Kieran McCarthy: Building a home on an elevated site

A split level home is suitable for an elevated site with harbour views
Kieran McCarthy: Building a home on an elevated site

Areas like Monksotwn overlooking Cork Harbour offer great views but the steep inclines mean building work is not as straightforward.  File Picture: Denis Scannell

Hello Kieran

I want to build a new home on a greenfield site overlooking Cork Harbour. It has great views which is why I am considering buying it. However, the site is quite steep so I am not sure how this will impact the build. There are other homes nearby that are built on split levels.

Can I ask you for your view on such building work? What do I need to consider when designing a home here?

Is the build cost significantly higher?

Thank you, Andrew, Monkstown, Co Cork

Hello Andrew

A man after my own heart. I can just see it now, a wonderful contemporary home cascading down the relief of your new site, basking in breathtaking harbour views, why wouldn’t it set your soul alight?

For someone who enjoys the sea, this is the ultimate house and lifestyle. So, is there a catch?

Before we get to the building element of this project I’d like to first ensure there is no issue as regards planning permission.

You mentioned that there are several houses in the neighbourhood already built on nearby sites so there is a local precedent for development of the type you are suggesting which is certainly positive.

Kieran McCarthy: 'There are myriad elements to consider in terms of design, planning and cost'
Kieran McCarthy: 'There are myriad elements to consider in terms of design, planning and cost'

My concern is that planners can be very sensitive about allowing a new development on prominent harbour site as they can likely be seen both from the road and perhaps the coast so ensure that there is a strong possibility of planning permission here by speaking to the auctioneer, to get a sense of the planning history, and speaking to an architect to gain some independent advice.

It may be that you need to buy subject to planning and lodge a pre-planning enquiry with a set of drawings demonstrating what you are proposing to build. Check also that you qualify in terms of any local restrictions, if indeed they exist.

When it comes to building on sloped sites there are myriad elements to consider in terms of design, planning and cost.

You will first need to survey the site to get a sense of the actual slope of the ground.

Your house will to some extent respond to the slope whilst taking advantage of the views and indeed shelter from the prevailing wind.

The most cost effective approach is to build parallel to the contour lines but this may or may not work, depending on the site in question.

When you dig you may encounter rock which will need to be broken out locally for your new foundations.

Another element I would consider is access to the site. If it is sloping downwards it may be that access is difficult and indeed a haul road (temporary builder access road) is required to facilitate access for the builders’ trucks and deliveries. This cost will be borne by you as part of the build budget. Ideally this access road would eventually become your new driveway but this isn’t always the case so get advice from a reputable and experienced builder in this regard.

Building a house that follows the slope down a site may mean the access road has to initially follow the slope of the site downwards as the buildings start at the lower section and work their way back to phases but again this will depend on the design and indeed the site.

You mentioned that you are considering a split level house. By this I am assuming you are proposing to have your living space on the first floor. This allows you to take advantage of the panoramic coastal views on offer but it will drive up the building costs.

When building a split level home you will need a veranda on the first floor as you lose connection to say a patio on the ground floor. A veranda such as this will require structural steel, decking, glass balustrading and high end, marine quality, glazing in most directions leading to the outdoor deck and this glazing, capturing the views, will require more structural steel above to support the roof.

When you consider the cost of the foundations and engineering, the building complexity and the likely pursuit of high-end design I feel this will likely drive the whole project into an elevated design and cost bracket.

Of course, a large amount of this is under your control but I am assuming that a greenfield site in the Monkstown locality is not cheap so I am assuming that if you are paying a premium for the site you are bracing yourself for a costly build so you can exploit the views and lifestyle on offer on this site.

A project like this will certainly need a design team in place at the very start and I would recommend you have an engineer and quantity surveyor appointed alongside your architect so you can be briefed on the the engineering and building costs from the outset on a project like this so the heart doesn’t lead the head too far astray.

An awe-inspiring design journey is all very good but at some stage you will need to start writing cheques to get the building phase up and running and you don’t want to leave a pile of aborted designs in your wake before reality bites.

Building Engineer Kieran McCarthy is design and build director with KMC Homes, serving Cork and Limerick. He is also co-presenter of the RTÉ show Cheap Irish Homes.

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