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Future proofing for old age

23 April 2018 - Rosemary French OBE

We have built a new home in our back garden! Well, project managed, since it was not a self-build. My husband did the technical stuff and I managed the project and every penny of our budget. Well I am Scottish! I have acquired skills which I am unlikely to ever use again. One local wag even asked me to come and manage their own new house build which I rapidly turned down!

There were so many ups and downs that I wrote a year-long Facebook blog which amused our family and friends. I was delighted that there were four apprentices in the various trades onsite and, even better, that they all came from my own FE college where I am a governor.  We chose our builders well, although that was more luck than judgement.  When you have five bidders all offering what appears to be the same project, but varying by £100,000, it is difficult to decide who is being greedy and who is under-pricing.  In the end, we made the decision based on whom we liked and felt we could get on with.  That worked out well because, inevitably, the relationship is so close that the builder and his employees became part of our family.  We got used to one or other knocking on our door at the crack of dawn to ask us to make yet another urgent decision. Naively, I had thought most of the decisions were made during the long planning and design process; but not so.  The level of detail is overwhelming, especially when you are a novice.

We learned lessons which cost us money or grief. We had to replace four massive sliding doors which were not fit for purpose.  We sold them on a friend’s eBay site at a third of their replacement cost to two chaps from Liverpool and another from Dublin.  Then we were told that a fire engine could not turn in our driveway without doing a three-point turn!  I reminded building control that fire engines could not do that in olde worlde villages but that did not go down well so we had to install a sprinkler system.  We were peeved to discover our neighbour had an even smaller driveway on his new build and he was not asked to turn a fire engine, simply because he used a different local authority building control officer!

We realised that the most important part of the project was spending the money and time on the actual build and not on the fripperies – the kitchen, the sanitary ware, flooring, wardrobes and so on.  We did not spend big sums on these because they could be replaced later if they did not work out, but you cannot replace a steel beam.  Although it is not a Passive House, it is incredibly air tight and warm despite the huge windows.   The walls are so thick that it will cause a problem for our fat cat whose cat flap in the wall is so long that he will probably get stuck like a stranded whale between entrance and exit!

We will not make money on this project, but we will have a home fit for purpose for old age and illness with a ground floor bedroom and accessible bathroom. Despite 1700 homes being built close to us, only a few of them are bungalows, despite the huge ageing population.  We have been lucky, but what about the thousands of other ageing and old folk in our village?

First published in South East Business Magazine April, 2018


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