Jacqui Bugden and Ian Crystal had been struggling to find a property which would have low running costs to suit their oncoming retirements. As a solution, they decided to self build.

In a string of fortunate events, they have not only built an energy efficient home, but managed to do so on a small budget, in a beautiful location and with very little stress in the process. They were shortlisted in the Daily Telegraph Homebuilding & Renovating Awards 2013.

The Site

Finding a plot in a Site of Special Interest is not an easy task, as Jacqui can recount having viewed over 20 plots in Caernarfon in Spring 2011. But on a rainy day, they found an infill plot in a village of just 100 houses.

The site, sandwiched between two houses, backed onto a valley offering stunning views of Snowdonia National Park. It was also framed by a babbling river and a protected motte, and had once been home to a traditional Welsh cottage. They purchased their little slice of natural beauty for just £92,500.

The Project

  • Name: Jacqui Bugden and Ian Crystal
  • Build cost: £180,000 (£1,579/m²)
  • Build time: 6 months
  • Location: North Wales

The Brief

The couple’s demands were fairly simple. With the perfect plot they were already halfway to their dream home. Their only needs were that it be as energy efficient as possible with low running costs.


The site had outline planning permission, obtained by the vendor. All plans had to be approved by Snowdonia National Park, but the process was much helped by their planning officer Richard Thomas.

It was agreed that they could take advantage of the views behind the house with large windows, so long as the house looked traditional from the front.

The Design

Working with their architect and planning officer, a design for a two bedroom, oak frame home, with a stone-faced façade, Welsh slate pitched roof, white windows, and a chimney (unused) was approved. The rear features a large, rendered gable end with bi-fold doors on both floors.

The living room is on the first floor, meaning the couple can take advantage of the stunning views while they relax, and open the doors on hot days for an outdoor/indoor space. Their kitchen diner is directly below, and opens on to a neat patio area.

The house is well-equipped for modern life, but is wrapped in a traditional shell which blends in with the vernacular.

Kitchen with bifolding doors

The couple use their Sandyford Ecomatic Gemini woodburning stove to cook on, and to heat their home

The Build

As self build stories go, this one was pretty straightforward.

The couple did have initial problems choosing a timber frame company, with only two to choose from in North Wales, but due to the efficiency of their groundworker Twm Roberts, the frame took just one week to erect. Twm recommended a friend, Robin Price, who completed the blockwork, and within six months of breaking ground, the couple were able to move in to finish the interiors.

The ease of the process is all the more surprising when you acknowledge that the subcontractors were largely unfamiliar with timber frame construction. However, an eagerness to learn, and sheer pride in their work meant the builders faced few problems. They even noticed some major faults made by the frame company, which the couple would not have spotted otherwise.

Jacqui and Ian were lucky enough to find a property for rent across the road during the build. They ran electricity from here to the site for the construction.


The couple had taken advice from eco expert Tim Pullen at the Homebuilding & Renovating Shows. Not wanting to connect to mains gas, they chose to specify high levels of insulation and the following renewable technology:

  • A Sandyford Ecomatic Gemini woodburning range meets their cooking, underfloor heating and hot water needs in winter.
  • Worcester Bosch Solar lifestyle panels (solar thermal) on the roof provide hot water in summer.
  • Gledhill Thermal Store
The exterior of the house with bi-fold doors and a Juliet balcony

Bi-fold doors and a Juliet balcony bring the outside in to their first floor living room

Keeping Costs Low

So how did they build an energy efficient and welcoming home for such a low price? To keep costs down Jacqui and Ian:

  • Self managed meaning they did not have to pay an architect or contractor to oversee the project.
  • Tidied the site every evening and opened it every morning at 7:30.
  • Bought a pick-up truck for £1,200. They used it to collect materials (saving delivery costs and their tradespeople’s time) and make trips to the recycling centre, thus avoiding skip hire fees.
  • Did some savvy shopping, keeping an eye out for deals and using their Tesco points to buy floor tiles.
  • Experienced neighbourly good will — one neighbour provided water for the construction until the site was connected to the mains, and a farmer lent the use of lifting vehicles and a telehandler.
  • Bought all of their furniture second hand from antiques shops, eBay, Freecycle and car boot sales.

Snowdonia National Park are so impressed by the style and eco credentials of the home, that their planning department now holds it as an example for other builders.

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