Westpoint Exeter Sat 18th Sun 19th April 2020
Sat 10am–5pm Sun 10am–4pm

What is an Eco House or Extension?

It seems as if eco related products and information are everywhere at the moment. You don’t have to walk very far on the high street before you see something in a shop window that is advertising eco credentials. We see it on the TV with car manufacturers advertising their latest less polluting and more fuel efficient vehicles. We see it at a visit to ‘Curry’s’ to replace that broken washing machine or dishwasher, “Would you like an A rated or B rated machine?” “What really is the difference”? Of course we have started to see the same system used for selling our houses and in the letting market also, with us all having to pay that £35 fee so the agents can add an efficiency rating to our homes and at this moment in time how many people are considering these ratings when they are making a decision to buy a house or rent a property? Well to be honest there does appear to be a number of people that are taking interest in their carbon footprints on the planet.

The problem that lies ahead in the short term, is how not to be sucked into the ‘Eco Bling’ culture that is materialising before us. There are so many solar heating and renewable technologies available on the market now at differing prices so which ones do you choose? How far do we go in creating a low carbon footprint? What is this ‘zero carbon’ phrase the government are talking about? How do you create a zero carbon home? Well the answer to all of these when you really consider them at this moment in time is that it is a difficult one. A zero carbon home seems impossible to many of us in the industry to build. You just can’t practically do it! If a client takes on a self-build project and is interested in doing an eco house, that house will always have an element of carbon footprint in it, even if it is just in the delivery of the materials to site, we live in a highly developed world thanks to the industrial revolution of the previous century and technology is doing nothing but progress more quickly than any of us have a chance to keep up with.

So until there is no carbon in the delivery of products even if the products are eco we can’t say for sure that a building is actually zero carbon. The good news is that the automotive industry is trying to work on more environmentally friendly vehicles and these will help offset this carbon problem related with the construction of our buildings. The other contentious area is the materials that eco homes are built from. There are a lot of materials on the market now that are claiming eco status and are selling well, however the way they are advertised are often misleading and many false claims have been made in recent years.

So what is your personal perception of an eco house or environmentally friendly building? To some of us at the moment its simply a building created that requires little heating compared with that old 50’s house with blockwork walls that even though you have put double glazing in and loft insulation, is still costing you a fortune in gas to heat in the winter months.  To others it means a house made from natural ecological materials such as straw and replenished timber resources, clad in timber or lime rendered so that the whole building breaths naturally. Straw for example which there is an abundance of and it is claimed in the farming community in the uk typically nearly half a million buildings could be made from if we bothered to consider this material for building. Others of us probably lie somewhere between the two of these.

The point is there is not at this moment in time necessarily a right or wrong answer to what is the best way forward, it comes down to choice and of course as always money. However there are more and more self build eco projects which are being built for similar cost of a previous traditional build at the moment. The other perception is that people generally seem to feel that if they have an eco new build or extension it will look whacky in some way due to the materials used. The truth is that you can design a house to look as generic or more architecturally interesting as you like, letting your designer help you guide you on materials you can use to get the same effect. If you really want to build more traditionally then there are other materials available now with lower embodied energy. This is not a full eco option for building but if people were at least starting to consider these options, something very easy for their local trusted builders to still use, it is at least a step in the right direction.

The main thing is that we consider new technologies that are out there as they come forward in the industry because all of these and some better priced than others all have better environmental credentials than traditionally built buildings. All new buildings have the opportunity to be built as cheaply as they are now using more environmentally friendly techniques, whether it be in the short building term, or long term heating requirements of that particular building. Everyone is aware of the problems we face with green house gases and fossil fuels and we must all try and take responsibility where we can, you will even end up saving some money in doing so, particularly in the heating of these buildings and the constant increase in fuel prices.

Self-sufficiency is not a new way of living or thinking, perhaps Tom and Barbara in “the good life” were not as crazy as their next door neighbours thought. My Dad recently told me that “all this organic stuff and self-sufficiency talk is something his granddad did naturally and didn’t think twice about”. For some reason, the industrial revolution and development Post War is probably to blame partially for the way we live today we have lost our way in the building industry here, when places like Germany seem to people to be years ahead and more organised all the time. It didn’t help with the invention of concrete, a very high embodied energy product and the main ingredient of our traditionally built homes throughout much of the last century.

The introduction of timber as an internal skin and structure reduced the amount of it used in buildings but it is still been very present. After the 2nd world war in particularly concrete was seen as the wonder material much like asbestos that seemed to answer lots of construction problems and its speed of erection particularly in multi storey buildings in places was incredible, enabling a city after a disaster to get back on its feet and rebuild very effectively. Something which is now seen the world over in many countries, not nice looking buildings and highly environmentally unfriendly. Having said this we can learn a lot in this country from even the poorest countries as often these are the towns or villages built using only the materials they have on their door steps, something we used to have to do.

Cornwall is no exception, my parents live next to an old cob thatch cottage for example a construction technique it seems lost in time. People in Cornwall are trying to keep this method of construction going and let’s take a minute to consider it. A building that may have been built in the mid to late 1800’s and it’s still standing today serving families and generations for the future to come, housing estates in the UK built 30-40 years ago more traditionally are almost being condemned due to poor building techniques that they require knocking down and starting again.

Suddenly I think our ancestors were more forward thinking than we are today. So consider this when you first thought of straw bale as a construction method you once saw on grand designs all those years back and thought, that will never catch on. Think of those people that have successfully built from it, even in UK, think of our grandfathers forefathers who were building using cob, a not dissimilar natural building technique and ask yourself. Is it such a crazy way to build?

Eco Architectural Tel: 01326 314397
Address:  First Floor, Admiralty House, 2 Bank Place, Falmouth TR11 4AT