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Creating the green dream

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 16 February 2009 at 9:28 am

Converting your house to low-carbon luxury doesn’t come without a lot of hard work, and vast quantities of attention to detail. Last week I wrote about what Sue Harley and Neil Tappenden achieved in turning their Devon farmhouse into a low-carbon dream home. This week I look at how they did it, and some of the things that they learned that will help other people, whatever the scale of their project.

First, and most important, be clear about your aim. Neil and Sue’s was to reduce the carbon dioxide the building emitted in its lifetime. This aim steered all the decisions they took in the process of the renovation. For example they chose steel gutters and downpipes, rather than PVC or cast iron, because they can be recycled.

Following on from that aim came the decision to source everything for the renovation within a 15 mile radius if possible, and if not from the wider south west. This meant that there was a constant balancing act between the professionalism of suppliers, their location and their eco credentials. On top of that was the trade off between CO2, practicality and cost.

In the process of meeting their aim, Neil and Sue:

  • installed a split log boiler, with an automated wood pellet boiler for back up
  • planted more than 4,000 trees which they will coppice to feed the boiler
  • renewed all the drains
  • installed a water treatment plant with an on-site sewage treatment plant
  • installed 12.5 square meters of solar thermal panels
  • reused or recycled everything that came out of the house
  • super insulated and put in triple glazed windows, and
  • created a veg garden and orchard.

One of the biggest challenges that they came across was choosing the best suppliers and getting all the different contractors, and the equipment they were installing to work together.

‘The suppliers all knew how to sell their product, and were happy to talk up their hardware, but they couldn’t advise on how they integrated with the other parts of the system,’ says Neil. ‘Very few of the suppliers are eco-minded. They tended to talk about reducing costs and pay back. They didn’t realise that there are other buying decisions.

‘The hardest part of the project management was getting all the contractors and technologies to work well together,’ he adds. The way Neil solved this problem was to learn how to do that himself and project manage it. Probably the second most important point to remember if you’re running a complex project like this, is to make it absolutely clear to all the people involved where their responsibility starts and finishes, and hold them to it.

Devon Eco Holidays tel: 07596 511355

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