Get closer to nature with a floating eco-home on the Thames
Barbara Chandler meets a couple who said goodbye to a noisy London flat and bought a revolutionary new home on the water
A serene summer evening on the river at Hampton Court, and the only drama is the sound of water negotiating a nearby weir — plus the occasional honking of a goose. "It's not like the nonstop din of our old flat at Canary Wharf," chuckles Conrado Galves, sitting contentedly aboard his new "floating home" moored off Ash Island, at the end of a long row of boats.
He shares this little haven with his wife, Ana Abar, who he met in their home country of Brazil while working on the same TV production. Here in London, Ana is a TV reporter and presenter, while Conrado is a virtuoso in computer animation.
Their home is not a cramped houseboat with tiny windows and no room to turn, but an example of a new breed of floating home — a sleek, modern, pale wood floating house with easy head heights and a glassy run of sliding picture windows and doors revealing views out over the river.
Design and build is by a new company, Eco Floating Homes, which specialises in impressive eco designs, and the couple's is one of only seven similar homes completed so far. The walls and floors are highly insulated and the green roof is planted with sedums to warm the place in winter and keep it cool in summer.
Insulated glass doors keep heat in and sound out. Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) further reduces heating costs while providing fresh air, and a patented system cleans waste water to reuse for washing and loo-flushing.
'We are connected with nature in a way we never knew was possible'
Conrado and Ana first experienced water living on a trip to Holland, but back in London were discouraged by the traditional boat designs and unattractive moorings. Then they went to see an Eco Floating Homes show home at Queenford Lakes in Oxfordshire, and bought it outright for £165,000, fully equipped, and measuring 14.8 metres by 5.7 metres.
They pay £700 a year for an Environment Agency licence, and about £400 a month mooring fee to the owner of Ash Island, who supplies their utilities: water, electricity and waste services. Their quarterly energy bill is much the same as it was for their former flat in a modern block, which was considerably smaller. It pays for underfloor and water heating, and energy for appliances (AAA-rated washing machine, dishwasher, hob and oven) plus built-in LED lighting.
They moved in during February and haven't been cold at all. "But most of all we love our surroundings," says Conrado. "We are connected with nature in a way we never knew was possible".
As we speak the light is fading over the weir to his left, and a swan with a large cygnet brood is gliding by. The home-boat, sitting 18 inches below water with a steel hull, is very stable. Ana is working late, a regular occurrence.
Conrado shows off the rest of his home with pride — a bedroom at one end and a small bedroom-cum-study at the other. In between are a bathroom with streamlined fittings, a utility cupboard, and the large living room, plus a kitchen with built-in cupboards, a small island unit facing into the main room and granite worktops.
Furniture is simple and modern, from Ikea, Habitat and Dwell. "But the view is our main decoration," says Conrado. An outside staircase at the side leads to a flat roof with a barbecue, and their sedum lawn. "We love to party — it's part of our culture," adds Conrado, whose native language is Portuguese Brazilian. They plan to raise their family on their river home. "After all, we have called our home Vida — that means life in our language."
Long metal walkways, over the river and a second weir, connect Ash Island to the bank — with the train station only a 10-minute walk away. Ana works in Canary Wharf and can be home in 40 minutes, via Canada Water and Waterloo. The last part of the journey is a path hugging the water's edge, fringed with wild flowers, all part of a welcoming, unwinding process.
"The problem is the scarcity of moorings," says Mike O'Shea, founder-director of Eco Floating Homes, which has its own workshops in Hertfordshire. However, sorting out moorings and general handholding is all part of a friendly and truly personal service, as Conrado and Ana testify.
"Typically, house boats look inward with small windows," adds O'Shea, who has a lifetime's experience in the building industry. "We have reversed that." Eco Floating Homes do not need planning permission, since they can be moved, but planning permission may be needed for use of the land they are moored against, depending on the borough.
The homes are bespoke and can be adapted to suit owner and/or mooring. You can even add an extra storey. They can also be used as offices and in the pipeline is a holiday development, at Queenford Lakes, with homes to rent, or to buy from £115,000.
The company hopes to build another 10 homes this year for the Thames between Oxford and Canary Wharf. One will shortly be available at Hampton Wick for £175,000 (ecofloatinghomes.com).
Photographs: Graham Jepson and Rory Lindsay
Britain's most unusual, wacky and wonderful homes: water towers, windmills, castles and church conversions