House Hunter: Eco-friendly living

'I want to buy myself a green home'
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The Independent Online

The Problem

KATIE FRY, OF HARROGATE, WRITES:

Like so many people, I am concerned at global warming and the pollution of our environment. House-building seems to be a major contribution to this in developed countries, generally, and urban areas in particular, so I want to move to a home that is environmentally friendly in its design and routine maintenance. I know this means I could be labelled a brown-rice-and-sandals type, but could you advise me on what to look for in an eco-friendly property? Are flats better than houses? Are there older properties that have been converted or must I settle for new? I do not need to be specific on location - I have no family and work from home, so I am free to move to the best example.

The Advice

GRAHAM NORWOOD REPLIES:

Constructing, maintaining and living in our homes accounts for 28 per cent of UK carbon dioxide emissions, says the Government, so you are right to be concerned. The average 'old' house loses about 35 per cent of its heat through the walls, 25 per cent through the roof, 25 per cent through draughty doors and windows, and 15 per cent through the floor, so there is plenty of room for improvement.

New properties will inevitably be more environmentally friendly than older ones because of higher building standards, but whereas most developers will claim their homes are 'environmentally friendly', the devil lies in the detail. For example, new planning guidelines from the Government to local authorities make it likely that more developers must fit photovoltaic tiles or solar panels on roofs, or mini-wind turbines on new estates, before getting permission to build. Also, the so-called 'Building Regulation L', already in force, sets out minimum standards for double-glazing, boiler types, and insulation levels in walls, floors and roofs.

But there is no agreed definition on what package of features beyond these will make a home more or less eco-friendly. Flats are neither better nor worse than houses, but bungalows are considered by some to be 'space-greedy', as they are so low-density.

Experts, such as the Town and Country Planning Association, say sustainable homes should: be built with materials selected from natural, renewable or recycled sources; have energy-efficient designs and preferably be south-facing to harvest heat from the sun; include water-saving appliances and water-recycling systems; accommodate recycling bins; and by their location and design, reduce car dependency or, across whole developments, feature innovations such as car-pools. You can get more details from www.tcpa.org.uk.

You are not alone in your hunger for more energy efficiency at home. In 2004, research by the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, mortgage lender HBOS and environmental pressure group the World Wildlife Fund found 87 per cent of UK home-buyers wanting more details about how eco-friendly a property was when it went on sale. Some 84 per cent said they would pay 2 per cent extra for an eco-friendly home, with energy-efficiency, lower running costs, enhanced air and light quality, and more water-efficiency named as the 'most wanted' features.

Such features tend to be found in modern homes, although developers are never backward at charging a premium for them.

The Solution

Property one: The Goldwater Springs development at Nailsworth in the Cotswolds

Price: Flats begin at £345,000 and houses with five to seven bedrooms are priced from £745,000 to £860,000,

Agent's details: This development consists of 12 flats and seven houses that use recycled, treated paper for insulation, low-energy bulbs, underfloor heating, natural wood flooring and a low-energy, whole-house ventilation system. But you pay for a match of style and eco-friendliness.

Agent: Butler Sherborn on 01666 505105.

Property two: The Wintles

Price: £295,000 to £525,000

Agent's details: A 40-house "eco-village" in Bishops Castle in Shropshire. The homes have solar-glazing, and high-insulation. Designers claim electricity bills in a standard property will be £6 for two months.

Agent: Living Villages, 01588 630475.

Property three: Four-bedroom house

Price: £435,000

Agent's details: Isle of Wight home with an environmentally friendly heating system centred on a ground source pump that taps heat in the foundations and surrounding soil. It has a five-year warranty.

Agent: Watson Bull & Porter Countrywide, 01983 821001.

Fact File

There are some shortcuts to finding environmentally friendly homes that are on the market, or suppliers of eco-friendly building material.

Website www.greenmoves.com opened in February and is dedicated to advertising homes for sale that are more energy efficient than conventional homes, and carries advertising from developers whose properties meet rigorous environmental standards. It is supported by the World Wildlife Fund's 'One Million Sustainable Homes' campaign, and even reinvests some of its income in tree planting to help offset carbon emissions from housing.

If you own an older property and want to make it more eco-friendly, www.est.org.uk, the Energy Saving Trust's website, lists features, suppliers and even offers a checklist of what to look for when house-hunting for a new home.

Website www.newbuilder.co.uk tends to be aimed at individuals or consortia of amateurs, who want to build their own properties.

If you would like House Hunter's help in finding a property in the UK or overseas, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000 or e-mail: househunter@independent.co.uk

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