Building good health

Built on a wooded rural site on the coast near Bristol, a stunning family home has been created that was prefabricated in Germany using natural materials, and designed with health and wellbeing in mind

Those who have holidayed in the south west of England will recall the feeling of excitement as they pass Bristol and glimpse the sea for the first time, after hours of motorway monotony. It’s here that you find the home of David and Lin Jones: visible only from the sea, and standing in extensive landscaped gardens.

Their colourful new three-storey house has been built on a long sloping site, giving unobstructed views over the Severn Estuary, and appears to ‘grow out’ of its surroundings. First time self-builders David and Lin live with their teenage daughter, and a steady stream of guests in the impressive property.

“We’d spent several years two miles down the road, in a house we’d renovated,” says David. “We had often thought about moving somewhere more rural, and looked at several properties, but nothing gave us exactly what we wanted.”

The couple knew of one location which would suit them perfectly. “We didn’t want to move away from the area and, although we wanted a country home, we also love sea views,” David continues. “When a house came up for sale nearby in a wooded valley, looking out to sea, we moved fast, and within eight weeks we were the new owners. We’d never done anything so impetuous!”

David and Lin briefly considered living in the existing house, but the six-and-a-half acres of

grounds had become neglected and overgrown and the building had fallen into disrepair. They determined to design a new house which would complement the natural surroundings and make the most of the sea view.

Landscape gardener Hannah Genders was consulted early in the process and confirmed that, beneath the undergrowth, mature trees and shrubs would form a strong framework for the new landscaping which was to be such a vital part of the overall project. “It was Hannah who first suggested Baufritz to us, as she’d worked with the company previously on gardens for their new homes,” explains David.

As one of Germany’s first companies to produce off-site manufactured timber houses, Baufritz combines advanced modular construction, sustainable materials, and renewable sources of energy to create tailor- made eco-friendly homes. The company’s unique building system ensures that all materials are natural, healthy and not harmful to the environment – right down to the water-based paints used.

“The principles of healthy, ecologically- friendly, building construction have formed the core philosophy of our company for generations,” comments Oliver Rehm, who is MD for Baufritz UK.

Over the years, buildings have been constructed to increase thermal efficiency through improved air tightness. As a result, there’s

been a marked increase in people suffering from ‘Sick Building Syndrome’, which is caused by a number of factors relating to interior air quality. This includes the use of chemical contaminants found in building materials such as treated timber, lacquers, adhesives, polystyrene and mineral wool.

“In all our designs, and during the manufacturing and build processes, we’re guided by the health needs of people and the protection of the environment. We call it organic living, and years of research have gone into making sure that each Baufritz home provides a healthy environment,” says Rehm.

“All the healthy elements of Baufritz houses have been jointly developed with doctors and building biologists to enhance wellbeing.” He

adds: “Harmful substances are eliminated at every stage.”

David and Lin spent time exploring alternative options before returning to the idea of building a Baufritz eco house. “We looked at different build methods and designers, but the system build route was appealing because the timescale and budget would be better determined,” explains David.

“We went out to visit Baufritz in Germany for a tour of the factory and show homes before making our final decision, and were impressed by the quality of build. If you’re building from scratch then the sheer number of decisions can be bewildering, so we were pleased to learn we’d be helped to make choices from their menu of options.”

Baufritz offers a turnkey service that covers all aspects of the housebuilding process except for groundworks – therefore it includes architectural design, planning, manufacture and onsite construction, carried out by experienced teams of specialist German tradesmen.

Oliver Rehm worked with the couple on the design of their new house, and the sloping nature of the site proved ideal for accommodating an extensive basement level. This contains a games room, plant room, pantry and boot room, as well as providing the perfect environment for the wine cellar.

Part of the Jones’ motivation to build was to create a home which they could share with others, and a one-bedroom basement flat was therefore incorporated into the design which may be used independently of the main house.

On the ground floor, the family room/kitchen, sitting and dining rooms all open onto a balcony and are seaward facing. The utility, snug, shower and cloakroom are located to the rear of the plan, and upstairs are four bedrooms, a study, bathroom and master ensuite.

“It was an interesting process working out the look and layout of the new house, and although the location and roofline remain the same as the old building on the site, the overall floor area was increased,” explains David.

The couple had lived in Connecticut for several years, where timber-clad homes are commonplace, and were influenced by New England architecture as well as colourful Scandinavian houses seen on holidays. Inspiration also came from books and magazines, as well as several Baufritz houses they visited both in Germany and the UK.

“I really liked the Falun red colour of cladding I’d seen in Norway, which was originally made using waste products from a copper mine,” says David. A similar red colour was therefore chosen for the timber cladding on the family’s new home, together with ivory white render and a basement level clad with golden limestone, which visually anchors the building into the ground.

“It’s a contemporary interpretation of a New England style home and the planning process was really straightforward, although it did take 16 weeks instead of the usual eight to receive the decision,” says David.

“We liaised very early on with tree and ecology officers at the council, to assure them we valued and wanted to enhance the setting, so we had no real issues despite living in the greenbelt. The only change they requested was to reduce the height of the garage roof by a metre, which was an improvement anyway.”

The house and basement were designed together, but when it came to the construction the Jones needed to organise their groundworks separately, using a company recommended by Baufritz. They employed a project manager to oversee the groundworks, concrete basement and slab, before the Baufritz project manager took over for the remainder of the build.

“I was no longer working full-time, so probably got more involved than I strictly needed to, as we were only living 10 minutes away,” says David. “We were very fortunate not to need to live in a caravan and were able to stay in our home during the build.”

The existing house was demolished, and the site cleared before the new basement could be excavated and prefabricated concrete walls installed. “One corner of the basement needed to be dug a metre deeper than planned, until they hit a firm base, before being built back up again with concrete,” says David. “Inevitably, when they then tried to install a drain, they immediately hit solid rock.”

The upper two levels of the building were constructed using offsite prefabricated closed wall and roof panels, built in a factory in Germany using low-carbon construction processes, sustainable timber and other biodegradable building materials. Timber windows and doors are pre-finished in a light grey paint, and the saddle roof has been clad with handsome interlocking grey clay roof tiles.

Each section of the house was made with the insulation, cladding, external doors and tripleglazed windows already in place, to ensure excellent airtightness, so that when they arrived onsite the panels could be constructed extremely quickly.

“In Germany, people come and sign a contract and the building work goes ahead very quickly. In England it takes far longer to find a plot and gain planning permission. It can be very complicated and frustrating for everyone, but after planning has been achieved, we can go ahead and specify all the materials,” explains Baufritz’s Oliver Rehm.

“Much of our factory is automated, using machines that have been designed especially for us, and we use state-of-the-art CAD technology that’s linked to our systems to ensure millimetre precision.

“It’s great to see the product that you’ve designed being made so accurately by machines, and you don’t have to worry about the execution on site, because everything is so precise. I always feel elated when a house arrives from Germany on the back of a truck and is finished within just a few days – it’s a very exciting process.”

External walls are packed with Baufritz’s thermally efficient wood shaving insulation, made from off-cuts from the manufacturing process and protected from fire, fungus and pests using a natural treatment made from soda and whey. The shell is 100 per cent biodegradable and can be completely returned to nature.

“We did manage to block the road for several hours because our driveway is long and steep, so access was tricky, but everything was soon craned into position,” says David. “It only took four days to erect the walls and roof of the house, and I built a small scaffold tower and filmed the whole thing using a time-lapse camera – making a short film of our build.”

The Jones’ were flown out to Germany prior to work starting onsite, where they liaised with their Baufritz project manager to choose all fixtures and fittings, including sanitaryware, tiles, flooring and light switches, leaving only the kitchen to be sourced separately. “It was enjoyable but tiring, because we’d be working well into the evenings,” says David. Not only is the house incredibly highly insulated and triple glazed, but it also benefits from a ventilation and heat recovery system. Built-in protection against electromagnetic pollution levels shields against cell phone radiation, and harmful substances are eliminated at every stage.

“The previous house had oil-fired heating, but after much thought we settled on installing a ground source heat pump, with underfloor heating on all levels,” says David. “We chose engineered walnut flooring for several rooms, with herringbone parquet laid in the sitting room, and followed this through with walnut for the internal doors and kitchen.”

The main kitchen was crafted in the UK from sustainable birch plywood, combined with locally-sourced sycamore and walnut wood to create the cabinetry and hand-carved drawers. Low energy appliances were chosen, including an eco-friendly boiling water tap. “What we love about this house, apart from the fabulous setting, is the feeling of quality,” says David. “Everyone comments that it’s a peaceful, calm and relaxing place to be, and it’s also a healthy home – both for us and the environment.