Ecco living

Ecco living

Eco-friendly homes have two key benefits: a reduced carbon footprint and lower energy bills. What’s not to like? Here, Sally Bult considers some of the best ways to go about making your home more energy efficient…

When purchasing a house, it is important to check the EPC or Energy Performance Certificate. This tells you how energy efficient the property is and what changes can be made to improve its rating. If these kinds of details make your eyes glaze over, just think of their impact on your heating bills and the potential benefits to the environment. 

Whether a property is a new build, a historic property or a blend of the two through renovation or extension, there is a wide gambit of ’eco solutions’, the correct implementation of which can create a more eco-friendly home.  

One local example of a purpose built eco-friendly home is Fistral in Milbourne, Wiltshire. Built in 2013, this timber framed, modular eco-home was constructed using a closed panel timber frame system incorporating high strength timber glulam [glued laminated] structural elements, clad in sustainably sourced Siberian Larch. It is a highly thermally efficient building envelope, well insulated, with the effective use of passive solar gain through the large floor-to-ceiling windows, and zone-controlled to maximise seasonal heating variations. A Mitsubishi Ecodan air source heat pump and cylinder, coupled with roof mounted solar thermal panels, provides efficient central heating, hot water and zoned wet underfloor heating throughout. 

Sporn Construction in Bicester is a leading example of a building firm committed to providing ’green’ solutions to reduce the carbon footprint of its construction projects. Robin Sporn, the company’s Director, says, “To be a truly eco-friendly home, the construction journey as a whole must be considerate to the environmental impact of the building process. Considerate construction must therefore prioritize the re-use of existing materials where possible, the efficient recycling of waste, sourcing of local materials and the maintenance of the highest standards of Health & Safety practices, to the benefit not only of the employees and potentially clients on site, but neighbouring properties and the wider community as a whole.

“When thinking of eco-friendly homes, most people will consider the innovative green energy solutions which are available in numerous variations to suit individual needs. However, true ’Green Construction’ starts at a very basic level. 

“The starting point is the consideration of how the fabric of the building itself can conserve energy. By optimising the building fabric, you can achieve reliable and lasting energy performance. 

“The initial design will focus on the type of construction – traditional or timber frame or something more innovative. Timber frame can be a simple structure, hidden from view, utilising traditional studwork, Eco Joists, SIPS panels (Structural Insulated Panels) or a more complex intricate oak frame, which adds to the interior architecture of
the building.”  

Good insulation is always a priority and ’superinsulation’ is an approach to building design, construction and retrofitting that dramatically reduces heat loss (and gain) by using much higher levels of insulation and air tightness than normal. 

Superinsulation is one of the predecessors of the PassivHaus approach, which refers to a rigorous and detailed standard for energy efficiency in a building, reducing its ecological footprint.
It results in ultra-low energy buildings that require little energy for space heating or cooling.
A PassivHaus is often considered the pinnacle of eco-friendly home construction, but it does have cost implications due to the complexity of the work required to achieve such high standards of
energy efficiency. 

If PassivHaus status is your ultimate goal, it is vital that you engage a design team and building contractor with the correct eco credentials. Attention to details such as thermal bridging, the connection between floors, walls and ceilings, and indeed the integrity of the system as a whole, should be carried out by master craftsmen who are well versed in green building techniques. This approach can only be achieved through careful detailing and execution: it cannot be ’bolted on’
at a later date. 

It is worth noting that where once eco-friendly buildings faced considerable technological restrictions, resulting in design compromises, such homes can now be sleek and sophisticated. For example, the ultra-modern ’Glass Box’ architecture, with its prolific use of large structural glass panels, is at the cutting edge of eco design. Since structural glass is engineered to be load-bearing, it can be used to create a completely clear, frameless extension space without visible metal supports. Glass panels can now also include an insulated core and achieve U values as low as 0.17.  

With the fabric of the building and its insulation values carefully considered, these solid eco foundations can be built upon with the addition of green energy solutions such as wind turbines, ground source heat pumps, photovoltaic panels for generating electricity, wood pellet burners etc. It is worth researching the availability of grants and economic incentives if you are considering these options. For example, the Government incentive known as the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) offers funding for the installation of biomass boilers, solar water heating and certain heat pumps, based on the amount of renewable heat made by your heating system. 

One green energy solution is the Ecco stove, a masonry stove manufactured in Warwickshire which is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to steel or cast iron stoves. The concept is simple: create a high combustion temperature for maximum efficiency then channel the waste gases through heat absorbent material to reduce the amount of heat lost to the atmosphere. 

This idea of a masonry heater is an age-old concept, going back hundreds of years in parts of Europe and North America. It has many benefits including balanced heat distribution, lower chimney maintenance requirements and reduced loading times – from as few as two fires a day to heat your living area. It’s also a safer option if you have children or pets as it has a much lower surface temperature than steel or cast iron stoves. 

Another option for green energy generation is to harness wind power. Giles and Lucy Jackson, who live near Northleach, put up a domestic wind turbine three years ago. Lucy says, “We started looking into alternative energies when we were thinking about renovating our house. As we are quite exposed where we live and get a lot of wind, it made sense to put up a wind turbine to provide us with our electricity. It does subsidise our domestic electricity (which is just as well with two daughters!) and provides us with a small income that should pay for it over the years. 

“Although feelings were mixed locally, we are glad we went ahead. We are glad that we took the punt, although it was a lot of hassle. As you know, it is not every one’s cup of tea.”

The popularity of eco-friendly homes is certainly growing steadily in the UK. As Keith Maslin from Blount & Maslin Estate Agents in Malmesbury says, “There is a strong demand for energy efficient homes and currently there are very few available.” Given the latest advances in energy efficient construction technologies and green energy solutions, there has never been a better time to set about improving your home’s eco-friendliness.

Contact details:

Blount & Maslin: 01666 825725 / SN16 9AT / blount-maslin.co.uk
Ecco Stove: 01527 857814 / B80 7AX / eccostove.com
RHI: gov.uk/domestic-renewable-heat-incentive
Sporn Construction: 01869 277222 / OX27 9AU / spornconstruction.com

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