A home grand in scale and bold in composition is a goal for many aspiring self-builders. Yet for Richard Green, his approach focused entirely on designing a super-efficient, traditional build, comfortable in its setting with little impact on its surroundings.
Richard developed a keen interest in energy whilst studying for his Mechanical Engineering degree at Liverpool University. As part of the course, he undertook an apprenticeship at a wind turbine company and identified several flaws in the technology and the service it provides. He explains: “This was the start of me realising that solar PV was a much better way to a sustainable future. The opportunity to design and build my own energy saving home then came when planning permission was given for a project that had to meet the innovative Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6.”
The arrival of Code for Sustainable Homes Level 6 was great news for Richard as it meant his vision was closer to becoming a reality. “I had realised for some time that the building industry is very slow to accept change,” he says, “and that many of the techniques and innovations for more sustainable properties had not been incorporated into current developments.
“I knew it was possible to create a very sustainable (Code Level 6) and energy saving home, working to a level which had previously only been achieved in what I called ‘wacky homes’. I was sure that all the eco or fossil free materials and energy saving facilities could be incorporated within a traditional style house, which was not obtrusive or dependent on CO2-producing materials, such as mass concrete or steel structures.”
As the chosen plot for the new property was on a family-owned farmyard of limestone barns and ancillary buildings, planning stipulated Cedar Barn had to be constructed under planning policy D1. This meant the home had to be in keeping with the surrounding buildings (i.e. stone farm conversions). This was in addition to the challenges of building to Code Level 6. Richard explains: “The design brief was driven by two things – the exterior had to be made in traditional materials with the lowest possible CO2 footprint and it also had to incorporate the latest energy saving principles.“
To help achieve planning permission, Richard and his family turned to Milton Keynes-based architect practice, 3d Architects. “Given the detailed methodology needed to obtain the planning permission and to be able to build Cedar Barn to such a high level, we choose 3d Architects,” comments Richard. “In addition, in order to incorporate our own ideas for a solar powered, ‘nil bill’ home, a huge amount of work went into the design of the fabric, where we worked closely with 3d Architects.”
With Cedar Barn being the first of its kind in the UK, Richard spent several years researching the market to find quality materials and products to enhance the performance of his home. He explains: “Renewable systems are at the heart of Cedar Barn, and is one of the main factors behind us achieving a ‘nil bill’ home.
“Specifications were influenced by the site. For example, we were able to install a ground source heat pump solution in the paddock for heating and hot water. We installed several elements such as underfloor heating, cat 6 cabling throughout, and 100% LED lighting plus advanced technical systems to run and monitor the home’s performance.”
Performance beyond expectations
Thanks to the installation of this advanced system, Richard has noticed Cedar Barn has performed well beyond his projections: “Cedar Barn is all electric, generating 14.5kW from the latest thin-film solar PV panels. By applying passive house principles, we produce, annually, three times the electricity required by the property.”
Despite inclusion of high tech, ‘mod-cons’ designed to help achieve a truly efficient home, the building’s overall aesthetic is remarkably sympathetic to its rural setting. Cedar Barn is a timber-framed, part limestone and part cedar-clad home, set within a courtyard of limestone farm barn residential conversions of various sizes.
“The interior of Cedar Barn is contemporary by design,” comments Richard. “A large lounge with wood burner is the centre of our family home, with a dining room and kitchen all south-facing over the beautiful surrounding countryside.
“Also on the ground floor is a large L-shaped hall, cloakroom/shower room, home office, plant room and a roomy two-car garage.
“We have five bedrooms on the first floor, with two en-suites and a main bathroom. Also on the first floor is the mechanical ventilation plant room and a walk-in airing cupboard.”
For the Green family, the finished building is everything they hoped it would be and much more. Richard enthuses: “Cedar Barn is so comfortable. It gives a positive reaction the moment you see it. Performance-wise, it is just the same. With a modern and homely feel inside, it is a real family home costing very little to run. I would say our favourite thing about Cedar Barn is the space! There is space for storage, transitional space in the landings and hallways, space in the bathrooms/bedrooms and for entertaining.”
In contrast to the modern interior scheme, Cedar Barn’s exterior landscaping exquisitely complements the natural surroundings, with features such as a natural pond and waterfall. Richard reveals: “We did work with an environmental and ecological consultant who provided a substantial list of plants and trees suitable for the site. Interestingly, the points awarded for the environment was part of achieving the Code Level 6.”
Providing such a valuable asset to the Hanslope landscape, Cedar Barn demonstrates that self-build is not all about ‘statement’ architecture. It’s about well-considered decision-making that inevitably makes your home work the way you want it to. As a final thought to aspiring self-builders about to embark on their own challenge, Richard concludes: “Principally do your research and planning very carefully with as much detail as possible – not only on the construction and the methodology but also on the finished house. Regarding the construction, without a good knowledge of the building process, project management is best left to the professionals.”