Martin and Lisa Wilson searched for a home, couldn’t find one, built one instead and plan to go a step further, as they tell Patrice John.
What Martin Wilson does not know about building green homes is not worth knowing.
The married father-of-two knows all there is to know about creating eco-chic homes of the highest quality.
Nothing about his newly-built six-bedroom, five-bathroom house portrays a lack of space and, with its palatial proportions, it’s a thing of wonder in the heart of leafy Solihull.
After almost two years tackling the challenges of planning and building, 38-year-old Martin and Lisa, his wife of 15 years, have finally moved into their dream home in Birch Tree Grove.
After achieving a level of success in this property, they’re about to embark on the borough’s first Zero Carbon newbuild property.
The Government created a Code for Sustainable Homes which uses a one-to- six star rating system to assess the overall sustainability of the house. Code Six is rated as Zero Carbon which Martin and 40-year-old Lisa hope to achieve in their next development, in Waverley Grove, Solihull. Their current home in Birch Tree Grove is at Code Four, so they will need to go even further with the new property to hit the mark.
But, judging from the careful matching of eco-chic with energy-efficiency, I have little doubt they’ll achieve their aim.
Car salesman Martin says: “Creating a house to this kind of standard posed real challenges but we’re up for the next one and we’re planning on making it much better. This was rated as Code Four, which is not Zero Carbon but it’s still energy efficient, but we’ll be doing more to the next house. The thing that took the longest amount of time was researching the right sorts of technologies and appliances to make sure we got things right. But we’ve managed to use some brilliant pieces of technology in this house and we’re ready to go on to the next one.”
Martin and Lisa, who also works with her husband in the car trade, bought the property in Birch Tree Grove in April 2007. It took almost six months to secure planning permission to transform what was a 1960s bungalow into the semimansion that it is now.
They’ve added an air source heat pump, thermal solar, heat ventilation recovery, solar glass throughout the development, under-floor heating, a green roof, an instant hot-water tap (to minimise the energy used when boiling kettles), recycling space in the kitchen units and ovens that cook food with steam rather than gas.
“The lights are also automatic when you walk into a room, so you don’t have to worry about switching things on and off,” Martin says. “There is no chance of leaving anything on when you leave a room. These kind of features all add up to making the house much more energy efficient and eco-friendly.
“We made sure there is thicker insulation in the property than required by building regulations and the roof is also a good-quality spec.
“Even the outside of the house has been rendered in a silicone-based product so it requires very little upkeep...
“These changes may seem like small things to some but it will make this house cheaper to run when compared to a conventional house,” Martin says: “There is a social responsibility to do this and when you compound this with the fact that there is a shortage of houses that are ecologically sound as well as modern, there are real problems.
“We searched for this kind of home for ourselves and we didn’t find it – so we decided to build it instead. We looked for more than 12 months to find something suitable, but nothing even came close.
“Creating this house was largely enjoyable but it was also quite hard work and required a lot of research as it has lots of the latest technologies and appliances which meant taking things one step further than the norm. With this house and the new one, I’ve been involved in the majority of the design work but I called in an architect to create the images. For the new house, I’ve also called in an energy consultant as it presents a few more challenges than the present house.”
This ‘challenge’ is the complicated task of fitting an indoor swimming pool in the basement of his planned Zero Carbon home. He had to increase the specifications of the house for it to still qualify as Zero Carbon on his plans and he took on the advice of an energy consultant.
Martin says: “There are lots of people who want to make their homes greener but not everyone can – or indeed wants to – go this far. And going Zero Carbon is not always possible for people. But we’ve found it’s totally possible to fit solar panels on to existing homes and people can also insulate their houses as well. Low-energy lighting as well as other measures can easily be done so homeowners do not have to go so far with what they’re doing. If everyone were to do something like this we would all be moving in the right direction and it would make a collective difference.
“The way we’ve done this has been expensive but that was our choice. If it were possible to make more money and grants available to those who wanted to make their home energy efficient then that might take away the strain of building a greener home.”
Martin and his team researched how homes could be energy efficient and the Energy Saving Trust promote awareness about Energy Performance Certificates which give homeowners, tenants and landlords a rating for the energy efficiency of their homes.
They say high energy prices demand we are more energy efficient at home. They state that energy use in UK homes accounts for 27 per cent of emissions of carbon dioxide, one of the greenhouse gases that are contributing to global warming and climate change.
They, like Martin, believe that simple home improvements (as well as larger projects like zero carbon homes) can make big savings in loft insulation (£155 average savings per year) and cavity wall insulation (£120 average savings a year).
But what about his new-found title as a green developer? How does that sit with Martin?
“That doesn’t bother me in the slightest,” he says.
“Some have said I should be a planning consultant for those building greener homes – but who knows? This is the direction that I see housebuilding going in and it’s the way it should be.”