HOUSE HUNTER: `I want my holiday home to be eco-friendly'

THE PROBLEM

Catarina Lewis writes: My family is from Portugal - just outside Lisbon - but we moved to England in 1978 when my father's job was relocated to Surrey. Although I only spent some of my childhood there, I have a special affinity with Portugal and speak Portuguese, as do my two young children who have been brought up bi-lingually.

It therefore seemed only natural that when my husband and I decided we should buy a holiday home, Portugal was the first choice. We are still very happy with our choice of location, it is the property itself that is proving problematical.

My husband and I are keen environmentalists and we would really like to buy a home that has sound ecological credentials, at the same time we have to balance this desire with the needs of our two young children in terms of both entertainment and security. Ideally we would love to buy a rural house in the middle of the country, but while our children are still so young we think it would probably be best to be near the coast. We don't want to buy a house or apartment in a big development that has degraded the environment either visually or in terms of ecosystem upheaval. Our other main concerns are energy consumption and the surroundings, which should be green and natural rather than concrete. We also want to be near an airport - either Faro or Lisbon - so access for weekends is fairly easy.

THE ADVICE

Katy Pownall writes: In Portugal, there is no equivalent to the SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure - the UK's universal indicator of the efficiency of energy use in homes). In fact, there is no legal requirement for environmentally friendly initiatives within existing Portuguese building regulations. This means that any property not explicitly designed, built and marketed as "green" is unlikely to fulfil any of your eco-criteria at all.

The good news is that a European Union directive comes into effect in January 2006. This will require the energy efficiency of all new buildings to be calculated using a European standard. In theory, this will mean that all member-states will have a universal scale for housing based on thermal insulation, heating, ventilation, air conditioning and taking into account renewable energy sources.

Until then, you may struggle to find truly "green" property in Portugal other than the two developments I have listed for you (Alma Verde and Mata de Sesimbra). You can undertake your own research to find others - for example, environmentally friendly housing is a popular editorial subject in overseas property magazines at the moment. There are also a number of property award schemes that carry a category for the "Most Environmentally Aware" or similar.

Paul King, the campaign director of the World Wildlife Fund, said: "A property needs to have well insulated walls, ceilings and roofs, and double- glazed windows. In Portugal this will be crucial for keeping heat out in summer, as well as keeping it in during winter.

"Find out if there is any scope for using renewable energy sources. For example, could you fit solar panels? Water efficiency is also important, particularly in hotter climates. Having dual-flush toilets and water-efficient taps and showers can reduce water usage by a third. Transport is key - find out how far away local amenities are. The less you have to use your car, the better."

Depending on the amount of money (you haven't specified a budget), time and effort you wish to spend on your home, you may want to try the ready- to-go options I have presented you with. For example, it may be cheaper to buy a traditional property and bring it up to standard using the advice of organisations such as The Energy Savings Trust or the Environment Agency. Your final option is to buy a plot of land and commission a "green" home to be built by a sympathetic architect.

THE SOLUTION

Property one: Villa Mimosa at Alma Verde.

Price: pounds 397,382.

Agent's details: Alma Verde is situated on the Western Algarve within driving distance of Faro airport and just a few minutes from the coast. It is a 36-hectare rural site of which only 10 per cent has been built on, with one third of the remainder devoted to parkland and recreational areas. Conceived and developed as a low energy development, Alma Verde is constructed of adobe bricks manufactured on site and incorporates a "cool house" system rather than conventional air conditioning. These and many other design and construction innovations led to the development winning the Most Environmentally Aware Award at last year's Homes Overseas Magazine Awards. Mimosa is a four bedroom villa with a large plot featuring a private terrace, a pool and garden areas.

Contact: Tel: +351 282 697857/9; www.almaverde.com

Property two: Four bedroom villa in Loule.

Price: pounds 549,688.

Agent's details: Though not an ideal eco-friendly property (there is, for example, no double glazing), this is a beautiful home with the "green" credential of solar power energy. In the summer, the sun provides 100 per cent of the property's energy needs, 75 per cent in winter. There is good insulation and dual flush toilets. The villa has a plot of 1,400sq m with 360 degree panoramic views of the surrounding countryside and the sea. There is a private pool. But you will need a car as the property is isolated (though just 20 minutes from Faro airport.)

Agent: Newskys 0845 330 1449; www.newskys.co.uk

Property three: Mata de Sesimbra. Price: TBA.

Details: This project is the first of a series of sustainable development schemes to be launched by One Planet Living, a joint initiative of WWF and BioRegional. Situated south-west of Lisbon, this eco-friendly tourist resort will comprise 6,000 houses to be built by developers Pelicano - from one-bed apartments to four bedroom houses. All energy will come from renewable sources and recycling will reduce water consumption. Leisure, health and school facilities will be on site as will a 4,800 hectare nature reserve.

Contact: Either WWF or BioRegional (see below).

v If everyone in the world consumed the same natural resources and generated carbon dioxide at the rate Europeans do, we would need three planets to support us. If everyone used what the average North American does, we would need five planets. About 45 per cent of energy generated in the world is used to heat, light and ventilate buildings. (Facts from WWF's Living Planet Report) v Useful contacts

Should you wish to find out more about environmentally friendly housing, the following organisations may be helpful:

World Wildlife Fund, 01483 426 444, www.wwf.org.uk/- sustainablehomes;

BRE (Building Research Establishment), 01923 664 000, www.bre.co.uk;

BioRegional, 020 8404 4880, www.bioregional.co.uk;

CABE - The Commissions for Architecture and the built environment, 020 7960 2400, www.cabe.org.uk;

Energy Savings Trust, 020 7222 0101, www.est.org.uk;

European Environment Agency, +45 33 36 71 00, www.eea.eu.int

If you would like House Hunter's help, write to: The Independent, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, 020-7005-2000

or e-mail: househunter @independent.co.uk

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