You can hire this timber-framed eco home in Kingskerswell on Airbnb
PUBLISHED: 10:52 22 May 2018 | UPDATED: 10:52 22 May 2018
Buy a plot of land and build a house: Lee Manning and Mike Ellis have made taking on the project of a lifetime look easy. Words: Chrissy Harris | Photos: Matt Austin
I arrive at Orchard House in Kingskerswell, full of admiration for anybody who has the guts to build their own place. By the time I leave this bright white and timber-framed eco-friendly home, I’m wondering if maybe I could do it.
“It’s easier than building an extension,” says Orchard House’s creator and owner Lee Manning, as he talks me through how he and husband Mike bought a quarter acre of land in 2010 and added this striking oak, steel and glass building.
“We built an extension at our previous home. We didn’t have a kitchen for three months, it was dusty, it was disruptive,” says Lee. “But with this project, we were living somewhere else so we could shut it off when we wanted.
“The other thing is, if you’re adding on to an existing building, you have an assumption about where the walls are, how they made the roof but you don’t really know for sure. When you build from scratch, nothing’s really a surprise. You know where everything is going.”
It’s a convincing argument but then Lee, 39, has plenty of previous experience with this kind of thing.
As CEO of building firm Carpenter Oak, Lee has been involved with many self-build projects and knew what was in store.
He also knew what materials and technology were needed to make Orchard House as green as possible.
The oak frame building is so well insulated that there is no need for heating and the ventilation systems means there is a change of air in the house seven times every two hours, making the inside as fresh as the outside.
“We had a C02 monitor in here and there were 450 parts per million in here,” says Lee. “In our office at work, we had 1,200 parts per million.”
Not many people can measure their carbon footprint with that amount of accuracy but Lee admits he likes that kind of detail.
“It’s quite nice to know these sorts of things,” he says, as we head into the real ‘engine room’ of the house – the utility room where all the pumps and monitors are stored.
“So in here we have the air source heat pump for the water, which brings in the air, sucks all the energy from the air in and then expels all the cold air out. Next to that is the ventilation system,” says Lee.
“Then this is for the solar panels – they can generate about 4kw. And there’s the central vacuum.”
Now, here’s where my ears really prick up. This clever gadget is a vacuum system installed into the building.
You simply plug in a lightweight hose to the fixture on the wall and the dirt and dust get sucked away to a remote collection container in the utility room. In the kitchen, you can kick or sweep crumbs into a vent near the floor.
Solar panels, heat source pumps and air separation are great but this truly is technology to aspire too.
“It is good...” says Lee, politely acknowledging my extreme excitement as he fires up the crumb catcher.
“We’re pleased with how well everything works. We started off just wanting to build a house we could afford and then we realised we could make it as eco-friendly as possible using all the technology that was available at the time.”
Lee and husband Mike, a nurse consultant, lived nearby in Marldon while Orchard House was being built, allowing them to project manage but not be consumed by the development.
Lee carried on with his day job and gave strict instructions to contractors to ring only in emergencies, the rest of the time they could email or chat to Lee when he made his weekly site visits.
There was only one real hiccup when the render on an exterior wall dried too quickly, cracked and had to be knocked out and started again.
“That was pretty much the only thing that went wrong,” says Lee. “But the issue with that was where do you go with it? How do you solve it?”
Setback sorted, Lee and Mike moved into their home, 10 months after they had bought the land.
“We love it,” says Lee. The acoustics just work really well. When you’re upstairs, it’s really quiet and you can really relax. If you need to think a lot – and my role means I do have to think a lot – it’s nice to have that quiet space with nothing going on.”
Lee’s life has certainly become more hectic. He and Mike, 36, have taken on a building project in Canada and are currently living in Yukon, with Lee flying back to the UK up to five times a year for work commitments.
“The air travel I’m doing at the moment completely goes against our other environmental choices, but that should get better as time goes on,” says Lee, adding that the plan is to spend more time in Canada, eventually.
“I love coming back here though,” he says. “It feels safe. It feels like home – we’ll never sell it. We put a lot of our heart and soul into this house.”
See? That’s all there is to this self-building lark.
Carpenter Oak, which has a firm in Totnes, now offers a complete build service. See carpenteroak.com
You can hire Orchard House through their Airbnb listing