When we heard from first-time self-builders Sarah and Andy Ball in the last issue, they were at a crossroads, unsure if their Derby build would go ahead. Things have changed however, and the demolition notices are in
When we left you last time, we were on tenterhooks. A decision had to be made about number 41. We were living in a house that needs to either be knocked down or have major surgery. After losing two builders we had to decide whether to abandon plans to rebuild and refurbish the existing house instead. There was a third option, although very unlikely, which was to find a project manager to oversee the build.
It was our architect Dan who came up trumps. He was working with a project manager called Paul on a modern house build just two miles from our plot, and better still there was a chance he would be available. We didn’t hesitate. We asked Dan to set up a meeting straight away.
While all this was going on, Andy and I were also working on Plan B. We were in talks with a local building company who seemed keen to refurbish our house. After two meetings, discussions of plans and a site visit to a property they had completely refurbished, we were hopeful that they would be able to bring in a proposal on budget.
Anyway, we met up with project manager Paul and he seemed up for building the house. He charges a flat fee and works with a team of people he trusts.
At the first meeting, he reckoned he could build the house within our budget. He did some calculations based on the house that he’s currently working on. We decided to take it to the next level and get some more accurate figures. Meeting number two went well. The first things he worked on were coming out at the right prices and it looked pretty likely that rest of the costings would follow suit.
Paul is now our project manager. He got started on fleshing out the pricing and started the ball rolling on getting the house ready for demolition – including moving the gas and electrics a safe distance away from the action.
There have been a couple of issues on the later costings – Brexit has hit us, and steel prices are up. There was almost £23,000 of steel in the design to hold up the cantilevers and give the nine metre sliding door protection against deflection. The other part of the build that was coming in far higher on cost was the foundations. We had al- ready had a survey of the soil and from the calculations knew we would need additional depth on the side next to the trees in the car park.
Paul would see if he could get better prices on these and in the meantime we would look at compromises in other areas. We could remove budget out of the bathrooms, kitchen, staircase, wall and floor finishes. Having done a few refurbishment projects before, I like this part of the process. I am a savvy shopper and will happily do my research to get the best prices.
Making sensible choices
Next up for consideration was the air source heat pump, underfloor heating and HVAC. This was something we discussed from early on. We can see the advantages of storage batteries for the long term and felt a good way to reduce long term running costs would be to make the house self-sufficient for power through a combination of solar thermal and PV, air source, an oversized water tank to store energy and a battery wall. Although we hoped we would never have to do it, we wanted to be able to go off grid should power outages become a big issue.
But battery prices are up, making our return on investment less favourable. A gas boiler to power the underfloor heating would be a reasonable option. We can keep the HVAC as the benefits of air changes and keeping dust levels low, are important to us.
We also looked at window and door systems for the house at the FIT Show, a trade show for the glazing industry. We were there as exhibitors with our marketing agency, but it didn’t stop us having a good look round at all the systems we might need for our build. Aluminium sliding doors were definitely in vogue, and there were loads of new products on display. All the main UK manufacturers had stands and they all seemed to be offering bigger door leafs and slimmer frames.
It was great to see because our biggest consideration is the sliding doors from the open plan living space to the garden. Given the span for these doors is almost nine metres, we want to make sure that we have the slimmest frames to gain the maximum effect from our architect’s designs. We’re also keen to work with a reputable UK manufacturer so we can avoid the horror stories you see on TV when the glazing turns up weeks or even months late.
We also saw some very good looking aluminium windows that would fit our design just perfectly. We are looking for something that has a chamfered or curved bead as the very square edged systems might look too commercial for our house.
And finally, good news! Project man- ager Paul is due to meet with the steel manufacturers. He thinks that there’s an argument for reassessing the steel and that could have a knock-on effect to the foundations – he’s talking about shaving up to £10,000 off the prices.
We are waiting for the gas and electric suppliers to come back with a date, and then the house can be demolished.
Look out for the next chapter of Sarah and Andy’s story later in the year