Sustainable housing design points the way ahead

It’s becoming increasingly important to build sustainable homes as environmental concerns and energy worries become more dominant.

Many property developers are adapting their methods to prioritise sustainability, as house buyers become more exacting in what they want to see in a house. Buyers are concerned about energy consumption, carbon emissions, sustainable construction and many are seeking green homes.

With recent data showing that over half (55%) of UK adults think about the environmental impact and energy efficiency of a property before renting or buying, the housing sector needs to put sustainable development first and design and build accordingly.

24Housing looks at a successful eco-friendly, sustainable housing development that’s being extended due to the demand for its homes. It’s at the luxury end of the market but its principles will echo through the construction and development sector.

The architectural design of the houses ensures there’s no negative impact on the local environment.

Background to The Lakes by YOO

This lakeside country estate in the Cotswolds comprises luxury houses, cabins, and apartments, all built in a contemporary style using responsibly sourced, sustainable materials and having renewable energy options. The initial development consists of 180 second homes overlooking lakes on a former 850-acre gravel pit, set in parkland and woods. It’s been established over 15 years and has proved popular with buyers seeking a countryside retreat. 90 minutes from London, this exclusive gated community has attracted celebrities including Kate Moss, Jamie Dornan, and the Beckhams. The Lakes by YOO has a portfolio of developments and its founder John Hitchcox says that buyers are increasingly putting sustainability high on their list when they consider buying their own home, a trend that he believes is here to stay.

The Lakes by YOO at Cotswold Waters

Due to demand for these properties, the development is currently being extended into a neighbouring 110 acres where more lakes are being created and 140 more eco-homes will be built, all with the same focus on ecology and conservation.

The extension to the development is called The Lakes by YOO at Cotswold Waters. The first properties will be available in 2023. A total of 77 houses are planned, ranging in price from £1.8m- £3.5m, and 63 apartments, priced from £765,000 to £1,100,000. The properties are primarily designed as second homes and can be used for 11 months of the year: for a 2×2 week period, they must be rented out to the public.

Houses are being built on two lakes, Lily and Malo, and a new lake called Milestone is being created where apartments will be constructed. They will all be built to the same high-quality level as the main Lakes estate properties with natural building materials, eco-friendly power, and heating to keep energy bills low. Homes on the new site will differ in size from the main estate but there will be no difference in quality.

Owners will be able to access facilities on the main Lakes estate, including a wellness spa, and outdoor activities including water sports, climbing, and a zip line. Membership of the private spa at The Lakes by YOO will be offered to buyers at The Lakes at Cotswold Waters. The combined estate offers over 1,000 acres for residents and visitors to roam in, and activities include wellness retreats, foodie pop-ups, and art exhibitions. The properties can also be rented through the Lakes website when they are built.

Features of these sustainable homes:

  • Houses are designed to maximise the summer and winter sun to optimise solar gains.
  • The net zero homes enhance the landscape and biodiversity rather than merely mitigating harm.

They use:

  • Local construction materials as much as possible.
  • Low embodied energy materials.
  • High levels of insulation.
  • Appropriate renewable energy generating strategies.

Sustainable development credentials

The Lakes by Yoo won the award for `Best sustainable holiday resort for families (UK)’ in the Marie Claire Awards 2022. Based on John Hitchcox’s vision to create a `swallows and amazons’ style resort, here are some of the scheme’s main features:

  • Around 500,000 trees have been planted.
  • Eco ponds have been created which are allowed to fill with groundwater and provide habitat for many plants and wildlife species.
  • Areas of green space have been set aside for rewilding.
  • In September, the green tips from yew trees are harvested and sent off to make life-saving cancer medication.
  • A mini farm that is home to rescued animals.
The living area in a sustainable home on the development.

The need for sustainable housing

John Hitchcox explained the ethos behind The Lakes for YOO and outlined his view of eco-friendly house design:

I think customers are looking to have more control over the eco-credentials a property has, so we are seeing an uptick in buyers starting from scratch to ensure that their property is as sustainably robust as possible. At our new development, The Lakes by YOO, Cotswolds Waters, each buyer of the 140 property plots has a clean slate in the development of their home. With our guidance and expertise, buyers are making the most informed decision on the sustainable efficacy of their property, which motivates them to make sensible choices to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint from the ground up.

For instance, we encourage each house to be built with responsibly sourced timber from forests that are continuously replenished, and from where surrounding flora and fauna will not be damaged. We have a range of renewable energy options such as ground source heat pumps and geothermal energy, and we promote the use of photovoltaic panels to utilise the sun’s abundance of clean, renewable energy into electricity. These can be complemented with our typical solar panels, which convert solar radiation into heat. 

On the changing attitude to sustainable housing design, he added:

Although sustainable property has typically been thought of as only in the interest of high-income and luxury buyers, a recent study found that 55% of all UK adults consider the environmental impact and energy efficiency of a property before renting or buying. This means that developers can set their properties apart by re-evaluating their processes, materials, and emission output to both attract a wide range of potential buyers for a new home and safeguard the future of the planet. It is not only our responsibility as developers to be conscious about the materials that make up a home, and the longevity of the energy sources used to run it, but to also take into account the biodiversity of the land surrounding it.  

This holistic approach to property development is encapsulated across The Lakes by YOO estate, being situated in the Cotswold’s countryside and home to four pristine freshwater lakes, green meadows, and tranquil woodlands. We have a plethora of thoughtful activities which support the natural environment across the estates, including rewilding and conservation projects. It is integral to have an eco-centric approach to property development so that we can offset the inevitable emissions made by the industry and guide us on the vital path to net zero.  

24Housing asked John why he thinks it’s more eco-friendly to buy a second home in the UK than travel abroad. He replied:

The second home property market in the UK is booming, and forward-thinking buyers are grasping the environmental benefits of buying sustainable local housing. Buying local can significantly reduce your carbon footprint by lowering travel mileage, reducing overall fuel consumption, and lowering air pollution.

Alongside these environmental benefits, incorporating renewable energy into a second home typically has lower operation and maintenance costs, and does not incur fuel costs once installed. Robust loft insulation also has its cost benefits, with the potential to save owners up to £570 a year for a detached house, therefore both protecting the planet, and buyer’s wallets in the long term. 

Building sustainable homes

Sustainable design is relevant to younger and older people. Younger house buyers may consider buying an eco home to be the right thing to do, as it will provide them with a home for many years and be energy efficient in the face of climate change. Older house buyers may think that a sustainable house will play an important role in providing them with a better quality of life and lower energy bills. Clearly, building sustainable homes is crucial to improving the United Kingdom’s housing stock; energy-efficient, net zero homes will certainly create an improved living environment which would benefit many people in the long run.

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