Green build advocate Ben Adam-Smith, founder of House Planning Help, takes the ecological approach.
Ben Adam-Smith is the founder of homebuilding website House Planning Help, which features interviews with experienced self-builders and green build experts. Ben also heads up an online community called The Hub which takes the learning even further with video content showcasing full house builds, courses on different aspects of a build, live training sessions with experts, and workshops!
Ben lives in a village in Hertfordshire with his young family, where he completed his own self-build in 2018, built to Passivhaus standard. Currently researching a small-scale development project, we caught up with Ben to find out where his passion for green building comes from.
Tell us about your journey to becoming a green build advocate.
I worked in radio and television for 15 years before deciding I’d had enough. So I decided to re-evaluate and realised that whatever I did in the future I wanted it to be focused around the environment. The way we live on the planet has to change. Climate change, extinction, pollution and over-population are just some of the issues that are having a profound impact on us all, and this will only become more prevalent. Hence I wanted to use my own personal power to help. As you can’t do everything, I chose to focus on construction (itself responsible for a huge amount of carbon emissions). And as I love buildings it seemed logical to find a need here and provide a solution to a customer. What’s exciting is that taking an ecological approach has big impacts on comfort, health and well-being. So it’s a win win.
Is it possible to be 100% eco-friendly with a build?
It’s hard to get one hundred percent right but easy to make much better choices and get the majority of the way. And I don’t think green building holds us back in any way. You must do your own research and decide what an eco home is for you.
What do you love most about working on self-builds?
I love that there is just so much to learn, and if you take a self-builder on day one and then look at that person again after the project has finished (a few years down the road), they have always come such a long way. Plus their attitude is always so giving; they know the importance of sharing what they’ve learnt with others who are about to start at the beginning. Another aspect I thoroughly enjoy is working with industry professionals. Not everyone can afford the best, but if you can it should make this a much more enjoyable experience.
What are your top tips for someone who is about to start a self-build?
Visit as many houses as possible. We start the journey with a lot of cultural baggage, so go and see a range of houses. Keep an open mind. Invest in the fabric of the building. That’s something you’re not going to be able change easily. If money is tight a budget (or DIY) kitchen could serve you well initially and be upgraded a few years down the line. You can’t scrimp on the fabric and then fix it later! Don’t overstretch yourself. I’ve witnessed others run out of money and it will taint the whole experience. So go a little bit smaller, increase the quality and keep checking the numbers. And one design tip I love (that I first learnt from Sarah Susanka) is to create a house where you use all the space every day. Improve your understanding of space. Architects and builders know almost instinctively how big 5m is. Do you?! I doubt it. So if the size of a specific room is important, make sure you’ve measured up an existing room somewhere. If specific furniture needs to go in, then get the measurements of that too. This will just avoid a tricky situation further down the road.
What has been your career highlight to date?
I love interviewing people (I used to work as a radio presenter) so it’s such a privilege to meet the who’s who of eco-building. And I never get bored of checking out new homes. It’s a joy to be part of a community that’s so willing to share knowledge.