Building from scratch

If you are building a new house, or converting an old one, there are endless opportunities for making the house greener without adding greatly to the cost. The design can make the most of passive solar gain – use the heat from the sun which may sometimes pour through south-facing windows to warm living areas. Insulation, double (or triple) glazing and solar water heating can easily be incorporated. You could even consider half-burying the house underground to save energy and reduce the visual impact, or building underground heat stores.

There are designs for houses that use almost no heating, other than the heat from the people and activities inside them, and houses that incorporate sophisticated water recycling systems. Examples have been built at:

  • Centre for Alternative Technology
  • Hockerton ‘the UK’s first earth sheltered, self-sufficient ecological housing development. The residents of the five houses generate their own clean energy, harvest their own water and recycle waste materials causing no pollution or carbon dioxide emissions. The houses are amongst the most energy efficient, purpose built dwellings in Europe.’
  • BedZED, Beddington Zero Energy Development, is an environmentally-friendly, energy-efficient mix of housing and work space in Sutton.
  • Thornhill Ecohouse is a three bedroom family house that was designed to be beautiful and comfortable to live in but which was as compatible with sustainable living as it could be made. The owners wanted to reduce their impact on the planet while enhancing quality of life and biodiversity.
  • Chapel Farm in Gloucestershire, runner up in 2007 Grand Designs Eco-house Award, shows how you don’t have to sacrifice asthetics to have an eco house.
  • Near Ipswich, in rural Suffolk, East Anglia, the homeowner has spent some enjoyable time on several projects to make the home more eco-friendly, and on his website he describes them.

The Centre for Alternative Technology sells many publications on environmentally-friendly building. The Association for Environment Conscious Building, with members across the country, publishes a regular magazine and has an online bookstore.

For more information see the Green Choices DIY section.


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