Building's technical editor ponders whether he would buy one of the low-energy homes on display at Offsite 2007

I was lucky to have a sneak preview of the low carbon homes being displayed at Offsite 2007 this week.

It gave me a chance to study the homes in some detail away from the sell-out crowds that descended on the BRE’s Garston site.

All the homes were built in factories and assembled on site. When I visited last Thursday the construction teams were applying the finishing touches. Most of the teams seemed pretty relaxed about the build but there was evidence of some last minute panic among one of the teams – it looks as though someone had a very busy weekend getting that ready for Monday morning.

I am writing a detailed review of the homes in next Friday’s issue of Building, but here are my initial impressions of the homes on display. The first thing to say is that being detached homes, they are not very representive of the homes of the future. It is much easier to meet the higher levels of the Code for Sustainable Homes with terrace homes or apartments and that's what developers will be increasingly focusing on.

If you think a low-energy home would be dark and dingy they’re not. Internally they feel like a modern home – light, airy and fitted with all mod cons. There is also quite a lot of hard flooring in low-energy homes, which I assume works better for underfloor heating.

The homes are also very diverse and I think the builders have deliberately tried to make the homes look as little as possible like a standard detached house – the zinc roof and stack bonded brickwork of the Hanson house was testament to that.

The diverse designs packed into a tight space reminded me of a Dutch housing estate, but of course in the UK the developments these homes will inspire will be much more homogenous.

Some of the homes have impressive low-energy credential, and one – the Kinspan home – claims it will be zero carbon, even after domestic appliances have been taken into account. Of course the amount of energy use will be down to the homeowner - it doesn't matter how many PV panels are on the roof if occupants are running dishwashers with only two cups in them.

Would I live in one? Some of the rooms are rather small, but I think that’s a general criticism of modern housing. While I don’t think you can claim they are masterpieces of design they are no worse than any kind of bog-standard new-build home on the market. If you are going to be a new-build home a low-energy home would be as good as anything else available.

Offsite 2007