Fringe Box



XX Notes: Building Advice (By Royal Appointment)

Published on: 23 May, 2021
Updated on: 24 May, 2021

Maria Rayner

Maria Rayner‘s observational column from a woman’s perspective…

A couple of weeks ago, I met the Princess Royal on a loosely kept secret visit to the sailing club, which is celebrating its centenary. There was a lot of security.

She was charming and friendly, and it was a great day. But my biggest takeaway from the occasion came from meeting one of her entourage.

Able seaperson Maria Rayner (fourth from left) meets HRH The Princess Royal Photo Hayling Island Sailing Club

Let’s row back a bit. Bored with the confines of our suburban garden, and alert to any possibility of moving closer to the coast and our beloved boats, my husband and I became aware of a plot of land, with sea views, for sale.

With the work/life balance of a three-day commute to London for my husband and the agile working policy of my employer, an idea of building our dream house took root in fertile soil.

The Art Deco House in Nightingale Road, Godalming Image Google Maps

Some people can recall the details of every house on Grand Designs. I know the Art Deco house in Godalming, there’s a vague recollection of a Huf Haus and everyone knows about the Lighthouse in Croyde, Devon, which bankrupted its owner.

Kevin McCloud, presenter of Grand Designs Image Wikipedia

Considering Kevin McCloud’s programme has been running for more than 21 years, that’s not great for a budding developer.

We thought we were approaching the project with our eyes wide open. Everyone knows you can build a kit house really quickly. There was already planning permission for a huge house on the site that would have cost a fortune to build. We could enjoy the site pre-build (with utilities and open fields) under canvas.

The more the pandemic locked down our freedom of movement, the further our imaginations travelled and kicked potential problems to the (extremely) long grass.

In March, we finally exchanged and completed on our dream. A few days after we’d walked around the plot, pinching ourselves that we now owned such a fabulous view, the daylight of reality crept in.

Kit houses may spring up relatively easily, but they still require the developer to jump through all the usual hoops. It turns out that building a house on a near-rewilded plot in a National Park, requires a whole assault course of surveys, ecological, topographical, archaeological, environmental, trees, soil, air.

A “kit house” under construction

Apparently, all that has to be checked out, even if the house you want to build is smaller than had been already agreed by Planning. As our architect remarked: “I can’t believe bats are so rare; they seem to be living in every house I want to knock down.”

I’m beginning to digress and I’m sure I’ll be revisiting this subject in later columns (remember that long grass, lizards love it). This project is likely to be all-consuming.

Today’s subject is building materials. From being someone who switched channels when home improvement programmes came on, last weekend I signed up to a Buildit virtual conference.

Subjects ranged from Mechanical Ventilation Heat Pumps, hiring a professional to manage your build, triple-glazing vs double-glazing and rainwater harvesting. It was riveting and I learnt a lot. I admit to my eyes glazing over as the presenter outlined the finer engineering points of avoiding too many 90 degree angles for your ground-source heat-pump but it was time well spent.

An architect from Greenspace talked about budgets. The price of structural timber has gone up by 40% since last year, double effect of Brexit-inflation on European imports and holiday money being spent on home improvement projects, resulting in increased demand for building materials.

Our projected build start of February 2022, far from being an inconvenience, could be a blessing in terms of expense.

Source FRED Click on image to enlarge

And if you think 40% is a lot, think about DIYers in the States, where the cost of lumber (timber) has rocketed. I’m not known for my mathematical skills, but even I can see from this FRED graph, using stats from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, that numbers have gone from 216 in May 2019, to 469.4 in April 2021 (I think that’s billions of dollars).

Oh, yes, The Princess Royal? This scarcity was corroborated by her Lord Lieutenant, with whom I chit-chatted while the VIP was powdering her nose. His day job is running a building supplies company, so when I mentioned I was building a house in the area, he reassured me supplies should stabilise by the Autumn. Who said the Civil List doesn’t give value for money?

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