Cropthorne Autonomous House
most new-builds the design is led entirely by aesthetic choices and
the house is built and decorated to fit a chosen style. With our house,
energy-efficiency came first. Its design is based on the Nottinghamshire
house built in the 80s by architects Robert and Brenda Vale (see the
Technical Design page for more on how the two designs compare). Even
its quirky position on the plot (below right) is not a whim of ours,
but because the
back of the house must face south for maximum solar gain. There won't
be any heating system at all, so maximising heat gain from the sun
is crucial. If the house was positioned straight on to the road, as
you might expect it to be, the back would face south-west, which wouldn't
bring in as much sun/heat. We
will have a tiny woodburning stove, which we can use in extremely
cold weather, if necessary. But, in practice, we will probably only
light it on three or four days of the year.
the internal layout, bizarre as it may sound, our starting point was
the composting-toilet system. The toilets (a maximum of two) must
be sited directly above the basement composting chamber, so the bathroom
and the upstairs toilet were the first rooms to appear on our rough
Everything else had to be designed around them. Our
brief to the architect was that we wanted a house that would suit
a family of four comfortably, without being lavish, with bedrooms
downstairs (to be cooler in summer) and the living area upstairs (warm
air rises, so it should be warmer in winter).
There's also a fantastic view - so why not make the most of it?
We had no fixed style ideas for the look of the house, but as the energy-efficient design of the structure has taken shape in plans and discussions, the style has created itself. For instance, the thermally massive concrete structure acts as a giant heat store, absorbing the heat from the sun during the day and slowly giving back that heat at night. Because of this, we can't use carpets or wood flooring, as they would impede the absorption process, but tiles (with rugs) are OK. As all the floors will be tiled, we decided to use warm terracotta (right), giving the house a rustic/Mediterranean look. We tried to source the tiles locally, but couldn’t find anything suitable, so we’re using tiles imported from Spain. Spanish terracotta tiles are fired in kilns at a much lower temperature than anything available in the UK, causing lower carbon emissions. We also decided to have tiled skirtings, inspired by the photo below left.
is aesthetically pleasing and should work well, especially on the
curved walls. We may use off-cuts from marble kitchen worktops for
the floors in the bathroom, shower room and toilet. (These off-cuts
are usually dumped, so we may be able to pick them up cheaply or even
wooden stair rail didn’t seem to fit with the ‘Mediterranean’ look
of the tiled stairs, so we started looking around for alternatives.
Then we saw this picture of a staircase in a French hotel (right)
and decided that we had to have something similar. We’ve already visited
some local blacksmiths, who are confident that they can reproduce
the design for us. The basic components are fairly standard steel
rods and much of it would be cold-formed, lessening the carbon footprint
of the whole production process. It should look stunning when it’s
the outside decking, we plan to use a material called Exwood, which
is made from recycled PVC mixed with rice husks (see left). It looks
very similar to wood, but doesn't require any finishing or maintenance,
even when used outside. We’ve already bought the outside staircase
that leads down to the garden (see below). We found it in a reclamation
yard near Coventry. It’s a Victorian ironwork staircase that came
from a solicitors’ office in Leamington Spa. We’ll probably paint
it to match the colour of the powder-coated windows and the conservatory
(which will be a blue-grey colour).
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