Taylor Lane Timber Frame Limited is one of the UK’s leading timber frame construction specialists. Seven years ago, company owners Barrie and Jan felt it was time for them to put their expertise to the test and self-build their own timber home in their garden. Once built, they would then knock down their original property and self-build again in its place, resulting in one house to make their home and one to sell on in order to fund the project.
“It has been a lifetime ambition to build my own home,” explains Barrie. “Having helped hundreds of people achieve their own self-build dreams, I decided it was time for me to embark on my own.”
Despite avoiding the difficulties often associated with finding a plot, what followed was five long and frustrating years trying to obtain planning permission. Eventually, after an arduous slog involving appeals, a number of amended designs and vast amounts of time and effort, planning was finally granted.
With all the preparation boxes ticked, in 2012 the couple set forth on their project journey. However, on day two of the build disaster struck as groundworkers uncovered a well in the garden, directly where the chimney breast was to be placed! This is a surprisingly common problem associated with self-building and – in this case – clearly one that needed to be resolved before any work could take place. Fortunately, the nature of the couple’s business meant that they were able to utilise useful contacts to fix the problem.
At 8m deep and 1m wide, the engineer fixing the problematic well came up with a way of capping the top of it so that when the building work was complete, there wouldn’t be any danger of structural damage. After a lot of thought, Barrie decided that losing the well completely would be shame, so a manhole cover was fitted. This now allows for future access should it ever be desired.
Long term investment
With that hurdle overcome, work could start once more. The aim was to build a comfortable and energy efficient home for them to enjoy for many years to come. They wanted a home to enjoy as a couple, but one with plenty of space for entertaining their family. Speaking of their vision, Barrie explains: “Our plan was to use materials that had a quality look, whilst fitting in well with the surroundings. For example, our external joinery is all handmade oak, which cost a little more, and takes more care and maintenance, but does give the house a lovely finish.”
Being in such close proximity to the build, the couple were able take control of project management. “The fact the build took place in our garden allowed us to be there a lot of the time which was helpful, but did also mean switching off from the project was hard,” he says. “As we were living in our own property we didn’t have time and money constraints when it came to timescale. Jan and I both work full time so the project had to fit in around our work.”
Barrie and Jan saved money by completing some of the smaller jobs themselves, such as treating the hardwood fascias and bargeboards against insects and rot, as well as cutting and fitting the insulation. For those keen to put their own mark on their build, installing the insulation yourself is a great way of saving money. It can be a bit of a messy job as well as time consuming, but if you are all for that ‘hands on’ self-build experience, this is your chance to get stuck in!
The eco-conscious couple decided early on in the build to include a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery system. A benefit of considering such systems early is that it can be taken into consideration when designing the floors and ensuring there is enough room in the roof space to contain it. This avoids wasting valuable cupboard space, something Barrie is very mindful of.
“The Posi floor joists used come into their own alongside the MVHR system as it can run through the floor therefore avoiding unsightly boxed-in ducting,” Barrie continues. “The metal web allows the pipes to easily be fitted into place without the need for drilling holes, which eats into timescale and budget. It is also worth noting that plumbing pipes are easier to be bent around the MVHR ducting, so it helps to coordinate your MVHR supplier with plumbing pipes being laid.
“Clashes between various trades can occur, so it makes sense to be aware of potential issues in advance, and take measures to keep things running as smoothly as possible. Keep up good communication with your tradesmen and inform them of what you are hoping to achieve with other trades in order that they can advise you on any possible issues they may see.”
Raising the standard
Conscious of the rising energy prices and the importance placed on environmental responsibility, Barrie envisaged a home with high eco-credentials. He explains: “The walls are insulated to passive house standard and the self-builds air tightness results were very good. However, what we were aiming for was a house that was very energy efficient, without worrying about whether or not it strictly met all passive house criteria, mainly because I am fully aware of the diminishing value. You can spend a large amount of money chasing it without necessarily needing to reach it absolutely.
Drawing from experience
“This has been a project filled with moments of excitement and a real sense of satisfaction. For me personally, I found the structural part of the project to be the easiest, I guess due to my background. Towards the end when sorting out the finishes and the details it all got a little harder and more stressful, as I was constantly aware that these would be on display and would have a significant effect on the end result.”
Throughout the build Barrie was able to draw on his experience and vast product knowledge to ensure that they specified the most appropriate and fit-for-purpose materials. “I knew of the cast iron effect rainwater system from Kayflow through my work at Taylor Lane, and was happy with the look, feel and quality of it. I chose to use a PVC-U alternative rather than genuine cast iron because from a distance at least, it’s not easy to see the difference and they’re also a fraction of the price.”
From start to finish the project took 12 months, but budget definitely swelled. “As the build progressed our spec increased,” continues Barrie. “We hadn’t originally planned on having the hardwood joinery, MVHR system, and more, so the budget changed as our choices did.
“Overall I’m happy with the project’s outcome. We love its comfort. There are no drafts and wherever you are in the house you just feel comfortable. After living in an old cottage this level of comfort is heaven! We love the feature truss in the master bedroom as well as the window that spans the wall in that room – we wake up to beautiful views!
“I have a couple of issues with lighting that in hindsight I would do differently, but nothing major. As I progressed through the project I learnt a great deal, so should I carry out another self-build I would doubtless do certain things a littler differently, but otherwise I am really happy with how it went – it’s everything we had hoped it would be and more! We are very happy with how the property fits within its surroundings. It has also been designed in such a way that we are able to enjoy some fairly impressive views at the back.
“From a business point of view this project has been a huge success. We have had a significant number of people requesting quotations from Taylor Lane having seen the build go up.”
Finally, Barrie offers a few words of advice from one self-builder to another: “Do a lot of research before you start anything. Vet your tradespeople and get recommendations whenever you can. A quality builder can make such a difference – ours were so easy to work with and we put a lot of our trust in them. I would also suggest a fairly relaxed approach as plans and timescales often change for unforeseen reasons and being able to accept this will help keep stress levels to a minimum.”