI is for making slime; perhaps less surprising were the results of the 2017 list for home improvements. Painting how-tos topped the charts (walls, kitchen cabinets, ceilings) and for maintenance, how to clean a mattress. Self-builders, meanwhile, were mostly concerned with house building costs (seven out of the top 10 queries), while others were concerned with how many blocks it took to build a house.

Book of cottage extension plans


Inspiration for home lovers

FOR THE FIRST TIME THE LOVE YOUR HOME SHOW is coming to Dublin, on 12-13 May 2018 at the Citywest Convention Centre. Created for home lovers, the show has been running in Belfast for the past eight years. Get advice in the HomeStyle Talks, discover unique products in the Artists & Makers Village,

enjoy the hugely popular local food Artisans with live cooking demos from celebrity chef Adrian and come discuss your house plans with exhibitors. Now’s the time to pre-book your tickets for the must-attend home event of the year!

IF YOU OWN A COTTAGE and are looking for inspiration for your extension project, this PDF of plans is sure to get your creative juices flowing.

Interiors of Murder She Wrote


Book of Irish Cottage Extension Plans, €14.99 excl. VAT with 10 per cent discount and a bonus 11th plan included with the promo code: COTTAGE18, downloadable on

2017 top homes

EVEN IF YOU DIDN’T LOVE the 1980s hit series featuring JB Fletcher, this Instagram page is sure to make you go running for glass blocks and marble tops (not to mention your shoulder pads). interiorsofmurdershewrote

HERE ARE OUR READERS’ Top 5 picks of 2017, courtesy of our Facebook impressions: 1. DIY self-build in Co Carlow 2. Direct labour self-build in Co L’derry 3. Well insulated self-build in Co Cork 4. Veranda living in Co Leitrim 5. Small modern 2. family home in Co Down selfbuild


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

Why Grant? Ask Which? ON THIS YEAR’S WHICH? Best Buy list is leading Irish heating technology manufacturer Grant Engineering, the one and only oil boiler brand to be commended in 2017. In fact, Grant bagged the accolade for its entire range of Grant Vortex Condensing oilfired boilers – that’s an impressive 63 Which? Best Buys.  This latest recognition, combined with the Energy and Utilities Alliance statistics showing Grant oil boilers were the number one selling models in 2016 in the UK, further reinforces the brand’s position as a market leader.  For further information visit

VIP invitation THE KITCHEN IS AT THE HEART OF THE HOME, and in many ways it’s the key to crafting the dream house. To help you get it right Mobalpa at Ashgrove is hosting Open Days on Friday 23rd and Saturday 24th of March 2018, 10am to 6pm both days. A professional chef will be there to showcase the revolutionary BORA hob extraction system while kitchen designers will be on hand to demonstrate everything from innovative storage solutions, including the Blum Space Tower, to appliances. You’ll also get to experience the unique customisable and modular kitchen designs made by Mobalpa, a company that’s world renowned for combining style with function. Proof of Mobalpa’s dedication to innovation are their new units which come with 20 per cent more storage space – a feat the company says has yet to be rivalled by its competitors. Mobalpa at Ashgrove, 46 Doury Rd, Ballymena, Co Antrim, BT43 6JB, tel. 2565 1144 (calling from ROI prefix with 048),

Grant Engineering, Crinkle, Birr, Co Offaly, R42 D788, tel. 057 9120 089 Grant NI, Unit 117, 21 Botanic Avenue, Belfast, BT7 1JJ, freephone 0800 2794 796

phA-bulous MANUFACTURER PRO CLIMA is no stranger to proving how good its products are, with BBA, NSAI and DIBt approvals under its belt. The latest in the string of accolades is having gained Passive House certification for its INTELLO intelligent airtightness system, achieving best-in-class phA certification. In fact, the membrane recorded the best results on the Passivhaus Institute airtightness products database with an air permeability of 0.01 m3/( and standard deviation of 0.002 m3/( And, in contrast to membranes which feature a directiondependent diffusion resistance INTELLO cannot be accidentally installed the wrong way around. It employs Hydrosafe technology maximising protection against condensation and mould. The selfadhesive tapes, Tescon Vana and Contega Solido SL, are tested to a 100-year service life. The full results are available on; for more information about the INTELLO system contact Ecological Building Systems

Leading the way in clay ALREADY WELL ESTABLISHED AS LEADERS in the natural roofing market, Lagan Building Solutions (LBS) are improving their offering of clay roofing products with the addition of a new smooth large format clay slate ‘The Shetland’. They are also making significant improvements to their already well established Snowdon Slate, with a deeper interlock, more defined edges and an enhanced riven finish that the company says now makes it the most realistic ‘slate-effect’ product on the market. Both the Snowdon and Shetland clay slates will be available in Black, Slate Grey and Heather Blue, and in a double size format known as the XL. Lagan Building Solutions, Co Antrim and Co Dublin, SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 21



Comfort factor Peter Williams’ spacious home only costs £40 a month to run, but that’s excluding the telecoms bill… Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay


uilt in 2012, Peter’s house has only been costing him £500 in energy a year. It’s not just because of how well insulated it is – although that’s the core reason – the house in fact boasts a panoply of devices that each contribute to the savings. The heat recovery ventilation system, the hot water solar panels, the electricity solar panels (PV), LED lighting as well as a wood pellet stove, cohort to make this possible. “We got an energy consultant to do the


calculations for us, to know how to specify the thermal envelope. We have it built so that there is a heating requirement of just 5kW with -4degC outside,” explains Peter. “We made sure to get the external structure built by a timber frame company, offsite, to guarantee build quality.” The main additional cost, as compared to a home built to today’s energy standards, was investing in the PV panels which set him and wife Anne back £6,000. The breakdown of the energy inputs are wood pellets for the stove, which cost £300 a year, and electricity at a net cost of £200 a year for general use, for the electric 




Top Tip Hire an architect.

radiators in the bathrooms (each of the four bedrooms has an ensuite) and for the small 650W air source heat pump integrated within the hot water cylinder. “The most expensive bill, by far, is my broadband and phones at £70 a month,” exclaims Peter. The small 6kW stove provides enough heat for the entire house. “It’s located downstairs in the open plan area and as warm air rises, it gets around quickly. The most comfortable room is the upstairs lounge – the only downside is it’s not very practical to be bringing hot beverages or even food up there due to having to climb the stairs.”


Eyes of the house

“Any wee bit of sunshine makes a huge difference to warm up the house, it’s one to two degrees Celsius warmer when the sun is shining,” comments Peter, who doesn’t heat the house until November as he gets 19degC in October. Having invested in triple glazing he says there’s no chill beside the windows either. “Even though we don’t have underfloor heating, and despite the fact that we tiled a lot of the floors downstairs, the floor is never actually cold, all thanks to the insulation.” “But, combined with the open plan configuration, the hard surface means it can 

But make sure you get a good one. They’ll add something to the table, a way of seeing things that you hadn’t considered, they usually have sensible suggestions. I think every self-builder’s plans should be considered a draft. I had put together ours in a computer programme and what we ended up with was quite different. We must have saved at least £5,000 from the feedback we got. The views are beautiful from here and we initially were going to build a threebedroom house; our architect convinced us to go with a fourbed. He said it was too good a site.




get noisy so we’ve added rugs to help with sound attenuation,” adds Peter. “One thing we changed mid-build was to add a row of windows, three windows at the top of the staircase and that’s made a huge difference to the feel of the house as they catch the morning sun. Thankfully the timber frame company was willing to do this for us, at Anne’s insistence. It cost us £1,000 but worth every penny for the light that floods in.” The rest of the windows provide fantastic views but at night, the black winter backdrop can at times cry out for a cosy retreat. “Anne had looked into adding curtains or blinds but as we’re not overlooked it never felt like a pressing matter.” “It’s very difficult to find something adequate as any form of screening will in some way lessen the impact the windows have on their own. Even drawn back, curtains will partly obscure.” They priced up a fully kitted out solution which would have set them back about £10,000.

How it adds up

Peter’s £200 electricity bill factors in the payments he gets for selling electricity back to the grid, which amount to almost £500 a year, and for consuming the rest. Even in winter the PV panels will supply some electricity, which Peter says is enough to power the washing machine. “I can keep an eye on how much the panels produce, on a real-time basis.” Peter also got a £400 grant for installing his hot water solar panels, and another for installing his wood pellet boiler. These incentives are no longer available. He then benefited from a rates holiday under the Low Carbon Homes Scheme (exemption from paying property tax, which in Peter’s case amounted to £3,000/year) for building a low energy home; a scheme that has also been axed. “I admit it was good timing but we also wouldn’t have gone the full hog if these incentives weren’t in place as we were constrained financially,” says Peter. “We had to raise money for the work so we had to keep a rein on the budget.” For the energy saving systems to work, Peter calculates the insulation came in at £12,000 and the windows at £15,000 for triple glazing. “We got a basic uPVC finish on the glazing, alu-clad came in £30,000 more expensive than uPVC at the time,” he adds. To keep a lid on the budget, the couple kept the finishes to a minimum. “We used the same carpet upstairs as downstairs, and this only cost us £1,500, it was Anne’s idea 26 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

to do that,” explains Peter. “For the kitchen in the centre of the open plan area we went to a flat pack store and got an interest-free loan over two years. It was a no-brainer. We paid £6,500 in total with all appliances included, and only had to put down a £100 deposit.”


For Peter and Anne, securing planning permission felt drawn out but it yielded a positive result. “Nothing happened after we submitted our application; two to three months later we asked our architect to follow up,” recounts Peter. “They’d given the case to a planning officer that had taken two months off for the summer. It’s only when the officer came back from holidays that they looked at the plans.” Peter says the planners felt the original design looked too much like a chalet. “As a result we split the roof into two sections. This reconfiguration worked brilliantly, it has the big advantage of providing tremendous height in the house.” The timber frame company they hired, which has since gone out of business, built two thirds of the house for them. “They sorted all of the structural elements including the steelwork; I then got the people in to do the roofing, electricity and plumbing, I also hired a bricklayer to finish the house in a traditional plaster finish. I knew the plumber personally, others I found through recommendations of friends in the 

‘Even though we don’t have underfloor heating, and despite the fact that we tiled a lot of the floors downstairs, the floor is never actually cold, all thanks to the insulation.’


Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

The view we have upstairs. I also enjoy being in the conservatory in the summer, which is on the southwest corner of the house. In winter it’s a no-go zone, simply because the rain pelts down and it’s not really enticing, much less than the embrace of the fire in the main part of the house.

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

Bigger isn’t always better. Even though this house is big, I would comment on the ludicrous sizes we’re seeing cropping up nowadays – people with rooms they don’t use. Not to mention the upkeep. I have to put my hand up and say Anne and I originally were going to build a 400sqm house. A friend of mine who is an engineer told us we didn’t need half of that. He helped us knock 100 sqm off the house without any problems. Now that Anne is no longer here, I find the house is too big for me alone, but it’s also incredibly comfortable so I don’t intend to move. I certainly wouldn’t save on maintenance costs by moving to a smaller home. The upkeep here is also very easy.

What would you change?

Not much; the thing is you can’t make every decision right. You do your best at the time. For example the colour we chose for the flagstones I’m not mad about, they’re alright. If I were to do it again I might also have gone with a more experimental exterior. We used quite a bit of birch and larch panelling which I think is quite nice but we could have added more colour.

The wood pellet stove and radiators in the bathrooms are the only two sources of heat



The sunroom

Q&A Any surprises?

I was told by a retailer that it’s better to leave the lights on all the time, to prolong the life of your light bulbs. Apparently it’s the act of switching them on and off that makes them go. I have four in a row on a switch and it’s always the same one that blows. They are £3 to £5 a pop for LED and on average I have to change half a dozen a year.

Would you do it again?

Yes. I wouldn’t build the same house though, as it would be on a different site. Each house needs to give consideration to where it sits. I find it shocking to see a row of 10 bungalows, all to the same design and specification, lined up like ducks. Each house needs to respond to its positioning, to the landscape and houses around it, as well as to its orientation.

trade.” “The timber frame company was brilliant, they came along and advised us throughout. The only stressful part was when we paid the £20,000 deposit over to them. Needless to say a sense of relief overcame us when the structure was put up.” Living only three miles down the road, Peter was on site every day. “I would probably describe myself as punch-drunk at the time. I tried to be there as often as I could but even then, as soon as I got out of the car I’d get asked, what do you want done about this or that. You have to have your brains about you.” “I’d argue even if you get a contractor to manage it all, it’s still only you that can decide what you want. For instance we had our own ideas for switches, where to put them. The alternative is to be accepting of someone else’s choices.” It took Anne and Peter two years from breaking ground in March 2010 to moving in.

Open plan

The open plan layout was one that appealed to Peter and Anne as they were, at the time of building, living in a 1970s house. “The family home we’d raised our children in was old-fashioned, with a traditional layout of distinct dining, kitchen and drawing rooms,” explains Peter. “An open plan layout greatly appealed to us as being more inclusive and interactive.” Part of the winning strategy was to 28 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

incorporate a staircase with artistic merit. “As it was always going to be ‘in your face’ due to its position, it had to be a statement piece,” explains Peter. “I especially like the open treads which keep the open plan open. It just works.” “The inspiration came from visiting, seven or eight years ago, an architect friend of mine. He had a similar one he’d designed for his house, suspended from the upper floor, built like an inverted roof truss. I asked him if I could copy it and he instructed me to take photos and work away at it, which I did.” A great design is one thing, but to get it built is always another. “We had two guys look at it, one quoted us £7,000 to build it in Douglas Fir, finished, including the balustrade around the kitchen well,” continues Peter. “The other one, who is local, gave us a quote of £2,000 in the same wood but unvarnished. We got him to do the job, and asked him to do the internal window sills in Douglas Fir too, one of which is six meters long.” The open plan layout worked well for Peter and Anne as a couple but now that one of Peter’s daughters has moved in with her two boys, he says there are some downsides. “If you have two different TVs on, they’ll bleed into each other – I don’t have a separate room to quarantine the children’s programmes in, so it gets bloody noisy.” “The house doesn’t really work with 



Peter’s tips Once vetted, trust your tradesmen. A good tradesman knows his job and doesn’t want to be interfered with. I foresaw all sorts of problems that weren’t issues at all. I was wondering why I was fussing about it when they had a solution for every question I raised. I have kept all the contact details of my tradesmen, so when the house is sold I’ll be able to give their names to the next occupant. Think of the house as an ecosystem. The trouble with green homes is that we make a sophisticated effort to get the house to work as an interdependent system, between the ventilation and heating systems, yet people will shut some parts of it down without giving enough thought to the consequences.

more than two people. I need a separate study to hide in,” he says in jest. Peter’s daughter is in the process of extensively renovating her own house and moved in for the duration of the works.

Thoughts on eco homes

The timber frame structure was a very successful build route for Peter and Anne but it did have one down side during the second fix. “We had an issue finding the wooden battens to fix our fixtures onto – there’s two inches of insulated plasterboard to get through before you can even get to the timber frame,” says Peter. “So you need three inch fixings, that’s a

long way in. I’ve had to drill quite a few pilot holes to hit timber – the wall behind the kitchen presses will attest to that. The studs weren’t always spaced to exact measurements so that led to a few more trial holes.” Peter feels the issue with eco homes in general is that there is a different kind of upkeep required of them. “It’s not that there is an awful lot of it, a few filters that need to be changed, thermostats to be set. It’s just different to what we’ve been conditioned to understand when dealing with oil boilers. It takes a change in mindset.” “I know quite a few people that turn off their heat recovery ventilation system in the hope to save energy in the summer. Others switch it off because they think it’s too noisy. That won’t save you anything and you’re not ventilating the house as you should, which could have health implications, even if you open the windows, due to houses now being built to be airtight.” “For the wood pellet stove, there are ashes to empty, and not everyone relishes that prospect. I’m also now finding that it can take a few goes to light the stove with the igniter, it doesn’t seem to like the eastward wind, so a gas fired one may be easier to use,” confides Peter. “I also feel a bit too dependent on the stove in winter so I’m looking at adding electric heaters as a fall-back option. It beats having to load the pellets!” In memory of Anne Williams, who died in August 2016




More photographs available at

Project information

Find out more about Peter’s new build project in Co Down including the local companies involved... SIZE


House size:

Floors: standard build up with 150mm PIR insulation Walls: timber frame construction, 50mm insulated plasterboard (PIR) on the inside, insulation between studs, finished on the outside with plastered blockwork. Roof: 50mm glasswool, 100mm and 50mm PIR insulation, 50mm void and then 50mm PIR backed plasterboard. Windows: uPVC, triple glazed, argon filled

300 sqm

SUPPLIERS Energy consultant Patrick Waterfield, tel. 90641241, PV panels Planet Solar, Windows Camden Group, Insulation Kingspan Insulation, External render K Rend, Flat pack kitchen Ikea, Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic










(calling from ROI prefix with 048) PORCH



























4 // SSE ELLFFB BU UIILLD D // W S PI R 334 NITNEG R 22001187

C O W E S T M E AT H / P R O J E C T


Home away from home The friendly neighbours and the scale of the Co Westmeath town in which Bernard and Andreina Barreat built their home reminded Andreina of where she grew up in Venezuela. So much so that they named their house after Andreina’s own birthplace. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne


oving back to a tight knit community really appealed to us, with my childhood family and friends close by,” explains Bernard who had lived in Dublin with wife Andreina for five years. “The site was bought 300m from my mom’s house and even though we did have to go through a rigorous planning exercise we were successful with our application.” The process started with a pre-planning meeting outlining what they had in mind, and an initial sketch. “We printed pictures of the houses on either side of the plot and discussed our local need. The planners were clear on what we could and couldn’t do and very quickly we were on the same page,” he adds. “With hindsight what helped us I think is that we had our homework done, researching the development plans and looking at what had been approved in the past, and we employed a local architect who had good idea of what the planners wanted.” “As the house is on a linear road, we were constrained in what we could do at the front, there was little choice but to reflect the style of other homes. The size of the house and its positioning also dictated the choice of finish.”

The construction method was partly driven by their desire to build an eco-house, but it was also influenced by their need to blend in with the houses nearby. “The structure is timber frame, which was built off site, but we finished it with blockwork that we plastered on the outside. We wanted it rendered for the aesthetics and also felt it would help in securing planning permission,” explains Bernard. 

‘With hindsight what helped us I think is that we had our homework done...’ SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 35

P R O J E C T / C O W E S T M E AT H Bernard’s office pod

Bernard’s Tips Invest in a laser tape measure. The size of rooms on plans are very hard to relate to, it’s abstract to be talking about a three by four meter room. And it can be deceptive to measure it out when there’s no furniture in it. That’s why, on the recommendation of our architects, we always had our laser tape in the car – with the laser it’s just easier to quickly take dimensions but you can use a regular measuring tape. When we’d travel and liked the size of a room we’d jot the details down. Hotels, friends’ houses, you name it. These measurements informed our decisions. Keep the kids close. Positioning the playroom off the kitchen was a stroke of genius, kids like to drift in and out of where the action is. Meanwhile we get to have coffee at the counter and keep an eye on them. This was part of Blair’s initial design concept and we love it. Be prepared for delays as some of them will be inevitable. In our case it was in November 2015 that the timber frame was erected, it was a bad winter and with the storms we lost six weeks, all the way through Christmas. The foundations were down and we had to protect the timbers. Ringfence your contingency. That same bad winter made it clear to us that our site had poor drainage and we had to add stone to help drain the site. It was a 1 in 100 year event so in a way we were lucky to invest in the drainage then, as we already had the digger on site. We were glad it was done when Ophelia hit!


Interior savvy

Inside the couple went for a modern, spacious finish. “We’d lived in city apartments so we knew storage was a big thing,” adds Bernard. “We also wanted a big kitchen because we like to cook.” As an antidote to city living, all the rooms are very generous in size. “It’s only a four-bedroom house but it could have easily fit more bedrooms. Our aim was comfort and you need space for that.” The minimalist finishes and neutral colours, meanwhile, were the result of a needs-must approach. “Life is busy when you have kids and both of you have demanding jobs. It’s difficult to find the hours to choose finishes. And there are so many choices, it can be hard to decide. Especially when the builder calls to tell you they need to know in a week what your

preference is. Your only alternative is to go out on a Saturday and pick it out.” “For instance for the tiles we got samples and laid them out to choose which one was our favourite. Decisions were made within the day. You have to think on your feet, the process moves quickly and you have to keep on top of it.” “This is why we ended up choosing a neutral palette, although now I’m thinking I may have liked to have added a bit more colour, I think we could have been a bit bolder,” adds Bernard. The couple chose to use soft furnishing to complement the clean lines. “We’re using cushions quite a bit, at the bay window we have a red banquette I really like. It will build up over time.” The couple and their small children moved in 2016, a few weeks before Halloween. 


P R O J E C T / C O W E S T M E AT H

Low energy for life

“As this is the house we’ll be living in for the rest of our lives, we designed it so that it would suit us from now until our pension years. Maintenance costs were high on our priority list,” says Bernard. As a result the couple went with a Passive House build, even though they decided not to have it certified. “We felt it made sense to design and build the house to this tried and tested certification programme. It gave us a rigorous set of standards we could hold our suppliers to. Our tradesmen were also aware of the requirements and knew the construction would be assessed at the end. We felt it gave us a quality guarantee.” “A lot of the component parts were made in factories, the precision you get with that is the best. This includes the windows which were Passive House certified – we chose ones with thicker frames and a colour we especially liked.” 38 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

C O W E S T M E AT H / P R O J E C T

Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

The office pod in the garden. I like it because it’s near yet separate from family life; I can get work done and be close enough to step right back into the swing of toddler activities. I also love the round window in the bathroom and the full-length window in the kitchen. From the front door you can see all the way to the back garden, it lets in tons of light. I’m very happy with the look of the driveway, including the flat curbing, it’s not so severe yet very functional.

What would you do differently? The benefit of a passive house is that you don’t need a conventional heating system, but due to the house size the couple chose to install an air to water heat pump with underfloor heating downstairs and one radiator upstairs. “We also have a stove in the living area but haven’t turned it on yet,” confides Bernard. They did however get a shock on their first electricity bill. “It was a nasty surprise as it totalled a couple hundred euros. Upon investigation we realised it was due to the fact that we were still running power tools and had the heating on to dry out the

plaster.” “The plumber called out and made some tweaks to the underfloor heating settings to make sure we wouldn’t be caught again. Thankfully since that, our bills have been extremely low.” The level of comfort, meanwhile, is high. “The big thing with the heat recovery system is the consistency of heat around the house. Regardless of the season or room, the temperature is the same throughout. We no longer have the reflex to close the doors to keep heat in,” says Bernard. There are thermostats in each room to regulate the 

We thought we were building a huge utility room as that’s one piece of advice we heeded from reading this magazine and others. So we thought, let’s oversize it, we won’t be making that mistake! But as it turned out we’d underestimated the space we needed for all of our equipment; the heat recovery unit is two thirds the size of an oil tank, (we have it in the utility and not the attic to make it easier to service and to change the filters), then there’s the water cylinder, the underfloor heating manifold, the cabinet box for the audiovisual cabling… So if I could do it again I’d add a cloakroom – we have hanging space in the utility but it’s squashed with the all the implements. We’re currently using the under stairs area for our coats.


P R O J E C T / C O W E S T M E AT H

heat as needed. An issue with low energy houses can be overheating in the summer months. “The house is actually not too exposed, as there is quite a bit of hedging and mature trees, so we haven’t suffered from overheating,” says Bernard. “The back of the house faces west and the living area can even get a bit cool on winter evenings if we don’t set the thermostat.”


“Our architect Blair came up with a great design for us and he supported us throughout the planning process. Overseeing the build was practice partner and architect Mel who was very diligent in overseeing the project and providing sound advice,” says Bernard. Once planning permission was secured the plans went out to tender, and the couple chose to ‘opt in’ of the Building Control Regulations by appointing an Assigned Certifier. “While Blair remained involved 40 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

C O W E S T M E AT H / P R O J E C T

Q&A What advice would you give someone who’s thinking of self-building?

Your relationship with your builder and architect is key, and their own relationship too. Invest time in getting to know them and have a realistic expectation of what each person can and will deliver. This means clearly setting out how many times they are to be on site and when. It’s a give and take situation; everyone needs to be paid fairly for the volume of work they do and they need to deliver what’s expected of them. In the same vein, regular communication is essential, as are regular budget updates and a commitment to quality and a set of standards to work to. Also be prepared for it to cost more than you think. It always costs more. We’re talking life changing money here!

What surprised you? during the build process it was Mel who oversaw the tendering and construction stages. He ensured high quality throughout the build. I am not surprised to see him more recently overseeing some high profile multi million sterling developments in the heart of London.” “He went out 25+ times to check on the build whilst Andreina and I were down most weekends. In many ways we trusted our builder so that made the process much easier,” explains Bernard. “We were living in Dublin and relied heavily on photographs and drawings; a lot of the communication was done online. We’d get before and after images of things like the installation of the insulation. It was important to us to record these vital details for future reference.” “We got a very high finish from our builder,” continues Bernard. “He was building his own passive house at the same time as building ours so it was especially relevant to him. He would do his own airtightness tests throughout the build to make sure things were progressing as planned. He’s committed to quality and takes great pride in his work.” “In fact our builder was so good we ended up asking him to do the landscaping; at the front door we have a step with a nice

granite area which he installed for us.” The curved stone curbing was also the builder’s suggestion, and creation. “For the driveway I would have gone with tarmacadam for strength but we went with a tar and chip alternative, with golden pebble stone, that looks much better and is just as effective.” “As for the inspiration for the double front door, we saw it in a showroom and fell in love with it. We’d actually spotted a very similar one in Howth, they also had new England style shutters we liked but these were only suited to that seaside location.” With the timber frame build route, there were no changes during the build. “It was built off site so all the detailing was agreed to in advance. We had it all set out at the design stage, there was no room for manoeuvre after breaking ground. It does move along quickly, all of a sudden we had an airtight house built, then came the finishes.” Now that they’re in over a year, the couple says they’re getting to really enjoy the garden. “My mum has been a great help, a third voice of opinion, and she helped us pick out the plants. There was some existing hedging, some of it was in bad shape so we filled those gaps. The new planting consists of 6m of laurel, to the right of the gate. We also have flower pots to complement.”

How clueless you are going in and how much you know coming out. I didn’t expect the crash course in construction I got.

Would you do it again?

I probably wouldn’t do it again, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it. I’m just too happy with our forever home and enjoying putting the finishing touches to it.

Air to water heat pump


P R O J E C T / C O W E S T M E AT H

More photographs available at

Project information

Find out more about Bernard and Andreina’s new build project in Co Westmeath including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION


House Size: 2,500 sqft

Design, technical drawings and assigned certifier Blair Adamson MRIAI and Mel McGerr MRIAI MCIAT of Murphy + McGerr Architecture, Athlone, Co Westmeath, tel. 090 64 60006, Builder Kilduff construction, Athlone, Co Roscommon, mobile 086 857 9459, Timber frame MBC Timber Frame, Cahir, Co Tipperary, tel. 052 74 45091 Glazing Nordan, Tiles Tubs & tiles, Kitchen Lohan Fitted Furniture, Roscommon, tel. 090 662 7449, Shelving IKEA, Heat recovery ventilation Dantherm HCH5, Air to water heat pump Panasonic, Photography Dermot Byrne,

Main roof: 400mm mineral wool insulation insulated on ceiling, U-value 0.1 W/sqmK

Plot Size: 0.6 acres Walls: 300mm twin stud frame faced with 15mm OSB board internally with 45mm timber battens to create a service cavity for electrics and plumbing services, high density cellulose insulation pressure pumped and 12.5mm vapour permeable sheeting board externally. 50mm cavity and block external leaf finished with nap render. U-value 0.16 W/sqmK Floor: 75mm screed with underfloor heating elements on 150mm PIR Insulation with 25mm perimeter insulation. U-value 0.12 W/sqmK

Windows: triple glazed, argon filled, low-e, soft coat, overall U-value 0.82 W/sqmK, G-value 37 per cent BER: A2 Airtightness: 0.6 ACH at 50Pa Heating and hot water: air source heat pump, underfloor heating throughout


NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0






















High yield refurb A kitchen upgrade is all it took for Malcolm and Siobhan Humphries to give their home a new lease of life. That, and an insulation upgrade. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Paul Lindsay SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 45





he kitchen used to be very cold,” explains Siobhan. “That part of the house wasn’t well insulated and the windows seemed to be contributing to that feeling. They were installed when the house was built in 1991, and there are a lot of them, all double glazed. Our concern was the cost associated to replacing them all, it would have been prohibitive.” “So we decided to keep our original windows and insulated the walls instead,” adds Malcom. “This helped us keep the costs down and made a huge difference to how comfortable the space now is.” Malcolm and Siobhan found their insulation supplier at Selfbuild Live – the solution consisted of aerogel instead of pumping beads into the cavity walls or insulating with mineral wool, PIR or PUR. “It’s so good it’s used in outer space,” says Malcolm. In a roll form it’s flexible, thin and able to go around corners to reduce cold spots or thermal bridges. It also comes in sheets of insulated plasterboard which makes installation easier on long stretches of wall. Applied on the inside walls, the couple

also had to invest in redecorating and took the opportunity to put in new flooring too. Aerogel was used under the new floor without having to significantly alter the doors doors and it was also and it was also used on the ceiling without having to worry about losing much height. Malcolm owns a specialist insulation installation company which carried out the upgrade. But at the core of the project was not an insulation upgrade. Instead what drove their decision to remodel was, as is often the case, changing needs. “With the family expanding we wanted a more inclusive living/dining/ kitchen area so the idea of knocking down the wall between the living room and the kitchen made the most sense,” continues Siobhan. “We have a separate dining room for formal dinners, because with the open plan you do get the cooking smells when you’re sitting down to eat. We felt we could get the best of both worlds with this set up.” “We knew what we wanted in terms of the layout, it was just a question of finding the right person to do the kitchen design,” adds Siobhan. “We looked at magazines and 

‘We looked at magazines and attended expos such as Selfbuild Live.’



Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

I love the fire and looking outside, down to the bottom of the garden. Seeing the children play in the sandpit and enjoying the space out there, while keeping an eye on them, is fantastic. I also love the quality of light we now get in the one room.

What surprised you?

Despite the repeated warnings, no one can prepare you for the amount of dust a building site generates! And the fact that it always takes more time to do things than you’d expect.

Would you do it again?

In a heartbeat. We now spend all of our time in the open plan area, it was well worth the effort.



attended expos such as Selfbuild Live.” “We knew we wanted to have surfaces that were easy to clean and keep the colour scheme as light as possible. We also went for robust finishes with little children in mind and their scooters knocking into walls.” “The open plan also really works looking in from the front hall, it makes a greater visual connection to the garden and generally flows better. The children actually now run around a lot more in that space.”

The house that Jack built

“The thing with a refurb is you never know what you’ll uncover,” says Siobhan. “In our case we kept finding things to fix before we could get on with the build. The house was well designed but not very well built.” From the start Siobhan and Malcolm had decided to keep their heating system. “The radiators are original to the house, and the pipes not terribly efficient but it would have been quite expensive to do a full 


Q&A What would you change?

I wish we had gotten a hot water tap to keep the kitchen worktop freer. I might also get pull-out racks for the full height sunken presses at the back wall. It would be more practical than having to reach at the back of the shelf as the cupboard is quite deep.

What advice would you give to someone looking at a similar renovation? Expect a lot of mess and there to be problems. After that you can’t be disappointed!





upgrade.” “We did however have to move the immersion heater outdoors to make room for the units on the wall, which required some amount of plumbing.” “We also had to do some rewiring in order to move the aerial to the other end of the house, this is when we uncovered random wires going nowhere, which had to be addressed.” The couple tracked the walls for electrics to help keep costs down. With regards to the floor, they have a friend who sells wooden flooring so they had their supplier all picked out. “We chose an engineered oak finish. We took up the old flooring, put in a layer of screed, levelled it and got the floor installed.” In total the building phase took about six weeks. “We mostly ate with dinner plates in our hands,” recalls Siobhan. “I was pregnant at the time and friends would come around and bring roast chickens. We didn’t really mind that much as the work got done quickly.” In the summer of 2015, the transformation was complete.

Designed for family

But how did the design come to life? “We saw a kitchen we really liked at Selfbuild Live in Belfast and ended up hiring the designer,” says Siobhan. “He came to our house to discuss our specific plans; he had a look around and asked what we liked. We 

Malcolm & Siobhan’s Tips Figure out how much work needs to be done. With an unlimited amount of money you can upgrade the entire house but on a limited budget, it’s important to focus on what will work for you and for the house. For us, insulating the walls was the most important thing to do from an energy point of view. This means we didn’t need to change the windows and were able to invest in the kitchen.

Check credentials.

The aerogel insulation we used is fully BBA certified and the people we hired we either knew or, in the case of our kitchen designer, we checked previous work and spoke to previous clients.



‘The thing with a refurb is you never know what you’ll uncover...In our case we kept finding things to fix before we could get on with the build.’ showed him photos and he drew up a few sketches.” “In many ways, we replicated a combination of two kitchen designs we’d originally fallen for and adapted it to our space,” says Siobhan. “The only thing we changed was the dining room table, the one we had originally wasn’t big enough for the six of us.” The kitchen company was able to take down the dividing wall and take down the ceiling, liaise with Building Control, alter the wiring and plumbing to suit the new layout, and then plaster the room afterwards. “This saved us having to find separate contractors and coordinate the work, Harvey did it all for us instead. The project started and finished on the timescale discussed with the minimum of fuss.” In the living area Malcolm and Siobhan decided to add a fireplace. “We went to a salvage yard to buy a surround we liked for £35. We just spray painted and latched it on to the wall for effect.” It proved to be especially well adapted to the stove they chose to put it in. “We went with as big a glass as we could get to let in as much light and heat as possible. Although now I admit it can get too warm when fully lit, but then all we have to do is open the door to the hall.” At the design stage Siobhan had in fact wanted to keep a portion of the dividing wall between the kitchen and living area. “We’d marked our first daughter’s growth on it, she had brain damage and died when she was four so getting rid of the wall was difficult. I came to terms with it.” Now the open plan is at the heart of their bustling family life. “We’re always in that space and very rarely in the rest of the house,” comments Siobhan. “We really enjoy it.”



More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Malcolm and Siobhan’s renovation project in Co Antrim including the local companies involved... PERSPECTIVE PLAN


SUPPLIERS Kitchen Co-Design Interiors, Belfast, mobile 075 9592 9687, Insulation Enviroform, Warrenpoint, Co Down, tel. 41773314, Thermal upgrade contractor Fabric First Construction, mobile 077 03657645 Photography Paul Lindsay of Christopher Hill Photographic, ROI calling NI prefix with 0044 and drop the first 0


SPECIFICATION Building work: replace and insulate floors, insulate walls, replace kitchen, knock down wall between kitchen and living room Insulation: Aerogel wall insulation 10mm to achieve a U-value of 0.8 W/sqmK




Paradox Extending your home will inevitably result in losing some garden space. But if you do it right, you’ll feel like you’ve gained more room to play outside. Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Dermot Byrne


or Debbie Lee and Roger Conroy the time came to extend their home when they decided to raise a family together. “I had been living in the house 12 years and Roger five so we had a very good idea of what we wanted and the way in which we’d like to upgrade it. And at this stage in our lives we needed a more useable space,” explains Debbie. “We had a clear idea of the style we wanted from magazines, shows, tv. We were also influenced by holidays in Portugal and the concept of the indoor-outdoor living space,” adds Roger. “We had an east facing outdoor area that we never used, which we wanted to bring indoors. At the same time we were conscious we didn’t want to lose too much

of the garden.” That area was integrated into the house, elongating the existing rectangular footprint of the building. This resulted in the garden becoming much more cohesive – it remained L shaped but wraps around the new extension. “We wanted as much glazing as possible from the south facing garden and from the east so we installed wonderful corner windows in the extension. They now make me appreciate the garden much more, and the funny thing is, it feels bigger than it ever has before,” comments Debbie.  5163 //SS EE LF NM GM 2 0E1R 8 2017 LBFU BIUL IDL/DS /P RSIU

‘We were also influenced by holidays in Portugal and the concept of the indoor-outdoor living space...’





Q&A What’s your favourite feature?

We love having the food preparation area part of the dining space. As we both cook, friends and family can interact, it’s a very inclusive room. The oversized island is the focal point and we love it. All the furniture is generally oversized which is what we like, and the space accommodates them all.

What would you do differently?

We really wouldn’t change anything, we’re exceptionally lucky. The only issue we’ve had, and this is quite minor, is that the boiling water tap doesn’t work properly due to the water pressure. We need a pressurised system.

Would you do it again?

We absolutely wouldn’t feel the need to.


One of the knock-on effects of installing so much glazing was the need to install underfloor heating. “We have it in the new part because with so much glass, we had very little wall space to accommodate radiators,” comments Roger. Roger had been a landscape gardener in a previous life so was up for the challenge of tackling the work outdoors. “I cleared back the beds and extended the patio to provide a bigger living area outside, with barbeque.” Roger’s mum is also a keen gardener, and she helped with the selection of planting, to have colour all year round. “Before this, in winter our garden was not somewhere you wanted to be. With clever planting we completely got over that,” adds Debbie.

Living with the builders

“Our chartered architectural technologist Mark Davies is a personal friend of ours so he seemed like the logical person to ask to design our extension,” comments the couple. Mark was brought on board August 2015 and the builders started in May of the 

‘It was fairly easy to keep an eye on things as we were living in the house during the works...’


W S PI N R ITNEG R 2018 7 / SELFBUILD / 59 5


Q&A What surprised you?

Living in the house while the builders were here was actually a great experience, I didn’t expect that. We were happy to see them first thing in morning and for a while, after they were gone, I actually missed our morning catch-ups. They were really excellent, cleaning the site every evening before they left.

What advice would you give someone who is planning a renovation project?

The most important person you hire is the builder. Ours made the process seamless for us by listening and providing advice.


‘It was fairly easy to keep an eye on things as we were living in the house during the works...’

following year. The build itself only lasted four months. “A key design decision was whether or not to go with a flat roof, which Mark encouraged us to do as it was going to fit in better at the back and it had the benefit of providing an extra foot in ceiling height,” says Debbie. “We’re delighted we followed his advice, the extension feels very spacious as a result.” As for their choice of builder, the company they chose had come highly recommended by Mark and by other friends who had gotten them to do smaller jobs. “We hit it off straight away, they gave us a detailed quote, which we tweaked, adding some things and removing others,” says Debbie. For instance, their builder had quoted them for the floor laying but Debbie and Roger took that off the schedule. “We selected a premium engineered finish and the company we sourced it from installed it for us,” she adds. “Instead we asked the builders to tank the ensuite shower and a few other small upgrades.” Another aspect they outsourced was the kitchen. “We installed a good quality, bespoke hand painted design. It only took two to three meetings with our kitchen designer and we got exactly what we wanted,” comments Roger. “The structural part was guided by Mark and the builder managed the project with Mark signing off on key stages,” adds Debbie. Due to the location and the soil conditions, the couple had to go with raft 


The couple took the opportunity to redecorate the entire house with new paint colours and blinds.

‘It was fairly easy to keep an eye on things as we were living in the house during the works...’

foundations for the new extension. “It was fairly easy to keep an eye on things as we were living in the house during the works. We had a briefing every morning with the builders for 20 minutes at 8am to catch up, before Roger and I headed out to work,” she adds. But as the kitchen was a central plank of the overhaul, the couple had to make alternative arrangements. “We moved the kettle and microwave to the sitting room, and we’d eat out at lunchtime. It actually wasn’t that bad.” At the time they were expecting their first child. 62 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018


Cosied up

“With a brand new extension we realised the rest of the house might look a bit tired, or dated so we took the opportunity to inject a bit of life by repainting all the rooms and staircase, and changing the floor at the front of the house to match the extension,” continues Debbie. “We put new carpets upstairs and changed the blinds and curtains. It was all cosmetic work that made us feel like we got a brand new home by simply adding a few square meters.” In terms of the heating, with so much south facing glazing Debbie says the house can get too warm in the summer time. “With both of us working, coming home on a hot summer’s day can be a bit stuffy but all it takes is to open a window.” The new wood burning stove, meanwhile, provides great heat and comfort in the winter months. “And even though the room is big, sitting by the fire is very cosy,” says Roger. “Our bills haven’t changed much but the house is definitely warmer than it was

in previous winters. That probably has a lot to do with the boiler upgrade and having zoned the extension separately. Although I think the type of high performing energy efficient glass we subsequently installed in the original part of the house, played a major role too,” adds Roger. “It’s a good thing because we crank the heat up more than we used to thanks to the new addition to the family!”

Debbie & Roger’s Top Tips Aim to get the best quality you can afford. You might be tempted to cut corners but when you look back you’ll appreciate the investment. A mistake might be to buy furniture before the room is built. Luckily for us it worked out but I wouldn’t do it again. We’d bought an L shaped sofa pointing the wrong way, thankfully we were able to replace it for one that faced the right way. We did however wait to buy the dining table, which came after the kitchen was installed to make sure it would fit in the way we wanted it to.



More photographs available at

Project information Find out more about Debbie and Roger’s extension project in Co Wicklow including the local companies involved... BUILDING SPECIFICATION House Size Before: 119 sqm House Size After: 144 sqm Plot Size: 530 sqm Roof: Proprietary flat warm roof system on 18mm OSB3 deck on 110mm PUR insulation on vapour control barrier; 1:60 fall with 44 x 225 / C16 joists at 400mm centres. U-value 0.18W/sqmK Wall: 20mm external two-coat render on 100mm blockwork, 150mm cavity + 100mm PUR insulation T&G secured to inner cavity leaf, U-value 0.12W/sqmK

SUPPLIERS Floor: 20mm engineered timber floor on 200mm RC slab 35N/sqmm containing A393 reinforcement at slab bottom with 50mm cover. Slab taken onto inner leaf of rising wall for support. Radon / DPM membrane laid on 150mm PIR insulation laid broken jointed allowing installation of 25mm insulation strips to wall perimeter. 200mm well consolidated NSAI:SR21:2014 Annex ‘E’ aggregate. Formation soil must be firm, level and free from water any hollows to be filled with weak 1:12 mix. U-Value 0.15W/sqmK Glazing: aluclad double glazed units, argon filled




NI calling ROI prefix with 00353 and drop the first 0










Architectural Design ARC Design, Delgany, Co Wicklow. tel. 01 201 0377 Builder A & J Martin Builders, Newtownmountkennedy, Co Wicklow mobile 0868896213 Roof Paralon Total Warm Roof system,; Xtratherm FR-ALU insulation on Proctor Reflectatherm Wall insulation Xtratherm XT/CW Floor Monarflex RMB400 Radon barrier, Xtratherm Thin-R XT/UF insulation Windows Extension: Munster Joinery, Existing house: EnerGlaze, Unit 1, Wexford Enterprise Centre, Strandfield Business Park, Rosslare Road, Co Wexford, tel. 01 9011635. Kitchen Noel Dempsey Kitchens & Interiors, Co Wicklow, tel. 0404 64548. Floors Mulveys of Dundrum, tel. 01 296 4358. Photography Dermot Byrne,



Newsite Engineer: Bobby Sloan

Prepare now for Ultrafast Fibre Broadband At BT, we understand that taking on a self-build project can be both an exciting and overwhelming time, with many installation decisions to consider. Fibre broadband is now widely regarded as essential as other utilities, such as water, electricity and gas, so it is important to get your new home ready for it, writes Garrett Kavanagh. In late 2017, BT announced a £20 million investment in a major expansion of Ultrafast Broadband to towns across Northern Ireland. This investment will see a further 140,000 premises gain access to Ultrafast Broadband after the deployment of ‘Fibre-to-thePremises’ technology, which is 66 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

capable of providing Ultrafast Broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps – fast enough to download a twohour HD movie in 25 seconds or a 45-minute HD TV programme in just five seconds. Through our current investment programmes, 25 per cent of homes and businesses in Northern Ireland

Garrett Kavanagh Acting Managing Director Networks BT in Northern Ireland

are scheduled to have access to Ultrafast Broadband by March 2019. So, even if fibre broadband is not yet available in your area, by ensuring your home is prepared for an upcoming fibre installation, you will save potential disruption in the future. Our Newsites team at BT in Northern Ireland is here to guide you as you take on your self-build project. Installing fibre technology into your new home now will ensure that, once fibre broadband is made available in your area, you can easily take advantage of it. Many different communication providers use our fibre network to supply Superfast Fibre Broadband and Ultrafast Broadband and you


can find a full list of the service providers at Consumers who install fibre broadband into their homes enjoy numerous benefits, including streaming 4K films and music, catching up on TV on demand, making HD video calls, playing online games, uploading photos and video clips to social network sites, phone calls or working from home – without speed or connection disruptions. To install fibre broadband technology, there are two main factors to consider at the early stages of your project:

Getting the fibre cable into your home

During your build, you should ensure that a fibre cable is installed. Typically, your builder will install a copper cable from your home to the curtilage of your site – but ensuring that a fibre cable is also installed will future-proof your home. At BT, we recommend that you contact us to register your site at least six

weeks before you are ready to do the ground works to install your services. Once you have registered your site, a BT Surveyor will meet you to give advice on your options and agree the best solution for your home. BT will provide the materials and typically your builder will do the installation work.

Getting the best from fibre broadband in your home

It is important to think about how you will use broadband in your home. What is the best location for the hardware associated with fibre, such as the modem, router, and the power pack? While home Wi-Fi is a popular choice for domestic broadband usage, will this be enough for future technology? Wi-Fi can also have limitations on speed and, depending on the layout of your home and thickness of your walls, you may have blackspots. You should ask yourself: how will you use broadband in the future?

BT in Northern Ireland Newsites Team – Contact us: Email: newsite.btni. Phone: 0800 085 7546

Will you be converting your spare bedroom into an office, or are you planning to start your own business and use your garage as a business premise? How your house is wired internally and the positioning of data points and power sockets are important factors to consider now to make life easier for future broadband consumption.

How to register your site

To register your site please visit and click ‘Registering your site.’ This website will also give you other useful information on additional services, such as help locating and altering our existing network.





Every little helps


A list of grants available for self-builders and home improvers who are looking for financial help building their home or upgrading it.  Republic of Ireland (ROI)


Better Energy Homes Grants for insulation, solar thermal panels, boiler upgrades and controls, for homes built before 2006. A contribution towards your Building Energy Rating in context of the work is also available. Grants for heat pumps are available from April 2018.


Warmer Homes Scheme Free energy upgrades for low income families receiving fuel allowance. Pilots schemes are also available via the SEAI, e.g. the warmth and wellbeing scheme. 68 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018


Fiscal incentives The Home Renovation Incentive is a tax relief you get for carrying out any kind of upgrade in your home - but you need to hire a tradesmen to do it at the 13.5 per cent rate (DIY jobs are not eligible). Your tax affairs must be in order and you will get the subsidy in the form of a tax back over a period of four years. The Help to Buy scheme helps first-time-buyers put down a deposit to build their new home or to buy one. For a self-build you will need a solicitor to do the paperwork for you.

Disclaimer This list is not exhaustive, always consult with a qualified building professional. Schemes are subject to change.


Offers from utilities Electric Ireland offers new customers subsidies towards installing a new heat pump, a new stove and carrying out insulation measures, among others. The subsidies are deducted from your energy bills. Electric Ireland also offers new customers free Nest thermostats (discounted rate for existing customers). Energia also has free thermostats for new customers (Netatmo, subject to availing of their boiler servicing offer), as well as discounts for installing a boiler with controls and solar thermal panels.



Grants for older buildings The Traditional Farm Buildings Grant goes towards the conservation and repair of traditional farm buildings and related structures for farmers in the Green Low-Carbon AgriEnvironment Scheme (GLAS). Maximum grant amount is €25,000. A grant from the Department of Housing is available for renovating thatched roofs of owner occupied houses (two thirds of the approved cost up to a maximum of €3,810). For heritage buildings in need of considerable repair there are two grants available but these can be hard to get: the Structures at Risk Fund, with funding between €15,000 and €30,000 available, and the Built Heritage Investment Scheme which funds up to half of the total project cost. Contact your local authority for more information. A tax relief may be available too (Section 482). The Repair and Leasing Scheme (RLS) provides funding of up to €40,000 to renovate vacant homes to then rent out for a 10 year period for social housing purposes. Schemes are also open to turf cutters (energy upgrades with SEAI) and flood-prone homes

(administered by the OPW).


Adaptation grants These are means tested, there’s the Housing Adaptation Grant for People with a Disability with a maximum grant amount of €30,000, the Housing Aid for Older People with a maximum grant of €8,500 and the Mobility Aids Grant with a cap of €6,000. Grants up to €4,000 are available to replace old lead piping for those earning up to €50,000. Also available is a grant of up to €4,000 to replace your septic tank after failing an inspection.


Local energy agencies Make sure to contact your local energy agency, they’re non profits with the expertise to assist you to renovate your home. The Tipperary Energy Agency even administers a 50 per cent grant scheme for ROI homes, see

Certificates (NIROCs) scheme was closed in April 2017 so there is no longer a financial incentive from the government to generate your own electricity from solar (photovoltaic - PV) or wind. You can however still sell electricity back to the grid (export payment) and make savings by using the electricity you generate for yourself for free.


Oil buying club Group with your neighbours to get a better deal from oil suppliers to fill your tank. More information on the Bryson Energy website.


Northern Ireland (NI)

Derelict homes There are a number of grants available for houses in serious need of repair, but these tend to be very hard to get. They include the Renovation Grant which may fund up to £25,000 of the work to be carried out, the Repair Grant for houses issued with statutory notices - maximum £7,500 grant aid - and the Replacement Grant which can fund up to £31,500 to build a new house.

Boiler replacement scheme Owner occupiers can get a grant of up to £1,000 to replace inefficient boilers (15+ years old) with energy-efficient condensing oil or gas boilers, switch from oil to gas, or switch to a wood pellet boiler. You must earn less than £40,000 a year.


Feed in tariff for renewables The Northern Ireland Renewables Obligation


Adaptation grants For those with mobility issues there’s the Disabled Facilities Grant which could see all of the works recommended by an Occupational Therapist funded, and the Home Repairs Assistance Grant which is capped at £5,000 over a three year period.


Additional information

Grants to refurbish old buildings are available but can be hard to get.,,,,,,,,,,,,

Low income schemes Affordable Warmth is open to owner occupiers or householders of a privately rented property that have an income of less than £20,000 per year. There are additional grants available through the Utility Regulator’s Sustainable Energy Programme: Energy Plus by Fusion Heating is aimed at low income households with a broken or no heating system. Power NI has an Energy Saver Homes grant of up to £800 towards heating and insulation. The Home Comfort schemes from Firmus energy are aimed at low income housesholds with no central heating.


V E R N A C U L A R A R C H I T E C T U R E / I R I S H C O T TA G E S


The first Irish self-builds How did our ancestors build their homes? To understand the Irish cottage, we must understand the attitudes and beliefs of the people who built and lived in them. Words & Images: Marion McGarry


rish thatched cottages are regarded as symbols of Ireland in various contexts including the tourism industry and in political ideology. But in its traditional and original form, the Irish cottage must seem alien to those involved in building a home today. Their small size and dark interiors (along with superstition on the design brief) are likely to be offputting concepts for the modern dweller. But there is much to be taken from them, such as the use of local and sustainable materials and their blending into the landscape. And these are surely methods that today’s builders should prioritise.


Irish cottages are an example of ‘vernacular architecture’, a term which in many ways 70 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

refers to the first self-builds. Vernacular houses are what the common people built, without the intervention of formally trained architects. If you look at vernacular architecture around the world you will notice it doesn’t adhere to fashions, rather is a response to climate and materials. Therefore, such buildings tend to be noted for their quaintness and resistance to trends. Most Irish rural cottages look similar, because people did not attempt to be ‘different’ in the design of their homes. This is reflective of the social status quo at the time; people were religious and saw themselves as part of the ‘herd’ and wanted to fall into step with their peers. Not wanting to be seen to be ‘getting above’ themselves, they naturally built in the style of their community. The most common cottage type in Ireland is the single-storey dwelling house,

Direct entry cottage commonly found in the westerly half of the Irish landmass, page opposite shows the lobby entry configuration more common in the easterly half.

I R I S H C O T TA G E S / V E R N A C U L A R A R C H I T E C T U R E

one room deep. These usually have three front sash windows, and a front door offset from the centre. They are linear in plan with no hallways but one room leading to another. Built of stone or clay, whitewashed and thatched, they are characterised by steep pitched roofs to keep out the rain. The climate of Ireland has had a huge influence on cottage design. The thatched roofs of the wild northwest coast featured raised stone gables and the thatch was additionally secured with rope. The dryer southeast of the country allowed for hipped gables, which were better at keeping rain from the walls. The typical interior would have consisted of either earthen or stone slab floors, with a central kitchen and living room combined, and the two other rooms of the house, the bedrooms, on either side. The small windows would have made for a dark interior. There was originally no indoor plumbing or electricity. In the main room the central feature was a large open fire, providing heat and a cooking area. The fire would also be used as a light source during the long dark winter evenings.

Choosing the site

Where contemporary Irish one-off houses command a view of some sort, and are sometimes sited on hillsides to attain just that, traditional Irish cottage dwellers would have balked at such windy, exposed places, preferring sheltered aspects instead. The selection of a site with access to a well and a plot of land to grow potatoes (or keep livestock) was important. In contemporary design, road access is a chief concern for people, in contrast with our rural ancestors who walked to most places via the fields. The planning process today is important but in the past religious and superstitious beliefs were crucial in the building of cottages. Many Irish people believed that selection of the wrong site might bring ill-fortune, if the planned house was near a fairy fort for example.


Cottage traditions Milking parlour

blood and body parts of animals. The people who built cottages did not have much money and so would have had to avail of locally sourced materials for cost and transport reasons. The result is a pleasing tendency to blend into the surrounding landscape. When a new home was needed a contractor was not hired, instead the community came together to build it. Members of the community would have had certain expertise in building, thatching, joinery, carpentry, or furniture making. In isolated communities, outsiders could not be easily brought in and local knowledge of building and craft had to suffice. Meitheal was commonly practised in rural communities; this is an Irish tradition where a working group from the community (the meitheal) gathers to help in a member’s time of need.

Window design

In most cases there were no windows to the rear of the house and the openings that were there were kept small. Heat retention, not window taxes (the infamous levy had little to no impact in Ireland), was the reason why there were so few. Casement hinged windows were used up until the 1680s when sash windows began to spread throughout the country. The one-over-one configuration became prevalent by the midnineteenth century.


When the house was complete it was not unusual to have an animal occupy it to ‘test’ it for a number of weeks; if the animal died it was considered a bad omen and the house was left unoccupied. For the housewarming party the house was adorned with holy icons and the first fire in the hearth was started with lit fuel brought directly from the dweller’s parents’ home. Dancing during the party helped flatten the earthen floors.

Building practices

There were many other superstitions that governed building vernacular houses. Rooms could not be built, as an extension, west of the house. Stones that fell from a builder’s hand while working could not be inserted in a wall. There was also a custom that stone from an old building should not be used in new buildings. Stones from a sacred site were never used in a building. There was also a widespread custom of burying items under foundations to bring luck including vessels, metal objects (to deter fairies) and even

The back and front door layout evolved from the tradition of milking the cows in the house, which was thought to bring good luck. This practice continued up until the 1930s but only during the summer months. Another reason for the two-door system was to prevent changeable winds from entering the kitchen in a culture where the door was frequently left open and the fire was always lit. The back door was known as the draughty door (doras cúil), with the front door (doras tosaigh) facing the sheltered position.

Marion McGarry’s new book, The Irish Cottage: History, Culture and Design is published by Orpen Press, ISBN 9781786050120, colour throughout with b&w illustrations by the author, €17.99



How will your house be built in the future?


The eksoVest

Robo brickies and 3D printed houses could become a reality sooner than you might think Words: Christophe Krief


he Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE) North / South Ireland inaugural conference this past September brought into focus two visions of the future for the construction industry. On the one hand there is palpable excitement as we move towards reducing inefficiencies with the help of new technologies such as Building Information Modelling (BIM) and 3D printing. In 20 years’ time, it’s likely that building sites will require software engineers to control everything from 3D printing and robo-brickies to virtual and augmented reality technology. The former is under development (3D prototype houses have already been built) while the latter will make it possible for experts to remotely visit sites, making project supervision more effective. Drone operators could also be required for site inspections and possibly even deliveries. For other construction workers, developments along the lines of the Robo brickies as envisioned by Fastbrick,


eksoVest (pictured above) will help reduce the physical strain. According to a study by international consultancy Mace, 600,000 of the 2.2 million construction jobs in the UK could be automated by 2040. What this means for the sector is the requirement for a different set of skills and a new look at apprenticeships. It also means making construction attractive to “digital-native millennials”. But what does it all boil down to for the self-builder? Robo-brickies could be rented out, as could 3D printing machines whose robotic arms will be instructed by computer software to build construction components, tailor-made for specific requirements. Anyone who’s had to run around looking for a specific product will see the benefit of having a builder’s merchant

offer the services of a 3D machine that can make any component part to any size. A great complement to their range of standardised products in stock. BIM for its part is already being used in self-builds, it’s a project management tool that weeds out human error and designs buildings in 3D with virtual walk-throughs. A more dominant view of the future is arguably a more conservative one which foresees a ‘business as usual’ model. The Federation of Master Builders’ Gavin Maguire, for instance, lobbied for greater investment in upskilling the sector now, seeking to encourage young people into apprenticeship to become plasterers, brick layers, carpenters and so on. Others argued a ‘back to basics’ approach may be the alternative to a tech savvy future. Architect Tom Wolley opined that, from an energy and health point of view, investing in materials that are considered low tech makes the most sense. He presented research from Finland that showed the energy consumed to produce conventional new buildings (embodied energy) is never recovered within their lifetime, even with energy saving measures.

For more on the work of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers see


Time machine Building a house in 18th Century Ireland was expensive and hard work; a new academic book gives us a glimpse of what it was like If you were to build your house in the 1700s, you would have had to make quite a few of the component parts on site. Bricks, for one, were usually made by unskilled labourers on or near building sites or bought from small local producers who leased plots of land for brickmaking in the vicinity of speculative housing estates. This involved the excavation of earth to a depth of about 4ft where the bricks were brunt (no enclosed kilns). More expensive, imported stock bricks were usually only used as facings. Locally made bricks were used for linings to composite walls, partitions and general structural work (described as place bricks) and were considered of inferior quality due to the lack of temperature control during the firing process. No strangers to the building site

were the plumbers who worked almost exclusively in lead and lead-tin solder. They made cisterns for water supply and pipes for its distribution; they also cast lead sheets in a variety of thicknesses, often on site, from mostly imported lead ingots and scrap lead taken from local buildings. The high frequency of failure in lead roofs and gutters, partly due to a lack of understanding of movement fractures and what causes them, kept plumbers especially busy in repair and maintenance work in the first half of the century. Interestingly, even though slate was the predominant material to cover Irish roofs from the mediaeval period until the beginning of the present century, timber shingles (exclusively made of oak) were apparently more highly praised, as

Edited excerpts from The Building Site in Eighteenth Century Ireland by Arthur Gibney. Four Courts Press, hardback, ISBN 9781846826382, 296 pages, large format colour illustrations, â‚Ź35

were pantiles (curved clay tiles) for low pitched roofs. In general, each trade provided its own unskilled labour but workers employed for earth excavation, scaffolding and clearing site rubbish were usually sourced by the building owner. Contract (or working) drawings were not seen as an important requirement in Ireland until the later decades of the eighteenth century. Partly due to the guild system, prices for work and materials were fixed and unchanging up to the beginning of the 1770s and contracts were not commissioned on the basis of competitive rates. A flurry of activity around this time introduced a period of high building costs and imports. Rapid inflation became an issue well into the 19th Century.


Through the roof Roofing types and methods


Words: Astrid Madsen & Andrew Stanway


here are endless variations of roof designs but most popular in Ireland is the gable double pitched or ‘A’ frame with a timber structure and an engineered slate or concrete tile finish. Similar and also quite popular is the hip roof, which has a pyramid shape (four faces instead of two). Hip roofs are less vulnerable to wind loading than vertical gables but are more complex and expensive to build. Gambrel roofs, which allow for rounded roof designs, use two different pitches; a steep pitch finished off on top

with a lower one. They are popular where the roof space is to be used. Mansard is essentially a hipped version of the gambrel with two different pitches on four sides. The lean-to, also called monopitch roof, is used in the context of extensions or to cover part of a building that has some other style of roof on a different part. The butterfly roof is a type of inverted ‘A’ design with a central valley forming a gutter gutter that is often hard to access making maintenance difficult, e.g. to collect leaves and other debris, which may cause water ingress/dampness. Conversion of the attic space is also impractical with this type of roof design, but it is attractive

Gambrel roof

Mansard roof



and dramatic to look at and for this reason is favoured by some architectural designers. The roof can be cut in the traditional way or fabricated from mono trusses. Dormer windows require their own mini roofs and great care must be given to their detailing and construction. The quality of the design of dormers varies considerably from single-skin walls clad with uPVC sheeting, to double-skin designs with superior insulation properties. The roofing of dormers also varies, with ‘A’ roofs more popular than monopitch variants. When opting for monopitch the incline should not run back towards the main roof.



Traditional cut roof vs. trusses

Before trusses became popular, nearly all roofs were cut on site from timbers, lifted up one by one and secured in position by the carpenter. This still happens for some single houses and for extensions. The timber used should be approved under current regulations for moisture content, grading and to ensure that the sizes used are strong enough for the job. Cut roofs are also more expensive than trusses due to the increase in labour and stronger, thicker, timber required. On the plus side, it’s easier to make in situ alterations for a water tank, roof openings, dormers, etc. and roof space conversions are relatively straightforward. Trusses, however, are better at coping with wider spans. Trusses are essentially frames, each consisting of a pair of rafters, ceiling joist, ties and bracing, made up in single units spanning the width of the house. Roof trusses use much lighter-weight timber than traditional cut roofs and are held together by metal plates. Their appearance may look very flimsy compared with traditional cut rafters, but they are engineered to do the job and they do it well using the principle of triangulation. ďƒ˜ SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 75



‘Trusses are manufactured specifically for your project so the dimensions you supply to the manufacturer must be spot-on.’

of the overall design. The trusses cannot be cut on site or their integrity otherwise interfered with, a significant point should you wish to alter – even slightly – the positions of roof windows, dormers or chimneys after the trusses are located. The location within the attic of water storage tanks should be notified to the manufacturer at tender stage, so this can be incorporated into the design. Where change is unavoidable, the truss manufacturer should be consulted and the modifications sanctioned by them, prior to any work being carried out. This will ensure that the guarantee supplied by the truss manufacturer remains valid. A point to remember when ordering roof trusses is their separation distance, which will be copied by the ceiling joists. Typically this distance is 600mm in the case of trusses, while many cut-roofs will have rafters and joists at 450mm. If you are using plasterboard the 600mm distance should be fine, but counter battens at reduced distances may be required for some more specialised sheeting in which case additional labour and material costs will be incurred. For truss manufacturers delivery can be a headache. The maximum truss length that can be transported is approximately 12m and the maximum height 4 to 4.5m. Headroom (bridges, over-head cables etc.) 

Haldane Fisher

Trusses often rely on a web of diagonal members and supports, leaving little useable space in the attic. Each member contributes to the structural integrity of the truss and therefore can’t be cut or altered. This is why a roof space conversion is rarely possible with trusses unless they were designed for this from the outset, which tends to increase cost significantly. The trusses are usually made of timber and are pre-fabricated off site by specialist manufacturers; metal trusses were popular for a number of years and are still available. A great advantage is that all the engineering calculations are done by the manufacturer so the trusses can simply be installed on site quickly and easily without any worries about structural integrity. They are delivered, lifted into position and fixed in place by your carpenters in accordance with the drawings supplied by the manufacturer. The carpenters then fit both longitudinal and diagonal bracings (sometimes called chevron bracing) to the frame to strengthen and stiffen it. Next comes the sarking felt (weatherproofing membrane) followed by the battens and possibly counter battens to which the sheeting material (e.g. slates, tiles etc.) is fixed. The battens add to the strength of the roof which will have been included in the design calculations. The trusses must be fixed properly to a timber wall plate, which in turn must be secured by galvanised metal straps at regular intervals secured to the wall. Traditionally, wall plates were attached to the wall by bolts, a method still employed by some roofing contractors in addition to the straps. Wind uplift is a concern for roof designers and much of the performance of trusses (and other roof designs) is down to how well the roof is secured to the building, which is a site issue rather than a design one. Self-builders should be aware of the ‘rules of engagement’ with trussed roofs. Since the trusses are manufactured specifically for the project and are not a ‘stock’ item, the dimensions you supply to the manufacturer must be spot-on. Changing your mind can be very expensive. Some manufacturers send a representative to measure the house once the wall-plate is on, or even earlier – perhaps when the wall construction has been commenced all round. The weight of both the trusses and the final roof-covering material, necessary overhang, along with the wind-loading, pitch, span and other features must be calculated and compared with the strength of the supporting walls. The manufacturer will supply a set of drawings showing the exact location of each truss as a constituent


on the roads between factory and site may result in each of the trusses coming in two parts, which will then have to be nailed together on site by your carpenters. This is usually only a problem with very wide or steeply-pitched trusses and the manufacturer will identify this when presented with the design. You will also need to ensure, in advance, that there is adequate clearance on your site’s access road. Roofing contractors normally charge extra to fit two-part trusses so check this out at tender stage. If the roof design features a number of small intersecting roofs, for example dormers, the truss manufacturer may omit this from the tender, inserting phrases like ‘By Others’ or ‘By Main Contractor’ in the quotation. This is likely to result in the roofing contractor seeking remuneration for the extra work in cutting and fitting these small sections, and of course, somebody will have to buy the timber required. Finally on the subject of trusses, on-site storage is very important. Ideally, trusses should be lifted from the delivery truck onto the roof, and installed immediately. If they do have to be stored on site, they must be stacked correctly (on their flat), on bearers and on level ground, to prevent warping. The trusses must be covered with a suitable material to prevent the ingress of water, damp and to protect them from the sun. If any of these problems do occur, you and your builder are on your own, they are no longer the responsibility of the truss manufacturer.

Pre-insulated roofs

Structural insulated roof, floor and wall panels are a relatively new concept in Ireland but very popular on the continent. Known as SIPs these panels are supplied 1.21m wide in 7.45 m lengths and 150mm (with 112mm insulation) to 300mm thick. They are made using rigid urethane insulation sandwiched between two structural skins of oriented strand board (OSB) or other board. They use less timber and are more energy efficient than timber frame panels with a basic U-value of 0.2W/ sqmK. Lower values are achievable with an additional layer of insulation. The panels are joined together using a sealed jointing system that minimises the amount of air that can pass through the joints, thus making the home extremely air tight. The design of the panel joints means a more continuous layer of insulation in the roof and walls, they are very quick to install and, with the addition of a breather membrane, form a weathertight shell, enabling you to start other parts of the build, such as tiling the roof, immediately. A high quality of 78 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

finish is guaranteed. Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF), whereby an insulating formwork is put in place and concrete poured into it, is possible for roofs as part of an overall (walls, floors) ICF build.

High pitched?

Anything steeper than 10 degrees and less than 70 degrees is classed as a pitched roof. Achieving a successful design requires careful thought because the choice of finish puts constraints on what can and can’t be used, especially with lower pitches. The roof finish manufacturer will specify the minimum and maximum pitch required to ensure weatherproofing. Typically roof pitches in Ireland are in the 30 to 40 degree range to repel the rain quickly from a slate or tile covering and provide some degree of practical attic space for storage. A greater pitch is likely to make the house look top heavy. Flat roofs are becoming increasingly popular for extensions with finishing materials including copper, zinc or lead, torch-on felt, PVC sheeting or liquid asphalt mastic. Many contemporary roof designs for new houses also include nearly-flat roofs with a shallow monopitch. A slight fall in the flat roof, usually just short of 10 degrees, is essential to allow for water run-off and to prevent ponding (the build-up of little pools of water after 

TOP TIP On older buildings, don’t let downpipes run along the external wall. Brackets should make them stand slightly proud so as to allow air to pass between the wall and pipe. This is to prevent the build up of moisture against your wall. On the other hand, modern methods of construction such as Insulating Concrete Formwork (ICF) may allow you to run the downpipes within the wall space.

Hipped roofs over bay windows

ALUMINIUM-CLAD WOOD WINDOWS FROM UNILUX as exhibited at the SelfBuild Show in Belfast in 2017

Weru UK Management & Training Centre Weru Windows, Weru House Amy Johnson Way Squires Gate Blackpool FY4 2RP

Glentown Stone Ltd Tel: 028 7135 0425

Tel: 0044 1253 341444 Email:


a shower or heavy rainfall). Flat roofs can be aesthetically complemented or even concealed from ground level, with the strategic use of parapet walls. Great care must be taken with the insulation and weathering to prevent ingress of water and resulting damp in the living space immediately below. The deck of a flat roof can be constructed from metal, timber or concrete. Timber and metal decks are normally sheeted with plywood, OSB (oriented strand board), or sometimes chipboard. This deck is then covered with sarking material, then finally the finishing material to provide weathering. Traditionally, the insulation used is rock wool or fibreglass, placed horizontally between the support members in the deck. Today, though, more people are using blown-in foam insulation. Green roofs are built on this type of structure. Their design and construction must accommodate the increased weight, as must all the supporting structures beneath. Timber rafters will need to be stronger than perhaps normal for the span, and will need to be sheeted with plywood or OSB. It’s also advisable to double the sheeting on the roof to add strength and spread the weight, making for a much stronger roof. The finish is often sedum as it requires little upkeep but intensive roofs, with grass, are also possible albeit usually more expensive due to more complex requirements.


Choosing how to finish your roof is an important aesthetic decision. Tiles are man or machine made and are commonly formed of concrete or clay; whilst concrete ones are cheaper they may not always weather as well as clay and can have a shorter life expectancy. Growing in popularity are interlocking clay tiles (around €25/£20 per sqm +VAT as compared to plain clay tiles at around €60/£55 per sqm +VAT), similar in format and design to interlocking concrete roof tiles (around €15/£10 per sqm + VAT) with the advantage of being colour-fast. Natural slate, meanwhile, is probably the hardest wearing of all lasting 100+ years (a wide range imported, often from Spain, with prices ranging from €35/£30 per sqm to €95/£90 per sqm + VAT), whilst composite or engineered slates are a cost effective alternative to natural slate, (fibre cement slates costing around €30/£25 per sqm +VAT) available in many finishes and colours, typically offering structural and colour warranties. As for shingles, asphalt versions are inexpensive and provide good wind and 80 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

rain protection. Cedar shingles are a more eco-friendly alternative but they need to be treated and fireproofed; they also require quite a bit of overlapping, as with natural slate. Other roof coverings include metal (zinc and lead are on-trend for a modern finish on contemporary builds) and thatch (requires steep pitch and deep overhang). Building Integrated PV (photovoltaic roof tiles) are still in their infancy but are available from Denmark and at the time of going to print, a leading manufacturer had

announced it had started production in the US. DISCLAIMER This article is for information purposes only, always discuss your particular circumstances with a building professional.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Lagan Building Solutions, Tegral Building Products,


Your obligations Nobody wants an accident, but a passive attitude is insufficient and self-builders have a duty to ensure that every reasonable step is taken to prevent one. Many unnecessary accidents happen through rushing, because the client is anxious to get the building closed in quickly to allow follow on trades to get cracking.

l There is a legal requirement that a qualified individual, which you as the owner

independently appoint, put together a health and safety plan at both the design and construction stages. Most accidents result from people falling and objects hitting people working below which will be acknowledged in your health and safety plans. l Adequate and properly erected scaffolding will form an important part of your health and safety plan for the construction stage. Toe boards are now standard (a length of timber laid upright to prevent debris from falling) and you may need to provide fall-arrest protection and/or safety nets. You will need to keep a record of visual inspections, these must be done regularly and after bad weather. l Lifting the roofing materials into position is another danger area. In the case of trusses for example, while a number of operatives will certainly be able to lift and carry the truss, locating it on the wall plates is much more difficult. You may need to use a mechanised lift such as a telescopic forklift or perhaps a mobile crane. Some delivery trucks have a crane mounted on the body of the truck, but this is unlikely to be able to hoist the trusses into position as it is designed to load and offload only the truck. If the project is sub contracted, check that all craneage and lifting requirements are part of the building contract. l Ensure you have good insurance cover.


Pop indoors for some fresh air BEAM Vacuum & Ventilation has been supplying central vacuum and ventilation systems systems for over 40 years. We meet up with the team to reveal the secret to their success. Central vacuum systems have been around for many years now. Why do you think they are still so popular in new build homes?

Self-builders are increasingly building airtight homes, sometimes without considering the need for ventilation. What advice would you give them? Craig Gibson: Airtightness is an increasing factor people are considering when building their own home as they are seeking to gain from the financial benefits of energy efficiency. In many cases people still use traditional ventilation methods such as window trickle vents and bathroom extractor fans, even though they are striving to create an airtight property. However, what they don’t realise is that these ageing methods of ventilation are counterproductive to their quest for an airtight home. In homes with low levels of airtightness, a ventilation system such as Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR), Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MEV) or a Positive Input Ventilation (PIV) system is required to bring fresh air into the home. An MVHR system is usually the preferred method in airtight homes as it extracts moist stale air and supplies fresh warmed filtered air into the house while recovering up to 95 per cent of the heat of the extracted air. When an MVHR system is in place the potential benefits of a well-insulated airtight home can really be achieved. The saying ‘Build Tight… Ventilate Right’ has never been more appropriate.

Nicholas Dummigan: Without a doubt, a central vacuum system is an integral part of a new build house. Homeowners appreciate the convenience of just plugging a hose into a wall inlet and the health benefits of having dust and dirt collxected away from the living areas and not recirculating in the air (which causes problems for asthma and allergy sufferers). There is no lugging around a noisy heavy portable vacuum cleaner and the industrial strength suction is up to five times more powerful than a portable. People are generally surprised at how affordable a system can be, and when you remember that a system is designed to

last a ‘housetime’, it really does become excellent value for money. We’ve customers telling us their BEAM systems are still fully operational even after 30 years – you don’t find that with most portable vacuums! Central vacuum systems are also ideal to install with MVHR systems where you’re assured of clean air even after vacuuming.

Why do you think people trust BEAM with their vacuum and ventilation requirements? Paula Osborne: BEAM has been in the business of delivering clean fresh air since 1977, and has thrived even through the tough times of recent recessions and property downturns, so there is no doubt we understand the industry and more importantly our customers. For over 40 years we have focused on quality, from the products we sell right through to the aftersales care we offer, and a 70,000+ customer base is only part of the evidence. We implement ISO quality controls in all processes within our business ensuring the service we offer is of the highest standards. We also have our own highly skilled team of installation engineers as well as a countrywide distribution network, backed up with over 200 years of combined experience at our head office. We continually ask our customers for feedback to make sure we are delivering what we promise and what they expect. One thing they consistently tell us is they trusted BEAM from the start, and that helps drive us towards consistently delivering customer excellence. Sales Manager Paula Osborne with Technical Experts Craig Gibson and Nicholas Dummigan




Roof maintenance Unlike with many other areas of your home, ignoring roofing problems can become very expensive if water penetrates into the timbers of the roof structure or even into upstairs rooms. Words: Andrew Stanway By far the largest part of a roof structure is its covering, usually made of tile or slate. Check once a year for: l Missing, broken or damaged tiles.

Spotting these can be tricky to do from the ground but there are two ways of doing it more efficiently. The first is to ask a neighbour living opposite if they’ll let you go into their garden or home (preferably upstairs) so you can get a better view. The second is to use a pair of binoculars from the best viewpoint in your garden or on the street. l Is the surface covered with moss or other

vegetation? Moss is especially dangerous as it retains moisture which, when frozen, can seriously damage tiles. However remember that it is never advisable to power-hose a roof clean as it is likely to damage the tiles/ slates. l Are climbing plants encroaching on the

roof covering?

l Don’t forget to check the ridge tiles

and those on hips, if you have them. Look carefully at the pointing between these tiles and also where they are bedded on the tiles underneath. l Check the flashings around the base of

the chimney stack and elsewhere. Look to see if any sections are missing, stained or corroded. l If you have vents or pipes penetrating

the roof itself, look as best you can at the flashing around their bases. l Are there overhanging trees? Cut them

back once a year.

l Finally, check the flashing around roof-

lights and windows.


Power hosing is likely to damage your roof covering which means that if there’s a significant build up of moss the process of cleaning may be long, as it will need to be meticulous

Now look carefully at the chimney stack itself.

l Is the chimney itself, or any of the

chimney pots, leaning? l Is the pointing in good order? l Is the flaunching on the top surface of

the stack (the mortar bed where the pots are attached) in good condition? l Do the pots themselves look sound? l Is there any black staining on the

brickwork? If so, this could be where smoke is penetrating very poor pointing. This needs urgent attention by a professional.




Gutters, gullies, downpipes and other rainwater goods. l Clear gutters twice a year. Flush them through with a hosepipe if possible and see exactly how the fall of the gutter works. It could be that it’s flowing the wrong way. Look at all the gutter supports if the fall isn’t doing its job. l Clear gullies (where the water drains at the end of the downpipe) by hand then flush them through with a hose. If this doesn’t produce the result you want, you could have a problem where they go into a soakaway. Soakaways in older homes have had decades to become silted up and stop functioning. At the worst you may have to dig a new soakaway. If your rainwater goes into a proper drain, get access to it and clear it. l Is vegetation growing out of the stack or


l Are there birds’ nests on, or in, the pots?

Other inspections

While inspecting your chimney, think about your TV aerial or satellite dish. Look to see if it’s secure. Don’t worry if the satellite dish is a bit rusted or stained. It’ll still work perfectly well. If you can access your roof from indoors, look for signs of leaks. If things are serious you’ll already have noticed staining, or worse, in an upstairs ceiling or wall before even going up into the roof space. Turn off the lights in your roof space and, once your eyes are accustomed to the dark, look for chinks of light that could indicate a problem. If you can see light, air can get in and heat can get out; birds, animals and other vermin can gain access and there may be something missing on the outside. Flat roofs are often a source of trouble. If you feel safe and have proper ladders or other forms of access, get up on the roof and check all surfaces and rainwater goods are intact. This flat-roof check should ideally be done very soon after heavy rain. This will

help you see whether it’s doing its job properly. If you’re really keen you can use a hose pipe and see exactly how the water drains away. If you find there never was a satisfactory fall on the roof, this will need sorting out with significant structural work. If you find anything wrong when carrying out any of this roof inspection, seek professional help from a roofing contractor, unless you are confident and personally knowledgeable about working on roofs.

Soffits and fascias

Rotten fascia boards won’t support your guttering properly, so check these are in good condition and replace if necessary. Check your soffit vents once a year. Clear them if necessary. It was while doing this that I discovered a huge bee colony. The guttering, fascia and soffit all had to be taken off to remove the two metre-long nest. Finally, if you have a roof made of unusual materials such as thatch, lead, or timber shingles, always use a specialist or you could do more harm than good.

l Repair gutter joints that leak. It’s amazing how even a very small leak can stain a wall, erode pointing, ruin paint, send water indoors and so on. l After a downpour check for signs of leaks, overflows, leadwork that has been lifted by high winds. In most instances you will need to replace the section that is causing the problem. l Install leafguards if you have trees nearby. l Check the gutter for pieces of broken slate or tile and even mortar, then try to find where they came from.

For a full guide to roofing repairs see the Summer 2016 issue. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 83

B A S I C S / P I T FA L L S



Self-build pitfalls


The forget-me-nots to survive your self-build adventure.


Don’t overestimate how much bang you’ll get for your buck

The budget will in large part dictate many of the design features – be realistic early on to avoid disappointment later. To get the design right, you need to know what you can afford to build. A QS (quantity surveyor) will cost your design for you and give you an idea of what your budget will allow. For an estimate of how big a house you can afford to build, check out our Selfbuild Cost Calculators. It’s mandatory in NI to get a SAP (standard assessment procedure) analysis, in ROI a DEAP 84 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

(dwelling energy assessment procedure) analysis – these prove compliance to the energy requirements of the Building Regulations. An energy analysis will inform the design of your home, in particular how to build it including the insulation.


Don’t go uninsured

It goes without saying that your contractor and individual tradesmen must have their own insurance in place. But you too as a self-builder must get insurance, the minimum to get is public liability insurance (think harm done to trespassers on your site) and if you’re managing the build yourself, you’ll have to get

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

employer’s liability insurance. You will also want to get site insurance to protect you from fire, theft, etc. The bundle of all three is often marketed as self-build insurance.


Don’t forget about health and safety

Health & safety regulations in both NI and ROI require that you appoint project supervisors for the design (PSDS) and construction (PSCS) stages – this involves having a qualified individual write up reports detailing the site-specific risks to your project and the measures taken to mitigate them. You will need to appoint a PSDS and PSCS if the work lasts more than 30 days, there is more than 


P I T FA L L S / B A S I C S

one contractor or if there is a particular risk.


Don’t forget about the hidden costs

Water services connections can be high in ROI, electricity connections in both jurisdictions can also set you back, while local authorities can also charge hefty contribution levies (for things like roads, etc.) so check all service connection fees (often requiring a site survey), and local authority contributions, in advance.


Don’t blow part of your contingency on a luxury item

Squirrel away your contingency into a separate savings account and only dip into it for emergencies. The time to splash out will be when you’re all moved in and all is in order, post-snag list.


Don’t forget broadband


Don’t forget building control

Vital as they are on a building site, getting connected to water and electricity early will no doubt be high on your agenda. But also arrange to have your broadband infrastructure installed at the same time to save you on digging a new trench later on in the game. Make sure to go for fibre cabling even if you’re not currently in a high speed area. In NI the network engineers come out during the build, in ROI they may come out upon completion.

Securing planning permission isn’t enough for you to build a house. You must then file a commencement notice (ROI) / sign up with Building Control (NI), and no matter how the project is financed or managed, you must abide to every aspect of the

‘Once your have clear construction plans to follow and tradesmen lined up, you’re doing well.'

building regulations – technical guidance documents in ROI and technical booklets in NI.

More advice for your project on


Don’t only rely on your gut instinct


Don’t rely on verbal agreements

Asking for, and checking references is a time-consuming exercise but an essential one if you plan to have someone do work for you. Speak with the homeowners who’ve dealt with them in the past, in private and ask honest questions. With all the facts in place, then go with your gut.

To avoid getting caught up in any arguments or lack thereof (if you get along with one of your tradesmen or professionals, you won’t want to get into a row), keep a record of the build with photographic evidence. This will help clear up most mishaps and misunderstandings.


Don’t get stressed out

The early stages of the process are the most important, before breaking ground. Once you have clear construction plans to follow and tradesmen lined up, you’re doing well. Stress is often counterproductive, so whenever possible take a deep breath and refer back to your plans. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 87


The extension must not take up too much space to be considered exempted development.


‘I believe this was the first time CLT was used in Northern Ireland.’

Eco footprint Building an eco-home nowadays doesn’t so much mean making it energy efficient as it does choosing the right materials, says architect Micah Jones who partly built his home out of Cross Laminated Timber Words: Astrid Madsen


House size 240 sqm Site size ½ acre Site cost £80,000 Build cost £245,000

Images courtesy of Micah T Jones Architect,


he future of domestic architecture is zero carbon homes; it’s something that’s becoming the norm. What would have been labeled an eco-home five years ago is now run of the mill,” comments Micah. “All of the projects we take on, we make as sustainable as possible for its context, not just in terms of energy performance but in terms of how it weathers and fits its site.” Micah worked for six months in Amsterdam during his studies and was influenced by their approach to modern design which he says is incredibly forward thinking. “A lot of effort goes into the materials they use and how they use them,” he adds. “But also they are not afraid to be different, to create buildings which serve their inhabitants.” He’s infused his practice with similar



Q&A with Micah What was the first item you designed and was it a building? I was 15 and wanted to buy and restore a classic car, to do this I needed a shed so I built one at the bottom of my parents’ garden out of scrap I found lying around and from some local farm buildings which had recently been demolished.

precepts. “We love projects where our clients are willing to let us design the building to reflect their personalities.” Specialised in vernacular architecture, Micah says he’s been heavily influenced by sheds and other agricultural structures dotting the Irish landscape: “These forgotten buildings provide an incredible wealth of materials, forms and structures which can be reinterpreted.”

Self-build in action

Micah’s own self-build journey, recently profiled on Grand Designs, started back in 2014 when he and wife Elaine found the perfect site. “It’s a magical spot with incredible views out over the drumlins of County Down. The site demanded a house which looked like it had always been there.” Even though they were unable to keep the barn, badly damaged by a mature tree which had grown out of the walls, Micah chose to rebuild on the existing footprint. “The constraints of a long thin house [length of a swimming pool and width of an average living room] were very challenging. I didn’t start on the design for six months.” The concept, Micah explains, was to create a long house which had as few corridors as possible. As the site is on different levels, this opened up great opportunities for framing views which in turn meant placing all the living space on the first floor and the bedrooms on the ground floor. A key point with the length of the house was to position the stairs as centrally as possible to reduce traveling distances from one end to the other. A nifty trick was that the upper storey walls were splayed to increase the size of the views looking from one end of the house to the other. “The house is built using two very

different construction methods,” adds Micah. “Because we wanted to reuse the stone from the original barn on the lower portion of the house, the ground floor is of simple block cavity walls and plastered finishes. The first floor structure is on the other hand entirely made from Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) panels, up to 16 meters in length and 3 meters wide,” continues Micah. “The CLT panels are fixed to the concrete first floor slab above.” The holes in the CLT for the doors and windows were pre-cut in the Austrian factory where they were made with the flat pack panels then assembled on site by an experienced UK firm in four days. These were insulated and clad on the outside; the inside face was left untouched providing a timber finish.

Why did you decide to become an architect? My parents are both artists so creativity certainly runs in the family, but it wasn’t until I was in my late teens that I made the career choice. Architecture has changed my life, as anything does when you find something to do that makes you come alive. I love the process, the detail and the quality that can be obtained when scores of people work together to achieve one goal. It’s the perfect fit for me. What was your first professional commission and where was it built? I started my practice in the depth of the recession in 2012 and work was very hard to come by. My first big commission came in the first year of the practice for a large replacement farm house on the Ards peninsula. What would you like to change? I would love to change the planning system, which has very little to say about quality, to clamp down on poor design which is robbing people of a quality living experience. Design doesn’t have to be expensive, it just needs to be thought through properly.

“I believe this was the first time CLT was used in Northern Ireland, though it has been used in Ireland and the rest of the UK for some time, especially on commercial buildings,” comments Micah. Find out what Micah loves most about his ‘shed house’ on and come meet the man himself at Selfbuild Live Bootcamp, Feb 16-18 at the Titanic Exhibition Centre

What do you do in your spare time? I spend a lot of time building furniture and experimenting, I always have a project on the go. It’s a great way to develop new ideas and it’s fun for the family too. I also love football, mainly listening to it on the radio while I build things.



Poetic potential Shane Cotter and Kathryn Wilson of Architectural Farm on injecting a healthy dose of fun into their projects Words: Astrid Madsen Photography: Ste Murray


hane and Kathryn founded Architectural Farm during the recession, a challenging time which now, looking back, also yielded a great opportunity. “We both worked in private practice on large commercial and public projects before the downturn. With a strong belief that architects, given the opportunity, can do anything we thought we’d open our own practice, and give it a go,” recounts Shane. The decision in many ways made itself. “It was a natural progression, we had been working on private jobs on the side and before we knew it, we had enough work to build up a portfolio,” says Kathryn. “The practice is a result of this evolution.” The gamble paid off as the young couple is now well established in the architectural scene, with accolades from the Royal Institute of the Architects of Ireland (RIAI) and the Royal Hibernian Academy. Evolving too during this time were their clients’ profiles. “With hindsight I would say the conversations we are having with clients today are much more well informed than many that we had say seven or eight years ago, and they’re much less susceptible to current trends or fashions,” opines Shane. “The specifics of their project and how they live their day-to-day are much more important. No one wants to design their extension or renovation around a kitchen that will be changed in five years – a kitchen island, for example, is an amenity that may or may not work, depending on the space and people.” “It’s a two-way street, the more the client brings to the table the more we can contribute,” adds Kathryn. “Our role is to be informing the discussion and pushing it in a different direction. The more you test each other, the better – clients will test our own preconception as we do theirs.” “The interesting thing about the process is once you start making these core decisions, around the way the clients live and the context of the build, everything 90 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018


Q&A with Shane What was your first professional commission and where was it built? I built a house for a friend of mine in east Cork in a ‘contemporary vernacular’ style as these houses tend to be described. The problem with working for friends or family is that you’ll worry yourself to death. After that I did my cousin’s house and in practice, my first professional domestic commission was for an extension in Dublin. What inspires you? Travel is by far the best way to teach yourself architecture. Learning and figuring yourself out through a building is a great experience. At the moment we have been looking at punched out windows (protruding from the façade) and always find it interesting to see how others have designed and built their versions.

‘The default white box at the back of a house is no longer what we’re asked to do.’

else starts responding, there’s a snowball effect.” “The default white box at the back of a house is no longer what we’re asked to do,” says Shane. “It’s now all about inside, how do the clients want to live. You need to bring life and joy to a project. There’s poetic potential in architecture.” According to Shane, a new build is the perfect blank slate, as it can respond to its context much better than an extension, which he says will always be a compromise of sorts: “Renovations are more about putting the puzzle together,” he adds. 

Where do you think domestic architecture is heading in the future? We already have some real heavy hitters here in Ireland with Grafton Architects, O’Donnell + Tuomey, dePaor, Heneghan Peng, and their work is informing much of the initial discussions on architecture with our clients. Also now that we have the RIAI Architecture Awards rewarding regions for the first time in 2017, I think we will be seeing more architects taking part in regional housing projects – architects bring so much to the table from orientation, site and setting, to building performance. What has architecture as a career given you? A rich, broad view of the world. Every day I get to dabble in art, engineering, design, psychology and get fascinating glimpses into human nature. I think it’s a career that makes you very rounded as an individual because you have to juggle all these aspects on a daily basis, you have to do the maths, you draw sketches, you deal with people one to one. There’s never a dull moment.

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.

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

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


Bench presses Fostering a sense of fun was at the heart of this renovation, balanced by functionality “It’s not every day you get an opportunity to transform your house and in this instance, the internal layout warranted a complete overhaul. It often makes for a much more successful extension to reconfigure the entire building,” explains Shane. The brief was very specific as the homeowners were focused on their functional needs. “In a small family home storage is everything so much thought was given to that, by incorporating as many nooks and crannies as possible throughout.” The idea of the indoor/outdoor bench, for its part, was a playful take on the need to make the house feel bigger all the while catering to family life and its inherent connection to the outdoors. Shane explains: “The tricky bit about the bench was getting the right size and the material that could function as a social and play space both inside and out. It had to be big enough to sit on and to allow the kids to climb and play without being too mean or too large. In this case it took a meter width, split in two by the glazing, and almost five meters in length to strike the right balance. The material needed to be robust enough for the outdoors (and for the children) yet tactile and warm for the inside space. Hard wood timber is ideal for this purpose as it weathers with the building. In this case we chose a mahogany. While the extension and the timber elements look relatively simple it takes a lot of effort in both detailing and building to get it right. For instance setting out the lines of the timber cladding and detailing around the jambs of the sliding window, when the form of the extension is twisting, was tricky and is a credit to the builder’s patience and skill. Other things that had to be considered were the external timber seat and weathering. To deal with horizontal rain and to reduce water ponding on the seat, in between the timber slats are joints that lead to a continuous drain below.”

Architectural Farm, Photography by Ste Murray,


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

Sanctuary Haldane Fisher has relaunched its bathroom and tile showrooms. We catch up with Sonya O’Neill, the new BATHLINE Sales Manager to tell us more.

Bathrooms at Haldane Fisher. Newry – Bangor Portadown – Lisburn Belfast – Coleraine Visit us on stand D16 at Selfbuild Live Belfast, 16 to 18th February 2018

It’s well known that builder’s merchant Haldane Fisher stocks just about anything you might need to build or renovate your house, from building materials to plumbing and heating, home improvement products to internal finish such as kitchens, bathrooms, doors and floors. The exciting news is that the locally owned business has just upgraded their bathroom offering and rebranded this department as BATHLINE. If you’ve got an existing bathroom that’s crying out for a revamp or are building a new home, BATHLINE has a bathroom and tile range designed for you.

Do you have a showroom? Yes, all six of our showrooms have been upgraded to inspire you giving you the widest choice so you’ll get to experience what your new bathroom looks and feels like, including everything from baths, basins, taps, tiles, right down to the accessories. There’s a solution for every situation, from small spaces and cloakrooms to family bathrooms and ensuites. 94 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

Does BATHLINE offer a design service?

Yes, and it’s second to none! Our dedicated sales consultants will work with you to design your dream bathroom using the latest 3D computer technology. This means you leave nothing to chance – you can see all your chosen sanitaryware and tapware in situ before committing a penny.

What’s the process?

Once you’ve found the style that suits you, bring your plans; sketches with dimensions are ideal. If you’re renovating your existing bathroom, a photograph will give the designer a good idea of where the plumbing is. Then we will put together a proposal which you can virtually walk through on screen. Some showrooms even offer walkthroughs with virtual reality headsets. You’ll get the costed 3D renders and the plans printed out for you.

Why choose BATHLINE?

You’ll get to choose from a wide selection of bathroom suites, whether classic or contemporary,

that marry style with function to suit your individual tastes. Once in our bathroom showrooms, our experienced designers will advise you in the design and selection process and will offer helpful technical advice. Over 70 years in the trade, Haldane Fisher as a company has built up a reputation for excellent quality at keen prices; and six of its 10 branches in Northern Ireland offer the BATHLINE experience, one of which is in Newry close to the ROI border. BATHLINE staff are here to help you through the whole process of creating your bathroom, providing advice, expertise and guiding you through the project each step of the way. We work closely with a number of bathroom installers and fitters throughout Northern Ireland and can recommend an approved installer in your area, should you need one, and offer them technical support.

D E S I G N / S TA I R S

Staircase design The ups and downs of specifying the right staircase for your home Words: Andrew Stanway & Astrid Madsen


epending on size and specification, you’ll in all likelihood be spending thousands of euros for a new staircase. A budget of around five grand is what you can ballpark as a figure for standard stairs but this will depend on the shape (restricted by the available space) and choice of finish. As with all aspects of your selfbuild, in this case technical guidance in relation to Access, Fire and of course Stairways, Building Regulations are very important and need to be adhered to when preparing the area the stairs will fit into. Failure to do this will lead to a breach in the regulations and extra costs to rectify so seek guidance from a design professional when devising your staircase scheme. To make sure your stairs are compliant and that you are happy 96 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

with the design, consult with your architectural designer at the earliest stage possible. S/he will help you match the type with the appropriate area required. If you leave it too late, you could be disappointed to find that the design of the stairs you would have liked cannot be accommodated due to lack of space or head room.


A small discrepancy in a window or door size can often be allowed for with a correction on site, but a staircase is much harder to adjust so planning and careful measurement of the space are essential. A single, straight flight is easiest to construct but uses a relatively large floor area in which to achieve its height. You will need at least the width of the staircase at the upper level and if there is a door at the bottom level, there should

be at least a 400mm space in front of the door area. Introduing a half-landing (and possibly winders in addition) reduces the floor area required by condensing the overall footprint. To make sure that the staircase is neither too shallow nor too steep use the formula: 2 Risers + 1 Going = a sum between 550mm and 700mm. If you have to deal with corners, the most basic design is a 90 degree turn which doesn’t need any extra width of stairwell. If you do have a half-landing, the width and length should be at least the same as the width of the stairs. A double winder staircase that turns back on itself is the bulkiest. Curves usually cost more than straight lines, for both the staircase and the balustrades/finishes. Most expensive of all are curved geometric stairs, that is a floating stair with an inner edge forming

Photo by Ste Murray,


S TA I R S / D E S I G N

Standard stairs

The simplest of domestic staircases is the straight, closed stringer, usually in pine and with 22mm thick treads. The side of the stairs away from the wall is a wide board with the stair treads and risers recessed into grooves for strength. If you need to let in more light, choose an open-riser style (with no solid Standard stairs configuration

riser). If you go this route, the air gap between the treads must be no more 100mm, so a bar or narrow upstand under each tread is fitted. Cut string staircases offer a very traditional look as the tread and riser edges are visible. The construction is more complex so build costs are higher. In larger stairwells, a winding staircase is the next ‘step up’. This is a staircase that includes at least one turn. Again these staircases may be of open riser design to allow more light to penetrate between the treads.

Cantilevered stairs

Cantilevered or ‘floating’ stairs can look striking as they seem to have no support. In fact the supports are typically steel, with the treads slotted onto them, encased within the wall. If you have a timber stud wall you won’t be able to install a cantilevered staircase; concrete or other masonry is required to bear the structural load. The cost of this is high due to the engineering requirements and specialist installation, with the least complex

Spiral or helical staircase

designs commanding prices of at least €10,000/£9,000 but as a feature it could very well be worth it. To reduce costs you could consider a floating staircase for the first flight and a traditional build for the rest, depending on the layout. Perhaps the downside is that due to the Building Regulations in both in NI and the ROI, you will have to put up a balustrade, which means the floating effect could be partially hidden. This is one reason why glass blasutrades are often used.

Spiral patterns

Photo by Ste Murray,

Although a spiral (helical) staircase may seem the obvious space-saving solution for an awkward or small access area, bear in mind this type does have its drawbacks. Will it allow you to get furniture easily into the upstairs rooms? Is it a staircase that will be heavily used and therefore cause disruption if only one person at a time can use it? Finally, spiral stairs are not ideal for young children, say for access to a loft bedroom. Know too that Building Regulations, both in NI and ROI, refer to BS5395:2 which must be adhered to. For safety and convenience it is best to use a spiral staircase for rises of no more than 13ft / 4m. The diameter of the circle (on plan) of the spiral should be large enough so that the ‘slices of cake’ of the treads are sufficiently large and wide that those with large feet or who are unstable in any way can easily find a safe footing. Assuming a spiral design is right for the location, the standard off-the-peg sizes are 1.4, 1.6 and 1.8m diameter, although diameters down to 1.2m may  SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 97

Farrell Brothers,

a continuous curve. For a successful design consider a rooflight if you have no outside walls available for vertical windows. There are few things that make a staircase look really special than having it lit by natural light. However, know that recent changes to the ROI building regulations require that a two-storey dwelling that has a roof space conversion have non-openable rooflights within the stairs, this is to prevent the spread of fire. It’s common sense but worth noting: avoid placing underfloor heating pipes below the planned footprint of the structure because fixings for the stairs will need to be put into the floor.

Olympic House, 2 Lissue Walk, Lisburn, BT28 2LU

Telephone 028 92 622331 Facsimile 02892 622339

S TA I R S / D E S I G N

‘Depending on size and specification, you’ll in all likelihood be spending thousands of euros for a new staircase. '

If you want to make a really grand feature in natural wood, beech, sapele, ash or oak will all look stunning. Relatively, expect to pay around four times as much for oak as for pine. Beech is slightly cheaper than ash but the grain pattern and lighter colour of ash make it worth the extra cost. Know that solid wood stair treads can be very slippery. Accidents easily occur with those wearing only socks or tights, including small children. Discuss with your designer or stair installer methods of overcoming this with your particular staircase materials.

Concrete choice

be acceptable – check with your planning officer first. Whatever you choose, the access well into a loft space must be at least 100mm larger in diameter than the staircase. Most use 30mm, or thicker, wooden or metal treads with a metal centre post and spindles. There’s a wide choice of timbers from larger manufacturers and the metalwork can be powder-coated or polished. The open-tread and thin-spindle designs do make the most of available light and create a visually interesting focal point for the room.

Spacesaver design

Roof space conversions In NI space-saving staircases may be an option for loft conversions but should really only be used for access to one habitable room plus its bathroom or wc provided it is not the only one in the house. Your building control officer may allow a spacesaver to have a steeper pitch of up to 54deg. In ROI the Building Regulations aren’t crystal clear so generally 42deg stairs are installed; if the space will be used only for storage then a steeper flight of stairs may be warranted. However bear in mind that steep stairs can be annoying and tricky, especially when coming down.

Farrell Brothers,

For really tight spaces, a spacesaver staircase may be the solution. This is a staircase with alternating treads allowing steeper angles and taking up around half the going space compared to a standard layout. These can be bought as DIY flat packs or pre-assembled units. The rise height is then adjusted to suit your floor levels. The well opening on the upper level should be at least 1.5m long and the width of the staircase. This type of staircase is not ideal for the elderly or young children but may be the only solution in some cases. To overcome the problem of light, it’s possible to specify steel rods rather than solid risers on these staircases to reduce the opening gap to less than 100mm, as required by Building Regulations.

The main drawback to timber stairs is that, when mass produced and of mediocre quality they ultimately tend to creak. Although you can strengthen the structure to try to ensure this doesn’t happen it’s likely to become a recurring problem. That said, with modern glues and fixings it’s important to point out that one-off timber staircases should never creak, as long as they’re well designed, made and installed. What does happen on all timber staircases, however, is that when you go up and down them you will get a ‘drum’ sound, while with a concrete staircase the effect will be more ‘solid’. This drumming can be especially annoying to neighbours if your staircase is fitted to a party wall. Concrete stairs have become increasingly popular as a result; they can 


Timber choice

If you’re going to carpet and paint the stairs, opt for good value whitewood or even MDF. In the mid-price range parana and hemlock are often used for staircase parts. Both can be moulded into ornate spindles and take stain and varnish well. SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 99

D E S I G N / S TA I R S


How long does it take?

Farrell Brothers,

Bespoke staircases used to take a minimum of 16 weeks from the date of order but now lead-in times can be as short as four weeks. If you choose a full design service, they will take on the responsibility for the project ensuring quality, and, hopefully, delivery on time.

be precast or poured on site, depending on the requirements. The more bespoke the design, i.e. a lot of curvature or the space is limited, the more likely you’ll need to get it done on site. Note that with precast you will need exact measurements, and make sure these are adhered to on site, for your floor levels both upstairs and down to make them fit and compliant. Concrete staircases also have the added benefit that they tend to be fitted early during construction, providing safe access to the upper floor without having to worry about damaging the stairs. Accessing the upper floor during construction is much more tricky and dangerous when using a ladder. Make sure to get quotes and compare the cost of the concrete staircase plus finishings with one made of solid timber, as concrete staircases don’t come with balustrade, handrail or covering for the treads and risers (popular options are timber and marble but you could also go for the cheaper alternative of carpeting it). Depending on your requirements one may be cheaper than the other but remember that for concrete staircases the finishing off can cost as much as the initial cost of the concrete structure. Timber ones come fully kitted out.

Glass choice

Most people use glass for the balustrades only but it’s also possible (if expensive) to have glass treads as well. If that’s the case your designer will need to work with a specialist glass supply company as the treads are generally made from a combination of 10mm and 25mm float glass laminated together and often sandblasted to give a non-slip finish. Grooves are cut in the nosing of the tread, again as a safety measure. This type of staircase is also more of a specialist task to install and your interior plan will need to allow more room to manoeuvre the components into place. Glass is heavy so the kind of balustrade you choose will depend on the type of staircase. Structures that can’t take the load will require the glass balustrade to be fixed on posts (fullheight stainless steel), or you could have a channel built onto the ground into which the glass is fixed, but this option is less common because it is more complex and therefore more expensive. With stronger staircase structures, such as those made in steel or concrete you can directly fix the glass onto the staircase in what’s referred to as ‘face fixed’ or get a spigot mount, i.e. steel holders fixed on top of the tread or landing. A glass balustrade may cost you in the region of €400/£350 per linear m.

DISCLAIMER This article is intended for information purposes only -- consult a building professional to discuss your particular circumstances.


S TA I R S / D E S I G N


Know your stringer from your spindle nosing tread



The going must be a minimum of 220mm but if you have the space go for 300mm. This makes the stairs feel more generous and easier to climb. And of course, there’s more room for people with large feet.



The rise or riser should generally be no more than 220mm and all rises must be the same, from the floor level below to the floor level above. The requirements vary depending on whether there is a habitable room at ground level.



Winders are stair treads that are shaped like pieces of a cut cake that take the stair around a corner or angle.


The width of a staircase is usually 800mm; in NI it’s usually 860mm but it can be reduced to 600mm for access to a loft, or other restricted area. The requirements vary depending on whether there is a habitable room at ground level.




The measurement taken vertically from every step must have a headroom clearance of 2m/6ft6in although this isn’t strictly enforced in some loft situations. If you’re planning a conversion or restoration, remember that a new staircase above an existing stairwell will restrict the headroom so this must be adjusted to comply with Regulations.

6 7



Newel posts should be put in place every 2.4m.


Individually refered to as spindles, balusters support the handrail; they can be fixed onto the handrail and stringer with nails (butt joint), recessed into a mortise (projecting stub) or fitted into slots (housed balusters); a combination of housed at the bottom and nailed at the top is also common in traditional staircase design. The handrail shouldn’t be any lower than 0.9m from the pitch line/landing.

8 9

The pitch of a staircase should not exceed 42deg.

In ROI a handrail is required on both sides if rising more than a meter; handrail height is typically between 900mm and 1.1 meter depending on circumstances. These notes are for guidance purposes only -- consult a design professional to check compliance with Building Regulations. In ROI refer to Part K and the ‘Supplementary guidance on the design of stairs to help achieve compliance with the Building Regulations’ - Table 3; in NI refer to Technical Booklet H.


8 SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 101



Systems first approach If you’re looking at increasing the energy efficiency of your home, chances are you’ve heard of the ‘fabric first’ approach. But what if you let technology do the work instead? A home is basically shelter, safety, comfort, light and a bit of entertainment thrown in. This is what most of us are trying to achieve. We want a home that’s cheap to run and comfortable to live in. How to achieve this is the topic of debate. It’s our view at HONE that it is much cheaper to make energy with renewables on site than it is to take your building fabric – your walls, roof and ground floor – to such an extreme as to try and squeeze your energy footprint down. 102 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

Adding fabric onto existing fabric is also known as ‘deep retrofit’ and it is a method that can be heavy on resources and disruptive to homeowners due to the upheaval it causes during construction. Unless you’ve installed a tailored ventilation system, the law of unintended consequences also kicks in when your extra insulation now delivers condensation and mould problems which need to be fixed by opening windows more often, especially in winter thus making your house colder than before you

HONE is a one-stopshop solution that supplies electricity to heat and power your home and fuel your e-car.

started. The HONE methodology is simple. Address the low cost, obvious issues with the building fabric and retrofit a state-of-the-art energy system to deliver the energy savings. How do we measure the energy savings? With the help of the Building Energy Rating in ROI and the Energy Performance Certificate in NI, the energy label affixed to your property. We also rely on the HONE smart energy system to measure how much energy we’re consuming in real time.

The HONE House project The HONE House project was designed to carry out an energy upgrade on a regular energy-hungry Irish home, detached and similar to most houses built over the past 50 years with an oil-fired radiator heating system.


For more about HONE technology visit Cairn International Trade Centre, Kiltimagh, Co. Mayo Telephone Lo-Call: 0818 252 555

The objectives were:

l To carry out a resource-led upgrade using the least amount of materials and investment on a pre2006 concrete block house, a typical Irish home with high energy bills and significant CO2 emissions. l To meet the Nearly Zero Energy Buildings threshold, the EU standard for new buildings from 2021, measured as consuming less than 45 kWh/sqm.year in energy. l To cause minimal disruption to the occupants which included retaining the existing double glazed windows and leaving the doors, walls and floor untouched. l To deal with mould and condensation. l To make the return on investment less than 10 years.

The results speak for themselves:

l A total installation time of one week l A Building Energy Rating of A2 l A total investment cost of â‚Ź35,100 l A calculated payback period of six years The HONE system records energy usage, on an interface within the house and remotely on your phone or other device, confirming the low energy usage results.

electricity and a charging point for an electric car (up to 28,000 km per year), all on site. l To install a new compact 10kW condensing oil boiler as HONE only requires a small backup. l To install a wall mounted electric boiler which can also run from the free electricity being produced if not being used for the electric car or house. l To close all natural ventilation wall vents and install a whole house mechanical ventilation system with heat recovery.

Our solution was:

l To remove the chimney down to first floor ceiling level and insert a modern log effect fireplace into the existing chimney breast in the sitting room. l To pump the walls with PVA bonded EPS beads. l To insulate between the roof rafters with PUR foam (200 mm mineral wool equivalent) and a full covering of multi foil roll (300 mm mineral wool equivalent); in total this only resulted in losing 30mm headspace. l To add a full HONE Heat, Power and Drive Renewable Energy System to produce heating, hot water, SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 103


Head space Five ways to carve out a haven of storage underneath your staircase Words: Sarah Reynolds


nder the stairs can be a tricky space to get organised. The adjoining hallway is a high traffic area which means it’s very easy for clutter to gather. Family members rushing in and out of this space tend to dump things if they’re in a hurry. Therefore storage solutions and the items you’re going to keep there need to be strategically thought out.


Customised solutions

If you have the budget, consider transforming the space under the stairs with a customised solution of drawers and cabinets (example pictured right). These can be great for sports gear, winter accessories and school bags. Organisation is a balance between assessing your stuff and designing your storage, so carefully analyse what items you need to store and how many of them. For example, do you have a lot of coats? Then you need a pull-out rail system to accommodate them. If your problem is finding room for your shoes, you’ll need to be realistic and assign more drawers to these.


Organise it yourself

As the understairs area usually stretches into a small, angled space at its base, items tend to fall into these hard-to-reach hinterlands to be lost forever. Consider this a no-go zone, it’s dead space that can only be harnessed with a customised storage solution. To make sure it’s truly null and void, find a way to restrict access. I usually place a coat rail to create a barrier. This stops anyone being tempted to store things that will, inevitably, never be used and it prevents everyday items from falling into the black hole and getting lost. For ideas on how to organise the space, consider using the back of doors and the wall. This can be a fun project that really brings out your organisational creativity.





Coat clutter

With both points above in mind, it’s time to consider the coat situation. Very often hooks are the storage solution and this is fine if you have one or two coats per family member. However, that’s rarely the case. In Ireland, we have many coats for our many seasons and they all get bundled on top of each other, impossible to find, on a single peg. Even if this mess is shut off from view, behind a set of doors, it’ll become a nightmare to use. So if you can, replace the hooks with a wardrobe rail. The rails can be purchased separately and cut down to size. Use slimline hangers to squeeze in a maximum number of coats. It looks much neater and provides easy access to any coat all year round.


Desk dilemma

All over the internet there are gorgeous pictures of office nooks carved out underneath staircases. While this looks fabulous and it’s a great use of space, it is really only for the highly meticulous among us. A desk is a flat surface. When you place a desk, console or a chair in a busy area such as a hallway, even if it’s tucked underneath the alcove of a staircase, they become magnets for clutter. Circulation areas are highly visual and the desk could become a real eye sore. If you still want to go down this route make sure your storage solutions on the desk and console are very specific and labelled. Containers for winter accessories, paperwork, stationery are all needed so that it’s very clear where the usual clutter suspects belong. Otherwise they will be dumped for all to see.


‘Organisation doesn’t always involve adding storage - sometimes it’s about removing it. If there is nothing in this space there is nowhere for clutter to land.'

Leave it empty

If you are in a family home where under the stairs is exposed and you’ve been wondering what to do with it, I wouldn’t touch it until the kids are a little older. This alcove is a great place to park the strollers, large toys and bikes that would otherwise end up in the hallway. With this in mind, organisation doesn’t always involve adding storage – sometimes it’s about removing it. If there is nothing in this space there is nowhere for clutter to land. It forces the habit of putting items away, or at least leaving them on the first step of the stairs, which by extension reminds us to eventually bring them up.



Growing pains


Insider tips on what makes seeds germinate Words: Fiann Ó Nualláin


here is often trepidation around sowing – a fear of failure or wasting your time – but seeds want to germinate, they are designed to germinate; you just need to match their willingness to get going to the right conditions. This means breaking their dormancy by introducing the right amount of warmth, light and moisture. These guidelines are set out in easy-to-follow instructions on every packet but in this article we will take a closer look at some expert tips and knowledge to guarantee your success. Seeds are embryonic plants, inherently packed with enough energy/food supply to set down roots and begin to draw water and nutrients from the soil and fuel those first shoots of green into the realms of

US Department of Agriculture

In situ sowing


photosynthesis leading to healthy maturing plants. Germination is that first awaking of the seed into root and sprout. It is wholly dependent on the environmental conditions that the plant would naturally grow in and while some seeds have evolved to germinate after a forest fire, the majority of what we will come into contact with just needs some soil or compost to root into and water to start the process.

Types of seed

There are several types of plant lifecycles and some seed packets will often just state the abbreviation so here’s the explanation with best practice for each. HA stands for hardy annual. A plant with a lifecycle of one year. Theses seeds are normally sown in early spring, and

‘Seeds want to germinate, they are designed to germinate; you just need to match their willingness to get going to the right conditions.'

generally in-situ but you can start in a seed tray and move on and out as they mature. HHA stands for a half hardy annual. These guys also last a year but come from regions of longer day length or better light levels than Ireland and so require a longer period of growth than full hardys to perform and flower well. To supply that extra time, these seeds are best sown indoors and early in a warm, bright location or even a propagator. Don’t plant out until frost has well past. Some gardens sow HHAs under cloches in autumn and protect over winter. HB is a hardy biennial, traditionally sown indoors in spring or summer to be moved to their final flowering position in autumn or even held on in a cold frame or polytunnel until the following spring. Can be sown in situ with some covering. The plants will last two years. HHP is a half-hardy perennial, best sown in a heated greenhouse or propagator. They require a long period to develop so sowing early is good. They come back year after year. HP stands for hardy perennial and you can sow these where you want them to flower or start them in trays to move out later. They come back year after year.

SEEDS / GARDEN Sowing in trays


Germination Degrees Celsius required for speedy germination: l Aubergine and courgettes 24-32; l cabbages 7-30; l beetroot and chard 10-30; l sweetcorn, French and runner beans 16-30; l broad beans 8-15; l peas 4-10; l carrots 7-30. Wikimedia Commons

A seed tray

The seed packet may state a preferred method. For instance some seeds germinate better if scarified – this is where the seed coat is nicked with a knife or a rub of sandpaper in order to break the dormancy. Others need a few seasons of cold to break their dormancy so popping the seeds in and out of the fridge day on day off for a week does the trick. Some seeds benefit from being soaked overnight before sowing. Some terminology you may not be familiar with: l Direct or in situ sowing is to place the seed into the ground where you want the plant to grow. Do some ground prep first – scatter some compost on the surface if you are ‘no dig’ otherwise rake the surface to a fine ‘tilth’ before sowing to give a layer above hard soil for new roots to easily bed into. l Stationary sowing is to sow one seed at a time and, insofar as possible, evenly spaced. This is the method when sowing in drills or rows or to provide a good growing space in a seed tray that makes it easier to move on a seedling without entangled roots. l Broadcast sowing is the method of scattering seeds across or upon the surface of the ground or growing media. How you might sow grass or a wildflower mix. Suitable for trays of chamomile and other clump forming or matting plants.

trick is moist compost, not a soggy site, as soaking will lead to a drying out too soon. Clean your seed trays with hot water and a little washing up liquid before you fill with soil to sow, especially if they have been all winter in the shed or just lying about the garden with some muck on them. Make sure you dry them well too. Seed compost is nutrient low as seeds don’t need to be fed straight away and some rich composts can cause too quick 

To prevent damping-off disease water the seeds with cooled chamomile tea

Broadcast sowing is the method used for wildflower gardens

Sowing in trays

When sowing in seed trays, be it windowsill, propagator, cold frame, lean-to or greenhouse, it has to be done in a clean tray filled with seed compost. The main SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 107

Ehedaya via Wikimedia Commons

Types of sowing


Myrabella / Wikimedia Commons

standard sowing allows. After germination this can be removed to avoid condensation issues. But some seeds have very specific germination temperatures, especially the more tropical plants. You will need a heated propagator to achieve their germination. A degree or two can make all the difference. Most illustrative of this is the fact that a tomato seed generally takes around 50 days to germinate at 10 degrees Celsius but only a week if at 25 degrees. Tomatoes will not germinate below 10 or above 36degC. So following the instructions is key but tips from fellow gardeners are worth the experiment too.

After the sowing

Propagators are seedling incubators -- a pot covered with plastic bag, cling film cover, or as pictured here, glass.

spurts that only harm the seedlings. You will later move them into better soil/ compost. The reason for these preventative measures it to keep damping-off disease and other bacterial problems at bay. Damping-off disease is a soil borne fungal infection where the seed germinates perfectly ok, gets growing to a few leaves and then overnight goes black and dies, or droops and slowly dies over a few days. One of the tricks that I have learned over the years is to water with cooled chamomile tea – it’s antifungal and so disinfects the growing medium before the seeds send out roots. As a rule, small fiddly seeds are traditionally sown into shallow seed trays while bigger seeds can be sown into 108 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

individual modules in a modular plug tray. Large seeds may be sown individually into modules or even straight into 9cm (3.5in) diameter pots. The packet will say ‘cover lightly’ or sow ‘on the surface’. For this I like to gently firm the compost and pre-water it so that in the first instance I am sowing onto an even surface and in the second that watering does not reposition the carefully sown seed. Some seeds germinate in darkness and other need light to break their dormancy.

Temperature kicks

From many gardeners a propagator (a seedling incubator) can consist of a plastic bag or clingfilm cover – to hold the moisture and heat a little longer than

Always label with the sowing date so you can keep track of the due date – if your seven-day germination or your 212-day germination is not showing four weeks later then there is a failure – a rot of the seed or a drying out of compost that killed it halfway. Start again with a cleaned tray and fresh compost. With garden sown or in situ seeds, it’s a case of sow and go away but with tray and interior sowings, without being over fretful it is good practice to check daily for signs of some green emergence. Once you spy any germination you can remove any polythene bags or propagator lid – the emerging seedlings will appreciate the ventilation. Maintain a healthy soil moistness until the seedlings are ready to be pricked out into bigger pots or module trays to grow on before planting out. Moving on seedlings, aka ‘pricking out’, is essential to not just stop the many seedlings and their roots entangling in the tray and to provide a better depth of compost for the roots to unfurl but also to transition to a more balanced (nutritionally) compost for the roots to expand into and fuel plant growth. Due care is needed to not damage the plant in the move but it is a skill quickly acquired. With a pencil point or dibber, lightly loosen the compost around the roots and, prising up with the point, lift the seedlings individually out, holding between finger and thumb, one of the true leaves (not the first seed leaves produced after germination but the second set) and crane over into a prepared pot or module filled with damp firm compost and a dibbed hole to snugly slot into. Modular sown seedlings can remain in the same spot until their roots fill out each module and then transplanted to larger pots or if hardy, then directly into where you want them to grow.


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The exterior of your home is an important aspect of any renovation or new build project, giving you the opportunity to create that wow factor. One way of achieving this is with Cedral fibre cement cladding, which can help add style and individuality to your property.


edral recently helped construct a visually striking new home spanning 257m2, which sits within the grounds of an existing property. The homeowners chose Cedral Click to create an eye-catching exterior to the two-storey property that was both aesthetically pleasing and unique in style. Over 120m2 of Cedral Click in colour Grey was installed in a horizontal design across the first storey of the home to perfectly complement the traditional brick exterior of the ground floor. Throughout the build, it was essential that the home reflected the design of the main house, whilst also staying in keeping with the surrounding location. Keen to build on the plot for a number of years, the homeowners’ daughter took

they had created their dream home.

Why Cedral?

With a minimum life expectancy of at least 50 years, Cedral is an alternative to traditional cladding materials, offering protection against rot, attack from insects and the external elements including wind, rain and sunlight. Cedral is available in two applications; Cedral Click and Cedral Lap. Cedral Click is the UK’s first and only flush fitting fibre cement, tongue


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on the project to create her dream home once planning permission had been secured. A key factor of the new property was ensuring it required minimal upkeep, and materials that supported this aim had to be sourced as part of the project. Cedral Click offered the perfect solution due to its low maintenance properties. The fibre cement cladding played a key role in the property’s aesthetic as the owner wanted to ensure the exterior had a unified appearance. To help achieve this, other materials such as the rafter ends were colour matched to the grey of Cedral Click. The result was a smart and elegant finish with the homeowner delighted that

and groove weatherboard material, creating a sleek and contemporary finish to a new or renovated property. Cedral Lap is designed so the planks are overlapped to create a traditional clapboard effect, reflecting the popular New England style. Both styles offer complete design flexibility with a range of factory applied colours and complementary aluminium trims available to suit each individual’s personality. Cedral can be installed horizontally or vertically alongside other building materials and is easy to install, with installers completely cladding a detached property in approximately three days*.


House in 2005


Passive house pioneer Find out what changes Tomás O’Leary made to his home, which was the first Passive House certified self-build not only in Ireland but in the English-speaking world. Words: Astrid Madsen


hen Tomás built his passive house in 2004 he was aiming for a home which needed just 15 per cent of the heating demand of a convention build, a concept that wife Mairead and almost everyone else in Ireland thought at the time was outlandish. But the Passive House method had been tried and tested in Germany so, undeterred Tomás set about replicating it here. This despite the fact that Tomás


had to import all the materials for his selfbuild, including the triple glazed windows, as none of them could be sourced in Ireland. “It’s a method that’s quite straightforward to replicate here and it’s really gained in momentum over the past 10 years. I actually never expected the Passive House standard would take over my life in the way that it did,” says Tomás whose architectural practice MosArt established the very successful Passive House Academy in 2009 and more recently, in 2016, the Nearly Zero Energy Buildings Resource Agency (NZEBRA).

No performance gap “The Passive House standard aims for a very high level of insulation and airtightness coupled with a heat recovery ventilation system,” explains Tomás. “The layout (compact footprint) and orientation (how the rooms face the sun) also play an important role.” What’s reassuring to Tomás is that 14 years after moving in, the house is performing exactly as had been predicted by the Passive House energy model in 2003. “We just got the results in from Ulster


‘I actually never expected the Passive House standard would take over my life in the way that it did.'

University, which has been monitoring the energy use of our home over the past year, and the house is performing exactly as the Passive House Planning Package said it would. It’s extremely gratifying to see that there is no performance gap.” A performance gap can arise for many reasons, one of which is the energy model used which might underestimate the heating energy demand of the dwelling, another is poor construction – the key to a low energy build is for there to be rigorous attention to detail on site. It can also be due to not having perfectly detailed the specification for the house’s exact site conditions, which can vary greatly in Ireland with its multitude of microclimates (see Weather forecast, right). Thankfully none of these were issues for Tomás.

Wood pellets for the first eight years

“We had installed a wood pellet boiler, which we felt was the environmentally sound solution because back then heat pumps weren’t as widely used and available as they are now. This choice resulted in some level of upkeep between having to top it up by hand and emptying the ashes,” says Tomás. “Passive houses typically have a constant trickle of heat being emitted; with the stove we turned it on and off because we didn’t want to leave it running unattended. It’s a combustion system, so at night we didn’t have it on nor did we during the day when the house was empty.” “It would take an hour for the pellet boiler to come to working temperature, which seemed like a long time. I suspect there were some inefficiencies in the length of pipework runs and insulation levels and there may also have been a lack of maintenance issues on my part over the years,” confides Tomás. “This had a knock-


Weather forecast To design a low energy building, you need to look at the weather patterns in your specific area to cost effectively heat, glaze and insulate your house for maximum comfort. The variety in weather conditions and climate experienced in Ireland is a phenomenon that, although well known to the inhabitants, is too rarely applied to building energy modelling. The climate data based on Dublin Airport is often relied upon but this is not representative enough to reliably predict the energy performance of buildings throughout Ireland. As proof of this, we’ve modelled a number of houses in different regions and have identified up to 45 per cent variation in energy performance for space heating alone. A key factor in this is the fact that, at a certain percentage of façade the windows can take in more energy than they lose thereby giving a positive energy balance without increasing heat load. But the optimal ratio is dependent on the local climate conditions and appropriate glazing specification. Just a small distance inland from the coast can result in there being a significant variation (drop) in solar access due to clouds accumulating

when moist air hits the land mass. Another key point to note is that even though we can achieve energy performance levels in general with far less effort than those on the Northern European continent, we are far more vulnerable to fluctuations in climate and as a result need to address for instance, overheating seriously. It’s therefore also important that building energy simulations are carried out not only for the year as a whole but they should also look at

using the peak load data to ensure that comfort levels can be maintained during an extremely cold period similar to that experienced this winter. The Irish obsession with the weather should extend to buildings – you need to realistically know how exposed your house will be to high winds, humidity and crucially to the sun, to design it to be as efficient as possible. John Morehead

on effect on the comfort levels provided as the heat distribution throughout the house wasn’t even.” Even though the building had been designed to be as compact as possible, the layout dictated that a portion be north facing. “One bedroom on the north facing aspect, which was unoccupied and which had no exposure to sunlight in the winter, was slightly cooler that the rest of the house,” explains Tomás. “This part of the house protrudes with three external walls – not an optimal design with respect to form factor.”  SPRING 2018 / SELFBUILD / 111

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House in 2017

The 10kW wood pellet boiler, which at the time cost €11,000, emitted 80 per cent of the heat in the living room and 20 per cent went to the hot water tank. Thanks to the quality of the construction, the heating bills for the year were low. “We used one and a half tonnes of wood pellets, the equivalent of about €400 a year covering both heating and domestic hot water. But overall, considering the capital cost you could say it was an expensive experiment,” tempers Tomás.

Heat pump for the past three years “In 2014 we ended up getting rid of the wood pellet boiler and retrofitting an 8kW air-to-water heat pump with fan assisted radiators as heat emitters,” he says. There are four radiators downstairs and just two upstairs, one of which is in the above mentioned north facing bedroom. The heat pump also supplies the hot water tank. “What’s wonderful is how evenly spread the heat now is around the house. That and the fact that we have no solid fuel – there’s no need to store it or haul it. It’s just so much more convenient and more comfortable.” The fan assisted radiators have a

low and high speed, as soon as the temperature drops the fan kicks in to bring the room back to temperature. “Even though the wood pellets per kilowatt hour are cheaper to run, with electricity being the most expensive source of energy, the comfort factor is well worth the extra couple hundred euros a year* it theoretically costs me to run the heat pump,” concludes Tomás.

Open plan area

*The heat pump controls indicate it consumed 3,550kWh in the past year. (This was confirmed by comparing electricity usage during the days of the pellet boiler, which was averaging at about 7,500kWh/ year, to the electricity bills of the past 12 months with the use of the heat pump which recorded a consumption of 10,500kWh/year, 1,400kWh/year of which was supplied by the second-hand PV panels installed on the house two years ago.) At an average cost of 23.4c/kWh (SEAI 2016, Band DC) the cost of heating and domestic hot water (combined) for the heat pump was approx. 3,550kWh/yr x €0.234/kWh = €830/yr. This compares to the approx. €400 a year spent on wood pellets for the boiler.

House size: 350 sqm Cost of heat pump upgrade and radiators, including remedial work: €12,000 List of suppliers and floor plans available on

Pellet stove that was replaced by a heat pump three years ago



Build your own wastewater system So, you’ve designed your house and are looking at an off-theshelf effluent treatment system to ensure that you keep your groundwater clean and local environment healthy. But is there a way to build your own treatment system? In a word, yes.


Words & Images: FĂŠidhlim Harty

Newly planted gravel reed bed


he most common way to treat the wastewater that comes from one-off houses in the countryside is to use a septic tank and percolation area. Where the water needs to be that bit cleaner, or where the soil characteristics are inadequate for a standard percolation area, secondary treatment may be needed prior to infiltration (NI or ROI) or discharge to surface water (NI only). This often takes the form of a mechanical treatment system, which is in effect a mini wastewater plant that requires an electrical input to aerate the effluent. An eco-friendly and cost-effective secondary treatment alternative is the constructed wetland or reed bed system. The overall set-up consists of a standard sized septic tank to provide initial settlement, then a fully lined and planted wetland or reed bed area which treats the effluent without any electricity input. The last step is to route the treated effluent from the constructed wetland or reed bed to a soil polishing filter.

Planning permission

Planning permission is needed before installing or amending a sewage treatment system of any sort in both NI and ROI. Even though the ROI Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is currently reviewing its Code of Practice to offer options for sites with poor drainage, at the moment planning permission for a new house is unlikely to be granted on a site that fails the percolation test. But on land that passed the percolation test 114 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018


Gravel reed bed with full reed growth


What is a percolation area?

planning permission should be relatively straightforward for the options described here since reed beds and constructed wetlands are fully specified in the EPA Code of Practice. In NI you may, under certain circumstances, be able to discharge into a nearby waterway if the treated effluent is no longer deemed a pollutant and if the soil characteristics are unsuitable for infiltration. For this and for discharge to the ground (via infiltration) you must apply for a discharge consent and follow the guidance of the Northern Ireland Environment Agency’s form WO2. In an existing house, consider that the most common cause of failure for old septic tank systems is lack of desludging. If this is a problem for your site, then first desludge your tank and then assess the soakage and see if the tank is draining properly to the percolation area. If the percolation area has become clogged with sludge and is draining poorly, then it may be useful to install a secondary treatment system – be that a mechanical unit or a reed bed or constructed wetland – and a new infiltration area to dispose of the treated effluent. In terms of costs, reed beds and constructed wetlands generally come in around the same as a standard mechanical treatment unit (around €3,000/£2,800), unless you can do the design and construction yourself. Constructed wetland systems are larger than gravel reed beds, but they are less expensive per unit area, so the cost is about the same overall. Wetland or reed bed options are cheaper to run than mechanical treatment systems, particularly if you can make use of gravity falls within the site, in which case the ongoing running cost can be essentially

zero, after standard tank desludging, which must be done on a yearly basis.

Designing your DIY treatment system

Reed beds and constructed wetlands are lined basins that are backfilled with either gravel or soil respectively and planted with a selection of tall wetland plant species to provide a physical and biological filter for septic tank effluent treatment. If you live in an area with heavy clay subsoils, it may be possible to leave out the plastic liner for further savings and a lower 

Also known as an infiltration area, it is the last part of the treatment process. At its most basic it consists of a series of perforated pipes set in a gravel trench, in the ground, to provide filtration and treatment. The septic tank effluent passes through it before exiting below, into the subsoil. The unsaturated subsoil below the trench provides the filtration, so it is important that this is sufficiently high above the bedrock or winter water table and has the correct percolation characteristics to function effectively. Technically once effluent is treated to a certain standard (secondary treatment) the infiltration area is called a ‘soil polishing filter’ rather than a ‘percolation area’.

Gravel reed bed showing fitting of outlet pipe



Newly planted horizontal flow gravel reed bed system for secondary treatment of septic tank effluent prior to percolation.

ecological footprint. The challenge then on such sites is to find an area of ground with suitable percolation characteristics for the infiltration area. The first step is to select the reed bed type that works best for your site. There are three main reed bed options, each with separate sizing requirements and design protocol. Soil based constructed wetlands are the largest and most natural, resembling a marsh habitat in which the effluent flows through the leaf litter and plant stems. Horizontal flow (HF) gravel reed beds are gravel filled basins which are smaller in size but need greater attention to annual septic tank desludging to keep them running well. Vertical flow (VF) reed beds

‘The reed bed should be fairly self-sustaining and should treat your septic tank effluent to a high standard for many years to come.' 116 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

are gravel filled beds that are typically pump-fed over a coarse sand or fine gravel surface planted with common reed. In order to achieve secondary treatment (the same as a standard mechanical unit) for tank effluent from a three-bedroom house you’ll need either a constructed wetland of 100sqm; a HF reed bed of about 50sqm or a VF reed bed of 8-15sqm. After the reed bed you’ll need a polishing filter sized according to the EPA Code of Practice based on the percolation rate of the subsoil. If you want to go for extra environmental protection (or if you have a high water table or bedrock) you may wish to add a tertiary treatment reed bed (50sqm for a constructed wetland; about 8sqm HF reed bed or 5sqm VF reed bed). In this case the infiltration area can be smaller and shallower, as listed in table 10.4 of the EPA Code (found in the addendum document published in 2012).

and outlet piping. Backfill to the correct depth with gravel or soil, depending on the system type that you have chosen. Finally level the gravel or soil to ensure that the effluent passes through the basin correctly without exiting the system prematurely. Next you’ll need to plant your new reed bed. Common reed (Phragmites australis) is the basic species used in gravel reed beds. For constructed wetlands use this along with bulrush (Typha latifolia), yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) and branched burr reed (Sparganium erectum). Note that most tall vigorous wetland plants can be used in a constructed wetland, so if you can source plants locally, so much the better. Once the system is built and planted, and once you have the infiltration area constructed as per EPA guidelines, then you can connect the septic tank and start to use the system. Annual septic tank desludging is needed, and so is a check that plants are growing well and that the water levels are as they should be. Other than that the reed bed should be fairly self-sustaining and should treat your septic tank effluent to a high standard for many years to come, helping to fulfil your legal obligations and to protect the local environment and water quality.

Building the system

To build your system, select an area of the site with a fall from the septic tank to the reed bed, and then with an additional gradient down to a percolation area. Pumping may be needed on some sites, but is best avoided if possible to ensure that your system costs less to run, is more resilient to power shortages and has a lower carbon footprint in the long term. Excavate the area to the required dimensions for your system type. Line with plastic if necessary and fit the inlet

The permaculture guide to reed beds (2017) €15.99, ISBN 9781856233125, 136 pages, Permanent Publications ADDITIONAL INFORMATION Code of practice and wastewater guidance (ROI):, Guidance for form WO2 for applications to discharge sewage effluent from single domestic dwellings (NI):; both jurisdictions:


Ask the expert


You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. And if we don’t, we’ll find out by scouring our Facebook group, calling help lines and talking to the experts. Q. I plan to put in a lot of glass at the back of my house, it’s great for light but what are the drawbacks? A. Using feature glass walling segments for dramatic effect is not without its challenges. One aspect to consider early on is specifying glass with a low emissivity coating, designed to reduce solar gain, heat loss or both (quality is continually improving). The trick is to specify the right

glass for the correct solar elevation, and to get a sample because coatings may have a tint/colour that could affect the look of the house, both from inside and out. Bearing in mind that most designers don’t like adding small openable window sections to grand expanses of glazing, and that people are often reluctant to leave large windows open for security reasons, ventilation becomes key. At its most basic ensure there’s a way to cross ventilate the room, with a rooflight that can easily be opened or a vertical opening (window or door) at the opposite end of the glazed area. Consider too that from the inside a large expanse of glass can often look like a black feature wall. Curtains may be used to soften this effect and are usually the most cost-effective option (albeit at the thousands of euros/pounds mark) but plan where they will hang when open. Any form of covering will also reduce heat loss. Remember too that with large expanses of glazing comes the risk of the greenhouse effect; a simple and cost-effective way to counteract this is to use overhangs. Paul O’Reilly

Q. My house is timber frame, can you provide advice on how to hang heavy items like shelves onto my plasterboard walls? A. A plethora of products have been developed in the USA, where ‘drylining’ is the norm, that are capable of supporting weights of tens of kilograms on the board alone without going into the studs. On external walls there may be the matter of rigid foam insulation bonded to the plasterboard which might be seen to obstruct the fixing. I have the same spec in my house and fashioned a tool from a bent 6” nail to scrape away enough insulation to accommodate the back of each fixing.

Another thing I did was to fix 20mm OSB between the studs anywhere I knew I would want to hang appliances (e.g. location of bathroom wash hand basins). If you’re building new, know that there is a new plasterboard product available in Ireland that allows you to hang a lot of weight on a single standard screw. Patrick Waterfield

Q. I have to change some of my light emitting diode (LED) bulbs once a year – I thought they were meant to last much longer than this?

Q. Because of the exchange rate I could save a couple thousand euros by buying my insulation from an NI builder’s provider. But they told me they couldn’t deliver to ROI – is there a law against this? A. Brexit won’t take effect until 2019 – until then you can still rely on EU laws governing the sale of goods and services. The builder’s merchant probably has an agreement with the insulation manufacturer – they may only be allowed to distribute in NI. The manufacturer might have other distributors in ROI. Nothing prevents you from driving up north, or getting a courier, to buy and collect in store. SelfBuilders & Home Improvers Ireland Facebook Group

A. The old incandescent lamps had very thin filaments that burned very hot and suffered a lot of thermal stress when heating up and cooling down. Some lamps left on permanently were known to be still burning after 30+ years – but they would have used a lot of energy! Still, they were cheap to replace. LEDs use much less energy but are much more expensive to buy. They do not suffer as much thermal shock (though a good heat sink is essential, and this is incorporated within the bulb) and should last much longer. If the LEDs are blowing frequently I would recommend getting an electrician to test the circuits. Sometimes, ironically, the low energy consumption of the LEDs can cause problems! Patrick Waterfield



10 tips to water your garden sustainably Find out what it means to garden sustainably with these water management dos and don’ts.


Words: Tanguy de Toulgoët


ater is the most important constituent of plants and animals yet we tend to forget how to use and conserve it properly. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there is so much free water falling from the sky. But be forewarned – poor water management will inevitably lead to a high maintenance garden. The main thing to remember is to protect the soil and all that makes it healthy, including a thriving ecosystem of earth worms and fungi. This is what ensures rainwater will filter down as opposed to run off and later on lead to flooding and/or the need for constant watering. Here are some pointers to help you along the way:


Do not compact the soil. Earth worm galleries allow water to be absorbed into the ground and are therefore essential for drainage and water storage. If you crush these voids or channels, water won’t drain. Diggers can do massive damage lasting many years so make sure they never work when the ground is wet. Walking on soil will also lead to compaction; garden paths should be used instead.


Do not use plastic as a weed barrier. I have seen in many places plastic being used as a mulch to suppress the weeds. I have always been puzzled and totally horrified by this manner of tending the soil. Not only is it very ugly (especially 118 / SELFBUILD / SPRING 2018

when old tyres are used to hold it down) but it will result in the need to water more during the summer as the water runs off on the polythene during the winter, leading also to possible flooding in the neighbour’s garden.


Do not dig the soil. Any kind of tilling is very detrimental to water storage because of the evaporation that occurs when ploughing or rotovating. Also, humus is lost through the oxidation process and you will chop the earth worms who will need three to five years to recreate their burrows. The No Dig technique (cultivation that layers organic matter without touching the soil beneath) is the most sustainable way to store a maximum amount of carbon, which in turn leads to more water conservation. Fungi, which can store a lot of water in their mycelium, will thrive in a no dig 

Images courtesy of the Dunmore Country School,


Plant a hedge. Planting a mixed native hedge is a good way to start saving water as it will act as a wind break which will reduce evaporation. Trees and their root system will also help with water penetration.

No dig bed with winter purslane seedlings and fungi


What is humus? Humus is the organic component of soil, the result of microorganisms decomposing leaves and other plant material. Humus is hydrophilic, and it can hold 15 times its own weight in water. For example, an average garden soil with four per cent humus will be able to store the equivalent of 72mm, or nearly three inches, of rain.


system because they dislike soil disruption. Fungi that live on plant roots secrete glomalin, a kind of carbon-rich glue that helps the soil to bind together and as a consequence, hold more water. It is believed that glomalin makes up to 30 per cent of the carbon stored in the soil.


Best drought resistant plants


Do not use peat moss. In many countries water is stored on top of mountains in ice form and it is then slowly released during the summer as it melts. In Ireland, bogs play the role of the glacier, holding a vast quantity of water that is slowly released throughout the year into rivers to provide a constant input. Peat moss is very important for healthy rivers and bogs and it should never be used in a sustainable garden. When you think about a bog you might imagine a sundew plant or bog cotton however I do believe you will never find any carrots, lettuce or even cherry trees growing in it. So why would you bring peat moss to a garden? Use home-made compost instead.


Do not use bark mulch or chemicals. Bark mulch with tannin, as well as acidic chemicals (fertilisers, herbicides, etc.) are known to affect earth worms and fungi. Avoid at all costs.


Consider compost. Compost is a reliable source of organic matter (humus) to store water in the soil. Plenty of material can be used to make compost, even in cities, such as leaves, hedge clippings from broad leaf trees or shrubs. The best compost to retain water will have a carbon (‘brown’ additions such as leaves) to nitrogen (‘green’ additions such as food scraps) ratio of 60:1 but this mix will be slower to break down than those with a lower carbon content. The big problem with compost is that during the fermentation/heat process, you will lose a significant amount of gas (methane, ammonia) which will reduce your carbon/humus content. Not that eco-friendly when you think about it. The methods described below are preferable.

‘Poor water management will inevitably lead to a high maintenance garden.'


l Perennial herbs and flowers

Raised bed protected with a thick mulch during the winter


Favour RCW, feeding mulch and surface composting. A very good mulch is made with ramial chipped wood (RCW), which consists of the shredded branches of broad leaf trees. But apply no more than one to two centimetres of RCW. How can this mulch improve water storage? Wood is made with carbon rich lignin so you will get a big amount of humus. This humus is called stable humus and can last up to 3,000 years. You will introduce fungi as well because they are the only organism in temperate climates that can process wood. Hay, grass clippings or fallen leaves can be used in greater quantities. Hay is exceptionally good and is usually free of chemicals whereas straw could have traces of herbicides used to control thistles (those


such as sage, thyme, rosemary, echinops, and sedum are very hardy. l Edibles such as garlic, onions, carrots and parsnips are fairly water resilient but perennials such as hungry gap kale, nine star perennial broccoli, asparagus and perennial leeks do especially well with little water. l Shrubs like lilac, buddleia, viburnum tinus and flowering quince can be grown in a dryish soil. l Trees are usually a good bet but those that have a shallow root system, such as alder, birch, poplar and leylandii, will dry the flower beds if planted too close. The Ash tree is also water hungry as its second root system is very shallow.



Install a rainwater harvesting system. I spent eight years of my life as a fly-fishing guide/ instructor and I believe that pure water should nourish our lovely streams and rivers. Water harvesting systems could be one solution to the problem as it seems incongruous to be pumping water from the aquifer when there is so much of it falling from the sky. We installed our 8m3 concrete water harvesting system ten years ago and we have never regretted it. The concrete tank is buried and fitted with a pump. It feeds the water tank in the attic, (with silt trap), which in turn is connected to the washing machine, toilets and showers. The rainwater tank also supplies our polytunnel and I have added a rope filter just before the tap. This is to ensure that my drip irrigation tape does not get clogged with silt.

Two soil samples (same weight) left from my garden, right from tillage farm

hormones will have a damaging effect on potato and tomato crops).  Surface composting, meanwhile, is inspired from decaying litter in a woodland. This consists of simply throwing the organic matter on top for the fauna, flora and the soil to process. This can consist of leaves/ grass/hedge clippings, RCW or hay.   It is a cold process and, in comparison to the compost heap, the carbon losses are reduced significantly meaning that you get more humus at the end to help your soil store more water. Earth worms will come to eat that mulch and they will dig miles of galleries. This process helps to create a soil that looks like a sponge (picture above) with many voids where you can store more water. The other ‘action’ of that mulch is mechanical. It acts as a barrier and the water is not able to escape. It keeps the water in the soil so it will not evaporate. To optimise that effect make sure you apply a thick mulch (4 to 8 inches / 100 to 200 mmm) if possible in the autumn so as to trap the winter rain.


Construct raised beds but avoid timber on the side. Wooden raised beds might look neat and tidy but the wood will act as a sponge, drawing the water from the soil. Your bed will always be dry and you will have to water it a lot. You could add a piece of polythene to line it but I am not sure that plastic and food production can really mix. Plastic tends to degrade with UV and then becomes part of the soil, the consequences of which are still unknown. It is much better to create ridges – a mound of soil onto which to grow crops.


How to water your garden When I studied agricultural science a long time ago, the new discovery at the time was the drip system coming from Israel. Water droplets from a small sprinkler. It was supposed to be the best watering system ever devised. It was going to transform the desert into a fertile paradise. It is certainly thriftier than the flooding system where water is introduced, only to see most of it evaporate. But it is essential to understand that the way we water our plants will condition how their roots develop. Resilient plants have deep root systems, the deeper the better. The quickest way to achieve this is to drench the soil and then wait. Slowly but surely the top soil will dry from the top down. The plant will react and the roots will sink to follow the water. If you keep doing this for a while your plants will be trained to search for water deeper. Coming back to our drip system, it works if you wet the soil and then wait a week or ten days before watering again. If you were to use it every day, your plant would become lazy and it would develop a horizontal root structure prone to drought.

Drip irrigation used in polytunnel


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Mo space, Mo problems


Before you invest in extending or renovating, make sure your habits aren’t responsible for making your home feel cramped. Words & Images: Sarah Reynolds


fter organising toy rooms, I mostly work with people who are dealing with the aftermath of a home improvement project. The renovation ends and items are put back into the new space. Unfortunately, sometimes they don’t fit like they used to and rooms still remain cluttered. Or you had to unpack in a hurry, and so while the interior looks lovely, behind closed cabinet doors it’s another story. This wasn’t how you hoped it would turn out. You renovated for more space, but you still feel cramped and disorganised.

For paperwork you won’t get to until later, use a box to store them.





Clutter comes from deferred decision making: delaying the verdict, whether to keep something and store it, or get rid of it. We are all guilty of putting something down ‘to come back to later’ but if you postpone the inevitable and don’t deal with your stuff and your space often enough, clutter will build up. This leads to high levels of stress when we look around at all the things that don’t have a home. They are constantly there reminding us that we would like to be more organised and have more space. We get annoyed at our partners or kids for not putting things away yet there’s no proper place for them to do so. We feel overwhelmed at the thoughts of decluttering and anxious at not knowing where to start. Then the solution comes to you: an extension or renovation project! But consider taking a step back.

When I am called in post-renovation, I find that prior to the home improvement project some decluttering has taken place but under time constraints. During the renovation or extension stage, the stress levels tend to mount. There may have been a need to move out for a time or to confine the family to a small section of the home. The house is often open to the elements and susceptible to dust and the busyness that comes with workmen and tools. Sometimes plans need to change, and delays ensue. Regaining control of the home would, you might expect, be a moment of triumph. But what happens when a wall you used to rely on for a cabinet is no longer there? What do you do with that large piece of furniture and all the stuff that’s inside? Or new wardrobes were put in, but they don’t seem to hold all your shoes. 

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Under the stairs has a fabulous re-design but there isn’t room for all your coats anymore. Where are they all going to go now? The gorgeous interior will be matched by boxes on the floor, sometimes for months on end, as you’ll find yourself trying to shift things around to make them fit. How stressful is that? Very. In these circumstances, you’ll be exhausted, out of money and will need to get back to a regular routine.


5 ways to stay on top of the clutter

Get organised

My Grandfather used to say “measure twice, cut once”. In other words, plan like crazy before anything is touched. My advice is always to get the space you currently live in to work as best you can as it is, and then start on your renovation or extension plans. You may think you know why you want more space and for what. But if you declutter and organise beforehand, you will know exactly what will be staying in your newly renovated space and why. By organising your current space, you will highlight very clearly what works and what doesn’t. Have you ever tidied a space only to realise it doesn’t work, that no one, including you, puts back the items where you thought they should belong? Organisation is not as simple as “there’s space on that shelf, let’s put the arts and crafts there”. If that works for the family’s intended use of the space, great. But if you’re placing items there merely because there’s a bit of room, the system won’t work for long. Knowing what you own, and an approximate of how much, is the first step. You need this inventory and an analysis of how you and your family use your home to make decluttering work. 

‘We can always see clutter and disorganisation around us, in our outside world, but can’t see the effect it’s having inside us, particularly inside our heads. '



Put a time limit on it. Avoid sweeping statements such as “I’ll tidy

2 3 4 5

Don’t zig-zag. You will always find things that should be in another part

up in the morning” or “I’ll sort that out on Saturday”. Be specific. Factor it into your schedule realistically. On Saturday you may have to bring the kids to rugby, or go food shopping, so how much time can you actually give to decluttering? Having a specific time limit keeps you focused on the job at hand, motivated and avoids procrastination because you can see a clear end in sight. of the house. Create a ‘belongs elsewhere’ pile. Then when you’re done with the room re-distribute the pile. If you keep going back and forth with every single item as you find it, you’ll make the whole process much longer.

Only declutter at peak energy time. There are a lot of decisions

to be made, and if you’re tired you’ll keep more than if you declutter when you feel energised. If you’re lethargic you’ll end up saying “I’ll come back to it another time”.

Keep flat surfaces clear. This doesn’t mean devoid of everything,

just anything that shouldn’t be there in the first place. Flat surfaces are aesthetic. When they are cleared and the visual noise is gone, you will get a sense of relief.

Keep paperwork in one spot. Paper is difficult to organise but if

you can corral it into as few pockets around the home as possible, the more under control it will become.

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You need to know what’s going into the space first. Then get the storage around it. Otherwise things might not fit which is a waste of time and money. How can your architectural designer, wardrobe or kitchen designer facilitate a certain function if you’re not clear about what you need? You’ve asked for more space. They gave you that. But the space requirements weren’t specific enough to detail what you own or how much of it. If you can approach the planning stage knowing that you would like enough space for eighty pairs of shoes, or that you would prefer to hang as many clothes as possible because you hate folding, or that you would like to add in a facility for your golf bag and son’s bike because you’re fed up with them in the hallway, then hopefully on the other side of this build, you’ll have the organised space of your dreams.

The designers mightn’t be able to facilitate everything, but at least you can have a wish list. Better to give a ‘best case scenario’ and pull back. Then if there is anything they can’t facilitate or you can’t stretch to budget-wise, you now know you will have to make allowances for that in your new space. It won’t be a surprise or a frustration. A fitness fan will probably have a lot of gym gear: t-shirts, leggings, swimwear, zipped hoodies etc. which they may like to have all folded. To organise the wardrobe I would go about staging it to give me an inventory of the contents and an idea of the number of drawers to include.


When we organise our outer environment, it helps us feel calmer and more in control. We can always see clutter and disorganisation around us, in our outside world, but can’t see the effect it’s having inside us, particularly inside our heads. Knowing we can find what we need,



when we need it, takes the thinking and stress out of everyday activities around the home. Our families can use the space and use their possessions without any frustration. There’s nothing special to being organised, which is exactly what makes it special. This home that you have worked hard to own, or to renovate, should work with you not against you. It’s a place to nurture yourself and your relationships, not somewhere you leave at every opportune moment because you can’t stand the mess. Whereas a designer is dealing with the structure I am in the job of dealing with your contents – of your wardrobe, kitchen, utility, bathroom. To ensure maximum and efficient use of space, you have to marry contents with structure. You’ll be doing it anyway. You’ll have to make your contents fit the new structure one day. Best to get it planned out as far possible in advance to ensure you not only get the space you desire,

but that it’s the correct space for your possessions, your family habits and your future self.

Organised by Sarah Reynolds (2018) published by Gill Books, paperback, 320 pages, ISBN 9780717175567, €16.99,




A look at some of the building products that are made from agricultural waste and those derived from plants

Bio-concrete Instead of using cement as an aggregate it’s possible to use hemp shiv (or in theory sunflower stems) instead, which is lightweight and has excellent thermal and acoustic properties.

Bio-insulation Insulation made from hemp, recycled newspaper and wood fibre are well established in Ireland with certified products on the market. Sunflower, flax and rape straw by-products can also be used to make insulation products but are much less common here.

Bio-particle boards Wood fibre boards are made from timber waste materials and are becoming increasingly popular on Irish self-builds. Particle boards can also be made from sugarcane bagasse (sugar cane processing waste), coconut (coir fibre) or peanut hulls. Further processing for more racking strength leads to Orientated Strand Boards (OSB), Medium Density Fibreboards (MDF) and even joist systems. Engineered timber is made in a similar fashion but is structural by nature (CLT, glualam, etc.).


The bio-house

A biological house, as defined by the people behind the building of this unique home in Denmark, is built with upcycled agricultural waste products – materials including grass, straw and seaweed, which would normally be either discarded or burned for energy. All materials used in the build were thoroughly tested and are available commercially. The big idea behind this home is to make house building part of a circular system, avoiding the need for raw materials to make new products. Even the waste created on site was reused. The project involves 40 partners and was built for a Danish exhibition park and knowledge centre for sustainable construction called BIOTOPE, seemingly akin to the Building Research Establishment’s Innovation Park in the UK. The bio-house sits upon screw piles and is modular which means it can easily be removed, to be rebuilt elsewhere, without causing damage to the surrounding area. The development benefits from the support of the Danish Ministry of the Environment Fund for Ecological Construction.

Images courtesy of cladding suppliers Kebony,