Screen Shot 2015-09-10 at 14.45.04A North East farming couple will find out later this month whether their home has won a raft of awards in one of the UK’s most prestigious housing competitions.

Trevor and Judith Gospel’s house at Steel Farm near Whitfield – 13 miles west of Hexham – has been nominated in the Best Value, Best Eco Home, and Best Masonry categories in the national Build It Awards.

Designed by architect Mark Siddall from Durham-based LEAP (Low Energy Architectural Practice), the three-bedroom self-build house is both a hub at the centre of a 150 acre organic farm and the Gospels’ dream home.

It complements its location in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, is an ideal place for the couple’s grand-children to visit and has saved them a small fortune in energy bills. “Trevor and Judith set the challenge of building a low energy home in one of the country’s remotest locations with some of the lowest winter temperatures.  At the same time they wanted a home that would be a jewel in the landscape,” said Mark.

“They wanted a house that would segregate the clean and the dirty areas and could also manage the public face and the private face – for commercial guests.  And they wanted good visibility across all their fields so they could keep an eye on their livestock.”

The design of the house also had to meet the stringent standards required by the planning authorities for a development within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  The result is the region’s first masonry-built home which meets the Passivhaus standard – an internationally recognised measure of energy performance that is achieved through high quality building design and construction. Earlier this year Steel Farm won the Best Small Project category in the UK Passivhaus Awards.

“In our old house we measured the temperature of the living room and the fridge. It was warmer in the fridge,” said Judith. “We’ve always lived in traditional farmhouses that were old, cold, damp and dark.  We didn’t want any of that.

“In the winter it can be very wild and when you come in from outside there’s not a breath of draught and it’s always warm,” she added.

Despite the house’s warmth, the Gospels’ annual heating bill is just £395 – and that is using expensive LPG.  If the house was on mains gas it would save the Gospels about £1000 per year compared to the average cost of heating a home in the North East.  Carbon emissions are 90% less than a typical house.

The final budget for constructing the house – which was built by Newcastle-based firm JD Joinery and Building – was just over £270,000.  “It was on schedule and in terms of the budget we didn’t dip into our contingency at all,” said Trevor. “Everything was costed down to the last screw and there’s nothing at all that we’d change about the house – we got exactly what we wanted.   It’s just that now we’re finally living in the house that we want, we’re going nowhere.”

Judith said: “More than the savings in the energy bills and the reduced environmental impact, we are enjoying the comfort of our new home.”

Architect Mark Siddall, who has taught at Newcastle and Northumbria Universities, said: “I want to support the self-build movement because it is something that is woefully under-developed in the UK.”

He has produced a free online documentary called Passivhaus Secrets which tells the story of the house at Steel Farm. “For many people it is the ultimate dream. It’s also likely to be the most expensive project you’re ever likely to undertake. There are pitfalls to avoid but also all sorts of benefits – as the Gospels have discovered,” he said.

Winners of the Build It Awards will be announced at a Gala Awards Dinner held at the Tower Hotel, London on 24 September 2015.  The event is hosted by comedian and actor Hugh Dennis.