4) Community Empowerment -The Eco-build

The Eco-Build benefits 

At Cara Community Services we believe that everyone has a right to a `Decent Standard` home. However there are major obstacles in cost of land, materials and services. One response has been to consder the option of an ‘eco home’ which is environmentally sustainable and aims to minimise the impacts on the natural environment both during its construction and its entire lifespan. This means taking into account what it’s made of, whether it produces its own renewable energy, how efficiently it uses energy and water, how it affects local wildlife, etc. The way you live in it may be just as important as environmentally-friendly living may mean a built-in office, workshop or studio space saving on the need to travel. One option is living in a larger, multi-generational home or community to share resources and provide a close support network for family and friends? Living close to green space can be beneficial to health and wellbeing .

Self build V`s Standard

One of the most common motivations for people wanting to build their own home is good quality construction and energy efficiency. For the majority of mainstream developer-built homes, the main priority is minimising build cost to the basic legal standards of energy efficiency or other environmental specifications. Much of the innovation in environmentally sustainable housing has been driven by self-build projects – both individual homes and group schemes.


If you are considering buying and renovating an existing property for your project, there are plenty of things you can do to improve its eco-credentials. Here are some ideas: Stop draughts and control ventilation ; Use internal or external insulation to reduce heat loss through walls, roofs and floors; Replace single-glazed with double or triple-glazed windows ; Install room thermostats to control heating efficiently ; Minimise electricity demands;· Consider renewable or highly-efficient heating and electricity generation systems – e.g. solar, wood burning stove, wood pellet, ground source heat pumps, and air source heat pumps ; Install water saving devices ; Consider rainwater collection and use ; Decorate using natural, breathable and/or reclaimed materials and paints that are low in volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Cut energy bills by up to 75%

Passivhaus is the gold standard for energy efficiency in retro-fit or new build. In technical terms, a home built to Passivhaus standard should have an energy demand of under 15kWh/m2/year.This means that the home shouldn’t need any heating source as the home heats itself through the ‘waste’ heat given off by electrical appliances, hot water tank and the residents themselves. Passivhaus homes are also extremely comfortable to live in because they are mechanically ventilated and therefore don’t suffer from damp or stuffy air. An average-sized non-passive home in the UK has annual energy bills of around £1,100/year, while an average-sized (100m2) passive house costs £225/year to heat and power – a reduction of around 75%. For contractor-built new homes, construction costs for a Passivhaus-standard home are usually around 15-20% higher than a similar nonpassive home. Over the lifetime of a home, the savings on heating bills should more than compensate for this additional upfront investment.

Renewable Energy Generation

There are some great options for larger-scale renewables systems that can provide heat and/or power for a cluster of homes and other buildings. Biomass systems such as wood pellet and wood chip boilers work particularly well at a larger scale. It’s also possible to install combined heat and power (CHP) systems that generate both hot water and electricity from biomass. Systems that can provide hot water and/or heating to multiple homes will require a district heating system to be installed, with pipework carrying the hot water to all the properties. Designing this kind of system in from the outset of the project is much easier than retrofitting later, so new build developments are an ideal opportunity to bring in these technologies. However they can also be installed to existing developments if needed. District heating systems are very common in other European countries, especially Scandinavia. Not only do they promote the use of renewable energy but they can also be more energy-efficient than running individual heating systems in each property.

Natural Materials

If you want to get hands-on with an eco-building project, it can be easy and fun to work with natural building materials such as timber, straw bale, hemp and lime mixture, cob and rammed earth. Your choice of materials might be determined by aesthetics, local availability, local vernacular (style and materials of the traditional dwellings) and the size and shape of house you would like to build. You might also need training or supervision by skilled experts, and some of the techniques require a lot of person-power so the availability of willing hands.

Shared Space

Many collective self-build projects encourage residents to share living and working space as well as other resources. Cohousing in particular is a form of community living that includes both private homes and shared indoor spaces, such as cooking and social facilities and sometimes also spare bedrooms, workshops and storage space. Having access to shared spaces means that each individual home can be smaller, cheaper to build and cheaper to run. Because these homes are smaller and built closer together, cohousing communities occupy 30% less land than conventional developments with the same number of households. As there are more opportunities to share transport and to socialise within the neighbourhood, cohousing members also drive about 60% less on average. To find out more about cohousing, visit www.cohousing.org.uk.

If you require any further information or wish to discuss any issue such as funding the transfer please do not hesitate to contact John@caracommunity.co.uk or telephone 01803852270 our conversation is entirely free.