Reasons To Be Cheerful

(and a bit smug)

My name is Greendale Cottage and I am 7 years old. The people who self-built me are crazy. After spending all their lives in an assortment of leaky homes with their feckless consumption of energy, they had this dream of living in an energy-efficient house. Of course, there was (and is) no such thing to be had on the open market and so they decided to build their own eco-home. The only building plot they could afford was in a tiny hamlet in Upper Weardale full of lovely people but 1100 feet above sea level in the foothills of the North Pennines. Isolation is not a problem up here

greendale cottage front elevation

With one of them already retired and other newly made redundant from a senior position with a firm of Architects, they did not really have the funds to build their own home but undaunted, they decided to plough all their money from the sale of their old house into the project while renting a tiny cottage nextdoor to the plot. The redundant Designer decided to use his redundancy money to train as a Passivhaus Consultant and to learn how to build a new home properly. They struggled to get planning consent but eventually started building in the wettest summer for 100 years

They ran out of money several times and had to take out a mortgage with the Ecology Building Society (which they are still paying off). They also got help from The Bank of Mum & Dad in the form of loans which were paid off when HMRC paid back the VAT. My total build cost was about £180k

Some sort of completion was achieved in the longest, coldest winter for 50 years and they moved in from the cottage in February 2013 with only a 2kW electric radiator for heating and the immersion heater for hot water. The external stonework was only up to the first floor but with a building fabric U-value of 0.1 and triple-glazed windows at 0.9, the internal temperature was 18 while outside it was minus 5. Suddenly this fabric-first, passive house approach seemed to make sense. Airtightness of 0.59 @ 50Pa enables the MVHR system to recycle over 90% of the heat generated inside the house

Eventually, they got the room-sealed, woodburning, boiler stove installed, solar thermal panels to help with hot water and solar PV panels to help with electricity demand. To the amazement of those who had helped to build me, there is no central heating other than the stove. There is no gas, no oil and no solid fuel apart from dry wood which comes from a variety of free sources. Daily walks in the woods provide an endless supply of sticks. Broken pallets from building sites provide softwood as well as aerobic exercise chopping them up. A local tree surgeon provides all the hardwood logs we need

In spite of being the only EPC Band A home/office in County Durham and winning a national award for the Best New Home at the LABC Building Excellence Awards in 2014, life within my thick walls is not all plain sailing for my owners. If they go away and leave me for any length of time in winter, I cool down to about 14 degrees because their occupation provides the heat that the my MVHR system recycles. If they leave that little electric radiator on a timer, I can probably stay at around 18 degrees. Most of my windows face south so sunny winter days bring some welcome free heating

During the winter they light my stove at about 5.00pm but if they put too much wood in the stove, my 250-litre hot water tank gets overheated, in spite of the bathroom towel rails and a heat-leak radiator in the linen cupboard. Extended periods of sunshine can also overheat the solar thermal system and it then sounds like they have invited a drum & bass band to play in the attic. They do try their best to switch on their A** appliances that use lots of power in the middle of the day to take advantage of the solar PV output

This all sounds fine and dandy but the CO2 savings from building a low-energy home like me pale into insignificance when compared to the savings that come from my owners’ vegetarian diet and their refusal to travel by air. They are not saints as they both have diesel cars plus a 1935 Austin Ten. One of them has a serious clothes-buying habit and the other has a huge collection of plastic records. Just now, however, they are both feeling a bit smug in splendid isolation, breathing fresh, filtered air from the MVHR system and gazing at the neighbours’ coal and oil deliveries through my triple-glazed windows. One day, all new homes will have to be built like me but for now it is still a dream

Greendale National LABC Winner

I won “Best Individual New Home” in the UK at the National LABC Building Excellence Awards in London in November 2014, presented by George Clarke

By the way, I have no idea who those two blokes on the left are

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