Drumlins – Automated Self-Build

Mark and Helen McCall have always been advocates for smart home living. Running the website ‘Automated Home’ for 25 years, the couple constructed their first self-build in 1999, building on their love and knowledge of home technology as the sector grew.

Then in June 2019, the couple started their journey toward building their second self-build, a fully automated property that would prioritise low-energy and low running costs, all integrated into one smart home system.

After finding the perfect spot in the drumlins of County Downs, close to family and already complete with planning permission for a traditional style home, the McCalls had to change the permissions to their own contemporary design and get to work on the build.

Working with 2020 Architects, based in County Antrim, the property was designed to be south facing in order to take advantage of solar gain in the main living areas, specifying six Keylite roof windows in ‘the barn’ – an open plan living, dining and kitchen area – and one in the first-floor landing.

The build had taken place with no major issues until March 2020, when the site closed for ten weeks during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, despite this, the project only fell behind schedule by a few weeks, and the couple moved into their brand new, fully automated home in July 2020.

Homeowner, Mark said: “We incorporated a lot of smart home tech into our first self-build home, which was a more traditional style, but each piece of hardware was running off a different system or app. We knew that this time round we wanted everything to be as integrated and automated as possible, controlling the whole home all from one place.

“As a low-energy household, insulation and ventilation are two very important factors for us. 2020 Architects understood that we needed some high-performance roof windows that would complement the extra insulation, air tightness and other low energy features we incorporated into the property.

“Being able to open up our roof windows to expel any excess heat has been fantastic, particularly this summer. Yet once the windows are closed, Keylite’s fully integrated expanding thermal collar and triple glazing ensures that minimal heat can escape, which has made the windows perfectly compatible with the rest of the features in our home.

“Another one of Keylite’s big selling points was its electric roof windows. These usually come with a standard remote control set up, but Keylite’s technical department went above and beyond. They spoke to our smart home suppliers, Epitome Living, and supplied additional pieces of hardware which allowed us to integrate the windows and blinds into our own system.

“We use a smart home automation system called Loxone, which controls everything – our heat pump, lighting, music, security and access, and of course our Keylite roof windows and blinds – all from our smartphones or the wall-mounted tablet in the kitchen.

“We have a pole-mounted weather station on our roof which measures the amount of light, rain and wind speed, and feeds back into our automated home system. If the house begins to overheat, the system will automatically open the windows to ventilate the room, and if the weather takes a turn, the windows will close. It’s a fantastic feature and is just one less thing we have to think about.”

Gareth Crooks, Senior Architectural Technician from 2020 Architects, adds: “Incorporating the Keylite roof window within the design was not only to allow for additional light to access the open plan kitchen/dining/living area, but also to help ventilate the large open plan space from potential solar gains due to the large gable window and two sets of sliding doors.

“When it reached the technical stage, the homeowners wanted to incorporate further automation, so we agreed that Keylite roof windows were the way forward with the introduction Keylite premium electric kit which was further linked into the automation by Epitome Living.”

The property’s structure is split into two buildings. Looking towards the house from the front, the left side is a vaulted single storey barn that contains an open plan area with a small utility room and pantry behind, and an integrated double garage beyond that.

Although a contemporary home, the stone walls reflect many of the agricultural buildings that surround the area, with floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the beautiful County Down countryside.

While inside boasts three bedrooms, high and vaulted ceilings, concrete stairs, solid floors and walls, as well as low maintenance finishes, on the outside a roof mounted photovoltaic (PV) solar system will be installed later this year to generate electricity from the sun.


Style – Automated self-build

Location – County Down, NI

Build time – 13 months

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