Overview: Even volume developers have joined the campaign for eco-friendly homes

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The Independent Online

Feeling guilty about gobbling energy is a fairly low-level concern to many, while the few who feel passionate about harnessing natural forces are generally to be found in isolated spots struggling to put their beliefs into practice.

Feeling guilty about gobbling energy is a fairly low-level concern to many, while the few who feel passionate about harnessing natural forces are generally to be found in isolated spots struggling to put their beliefs into practice. A few years ago, the complaint was that green technology manufacturers relied on enthusiasts trying to make something work as well as they could. Invariably it didn't.

Now that the environmental baton has been seized by housebuilders, however, all this should change. Last week, Redrow and Bryant Homes pushed energy efficiency to new levels when they launched a sustainable housing development on the Dunham Massey Estate in Cheshire. It is unique on at least three counts: it goes beyond current building regulations; unusually, the development is not small-scale but for 650 properties; and the land belonged to the National Trust, which is a partner in the project.

John Grime, land and planning director for Redrow Homes north-west, hopes to demonstrate that the same - indeed, higher - standards of efficiency can be achieved by volume housebuilders using traditional design. In other words, they won't have to look wacky to work. "People don't have a choice at present. You can't dictate how they should live, but you can encourage them by building to a very high standard."

For instance, they will limit overshadowing to maximise solar gain; levels of insulation are enhanced; some homes will have a system that recycles heat from the air being vented out; and ultra-low-level flush lavatories will be installed.

On the waste front, residents will be able to segregate their own waste for recycling and surface water run-off will be stored.

All this and more - much of it exceeding current building regulations and as such will form the basis of a research project designed to influence future standards.

Grime is looking forward to the public's reaction. He says that there would be nothing to stop anyone taking out the energy-saving appliances, but he hopes the buyers will encouraged to adopt them.

Considering the British public isn't committed to even recycling its rubbish, however, it might not be so easy to wean them off some of the features accepted as standard. How do you convince someone used to power showers and air conditioning that low-pressure taps and good insulation will do just as well? There are few developers who would dare come to the market without these specifications.

Evidence from the new-homes show rooms are not encouraging. In one award-winning development in Manchester, buyers would frequently complain about the notices informing them of how energy efficient the houses were, saying they "got in the way".

Others who do take their environmental concerns seriously may be anxious about paying a bit more for a green building. Technology could well improve rapidly in a short time and they might prefer to watch and wait.

Look how much attitudes have changed. Brian Mark of Fulcrum, an environmental consultancy, said in an interview a few years ago that the eco-friendly sandals and festivals image is long gone. But how people approach the design of a house that accords with their principles needs discussion. "I have to sit clients down and get them to understand where lifestyle changes come in. I ask them, 'Are you actually prepared to carry a pretty bucket of crap out to the central composter in the garden, or is it just a matter of putting on a jumper and turning the thermostat down?'"

Perhaps the Cheshire development holds a few answers. The first homes go on sale in May and residents should be in by the autumn.

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