New Build

New House Dun Laoghaire

Dun Laoghaire|Dublin|2009-2010

Digging down to build a basement would not be everyone’s first move after I buying a site to build a home. But then, not everyone would try to squeeze a three-bedroom house onto a footprint of just 10 x 11 metres. This is the situation I found himself in when I bought a tiny pocket of land behind a Victorian period house in Dun Laoghaire.  I had had my eye on this site in Mellifont Avenue for some time since it first went to market early in 2007. It was beyond my budget at the time, but by September of 2008 the price had dropped considerably and I went for it.

I loved the location it’s was close to amenities  such as the pier, and the People’s Park and I’ve always been fascinated by the design of small plots. There’s a certain design process involved, and you have to be very careful how you use spaces. I thought it had huge potential, although many would have disagreed with me.

The site, which had its own access from a rear lane way, was home to a dilapidated brick and stone garage. I demolished the garage, but retained the brickwork and used it on the feature wall in the basement.

The site came with planning permission for a two-storey house, but I was unimpressed by the design, so I started from scratch. At first, I investigated the idea of adding a third floor, but unsure there would be difficulties with planning permission, and probably objections from neighbors. So I researched basements.

I knew there would be a risk of hitting rock because of the area the site was in, but we dug a trial hole, and it turned up nothing. I forged ahead, but my suspicions were soon confirmed when the builders hit an outcrop of granite. I employed a specialist contractor to negotiate it using process called “stitch drilling”. “It was nail biting, as I had to get down to a level where I could fit a room into it. The crew had to work in a tight space and were limited to just two hours’ building work a day because of traffic. Some of the granite that was uncovered was put to use in the rear garden. In the process of solving the challenges I faced with this home, discovered a building material that impressed me so much that I have since used it in other projects. It is a system of insulated lightweight blocks, known in the building trade as an “in-situ concrete form work”. It was perfect for this build, as it did not require concrete blocks to be stored on site. Instead, the foam blocks were filled on site using a concrete pump. It’s very energy efficient and is used in basements. Although I initially intended to use the system only for the basement, it worked so well that I built the whole house with it.

Throughout the design and build, I kept his goal of a low-energy home firmly in mind. The insulated reinforced-concrete blocks he used in the walls are highly energy efficient and all the windows are triple-glazed. The house has an air-to-water heating pump that provides underfloor heating and constant hot water, as well as a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system that brings fresh air in without losing heat. All of this is reflected in the building’s annual heating and lighting bill, which comes to €1,200. Thanks to the basement, the living space now covers 140 sq m.

I made the basement the sitting/living room, while the ground floor houses the entrance hall, kitchen, dining room and lavatory. Upstairs are three good-sized bedrooms, one of which has an en suite bathroom, and a family bathroom.Floor-to-ceiling bi-fold doors ensure that the ground floor is full of natural light and, on warm days, it can be opened fully to the rear garden. Much of the outside of the house is covered with grey and brown granite cladding. You cannot see the grouting, as the stone is cemented at the rear. The remaining walls are finished in coloured acrylic render as a contrast.

From day one I knew that the key to making the basement work was to get plenty of light into it. So I thought of using a structural glass panel in the back garden. This floods the living room with natural day light throughout the day. The distinctive glass panel was brought in from Northern Ireland. It ticked the box for light provision, but it’s also an unusual and eye-catching feature and, along with the bi-fold door on the ground floor, is one of my favorite elements of the design.

The basement living room is quite snug, especially with the claimed brick wall. It’s particularly nice when it rains, as you can look up and see the drops hitting the glass panel above you. I am pleased with how the basement worked in this house, but he doesn’t see Irish people embracing the idea in the near future.

This project represented several firsts for the me it was the first time he worked on such a small site, the first basement I had built and the first time I used a glass panel to pull light down from a garden.

Publications for this House

-Sunday Times

-Self Build & Improve Your Home Magazine-Spring 2016 issue

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Basement sittingroom Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Basement sittingroom Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan

Mark Davies House, Dun Laoghaire 23/5/2106 Pic : Lorraine O'Sullivan