The Development of Eco Homes: Good for your pocket, health and planet

Think of living in an eco home and often the first image which springs to mind is a Hobbit style green grass house.  But you would struggle to buy this type of home on the UK open market unless you went down the self-build route.

Green homes don't have to look like eco homes sprouting from the earth made from weird and wonderful materials. They can be modern, minimalist and right in the heart of the city. 

Developers are only too aware that green homes which are 'undesirable' are the ultimate in 'unsustainability'.  The last decade has seen a string of new private sector developments with zero carbon footprints. These homes can save in the region of £500 a year in energy bills and in some cases result in none. They also cut down on transport costs as they generally have power points for charging an electric car or scooter. 

On top of that they're usually designed to allow lots of natural light and to remove stale air bringing fresh oxygen into the home. All of this has been proved to be good for enhancing our state of well-being.

Cutting edge developments

Despite the UK Government in 2015 stepping back on earlier legislation in 2008, which would have made all new homes zero carbon, this hasn't stopped some developers from pushing back the boundaries.

Architect Bill Dunster has been designing zero carbon homes for decades with his mixed use eco-village in South London being shortlisted for the Stirling award in 2003.

His current prefabricated homes have roofs with integrated photovoltaic panels, triple glazing, water recycling  and a heat ventilation recovery system extracting stale air and bringing in fresh plus under floor heating.  All materials are UK sourced including the hybrid heavy weight timber frames and rock wool insulated panels. Every house has a charging point in the basement to power an electric car, scooter or bike.

"The cost of building an integrated renewable energy system has gone down so much now that you can create a home as a power station," explains Dunster. Not only would this do away with paying bills, but for a careful resident they could even be in the position to sell power back to the National Grid.

Dunster's ZEDFactory is offering kit-style zero carbon homes which individuals buy and the company assembles. Consumers can work with the firm's architects to choose internal layouts and select their own finishes.

Other green properties on the open market include ZeroC's eco homes at Roborough on the edge of Dartmoor National Park, which won the WhatHouse? sustainable award for 2018. The 95-home scheme is a mixture of two to five-bedroom terraced houses and two-bed flats ranging from £195,000 to £340,000. They are designed and located to catch lots of light and have asymmetric roofs to allow for as many as possible photovoltaic panels. LED lights illuminate the inside and the homes have triple glazing, a mechanical heat ventilation recovery system and energy efficient boilers. All the garages have sockets for charging electric cars with the management company creating a car club to avoid the need for a second car.

ZeroC development manager, Kate Foot said: "They are designed not to look like eco homes. We've sold 35 of the them and we're only half way through the development."

She believes consumers fall into two camps - those who are swayed by lower bills and intrigued and those who are keen and dedicated to finding such homes.

"If people are getting more dedicated then the supply will have to increase. We are looking for other opportunities because Roborough has been a success."

Another developer making waves is Citu which is completing the first phase of a mixed use regeneration scheme in Leed's South Bank district. Citu has finished building the first eight homes of the 520-unit development where prices range from £150,000 to £390,000 .

All the materials are sustainably produced and the timber frames and panels are constructed off-site at Citu's factory in Leeds. The homes are orientated to catch natural sunlight, have triple glazed windows with just 0.6 cubic metres of air change an hour compared with building regulations of 10 cubic metres. Citu has used a system to stop fittings such as external window frames absorbing internal heat by breaking conductivity between the outside and inside. Kitchen and bathroom taps have low flow restrictors where the water is aerated to feel powerful but reduce water volume. 

The homes have sedum roofs offering a habitat for insects and invertebrates to attract birds and encourage biodiversity. Rain water from the roofs is used to irrigate soft landscaping in the development avoiding overloading drains when there's a downpour. Cycle paths circle the scheme and every parking space has an charging point for electric cars. 

Citu founder and chief executive Chris Thompson says: "It's about a way of living. The opportunity exists to create better homes which contribute to healthy living. You spend less time commuting. They are cheaper to run and your have more money in your pocket."

Green home appreciation

Green homes are also likely to appreciate more in value when it comes to moving on. Thompson cites an earlier Citu development in Little Kelham, Sheffield, where the re-sale value of flats showed a 30 per uplift in value in just three years.

Chief executive of development finance brokers Hank Zarihs, Shiraz Khan says: "The more these developments take off and are proven to work then there's a precedent and it will be easier to assess risk and source development finance."

Eco developers argue building in urban areas and creating high density schemes is more green than homes in open countryside. Dunster has developed bijou starter homes measuring just 242 sq feet called ZEDpods. The two-storey prefab homes are on stilts so they don't take up land space and cost just £60,000 to build. They're designed to be built above car parks, supermarkets, hospitals and even schools.

ZEDpods are carbon neutral with solar panels, triple glazed windows and water recycling systems and charge points for electric cars. Dunster is currently negotiating with Bristol City Council who have earmarked a car park where they can build eleven such homes.

"There are other schemes with many more in the pipeline. We are hoping to work our way round the car parks of Bristol."

Barbara Buchanan is a freelance journalist and former deputy editor of Pink Ribbon and news editor of Credit Today. Her articles have appeared in the Express and The Independent.