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To self build or not?

TO BUILD OR NOT TO BUILD?

For nearly two years the question that my husband and I had to ask ourselves over and over was whether to self build or not. There are so many factors to consider. In the current economic climate there are many reasons why buying a home makes much more sense. As the housing market began to crash we knew we could save a considerable amount of money by buying. But would we get the house we really wanted???

For me, the reason to self build was ALWAYS that we were building the house that WE wanted. We were building a home with plans that we had personally designed. We put in and took out exactly what we wanted. I designed the house with our family in mind, our tastes, needs and preferences.

We got the site for free from my parents, so we didn’t have the additional cost of buying a site. This was instrumental in our decision, as we couldn’t have afforded to build otherwise.

Click HERE for a list or our builder/contractors, and for suppliers of various aspect of the house (this list will be updated soon) !

Aspects of the house that suit our needs.

  • We are a young-ish family (with a toddler) so big spaces were important to us. Room for our child to play and grow.
  • I am a yoga teacher and nutritional therapist so I wanted an office and space to work at home, and to do and even sometimes teach yoga in the home. So we put in an office and a yoga/play room. The playroom can comfortably hold 8 – 10 yogis! If we choose it can also later be an additional lounge/living room. I placed the yoga room and the office, along with a downstairs toilet, at the back (North facing) side of the house, where the entrance is, so if I have ‘clients’ at home, they need not walk through our main living spaces.
  • My husband likes his space so for him there is a ‘Den’ with a capital ‘D’. It is his room, his place!
  • We like to have large open spaces so our kitchen, living room and dining area are all one space, south facing towards the garden. Our living space looks towards a stream and river and will not look over any other buildings. I grew up in a walled orchard so ‘privacy’ was a big factor for me.
  • We put in a pantry and a utility room for extra storage and to keep the laundry, ‘dirty boots’ mess, out of the living space.
  • We only needed three bedrooms, so we put in three large ones. The master bedroom has an ensuite and a walk in wardrobe.
  • We put in a large upstairs landing that can act as a living space. This space will be used as a story time, prayer time, space where we can end or begin the day peacefully. This space, along with two of the bedrooms are south facing, so will catch a lot of sunshine.

If you have the option of self building, here are a few things that may help you make your decision! These are aspects of the build that were important to us. 

Orientation:

The living spaces of the house are south facing with the entrance and hallway at the north facing side of the house. Upstairs the main bedrooms are also south facing, with just one bedroom, the family bathroom and ensuite north facing.

Builders:

We have one builder who is building the house and also managing the build (with his son). He is providing a ‘turn key’ service for us. This is usually a more expensive way to build. We chose this way because I’d just had a baby, and couldn’t manage the build myself. My husband works nights and sleeps during the day so he couldn’t manage it. I don’t deal well with a lot of stress so knew that I couldn’t be responsible for every aspect of the build.

Josh chatting about ladybirds with Florence!

In choosing our builder we needed someone who could build the house to turn key, my husband insisted on it, but also someone we could happily work with and trust to do a good job. We spent a lot of time getting to know our builder before we started. This has been instrumental in making the whole process a pleasurable one. We are near the end of our build now and so far have had NO problems with our builder or the service he is providing. I can’t recommend him enough. Click HERE for more information on our builder.

We also have the assistance of an architectural / engineering firm, CMG architects, who supervise the build, they brought us through planning and ensure we are building to regulations. Though the builder builds to exceptionally high standards, we felt at the outset that we needed the additional support of the architect/engineer, not only to assist with all planning issues but also mortgage/legal issues that are part and parcel of self building. I worked for this firm in my early 20’s so trusted their service.

Saving money?

We are NOT saving money in the short term by going the self build route. In the current climate (2010-2012) it is cheaper to buy a home. What made us self-build was building the house we wanted, the main aspect of which was living in a well built, timber frame, energy efficient, almost energy independent home.

However, our home is 240 sq meters on a beautiful 2.5 acre site. When you take this into consideration, we have achieved excellent value for money. (We didn’t have to pay for the site). If we were to buy the house we are building, we simply couldn’t.

If you’d like to know total costs, send me an email!

Heating systems: 

We are using a geothermal ground source heat pump with underfloor heating both upstairs and downstairs. This will heat the house and all our water. Though the initial cost is high, running costs will be low. We didn’t want to use oil or gas in the home, mostly due to personal preference but also due to the uncertainly of energy prices into the future. Though we are getting our electricity from the ESB, there is the option of hydro electric energy. This will be a future endeavor if it is cost effective. Click HERE for our suppliers information, DC Renewables.

We have installed a Heat Recovery Ventilation system, which is essential because the house is airtight. I like the windows closed in winter, and my husband likes them open! This system gives us the best of both! Fresh air without having to open the windows (esp in winter! Brrrrrrr!!). Same supplier as the geothermal unit.

We are using soy based spray foam insulation, which will maximise the efficiency of the geothermal system, and also seal the house. Though more expensive initially, in my opinion it is the best insulation available. Click HERE (link to be updated soon) for supplier information. Our builder has a lot of experience using this type of insulation.

BER Rating: I don’t know what the BER rating of the house is or will be when it’s finished. We don’t intend on renting or selling the home, so the BER rating isn’t essential. Many builders provide ‘A’ rated homes, but when I investigated I wasn’t completely confident that even an A rated home was of the highest standard. I first investigated heating systems and methods of building which make a home exceptionally warm and efficient and found a builder who could provide all those things. I didn’t want our home to tick all the boxes of an A rated home, I wanted it to be the best house it could be. My feeling is that it exceeds current standards, but I can’t say that definitively.

My building background!

My father has a hand made wooden block set which be loved as a child, which his father made for him, which I often played with growing up. That, and religiously watching ‘Grand Designs’ after our baby was born was the extent of my building background. The prospect of self building was exciting and terrifying. It was a childhood dream to build my own home, which I was fortunate enough to be able to bring to reality.

Would I do it again? If I had the same builder, YES in a heartbeat.

Do I recommend our builder? YES, absolutely! He has been incredible from the start! I thank God we found him!

Why Timber Frame?

I wouldn’t use anything else. The question for me was just which timber frame builder to use.

I wanted to use timber frame because in a cold, damp country like Ireland, wood makes sense. Blocks (in my view) are cold and damp. My husband is from Canada where temperatures reach -40 degrees and they only use wood. I have stayed in countries were the wind is so severe that no tree’s grow above a certain height, they only use wood. Wood is warm to the touch, is an excellent insulator, looks nice, smells nice… It is extremely fire safe when it complies with all building regulations. It is sustainable. I love wood! Our builder uses a ‘stick building’ method, building the whole house from scratch, so it is exceptionally strong. No flat back, slot into place, pre-fab stuff here!

Location!

We are located 20km from Cork city which is approximately a 25 minute drive away. We will have a 5-20 minute commute to work (20 for me, 5 for my husband, who hopes to work locally) He is currently working in Cork city.

We are two miles from 2 small towns, and are close to a large garden centre and Lee Valley water amenities. There are at least 5 primary schools within a 2-5 mile radius and one secondary school 2 miles away. As I grew up in the area, we are well established in the community and though I haven’t lived in the area for a while, my parents have lived down the lane for over 20 years. This place is home! For my husband, it is a new adventure.

More Questions?

Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you would like more information on any aspect of the build. You are welcome to come and see the house if that helps you in making your decision to build or not, or if you’re struggling to find an exceptional builder. Though this blog is a personal record of our build, I hope it also assists you in your building project.

Happy Building!!

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