Friday, 23 May 2014

Barry's ecohome

I spent the Open Homes weekend helping out at Barry's house. It was the most gorgeous weather and we sat at picnic tables in the garden drinking tea and chatting about all number of green issues.

Barry has been very pro-active about reducing his environmental impact for a number of years. He is very practical with technology and DIY so has implemented many of his own solutions, but at the same time he has embraced lifestyle changes to reduce his consumption further. I have been aiming for a 90% reduction compared to the average American, but Barry has in many areas already achieved this, if not surpassed it. Here is how he has done it.

Barry has sold his car and travels everywhere by bicycle, by bus or on foot. He couldn't manage this living in a rural location, but being close to the centre of a small town means that there are shops, the library, the market and bus stops all close by.

Barry doesn't pay any water rates because he is completely off the mains. He collects rainwater from the roof of his house and workshops, and uses various simple methods to filter it, including brush bristles in the guttering to trap the leaves. He also has his own well with a manual pump. Barry decided a manual pump would be safer than fitting an electric pump in case of a power shortage, so Saturday morning involves the light exercise of pumping water to fill a stainless steel drum, which is then enough drinking water for a week. He uses the traditional method of a silver spoon in the bottom of the well to kill bacteria as it slowly corrodes. Barry will drink the rainwater once boiled for tea and it is also diverted to the upstairs bathroom. The toilets are compost loos, so they don't waste water or create a waste stream.

Which nicely brings me on to other waste. Barry composts all his kitchen and garden waste and finds ingenious ways to re-use most things. There are 4 compost bins around the site and the resulting fertility is spread on the garden. One of the compost bins is made from the back end of an old car! (Sorry I forgot to take a photo!) I love this idea! It is stood on end so the car boot is at the top to load compost into. Old beer cans have been welded together to make an original downpipe. Old bike tyres make a surprisingly comfy toilet seat, for a compost toilet made of old washing machine parts, plastic bins and large plant pots.

Barry doesn't like seeing things go to waste and rather than buying things new, can pick up and salvage things that people may throw away in skips. We were sitting on folding picnic benches rescued from a supermarket skip. Barry regularly collects food from the local supermarket skip too. Often things like fruit is thrown away because it is past it's 'display until' date, even though it is still in perfect condition. He also grows fruit and vegetables in his garden.

Barry heats his home using a woodburning stove. His garden is large enough to have plenty of tall trees around the edges, which he trims for firewood, providing a free heating fuel. It also supplies the heat for cooking in winter too.

The main house was built in the 1800's and as such has hard to treat cavity walls. Look at the small gap between the bricks above, which makes it very difficult to add any insulation. The house is in a conservation area, (which means it is very difficult to get approval to change any of the external features of the building) so external wall insulation is not an option.

Barry has chosen to insulate the walls internally. These old terraced houses are pretty small inside by current standards, so internal insulation will reduce the space even more. Small homes are a lot cheaper to keep warm though.

It is a big project which is underway, and has involved moving out while the work is completed. The roof and floors are not being neglected either with insulation board due to be fitted between the rafters and a thick layer of insulation added to the floor. It will be down to the details of the joints to ensure good air tightness.

The windows have been upgraded for double glazing at the side and rear of the building, but the front windows need to retain their original wooden appearance. Barry will be installing secondary glazing internally and is looking into the best way to seal it. On the front door Barry has opted to have a deep reveal to act as a barrier to draughts too.

Barry has solar hot water provided by evacuated tubes, which he had removed for maintenance. You can just make out the unit below the window, with one tube still attached. He saved money by buying the parts and building the system himself. Electricity is also from solar energy. Barry has a large array of PV panels for his workshop roof, as they are not allowed on the South facing house roof, due to the conservation status. These panels feed into a series of batteries and are off grid. This means that when the sun shines they will charge the batteries, giving Barry a low voltage supply of electricity, even in the event of a power cut.

Barry does have a mains electricity supply which he can use if required, but generally he can manage with a low voltage supply. He would like to have a small wind turbine too on the main house, but again that is prohibited.

Barry uses his mains electricity wisely. For instance he will boil the kettle when he wakes in the morning, whilst the electricity is still on the night rate. He heats enough for 4 cups of tea and pours it into a thermos flask to last him the whole day. He also manages without a fridge by storing chilled goods in a container of cold water in the coolest north west corner of the house. Small regular shopping or 'skip-diving' trips also help to reduce the need for chilled food storage. By using the computers and internet access at the library he also avoids many of the standby devices that drain electricity.

The Open Homes visitors had plenty of questions for Barry and he was in his element talking about his ideas and green issues. It is very interesting to see how with a lot of ingenuity and a change of attitudes, it is possible to become more self-sufficient and live a sustainable and ecologically friendly lifestyle.


  1. Thank you for visiting my blog today as it has given me the chance to read your wonderful blog too.
    I am particularly interested in your blog as I have recently been attending my local 'Footpaths' group run Transition Leicester, so I will have a good read.

    1. Thanks. Your blog is giving me allotment inspiration and tips, so I hope you find mine useful too. Obviously not the posts on my allotment where you will have to shake your head and tut at my incompetent baby steps ;-)