The National Homebuilding & Renovating Show

“Well, it might take years
To see through all these tears
Don’t let go
When you find it you will know”

Try and Love Again, written by Randy Meisner,
recorded by The Eagles

To be honest, it isn’t the most enthralling title for a show.

But we needed to do something. We’d spend five and a half years in our bungalow, and the sum total of our achievements was zero. We were getting a little lethargic, maybe lazy, with respect to fixing the house. We were certainly busy – bringing up a young child, running and trying to grow our business, squeezing in hobbies such as endurance riding and gliding: that kept our spare time to a minimum. And so perhaps it was convenient to put the house on the back burner, but that didn’t fix anything.

We were on some mailing lists to do with house improvements, and one of them announced The National Homebuilding and Renovating Show, which was to be held at the NEC in Birmingham. We could get tickets for free if we applied in advance, so – having arranged for someone to look after Lucy after school – we decided to go along.

Potton

We made an appointment to talk to someone at the Potton stand, and so once we’d negotiated the NEC traffic, we went to see them. I’d known of Potton for many years, and they have a good reputation in the so-called “self-build” market, so they were an obvious first choice to chat with.

They were helpful, answered a few of our questions, but were clearly keen to get us to book an appointment for after the show. We took some details and left the Potton stand. They were seeing lots of people there, but it felt somehow impersonal. We were just another couple talking to them; we weren’t individual. That’s understandable to a degree, but the budget to build a home from scratch runs to multiple hundreds of thousands of pounds. The little child in me wanted to be loved a little bit more.

How Not To Run A Stand

A lot of the stands at the show were appallingly run. We repeatedly saw the staff on stands eating, and there’s something off-putting about that. We didn’t feel that we wanted to talk to people – or be spoken to by people – who were trying to eat. Apparently, we weren’t alone in feeling that way as those stands contained only staff.

Other stands treated us with indifference, as if they resented members of the public interrupting their day. At one stand, we spent ten minutes or so looking at photos of the beautiful oak beam houses they build, and we starting discussing between us whether we could have a house like that. There were plenty of staff on this stand, but none asked if they could help. Eventually, we went over to one staff member who was doing something on his phone, and said, “Excuse me” (we’re so embarrassingly British sometimes, aren’t we?). His reply: “Hang on a sec”. We left: if his mobile phone is more important than potential clients, we already know all we need to about this company.

So, sales managers, why do you let your staff eat on the stands? Why do you let them even have mobile phones on the stand, let alone use them in preference to talking to prospects? Why do you spend thousands of pounds on a stand and then ignore those from whom you can recoup that outlay? It’s easy to blame the staff on the stands, but the real muppets are those who let them get away with it.

SchwörerHaus

We’d never heard of Schwoerer before visiting the show, but their stand suggested that they might be able to help us. As soon as we started talking to them – and presumably they realised we were serious buyers, not “just looking” – we were invited to sit at the back of the stand.We were speaking with Karl Lowe, who, it turns out, runs his own architectural practice rather than working for SchwörerHaus directly; however, he co-ordinates all Schwoerer houses in the UK.

Karl was excellent. He listened to our outpouring describing what the situation was and what we wanted to achieve; he asked a few questions, and then he explained how Schwoerer worked. He paused every now and again to check we understood; in particular, this was helpful for Cecilia, who is deaf: lip reading is not quite the exact science that the films would have us believe.

Karl explained that they were kit houses, but each was individually designed. The kit would be manufactured in Germany and shipped to the UK complete with a multi-disciplined team who would erect the house on a pre-formed base. It would take 3-4 days to get the house weather-tight, and a total of around 8 weeks from start to moving in.

Schwoerer are very big on low energy use: all windows are triple glazed, and there is a heat recovery system built into the house. That takes warm, moist air from the kitchen and bathroom, passes it through a heat exchanger and vents it externally. Meanwhile, dry, cool air is pumped in from the outside, warmed in the heat exchanger, and distributed throughout the house.

Heating would be underfloor, something we had decided some time ago would be best for us. The water for the underfloor heating would be warmed via an air-source heat pump. There would be no need for an oil or gas boiler. In the summer, the heat pump can work in reverse and cool the house – perfect for that one week every six years when it’s too hot to sleep in the UK.

Karl showed us the timber used to build the frame of the house, and how it compared (favourably, of course!) with that used by other manufacturers. The Schwoerer factory, near Stuttgart in Germany, also produces all the timber it needs.

Walking Away

We spent 45 minuter with Karl on the Schwoerer stand. As we were walking away, I was hoping that Cecilia liked them. They seemed to be able to meet all of our requirements; they had good designs; they were economic to run; in short, they got what we wanted. But would she feel the same way?

She turned to me and said, “That’s what we’re doing, then!”. Excellent! We spent another hour or so looking at things at the show (“a time-lapse camera to film the build! Yes!”), but our hearts weren’t in it any more.

We knew what we wanted.

Next: An Architect Calls