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Planning Permission - Part 3, The Plans, First Attempt

Posted by joeirish , 25 January 2015 · 814 views

February to May 2013

Throughout the Spring and Summer we had a lot of conversations about our proposed new house. It was a long and very exhaustive process before we ended up with a design that was something we felt would suit us and meet our needs.

It'd all started early in the New Year when we were chatting to a friend about our idea of building a new house in Mountshannon.
"You should try Miles Sampson, he has a great reputation and designs really good 'eco' houses" said Marquin.

So following an online search and a look at Mile's website (some very nice house designs) I sent an email. Shortly I received a phone call where Miles explained his dual location life, family in Barcelona and business in Ireland. Hmmm? Would this work? But he happened to be in Ireland the following weekend and had some time so could we meet at the site on Saturday morning? OK, but things were moving fast.

And as I wrote in the last blog that meeting led to us asking Miles to draw up some plans based on our lifestyle and the type of house we wanted (something traditional with a dash of modern and maybe a double height bit for the 'wow' factor). And we also discussed our budget which was to be based on the money we got from selling our current house. I would be retiring in the next couple of years so no opportunity for any mortgage or loans.

Then two weeks later an email from Miles saying he had already had a preliminary meeting with the planning officer and that he (the planner) could "see no major issues with the site", subject to more detailed information including percolation results, suitable access, water on site etc. This was moving very fast now and we hadn't even decided if Miles would be our architect. After all he was only the first one we had spoken to. Oh and Miles also wanted a site map to identify the probable site for the wastewater system and the percolation test.

The percolation test had shown that there was a sandy subsoil and this concerned me. I had been reading about soil types and foundations and there was potential for issues and extra costs for foundations if the soil type was not suitable. So email correspondence with Miles and on various forums gave me lots of contradictory information. But eventually found out that even if the subsoil was on the sandy side the overall extra costs for foundations would be small in the total costs of the house building. Phew.

This was to be a recurrent theme. I'd get some information. Then I'd start researching online. Find lots of horror stories. Have some middle of the night panics and eventually find out that the problem was not that big and was easily dealt with. Made the whole process self-building a little more of a roller coaster experience that it needed to be though. And annoyed the hell out of Nicki!

Anyway one of the important issues was where on the (approx) 0.84 HA site would we put the house. And where would the entrance be in relation to this position. And that meant that we needed to be sure we had suitable site lines from a gateway both ways. On a twisty little lane with some high banks.

Attached Image
Twisty lane with poor site lines.

Liam P. then told us that he had taken a local councillor over to the site, an old friend of his, and that the councillor said he could see no problems with site lines. This was helped by Liam cutting down lots of overgrown hedgerows so that more of the little lane was visible in both directions. And as this councillor was also a member of the council who would agree or not to granting planning this was a great relief to hear.

So we waited for the interpretation of our ideas in the form of some drawings. And waited. Easter came and went. And then we sent a very polite email to Miles. Who explained that it would be another few weeks yet before he had the latest plans but in the meantime he had been considering our options. In relation to heating and ventilation. And did we want air to air compact heating? And which die we prefer radiators or under floor heating? And would we have solar panels, or wood burning stoves, or geothermal? And what about MVHR? Or maybe DCV? Or natural ventilation (put some holes in the walls with grills over them!)? Or even good old fashioned trickle vents.? And that as soon as he had our answers to these questions he could get on with the drawings.

So some research. I did a bit of online searching and found that there were many supporters of each and every system out there. And everybody had the best system and all the others were rubbish, didn't work, never covered their costs, too complex, wouldn't satisfy building regs anyway, came from Europe where they had different weather to us, wouldn't work in damp west of Ireland, etc etc. Aggghhh. What to do?

"Didn't Marquin build some sort of eco house in the end" said Nicki. Of course, I remembered. Marquin had talked about it when he fitted our solar panels and did some other plumbing work for us. That was his trade. So a phone call and a visit. And some answers. And which things we needed to have decided at an early stage so that these could be incorporated into the design. For example, Marquin had mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (the MVHR of above). But he hadn't allowed for the ducting and had to box this in at certain points around his house which created more work and made fitting cupboards and wardrobes difficult at times. He'd also had to restrict the size of his thermal store (large hot water cylinder to us at that point, but not for long) because he had not considered this when designing the utility room dimensions. And many other things.

So we put together all of our answers and off went another email to Miles. Which also included references, links and some more questions. For example, how can we have dog/cat flaps in a passive/airtight house? Can we have a range like our lovely Stanley which is great for heating the rads, water and for cooking on. One of our dream items in this our current house (designed during the thirteen year five year plan to be the house we would never leave.) And this email to Miles even included the possibility of incorporating a newly patented device that had not even gone into production yet! (US patent 20090088067 - an automatically controlled trickle vent to vary the amount of fresh air entering a room and which heats the incoming air so that the room temperature doesn't reduce the room temperature).

Miles responded the same day, which was great. Did we really want a grass roof? What? Oh, one of the links in the email had been to a photo showing something or other but the house had a grass roof. Well if we could afford it and if it was feasible then maybe .... No, let's just stick with something more traditional like slates for now.

Then Miles phones and says he has some drawings for us and would like to meet up the following week.
"Can't you email them from Barcelona and we can be looking at them?" I asked.
"No, best if I can talk you through my reasons and deal with any issues you might have."

So we waited with increasing excitement for the day. And when Miles arrives at our house the first thing he said was about our motorhome. Why had we not told him we had this? Huh? He was only a (at this stage) potential architect for our project and this got my back up a little bit. Why should we tell him every little detail of our lives. We were only wanting a house designed. And we certainly weren't expecting to have to provide so many details about our lives.

But his question was easily explained.

Miles had drawn up the plans to include parking for our two cars (he had elicited this information from us at the previous meeting) but had not allowed parking for a motorhome. Not a big problem unless the only parking spot available meant that one window would have its view totally blocked by a large white vehicle parked right outside. And, as Miles pointed out, the views out of the windows were as important a feature of the design and anything else. He would need to re-think parking. Never mind, we could sort that later. What about the plans.

Before we saw these we had to listen to a small talk about passive house design, eco houses, timber frames and how all of these interlinked with each other and underpinned the design. How the siting of solar panels on the roof determined the position of this part of the house (needs to be south facing to maximise solar gain) and how planners also insisted that new houses faced the road. And these two points had proved very problematic in designing our house. But he had finally come up with a concept and with that he unfurled the rolled up drawings.

Bloody hell!

A triangular (ish) house?? What the... And the shapes of the rooms? What about furniture? Better put the kettle on and make some time to allow a little bit of time for it to sink in.

Attached Image
Section of the triangular house drawing © Miles Sampson

The rationale was fairly straightforward. In order to meet the planning constraints on orientation and still have a suitable area of roof to hold solar panels we needed this shape of house. Otherwise we would not be be as self-sufficient in heating our house and water as we would like. It also allowed us to include the traditional design facing the road with the more modern at the rear and not visible from the road. And had two double height internal spaces for a really big wow factor.

But what about the costs? It was bigger than we might need, there being just the two of us. The roof had some complications that would add to the costs but it was all possible because it was timber frame (TF). Ah. We hadn't actually settled on the build method we told Miles. We had been long term followers of Grand Designs and similar programmes and we might be using another method and not TF. Maybe CIF or SIP - I knew a lot of acronyms already and actually knew what some of them were. So we had a long and interesting discussion on house build methods, sustainability of timber as opposed to concrete, passive house design principles, carbon footprints, and after a good hour of in depth discussion decided to take some time to consider what Miles had produced. And he had worked very hard to try and incorporate all our lifestyle choices in the design. Even things we had forgotten that we had told him.

Like where the dog beds would go so that our pooches could continue to live in the house with us.

But would it work for us?

We spent two or three weeks in discussions. Suggested changing room sizes, moving the utility sink outside altogether. And a lot of talk about budget. We got assurances as to this being OK but when pressed the figures we got from Miles for houses actually built in the previous year or so in Clare strongly suggested that this w`s going to be outside of our budget. And we were not getting a bit concerned about the overall pace of things. We had some time constraints that needed addressing. Urgently.

Meanwhile another email from Miles saying he is about the present the concept to the planner. Whatever that means.

More next time.

February 2018

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