Flood-resistant timber home in Oxfordshire

Joanna and Martin O'Callaghan's revolutionary self-build on a plot prone to flooding

By Debbie Jeffery | 3 November 2017

First-time self-builders Joanna and Martin could not have chosen a more difficult plot of land on which to construct their new home. Not only was there no vehicular access to the garden site, which stands within a conservation area in a pretty Oxfordshire village, but the land itself was prone to flooding.

Revolutionary flood resistant timber self build in Oxfordshire 2

Photo: Alastair Lever

In the heart of the Thames Valley and surrounded by protected mature trees and historic buildings, the awkward patch of garden made an unlikely plot, but help was at hand to design a flood-resilient home beside a brook in the leafy garden, which previously belonged to Joanna’s parents.

‘They bought the house in the Fifties and I grew up there with my brothers and sisters; then when it was sold in 2011 we retained a piece of the garden with an idea that one day we might be able to build a house there,’ Joanna explains.

‘The end of the garden has flooded in the past, and as Martin is a chartered surveyor we knew that gaining planning permission would be far from easy. It definitely wasn’t a prime plot, but building our own home had always been a dream, so we decided to give it a go.’

Revolutionary flood resistant timber self build in Oxfordshire 1

Photo: Alastair Lever

A visit to Grand Designs Live was to provide some much-needed inspiration for Joanna and Martin. There they met Baca Architects, which was exhibiting at the show. After participating in a ‘draw your dream house’ exercise, the couple were convinced they had found the expert help they needed, as the practice specialises in designing floating architecture and homes close to the water.

‘After that we didn’t need to look any further,’ says Martin. ‘Baca worked with us to design a house for the plot that met all the strict criteria from the conservation officer, the Environment Agency and Thames Water – although it was far from a straightforward process.’

The site is rated as Flood Zone 3, the higher risk of the two categories designated by the Environment Agency, so the proposed property had to be developed to offer a safe solution to potential flooding, while preserving the mature trees on the site and complementing the surrounding historic buildings.