Hand-holding for Hands-on Home builders
When software engineer Ian Burton and his wife Kay began their self-build project in the Scottish Borders, timber frame construction was a no-brainer from the outset. ‘My background is manufacturing, and it was the logical choice from an engineering point of view,’ Ian explains. ‘With bricks and mortar, you can spend four or five months getting to wind and water-tight, whereas with timber frame, we got to W&WT within six weeks. Also, you get the quality of the house being factory built, in controlled, dry conditions, as against builders outside, making it up as they go along. It’s almost like a piece of engineering.’
The Burton family chose Fleming Homes as their build partners after visiting several homebuilding shows around the UK. ‘We had specific aims in mind, and companies kept trying to sell us their standard kit with standard installation. They didn’t seem to understand the next generation – the automation, the insulation, ground source heating pumped out of the earth. Whereas when we started speaking to Hayden and Dave, the Fleming Homes designer, they were phenomenal. They really got what we were trying to do, and why, and were actually excited by it.’
As a bonus, Fleming Homes were located close by, just off the A1 in Duns, making it easy for Ian and Kay to visit the company and see samples. ‘We turned up at their office and they had such a good selection of samples, both complex and simple, that we could actually play with, touch and feel, which was invaluable. It’s good stuff. They got a really good price on it, they delivered it, they fitted it. So literally every door and window, every Velux was installed before they left.’
Planning and Building Regulations Advice
The two-storey home with separate garage-office is built on a ridge and comes with wonderful views and strong breezes. To address this and to save energy, the Burtons were aiming for maximum energy efficiency and an exceptionally low thermal U-value of 0.11 W/m2K. Their vision included windows with no vents, no letter boxes, and triple glazing – features some contractors were puzzled by.
‘Fleming Homes joined the dots, got the concept and empathised with it. Then they came forward with other suggestions on how we could refine the design, to make it even more efficient. Their conceptual understanding was also helpful in easing the project through building control. We worked with Fleming Homes to do our building warrant, and 17 weeks later, it was done. There were a couple of minor questions, but we had very little involvement and it was almost a ‘fire and forget’ exercise, which was nice.’
The planning process was smooth in part due to Fleming Homes’ professional relationships and experience. Ian says, ‘Scott in the planning and building regs team suggested that if we had a sensible conversation with planning, we’d probably get the tweaks we wanted, without having to do anything. So, they gave us some planning modification advice, including pointers on who to talk to in planning.’ As Ian explains, ‘you can go to architects for this sort of thing. But it was just a case of “we’ll do the whole package for £2500, what do you think?”. I said ‘OK’ and they just did it. I didn’t have to think at all.’
Handholding for Hands-on Homebuilders
The Burton family, with three adult children, did an impressive amount of the physical work themselves, including clearing the site, digging the foundations, setting out, digging the trenches for the ground source heat pump, and fitting the underfloor heating. When it came to the first-time homebuilders rolling their sleeves up, Ian was especially delighted by Flemings’ help with practical problem-solving and troubleshooting.
‘Basically, they covered our backs and pre-empted and solved issues which we wouldn’t have anticipated,’ he says. ‘For example, it turned out that we needed a steel beam to support the blockwork concrete blocks on the outside wall. We also needed this for the span of the patio doors and glass panels. They pointed this out and said, “how about we make the steel beam for the timber frame a lot thicker, to support everything?” Then they did the calculations and off they went. It cost us an extra £500-600 quid for the steel, but as their design guy did the calculations, it made no difference.’
During the build, Ian also appreciated that individual Flemings technical team members were on call to answer questions directly. ‘I would just call Dave and say “I’ve got to do this. Explain.” There was no “I’m busy, I’ll call back later, I’ll get the boss to say it’s all right, and it’ll be an extra 500 quid.” They just supplied the knowledge. You know, if you spend £120,000 with somebody, that’s sort of what you expect, but I think an awful lot of companies don’t do it like that.’
Contractor Workflow and Proactive Problem-Solving
Fleming Homes’ can-do problem-solving also helped to smooth the contractor workflow, Ian says. ‘For example, the scaffolders sent us a list of items, but it didn’t include the requested items for a fall arrest system, needed for working at height. And when they dropped off the scaffolding, the fall arrest materials requested weren’t there as they’d run out and couldn’t supply it. The erectors couldn’t work at 15m height, so Fleming Homes gave Jewson’s a call, sorted out an internal platform to be used as a fall arrest measure, and it was there the next day. They took immediate action and kept the job rolling.’
Ian found this attitude really refreshing compared with other suppliers he had worked with. ‘They really understood what we were trying to do, and how they could help, rather than always looking at the bottom line. You know, you speak to a lot of suppliers, and there’s always the occasional “how can we squeeze a few extra quid out of this? But there was there was no element of that at all. It was a case of we paid our money – there you go.”
Ian says that Fleming Homes’ proactive approach saved him a huge amount of time and money. ‘We were able to keep the work going, and the hand-holding also gave us confidence and a speedy response whenever we had questions.’
Homebuilders are familiar with the key benefits of timber frame homes, including speed of construction and the certainty this adds to a build schedule. But for Ian, with his engineering background, there are benefits far beyond this no-brainer. ‘This was a precision-engineered, efficient build, we always knew what was going on, and we were in control.’ And as for the stress of home building, he says: ‘It wasn’t nearly as stressful as the day job! My big new office is phenomenal – just gorgeous and much more productive. I don’t have a favourite room, though – I just walk around and think “wow”!’
Ian’s Top Tips for New Homebuilders
- Don’t be afraid. With a partner like Fleming Homes, you’ll get there.
- Watch lots of YouTube videos. Do your research, know the job.
- Source your own materials. Prices vary a lot. Know what you are willing to spend and ask if suppliers can achieve what you want.
- Find good suppliers but only book them on a day rate. If you hire a builder, you’re stuck with those costs.
- Build your office-garage at the same time. With timber-frame construction, it will cost very little extra.
- Fleming Homes in three words: Friendly, safe, reliable. It’s like having a friend help you.
Ian Burton spoke to Jules Horne, Texthouse
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