Les and Jenny Webb didn’t have to look too far for a plot of land when they decided to build the home of their dreams: there was one right outside their own back door. The West Yorkshire architect and town planner and his wife have built their new house in the garden of their old Edwardian semi — and the two properties couldn’t be more different. Their previous home of 20 years, a five bedroom period house, is an elegant stone-built dwelling, while their new place is a white rendered, timber frame property with a steep-pitched roof and European-influenced windows.
Instead of square rooms they now enjoy fluid, open plan spaces with smooth timber floors – complete with underfloor heating – while traditional light fittings have been swapped for low-voltage lighting.?”The garden was huge and we’d always wanted to build our own house, so we thought, why not?” says Les. “We like the area and we have good neighbours.” But Les, who founded WSM Architects in Leeds, hadn’t bargained for the opposition he would face over his plans to build an energy-efficient home in a street which features a broad cross section of architectural styles. “We wanted to do something a bit unusual, but we certainly didn’t expect the resistance we got,” he says.
Les’ first set of plans to Bradford Planning Authority were refused on the grounds of appearance, existing trees and access to the site, so Les reapplied, complying with everything the planners wanted — including a stone exterior to match their old house.
This time permission was granted. Les then appealed against the result of the first application, on the grounds of appearance alone, arguing that he was not building anything radical and that every house in the street was built in the style of its era. He won the appeal. But there was a quirky postscript: “I had planned to clad the front of the house and saw another property with exactly the cladding I had in mind,” says Les. “I asked Jenny what she thought of it and she said, ‘It’s awful. Why?’ So I had to write to the planners and tell them ‘my client’ didn’t like the exterior finish I was granted permission for. They replied saying: ‘Your client obviously has taste!’”
The plot, which represents about half their original garden, measures 13 metres wide and 120 metres long, so Les designed the house in three tapering ‘box’ sections to maximise the number of windows looking down the garden. A Masonite timber frame had already been ordered from Fillcrete in Hull, which uses wood grown in sustainable Scandinavian forests. The timber was then sent to Eden Frame in Appleby to be made into panels in line with Les’ drawings.
The frame is so strong that the roof space is totally self-supporting. The panels were delivered to site on the back of a lorry and erected in just four days. The cavity between the internal and external walls was filled with Warmcel recycled paper insulation, treated with Borax to make it flame retardant and insect repellent. “The system doesn’t have a vapour barrier, which is unusual in timber framed houses,” says Les. “The Warmcel is breathable and acts a bit like Gortex!”
The exterior walls are finished in blockwork and render. Marley Eternit fibre-cement slating is installed on the roof over a TyvekÆ breathable membrane and 300mm of insulation. Bespoke windows, made of sustainable Douglas fir, were created by a local joiner. “The house is south facing so sunlight pours through the windows during the day and heats the main living area,” says Les. “Velux windows upstairs also draw in warmth and light and, because the house is so well insulated, we can heat the house at a very low cost.”
The Webbs also invested in a heat-recovery system which sucks stale air from the house and replaces it with fresh air warmed by existing heat. “It makes the air circulating round the house much cleaner and fresher,” says Les. “We certainly feel a lot healthier and more alert as a result. “This house has been built entirely for us, with our particular needs and lifestyle in mind,” says Les. “We have made it as easy to maintain as possible. It has disabled access and light switches at wheelchair height so that, if we become infirm, we can live on the ground floor.
We’ve tried to think of everything to make life as practical as possible.” The Webbs even considered installing a water?recycling system but decided they would never fully recoup the cost. Solar and photovoltaic panels were also rejected for the same reason. However, they did install a Santon Premier Plus unvented hot water system which works off mains pressure to accommodate Les’ preference for a morning shower and Jenny’s bath at night. The result is a house and lifestyle they are delighted with.
“If we built again we would choose timber frame — I can’t understand why people stand up to their knees in mud, planting one bit of burnt clay on top of another,” says Les. “We’re building like the Romans. As for this house, we wouldn’t change a thing. It’s so energy efficient that someone said we could probably heat the house with a candle — they may be right.”