At 1,550m², just how does John and Leigh Croft’s self-built Cotswolds home justify our Award as Britain’s Best Eco Home?
If ever a self-build project could be deemed ambitious, it’s the new 1,550m² (yes, it’s some 21 times larger than the UK average) home of John and Leigh in the Cotswolds, east of Cheltenham. For the big story here is not just that it ever managed to happen in the first place – the planning process wasn’t particularly run of the mill – but that it can also claim with some justification to be an absolutely A1, top-of-the-class, eco-friendly home, despite its whopping size.
This being a plot within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in the middle of open countryside in the Cotswolds, John and Leigh’s vision of building a contemporary family home was always likely to meet resistance. “It was actually the conservation officer who encouraged us to come up with something quite contemporary,” John recalls, “and so we engaged Mike Hope from Roderick James Architects to come up with five new designs, based around a Dutch barn shape. We obviously wanted to build something bigger than what was there already (a small chalet bungalow), and the planners were OK with us doing this so long as the ‘extension’ was longitudinal” (i.e. adding to the length at the rear rather than adding to the cross width).
With initial support from the powers that be, a new head of planning took over and, according to John, said: “‘There is no way that this is going to be built in my back garden,’ and recommended it for rejection. It was devastating. . Mike Hope quite understandably felt that the chances of ever going ahead were next to nil and he moved on from the project.”
Near the end of the line, a friendly local councillor suggested they take it to committee stage anyway. Cue an almighty last push from John and Leigh. “We did a full DVD presentation with visualisations of all the plans, a brochure, and hand-delivered it to everyone on the planning committee. We also lobbied for local support and received 72 letters of support and gave a powerful speech at the meeting — and we won,” says Leigh.
“We set out to build one of Britain’s very best eco houses,” begins John, who enjoys an interest in eco house design. “We designed it to far exceed Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, as well as the PassivHaus standard. It has no heating demand, is not connected to mains water or sewerage, it uses no fossil fuels, and it is lit entirely by low-energy LED lighting. As a result of what we’ve done, the home’s total calculated heat loss is just 6.6kW — about that of a small one bedroom flat.”
In addition to the home’s impeccable eco credentials, this is also a true self-build story. John carried out most of the excavation works, the blockwork and a lot of the internal construction — from detailed ceiling work to personally laying over 2,800 900 x 600mm stone floor slabs. “The fact that on most days just two people were on site seven days a week begins to explain why it took us just under four years to complete. It really was a monster build.”