In the week the Conservatives promise 200,000 new homes, a Bristol developer calls for more homes to be made sustainably, durably and affordably – from straw.
“We have proven there is a huge demand for housing that does not cost the earth – financially or environmentally,” says Martin Connolly, the eco-developer at the heart of the straw bale housing in Shirehampton, Bristol, the first commercially-available UK straw bale homes.
“Our homes help people out of fuel poverty because they are insulated so efficiently they need little heating, and are made of natural non-toxic materials.”
Made to an unique design by Bristol-based designers, ModCell, they are the first UK straw bale homes to be mortgageable, having received BM Trada’s Q mark certification.
Since the houses were advertised for sale last month, Martin Connolly has been inundated by requests from all over the world to build more straw bale homes.
Martin Connolly, Bristol green developer and builder
Martin Connolly’s family company, Connolly and Callaghan, won the 2009 Environmental/Conservation Development of the Year for its solid wooden blocks of flat at Pennywell Green, Bristol. He is also the landlord and sponsor of Hamilton House, a community hub that is helping regenerate the Stokes Croft inner-city area of Bristol.
Following these successes, Martin scoured the news worldwide for a new green building enterprise to develop.
He found it on his doorstep – after seeing ModCell featured on TV’s Grand Designs.
Martin Connolly says: “We were especially impressed that ModCell was the first design we had come across that did not use plaster board which is horribly toxic, but compressed straw instead.”
Martin Connolly relied on his 30 years experience in building houses to help make the designs more affordable and practical. “We especially wanted to make sure the design would get all the certification necessary to be mortgageable.”
Benefits of straw bale housing
The straw bale housing development of seven homes was erected on site in only nine days, thanks to their precision factory-made panels which slot together perfectly. Fitting-out the interior takes a further few months.
Storm-proof, the homes are so well insulated they need little heating even in winter. The quickness of the build adds to their affordability. And, although as strong as a brick house, unlike brick, straw bale houses have a carbon-negative footprint.
Grown in fields with the power of the sun, straw absorbs carbon dioxide as it grows and needs very little processing to be turned into bales for building. The compressed straw is fitted between sturdy wood panels.
Alleviating housing crisis and climate change
As a social landlord committed to helping homeless people since the 1980s, Martin Connolly is delighted the new straw bale technology will mean future housing can be affordable.
Connolly & Callaghan has been building and running social housing for nearly thirty years, and provides emergency accommodation and food for homeless people every night of the year in premises in and around Bristol
“We got into straw bale housing to explore how we could make housing more affordable,” says Martin Connolly. “What was behind it was concern about homelessness and the environment.”
Martin Connolly says: “In the first instance, we wanted to achieve natural non-toxic house building which sequesters carbon. Hugely insulated and air-tight, the homes produce virtually all the energy they need to run. We are installing rain water harvesting to cut down water and sewage bills, and LED lights, solar panels and an air-source heat pump to reduce light and heating costs. Bath University research shows the running costs can be reduced by as much as 90%. And, as volume of sales increase, we can strive to make the house purchase price even more affordable.”
The ModCell design benefitted from a partnership with Bath University researchers, government-funded by Innovate UK, which has scientifically proven straw bale as an eco-friendly and robust building material.
Director of ModCell, Craig White, and director of White Design, the scheme’s architects, says:
“Working with an enlightened developer like Martin Connolly – whose mission is to deliver triple-bottom line in sustainability – has helped catalyse the means by which we can help deliver sustainable living in low-carbon affordable homes for more people than ever before.”
Craig White adds: “Personally I think Martin is an extraordinary man – he is a natural social entrepreneur, even before the phrase was coined.”
Yesterday (4 March 2015), it was announced ModCell had been awarded the prestigious Passive House Component Certification for its latest straw bale building system.
PassivHaus is the the most rigorous energy standard in the world, reducing the need for heating or cooling to an absolute minimum.
Because ModCell is made from the carbon capturing, renewable materials timber and straw, the homes actually bank more carbon than is emitted in making them, so it’s good for the planet.
This new system will be used on Martin’s next developments.
Next phase – community development
Planned for June, the next development will build 49 homes in Shirehampton. These will be geared towards a community-led development.
Benefitting from the Coalition’s localism agenda, new regulations now enable local people to deliver community-led developments.
This trend is underlined by the Conservative Party’s housing policy which proposes to force councils to free up plots for people who want to build houses.
One of the reasons houses are so expensive is that developers sell houses at the highest market price they can command.
Martin Connolly has a radically different approach:
“Our aim is to support communities to create housing at affordable prices in line with local wages, as ModCell has done for the successful Lilac housing cooperative in Yorkshire.”
Martin is now looking for landowners and would-be community developers sympathetic to his ethical goals.
“We want to work with local authorities or landowners in a more co-operative way to deliver affordable housing,” says Martin Connolly.
Press contact: 0777 399 8642 Connolly and Callaghan 0117 942 0100
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