An Aluminum-Clad Green Energy Home in England

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By Phyllis Richardson
Green Orchard, the home Paul Archer designed for his parents outside Bristol, England, sows the seeds of an active retirement.

Architect Paul Archer has made a career of adapting and extending historic English houses for dozens of clients in and around London. But when his mother and stepfather decided to move out of their 17th-century stone farmhouse, they wanted him to start from scratch to achieve, as he puts it, "something modern and low-maintenance." Making a tall order more vertiginous still, they also wanted zero-carbon energy demands and to have plenty of space to garden.

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Sliding aluminum panels on the facade of Green Orchard not only mirror the local flora, they also allow residents Fred and Edna Wadham to control how much sunlight enters their 2,150-square-foot home.

Doing their bit, Fred and Edna Wadham found a peaceful site in a wooded village outside Bristol, in southwest England. There, Archer elected to put the house at the center of the lot and to place large windows facing the surrounding landscape in every direction. With the advice of his sister, Sally Merrett, an environmental scientist, and the engineers at Downie Consulting, Archer also installed a range of energy-saving solutions like thermally efficient glass for those big windows, specially designed shutters, heavy-duty insulation, a wood-burning and electric stove, thermal and photovoltaic solar panels, and a heat-recovery ventilation system. Now the Wadhams, though still connected to the grid, give back more energy than they use.

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A Closed System

To make doubly sure that those high-performance windows are well covered, Archer designed and manufactured (with help from Fred) a system of electronic sliding shutters. Drawn, the shutters keep things cool when the sun is strong and hold in the heat on winter nights.

The most prominent feature of the house is its striking exterior, covered in shining aluminum panels. This skin, though initially quite polished, will eventually weather and dull and is meant to help the house blend with the landscape by reflecting its leafy environs.

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Keep the Home Fires Burning

Using wood for heat and energy keeps the Wadhams’ environmental footprint small and helps avoid the use of coal- or nuclear-powered electricity. Come winter, the couple relies on an Esse wood-burning stove for cooking, heating, and feeding a set of small radiators. In summer, they use the stove’s electric component, which is powered by solar energy.

Now installed in their new home, the retired Wadhams are busy planting seven types of garden (from bog to floral to vegetable patch), as well as entertaining friends and family in their light-filled, open-plan, indoor-outdoor spaces. "This was our dream house," says Edna of the design that takes best advantage of the natural setting while also working to preserve the environment. That it was a family effort makes it even more satisfying. As Fred puts it, "If you have clever children, you might as well put them to good use."

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Going Underground

The site the Wadhams found for their home was designated as “green belt” land, which meant that there were restrictions on the size of the structure’s footprint. Because it’s critical for the pair to live on a single floor, especially as they grow older, Archer tucked the home’s three guest rooms—vital for four visiting children and eight grandchildren—all belowground. Not only does that keep the home’s layout trim, but with the living spaces and master bedroom at ground level, the couple will be able to stay in the house for longer, getting more use out of the energy and resources expended to build it.

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“The entire facade is made of sliding thermal shutters. They’re all individually electrically operated so the whole exterior is mobile, which creates all sorts of varying compositions. The aim of the project was to create an architecture that was a direct reflection of its sustainable strategy, rather than just bolting on green technologies.” —Architect Paul Archer

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Keep the Heat

“We installed our first one some years ago,” says Archer of heat-recovery ventilation systems, “and it was an enormous box the size of a small shower room. Nowadays, you can get a mechanism that is only slightly bigger than a toaster and is very cost-effective.” Here, Archer installed a rooftop heat-exchanger mechanism by Vent-Axia that transforms heat from the stale air being drawn out of the house into fresh air, which is then distributed inside.

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A Clear Advantage

Modernists love glass, but large windows can be massive energy-wasters, letting in (and out) far too much heat to be sustainable. The windows at Green Orchard, from the British firm George Barnsdale, are sealed units (meaning no gaps between the panes of glass), double-glazed, and filled with argon gas for protection against both heat loss and gain.

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Yesterday’s News

One of the quickest routes to green design runs straight through Fleet Street. The Wadhams’ walls are padded with nearly a foot of recycled-newspaper insulation by Warmcel; the insulation in the roof goes a few columns farther—it’s a full 16 inches thick.