Energy for life

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BROUGHT UP IN PERTH-shire, Graham McLellan returned to Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, where his family is from, in 1983. Initially working in forestry, he moved into the building trade and has since built several houses and carried out a number of renovations on the island.

Always keen to increase the thermal properties of houses, when McLellan built his own place it was the first SIP (structural insulated panel) home on the island. He explains: "It was in 2003, when I was going to build another house for myself, that I thought to use polyurethane as opposed to Rockwool as insulation in the walls and that's how I discovered structural insulated panels. Inch for inch, polyurethane is twice as "warm" as Rockwool.

"Additionally, the inherent strength of the SIPs means you're not limited with traditional roof trusses so you can have features such as cathedral ceilings. By comparison, with a timber frame house you can do without a lot of the internal structure that is required for strength. So, as long as you have imagination, you can do pretty much whatever you want when designing."

The first build took both imagination and time, as sourcing materials wasn't straightforward. But with the internet anything is possible, and as a result, McLellan ended up with a property in a continental style. The structural insulated panels are from Germany, the oak flooring from France and the beams are from Sweden.

With the success of his first SIP house, in 2004 McLellan launched Hebridean Luxury Holidays, utilising his family's croft and croft house. "We renovated the old croft house," he says. "It was a poured concrete construction and therefore very cold and difficult to heat. We added four inches of polyurethane insulation and installed cavity wall insulation in the extension and increased the depth of Rockwool in the attic. By taking these measures, we eliminated the heating problems."

In 2006 he added a further two SIP houses to his portfolio – Iolaire and Metagama. Metagama is synonymous with the fabric of island communities and was the name of the ocean liner on which hundreds of islanders, including McLellan's grandfather, emigrated to North America in 1923. The story of HMS Iolaire is tragic – she was the ship dispatched to help take servicemen home from the mainland after arriving from Europe at the end of the First World War. But she, and they, never made it. The vessel hit rocks within sight of Stornoway harbour, where a large crowd had gathered awaiting her arrival, on New Year's Day, 1919. Over 200 men drowned, ensuring the name Iolaire lives forever in the memories of the islanders.

On a lighter note, the layout for these two properties was designed on the back of a cigarette packet on an evening out at the rugby club. "The structural engineer did his calculations and it was tidied up by AutoCAD (the computer programme]," McLellan remembers.

The most important aspect of the build for him was to get the basics right. "Today people are putting in heat exchangers but they are expensive and they can break down, so I think it makes sense that the first thing you do when you're building a house is to site it correctly. Make it south-facing so you get as much passive solar gain as possible and put in the right insulation because once it is in, it doesn't go wrong. I look at these other things as add-ons but, really, you want to get the structure correct in the first place," he says.

Again, insulation was the key. These later houses were built with six-inch panels as before, plus an additional 75mm of internal insulation and insulated breather membranes. From an environmental perspective, and in order to cut out concrete products as much as possible, the houses have been clad in larch from sustainable sources and the roofs are made from corrugated iron (the original roofing material on older properties on the island).

Internally, richly grained Douglas fir partially clads the walls – a trademark for McLellan's building company, Wifiis Ltd.

McLellan also appreciates luxury and anything he builds is done to the highest specification, so it's no surprise to find stylish, fully fitted kitchens, double showers, state-of-the-art Jacuzzis and saunas in the properties. Gas stoves provide extra heat if required although, as McLellan says his gas bills are approximately 50 per annum, they are there for reassurance more than anything, and are very rarely used. "There's no waste," he says. "The gas stoves are fitted with catalytic converters and are 100 per cent efficient.

"Last Christmas we added solar panels to Iolaire and Metagama but we're not sure how well that is working for us yet financially, but they're certainly doing their job with regards to heating the water. Until then, the water was heated electrically but now it's solar, at least for most of the year."

When it comes to dcor, a Scottish tribute has been paid, with tartan rugs covering the hardwood floors and curtains and throws made locally from the island's iconic fabric, Harris Tweed. Overall, the look is contemporary and continental, with open-plan living areas, galleries and high cathedral ceilings. The warm welcome guests rave about, though, is distinctly Hebridean.

At present, the artwork that adorns the walls is from a selection of artists but that will change over time. "We're working with local artists to offer painting and photography courses to our guests so eventually we'll also include more local work in the properties," explains McLellan.

A week's stay with Hebridean Luxury Holidays starts from 510 up to 1,200 for the three-bedroom Craigroyston in peak season. Short breaks are available. Tel: 0800 234 3271 or visit www.hebrideanluxuryholidays.co.uk for more details.