• Wednesday , 8 April 2020

Design Clinic: Restoring Traditional Buildings

Laura Bowen Architect _1

Design Clinic with MRIAI Laura Bowen

Q. I have an old cottage on my dad’s land and I am wondering if it is worth restoring. Would it be very costly? I would like to use it for a holiday home as I live away from my homestead. 

A. There are a number of issues that need to be considered in restoring an existing traditional building such as this. For the purposes of this advice I am going to assume that the dwelling has not been occupied for some considerable time.  It can surprise people to learn that an abandoned dwelling such as this needs to apply for planning to re-establish its original residential use; property tax, septic tank registration, and the introduction of eircode all ensure that all development is now controlled and co-ordinated.  In many parts of the country these types of buildings are disappearing as they become a vehicle for obtaining a planning application for a new build, in doing so removing or adapting the original house beyond recognition. Most planning authorities in rural regeneration areas are supportive of re-using existing traditional dwellings even for holiday homes which can be trickier.. so long as their character and setting is maintained.  As daughter of the landowner and a local with an abandoned house in a scenic area you have an opportunity that others do not possess. The photograph you provided shows a long previously whitewashed, gable ended, corrugated roof farmstead in a beautiful rural environment.

It is of course possible to restore this cottage to into the rural retreat you so obviously desire. The cost  of servicing  any dwelling in a remote location  is  a consideration , as if that amount exceeds what you envisaged it will reduce your spend on the house restoration.  This may change your aim to ensure all the planning/ legal aspects are addressed so that money is not wasted on servicing a building that cannot be sold on or used as collateral for further loans to improve it.

The following are the basic services that you need to determine costs of, i.e. proximity to the nearest electricity supply?   Will electricity poles have to be installed across the beautiful view?  Or can you put them underground at extra cost?..  Type of road access..  i.e.  Allow for installing a new sewage treatment system with easy access for maintenance and fuel deliveries. Is there adequate phone signal if landline communication is costly? Is there a body of water/ lake or stream nearby? The house seems to be located to the base of a hill, so any new sewage treatment system may need to be pumped to a higher, drier percolation area or ground drainage improved. Your father as landowner may know of a local water source or by researching whether a supply can be obtained from proximity to a rural water scheme. If not, you may need to allow costs to drill a well. You will also need to obtain enough land with the house in a legal transfer to ensure you can get the required distances between the well and the sewage percolation area which can take a considerable amount of area in itself.

Traditional buildings have solid masonry wall construction which needs to be repaired and thermally improved in an appropriate way; appropriate materials for walls are those which will allow breathability and movement. The external walls should be repaired with a lime mortars only and consideration given to removing any later concrete repairs, I would suggest as your first port of call that you discuss your application with an RIAI conservation accredited architect in tandem with ensuring that a registered heritage contractor with experience in the use of lime is used at building repair stage.  The Atlas of Irish Rural Landscape is available as a reference book in most libraries and gives the development history of this type of house and its different forms of it throughout the country.  A recent publication by Christiaan Corlett on Wicklows Traditional farm buildings examines in minute detail internal and external origins of the building and is available through the Irish Georgian Society bookshop. A publication called Re-using Farm Buildings co-authored by myself and Nicki Matthews is available for purchase in the RIAI Bookshop or online through Kildare county Council Heritage Department and addresses by way of case study some of the more technical aspects of repair.

Laura Bowen Conservation architect her own practice was  established 2003 in Co. Kildare. The practice undertake a large variety of work including new build residential and  consultancy with other architectural practices for conservation works.  Co – author of the DAHG  Advice series for Repair of Historic Roofs   and  Kildare County Council/ heritage publication  Re-using Traditional farm buildings. Contact  045 482881  or lbowenarchitect@gmail.com

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