Well, they look kind of ordinary. And that was the plan. We didn't want to build something with lots of eco bells and whistles, or that looked like it subscribed to the latest architectural fad. We wanted to build good-quality homes that suited the locality; that were perfect for Swindon.
We've recreated that famous British housing type, the terrace. We've updated it, and made it contemporary. The open plan ground floors are flexible, spacious and light - and we've raised the ceiling height so that every living room has a view of the sky. There are nods to the local area: the proportions echo the nearby Victorian railway cottages; and the colours - each house is a different pastel shade - reflect the facades of the houses in the neighbouring streets. And whilst we've worked hard to make every penny count, we've built to the budget any housebuilder would spend.
We wanted the buildings themselves to do the hard work. So rather than attaching fancy eco wizardry, we've gone back to basics and explored the best and most sustainable materials to build with. Our houses are made from Hemcrete, a relatively new material that's made from the woody bit of the hemp plant for the walls. No, you can't roll it in a Rizla, before you ask...
Hemcrete is brilliant. It's grown locally, and keeps your house super warm in winter as it retains heat. And to make sure it doesn't get too hot in summer, those funny chimneys at the top of each house aren't chimneys at all but something called cowls, essentially air vents. You can open them up, and heat is pulled up through the centre of the house via the staircase (called stack ventilation, taking advantage of the fact that heat rises naturally) and out the top. We've used cork flooring inside, a beautiful, durable NATURAL product that absorbs sound, provides thermal insulation, and is warm and comfortable under foot. Since it's resistant to bacteria and fungus, and doesn't absorb dust, it's ideal for people who suffer from allergies or asthma. And you can use it in the home without having to cut down any trees - cork can be harvested from the same tree for a period of around two hundred years. Oh yes, and we've used low VOC paints to limit exposure to nasty chemicals, and natural wool fibre carpets in the bedrooms.
We've used triple glazing, and invested in heating systems called air-source heat pumps. These replace your traditional gas boiler extracting heat from the outside air and pumping it to underfloor heating downstairs, or radiators upstairs - it works on the same principle as a fridge, except that a fridge extracts hot air from the inside instead. And because our houses are airtight, meaning we've sealed up all those nooks and crannies, we've installed a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery (MVHR) system to ensure fresh air is pumped into the house everyday. It sits in the loft, and while it delivers fresh air it also captures and reuses heat from the home, making sure nothing goes to waste.
We harvest rainwater from the roofs of every house - and even use some to flush the toilets. Most of it goes into water butts in every garden or central tanks under the village green for watering communal gardens and plants.
What's a shimmy? It's our new invention! A simple touchscreen panel that's the size of a small laptop screen and sits inside every home. It's a virtual noticeboard. You can leave messages for the entire community there, for example if you want to borrow some garden tools, you need someone to babysit, or you want to tell the neighbours about the Saturday vegetable market that locals have already started. You can also access live bus timetable information so you're not waiting in the cold, or book a car from the on-site car club. And you can even see how much electricity you're using. Watch how the figures increase when you put the kettle on!