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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Low energy homes - to buy or to build?

Suppose you want to live in a home that is high on comfort and air quality, but low on carbon emissions, maintenance and energy bills, what are your options?

With an ultra low energy home currently for sale in Nottingham, and a number of building plots dotted around the area, it seems like a good time to weigh up the pros and cons of the various routes to living in an eco home:

To Buy?   To Build?    To Retrofit?

To Buy

The best thing about buying a low energy home is that all the hard work has been done for you. And this is a major advantage if you don't enjoy dirt and disruption.

Another big reason for buying a finished eco home rather than taking on a new build or retrofit yourself is that the sale price is a known figure - no getting half way through the project with the stress of running out of finance before it's complete.

The reality is that you'll probably have to be flexible about location. Genuine eco homes are still pretty thin on the ground and can be hard to find. As yet, there's no way of searching on RightMove for "all EPC A and B rated homes / all Passive Houses for sale in your chosen location".

However, there are websites which focus on selling eco homes, such as - where you'll find some of the eco homes currently for sale in your area.

To Build

Building a new eco home is a great idea, but it can take years of persistence to make it happen. If there's a plot for sale just where you want it (and at the right price), you're either very flexible in your chosen location, or very lucky.

For anyone who would like to live in a new build eco house, but doesn't have any experience of the construction industry, joining a community self build might be the answer. There have been some great projects around the UK. Check out the Lancaster Co Housing project which is now complete. (And by the way, one of those is for sale right now!)

To Retrofit

Buying an ordinary house and turning it into an eco home has a lot to be said for it. If you want to be in a very specific location, it may well be the only way to go.

Whatever house you are in, the common sense things like loft insulation, boiler and cavity wall insulation are always worth considering. To go that bit further, external wall insulation can make a big difference to comfort and energy bills.

However, to turn a typical UK house into a really low energy home takes more work. And if you're aiming for an ultra-low energy refurbishment such as the EnerPHit (or Passive House refurbishment standard), it will take time and money and specialist expertise.

Is it worth it?

Like most people I know already living in low energy homes, I feel that it has been worth all the effort and expense.

The level of comfort in my own home is way beyond anything I've experienced previously. If designed right, these homes can be warm in winter and cool in summer (although some are not designed to avoid overheating).

The other big difference is air quality. Mould and condensation are a thing of the past in a properly designed eco home.

My own house has a whole house ventilation system which filters the incoming air. It's quite shocking to see how dirty these filters get - and good to see what is not getting into my home and my lungs. I could add a pollen filter as well, if anyone in the family needed a haven from hay fever.