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Case Studies

A self-build which is the perfect blend of rural charm and modern-day essentials

For Adrian and Claudine Rafferty, creating their dream home on the outskirts of Poyntzpass proved to be a match made in heaven - in more ways than one. The big decision to go down the self-build route coincided with an even bigger decision – Adrian asking Claudine to marry him! Here they tell you about their self build journey; the highs and the lows, the challenges and the rewards. Reading their story, you'll realise that self building your first home is a huge learning curve,so there are lots of useful tips and advice for making the experience as pain free as possible.

Peacock Cottage

OUtsideSet in the idyllic surroundings of Tyrone’s Ditches Road, Peacock Cottage is the perfect blend of old rural charm and modern-day essentials.The beautiful four-bedroom home overlooks a rolling valley of green fields and its rustic rural charm is accentuated by its thatched roof and rough plastered walls on the exterior and the exposed wooden beams and open plan design internally.

Living rmYet it also has all the latest ‘mod cons’ with underfloor heating throughout, a sophisticated lighting and sound system controlled at the touch of a button and even a relaxing steam room.

Simply put, Peacock Cottage is the perfect example of how self-build allows the home-owners to put their own personal touch on the project and it is this control aspect that was one of the main attractions of self-build for Adrian.

 “I loved the idea of living in a house that we had designed and had all the little touches we dreamed of. Yes, you will always have certain restrictions in terms of planning, building control and, of course, your budget but I loved the idea of being able to turn some whacky ideas into reality,” he explains.

PICKING A SITE

The siteFor the Raffertys, selecting a site was straightforward as they already had family land with outline planning permission. The couple did look at other sites but the family ties to the site they already owned, not to mention the fact that it was the most financially viable, made it a straightforward decision.

Adrian added, “We did look at other sites because we liked the idea of a long entrance and the house being well away from the road, but the figures simply didn’t add up, particularly as the additional costs of creating a road to the house would have cut into our overall budget quite substantially. This gave me the first real lesson on looking at your budget and seeing how spending big on one aspect, reduces the money you have left for the rest.”

SELECTING YOUR TEAM

As project Manager, Adrian wanted to have as much control as possible of the project but was realistic enough to realise that he didn’t have all the experience.

Having worked extensively in the construction trade, he utilised his contacts to find the best architects, builders and sub-contractors for the project while also utilising his knowledge to source the best materials as well. The fact that the builder was also the Best Man at his wedding also helped!

“While I knew everyone we hired, I also talked to other people who had worked with them and asked the various contractors to demonstrate previous experience of some of the more intricate sections of the house.

“You have to be able to trust your team – that is a big factor and I was lucky to have great people around me. You need to know when to be able to stand firm on something because you know what you want and when to realise that your architect, builder or sub-contractor has more experience and is offering you good advice. For me, that is where the trust factor comes to the fore.”

ARCHHITECTS CHALLENGE

The main reason why anyone opts for self-build is the opportunity to build a house how he wants it and the Raffertys fully embraced this.

“We sat down and put all our ideas down on paper and then selected what we definitely wanted in the home. For me, I wanted the glass balcony overlooking an open plan ground floor, as it was something that I had come across 30 years ago at the Ideal Home Exhibition.

“Growing up in a bungalow, stairs were also a ‘must have’ for me while I wanted to create an American-style conversation pit, with the living room being at a lower level than the rest of the ground floor.”

CGIClaudine introduced the rugged rural charm, with her suggestions of a thatched roof, sliding wooden windows and rough plaster walls, also adding talking points such as a fish tank between the kitchen and conversation pit and a beautiful cast iron freestanding bath.

“We brought all our ideas to the architect and basically told him that he had to design a house with all these features. We set him the challenge of amalgamating all our ideas into a home that was practical and would also get us through planning without any big problems.”

PLANNING PROCESS

As a rural site, a number of restrictions were imposed on Peacock Cottage, with the main obstacles being a 450 roof pitch and a fixed ridge height which therefore imposed a limit on how wide the property could be.

Thatched roofThe architect opted for an ‘H’ shape design, with two longer sections of the house joined by a wide central portion that provided the internal space required by elongating the property. Externally, the addition of the thatched roof was also a big factor in ensuring Peacock Cottage blended in suitably with the locality.

“Everyone has heard horror stories of how projects get stuck in planning, so we were shocked at how quickly we received planning permission,” explained Adrian. “I think that was down to having a local architect who understood the area and the local demands of the planning service - this is where his experience really paid off.”

The Raffertys did receive one rejection to their original plans, however, with the planners insisting the house be parallel with the main road rather than at a 450 angle they intended.

“In hindsight, I think we could have questioned this rejection but we decided we had approval and were just keen to get started. It was not a critical factor in the end and sometimes those are the judgements you have to make.”

BUDGET AND TENDER PROCESS

Knowing your limitations is a factor that Adrian cites as essential when being the Project Manager of your own self-build scheme so when it came to setting budgets he turned to more experienced individuals.

“I think having a builder you can trust is essential as you rely on his advice and guidance regarding important areas such as price,” says Adrian. “I had ballpark figures but, by sitting down with someone who works in the industry every day, I was able to get more realistic figures.

“It is important to realise that you will never stick to your budget 100% but where you overspend in one area you need to look at where you can cut costs in another. That is why having a realistic budget to work from is so important.”

Having practical budget figures also made the tendering process more straightforward. While Adrian had already selected his preferred contractors, he also had to ensure they fitted into his budget, so he asked a number of firms to provide prices to ensure he got the best deal.

“But price isn’t the most important aspect,” he insists. “You have to look at the extras they are offering such as design services and ensure there are no hidden costs, while it is important you speak to past customers to make sure their service is up to the highest standards as well.”

FINANCING

Once again, the Raffertys utilised the experience of people around them to ensure they financed the project properly, with Adrian’s sister being called in to provide direction on the best mortgage to opt for.

With self-build projects, funds from the mortgage are released at various stages, such as when the foundations are complete or the home is completed to roof level.

StaircaseAdrian points out, “By the time we reached the third stage I thought we may not need the final payment but I could not have been more wrong. Some of the biggest costs you will face is for the final internal finishes and adding in furniture and other fixtures and fittings, like the staircase. This is why keeping a close eye on your budget at every single stage has to be a priority.”

BUILDING CONTROL

Like planning, the involvement of Building Control is a necessity and Adrian’s advice is to get in touch with them as early as possible.

While the majority of the project was fine, the Raffertys did face issues with the wall ties used for insulation and this threatened to seriously set back the entire project.

Building control required a certificate on the wind resistance properties of the ties and while technical data was provided, the Raffertys also had to provide evidence that the installation had been carried out to the manufacturer’s recommendations. Luckily, Adrian had photographed every section of the build process, so was able to document this properly and avoided having a section of the wall removed to provide the required proof.

“I’m not ashamed to admit that this saga reduced me to tears,” Adrian explains. “We were ready to put the roof on when we were asked for this documentation and we really had to do to a lot of work to get what we needed.

“Looking back, my advice would be to get your supplier or contractor in direct contact with Building Control when dealing with issues such as this. They have the technical knowledge and experience to work together to find a proper resolution where I felt, at times, as if I were the middle man.”

"However on some occasions Building Control can be reluctant to deal with anyone other than the main contractor and on a Self Build that tends to be the Owner”

FINISHES

KicthenThroughout the project, Adrian and Claudine researched every single aspect of their home. From the wall insulation and heating system to the AGA cooker in the kitchen and the freestanding bath, every decision was taken from an informed perspective.

While their architect had included various suggestions on the plans for Peacock Cottage, the couple explored all their options before making a final decision.

"We wanted to install ground-source and air-source heat pumps to heat our home but the more we talked to people who had these systems, the less convinced we were about how well it would work so we opted for oil-fired central heating instead.”

This proves how being flexible with your ideas is essential. In contrast, you must also look at ensuring you find the best system for those ideas you do go ahead with, as Adrian explains.

UFH“As we didn’t want radiators taking away from the rural feel of our home, underfloor heating was something we wanted from the start. But we had to make sure we found a system that would give us the heat we needed in an open-plan home but was still cost-efficient as well.

“The fact that we also wanted extensive use of floor tiles throughout also influenced our decision and using underfloor heating combined with superb controls means we have a lovely warm home.”

The Raffertys believe that many self-builders will have a list of ‘must have’ and have nots’ and, with this in mind, will need to investigate every avenue to ensure it integrates into the overall home.

One example of this was Claudine’s assertion that the home include sliding wooden windows. But she was equally adamant that this ‘must have’ must not include trickle vents. A little research later and Adrian discovered that a Heat Recovery Unit (HRV) provided the perfect solution.

“It’s about finding the right balance,” he says. “You don’t have to compromise, just find an alternative answer.”

SATISFIED CUSTOMERS

Self-build projects never run smoothly yet the Raffertys can look back on a relatively smooth process with the end result diluting any negatives along the way.

The couple’s hard work in the early stages played an integral part in the project running so efficiently while constant research and taking advantage of the experience of those around them were also major factors.

Lighting Adrian’s ‘project within a project’ was the electrical design, with lighting his speciality, so the personal goal he achieved is an obvious high in the entire project, particularly as he regularly came home from work and then got started on the electrical installation through to the early hours of the morning.

But, overall, it is the sense of achievement that the couple achieved that delivers the biggest sense of satisfaction.

“Living right beside the site meant that every day we could see the progress that was being made and now we have moved in, it is so satisfying to wake up every morning and know that we created this house. This project took over our lives and we put our heart and soul into it, but it was all worth it in the end.

The only issue that Adrian and Claudine disagree on is whether or not they would go through it all again.Adrian is more than content while Claudine believes you would need to self-build around three times before you got close to perfection. Despite this, both agree that it was worth the effort.

WORDS OF ADVICE

Now enjoying their beautiful new home, the Raffertys are in the perfect position to offer advice to those considering the self-build route.

“The greatest asset you can have is a huge dose of realism,” says Adrian. “You may be building your dream home but, before you even start, you have to be realistic about the amount of work you will need to put into this and how challenging it will be.

“You will have your normal 9-5 job to go to every day and then you will come home and put your Project Manager hat on. Even if you employ a Project Manager, you still have to be involved and make key decisions.

“For us, we found that the amount of research we did really paid off – first in helping us select a project team we could trust but just as importantly, knowing that any decision we made was always from the best possible position.

“You need to live close to where you are building and definitely have an understanding employer as you will have to be on hand for various meetings, make orders and organise deliveries – and that’s before you have to deal with any problematic issues!

“You will need to call in a lot of favours and use the knowledge and advice of everyone you know and the long hours will certainly take their toll, not to mention the drain on your finances!

“It is not an easy job at all and at times you’ll feel that it is the worst decision you ever made and that nothing will go the way you want it to. But when you sit down and relax in your own home, all that effort will be worth it.

“But even knowing all that, would I recommend self-build? Definitely.”

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