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Friday, 17 July 2015

Some final thoughts and tributes

The oak around the house is beginning to mellow and the surrounding landscape is slowly maturing. The grass - all sown from seed - is also improving, though thistles and docks are also doing well! We've planted another 15 trees - a mix of oak, ash and alder and sown wild flowers around the completed pond which is already attracting some gorgeous dragonflies and the occasional heron. The two rustic seats in the foreground were made from the old cypress taken down at the start of the build.  Our bird count is now in the low 20s with heron, barn owl, little owl (resident), sparrowhawk and woodpecker taking pride of place. Several insect 'hotels' are being well-used but are also supplying food for the woodpecker. 

The house is proving to be negative energy (no - the one announced yesterday on the BBC was not the first!). Last week the PV panels celebrated their 4th birthday and showed 39,170 kW on the meter - and have generated more each year (10,313 this year). We have used just under 26,000kW since we moved on site indicating a surplus of 13,000 kW which has gone back to the grid. From an economic standpoint the installation has already paid back well over half the initial cost in just four years. The potential for storing 'spare' solar generated electricity is developing fast and this is a technology we are watching with interest.

The solar thermal system is working well and provides all the hot water we need for around 7 months of the year and very useful base heat all-year round.  Even in mid winter the water in the thermal store rarely drops below 25 degrees C. Unfortunately the powers that be have decided that our system does not qualify for the Renewable Heat Incentive as some of the heat generated by the evacuated tubes helps to heat the house - not just the domestic hot water. Large thermal stores (ours is 800 litres) are widely recognised as the most efficient way of optimising solar heat but the regulations say that they must only contribute to hot water - not space heating. So if you are planning a new build, think carefully about using a thermal store. It may be the most efficient system, but OFGEM doesn't recognise this and you won't get any RHI payments.

Reclaiming the VAT was a time consuming process putting all the receipts in chronological order and making a matching spreadshett to meet VAT specifications. There are never enough hours in the day during the build but doing the VAT monthly as the build progressed would have made it much less arduous at the end. In my view HM Customs were prompt and fair despite what others have said.  

Our old VW Golf worked hard moving goods around during the build (still running on 100% biofuel) but we decided that at 15 yrs old it might prove expensive at the next MOT, so decided it was time to change using the VAT refund. We had been watching the development of the electric car market for some time and after much thought, decided that a plug-in hybrid would best suit our requirements. We found a demonstration Prius plug-in at an attractive price with only 1300 miles on the clock and have now run this for nearly a year. Technically it only does 16 miles on a charge and it would be nice if it did more like the Audio, VW and Mitsubishi which have arrived since.  However in practice I think it was a sensible choice. Most of the time we charge it for free from spare solar (charging time is just over an hour and a half) and on dark winter days, we charge at night on off-peak. We rarely get less than 80 mpg equivalent - even on long journeys - and the speedo is currently showing the last 750 miles at 142 mpg.

Winner - Best Sustainable Dwelling 2015

One pleasant surprise was to learn that our Building Control Inspector had recommended the house for a special award. On 17 April we were invited to an Awards lunch in Stratford and Colemans Hill Farm was announced as the winner of the best new sustainable dwelling 2015 - a fitting tribute to three years of very long days and some sleepless nights!
It is also a fitting tribute to all those who contributed to the build - some of whom went way beyond the usual service you would expect from contractors. 

A big thank you to:

Winchcombe Reclamation
who carefully removed the old farmhouse

Pete Tonks
for designing the new one

Jay Hubbard and Robin Vincent of English Brothers
for supplying the timber frame & their constant support

Phil of Eazylay Concrete at Admington

who delivered and poured seemingly endless cement, often out of hours

Jason Watts and the Forest of Dean 'hemcreters'
who installed the hemcrete under monsoon conditions
who installed the PV and solar thermal

Martin and Stuart Turville
who laid the bricks

Ben of JBM Scaffoldingfor erecting the scaffolding at short notice

Built Environment Technology
who installed the MVHR system

Elliot Atkinson and his friendly team from Black Pig
who glazed more than 50 fixed windows

Frank Horsfall of Calarel Ltd
who made the triple glazed oak doors and windows

John Devine
who painted them

Bernard Prickett Joinery
who made the oak staircases

Clint Parker
for the electrics

Solar-Sense UK
for the PV and solar heating system

Mario the Plumber
who meticulously laid the kitchen floor and bathroom tiles

Chris Hurley
who helped with the foundations and installed the wood stove

Martin Bennett, Head of Stratford District Council Building Control
for constantly monitoring the build and his helpful advice

Charlie and his team from Cotswold Green Energy
for the UFH, the plumbing and the EcoAngus boiler
and their marvellous support throughout the build

Steve and Debbie Savery (& son)
for their patience, impeccable carpentry and painting skills

Peter Boait of Exergy Devices
who generously designed and installed
the intelligent energy management system

and above all
Nigel Brookes

who after selling us his mobile home, ended up as our constant mentor
for his skills preparing the foundations, installing the passive slab
the complex drainage system, the rainwater harvesting, making the pond
and landscaping the entire site.
We could not have completed this build without him.  01386 438572  07776 036884

Mark Boulton  July 2015

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Complete - well almost!

View from East side over wild pond - August 5 2014
After a further three months or so of seemingly endless "final" tasks we have (virtually) finished though more seeding and planting still remains to be done.


Following is a summary of the final aspects of the build.

With just two of us working a couple of days a week progress has been slow.  Because the land is on three levels a full length block wall needed to be constructed the full length of the house with associated drainage and then faced with bricks - many from the original farmhouse. 

Once this was complete the patio was built with steps to the upper garden and into the rear entrance and sun room.

This just left finishing the pond in the lower garden which appears to be holding water (the overflow rainwater from the underground tank together with the run off from the house) without the need for a lining. 

Sections from the foundations from the original farmhouse were used to make a path and some natural stone (thank you freecycle!) used for edging. A range of native aquatic plants and two toads and two frogs discovered under the Cotswold stone.

The last pile of topsoil saved when digging the foundations was used to landscape the area leading down to the pond which is now being planted with trees and shrubs.


What was the final timeline?

February 2011 - Moved into old mobile home on site; preliminary site surveys take place boundaries established and fenced; designer working on plans

April/May 2011 - Pre-planning application presentation completed and submitted mid-May; preliminary drainage and levelling of site.  Solar PV installed on barn roof; veg plot fenced and recycled greenhouse erected

June 2011 - temporary wind turbine superceded by establishing grid connection - an interesting (and frustrating) experience over some months!

July/September 2011 - Planners slow to respond to application but after some intervention, eventually grant planning permission with 13 conditions 28 September

October/December 2011 - work on site to meet planning conditions including construction of bat loft in barn, selection of bricks & tiles, and levelling of site

January 2012 - Conditions fulfilled and sent to SDC; demolition of old farmhouse and continued levelling of site

March/April 2012 - Footings dig to support brick walls; perimeter walls constructed and central core filled with old bricks ready for building passive slab. 

May 2012 - Structural polystyrene (ESP) arrives but turns out to be the wrong material; replacement material arrives within four days with Air Packs in Ireland pulling out all the stops. What an incredible service! Slab complete day before timber frame arrives 28 May

June 2012 - Wettest "summer" for years. Timber frame erected under challenging conditions

July 2012 - Hemcreters arrive from Forest of Dean to mix and pour hemcrete under continuing torrential rain

August/September 2012 - Outer (non-structural) brick walls started at the same time as tiling commences; first of the large oak trusses moved into place. Crane arrives at end of month for the two very large oak window frames. Sun room frames also require crane to move into position.  Oak porch uses man!

October 2012 - Cotswold Green Energy begin first fix plumbing; triple glazed windows arrive. Extensive reticel foam insulation through roof

December 2012 - Underfloor heating system laid out.  Solar thermal evacuated tubes installed with Sigma tank for heating. Electricians begin first fix and MHVR team compete mechanical heat ventilation system.  Small "Badger" Wood stove fitted and plasterers begin work

January 2013 - Second fix electrics, plastering, plumbing and painting

March 2013 - Steve finishes oak staircases and carpets fitted upstairs;

May 2013 - Biopure septic tank installed and Nigel begins excavation for Stormsaver rainwater harvesting system

June/September 2013 - Finally moved in June whilst work continues and mobile home sold to young couple starting new build in Solihull

October 2013 - Lots more finishing work internally and landscaping/drainage externally.
Pair garage doors constructed from spare oak floorboards.  Bespoke Wattbox energy management system installed with energy used remotely monitored from Cheltenham 

November 2013 - Magnet ex-display kitchen and Everhot cooker installed

May/June 2014 - House finally officially signed off after completing air test; work continues on walling at rear and construction of patio

August 2014 - Work on the pond finally completed and formal date of completion 4 August 2014

Thursday, 24 October 2013

It can't be six months

It doesn't seem possible we have not updated the blog for more than 6 months.  Just when you think you are almost finished there are still seemingly endless small (and not so small) tasks to be completed.  A bannister for the back stairs, tidying up hairline cracks which form as the timber frame settles, the last sections of oak cladding, doors for the workshop and the garage, a wood shed and a very long retaining wall on the south side. Add to this relocating the enormous heap of clay, spreading the topsoil and seeding the lawn areas and the last blog in May seems like yesterday.

Preparing the lower lawn area for seeding
But looking back we have made good progress. The house is 99% complete and the major landscaping done.  Now the rain has returned the pond and the wildlife area in the lower garden will probably have to wait until the spring.
Finishing the oak cladding on the rear of the garage
The following "point and shoot" photos will give some idea of the interior.  When time permits they will be updated with more professional images.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

It can't possibly be six months

It scarcely seems possible that six months have passed since we last updated the blog. Yet for the whole of that period (apart from a 4 day break in September) we have continued to work every day on the build. Just when you think you are nearly there, you realise there is a still multitude of finishing touches still to do; many of them turn out to be significant tasks in their own right once you actually start to tackle them.

Preparing the lower garden area for seeding
The house itself is now 99% complete and the landscaping well underway - though I suspect it will be next Spring before we start the pond and the wildlife garden.  What follows are a series of "point and shoot images" just to give some idea of how the house looks inside. These will be replaced by more more professional images when we have more time.

Garage doors made from oak floor boards and spare timber left over from the build

Entrance hall with central staircase

Open plan living areas

Kitchen and adjacent sun room

Landing and ensuite

Studio room over garage

More to follow in due course

Sunday, 5 May 2013

Too busy to blog!

Despite the silence we have been extremely busy - too busy to blog - so herewith an attempt to catch up.  With better weather and longer days we have been able to concentrate on installation of the septic and rainwater harvesting tanks, both of which involved a lot more digging and shifting soil.

After careful research we chose the BioPure 2 septic tank system from "We Build It Ltd" in Bridgnorth.  The tank is UK made (and reasonably local), has a 25 year guarantee, is low maintenance, consumes only just over 40w. The tank only needs emptying every 3-5 years  and the technical support is excellent.

The rainwater harvesting system is from Stormsaver - a company with a long experience of commercial installations which has more recently begun marketing domestic systems. We chose the German manufactured 5000 litre low profile Monsoon tank which has meant less digging backed up by their Eco Control system and the highly efficient 90w submersible pump.  

The company claims a high level of customer care and support and we think this is an under statement!  Over the last few days they have responded immediately to a host of our email queries, sent us the new colour installation manual updated just a couple of weeks ago and suggested we fit a couple of updated parts in the tank (they have a policy of continuing research and improvement) which they have sent out free of charge. The company is also active in raising money for charity and has donated more than £13,000 to WaterAid in the past couple of years.  Couldn't be a better choice!

The current spell of dry weather has enabled us to begin shifting the mountain of soil and to spread some of the top soil which was carefully saved during the original excavation of the site. With luck we should be able to able to connect the downpipes from the barn and begin excavation of the pond in the next couple of weeks. 

Peter from Exergy Devices has also been constantly tweaking his bespoke intelligent Energy Management System (controllable from his office in Cheltenham!) and this is now settling down and provides us with a daily supply of hot water above 50 degrees - all of it free over the last week when the tank has on occasion reached more than 65 degrees C.
More on this in the next blog.

Monday, 4 March 2013

A good day . . .

Some days leave you wondering what everyone has been doing all day; fortunately others seems so much more productive.  Today was such a day.

Carpet fitters from Kidderminster Carpet arrived just after 8 am and after battling to get the large 5m roll into the studio above the garage worked like beavers completing a superb job of all four rooms and the landing by early afternoon. Thoroughly recommended both for the value of the carpet and extremely pleasant and competent fitters.

The main oak staircase - a superb piece of work from Bernard Prickett Joinery near Stratford - is almost installed and the end of the main drainage is in sight.  The septic tank should be in tomorrow.

The clouds cleared early today and spring sunshine brought the temperature on the roof into the mid 60s and raised the water in the 800L tank to 50 degrees C.  The energy management system courtesy of Exergy Devices is now virtually complete and showed PV on the barn generating more than 7kW at midday and the temperature in the foundation slab at 16 degrees.  

All very encouraging - and needs to be after 26 months including two winters in the old mobile home!

Hope to upload some new images by the week-end.

Thursday, 31 January 2013

Slow process . . . but we are getting there

No - we haven't finished and no - we haven't moved in!  

Second fix electrics, plastering, painting and plumbing, hanging doors and fitting architrave and skirting- all seem frustratingly slow - but this is the penalty for building a largish eco-house with 24 corners, a house where the hemcrete walls were installed in the wettest June on record and where the magnesium silicate MultiPro boards used for the internal shuttering require a complex process of priming and special lime plastering.

But we can now see light at the end of the tunnel and friends who visit are suitably impressed with the progress.  The discontinued rustic oak kitchen bought from Magnet at a substantial discount is now fully fitted, the Everhot stove is fully functional and the bathrooms are almost fully tiled.

The modest Morso Badger stove is supplying core heat.  The 80 HP400 solar tubes on the garage roof are already pumping in heat at almost 40 degrees C on the (rare) days when we have a few hours of winter sun. Most of the lighting is complete and the new JCC LED downlighters are impressive consuming no more than 3-7 watts per unit.  By the end of next week the bespoke energy management system courtesy of Exergy Devices will be monitoring and controlling heat in the foundation slab which will function as a giant radiator/energy store.  Soon we will be able to tell exactly how much (PV) electricity is being produced, how much energy is being used, and the temperatures in the foundation slab, the outside temperature and the living area in the house.

The house is bright and light thanks to the zero VOC EcoSure paint from Dulux on the ceilings and the off-white Earthborn Clay paint on the walls.

Drainage work continues and if the weather is favourable, the BioPure septic tank and the 5000 L Stormsaver rainwater tank should be operational by the end of next month.

We will have been living in the mobile home for two years this week-end and it is beginning to feel like it.  The first year was spent finalising plans, obtaining planning permission, and levelling the site.  It was not until late May 2012 when the timber frame arrived so 9 months is probably not bad going.

Sorry there has been not time to take photos but some of these will follow with the next posting.