Self Build Homes, was created by UK's leading niche Publishers, CPL Media. The magazine was the perfect vehicle for anyone interested in self building, whether they are casually thinking the possibility of starting their own self-build project, were in the middle of a build at present, or were a veteran of numerous self-build homes.
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Crowns House
John Roberts Business Park
Whitstable, Kent CT5 3BJ


"I was absolutely blown away by the recent article featuring a self-built home that seemed like a high-tech version of the Batcave! The whole concept has completely captivated me. I'm obsessed with the idea, especially the curved interiors – they were just stunning. And that car in the garage? It could very well have been the Batmobile itself! I just wanted to reach out and let you know how much reading Self Build Homes Magazine has inspired me. It's given me a goal that I truly believe is within my reach.

The insights into eco-home design and the stories of people building their dream homes have fueled my determination. While I'm a big Batman fan, I recognize that this project requires a slightly different attitude. I've already found the perfect location with an amazing view, and now I'm ready to embark on this journey. So, wearing my Bane t-shirt (one of these), I'm digging in for the long haul, all thanks to the inspiration and knowledge I've gained from your magazine. You've turned a dream into a tangible plan for me!" Donnie Martell




Eco-home Design: Independent Living


There is something quite enchanting about searching through the trees and stumbling across a space quite unpredictable and yet remarkable. Designed to recreate an air of suspense as you enter the unfolding landscape, a contemporary dwelling exists to compliment its surrounding landscape.

This theme of searching for a hidden beauty was taken from the original wooden cottage that was submerged by magnificent ancient beech trees laying scattered amongst heather. Once a clearing was made it revealed a distant view of the landscape to the south of the house that rolled from woodland into an open heath, dropping dramatically into a valley before rising into a distant pine forest. Idyllic. It would be a crime to not take advantage of this rare find and embrace everything the environment had to offer.

Designed by renowned architect firm  PAD studio, the modern space is located in the heart of the scenic New Forest National Park within a designated Conversation Area and Site of Special Scientific Interest. The entire design of the house relies on the nature friendly and sustainable technologies and materials, ensuring the surroundings are maintained well.

The brief from the client was to create a very contemporary sustainable home that would sit comfortably within the landscape. Comprised of 18 acres of stunning ancient woodland with far reaching views towards the Isle of Wight, the aim was to minimise the impact on the site and its sensitive surroundings.

Design & Context

The main house and guest annex are orientated to maximise solar gain and utilise renewable technologies for heating and hot water requirements. The materials used throughout are sustainable, durable and locally sourced where possible – in harmony with the site and its surroundings.

The architectural objective has been to create a simple building whose form, scale materials and detail reinforce the character, distinctiveness and history of the site locally and within the wider context of the New Forest.

As a result of the building’s sensitive location the planning restrictions placed upon the building were considerable. The newly formed National Park Authority

approached the proposals hesitantly due to the contemporary nature of the scheme. However, the sustainability credentials of the proposals helped enormously and Natural England were very supportive. After extensive dialogue the plans were passed via delegated powers. The footprint of the new house was restricted to 120 sq.m. – 30% bigger than the original 2 bedroom cottage. In negotiation with the planners it was agreed that a basement would not add to the bulk of the building and a guest annex was also permitted as the old building had previously had separate guest accommodation.

The massing, form and orientation of the new buildings were carefully conceived in order that the proposals had minimal impact on the site and its surroundings. The form of the main house and guest annex were designed as very simple timber clad boxes that echo each other and are linked in by a concrete spine wall which also vertically links the ground and basement. Both forms are low rise volumes with green roofs planted with sedum native to the UK.

The buildings were orientated to maximise solar gain, open to the south and closed to the north. They utilize ground source heat pump technology, solar thermal panels and log burners for heating and hot water requirements. Provision for the future addition of photovoltaics was included at strategic points. Water is sourced from a refurbished well within the grounds.

The earth that was excavated to form the basement below the main dwelling and natural swimming pond area was re-used in the earth berm to the north of the spine wall, limiting the need to remove material from site. This helps to insulate the building, provide a visual screen to the north and acts as an acoustic baffle from nearby traffic noise.

New Forest Douglas Fir was sourced from within 2 miles of the site and was used to form the shuttering panels for the board marked concrete spine wall. To minimize wastage the formwork was reused throughout. After the spine walls were complete the formwork was cleaned up and used to clad the interior of the workshop.

The main contract for the project was negotiated with one local contractor selected both for his track record and his commitment to create something special on the site. Construction commenced in September 2008 and was completed just less than one year later in September 2009. A standard JCT 2005 contract was used.

Although the budget is generous, the nature of the site and the planning constraints consumed a considerable amount. The house is located 1 mile down an unmade track which substantially increased the preliminary and site set-up costs. The previous building had to be demolished by hand as a bat survey revealed the presence of 1 bat in the chimney area which was re-housed by a specialist. Reptiles within the garden were translocated over a 2 month period and reptile fencing remained in place throughout construction. One month after construction was complete the natural swimming pond was already teaming with lizards and an array of colourful dragonflies.

As far as possible materials are locally sourced and local craftspeople have been employed. The clients are very special and private people who have become and good friends with us and many of the people involved in creating their home. Regardless of the architectural merit we believe this house possesses, our clients love their new home and they have fully engaged with the process of making. We believe that this house has the potential to be truly sustainable because it will be cared for and enjoyed for many decades.

Designed around Lifestyle

The ‘New Forest House’ was commissioned by a couple in their early fifties who hope to spend their retirement years in their new home. It is sited on a steeply sloping forest site. Previously it would have been impossible to enter the old cottage due to the terrain of the path to the front door and the stepped entrance.

Access is now possible to all ground floor areas of the house. A level drop off point provides access to a ramp which wraps around the concrete spine wall and negotiates the substantial level difference across the site. Level thresholds to the large sliding glass doors give access into the main living / dining for wheelchair users. A removable internal ramp enables access to the ground floor bedrooms and bathrooms which are located 2 steps above the main living area.

A separate contained guest annex currently provides accommodation for the couple’s elderly parents who frequently visit. It is planned that in future years this will allow a carer to live on site should necessity dictate. The materials used throughout are natural, nontoxic and breathable. Surfaces are tactile enabling sensory placement for the visually impaired and the organic paint used throughout will not emit harmful toxins. Particular attention has been paid to ensuring that materials and environmental systems are low maintenance enabling the clients to easily manage their home.

This home is intended to cater not just for the changing physical needs of its occupants but to provide nourishment and stimulus to the soul through close contact with nature.


EDP Consulting Engineers were appointed to design the mechanical & electrical engineering services for the project and to assist with the realization of a sustainable approach. The Practice is locally based in Romsey, Hampshire and offers a service in three key areas – energy & sustainability, project engineering and compliance; the former including passive thermal design and the application of renewable & low to zero carbon technologies.

The property is designed to have a low impact on its environment and minimise its energy requirements by the incorporation of passive measures. This has been achieved by firstly considering the form, configuration
and construction of the dwelling. The dwelling is ‘open’ to the south and west to capture the heat from the sun via relatively large areas of glazing.

This energy is stored within the ‘thermal mass’ of the building. The thermal mass has been increased by constructing the lower level of the dwelling as a basement. The north elevation of the building on the upper level is sheltered by an earth berm and building elements are formed by a relatively heavy concrete construction. Each of these measures increase the thermal mass of the dwelling.

The high thermal mass helps to regulate internal temperatures. In the summer energy from the sun can be stored in the structure to reduce peaks in internal temperature. During colder periods the thermal energy in the structure radiates into the internal spaces to reduce heating requirements. A good standard of thermal insulation has also been provided in the walls, roof and floor elements as well as the windows, to reduce heat losses.

Natural ventilation has been provided via ground floor openings and high level opening roof lights. Shutters are provided on the outside of the glazing to permit further reduction of heat gains from the sun. These measures enable occupants to further control the internal temperatures via passive measures. Additional rooflights provide the basement with an element of natural (day) lighting which reduces the energy requirement for artificial lighting and enhances the quality of the internal environment.

Having minimised the energy demands by use of passive measures, the remaining energy requirements are met by utilizing renewable energy sources and low carbon technologies where practical.

As the dwelling sits in the New Forest, local supplies of wood fuel are plentiful and the use of wood fuel heating was considered as the main heat source in order to minimise carbon emissions. However, an important part of the client brief was the initial requirement to cater for intermittent occupation and to have the facility to remotely switch on the heating and hot water services prior to occupation.This requirement led to the adoption of a ground source heat pump (GSHP) system as the primary heat source. The system consists of an array of boreholes and header pipes which transfer energy from the ground

via a brine circuit to a high efficiency electric heat pump. The heat pump raises the temperature of the water which is used to serve an underfloor heating system. In the summer the system can be used to provide ‘free cooling’ by transferring the ‘coolth’ from the ground to the underfloor pipework system in the dwelling.

The direct energy of the sun is also collected in a solar thermal panel located on top of the house. This combines with the GSHP system to generate hot water for domestic consumption.

Energy demands are also met by using the wood fuel resource on the site. Woodfuel fires are located in the house and the annexe. The stove in the annexe has a back-boiler which transfers heat to a thermal store. The energy collected in the thermal store is used to heat domestic hot water for use in the Annexe.

There is an outdoor Japanese bath located next to the annexe. A woodburner is located adjacent to the bath and is capable of heating the water for the bath by thermosyphon. As well as minimising energy demands, the design minimises reliance on the mains water system by utilising local ground water collected via a well. This well water is treated to a potable standard and is supplied to outlets around the site.

The Outcome

The result of this self-built venture is a home, created organically, that respects and does not disturb the surrounding environment and embraces what it has to offer. But above all, to realise a sustainable dwelling that encourages independent living.


Architect: PAD Studio
Design team: Wendy Perring, Darren Bray
Structural Engineer: Andrew Warring
Services Engineer: EDP
Main contractor: HA and DB Kitchin
Concrete consultant: David Bennett
Quantity surveyor: David Poynton

Ground works and fair faced concrete:
Farncombe construction
Mechanical installation: Ashwell
Electrical installation: Designer Electrical
Concrete Repairs: White and Reid
Windows: Velfac
Aluminum doors: Fine line
Roof lights: Glazing Vision
Ipe cladding: Wood trend
Flat roof: Bauder
Joinery: SB Joinery
Ironmongery: Harbrine
Under floor heating: Warma floor
Foul water treatment plant: Bio Bubble
Heating and GSHP: Parker Heating


Pioneering Ecological Living


The spectacular mansion in the series finale of Sherlock Holmes is architecturally a contemporary masterpiece. Striking in its appearance, Swinhay house, owned by Sir David McMurtry, is an organically shaped structure that sweeps through the landscape, quite literally, as a large proportion of the property is submerged by the earth. Comprised of swift flowing glass components, metal cladding and Cotswold stone, the contemporary design, although futuristic, perfectly complements the natural environment surrounding it.

The £30million property is approximately 33,000 sq.ft with 6 acres of manicured gardens dominating the property which extends to the 90 acres of surrounding parkland. Spread over 10 levels that include self-contained apartments, fitness rooms, Jacuzzi, squash courts and bowling alley, the property incorporates all one could ever need for living a healthy and active lifestyle, not to mention the considerable walking needed from one room to another!

Swinhay is the creation of architect David Austin and Sir David himself. The highly creative pair created a masterpiece truly innovative in its concept and methods of harnessing power independently. Calling upon the services of experienced engineers, Swinhay Ltd worked closely with Sir David to achieve the brief and headed up the design and build of the property. The construction of Swinhay House required an innovative team to detail and construct a complex structure and building intersections. Sir David required flexibility and innovation from the team to push the technological developments for the property while also allowing the design to evolve during the development. For example, skilled expertise were required for complicated detailing in all elements of the build, especially in the Atrium where triple glazed roof panels are fitted to a 150mm x 100mm steel structure spanning 26 metres.

The design of the property has been considered by both the District Council’s own architect’s panel and the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, (formerly the Royal Fine Art Commission). The District Council’s panel of architects approved the scheme but considered there was a mix of design elements on the original proposals which were dated. These did not
sit comfortably with the overall organic shape and massing of the main building. After taking into account these comments the applicant’s architect amended the scheme which produces a proposal which is in harmony with the main bulk of the dwelling.

The project is intended to pioneer a new direction for ecological domestic living, it is extremely well insulated, not only has care has been taken to eliminate thermal bridging through dense insulation, high-tech insulated metal roofing ensures an optimum temperature is always achieved as well as being built into the land to provide a natural source of protection. Alternative energy sources also include a geothermal heating system utilising both the lakes and ground as the heat source. With a huge atrium of windows acting as a mechanism for capturing heat, solar-insulated triple glazed glass is carefully tuned to maximise passive gains. A rain harvesting system is incorporated into the roof that collates water for use in the lakes whilst a bore hole provides water for the property. Electricity generation on the site is via a ground mounted 120KVA photovoltaic installation. The electricity generated supplies the heat pumps which can be run at no cost in terms of hydrocarbon fuel use.

The layout of the property has been carefully designed to maximise comfortable living conditions. The entrance and stairs separate the bedroom wing from the main living rooms; a large living room is raised above the earth mound or you could venture down to the kitchen and dining rooms where a particularly special feature of the house is the glass cupboard recreation room. All these rooms relate directly to the gardens leaving the user with an appreciation for the external environment.

The bedrooms on two floors are fanned out to face east to south-east highlighting the water canal that cascades around the bedroom wing into the lagoon which is integral to the land drainage system. The bedroom wing has a traditional construction with natural stone walls and lead tunnelled metal roof, all insulated to a high standard. The living area utilises modern building technology systems and is designed for passive ventilation with heat recovery, heat stored into the earth mound and into the lake for recovery by heat pump, the lake water is also to be used for cooling.

Other estate buildings have been designed to reflect features and materials of the main house, these include an estate manager’s house, estate office with plant, nursery and greenhouse and a new farmhouse. This latter building replaces the existing farmhouse. New farm buildings with tree screening sited well below the crown of the land and below the skyline are also proposed.

All in all, Swinhay House really is a reflection of what we can potentially achieve in the future in domestic ecological living. An iconic representation of the 21st century. It features design which is truly innovative in concept and how it has an ability to generate its own energy and not to mention its astounding appearance and acceptance of nature. It really is a contemporary masterpiece.



Relevant: I really enjoy reading about what goes into successfully built home. But for every one of the successes there is probably a story of some minor and major disasters ranging from projects that last way longer than anticipated, to general contractors running off with the client's money. That is what happened to me. It turned out, after much sleuthing, that the contractor had a major drinking problem and instead of doing the responsible thing such as either attending an outpatient alcohol detox program, going into rehab, or perhaps trying a program that is advocated at an online site called Lifebac. This program is quite different from the typical 12 step programs like AA. LifeBac is not a rehab or treatment clinic, but a collection of modern, science-based tools to empower people not just to avoid the downward spiral, but to better themselves and their relationships permanently. They provide a clinically-proven prescription medication, baclofen, that removes the urges to over-drink in 92% of people and allows 65% to return to low-risk drinking levels without affecting taste or enjoyment. There are regular online doctor's visits to tailor a plan specific to your individual circumstances. Followed up with in-app medication reminders and check-ins. Doctors in Europe prescribe baclofen as the primary treatment for people who drink excessively. Now if only my general contractor had chosen one of the options to get the drinking under control. But apparently not. He chose to scam several clients over a two month period out of thousands of dollars and then disappear. There were a number of subcontractors that also were screwed by this man in addition to his clients. I am now in the process of starting over again, interviewing general contractors, checking their credentials, getting references. think it would be helpful to have several articles about how to approach hiring responsible as well as talented contractors whose stories are shown on this site.



The Finishing Touches

Deciding whether to kit-out a self-build yourself, or whether to get the professionals in to logistically plan all the details for you is a tricky decision. We asked Stommel Haus for some advice…

Kitting out a Brand New House

When going down the self-build route to build your dream house, you have the option to build it all by yourself from scratch, to order a shell and kit it out yourself, or order the fully fitted house from either a house builder or off site manufacturer. Whatever your personal choice, at some stage the new house needs to be kitted out and this needs careful consideration, expert knowledge, the right suppliers of materials and fittings as well as good craftsmanship for their installation. So how do you go about kitting out an entire house? You will need to think about absolutely everything from the heating to plumbing and the drainage, the electrical cables and sockets as well as outlets for your lighting. How many sockets, where do they go, where do you find a reliable electrician, plumber and heating engineer and which systems are the right ones?

You might want to use the opportunity to lay PC and loudspeaker wires. And what about TV cables, antenna, satellite dish, CCTV or other security items?

You need to fit bathrooms with tubs and showers, shower cabins, shower heads, WC and basin, taps, mirrors, paper role and towel holders and more. You need to look at flooring and tiles. Is the chosen timber floor good with under-floor heating? Can you find fitters who install your bathrooms, tile the floors and walls? You might want to think about a flue for your log burner and proper ventilation for it. Where do you get the stair case, what about interior doors, window and door handles, what about … Well, the list seems endless. And what about cost control? Besides knowing what to buy and where to buy it, it also needs to be shipped at the right time, installed and tested. What if something does not fit, what if it goes wrong, what if you have incorrectly installed it?

DIY to Save Money?

Have you really got the knowledge and the time to manage the kitting out yourself ? If you’re not sure, then you will find that some premium off-site manufacturers will guide you throughout this process. At first glance it may look as if the price for a fully fitted house is high compared to purchasing and installing all the items yourself. But you have the great advantage with a premium contractor such as Stommel Haus of having immediate access to the knowledge and vast experience of what is required for fitting out in terms of the craftsmanship, the technology and the Building Regulations involved.

The supplier of a fully fitted house will not only advise you during your fitting meeting, but purchase the items you choose, in the right quantities and sizes, transport them on site, install them for you and also ensure that they work and continue to work as covered by the contractor’s and manufacturer’s guarantee.

Go the Full Monty

A Premium manufacturer such as Stommel Haus turns the kitting out into a fantastic and exciting experience. A typical fitting meeting at Stommel Haus takes 3 days during which the company will put up their clients in a local hotel and provide an entire team covering the different aspects of the kitting out and the process.

The meeting starts with a review of the layout of the house. Within the framework of the granted planning permission, changes to room sizes, shifting doors and changing windows are still possible. During the discussion the structural calculations are an important guideline to ensure that changes do not jeopardize the soundness of the structure.

The next step is the choice of roof tiles, front and side entrance door, the choice of windows and their opening mechanism as well as door and window handles and the colours. When discussing the opening of windows, a lot of aspects need to be reviewed, such as the furnishing of the house, the traffic in the rooms, the views and landscaping outside. A security system might be advisable in the area where you are living; often the house insurance premium reflects the fact that doors and windows are fitted with a special security system.

The electrical fitting looks at all aspects of the number and position of sockets and switches, how the lights are switched (for instance there might be three switches in a hall to switch the hall lights), the position of outside sockets and lights, possibly movement detectors, the number and positions of outlets of Cat-7 computer cables, the position of telephone and TV outlets of possible antenna or satellite dishes, the cabling for photo voltaic systems, alarm and surveillance systems etc. The kitchen plan is reviewed to plan the correct cabling for high power appliances such as hobs and stoves. Again, both knowledge of the technologies and building regulations involved, as well the experience of fitting hundreds of houses, are required to successfully complete the fitting out process. A very exciting moment is the choice of bathroom fittings. Stommel Haus’ standard quotation is based on high quality brands such as Villeroy & Boch, Keramag, Duravit, Grohe, Kaldewei and others. Bathroom by bathroom is reviewed and apart from choosing the beautiful items, the allegedly mundane subjects such as the drainage need to be considered to avoid drainage pipes of an upstairs bathroom going down the middle of the room below! An expert team surrounds the clients advising on their choices both in terms of the cost (in, below or above budget) as well as the functionality. At the end of the bathroom fitting stage, plans of each and every bathroom are provided which is typically the moment when clients get very excited as they begin to see themselves using them. Choosing flooring materials and tiles is next on the agenda. The knowledge of an experienced tiler and floorer is required to know that wet room showers, for instance, need small tiles to work properly; that a small bathroom requires big tiles and possibly a big mirror, or that not all kinds of timber floors work with under-floor heating.

Stair case, banisters around open galleries and interior doors are selected at the very end. The stair case will be made to measure and the high quality interior doors will be delivered and installed by qualified joiners as soon as the flooring is finished. Such good craftsmanship ensures that stairs don’t creak and doors shut properly and quietly.

A Stommel Haus client can count on the experience, excellent craftsmanship and project management to be sure that all items selected will be safely transported on site exactly when required, installed, tested and handed over for acceptance in top quality.

How to Stay In Budget

It is easy to get carried away when looking at all the beautiful options for fitting out a house. The great advantage of commissioning a high quality, Premium supplier such as Stommel Haus is that all items selected outside of the standard budget will be summarised in a list for the client to check later. It is possible that the client chose a bathtub which is more expensive than the standard, the tap is less expensive, i.e. the list will show all the surcharges and discounts and give a balance of the overall cost change. After a final selection by the client, the balance of the summary will determine the fixed price – a great advantage and comfort for the client who can be sure he will receive a beautiful home, fitted out by qualified craftsmen with all the items chosen, on-time and in-budget.

Kitting out a brand new house can be a really fantastic, exciting and satisfying experience if you choose a reliable, premium supplier such as Stommel Haus.



Self Build Homes General

A Refreshing Addition To Your Home


We caught up with Arboreta to discuss the build of a beautiful
oak frame orangery, and the benefits of a timber frame building.

Steve and Alison Mason fell in love with the idea of an oak-framed house years ago after searching long and hard for land to build their own home.“It was our dream to live in an oak-framed house but we couldn’t find a plot,” says Steve. “But when we saw this cottage we loved the traditional style and its heritage, as parts of the building date back to 1675.” The couple bought the property 15 years ago; they set about renovating and building an extension in a sympathetic design with brickwork that blends in with the cottage’s exterior. But in 2008 they decided they needed more space.

“We had an architect draw up plans for a double storey extension to the same height as the cottage,” Steve explains. “We were given planning permission but then we got cold feet as we were concerned the extension would look too big on the front of the house.” The couple did nothing for a while and pondered their options: the double storey extension was going to have an extra bedroom upstairs and a games room below – but they concluded they didn’t really need another bedroom after all.

“We started to downscale our plans and think about a single storey design and how we would use that space,” Steve says. “We thought if this was a glazed garden room we’d be able to enjoy the views of the mountains and valleys, and use it all year around if the construction method was right.”

Steve and Alison realised this was their chance to build in oak after all. An oak-framed structure with a slate tiled roof would be sympathetic to the style of their period cottage, which had also been constructed in oak when it was first built.

They went back to their architect with their ideas and spoke of having an oak-framed garden room with space for a dining table and comfortable seating, and a basement below for the cinema and games room they had wanted. When the plans were finished, the couple took them to Arboreta, who they’d seen advertised, to get a quote for building the garden room.

“We saw Arboreta could build garden rooms with a curved roof at one end which other companies couldn’t do and we really liked that style,” says Steve. “We were really impressed with their knowledge and excellent workmanship so we decided they were right for our project.” Paul Edmunds, a director at Arboreta, says when he looked over Steve and Alison’s drawings he could see that the roof structure hadn’t been designed properly – which isn’t uncommon on plans where an architect isn’t familiar with oak structures.

“A lot of oak-framing is about geometry and has to be done exact because of the carpentry work involved,” he says. “We changed the end sections on Steve and Alison’s garden room to make the roof buildable and the design more symmetrical and balanced.” Arboreta also advised the couple not to have dwarf walls around the perimeter of the garden room but have full height glazing instead.“It meant we didn’t need to have window boards so we’ve able to bring in more light and make the most of the views,” says Steve.When work got started, the ground was excavated with about 350 tonnes of soil taken away to create the foundations and a ‘normal’ head height basement. Arboreta came to measure-up, the design was finalised and approved by planning, and then the frame arrived.

“The frame went up incredibly quickly,” says Steve. “It was finished in four days and then the whole project took about another four to six months to complete.”

Paul says designing and erecting the oak frame over the basement was straightforward enough as the principles are the same as for oak frame house projects.“Like our houses, we use plenty of insulation in our garden rooms and advise having underfloor heating so the space can have glazed walls and a vaulted ceiling without feeling cold,” he explains. “Customers also like the aesthetics of a vaulted ceiling where – unlike a glazed roof conservatory that gets too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter – the highly insulated roof makes it possible to use the room in all seasons.”

Steve and Alison are pleased with their 38m² garden room and basement with its masses of glazing, underfloor heating and 4m pitched and cone-shaped ceilings, featuring king post trusses with curved braces. They find it’s a room they use every day.

“In fact it’s probably the most used room in the house!” says Steve. “Windows all the way around give us great views of the mountains and valleys, which is a lovely contrast to the cottage which has quite small windows.” Self Build Homes are consistently impressed with the standard of design and construction from Arboreta, their ability to create wonderful living spaces using the unique qualities and natural beauty of oak is always second to none. So we caught up with Carol Parry, marketing manager at Arboreta to find out more about the benefits of building with wood.

What’s so unique about the Arboreta approach?

With over 20 years’ experience in the industry, Arboreta endeavour to help our clients turn their dreams into a reality. We use only the finest construction QP1 grade oak from carefully managed European woodlands, we’re also endorsed by the UK’s leading timber authority, TRADA, and have a partnership with the Wildlife trust. From unique garden rooms and luxurious orangeries, to beautiful annexes and practical outbuildings, our aim is to create an extensive collection of stunning living spaces for our clients.

Our approach is truly unique because we use a combination of hand-crafted techniques developed over many generations and combine these with state-of-the-art technology. This means our clients benefit from our precise degree of accuracy within a carefully crafted, distinctive design. Arboreta constantly strives to ensure that our bespoke design process is sympathetic to the style and era of the building we are working on; whether it’s a new build or a period property, the end result will always blend seamlessly with the natural environment.

What are the benefits to designing and building an oak frame garden room as opposed to a traditional PVCu conservatory?

Do the costs outweigh the benefits? An Arboreta garden room provides an additional living space, which will never be too hot in the summer or too cold in the winter, meaning that it becomes a valuable part of your home which can be used all year around. If the garden room is designed with low-height walls (dwarf walls) it will provide space which has an added feeling of warmth even through the cold winter months. Incorporating a wood burning stove and underfloor heating into the design will bring extra comfort during winter; likewise in the summer, a fan which is built into the ceiling will add a refreshing breeze on a hot day.

What is so special about the oak you use and how do you ensure it is of the highest quality?

Building with oak frames is one of the most eco-friendly construction techniques. Arboreta’s timber structures are made from green oak, which as well being strong, durable and aesthetically pleasing, is also carbon neutral – therefore, it doesn’t release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere like some other building materials. Oak frames are sustainable because the trees are replanted and as the wood occurs naturally it doesn’t require large amounts of energy to manufacture.

At Arboreta, we select superior QP1 grade European timbers and take care to only source our oak from sustainably managed forests that have a proven program of felling and replacement. We’re also proud that our building systems have been endorsed by the UK’s leading timber authority, TRADA.

What measures are taken to ensure that the structure can withstand the elements?

An oak frame structure is built to last and requires little maintenance, so when you come to sell your property it will still look in pristine condition. Oak has a natural tannin preservative which protects it against rot; this also means that insects can’t penetrate the frame. The density of oak makes it highly resistant to fire when compared to other materials which can quickly distort.

How important do you think it is to respect the natural environment around the structure? How do you ensure that you embrace nature around the building?

Our design team work closely with each client during the planning stages to explore the different building materials we can implement to ensure the process is kind to the environment. It’s important to look at the aesthetics of the house and research different building options like cladding with weatherboards or flint stones which can be incorporated into the existing brickwork structure. At Arboreta we also consider the most energy efficient glazing and wall insulation available so this can be taken into account when designing the framework in the initial stages.




Patrick Hislop explains the benefits of high performance
traditional wooden windows

Wood has been the traditional material for windows for as long as windows have been made. While other materials have been introduced as substitutes for wood at various times, such as cast-iron in the 19th century and mild steel, aluminium and PVCu in the 20th century, wood still has a number
of advantages over these materials. Perhaps its main advantage is its versatility, in that it can be used to create an unlimited range of shapes and profiles, either in large quantities or even for single windows. Because of the range of species available, and a virtually unlimited range of surface colours, wood windows can be designed to suit almost any application, whether matching an existing historical example or for achieving an innovative modern design. Wood has the additional advantage of being the only naturally renewable material, with little environmental impact from extraction, processing and manufacture. Waste products from these processes are also generally used in the manufacture of other products, such as boards, or for fuel, thus using the natural resource to the maximum advantage.

New techniques, such as laminating together readily available small sections into larger sections, maximise use of the natural resource and often add greater strength and stability than can be achieved with solid wood. These techniques are covered in TRADA’s publication Wood Windows:

Designing for high performance

The energy required for the manufacture of wood windows is considerably less than for other materials. The Centre for Alternative Technology has calculated that a PVCu window requires eight times more energy to manufacture than a hardwood window. This difference could vary depending on the choice of species, the need for preservative treatment, the finish, and the frequency of maintenance required when the whole ‘life-cycle’ energy use is considered.

A wood frame inherently provides more thermal insulation than other materials, reduces heat loss and eliminates the risk of internal condensation on the frame. Although PVCu windows are currently rated under the Building Regulations as comparable to wood, the calculation of the thermal properties of a PVCu window assumes that it contains ‘still’ air whereas, in fact, most hollow PVCu sections are ventilated and drained, which may reduce their thermal performance due to the internal circulation of air. Many also contain tubular steel cores which are highly conductive of heat.

Architects are increasingly making the joinery manufacturer responsible for the performance of windows by the use of performance specifications, rather than providing detailed designs, even though many smaller joinery companies have little theoretical knowledge of window design. In the absence of much other technical information on window design, many still believe that it is necessary to use the covered joint ‘stormproof ’ profile to achieve an adequate level of weather resistance.


A significant difference between the UK and the rest of Europe is the method of installing wood windows.

The great majority of European windows are factory finished and glazed, and then installed into prepared openings in the external wall at a late stage in the construction of the building. In the UK, wood windows have been traditionally supplied to building sites at an early stage in construction, with only a base coat or primer for protection. They are stored on site until the bricklaying starts and they are then installed to act as formers for openings in the brickwork. The windows are eventually glazed and painted on site by the general contractor or, more often, by sub-contractors. The result is that wood windows, theoretically capable of achieving a high level of performance, very often will not attain thisin use due to poor site installation, glazing or finishing and may even have their long term durability impaired.

On larger buildings, the use of preformed openings and the installation of finished and glazed windows at a late stage in the contract are becoming more accepted and wood windows in the UK are increasingly supplied pre-finished and pre-glazed. In the house-building market, most prefinished windows are still ‘built-in’ and may be protected from the bricklaying only by plastic wrapping. This is even done with windows of other materials, such as aluminium and PVCu, which now have a large share of the speculative housing market. An increasing emphasis on Quality Assurance may eventually encourage contractors to place the responsibility for supplying, glazing, finishing, and even installing the windows on to one source – the window supplier. This is already normal with PVCu or aluminium windows.

Modern high-performance wood windows, which are well designed and correctly installed, can provide long-term durability and lasting performance. Past criticisms that wood windows require a high level of maintenance (and that wdespite this, they will eventually decay or cease to achieve the same overall performance as windows of other materials) are no longer true.

Although many untreated softwood windows have lasted for more than 200 years, their long life has generally been dependent on good initial selection of the wood, a high standard of workmanship in their construction and installation, and maintenance with suitable paints. Unfortunately, the introduction of oil based paints to replace lead based paints, the practice of leaving windows virtually unfinished during the construction period and poor preparation and workmanship in eventually applying the finishes on site have often resulted in substandard performance and reduced durability.

Now, the mandatory use of wood preservative for susceptible timbers and the use of modern penetrating and flexible paints and stains have largely eliminated the risk of decay. Factory-applied finishes will always last longer than those applied on site and will therefore require less frequent attention. Manufacturers now even offer guarantees of 10 years or more for factory-applied finishes, whereas windows with finishes applied on site will always require more frequent maintenance than this.

Modern wood windows can match the operational performance and weather resistance of windows of any other material and can provide better thermal insulation. However, attaining the maximum durability with minimum maintenance and achieving high levels of functional performance can only be done with a full understanding of what constitutes good design, specification, manufacture and installation.