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West entrance canopy and south elevation

Conflict On The Build


The local builder undertook all the road, groundworks and footings from October 2001 through to the early spring of 2002 when the joiner took over. By July 2002, the ground floor joists and walls were in place when the surveyor noticed a problem with the grade of timber being used for the joist, which was lower than the one he had specified. There was a standoff when Mike had to tell the joiner to rectify the work at his own cost. This signalled the start of a difficult relationship between the joiner and the surveyor in which Mike had to play the role of referee. Although it was a painful incident, by standing his ground Mike had set a standard for the remainder of the build.


Andrew Yeats had designed the house to be independent   of all services, with water from a borehole and electricity from a 2.5kW wind turbine feeding into a battery bank and an inverter, backed up by a 10KVA diesel generator. The building is designed to utilise passive solar gain: the large south-facing windows transmit energy into the two high- density concrete flanking walls and the 20cm floor slab which sits on 5cm of Styrofoam. This thermal mass provides a heat store that buffers swings in temperature.


Planning permission was granted for the turbine, along with a government grant, no local objections were made, the order was placed, a rock-drill hired and high tensile studding set into the rock to receive the tower base plate. Then Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) objected to the turbine being positioned where it could be seen and suggested placing it lower down by the house - where, of course, there was insufficient wind. Although Mike wanted to fight the suggestion, pragmatically there was so much work involved in the build itself he conceded and the house went on the mains,

Mezzanine gallery around the living room
"Every time I look at that row of poles marching across   the landscape in full view, vastly more visually intrusive than my proposed turbine, I recall my conversation with SNH. When challenged with this fact, their response had been 'we have no jurisdiction over electricity poles'."  The borehole went ahead with Mike employing a water diviner to walk around with bits of bent rod twisting vigorously in his hands. He identified several locations, then held out his hand for the agreed £100 fee. His prediction of good water at 36.5m (120ft) was accurate and the Rochesters now enjoy a supply of over 455 litres (100 gallons) of water per hour, rendered clean and wholesome after passing through filter and ultraviolet light.

Finishing Touches


By November 2002, the building was sealed against the weather. The external walls are Stirling board with fine-sawn Douglas fir cladding which has been treated with Sikkens micro porous finish and then covered with a Tyvek membrane, made from polyethylene fibres. This helps stop air flow through wall cavities and keeps out bulk water and wind-driven rain.

South elevation overlooking the magnificent view

During the school summer holidays in 2003, the Rochesters made a big push to get the house ready for furniture to be brought in during October half term, Pine floors, balustrades, stairs, door linings/stops architraves, door hanging, skirtings and cupboard doors were all completed by Mike. The internal part-glazed doors, with their long stainless steel handles, are a variation on doors spotted in a restaurant in Llangollen. Liming the pine floor, so that it does not turn orange in the sun, is a useful tip passed from a friend who built a home in Norway. From the vast scale of the cathedral ceiling living area to the detail of the Zen water garden, the finished house stands proudly in the Highland landscape, a testament to hard work, patience, obstinacy and sheer persistence.


Build Cost Summary







Internal doors


Spiral stairs






Extra rock removal


Sewerage plant


Fuel tank


Borehole and pump


Mains electric supply










Exterior doors/windows




Chimney stack




Floor tiles


Wall tiles


Gallery balustrade


Lay floorboards


Architraves, skirtings


Total £197,750.
South elevation of double height glazed sun space

The Rochester Eco House Ullapool Scotland

Text from ‘Built It’ Magazine. Article by Kirstie Graham, photos by Nigel Rigden


When Mike Rochester first visited Assynt in the Scottish Highlands as a young man, he was so inspired by the landscape that he pledged to return one day. When Mike and his wife, Margaret, began to make plans for his retirement from his job as a teacher at an independent school in the Midlands, he remembered the pledge.


Apart from Mike wanting to fulfil a dream of living in a house of his own creation, he and Margaret were determined that no one could accuse them of taking housing stock that should go to locals. In the Highlands, there is considerable resentment of absentee landlords and holiday homeowners whose properties lie empty for most of the year.


The Ideal Plot - Apart From The Crofters


Mike's criteria for his plot were fairly strict: a view of the mountains; south facing to allow passive solar gain; accessible to Lochinvertown in all weathers; not overlooked; and a degree of shelter from the worst of the northerly gales, All these were met by a sloping site about 1 km from Assynt.


The landowner was surprisingly amenable and extremely helpful. "The factor [Scottish land estate manager] pointed out that it was no use selling me the plot of land while it had no planning permission," says Mike. "He suggested I approach the planners and he'd hold the parcel of land, then, if planning permission were granted, we could complete the deal," When outline planning permission came through with little delay, it all seemed too good to be true - and indeed it was.

Inside double height passive solar space

A number of crofters had grazing rights across the land. A croft is a small agricultural unit, which usually consists of a small piece of land plus grazing rights in an area of common grazings shared with a number of other crofts.  Mike met with the Clerk to the Grazings (the chief crofter) who had no objection to the planned build. While there were rights to graze sheep and cattle across the land, very few, if any, actually exercised these rights.

The clerk explained how the process worked. The landowner would agree to the sale of the land at a certain figure (£20,000 an acre in Mike's case). One half of this would go to the landowner and the other half would be divided between the crofters who had relinquished their grazing rights. Mike had to agree to allow the landowner access across his road and also to fence the site according to the ground plan submitted at the outset.

Mike then wrote to all the crofters asking them to relinquish their historic grazing rights. Three years passed while Mike tried to coax a positive response but heard nothing, Eventually, on the factor's advice, he went to the Land Court, which is based in Edinburgh and exists to resolve disputes in agriculture and crofting. A small fee and two or three weeks later all the impediments were removed from the land as the crofters didn't respond to the court's letter either, and the Rochesters finally got their land.


Eco-Design In Action

As Mike had been a teacher of design and technology since 1969, he wanted to design their house himself. Having collected magazine clippings, sketches and photographs of likely designs as inspiration, he spent six months making a model which was reasonably close to what they wanted. Then, browsing through Build It, he spotted a similar house, a wooden eco-home designed by architect Andrew Yeats of Eco-Arc.
Mike was impressed by Andrew's approach, which favoured renewable materials from sustainable sources, and arranged a meeting.  "I expected him to be offended by being presented with an amateur's scruffy model," says Mike. In fact, Andrew was glad to have a clear indication of what his clients wanted and produced a set of drawings based on Mike's model, the Rochesters applied for detailed planning permission.
Drainage Issues And A Labour Shortage
As there was no mains drainage, the building needed its own plant, which would treat the sewage, with benign bacteria to produce a liquid run-off. The initial plan was to run 150m of polythene pipe off the site to a vigorous marsh/reed bed already receiving effluent from an old rubbish dump, which discharged its outflow through a culvert into the River Inver and ultimately out to sea.
Guest bedroom with diamond gable window
The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency objected, saying a 12-month study of water levels would be necessary to decide if the marsh ever ran dry, but they were too busy to do one. Eventually, Mike had to approach the adjacent landowner to request permission to create an 80m2 herringbone soakaway off the site on to their nearby grazing  land. Fortunately, they agreed. The cathedral ceilinged post-and-beam design had to be created from lengths of timber cut and fitted on site and finding a builder proved a challenge.
The plot is 160km (100 miles) northwest of the boom town of Inverness, where there is plenty of work for builders. A local builder finally agreed to complete all the site preparation, soil retaining wall, footings, drainage and installing the sewerage plant. Then 30 more builders were approached to do the above- ground joinery.
Eventually, only two from the Inverness area were prepared to tender - and one of those fell out of the running due to injury. Fortunately, the remaining joiner was an excellent craftsman, although he initially distrusted the local builder. Six months of manoeuvring and matchmaking by Mike eventually resulted in an agreement for them to work together. Mike employed a surveyor to check on the progress of the build and report back to them as they were still living 930km (580 miles) away and could only come up to inspect the build in school holidays.
Mezzanine bridge to guest bedroom

Useful Contacts,

Crofters Commission Tel 01463 663 450
Scottish Land Court Tel 0131 225 3595
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