Working from the home my wife and I self-built allows me to benefit from glorious views of the countryside, and of some very interesting local characters.
Looking out of my office window I see the home of a lovely couple that are a version of Tom and Barbara, of The Good Life fame. They have a menagerie of animals, productive vegetable plots and solar thermal panels on the roof. They also brew their own diesel from used cooking oil, which seems to work well, despite the faint aroma of chip shop as they drive past.
The couple in question recently added a small roof-mounted wind turbine that has caused me no end of amusement, not least because I’ve yet to see the blades actually turn, despite some fairly breezy weather of late.
Their bungalow is surrounded by two storey houses and a few mature trees. This means that it is permanently in turbulent air, which rarely blows in one direction making the location of the turbine sub-optimal. At best, the whole turbine swivels around wildly on its pole, but I suspect it hasn’t generated a single watt of energy under its own steam. This got me thinking about eco ‘bling’ and where to draw the line between sensible green investments and wasting money.
When I was the resident self-build technical advisor at the National Self-Build and Renovation Centre (NSBRC) in Swindon, my colleague and I were asked for some advice by a visitor who had allocated £50,000 of his budget for renewables.
We asked him why he wanted to go green; was it to save the planet or to save money? His response was that he just wanted to do his bit for the environment, so we advised him to spend the money on improving the airtightness and insulation levels of the other properties on his street. Unfortunately it wasn’t as conspicuous as the array of eco hardware he was hoping we’d suggest – he wasn’t impressed.
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We were being a bit flippant, but the point is still valid. Being ‘green’ is something of a fashion statement to some, a way of showing that you are environmentally aware.
For me, there’s no question that the most sensible place to put your money is in the fabric of your house. If you plan to minimise heat loss by designing in high levels of airtightness and build in as much insulation as you can into walls, roofs and floors from the outset, you’ll be using so little energy to heat the house that renewable goodies become less of a priority and in some cases, unnecessary. Arguably, the only eco extra needed would be a mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system to keep the fresh air levels up and the heat in.
The trendy self-build phrase of the moment is ‘fabric first’ and it’s a sensible one if you want to achieve a sustainable self-build project.