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Top tips for designing a more sustainable home

Words from Craig Alexander – a Chartered Architect within our in-house Architectural Design team

 

There’s a growing acceptance that we need to be more sustainable, so, how can you build your dream sustainable home? The following suggestions will help to ensure your future self-build home is more cosy, comfortable, draught-free and cheaper to run in the long-term.

 

1. Start with a natural material

Aiming to reduce the energy consumed while your building is in use is highly important, but you can still be mindful of the impact of the building materials you’re using and consider a sustainable source. Timber is sustainable and a renewable source for building as it ‘locks in’ carbon as the tree grow. A fraction of embodied energy is also required to process and transport timber in comparison to other materials such as steel and concrete, so it’s a sensible construction material to build with when your environmental impact is a factor.

 

2. Airtightness

A significant proportion of the energy (heat) lost in a house is through cold air infiltrating gaps and cracks as hot air escapes. Not only does this waste energy and money, these draughts can make your home less cosy and comfortable than it should be. Ensuring your home has a high degree of airtightness maximises internal comfort and avoids wasted energy. Solving air leakage at the end of a project can be very difficult and time consuming, that’s why investing heavily in off-site manufacture of insulated panels, such as our encapsulation systems that utilise high quality airtightness tapes, is advised.

3. Ventilation and heat recovery

As houses get more airtight, it’s important that sufficient ‘background’ air is available for fresh oxygen, to remove undesirable CO2 and moisture in the air. We typically recommend the incorporation of a Mechanical Ventilation System with Heat Recovery (MVHR). This provides the background for the controlled fresh air each living space needs, while extracting stale and damp air from the ‘wet’ rooms such as kitchens and bathrooms. These two air flows are then passed close to each other (without mixing) to ‘harvest’ the heat which is normally lost to the outside. There remain lots of misconceptions about MVHR: you can still open doors and windows to the outside as much as you wish! The benefits include allergy grade filters that catch dust and pollen, and a steady supply of fresh air to avoid staleness and stuffiness.

 

4. Invest in the fabric first

‘Tech’ certainly has its place when it comes to ramping up the sustainability of self-build projects, but my advice is always to avoid getting carried away (with enormous solar PV arrays, for example). Focus on the fabric of the building first.

There are two main advantages of doing this: it’s the most difficult and costly element of the build to change later and it saves energy and money in a ‘passive’ fashion; i.e. everyday it achieves a saving and additional comfort, with no moving parts to maintain or replace. This could be:

  • additional insulation in the walls
  • roof or floor
  • better performing glazing (or even triple glazing)
  • spending extra time and care ensuring excellent airtightness performance.

You can always add additional sustainability measures such as solar panels and heat pumps later down the line without having to disrupt the fabric of the house.

 

Our Architectural team are available for further advice on sustainability measures, including information on our award-winning encapsulation system, WrightWall Natural. We can also build to the rigorous Passivhaus standard, ensuring an exceptionally comfortable and economical house that minimises energy usage.