Radio 4’s ‘Open Country’ programme visited Balsall Heath this week. Presenter Adrian Goldberg dropped into the Zero-Carbon House to meet Jo Hindley and Jon Christopher – proud owners and designers. (The programme went out at 6 a.m. Sunday – so for those who may have missed it – you can catch it on the Radio 4 website.) Aside from being slightly annoying about finding such a radical home ‘in Balsall Heath of all places’, Goldberg was much impressed with its features. Overall, the most amazing thing is that the original two up, two down terraced house was extended to twice its size by Jon and Jo, but the running costs are now only 3% of the four room house. This is down to all sorts of energy-saving and energy-producing measures, including solar panels and use of special insulating material throughout.
A fascinating aspect of the house is that the floors are made of red clay, dug out of the foundation area of the extension. This has been baked into a hard stone, and is a pretty unique type of recycling. (The Local History Society points out that the red clay which abounded on the west side of Balsall Heath, was highly valued as a building material in the nineteenth century, and sales advertisements mentioned the presence of this asset when land or properties were sold. A local builder, William Charley, made a lot of money buying what is now the site of Joseph Chamberlain College, with rich deposits of red clay.. He turned the clay into bricks in his own brickworks and built the Belgrave Hotel plus 55 cottages and 8 shops on the site. Nice work back in the 1870’s, but if you want to know more, you’ll have to ask the History Society…Ed) Balsall Heath’s most famous house is special not just because of its incredibly smart conservation of energy, but because it is a Victorian terrraced house of the kind that our neighbourhood has hundreds and hundreds – and proves that you don’t have to have a fancy new build to reach what Goldberg described as ”Birmingham’s most futuristic house.’ The front of the house retains the Victorian appearance – the back, as can be seen in the photo, looks vigorously forward.