Welcome to Marsh House – a stunning renovated home that collects rain water, saves energy and heats itself during winter.
Marsh House in Nottingham is owned by architect Julian Marsh and his wife, artist Judy Liebert. Marsh designed the low-energy building himself and did much of the work on it, winning him an award from the Royal Institute of British Architects in 2011.
The house is sited on a corner terrace in old industrial complex called ‘The Meathouse’ – a rundown building that was as unpalatable as it sounds, with asbestos roofs and polluted ground. By turning this spoiled space into a low-energy, sustainable home, Marsh and Liebert were embarking on a truly transformative project.
The house is constructed in an L-shape around a central, south-facing courtyard where the couple grow their own fruit and veg. The two wings of the building incorporate a larger double- height living space to the north and a narrower studio to the east with kitchen and living rooms above. Between the two wings, opening onto the courtyard, is a glass conservatory-like space which acts as a solar collector and climactic buffer between the outside and the living spaces within, helping to regulate the building’s temperature.
The building itself is constructed of layers of hemp insulation, clay plaster and sustainable wood for maximum energy efficiency. The plan is designed in layers like an onion, with the climate-buffering conservatory on the outside containing stairs and passageways, workspaces and studios in the middle, and finally the internal layer of living spaces where the greatest insulation is provided.
Around this overall energy-saving design, the house is packed with eco-friendly features. The rooftop contains arrays of south-facing photovoltaic panels, providing 3,000 kilowatt hours per year and most of the house’s energy, including water heating. Rainwater is also collected then purified and stored in a 4,000-litre cistern beneath the courtyard. This supplies most of the building’s non-drinking water needs (which don’t include flushing, as the toilet is compostable).
A ground source heat pump supplies warmth to the underfloor heating system from a layer of sandstone 70 metres below the building, maintaining a liveable temperature of 19C in winter. This is supplemented by a wood burning stove in the double- height living area in the heart of the house. A north-facing larder provides food storage space and does away with the need for a fridge-freezer. South facing windows, large skylights, translucent walls and white floors all combine to make the building a sun trap, reducing the need for lighting.
Everywhere you look there are little eco-touches all playing their small part. The conservatory entrance space, for example, has walls made of concrete shelves interspersed with layers of recycled plastic bottles filled with salt water. These have a high thermal capacity (four times that of concrete) and soak up the winter sun, releasing it later. And garden water is provided by an extract pipe from the ground below, operating much like a traditional well.
Even the energy embodied in building materials – and the distance they travelled – was considered during construction of the house. The structural beams are made of pressed recycled timber and the cladding comes from sweet chestnut – a local variety. Waste in the building phase was reduced to a minimum with leftover materials incorporated into other parts of the building. Some materials used in demolishing parts of the old structure were reemployed in the new building, and all materials were selected for their recyclability in the future.
There is even scope for the installation of a wind turbine on the roof. Planning for this was originally denied but the fixing points have been installed and are ready and waiting should the council ever change its mind…
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