Over the next few years I want to visit as many eco homes as I possibly can. I know that these opportunities are hugely valuable in the learning process and it's always fascinating to hear the stories behind the buildings.
So when, in late September, Paul from Conker Conservation organised a cycle ride between various eco properties I asked if I could join in. Our group comprised architects, builders, surveyors, etc. and me!
Leaving Singleton Environment Centre on a gloriously sunny day we were immediately pedalling into the Kent countryside and within half an hour we had reached our first property. This was a self build project, nearing completion, and it was also my introduction to straw bale buildings.
The self builder gave us a presentation of his progress to create this elliptical property and I was instantly hit by the passion of his dream. He wanted this construction to be at one with its surroundings and as natural as possible, even down to using bales from the fields around him.
One of the biggest challenges has come from the shape of the building, which resembles a sea shell. With no corners to the building, judging floor area has not been easy and it's a case of mathematics. I understand that this complicates things but I don't fully understand what it means!
The building is set on two levels and has an internal tower of masonry providing the thermal mass. Larsen trusses support the roof. There's also reed bed sewage treatment and rainwater harvesting.
For me, as someone who doesn't understand how we can be building with straw bales, I loved the feel of the building. There was something very organic and warm about it. I definitely need to carry out more research on this build method.
Once we had said our goodbyes, we cycled west along narrow, twisting lanes and through villages. We were off to church!
What amazed me was how creative they have been with the budget. The place is huge but their budget has been very modest. This is a church that's designed for today. Due to the airtightness this is not going to be a place with lots of drafts where people sit and shiver. It's a multi-purpose community building and, as such, has all manner of different rooms along with a main hall. I was very impressed.
Finally we checked out Richard's own Passivhaus home, which even featured on Grand Designs in 2009.
It has a vaulted roof that spans 20 metres. The whole construction makes for a very intriguing house, with some wonderful spaces on the inside. I'm going to try to catch the episode the next time it gets repeated!
That concluded the tour, but all is all it was exactly the sort of day I hoped we might get.