Smart home set up to be ultra efficient

House by the sea needs little or no work and ‘can be suited and booted, heated and fuelled for the equivalent of pin money’

Smart home set up to be ultra efficient

THE steam from a morning bowl of porridge, and a cup of tea would nearly be enough to heat this house up for the day ahead, jokes architect David Sheridan, rightly proud of -fthis recently-built Crosshaven home, expertly built and close to passive house standards.

His remarks were made on the day the Irish Examiner visited, to find the owner strolling about in shorts, T-shirt and flip-flops: obviously, the porridge and cuppa had done its trick: estate agent Trevor O’Sullivan now needs to, eh, follow suit, and to hand out skimpy beachwear for his house can be that cosy, all-year around.

No 7 Watermeadow is the family home of builder Michael McMahon from Kerry, who trained as a carpenter, and who worked primarily in the higher echelons end of house construction in Dublin, before moving to Cork, and in particular to site No 7 in the Watermeadow niche of serviced sites, by woods and farmland on the entrances side to the Cork harbour town.

He project managed this build, using local crews as and when needed, and says even by 2016 when he started, getting tradespeople was already proving a bit of a challenge, so the seeds of an impending skills shortage were already sewn, some time back.

The build period lasted just over a year, and that it was meant to be a ‘home for life’ is evident from the quality and thought that went into it, but already, with two small children, the couple feel the need to go back to Kerry for the embrace of intergenerational family support. So, No 7’s for sale, and any home hunters with a few bob to spare can make a painless transition to future comforts, in a fully done home by the sea, which can be suited and booted, heated and fuelled, for the equivalent of pin money.

The 3,000 sq ft home has a Daikin air to water heat pump, and a Zehnder mechanical HRV (heat recovery/fresh air recirculation etc) can be heated and powered for well under €1,000 a year, and even under €800 per annum, reckons Michael McMahon, who says the fact they were using lots of power tools last year for outdoor work and landscaping nudged bills over €1k.

He’s got the roof set up a ‘first fix’ for 6kw worth of energy producing photovoltaic cells, with a series of brackets up on high on the Spanish slate roof, but the electricity-generating panels haven’t yet been fitted and if/when this is done, he says the place should be energy self-sufficient.

That’s down to things like massive levels of insulation, probably at 50% above what’s needed to hit passive standards, with 200mm full-fill insulation in internal wall cavities, plus more fixed inside, along with 260mm at roof, and a total air-tight envelope with huge attention to detailing, sealing and eliminating cold bridging with a wrap-around membrane envelope.

An air-tightness test was due to be done a day or two ago and the BER is coming in at an A1, aided and abetted by a mix of double glazing on south and west-facing facades and triple on the north and east aspects.

It all is quite technical stuff, anorak-y if you like (admits the owner in his Bermudas, flicking through hundreds of images on a smart phone to show records of each step of the way.)

“A hugely important aspect of this house was the approach taken to sustainability. This was something which was a key focus of both ourselves and the homeowners. From a U-value and airtightness point-of-view, this house surpasses the vast majority of houses out there at the moment. It’s literally packed to the rafters with insulation,” says architect David Sheridan of OC Architects and Design, who have offices in Dublin, Kerry and Cork.

Part of the brief was “capturing the bay views and capitalising on the ample, available sunlight was our primary focus in the design of this house,” says Sheridan. Those views — down to the Owenabue estuary and boat moorings by the Royal Cork Yacht Club — are better in winter than in summer when intervening trees come into leaf, and are better from the upper floors also.

“In order to pay homage to the view, we used carefully considered ‘picture-frame’ windows at first floor level, off the bedrooms and landing. We wanted the view to be the first thing to greet the homeowners as they arrive at the top of the stairs and similarly when they draw the curtains in the morning,” adds the architect of the several feature, wide and shallow landscape glazing, much of it a head height when lying down in beds.

No 7’s a full two-storey house, with a Tee-shaped plan in the design “which helped us avoid an overly deep floor plan throughout, meaning every room has access to abundant daylight. More often than not, in a house of this size, there is a ‘sacrificial lamb’.

One north-facing bedroom or sitting room that takes the hit so that the other rooms can have their day in the sun! With Michael’s house, we were able to avoid this, and in fact, with the exception of one east-facing bedroom, every habitable room in the house enjoys dual aspect,” notes Sheridan of what is, indeed, a light-filled environment Because of the HRV system, best practise in homes with air tightness is not really relying on opening/closing windows for controlling heat and ventilation, so roof lights over bathrooms and a super airy landing are just light wells, not Veluxes, with slick plates of glazing.

As ever, aspect dictated much of the design/layout, and to the back is a south-west facing patio, a perfect suntrap in the embrace of the builds two wings, overlooked by an entirely distinctive very broad kitchen window with concertina windows which open right back to reveal the limestone- floored patio’s true, heating soaking glory.

Back here, the main living/eating/dining spaces and play rooms have access to some sun from the south, with a sort of reverse angle mono-pitched, zinc roof to the rear affording extra ceiling height and clerestory glazing to the long, long kitchen-dining area.

This high pitch allows the sun to to get even deeper into the house, and the roof is done with standing seam Rheinzink metal roof, draining into a broad fibreglass gulley.

The underpart of the roof is done in treated cedar, as is the outline of the kitchen section under the concertina window, and yet more cedar features in specially-made side gates and a garage door, all framed in stainless steel.

Stainless steel sections or profiles even cap some of the property’s boundary walls, and gutters and drains are in bespoke moulded aluminium. Walls are block built, with cavity, and Michael McMahon praises the work of mason James Barrett’s team, with a perfect 150mm cavity gap all around, for a flawless fit (some 2mm tolerance) for installing the full-fill insulation.

Heating, from the Daikin air to water pump, is delivered at underfloor level at ground and first floor levels, with a Ducon concrete slab for the first floor’s four bedrooms (plus, concrete stairs), bathrooms and landing, each room is thermostatically controlled (19-21 degrees is the comfort range), and hidden away, up in the roof, are two 16.3 metres steel beams which tie the house two sections together: as they are just over the 16m load apparantly normally permissable for delivery on roads by day, they came in the early morning, with a crew on site at 4am to ensure no traffic disruption between Cork and Crosshaven.

Yep, did we already mention the ‘anorak-y’ appeal of a build like this? It also, more prosaically, has ducting for a concealed central vacuum system, and the water delivery is so good this home has had four power showers on the go at the one time when visitors have stayed.

In accommodation terms (at last?!) this 3,065 sq ft two-storey home has a ground floor fifth/guest bedroom, next to a guest WC/’shower room just inside the entrance door, to the side of a central, large double height hall.

Opposite is a living room, effectively triple aspect, with provision for a stove (hardly needed, but nice to have,) and it links to a sunny dining section, which tees back across the rear kitchen to access a playrooms.

Right now, all the back accommodation sort of flows one to the other, but when children are older, there’s ready options to fit partitions/glazing and give more private spaces.

The kitchen has Silestone tops on sleek units, sprayed a matt black or very dark grey, with lots of integrated Neff appliances, and there’s a (bottle-fed) seven ring Neff gas hob. Flooring is nearly uniformly wide-plank dark oak, and unusually it changes its run of direction quite successfully as the axis shifts in broad right angles from hall to kitchen, with boards neatly butted up to one to another.

Doors internally are all FD30 fire rated, and back up rooms include a utility and a pantry with comms room section for all the smart stuff buzzing around in the background, replenishing air and keeping everything healthily toasty.

Overhead are four bedrooms, two of them en suite and the main family bathroom has a stand-alone double ended oval bath, and tiling is uniformly in a range of Fanal 1200mm wide tiles. Sanitary ware is high-end, with sinks on solid oak vanity units with storage. Walls in showers (all big or doubles) have niches for storing shampoos and sundries, and the layout has three bedrooms and bathroom at one side, and the master suite is down another short run of corridor, with double aspect bedroom, walk in robe/dressing room and luxurious shower room.

Several of the bedrooms have door/windows opening in, with lower sections screened by clear glass balcony screens, yielding Owanabue and boat views (and, giant windmill vanes over by Currabinny in the yonder.) So many opening windows and doors in an air tight house design? Come on, we’re Irish, we like the choice!

Externally, No 7 Watermeadow is on a site of 0.3 of an acre in this scheme of 10 sites, with nine built on to date. One site, facing No 7, has been advertised at €220,000 with Dennehy Property and has recently gone sale agreed, with previous resales here of No 6 (a good bit older than this 2016 build,) at €677,000, and No 9 were at €590,000, both back in 2015.

Coldwell Banker estate agent Trevor O’Sullivan highly rates No 7 as he gets ready for viewings, and he guides at €720,000, but accepts it may go over than in competitive bidding.

He’s expecting interest from the Crosshaven locale, from Carrigaline and from Cork city and even relocaters/returning Irish, with the lifestyle attractions of Crosshaven on the up and up and with the ‘local’ sailing club the RCYC preparing to celebrate its 300th anniversary in 2020, having just completed a bar and clubhouse internal makeover in advance, with design work by Patrick Creedon of Magee Creedon.

Coldwell Banker’s Mr O’Sullivan says No 7 Watermeadow combines a top, niche seaside/coastal setting in a well-served community within a good commute of Cork city and airport, with design flair, sunny aspect and living areas, eco credentials and high specification equiping.

Ironically, he notes that the build had no expense spared, while future energy running costs should spare all but the lowest expenses. Nice.

VERDICT: A contemporary cracker.

Crosshaven, Cork Harbour €720,000

Size: 295 sq m (3,065 sq ft)

Bedrooms: 5

Bathrooms: 4


Best Feature: Smart home

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