When we came to Brighton from London in 2015 Sue and I were looking for an old house like the terraced house we were living in, built well before the First World War. After all, older houses have lots of nooks and crannies and lots of character.
What we ended up with was a very modern, ‘sustainable’ home, aka an eco-home. Sue saw it, fell in love with it – and that was that. We rushed down to view it, got stuck in traffic and ended up with just five minutes to look at it. I can still see us at the viewing with Sue silently mouthing to me “make an offer”! One of those crazy things. Still, we’re in it now and we love it.
So what is an eco-home?
Our home has achieved Level 3 in the Code for Sustainable Homes, ie ‘current best practice’. This is a government certification that takes into account nine factors such as energy and water saving measures, environmental impact of materials used, insulation and even ‘health and wellbeing’. Ours scored 100% in the Waste, Pollution and Health and Wellbeing categories. Our carbon emissions rating is 87/100.
Building on ‘waste’ land
This particular home is about clever use of space and light, using very modern design and materials. The house was built on a disused reservoir, and the downstairs is actually in the reservoir, whereas the rest of the house is at street level. So we don’t have ‘upstairs’ and ‘downstairs’, we have ‘downstairs’ and ‘further downstairs’! Unusually downstairs is quite a lot larger than upstairs. Because it’s built into a hole in the ground there isn’t much natural light, so the architects put an atrium in the middle (open to the elements) to let in more light and air. They also put in a lot of glass doors and windows, which gives the house a ‘Mediterranean’ feel.
Without the atrium it would not have been possible to build this house. It would have a lot of dark corners – like no kitchen windows and one less bedroom. The atrium provides natural light for not only the kitchen, but also one of the bedrooms and extra light for the lounge.
With a growing population and an ever-increasing demand for housing it’s important to make use of space that can be built on, and if homes can be built without the need to concrete over more fields that can only be a good thing.
Lower heating costs
The first thing people would expect is lower heating costs. Regulations require us to put more and more insulation in our homes, but eco-homes start out that way. As a result we only need to heat it for a few hours a day even in winter.
Two solar panels reduce the need to use gas or electricity to heat our water.
Most of the rooms are lit by halogen lamps fitted into the ceiling, and each of these uses just 5W of electricity. Compare this to100-150W per light bulb just a few years ago and it’s a huge saving on the national grid. LED bulbs have come down in price, I got 10 for £17 on Amazon with free delivery, and these days you can get a variety of effects from strong lighting for work areas like kitchens and bathrooms to warm lighting for living areas.
Our showers are designed to use less water and I’ve installed a special “Camel” shower head which gives us a more powerful jet while using the same amount of water, or less.
There’s a water butt outside which collects rainwater from the roof to water the garden. And the house came with a fully functioning compost heap. The compost is sweet and a joy to run through my fingers, although when I first opened the lid a whole raft of creepy crawlies came rushing out!
What’s it like?
Apart from the feeling we’ve done the right thing for humanity, our home feels airy and very light. There have been a few minor teething problems due to the new materials and building techniques that were used, but we have a home that is designed and built for the twenty-first century. And once you’ve gone there you won’t want to go back!
Contributed by Clive Margolis, he writes about local Sussex and global environmental issues through his website Inspirationalise – www.inspirationalise.com
Why not ‘eco’ your shower heads? Or if you rent – ask your landlord?
“Greening Sussex by Sussex families”