Saturday 18 January 2020


My wife and I are currrently looking for a site to build a sustainable new home. Do you have any tips on what to look for when undertaking a project like this? We are undecided whether we will engage an architect for the entire build and we are interested in self-building.

To live sustainably is an admirable aim and is well within your grasp, but before signing any contracts take these pointers into consideration.

1. Location. Consider the convenience factor of your proposed new location, both in terms of access to public transport and proximity to local services. How will your work commute or school run be affected by your new location? While you may be able to build your new dream home you may also find that you end up in a car for two hours each way.

2. On site services. When scoping out a potential site, note what kind of services are already on site such as access to mains water and sewerage. Lack of mains sewerage connection means that you will have to look at using an alternative treatment such as a septic tank or, depending on your adventurous spirit and size of the site, a reed bed system.

3. Orientation and vegetation. Will you be able to capitalise on your site's orientation and is there existing vegetation on the site which you would like to retain but which would also influence the situation of your new home?

4. Research. Have confidence in what you like and what you want to achieve both in terms of aesthetics and green technologies. This is invaluable at the building stage of the project.

5. Find a designer. Contact the RIAI for a registered architect who is skilled in green design.

6. If you decide to retain architectural services only to complete a planning application, then be careful with your choice of builder. Make sure they are sympathetic to your aims and try to find one who has had previous experience with the types of materials and method of building which you would like to use.

7. If you are taken with the idea of self building you should note that while it can save you money in the short term it can also get you into serious difficulties and ultimately cost you more money. It can however suit someone who has no fixed timescale, is organised and has a flexible approach to budget.

room outside

I love the sight of pretty snowdrops at this time of year. As they are rather small in stature how would I get the most impact from them?

Indeed the snowdrop season is now out in full swing. Glantus or snowdrop, as it is affectionately known, can provide a beautiful display when most garden foliage is looking dishevelled having fallen foul of a harsh winter.

An enchanting array of these little gems can be seen at our own Altamont Gardens in Carlow, host of the annual snowdrop festival. With no less than 40 cultivars on display it is a remarkable collection of what some regard as a humble little flower.

A diverse carpet of winter delights can be achieved by interspersing the common snowdrop, Galantus nivalis with crocus, cyclamen and Helleborus Niger (Christmas Rose) to much visual affect.

To get the best out of your stock, site the bulbs in deep humus-rich alkaline soil beneath the canopy of deciduous plants. Ideally the bulbs should be kept moist in the growing season but well drained in their dormant stage in summer. They can be lifted and divided after flowering when still in leaf for the following season. In doing so, when the winter blues set in next year, you will ensure the progeny of our familiar ally, the snowdrop.


I've saved over many years to build up a deposit for a house. I currently have about €40,000 on deposit in NIB. However, I'm worried when the bank guarantee scheme comes to an end -- could my cash be at risk? Would I be better off applying for a loan immediately?

Well, that's two different questions, but here goes. The bank guarantee scheme runs until 29 September whereby all deposits in the six Irish institutions, and some others, are fully guaranteed.

Indeed, for many investments the guarantee has recently been extended to 2015. NIB is owned by Danske bank which has its own, similar guarantee scheme from the Danish government. Your money is completely safe.

Simon Fullam from NIB explains. "Because National Irish Bank is part of the Danske Bank Group, all of our personal and business customers are fully covered under the Danish State Guarantee Scheme that was introduced in October 2008 by the Danish government. This guarantees 100pc of the funds held in National Irish Bank deposit accounts, irrespective of the amount".

As to whether you should take the plunge and buy, there are many factors to consider, not least of which is whether you will get the additional funding. A hefty deposit is a good start but don't make the decision because you're worried about the safety of your cash.

Make it after you've taken into account where you want to buy, how much of a mortgage you need, whether you raise a loan and if you believe the market has levelled out and purchasing would be a good idea.

Interest rates are beginning to rise again, so please also factor in a comfortable repayment based on this.

Irish Independent

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