Life experience

“We’ve been fortunate but we also researched everything to death! Measure twice, cut once… nothing is truer,” continues Ryan. “During the design process Glenn did show us other layouts, but because we’d lived here we knew what we needed so that part of the process was relatively painless.”

What was much more trying was going through planning, taking nine months to clear the case with the Planning Office. “We’d hoped to start in May to get the best of the weather as it can get fairly horrible in winter, but we weren’t able to begin until October 2012. The project took nine months to build.”

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Ryan and Callum had a number of objections from neighbours concerned with how the new two storey builds might affect their views and, understandably, create disruption during construction. “While nobody has a right to a view we didn’t want to obscure anyone’s outlook either, and we made sure we didn’t. The planners came out and, being objective, they disallowed the objections. There was no reason to halt the project.”

At the design stage Ryan and Callum visited their neighbours to show them their plans which included re-laying the two shared private lanes. “The improvement to the lanes and communal parking area is ten-fold, and it is beautifully finished.”

“We also had some site access difficulties to overcome as the driveways from the road are very narrow,” adds Ryan. “Sometimes materials had to be unloaded on the road and man-handled to the site, or a special delivery vehicle had to be used.” At one stage a lorry damaged a wall and Ryan engaged a surveyor to check it, thankfully there was no cause for concern.

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To make access easier, they eventually asked a friend on the lane if they could take his fence down. “Without him agreeing, it would have been very difficult to get the building materials on site,” says Ryan. They built him a new fence when the work was completed.

“Building the houses was quite problematic the whole way through, we had daily complaints,” recalls Ryan. “Our approach was to let them know about delivery days and keep them in the loop. We’re not the first nor will we be the last to build a house, so if you want to do it work your way through it and keep the neighbours informed, bring them along with you.”

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The complaints were handled by Callum as he was living down the road with his father during the build. “It was a stressful time for him,” says Ryan. “I was on hand to deal with the specifics, and that helped relieve a bit of the pressure, but for some of our neighbours it was the fact that we were building that was an issue. We couldn’t do anything to change that!”

Callum was on site daily to keep an eye on things and let Ryan know of any problems. “There were many, many phone calls! It was quite demanding fitting it in with work as there was a lot of running back and forth. It was frantic for a period and I loved it. From the beginning we knew it would be challenging and there would be difficulties but I didn’t mind that. I don’t get frustrated or stressed, perhaps my corporate work environment has something to do with it! Most weekends Peter the builder worked away on site and Callum and I were there as well to take decisions. Peter was fantastic, very understanding and accommodating.”

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All access

Glenn produced an invaluable document for Callum and Ryan, a comprehensive 34 page specification list. “He drew it up to go along with the architectural drawings, building regulations, accredited details and structural engineer’s calculations. We used this to tender the project to five individual construction companies ourselves. Having appointed the builder (Peter Fletcher) after thoroughly checking his references, we managed the build directly with Peter.”

The builder wasn’t the lowest priced (there was a huge difference from lowest to highest), but they felt he was the best person for the project and as the build progressed the decision proved to be a good one. “Peter was superb to work with and made what can be a stressful experience more bearable,” says Ryan.

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He worked with his father and was very precise. “We got high end oak frames and the doors all fit perfectly, I’m fussy when it comes to these things and they were forewarned by my wife! It’s just that I’ve seen so many self-builders make a mess of it, hiring the wrong builder. In a way we were very fortunate; but we did go with someone we felt was conscientious and recommended to us by Glenn. When there was snow on the ground he showed up on site, that shows his true mettle.”

“The key bit of advice I would give anyone undertaking this type of project is to ensure you have the right partners, i.e. architect and builder. After this research what you want, agree the budget and stick to it (within reason), cover it off in every detail on your tender document, and if you change anything after the build has started agree the cost in advance. Finally, don’t get stressed or frustrated – you’re not the first person to build a house, and you will get there!”

Sea breeze

Glenn suggested wood fascias and soffits stained black but he couldn’t convince Callum and Ryan. “We chose a uPVC that shows the grain so it looks like wood. It’s low maintenance, provides UV protection and all it requires is a power hose once a year. We also have uPVC bargeboards. “

In terms of landscaping, civil works were required. “There was a steep slope to the site so we had to build a retaining wall; this was backfilled when the existing properties were demolished, the rubble was used to level the site and create a sizeable patio areas at the seaward side of the houses. This also saved considerably on carting material on and off site. The two private driveways and communal parking area were fully levelled and finished to a high specification with SMA (stone mastic asphalt).”
“We actually spend a lot of time outside – we had a BBQ at Christmas! – so the patio had to be right. We put down a high specification stone surface, which looks like marble and is very easy to keep even though we’re right by the sea. Drainage is also very good, despite the expanse there is no water sitting.” The garden was re-laid with cultivated roll out lawn turf.

“We used all new technology, so new that we had to ask our designer to explain what we were getting! A major consideration was protecting the house from the sea salt so we used a render with a silicone enhanced water repellent, it also stops moss growing, and it was pre-coloured so there was no need to paint.”

The colour debate actually turned out to be a lively one. “My wife wanted pink. In another location it might have been nice, but not here, Callum and I didn’t want it to stick out like a sore thumb! Also Glenn had to make a sketch for the planners of how the house would sit in relation to the roofs of the adjoining properties and I don’t think a pink finish would have been popular with them either.”
Being by the sea and to avoid rust, any exposed metal had to be in stainless steel whilst the windows are aluminium with a marine grade polyester powder coating, charcoal black grey outside, off white inside. “We hose the windows down on a regular basis because of the salt sea air, and so far I have to say the frames are coping really well.”

Enjoy the view

Indeed, the windows were a major consideration. “The view is spectacular and we wanted to make the most of it. The windows really mean a lot,” explains Ryan. “Unfortunately the people whose tender we accepted went bust half way through the project; thankfully we hadn’t gotten to the stage of paying them a deposit.”

“We were very conscious at the time that we were in a recession, I’ve known people get caught out with deposits, builders disappearing. So we set up a payment schedule, our builder got paid on a weekly basis and we had an account with the builder’s merchant for supplies which we also paid weekly.”
“For the windows, when we found an alternative supplier who did the same windows, we put down a minimal deposit and paid most of it when they were fitted. We spent £30,000 on them in total.”

“The big cathedral window upstairs was a concern for the structural engineer. “There’s a lot of wind outside, actually the winds are really horrendous, and originally we were told we couldn’t do it. But I persevered! I argued we could, it’s a major feature and we really didn’t want to lose it. The window company worked with us to figure it out and we did.” The flat roof, open plan design and glazing all meant a steel frame was required.

“Given what we’ve created I can’t think of anything to change,” enthuses Ryan. “The families get on so well, we lift out our dividing fence for parties, lunches, it happens quite frequently. We really are fortunate. We’re celebrating Callum’s 50th with a big party, and, looking back, we realise that the build actually strengthened our relationship. We were talking about whether we’d do it again and I’d love to; Callum says never again! It was fabulous, it’s one thing off my bucket list.”

The plans for the future are rooted in this seaside location. “We intially built the house as a holiday home but always with the thought that we’d end up living in it. We are in our new home more than a year and a half and, although the fond memories of our rustic bungalow and the picture of it on our wall will always be with us, a new chapter has begun and I don’t envision us moving.”
“Now as I sit in the splendour of our new home, I feel proud of what we’ve created and I wouldn’t change a thing, but I still have to pinch myself to believe it is real.”

House size (each): 2,600 sqft
Plot size (for both houses): 0.23 acres
SAP: 77 (C)

Build spec
Construction: Block cavity wall with partial fill 60mm phenolic board , U-value 0.24W/sqmK coated on the outside with water resistant pre coloured render, warm roof with 50mm phenolic board insulation over rafters and 80mm phenolic board between the rafters, U-value 0.16W/sqmK, ground floor 150mm phenolic board with under floor heating.

Windows: powder coated aluminium windows, double glazed K Glass 1.4 W/sqmK
Heating and hot water: gas boiler, under floor heating controlled by individual digital thermostats in each room, pressurised hot water system. Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery.

Read full article here http://selfbuild.ie/featured/family-ties/


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