There is no such thing as an environmentally friendly car and there is no such thing as an “Eco-House”. If you want “ecology” in your house then imagine it alive with flora and fauna. It would not be a comfortable place to live. It would probably be condemned. It may even just fall down. In short – it wouldn’t be our definition of a “home” at all. So, what are we talking about?

So let’s attempt a definition. I was once told that there was no such thing as “quality”. Something either meets specification or it does not. So let’s apply that principle. So a new home either conforms to Building Regulations or it does not. In this case we have to extend this to include FUTURE Building Regulations. Changes to Building Regs are discussed years in advance so the industry has a hope of preparing for them. There are many in the industry who lag behind and others who have woken up and smelt the cavity wall insulation. These are the pioneers and they achieve the regulations years in advance as a way of achieving marketplace advantage. There will always be those who over-achieve and take a pride in building homes that are futuristic. So what some may label an “eco-home” is simply one that meets regulations for insulation and energy technology installed.

An example would be my friends over in North Warwickshire at the Church Hall Gardens development in Atherstone. To quote the developer’s web site “Each semi-detached property – all approx 1000 sq ft – has three bedrooms, one en-suite, and features a lounge-diner and kitchen breakfast area. Each property has a garden over 50 feet in length and off-street parking for two cars.” Sounds nice. The name of the developer? Prepare to cringe at their web site: Now they have done their homework and who can blame them. They are selling to a sector of the market that is turned-on by the words “eco-home”. Everybody knows what it means. It is the lowest common denominator. Of course what they are actually selling are homes with virtually no electric bills, no gas bills and much reduced water bills. ‘Eco Homes’, in this example, is family firm who have been building property in the West Midlands for over 35 years. They are using the term “eco home” as a convenient label to sell homes. In this case these guys are REALLY delivering – we have no doubt at all. Their homes will save you money and they can prove it.

So, what’s the problem? Well, if you are selling to a niche market you can call them ‘fluffy-bunny-wabbit-hutches’ for all I care. Whatever works to sell homes. But to move forward we will need to ensure EVERYONE lives in a house like this. It cannot be a niche for much longer. At what point does the market run out of people who are shopping for an “eco home”? At this point the ‘eco home’ movement meets its nemesis: the right-wing, rabid-reactionary, tabloid press.

Exhibit A: The 4th Feb Daily Mail article entitled “Eco-homes DOUBLED our energy bills: Resident rocked by £1,600 charge after just  six months” ( The story described to misfortune of a social housing complex in Bradford. These homes were meant to be cheap to run but one resident complained of being charged the equivalent of £1600 for electricity in a year.

Shock! Horror!

Of course the story crumbles before any serious examination. It is not, in fact, really a news story. It is an opinion piece masquerading as news. Every once in a while the Editor of this rag will decide to throw a bone to feed the biases of his readership. Something, no doubt, that will enrage those greeny-lefty-liberal-types and draw in even more readers. So he sends his most junior reporter out into the world to find a story that, say, proves that eco-anything is a con. Tomorrow he will be sent out to prove that gay marriage causes your house values to fall, or something. Now is this young chap actually qualified in building regulations? No, of course not. He is probably the sport reporter or something. Fair enough, but when pursuing such news you would think he would have at least have spoken to the Builder? Nope. An architect? Nope. An expert of any kind? Nope.

The article actually warranted a whopping 671 comments from around the globe. Thankfully a lot of readers had spotted the obvious fallacies the story was promoting. It was a delicious fact-free zone full of delightful phrases like “The homes are equipped with an eco-heat exhaust pump that recycles warm air”. Gibberish. Just because you can put the sound “aaaaarrrrr” in front of everything you say doesn’t make you a Pirate. Likewise putting the word “eco” in front of something doesn’t actually convey any technical meaning (other than to invoke rage amongst UKIP supporters). Heah, let’s all laugh at this eco-umbrella that leaks and these eco-kites that don’t fly. Ha ha ha, QED: eco is rubbish. Not so.

So what was the deal with these homes in Bradford? The article showed the homeowner’s electric bill. Many readers noted that it was actually quite normal and that the large lump sum charge was due to the homeowner underpaying on direct debit. Look closely at the bill and it says the householder is consuming 20kWh (“Units”) of electricity per day. The average home of this size will use about 4500kWh of electricity a year which is about 12kWh a day. However as we cannot see their gas bill then we assume that they must be heating their home & hot water with electricity. If so then this bill is no big deal at all. In short; there is nothing to support the Daily Mail’s claim that “their bills are double the annual average”. (In fact they appeared to be double what one householder paid in their previous home – but we learn nothing about how big their previous home was.)

However, any home that is “super-insulated” (all new homes should be or will be), fitted with solar hot-water panels, mechanical ventilation with heat recovery, rain water recycling and heated by biomass boilers or air heat pumps should perform better than average. Bradford Council could only admit that there was a problem with equipment but we learn no more. We can only guess what the problem may have been: the air-source heat pump. If used for heating water or space heating with normal sized radiators then these will suck up the juice. Heat pumps are a controversial solution but in this example, they should have worked. It may well be that the householder is using the equipment badly? We can only speculate.

All we can assume is that these homes are not necessarily performing as planned. They do not meet the standard. The builders made mistakes. They are on a long journey to building homes that meet Building Regs. Homes can be built TODAY that require little or no heating. And you don’t even have to build a new home. You can come and see Superhome 59 in Totteridge to see a retrofitted home that reduced its carbon footprint by 90%, that reduced its bills by 90% and which produces 90% of its own electricity. It ain’t no eco home. It isn’t a science experiment. It is a normal family home.

For this is the new normal.

The Mail is not all bad. In fact back in November the Mail on Sunday interviewed me and sent a photographer round to cover Superhome 59. The story was covered in the Finance pages and you can read it here:–I-rebuild-house-How-slash-energy-costs.html (Shame they chose the only picture that made me look super-smug - but there you go.)

By 2050 80% of the homes we live in will be the ones that are already standing today. No point in waiting. Superhomes have all reduced their carbon footprints by at least 60%. That is the specification they must reach. If you want to see a real Superhome rather than what somebody loosely describes as an ‘eco home’ then there are two in High Wycombe. We are having a High Wycombe Superhome Open Weekend on Sat/Sun 23rd/24th March 2013. You can book to see the Totteridge Superhome for tours at 2pm or 4pm (tours last 50mins) both days via the web site at and the Superhome at The Brackens by booking at for a tour at 3pm each day (tours last 30mins). SuperHomes is an initiative by the Sustainable Energy Academy Reg Charity Number 287998. Visit by pre-booking online ONLY please. Places are limited, only five people per tour max.

If you cannot make that weekend then you are welcome at other dates/times by prior arrangement.

So if a Tabloid paper has you foaming at the mouth about the latest big “eco-rip-off” come and see a reality check. You never know what you might learn.