PLOT 12: The Gem
TREVOR BLACK ARCHITECTS WITH O’BRIEN HOMES LTD
The Gem was one of the houses on display and open to the public for viewing at Scotland’s first
housing Expo, which took place at Milton of Leys, Inverness, in August 2010.
The house was named The Gem as a result of its distinctive diamond shaped gable profile, with its
roof trusses projecting dramatically to support the balconies to the first floor rooms. With its
striking appearance the Gem will make an interesting contribution to the townscape looking down
North Street, and framing the wonderful view over Inverness from the heart of the Expo site.
Trevor Black Architects and O’Brien Homes Ltd have worked closely to develop this two storey, three
bedroom, family home which has been designed to ensure that it is practicable and affordable while
achieving exemplary standards of architectural design.
The simple building profile and layout allows all the space to be maximised and used efficiently to
create a house with rooms that feel spacious, bright and airy. It has been sensitively designed as a
passive solar house which means light bright airy internal spaces, enhancing the quality of the internal
A key aim of the Expo is to create a community with a low carbon footprint through various carbon
reducing initiatives. By providing a home office area, The Gem hopes to encourage and enable
people to work from home and reduce daily commutes to the workplace. The ground floor area, as
you enter the property, is designed to accommodate the home office. Being situated on the ground
floor of the main house allows the home office to be closely integrated within the house, making it
more energy efficient and allowing flexibility so that the office can be used as a fourth bedroom, if
preferred. To accommodate the home office into the house, the living, dining and kitchen areas are
located on the first floor, which allows them to benefit from the spectacular views over Inverness to
the Beauly Firth and the mountains beyond. The first floor rooms have a ceiling open to the rafter line
with lots of south facing roof lights, making the rooms feel very spacious and bright.
The house is highly energy efficient, with both roof walls and floors insulated to a standard
approximately 60% higher than the current onerous requirements of the Building Regulations.
Windows and doors have been triple glazed to achieve similar standards. Considerable care was
taken in the detail design to ensure that the house is well draught proofed, which together with well
controlled ventilation allows the house to achieve further energy efficiency improvements.
Designed to have as little impact on the environment as possible and to embrace sound sustainable
building principles, the house has as low a carbon footprint as possible, both in its construction and
throughout its lifetime.
A Terra Air Source heat pump system, designed by Invisible Heating Systems, provides the main
heating. This heat pump produces around 4 times as much energy as it uses to heat the house and is
supplemented with a wood burning stove which can use renewable local energy supplies. The house
also has generous sized solar panels and a large hot water buffer storage tank, so that for much of
the year the solar heating will provide the majority of the hot water and space heating requirements.
All the energy saving features will ensure the house is easy and economical to heat. The solar heating
measures and the high insulation should considerably reduce the number of months in the year when
heating is needed. Even in the winter months very little heating will be required, so the heating bills
and carbon emissions will be minimised throughout the life of the house. The house has already
received a preliminary eco home assessment, which indicated that the house would achieve an
Designed on passive solar heating principles, all the main rooms face south to a secluded garden
area and a landscaped park area beyond, with generous sized glazed doors or windows to benefit
from free heat gain from the sun. The internal partitions and floors are masonry to help store any heat
gains and spread the benefit over 24 hours.
Each of the first floor rooms have small balconies to allow the rooms to be opened up to the
landscape when the weather permits. These balconies are supported on projecting roof trusses which
together give the house its distinctive appearance. The garden is being designed with input from
landscape designers on an edible theme with several decorative and productive fruit trees and
bushes and herb beds.
The house has a timber frame structure, which is commonly used in the Highlands, however the
incorporation of an innovative double stud and rafter arrangement allows much higher insulation
standards to be achieved. The building makes extensive use of timber both for its structure and
finishes. As far as possible these timbers have been sourced using local Forest Stewardship Council
certified sources. Natural, home produced slates will provide a long low maintenance, and reusable
The house will be open to the public for viewing at Scotland’s Housing Expo which will take place at
Milton of Leys, Inverness, throughout August. The Expo will provide a vision for the next generation of
Scottish housing and is based on an established model found in Finland and mainland Europe. It is
set to put Scotland firmly on the map as an exemplar of sustainable living.
The Expo houses and their contents will form a platform for showcasing the wealth of Highland and
Scottish design talent, including interior and product design. The initiative also provides a ‘test bed’ for
construction and technological innovation, which will inform Scottish house building in the future. The
houses will inspire developers to learn new skills and source fresh ideas to incorporate into future
designs, while demonstrating how new building standards can be met on energy efficiency and
PLOT 12: The Gem