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Blog 9 - First Fix

What exactly is first fix stage some of you may be wondering? These terms are widely known for anyone in the trade but can be quite daunting if you are unfamiliar with construction, which to be honest, most self-builders are. This stage consists of plastering the walls, floors, ceilings, inserting cables for electrics and pipework for plumbing. This is when a lot of very important decisions need to be made and this stage should be well thought out before meeting your electrician and plumber.

 

We choose to use Denis Lavery Electrical, Buncrana, as our electrician. The family run business have been operating for many years and have a well established local business. We had worked with Dinny on the renovation works to our dwelling that we currently live in and found him to be very good so choosing our electrician was easy as we had a good working relationship in the past.

During the design process I had thought out where TV positions were going to be, vanity units, plugs, etc. but it is not until you walk around the house on your first meeting with your electrician that other idea's come to light. It is vital that you have considered what type of lights you are going with....down-lighters, wall lights, feature lights or lamps in rooms! Where do you envisage your Christmas tree and lights around stairs (I know this sounds crazy but it comes in handy when you're looking for a plug). Where can you plug in your vacuum cleaner? Is there a plug to charge your phone beside the sofa? Would you like sensor lights? External lighting, etc. If you are totally lost at this stage a good electrician will be able to help guide you through this process but it is good to visualise yourself living in the house and to see the end product.

 

I had marked out our lighting needs for Dinny using a very basic floor plan (you'd think an architect would get more high-tech but sometimes its the simple things in life that are easiest...especially when your sketching from home with your daughters pencil-case).

This simple plan came in very handy when we were at lighting shops as you'd be surprised how much you can forget! If your anything like me, you'll change your mind a few times and end up back where you started so marking confirmed decisions down on paper is a good task to do.

 

My 'slight touch' of OCD came out to play when Dinny was spraying the walls for plug and switch positions. It really irritates me if things aren't in the right position or slightly off centre so every bed position was measured accurately on site to ensure plugs were even and by the end of it our electrician had started to get the hang of it and made sure there was even amount of plugs on each wall! I know this is nitty gritty stuff but it's easy to get right now than looking at a plug forever and wishing it was somewhere else.

 

One thing for sure we wanted for our new house is a well networked wifi internet system that can boost signal throughout the house, especially through concrete slabs and steel work, that would be easy to work without the need for numerous boosters such as 'TP Links' throughout the house. We got in contact with Peter Barnett of Aisling Communitions, Muff.

 

Peter is a telecoms engineer and is very experienced and knowledgeable with all types of high tech systems for homes and businesses. Peter gave us a plan of how to future-proof our home to ensure we are covered for all aspects of technical development in the future. We have access points created to ensure direct line fed to our coms cabinet if and when fiber optic is available, electric gates connections, wires in place for CCTV if we decide to install at a later date, cat 6 cables, etc. All these aspects are easy to install at this stage but can become a nuisance in later years should you wish to update your home. This is why it is beneficial to future-proof your home. With the ever changing technology advancements it is better to be ahead of the game than have a dated house in a few years. Peter met with our electrician and provided him with a plan of all the wiring and cabling required for our needs.

 

 

For our domestic plumbing we choose to work with SOS Plumbing, Heating & Leak Detection, Buncrana. Stephen O'Sullivan has a recognised business in Buncrana and was very helpful and knowledgeable with all our needs.

Our bathroom layouts stayed the same from our original drawings but I wanted to ensure we had adequate water pressure within our showers without the need for noisy pumps. Stephen was able to advise us on the best possible options for our needs. It is also important at this stage to think about external taps so these aspects can be fitted and designed with the first fixings.

 

With the electrical and plumbing works sorted and our renewable products in place (mentioned in my previous blog 8), it was on to plastering. We went with J Doherty Elemey Plastering, Buncrana, who have a very high class of workmanship, which is really important when choosing a plasterer. You don't want to be looking at uneven walls and damp patches in years to come so plastering I've found is a very talented trade. The plastering process took approx. 4 weeks in total for the internal works and external finishes. We choose a white wet dash on the exterior and we couldn't be happier with the finish. It has really completed the whole look of the house.

 

Once the plasterers were finished we had a big push on to get our floor insulation in place, underfloor heating pipes installed and floor screed poured within in a very tight time-frame of a few days. We wanted all these steps completed before the Christmas holidays so that the house could be drying out during the 2 week holiday rather than keeping men off site while floors were drying out.

 

 

McLaughlin Concrete Flooring, Buncrana, installed our screed flooring which was specially selected to suit the underfloor heating elements.

 

Below is information on the screed product we used, Cassidy Brothers's, Buncrana, are the local rep for this product and McLaughlin Concrete Floor are the registered installers:

 

 

 

Thanks to our wonderful contractor Seamus Friel & Sons, and all our tradesmen, for working with our tight time-frame, Santa came early and all was complete and ready for drying out over the Christmas holidays.

The above photo is of Carrie and myself taken on Christmas Eve with all deadline works complete....let's hope we'll have a nice photo under the Christmas tree next year!

Blog 8 - Renewable Technology

Building a new home today has come on leaps and bounds in the past 10 years in terms of renewable energy. Since the introduction of the Building Control Amendment Regulations, BC(A)R, in 2014, new policies have been put in place to ensure that all newly constructed homes are more energy efficient and use renewable energy technologies. This is quite a daunting task, even for an architect, as some of the products are relatively new and how do you choose the right one for you? We started this process by appointing an SEAI registered Building Energy Rating Assessor (BER), who in our case happened to be my sister Anita, who provides this service through our office at Michael Galbraith Associates. Anita was able to advise us on what we needed to use to achieve the minimum standards for Building Control and what we could invest in to ensure our dwelling achieved above and beyond the minimum standards. We decided on the type of insulation, heating and renewable technologies to use, then we had to appoint a competent renewable contractor.

 

For our build we chose to appoint NuTherm Renewables Ltd based in Buncrana to guide us through the renewable design process (www.nutherm.ie).

 

Gavin McConnell from NuTherm Renewables Ltd has a Post Graduate Diploma on Renewable Energy Systems and guided us through this process to a very high and professional standard. Within our own practice we are kept in the loop with these renewable systems on a daily basis but to understand the whole package is a very specialised area and requires someone with the required expertise to guide you to the right system for you and your budget.

Photo Above: Damian & Gavin exhibiting their products at Designer Homes Exhibition 2017.

 

For our heating system we knew we wanted to use a heat pump and we weighed up the options of an 'air source' heat pump in comparison to a 'ground source' heat pump, with the help of the NuTherm team. Ground source heat pumps are usually more expensive on the onset compared with an air source system but ground source are more efficient and have a longer lifespan of 20-25 years. We opted for a ground source heat pump using horizontal collectors.

This heating system will extract thermal energy from the ground and convert it to a temperature suitable for heating. The system will only require a small amount of electricity to run, therefore no heating bills, just a very minimal increase in electricity. Your heating specialist will be able to show you precedent cost comparison examples of similarly sized households to your own to prove that the systems are very efficient to run.

 

To insulate our dwelling we choose to fill the 200mm wide cavity with greybead pumped insulation by Doherty's North West Insualtions, who are based in Donegal and Derry. Dessie Doherty has been in the insulation business a long time and is very competent at what he does.

 

As our dwelling is a 1 and 3/4 storey design it was very important that our insulation around the exposed roof within the 1st floor rooms were well constructed to contain the heat. Insulated boards between rafters can leave small air gaps as it is impossible for an insulated board to fit a man-made space exactly right, so I felt the best possible solution to fully seal and insulate between the rafters was to use a spray foam insulation. McTaggart Insulation (www.mctaggartinsulation.com) Letterkenny, was our installers of this.

 

I was always skeptical of spray foam insulation to roofs as I felt the foam pushes against the roof membrane and seals the ventilated air gap required in a roof, however, McTaggart Insulation, use a system to prevent the foam insulation interfering with the air gap (which is a very simple solution) but I had never seen it on the market before I saw McTaggart Insulation stand at the Designer Homes Exhibition in March. We installed 150mm spray foam between the rafters and 92.5mm insulated plasterboard over the rafters.

 

We then chose to make our house airtight by installing airtight membranes to the building fabric to ensure none of our efficient heat would be lost through gaps around windows, where wall meets roof, etc. This ensures we receive maximum energy efficiency. NuTherm Renewables Ltd were also the installers of this very high tech system, which is a must for anyone looking to achieve a highly efficient and airtight house. Once our walls were chased for the electrics NuTherm Renewables Ltd came on site and sealed the walls behind the chased areas to prevent air leakage through the blocks that would not usually be sealed by plaster as the chasing prevents this. They then tapped all the windows and wrapped the ceiling level with an airtight membrane. Every opening through the membrane is sealed with a specialised tap to ensure no air leakage is possible.

 

We also chose to install a Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation system to ensure clean fresh would circulate through our airtight home. Again this service was provided by our renewable energy consultant Nutherm Renewables. If there is one thing to take from reading this article I think this section is very important. We, as a generation, have become more educated with renewable energy systems and have been taught to make our homes airtight and highly insulated through the use of triple glazed windows, filling our cavities and roofs with insulation, wrapping our houses with airtight membranes and some may forget that all these aspects require an efficient ventilation system to ensure our homes don't become 'sick' with the lack of clean air. Without a proper ventilation system in a new home condensation can start to build up causing dampness, mold and can even make it's inhabitant's sick with poor quality oxygen within the air.

 

It is very important to appoint a renewable energy specialist early on in the design process so that all aspects can be covered within your architects working drawings and your contractor understands what is required prior to commencing on site. Your Building Energy Rating provider will also have to be kept informed on your decision process as every aspect of change can affect your BER rating.

 

Obviously these high tech renewable systems come at a higher cost than your standard oil boiler but for the home you will spend the rest of your life living in is well worth the money as you will save on running costs through the lifetime of the dwelling, and your also helping to save the planet! #gogreen

Blog 7 - Windows...A frame for our scenic views

Choosing the type of windows/doors is a very important decision to make as it frames the landscape, views and provides us with shelter from the outdoors. We decided to work with Lynch Windows, Buncrana and we found them to be very professional and well experienced. We were delighted to be able to work with such a professional local company that was right on our doorstep and who were very competitively priced.

We weighed up the options of double versus triple glazed and aluminum versus UPVC frames and decided to go with an anthracite grey, A-rated, triple glazed, UPVC windows, with an aluminum corner glazed patio lift and slide door. To give an example of the cost comparisons, aluminum framed windows costs approximately double the price of UPVC and triple glazed units will cost approximately 15% more than the double glazed units, which is a very minimal increase for a more efficient glazed unit. We felt the triple glaze would also help reduce noise pollution from the main Derry/Buncrana road to the front of our house as well as the extra thermal performance.

I had always wanted the anthracite grey exterior coloured window but when we went to Lynch Windows showroom in Umricam to view their products, (which is well worth a visit for anyone looking at windows...they've a great display and beautiful showroom), we hadn't decided on what colour we wanted for the inside. After much discussion (and patience from Gavin of Lynch Windows) we decided to carry the grey colour inside as well. In the photos attached there's a protected cover on the window frames and the grey we choose is actually a dark colour and not light like the protected cover. I love how the dark grey coloured frame blends with the glass when looking at a house from a distance, it somehow makes the window look bigger, were I find a light coloured frame has a very definite break from frame and glass. I was a bit skeptical with grey as I know its the buzz colour at the moment but it is a colour I've always admired and it will blend with the zinc cladding feature we have chose for our front entrance.

So we finally got over the colour decision then it was onto the obscured glazing options for bathrooms and our staircase. Who knew obscurred glazing came with so many options! We wanted a very minimal obscured glass and not one with floral patterns so we chose a stippolyte glass, which also allowed plenty of light to flood through.

 

In the ideal world fully glazed units in our first floor bedrooms looking out to the views of Lough Swilly would have been perfect but we were tied with having to create a fire escape opening in the event of a fire. This is a building regulation that all habitable rooms must adhere to, and it can unfortunately interfere with design options.

As our front entrance door is 2.4 metres high and most UPVC doors have a standard height of 2.1 metres we decided to go with a bespoke timber made door from O'Neill Bros Master Joinery, Derry. The door is currently in production and photos will follow.

 

To finish I thought I'd share this cute little photo of Carrie. To me it sums up the purpose of our windows...protection from the weather and a framed portrait of our surroundings.

 

 

Blog 6 - A Roof Over Our Head

I only thought the design stage was hard until I had to start deciding on finishes for our dwelling. I started to loose my professionalism getting very indecisive as decisions had to be made. It's easy to see a finished product for a client but making a decision for myself that I will have to spend the rest of my life looking at is a whole other ball game....it's giving me a better understanding for clients!

Our contractor Seamus Friel & Sons designed and cut our roof timbers. We were originally going with a fiber cement tile roof finish, solely based on it being more financially viable, but as the roof timbers progressed we started to doubt our decision and looked into the option of using a natural slate roof finish. For anyone who's not sure of the difference, a fiber cement tile is a manufactured alternative to the natural slate.

The above image is of a natural slate roof and the below picture is of a manufactured fiber cement tiled roof. I just love the ruggedness of the natural slate above. It has so much more character than the manufactured alternative.

Fiber cement slates can discolor through time but a natural slate will last a lifetime. I was actually on another clients site last week and there was an old farmhouse that had natural slates still intact 300 years later. Now that's something for a lifetime guarantee! We were also advised that a natural slate is a better option on exposed sites such as ours and we should have very little problems with slates falling off during bad winds throughout the years. Choosing the natural slate also reverted back to my design concept of a modern dwelling using old traditional Irish construction materials.

 

I didn't realise there was so many options with a natural slate. We used a company called Cembrit who supply locally in Coyles Arro, Buncrana and Cembrit's local rep John Breslin was very informative and professional arriving with loads of different slate samples for us to choose from and advising on the best option for our needs. I'm in the industry a long time but didn't realise the area of expertise there was in choosing a slate and we were lucky to have John to guide us through this process.

After a few days driving about looking at other houses and getting advice from our contractor and friends we decided to go with Cembrit's Spanish quarried slate in the smaller size of 50x25cm with a plain clay ridge. I preferred the look of the smaller slate as it gave the roof a lot more character and as I watched our slates progress on site I was thrilled on how well they looked. In our eyes the extra cost at this stage will save us money in the long run as the natural slates should last a lifetime and as the saying goes "you pay for what you get".

  

 

And now can we take a moment to appreciate the chimney.......

 

 Thank you to Jamie Friel for creating our bespoke in-situ chimney! Whoever thought a love for a chimney could develop...maybe this build is sending me crazy!!!

 

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