Lea & Peter Fellows - Case Study

What is the floor area of your project in sq ft or sq m? 330 sq m - excluding the garage.

   

Please click on the images to view the full plans for each floor.

Is there any further information that you wish to add about your project – interesting facts, remarkable features? The plot is not a particularly large plot but we were hampered by a village wide blanket TPO. So whilst we had 4 trees inside our border we actually had 15 TPOs along our boundaries (14 of which were Sycamores) which made construction for the builders a bit of a challenge. It also meant our Architect, Robin Haddow, who came up with the modern design, had to design around root areas which dictated the shape of the house and some build methods. The local planning department were generally supportive of what we were doing but trees seem to get them a bit excited.

We also particularly like how we have managed to get so much light in to the house at all times of the day. The double height glass link that encapsulates the entrance and hallway gives us light, shadows, stars and the sound of rain. It was a big expense but well worth it!

Finally, the technology has worked! Living with UFH, ventilation and an ASHP has been very different. You are literally building a micro climate which adjusts itself and provides a consistent environment. Everything can be controlled from your mobile phone which is a bit too far for some people but really does work.

Lea & Peter's Experience at the Centre

How many times have you visited The National Self Build and Renovation Centre before? Circa 10 -12 times. We attended an Eco Workshop which guided our decision to include MVHR and ASHP. We have visited exhibitions which are always well attended by suppliers and experts. Plus we have just dropped in to reference a particular supplier, choose a brick or grab a magazine and browse. It really is a very good resource for self builders and has certainly shaped our project.

What would you say is the most helpful feature or resource at the NSBRC? We self built 20 years ago and have been amazed by the changes to building systems, legislation and the possibilities available to self builders. All the information you need is here and if not they are able to connect you to the source. The people associated with the Centre are very approachable and hugely knowledgeable on their subjects. Every visit we made, we took away valuable information and answers to questions, even if it was to eliminate an idea or reinforce a particular route we were taking. Many of our major supplier and build system choices were either resident at the Centre or exhibited at one of the shows.

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

What did you enjoy most about your visit to the NSBRC? The access times – the ability to call in to the Centre and have access to the reference material and publications as well as the wide range of courses run by the Centre and suppliers. The exhibitions too were always well run, informative and well supported by suppliers.

Would you recommend the NSBRC to a friend, and if so, what aspects of the Centre would you recommend and why? Yes, we would highly recommend. We took advantage of almost everything the Centre has to offer. For us as self-builders, we took away something from the Centre every time we made a visit. We attended multiple national shows to widen our exposure to different suppliers & manufacturers.

It’s also a good reference for first timers. For us as second time self builders it was invaluable in updating our knowledge in the important areas of building regs, managing a budget and generally in the art of the possible.

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Lea & Peter's Self Build Journey

What first inspired you to undertake project – what did you hope to achieve? We had self built back in 1999 but were very naive so felt we had the resources to be able to have another go but tackle it with a much better understanding of what could be done and to build something bespoke that fitted how we wanted to live. This would include dramatically reducing our carbon footprint through eco energy sources and technology. We felt we could build flexibility into the design to allow for 2G and 3G living and watching too many Grand Designs we really wanted to do something a bit different!

We have been tested by recent events which has brought 3 generations under 1 roof, 3 people working from home, an elderly disabled parent needing care and the house has performed very well.

What type of project did you undertake? We were very lucky to find a local builder A.K. Burden & Sons who specialises in one - off bespoke house build projects and they managed the day to day build. Using the experience of our first build we wanted to stay very closely involved with builder and architect to make sure our ideas for design and build systems were being taken into account.

What construction method did you use? The house is a 3 story building with a walk out basement where we have a bedroom, shower room, office and a family room currently configured as a gym. We also have a plant room on this floor that houses MVHR, hot water and ASHP controls plus the networking and sound systems and a bit of additional storage. Ground floor is mainly open plan kitchen, dining and living areas plus a connected annexe that houses the Utility room and bedroom and shower room. The first floor is bedrooms and bathrooms. The original plan was to go with traditional block and brick build, mainly to keep down the costs but following many trips to NSBRC, exhibitions and discussion with suppliers and specialists we decided on reinforced Stepoc for the basement and SIPS for the Ground Floor and First Floor (GF & FF) construction. The SIPS system supplied by Glosford SIPS was able to speed up time to watertight stage, deliver very high levels of airtightness and insulation plus give us the vaulted ceilings we were looking for on the first floor. The house was clad in handmade brick and natural slate.

How would you describe the style of your project? The builder stated it was the most contemporary house they had built and from certain aspects it would appear that way. We were able to put a lot of glass in to the build; Velfac triple glazed windows, Bifolds and sliding doors delivered by the team at Sightline Leicester, and a double height glass link between the single story annexe and the main building. Inside we have kept the main living area open plan, the kitchen is handleless and the decor is subdued. The floors are tiled on the Lower Ground Floor (LGF) and GF with oak on the FF all adding to a clean and minimal feeling. On the outside elevations we have tried to take into account the local vernacular, as they would say in the planning department, and used traditional materials like brick and slate. The incorporation of green roofs, a vertical clad garage and some of the proportions of windows to walls and roof angles do add a modern feel to the external aspect of the building.

During the planning application process the design was described by one neighbour as a series of metropolitan boxes and when we moved in another neighbour admitted that he had hated the house as it was going up but now ‘Got it!’ and was very happy. Phew! We do get people who drive by slowly and even stop to have a look.

What was the cost & size of the land? Approx. 1200m2. The cost was far too much!

How did you find the land? Do you have any tips for others currently searching for a plot? We decided we wanted to do a self build project so sold our house in Wiltshire and moved to a rented house not far from the plot we eventually purchased. At one of the shows we signed up to Plot Search and got lucky when the plot came up for sale. For our first self build we actually found the plot in an estate agent’s window.

We would recommend to get a feel for the area you are considering living in and get to know your surroundings. Speak to local builders and get a bit cheeky - ask anyone you meet!

Don’t give up as it will take time and plot finding is definitely one area where fortune favours the brave!

Did you have any issues getting your planning permission granted or with building control? If so – why was this? No - the site had had planning permission already, which had expired by the time we found it. Interestingly the design that had planning couldn’t now be built due to the changes in root protection areas and tree growth so we had to go back to the drawing board and Robin Haddow took the opportunity to design something totally different. Our original design had oak strip cladding on the First Floor and the roof. This was proving difficult to getting building warranty cover for and guarantees for the waterproofing required so we ditched that idea and went to slate (which in hindsight was the right decision). Unfortunately, planning made us submit another application which put us back a couple of months. We actually started the build under the first approval so the delay was not too significant.

Why did you choose your method of construction? We contracted Mark Benzies of C3 Design to do the construction drawings and help with detail specification of the build system and finishes. After a lot of consideration, we decided on SIPS because of speed of construction and higher level of air tightness and insulation and the ability to give us the vaulted ceilings without a complicated roof construction.

Did you use a project manager, or did you choose to self project manage? A.K Burdens and Sons, provided the project management. We just tried not to get in the way! It is important to make as many visits as possible and be on the end of the phone at all times. As an example, the company supplying the glass link had made a serious error in the sizing of certain elements. We were on a short break in France at the time but Adrian captured the mistake days before the install, called us and we were able to send urgent emails and divert a disaster! Details can be misinterpreted and its important that you stick to your plans. Adrian Burden was an excellent builder who would sometimes give us an alternative option but did understand what we were trying to do and would see this from a practical point of view and try his best to give us what we wanted.

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What was your budget and were you able to stick to it? We built a budget and worked quite hard to finalise a cost that stuck as close as we could to it. I think we always knew we would go over but worked hard to try and minimise that. Now we are living in it, we are glad we did not cut corners on construction quality.

If you didn’t stick to your budget, what was the main reason for the overspend? We wanted to invest in the fabric of the building so upgraded a couple of things such as double to triple glazing windows. We decided to have a bespoke metal staircase built for the basement and a number of internal doors were converted to glass. Building control dictated that we couldn’t use certain products on balconies, landings and retaining walls so buying safety glass for these areas was an added expense. We decided to splash out on a home automation system and have been really pleased with the flexibility it has introduced to the lighting and automated blinds plus we upgraded the internal networking and distributed sound system. On our first self build we moved in before completion and it took us the next 10 years to finish. We decided we wanted to complete as much as possible so spent on landscaping and paths, fencing etc., and pleased we made that decision.

What is the value of the property now? Market value unknown.

Did you reclaim the VAT, and if so, how much were you able to reclaim? Where we sourced specific products ourselves such as windows, doors and SIPS we asked the suppliers to provide ex VAT and most did. Frustratingly, Velfac were the only major supplier to insist on charging VAT. The builder supplied all products and services ex VAT. We have a small claim pending.

What aspects of the process did you find stressful – and do you have any tips on how to avoid the pitfalls you encountered? Planning is the obvious place to start and whilst our planners were supportive of the design and plans we submitted getting there can often involve many agencies chipping in with their views. Even though the plot had received planning approval previously, Planning insisted on having another Arboricultural Report, Method statement and Impact statement which meant more cost and delay. It seems some processes just can’t be changed.

Self Builders will often build bespoke houses with bespoke components but the warranty companies want standard components with standard warranties.

I’m sure that for most builders self build clients just get in the way. We have built up a close relationship with our builder but we still had to spend a lot of time coordinating the suppliers we had sourced with builders and architects to make sure the jigsaw puzzle came together. It’s the interfaces between structural components and build systems that can cause problems and need to be monitored very closely. At one time we were coordinating structural engineers with architect with SIPS supplier and structural glass supplier, everyone’s holiday and the weather!

Decisions come thick and fast so try to plan as much as you can. Try to live the house you want to build by spend time on things like lighting plans and room layouts. It’s relatively cheap and easy to build and over spec sockets, lights, TV sockets and network cables into the fabric during build but so frustrating if you try to retrofit when it’s all finished.

Communication is key and giving everyone a view of your ultimate vision and what you expect in terms of quality and delivery is worth every minute.

Most of our suppliers were excellent, many going above and beyond to provide additional information and guide us through their specialist area. The structural glass link was built by Apropos who subsequently went out of business 2 weeks after fitting the structure. I suppose we have to be grateful they completed the project before closing their doors. It could have been so much worse and unfortunately probably was for other customers.

We made sure to set up the project as best we could. Financing was in place and we decided that we would stay in rental accommodation until the project was completed. This was stretched a bit towards the end and we were desperate to move in but we have lived on a building site before and it takes 10x longer to finish.

I suppose the final frustration was trying to complete during a pandemic. Some supplies became scarce and we had to be sensitive to contractors working remotely and having to socially distance. that was a small price to pay in the circumstances.

Many things will happen along the way. You are only one customer to your suppliers but it’s your only house so you will encounter frustrations that you just have to work through. The blame game doesn’t work on a building site but logic usually does. Check everything twice or even three times and if you suspect any issues raise it immediately. We might be the amateurs but it’s surprising how a curious eye can uncover something that you thought the ‘experts’ would already have considered!

What did you find most enjoyable about working on your project? Seeing an Architects idea, 2D structural plans, years of ideas and many Pinterest boards come to life. Big holes and big cranes and then seeing how the view is framed by large and expansive glass openings. I actually did enjoy meeting structural engineers, suppliers and contractors who we were so dependent on, so I could understand how the fabric of the build would come together.

We did enjoy almost everything about the build process. We do have to thank our builder Adrian Burden for that. He was willing to accommodate ideas and methods that he hadn’t used before, see what we were trying to achieve and still managed to guide us through the practicalities of construction, budget choices and red tape.

What is one of your favourite features about your project? We have a couple! The glass link gives us a connection to outside, to the trees, sun and reflections. We have also managed to frame a view of the countryside with our large Ultraline sliding doors which stops many visitors in their tracks.

The green roofs we have planted on the annexe and garage burst into colour in the summer. They can only be seen from our landing and is a nice secret to have.

How did you tailor your home to suit your lifestyle? We wanted to reduce our carbon footprint, reduce bills and prepare for a life with multi generations mixing in an informal environment. The open plan main living area is a new way of living for us but even in a lockdown it has been a huge success. It allows people to be very sociable at anytime of the day especially at mealtimes but then go to rooms for privacy and work. Modern technology means you can work from anywhere in the house. On a practical level we made sure we built in a generous ’Bootroom’ for shoes, coats, dogs and laundry. The house is a bit remote so we have configured the basement family room as a gym which is currently being well used.

Is there a possibility you would ever undertake another project in the future? Yes. It is hard work though so would try to plan an extended sabbatical at the same time so I could spend even more time on site!

If so, is there anything you would do differently? I think we would always strive to take some cost and time out of a project but when you actually get something very close to your original vision and you haven’t broken anything then you can call that a success. The way of working with a main contractor has worked very well for us. I don’t believe a packaged company could deliver something as bespoke and it would be all consuming to think we could have managed a long list of contractors and a build schedule with something this complex.

The dream is to live by the sea and I’m sure that would throw up new challenges and the need to do things a bit differently.

What would your top tip be for other NSBRC Visitors about to embark on their first self build or home improvement journey? Use all the resources the NSBRC has. It’s a great facility and if they don’t have what you are looking for ask and they will put you in contact with someone that can get it!

Plan and plan. Stick to your vision of what you want to achieve. Build relationships. Most people want to help but check everything again and again. Shop around for the best deal and take references if in doubt. Ask, people can only say yes or no.

There is a lot of administration and paperwork generated during the project. The red tape has significantly increased since our first Self Build but it’s got to be done.

Never underestimate the cost of professional and services fees you will have to pay. None of these is VAT exempt and they can be significant and unavoidable.

Enjoy the process. These projects eat up all of your energy, patience and cash so try and grab the moments when a skylight goes in or a window frames a view. When you look through the thousands of photos, videos and slips of paper the painful bits will hopefully disappear and the smiles will return.

 

 

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