Included in their eco-wish-list were geothermal heating, an air recovery system (‘This was a priority as we visited many eco-houses which were too hot upstairs, so we were keen to have fresh air throughout,’ says Penny), a rain harvesting system, smart technology lighting and insulation made of recycled newspaper.
They also wanted the timber frame to be sourced from sustainable forests, argon-filled windows, solar panels, maintenance free aluminium window frames and reconstituted slate roof tiles. ‘I spent hours and hours finding just what we wanted,’ says Penny. ‘I became very good at finding the best bargains. I was also conscious that nothing should go to waste. I am from a mother who used to wash kitchen foil and hang it out to dry, so the whole idea of conserving and reusing is in-built.’
Penny adopted the role of site manager. Before the build could begin, they had to knock down an old garage and pavilion belonging to the bungalow, and adapt a wall with their next door neighbours once this was done.
‘I wanted to build the house quite high so we could see the River Mersey – which flows past the end of the road – from upstairs,’ says Penny. ‘Making the inside and outside work as one was very important to me, I also wanted the whole house to be used. We had far too many bedrooms in the Victorian place – who needs seven? This was going to be the complete opposite of what we had before.’
‘Having Maple Timber Frame was excellent because of the experienced people they brought to the job, particularly the ground-worker and the man who actually built the house in two weeks,’ says Penny. ‘It was much cheaper than having a contractor.
The house is super insulated using recycled newspaper to create a dense, heat retaining system. The rainwater harvesting system stores and recycles rainwater for the washing machine, toilets and garden, while a geothermal heating system uses heat from a metre below ground level and passes it through a heat exchanger system to warm the house. Water-based underfloor heating serves as a back-up for the coldest days, while double glazed, argon-filled windows reduce heat-loss through the glass. A Smart Technology lighting system uses less electricity than standard lights, and even the external render has a colour lifespan of 20 years to eliminate the need for regular repainting.
‘My only thought is, why didn’t we do this sooner? When I think back to life in the Victorian house, which was lovely in its own way, there is just no comparison. It wasted so much energy,’ says Penny. ‘This house is efficient, every inch of space is used and it always feels light and open, even on a dull day, which lifts the spirits.’
Words Heather Dixon Photos David Burton