This whole eco house thing is becoming a real battle. Turns out that it’s no longer enough to say, “We want to build an eco house.” Now you have to nail your colours to the mast and decide what sort of eco house.

This never used to be a problem. That is, until the Government got in on the act a couple of years back. It decided that all future houses would be eco houses, and that it would set in place a standard to judge how ‘eco’ an eco house actually was. So, it commissioned the BRE (Building Research Establishment) to write a document called the Code for Sustainable Homes. It also tasked the BRE to construct a few demonstration houses on site in Watford, to show the world just what it was talking about. “By 2016,” it said, in a blaze of publicity, “we want everyone to be building nothing but eco houses, and they will look like this.”

Actually, the Government didn’t tell us what they should look like. But, if the eco houses on the BRE Innovation Park were anything to go by, there was another agenda going on here. These new homes would be modern, factory built, and they would be stuffed to the gunnels with green technologies. They would certainly not look anything like the conventional British home; the sort we have been building since the Norman Conquest.

Now, as you can imagine, there was some considerable disquiet about all this. Many people love modern design, but probably rather more are greatly attached to traditional forms and ways of building. And it was dawning on the latter that they were being coerced into building styles with which they had no affinity. Furthermore, the Code set in place a series of increasingly taxing hurdles to get through in order to attain eco house status. As a consequence, housebuilders’ initial enthusiasm began to melt away as they realised not only how much it was going to cost, but that, whatever they built, their ‘eco’ homes would never score enough points to pass the test.

For a long time, the opposition was confined to a few disgruntled mutterings — after all, how could anyone argue against building eco? But now Prince Charles has stepped forward as a champion of the traditionalists. He has used his influence to book space at the BRE Innovation Park, where he has constructed his own version of what an eco house might be.

As you might expect, it’s a sort of eco Highgrove without the estate to wander around of an evening. The Prince’s eco house looks decidedly low-tech. While it contains plentiful insulation, triple glazing and a pellet stove to provide hot water and heating, it shuns solar panels, mechanical ventilation and water-saving bits and bobs. And, it eschews the Code. Made from natural clay block with a fairly ordinary roof, it looks like a conventional home — not a multi-coloured toast rack or an upmarket bird-watching hide.

But does Prince Charles’ version of an eco home tickle the fancy of the Government or the Code warriors of the BRE? Does it heck! They have given it no more than four out of ten. That means that it’s fine to build now, but not in a few years, post-2016.

Yet, the battle isn’t done and dusted. You see, Charles’ Cavaliers have a weapon up their sleeve. They suggest that the other side have ignored a whole area of eco-ness called ‘embodied energy’, which is the amount of energy spent making all the hi-tech stuff, not to mention importing it from around the world. “Our house,” they say, “is a local affair, using the skills of local tradesmen, built with materials sourced from just around the corner. This is the future: it’s simple, straightforward; it’s organic.” And who is to say they are not right?

What we have here is a clash of cultures. On the one side, the white-coated Roundheads of the BRE, backed up by Parliament. Their vision, enshrined in the Code for Sustainable Homes, is based on copying the car industry: humming factories producing living machines, managed by computers, with energy and resource use engineered down to an absolute minimum. By contrast, the Royalists champion a craftbased approach to building, using traditional forms and traditional materials, albeit with a contemporary, low-energy spin. At the moment, as a self-builder, you can take any approach you want, but in the future this choice may vanish. The battle lines have been drawn — which side are you on?

Comments
  • Robin Brittain

    The original blog post thread contains the quote:-

  • Anonymous

    Personally I favor using locally sourced building materials. The most economical house I have ever lived in was a beautiful 16th century wattle and daub thatched cottage with a central chimney breast which acted as a marvelous heat store. Secondary glazing and a couple of night storage heaters and the fire had a back boiler for heating the water. The house looked wonderful and as it was built from local materials it blended with the landscape and being surrounded buy a wonderful cottage garden it came to feature on postcards of the local area.

    I believe whole heartedly in the existence of a sun at the center of the solar system and whilst this is a modern concept that most people cannot get there heads around i believe that the sun actually warms the whole planet and as such has no problem in heating a tiny amount of hot water for a bath. Providing that one understands the relation ship between the number of calories it takes to heat steel and the number of calories it takes to heat water.

    So I agree with idea of the traditional look , but I would want to add some free energy in the form of solar panels. They really just look like a sky light window and can be made locally. Or why not make a solar pergola. That way free energy can be enjoyed as a visual enhancement to a garden as well as saving thousands of pounds.
    I also know a chap who has built a wonderful natural looking oak framed eco haouse which costs only 20 p a day for all heating needs.

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