Years of work make three of a kind from bun­ga­low

Martin Smith used his civil en­gi­neer­ing and com­puter skills to cre­ate three in­no­va­tive homes for his fam­ily. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

WHEN Martin Smith bought a bun­ga­low in the vil­lage of Newmiller­dam in 1987, he did so sight-un­seen while thou­sands of miles away in the Mid­dle East.

“My wife Christine found it, she loved where it was and that was it. I never saw it, but I trusted her com­pletely,” says Martin, who was work­ing in Kuwait as a civil en­gi­neer.

The house, near Wake­field, was built in 1890 and mod­i­fied in the 1930s and the cou­ple rented it out, while nur­tur­ing a plan to mod­ernise it. They fi­nally got to call it home in 2000.

“We looked at modernising but an ar­chi­tect sug­gested it may be bet­ter to re-build. He also thought we could get two more prop­er­ties on the site, so we came up with the idea of build­ing three new houses, one for us and one each for our son and daugh­ter,” says Martin.

Plan­ning was an is­sue as the hill­side prop­erty is in a con­ser­va­tion area over­look­ing the vil­lage lake and coun­try park. The Smiths and their ar­chi­tect spent a long time in con­sul­ta­tion with the lo­cal au­thor­ity.

“We wanted ev­ery­thing just right be­fore we sub­mit­ted the plans. We took our time sourc­ing the ma­te­ri­als and en­sur­ing they blended in,” says Martin.

Their strat­egy worked, as the plans were passed and the prop­er­ties have been com­mended by the lo­cal Civic So­ci­ety.

But the process from de­sign to com­ple­tion was a chal­lenge for Martin, who now works as an IT con­sul­tant.

He took two years off work to de­vote him­self to the build on what was a dif­fi­cult slop­ing site.

“The houses are sock­eted into the hill and are be­low ground on three sides, so I gave the job to struc­tural en­gi­neers and then put it out to ten­der, but the prices quoted were so high that it just wasn’t vi­able. I looked at the plans and de­cided I could do bet­ter my­self.”

Us­ing his civil en­gi­neer­ing skills, he re­designed the re­tain­ing walls and slashed the orig­i­nal cost by 35 per cent. He then drew up a cost plan with a quan­tity sur­veyor and or­gan­ised each sec­tion of work into sep­a­rate pack­ages.

“I re-planned the work com­pletely and phased it in a way that made sense. It’s the sort of thing I did on a civil en­gi­neer­ing job.

“I sub-con­tracted each chunk of work out and used a lot of pre­cast struc­tures,” says Martin, who pro­ject man­aged.

The first job was the ground works, fol­lowed by the base slabs and a drainage layer. The slabs were fit­ted with grooves to hold pre-cast, Ther­monex ther­mal con­crete walls that would cre­ate the lower ground rooms.

“Ther­monex walls are used in car parks and are su­per in­su­lated so you can sim­ply plas­ter on top of them. We had the pan­els craned into place cre­at­ing a con­crete box for the base­ment level,” says Martin.

The next stage was a tim­ber frame cus­tom-built on site, fol­lowed by the roof.

The first three phases took just four weeks and the plan was to then in­stall the win­dows fol­lowed by the block and ren­der and stone cladding and the in­ter­nal fit-out, which could be done in tan­dem.

“That’s where we were de­layed be­cause we couldn’t fit the win­dows un­til we had set the stone sur­rounds, so in the end we had to wait to do the in­ter­nal work.

“It was a shame be­cause we got off to a fly­ing start but the stone el­e­ments were re­ally im­por­tant to us and lay­ing re­claimed stone takes time be­cause it is ir­reg­u­lar and you need spe­cial­ist ma­sons. The stone work alone took three months,” says Martin, who used the time to in­su­late the houses him­self.

Ther­mal ef­fi­ciency was top of his list and he achieved ex­cel­lent air tight­ness thanks to his be­spoke tim­ber frame and high lev­els of in­su­la­tion in the walls and roof.

“We took a lot of care with the in­su­la­tion and we made sure the vapour bar­rier was spot on and all the joints were taped to min­imise air leak­age

“We could’ve bought a frame that was ready made off site, but the prob­lem is that it never fits com­pletely, there are cracks and gaps, whereas if you are mak­ing the frame on site you can elim­i­nate those and get a re­ally tight fit.”

The Smiths took their time with the in­ter­nal fit-out and the three houses took a to­tal of two years to com­plete. They moved in a year ago and their home has a first floor sitting room and din­ing kitchen. On the ground floor, there are two bed­rooms, a study/ oc­ca­sional sitting room and fam­ily bath­room. On the lower ground floor level is the mas­ter bed­room with dress­ing room and en-suite bath­room and a fur­ther bed­room, which also has its own en-suite.

The other two prop­er­ties have three bed­rooms and three bath­rooms. The over­all cost of the ba­sic build for all three was £650,000 and came in at £870 per sq me­tre, though top of the range fit­tings brought it to £1,368 per sq me­tre

“We didn’t spare any ex­pense be­cause we thought we’d be here for years. The ideas was that my par­ents would come and live with us here and my son and daugh­ter would live in the other houses, but in the two years it took to build the prop­er­ties cir­cum­stances changed,” says Martin.

“My daugh­ter and son are plan­ning to move away with their jobs and my mother-in-law is now in a nurs­ing home. So this won­der­ful dream we had of all liv­ing to­gether hasn’t quite worked out.

“We love the lo­ca­tion and the views and the house is ev­ery­thing I wanted it to be, but we’re sell­ing and I am look­ing for an­other pro­ject. I’ve def­i­nitely got the bug. I loved the process of plan­ning and build­ing and sourc­ing lo­cal trades­peo­ple and ma­te­ri­als. One of my best finds was a car­pen­ter, Dave Dalby, who hand turned the oak balustrade on the stair­case.

“I’ve learned a lot. They key is to spend a lot of time plan­ning get­ting the de­sign, draw­ings and ma­te­ri­als right, so you’re not tempted to change things as you go along be­cause that adds to the cost.

“The other key el­e­ment is to or­gan­ise the cost man­age­ment. Spend­ing £1,500 on a quan­tity sur­veyor was well worth it. We did over-run of course, but that was fac­tored in with a con­tin­gency, so we came in on bud­get.”

Hill Top House, at Newmiller­dam, one of three match­ing prop­er­ties built by Martin Smith for his fam­ily. Bot­tom left, one of the bed­rooms. Bot­tom right, Martin and Christine’s sleek kitchen.

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