Self building on the Scottish islands

Timber frame self build on Orkney

Perseverance conquers adversity and a dream becomes reality; self-building on the Scottish islands 

This self-build home was years in the making; with countless ideas, dreams, and decisions involved in the journey to completion. Eager to design a home that was unique, Adam and Raema Lyon seized the opportunity of a lifetime when they discovered their dream plot. Their new home, Arhaven, is set on 2.2 acres, within the Inner Sensitive Zone of the Heart of Neolithic Orkney World Heritage Site and overlooking Stromness and the Hoy hills.

Overcoming tricky planning constraints

To meet stringent planning requirements, the couple collaborated with Dean Campbell of DC Design, to take account of the historic environment and natural heritage of the site. Dean’s creative approach to the design constraints saw this 4-bed family home broken into four sections. It is simple in design and well-proportioned to create balance. The choice and quality of materials used, break up the mass and differentiate space. Overall ridge height is low and differing heights of the sections have been incorporated to echo the look of a traditional Orkney steading.

The main accommodation wing is finished in a light-coloured render with a natural slate roof. This contrasts with the open plan wing and garage which are timber clad in Siberian larch and which also incorporate a modern twist on a metal roof. The link section is clad in contrasting black timber to give a striking overall effect.

The project demonstrates that self-build homes are possible in areas that involve rigorous planning requirements and that hurdles faced can be overcome with clever design and perseverance.

Throughout the project, Adam and Raema, and their team were determined to succeed. As you might expect, the weather and rurality of the Scottish islands brought additional challenges. However, the views and scenery made it all worth it.

Timber frame’s thermal performance

Orkney’s exceptionally windy winters required a structural system that is supremely thermally efficient with high levels of airtightness. Eliminating drafts was non-negotiable and the Lyons believed that a timber frame was the right structural system to achieve the thermal performance they needed in a location vulnerable to harsh weather conditions. Renewables including an ASHP, UFH and solar thermal all contribute to a high-performing dwelling that has been future-proofed against today’s steeply rising energy costs.


Pre-fabrication in a factory

Fleming Homes’ remit covered engineering, SAP calculations, construction design and manufacture of the timber frame. The kit was erected by Adam and Raema’s own builders who recognised the quality of a product manufactured using modern methods of construction (MMC).

“It was really easy to erect the frame as everything was well labeled and easy to find. The illustrated construction manual communicated everything the builders needed to know, and they found it really easy to use”.

Many contractors on the Scottish islands will ‘stick build’ a timber frame, but the couple were adamant that they wanted a product produced within a factory environment not only for quality assurance but also to guarantee the speed of construction timber frame is well known for. The couple were also reassured by the detail of Fleming Homes’ timber frame specification, giving peace of mind that “you know what you are getting because it is all on paper”.

Timber frame is transportable

Building on Orkney brought its own logistical challenge, but a factory-manufactured timber frame kit offered cost efficiencies with materials delivered efficiently on three lorry loads. “It’s costly to bring materials onto Orkney that can’t be sourced locally,” said Adam “so having the whole dwelling arrive on two lorries was highly cost-efficient. The fact that follow-on materials could be called off when needed and then delivered altogether on a third lorry gave us cost certainty within our budget”.

Timber frame as a structural system didn’t only deliver in relation to design flexibility and the speed of construction. The fact that insulation is built into the structure itself and allows for a layering of materials (in this case 50mm rigid PIR) over the external panel studs enabled the couple to address some of their concerns around self-building a home on Orkney. Timber frame also offered a solution that helped overcome the logistical challenge of self building on the Scottish islands, serving to make self-build more straightforward and accessible.

Adam and Raema’s decision to choose timber frame was also influenced by their desire to mitigate against any defects and snagging problems onsite. A prefabricated product manufactured within our factory then shipped to the site, delivered quality assurance.

Getting it right!

“The experience of working with Fleming Homes was absolutely brilliant. We couldn’t fault them. We felt listened to at every stage of the process and this was really important given the constraints we faced around timing and the need to achieve an efficient build schedule…for us, I think we got it right first time!”