Eco Homes: 30 Sustainable Self Builds to Inspire Your Eco House

Looking to self build your own ultra-efficient eco home? These sustainable schemes show how you can create a low-energy and comfortable eco house that meets your goals
by Andrew Hobbs
2nd September 2023

When you picture an eco home, it’s only natural to imagine something along the lines of a timber-clad dwelling with a green roof – but a house’s green credentials aren’t always obvious at first glance.

Advancements in construction technology, ranging from whole build systems to components such as glazing, mean that the desire to produce a high performance and energy efficient dwelling no longer curbs your design choices.

For some, it’s not enough to build a thermally-efficient home. Many people also want the materials and labour used to be as sustainable as possible – obtained locally from renewable sources, for instance. This minimises the amount of energy that goes into the construction of their home (known as embodied energy).

While some of the following dwellings employ significant amounts of resource-intensive materials, such as concrete, they have all achieved outstanding in-use energy performance levels – meaning they are able to repay their carbon debt over the years to come. Read on to discover how you can turn your next build into an eco home.

1. Contemporary Eco House Built on Family Farm

Freddie and Katie Pack saved up to build this contemporary and efficient house on their family’s Romney Marsh farm after living in a small cabin a few fields away. They set out to renovate an existing 1950s brick house on the plot, but soon realised it would be easier to knock down and self build a new home, recreating the farm-style design with a modern twist.

Contemporary Self Build Eco House on Family Farm

Photo: Richard Gadsby

The couple wanted open-plan and fuss-free living, and an end result that was economical to run. “The house is well insulated and we went beyond the Building Regulations, so bills are minimal,” says Freddie.

2. Energy Efficient Rebuild in Gloucestershire

Suzie and Sam Andrews had planned on renovating an existing 1960s house that had single glazing and no heating. However, they soon discovered a knock-down and rebuild project would make better use of the plot, resulting in an impressive, bright and efficient dwelling.

The property was built using a cavity wall construction method, comprising masonry blockwork, rigid insulation boards and an airtight membrane. “So much insulation was specified for the project that the builders thought we had made a mistake,” says Suzie.

Contemporary and Energy Efficient Rebuild in Gloucestershire

Photo: Richard Gadsby

Even though they used a Passivhaus model for the property’s design, Suzie and Sam weren’t fussed about going for certification. “Our walls are about three times the thickness you’d expect in a standard build, but it’s created a very comfortable home with low U-values,” she adds.

“The temperature in the house is amazing considering there were some hot days in the summer. We have a little rooflight at the top of the stairs for ventilation which automatically opens if it hits 24 degrees to let hot air out.”

Thinking about building an ultra-efficient eco house? Read now: Self Building a Passivhaus: 10 Steps to Follow For Passivhaus Approval

3. Timber Frame Eco Home in the Countryside

When Steve and Suzanne Richardson moved back to the UK after living in the south of France, they had a struggle finding any low energy properties on the market. “We only wanted enough space to live comfortably, plus a big garden with countryside views.” So, the pair soon switched their strategy and turned their attention to building plots instead.

After finding the perfect plot in the Suffolk countryside, the couple enlisted Cocoon Architects to bring their ideas for an eco home to life, and Frame Technologies to erect the efficient timber frame shell. The couple chose Frame Technologies’ Tech Vantage T system, which comprises two 90mm studs sandwiched with glass wool insulation for ultimate efficiency.

Timber Frame Eco Home in the Countryside

Photo: Matthew Smith

The entirety of the house is clad in cedar shingles, which were imported from Canada and laid by Suzanne and her brother, John. The triple-glazed windows and sliding glass doors play a vital role in harnessing the sun’s free heat to warm the house, without allowing heat to escape from within.

4. Cubic Eco House with Impressive Glazing

Gresford Architects designed this Passivhaus. A super-insulated timber frame forms the structure. The kit was erected offsite and supplied with an airtight membrane before being built on a passive slab in three weeks.

Cubic Eco House Self Build

Recycled paper insulation and timber cladding were specified to minimise the eco home’s carbon footprint.

5. Eco-Friendly Barn Conversion

The Barn is a converted agricultural barn and certified Passivhaus in Somerset, designed by Shu Architects.

Eco-Friendly Barn Conversion with timber cladding

Photo: Brett Charles Photography

This eco home sits perfectly against the countryside setting. A timber frame structure, insulated with Warmcel, has been placed within the existing barn’s steel frame, with overhangs on the south and west sides to prevent overheating, and triple glazing.

6. Ultra-Efficient Passivhaus Self Build on the Coast

Designed by Architeco, this eco-friendly Passivhaus in Argyll makes the most of its coastal position with wide spans of glazed doors and rooflights. This helps to maximise passive solar gains while allowing fantastic views and maximum daylight.

Ultra-Efficient Passivhaus Self Build on the Coast

A balcony is accessed from the first floor bedrooms so the owners can ejoy the striking views over the coast. The living area features a lofty, spacious double height design, maximising the feeling of space in the home.

Read More: Designing an Energy Efficient Home: Can a Passive House Be Beautiful?

7. Eco Home with Unique Brick Exterior

Designed by McLean Quinlan, this characterful self build eco house in Devon achieved planning consent under the Paragraph 80 of the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). As well as meeting the design requirements for Passivhaus approval, the practice wanted to meet the excellent energy performance standards required for Passivhaus certification.

“We and our clients both wanted the most sustainable building possible within the constraints of the project,” says Kate Quinlan, a partner at the practice. The low energy eco house is heated via an air source heat pump.

Passivhaus Eco Home with Unique Brick Exterior

A traditional walled garden nearby was the original source of design inspiration for the property. The main facade of the new house was developed with a unique brick design, which harmonises with the masonry of the original walled garden without forming a complete match.

8. Passivhaus-Certified Eco Self Build

Beattie Passive worked with Mole Architects on this wow-factor, low-energy eco home. It features a butterfly roof with overhanging eaves that slope upwards for a striking design statement.

passivhaus eco home

Photo: Matthew Smith Architectural Photography

The company’s construction system, which is certified by the Passivhaus Institute, comprises a timber frame core structure surrounded by a continuous layer of insulation for maximum efficiency.

9. Mews Passivhaus with Hidden Swimming pool

RDA Architects are behind the design of this three-bedroom self build Passivhaus in Dulwich, South London. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) were chosen as the construction system for the build. These were wrapped in additional insulation, prior to the installation of triple-glazed windows and doors to form a high-performance thermal envelope.

A mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system ensures a fresh flow of air throughout the property, and works to capture latent heat from the outgoing stream of air. This approach means the house consumes around 90% less energy than a typical new build.

self build passivhaus with a swimming pool

One of the home’s biggest wow-factor features is the hidden swimming pool, which sits just beneath the timber deck in the rear courtyard garden. The pool is heated via electricity, mostly supplied by the four large solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the house.

10. Efficient Self Build Home in Sheffield Woodland

Frame Technologies worked in collaboration with Hem Architects to design and build this home in Sheffield, located on a steep, woodland plot.

Efficient Self Build Home in Sheffield Woodland

Photo: Dug Wilders

The house shell was fabricated with Passivhaus standards in mind, using Frame Technologies’ Tech-Vantage E system to help achieve exceptional U-Values through high-performance thermal insulation.

Thinking about self building? Read more: 10 Steps to Your Dream Self Build Home

10.  Oak Frame Self Build Passivhaus

Andrew and Linda Burnett turned to self building after failing to find the perfect country home. The initial plot they looked at was too big of a size and exceeded their budget, but the location was perfect.

So, after talking with the neighbour and discovering they were also interested in part of the land, they decided to split it between two and the Burnetts could begin planning right away.

Andrew and Linda had never heard of Passivhaus. But both immediately fell in love with the idea of creating an energy efficient oak frame home, for both its function and beauty, to Passivhaus standards. The couple ended up Oakwrights’ encapsulation system after meeting with Oakwrights’ MD Tim Crump.

Oak Frame Self Build Passivhaus

This Oakwrights Passivhaus was constructed to the highest standards, complete with an MVRH keeping fresh air maintained throughout the home

With the help of a planning consultant, the Burnetts spent around six months finalizing their design before submitting it to planning. As they had been meticulous in making sure their home would blend with the surroundings, the oak frame scheme received the green light with no issues.

To maximise the far-reaching views, Linda and Andrew opted for an upside-down layout with the kitchen, main living area and master suite on the first floor.

Read More: How to Create an Energy Efficient Oak Frame Home

11. Award-Winning Timber Frame Eco Home

Winner of Best Eco Home at the 2022 Build It Awards, Jan and Philip used MBC Timber Frame’s sustainable, Passivhaus-standard timber house shell and foundation system to create this contemporary eco home.

Award-Winning Timber Frame Eco Home

50m2 of south-facing triple glazing delivers free heat gain in winter, with a substantial roof overhang to prevent summer overheating. Low-energy features include a 5.5kW air source heat pump, Paul mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, and 3.5kW of solar PV backed up with a Tesla battery.

The couple spends just £5 per week on space heating and hot water. “The combination of skilled design, a first-class construction method and good materials has resulted in a house that’s exceeded our expectations,” say Jan and Philip.

12. Modern Passivhaus in the Countryside

Paul and Belinda Wilson didn’t know anything about Passivhaus until the council rejected their initial plans and suggested they look towards an energy efficient build.

This turn of events worked in their favour, and the home won in the sustainability category at the Bedfordshire Design and Craftsmanship Awards in 2017.

Modern Passivhaus in the Countryside

This airtight Passivhaus was errected by MBC timber frame and fit with high performing windows from Internorm

The couple had owned their Bedford home with an acre-large garden for nine years before retirement encouraged them to make use of it.

After back-and-forth discussions with the council and architects, they moved on to work with Alan Budden from Eco Design Consultants who would help create a home that would comply with the prestigious Passivhaus standards.

13. Award-Winning Family Eco Home

Peter and Kathy Worthy were after somewhere with enough space for their growing family, envisioning an open-plan layout, separate playroom and at least four bedrooms.

Working alongside an architect, the final design came out as a five-bedroom home based on Passivhaus principles of top levels of airtightness, minimal thermal bridging and plenty of insulation to reduce energy consumption.

Award-Winning Family Eco Home

The couple chose to engage MBC Timber Frame to create the structure of their new home – impressed by the fact the company could supply and install a Passivhaus-certified raft foundation as part of its package.

The system is cleverly detailed to minimise thermal bridging issues at wall and floor junctions by encasing the foundation in expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation. The foundations were installed in two weeks, ready for the house to be erected.

EXPERT VIEW Advantages of using timber frame for a sustainable eco home

Cameron McQuillian from Rob Roy Homes gives his top tips on how timber frame construction can deliver the sustainability and performance levels you want

  • Sustainability Timber is one of the only inherently renewable building materials. Sustainable timber production stores carbon, produces oxygen and provides jobs in rural communities. It is essential to ensure the timber for your next project comes from a sustainably managed forest: look out for FSC and PEFC certification.
  • Carbon Storage By choosing timber for your next project, you are removing carbon from the atmosphere and locking it into the fabric of your home. If the UK’s housing target of 200,000 new homes per year is met, then 4 million tonnes of carbon could be stored each year. What’s more, this does not need to be released into the atmosphere when the building is demolished. The lightweight and versatile properties of timber mean that the components can be reused and recycled at the end of a building’s life cycle.
  • Thermal Performance & Design Flexibility A timber frame building offers the perfect combination of design flexibility and thermal performance. The precise nature of timber frame design results in minimal waste and factory-controlled manufacture ensures a strict quality control process, giving the customer absolute assurance they are achieving the thermal performance they require.

Cameron McQuillian is project manager at Rob Roy Homes, with a focus on sustainability and low-carbon production methods. Rob Roy Homes specialises in the design and manufacture of bespoke timber frame buildings and is an STA Assure Silver Member.

14. Traditional-Style Eco House

Matthew Nielsen and his family embarked on a once in a lifetime project to construct an eco home in the heart of the picturesque Lake District. This was fuelled by the desire to create a sustainable, healthy and characterful home for the family to enjoy for years to come.

Heritage-Style Eco House

The home needed to blend carefully with the local architecture of stone and render properties. So, this highly efficient timber frame build has been layered with blockwork on the outside of the building envelope and finished with a reclaimed stone exterior, adding a beautiful charm and character to the property.

“Finding a product to match the stone traditionally used in Greystoke was a task and a half. We had to buy a derelict barn about 25 miles away, take it apart, and get the stone shipped across in large tipper wagons,” says Matthew.

To further the home’s thermal efficiency, Thermafleece (sheepswool) insulation has been applied to the eaves and loft, which provides natural, breathable protection that will help the project to last well into the future.

8. Charming & Contemporary Eco House

This 118m2 three-bedroom Passivhaus was the first in the country to be built using cavity wall construction. It features a contemporary design with large spans of floor to ceiling glazing on the left-hand side. This design and build project was led by Green Building Store.

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15. Sustainable Coastal Build on a Budget

Island farmers Saira Renny and George Carr decided to embark on a self build project on the Hebridean Isle of Eigg with the goal to create an eco-home that could benefit from striking coastal views.

The island has a strong communal feel and they celebrate sustainable design in order to create a local environment with low carbon emissions. These considerations became central to the couples build, and they worked alongside an architectural technician to come up with a suitable design to support this. “Embracing renewables and building a super-insulated house were central to the scheme,” says George.

Building in a remote location caused struggles with the build – the couple had to specify the majority of their materials online but needed to be careful about the quality and not being overcharged for delivery. “Here, even if you want something really urgently, you sometimes have to wait weeks for it to be delivered,” says Saira.

The open-plan timber frame home took the couple 16 months to complete and has been fit with renewables which combine to make the property an environmentally friendly and cost-effective home. “We were helped by a 70% green grant from the Eigg Trust; this allowed us to install the solar thermal array, which warms the property’s water,” says George.

16. Compact Post and Beam Retreat

“We’d always wanted to create a post and beam house and we couldn’t believe it when we found the firm so close by. Proprietor, Chris Houston, and his team cut down trees and erect amazing buildings from them,” says Sukie.

The build is constructed with Douglas fir tree trunks, which were turned into posts and beams and then notched and mortised together to form the frame of the house.

Custom-built steel and timber stairs

The post and beam build uses eco-friendly features to make the home as sustainable as possible. For instance, when the sun shines, up to 5kW of electricity is generated by a solar PV array and the remaining power is supplied by Good Energy.

There’s also an efficient Burley woodburning stove and, in the boot room a mounted pulley system encourages guests to dry naturally rather than using the tumble dryer.

17. Sustainable and Accessible Passivhaus Self Build

This homeowner wanted to build an ultra-efficient, accessible house that would fit in with her long term retirement plans.

After learning about Passivhaus design through a friend, she hired Eco Design Consultants, and met with the director, Alan Budden, who was appointed to handle the plans for her new home.

Internom triple-glazed windows

Together, they managed to convert her planning-approved proposal into a Passivhaus without losing the traditional aesthetic. The designers Used the Passive House Planning Package (PHPP) software to modify the specifications to meet the high performance standards.

Learn more: 10 Steps to a Green Home Renovation

9. Energy Neutral Self Build Embraces German Design

This couple set themselves the ambitious target of building a sustainable home with net-zero utility bills. They collaborated with the German company Huf Haus, who helped them realise their vision of an energy-efficient premanufactured home.

This couple set themselves the ambitious target of building a sustainable home with net-zero utility bills. They collaborated with the German company Huf Haus, who helped them realise their vision of an energy-efficient premanufactured home.

The house has triple glazing, underfloor heating, a heat pump and excellent insulation. But adding a 10kW array of solar electric panels, 12kW of storage batteries and LED lighting meant the home achieved its zero-bills aim.

10. Characterful Oak Frame Eco Home

This characterful oak frame dwelling combines traditional and modern construction methods to produce a home that is comfortable throughout the year and filled with a timeless appeal.

The owners sought to source trades and materials from the surrounding area to produce a home that was self-sufficient in its energy use and efficient in its use of water.

An engineered timber frame was combined with hempcrete. Comprising the inner woody core of the hemp stem and a lime-based binder, hempcrete is a natural, breathable and thermally-resistant material.

11. Affordable Zero Carbon Eco Home

The Smiths used straw bales with a lime render to achieve a highly sustainable home on a tight budget. A large south-facing pitched roof allowed the couple to install plenty of solar panels to provide their electricity.

The supporting timber frame was constructed from reclaimed wood, adding to the abode’s eco credentials. Local trades and products were used wherever possible. Even the lime paint and handmade furniture were obtained nearby.

12. Sustainable New Eco Home on a Sloping Site

This woodland dwelling’s heavy internal concrete structure is designed to make the most of the passive solar gain enabled by the large spans of glazing. Even in mid-winter the house is able to capture the sun’s warmth.

High insulation levels were specified for the ground floor, external walls and roof. The windows are double glazed and fitted with a reflective, insulating film in order to trap solar heat.

Most of the construction materials were locally sourced, including the rough sawn oak-cladding used on the external elevations. This keeps the embodied carbon of the property to a minimum.

13. Ultra-Efficient Contemporary Eco House

John and Jeanette Fenwick opted for a highly insulated timber frame with a blockwork outer skin and triple-glazing to ensure their award-winning project met Passivhaus standards. Warmth generated by solar gain and activities such as cooking is recirculated throughout the building by a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery (MVHR) system.

An air source heat pump (ASHP) warms the property’s domestic hot water supply. This results in annual energy bills of just £400, despite the Scottish Highland location.

14. Characterful Stone Eco Home

This couple weren’t prepared to settle for anything less than a sustainable eco home to live and run their farm from – and once they saw that it would be possible to achieve Passivhaus standards, they knew there was no option but to forge ahead.

Trevor and Judith Gospel, who own the 150-acre farm specialising in organic livestock, are delighted with their new super-efficient home – the first bespoke cavity wall Passivhaus to be constructed in the north east.

Although the couple considered a range of renewable heating technologies, including wind turbines, their preferred option was to install an LPG boiler and utilise the sun’s energy with solar thermal panels, which is backed up with an MVHR system.

15. Low Energy Vernacular Eco Home

Despite the traditional exterior, creating an energy efficient modern home was a top priority for the Searles. They installed extra insulation in the roof, a mechanical ventilation heat recovery (MVHR) system and wet underfloor heating (whereby lower operating temperatures allow for greater efficiency than with radiators).

The triple-glazed softwood windows have low U-values, too, ensuring that this traditional weak point in a home’s thermal performance keeps energy loss to a minimum.

16. Light-Filled Sustainable Eco Home

Andrew and Elaine Torrance’s new home offers the accessible and comfortable environment they were after and keeps energy bills to a minimum.

Warmcell, a cellulose insulation made of recycled paper, provided an eco-friendly way to make the engineered timber frame thermally-efficient. The windows and doors are timber and triple glazed with a powder-coated aluminium cladding, so they require little to no maintenance.

17. Efficient Fabric-First Self-Build

By prioritising the structural fabric of their self-build, the Hurds now benefit from a low energy property with a traditional exterior and a more contemporary interior layout. The timber frame system used offers excellent insulation and substantially reduced thermal bridging.

The house is so well insulated and airtight that the Hurds didn’t have to install a conventional central heating system. Instead, they have a woodburning stove with a back boiler to heat water, which feeds three radiators in the communal living spaces via a thermal store in the basement.

18. Affordable Straw Bale Eco Home

Determined to use renewable materials wherever possible, Kim Siu opted for a timber frame structure, straw bale insulation and locally grown larch cladding.

Not only was this a sustainable approach but it also helped make the new home blend into its surroundings. The prefabricated timber panels were craned into place with the straw sealed inside.

19. Modern Farmhouse Built to Passivhaus Standards

This 657m2 brick-clad farmhouse might not scream sustainability on first glance, but despite its size this impressive dwelling uses relatively little energy. This is thanks to the Beattie Passive system.

The method creates a sealed envelope, consisting of an insulating foam filled void, around the whole house. This eliminates cold bridges and provides excellent airtightness, allowing it to achieve Passivhaus status.

20. Eco-Friendly Self Build with Low Running Costs

Adament that they wanted to spend less on bills, this couple hired an architect from The Green Register and set about designing a self build home steeped in eco-friendly features.

The scheme was built with Passivhaus principles in mind; with a south facing structure to maximise solar gains and prefabricated walls which came installed with air-tight insulation. The pair even re-used materials from the site, such as old scaffolding planks, for an ultra efficient and equally sustainable build.

This article has been updated in September 2023. Additional content by Sander Tel.

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