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Claire & Peter Dickinson

Claire & Peter's finished self build project

Claire and Peter self built their modern four-bedroom home in Shropshire which has been designed to meet their future needs and is certified to Passivhaus standard by WARM.

Claire & Peter Dickinson

What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m?

202m² including the garage and 185m² when excluding the garage.

Could you tell us any interesting facts or remarkable features about your project?

The site is triangular in shape, one side bordered by two old, oak trees with Tree Preservation Orders on them and the village sheathed, electrical and telephone cables on the second roadside boundary.  Fortunately, there was just enough space between the trees to enable a crane to lift the panels onto the site.  The base was a concrete raft-construction incorporating the underfloor heating pipes, floating on dense insulation and isolated from the supporting stud walls. The main structure of the house was erected and was water-tight within two weeks.

The property is certified to Passivhaus certification standard by WARM, has an air permeability/tightness recorded as 0.27 ach/h at 50Pa and a Category ‘A’ EPC.

Claire & Peter's Experience at the Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before?

About six times.

What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC?

Access to knowledgeable, competent expertise during the design phase of the project.  This is how we identified PYC.  We particularly were interested in the Eco Workshop and Kitchens and Bathrooms Workshop.   These seminar’s focused our thinking in forming the specification and detail plans.

Did you use any exhibitors at the NSBRC? If so, who?

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC?

The kitchens workshop was enjoyable and informative and led to a more realistic budget being planned.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why?

Visits to the NSBRC are essential to anyone designing and planning a self build – it’s the premier resource for identifying suppliers, contacts and expertise.

Claire & Peter's Self Build Journey

Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future? If so, is there anything you would do differently?

We would undertake another project in the future but I would look for a plot suitable for ~three houses with a view to selling off the other two.


What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve?

PJD - Life-long ambition to build his own house.

Peter told Claire in 1984 that he wanted to build his own house one day and up until 2018 had home improvement projects, so amassing significant home building experience.  In January 2018, the plot was purchased and an architect commissioned. Eventually planning permission was secured and we began talking to PYC in October 2018 with responsibility for final Passivhaus design and construction passing to the brilliant Sam Roberts, Architectural Technician when we contracted with PYC on the 30 May 2019.


What was the cost & size of the land?

£135k (size of the plot is 700 m²).


How did you find the land? Do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot?

We sought a house that met our needs in an active village community. We had been looking around for a while for a site of a suitable size and cost.  Originally, we were looking around in Warwickshire and nothing emerged.  We visited a seminar on Finding Your Plot, that led to us looking on the websites for Network Rail, Transport for London/London Underground, the Canal & River Trust, the Church Commission.  Amazingly, we found our plot on Plotfinder - it was half of someone’s garden in the centre of the village.


What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey?

Do all planning of the design and build up front - no variations or deviations from the plan should be the aim.  

Establish regular/good communication channels and meetings as client with the builder and other suppliers. In addition to designation of roles, good, timely communication with all is the essence of the CDM Regulations requirements.

Do extensive research of what is available and possible at the design stage and throughout.

Use local suppliers and local workforce wherever possible because they know people and they will use their contacts.


Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control? If so – why was this?

The site had outline planning permission.  However, we formed the opinion that the house needed to be positioned 90° differently to maximise the solar gain, avoid the shadowing due to the adjacent cliff and fit into the village look.  The local Parish Council and Councillor supported us in challenging the Planning Officer.

The Planning Officer sought an extensive number of changes, but we stood our ground and the list was gradually whittled down to one thing.  We firmly believed that when life deals you lemons, you make lemonade! Hence, his demand for a subservient roofline to part of the main bedroom resulted in the bespoke design of the black, hanging bracket (Peter’s favourite bit of engineering in the whole house).


Why did you choose your method of construction?

We considered Kingspan, Beattie Passive and MBC timber frame. PYC was selected because they worked with us to design foundations that were relatively traditional but did not compromise the need for an unbroken envelope insulation.  We also preferred the natural structure of Warmcel and the close location of the PYC manufacturing facility, some 30 minutes’ drive away.


Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage?

We had the most brilliant, Molly Meade-Brewin project manage the project along with the PYC team.   We elected to paint the house ourselves each weekend, enabling us to monitor progress with the first and second-fit out.  Each Sunday night Claire would form a list of points and liaise with Molly - an exchange of information that proved invaluable.


What was your budget and were you able to stick to it?

£415K, plus kitchen units and appliances and garden landscaping, resin drive and patio tiles, kitchen & bathroom worktops.


If you didn’t stick to your budget, what was the main reason for the overspend?

The budget was fixed and was kept to.


What is the value of the property now?

Estimated at £650k


Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim?

Nearly everything went through PYC, so no reclaim of VAT.


What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered?

Planning Officer interaction – we needed the support of the local Councillor, the exchange needed Senior Planning Officer intervention and a face to face meeting on the practicalities of the site.

COVID lockdown and disruption to getting trades on site and unavailability of plaster.

The online domestic RHI application was quite tricky but there was good supportive guidance on the Ofgem website.  It is important to have the air source heat pump (EM1) and the electricity meter (HM1) labelled and a capability to identify information from numerous certificates and plumber reports.


What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project?

Ease of working with PYC Group and deployment of local suppliers.


What is one of your favourite features about your project?

The hanging bracket supporting the beam in the vaulted ceiling of the main bedroom and light fitting supplied by Moonlighting of Oswestry are our favourite features of the house design.  

Peter proudly also shows everyone the Plant Room… it will be a slow recovery!

Impressed by the rendering of the house and design of the shower tiling; the staircase (supplied by Pear Stairs of Welshpool and installed by PYC); and the kitchen design (undertaken by Elise Lennon-Porter with the silestone worktops being supplied by Melrosa Marble & Granite.


How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle?

The two, 17’ sea kayaks are installed in the garage and the reason we sized and wanted a tandem garage.  There are a number of design details to future proof the house.  There is level access throughout and a shower room downstairs enabling accommodation downstairs, if necessary.  There is a socket at the bottom of the stairs in case we ever need a stair lift.  There is an electrical charging point in the garage for future electric vehicles.