Miracles by Design – The eco-homes that pay their own mortgages

31 May 2021  |  by Cllr James Meek

ECO homes in Newhaven.

Last Thursday Gemma and I went with Dinah Morgan from Lewes Climate Hub to see the new ECO development in the heart of Newhaven. This comprises thirteen flats in two buildings in North Lane, beside where the buses pull off the one-way system opposite Denton Island.

Miracles by Design

This development is the brainchild of Humayun Khan, a property developer who used to work in London until he ‘lost his shirt’ in the crash of 2008. Stepping back because of that and taking stock of the world situation, he came to the understanding that things had to change. Because if they didn’t, Climate Change was going to change them irrevocably for us. Researching the models that the property business is founded on he came to the conclusion that what he’d been doing for the previous few decades was immoral and a bankrupt way of providing homes for people – bankrupting for the ordinary person that is.

So he decided that it was his moral duty to develop a way of providing homes for ordinary people that could be affordable and, most importantly, help to save the planet. How would he do this? By developing  a build system that would have ECO credentials way in advance of anything being built so far and include a method of subsidising the cost of the mortgage by providing an income stream. Sounds too good to be true? Well, this is a clever man!

The primary material used in the buildings is wood; wooden beams in a traditional timber framework which is filled with wood fibre insulation and faced with dense wood fibreboard. That’s one heck of a lot of carbon sequestered into the fabric of the building. The facing boards on the outside are simply rendered and painted. All cement is Cemex, which is 70% recycled and the other 30% is offset by tree planting, therefore carbon neutral.

Humayun has set himself the highest ECO standards for his flats, and as he showed us around describing the innovations he had come up with, he often commented that some things still fell short of those high standards, but he is still working on these ideas. He showed us the central heating system – Infrared Thermal Mass Induction – a quarter the price of an air-source heat pump, runs off electricity, no moving parts, just a panel on the ceiling which emits infrared radiation (like you get from the sun) which heats the solid surfaces in the room – not the air. No convection heating here, just a warming of the contents of the room which then radiates heat to the occupants.

The rooms have plants growing in troughs under the spacious windows. These are for growing your vegetables year-round, under UV lights, which will save you hundreds of pounds a year in fresh veg; if you’re not inclined to do the gardening yourself, there will be a gardener who will come and tend your inside veg patch for a small yearly fee. But that’s not all! The veggie troughs act as a filter to clean the air in the flat. A ventilation system pumps the air in the flat through the soil of the veggie trough where microbes absorb and break down bacteria and airborne impurities, giving clean air vented out from the other end.

Indoor food growing

There is a grey water harvesting system which pumps the water from your shower or bath directly into a large cistern behind the toilet wall,  ready for flushing. The bathroom and fridge have an integral Ozone spray activated by movement, which kill off bacteria regularly, providing a clean living environment and longer shelf life for foodstuffs in the fridge.

Of course there is a high kilowatt solar array on the roof, which, as your flat is highly insulated, will provide far in excess of your electricity requirements, leaving a lot of energy to sell back to the National Grid. This provides an income to offset your mortgage payments. But the really clever bit is, that this two bedroom flat comes with a studio annexe, accessed through the same front door, but separated by its own internal front door. This studio flat will provide a large income to also offset your mortgage payments, such that Humayun reckons you could pay off your mortgage in about twenty years, but solely financed by the income you derive from savings, rent and payback from the National Grid.

He said he wants these flats to prove that sustainable eco-homes are affordable to anyone living anywhere, not just the wealthy who can afford the new technology to live a better life. At 71, he sees his mission to be creating a template for sustainable living which could solve much of the climate crisis problem whilst also providing a route for everyone to be able to afford a comfortable, subsidised home whilst cutting carbon emissions in one of the highest carbon emitting sectors of the economy.

It’s possible that not all of his claims will stand up, but this is a man at the cutting edge of innovation in living space design, who is continuing to develop ideas even as he is building, to try to make his designs even better and more efficient. His ambition is simply the world, and it sounds like he’s well on the way to making an impression. Apparently he has huge interest from Beijing who think this model could solve their burgeoning housing demand whilst also hitting their carbon reduction targets. Now that’s a large market!

For more information look up   https://miraclesbydesign.co.uk/ . Amazing to have this wonderfully innovative home design right on our doorstep. It filled me with a lot of optimism for the future, something in short supply these days.

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