Build­ing a house in seven weeks

With lim­ited time to man­age a com­plex construction project, the Easters opted for a turnkey pack­age route to com­plete their new coun­try­side home on time and on bud­get

Build It - - EDITOR’S LETTER - WORDS & PHO­TOS PETER DROUGHT

Keen to move quickly, Jon and Yvonne Easter elected to use a turnkey pack­age com­pany to de­liver their tim­ber frame home in Shrop­shire – com­pleted in less than two months

Build It Jan­uary 2019

For Jon and Yvonne Easter, self build­ing of­fered the per­fect op­por­tu­nity to escape the ur­ban rat race of Stock­port in favour of a more tran­quil way of life in ru­ral Shrop­shire. Af­ter 25 years of mar­riage, and with their chil­dren now fully grown, the move would be the ful­fil­ment of a life­long am­bi­tion. e cou­ple had con­sid­ered re­lo­cat­ing a few years ear­lier, but mar­ket con­di­tions had made sell­ing their ex­ist­ing home dif­fi­cult – it wasn’t un­til 2015 that they de­cided the time was right to make the change. Brows­ing for suit­able plots, they found a site near Shrews­bury that seemed ideal for their re­quire­ments. With the land iden­ti­fied and a price ne­go­ti­ated, they had to move quickly. ank­fully things worked in their favour this time round, as their house sold in just two days.

“We found the plot on Right­move,” says John. “We were af­ter some­thing peace­ful, with idyl­lic views, but it needed good road ac­cess, as my job in civil en­gi­neer­ing takes me around the coun­try.”

Pick­ing a build route

Jon and Yvonne were keen to com­plete their construction project swiftly, so they de­cided on a turnkey route. is ap­proach means the

I was sur­prised at just how quickly the house went up. Ev­ery time we saw it, things pro­gressed’’ had no­tice­ably

de­sign, ma­te­ri­als sup­ply and much of the construction work is all taken care of by a sin­gle com­pany. e Easters chose to ap­point Dan­wood as their project part­ner, al­low­ing them to se­lect an off-theshelf house plan – they picked the Clas­sic 184E – which could then be tweaked to suit their in­di­vid­ual liv­ing re­quire­ments.

“We opted for this ap­proach be­cause of the ease and speed of the construction,” says Yvonne. “e web­site was very user friendly, pro­vid­ing lots of in­for­ma­tion to help us de­cide.”

e cou­ple worked with Dan-wood’s nom­i­nated ar­chi­tec­tural con­sul­tants, Wire­frame Stu­dios, to adapt the lay­out. “We wanted to add a fourth bed­room for vis­it­ing fam­ily, as well as max­imise the up­stairs space by re­mov­ing the hall void,” says Jon. “Mak­ing these changes im­proved our use of the house and added value”.

With a turnkey project, you make all the de­ci­sions – right down to socket and switch po­si­tions – be­fore the house shell is man­u­fac­tured. Freez­ing the de­sign this way al­lows for the pro­vi­sion of a foun­da­tion and util­i­ties spec­i­fi­ca­tion, and even more im­por­tantly, a fi­nal fixed cost of the struc­tural el­e­ments of the scheme. In most cases, you’ll need to pre­pare the site and foun­da­tions, at which point the turnkey sup­plier will take over to com­plete the rest of the construction work.

Se­cur­ing plan­ning

e site Jon and Yvonne iden­ti­fied, set in the cor­ner of an ex­ist­ing field, al­ready had out­line plan­ning per­mis­sion. So the scale and na­ture of a pro­posal ac­cept­able to the coun­cil had al­ready been es­tab­lished – but the cou­ple needed to gain full plan­ning con­sent for their ex­act scheme. “e agent helped us ne­go­ti­ate an agree­ment that we’d go ahead with the sale sub­ject to full plan­ning con­sent be­ing given,” says Yvonne. “is is im­por­tant as it en­sures that, when you pur­chase the plot, you know you can use it as in­tended.”

e patch of land they ended up with, how­ever, wasn’t quite the one they’d orig­i­nally seen. It was dis­cov­ered that a set of over­head ca­bles on the site were not tele­phone lines, as ini­tially thought, but elec­tric­ity – and the cost of rerout­ing them would have been pro­hib­i­tive. “For­tu­nately, the farmer from whom we pur­chased the

Build It Jan­uary 2019

plot was very ac­com­mo­dat­ing and agreed to change the shape so that it no longer en­com­passed the power lines,” says Yvonne.

Be­fore they could put in their ap­pli­ca­tion, a num­ber of fac­tors needed to be con­sid­ered – in­clud­ing the project’s im­pact on the sur­round­ing en­vi­ron­ment. e cou­ple con­tracted SLR Con­sult­ing to help with this as­pect of the scheme. ey were able to as­sist with the lo­ca­tion of the drive­way, which had to be changed to avoid dam­ag­ing tree roots, and a plan for preser­va­tion of wildlife in the ex­ist­ing hedgerow.

Ac­cess onto the high­way also pre­sented a prob­lem; and it was de­ter­mined that a clear tri­an­gu­lar area would need to be carved out to pro­vide a vis­i­bil­ity splay to al­low on­com­ing ve­hi­cles to be seen. “is could have been a source of com­pli­ca­tion, how­ever the farmer who owned the land was very help­ful, and we were able to make the nec­es­sary changes,” says Jon.

e cou­ple fi­nanced their project through a com­bi­na­tion of the sale of their previous house, plus a self build mort­gage. “We used a bro­ker to find the right lender, although with hind­sight it was prob­a­bly un­nec­es­sary as the process was straight­for­ward,” says Yvonne. “But what’s im­por­tant is that the mort­gage is suit­able for ma­jor construction projects.” e funds need to be re­leased in stages ac­cord­ing to the value of the project at that phase of the works. On the sub­ject of fi­nance, Yvonne adds: “Even though us­ing a pack­age house com­pany gives you bet­ter con­trol of costs, it’s still im­por­tant to keep a con­tin­gency fund in place.”

Get­ting out of the ground

Be­fore Dan-wood could bring its team on site, the Easters needed to ar­range the foun­da­tions. e clay soil failed per­co­la­tion tests for sur­face water soak­aways. Ini­tially, it seemed the so­lu­tion would be to cre­ate a large swale (lower sec­tion of ground) to deal with rain­wa­ter runoff.

Jon and Yvonne con­tacted drainage con­sul­tancy East­wood & Part­ners, whose ad­vice en­abled a re­design us­ing soak­away crates in tan­dem with an ori­fice plate, which can mea­sure and con­trol flow rates. e

ad­van­tage of this so­lu­tion is that it is smaller and hid­den un­der­ground, thereby re­duc­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal and vis­ual im­pact.

e cou­ple worked with lo­cal com­pany GAD Ground­works & Build­ing for their foun­da­tions, drive­way and the cre­ation of a sta­ble hard­core base for a crane – a re­quire­ment for Dan-wood to con­struct the house. Elec­tric­ity and water also needed to be brought on site and con­nected be­fore the main build­ing phase could com­mence. Once the foun­da­tions were com­plete, Dan-wood sent a sur­veyor in to review the site and en­sure ev­ery­thing was ready for the team to get un­der­way.

Smooth progress

With a turnkey ser­vice, once the de­sign is frozen, the sup­plier man­ages the construction process on your be­half. So apart from a few fin­ish­ing de­tails, and un­less you par­tic­u­larly wish to be more in­volved, there’s very lit­tle need for in­put from the self builder, as you’ve al­ready made all the key de­sign de­ci­sions. “Dan-wood’s site man­ager was great and their staff have a good work ethic,” says Jon.

e build process was in­cred­i­bly slick, largely thanks to the fact the com­pany uses a pre­fab­ri­cated tech­nique. e shell is con­structed of struc­tural in­su­lated pan­els (SIPS) that are man­u­fac­tured at the fac­tory in Poland, be­fore be­ing trans­ported to site for assem­bly.

e pan­els also in­clude el­e­ments such as pre-fit­ted win­dows, which speeds up the process even fur­ther and helps to guar­an­tee good air­tight­ness at joints (this project achieved an air per­me­abil­ity rat­ing of 1.1 m3/h/m2, which eas­ily beats the Regs thresh­old of 10).

“I was sur­prised at just how quickly the struc­ture went up,” says Jon. “Ev­ery time we saw it, things had no­tice­ably pro­gressed.” In fact, the bulk of the build process was com­pleted over just a seven-week pe­riod, start­ing on 30th Jan­uary 2017 – although a few in­te­rior de­tails and the landscaping fol­lowed later on.

SIPS are ba­si­cally a sand­wich, con­sist­ing of two lay­ers of ori­ented strand­board bonded to an in­ner core of in­su­la­tion – pro­vid­ing ex­cel­lent ther­mal per­for­mance and struc­tural strength. As well as the win­dows, the Dan-wood pan­els were sup­plied with an ex­tra layer of ex­ter­nal in­su­la­tion and ren­der pre-in­stalled, while in­ter­nally, a poly­thene vapour bar­rier and plas­ter­board lin­ing were al­ready in place. Among the house’s other en­ergy ef­fi­cient fea­tures are the use of triple glaz­ing, an air source heat pump pow­er­ing un­der­floor

heat­ing, and a me­chan­i­cal heat re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem that en­hances per­for­mance and pro­vides fil­tered fresh air. e pump qual­i­fied for the gov­ern­ment’s Re­new­able Heat In­cen­tive (RHI), which of­fers pay­ments for up to seven years. e Easters re­ceive £131.93 per quar­ter for their setup.

Kit­ting out the house

Although Dan-wood of­fers cus­tomers the chance to self-fin­ish their home’s in­te­ri­ors, the Easters pre­ferred the idea of go­ing full turnkey – so the con­tract cov­ered the plumbing and other in­fra­struc­ture, doors, stairs, tiling, floor­ing, san­i­tary­ware and in­ter­nal dec­o­ra­tion.

e only thing that isn’t in­cluded is the kitchen, largely be­cause there’s so much choice out there on the mar­ket. “We used a Dutch sup­plier, Sanidero Con­cept Store, and fit­ted a stain­less steel de­sign with NEF ap­pli­ances,” says Yvonne. “I found them by Googling for ex dis­play kitchens. We used a cur­rency bro­ker, pur­chas­ing the kitchen in Euros, which meant we could use the ex­change rate to make our money go fur­ther.” Among the other no­table fea­tures of the fit-out is a Pet­walk cat flap, de­signed to pre­serve air­tight­ness to Pas­sivhaus stan­dards and only opens on de­tec­tion of the cats’ mi­crochips.

e cou­ple moved into their new prop­erty on the 20th March 2017, although the landscaping process took a few more months to com­plete. e cou­ple used lo­cal con­trac­tors for the ex­ter­nal works, in­clud­ing the gates, walls, pa­tio and plant­ing.

With the house now com­plete, it’s clear the pair are de­lighted with their new coun­try way of life. Asked what he en­joys most about the house, Jon replies: “e light and the views.” Per­haps the best place to ex­pe­ri­ence this is the up­per storey fam­ily room’s bal­cony, which of­fers beau­ti­ful vis­tas over the sur­round­ings. “For me it’s the si­lence,” says Yvonne. “De­tails like the lips around the doors and win­dows, which form part of the ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem, are also ex­tremely sound­proof. It’s so dif­fer­ent to our old home. We love it here.”

The rear of the prop­erty in­cludes a pa­tio area and first floor bal­cony over­look­ing the beau­ti­ful coun­try­side views

Jon and Yvonne saved money by sourc­ing their new kitchen on­line from Dutch sup­plier, Snaidera Con­cept Store

Glazed doors open the lounge onto the pa­tio The en­trance hall pro­vides a size­able re­cep­tion space and hosts an eye-catch­ing oak stair­case

Lead­ing from the mas­ter bed­room is a dress­ing area with built in wardrobes

The cat flap is specif­i­cally de­signed to main­tain ther­mal ef­fi­ciency, ac­ti­vated by their pet’s mi­crochip

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