These photos will hopefully give you a clear picture of exactly what we mean by ‘earth-sheltered house’. This is one of many exciting design features of Sky House Sussex: the lower (or ground) floor of the new house will be built two metres down into the hillside. As visitors arrive at the entrance to the guest house, they will see and feel how the building is nestled down in the landscape, backing up against the dramatic chalk escarpment on their left. We hope this creates a sensation of security and well-being whilst staying with us. By contrast, the view from the guest rooms at the front of the property will be of unencumbered sky over the rooftops of Lewes. ‘Grounded yet elevated’ is how we imagine it will feel staying in this new house. We hope you’ll come and experience it for yourself.

In the photo, you can see from where Joe and Amy are standing that the house will be effectively a single storey high above the existing ground level. But why build like this? There are a number of reasons:

  • To get the best use of the land available
  • Important for the visual impact of the new building: low in surrounding context, mature trees at rear form the skyline
  • Overlooking of adjacent properties is minimised
  • Light pollution is reduced
  • Increased privacy: the sight line from the road will barely skim the roof
  • Benefiting from geothermal heat, passively stored within the walls, to lower household energy consumption
  • For more info: Advantages of partially submerged houses

All well and good. However…the excavation brought with it a giant-sized challenge.  Picture if you will an exploding washing machine churning out gallons of bubbling water and you’re almost on the right track. Once you’ve dug two metres deep into a chalk hill, what on earth do you do with the huge amounts of spoilage? We all know that chalk swells up in size once it’s exhumed….but we had several hundred cubic metres and were completely over-run with the stuff!

To adhere to our green principles for this project, it was important we minimised the transporting of waste and material offsite, thereby reducing energy use and construction traffic. Instead of trucking off site, most of the excavated material was reused in re-modelling further down the slope to create gently curving landscaping (the future garden), adding to the privacy of the new house.

When we asked neighbours if they could help by taking some of the chalk, we were delighted to discover that local community spirit is alive and kicking in Lewes. We were able to use the site of our neighbours’ redundant tennis court, which we later covered in topsoil to return the land to its natural state. But…eek! We still had lots more chalk of which to dispose. Joe came up with the resourceful solution of offering the spoilage to our next door neighbours at Lewes Golf Course and a local farm in Barcombe for use on their roads. Thank goodness for a project manager adept at thinking on his feet! We are also grateful to our neighbours for helping us out with this, the first (no doubt) of many construction challenges.

Do you think it’s desirable, or even possible, to be green and hi-tech on an everyday basis? As the name of our blog implies, the aim of our project is to find greener ways to live and build. Through our build choices, we hope to show readers and visitors to Sky House Sussex that ‘green’ and ‘luxury’ are no longer mutually exclusive.

Here’s a small example of a greener choice we made. We thought it would be fun to capture some of the action on site in speeded-up time-lapses. This one minute video of the diggers excavating the back of the plot was filmed over 5 days using a GoPro camera stationed on a wooden post. But without power from the grid, Joe and Sam had to painstakingly climb to the top of the post every few hours to change the dwindling battery.

Loading endless batteries into the camera is not an environmentally friendly way to film. So now we’ve gone hi-tech to harness nature’s power: the GoPro 6 watt solar power system (see photo below) generates fantastic free energy. What’s not to love? The clever camera whose battery will fully charge in 5.5 hours of direct sun can take photos for an entire week and put itself to sleep in between. The system has multiple USB inputs so can solar-charge everyone’s mobile phones and tablets on site.

This is new age smart technology. It feels great to be able to use solar power for more than just our PV roof panels. Maybe we’ll consider a solar-powered bikini next. You think we’re joking? Check out this article by Business Green on the different ways solar power can used to cut carbon emissions Solar Power: not just for rooftops 

We hope you’ll enjoy watching footage of the build at super-speed from the comfort of your own home. Stay tuned for the next instalment.