These pioneering self build projects from around the UK have achieved energy self-sufficiency in a variety of ways.
Image: Sergio Pirrone
The dream of self-sufficiency is attainable almost anywhere. From the Australian Outback to remote islands, architects are creating homes that are able to generate enough energy to power all the devices, gadgets and appliances required of a modern lifestyle. However, it's the houses created on home soil which demonstrate a new way to live and exist within our environment.
Some even have an excess of energy, which can be sold to the grid. Meanwhile, off-gridders keen to escape the all-mod-cons approach are building retreats where hi-tech convenience plays second fiddle to a connection with nature.
Pre-fab cottage, Hampshire
Image: Alberto Marcos
Friends Lab House was built by a couple with four children who wanted to add a cottage next to the main house on their Hampshire farm to host extended visits from family and friends. Designed by Spanish firm AMPS Arquitectura Y Diseño, the four-bedroom, pitched-roof structure riffs on the shape of classic timber barns. A skin of black-stained Accoya wood battens was added to make it look like an agricultural building. The £1.8 million house was built using pre-fabricated contra-laminated timber panels, with heavy insulation and windows selected for their thermal performance. Although connected to the electric grid, it’s rarely needed. Sufficient power is provided by the 40kW solar plant, while water is sourced from a borehole on the site and heated by a ground-source heat pump.
Dusky Parakeet houseboat, London
Measuring 3.5m wide by 18m long, the Dusky Parakeet is a houseboat with a surprisingly generous interior, thanks to a design by 31/44 Architects (3144architects.com). Builder Daa3 (daa3.co.uk) used Douglas fir, a particleboard called Valchromat and tulipwood to shape the space with handcrafted joinery and floors. Storage is tucked under the steps and seating areas, in the partition between the living and kitchen space, as well as the bedroom and shower room. Including purchase, the project cost £180,000. The doors and worksurfaces in the kitchen are made of a recycled plastic created by Smile Plastics using old yoghurt containers. The boat is currently moored at St Katharine Docks near London’s Tower Bridge, but it can be moved at any time. A 500-litre water storage tank and solar panel array mean it is fully off-grid, making it possible to moor anywhere without requiring access to power. A gas-incinerating toilet avoids the need for a septic tank. While underfloor heating, double glazing and an insulated hull keep the boat cosy in winter.
Defunct quarry, Derbyshire
Image: Caroline Bridges
Architect Derek Latham wanted to build a house in the defunct quarry in the garden of his previous home, but planning was an issue due to the Green Belt location in Little Eaton, Derbyshire. It was eventually granted under Paragraph 55, thanks partly to the 230sqm, four-bedroom house’s outstanding eco-credentials. Designed as an energy-plus house that can funnel extra power back to the grid, the layout means it can also adapt to the needs of Derek – now retired – and his wife, a local MP, as they grow older, with enough space for their grown-up children to come and visit. Among the sustainable materials used are drystone walling made from quarry rubble and timber from the self-seeded sycamore trees that were on the site. The building is bedded into a steep bank and is so thermally efficient that a woodburning stove would produce too much heat. It has its own borehole, and a monopitched roof covered in photovoltaic panels provides enough power in the summer, but Derek is in the process of installing energy storage batteries that will allow the house to go fully off-grid. The project cost an estimated £900,000
Farmhouse ruins, Dumfries
Image: Bradley Quinn
Off-grid architecture can be experimental as well as practical. Architect Lily Jencks created Ruins Studio as a home for her family in a remote rural location in Dumfries, Scotland. Designed with Nathanael Dorent Architecture on a budget of around £400,000, the property was inspired by the layers of history on the site. The 180sqm, two-bedroom house sits in the ruins of a farmhouse, with the old stone walls and views determining the location of doors and windows. A black, EDPM rubber-coated, pitched roof sits inside the walls creating a weather- proof shell, with the shape echoing the building that once occupied the space. White, tube-like structures made from styrofoam and plywood covered in glass-reinforced plastic separate the interiors, with the kitchen, study, living room and dining area inside the undulating walls, and the bathroom and bedrooms in the spaces between the tubes and the heavily insulated black outer shell. The house is solar-powered and has two woodburners for warmth, with water piped over from a nearby farm.
Self-sufficient conversion, Suffolk
Image: Modece Architects
Brambles Barn in Baylham, Suffolk, was a labour of love for Matt Bell, director of sustainability-focused Modece Architects. ‘I wanted to live in the way I advocate in my work,’ he explains. The decision was also financial – it was no more expensive to set up self-sufficient energy generation than to connect the former barn to the grid. Costs were reduced further by recruiting Matt’s two brothers as contractor and off-grid systems supplier, allowing him to squeeze in technology such as a bespoke lighting system for a total cost of £2,000 per sqm. Sheep’s wool insulation in the walls and roof keeps the two-bedroom home warm. Inside the 65sqm space, sliding-door cupboards house the utilities, thermal store and wood- pellet boiler. The bulk of the off-grid kit, including a battery bank and a back-up generator, is in a nearby converted shipping container, which cost an additional £5,000.