Pursuing a sustainable home

May 3, 2023

This is article is part of the “Our house, in the middle of our street” series. Ever wondered where sustainability and housing professionals live? In this series, Baker Homes’ team members share their own experiences with housing. In the second of the ‘Our House’ series of blogs, Baker Homes’ Director of Strategic Sustainability & Partnership Sarah Daly, shares her experiences in pursuit of a sustainable home.

With an empty nest looming, I have decided to downsize from a capacious four bed period property to an apartment…

Downsizing is a tricky business. Firstly you may want less bedrooms but still want reasonable social space. I have looked at so many new apartments in utter misery. The perceived view seems to be that apartment-dwellers must be friendless. Open-plan apartments typically have a kitchen area where you’d be hard-pressed to swing a quail, let alone a cat. Dining areas have at most a table for four and a cosy 2-seater with space for a guest pouf if you all breathe in. No end of gloss cabinets and shiny laminate flooring could seduce me into buying an overpriced rabbit hutch with knobs on.

I toyed, yet again with self build. I tried this about eight years ago, when an 11th hour gazumping debacle left me scrambling for a rental. It seemed like the ideal opportunity, with a lump sum in the bank, to find a plot and build my dream eco-house. But sadly after reaching heads of terms on three sites, I realised the shady world of property development was no place for an honourable person like myself. Scurrilous is an understatement.

Feeling newly optimistic, I registered a few months ago with my local authority under ‘Right to Build’ which is the Government’s scheme to encourage more self-building. However the planning officer confessed they have a register but no idea what to do with it and are awaiting further instruction from DCLG. My guess is that it will probably take a year or two to formalise and then constitute a clause in S106 that will require developments of more than x homes to allocate a self-build plot/s in much the same way as affordable housing is designated. Do I want to live in the least desirable corner of a new housing estate? Probably not.

I have spoken to several land agents about town centre brownfield sites and they have pretty-much said to forget it. The local development ‘mafia’ are all over every available plot and they change hands within hours. Agents are unlikely to favour ‘ethical mum of two’ over regular developer clients. Although part of me wanted to prove them wrong, I remembered the heartache of 18 months of searching and offering on sites, only to find myself repeatedly used as a bargaining chip with counter-deals done behind my back. It cost me dearly both financially and emotionally so self-build in a popular town location seems unrealistic.

So, it was back to the drawing board. Or in this case, not to the drawing board but the existing market. So eliminating soul-less rabbit accommodation … And not being of the age to consider ‘retirement’ complexes (though admitting to an occasional favourable glance); the only option in my Regency town was …. unsurprisingly, a Regency conversion.

Whilst I am passionate about modern design and modular construction, I adore classic architecture and the generous proportions and robustness of a period property. I have always avoided listed buildings but have found myself utterly seduced by a charming garden apartment in a four storey conversion. Plenty of online research and conversations with the local conservation officer have assured me I can do enough to make it meet my exacting sustainability standards. One can argue that whilst eco new builds should deliver the homes of the future, as 80% of homes in 2050 are in existence now, there is nothing more environmentally-responsible than living in an existing building; one whose embodied carbon has paid for itself many times over.

So I am looking forward to moving in the summer to the familiarity of a trusty Regency pad. I shall ensure it is well-insulated, adequately ventilated and efficiently-warmed with a new high performance boiler. It will have solid shutters and thick curtains in lieu of double-glazing, LEDs throughout, perhaps a wood burner, water-reducing showerheads and taps, and a covered external area for year-round laundry drying. Plus an electric vehicle charge point. I am already in conversation with the conservation officer about the potential for PV on the mostly obscured pitch of the south-facing roof which, with battery storage and 100% green energy from Ecotricity, will ensure maximum sustainability.

Living sustainably is possible even in listed buildings; but the real joy will be in the space to live comfortably whilst joyfully swinging my quail.

Sarah Daly

Sarah Daly

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