Eco Diary - Part 3


Having gained planning permission, Richard and Sophie Hawkes’ innovative eco home is beginning to take shape

As someone who takes pride in their planning skills, it’s always good when a well-organised scheme starts coming together, and several months in the build is progressing well. But there are some things in life that no matter how much you plan for, never happen on the day that they’re supposed to. Case in point? Our newborn baby, Oscar.

Two weeks after Sophie’s due date, there was still no sign of him arriving so we went ahead with a day’s filming for Grand Designs. Kevin McCloud and the crew arrived on site and we all got stuck into building a mini timbrel arch to help demonstrate how the technique would work on the actual house. Once completed, our four-foot wide and two-foot high scale model made from clay tiles would be turned into a mini chicken coop alongside the house. There was a great effort from all and the finished design was big enough for Kevin and I to stand on. It worked – much to Kevin’s surprise. Then I decided to stand on it by myself and fell straight through, all of which was caught on camera of course! I guess we’ll have to find a new home for the chickens. 

‘It's amazing to be on site all the time seeing our house coming together "All this excitement must have been too much for the baby as he finally decided that after missing his deadline it was about time he got in on the act. Sophie went into labour later that night, although thankfully after the TV cameras had left – I’m not sure we wanted baby Oscar to make his TV debut quite that early. So now we’re back in the caravan, on a building site, with a newborn baby in tow. I’m sure that sentence would fill most people with dread, but without wanting to sound too smug, it’s been going well. It’s amazing to be on site seeing our house coming together on a daily basis, and living there means we get to spend more time together than before.

As for the house, there’s been a lot going on but mostly underground. With the site cleared, a large digger dug a two-foot-deep hole where the house will sit, and we used the waste earth to create some large banking, which will be planted to shield the area where we’ll park the cars so they can’t be seen from the road. We’ve also installed the rainwater harvesting system, underground drainage and sensors for our building monitoring systems. Similar sensors will be fitted within the concrete slab, walls and roofs to monitor the thermal performance of the building. A mini on-site weather station will enable data to be collected and checked against relative weather conditions. It’s clever stuff – almost as if we’re allowing the building to talk to us.

We’ve also installed insulation under the concrete slab to make sure our home is thermally efficient, choosing 350mm of graphite super-insulating polystyrene. We’ve been able to recycle the off-cuts on the colder, north side of the building to go up the side of the floor slab. It’s a better use of the waste material than sending it off to a land-fill site.  

Recycled products have also gone to good use for the concrete slab. Produced from 50 per cent waste material it’s roughly the same price as standard concrete but far more eco friendly. In terms of performance, it’s slightly weaker but as the material is used a lot in road and bridge building, I figure it’s going to be plenty strong enough to be used for our floor slab.

With everything falling into place, we’re just about ready for the arrival of the timber frame, which is when our home really begins to take shape. Now where’s that book on meeting deadlines? I’ve got some bed-time reading to do with Oscar…

Above top: The shuttering is put in place ready for the pouring of the concrete slab.

Above bottom: Off-cuts of the graphite super-insulating polystyrene have been used as extra insulation on the colder, north side of the floor slab.


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