hen Robin Charlesworth made video calls during the winter, he’d see his colleagues wrapped up in jumpers and scarves, while he’d be sitting in his kitchen in Colliers Wood in just a t-shirt.
It wasn’t because he had the heating on high — in fact, he didn’t have the heating on at all. No, Robin lives at 95a Robinson Road: a carbon neutral home that he designed and built for his family to live in, classed as one of the country’s most sustainable homes.
Robin rarely turns on the heating, and his house is a balmy 20 degrees year round. His energy bills are about £200 per year — almost 10 times less than the average UK household, following April’s energy price rises.
“It’s very, very quiet. The consistency of temperature is really odd. You can wake up at night when there’s no heating on, and your bedroom will still be 20 degrees. Even if it’s snowing, it’s this lovely temperature. It’s simple — it’s insulation — but it feels like something quite amazing,” says Robin.
Robin, who works for the National Trust, bought 95 Robinson Road in 2019. The Victorian house had a 40-metre-long garden, backing onto the railway, with a shed at the bottom.
The plan was that he, his partner and their children would move into the house while they built a bungalow in the garden. When it was finished, they’d move into the bungalow and sell the house.
“Like lots of people, we had a dream of building our own house. When we saw this one for sale, it felt like a risk we could possibly take, because if it didn’t work out, there was still something in the house,” says Robin.
“We didn’t initially set out to build a carbon neutral house – I’d never heard of carbon neutral homes, actually… Essentially, what you’re doing is building a very low energy home and then generating the energy you need via solar. You’re not taking many resources from the grid, you’re fairly self-sustainable and your bills are obviously very low.”
Carbon neutral is a standard which means that you generate more energy than you use throughout the year. It’s easier said than done: few houses can fit enough solar panels to meet their energy consumption. It would take around 100 solar panels to fuel a normal 30kw boiler, for example, but most houses can only accommodate nine or 10 on the roof.
The solution, in Robin’s case, was to design a low energy home which used minimal amounts of electricity, and then to fit solar panels to cover their lower energy needs.
To avoid heat loss, they installed Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) – “basically big bits of insulation” – in the walls and where they joined the roof. Insulation was also fitted under the floor, while the windows are triple-glazed and the whole building is airtight.
As a result, 95a Robinson Road uses five to six times less energy than the average home.
Robin also wanted to conserve energy in the construction process itself. Therefore, the property is built from timber, rather than concrete, and was manufactured off site to avoid waste and reduce carbon emissions.
“It’s a lot more expensive if you want to build an eco-house. You’re probably looking at a build cost of up to 20 per cent more, because the kit, the detail, the insulation – it all costs a lot more,” says Robin, who estimates that the “green roof” alone cost an additional £15,000.
That said, with a £360 grant for their heat pump, the energy costs at 95a are 11.5 times lower than in the Victorian house at number 95, where the family paid £2,300-a-year in energy bills (before the 54 per cent price increases).
Most energy expenditure comes from hot water, rather than heating. “It’s a massive saving – it’s a totally different way to live.”
It took Robin a year to gain planning permission and a further year to build the property. Inside, there are three bedrooms, two bathrooms, an open-plan kitchen-diner and reception room and a generous storage area.
The house’s light, functional interiors were all designed by Robin, inspired by his Pinterest feed.
“We designed it for us, really. We wanted it to be a family home. We wanted it to be practical, so it has a garage at the front where you can put your bikes, your camping kit and all your stuff like that,” says Robin.
“We wanted to have a big, open, family front living room, because of the things that we need as a family – but that lots of people also like.”
The Charlesworths finally moved into 95a in December 2021. Now, with a new addition to their family, they are selling their beloved eco-home to build more sustainable houses under their new company, Whitebroom.
“We’re selling it, but we’ll be very jealous of the people who live here. We’ll be very sad to leave,” says Robin.
“Actually, we would like to see if we can replicate this – build another one or two [eco-homes] and make it a business, because we’re quite passionate about it ourselves.”
He adds: “It’s exciting – it’s nerve-wracking…I know I built it so I’m always going to say it’s lovely, but it really is a different experience of a house to live in. It’s got this solid, quiet, warm, lovely feeling to it that not many other homes have.”
95a Robinson Road is currently on sale for £850,000 with Kinleigh, Folkard & Hayward.