An 1840 house in inner city Birmingham is being transformed into a 21st century zero carbon home. Patrice John looks at the scheme.

The building site in Birmingham is a long way beyond what it looked like two short months ago. The roofs are on, the masonry is completed and all that remains is for an assessment to take place that certifies the house as Zero Carbon.?

That coveted title is one that John Christophers longs for and considering he has created a property that is packed tightly with insulation and utilises the latest green technologies it is not surprising.?

The 49-year-old architect hopes to meet this standard at the home he’s renovating in Balsall Heath and even though heavy snow in February threatened to push him off course, it seems the Zero Carbon house is well and truly a reality.?

“Most of the masonry is finished and 85 per cent of the roofs are in place, all the windows have arrived and are going to be fitted shortly,” he says.?“We’ve placed the orders for the solar roof and at the moment we are two or three weeks ahead of schedule.?

“Things are going very well and even though we could not get some of the building work done while it was snowing, we have still made up some time.?“The builders have been brilliant and we are all still on track with the project.”?

John is converting a two bedroom house into a four bedroom property and wants to do it to the highest environmental standards.?He is hoping that when it is finished it will reach Level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes, which is the Zero Carbon standard.?

Part of his reason for embarking on the project is to make sure he meets government targets to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80 per cent by 2050.?Houses will have to be a part of this and creating one that generates lower levels of carbon dioxide is a step in the right direction.?

He says: “We are really excited about doing this project as it shows people that it does not have to be a hassle to create something Zero Carbon.?By doing this project we are saying ‘yes – this can be done’. We realise that some people just want to build houses in the same ways that they’ve always built them, but there must be a change.?

“A key part of this project is the fact that we are attempting to do this with an existing building and no one else is doing that.?

“There are Zero Carbon new developments but none that are renovations that meet this standard.?

“The project is also exciting because we are utilising different kinds of architecture.?This building will not just be ‘green’ we are also trying to do something that is inspiring in terms of the architectural designs.

“We’ve approached the design in a different way, so this is not just about building a box that has no gas bills.”?

John, who works for Associated Architects and has been in the profession for 25 years, is now awaiting assessment from the Building Research Establishment who will decide whether his house is at Zero Carbon standard, but he remains hopeful.

“They are the ones that have to certify whether the house will reach the right standard to be called Zero Carbon,” he says.?“A lot of the construction techniques we’re using are very unusual and so they’ve got to do specific assessments.?

“They’ll be the ones that are looking at the way we’ve constructed the walls, roof and floor and that is what tends to take the time.?“We’re hoping we’ll know whether we’ve reached the standard in the next few weeks, but we remain confident.”

* for updates on the project.


It is a set of guidelines laid out by the Government detailing the energy and water use of homes.

From 2016 all new homes in the UK should reach Level 6 of the code, which would mean they would have the highest environmental standards.

Under the code homes are assessed in nine areas of sustainability which include carbon dioxide emissions and energy use; water use; materials including their ‘embedded energy’; surface water run-off should be minimised; waste including facilities to make recycling easy; pollution including pollution from insulating materials; health and well-being including good use of daylight; management including the process of construction; and ecology and preserving wildlife.

A major part of achieving the standards of a zero carbon house is making sure that insulation is at its best. Some of the key features of the house include:
* Excellent levels of airtightness.
* Effective orientation for winter solar gains and summer cooling.
* Mechanical ventilation with heat recovery and very efficient in its use of electricity.
* Heating and hot water provided from a large solar heating system supplemented by a low-powered gas, oil or LPG fired condensing boiler.
* Lighting by high-efficiency fluorescent lamps.
* Electrical appliances normally A+ rated or better.