Eco homes have come of age: they have gone from hippie to hip. Nine out of 10 buyers want one according to a recent Mori poll. Buyers will even pay extra for a green home if they are convinced it makes them, and the planet, healthier. However, buyers do not want to compromise on style or pay excessive amounts for the environmental ticket: they want homes that have green credentials and design flair, and are value for money.
This is the main challenge for housebuilders, who have been given the task of taking forward the Government’s zero-carbon agenda — from huge building projects, such as 20,000-home eco-towns, to the creation of allotments on new housing estates. To date, the record of developers is poor: only 10 developments out of 700 built over the past two years have passed the “green” test, according to a review by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, the Government’s design-quality watchdog.
Making a mark
But the macro industry is moving forward, if only because, in the future, housing developments will not get planning permission unless they can demonstrate their green credentials.
At the same time, small niche builders are making a mark, too. Cloud Nine, based in Redruth, Cornwall, has a booming order book even in these straitened times.
The company produces some of the most advanced eco homes in the world. Cloud Nine’s timber houses are inspired by Scandinavian lodge homes, and have a minimalist, modern look. They are designed by London architects, manufactured in Poland and exported for assembly on site.
There are four house “types” ranging from a two-bedroom terrace property to a 1,300sq ft four-bedroom detached home. The smallest has a fuel bill of only £26 a year and annual running costs of £346. Prices start at £88,000, plus land.
With a production capacity of 250 homes a year, the two-year-old firm has secured funding from Finance Cornwall investment agency. “The market is huge. We’ve had a phenomenal response, from young families to retired people,” says Chris Chapman, Cloud Nine’s founder and chief executive. Call 0870 803 4640.
Volume housebuilders are not noted for cutting-edge architecture. Arguably, if houses are to be innovative in the 21st century, they should look the part. Mock-Tudor and neo-Georgian dwellings featuring solar panels and wind turbines tend to look wrong. Barratt claims to be ahead of the pack with a prototype three-bedroom family home being tested at the Building Research Establishment’s Innovation Park in Watford. Barratt aims to roll out the house type across the South East after the two-year trial.
The white-rendered house has a thermal-efficient concrete frame and is a “lifetime home” because it can be adapted over time to suit changing family needs. Automatic window-shutters help prevent the house overheating in summer; hot water is supplied by solar panels; clothes drying is achieved by warm air rising through the house; and rainwater harvesting provides water to flush toilets.
'Healthy, sustainable development is not just about technology'
Developers have to meet eco ratings based on points covering how close a home is from public transport, to how thermally efficient it is, how well it tackles recycling and whether it uses “sustainable” materials.
In other words, healthy and sustainable development is not just about technology, it is about how the housing fits into the local environment.
Housing minister Caroline Flint is proposing even higher standards at 10 proposed eco-towns, insisting they must be within a 10-minute walk of public transport and neighbourhood services, while 40 per cent of the overall outside space must be open green space with cycle lanes and footpaths winding between allotments and eco-gardens.
For many buyers, the location and setting of their home — by a river, a wildlife sanctuary or open countryside — is as important as energy-saving measures when it comes to healthy living. Unfortunately, the credit crisis does not encourage the cause. Research by estate agent Knight Frank suggests that in a housing market slowdown many buyers will put affordability above environmental issues.
Green with envy
Showpiece eco-housing is springing up from an unlikely source — former gravel pits. The Cotswolds is a hotspot. Areas around Cirencester were once used for gravel extraction and lakes formed as a by-product of this process. When extraction ended, nature took hold and the lakes became wildlife habitats surrounded by woodland, meadows and fields.
'It’s a real Swallows and Amazons environment, fantastic for families'
The Lakes, near Lechlade, is a 650-acre estate where glass-and-timber houses are being built on the water’s edge. The project is a collaboration between Yoo, the trendy London developer backed by designers Philippe Starck and Jade Jagger, and Raven Group. Five clear-water lakes make up 60 per cent of the estate, which is in effect a nature reserve offering a host of outdoor pursuits — fishing, biking, riding, canoeing and the like.
“It’s a real Swallows and Amazons environment, fantastic for families,” says Jane Ritchie of estate Knight Frank. “Most buyers are Londoners. They love the whole package; the design, the accessibility, the beautiful surroundings and local amenities.”
The first phase of 48 detached houses ranging up to 2,735sq ft are for sale, priced from £775,000. Houses have American design influences: open-plan, double-height spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows, decked terraces and boat landings. For more information, call 01367 250066.
Lower Mill is a 450-acre nature reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest close to Prince Charles’s Highgrove estate. Here, too, former quarries have become wildlife sanctuaries around which is being built upmarket eco-housing. Seven lagoons are linked by causeways and tracks where the only vehicles permitted are those driven by gamewardens.
About 150 houses have already been built. Just launched are houses at Nightingale Reserve. These are a mixture of glass, steel, stone, timber and render, with roof decks and verandas. Prices start at £420,000. For more information, call 01285 869489.
Holborough, near Snodland in Kent, is another quarry site. This is a development of New England-style homes with open-plan interiors. Prices start at £165,000 for one-bedroom flats and from £389,950 for five-bedroom houses. For more information, call Berkeley Homes on 01634 244666.