First time self-builder Jean Drydale chose to combine 21st-century building technology with a traditional cottage vernacular for her new home in Jersey
A first-time self-builder combines traditional style with cutting-edge construction with the help of a turnkey supplier
if you’ve ever wondered what the experience of commissioning a house from a turnkey supplier is like, you are not alone — it’s still uncommon for us in the UK, with just one in 20 selfbuilders using this route*.
So when Jersey-based Jean Drydale was approached by a representative from German package supplier Hanse Haus (who had been alerted to her building project by her online planning application for a demolition and rebuild), it’s perhaps not surprising that her first reaction was one of caution. “It sounded too good to be true,” says Jean, who wanted to visit similar properties they’d built locally “to see what it was all about”. At the time there were no Hanse Haus homes on Jersey (there are now four on the island, including Jean’s). Luckily there were several on the neighbouring island of Guernsey for her to check out.
“Visiting a house half way through construction and seeing the insulation going in was particularly useful,” she says. The option of going down the most hands-off of all self-build routes was also attractive to Jean, who had recently been widowed.
“My husband had died and I needed somewhere for my mother and I to live. But as far as self-build went, I didn’t have a clue — I was a bit daunted,” she says. Both mother and daughter were living in a damp single block-built 1950s bungalow that had very poor insulation. However, the property was sitting on a generous rural plot, with echoes of its agricultural past: even today, the garden contains a huge apple crusher. And Jean did want to stay on the island where she’d lived all her life.
Commissioning the House
With the decision about her self-build route made, Jean chose to commission a local architect, John Leveridge from Axis Mason, to design her house and work alongside the German company. That combination was to be a winning one, as Jean was keen to build in the local Jersey vernacular. “Also, our by-laws are different to any in the world, although the planners loved the fact that it is an eco house and the roof is so well-insulated,” she explains.
Jean and a Hanse Haus representative took the three-hour flight to Germany to
visit the factory and show houses, and to sign the contract. “Another two-day visit to Germany allowed me to choose all the fixtures and fittings for the house,” says Jean. “I’d done my homework beforehand and knew that I wanted an oak floor in the living room, as well as a woodburning stove [which was supplied locally]. I also knew what kind of colour scheme I wanted throughout. It was a busy but very enjoyable couple of days. The vast majority of products that I chose were included in the package, although there was an option to upgrade to more expensive ones.”
April saw the demolition of the old bungalow; groundworks were carried out during the summer. By November, the prefabricated house was ready and Jean went to the port at St Helier to see her home arriving by boat. “I could see the five containers with my house inside, and I was just buzzing with anticipation. Later that day I was driving from a friend’s house towards our build plot and had to stop for a police escort on the road. I soon realised that the numbered lorries had my house inside!”
From then on, progress was rapid, even when the island was hit by a heavy thunderstorm on day one. “It was incredible to watch, and so fast,” says Jean. “I left the site mid-morning to go for coffee and by the time I came back, two sides of the house had been installed. I had to run to take photos before the whole house was up. By lunchtime I was walking through the front door of my new home.”
Day two saw the ceiling cassettes installed; on day three, the first floor was built and Jean could walk around her bedroom for the first time. “By day five the roof was on and the house was totally watertight.”
In total, Hanse Haus took nine weeks to fit out the five-bed house, working alongside local contractors. Vale Garden Houses installed a bespoke hardwood orangery and entrance porch, while local firm Romerils supplied the kitchen and another Jersey supplier, Heritage Joinery, installed a custom-made oak staircase. “Hanse Haus provide a great deal of choice, but I chose some items specifically to enhance the Victorian-style architecture,” she explains.
“A local building contractor, Houze Construction, built and fitted the six dormer windows, slated the roof and fitted the guttering. Those dormer windows are very typical of the island. The triangular windows are also a very local architectural feature, as is the porch. People say that the house looks like it’s been here forever.”
The exterior of the house may look Victorian, but in terms of energy efficiency it is cutting edge. All the walls are fully insulated with thick mineral fibre, which is bonded within the walls to prevent sinking or slippage and the associated risk of thermal bridging (weak spots in the building fabric where heat could transfer to the exterior). The walls are also designed to be fully loadbearing. Hanse Haus architect Bianca Keil explains: “The walls have a stud every 300mm that are completely glued on both sides with OSB (oriented strand board). That makes them loadbearing and means that the fixing of wall units, including heavy kitchen units, is possible everywhere.”
The home boasts several other eco-friendly features including an air source heat pump (which runs the underfloor heating), triple glazing and a whole house ventilation with heat recovery system. The internal walls, ceiling and roof are all insulated with mineral wool, while a white Sto render system is used to insulate the external walls.
It’s also a home free of chemicals. The roof rafters and battens were impregnated with BOR salt to protect the timbers against humidity; otherwise, no wood preservative was used and all the materials are chemical-free.
“The house really comes into its own in the winter,” says Jean. “As Hanse Haus pointed out, I didn’t need a woodburner, but I chose to have it as a feature. The house is so well insulated and the woodburner throws out so much heat that I only lit it six times last winter. When I moved in, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but the house has a lovely feel to it. Every room has fresh air and it has the same temperature throughout. And I really enjoy the open plan living, especially the kitchen, living and dining areas where we have the morning and afternoon sun. I have a home for life that I am very proud of.”
The Homeowner Jean Drydale The project Traditional-style self-build Location Jersey Build time 12 months Construction system SIPs Size 288 m2 Build cost £875,000 Value £600,000+