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.
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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