Whitewashed walls, neat golden thatch, glossy red doors and dancing fireplaces are all images brought to mind when contemplating cottages and modern media such as magazines and books help to perpetuate this fantasy. What you don’t see is all the work that goes into bringing a derelict cottage back to life and maintaining it. Although cottage enthusiasts love their homes and wouldn’t change a thing, most do agree that renovating a cottage is once in a lifetime experience, best left behind them. The process requires endless reserves of patience, adaptability and creativity, not to mention a substantial budget. Before you consider buying a cottage, take the following points into consideration:
It is immeasurably easier to build from scratch than it is to retrofit modern conveniences to an old property. Costs you may have to take into account, outside of the regular build costs include –
- Reinforcing or creating foundations
- Installation of services on difficult sites
- Damp proofing and insulating existing stone walls
- Higher electrical & plumbing costs
- Hiring craft trades people eg: thatchers, stonemasons etc…
- Bespoke windows & doors to fit non-conventional openings
- Higher insurance costs
- reapplying lime washes to the exterior
- maintaining thatched roofs
- repairing damp spots
- excluding draughts & coping with unwanted guests such as mice which are dealt with below.
Locating good trades people and professional advice.
One of the main difficulties faced when renovating and living in cottages is access to competent, reliable, like-minded trades people. Cottages are not a passion everyone shares; most builders laugh at the thought of a renovation and will do all in their power to conventionalise the process. They can convince the owner to demolish and build from scratch or to use building methods that take from the look and feel of the property for convenience. An inexperienced and/or unenthusiastic Architect or Engineer (or both) could also jeopardise the success of a project by forcing their views on the renovator. It is critical to find the right people for a renovation or you might find yourself trying to find alternatives in the middle of the project.
Dampness, draughts & infestation
It is extremely difficult to eradicate all of the above and they often go hand in hand with the glamour of owning a cottage. Dampness is and old foe in Ireland, our weather makes it difficult yet necessary to combat – retrofitting damp courses is a hit and miss affair so you always have to be prepared for maintenance work.
Insulation is a real bone of contention for some renovators in this era of rising energy costs and eco-awareness. The battle between lowering energy costs and retaining the original charm of exposed internal stonewalls rages in most renovators agendas. Cottages were built as breathable structures and applying rigid airtight insulation is rarely successful, you may need to get used to those random whips of cold air whose source you just cannot find.
Rodents, woodworm and spiders are just some of the forms of infestation you might end up living with. It might be your house now but it was theirs for decades and they may not be so easy to persuade to leave.
Cottages are not known for having space so this pitfall won’t come as a surprise to you – until you move into one. The walls are thick and make the interior deceptively small, the fabric of the building is rigid and difficult to manipulate unless you extend. Space for your furniture, cloths, extra bathrooms, reasonable sized kitchens and most modern conveniences is just not available within the structure of most cottages.
A cottage renovation is not a project to be taken on lightly, it is all consuming unless you have an endless budget and resources. I find that the people who are most frustrated by the process of renovating a cottage are those who are trying to turn it into a type of cottage-bungalow hybrid – retaining none of the original features. Those who are truly passionate about their cottages are like loving parents nurturing their child’s personality, they accept their faults and work around them to make them the best they can be – discovering new intrinsic quirks and delights with each passing year. Cottage enthusiasts are drawn towards the individuality and character of a place, its the story behind the face that attracts them and no amount of money can buy that.