David and Zelda Gunn fulfilled a life-long ambition when they built an eco home on an enviable rural plot.

When David Gunn took redundancy in 2008, he and wife Zelda knew that they’d been handed an opportune moment to fulfil their self-build dream. “Taking redundancy was too good an opportunity to miss, as it would allow us to sell up and clear our mortgages for the first time in almost 40 years. We would then be in a position to do what we’d always wanted to do — build an energy-efficient Scandia-Hus property.”

The Gunns first came across the Swedish timber frame company in 1978, and even back then liked the idea of building an eco house. A tiny advert in a local newspaper alerted them to an idyllic 0.7-acre plot in rural north Bedfordshire. Bordered by fields and its own woodland, the couple knew it would be perfect for the traditional-style home they hoped to build.

The Project

  • Name: David and Zelda Gunn
  • Build cost: £450,000 (£1,931/m²)
  • Build time: 10 months
  • Location: Bedfordshire

“There was a derelict brick cottage on the overgrown site which went to sealed bids in excess of £165,000” explains Zelda. The couple were unsuccessful with their bid, however two months later the estate agent got in touch — the sale had fallen through. With none of the other original bidders still in a position to buy, by default the cottage and plot came to Zelda and David for their offer of £175,000.

The Gunns managed to sell their previous home to buyers who were happy to rent it back to them for 18 months — allowing the couple enough time to build the new house. Once their plans had been approved, the couple had a further stroke of good fortune — a local contact offered to demolish the existing cottage free of charge in return for reclaiming the bricks and roof tiles.

With the site cleared, their contractor began work on the 2.75m-deep foundations, required due to the soil’s clay content. The ground-source heat pump (which now serves the underfloor heating on the ground floor) trenches were also dug, and a 6,500lt rainwater harvesting tank sunk 4m below ground. Sub-zero temperatures delayed proceedings until after Christmas 2009, when bricklayers arrived on site to begin laying the blockwork.

The couple were impressed by the Scandia-Hus team, who arrived at 8am on 15th February to begin erecting the timber frame on the concrete plinth. By 11am the base plate timbers were laid out and the wall panels began to go up. With the frame originally crafted under factory-controlled conditions, there was not only less to be done on site, but the high degree of accuracy ensured a smooth construction.

“Not everything went to plan, however, and a number of materials weren’t available, including our roof tiles — which meant we needed to pay another planning application fee to change them,” says Zelda. “The bricks we’d chosen also went out of production and the slate flooring we wanted was no longer stocked when we went to order it — all of which delayed progress.”

“Building the house has been a bit of a roller coaster experience, but for every low there’s been a high point to compensate,” reflects David. “Living here has proved nothing but pleasurable, though. We feel very lucky to have had the chance to live in such a beautiful location.”

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