High-end homes with Green Credentials

Eashing House, Surrey (Image credit: French + Tye)



“We take a holistic approach to design, bringing in the relevant standards where needed”

The world’s wealthiest are often criticised for their carbon footprint, particularly those who navigate the globe in private jets and superyachts. In their homes, however, they increasingly engage with sustainability; conversation at the smartest dinner parties is now as frequently about air quality and biomass as it is about fine wine and art. “If you’re travelling for much of the week, there’s a feeling you should do a bit more,” says Jonathan Bramwell, head of property search agent The Buying Solution. “Like everyone else, high-net-worth individuals are under pressure from their children and, of course, they have the means to introduce often-expensive eco-friendly features to their homes.”


It’s also fair to say that highly effective people often relish a challenge. “Many of our buyers are very successful in business and finance. They’re used to analysis and enjoy working out how long it will take for solar panels to become cost effective or discovering the most sustainable construction methods,” Bramwell says. “One client, for example, has recently insisted that all the materials used in his rebuild should be sourced from within a 30-mile radius of the property.”


Albert Hill, a co-founding director of The Modern House, an estate agency that specialises in cutting-edge design, describes some of the current enthusiasm for conspicuous conservation as “bio-bling”, but recognises the incontestable benefits of architect and client working together to create more eco-friendly homes. “Sustainability used to be considered a wacky departure; now it’s a baseline. Where architects once drove up budgets in terms of materials, today improving eco effectiveness is the priority,” he says. Of course, this is never at the expense of good design. The Modern House, for example, is currently selling Eashing House in Godalming, Surrey (£2.5m). Built in the 1960s, it was remodelled by Edgley Design, which preserved its stylish midcentury silhouette, while cladding the façade in insulating stainless steel. The design won an Architects’ Journal Retrofit Award in 2014.


Over the past few years, various sustainability benchmarks have been introduced to guide developers and private homeowners. These include Passivhaus (a German standard of low-energy heating and cooling), BREEAM (which relates to sustainable construction) and, most recently, the WELL Building Standard, launched in the US in 2014, which addresses occupant health.


All, of course, have exacting requirements, but Passivhaus is generally considered the gold standard. Finding a plot and creating a property to match its expectations is undoubtedly demanding, but off-the-peg, state-of-the-environmental-art homes – such as a five-bedroom house (£1.3m, through Humberts), one of four remaining properties at Octagon Park just outside Norwich – are already appearing on the market. And, for those for whom only their own vision will do, Ekkist, a design and build consultancy focusing on sustainable homes, offers blueprints and bespoke solutions to developers and self-builders. “We take a holistic approach to design, bringing in the relevant standards where needed,” says co-founder Olga Turner. “For example, we’re currently working on a new-build house where we’ve used natural, non-toxic, sustainable materials, alongside air quality and water filters, and ensured the use of daylight matches the Circadian rhythm.”


Halting the excess consumption that is contributing to climate change should now be every individual’s responsibility, but it’s often forward-looking developers and landlords who have the power to implement change on a more extensive scale. One of London’s largest property companies, the Grosvenor Estate, which manages the Duke of Westminster’s £5bn property portfolio, began its carefully planned programme of energy conservation in 2013 – and earlier this year, it announced its intention to end net‑carbon operating emissions from its directly managed buildings by 2030. “We’ve been in business for 300 years and have survived by always looking long‑term,” says Victoria Herring, Grosvenor’s director of refurbishment and retrofit. “For us, the biggest threat today is climate change, so we needed an effective sustainability policy.”


A significant proportion of Grosvenor’s holdings lies in listed buildings in Mayfair and Belgravia, and retrofitting period properties, with their leaky windows and thin insulation, is particularly problematic. Grosvenor, however, has been in the forefront of addressing this issue, starting with its award-winning redesign of Grade II-listed 119 Ebury Street – a Georgian house that became the first listed building in the UK to achieve an Outstanding BREEAM rating (a three-bedroom duplex is available to rent here for £1,995 per week, through Knight Frank). Grosvenor installed rainwater harvesting, Aerogel wall insulation (a thin but highly insulating material), photovoltaic and solar thermal energy generation, phase change materials (capable of storing and releasing large amounts of energy) and vacuum glazing (double- or triple-glazed glass), setting a benchmark for the rest of the estate and for period properties in general. “It was a pioneering project that showed us what could be done, achieving the Committee on Climate Change’s 2050 objectives today, and what we learnt here is now being applied as we update and refurbish each property,” Herring says.



Improving air quality is, of course, another pressing preoccupation, particularly in cities. Here again, Grosvenor has been something of a trailblazer, introducing the world’s first “living” lampposts – a green column system, which can be placed around each post, with automatic watering powered by solar panels. Clearly, however, the countryside is where the biggest impact can be made, and The Buying Solution’s Bramwell has noted his clients’ enthusiasm for planting trees – replacing natural resources and improving air quality. “Buying or creating your own woodland has become very fashionable, and elite buyers tend to be looking for existing woodlands with the potential to add more,” he says.


This article is an extract from the original article, published in FT How To Spend It in October 2019. The full article can be read here.