Offering inspiration to anyone contemplating a self-build with trepidation, a project near Wrexham confounds the trend for such schemes to become mired in problems by turning out to be relatively straightforward.
Apart from the challenge of having to shift 17 tons of earth and stone at the outset, a combination of hands-on hard work and a willingness to learn as the build progresses, mean that Danny and Caroline Prytherch have the end of their scheme in sight and are still full of enthusiasm for it.
The couple started work last March on developing a former garage and stable block at Caroline’s parents’ 12-acre Cefn Farm, which enjoys glorious views from its position on a hillside in Bwlchgwyn. Cefn Farm is Caroline’s family home, built by her father, and she moved there aged two.
“My parents either needed more help or were thinking of downsizing,” explained Caroline. “I have horses here and as we lived just a short distance away, we were always here helping out. My parents then agreed to let us develop the building in return for us helping them maintain everything.”
The new house is just a few feet from her parents’ home, which is being shared by Caroline, Danny and their two sons during the conversion project. Helpfully, Danny enjoys building work and has a valuable skillset, having worked as a welder and fabricator. The couple decided that the scheme would take around seven months to complete if they employed tradesmen, whereas it could take two years with Danny doing all the work around his day job, saving them thousands of pounds.
Before the work could get under way, a replacement garage and stabling had to be built, which gave Danny practice in block work and other skills. The Covid-19 outbreak at the start of the build meant that materials were slower to get hold of, but Danny’s contacts in the building world proved useful and a friend who works as a joiner made the roof trusses.
“I find it really enjoyable”, said Danny. “I am always busy fixing or making things and was keen to take on a project. Initially, back in 2019, when we were considering the idea, a local architect told us to dig out a hole in the sloping stone and earth bank to the front of the house, which was a major job, finally involving 17 tons of material. He could then see how the building looked and drew up plans. The building is not listed; building inspectors from Wexham Council came out and discovered no real problems and topography and bat reports identified no issues.
“We had to stick to the original window openings in the building but have been able to add two extra windows to create more light; we have tried not to overlook Caroline’s parents’ house next door. The interior stone walls which are incredibly thick, have been a bit of a challenge, it took days to drill holes in to allow me to install the metalwork to support four RSJs.”
Early in the scheme, Danny discovered drains running beneath the full length of the building, leading into a soak-away under an extension to the garaging; the drains had to be cleared which involved cleaning them out with a shovel, installing a membrane to prevent soil from getting in and backfilling with clean stone. A new septic tank has now been installed a short distance from the house.
Danny had to literally raise the roof of the building, altering the original apex to give more head height on the first floor. The roof has been the project’s biggest expense; the couple decided on using reclaimed Welsh slates costing £17,000 and the trusses cost £4,250. The second highest outlay was for window frames and glazing, which totalled £17,000. The project has also involved installing a damp-proof course and underfloor heating.
One of the toughest times was spending months working on stonework under a tarpaulin last winter; Danny commented that he was cold and damp no matter how many layers of clothing he put on. But the hard graft is speaking for itself; their architect has commented that he cannot fault the standard of the work and the building inspectors are also happy.
The project is costing £200,000 to complete. The couple have contributed £80,000 from the sale of their own house and decided not to get a mortgage on the new-build until the kitchen and bathroom are installed; a mortgage will then cover the costs of finishing off. They have spent £60,000 of their savings on the build and as they are both working, are drip-feeding their salaries into the costs of doing the work themselves. The results are so far looking impressive, the house is light and airy with a striking ground flooring made from polished concrete which reflects the light.
The aim is to have the four-bedroom property completed by March 2022. And is it their forever home? “We have no plans to move but who knows,” said Danny. “We love the peace and quiet up here and enjoy working on the whole property. Neither of us can keep still, we are both busy people.” Would they take on a similar project again? “Yes, we have really enjoyed it,” said Caroline, endorsing the amount of satisfaction they are getting from creating their new home.