Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

Tommy Barker visits a 1970s bungalow near Clonakilty that has been given a tasteful rebuild, complete with high-spec insulation and cutting-edge green building techniques.

THERE’S great air tightness to this low-energy house, rebuilt around an original 1970s bungalow along a scenic stretch of West Cork.

That’s just as well, because on the day the Irish Examiner called to visit (it’s not for sale, just worth admiring), there was a mini-gale blowing outside this house, sited high above the ocean and headlands, fully exposed to the elements and the Atlantic.

Inside though, all was calm. And warm. And quiet, a welcome remove from the flattening winds and the gulls whipping by as if on some invisible zip-wires.

Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

The owners had family links to the location and already owned the existing/previous bungalow, before deciding to effectively do a total rebuild, keeping just a few walls of the original dwelling, wrapping around them, extending to the west, and going up a tad in front to a first floor viewing gallery projection above the main living/dining area.

With a mix of pale-blue coloured render, cedar cladding on the middle axis with its thrusting copper roof, as well as some zinc-roofed projections plus a few feature circular windows, it all looks contemporary and quite cool from the outside and is an enhancement on its site. The design detailing and crispness is warmly matched inside, and all in between there is plenty of bright, energy-saving ideas and features, unobtrusively so.

Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

“The clients wished for a house with modern standards, plenty of natural light and a comfortable environment,” according to Czech-born architect Eva Murphyova, who has worked with furniture designer husband Thomas Murphy in their company Imago Alternatives in Cork for about 20 years. Eva has quite a few Munster homes done to passive and near-passive standards, having added to her qualifications in passive house design at UCD.

Here, the build was done by specialists the Green Build Centre in Midleton, Co Cork, run by timber frame builder Kevin Murphy. The firm manufactures house panels off-site in their factory for maximum quality and air-tightness controls.

Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

The house (especially any remaining original walls) is externally insulated, with particular attention paid to insulation in old and new alike, hitting very stringent air tightness levels — in this case 0.7 air changes per hour (ACH) @ 50 Pa. It’s close to passive standards, and while it’s formally rated at an A2 BER level, it is far more energy efficient than an A2/A3 equivalent house, says Green Build’s Mr Murphy.

The completed house now has 1,850 sq ft, but thanks to its design and build level has space and water heating costs of about €450 a year, reckons architect Eva Murphyova. Getting to this means initial upfront extra spending, but this is recouped after five to seven years, and over a 20-year span is a huge saving, stress Aidan Scally and Kevin Murphy of Green Build Centre who did this as main contractors, to a turn-key standard.

Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

There’s 4 sqm flat-plate solar panels for hot water, as well as a 9.5kw air-to water heat pump, supplying heat underfloor, and there’s considerable solar gain (even in winter) from the expanse of south-facing glazing. Insulation is a mix of Eco-smart panes and quilting, with specific products for the mono-pitch roof sections which has to be treated differently to a conventional pitched roof with its depths of attic floor insulation.

In addition, there’s a solid fuel stove in pride of place in the house’s main living area for discretionary, impact-full heat with a flue following the internal roof/ceiling line to get clear of the roof apex externally with the least amount of protruding external flue. Kevin Murphy notes that when building to high air tightness levels special air-tight stoves are needed, which can have their own air feed.

Cover story: Comfort meets efficiency in Clonakilty home

The three-bed house is very airy and bright, yet cosy thanks to its aspect, solar gain and air-tightness, with fresh air heated by outgoing stale air in the ventilation system, an 88% efficient Sentinel Kinetic Plus HRV unit from Vent Axia.

Windows are triple glazed, with some very large panes — almost shop-front sized — from Vrogum-Svarre, and the work took about six months in all, with Mark Higgins of Green Build Centre on site most of the time overseeing the niggling details like getting the air tightness levels to a uniformly high standard. It’s labour intensive, needing meticulous attention to detail and typically clients will keep a portion of the retention money, usually kept in a build contract until the air tightness tests show it performing as well as envisaged — so everyone’s incentivised; a builder may well hold his breath (airtightness indeed!) pending results.

Green Build has half a dozen houses done to passive or near passive standards by now, and describe it as “a system, creating a machine to live in”, to put an update on a Le Corbusier description.

“Before, there was a focus on simple building, now it’s on efficiency and energy use,” asserts Mr Murphy, quite pointedly in a month when Europe’s gas supplies via Russia get caught up in political turmoil.

As this house visit was a private one arranged via a happy client, Mr Murphy doesn’t give an idea of what the budget for this 1,850 sq ft total renewal and extension was. For new builds, depending on spec, prices can come in below or over €100 per square foot, and getting renewables and good air tightness up the scale can add 10% to 15% to standard build costs, but there’s a pay back in less than 10 years, and comfort from the get-go. Finishes such as those in this house with its cedar, copper and zinc add further, but other materials can be substituted when working to a budget, he advises, adding that Green Build Centre will have an open day in Midleton on April 12.

For all of its sophistication, it feels like an easy house to live in, with architect Eva Murphyova’s plan very effective, maximising site, views, aspect (the entry hall, two bedrooms, a bathroom and the master bed’s dressingroom are kept to the cooler, northern section), getting huge comfort factors, with a simple internal palette of oak flooring, walnut and painted MDF joinery, white walls, and comfy furniture.

VERDICT: A much-used holiday home that is earning its keep.


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