Anchorage Passivhaus Self-Build Project


Introduction to Kerry and Frank

Kerry and Frank have been doing self-builds for over 40 years and have started 6 projects between them.  Four were completed successfully and became their family homes for several years; one was sold and built by others; one is currently in progress.

For most of those years, they’ve been so far ahead of the curve when it comes to energy-efficient buildings that it once took 20 years to get planning permission because no-one had seen anything like it before.

One of their self-build homes featured in the Future World Exhibition in 1994 to showcase what a home of the future would look like.  The ideas that were present in the home they built 30 years ago have been adopted widely and are used today as best practice.

They’ve so much practical self-build experience that Frank has even given presentations entitled “Confessions of a serial Self-Builder”.

They say this is going to be their last, with this latest project seeing them downsize to a smaller home on the banks of a river.

In this case study you’ll discover how a red sofa and a pack of homemade sandwiches on a derelict plot of land helped them to decide on their dream location.

We’ve caught up with Kerry and Frank to find out how their latest project is going and to pick their brains for advice on self-builds.

Tell us about your self-build?

The project is called Anchorage, and it’s a 3-bed Passivhaus on the bank of the River Avon in Wyre Piddle, Worcestershire.

We’re downsizing from our current self-build because it’s way too big for our needs now, and we’ve always wanted to live in a small community next to a river.

The architects we’ve used for the project are Habitat + Architects.

If you visit their website, they have our house front and centre as their hero image –

For the build itself, our main contractor is RDS Build, and we went with them on the architect’s recommendation.  Kerry had known Beattie Passive for many years and was keen to use their certified Passivhaus system, so RDS attended the Beattie Passive training course and are now approved to manufacture and build the Beattie Passive shell, with Beattie Passive testing and verfying its performance.

What are the key features of the design and build?

Normally, the form of Passivhaus is simple, but the architects with this timber-framed self-build have really stretched the boundaries of sustainable design while still making it viable within a Conversation Area.

The upside-down living design maximises the steeply sloping site, with a simple traditional aesthetic to the road elevation and a dynamic, angular, and cantilevered river elevation, which is the south façade, taking full advantage of the sun and river views.

Solar panels provide electricity for the home, including electric car charging, while the Passivhaus standard is met, using a high air tightness, super-insulated thermal envelope with Ideal Combi triple glazed windows and an MVHR system to provide warm fresh air without needing a central heating system.

Where this building really excels is the architectural design making the most of offsite manufacturing approaches.

It truly stretches the capacity of the Beattie Passive timber frame with overhangs, angles and a partial subterranean level.  A raft foundation avoids vibration damage to neighbouring structures from piling.  An ICF wall doubles as the lower storey uphill wall and a retaining structure, which minimises the use of concrete and lowers the carbon footprint.

How did you find this plot of land?

There are several specialist websites that will help you find a plot, such as Plot Finder –  but you have to be something of a detective to track down all options.  In the end, we found this plot of land on Rightmove of all places, after about 3 years of searching.

What we would say when it comes to finding a plot, you’ve got to have vision to see what an empty piece of land, probably overgrown and rubbish-strewn, can become.

When we viewed it for the first time, there was a random red, two-seater sofa abandoned on the jetty at the river’s edge.  So, we decided to get our packed sandwiches out and sit on that sofa to watch the river, the wildlife and the world go by.

It was the time spent on that discarded red sofa that made us realise this was the dream plot of land for us.

It was our 29th wedding anniversary.

How did you buy the land?

There was no planning permission for it, and there was no asking price up on Rightmove or from the agent.

We got a favourable Pre-Application response from the LPA but then just had to go on a feeling and decide what the land was worth to us.  The sellers also wanted to sell the adjacent pub at the same time, but we couldn’t stretch to that, so had to apply a mix of patience and persuasion to secure the plot which we finally did 6 months after we first saw it.

In spite of our previous experience, we naively expected the positive pre-app response to mean we would get planning approval fairly quickly, but in the end it took about 2 years. Most of the village was very supportive and keen to see the former derelict patch of land transformed into an attractive home and garden, but there was also a small amount of strong opposition. At the end of March 2023 we finally had the go ahead and began working with Tim and Tom at Habitat+ to progress the detailed design, ground investigation, archaeological survey etc. and to find a main contractor who shared our passion for building to such a high standard and was ideally based locally.

What advice would you give people starting on their self-build journey?

Estimate the time and cost to deliver your project, then double both of them!

Planning approval always takes longer than you think.

Planning approval on this plot of land has taken 2 years, and this is despite the planning portal saying it will take 8 weeks.  The longest we’ve had to wait to get planning approval on a plot of land is 20 years.

The second is cost.

You don’t have the buying power of developers buying in bulk, and there’s always hidden gremlins that pop up when you start a build that will require money to solve.  For example, a new telegraph pole, or installing underground cabling to ensure you’ve got power, and endless surveys and consultants.  You do save a bit on stamp duty, and you don’t have to pay the CIL.

And most importantly, you are building what you want, not what will suit the market.  The cost of a self-build will almost always end up being more than the market value once complete. You’ve got to understand and be comfortable with that.

It’s partly due to you not having the buying power already mentioned so everything costs more, but also because much of the cost is concealed in the structure and valuers (and most purchasers) don’t value these types of energy-efficient properties highly enough compared with typical homes.  That’s something that needs to change if we really want to tackle climate change and have homes fit for the future.

What’s next?

We’ve got a practical completion date of the 1st November, and we’re in full swing with the build as you can see from the pictures.

We’re also going to be doing a regular blog of the build for Ecology Building Society Members which will be packed hints and tips from over 40 years of doing self-build projects, progress pictures and anything else that might crop up along the way.

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