Find out how, instead of moving, Moira and Sean Harte of Co Dublin transformed their lives with a customised extension.

Learning how others tackled their home improvement project can help avoid some of the pitfalls, so here are some of Moira and Sean’s tips on what made their extension project in Co Dublin a success.

1. Make sure the design works for the way you live

As with any house building project, an extension is the ideal opportunity to get you exactly what you want. In Moira and Sean’s case, they’ve installed a significant amount of windows with double doors on one side and two glass panels either side of that. The entire back wall is essentially glazed to provide plenty of light and to connect the family to the garden.

And it works. As soon as the children come home they run out back to play – the visual connection makes it attractive and allows the parents to keep an eye on them too. The window seat, requested by Moira, adds a cosy element to the space and doubles up as a very practical play and reading area for the kids.

While the open plan is especially well suited to family life, it’s a set up that can quickly lead to clutter. To tackle this issue, a large storage unit was designed for clearing the children’s toys away quickly.

2. Don’t forget about the rest of the house

In Moira and Sean’s case the extension was single storey, and to provide continuity with the rest of the ground floor they decided to upgrade the existing walls.

As the masonry walls in the original house were 220mm thick as compared to 320mm in the extension, the builder battened and spray foamed the old inside walls to make up the difference to a depth of 100mm. The builder then added 62mm insulated plasterboard (12mm plasterboard over 50mm PIR board) as he did in the extension, allowing for a continuous skim plaster finish.

While this resulted in a slightly reduced floor area, it was more cost effective than external wall insulation.

Lending a hand too was their architect who provided interior design advice. “He added a few elements in the main part of the house that mirror the style of the extension so everything is in keeping with the overall design,” says Sean.

3. If you don’t move out, be prepared for the mess

“I think my advice to people about to embark on an extension would be, move out! Obviously I knew we were putting on an extension, but I completely underestimated the dirt and the impact it would have on the rest of the house. The builder was very good and we had access to the utility room but we didn’t have a sink and our cooking facilities for three months were a two-ring electric stove and a microwave,” says Moira.

Despite the inconvenience, the couple also stress that remaining in the house allowed them to stay on top of the build and identify problems that might have led to delays.

“Our being here in constant contact with the builder really kept things moving along. We had a couple of issues with the glazing – there’s an upward curved feature that was presenting a problem for the guys installing the glass. They wanted to put in a separate section so there was debate over that. A more standard approach was put forward but this would have moved away from the design our architect specified; we decided to stick to our guns and to the initial design. We’re really happy with the end result so in that sense, it’s great that we were here to make sure the build stayed true to the original concept,” adds Sean.

4. Re-connect with your inner self (builder)

Some designs look deceptively simple and this is true of Sean and Moira’s project – it’s careful planning and attention to detail during the construction stage that make it work.

As well as overseeing the construction every step of the way, Sean installed the kitchen himself and laid all the timber floors to get the finish he wanted. Saving on the cost of labour, this self-build approach meant the couple could afford their dream kitchen.

“The kitchen consists of high gloss floor to ceiling timber units, a long countertop and a central island with a sink and dishwasher. It looks quite simple but an awful lot of thought went into it; it’s effort that has paid off as it works really well for us,” says Moira.

5. Consider energy saving fixtures and fittings

Light Emitting Diodes may not be high on your priority list but they’re very versatile in their application and now widely available in warm hues (orangey light). Sean and Moira’s open plan in fact features eight LED spotlights over the kitchen as well as LED striplights under the kitchen cabinets and around the skylights. There are also two LED spotlights over in the window seat and three in the soffit.
As for the heat emitter in the extension, they opted for fan assisted radiators which are energy efficient and respond quickly when turned on. “We felt this was the best option because we had a gas boiler and needed a heat emitter that worked off high temperatures,” adds Sean.

Original house size: 1,700 sqft
Extension size: 28sqm at rear of house
Total cost: Approx. €60,000

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