Sarah Lonsdale: How to be green and stay sane

imageThis week: how happy are eco home owners?

Are Britons falling in love with eco homes? It’s something everyone involved with housing wants to know. Increasingly stiff building regulations coming into force over the next few years mean developers face ruin unless buyers are attracted to highly insulated homes full of eco-tech like solar panels and heat recovery ventilation.

Until now, the signs weren’t good: homebuyer surveys found stubborn resistance to the design and concept of eco homes, despite promises of vastly lower fuel bills. But that is starting to change, according to a report published last month, which surveyed occupants of eco homes built within the past three years, and older homes.

The study, by housing research body NHBC Foundation, found that eco home occupants reported high levels of satisfaction, particularly the ability to maintain comfortable and even internal temperatures, and noticeably lower fuel bills. More than two thirds of those living in new eco homes said they were satisfied with their energy bills, compared with one third of occupants of older homes.

Peter Holdsworth, an occupant of a “zero carbon” eco home in Stawell, Somerset, said that apart from early difficulties in getting to grips with eco kit, the house is “brilliant”. “It’s unlike any other I have lived in,” says Peter, a retired Revenue and Customs officer. “You are literally and metaphorically insulated from the elements. During the cold snap in February, I was unaware of how cold it was until I stepped outside. There is a tangible sense of comfort that you just don’t get with period homes.”

In many period homes, with their inexplicable cold patches and rattling doors, real comfort is hard to find. Yet, it seems eco homes are providing it. But still, eco developers feel they are taking something of a risk.

Sustainable developer Greentithe has built a pair of eco homes at Morn Hill in the South Downs National Park near Winchester, as an experiment to see if buyers would pay a premium for a low-energy home. The flat-roofed, wood-clad, functional-looking homes are a million miles away from the traditional English Victorian terrace or interwar semi that are so popular with homebuyers.

“We could have built a couple of generic country cottages but we wanted the architecture to make a statement,” says Nick Price of Greentithe. “They have no primary heating source, no radiators or boiler. They are heated from solar gain, heat from appliances and occupants and a wood burner. It would be odd, in houses looking so much into the future, for them to be built in the style of houses built 100 years ago.”

Launched in January, “they have certainly been keeping us busy”, says Gareth Anwyl of Hamptons International, the agents. “We have sold one already.”

He says that although many of the 300 people who expressed an interest were primarily attracted to the location, “we’ve had plenty of interest from people well-versed in green issues who wanted to see what an eco home looked and felt like”.

Another developer, Family Mosaic, is building hundreds of apartments in Lewisham, south London, as part of a regeneration of a large, Fifties local authority estate. The first 49 units of Central Park will be ready for sale later this spring.

The flats will be powered by a district heating system, have high levels of insulation and “living” green roofs. “The apartments are costing more to build than had we built to current building regulations,” says Rob Warwick of Family Mosaic. “It was a risk, but one we were prepared to take. Lower fuel bills will be an increasing pull for buyers.”

Neil Jefferson, the chief executive of the NHBC Foundation, said compared with a similar study in 2008, the new report showed high levels of satisfaction with eco homes. “Back in 2008, only prototypes of low-energy homes existed and things weren’t quite right – like low-flow taps didn’t give enough water pressure, whereas today they do.”

He said the broad conclusion of the survey was that: “People living in eco homes are so pleased with them that they said they wouldn’t want to buy an older house again.”

Morn Hill, Winchester: both houses £575,000; visit

Central Park, Lewisham: prices start from £179,950 for a one-bedroom apartment; visit

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