Zero Energy homes

Old meets new in an eco house

Few people can afford to spend £800,000 on a house, even one that’s going to start paying for itself with the electricity it generates. Architect Richard Hawkes did, and the result is stunning. The timberal roofing is a modern take on an old technique, and will be planted for added insulation. Heat will be stored during the day to be released when it cools, a simple idea made more efficient with new materials.

Few of the technologies Hawkes uses could be affordable to the average housebuilder, but the principles can be adapted for the lower end of the market.

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Advice for Gordon- save the world by bribing the voters

I don’t have any particular interest in Gordon Brown staying on as Prime Minister, he’s possibly worse than Blair because he’s too much of a coward to actually do anything radical. If he were, however, to suddenly develop a spine and display some of the savvy he claims to have there are ways he could get re-elected, boost the economy and start taking big steps towards hitting carbon dioxide reduction targets.

All he has to do is bribe the electorate.

A small number of people choose to ignore the evidence on global warming and will shout about any environmental initiatives no matter that they often have benefits beyond the green. Let’s just ignore them. Others are determined to cut their footprint no matter what. These converts deserve rewarding, and will be as a bonus of what I’m suggesting. The largest number of people, across a range of scepticism to understanding, aren’t going green because of the initial expense. Also for many of them when Gordon says “Green” they hear the word “Tax”.

Give these people the money to go green.

The recent announcement of a £100billion green initiative by Brown did mention solar power and other grants. What’s needed is for these to be big enough to cover most of the cost of installing panels, insulation or whatever is needed, because at present the payback in reduced bills isn’t enough. Most people would be better off leaving their money in the bank and earning interest. It would also help the uptake if the rates to sell electricity back to the suppliers were better. Let’s say that power companies should write off one unit of power consumed for every unit generated- in summer or on a windy day the house could pay for the electricity it used when it was cloudy or still. After the bill balances then the microgenerator can still sell to the power company at, say, half the price per unit they were being charged.

As important as increasing the grants and improving buy back is selling them properly. Emphasis should be put on giving money back to the consumer and making them independent of big suppliers. Gordon’s too dull to do this well, so he’d have to hope he could find a minister who could do it for him. The Tories have already figured out that this is a good sell, with proposals for feeding landfill savings back to households that recycle more. Their ideas about modifying the tax on petrol are based on a similar idea but seem half baked at best.

Of course, per kilowatt generated and ton of CO2 saved an increase in the scope and size of grants for microgeneration will be far more expensive than offshore wind or any other scheme. But no-one ever seems to think about where this money will go. The workers who install photovoltaics, groundsource pipes etc. will all be based in Britain. With a bit of encouragement the companies creating the equipment could all be British as well. They’ll all pay tax on their increased income, and boost the economy with their spending, as will the households now with extra cash from the electricity they’re saving and generating.

Of course the main reason a scheme like this won’t go ahead is because it will do the one thing all politicians are terrified of- it will allow the electorate to become less dependent on the state and the big businesses that pay for all the lobbying.

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Green home blues

The Prince of Wales plans to build a low carbon house out of natural materials, even if that means it won’t attain the highest possible green building rating.

Some people are becoming convinced that the Government’s stamp duty rebate for zero carbon homes is actually a con. It’s possible the scheme will take off slowly, but I would be unsurprised, though a little disappointed, if the requirements for eligibility have been set too narrow deliberately.

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Grant Management – Green letting agency

Grant Management promise that all the properties they let are carbon neutral because their energy use is offset by buying trees. If that were all it would be nice, but just a bit of canny marketting. However, their About Us section suggests that the commitment goes deeper-

About Our Commitment to the Environment

Grant Management has embraced the environment by achieving carbon neutral status. This was accomplished by reducing the company’s carbon footprint and offsetting the balance through tree planting via Global Trees. Additionally, Grant Management has made the properties it manages carbon neutral, recycling, re-using and sharing environmental knowledge and ideas with other individuals and companies.

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The Micro Compact Home

The Micro Compact Home, or m-ch, is an effort to create a tiny space that is still liveable in. It would fit in a large parking bay, future versions will come with solar panels and a wind turbine to make it energy independent. I’d need to get rid of a lot of my possessions before I could live in one, and I don’t yet know where I’d want to put it.

Each cube costs $96,000, including delivery anywhere in Europe. So if I start saving now I might know where I want to put it by the time I can afford it.

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I'm the only green MP

Alan Simpson MP details his ecohouse project. An odd aspect of this report is that it appears in the Daily Mail, one of the last newspapers still in denial and desparately trying to find fault with the few things the Government is doing. For example- the assessors for the energy consumption section of Home Information Packs won’t have criminal record checks and will therefore all be burglars, apparently. They’ll also be able to make a lot of money if they work hard (how dare they!).

Alan Simpson’s website

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Greening the construction industry

Leading property and construction firms have formed the UK Green Building Council and given themselves 10 years to transform their industry and make it sustainable. They also make the sensible observation that energy saving measures shouldn’t just be applied to new builds as houses that have already been built will still account for 75% of the housing stock in 2050.

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