Build a bet­ter life­style

Cre­at­ing a new home from scratch can bring a whole host of ben­e­fits for your house­hold. Emily Smith high­lights the top 10 ways it could change your day-to-day life


1 Cre­ate a tai­lored lay­out

One of the key ad­van­tages of self build­ing is that you have the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate a home that’s to­tally in tune with your needs and the way you would like to in­ter­act with your liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment. Whether that means an open-plan fam­ily space with a large kitchen where you can keep an eye on the kids while you cook, or a lux­u­ri­ous master suite with its own walk-in wardrobe – you can make sure you have the right amount of room where you want it.

A good start­ing point when de­vis­ing your floor­plan is to think about how you in­ter­act with your cur­rent home and if the re­la­tion­ship could be im­proved. You’ll prob­a­bly want to keep some of the same fur­ni­ture, es­pe­cially any fam­ily heir­looms (which can some­times be un­usual shapes), so re­mem­ber to cater for these when you plan the spa­ces.

2 En­joy light-filled liv­ing

There’s heaps of re­search out there prov­ing the ben­e­fits of reg­u­larly com­ing into con­tact with nat­u­ral light. From im­prov­ing your sleep qual­ity through to the pos­i­tive ef­fects on men­tal func­tion and mood thanks to in­creased lev­els of sero­tonin, day­light is ar­guably the most pre­cious com­mod­ity you can have in your home.

Your de­signer will care­fully plan win­dow po­si­tions; fo­cus­ing on how the sun moves across your plot to draw up your floor­plan ac­cord­ing to which rooms you’ll be in at dif­fer­ent times of the day. For in­stance, you could wake up in the morn­ing with nat­u­ral il­lu­mi­na­tion stream­ing into your bed­room and come home af­ter work to re­lax in a lounge that cap­tures the last of the evening sun.

Although the sun’s pat­tern is pre­dictable, you will ex­pe­ri­ence dif­fer­ent re­sults across the var­i­ous sea­sons, so the de­sign should cater for year-round day­light. You’ll need to note if the land­scape around your plot, such as trees and other build­ings, could ob­scure sun­rays, for in­stance. Many ar­chi­tects and de­sign­ers can pro­duce a com­puter model of your new home de­sign to show how day­light will fall across a build­ing through­out the year, in­flu­enc­ing room po­si­tion and the over­all ori­en­ta­tion.

3 Re­duce en­ergy bills

If you’re de­sign­ing a space that helps to cap­ture day­light, then you’ll be able to use nat­u­ral warmth to your ad­van­tage, too. A term you’ll come across a lot on this

sub­ject is so­lar gain. Ba­si­cally, well-con­sid­ered po­si­tion­ing of both your build­ing and its win­dows by your de­signer will help you to gain free heat­ing from the sun. But be care­ful to en­sure spa­ces don’t over­heat; de­sign in shad­ing for in­tense sum­mer sun via pre­cau­tions such as over­hangs.

Cap­tur­ing free warmth in your home will help to lower bills, but re­duc­ing en­ergy use is about much more than get­ting the glaz­ing right. A fab­ric first ap­proach is key to keep­ing fu­ture house­hold bills down. Modern build­ings are highly in­su­lated and air­tight, so they should leak out min­i­mal heat and won’t cost the earth to run.

Heavy­weight con­struc­tions like ma­sonry cav­ity walls ben­e­fit from ther­mal mass, so they’ll soak up warmth dur­ing the day and re­lease it slowly later on to pro­vide even heat­ing pat­terns. But ther­mal mass can also be in­cor­po­rated into lighter-weight sys­tems like tim­ber frame – brick cladding, con­crete floors and ma­sonry chim­ney stacks could all help with this. If you’re keen to cre­ate a low-en­ergy home, look into build­ing to Pas­sivhaus stan­dards. This de­sign method­ol­ogy aims to re­duce the en­ergy need for space heat­ing, while en­sur­ing rooms have good air qual­ity and com­fort lev­els.

4 Soak up the sur­round­ings

There’s an­other ben­e­fit to hav­ing am­ple glaz­ing – the po­ten­tial to frame panoramic views and cre­ate a bet­ter con­nec­tion with your gar­den. In fact, reg­u­lar con­tact with na­ture is an­other com­mod­ity that is known to be good for us, gen­er­ally in­creas­ing health and hap­pi­ness, so it’s worth think­ing of ways to bring the out­doors in.

Glazed doors con­nect­ing liv­ing spa­ces and gar­dens are a pop­u­lar fea­ture that work well to blur the in­side/out­side bound­aries. Think about what style will work best for you. For in­stance, slid­ers have thin­ner frames when closed, mean­ing they of­fer a clearer view out in com­par­i­son to bi­folds, but the lat­ter type are able to con­certina as they open to give you max­i­mum ac­cess to the out­doors.

A de­sign op­tion that could make the most of views and day­light is an up­side-down floor­plan, where rooms that you’re go­ing to be in dur­ing day­light hours – such as kitchens and liv­ing rooms – are po­si­tioned on up­per storeys. Spa­ces that don’t need sun­light (ie bed­rooms and bath­rooms) are then set on the ground floor.

5 Cre­ate a healthy en­vi­ron­ment

Self build­ing also gives you the chance to con­trol the prod­ucts and fin­ishes that go into your home. Many peo­ple take this op­por­tu­nity to help boost well­be­ing. A key area is bad in­door air qual­ity, which is linked to a range of health prob­lems, from asthma and eczema through to can­cer and heart dis­ease. You’d be sur­prised at how many nasty fumes can come out of build­ing ma­te­ri­als and fin­ishes.

There are two prongs to this: if you’re cre­at­ing an air­tight build­ing, then you need to fac­tor in ven­ti­la­tion to en­sure that there’s a fresh air­flow without com­pro­mis­ing your build­ing’s en­ergy ef­fi­ciency. But you can also look to spec­ify prod­ucts that pro­tect the health of you and your house­hold. VOCS (volatile or­ganic com­pounds) are found in many prod­ucts and are un­for­tu­nately a key cul­prit for off-gassing tox­ins over a long pe­riod of time – not just when that new paint smell is there, for in­stance. Healthy op­tions in­clude nat­u­ral so­lu­tions like sheep’s wool in­su­la­tion and plant-based paints. You can even get spe­cial plas­ter­boards that ab­sorb and neu­tralise harm­ful com­pounds.

6 Guar­an­teed peace & quiet

Want to make sure that busy ad­ja­cent road doesn’t keep you up at night? Or that your teenager’s drumkit prac­tise doesn’t dis­turb their younger sib­ling’s bed­time? This is where ef­fi­cient sound­proof­ing comes in and, thank­fully, cre­at­ing your own home means you can en­sure quiet rooms by build­ing in good acous­tic per­for­mance.

Beam and block floors of­fer a solid bar­rier against noise trans­fer be­tween storeys. If you aren’t build­ing with ma­sonry then you can up­grade tim­ber floor struc­tures with spe­cial acous­tic prod­ucts, such as British Gyp­sum’s Silent Ad­di­tional Ceil­ing. In­ter­nal par­ti­tion walls can be dou­ble­skinned with plas­ter­board to achieve sim­i­lar re­sults.

Also think about in­ter­nal lay­out and de­sign – open-plan liv­ing spa­ces and hard floor sur­faces could both po­ten­tially cre­ate more noise than other op­tions. Re­mem­ber that soft ma­te­ri­als are bet­ter at ab­sorb­ing sound waves and you

could go as far as in­te­grat­ing acous­tic ab­sorp­tion pan­els into walls to re­duce the risk of echoes.

7 Get the qual­ity you want

Whether you’re cre­at­ing your be­spoke home de­sign in col­lab­o­ra­tion with an ar­chi­tect (see page 86), house de­signer or spe­cial­ist build­ing firm, you’ll be de­cid­ing ex­actly what goes into your new prop­erty. From the con­struc­tion method through to in­ter­nal fin­ishes, each in­di­vid­ual fea­ture of the house will have a role to play in form­ing the fi­nal re­sult. And a huge boon for self build is that you’ll have the free­dom to care­fully con­sider your avail­able bud­get and what el­e­ments you think are worth putting ex­tra into.

For in­stance, if you’re re­ally keen to keep en­ergy bills down then in­vest­ing in su­per high spec in­su­la­tion and triple glaz­ing could be worth it. But if you’re more fo­cused on sav­ing cash for a swanky kitchen for all the host­ing you love to do, then you might need to think about what could be cut back else­where in the de­sign.

8 Wow fac­tor at an af­ford­able price

Be­ing in con­trol of your fu­ture home and the money avail­able means you have the op­por­tu­nity to cre­ate some truly breath­tak­ing re­sults that you’re un­likely to find in a de­vel­oper house. Win­dows are an es­sen­tial com­po­nent, but in­cor­po­rat­ing fully glazed walls and frame­less cor­ners means you take some­thing func­tional and turn it into an out-of-the-or­di­nary fea­ture. There’s a host of other ways to bring stand­out de­sign de­tails into your new home – state­ment cladding, clever ar­ti­fi­cial light­ing, dou­ble­height spa­ces, can­tilevered lev­els, grand front doors... the po­ten­tial is end­less! Look at other projects and chat to the pro­fes­sion­als about what’s pos­si­ble for your bud­get.

9 Re­duce clut­ter

A big prob­lem with mass-pro­duced hous­ing is the lack of stor­age, as de­vel­op­ers squeeze as many rooms into as small a space as pos­si­ble. It’s easy to un­der­es­ti­mate how many pos­ses­sions you need to store away, so think care­fully about how much room you need – is yours the kind of house­hold that has a full garage, for in­stance? Plan­ning your stor­age at the de­sign stage will en­sure you have enough to tuck clut­ter out of sight. Built-in so­lu­tions can ex­tend the full height of walls, which is a great way to cre­ate a fo­cal fea­ture and max­imise avail­able space.

You’ll also be able to plan for sock­ets early on to en­sure you don’t have ca­bles run­ning the span of rooms, so it’s worth think­ing where your TV, free­stand­ing lights etc will be po­si­tioned when cre­at­ing the floor­plan.

10 Fu­ture proof

It’s in­evitable that ev­ery house­hold’s needs change as time goes on. So if you’re plan­ning to live in your self build home for decades to come, the lay­out needs flex­i­bil­ity built-in to en­sure it can evolve with you.

For ex­am­ple, a down­stairs WC, cloak­room and large study next to each other could be trans­formed into a wet­room and bed­room if stairs be­come an is­sue in the fu­ture. Wider than stan­dard doors will al­low for wheel­chair move­ment and per­haps what is a cup­board for now is cor­rectly po­si­tioned to cater for a lift at a later date, with the floor joists above pre-trimmed al­ready just in case.

You could go as far as putting ser­vices in place for a fu­ture ex­ten­sion or cre­at­ing an at­tic space that’s ready to con­vert if needed – these things mean your home will def­i­nitely be able to adapt with you and en­able you to get the most value out of your pro­ject.

Top & in­set:This new oak frame house by Oak­wrights (www. oak­ in­cludes ex­pan­sive glaz­ing at the back to cre­ate a strong con­nec­tion with its sur­round­ings, with more of a tra­di­tional ap­pear­ance from the streetscene

Above: Pack­age home spe­cial­ist Baufritz (www. takes an ac­tive ap­proach to cre­at­ing healthy pre­man­u­fac­tured build­ings by us­ing nat­u­ral prod­ucts and non-chem­i­cally treated build­ing ma­te­ri­als

Above: This three­storey self build home fea­tures a wow fac­tor large win­dow at the front, which fills the en­trance hall­way and stair­case with nat­u­ral light

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