When it comes down to it, what really matters? Priorities, and deciding where these can be compromised, playing one off against the other, is a big part of the design process. Even if there was a generous amount of money (which there isn’t), there would be constraints to shape the design of the house. When money, and therefore internal space is tight, the exercise becomes one of making that space work really well, and if something isn’t working, maybe it has to be discarded. Every now and then the process brings about an inspired ‘light bulb’ moment when the constraints result in something special that will make a real difference to the space inside the house; like a glass balustrade linking upstairs with downstairs.
The list of essentials I gave to Steve Mason, of SRM Building Design were;
- A small, two bedroomed, one and a half storey house with a floor area of between 75 and 80 sq.m. requiring a very low input of energy; as near to Passivhaus standard as possible within the cost constraints, highly insulated in an airtight timber frame structure with mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR).
- The interior to be light and airy, well connected to the surrounding garden spaces. Living, cooking and eating spaces to be open plan to give a feeling of spaciousness.
- Views northwards up the valley of the Water of Fleet towards Kenlum Hill are visible from the first floor of the house.
- The living space should accommodate my weaving floor loom; a significant bit of furniture 1.25m wide and 1.6m long, with working space needed around it.
- A utility space with storage for a bicycle (hanging vertically), washer, freezer and muddy boots.
- Porch space (unheated, and not insulated, to save on costs) as a place to unload before entering the house proper.
Several versions of plans for a small house went back and forth, with scribbles and alternatives on tracing paper. The loom made a tour of the house; starting in the living room, then having a small garden room to itself, before it became clear that it really didn’t fit anywhere in the living space and that part of the brief had to change – compromise number one! Its final position is on an enlarged landing which forms a gallery overlooking the living space.
After several iterations the floor area had crept up – while we weren’t looking, I think, so a pruning exercise followed. Several tweaks brought the internal floor area closer to the target of 80 sq.m.
The need to provide a room useable as a bedroom and bathroom on the ground floor means that an upstairs bathroom can be reduced to just a toilet and handbasin to reduce floor area. Access to the utility room is provided from a glazed porch running along the northern elevation, allowing less circulation space in the hallway.
The house will be heated mainly by solar heat gain through south facing windows; windows on the other elevations are limited to the area needed for adequate internal daylight levels. All windows and doors will be energy efficient, triple glazed, timber framed, with aluminium cladding if the budget will stretch to it. Projecting eaves will shade the windows from sunlight in summer while the sun is high to help reduce the risk of overheating, while allowing sunlight and heat to enter the building in winter. A pergola structure clad with deciduous climbing plants along the southern elevation will also help reduce summer overheating.
Eden Insulations will manufacture the timber frame in their factory in Appleby, with 300mm wide ‘I’ beams forming voids which will be filled with recycled cellulose insulation, contained by specialised boards and membranes inside and out to control vapour and air movement, the whole thing carefully taped up with very strong and very sticky tapes.
The Green Building Store will provide the design and installation of the MVHR system, slotting ducts through the building to collect warm, stale air from kitchen and bathroom areas to be removed from the building. The heat from this air is recovered and added to fresh incoming air which is delivered to the living and bedroom areas. A summer bypass allows cool air to be drawn in during the night to cool the house during warm weather. The house will have no central heating system or other source of heat other than a small wood burner for very cold, overcast days. All the sophisticated calculations say that it will work, and keep me warm and cool when needed – it has worked for decades in Germany and other countries, so there shouldn’t be any need to worry it won’t work in Gatehouse. As they say, the proof of the pudding …
Plans are now ready to submit to Dumfries and Galloway planners for approval, and building
contractors are being sought …
In the meantime I continue to dream about the garden; more on that next time.