22 March 2017

Benefits of building with clay, plus examples (#SuperNaturalMaterials 3)

This is the third post in our Super Natural Materials series – you can view the whole series here.

building with clay, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

The versatility of clay

The use of clay dates back to the earliest human civilisation and clay bricks have been a popular building material since the Babylonian civilisation in 3000BC. The naturally malleable fine-grained earthy material is incredibly versatile, used for ancient writing tablets, cooking pots and kitchenware, artwork and, of course, for building.

Because of its strength, durability and abundance – among other benefits – bricks and tiles made of clay are some of the most popular building materials ever. As well as its historical use, building with clay has undergone a resurgence in recent years following more public interest in sustainability, health and artisan craftsmanship.

In this post, we’ll explain our top 5 benefits of building with clay and offer examples of clay building from our own work and the work of others.

Benefits of building with clay

  • building with clay, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

    Tichborne Street mixed use development with red linear or Roman bricks


    Clay rivals wood in its amazing versatility. In building it is used to make bricks, tiles and plasters, as well as the low-impact natural building materials adobe, cob, rammed earth and wattle and daub. Bricks can be fired or unfired. Tiles can be used on roofs, floors, or walls. Clay plasters can come in different textures, colours and finishes.

  • Durable

    A house made of bricks will last for generations. They are expected to last at least 100 years, but many have lasted far longer than that. They are also very low-maintenance, are resistant to both fire and water and don’t rot or rust.

  • Insulating

    Clay has excellent insulating properties because of its high thermal mass. It absorbs, stores and releases heat very effectively, making the building interior cooler in summer and warmer in winter. This makes the internal environment more comfortable and also reduces energy demand and associated carbon emissions. Even a 15mm clay plaster coating will have a significant insulating effect.

  • building with clay, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

    Portland Villas 11 houses with red brickwork and timber


    With careful deconstruction bricks and tiles can be reused in other projects. As they don’t need to be melted down into base material and can be reused as they are it is an extremely low-energy method. Clay also has the ability to be easily reformed when wetted, so other clay materials can be recycled. As a natural non-toxic material it can also be safely and ecologically returned to the Earth and never needs to go to landfill. As a finite material, albeit an extremely abundant one, it is key to the future circular economy that it can be recycled.

  • Healthy

    Clay also has significant health benefits over other materials because it is completely natural, non-toxic and inert, with no VOCs or chemicals off-gassing from the material. As well as regulating temperature, clay is also a humidity regulator. This not only makes a more comfortable environment, it prevents mould and fungal growth in the home. All this creates a superior internal air quality which is important for health, especially when you consider that people in Europe and America spend around 90% of their time indoors.

Koru projects showing use of clay

Tichborne Street

This mixed-use development of flats and workshops in the heart of Brighton utilised linear of ‘Roman’ bricks which are longer and shorter than traditional bricks. The striking red brickwork coupled with the large grew-rimmed windows fits into the local style yet also looks fresh and contemporary and adds colour to the street.

building with clay, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Highlands Road house with reddish brown brickwork

Portland Villas 11

These two semi-detached family homes are made with a traditional palette of red clay bricks and timber, which suits the local vernacular of the street and fits in with the neighbouring properties. The traditional familiarity of the brickwork softens the contemporary form and detailing of the properties.

Highlands Road

This detached house is a contemporary reimagining of an Arts and Crafts style house, and the natural materials of clay and zinc are a key part of that design philosophy. The design utilises interior clay tiles and external reddish brown brickwork, which adds a traditional feel to the more contemporary zinc roof.

Other examples of building with clay

Given the enormous potential of building with clay, it’s hard to choose just a handful of examples. Here’s a few interesting ones to show some of the diversity available.

In this beautiful restaurant setting, clay plaster is used to create a feature wall rich with pattern and texture. The sculptural properties of clay mean you can create bespoke finishes that are impossible with paint.

This simple matte clay plaster combines with the whole timber, rounded walls and wood stove to create a rustic cosy interior. Contrasts with the restaurant above which is more contemporary chic.

The durability and versatility of clay floor tiles means as well as for interiors they can be used outside as well, like in this beautiful walled garden. They have used unusually shaped tiles to create a pattern.

Clay brick is generally considered a traditional material best suited for traditional styles of architecture. But that doesn’t need to be the case. Here, dark brown clay bricks are used to build a very quirky house with a very unusual playful form.

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our monthly Eco-Design Newsletter here >>

And let us know what you think about building with clay at @KoruArchitects with the #SuperNaturalMaterials hashtag.

2 March 2017

‘Building Places That Work For Everyone’ Report Launch

Issi Rousseva with Julie Hirigoyen: building places that work for everyone

Issi Rousseva with Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of UKGBC

With the right combination of industry expertise, community engagement and a clear steer from government, we can build places that work for everyone.

That's the headline message of the UK Green Building Council's new report: Building Places That Work For Everyone. Koru's architect Issi Rousseva attended the policy paper launch on 28th February 2017 at the Houses of Parliament. The launch event was chaired by Julie Hirigoyen, CEO of the UK Green Building Council, and also included talks by industry leaders and politicians George Freeman MP, Stephen Kinnock MP and James Heappey MP.

Issi particularly enjoyed the talk by Dan Labbad, CEO of Lendlease, a global property and infrastructure company. Dan spoke about how to be successful, sustainability must be right at the core of business operations - never an after-thought simply to tick boxes. Issi also enjoyed speaking with Mark Harper MP about the potential of the circular economy, and she was interested to note that many of the delegates were relatively new to sustainability but were determined to make a difference in their own businesses and organisations. This is a welcome change from the tendency of green events to be full of experts and long-time enthusiasts 'preaching to the choir'. This highlights the fantastic outreach and engagement work the UK Green Building Council have been doing.

The report covers how sustainable building can contribute to key government priorities around homes, energy, industry, jobs and social wellbeing. It also contains best-in-class example projects, insights from industry leaders, key statistics and practical policy recommendations. Koru Architects supports their recommendations and we hope to see the government using this paper to inform more effective policymaking.

24 February 2017

Green Growth Platform Conference 2017

Green Growth Platform Conference 2017

Mark (right) and Clive (left) at Green Growth Platform Conference 2017

The Green Growth Platform aims to help grow the Sussex green economy by providing training, events, specialist knowledge transfer and more. The centrepiece of their annual event calendar is the Green Growth Conference.

Koru director Mark Pellant attended the Green Growth Platform Conference 2017 on 23rd February, along with our business advisor Clive Bonny (who is also Commercial Director of our sister company PassivPod). The day was jam-packed with talks and workshop sessions, with business networking over a lunch provided by local zero-waste restaurant Silo.

Mark says the best parts of the day for him were the talk by Mike Barry, leader of Plan A, the sustainability programme of M&S, and the workshops on gamification and business purpose. The key takeaways were that businesses achieve the most on sustainability when they set ambitious stretch targets and collaborate with similar businesses (as M&S are doing), that people naturally enjoy challenges so gamification leads to higher engagement, and purposeful businesses are increasingly outcompeting companies that lack a clear and compelling purpose. The Teslas will beat the VWs in the economy of the future.

Both Mark and Clive were asked to provide comments for a video of the event which we'll share as soon as it's available.

23 February 2017

Benefits of building with zinc, plus examples (#SuperNaturalMaterials 2)

This is the second post in our Super Natural Materials series - you can view the whole series here.

building with zinc, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architectWhat is zinc used for?

Zinc is an abundant, lightweight and shiny metal which has long been used in construction for roofs and vertical cladding. It is perhaps most extensively used in Paris, where the majority of roofs have been zinc since Napoleonic times. It's currently becoming more popular for civic and corporate buildings that need to last a long time, as well as increasingly for homes as its sustainability benefits gain prominence.

This post will outline the benefits of building with zinc, plus several examples of the kinds of buildings that utilise it.

Benefits of building with zinc

building with zinc, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Lloyd Close eco-house with zinc roof

  • Very durable
    Zinc roofs can last more than 100 years because it doesn’t rust, instead it ‘heals’ itself with a protective patina that comes back after scratching. It's formally known as zinc hydroxyl-carbonate. By comparison, clay or concrete tiles are expected to last 60 years. Because of the protective patina, zinc is not sensitive to rust or UV and is very low maintenance. This counteracts the high initial cost.
  • Non-toxic
    Zinc is a fungistat that prevents build-up of mould or moss and its water runoff is not toxic to plants, unlike copper which is fungicidal but also harmful to plants. Illustrating its lack of toxicity, zinc is actually a micro-nutrient, present in the bodies of people and animals and required in small quantities for optimum health.
  • Sustainable
    While not renewable, this finite metal is extremely abundant compared with other resources. In fact it’s the 24th most abundant element in the Earth’s crust. Estimated zinc ore reserves are 34 million tonnes, enough for 700 years at present rates, not taking recycling into account. And it is almost entirely recyclable, so with smart circular economy processes we should be able to make it last indefinitely. Even mining and processing zinc ore is much less energy-intensive than other metals because it is lightweight and has a low melting point. As VMZINC, a leading zinc supplier, tells ArchDaily:

    “A big sustainability advantage for zinc over other metals is that it takes much less energy to refine zinc than aluminum, copper, or stainless steel. For instance, the energy required to produce zinc from ore is a quarter of that needed to make aluminum and half of that needed for copper and steel.”

  • Very flexible
    Zinc can be cut, curved and folded to produce interesting shapes – one of the properties which has made it so popular with architects. It’s very malleable, lightweight and soft, yet also strong. Suitable for all roof pitches between 5% - 90%.
  • Aesthetics
    Undoubtedly a key reason for zinc’s popularity is its natural beauty. The material is a smooth and shiny silvery colour. As it weathers, it develops an attractive dappled patina (which also protects it, see above). Alternatively you can buy it pre-weathered or coloured, allowing even more creative designs with two or more shades.

Examples of building with zinc

building with zinc, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Oakdene passivhaus with zinc roof

Projects using zinc designed by Koru Architects

For the reasons above, we often utilise zinc for roofing of our projects. Here’s three examples.

Lloyd Close
This award-winning zero-carbon detached house and studio is our director’s home and also houses the Koru Architects company office.

Winner of the RIBA Downland Prize 2011 and the Green Apple Award for Architecture 2016. Natural materials which are low in embodied energy have been used throughout, including hemp insulation, oak cladding, zinc roofing and lime render. The living room roof also features a green sedum roof.

If you like this project, you can subscribe to our newsletter for a PDF case study of the project and all its sustainability features.

Oakdene Passivhaus
This detached rural home built to passivhaus standards sits on an agricultural smallholding in the Sussex countryside. The house is constructed from natural materials low in embodied energy including local Sussex sandstone, Sweet Chestnut timber cladding, zinc roofing and sheep’s wool insulation.

building with zinc, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Highlands Road house with zinc roof

Highlands Road
This 4-bedroom property is a contemporary low-energy reimagining of an Arts and Crafts style house. The design uses a palette of natural and traditional materials such as brickwork, clay tiles, zinc and a timber frame.

Other zinc architecture projects

Given the flexibility of zinc, it can be utilised for a very diverse range of buildings. Here are just a few more examples...


An example of a contemporary building with ribbed zinc cladding coming down from the roof to the ground, covering the whole exterior.

This is a classic grey zinc roof with zinc cladding coming part way down the wall of the larger wing of the house.

Finally, here's a very unusual curvy roof made with zinc, showing its extraordinary flexibility.

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our monthly Eco-Design Newsletter here >>

And let us know what you think about building with zinc at @KoruArchitects with the #SuperNaturalMaterials hashtag.

26 January 2017

Benefits of building with timber, plus examples (#SuperNaturalMaterials 1)

This post is the first in our Super Natural Materials series.

building with timber, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Is the world's oldest building material also the most advanced?

Timber: a popular choice

Timber is one of the most popular building materials and people have been building with timber since ancient times. Its great versatility means it’s used in all areas of construction, architecture and design – from structural frames to finishes to furniture and artwork. Timber may be the only material where you could design a whole house with every element made out of timber. We believe it’s one of the very best materials, so we utilise it in the majority of our projects.

Wood is the oldest building material, yet development of Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) has given it a whole new innovative appeal. As Rethink Wood explain:

Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is a wood panel typically consisting of three, five, or seven layers of dimension lumber oriented at right angles to one another and then glued to form structural panels with exceptional strength, dimensional stability, and rigidity. ... Since CLT panels resist high racking and compressive forces, they are particularly cost effective for multi-story and long-span diaphragm applications.

The twin trends of population growth demanding greater urban density and more concern about sustainability, mean timber is getting ever more popular as a building material – even for high-rises. As this story in Popular Science puts it:

The world’s urban future may just lie in its oldest building material.

We're going to outline why it's such a great material, and then offer a few examples of the diverse range of buildings that can be built with timber.

Benefits and strengths of building with timber

building with timber, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Lloyd Close zero-carbon home and office, built with CLT timber structure and timber cladding

To learn more about the benefits of building with timber, check out our previous article ‘13 Ways Sustainable Timber Is The Best Construction Material’. Here’s our top 5:

1. Versatile

As well as being naturally beautiful, wood is also extremely versatile. Different species of tree produce timber of differing colours, textures and functional qualities. Wood also competes with plastic in its enormously wide range of applications: from structural frames to exterior cladding and joinery, and from decorative finishes to furniture.

2. Durable

Timber is a highly durable material. Some well-made wooden structures last for centuries, such as the timber frames of many Tudor buildings. It is also easy and cheap to maintain compared to other materials, especially if you don’t mind it changing its colour over time. As a very strong material with good structural properties, it's suitable for up to eight storey buildings (and new innovations are now even allowing timber to be used for high-rises!) It also has good fire resistance. This sounds surprising, but it burns in a much more predictable way than steel – which dramatically collapses after a ‘flash point’ is reached.

3. Non-toxic

In its natural state wood is completely non-toxic and healthy. It can sometimes be treated with toxic preservatives which can off-gas and prevent the wood from being safely burnt or composted, although this isn’t strictly necessary and with careful specification of durable timber, wood can often be used untreated. Advances in green chemistry mean more non-toxic glues and preservatives are being developed all the time. Even ‘conventional’ chemicals have been improved in recent years so off-gassing is now minimal.

building with timber, super natural materials, koru architects, eco architect, sustainable architect

Garden office made entirely out of timber, with recycled newspaper insulation

4. Carbon Storage

With sustainable forestry, at least as many new trees are grown than are harvested. As long as a timber product does not burn or rot its carbon stays ‘locked up’. So when trees are harvested, their carbon is stored in timber and they are replaced by new young trees, therefore the net effect is removing carbon from the atmosphere – which is good for the climate.

5. Renewable

Looking to the longer term, one of the biggest advantages of building with timber is that it is obviously a naturally renewable material. A tree can be grown to a suitable harvest size in 25 to 80 years, while the raw materials for bricks, steel and plastics are only renewed over geological time – i.e finite in human terms.

Examples of timber builds

Our projects

Lloyd Close
This detached 3-bedroom home and office is net zero-carbon, generates more energy than it uses, and has won two awards. Timber is used extensively throughout. The structure utilises Cross Laminated Timber (CLT), an innovative timber product with superior strength and structural durability. The exterior walls are clad with timber panels, and timber flooring is used throughout the property.

Garden Library
This sustainable, all-timber garden workspace has been designed for working in light and comfort with minimal heating or artificial lighting. Glazed timber sliding/folding doors and a roof-light flood the internal space with light and help with space heating. The timber frame is fabricated from Douglas Fir and the cladding from Western Red Cedar.

These are just two examples of building with timber. We incorporate timber in the majority of our residential and commercial projects, and we always work to ensure our timber is sustainably sourced.

Other projects

As one of the world's most popular building materials, there are countless examples of timber buildings. Here's just two examples of what can be achieved.

High-rise towers of glass, concrete and metal are a familiar sight in cities around the globe. Now, technical advances and materials innovation means skyscrapers can now be built with Cross Laminated Timber (see above). This one is scheduled for construction in Amsterdam in the Autumn of 2017. It will be a towering 240 feet tall.


This contemporary Scandinavian townhouse is made from CLT and glue-laminated pine, and it leaves the timber interior exposed to give the impression of the home being carved out of wood. The five-storey property is spacious, yet fits into a compact narrow plot.

What's your favourite use for timber? And what other natural materials do you want us to cover? Tweet us your ideas at @KoruArchitects using the #SuperNaturalMaterials hashtag.

20 January 2017

#SuperNaturalMaterials Series: The Power of Natural Materials

super natural materials Natural materials have superior sustainability and health benefits over artificial materials, and in many cases they're also cost competitive.

As architects specialising in sustainable contemporary design, we specify natural materials such as timber, zinc, copper, wool insulation and plant-based paints in our projects as standard practice.

With this new blog series, our aim is to inform both homeowners planning design work and construction professionals on the unique benefits of using natural materials. We believe the sustainability and health benefits deserve more attention. And in particular we have found many people wrongly assume that natural materials will necessarily be expensive or more difficult to work with. In fact, the market has moved on significantly, and high-quality natural material products are now readily available at competitive prices - especially if full lifecycle costs are considered.

Over the next six months or so, we will be publishing one post per month in this series, with each focusing on a different material.

Each post will include an overview of the strengths of that material, along with several diverse examples of buildings that successfully utilise it.

This post is both an introduction to the series, and will also act as an index page where all the posts in the series will be available as links. We'll add to the following list as we publish new posts.

Whether you're a homeowner planning renovation or building works, a developer, a designer or a supplier, we want you to send us your ideas and questions. We have an idea of which materials to cover, but we welcome your suggestions on what to cover in this series. You can send us your suggestions either on Twitter or by email. To join the conversation, tweet with the #SuperNaturalMaterials hashtag and tag @KoruArchitects. If you're not on Twitter, you can always contact us by emailing sma@koruarchitects.co.uk

Let's experience the power of natural materials.

12 January 2017

11 high-impact green building trends to watch in 2017

It’s that time of year when we all take stock and look towards the year ahead, making predictions and educated guesses about how the next 12 months will play out. So we got our heads together in the Koru Architects office and discussed the key trends we see for sustainable building and eco design in 2017. Here’s what topped our list, followed by our company plans for the year.

green building trends

What lies ahead for green building and sustainable design? Image credit: gratisography.com

2017 green building trends

  • The Biophilic Design philosophy is gaining traction and set to get more popular, as well as certifications like the WELL Building Standard. Health and wellbeing is a bigger and more integrated issue generally, and this will take bigger role on green buildings too. This contrasts with the sector’s previous focus only on emissions and energy.
  • The current Conservative government doesn’t appear to be very committed to sustainability. Unfavourable policies, less grants and support for green buildings, (some concern that the recent debacle with Ireland’s badly-implemented RHI policy could make all Renewable Heat Incentives look bad and provide an excuse for cuts). This could reduce popularity of sustainable building.
  • Oil prices are rising again, energy costs will start to bite and this will lead to greater demand for energy efficiency and green energy generation for cost-saving reasons.
  • Brexit means sustainability could take a back seat on national policy, fall lower down the agenda as the government and public are quite focused on Brexit and avoiding economic recession. Also, the EU is pushing the green and circular economy a lot, so outside it there may be less drive towards it.
  • In the context of Brexit and the ongoing housing crisis, we don’t expect to see much increase in certified zero carbon builds this year. That’s actually not as bad as it seems, because it’s actually better to get close to it at scale rather than achieving it in a few niche cases. It’s far better to get 50% of builds to 90% zero than 10% of builds to 100%! Zero-carbon is useful as a stretch goal to reach for, but we should be more interested in incremental improvement at scale.
  • The Circular Economy will continue to gain traction in green business circles, yet the UK’s progress on this agenda risks falling behind due to lack of government support, while it looks set to accelerate in Europe.

What is 'The Circular Economy' from Green TV on Vimeo.

  • Public awareness of sustainable building concepts is increasing and will continue to rise. People know what zero-carbon or passivhaus means now, whereas even 1 or 2 years ago you’d have to explain it to everyone. Part of this could be because sustainability is discussed more in the press and TV shows than previously.
  • In general we don’t expect much Brexit-related slow down on construction (which many have predicted), as many projects are going ahead now they have some level of certainty, whereas in the run-up to  the EU referendum things were put on hold. We haven’t seen any loss of business - although we have seen contractor costs go up, which could have a knock-on effect.

Koru Architects goals for 2017

green building

A new contemporary timber-clad house at Mill Lane, East Hoathly - one of the projects we expect to complete in 2017

Those are our thoughts on the big picture. But what are we planning to do this year?

  • Our company is growing: we have lots of current and new projects which means we will soon be taking on a new architectural assistant to join our small Hove-based team.
  • Several projects are set to finish this year, including: Mill Lane, Portland Villas 11, Portland Villas 14, Hove Park Cafe, English Cottages, Kids Acre Farm, Carlton Hill.
  • We’re very excited to be collaborating with BHESCo to produce a solar garden product - we can’t say more at this stage, but watch this space!
  • We’ll also be launching a new blog series on natural materials, to introduce people to the kind of materials we work with and the benefits of using sustainable and non-toxic natural materials.

Our sister company PassivPod has big plans too, aiming to get funding, complete our developed/technical designs for each model, complete full costing, find a site for a full-sized prototype and hopefully hire a designer and a marketer / business development professional.

What do you think?

What major trends do you see impacting sustainable design and building in 2017? Tweet us your ideas at @KoruArchitects.

14 December 2016

How to choose your renewable energy sources

renewable energy

Installing solar PV panels. (CC0)

You know you want your new dream home to include some green energy generation, so you can be more independent, save money in the long term, and do your bit for the planet. But how do you know what’s right for you?

There’s so many factors at work in choosing the best renewable energy system for your site and budget. It’s an important decision which will impact you and your home for years, so you’ll need to do a lot of research on the particular system you choose - but it’s good to start broad and get more specific later. We’re here to help you determine which type of renewable energy is right for you.

Wind, water or sun? Or something else? We’ll run through the most popular types of domestic renewable energy and point out the key limitations and benefits of each.

But first, a word about efficiency

It may not be as exciting as sparkly new cleantech, but improving the energy efficiency of your home is both cheaper and greener than generating your own clean power. Starting with the latter is like mopping the floor without turning the taps off. What’s more, heat pumps will be useless unless your home is already air-tight and well insulated. Take a look at our previous post about optimising energy efficiency and get your usage down as much as possible before going on to generate what you do need from clean sources.

If you have maximised your gains from efficiency, then let’s dive in to the renewables…

Solar PV

Short for solar photovoltaics, solar PV means solar panels that convert the sun’s energy into electricity (as opposed to hot water, see below). This is probably the most well-known and commonly used form of renewable energy. You’ll need a suitable roof, which ideally faces south (or at least not north, that’s the worst orientation for the northern hemisphere) and isn’t too heavily shaded by near-by buildings. The latter can sometimes be a problem in urban centres. Flat and pitched roofs are both suitable, as long as the pitch isn’t extremely steep.

renewable energy solar

Oakdene Passiv House, one of our projects with solar PV panels

Solar thermal

In contrast to solar PV, solar thermal panels use the sun’s heat to warm up water, so only provides for your hot water (or central heating if you have radiators) not other energy. You’ll need a suitable roof with the same caveats as solar PV. Apart from the hot water vs electricity, the other key difference is solar thermal is much more affordable and has a much shorter payback period.


One of the most common renewable technologies along with solar, wind turbines transform the wind’s kinetic energy into electricity. It’s not very popular for the domestic scale, as most properties are not suitable due to lack of wind, lack of space and planning restrictions. But if you have a rural home in a windy area, ideally up a hill, then it could be perfect for you. Wind works particularly well in combination with solar as the weather usually favours one or the other.

renewable energy wind

Micro win turbine on Baden Powell Lodge, generating up to 1.25 kW (CC Peter Facey)


Like wind, hydro power is a powerful technology for large scale generation based on a kinetic turbine, but is rare for domestic scale as you need a stream or river. A lake can also work, if there’s two sections at different heights for the water to flow down. A small hydro system would work well for a rural water-side home.

Heat pumps

Ground, air or water heat pumps extract thermal energy from outside - even in temperatures as low as -15C - and use it for your central heating and/or hot water system. Ground source heat pumps need a large area to dig a trench and bury a coil system underground, so only work if you have a large garden. Alternatively, you can dig a deep vertical borehole, which is compact but expensive. Air source heat pumps are compact and more affordable, but they’re less efficient and the system sits on the exterior of your house which can look unsightly. Water source heat pumps are less common because you obviously need a body of water beside your property. All heat pumps produce low-grade heat, so to be effective you need to have a very energy-efficient home and leave them running all winter.


One of the oldest forms of renewable energy, biomass burns wood logs, pellets or chips to produce warmth and heat water. A stove just heats one room and adds a cosy ambiance, or can be fitted with a back-boiler to provide hot water. Alternatively a full biomass boiler replaces a gas or oil boiler and fires the whole central heating system and hot water. It does emit some emissions, but only the carbon that the trees absorbed while growing - so it’s carbon neutral. Some extra carbon comes from processing and transporting the fuel, but if you source it locally this will be minimal. The main limitation is space: a biomass boiler is reasonably bulky and you also need space to store the fuel close to the boiler and also close to a delivery point. If you have a garage then it could be ideal.

What kind of property do you have?

The main limitation is how much space you have, but your orientation and weather is important too. In some cases planning can be an issue, for example if your property is Listed then planners may only let you have solar panels on the back of the property - which may not be south facing. But none of these renewable technologies - barring wind - should be a problem in conservation areas.

    • Urban terraced townhouse - try solar thermal, solar PV, air source heat pump
    • Suburban semi-detached with large garden - try biomass, ground source heat pump
    • Detached rural farmhouse - try solar, wind, hydro

Further reading

This post is just an introduction to help you discover what kind of options you have. To make the final decision and choose a specific product you’ll need to do a lot more research. (Or, if this is part of a larger build or re-design project, you can always get us to specify for you). There’s also the financials to dive in to: there are schemes that pay you for producing clean energy - the Feed In Tariff (FIT) and Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) - but they’re not eligible for every technology. Here’s some resources to take your planning to the next stage.


What renewable tech do you think would suit you best? Tweet us your thoughts at @KoruArchitects!

Or read our Zero Carbon Home case-study to discover how our director Mark’s house generates more than enough power, exporting a surplus to the grid and producing a net income. Just sign up to our monthly Eco-Design Newsletter to get the case-study report.

17 November 2016

Make your home uniquely sustainable with upcycling: 5 examples


After. Image credit: ChopValue

Why should wine bottles be thrown in landfill, or even collected for recycling, when they could be made into a chandelier?

Why throw out old car tyres when they could enjoy a new life as garden planters?

Why let the council collect your used tin cans when your kids can make them into decorated pen-pots?

If you’ve ever embarked on a craft project using “waste” or unwanted materials, you’ve already had some experience with upcycling.

What is upcycling?

Upcycling is a new name for an old idea. It basically means transforming an unwanted item into something different and better, something with added value. It contrasts with recycling, which breaks down the item into raw material and then that material is used to make something else – theoretically the same kind of product, e.g. a glass bottle would be melted down and the raw glass made into a new bottle.

However in practice some recycling could be better described as ‘downcycling’ as in many cases the raw material is actually used in a lower-grade application, such as aggregate for road construction. Recycling saves energy and materials and cuts waste and pollution – so it’s always preferable over landfill or incineration.

But if a product can be upcycled it’s even more sustainable as it needs only a fraction of the energy, and the end result is of more economic and aesthetic value as well. Although essentially a traditional common-sense practice that people (especially less wealthy people) have done around the world for all of human history, upcycling is currently undergoing a resurgence in the UK and US. Crafty bloggers, bespoke artisans and inventive start-ups are leading this contemporary trend. It appears to be inspired by creativity, sustainability, “voluntary simplicity” and money-saving.

The experts over at Hipcycle say simply:

“Upcycling is the process of converting old or discarded materials into something useful and often beautiful”.

Why upcycling matters today: climate change and dwindling resources

It might be an old idea, but upcycling has a critical significance in the 21st century. 2016 has been the hottest year on record - again. Recently each passing year has been the hottest year since records began – a reminder that climate change is continuing unabated, with over 1C of warming already locked in while emissions continue to rise.

The global Paris Agreement compels governments transition to a net-zero carbon economy so we can stay below the dreaded 2C of warming – or even higher. As well as the climate challenge, continued economic growth, growth in consumption and rising population levels are all putting unprecedented strain on the planet’s resources.

Finite resources like minerals and metals will get scarcer, more expensive, and ultimately new sources will run out at some point. Renewable resources are being used way faster than they can be replenished. All of this means from now on we’ll need to become far smarter about how we use resources.

Another sustainability buzzword at the moment is 'circular economy' – an economic system where materials are kept in circulation in natural biological cycles or industrial-technical cycles, and waste is designed out. Upcycling is a key part of the wider circular economy model. Upcycling holds opportunities for sustainable economic development and green small businesses, and is also a fun activity for crafty individuals and families. With enough creativity, you can make some amazing things for your home, in whatever style suits your personal taste, with whatever you have lying around.

5 impressive examples of trash-to-treasure upcycling transformations

1. Paint stirring sticks into a mirror – Decorating Cents

This blogger collected free paint stirrers from a department store, covered them with a wood stain and used them to make a simple small round mirror into a striking decorative mirror.

Before and after. Image credit: Decorating Cents

Before and after. Image credit: Decorating Cents

2. Apple crates into cubby shelves – Theas’s Mania

Another simple yet ingenious creation if you like eclectic style - this blogger painted old apple crates and attached them to the wall to make colourful cubby shelves for easily storing boots and shoes by the door.


After. Image credit: Thea's Mania

3. CDs into bird-bath and garden ornament – Me and my DIY

This project by a DIY blogger is a particularly skilled execution of a well-known concept: turning old unwanted discs into a mosaic. In this case it's to decorate a bird-bath and eye-catching garden ornament.


Before and after. Image credit: Me and My DIY

4.  Disposable chopsticks into shelves and tiles  – ChopValue

This new start-up company noticed the enormous volume of disposable chopsticks thrown away - up to 100,000 a day just in their native Vancouver – and were inspired to put them to use. They transform the used bamboo chopsticks into beautiful products such as this collection of shelves and wall tiles.


After. Image credit: ChopValue

5. Old secondhand cabinet into stylish kitchen island – Sawdust to Stitches

Finally, this project is also by a creative blogger, who made an old unloved cabinet they bought for $5 at a junk sale into a kitchen island boasting beauty and utility. She posted a breakdown of how she made it, but you'll need some fairly advanced DIY skills to follow her lead.


Before and after. Image credit: Sawdust to Stitches

What’s your personal favourite upcycling project? Tweet us a picture to @KoruArchitects.

Want more eco-design tips, news and inspiration like this? Subscribe to our newsletter here. You'll also get our Zero-Carbon Home case-study and our Built to Learn: How to Boost Student Engagement, Achievement and Wellbeing report.

14 October 2016

Eco Tech Summit + PEA Awards: In Conversation with James Dean

eco tech summit

The panel debate at the Eco tech Summit

What's the future of the UK's green economy?

The Eco Tech Summit was an action-packed day conference exploring that pivotal question on 7th October 2016, followed by the PEA Awards in the evening. Koru Architects marketing officer Tegan Tallullah was very pleased to attend both events, which were held at the new i360 on Brighton seafront.

The Eco Tech Summit, organised by the Eco Technology Show, started with a series of short talks by Mark Kenber from Mongoose Energy, Tim Foxon from Sussex University, Abigail Dombey from University of Brighton, Patrick Allcorn from the government BEIS department and Jerry Hamilton from Tesla Powerwall. Tegan then attended a workshop on telling your brand story by Guy Pattison of Long Run Works, which was followed by a panel debate on the future of green energy and the green economy. Ben Earl from Southern Water, Caroline Lucas MP, Tim Foxon from Sussex University and Ian Ellerington from BEIS were on the panel. The day finished with a fantastic 'speed networking session' next door.

Tegan was invited to the prestigious PEA Awards ceremony by James Dean, CEO and founder of Circuitree, an innovative local start-up that had been nominated in three categories.

The PEA Awards (People, Environment, Achievement) is the leading sustainability awards scheme in the UK, having been celebrating green trailblazers 6 years.

The evening included a ride on the i360, vegan tapas, musical performances and of course the exciting awards ceremony itself.

PEA Awards

Tegan with James Dean at the PEA Awards

Circuitree is a "clean energy generation, capture and storage specialist". To help people use their solar power at night and become energy independent, they make intelligent controls to manage and automate energy flows, always prioritising the cheapest, cleanest source of power. The smart web enabled control system is paired with innovative non-toxic batteries based on saltwater chemistry.

James Dean / Circuitree was nominated in the Resources, Technology and Energy categories and was thrilled to win the Technology award. Tegan chatted to him about what the experience meant to him, and where his business was going next.

Tegan: Congratulations! Can you tell me about what this award means to you?

James: Our team has worked tremendously hard this year, as a young company with limited resource it's not always easy to get your message out there and on more than one occasion Circuitree staff have had to go that extra mile to achieve our goals, so it's fantastic when that hard work and comittment is recognised. Not to mention all the fantastic people we met on the night!

Tegan: So what's the next steps for Circuitree?

James: Having sucessfully completed our R&D and with our product now available, we are talking with a good number of homes and businesses about how we can deliver clean energy round the clock, and the response has been fantastic! With this in mind we will be opening our seed round in the coming weeks and hope to gain the investment required to accelerate our growth, and more importantly deliver real and practical solutions to the problems around energy and climate change that we face as a species. 

James Dean of Circuitree winning the PEA Awards Technology category

James Dean of Circuitree winning the PEA Awards Technology category


Both the Eco Tech Summit and the PEA Awards were hugely informative and inspiring and we look forward to attending both again next year.

Were you there? Tweet to @KoruArchitects using the #ecotechsummit and #PEAawards hashtags to tell us about your experience!

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