First steps on the new build

In the four weeks since I last posted anything here, we have been steadily getting settled here in Devon, and have finally started with some concrete actions to get our new build in Holsworthy started.

To this point, we have not been committed to a particular builder, or to a specific build method.  The design we submitted for planning permission last year rather assumed a ‘conventional’ (for England) construction in brick and blockwork, but that was not implicit in the design.  In the interim, I had done some research that suggested that one of the timber-based construction techniques could be beneficial for us, in terms of build speed (important when the weather can be so unpredictable), and thermal insulation (important for obvious reasons).

We’d already spoken to a couple of timber-frame specialists, Scandia Hus and Potton, both of whom supply a timber frame package including the supply and erection of the structural frame of the house, windows and doors.  My subsequent research led us to look at a relatively new technology, SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels), which has been described as timber frame without the timber frame.  The house would be built from structural panels made from two plywood (well, actually oriented-strand board, OSB) sheets bonded to either side of 100mm or so of rigid plastic foam insulation.  We talked to a couple of SIPS suppliers, in most detail to a small, Redruth-based company called Building With Frames.

We also had a meeting with the architect who had done the original design, and had acted as our agent for planning permission, Alf Trewin.  Alf proposed a conventional, architect-managed build, using a prime contractor.  It was clear that, using this process would achieve an excellent result, but we were concerned that:

  1. there was lots of potential for the cost (already high) to drift up and up;
  2. we would have less control over the whole project than we wanted.

So we followed up Building with Frames and Potton some more.  Interesting meetings with people who clearly know what they are about, and who clearly wanted to be involved.  The key considerations for us were

  1. confidence that whoever we went with could and would do a good job for us
  2. financial security – we are, after all, committing a lot of money to this project!
  3. performance of the finished house, particularly in terms of thermal insulation and airtightness
  4. people we were comfortable to work with.

I had started with the assumption that SIPs offered better thermal insulation (lower U-value) and better airtightness than (Potton’s) timber frame, but I found out that this was not (necessarily) the case.  We gave both Potton and BWF a fair grilling; whilst both responded well to our heap of questions, we came away with the feeling that Potton would be the lower risk option, and would certainly do a good job.  So that was our decision.

We are going to employ a professional project manager, to manage the project (!) day to day, while leaving us in overall control.  This will give us the benefit of his experience and contacts in the building trade, and should save us money overall.

Sean Adams, the local Potton representative, has now taken our design brief, and should be back next week with draft drawings.

Then the fun really starts!

2 thoughts on “First steps on the new build”

  1. Interesting process. We have a neighbor who built a concrete house to minimize risk of fire and maintenance. Ours is stucco but wood-framed. Most houses in Cal are wood-framed. They are more flexible in case of earthquake. I take it that you are not talking about a manufactured house. However, does the technology you chose still use some form of panels, albeit within wood frames? Does the insulation go between the wooden studs, like it does here?

    I hope the weather has improved there. We are looking forward to our visit in a little over 3 months!

  2. Hi Geff, Angela Wagstaff passed on your ‘blog’ as we were in touch with her recently upon the passing of Harry. Lynne and I bought our site in 2002 and started ground works in March 2009. I wondered how your project is managed – its a challenge for a novice!! Looking forward to more info. Sincerely, Bryan and Lynne Gates

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