Blog 5 - On Site

Tuesday, 29 August 2017 15:44

We had just returned home from spending 10 days in sunny Spain with the family and got a lovely surprise with the digger on site. To say I was excited was an understatement!! The week our Contractor Seamus Friel & Sons started reading the site I actually "drove past" about 4 times a day... so if anyone seen me driving up the Derry road to turn at the beach car park to come back down the road you'll understand why...a dream coming to reality can make a girl go a little crazy ;)


It only took a couple of days to read the site and pour the foundations and within 2 weeks from commencement the sub-floor was in place.


While the contractor was on site we were discussing our heating system with our chosen specialist NuTherm NW. We had decided to go with vertical bore hole ground source heat pump and to get the 2 no. 80 metre deep bore holes dug while the site works were ongoing. When the bore hole diggers arrived on site they hit water at 60 metres and had to stop work. Thankfully Gavin and Damien from NuTherm NW came to the rescue and were able to guide us very professional through what seemed like a major problem and came up with an alternative solution. We managed to work out enough horizontal area within the garden to proceed with a ground source heat pump but by changing from vertical to horizontal pipework. I liked the idea of only having 2 vertical bores within the site as opposed to the entire garden space having pipework underground but once advised by the professionals that this would have absolutely no effect to our garden use I was very happy with the solution...and the horizontal option worked out in our favour financially.


Once the sub-floor dried out our competent block layers started on site. They had constructed the walls to 1st floor level within one week. We used McDaid Bro's for our concrete and blocks and Cross Concrete Flooring for our 1st floor concrete slabs, both highly recommended. As I had designed large corner windows to our sea view elevation we required bespoke lintels to be designed and manufactured and chose a local Buncrana company Crana Engineering Ltd. By using local companies for bespoke items can work out a lot cheaper than using a large nationwide company but you may require an engineer to specify the items but it is definitely worth looking into.

As an architect I know that room sizes always look smaller to begin with but I struggled with convincing myself for our own house. I worried I hadn't made the rooms big enough and had slight anxiety that I could no longer alter the drawings as I pleased. We now had to live with what I had designed. However, the more I visited the site as the works progressed I knew I loved the design and regained confidence in myself. I loved the look of the house, the split level layout, the windows that capture the amazing Lough Swilly backdrop and how well the whole house functions. Seeing my husband and kids finally walk through the rooms that I had created with delight was like winning a global architectural award. The months of designing and re-designing had definitely paid off.


Blog 4 - Building Control

Monday, 24 July 2017 12:16

So you've received the Final Grant of planning permission, secured the funds, now it's time to get your project started on site...well it's not as straight forward as that anymore! I will give you some information on the new changes required, which may come as a long read if your not at this stage but please bear with me as I've detailed our personal choices in the bottom goes.....zzzz!!

Since March 2014, the Building Control (Amendment) Regulations 2014, BC(A)R 2014, have laid down very strict requirements when erecting a building. The Commencement Notice must be forwarded to Building Control not less than fourteen days and not more than twenty-eight days before the commencement of work on site. There are a lot of documents, detailed working drawings, specifications, inspection plans and certificates that are required to be lodged and signed at Commencement Notice stage and must be electronically filed on the Building Control Management System (BCMS), which your architect can prepare.


The amended regulations require that you employ 3 key persons for the duration of your building project, which are:

-Assigned Designer (your registered RIAI Architect can carry out this role)

-Assigned Certifier (your registered RIAI Architect can carry out this role)

-Assigned Builder (Builder must be competent and have 3 years experience doing similar projects)


Once you've chosen these assigned persons it's now time to consider the type of build you require. Before any documents are submitted on BCMS you must ensure that your dwelling will achieve an A3 Building Energy Rating (BER). My sister, Anita Galbraith, is our SEAI registered BER Assessor within the practice and she can guide you on all the options available for your home. An air tightness test is also required to ensure there is no air leakage through the building envelope and all materials used on the project must have a CE Mark and a Declaration of Performance, which is a requirement of the Construction Products Regulations 2013. If this information is not provided to the Assigned Certifier they will be unable to issue Completion Certificates for the building.



With regards to Renewable Energy Technologies the following is what your dwelling requires to comply to BC(A)R 2014:

-10kWh/m²/annum contributing to energy use for domestic hot water heating, space heating or cooling, or
-4kWh/m²/annum of electrical energy, or
-a combination of these which would have equivalent effect.

Renewable Energy Technologies refers to renewable energy sources, e.g. solar thermal systems, solar photo-voltaic systems, biomass systems, systems using biofuels, heat pumps, aerogenerators and other small scale renewable systems.



There are a lot of very difficult decisions to be made at this early stage although I do believe that BC(A)R 2014 have ensured that you get the highest quality house you deserve. On a personal level, I have been guiding clients through this process since the regulations came into place so I had a good idea of what we wanted and what was available. I have also been orgainsing a local weekend event called Designer Homes Exhibition over the past 5 years, and have been learning from the local exhibitors on all the renewable technologies available...discovering products right on our doorstep! There are so many local companies that can provide your renewable products without having to source from global companies at higher costs.


Our first step for this stage of the project was sitting down with our BER Assessor and discussing the options available to achieve an A2 rated house. After many discussions (and debates) we discovered that my much wanted cosy open fire was a straight out no-no with our BER Assessor! Anita explained that with the scale of our house and highly insulating the envelope we were then going to "cut a big hole in the roof and let all the heat escape". I can totally understand why open fires are unefficient but this was a sore point for me. I had this romantic imagine of winter evenings laying in front of the open fire, reading a book with a glass of wine (in reality the kids wouldn't be long putting that image to rest) so I had to get over it and on to Plan B. We decided to remove the fireplace completely from our sitting room as I didn't want 2 stoves within the house (we have a stove in the living area) and focus on the sitting room becoming our TV room. We then decided to increase our cavity wall from 150mm to 200mm with pumped bead insulation, a multi-fuel stove in the living area of the kitchen, triple glazed windows, and our heating system will be a ground source heat pump and mechanical ventilation. As part of our ceiling is sloped on the 1st floor due to it being a 1 and 3/4 storey we decided to use a spray foam insulation between the rafters with dry lining insulated boards over them. We choose to spray rather than use insulation boards between the rafters as I felt there was less chance of cold bridging occurring.


So with all these aspects decided on it was now time to get the Working Drawings created and signing of all the Building Control forms prior to submission. We choose a registered and well experienced local building contractor, Seamus Friel & Sons, to take on our project. Their standard of workmanship is high and I have worked with them on many other projects within the office. After all the tough decision making and complying with building regulations it was now on to the more exciting parts....getting started on site!

Blog 1 - Life of an Architect

Monday, 19 November 2012 06:32

Hi readers, for those of you who don’t know me my name is Breege Galbraith and I am a registered RIAI architect based in Buncrana, Co. Donegal, Ireland, running the family architectural practice - Michael Galbraith Associates. My father, Michael, established the practice 27 years ago and with a very heavy heart I note of his passing last July. Dad was also a registered RIAI architect and I am one of the lucky ones to have been trained from an early age in all things design, construction and architectural. As a child, I took an interest in his office at home, acting as his ‘secretary’ and watching the master at work, drawing what true architects did back then…hand drawings! Hand drawings are masterpieces in their own right and really must be honoured for us modern designers as we are spoilt with technology today. He also brought us on many family holidays, which always consisted of visiting famous architecture all over the world from old gothic churches to modern contemporary buildings. I took an interest and here I am!!


Obviously, my role in the practice has changed significantly since dad’s passing over the past 11 months. He was my mentor and boss and I’m sure I’m not the only one out there that thinks their dad knows everything…so if it wasn’t work related in my eyes he would still know the answer! I miss not having my sidekick to guide me anymore but it has also brought new life to my professional career. I now must make decisions on my own and be a leader within the practice. To be honest deep down I know he had me trained and ready for this role, I just didn’t think I could manage it until I had to. It has strengthened my belief that no matter where you are in life we can all do anything if we put our mind and determination to it.


So, you must be wondering “where is this girl going with this piece?” but it all starts with building my own house…an architect’s dream! I thought why not jump on the blog-wagon and write my own personal experiences of the design to completion stage of our own house and hopefully it will help my clients and others along the way with their process. There are so many aspects to a project that people are unaware of so if I can use my professional background and experience to help others with theirs then it will be a job well done. I will blog as the process goes along so please feel free to contact me with any questions or if you would like a certain topic covered. I hope you’ll enjoy reading my pieces as we build what I’ve dreamed about doing since I was a little girl. Dreams do come true!


Blog 2 - An Architects Dream

Monday, 19 November 2012 06:32

It has been a dream of mine to design and build my own home from a very early age. Living in such a beautiful scenic seaside town of Buncrana and growing up with amazing views of Lough Swilly I’ve been blessed with these natural portraits that framed my childhood home. When I got married 6 years ago I first experienced designing an extension and redesigning the internal layout of what would be our first marital home…an end terrace, 3 bed dwelling in what was once a Council housing estate in the heart of Buncrana. The site was small and the design options were very restrictive but we created a well-designed, very functional home for the limited space we had. My husband is a joiner by trade and was very handy at creating storage spaces in the tiniest of spots throughout the house. However, this house was always intended to be our starter home and it was our dream to build when the time was right.


So, 6 years on and 2 beautiful daughters later, our little hidden gem in the heart of the town had become a clutter zone of all things pink and cuddly. I take a lot of pride in my home and love having things in their place in neat and tidy spaces but since the arrival of our daughters this aspect of my personality started to deteriorate bit my bit and I started to ‘live’ with the pink clutter. It was during the pregnancy of our second daughter that we started to put the wheels in motion to build our dream home.


At work, I love designing houses. I enjoy having the first consultation with my clients discussing their lifestyles and vision of their dream homes. No one client is the same and it gives me great satisfaction to provide the first draft scheme and hear the excitement of the clients wishes coming to life. However, this was not the experience I had for myself! I could safely say it was the hardest house I’ve ever designed! There was so much psychology associated with it…I worried what others would think because I’m an architect…I wanted to design something that people would look at and say “Wow who lives there?”…I wanted a practical well-functioning house within our budget…and I wanted my husband and children to love living in it too. Not your usual wish list but it was mine.


I can’t stress enough how important it is to use a registered architect to design the home you will live in for the rest of your life…or any project for that matter. I studied architecture at college for 9 years before I could legally call myself an ‘Architect’. Throughout the years, more so in the past, I found that clients were pricing around looking for the most competitive price and did not consider the qualification of the person designing their home or the education associated with the title ‘architect’ which is a person who understands all aspects of design and construction to create the best possible spaces for your needs. I know for sure I wouldn’t go to the dentist and allow a non-qualified person to pull out my tooth! As much controversy comes with shows like ‘Room to Improve’ I do believe that registered ‘starchitect’ Dermot Bannon has shown the importance in his role in the projects he designs (weither you like him or not)!


I always advise clients to spend as much time as possible at this initial design period as it is so much easier (and a whole lot cheaper) to edit a drawing from a computer screen than make changes on site that will be costly and can cause delays due to amendments to the granted planning permission drawings. So, I advise any of you who are at this stage to scrutinise the drawings, imagine yourself living in the rooms, where will your TV go? Where will your sink/cooker/etc be? Etc. Keep in mind your budget as every metre/squared comes at an extra €1,000+ cost. Also, be mindful of room sizes…take out a measuring tape and measure rooms you like the size of and ask family and friends is there anything different they would do if they were building. You’d be surprised at the feedback you’d receive and would never have thought on. This is a big step in your life and you want to be 100% confident and happy with the final product.


So back to my own design process…


Our site is located just below my childhood home along the main road coming into Buncrana and to say the views are outstanding is an understatement! Our site was restricted in that it is only 15 metres wide and up to 70 metres long. The narrower section of 15m is also the area that occupies all the amazing scenic views of Lough Swilly so this automatically determined the location of our main living spaces and master bedroom so we could enjoy our magnificent landscape every day. We were also lucky in the fact that the setting sun also faced the scenic Swilly views and all our main living spaces can capture the sun path throughout the day.



















I wanted a house that took traditional Irish architecture into play such as flush gable roofs and white dash render but I also wanted our house to have a modern twist with a lot of glazing to frame the scenic views and the introduction of zinc cladding. I knew a standard 2 storey dwelling would be much more financially viable to construct but I loved the look of the 1¾ storey dwellings with small roofs on the first-floor windows that added character to the scheme. I also loved how split-level within a house can create significant charm to a room so we introduced a split-level living space to our kitchen/dining area and in the entrance hall. For room sizes, I wanted them to be practical and cosy rather than being too large and spacious. We had many discussions and debates on ensuite bedrooms and we came to the conclusion that our daughter’s bedroom would be right next to the main bathroom and the extra 2 bedrooms upstairs would have wardrobes that are large enough to convert to ensuites if required in the future. Problem solved….for now that is!!

So, after many weeks of designing and redesigning (whilst feeding and changing our new baby girl Carrie) we finally arrived at the most practical house that fitted our needs. It was now time to lodge the planning application.

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