Eco-home that’s far from bog standard

Julian Marsh and Judy Liebert
Julian Marsh and Judy Liebert
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It’s a house which features translucent walls to reduce electric lighting, a kitchen with nothing so energy-guzzling as a fridge, and a compostable toilet in the bathroom to save on flushing.

“It’s a wick chamber which you empty every couple of years,” explains Julian Marsh. “It’s perfectly hygienic. There’s no smell.”

Welcome, reader, to what might just be the most environmentally-friendly home in the UK.

A panel of experts have named this house - built and owned by Sheffield Hallam University architect professor Julian - as one of the 10 greenest in the country. A public vote will decide if it deserves the title in May.

Now, The Diary is being taken through what makes this place - a conversion of an end terrace - so very eco.

Plenty, is the answer. And not just that loo.

Outside the house - in The Meadows, Nottingham - there are solar panels on the roof, and a central courtyard that has so much fruit and veg growing it could pass for an allotment. Inside, meanwhile, the whole place is designed in layers - “like an onion”, says 63-year-old Julian who lives there with artist wife Judy Liebert.

Passages and stairs are on the outside, acting as a climate buffer to the living space within. Internal doors and windows have been planned to allow hot and cool currents to funnel throughout in winter and summer respectively.

There’s also a cistern which collects rain water to be reused for washing and a heat pump which draws warmth from sandstone 70 metres below ground. Insulation is made from hemp.

“We’re great believers in living a low energy life - this is just taking that to the next level,” says Julian, a father-of-two and grandfather-of-three. “Actually a lot of the innovations aren’t really innovations. We might not have a fridge or freezer but we do have a larder which gets very cool - like your nana might have had. The only problem we have is keeping milk cool in summer but we use old-fashioned terracotta evaporating jars.”

It all means energy bills come to just £300 a year. Not that the actual construction was so cheap.

Julian designed the place but it still cost £500,000. And, perhaps because it’s in an area which is not traditionally considered Nottingham’s most salubrious (ie. it was one of the first places in the UK to have routine armed police patrols), it’s worth considerably less now.

“But we didn’t build it to sell on,” he explains . “We built it to spend the rest of our lives in.”

They moved in in 2009. And it’s so impressive, architect classes, energy campaigners and local authority groups occasionally call to ask for a tour. “They tend to be intrigued by the toilet too,” notes Julian.

Now this shortlisting - made as part of a Guardian newspaper campaign - is the icing on this cool cake.

“It was very unexpected,” says Julian. “We designed the house to fit in with the life we wanted to lead. But it’s great to be recognised.”