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Filling a gap in the market; bargain hunt; Ever wanted to design and build another house on your land? Newlyweds Tom and Emily Hunt managed it ... and here's how.

A passing remark was all it took to put newlyweds Tom and Emily Hunt on the road to building their own eco–friendly home, running a new business and becoming landlords to their neighbours.

"It all started in 2008 when we viewed a house in Sheffield we ended up buying," said Tom, 33.

"It was an end–terrace with a large driveway where two terrace houses once stood, but they had been demolished in the 1970s.

"The vendor mentioned some developers were interested in the property because of the potential to replace those houses and I thought, 'If they could do it, so could we.'" Tom and Emily, 32, a government economist, had their offer of PS135,000 accepted and they set about raising the cash to build a new house on the plot where the driveway was.

They sold the properties they each owned before they married and topped up these profits with savings and a small mortgage.

Tom and Emily were keen to create a modern building which would conserve energy and worked with architect Adam Clark, of Halliday Clark Architects of Shipley, to achieve this.

Tom added: "We're both obsessive about conserving energy wherever possible. So we wanted to build a home that adhered to the same principles."

The house is built using the SIPS method – a structural insulated panel system designed off–site, then put together on–site like a jigsaw. It's thermally efficient and delivers near–constant ambient temperatures year–round.

They chose aluminium–framed, argon–filled glazing, a carbonneutral log burner as their main heat source and extensive glazing on the south–facing facade to take advantage of heat from the sun. Background ventilation extracts warm air generated by the sun and the log burner, mixes it with cool fresh air from outside, then cleverly redistributes fresh warm air evenly around the house, while expelling stale cold air.

Tom said: "As well as budget constraints, we had to work with the space we had. The plot simply wouldn't have taken a wind turbine or thermovoltaics in the volume to make the cost outlay worthwhile, and there was no land for a ground–source heat pump.

"We made the best of what we could. Everything we chose is maintenance–free with minimal running costs."

As proof, their gas consumption has been reduced by 90 per cent compared with their old house.

But the project wasn't all about saving money and energy – they also incorporated some fun elements. Tom added: "We created a secret staircase to a roof garden with views across the city and out into the Peak District – it's magical.

"And we designed the ground floor with its own access, so I can run my business from this space. My commute is a flight of stairs."

The house also provided the inspiration for Tom's new business.

After winning an award for the UK's Best Contemporary Home in 2011, Tom and architect Adam formed Leaf (

He said: "Leaf stands for lifestyle, ecology, aspiration and futureproof – four guiding principles we adhered to and that we are using to create sustainable homes for others. Our first major project is a 14– home development in an area of outstanding beauty."

And what of the house they originally bought? "We rent this out. Convenient for us but not so nice for the tenants living next door to their landlords," he said.


Maximise the number of storeys: Build a basement and use the attic space. The more storeys you create, the more floor space you will have.

Create privacy: Go for a courtyard design that looks inwards rather than out. Maximise glazed area: Where you can't have windows on a boundary, consider high–level windows or use translucent glass to bring in light without compromising privacy. Use borrowed light: Avoid a tall or narrow floor plan – go for an open–plan layout and double–height spaces. Get neighbours on board: A tight site means building on boundaries with neighbours, so tread gently.

Parking: Off–road spaces and garages can be worth a fortune. Create a roof garden: Outdoor space is precious in an urban environment. A balcony or roof garden is the solution.

Michael Holmes is editorial director for Homebuilding & Renovating magazine and The Homebuilding & Renovating shows. Visit The Scottish Homebuilding & Renovating Show, May 18–19, at SECC, Glasgow. Tickets PS8 on the door, under–16s are free. Visit scotland.


Original house bought for............PS135,000

Build cost of new home.............PS140,000

Current value of new home.......PS250,000

POTENTIAL PROFIT....................PS110,000


BEFORE The empty driveway was perfect for a building project

AFTER A beautiful designer eco–home
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Sunday Mail (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Mar 3, 2013
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