John and Penny Platts didn't set out to self build their 4 bedroom barn style home, but when they stumbled upon the perfect plot, building their own home was the only option.
In 2003, retired Police officer John and retired Head Teacher now local tour guide Penny, sold their home, banked the money and moved into rented accommodation while they looked for a new house. They quickly found that nothing on the market really appealed to them and decided to extend their search to include renovation opportunities.
One such opportunity came in the form of a farm near Dorstone, Hereford which was being sold in a number of lots with a farmhouse, a barn with planning permission and a farm-yard with full planning permission for a detached 'barn style' house.
When they visited, it was love at first sight. The plot boasted unbroken views over the surrounding countryside and was located in a peaceful and secluded location. A self build was conceived!
They purchased the land and commissioned an architect to completely redesign the internal layout, adding a second floor in the loft space, incorporating generous amounts of internal green oak, a galleried master bedroom and increased window sizes to maximise the views!
John and Penny were also keen to insulate their home over and above the requirements of the building regulations and incorporated a total of 8 inches of insulation into the block and stone cavity walls. They also opted for a 'Beam Shield' ground floor: Similar to beam and block floor except that the concrete infill blocks are omitted and the beamsincorporate insulation around and between them which forms a continuous temporary deck onto which a fibre reinforced screed is laid to complete the floor structure.
Planning approval for the changes was granted in May 2004 but they faced a problem with building regulation approval when ground conditions meant that the Biodisc system specified to deal with foul water, wouldn't drain sufficiently and they were told a reed-bed would be required. Luckily, after some negotiation, they were able to site the reed-bed on their neighbour's adjoining land and the Environment Agency finally granted approval in December 2004.
John intended to take on the role of project manager, employing a builder to complete the shell and appointing finishing trades separately whilst sourcing materials and completing a portion of DIY, including tiling and decorating, himself.
After approaching several local builders for estimates John went with a recommendation from a friend.
"We signed a standard contract with all the prices agreed so there would be no surprises and on 9th May 2005 the build started"
The build progressed very well and having decided to be a constant presence on site John soon found that, despite little in the way of construction experience, he quickly picked things up and was often able to 'head-off' mistakes before they happened.
Lending a hand with the physical work, including shifting barrow loads of stone around site, left him feeling fit and well and some diligent research into materials kept the bank balance in good shape too. Glu-lam (glued and laminated) I beams for the floors and roof structure were sourced from Sweden and Denmark working out a third cheaper than he could find in the UK.
He made another significant saving with fully finished windows including double-glazing, handles and hinges from Denmark. These proved cheaper than having the frames alone made locally. There was no compromise on quality or service either and when John sent an email showing a misted pane, a replacement was shipped and fitted within a week.
Everything was going great until John noticed a dip in his energy levels. Visits to the Doctor and tests led to a diagnosis of (Myeloma) bone marrow cancer. John's health was now the priority and although this was a huge shock he was encouraged by the news that there was more hope now than only a few years earlier in the form of newly developed stem cell transplants.
It was back to the drawing board as far as the build went and Penny stepped in as project manager. They agreed a price with their original builder to stay on and finish the house and the build rolled on, albeit at an added cost.
John underwent chemotherapy in February followed by four weeks of stem cell transplant and in August 2006 he was delighted to receive the all clear.
The Platts' home was completed on 7th July 2006 and they moved in the same day. Eight workers were still on the site in the morning including , a tiler, a decorator, electricians and carpenters. The removal van arrived in the afternoon!
John and Penny love their self built home and despite the trials and tribulations along the way they really enjoyed the journey. John said "I would love to do it again but it would have to be something pretty outstanding to top the location we already have where we can enjoy the views spring, summer, autumn and winter".
"Shop around for your materials and don't be afraid to look overseas."
"Familiarise yourself with the VAT reclaim before you start and use spreadsheets to keep track of your costs as you go along. It was a lot easier than doing it retrospectively."
"The small outlay for additional insulation is making big savings on energy use now."
"Drawing up an effective contract with your builder helps avoid unwanted suprises."
Many thanks to John and Penny for sharing their story and their tips with us. We wish them both the very best for the future.