Donnachadh McCarthy: The Home Ecologist

Kit homes tick all the right boxes

They are orange, mauve and pink, but they also claim to be green. Some of the first homes to be built as a result of John Prescott's Design for Manufacture competition are on sale this summer at Oxley Woods, Milton Keynes.

The competition was to design homes to be built for less than £60,000 but that would still meet various space and environmental criteria. They are being built by George Wimpey, one of the winning developers, with the designs by Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners architects.

Sadly, the target price of £60,000 does not include the cost of the land. The first two-bedroom properties go on sale for £200,000, with three bedrooms costing from £230,000, which unfortunately fails the original purpose of making homes available to low income earners.

The architects have gone for a minimalist industrial design with various brick-, wood-and steel-frame options available. The steel and wood frames are designed for off-site flat-pack pre-fabrication to reduce costs.

They are calling them flexi-houses, as they come without internal walls or structural pillars to allow owners to change the layout in line with individual requirements.

They claim this will allow childless couples to have an almost total open-plan downstairs and a "huge open-plan bedroom covering the first floor", until the children arrive.

The second unusual feature is what they call an eco-hat, which is an internal chimney that carries all the service piping but also assists with ventilation, capturing some of the heat from extracted air to be reused to heat the incoming air. The eco-hats also aim to bring more daylight into the centre of the buildings. Passive solar water heating is an optional extra. The hope is that the construction reduces heat requirements by 40 per cent and 50 per cent if the solar hot-water system is included.

It is good to see some mainstream builders moving in a more eco-direction, but the fact that the buildings come with no internal walls means radiators will tend to be placed on the outside walls, losing the benefit of heating internal walls.

In addition, promoting large open-plan homes for childless couples means that a larger space will be heated than would be otherwise the case. Also, on an aesthetic level, suggesting such flat-packed minimalist designs can be "adjusted to the local vernacular" will usually be a bit economical with the architectural truth.

While such competitions can make a small difference, there is no way they will make the deep eco-revolution needed in house building fast enough, to ensure we get zero-carbon housing as fast as the climate crisis dictates.

The Government took 10 years to introduce a voluntary sustainable code of practice. It is clear that it is not the cost of building housing that is making them unaffordable but the cost of land. The new Brown Government must therefore grasp the nettle firmly and make the sustainable code of building compulsory as fast as possible.

The time is now far too late for demonstration projects, laudable though they are. Eco- homes urgently need to be the norm now and not the exception.

Donnachadh McCarthy works as an eco-auditor and is the author of 'Saving the Planet without Costing the Earth' www.3acorns.co.uk

d.mccarthy@independent.co.uk

Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'