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Living Sustainable Design, Professionally and Personally

"Sustainable design is definitely becoming more mainstream." So says John Christophers, an associate at Associated Architects, and one of the leading exponents of low energy architecture. His portfolio includes a sustainable vicarage, with the kudos of being the first scheme in England to be certified as both Passivhaus and zero carbon under level 6 of the Code for Sustainable Homes. It also includes Cobtun House, Worcester, which was built using natural materials to minimise its environmental impact, and which won a RIBA Sustainability Award.

Christophers lives sustainable design – literally. He has transformed his own end-of-terrace house into a groundbreaking, carbon neutral family home, which has the cachet of being the first retrofit house in the UK built to Code Level 6 standards.

The home's metamorphosis involved the conversion of the existing two-bedroom, redbrick, semi-detached Victorian house with the addition of a modern extension on the adjacent plot. The extension added two bedrooms to the family home and enabled the interior of the existing home to be reconfigured.

While the front elevation of the original Victorian building remains largely unaltered, the rear of the house has been given a modern appearance following the addition of a wall of unfired clay blocks punctuated with large areas of glazing. The extension is finished with the StoTherm Classic K Lambdatherm system, which includes Neopor graphite-enhanced expandable polystyrene insulation with a render finish.

The Birmingham-based designer says that the role of architect is more demanding on a low energy scheme. "One needs a holistic understanding of what you're trying to achieve to lead the team across all disciplines in order to balance the demands of water against energy use against the way the building is going to be used," he says.

The experience of designing his home influenced the design of the eco-vicarages. "I was able to bring some of the lessons I learned to the vicarages project, such as the use of thermal mass with high levels of external insulation," he explains.

Christophers has succeeded in changing the sustainable potential of vicarages, much as he did with the energy efficient refurbishment of his own Victorian home. With 30% of UK energy used in homes, and with 90% of existing homes still expected to be in use beyond 2050, there are plenty more projects still in need of Christophers' sustainable talents.