Estate agents are right when they say location is everything. Even in the 21st century we still don’t stray far from our childhood homes when the time comes to put down roots. There is a problem though, how do you find a house you can afford? The answer for Hannah and David was to call in the family! In time the modern day Irish bungalow extension was underway…
“We returned from Australia four years ago and spent the next three looking for a house we could afford. My parents had a site but it was too far from the city, meaning isolation for me and a long commute for my husband. With this house, we’re a five minute walk from the train and the bus stop is at the bottom of the road, it couldn’t be more convenient yet still very quiet and rural.”
Many people will be familiar with the type of bungalow built in the 1970’s with lots of small rooms, rather dark and poorly insulated, that caught Hannah’s eye. The situation though, was perfect, and with a good deal of imagination, hard work and despite a tight budget, she has turned this ugly duckling into a swan.
When the Dunne’s first saw the bungalow it was priced beyond what they could afford, but, as time went on and property values plummeted, it at last was available for €310,000 on top of which the couple took out a €70,000 mortgage to make the improvements.
“The bank wanted to give us far more than this but we didn’t want to carry such a heavy financial burden and I’m very glad now that we didn’t! In fact, we only used €60,000 and were able to give the rest back, something we are both very thankful for as life for everyone financially is so much more difficult now.”
What the Dunne’s saw the potential of and fell in love with was a bungalow that was basically sound, but with a kitchen badly needing updated as were the insulation, heating and hot water systems. For such an important room in the house, the kitchen was very dark and separated by a partition wall from the sunroom which, in contrast, was flooded with light. There were what Hannah described as a ‘rash’ of reception rooms, all of them too small and generally the whole flow of the house was awkward. Downstairs comprised two sitting rooms, the sun room, a long kitchen, dining room, family room which was damp as well as cold, a wc and utility off the kitchen and a lean to running the length of the north facing back of the house. Upstairs, which is reached from the entrance hallway, there were two large bedrooms and two smaller ones, both with lots of built in cupboards and, a typical ‘70’s touch, cupboards over the beds. It all felt busy and cramped, but rather than rip everything out and start again, not that Hannah had the budget for that, she instead took a ‘make do and mend’ approach using her imagination and creativity to re-purpose the furnishings and decor. The serious money was spent wisely in investing in insulating the walls, roof and floor as well as a new heating and hot water system.
Unfortunately, the best laid plans don’t always lead to a smooth start, and so it proved for Hannah.
“My Uncle is in the building trade and knew a plumber over here who had worked for him. Naturally I thought this was a good recommendation and so had no hesitation in giving him the job of upgrading the bungalow. What I didn’t know was that he was inexperienced in general building work and that soon became apparent. He began by ripping up all the floorboards, which were perfectly sound, and generally pulling the place apart. At this point I started to get concerned, feeling completely out of control, and asked him for an estimate of what the work would cost. I wasn’t too surprised when the figure he eventually produced was way beyond our budget. I paid him off and was left in a state of shock. I had no experience of building and was horrified at what can happen so easily and quickly, I felt out of control. Very thankfully my family came to my rescue; my Dad is a builder and my brother, Jimmi especially took charge of the renovations. Jimmi was originally an electrician but now is a heating control engineer specialising in energy management, and it is thanks to them both that it’s all turned out so well.”
Although a heating engineer, Jimmi knew that the first place to start was to create an insulated envelope of the building, ensuring that maximum benefit would be obtained from the central heating. To this end, the internal surface of all external walls were insulated with high density polystyrene, the suspended timber floor used the same insulation between the joists and in the roofspace, where there was access as a result of removing walls, more high density insulation was added. The cottage already had the wall cavity filled with polystyrene bead insulation and there was 300mm of fibreglass in the upper attic, but nothing in the ground floor.
An excellent example of re-purposing was taking some of the pipe uselessly removed when the floor came out and making it into the air supply for the stove. Regrettably the floorboards could not be salvaged but Hannah did manage to re-use some to make new window cills. The boards were replaced by oriented strand board with rubber underlay above and a top covering of wood effect laminate. Hannah had set her heart on a solid wood floor and was very disappointed when she realised she couldn’t do it within the budget, however, now she says she’s glad!
“We have three young children and it’s coped so much better with things like chairs scraping across it, toys being thrown and things being dropped.”
The heating and hot water systems are perfect for Hannah. As anyone with a family will know, you can never have too much hot water! The ability to heat everywhere cheaply and effectively is another big plus because it means the family can spread and use the whole house instead of being on top of each other, all wanting to be where the warmth is.
The brainchild of Jimmi and based on a triple coil, 300litre pressurised hot water cylinder in the hot press, the system comprises a manifold linked to the heat sources which directs heat to where it is needed. The two heat sources are a stove with a back boiler which has a special gravity coil in the cylinder, and a condensing oil boiler for when the stove isn’t lit. The third coil is there should Hannah and David install solar tubes in the future. Linked to this system is a three zone energy management unit controlled by the occupants. Zone one is the downstairs radiators, zone two the conservatory and zone three the upstairs radiators, all linked to thermostats. In the summer when the stove isn’t lit, there is an electric immersion heater available, in addition to the oil boiler.
If the hot water is fully up to temperature and the stove is on, the householder decides where the excess hot water is to be dumped. The ideal area to do this is in the sunroom which has two 6kW capacity fan assisted plinth radiators. Jimmi explained the reasoning behind this choice.
“In a sun room you can’t heat the walls because they’re mostly glass, yet people put standard radiators in and all that happens is the heat rises to the ceiling and the occupants are still cold! A fan radiator in contrast heats the air, forcing it around by convection so it doesn’t stratify. They’re particularly ideal for kitchens with cold floors. Hannah has used her flair for design and made a virtue out of a necessity by creating a box around them which now stores all the toys.”
Hannah’s husband is an IT specialist and home renovations are therefore not something he gets involved in, especially when there is so much professional help at hand from Hannah’s family.
“My dad was a building contractor in London although he’s now back in Ireland and farming, but his input was also essential as he acted as project manager. He checked everything and everyone, did the tiling and he and my mum shared their house with us whilst the bungalow was uninhabitable.
The new layout of the house means that downstairs we have a lovely light and sunny kitchen with the partition wall between it and the sun room removed. I chose a black flecked granite worktop on a base of white units bought from a large multi-national store, which also supplied all the appliances. By making double doors from the living area into the conservatory, removing the partition between the kitchen and the dining/living area and creating a double window between the dining area and the conservatory, the light quality in all of these rooms was transformed. The small south facing front room is now linked to the kitchen, bringing it yet more light. All we spent was €5,000, €3,000 of which was appliances such as my range cooker which has two ovens and a gas hob. Because the people in the store were so helpful, we went there again for the sanitary ware and upstairs showers, although we were able to re-use some of the existing ones.
The layout upstairs also needed re-organising, although not as radically as the ground floor. Originally there was a main bathroom with a separate wc next to it and it was all very cramped. By combining these two and the airing cupboard, we now have a really good family bathroom with a bath shower and a hot press in the corner to keep towels warm and dry. The three children’s rooms surround it and our room is separated from all the noise and mess on the other side of the landing.
We transformed the master bedroom as well – very simply! We took down the overhead cupboards, removed the dated gold beaded doors from the built in wardrobes and replaced these with mirrored sliding doors. The en suite had mostly white sanitary ware which we kept, and all it required therefore was a lick of paint.”
It’s not every house that can boast exclusive, hand-made wallpaper in the master bedroom, but Hannah and David can! The design is a glorious array of birds on a branch, the handiwork of Hannah’s artistic sister who runs bed and breakfast accommodation in London. Although making wallpaper by hand is her first love, her situation is similar to many other craftspeople who although brilliant at what they do, have found that it is sadly not possible to live on this skill alone. The stunning design is her handiwork, yet another talented member of the Dunne family!
Commenting on her ‘new’ home, Hannah observed: “I must have gone through gallons of white paint, the house was so dark, but painting is a very cost effective way of transforming a room. Getting more light into the house and making better use of the floor area has changed it from a poky, dark bungalow into a really light and spacious house, ideal for modern living.”
House size: 1,920sqft
Project cost: €60,000
Walls: sand cement roughcast/4” block/4” cavity filled with polystyrene bead/4”block/paper faced high density insulation board/plaster skim.
Roof: 300mm in upper attic
150mm in flat roof and dormers
50mm high density board in accessible areas
Floor: Suspended timber with air bricks. 50mm high density foil backed insulation between joists/16mm osb/underlay/floating laminate