See how three Munster couples made their grand designs a reality

See how three Munster couples made their grand designs a reality
The Tynan's dog, Rolex, posing outside their self-built home in Tipperary

Aileen Lee talks to three Munster-based couples who reveal the challenges and the rewards of taking on a self-build project

TO SELF-BUILD or not, that is the question. The benefits are the flexibility it gives you to decide the layout, room sizes and design features unique to your needs and that will work with your budget.

The more stressful aspects can be managing the financial planning for the build and the time delays along the way. We spoke to three couples who opted to self-build to ask them why they did, and what they found challenging about the process as well as rewarding.

EMMA AND KEVIN CROWLEY, CORK

The Crowleys wanted to live in the countryside close to Kevin’s parents, in an area they liked, which also included land for Emma’s pony. They quickly realised that they could not afford to buy a finished house and that buying a site and self-building was the best option. At the same time, they decided that they wanted to build to a passive standard, which is a voluntary standard for energy efficiency in a building.

The decision to build a passive house brought its own challenges, as they found that most of the architects they contacted were unwilling to work with their budget.

They contacted Karl Slyne Quantity Surveyors, who helpfully advised that with a simple structure, the costs could be kept down, allowing them to pursue this building approach. In the meantime, they also located an architect, Gareth Sullivan at Simply Architecture, whose work they liked, and who had the relevant experience.

Their engineer, Tanner Structural Design, was on hand to answer any questions, and the couple also found the Self-Build Renovations Ireland page on Facebook was helpful, saying that people on the page were good to share budget and timeline spreadsheets.

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Do you like blue? If you have been following our journey you have seen we have a love of it... There is plenty of blue in our style forecast 😉. Its the predominant colour in its many shades in our home.. Our favourite colour. I think the colour is a bit shocking to people, partially I think because it's not an in colour. We made a conscious decision to not follow fads whereever we could. I don't really feel we are insta ready... Maybe insta reality... not the perfection we all see everyday on here..... . We are in two weeks and very happy but in reality we are no where near finished... We will get there though and hopefully will have some fun doing so! Any self builders all I can say it is worth it ♥ Kitchen from @cullenviewinteriors.. My pictures don't do it justice. Designed by Cullenviews Sandy @isbeeinteriors, a lovely lady.

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Their builder, Hurley & White and staff, gave them advice on finishes, suppliers to use, and various general queries. “They also pointed out parts of the house that would not have worked in a practical sense,” says Emma.

The Crowleys say that despite going with a builder for the project, they were surprised by the amount of information they needed to have to understand the building process.

Kevin says: “We were particularly shocked at first-fix stage seeing all the cables and wires and trying to understand what each was for. We were also surprised by the amount of decisions we needed to make to cover everything, down to light switches and doorknobs.”

The upside of all the stress has been seeing the build develop day-by-day into the house they are going to live in for the rest of their lives.

See also @buildingthecrowleyhomestead

Emma and Kevin’s advice

  • Get a quantity surveyor.
  • Don’t apply for planning without meeting the county planner and, if you can, the county engineer first.
  • Shop around — there are lots of great pre-loved deals to be had.
  • Bring a measuring tape to everyone’s house to see how you would like rooms to be sized.
  • Think about the outside of your house from the outset and have an idea of what kind of garden you would like. Where would you like to have a shed, or outside lighting?

SARAH AND BRENDAN CULLINANE, WATERFORD

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☑️ House Facts⁣ ⁣ - Build was completed in 10 months, we started June 2018 and moved in April 2019.⁣ - We completed it by direct labour, husband project managed. ⁣ - Traditional block build with UFH upstairs and downstairs, through Air to Water system. We have a thermostat in each room, so we have about 12 zones that can be personalised based on use.⁣ - 3,400sqft and 4,200sqft including third floor (when completed).⁣ - We have 18 animals in total (5 living in our house!).⁣ ⁣ That's it in a nutshell 🤷‍♀️😂⁣ ⁣ ⁣ ⁣ #selfbuildireland #selfbuildni #selfbuild #myhouseandhome #myhousethismonth #newconstruction #newconstructionhomes #newbuild #newhome #ireland #traditionalbuild #ourhousebuild #ourbuildingjourney #irishbuild #irishselfbuild #directlabour #blockbuilding

A post shared by | 𝚂𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚑 | (@sarahs_ivy_hill) on

The Cullinanes built their house on Brendan’s family’s land. His father had built the family home in the 1980s, adding a large garage in the 1990s, and his experience of building was invaluable to the couple. He was also helpful in the day-to-day organising of supplies for tradespeople, and with project management advice.

Equally helpful was their architect, John Santry, who helped them get planning permission within 12 weeks. He was also on-hand throughout the 10-month build to advise Brendan on the next steps in the project. Brendan says: “He sat me down and went through everything in terms of what I’d need to do to manage it myself, which was fantastic.”

The couple advise preparing for the financial costs that arise straight away. Their mortgage was drawn down in five staged payments, and they were glad that they had also saved a significant amount of money. Sarah says: “What’s difficult throughout the process is the amount of money you spend prior to getting your mortgage drawn down at each stage, because you’re spending everything that you have and hiring services that cost a huge amount of money before you’ve got the money from the bank, so that’s quite difficult.”

Another challenge is managing your own expectations of when work will be done, especially if your next tradesperson gets delayed, or if there are delays on your own project. Sarah says: “There’s a lot of waiting throughout the whole process. You have to come to accept the waiting and make peace with it.”

The greatest satisfaction in self-building, says Brendan, was “knowing that you played such a central part, and you made every decision — where the windows went, where that door went, where those switches were. You weren’t relying on anyone else. You had to sit down with whatever tradesman and go through it and that was great because you’re able to suit whatever way you live your life”.

See also @sarahs_ivy_hill

Sarah and Brendan’s advice

  • Try to save between 15%-20% of the cost of the build, because you will need it for initial costs before your mortgage is drawn down.
  • See it as a long-term process — Sarah and Brendan were thinking about the build two to three years prior to works beginning.
  • Meet your tradespeople well in advance to agree approximate timelines for them to come on-site.
  • It is never too early to plan the interiors. This assists with the building works, as well as allowing you to plan for costly interiors pieces.
  • Employ an architect or engineer that has significant knowledge of the local area.

JESSICA AND DAN TYNAN, TIPPERARY

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Just realised we don't actually have a complete front elevation picture of the house on our feed so here's one, with our resident model Rolex of course. Plaster done, zinc cladding done, Stone cladding done, timber cladding done, driveway not done, kerbs not done, lawns not done...actually maybe completed was stretching it a bit but Rome wasn't built in a day. Happy Friday everyone, both of us are off all weekend so hoping to get more done on the house, we'll keep ye posted. What's your plans for the weekend? #seanuahouse #selfbuildireland #selfbuild #building #irishselfbuild #irishhome #contemporaryhome #construction #cladding #stonecladding #siberianlarch #selfbuilders #houseplans #house #home

A post shared by Seanua House (@seanuahouse) on

Dan Tynan was always keen to build on the site he and Jessica used for their self-build. He says: “It’s on my dad’s land and a quiet country road near our village, close enough to be part of the community but far enough away to be in the countryside. The site has stunning views of the Devil’s Bit and it’s always a place I felt happiest in.”

The couple chose self-building to save on cost, but neither had experience of building before, although as an engineer, Dan had a basic concept of what would be involved. In terms of managing the build, they got three quotes for each trade to find the right one for them. Dan says: “We were very hands-on, so it was easy to see when we needed to have the next person ready.”

Project managing the build when you are both in full-time jobs wasn’t the easiest though. He says: “At least once a week a tradesman would ring looking for supplies that he needed straight away. This meant a scramble and it was probably the most difficult part when you are in work.”

When it comes to working on the site yourself, Jessica advises to take the help offered from family and friends, and, most importantly, to enjoy the process. She says: “We were lucky that our families helped with painting, moving scaffold, and sweeping.

“Our mammies brought us lunch or dinner on many occasions. A lot of the time it was just the two of us on-site and we would have music blaring while we worked away. It kept us entertained when doing the slowest jobs like insulating or painting the steel mushroom fixings on the plasterboard. So, enjoy the little moments — it goes from a site to your forever home before you know it!”

The Tynans say they learned so much along the way, things they would never have learned except for building a house, like laying floors and hanging doors. Jessica says: “We have our dream home and we made it happen. That’s something we are very proud of. We know there is lots still to do but we will get there, together.”

See also @seanuahouse

Jessica and Dan’s advice

  • Take your time to make sure the design is correct for your site.
  • A sun-path diagram is so important to figure out your light.
  • Be specific about what you want from your tradesmen, so there’s no room for error.
  • You don’t have to move into a finished home. People put so much pressure on themselves to have a turn-key home. Enjoy the build, don’t rush it.
  • Take everyone’s advice but make up your own mind.

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