We took possession of Colemans Hill Farm near Chipping Campden in February 2011. The one acre rural site with its old farmhouse and steel grain barn is located within the boundaries of our youngest daughters farm near Chipping Campden in rolling Cotswold countryside.

Coleman's Hill Farm front elevation

(Above and below) Coleman’s Hill Farm

Coleman's Hill Farm side elevation

We plan to build a timber framed sustainable house based on passive house principles – one which is very energy and water efficient and uses natural materials and local labour wherever possible. We were fortunate to find a 35ft mobile home only a few miles away belonging to another self-builder who turned out to be a stone mason and expressed interest in helping the build. Once we took up residence on site the challenge began. If you are contemplating a new build be prepared for lots of red tape and long delays. Topographical, tree and bat surveys are all necessary before architects can finalise plans and planning permission can be sought; however enthusiastically these are pursued, they all take longer than expected.

Planning was a frustrating process consisting of first of all requesting an extension to the planning already on site – to extend the existing property. We made it clear that we didn’t intend to pursue this but had been recommended to do so to retain “live” planning permission on site. Nevertheless we found ourselves preparing energy statements for a house we intended to knock down, photographs being taken of work we were not going to do, and a notice at the end of the drive saying we had requested an extension we didn’t intend to build. Our pre-planning application included draft architects plans together with a detailed brief of what we hoped to build but we had no opportunity to discuss our ideas with the planners. After much chasing, we got general approval of the sketches and submitted the full application in May 2011. Planning permission (with conditions) was received at the end of September.

North elevation house plans

East elevation house plans
South elevation house plans
West elevation house plans

The house plans

The compulsory bat survey revealed that bats had at one time used the roof of the old farmhouse. Further monitoring was therefore required in the early summer and, as a result, we were advised that alternative bat accommodation would probably be required before demolition could take place. A large enclosed area has been constructed in the adjacent barn. Application for a Bat licence cannot be made until planning permission has been approved so more delays. Permission from Natural England to demolish the old farmhouse was received just before Christmas.

Recent changes to building regulations place greater emphasis on improved insulation, reduction in water use and greater energy efficiency including the use of renewables but we aim to significantly exceed these requirements. Getting a grid connection on site also proved more than a little frustrating especially as Central Networks became Western Power during the negotiations. We saved a considerable sum by only contracting Western Power to bring the grid connection into an electric box we built just inside our boundary and then appointing our own electrician to lay the cable on site to our specifications.

Having already installed just under 10kW of solar PV on the roof of the barn (see image below), we expect Colemans Hill Eco House to be zero energy (ie. where the amount of energy from on-site renewable energy sources is equal to, or more than, the amount of energy used by the house). The design will benefit from passive solar gain from large south-facing windows and produce hot water from solar thermal panels on the kitchen roof. The timber frame will sit on a passive house foundation slab with 300mm of ESP insulation and is designed to eliminate thermal bridging. The house will have hemcrete walls which many regard as carbon negative but the slab also needs to be designed to carry the external brick wall required by the planners. Rainwater run-off from the barn and house will be harvested and the surplus fed to a wild pond in the lower garden.

Two engineers installing photovoltaic solar PV panels on roof of steel barn Cotswolds UK
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