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The Story So Far . . .

Posted by eddleetham , 21 November 2014 · 1,409 views

The Story So Far . . . I have found lots of useful information in the ebuild blogs, especially Jeremy's contributions, so I thought I should write down my own experiences in starting off down the self-build route in case others find them of interest.

I have wanted to build my own home for many years and finally took the decision to do something about it 3 or 4 years ago. My current house, in Cheshire, has a large back garden and there is enough space at the side of the house for a drive to be built. At that time there were plans to build new houses on the site next door, which was an old abandoned dredgings tip for the adjoining canal. So it seemed an opportune time to add one more house to the neighbourhood, guessing it would be more difficult for the planners to object as they had already agreed to new buildings on the other side of the fence.

I therefore asked a local designer, who is an ex-LA building control inspector, to draw up some plans with me and submit an application. The first application was opposed by the planning officer, so we withdrew it and amended it inline with the officer's comments and then resubmitted it. The plans were approved in summer 2012. The changes involved lowering the ridge height in order to make it “subservient” to adjoining properties and changed the outline and position slightly so that it was the required distances from the nearest dwellings. This meant that we had to adopt an offset 'T' shape and the first floor is partly in the roof, meaning that some of the bedrooms had to have roof windows. I thought this was a reasonable change that we could accept without problems, though some difficulties have subsequently arisen. We just managed to get an external footprint of around 100 sq.m., including built-in single garage, giving a net internal area of approximately 180 sq.m. (excluding garage).

One of the reasons why I didn't build straightaway was that I regarded the new house as a temporary step until I could find a better location in which to build a permanent home for the future. In fact I wasn't sure whether to actually build on it or sell it as a building plot. However, time has ticked on with no resolution in sight, so I decided to go down the self-build route and make a start before the 3 year deadline expired. As I still don't know how long I'll be living there, rather than build the best house I could afford, I decided to build it to a tight budget so that I could sell it on at a profit when the time came to move on. So things like a high specification timber frame, MVHR, solar panels and rainwater recycling were dropped from the spec, though I still wanted an airtight house with underfloor heating and triple-glazed windows, as I see these as adding value to the house which will be reflected in the eventual selling price.

One feature that I really want is an open-plan ground floor, with a large lounge running through to a large kitchen/dining room, with the stairs leading up from the lounge. However, the absence of a hallway means there is no protected exit route in case of fire. There only seem to be two ways of getting this layout to meet building regs; one is to have egress windows in all first floor rooms, and the other is to install a sprinkler system. Unfortunately, at least one bedroom will have only roof windows, which will have a cill about 1.5m above floor height, thus ruling it out as an escape route. So it's looking like I shall have to either go for sprinklers or else put in a ground floor wall to create a hallway, thus abandoning the open-plan layout.

Having decided on timber frame, I obtained a few quotes from likely companies. The first was Viking House / MBC, as I knew that Jeremy was very pleased with their approach to low energy homes and they were the only company that met his stringent requirements. Their quote came in at around £78,000 including the foundations. I also tried several other companies, whose prices varied widely in the £25,000 to £52,000 range, excluding foundations; but it was very hard to compare quotes as the specifications were all different. I then came across Touchwood Homes who seem to use the same type of foundations as Viking House, but again they were too expensive. Among my emails I came across an invitation from Build It magazine to go to an open day at Framewise in Presteigne, Powys. I was very impressed with their factory and the people there seemed very knowledgeable and keen to promote low energy houses. I got a couple of estimates from them and although they were a little more than the lowest quote I'd had, I trusted them to do a good job. I've since been down to see them again to discuss in detail lots of points which I was unsure of, and both Dot (Sales Administrator) and Tina (Self-build manager) were extremely helpful.

Framewise normally recommend traditional foundations, with beam and block floor; however I recently came across AFT Limited who install slab foundations laid on a bed of EPS, similar to the ones used by Viking and Touchwood. I may well have used this company to build my foundations, but I was advised that the close proximity of trees would be problematic. I'm therefore now looking at piles as the best option. They are no doubt more expensive, but mean there will not be the expense of paying for huge volumes of earth to be carted off site.

So I'm now trying to get costings for all aspects of the build in order to establish a budget.

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Thanks for taking the time to record your experiences. I found some of the detail really interesting especially the costs, companies used and the foundations available to you, or not as the case turns out. Looking forward to some more. PW.
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Hi and nice to see your plans.

With regard to the fire escape business, could not "room 7" have a similar dormer window to the room it backs onto to get a low enough escape window?

Alternatively describe it as an office / store room. Just don't let building control catch you with a bed in that room.

And thanks for the costings you obtained. I too found Touchwood somewhat on the expensive side of things.
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Thanks Dave. Unfortunately the planners wouldn't allow a dormer in that room because of its proximity to the existing house, so we had to go with roof windows. And I doubt whether we would get away with calling it an office or storeroom. One suggestion I've had is to build a raised platform under one of the windows, so bringing the cill height down to under the 1100mm limit. But then the platform would have to be around 40cm high, which would mean having a step up to it, I guess. And Building Control still may not accept it.
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As to building a step under a rooflight? I actually did that on one job to bring it all within the 1100mm.

Happily, there was an existing radiator immediately below the window location so the radiator cover-cum-step didn't look out of place. (And the BCO took the drawings of the installation to use as an example for others in a similar situation.)

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That's very interesting. It's quite a high step too, so if the BCO approved it, maybe that's the way to go? Many thanks.

There is also a question of getting out of a couple of en-suite bathrooms in an emergency, which both have roof windows. My reading of building regs suggests that there has to be egress windows in en-suites, but others have told me that it's not a requirement. I won't have radiators upstairs, but perhaps they could be bookcases or storage units?
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I only thought you had to have a means of escape from bedrooms, hence the office idea (my neighbour got away with calling a small room upstairs an "office" and got away with just a roof window) And our main bathroom and en-suite only have roof windows. But I know regs are different up here.

Reminds me of one job where BC got his tape measure out and declared the window opening 1" too high to be a means of escape and demanded a 1" high step be installed in front of the window before he would sign the job off. The general consensus was his parents might not have been married
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Calvinmiddle
23 Nov 2014 03:34 PM
As far as I know the protected escape route is only if the building is 3 stories high or over, but not sure if that is affected my the roof light in the bedroom
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Calvinmiddle
23 Nov 2014 03:38 PM
Also you should as MBC about the spec they did for me, not passive but still u values of 0.15 for walls and 0.13 for roof, will obviously be cheaper than a full passive build from them.

I was also advised to have piles but the SE that MBC used came up with the idea of digging out more soil an replacing it with stone, not sure if you tree issue is connected to clay soil like us or something else. Regarding the about of soil to take away I found a friendly farmer with a hole to fill and he came did the dugout, carted the soil off and use it to fill his hole for a faction of the cost a Groundworker would have charged
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That "escape step" was underneath the window on the right here...

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Strange things happening.

I'm trying to post a 'before' pic and the link to tinypic keeps pulling up an ad for a dress! (Never used to happen before the Spanish bought the site!)
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Further to the first floor escape window issue, my planning consultant spoke to the Council BCO and he said he would be satisfield with an interconnecting door between bedrooms 2 and 3, so that in case of fire the occupant of bedroom 3 could move to bedroom 2 and escape through the window there. It's not ideal, but it will be an acceptable compromise.
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