Dorothy, Meg and Mike’s story: a shared vision for sustainable living
Dorothy, Meg and Mike each had something unique to bring to their family self-build project in Sheffield. Combining skills, energy and resources they were able to achieve their collective vision of a more sustainable way of living.
The land on which they have built their new home has witnessed dramatic transformations over the years, going from a landfill area for the city’s industrial waste to the site of a country club. The club building, which had fallen into long-term disrepair and been damaged by fire, has now been replaced by the family’s energy-efficient Passivhaus-inspired home.
A collective approach
Their vision for creating a new home together began around ten years ago, when Dorothy, Meg and Mike formed a trust to purchase the site. Dorothy – Meg’s mother – is now retired, Meg is a doctor and her husband, Mike, runs his own property maintenance company.
“We discussed grouping together to build an eco-house and also to pool our resources. We were all living in different homes at the time and it seemed crazy that we were all doing the same thing in different places,” says Meg. “After about three years we found this site, and we formed a trust for the three of us so that we all have the same rights and protections legally, as a group.”
“When I first saw the site it was a beautiful sunny day, the blackberries were ripe and I told Meg that I’d love to live here,” says Dorothy. “However one of the challenges was finding a lender who was prepared to lend to a trust of three people (one retired) and on a self-build plot bigger than 10 acres. So finding Ecology through our financial adviser was great news.”
A huge undertaking
Having purchased the site and demolished the derelict building, Meg and Mike moved into temporary on-site accommodation in 2013. They all finally began living in their new home in 2016. In between, there was a huge amount of work to put in – but they remained focused on what they wanted to achieve.
“We were very keen to build an eco-house to reduce our carbon footprint,” explains Mike. “We knew Ecology supports self builds and we wanted to incorporate as many green technologies as possible. These include solar thermal panels on the roof, solar PV panels for electricity and a log batch boiler, fuelled only by logs sourced from our own site.”
With an emphasis on sustainable materials and technologies, the house is now close to Passivhaus standard. It includes recycled building materials, wood-fibre and newspaper insulation, and wooden and cork framed triple-glazed windows throughout.
Commenting on funding the build’s progression, Meg says, “Ecology really helped us here, because once we reached a certain standard of energy efficiency we got a reduction in our interest rate. These are rewards for the good environmental aspects of the property, and that was very helpful.”
The works – which were carried out by local tradespeople – also included the removal of large areas of non-permeable ground cover, as well as the installation of 20,000 litres of rainwater storage. The water that’s collected is used for washing machines and toilets, as well as irrigation of the fruit and vegetable beds.
A home to share
Today, the three live together in a warm, draught-free house. The surrounding garden contains 42 raised beds, constructed from recycled timber, which means the family has access to a variety of fresh fruit and vegetables. The site is in a location that is peaceful yet close to nearby amenities, including Sheffield’s tram network, which has a stop within walking distance of the house, enabling an easy car-free journey into the city.
“I love it,” says Dorothy. “It’s peaceful and a lovely part of Sheffield. I turn the corner into the lane and I think: ‘I am so lucky to live here’.”
“The experience of living here has been far better than I ever imagined,” agrees Mike. “The design and layout of the house is great – everything works as intended, and the rooms feel connected in the right way.”
They each strongly recommend that those considering a sustainable self-build seek specialist advice, and take the time to talk it through with someone who has done something similar before.
“There are always difficult aspects to it,” says Meg, “but it is important to see the long term vision.”
Their self-build home in Sheffield is a striking example of what can be achieved when people do just this – and we’re proud to have played a role in making the family’s sustainable-living vision a reality.