Dwell Hunting: Sedum ‘in-the-land’ house knows the coziness of the ground

Dwell Hunting: Sedum ‘in-the-land’ house knows the coziness of the ground

This house features:

• Under-floor heating

• Walk-able glass panels

• Whole house ventilation system

• Heat recovery system

• Rain water harvesting

• No drainpipes

Sedum house is slated to be the house of the future. It is set in steep sand hill inland in North Norfloak Coast. The earth hides deep with in itself the bedrooms of the house. Having ground level windows, Tom and Anna Ground literally peep through the grass and flowers for a view on the outside world. The sun is the main point around which the house was designed. The wooden hood covers the main living rooms on the first floor. The hood keeps the heat off the glass windows in summers, but in winters the house is not devoid of any sunlight. The base of the house is built with flints. The four bedrooms of the house are buried in the tunnel and the natural cover of the ground provides it insulation.

The house has two terraces, one for the morning sun and one for the evening sun. Tom has finely mingled the outdoors and indoors by connecting the two terraces with the living space by sliding glass doors. The roof of the house is covered with sedum, which is a living succulent plant. There are no drainpipes; instead there are two anchor chains that sprint from the roof. House is made of insulated shuttering and also integrates a geothermal heat pump. This pump is beneath the lawn and takes in warmth from the ground to initiate under-floor heating.

There is wood burner that cleverly faces two different rooms and glass panely, on which you can walk fearlessly. The whole house ventilation system an rain water harvesting is also cleverly integrated in the house. This house is different not only due to its location, but also because it has outstanding Eco features. This is the reason that this house is featuring in Heritage Open Days during September 2022 as a part of twelve outstanding Eco houses.

Tom and Anna Ground live in a house of the future. Sedum House is a trailblazer, set in a steep sand hill inland from the wide skies of the North Norfolk coast. The bedrooms are hidden deep inside the earth, with ground-level windows that give them a hedgehog’s view of the outside world, peeping through wild grasses, thistles, lupins and gorse.

It was designed around the sun, with the main living rooms raised on the first floor under a curved wooden hood like the peak of a baseball cap. “It faces south, and in the hottest months of the year the cap keeps the heat off the huge glass windows,” Tom says. “In the winter, when the sun hangs low in the sky, it hits the glass and warms it up lovely.” The base is built with flints, though not in the conventional country cottage manner. “These are in wire cages, like those used to shore up river banks and creeks,” he says.

Tom, who is an architect with C&M Architects in Norwich, took a plot of land in the village of Gimingham. It came with an old planning permission attached but he decided to go wild, bury the house in the dunes with its four bedrooms in an underground tunnel, and make a pioneering example of an eco house. Sheltered in the earth, it is naturally super-insulated, can spread itself across the plot and has a roofline that never rises above the line of the hedgerow. He and Anna, with their three daughters – Martha, 24, Ellie, 22, and Beth, 20 – lived in a caravan while he built it in his spare time over a period of four years.

Outdoor and indoor spaces mingle. Two huge terraces – one for morning sun, one for the evening – connect with sliding glass doors to the living space. “We had a party on New Year’s Eve and opened the terraces and lit the fires. It was wonderful,” Anna says. The roof is covered with sedum (a living succulent plant) which blooms emerald, dark green, red and yellow. Instead of drainpipes, there are two huge anchor chains which run from the roof and coil on to soakaways.

As a result of all this, the Ground family is about to play host to some very nosy strangers. Sedum House is one of 12 outstanding eco houses opening their doors to the public next weekend as part of the Heritage Open Days celebrating the best of British architecture. “When I started building this in 2003 it was difficult to find references and sources for information on green buildings, so I don’t mind giving up a weekend to show and talk to people who want to do it, too,” Tom says. “I’m happy to share it.”

Sedum House is made of insulated shuttering (a kind of double-thickness insulation sandwich with the concrete poured in the middle). “It was easy, and the kids helped,” Tom says. A huge geothermal heat pump beneath the lawn sucks warmth from the ground for underfloor heating. “We don’t need oil or gas, and we spend about £90 a month on electricity for all our space and water heating, lighting, cooking, fridges, televisions, computers and so on.”

There are lots of clever ideas – a woodburner that spins to face two different rooms, glass panels you can walk on, a whole-house ventilation system, a heat-recovery system and rainwater harvesting for the lavatories. Others in Norfolk have been equally adventurous. There is a cottage made from straw bales in Cawston and a historic mill on the River Bure that uses the water to generate electricity. They too will open their doors, encouraged to do so by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) and the Energy Saving Trust.

“We have a massive waiting list for people wanting to see these houses,” says James Frost, director of the CPRE in Norfolk.

“They are hugely popular because many people would like to be more environmentally aware in their homes or build eco houses, and it is hard to find the information. Going to visit a green building, getting a personal tour with the owner, seeing the technologies and asking about how the house works, is an incredible experience.

“The owners themselves enjoy it because this is their passion and they get to spend all weekend talking about their houses. You would think it onerous having hundreds of people coming around, but they absolutely love it,” James says.

Open Door Sessions

Heritage Open Days is organised nationwide by English Heritage. You can see buildings usually shut to the public, from castles to factories, Victorian tunnels to modernist masterpieces, all over the country.

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