We’ve been involved in a number of sustainable self-build projects, so we’re well acquainted with both the pressures and the joys involved. We also know that many self-builders are creating their forever homes, and because of that they’re more likely to pay close attention to sustainability and of course liveability – that’s where we come in. Designing in these aspects right from the off (not simply when a detailed Building Regulations submission is made) ensures the best levels of comfort and the best environmentally friendly credentials – as well as proving to be the best value for money.

We’ve put together a quick checklist of the points that should be considered when reviewing the design of a sustainable self-build home:

Minimising heat loss and maximising solar gain will result in lower energy bills: 

  • Have you considered the aspect of the build, and the direction of the prevailing winds? 
  • Can you maximise the insulation within the building fabric?
  • Are there any high hedges or other buildings that might provide shelter?
  • Can airtightness be improved?
  • Is a whole-house heat recovery and ventilation system appropriate? (i.e. do you open windows all year round anyway?).
  • Is mechanical cooling likely to be required in the warmer months? If so, can solar shading be employed to avoid overheating instead?
  • Is the build suitable for photovoltaic or solar hot water panels? The optimum conditions are south facing, at an angle of 30 degrees from horizontal (either on a pitched roof or a frame), and unaffected by shading from trees or other buildings.

Comfortable levels of natural light will not only improve the interior ambience, but minimise the need for the use of electrical lighting:

  • Are windows large enough to let in sufficient daylight?
  • Does the internal layout of the property ensure that the daylight levels in the main living areas are maximised? 
  • Have any windows been planned in to a position which is overshadowed by another building, trees or a high hedge? Natural light levels will be reduced by this type of obstruction. 

Surface water run-off
Nobody wants to go through the upheaval and expense of a flooded home, so it pays to consider where surface water will go:

  • Does the development perform as well or better, in terms of rainwater management, than what was previously on the site? Consider the soil type and the amount of hardstanding on the original site. It’s best to model the existing and proposed sites to the condition of both the 1-year and 100-year storm events.
  • Have you ensured that a local drainage system failure would not cause an increase in the risk of flooding either on or off site?
  • Is a rainwater recycling system worth considering, to mitigate the rainwater run-off rates? 

A practical approach to waste will enable you to live in a more eco-friendly way:

  • Is there level access from the house to the area in which the waste is kept, and close enough for easy access? 
  • Have you thought about how the local authority recycling boxes/bags/bins can be stored, and how easy access can be provided?
  • Have you included compost bins? Ideally they should be located within 30m of the closest external entrance door. 

Energy isn’t the only resource that should be conserved:

  • Have you provided an external water butt?
  • Might a rainwater or greywater recycling system feed toilet flushing, to reduce mains useage?


  • Is yours a brownfield site without hedges, trees or water features? If so, this consideration will not be much of an issue. 
  • Are you building on farmland, unmaintained grassland, or maintained gardens with mature trees and hedges? If so, consider seeking the advice of an ecologist.
  • Have you located buildings and hard landscaping away from areas of ecological value?
  • If a negative impact is unavoidable, can you create new wildlife habitats?
  • Can you minimise ecological damage through keeping each building’s footprint compact?

To find out more about how we help ensure a property is designed with optimum sustainability and liveability in mind, while keeping to budget, please call us on 01206 266755 or email mail@ajenergy.com.