Award Winning Energy Efficient Family Home

ARCHICAD users John McCall Architects are a Liverpool-based architectural practice currently celebrating their 25th Anniversary. Designing all forms of  energy efficient housing for sale or letting, along with commercial and community architecture, focused on the aspirations of clients, users, and residents. They believe that sustainability should be central to every proposal, this project is a prime example of this belief.

Energy Efficient

Energy Efficient Home

When Colin Usher and his family wanted to build an affordable, energy efficient home, they didn’t have to look far for a designer. Mr Usher is a director and one of the founders of John McCall Architects, a firm with a proven track record on sustainable building design. Mr Usher and the architects were able to design a two storey, four-bedroom home in West Kirby, England for a price of £240,000. Slightly higher than the UK average for a build of that size due to its specifications and energy saving amenities, however its energy saving design which includes solar panels and an air-to-water air source heat pump (ASHP) decreases their annual energy bills dramatically.

The Award Winning Usher House

We would like to congratulate the firm as the Usher House recently won the Domestic New Build category of the Buildings and Energy Efficiency Awards. Upon receiving the award, homeowner Colin Usher said,

“We are delighted to have won this award because it proves eco homes don’t have to be over expensive or need to be conspicuously unconventional in appearance.”


Building Envelope

The house’s shell consists of 150mm (6”) concrete blocks, giving a maintenance-free exterior and a significant thermal mass. Interior walls made of 100mm (4”) concrete coupled with 200mm concrete floors add to the thermal mass, which helps retain heat in the winter and curtail solar warming in the summer. Windows and doors using triple-glazed glass panels help to minimize heat loss. Turning off the heat in the winter results in an indoor temperature drop of only one degree Celsius per day.

The building is so air-tight that fans are needed to bring in fresh air. The mechanical ventilation system includes a heat exchanger to extract heat from the exiting air and transfer it to the incoming air.



An air-to-water air source heat pump (ASHP) delivers both space heating and hot water. The heat pump draws heat from the outdoors, brings it inside, and heats water in the underfloor pipes. The ASHP also heats water in a storage tank, serving all the hot water needs of the household.

In the summer, the ASHP can work in reverse, transferring indoor heat to the outside – a system better known as central air conditioning. However, this is rarely needed, because the house was designed to facilitate cooling by natural convection. The lower story ceilings are 3 meters high, allowing heat to rise and be absorbed by the concrete floor above. The staircase provides a chimney effect, pulling hot air directly upstairs, where it can be vented outside through a pair of roof windows. In the summer of 2014, with no air conditioning used, the indoor temperature never rose above 22ºC downstairs and 24ºC upstairs.

Designed using Passivhaus concepts, the Usher house actually exceeds Passivhaus performance standards by a factor of four.


LLeLight1-600x600Solar Power and Electrical Efficiency

All of the energy used by the house comes from electricity, so it seems natural to generate as much as possible on-site. A grid-tied solar array consisting of eighteen photovoltaic panels is integrated into the south-facing roof, delivering more than 3300 kWh of electricity every year. The integrated roof panels were chosen for ease of maintenance as well as aesthetics.

All appliances meet the highest standards for energy efficiency. Daylighting provides enough natural illumination that nobody needs to flip a light switch until nightfall; of course, the electric bulbs are energy efficient LEDs.

Building Information Modelling

A BIM workflow was used throughout the design process, allowing John McCall Architects to model and simulate all aspects of the building’s performance. EcoDesigner STAR’s advanced BEM export interfaces (such as gbXML and PHPP) allow full collaboration workflow with building energy consultants.

The house has now been occupied for 2 years and the energy cost for heating, lighting, hot water and cooking was less than £15 per year for this period. A similar house designed to meet normal building regulations would use £2500 worth of energy each year.