Building an eco-friendly home

Building an eco-friendly home, as often featured in Grand Designs, was something that once seemed like a pipe dream, an unobtainable fantasy; but bold, eye-catching projects using unconventional materials have made the headlines, and if not exactly mainstream, it is no longer unthinkable.

A greater public awareness of climate change and the depletion of our natural resources has led to a real shift in thinking within the construction industry in recent times. Insulation and solar panels at the very least are now a common option among even traditional building projects. The construction industry traditionally is one of the biggest consumers of cheap oil, and as supplies dwindle, other options need to be sought.

‘Building green’ goes some way to combating these problems and reduces the amount of energy needed in comparison to a traditional build. Green products lead to a direct reduction in carbon emissions, and with modern thinking in design, eco-friendly properties can make the most of natural opportunities for lighting, heating, cooling and ventilation – and the installation of energy efficient appliances will also make a difference. These steps will also lead to the owner or occupier saving money on their fuel bills and, to a degree, protecting themselves against the inevitable rises in fuel prices.

Straw bales have been a leader in eco-friendly building materials in recent years. They are durable, and although they only really found popularity as a construction option in the 1980s, early indications seem to show that a properly cared for straw house could last as long as 100 years or possibly more. Obviously, this depends on the walls being properly plastered over and finished, and as with a traditional structure, well maintained. Fire safety was initially a concern, but they meet fire safety and building regulations; in fact, they are finding popularity as a material for fire walls between semi-detached houses due to the density of the straw not allowing enough air through for a fire to burn.

While straw bales are thought of as a cheap option, the reality is that they probably aren’t as cheap as you think. Where they can save money is in the construction phase: as long as you have a fairly straightforward design, many people are able to choose to self build their properties – albeit with help from family and friends! Do bear in mind though that this will be a much slower process than employing a contractor to do it for you, and work on more specialist areas (such as roofing and glazing) should be done by someone who really knows what they are doing – ask for expert advice here. Making sure the house is watertight is essential for future maintenance. Straw bales do allow for a fair bit of future proofing, the walls are very easy to repair and the option to cut extra windows and doors is always available.

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