With soaring fuel bills forcing homebuyers to act green, many movers opt for the lower running costs of a new-build property which, on average, are six times more energy-efficient than older homes.
The message coming through is that you do not have to compromise on comfort, style and luxury, or even pay a premium, for a low-energy new home that offers a better, cheaper lifestyle.
'There is a new kind of post-crunch design, where the cost of running your home will be integral to your reasons for buying'
Green design has entered the mainstream housing market, with most developers leaning towards contemporary architecture and utilising hi-tech factory production.
All new-builds are covered by the Government's Code for Sustainable Homes, a green standard that works on a points system and grades properties on a scale of one to six, using criteria such as water-saving features and on-site power generation, from solar panels to mini wind turbines and ground source heat pumps. Level six is the top rating and requires all energy supplied to come from zero-carbon sources. Such homes are highly insulated and almost airtight.
Hanham Hall, being built by Barratt in Bristol, is the UK's first large-scale level six development - 185 homes around a listed former hospital. Properties will be connected to an on-site combined heat and power plant, have rainwater harvesting systems, greenhouses, allotments and "smart meters", which the Government intends rolling out nationwide to enable householders to monitor their energy consumption as they use it.
Currently, most new homes are level three or four, a standard that should guarantee at least 30 per cent cheaper fuel bills. In London, the most energy-efficient homes tend to be one-off houses or small niche projects, though Peabody and other housing charities are making big strides in the affordable sector.
Four modern town houses at Aubert Park, Highbury, are so energy-efficient that virtually no heating is required. Triple glazed, south-facing and thoroughly insulated, they look fabulous and promise an astonishing 90 per cent saving in energy.
The 3,000sq ft homes use a German construction method dubbed Passivhaus, which has ground source heat pumps and an air-cooling and ventilation system. The timber frame structure has a thermal skin wrapped in crisp white render, Iroko wood and zinc cladding.
'Eco-ratings are based on everything from how close a home is to public transport to how well it tackles recycling'
Internally, every room from the ground floor up has a full-width wall of glass allowing light in. Bedrooms have terraces, and the galleried lounge looks out over the garden and down into a double-height Bulthaup kitchen.
External electronically operated aluminium blinds act as sun screens to stop the house overheating. Hot water and heating costs are around £30 a month. Prices from £2.25 million. Call Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward on 020 8222 7200.
London architect Justin Bere specialises in Passivhaus new-builds and retrofits, and has completed one-off projects in Camden and Stoke Newington (visit bere.co.uk).
Because developers have to meet eco-ratings based on everything from how close a home is to public transport to how thermally efficient it is, how well it tackles recycling and whether it uses "sustainable" materials, green housing is not just about technology it is about how the housing fits into the local environment and promotes ecology.
Seven luxury town houses alongside pretty Crabtree Fields in Fitzrovia conform to code level four by enhancing wildlife habitats through nesting boxes and sedum roofs. Biomass boilers use woodchips blown into an on-site reservoir, resulting in cheaper fuel consumption. Open-plan interiors feature a "sculptural" twisting staircase made of glass and polished concrete. Prices from £2.99 million. Call EA Shaw on 020 7240 2255.
Architect Luke Tozer ingeniously squeezed a low-energy house on to an 8ft-wide plot - once a dark alleyway - between two listed houses in a Bayswater conservation area (left).
Called Gap House, its traditional-looking, white-rendered façade hides a Tardis of contemporary living - almost 2,000sq ft of space with three bedrooms and an open-plan family area linked to a courtyard.
Below the courtyard are three 50-metre deep boreholes serving a heat pump which provides heating and hot water for the house. Rainwater collected from the roof is used to flush toilets and water plants. Most energy cost savings flow from the super insulation (twice the level of current regulations) and passive solar gain.
"Because it's airtight, the house doesn't take much to heat," explains Luke, who lives there with his wife Charlotte and their two young children. There is underfloor heating throughout and all energy is from renewable sources, powered by electricity drawn from cheaper night tariffs.
"We pay about £1,000 a year in energy bills, which is pretty good for a house of this size," he says. Built for £500,000, it meets code level four and has won the coveted Manser Medal awarded by the Royal Institute of British Architects. Luke backs the "green deal" for energy-saving makeovers plus the aim to make all new homes carbon-free by 2016.
"Legislation has to lead the way to give momentum to the development community," he adds. "People tend to do what they have to do rather than what they are encouraged to do."
Green developers can benefit, too
Developers can score brownie points with planners by going green. Code level four high-rise living is coming to Docklands. Silvertree is a 24-storey eco-tower with 161 apartments where the colder north face will have a half metre-wide strip of unusually dense insulation.
The south-east side will be heavily planted to a depth of 1.2 metres to help moderate temperatures, while the south-west elevation will be covered with solar panels designed to provide occupants with up to 70 per cent of their electricity needs.
Richard Hywel Evans, of architect Studio RHE, sees the tower "as a new kind of post-crunch design where the cost of running your home will be integral to your reasons for buying". Apartments will be available next year and cost from £250,000. Call Knight Frank on 020 7718 5220.
A sleek cylindrical skyscraper called The Tower, being built on the Vauxhall waterfront, will have a dramatic "vertical axis" wind turbine generating 20,000kWh of energy per year for the 223 flats below. Boreholes have been drilled 160 metres to reach the London aquifer, where groundwater remains at a constant temperature all year round.
Water is pumped from the boreholes and used to heat apartments and provide hot water. High-performance triple glazing acts as an insulation skin. Prices from £720,000. Call St George on 020 7042 7700.
Self-build is a worthwhile option for those with a green conscience who want to live in an energy-efficient home tailored to their personal lifestyle. Potton, which supplies timber-frame structures to self-builders with a plot of land, has unveiled a new barn-style house that is 25 per cent more energy efficient than a standard-built property and costs £700 a year to run.
The company is holding open days and seminars at its show centre in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, on August 17-20. Its new 2,780sq ft Wickhambrook barn has four bedrooms and is a code four design. Classic and contemporary designs are available, and cost from £100 per sq ft to build. Visit potton.co.uk or call 01787 676400.