Chapter 5a – Rural Design Guidebook – Size isn’t everything…

Size isn’t everything…

Now we’ve looked at the basic form, I’ll be discussing later more imaginative forms but I think it’s time to draw our attention to size and the increasing preoccupation with ‘doing it large’. I’ll say first of all that I can hold my hand up and say guilty; our own house isn’t by any means a castle or a mansion but if I was to do it all again, even I would probably reduce it’s size a bit. Not by much as we have a largish family (four boisterous boys) and we need that space to stop everyone killing each other. With finances being as hard as they are at the moment I think it’s important to have realistic expectations on how far your money (and more importantly the banks money) will go.

My reasons behind this concept of smaller may be better is quite straightforward and my explanation focusses on how much insulation your new house is going to need and how much extra that is going to cost.

If we look back only as far as say 2004, the thickness of insulation required in a blockwork cavity wall was around the 60mm thick of extruded polystyrene. In a lot of houses (due to effectively self certification of self-builders) this will have dropped to 40-50mm. In some instances I have heard of developer built houses during the Celtic Tiger years having no insulation at all ! Therefore, a u-value of this type of wall would have been in the region of 0.31-0.35 W/m2K.

If we look at a cavity wall that would meet the Passive House standard (with PassivHaus certification), the thickness required would need to be in the region of 150mm thickness in a considerably better insulation material such as PIR (this would give a U value of 0.14 W/m2K, which passes the Passive House standard of 0.15 W/m2K. This is a approximately a three-fold increase on the insulation thickness AND the material has got better and also costs more.

So, if the bank is only going to offer you €x thousand (the amounts offered in my experience by banks recently is considerably less than the last ten years), the cost of materials has risen dramatically and don’t believe the stories of getting a ‘great deal’ at the moment – the contractors that are still around are charging similar amounts of money to what they always were; admitedly if you were to do go the direct labour rate you would get a better deal but that was always the case. Incidentally, the difference now is that you’re probably going to get a better job done as most of the cowboys ave moved on.

Therefore, something has got to give; either you choose more sensible ktchens (especially from what was installed during the Tiger years), your bathrooms could get a bit cheaper, the finishes could be more realistically priced. Or, why not just build a smaller house ? Even at the most competetive rates, I say to my clients to think of every square foot in their proposed house as that ubiquitous figure of €100. The intention is to focus the clients mind on every increase in room size as having a direct effect upon the cost.

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