How we developed our green building project

So what happens next when you have just bought a farmhouse, circa 1800, with attached barns two other collections of outbuildings and 10 acres of land? This was the wonderful opportunity and challenge facing me and my partner Sarah Brown in November 2003. We had both renovated properties before including another barn conversion, a terraced house and a detached house but this was on a completely different scale.

I started to research ways of tackling the project and was soon spending hours at exhibitions, reading magazines, watching programmes such as Grand Designs and searching on the internet. It didn’t take long for me to realise that we would have to take a radical approach to the renovation if the family were to live in such a large property sustainably.

Walking into the National Homebuilding and Renovating Show at the NEC in 2004 I was completely overwhelmed by a vast range of unfamiliar technologies such as heat pumps, under-floor heating, electricity generators, mechanical ventilation and insulation systems. Piles of leaflets returned to Sheffield, followed by more research and meetings with potential suppliers until an outline plan started to emerge.

A core part of the plan was to put in under-floor heating driven by ground source heat pumps which I installed with the help of a friend, Clive Quarmby. We spent many weeks digging trenches, laying pipes, soldering, fitting valves etc., using 8 different diameters of pipe in the process.

Sarah was pregnant with Arthur (now 6 – birthday in February), while all this was going on. By the time she returned from hospital with Arthur most of the heating was working and some of the floorboards in the bedroom had been restored. She was not happy.

Heat pumps need electricity to work and so we decided that we would have to make our own (we are all electric) to meet our objective of becoming energy neutral. I researched solar and wind power during 2004. Solar panels were about 5 times more expensive than they are now and were much more expensive than wind turbines compared with the amount of electricity they were likely to make. So, we bought a 6 kilowatt Proven wind turbine expecting it to make about 10,000 kilowatt hours per year. It didn’t. It made 14,000 kilowatt hours per year – fantastic.

The only trouble was we were using a lot more electricity than I had anticipated despite investing thousands of pounds on insulation and high-tec glazing. More investment was needed – more insulation and more energy generating technology.

For the last 18 months we have had a 4 kilowatt solar power system which generated 4100 kilowatt hours in its first year and have just installed a 10 kilowatt Xzeres wind turbine which is on target to produce between 25,000 and 30,000 kwh per year. As a result, our electricity production is greater than our electricity use which means that we are saving tonnes of carbon from entering the atmosphere. The energy saving, together with Feed In Tariff payments, also mean that we now make a profit from electricity rather than having a bill.

There is still a lot to do as a part of the house does not have any wall insulation. Once this and other improvement works are done we will save even more energy.

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