Calling all land agents, planners, property developers, architects and builders in Northwood and surrounding districts!
You’d think the brief wouldn’t be that hard to satisfy: sustainability-conscious father seeks three-bed property capable of supporting an elegantly, ecologically and economically enjoyed existence for a (hopefully) growing family.
Sadly, two weekends of house hunting in Northwood and the surrounding area has led me to believe that, in fact, it’s a practical impossibility – certainly unless you’re prepared to sell vital organs!
At one end of the spectrum we have older housing stock, maybe offering a decent layout and footprint, but with all the aesthetic appeal of a concrete breeze-block and the thermal efficiency of a piece of Swiss cheese. At the other, we have new builds, occasionally offering a reasonably attractive frontage, but sitting cheek-by-jowl on a plot the size of a postage stamp and built by developers who apparently have never watched a single episode of Grand Designs.
- Have they made use of smart, modular design techniques like pre-fabricated and highly insulated SIPS panels? Erm… nope.
- So I guess that’s other clever ‘waste = food’ design ideas out the window then – like the way Baufritz uses wood shavings from the construction of those panels to form the insulation? Erm… yes (sorry about that!).
- What about the foundations? Have you considered less impactful alternatives to laying a bloody great concrete slab? Erm… sorry, that’s a big fat ‘no’ again.
- Air/ground source heat pumps, heat recovery systems or solar panels to provide for heating and hot water – potentially not only cutting energy bills, but even offering a source of income by selling energy back to the grid? Oops… nope, didn’t think of that!
- A ‘living’ sedum roof to provide even better temperature regulation, extend the life of the roof, manage storm water run-off and a whole load of other advantages (not least looking really pretty and providing a fab habitat for birds and creepy crawlies)? Nope.
- Surely simple rainwater harvesting, then? Something to meet non-potable water needs, like flushing toilets? Nope, again… Damn it!
The only way, it seems, that you’re ever going to be able to take full advantage of any/all of these readily available technologies is to do a self-build – at which point the would-be sustainable living pioneer cracks his or her shins very painfully against the seeming impossibility of finding a suitable tract of land. (You just can’t win, can you?!)
Just as there must be thousands of people like me who hanker after a more sustainable lifestyle, I can’t help feeling that there must also be hundreds of like-minded planners, developers and architects who share that vision. Not only that, I’m sure there must be many just aching for the opportunity to actually demonstrate that this dream is eminently achievable and affordable, and that using different and better construction methods can indeed deliver different and better spaces – more flexible and adaptable to their occupants’ changing needs, more relaxing and enjoyable to live in, and (not forgetting) cheaper and more efficient to run.
So here’s my challenge (or, perhaps better put, my plea!) to land agents, planners, property developers, architects and builders everywhere:
If Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s landshare scheme can connect would-be ‘grow your own veg’ types with people who have space to spare in their gardens, why can’t we do the same to bring together like-minded architects, builders, clients and suitable available plots?