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The Sunday Times, 29 January 2012

Aesthetics need not go out the window when it comes to building an eco-friendly house, finds Niall Toner.

Aesthetics need not go out the window when it comes to building an eco-friendly house, finds Niall Toner.

            Some of us triple-glaze over the very mention of energy-efficient homes, but its not all about pellet boilers, insulation, foil covered machine rooms and solar panels.  For the owners of many of Ireland’s growing number of A-rated dwellings, attaining the highest official energy rating is as much about appearance as saving the planet.

            Take Oaklodge, a recently completed new home near Goatstown in the south Dublin suburbs, designed by Aughey O’Flaherty Architects.  Here the owners of the house took the opportunity to make a bold design statement, as well as making an earnest effort to reduce their use of carbon based fuels.        

            The three-bedroom detached home blends traditional brickwork with contemporary design and high-tech, off site building techniques.  The house looks as though it was built to win architectural awards rather than to save the planet, and the clients main concerns according to the designer, were that it would be “energy efficient and cheap to run” as well as making the best of the site.

            Rather than high-tech environmental systems, Oaklodge relies largely on its design and westerly orientation for its A3 building energy rating (BER) status.  It benefits from solar gain and has super-insulated walls and triple glazing, as well as discreet solar tubes on the roof.

            A timber-frame construction with an independent red brick skin, much of the structure was bench built and assembled onsite, a bit like a flat-pack.

            It is just one of 1,300 houses and apartments in the county  A3, A2 or A1 BERs. The majority of these are new homes, with fewer than 100 retro-fit houses attaining such a rating, and only one achieving A1 status, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland, the National Energy Agency.