Green building ideas for your self build home

From sustainable building materials to thermal energy efficient technology, Grand Designs' pick of the most innovative green building ideas

By Jenny Mcfarlane | 29 May 2018

Apply eco-friendly principles to your self-build project and bring benefits to the environment and your wellbeing.

sustainable ecofriendly home Foxhill House by Pad Studio architects

Image: Pad Studio 

With the ever-increasing need to be mindful of the environmental issues posed by contemporary lifestyles, the need to be eco-friendly while building your own home has never been greater.

Join the sustainable revolution with these innovative ways to incorporate energy efficient components, recycled materials and renewable technology into your ecobuild.

Priortise the structure

strawbale house is an eco holiday home made of sustainable wood planks available on cottages.com

Image: At the Jill Strawbale House, cottages.com, in Strontian near Fort William, Robert and Justine Dunn have built a holiday home using more than 500 bales of straw at a cost of around £150,000

Building a sustainable home isn’t just about the array of bolt-on renewable technology that you can add – it’s about considering the structure of your property from the outset.

Taking a fabric-first approach means maximising the performance of the components and materials that make up the building’s external structures such as the roof, walls, windows, doors and the lowest floor. An eco home can be built using a number of construction methods, but the efficiency of the components and materials must be matched by the quality of workmanship.

A prefabricated system, for example, offers a reliable method of achieving an airtight envelope as all the large components are meticulously made in a factory. While many modular systems are built using a timber core, other options offer different eco benefits.

Dense materials such as brick and concrete bring high levels of thermal mass, with the ability to absorb and store heat in the day then slowly release it at night, providing a comfortable temperature.

Wrap up with good insulation

Old Fort House in shoreham-by-sea by ecospace studios at dusk

Image: At Old Fort House in Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, the asymmetrical roof was lowered and the entrance notched to protect it from coastal elements. The home was partly fabricated off-site and tradesmen used boatbuilding techniques to finish off the build. £450,000, Ecospace.

Insulation needs to be considered early in the planning and design process and, as well as the walls, floors and roof, you need to ensure that your windows and doors are as thermally efficient as possible.

Triple glazing is the Passivhaus standard, but good-quality double-glazed glass will also offer high performance. If possible, to maximise solar gain, a property should have more glazing on its south side, with external shading to prevent overheating in summer.

There’s a range of natural and recycled materials available for insulation, including sheep’s wool and reclaimed natural textiles.

Consider Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) to obtain a balance between airtightness and the need for fresh air. Find out more at the Centre for Sustainable Energy.