Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 09.02.31A North East farming couple will find out this week 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 Hexham has been nominated in the Best Value, Best Eco Home, and Best Masonry categories of the national Build It Awards, which take place at The Tower Hotel in London on Thursday (24 September) and are hosted by comedian and actor Hugh Dennis.

The property is already an award-winner.  It was named Best Small Project in the UK Passivhaus Awards earlier this year.

The Gospels’ dream home is the hub of the centre of a 150 acre organic farm. It was designed by architect Mark Siddall from Durham-based LEAP (Low Energy Architectural Practice) to complement its location in the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, to provide comfort and warmth and be an ideal place for the couple’s grand-children to visit.  It has also 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.

“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 and Trevor and Judith Gospel are opening Steel Farm to the public from 13 to 15 November as part of the International Passivhaus Open Days. Visits to their home can be booked via PassivhausOpendays.co.uk.

“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 with the right advice these are far outweighed by all sorts of benefits – as the Gospels have discovered,” he said.