30 Aug 2019

Countryside barn conversion forever home


A contemporary barn conversion in the rural North Norfolk countryside is benefitting from renewable heating thanks to Finn Geotherm.


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Located near Swanton Novers National Nature Reserve, the four-bedroom barn conversion was built by homeowner Michael Grand. A building supervisor by trade and with four other self-build projects already under his belt, Michael worked alongside Rutland Builders to transform the 1980s concrete beamed former grain store into a stunning home with spectacular field views.

Michael and Cindy had originally intended to move out of the village, however when a friend offered up their corn store barn to renovate, they jumped at the chance to explore its potential.

Too good to refuse

Armed with a budget of £400,000 generated from the sale of their previous property, the couple visited the barn and were immediately sold. The location offered outstanding views – it was a site and opportunity not to be missed. Cindy remarks: “We know the area well – we would say that the area chose us. Luckily, the seller allowed us to obtain planning before we committed to the sale and that put our minds at ease.”

The couple embarked on a pre-planning application to test the water. Michael comments: “As it is not a conventional red brick barn, we could not obtain traditional planning permission and had to go down the Permitted Development route which was very new to us. We initially enlisted the services of a company to help us with the application. However, we were not successful on our first attempt and the conversion was refused on some technicality. We applied again ourselves and after around 18 months we were given the go ahead.”

Structurally, the outside of the barn is built from breeze block, clad with Western Red Cedar timber to ensure the building blended in with its surroundings.

Self-sufficient home

The couple were eager to ensure their home was as energy efficient as possible. Michael explains: “We installed ground source heating and solar panels. The barn is off the gas grid so I looked at all the options. I’d had oil heating in my previous homes which was expensive to run and with this project to create my ‘forever home’, I wanted heating that was cheaper and self-sufficient.

“I did some research on heat pumps and my plumber CCHP also suggested the technology as an ideal choice for my project. I contacted Finn Geotherm and spoke to them initially about installing an air source unit.”

After completing a full site survey, Finn Geotherm recommended a ground source heat pump would be better suited to the property with its underfloor heating system. With land around the home in which to lay a collector loop, although it would be more expensive, a ground source heat pump would be more efficient and also generate a much greater income for Michael under the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive.

On demand heating

Finn Geotherm specified and installed a Lämpöässä VM11 heat pump (a monoblock unit – the same size as an American style fridge-freezer) with integrated 480 litre thermal store, capable of generating on demand and delivering up to 240 litres of hot water in one hit. A 600 metre ground array, laid in two 300 metre loops, was installed under the lawn. Michael has complemented his heat pump with the addition of solar panels on the barn roof.

A happy customer

Michael sums up: “I’m really pleased with my ground source heating. I am very happy with the recommendations made by Finn Geotherm to ensure the system fitted was the most suitable one for my home and my requirements. The installation went smoothly and the heat pump is working perfectly. The house is always warm – I installed a wood burning stove as part of the renovations but never actually need to light it!”

Looking back on their experience, Michael and Cindy feel extremely rewarded by the end result. Cindy explains: “This is our first conversion as we have always built new properties from scratch. We therefore knew what was ahead. This, in some way, was a more exciting project as we watched the building transform from a farm building into a home.”

Room to breathe

The home is as stunning inside as it is on the outside and the workmanship throughout is just excellent. Mostly open plan, the ground floor comprises a mud room with a cloakroom and shower, the main kitchen and living area. The couple have also incorporated a gym and cinema room. On the ground floor there is one bedroom with an en-suite, while upstairs there is a bathroom, three further bedrooms (one with an en-suite) and an office.

Michael comments: “We just love the open-plan nature of the layout. It makes the home feel so light and spacious.”

A learning curve

Reflecting on the highs and lows of the build itself, Michael adds: “The best bit of the process is always the beginning and the end. It can become overwhelming when you are halfway through. The advantage of self-builds and conversions are that you are able to adapt the property to your own way of living.

“I would have to say the most difficult aspect of the build was the Permitted Development process as it is completely different to normal planning. Having said that, we got our heads round it eventually and we now have their knowledge – just like we know that self-builds are hard work – that never changes!”

As serial self-builders, the couple have proclaimed this shall be their forever home, so when asked if they would ever embark on another project, Michael reveals: “We probably wouldn’t do another, but as they say, never say never!”

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