Morris Castle Swansea (Castle Graig)

Morris Castle Swansea Conservation Architects

Constructed between 1768 and 1775 Morris Castle or Castle Graig, forms a striking feature on the Swansea skyline. The “Castle” was the brainchild of John Morris, son of Robert Morris – The founder of Morriston (Morris Town).

The Morris Family

The Morris family played a huge part in the industrialisation of Swansea. Robert Morris of Morris, Lockwood and Co., acquired Dr Lane’s Llangyfelach copper works in 1727 and in 1745 opened the Forest Copper Works. To ensure a stable supply of coal to power the copper works, Morris bought existing and opened new coal mines in Plasmarl, Landore and Treboeth. This expansion eventually led to the construction of Castle Graig.

What was Morris Castle?

The ruins were not in fact a castle, but were a very early block of 40 flats, built by Morris to house his workers. In its prime it was home to “40 families, all colliers excepting one tailor and on shoe-maker, who are considered as useful appendages to the fraternity” Walter Davies 1814.

The building was rectangular in form, with 3 storey crenelated towers at the corners. The towers were connected by 2 storey ranges, all enclosing a courtyard. Each corner tower had three storeys and a basement. The rooms each had a fireplace with common flue – with fireplaces still visible today. Constructed from local stone, with block copper slag blocks used to create a low cost decorative effect. The gothic structure was extraordinary, but far from refined.

The building can be seen depicted in its original glory in the John Warwick Smith watercolour, currently on display at the Glynn Vivian gallery.

Today the ruins of Castle Graig (Morris Castle), are a much loved, but neglected icon in Swansea. A landmark building for locals and something of a mystery for visitors. However, the castle was not so popular amongst its inhabitants. Its isolated location, difficult access and lack of water supply would have made it a difficult place to live, especially after a long hard day at the coal face.

Swansea Castle Architects Conservation

Conserving the Ruins of Castle Graig

The isolated position of the ruins are perhaps part of the reason for its continued neglect. In the early 1990’s the northern part of the eastern standing wall collapsed and now lies overgrown with brambles and weeds. Despite this and its continued deterioration, very little has been done to conserve the remaining standing ruins.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. a recent social media campaign to save Castle Graig has once again drawn attention to the plight of the ruins. The Friends of Morris Castle hope to take the ruins into trust, which could possibly lead to the conservation of the ruins and perhaps even re-use of the site.

10 of the Worlds Smallest Homes

micro home
Could you live in one of the worlds smallest homes? Living smaller might be a way to beat the economic crisis. Smaller homes result in lower energy costs, smaller mortgages, smaller carbon footprint and less spending on frivolous things – If you lived in one of these homes, every item you own would be carefully considered.

10 of the Worlds Smallest Homes

Keret House, Warsaw

The thinnest house in the world is squeezed between two tower blocks in Warsaw. The art installation measures just 120cm at its widest point and 71cm at its narrowest. The building has been designed by Jakub Szczesny, who took his inspiration from the work of Israeli writer Etgar Keret.
Warsaw Thin House
Tiny House in Warsaw

Tumbleweed Tiny House Company

Jay Shafer of the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company has been living in a home smaller than some peoples closets for over 15 years. They may be tiny, but these homes contain everything you need including a workspace, bedroom, bathroom and living space. Some also come with a porch so you can make the most of the outdoors… with a home this size you’d need to!
Tiny House
Worlds Smallest Houses – Tumbleweed Tiny house

Micro Compact Home

These micro cubic buildings measure in at just 2.6 cubic metres. To put it into perspective that’s over 75 times smaller than the average UK home!
At that size your probably thinking this is little more than a room for one person, but you’d be wrong. They actually contain two double beds, a bathroom, lobby, a kitchen and, dining space for 4-5 people.
Munich Micro Compact House
Munich Micro Compact Home

Rollit Homes

This is one of the most unusual homes on our list. Designed by students at the University of Karlsruhe in Germany these chic modular homes are built to incorporate multiple uses inside one small living space.
By walking in the centre, the building rotates like a hamster wheel changing the internal structure to reveal a bed, lounge chair, table, shower, toilet or even the kitchen sink!
Unique Tiny Homes
Innovative Tiny Homes

Quay House

By no means the smallest on our list Quay House, in Conwy, Wales is the UK’s smallest house. At 10 feet by 6 feet this home certainly lives up to it’s title. You may think that this home would be too small for the average person, but up until 1900 it was occupied by a 6’3″ tall fisherman.
UK Smallest House
Wales Smallest House

Twelve Cubed Mini Home

These cute micro homes have a serious purpose. Designed by Twelve Cubed to show  how people can live more sustainably. These homes come equiped with a dishwasher, microwave, oven, bathroom, closet and plenty of natural light. Everything you need for modern living!
Mini Pre-Fab House
Twelve Cubed Micro Home

The Nano House

A futuristic design, focussed on solving the worlds housing crisis. These homes are just 25 square metres, yet they are designed to accommodate a family of four. The rooms are convertable to make the most of the (lack of) space. They are also highly sustainable, the Nano Living System Homes are extremely well insulated, and utilise passive solar heating, saving energy and money.
Nano Homes
The Nano House

Tiny Texas House

Apparently not everything is big in Texas, as this house proves. This friendly little gambrel-roofed farmhouse is just 200 s.f., but includes has a kitchenette, bathette and even a loft space.
Mini house in America
America’s Tiny Homes

Single Hauz

Designed by Front Architects, Poland these cutting-edge home designs were inspired by the look of roadside advertisments. They can be built into almost any space and can even be built as raised homes over a body of water. A home perfect for contemporary, single, independent living.
Micro Homes
Single Hauz Tiny Home

The Thin House, London

In Thurloe Square, Knightsbridge, London is one of the UK’s most unusual homes. Compared to some on here this is a giant, but I can’t imagine living at the thin end of the wedge!
Uk Tiny Homes
The Thin House, London

Should you live in a tiny home?

There is almost an expectation to continue to buy bigger and bigger homes. It almost goes without question that your next home should be bigger and grander than the last. But there are lot’s of great reasons to consider downsizing to a smaller house. Here are just a few:

  • Easier to maintain.
  • Less time spent cleaning. And that should be reason enough…
  • Less waste – when you have a tiny amount of storage you will not waste
  • Lower environmental impact.
  • Less temptation to accumulate. If you don’t have any room in your house for that useless gadget that will be used once then lost at the back of a cupboard.
  • More time. If your not cleaning and fixing your home or buying junk, then you automatically create free time!
  • Wider market to sell to – By its very definition, a smaller house will be more affordable and therefore can be marketed to a larger percentage of the population than a larger and more expensive home.
  • Less expensive. Smaller homes are less expensive to purchase and less expensive to keep (insurance, taxes, heating, cooling, electricity, etc.).
  • Less debt and less risk.

So perhaps some of the worlds smallest homes as shown on this list are going to be too extreme for most people – but there are some real advantages to downsizing. The key to a small home is good design. Well thought out spaces that work for you.

Architectural Services for Churches

We understand the complex requirements of church architectural projects. We have practical experience of the administration issues related to ecclesiastical exemption. and are able to advise on the suitability for grant funding – if appropriate we can guide you through the application process.

We understand traditional construction techniques and are able to combine them with modern materials and construction methods to develop long lasting, affordable and efficient solutions for your church.

Mission and use

Building on a budget – things to consider

Sloping Sites

Building on a sloping site will increase your build costs because of the work involved. As a general rule, each 5° of slope from level on the site will increase your build costs by £5,000 (Brinkley’s Slope Law proposed by Mark Brinkley, author and H&R Contributing Editor).

Plan, Shape and Layout

The vertical elements such as walls, windows, doors and wall finishes are affected not only by the area of the building but also by its shape. A square building, for example, is more economical in its use of external walls than an oblong building of the same area. The cost/m² of gross floor area for external walling elements decreases as the wall/floor ratio decreases.

Additional Storeys

Using the roof space to create an additional attic storey is a popular way to add more living space. There are some additional costs involved: staircase, attic trusses or a traditional cut roof, increased roof pitch, and, in the case of a three storey dwelling, the addition of fire doors to create an enclosed 30-minute fire-resistant stairwell as an escape route. Using the existing volume in the roof is still cost-effective, at around 70% of the average cost/m² of the ground or first floors.

Building Smaller


Phased Construction


Stick to the design

Dealing with Damp in Old Buildings

1 The cause of dampness

2 Tracing the cause

3 Rain penetration

4 Rising damp

5 Condensation

6 Internal wall treatment

There are several ways in which the decay and damage of the fabric of an old building can generate excessive dampness. Waters carrying impurities may rise up from the soil into the building or driving rain or snow may penetrate through hairline cracks on rendered walls or through decayed brickwork. Excessive dampness encourages the growth of wood-rotting Fungi, the infestation of wood-boring insects and the corrosion of Metals. It can damage the contents of a building, the decoration and the furniture. Most importantly excessive dampness inside buildings can be harmful to the occupants’ health, and therefore must be prevented or treated.

1 The cause of dampness

Most traditional buildings absorb moisture and are porous to a certain degree. Roof timbers can on average maintain up to 12-16% water content, which generally is fine and not susceptible to fungal attack until its moisture content rises above 21%. This increase is generally caused by leaks, condensation or damp masonry.

Most old buildings have solid walls, no damp proof courses and no felt under tiles or slates. Driving Rain can therefore penetrate the fabric of the building and rising damp can also enter into the building.

Traditional building material such as stone, soft brick, lime-wash, lime based mortars and plasters absorb more water than modern day building materials but these traditional building materials have the advantage of allowing moisture to evaporate during drier conditions. Traditional living generated small quantities of water vapour.

Before central heating was commonplace, open fireplaces would heat buildings. The open fireplace would draw large quantities of air through windows and doors, evaporating moisture from porous internal walls and the draw of air would remove moisture from timbers.

Today’s requirement for comfort and for warmth has meant that we have seen a reduction in ventilation, and with modern materials and decoration can in turn trap moisture in old buildings.

Central heating when first started up after summer months can draw soluble salts to the wall surface which then crystallize causing efflorescence. Therefore the heating should be started up gradually, at lowest levels to allow the building to acclimatize.

Rain penetration and spillage

Rain penetration can be caused by incorrect design, bad workmanship, structural movement, badly executed repairs or lack of routine maintenance or the use of the wrong materials.

Roofs, chimneys and parapets are the most exposed part of the building and therefore can be the most susceptible to rain and snow penetration. In traditional buildings felt tends not to have been used under tiles or slates, and therefore if gaps occur or slates are missing, cracked or displaced, rain and snow can be driven into the roof-space. The abutment of a chimney or parapet to a roof is a vulnerable junction especially if a cement mortar has been used rather than a lead flashing. However, on occasions fillets of properly gauged lime mortar have been used successfully.

The free flow of water in gutters is essential to prevent leakage or overflow. All leaves, moss and dirt should regularly be removed from gutters. Leakage from parapet gutters is particularly serious, as the space beneath tends to be warm, unventilated and contains the bearings of the roof trusses. Penetration can create Dry Rot, which has been the cause of the destruction of many old building. All down pipes should be clear of obstructions as blockages can create backups and then spill out at the joints. If prolonged wetting occurs, this can lead to damp patches and growth of moss, which will then retain moisture.

Traditional Stone walls are generally porous and when set in a lime mortar of equal porosity slowly absorb the falling water, but if the wall has sufficient thickness then the wall will retain the water and draw it back to the surface to evaporate when the rains have stopped. If however the walls are not thick enough or the joints are weak or damaged then a lime based render would be used to protect and cover the walls. Modern renders made with cement are brittle and have a tendency to crack with the buildings natural movement or with variations in climate and therefore create cracks that allow rain fall to penetrate easily but find difficult to escape by evaporation. The build may therefore find its way into the internal face of a wall or even blow the external reader leading to further exposure and potential damage.

Rising Damp

If a porous walling material such as Stone or brick is placed directly onto the damp soil, moisture will be drawn into it, this is called Capillary action. The absorbed moisture will rise into the wall to a height where there is a balance between the rate of evaporation and the rate it can be drawn up by the Capillary forces, the height will vary depending on the time of the year and the height of the water table of the soil.

Prior to the Public Health Act of 1875 damp-proof courses were not compulsory in buildings and therefore most old buildings will have damp in the walls to a certain degree.

Traditionally where Flagstones or bricks were directly placed directly onto the soil to create floors the moisture that would rise through would be carried away with ventilation. Therefore any impervious covering such as a vinyl floor will trap in the moisture and become soaking wet underneath. The same with walls, any attempt to seal the walls with moisture barriers or impermeable paints or dense plaster renders will only act to push the damp further up the wall.

Rising Damp contains salts carried up from the soil or found in the walling materials. Some salts are hygroscopic i.e. they absorb moisture from the air and will maintain dampness after the rising damp has been eliminated.

In some cases damp can also penetrate the wall at the point where there is an abutment of a garden wall or boundary wall to the external wall of the building.


Moisture is present in the atmosphere in the form of water vapour that is invisible. The amount is limited but it increases with temperature. As air is warmed it will absorb more moisture but if air is cooled to a certain point below dew-point the air will revert to water. If any surface within a building is below dew-point it will cool the air next to it, and will cause condensation. Condensation is dependent upon the temperature of surfaces and the humidity of the surrounding air.

Many old buildings are difficult or expensive to heat due to the internal cold surfaces through dampness or poor insulation. If ventilation is reduced in an attempt to conserve warmth, the air humidity inside will increase by the evaporation of rising damp or domestic activities such as cooking, washing up, drying clothes and bathing. Any surface, which is below the dew-point, will become damp by condensation.

Condensation can occur in old buildings with thick walls such as churches if the building is heated intermittently and the air is warmed before the surfaces have risen above dew-point.

Chimney flues can become damp through condensation. Modern boilers and closed stoves draw considerably less air through than open fires. Warm rising gasses may condense on a part of the flue, which is exposed or has a poor thermal insulation. The result maybe, deposits being carried through the brickwork and leaving stains on the internal wallpaper or plaster

2. Tracing the cause of damp

“The incorrect diagnosis of a damp problem may lead to unnecessary and expensive ‘remedial’ work involving damage to building fabric.

Diagnosis may sometimes require more scientific approaches than sight, feel and smell of damp, but the value of these senses must not be underestimated.” According to the SPAB technical pamphlet 8,

Tests for dampness include:

  • Electrical conductivity
  • Capacitance Meters
  • On-site Moisture testers
  • Laboratory oven drying and moisture tests
  • Assessments of salt content

No single test will give a full picture of the damp content within a building, and too often a reliance on electrical moisture meters to detect rising damp, can give a hit and miss result to testing. Such as a high level of salts in the plaster-work but maybe the underlying masonry may not be damp.

Results should be treated with caution and an ongoing monitoring of the situation would give a true picture of cause and effect.

Check Roofs, Parapets, gutters and down-pipes

Check exposed horizontal surfaces – areas that are likely to collect water.

Water leaks – these may run down rafters or the underside of the roof to appear inside the building some distance away.

Damp patch on ceilings – is this due to a roof leak, dripping condensation or both.

Roof space – ideally examine the roof-space during a period of wind and rain.

Rainwater disposal system – ideally examine during heavy rainfall. Systems may appear to deal with average rainfall but can fail under heavy or prolonged periods of rain.


External wall surfaces should be carefully examined.

Attention should be paid to the pointing. Is it traditional lime mortar or a modern cementitious mortar that may allow for water penetration through hairline cracks.

Parapet Joints – these can be very vulnerable especially if not covered with sheet lead.

Check, are there any water supply pipes that may have been embedded in walls and may have failed.

Rain penetration – these may produce defined damp patches on South or west facing walls and may evaporate after a few days then reappear following a period of heavy rain.

Rising damp – Usually extend from 300mm to 900mm above floor level and will show a sharp change from wet to dry or a ‘tidemark’ stain on wallpaper. Contaminating salts may be seen as a white deposits or feathery crystals. Mould growth would usually suggest condensation.

Dampness due to condensation – Usually found in patches. Beads of moisture on hard shiny surfaces or growths of mould on wallpaper, plaster or paintwork. Usually intermittent and independent of rainy weather.

Check wardrobes and kitchen cabinets built against external walls for signs of damp through condensation.

3. Controlling rain penetration

Roof Repair

Roof tiles or slates may become cracked or move as a result of rotten fixings or movement in the building. Individual roof tiles or slates can be replaced, but during the life of any roof it will be required to be stripped and recovered.

Under felting is useful but may be inappropriate for some old roofs, particularly under thatch. If it is used, it is essential that the roof space be provided with additional ventilation. Counter battens will be required for certain types of stone tiles and slate.

Modern mastics or resins should not be used in an attempt to seal a roof or secure the covering as these have been known to fail quickly and damage the covering to such an extent as to preclude the reuse of the roof covering in the traditional manner.

Systems developed over recent years include rubber, polyester, urethane and polyisocyanate foams sprayed onto the underside of slates and tiles, may restrict the ventilation of the roof timbers, which could restrict evaporation of moisture and encourage decay.

A competent builder who is experienced in this type of conservation work should carry out the repair of an old roof. Contact Taliesin Conservation to discuss your project.

Maintenance of gutters and downpipes and protection of walls.

Gutters and downpipes should be cleaned and inspected at regular intervals. If there are any damaged cornices, string courses or other projections designed to throw water away from the building they will need to be repaired or reinstated.

Some very exposed walls suffer from rain penetration because of insufficient wall thickness or due to decay. A traditional solution for this problem was to slate or tile the side of a building. This would provide protection and still allow for evaporation. Alternatively a wall may be protected by a coat of lime based render or roughcast and finished with a limewash.

Timber framed buildings

Rain penetration in old timber framed buildings usually occurs at the joints between the timber and the panel infill. Traditionally panels are made of either lath or wattle and daub (a mixture of lime, cow dung etc pressed in between wattles and staves) these are efficient if kept in good repair. Old panels can be repaired appropriately or if beyond repair replaced with the addition of thermal insulation.

Cracks in Oak framing should not be filled with cement mortar as this will retain moisture and lead to decay.

4. Controlling rising damp.

Is a damp proof course necessary?

Rising damp is a common cause of deterioration in stone, brick and earth walls. It can cause dry and wet rot. It often damages internal finishes but on occasions the degree of moisture is to minor to be of consequence.

  • Is the problem caused by the neglect of gutters or downpipes?
  • Is the problem caused by condensation?
  • Are any timbers at risk from damp and fungal attack?
  • Can it be isolated?
  • Can it be remedy without damaging the character of the building?
  • Will the remedy be more damaging than the defect?

Solutions may be to;

  • Help the building to ‘Breathe’
  • Encourage the moisture to evaporate quickly and easily rather than restrain the rising damp.
  • Re-point masonry
  • Replace a dense render with a lime mortar to enable the rising damp to dry out.


If a cement rich mortar is used it is likely to create or exacerbate damp problems.

If a damp proof membrane is placed under a solid ground floor, this may drive damp up the walls, where if there is not a damp proof course could cause more damage and increase the problem of rising damp.

Ground works / improved drainage

Removing plants, trees or shrubs adjacent to walls or reduce ground level by at least 150mm to form a ‘dry area’ can reduce rising damp.

A drainage trench around a wall can help but this would not be practical where buildings have shallow wall foundations. The structural consequence should be considered.

There may be Archaeological implications of excavating close to walls of old buildings and therefore The Council for British Archaeology should be notified.

Insertion of a damp proof barrier

Most old buildings were built without a damp proof course, but sometimes it may be possible to insert a continuous physical damp proof course around the whole building. This can be done in stages, removing sections inserting a thin strip of damp-proof material such as copper or lead cored felt. This can only be done if the wall is built as a continuous horizontal. If the wall is irregular stone or a random rubble wall, other solutions are available. Care should also be taken that any method adopted will not damage the structure of the walls.

Other solutions include;

Chemical Impregnation. – A chemical solution that impregnates the wall forming a water repellent film within the masonry and joints.

Ceramic Tubes. – Hollow open ended tubes that absorb damp and then evaporates from the inner surface. According to SPAB their effectiveness is a matter of debate.

Electro-Osmotic systems. – This is dependent on placing electrodes of different metals one into the wall and the other into the ground then passing a current through them. This method has mainly gone out of practice in the UK due to the little evidence of their success.

Water-proof renders and Bitumastic coatings. –Internal plaster is striped and replaced with a water-proof render up to and well above the tide mark. This tends to be a temporary solution as it can breakdown quickly and tends to force the damp up higher into the building, which recreates the same damp problem in the rooms above.  This method also tends to encourage condensation.

Dry linings. – Timber panelling is the earliest example of this method, however due to moisture levels fungal decay is common behind the panels. If space allows and there are no historic features within the building a new entirely separate inner wall of 50mm blocks (or thicker) can be constructed on its own damp proof course and separated by a 50mm cavity. The inner wall is then plastered in the normal way.

5. Controlling Condensation

Condensation with a building can be reduced by reducing air humidity or maintain the surfaces above dew-point temperature. High levels of humidity are caused by rising damp, excessive water vapour and poor ventilation.

A certain amount of water vapour is expected, and created within the modern household, with clothes drying indoors, modern heating systems and regular bathing. Each should consider its output and remove the condensation by ventilating the space, by opening windows or having tumble dryers vent to the outside air.

Heating systems should be run at low temperatures if run intermittently, and lime wash walls are preferable in order to absorb moisture. Ceilings below cold roof spaces should be insulated and a vapour barrier introduced. All waterpipes should be thoroughly lagged.

If there are rooms that have had fireplaces sealed up grills or ventilation blocks should be added to increase ventilation.

Dehumidifiers can help remove excessive dampness from buildings, but if constantly used is a poor substitute for effective heating and adequate ventilation.

Internal wall treatments

Damp walls may take up to a year to dry out properly following the removal of the cause of damp. Rising damp often leaves hygroscopic salts on the surface which absorb moisture and crystalize. These may also be the result of sea sand being used in the mortar, or from Coke or Ash being heaped up against the wall or the storage of artificial fertilisers in farm buildings.

Salt deposits on plain faced walls are best brushed away and then the wall washed with clean water. Plastered walls are more problematic. If the plaster is removed, the wall must dry out prior to the new plaster being applied otherwise the new plaster can become contaminated.


Behind Plastered walls

Damp treatment companies will usually insist that up to 1m of the internal plaster be removed. Where in most buildings built before the 18th Century have wall paintings or simple wall decorations applied to the walls. If you believe that your building may have these wallpaintings then specialist advice should be sought before proceeding with any treatment.

Paints and surface treatments

Emulsions or Oil paints should not be used to decorate old building walls as the tend to fail quickly and prevent the evaporation of moisture from within the wall. Lime wash is the preferred solution as it is more tolerant to damp.

Internal joinery and panelling.

Damp treatment companies would usually remove Skirting boards, dado rails, architraves and other wooden fittings from the area where they are treating. These are often thrown away. It is important that a specialist carpenter is employed and care taken to remove and number the timber fittings in accordance with a keyed drawing so that they can be checked for damage and treated if required for fungal or insect attack and repaired and replaced on completion of the work. If there are panels in a room and there is a question regarding damp proofing then specialist architectural advice should be sought.


  • The Society for the protection of Ancient Buildings – Technical pamphlet 8. The Control of Damp in Old Buildings. By Andrew R Thomas AA Dipl RIBA. Gilbert Williams FRIBA PPInst RA FRSA and Nicola Ashurst March MBEnv (Build Cons)
  • The cover drawing was based on Ailwyn Best’s as used in the SPAB Technical pamphlet 8
  • Information sheet1 – Basic Limewash by Jane Schofield. SPAB 1986
  • Information Sheet 4 “The need for old buildings to breathe” by P.Hughes. SPAB 1986
  • Technical pamphlet 11 “Panel Infilling to Timber-framed buildings” by K.Reid
  • Information sheet 9 “An introduction to building Limes” by M.Wingate
  • Technical pamphlet 5
  • Pointing Stone and Brick Walling by G.Williams

Living off Grid: Drainage

Generally the best option for drainage is to connect to the mains sewer. However this may not be possible, or could be too expensive – especially for very small developments. There are several options for off mains drainage, all however usually require at least some land or curtilage as rainage to ground usually has to be at least 5 metres away from the building.

Off Mains Drainage Options


A cesspit is a sealed tank that stores waste. The cesspit will need to be emptied regularly and so may not be ideal for many developments, for example churchyards where there is limited or no access for vehicles.

Septic Tanks

A septic tank is a settlement chamber, which provides treatment to sewage and drainage. The tank will have an overflow, which leads to a soakaway or drainage field.

Trench Arch

A trench arch is a very simple, shallow drainage system, which allows waste to breakdown anaerobically. The trench arch is very affordable and requires almost no maintenance, however it is only suitable for low and intermittent use. A management plan and periodic testing is usually required.

Reed bed

Reed bed or constructed wetland, harnesses natural biological processes to break down organic waste. Waste is passed through perforated pipes, below planted reeds and is broken down by bacteria before being absorbed by the plants. Generally reed beds are constructed with a septic tank.

Composting Toilet

There are several varieties of composting toilets. They do not require a water connection (although you would usually need one for hand washing and cleaning), but sawdust or dry compost is required as an alternative to flushing. The waste is stored within a tray or chamber, where it decomposes. Typically they will need to be emptied twice a year, though this will vary depending on the level of use and size of storage compartment.

Does off grid drainage smell?

If properly designed the above drainage solutions do not smell of sewage (unless something has gone wrong!). Cesspits will smell while they are open for emptying.

Which option is best for my property?

The best type of installation will depend on the specific property and the ability of the occupants to manage it. For example we recently replaced a fairly new composting toilet at a church, because the congregation weren’t physically able to manage it. On another church project a trench arch was suggested by the architect, but the graves were so close together drainge runs were impossible. Also an archaeologist would have been required to oversee the excavations, making the project very expensive.

If the site is very small a composting toilet is likely to be the best option.

If the soil does not drain, then a composting toilet or cesspit may be used.

If the site is archaeologically sensitive a composting toilet may be a better option to avoid excavations.

A desktop study and site walkover will be required to determine which system is most appropriate. This is usually followed by a percolation test, which is carried out over 4 days. The results of the test will be used to calculate the size of system required. This information will then be used to apply for an environmental permit and building regulations (if required).

If you are considering of mains drainage, why not book a free consultation to discuss your requirements.

My Planning Application was Refused – What Now?

If your Local Authority has refused planning permission or imposes conditions, it must provide written reasons. The first step would be to read and try to fully understand these reasons. Sometimes the reasons are valid and sometimes you have to accept that planning permission will not be granted.

However most Planning applications will be approved if the reason for refusal are taken on board and plans amended. A conversation with the Planning Officer can help to guide the amendments to the proposal. If your application has been refused, you may be able to submit another application with modified plans free of charge within 12 months of the decision on your first application.

If however you think the decision is unreasonable then it is possible to appeal to the National Assembly for Wales or Secretary of State. For householders appeals must be submitted within 12 weeks of the refusal notice, or 6 months for other applications.

All appeals must be made on valid planning grounds. The extent to which the development proposal fits in with the Local Planning Authority’s development plan and any relevant national planning policies will be the most important

consideration. The Inspector will judge the appeal on its planning merits. It is unlikely that an applicant’s personal circumstances will outweigh any substantial planning considerations.

The appeal is usually a written procedure, however a public hearing can be requested by either party.

How Much Will It Cost?

Appealing a planning decision is free, however you are likely to incur some costs, for example a construction professional or solicitor may be employed to advise you, or even represent you.

Either party can make a claim for costs, but these costs will only be awarded if it can be proven that one party has behaved unreasonably and put the other party to wasted expense.

What Happens if my Planning appeal is rejected?

If you consider the decision to be legally flawed, you can appeal to the High Court. To be successful you will have to show that the law has been misinterpreted. If you are successful, the appeal will be re-determined by a different Inspector, however, this may not lead to a different decision being made.


If your Planning Application is refused, the best course of action is to negotiate with the Planning Department. In most cases minor changes can be made to the proposals which may improve the design. The appeals process should be a last resort and will only be considered on planning matters.

Self Build – Setting a Budget

Setting Your Budget: How much does it cost to build a new home?

This is usually the first question client’s ask when deciding whether or not to build. Unfortunately the answer is rarely as simple as they may expect.

“Should I build my own home?”

An affordable home can be built from around £1,000 per square metre. The average new home in the UK is 76 square metres. Therefore to build the average new home would cost approximately £76,000 (plus the cost to buy the land and cost of finance if required).

However this very simplistic metre square costing is only really any good for giving you a very vague idea of the size of house you might be able to afford to build. Below is a breakdown of the items which need to be included in your cost analysis.

Cost to buy the land

This is usually the biggest single item. Finding a building plot is challenging, as most of the best building plts are snapped up by the large house builders.

Buying one with planning permission is expensive, and in all probability the design will not be the home you want, so unless your building purely for profit then you will have to allow for altering the drawings and re-submitting the application… and then there is no guarantee that it will get approval.

Buying land without planning permission can be very risky, but offers far better value. Find out more about how to reduce that risk here.

Financing the build

The number of finance options available to self builders can be totally bewildering. The cost of getting the wrong loan, especially for small developers wanting a quick sale, can be enormous.

Cash flow may also be a problem. A cash flow forecast with agreed payment dates can help avoid problems, but this is almost always a risk, as most loans are paid in stages. Self builders should always try to set aside a reserve fund to avoid the need for bridging loans, or delays to work on site.

Professional fees

Design and management services usually vary between 8-20% depending on the amount of involvement required. Savings can sometimes be made by taking on the management role yourself, but this can be risky and can often add more to the overall construction cost.

“Should I manage my own self build?”

Statutory fees

Fees for planning permission, conservation area consent, Building Regulations, sustainability assessments, environmental licences, road closures… The fees will depend on the site, but they can be significant so should be determined early on and incorporated into the cost plan.


Measured and topographical surveys will be required and will likely form the basis of all following construction drawings. Some people may recommend using OS maps or deed titles, but these are not accurate enough for building and so can lead to expensive problems later on.

Geotechnical or ground condition surveys and soil analysis

Often an ecological assessment will be required. This may uncover rare or endangered species on the site, which may require licences to disturb and mitigation measures.

Site preparation and set up

This can include rubbish clearance, security fencing, welfare facilities (portaloos, etc.), a site office, setting up warning signs, etc.


Drainage, water, electricity, gas, telecoms. The cost will depend on the distance of services from the site and any difficulties accessing them. Connecting to a sewer in the middle of a very busy road can be disruptive and Local Authorities may insist the work is carried out at night, with traffic lights set up or traffic diverted.

“Going off grid”

Building Structure

Labour, Foundations, columns, beams, trusses, walls, roofs. The basic shell of the building. These costs are generally quite predictable unless there are issues with the ground conditions requiring special foundations, or the construction is unusual / experimental.

Building fit out

Labour, Doors, windows, internal partitions, fixtures, fittings, electrical and mechanical installations, joinery. These costs can vary significantly, depending on the quality required.

Landscaping / hardscaping

Setting up the garden, paths, driveways, etc.

Final cleaning and site clearance

Building is messy work. By the end of the build a lot of dust and dirt will have accumulated. You can of course do some of this yourself to help bring the cost down.


Construction can be a slow process and during the process, especially if work is delayed, the cost of labour and materials can increase.

Recently I worked on a very large re-roofing project for a church in South Wales. The church had to delay construction work because bats were found living in the roof space. Unfortunately during this delay the cost of the slates increased by 7%.


No matter how much you plan or how much experience your builders, professional have, there will always be the unforeseen or other factors beyond control. A contingency of say 10% would always be advisable and you should alway expect to spend it.

Managing expectations

Establishing a realistic budget for your self build is not something to be taken lightly. Rough square metre costs are useful in the very early planning stages, but should be taken as no more than a guide.

While we understand that clients are making a very substantial investment in their project and we always endevour to produce the best building possible. However while we will not accept any substandard work, not every square inch of the build will reach perfection. Homes are living things. They expand, contract, and breathe – all of which cause dimensional fluctuations (even if minute).  The characteristics of wood, concrete, stone, and glass are imperfect by nature. It is these imperfections that give them their beauty.

That said with the average new home having over 300 defects, we are confident of delivering far fewer!