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June 13th, 2024

Building A SIP House With ECSUS Design – Our Experience

“…building a SIP house was quicker and easier than we could ever have imagined”

“…absolutely recommend… added value and experience”

“…runs incredibly smoothly”

ECSUS Design client Robin Kellett-Navellou describes his family’s experience engaging and building a SIP house with us, in a guest blog.

Our experience building a SIP house

My wife Maayan and I like a challenge. In the first 9 years of our relationship we successively moved into, renovated and sold on three properties in Central Bristol. With the Covid lockdowns our horizons were forcibly narrowed to our then home – but that didn’t stop us dreaming.

We’d both envisaged moving to France at some point – Maayan because she was born there, and me because I love the mountains and the vistas that only the Alps can provide.

The idea

Initially we started searching for (another) renovation project. We must have looked online at around 300 elderly chalets, some out of our price budget, and done countless calculations as to what getting them up to an acceptable modern standard might be. I tried to figure out how the three of us plus the cat would fit into some of these places, and increasingly we started to have a radical thought:

“Why are we proposing to spend precious time and money to again fix someone else’s taste/mistakes/gross structural errors? Why don’t we build our own home from scratch? And then we can make it right the first time.”

Choosing ECSUS Design

Around that point, I read a blog (like you’re doing now in fact) on Alpine Property’s website about a revolutionary company building super-eco houses quickly and with very little waste.

They were called ECSUS Design and they had some super-cool time-lapse videos of building a SIP house using pre-fabricated Structural Insulated Panels which would slot into place, well, like Lego.

Constructing a SIP house

You should watch some of them. I found them mesmerising, as did Maayan (until I made her watch them 47 times over haha!). The company appeared to be fronted by this no-nonsense guy called Steve Downs who often appeared in the company videos. But before we contacted him we started searching for a suitable piece of ‘constructible’ land – not an easy task when we’d never even set foot before in the area that we were now thinking we could call our future home. Fortunately when we sent Steve a link to our plot he was happy to go and check it out in person and give us his expert opinion. We were sat on a rainy campsite in our camper van, being buffeted by an Atlantic Gale, when we received a message from Steve giving the thumbs up to our sunny little piece of Alpine pasture. We were fortunate to find a reasonably-priced plot in walking distance to Morzine and Montriond centres and placing all our trust in Steve, based only on his personable video diaries, we immediately put in an offer which was accepted.

A few weeks after first contacting ECSUS and having our offer accepted, we arrived in the pretty Alpine village of Montriond (just outside Morzine) and clapped eyes on our plot of land for the first time. Phew, we were relieved to find it looked perfect. As did the village; we immediately felt at home and impatient to start building a SIP house!

But there was no time to linger; we had two important appointments to keep. The first was with the Notaire in the industrial town of Sallanches to finalise the land purchase paperwork. And the other, about which we were far more excited, was with our architect over in Chamonix.

ECSUS has partnerships with architects based in the different towns they build in, who specialise in SIP design, and they introduced us to Alpine Eco. We met with the owner, Robbie, and started the iterative process of house design.

Design and planning

The initial design was of course quite generic but for good reason; it helped us rapidly go through a number of drafts to meet our requirements which included a large number of bedrooms with ensuite bathrooms for visiting family plus an open-plan living and dining area. Each time we changed things it felt – and indeed was – as if we were really putting our stamp on the house.

Planning a SIP house

ECSUS was an active party during the design process, making suggestions and reviewing the designs for practicality and finding cost efficiencies. One of the great ideas they came up with, which we used, was to design in a self-contained flat in the basement which could be used flexibly for either ourselves or for paying guests. This is a real advantage of our house now, and we wouldn’t have thought of that.

After a couple of months the design was set and we submitted our planning application to the local Mairie, all the while packing up our home in Bristol ahead of our move to France, initially into a rental while our new home was built. Fast forward another couple of months, our son was at school in Montriond and making friends, we were doing the same and even our cat had flown in and was settling down. And then we got the thumbs up from the planners. Quick as a flash ECSUS got the planning board up on site and we waited for the spring melt for the work to start. It was March before the diggers could get onto site to start the process of the hard landscaping and the concrete base level for the 4-storey house.

Construction commences

Once an ECSUS build gets underway, things start to happen thick and fast. A shiny new concrete basement arose from the piles of earth and rocks on our site and pretty soon we were climbing the stairs, looking in wonder at the open space where our kitchen, dining room and lounge would be.

The Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) arrived soon after on a flat-bed truck and, voila! The building shot up around us – there’s a startling video here which shows how lightning fast the process is SIP Chalet Construction Timelapse (youtube.com)

Building a SIP house

Moving from the abstract plans on paper to seeing the space in real life and feeling how we were going to live in it helped tremendously when it came to the second and third fixes and we were grateful to have the flexibility to tweak ideas and designs due to the ECSUS Project Management model. Meantime the eco triple-glazed windows had arrived, the tiles went on the roof and before we knew it, our future home was fully watertight!

Fitting out and moving in

Choices come thick and fast by this stage, even though we’d done tonnes of groundwork by siting the plug sockets for example and working with the team to design the built-in furniture, including wardrobes and our son’s bed. At this point it’s great to be able to make a few changes, particularly with electrical outlets, to make sure your dream chalet can work really well for you. It’s really important to really think about your daily rhythms and what’s most convenient – I like to think we got almost all of our choices right, in the end (and we relied a lot on the ECSUS team for a professional view).

Wiring followed plumbing, with insulation, plasterboard and plastering. At times the house was crawling with tradespeople – 5, 10, I think I counted 15 one day. But it runs incredibly smoothly and as the kitchen went in, we were suddenly aware that a building site was damn-near a family home.

Living in a SIP house

Living with it

We moved in about 11 months after the first digger arrived on site. What’s really struck us in the year since we closed the front door behind us is that the house works incredibly well. We’ve just been through a Morzine Winter where temperatures frequently dropped below -10c but we’ve never been cold and it was only for reasons of cosiness that we ever lit the wood burning stove and we never actually needed to. There are no draughts at all and the house keeps us warm in Winter and cooler in Summer (there’s a 50c+ temperature range here in the Alps). Having experienced it, I would now find it really tough to live in anything but a SIP house.

The ECSUS service continues after you move in too – they make sure any snags are promptly addressed promptly and with no fuss.

So that’s our housebuilding journey. We’d absolutely recommend doing your own Grand Design and building a SIP house here in Haute-Savoie and with the added value and experience that ECSUS bring to the project. The progress from dream to reality has been quicker and easier than we could ever have imagined.

Living in a SIP house

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