01 Mar 2017

Couple’s self-build provides ample space for family visits

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As experienced self-builders, Richard and Jo Collings had high standards for their final project – a four-bedroomed, energy-efficient house in a conservation area within rural Warwickshire.

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Richard and Jo enjoyed the area – and home – that they originally lived in but sought for a home to better suit their needs, which inspired them to take on another self-build project. “We had a nice house where we were, but we wanted better guest accommodation because our daughters are both married and have children – and one is in Australia – so we wanted to look after them well when they came to stay with us,” comments Jo.

After searching for their perfect home for several years, Richard and Jo stumbled across a ‘happy accident’ through ‘good fortune and luck’. “We came to look at a plot of land in Warwickshire and realised it wasn’t big enough,” explains Richard. “We then stumbled across a 1960s bungalow and thought we could do something with it.”

“Then we viewed it,” adds Jo, “and soon realised that we couldn’t, but realised we could do something with the plot – so really we found it by accident.”

“We’re nuts!” humours Richard. “We spent several years looking for the ideal house and we just couldn’t find what we wanted.”

Experienced in running construction projects, Richard and Jo have previously built their own factory unit and refurbished a historic cottage and so designed the house themselves, using Local Surveyor, Paul Upfield, to draw up the plans to gain planning permission.

The planners at Stratford District Council were concerned not simply because the house was in a conservation area, but also because it was next to a historic church – parts of which date back to Norman times. “We reckoned it would take two years in all to complete – a year to get planning and a year to build,” says Jo. “And we were right overall, but it took 14 months to get the planning permission.”

A blank canvas

The inspiration behind Richard and Jo’s new home is a result of extensive research, as Richard explains: “We have renovated a house in France and a cottage in the UK – and there are always compromises. So for our Warwickshire home, there was a clean sheet of paper where we could have what we wanted – a clear plot.”

Among the eco-friendly features is a heat recovery system in the roof that extracts heat from outgoing air to heat incoming, fresh air and a ground source heat pump that draws heat from 85m below ground. “We engineered in as many modern features as we could. I tried to find a tile for the garage roof that gave me solar PV, but they look appalling – I’m amazed that so many people go for that. So instead of having PV on the roof, we put the money into ground source heating rather than air source, so we could get the heat without fans – that might be noisy and could annoy the neighbours.

“We felt it was incumbent on us to build a house that was highly efficient so we have double-glazing as standard and, because we’re using ground source heating, that led us to fit underfloor heating – because you need a far lower temperature and it’s so much more efficient. I then realised that many houses have trickle vents and have draughts so, to stop that, we put in an air circulation system, which wasn’t expensive as we designed it in from the beginning.”

Conforming to the conservation area

With high standards for their self-build, Richard and Jo chose Redland’s Albury tile from the Rosemary Clay Craftsman range for the roof of their self-build. Combining the look and feel of an aged, handmade tile with 21st century performance, the Rosemary Clay Craftsman range has textured surfaces, irregular distortions to the front edge and varying hanging lengths.

“We’re in a conservation area, so we had to be careful what we chose and we really liked the look of these tiles. We’ve had a lot of complements and the planners were happy as they stipulated that it should be ‘of a pleasing design’ and ‘not jar,’” explains Jo.

The new home’s roof now complements that of the recently-reroofed church. The Albury tile is one of three tiles in the Rosemary Clay Craftsman range and, in common with the Hawkhurst tile, has a fine orange-red sanding over the surface and random black patterning to recreate a weathered look. The latest addition to the range, Victorian, has a darker and grittier texture to give roofs a greater depth of texture and character. All three tiles are versatile and can be laid on a variety of roof configurations, as there is a full range of compatible fittings and accessories.

Although the Rosemary Clay Craftsman looks like a reclaimed tile, it meets all the requirements of BS 5534: 2014 Code of Practice for Slating and Tiling – providing Redland fixing recommendations are followed.

“I’d looked at a lot of tiles and aesthetically they fitted the bill,” explains Richard. “I was looking for a tile that complemented the stone I wanted to use and I chose stone because we’re opposite the 12th century church. I preferred tiles to slate and this tile gives the appearance of not being fantastically new – they have a bit of a cockle in them and they don’t look absolutely flat so they look like old tiles and they have ‘accelerated ageing’ too.

“They fit in so well with the uneven stone that we have used. If you had something that was sharp and angular, it would look so out of place so these tiles have softened the appearance of the house.”

Words of wisdom

Richard and Jo remained inside their time frame first predicted but not quite as they imagined. “We thought it would be 12 months to get the plans through planning and then 12 months to build. But, it took 14 months to get planning permission – mainly because the archaeology held us up by three months – and then only nine months to build the house,” explains Jo. Richard and Jo were in their new home within nine months of starting construction. “Planning took a bit longer because of archaeological surveys and so forth,” explains Jo.

The local community have been very supportive to Richard and Jo. “The parish council backed us from the start and the village was very welcoming. It helps that the 1960s bungalow that was here had no merit – architecturally or otherwise – so the community feels we’ve improved the street scene. It can be seen from some distance as you approach the village,” says Jo.

When asked if they remained in budget for their self-build project, both Richard and Jo exclaimed: “Course not! We didn’t really know how much it would be, but as we went along we made decisions as to whether we would do certain things or not. So we are over budget but we’re quite comfortable with that.”

When asked if he would do it all again, Richard exclaims: “Not at our age. It was damn stupid to start with! I’m in my seventies and originally this was a low-key project to give me something to do because I’m active. But nothing goes to plan. I thought I’d have something to do while our existing house was on the market but it sold to local people without going on the market. So while work was being done, we moved into temporary accommodation and we worked far harder than intended in the four months we were there.

“It was never the plan to do this more than once. We couldn’t find what we wanted in an existing house so it would defeat the object to move or build another.”

“We live in it as a bungalow downstairs but when family come to stay they use the upstairs area. The whole area upstairs is currently guest accommodation – which suits our lifestyle perfectly,” explains Jo. “It’s very easy for people to come and stay and we carry on living our life downstairs. It’s actually fitted all those requirements. Now we’re just knocking the garden into shape and that will be it.”

Richard adds: “My advice to anyone taking on their own self-build project would be to make certain you plan what you want and get that clearly in your mind. Cost everything. We’ve gone over budget, but only because we added the hard landscaping and a drive and things like that. We could have saved that by doing it later but we wanted it done, so we paid.”

“We used a lot of local tradespeople and took their recommendations. We had some very good people working here,” explains Jo.

The property is everything the couple hoped for, yet looking back there are a couple of things Richard and Jo would have done differently. “It’s nothing serious but in a build like this you’re bound to make the odd mistake and you’ve just got to live with it,” says Richard. “For instance; the windows – the sills are too high for me. I’d prefer them to be 200mm lower, but that’s not that big a problem.”

“It’s been very satisfying and we’ve had a great sense of achievement but we won’t be doing this again – they’ll take us out in a box!” jokes Jo.

Redland has launched a new public course for competent self-builders wishing to learn a little more about the art of roofing. The two-day course – staged at the company’s training centre in Gloucestershire – is meant for either self-builders who are project managing their own contractors and wish to keep a closer, educated eye on compliance with standards and specifications; or more practical ‘hands-on’ types who have some basic skills already and want to learn more about installation techniques and common causes of roof failure themselves.

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