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IS THIS THE COOLEST HOUSE IN BIRMINGHAM?

17-02-2010

Richard Lutz takes a look inside an innovative home that resembles a Lego toy slapped down in the middle of a Victorian terrace. And it’s so ecological it’s giving energy back to the National Grid.

You really can’t miss it. This new home in Balsall Heath stands out like a monk in a pub. Take a look:

Exterior

It’s the work of architect Jon Christophers who wanted to build his home so environmentally friendly that it creates more energy than it uses.

He and his family succeeded.

They use no fossil fuel: no oil, gas nor coal. But lots of triple-glazing, insulation and ventilation make it a house that’s tight as a nut.

‘During the last cold patch, there was ice on the outside of the windows,’ he tells me, ‘But it was warm inside. No heat escaped in the night. The inside temperature stayed the same.’

What is amazing is that Jon took an established 1840’s Victorian row house and enveloped it in the jumbly angular multi coloured house you see today when you turn a corner into Tindal Street. Here’s those angles:

Eco home

He wanted to achieve three aims:
· Have a zero carbon house which means no use of those peskly fossil fuels
· Use an established building rather than build a totally new one
· Create a home with space and light: ‘Green doesn’t have to be dull’ he says

Well, he’s succeeded and here is Jon, Jo and their son Theo on an internal balcony in their warm user friendly home

Eco2

‘I wanted to inspire not only people, but governments, housing associations and planners to think that maybe this could be done.’ he says. ‘About 85 per cent of the homes around us- all of them leaking heat- will still be used by the year 2050. We have got to do something.’

And that ‘something’ is translatable into real progress. ‘All the heat that comes into the house, from hot water, computers, the cooking and even people’s bodies stays inside. It’s air tight.’

‘If the building heats up, it cools down slowly. The temperature inside doesn’t change. Recently with the cold snap,’ he explains, ’it’s been -6C outside. But inside, nothing changed.’

Eco 4

‘And in summer, it won’t overheat because we ventilate the place.’

It’s now so efficient that Jon’s home produces energy for The National Grid. Inside one of the walls is a Generator Meter to show how much juice goes out of this three story house to go back to us.

So, specifically, what has been done?

He has used the latest energy efficient materials to stuff the walls with mega insulation using a material called Neopor which is a foam based product peppered with graphite- this helps bounce heat back into a building.

Triple glazed glass helps out too along with mechanical ventilation and two solar panels- one for electricity and the other for constant hot water at 62F.

All of it adds up to a 93 per cent heat recovery record. Instead of a leaky homes that we all live in, the house is as tight as a ship on the sea.

A wood stove tops it all up. The family only needs a cubic metre of fuel per year – one reason being the house is to tight the woodburner is only used 5 weeks per annum. The wood comes from assiduous pruning of an ash tree in the garden.

Internally, the home is built from sustainable stuff. The plaster doesn’t use sand but recycled glass- the work tops in the kitchen are the same. The panelling, some of the floors and the stairs are from maple rescued from an abandoned Digbeth factory.

‘I found a lot of the material’ Jon explains, ‘including the wood and brick from a great site called Salvoweb which tells you locally where you can find material that is still good to use.’

Hey, here’s what the those maple wood stairs look like along with a rail made of hemp.

Eco 6

As for the water, there’s a 2500 litre tank under the house that collects rain off the roof. It took a little less than a year to fill and filtered supplies run to the toilet, washing machine and some of the kitchen taps.

Around the inside of the house a series of panels and balconies (like the one above) connect the high-ceiling rooms to either open things out or create privacy. And below your feet are floors of pounded earth- it’s rough, uneven with a beautiful ochre colour and feels like rubbery tiles.

Here’s that earthen floor in the loft which is wreathed in fresh light from the insulated windows. Extra light and air explodes from mirrors placed near the windows.

Even intimacy is part of the formula. Rather than hang curtains in the main bedroom, that ash tree (with its renewable wood) veils the room from the outside once spring blooms. In summer, it becomes ‘passive seasonal solar shading.’ That’s shelter from the sun to you and me.

Jon’s partner Jo Hindley adds: ‘We started out with a notebook and a plan. I wanted a house that was sort of like an animal cell with things projecting from a centre. And it just grew. And now we’re making more energy than we use.’

They say planning permission for this one-off home was no problem. The neighbours backed it. And the builders, who Jon know professionally, were right behind the project.

As for five year old Theo: ‘I’ve been promised a fireman’s pole and a trapdoor.’ Here’s the lad now showing me where that old firepole- lying in wait in a side alley like an unspent promise- will be.

Eco

Jon’s not putting a final figure on the house. He fights shy of it. But he does explain: ‘A normal housing association home costs £120 per square foot. We spent £150 psf.’

‘And,’ he adds, ‘we’ll get back our money in eight years.’

Jo and Jon are opening their home in Tindal Street to the public on 28th March between 1.30 to 4,30 pm. It’s impossible for your eye to miss it.

Visit the website here

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