How many of us daydream of building our own eco-house? I know I certainly do. Few of us will ever get round to actually doing it but recently I had the privilege of meeting Mike Alcock, who has risen to the challenge, and is near the completion of his very own eco house. His, is a fascinating story and this blog is simply a taster of his experiences.
To set the scene, Mike, with the help of two members of his family, is converting a disused farm steading next to his current home. The building is not yet complete and is an ongoing project. Embarking on this kind of venture, I soon learnt, required persistence, courage and a good dose of humour. I began by asking Mike what his biggest challenges have been so far. He laughed!
There were issues from the outset with planning permission and his advice is simply – be persistent! It took several attempts to the get the documentation just right, so it would satisfy all parties involved. Mike admitted that although he is a practical person, he is not a builder, however, he wanted to do as much of the work as he could himself. He acknowledged it is a steep learning curve, often,” with a hammer in one hand and a YouTube video playing in the other.” Mike worked alongside a joiner for some jobs he couldn’t tackle alone and because of legal requirements, he had no option but to bring in a professional electrician.
Getting the right architect was central to the project, Mike said, and he was scrupulous in interviewing several who expressed an interest. He recommends thoroughly vetting the various candidates and stressed that time spend at this stage is vital. The good news is that there are now many architects who have expert knowledge on constructing low energy houses, using non-toxic materials.
As an eco-build, Mike was determined to source as many materials as possible from local suppliers and was pleased that a local saw mill was able to provide the Scottish grown Douglas Fir timber he needed. He did point out however this was more expensive than buying imported wood. Other materials, unfortunately, proved harder to locate in Scotland. The sheep’s wool used for insulation came from Wales; the cork, another insulation material, came from Portugal and windows and doors, from Denmark. The list goes on with the render and lime, (because it is a stone-based building), coming from Italy and France, respectively. We both lamented this state of affairs and I could hear the frustration in Mike’s voice as he went through his inventory. On a more positive note, Mike did cite local tradespeople who are skilled in dealing with work on sustainable housing.
An air source pump will provide both the underfloor heating and hot water and excellent insulation is a prerequisite for this. The good news is that there is a local supplier for this. Mike will also have solar panels which will drive the air source pump and there will be a battery storage system so excess energy could be used for things like charging an electric car and, of course, Raspberry Patch Cottage will be energy neutral
It comes as no surprise that Mike has very strong feelings about current rules regarding new build houses. He is adamant about the need for tighter rules on insulation and draught proofing current homes, and that there are simple ways for businesses to retrofit older properties.
I came away full of admiration for Mike: his attention to detail; his meticulous research; his passion for creating this beautiful, healthy, cosy, sustainable home for himself and his family. There is something truly inspirational about folk like him who really do live by their principles and ethical code.
Mike is happy to show interested groups around his eco-house and talk in more detail about the process of building it. Simply get in touch with Kaska on email@example.com, to find out more or arrange a visit.
(Sam Foster Architects have published more technical blogs on the specifics of Raspberry Patch Cottage)