Ian’s story: Embracing low-impact living

With far-reaching views over mid-Devon’s rolling hills, Ian’s new low-impact home has been designed to make the most of its expansive rural surroundings. The site comprises two adjoining buildings – a steel-framed Dutch barn and a pre-cast concrete cowshed – which are being given a new lease of life as an energy-efficient family home.

An architect by trade, Ian was searching for a new property that would suit his family when he found the site. He was immediately inspired by what he saw as a “cracking location”, as well as the conversion potential of the two robust buildings. The high cost of local housing was a key factor in Ian’s decision to carry out his own project. Comparing the price of purchasing a house with embarking upon a self-build or conversion, he was struck by the difference and what this could mean for his family’s quality of life: “If you look at the ‘ready built’ house you could get in Devon with our budget, it doesn’t compare. It’s fantastic to be able to do what we’re doing.”

The scale of the works and the non-standard construction of the buildings meant Ian needed a lender that wouldn’t shy away from a project that sat outside the conventional mortgage tick-list. Describing the process of finding a lender, Ian says, “It quickly became apparent that the non-standard construction of the buildings put off a lot of lenders. We didn’t feel that this property is high-risk because it’s a very robust construction, but we needed to find a more specialist lender and a mortgage broker suggested that I speak to Ecology. They were very flexible and took a holistic view of the project and any associated risks.”

Having sold his previous home and moved into temporary rented accommodation, Ian has been careful to keep costs under control. He’s worked closely with his builders to identify where overspend is likely to occur and where this can be balanced by savings on other aspects of the build. As a result, his predicted overspend is modest – something that he attributes in large part to the flexibility and competence of his builders: “An understanding builder can make a huge difference. Every time a client changes their mind, there’s usually a cost implication, so to find a builder that you trust early in the process is a huge benefit.”

While budget control might be a more immediate priority, Ian is mindful of the longer term, giving particular consideration to energy efficiency and environmental performance. He’s taken a ‘fabric first’ approach throughout the build, ensuring that the large south-facing windows are highly efficient, while permitting natural light – and heat – into the building, as well as giving views over the surrounding countryside. Thorough insulation of the walls and roof has also been a priority, with Ian emphasising this as a relatively straightforward yet highly effective means of conserving energy. The heating supply will come via an air-source heat pump, so helping the family to reduce reliance on mainstream utilities providers.

Ian explains, “Developing a house for ourselves to live in, which hopefully will be our last home, means the environmental aspects are important; running costs, energy efficiency – it all makes life moving forward more predictable. The less we can depend on mainstream utilities providers, the better we can try to protect ourselves against increases in energy costs.”

With completion scheduled for late summer 2018, the site has come a long way since Ian purchased it in September of the previous year. Ian is looking forward to his family being able to make the most of their new space, both indoors and outside, with the adjoining meadow promising a lifetime’s delight for the most recent addition to the family – pet dog, Argo.

Reflecting on the journey so far, Ian offers some advice for other aspiring self-builders and converters: “Don’t be too scared. The construction process isn’t particularly complex – if you want to do a self-build, you’ll learn along the way – YouTube is a very useful encyclopaedia of knowledge! If, like us, time constraints come into it, then choose the right builder – an understanding, flexible, competent builder makes all the difference. In the end, it comes down to a balance of time, money and the practicalities of delivery.”

Find out more about Ecology’s conversion mortgages.