When Proprietor of Greentec Ecological Homes Ltd Niall Dolan was preparing to build his familial home, one sure thing was that the house would be built to the best standard with a very unique spin put on the design.
The house is in Craughwell, County Galway and it is home to Niall, his wife Mary and their two young children Ava and Callan. Work began on the property in 2015 and it was completed in August 2016 with the family moving in September of the same year.
Usually timber frames are erected within the space of seven or eight months but due to Mr Dolan’s busy schedule things were held up slightly. One of the foundational points of the build was to create an exemplar project in sustainable building for one-off rural houses. The Dolan family have ended up with a home that is a passive, nearly zero energy building that makes abundant use of sustainable, healthy materials.
“I’ve being working in the passive house industry for the last number of years and I wanted to build my own passive house because I’ve seen the comfort that a lot of the couples I would have built these houses for have. I sold my old house and I built this one,” said Niall Dolan.
Mr Dolan worked closely on the project with his architect, Miles Sampson with the layout of the house taking its inspiration from the traditional farmhouse cluster where home and outbuildings enclose a central courtyard whilst also respecting the site’s traditional boundaries of dry limestone walls and mature trees.
“We’re living in the house almost a year and it’s a really comfortable house and our children love it because of the big garden. The kids spend a lot of time outside and you can see them from all parts of the house. Inside the house there is constantly a nice temperature throughout,” enthused Mr Dolan. As Niall was working on projects for his clients, working on his own house took a slight back seat. “I had to deal with a lot of hand over dates for houses and I had to stick to them. You can’t just take a month off. I was working on my own house and I was tipping away at bits and pieces in the evenings and whenever else I got the chance” he explained.
Due to spreading the work across a lengthy period of time, a few problems ensued. For instance, the wood fibre external insulation, a product which neatly represents the material choice across the project. Mr and Mrs Dolan were keen to ensure that the majority of the materials they used were natural but by specifying wood fibre external insulation the project took on a certain level of risk. Needing almost five weeks of dry weather to fit the insulation first followed by rendering it, but trying to take time out of Niall’s busy schedule was tricky. Thankfully five weeks became available in September 2015. The wood fibre within the external insulation extends over the window frames which reduces the surface area being exposed to the elements.
“Last year, I was lucky that I got a great run at working on my own house from February, it came at the right time as it was coming towards the end of the project. At the beginning of it (the build) it was tricky because I was trying to look after other people’s houses and then come back to my own in the evenings. There was a lot of work to be done behind the scenes in terms of pricing, detailing and everything else. No problems arose when it came to applying the cellulose insulation which was specifically for the walls. More than 11,000 recycled newspapers were used to create the insulation.
“We tried to use a lot of healthy building materials throughout the house because I like the whole ethos of natural insulation and stuff. I find that the cellulose is really good for using because it is pumped in under pressure and it fully fills the voids compared to putting in rolls (of insulation), people putting in the insulation really have to manage it and to ensure that it goes in properly and without any gaps. Cellulose is a healthy, breathable material. The external insulation is wood fibre and that is a natural insulation also,” explained Niall.
In terms of the windows, Niall selected windows that were free of petrochemical-based insulation in the frames. He decided upon a passive certified unit from M-Sora. The frames are made completely of wood and feature a patented technology which gives a passive standard U-value using air alone as an insulator in the frame.
Architect Miles Sampson positioned the property to maximise the solar gains, whilst still retaining the mature trees. The back of the house faces south and it features a stepped down profile to ensure that the kitchen, dining room, sitting room and playroom all get equal amounts of sun. This side of the house features lots of windows with the north-facing front of the property featuring a far more traditional design with small, dispersed windows looking onto the road.
“I wouldn’t be used to picking finishes, usually the architect would have that done for most people. We had to be involved when it came to picking fit-outs and that kind of stuff, I was never on that side of the fence before, usually I’m given the list of what has been picked. We were trying to pick things that would stand the test of time,” said Mr Dolan.
The flat sections of the roof will be planted with sedum, a widely distributed fleshy-leaved plant with small star-shaped yellow, pink or white flowers which are grown as ornamental plants. The pitched roof has also been fitted with a 4kW integrated PV array. The sedum area was sized by Mr Sampson to counterbalance the amount of carbon used in the making of concrete for the foundations and as a result of that it delivered a zero-carbon build. In addition, the roof is wired to take a further 6kW of PV if required.
Mr Dolan is also planning on sourcing a battery which will allow him to store power and thereby reduce his reliance on the grid at times when the PV is not producing. Niall also plans to have enough energy left to charge an electric car. The property is primarily heated by a Nibe air source heat pump which supplies underfloor heating on both levels. The sitting room also features a gas fire where Niall didn’t state underfloor heating to avoid any risk of overheating in a room with facades.
“I’m very happy with the house and how it turned out. When we moved in, we settled in the house straight away. The design is a very good one to live in. It took a while to complete it but I’m glad that I was also still able to work and bring in an income whilst building. It was stressful building the house, working on seven other houses and taking care of a family, I wouldn’t envy anyone doing it,’ he explained. “Miles Sampson was a fantastic architect as were all of the guys who worked on the house with me, they were excellent. They were very good at their trades and patient with all of the details. “I wouldn’t change anything about the house!