The Rochester Eco House Ullapool Scotland

When Mike Rochester first visited Assynt in the Scottish Highlands as a young man, he was so inspired by the landscape that he pledged to return one day. When Mike and his wife, Margaret, began to make plans for his retirement from his job as a teacher at an independent school in the Midlands, he remembered the pledge.

Apart from Mike wanting to fulfil a dream of living in a house of his own creation, he and Margaret were determined that no one could accuse them of taking housing stock that should go to locals. In the Highlands, there is considerable resentment of absentee landlords and holiday homeowners whose properties lie empty for most of the year.

The Ideal Plot

Mike’s criteria for his plot were fairly strict: a view of the mountains; south facing to allow passive solar gain; accessible to Lochinvertown in all weathers; not overlooked; and a degree of shelter from the worst of the northerly gales, All these were met by a sloping site about 1 km from Assynt.

The landowner was surprisingly amenable and extremely helpful. “The factor [Scottish land estate manager] pointed out that it was no use selling me the plot of land while it had no planning permission,” says Mike. “He suggested I approach the planners and he’d hold the parcel of land, then, if planning permission were granted, we could complete the deal,” When outline planning permission came through with little delay, it all seemed too good to be true – and indeed it was.

The Rochester Eco House Ullapool Scotland
large south-facing windows transmit energy into the two high- density concrete flanking walls
eco house bedroom

Eco-Design In Action

As Mike had been a teacher of design and technology since 1969, he wanted to design their house himself. Having collected magazine clippings, sketches and photographs of likely designs as inspiration, he spent six months making a model which was reasonably close to what they wanted. Then, browsing through Build It, he spotted a similar house, a wooden eco-home designed by architect Andrew Yeats of Eco-Arc.

Mike was impressed by Andrew’s approach, which favoured renewable materials from sustainable sources, and arranged a meeting.  “I expected him to be offended by being presented with an amateur’s scruffy model,” says Mike. In fact, Andrew was glad to have a clear indication of what his clients wanted and produced a set of drawings based on Mike’s model, the Rochester’s applied for detailed planning permission.

The Build

Andrew Yeats had designed the house to be independent   of all services, with water from a borehole and electricity from a 2.5kW wind turbine feeding into a battery bank and an inverter, backed up by a 10KVA diesel generator. The building is designed to utilise passive solar gain: the large south-facing windows transmit energy into the two high- density concrete flanking walls and the 20cm floor slab which sits on 5cm of Styrofoam. This thermal mass provides a heat store that buffers swings in temperature.

Planning permission was granted for the turbine, along with a government grant, no local objections were made, the order was placed, a rock-drill hired and high tensile studding set into the rock to receive the tower base plate.

The borehole went ahead with Mike employing a water diviner to walk around with bits of bent rod twisting vigorously in his hands. He identified several locations, then held out his hand for the agreed £100 fee. His prediction of good water at 36.5m (120ft) was accurate and the Rochesters now enjoy a supply of over 455 litres (100 gallons) of water per hour, rendered clean and wholesome after passing through filter and ultraviolet light.

eco house grounds
timber framed eco house
passive solar gain

Finishing Touches

By November, the building was sealed against the weather. The external walls are Stirling board with fine-sawn Douglas fir cladding which has been treated with Sikkens micro porous finish and then covered with a Tyvek membrane, made from polyethylene fibres. This helps stop air flow through wall cavities and keeps out bulk water and wind-driven rain.

During the next school summer holidays, the Rochesters made a big push to get the house ready for furniture to be brought in during October half term, Pine floors, balustrades, stairs, door linings/stops architraves, door hanging, skirtings and cupboard doors were all completed by Mike. The internal part-glazed doors, with their long stainless steel handles, are a variation on doors spotted in a restaurant in Llangollen. Liming the pine floor, so that it does not turn orange in the sun, is a useful tip passed from a friend who built a home in Norway. From the vast scale of the cathedral ceiling living area to the detail of the Zen water garden, the finished house stands proudly in the Highland landscape, a testament to hard work, patience, obstinacy and sheer persistence.

Text Kirstie Graham, Photos by Nigel Rigden