Image: Darren Chung
Property developer, architect and presenter of Channel 4’s The Restoration Man, George Clarke, looks at the pros and cons of waterside living
Living in a home that is looking out over the sea or sits alongside a beautiful river is the dream of many. The length of Great Britain’s coastline, along with the perimeter all of its principal islands, measures nearly 20,000 miles, we then have all the thousands of linear miles of rivers and canals on top of that. So, there are plenty of opportunities for us to live by water.
There are incredible health benefits too. Researchers from the European Centre for Environmental & Human Health at the University of Exeter looked at data from the UK census of more than 48 million people to assess how a person’s geographical location might affect their health. When all of the information was correlated together they found that the closer a person lived to the sea, the better their health. Surely the fresh air alone is a good enough reason to live by the sea.
The psychological benefits are incredible too. Another study by the same researchers found that people feel calmer and more relaxed by the sea and that access to a coastal environment encourages activity, as well as stress reduction. Coincidentally, as I’m writing this very column I’m in a house right by the sea and a cursory glance out of the window between paragraphs provides not only a beautiful view, but a moment to reflect, contemplate and gather my thoughts… (mini break to gaze at stunning sea view)… okay, I’m back again! So, the emotional and physical benefits of living by the sea are pretty clear. But, unfortunately there are a few downsides of coastal living and you need to be very aware of them before committing to buying a home by the sea or by a river. First, buying a home by water doesn’t always come cheap. Homes with a direct sea or river view are often sold at a premium and are in high demand so you need to have your wits about you and be close to many good estate agents to get in there first.
If you are tempted to buy a home near a river then the first thing you should do is check the risk of flooding with the environment agency. There have been many severe flood warnings issued over the last few years and, in some areas of the UK, rivers have risen to dangerous levels on a number of times that should only be reached once in a hundred years. Living on a flood plain or close to rivers with a high risk of flooding can have a huge effect on your house and contents insurance. Some properties struggle to get any insurance cover at all.
If you’re considering building a new home near a river, or on a flood plain, there are clear guidelines from the environment agency about what you should do to prevent flooding, such as raising your house to a minimum level off the ground. The UK recently saw the completion of it’s first ‘amphibious house’ by BACA Architects in Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Through clever engineering the home, built on a flood-prone river island by the Thames, literally floats on rising flood water like a ship in its dock, protecting the house and all of its contents. It’s genius!
Living by the sea has risks too. Coastal erosion has had a devastating effect on some coastal properties, that have literally fallen into the sea. It’s good to be close to the coast, but not too close to the edge. Some seaside properties very close to areas of coastal erosion struggle to get building insurance so again, check before you buy.
Coastal homes also suffer from salt damage in the sea air. If you buy a home by the sea you need to be prepared to spend more time and money on maintenance than on a home that is inland. The high salt content in the air, combined with high levels of moisture that can fall onto the outside of your home from sea spray, can cause exterior finishes to deteriorate at a very fast rate. Coastal homes need to be painted every few years to keep them looking good and timber needs to be treated regularly too. That, unfortunately, is why so many coastal homes replace their old timber windows with white plastic UPVC windows. The UPVC is less prone to salt air attack and people often choose white frames as, if you choose a coloured frame, the UPVC will bleach from the sun and weather badly over time. UPVC is cheaper too, which is why you’ll see it used as fascia boards and barge board on homes where the timber boards have been replaced. I get it, but I don’t like it.
External facades that face onto the sea or are directly exposed to the prevailing wind will also take more of a battering and will require more maintenance than other parts of the home. Something else to be aware of. If you decide to buy a home by the sea make sure your conveyance lawyer does the very best checks for flooding and coastal erosion and definitely check everything to the finest detail with your insurers. And make sure you are good at external DIY! Get all of this right and life by the water will be amazing.
For more tips and advice from George, check out his website at www.georgeclarke.com