Despite settling down in their previous self-build home in a Herefordshire village, the opportunity to build a new one next door was too good to resist for Mark and Sharon Young. Roseanne Field reports
Alane in the small Herefordshire village of Preston Wynne, just north east of Hereford, is the location of not one but two homes built by Mark and Sharon Young. And this one makes it three in a row for this self- build-crazy couple.
Their new house sits on a plot adjacent to the last one they built, and is the third ‘ideal home’ they have built, intending to live in. “It kind of takes the ‘once in a lifetime’ away from it a bit!” Mark jokes.
Mark attributes his first foray into the world of self-building to his father, who was a builder. “I have always wanted to our own house, because you can build in value for yourself,” he explains. “It was just something that I could see the vast benefits of – with a lot of hard work.”
Mark bought the plot for his first build in 1998, at the age of 30. With a lot of help from his father, they built a home which Mark and his family (including 20-year-old Harriet and 18- year-old Henry) lived in for five years, before they built a second house, into which they moved in 2003. “That was a significant project – it was an old cottage,” says Mark. In hindsight, he believes working with an empty site is much easier: “You haven’t got any clearance costs.”
After living in the home for 13 years, Mark and Sharon got the itch to tackle a third build, and the acre and a half paddock next door – which they already owned – seemed the perfect site. He explains: “Large plots like this just don’t come up. It was an opportunity too good to miss.”
Mark was surprised to find that getting planning permission was an almost completely hassle-free process. “The previous one had horrendous problems, and it was effectively next door. The planners were difficult over everything,” he says. Mark credits the lack of problems this time to the recent changes which have put more pressure on local authorities to pass schemes: “They’re now encouraged to allow builds,” he says.
The only bump in the road was regarding planners’ concerns over the scale and location of a separate office building that Mark wanted to erect on the site – from where he could run his business as an independent financial advisor. He explains: “The negotiation was around whether they would approve a one- and-a-half storey building on a smaller footprint, or a one-storey building with a larger footprint.”
In the end, the planners decided to go with an L-shaped one-storey option in order to have “less visual impact” – which pleased Mark as it was his preferred choice. Despite the slight hold up, Mark says he cannot fault the planners. “They were so helpful,” he recalls. Although he credits the relatively stress-free experience to his previous dealings with planners, he is also a firm believer that you have to work with them, rather than fight them. “They’ve got a job to do and you’ve got to understand that. You have to try and find a centre ground,” he says.
The design for the house was a collaborative process – Mark and Sharon worked closely with an architect he knew. “He did the Building Regulations on the last one,” he says. Taylor Lane, who supplied the timber frame, were also key to the design process. “They do all the engineering calculations,” he explains. “They tell you if something’s possible or not, calculate the truss requirements etc.”
The build begins
The first major job to be tackled on site was the services. The biggest part of this was removing a transformer pole that was on the site. “We had to liaise with Western Power to get that removed and put all the supplies underground,” Mark explains.
Although engaging suppliers to run services to an empty site can often prove to be something of a headache, Mark says in his case, “they were all great.” All the underground work and the installation of a new transformer pole was taken care of. “I can’t speak highly enough of them,” Mark remarks. “Moving a transformer is a significant task.”
Mark and Sharon benefitted from a bit of serendipity, as the existing transformer pole was in need of replacement anyway. Along with their build, two other houses were going up nearby, and the pole wasn’t “up to standard.” It was therefore logical for it to be relocated and replaced at the same time.
Their site was home to some stables which had to be dismantled and reconstructed elsewhere. Groundworks – including the relocation of the pole – started onsite in June 2016, and by August they were ready for the construction of the timber frame.
The frame only took two weeks to erect. This speed of construction is one of the reasons they had a preference for timber frame, along with its insulation values. “Within two weeks the roof can be felted and you can start work internally,” he says.
Mark project managed the build himself – no mean feat given that he also runs his own business, but admits it is challenging: “It’s hard, because you’re totally reliant on people turning up, but it’s manageable!” He says working from home is a huge advantage however: “I’m onsite virtually the whole time. It makes a huge difference, I’m lucky.” However, should circumstances change, Mark is adamant he would still project manage. “The cost saving is significant,” he says, “but you have to be prepared that the project will probably take longer.”
The house was more or less ready for the family to move into in September 2017, although it took until July 2018 to be fully finished. Mark admits that ideally they would have left it longer before moving in, but were trying to sell the previous project.
Completing on their former home proved to be difficult. They were relying on the money raised from the sale to finish the current project, and so in April 2017 – once the scaffolding had been taken down from the new house – they put it on the market. It was at this point that they faced a big snag: “It sold within the first week – and then fell through,” Mark explains. “It had a negative effect on the finances.”
Other than this delay, Mark says there weren’t any major problems, which he credits to his and Sharon’s previous experience. “I know where things are likely to go wrong,” he says.
A modern blend
The couple had a fairly clear idea of what they wanted the house to look like, and wanted a contrast with their previous home. “The last one was a traditional oak frame and this time, we wanted a more modern building with a slate roof and aluminium windows,” he explains.
They also wanted to install sustainable features; a 6,500 litre rainwater harvesting tank captures rainwater, which is then used to flush the toilets, as well as feeding the washing machine and an outside tap. Harvesting water is something Mark feels passionately about. “It should be mandatory in my opinion,” he says. “Rainwater going off roofs into the ground is a total waste.”
Solar panels supply their electricity, however heating (underfloor downstairs and in the master bedroom, radiators elsewhere) as well as hot water is provided by an oil boiler. In hindsight, Mark now regrets not installing ground source heating, but was put off at the time by the initial upfront cost.
One of the decisions he struggled most with was choosing the windows. “I spent months and months deliberating,” he says. “We just couldn’t decide on the style and manufacturer.” In the end they decided to go with dark grey painted aluminium externally, and wood internally.
There had to be a change of plan on his original intent to have three bifold doors, due to cost. It was more cost-effective to have a mix of one bifold, to the dining area, and sliding doors elsewhere.
Upon entering the house, guests are immediately greeted by the oak staircase. To the left is the formal sitting room, featuring a wood burning stove, while behind the staircase is a TV room. A downstairs toilet is to the immediate right of the entrance. Next to that a door leads through to the large open plan kitchen/family room area – another of the family’s key requirements for the design. Utility and garden rooms sit off the kitchen on the right hand side.
The downstairs features decorative oak beams, supplied by Border Oak, who had to work collaboratively with Taylor Lane on their installation, along with an oak porch and balcony leading off the master bedroom. Also upstairs are another three bedrooms, all of which (including the master) feature an ensuite wetroom. “It adds cost but it’s worth it,” says Mark. The main bedroom also features a separate dressing area, and the attic has been converted ready to house a fifth bedroom, should future occupants require it.
When it came to styling the interiors, Mark and Sharon wanted to keep things simple and modern. The bathrooms are all white, and the kitchen, featuring handle-less units, is “ultra modern, minimalist and plain,” says Mark.
Outside, although there are still some minor jobs to finish, they have laid a patio all around the house, and the front has been planted and gravelled.
Mark admits that despite his experience, he did find himself caught out early on in the build. A downdraft extractor was installed in the kitchen, which was vented underground, and therefore had to be installed much earlier in the process than they were expecting. “You’ve got to know exactly what you’re having in terms of design and location,” he says. “You have to know the layout at a very early stage, much earlier than I seem to remember previously!” Other than this, due to considering things early on in the design, no major changes were necessary once the build began.
Overall, Mark’s extremely happy with the finished product – and in particular, he’s pleased how the house blends old and new. “It’s a mix of traditional and modern and that has worked out quite well,” he says. His favourite features include the design’s combination of rustic- looking brick with the modern grey windows and the oak beams. “A timber frame can be a bit boring and lacking character,” he confesses. “The oak beams break up the monotony – it’s warm. The mix of using both an oak supplier and timber frame supplier worked well.”
Looking to the future
With Mark and Sharon’s history as ‘serial self- builders,’ they’re naturally not opposed to the idea of doing another project one day. “It doesn’t phase me at all,” he says. However, Mark admits there are downsides. He says: “It’s hard trying to balance everything”, and that it can be frustrating in a variety of ways. “Sometimes it’s too much, you come back and people have misinterpreted your instructions, and you have to undo things.”
After all the hard work, the plan is to stay where they are for now – as Mark explains, they have everything they need, including the bespoke office block. Plus, he says, “you need at least a year’s rest!” Mark concludes: “It just takes over, but it’s worth it. The financial gain and the sense of reward is significant.”