Many self and custom builders are keen to be as eco-friendly and sustainable as possible.
The most important thing that any self builder can do is invest in really good levels of insulation, so that any heat generated within the home is not lost. Aim to install significantly more than the levels demanded by the Building Regulations, so you create an extremely snug low energy home. A very well insulated home will cost hardly anything to heat and won’t need lots of fancy gadgets or expensive heating systems to keep everyone warm. So, especially if you only have a modest amount available to make your home sustainable, insulation should be your first priority.
There are many ways of boosting the insulation levels in a home – for example, you can simply add thicker levels of insulation, and opt for triple rather than double-glazing. There are also several new technologies on the market including aerogels, vacuum insulated panels, multi-foils, sheeps wool, hemp, wood fibre and recycled paper products. Working out which is right for you will require some serious study.
Our Suppliers Directory lists various companies that are specialists in insulation and other eco products.
Once you have ensured your new home is really well insulated you may want to consider some of the new eco-energy generation technologies such as solar panels (some produce hot water, whereas photo-voltaic generates electricity), air and ground source heat pumps, wood pellet/biomass boilers, log burners, wind and water turbines, and mini domestic combined heat and power generators. Some of these can be quite expensive to install, and if you already have a well insulated design, they may be hard to justify.
You may also be interested in mechanical ventilation and heat recovery systems (MVHR), the latest generation of really efficient gas boilers, and smart control systems, low energy lighting, and ensuring you fit the most energy efficient domestic appliances.
Great care must be taken in calculating which eco features are affordable and appropriate – beware of ‘eco bling!’ and ‘greenwashing’.
Passivhaus, or ‘Passive House’, buildings meet stringent energy-efficient regulations. A typical Passivhaus home would be air-tight, equipped with a high level of insulation and designed to use a bare minimum of eco-technologies for heating and cooling. They can prove to be more expensive to construct but, with almost no financial outlay for heating, costs can be recovered quickly. Passivhaus homes are ultra-sustainable and are acclaimed for their low carbon footprint. The Passivhaus Trust has produced some very good guides on the topic.
There are some financial incentives available for self builders to help support the use of low carbon solutions and there is a good description, but you need to be aware that feed-in tariffs are not as generous as they used to be.