Wednesday, 14 December 2011

When icicles hang by the wall

In our previous house you knew only too well when it was frosty outside. This morning I blithely stepped out and was taken by surprise by the frozen pavements because this house really does seem to maintain its temperature pretty well. The weather the rehau doesn't like is wind and we're noticing that even if the internal temperature drops by 1 degree and forces the top-up heating to come on we are tending to use three times the amount of electricity we use on days when it doesn't start up. Hopefully that will sort itself out once the fabric of the house is warmed up(?).

In the meantime here's more proof that the insulation works with a picture of our roof, the only place the ice is melting is where the air is expelled from the vents on the 'chimney':

And the reason why we need a chimney should be obvious at this time of year....  though I hope the reindeer are sure-footed enough to cope with the roof angles.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Sun = good

This morning the sun is shining which is GOOD. It's not just good because it cheers the world up but because on a sunny day, even in December, we generate nearly as much electricity as we use. Yesterday it tipped down with rain throughout the daylight hours and we didn't generate any electricity (well, none that we could record) and used loads. At the moment we seem to be using vast amounts and we're assuming it's the heating system warming the fabric of the house (thermal mass of concrete was mentioned but my ears glazed over at that point). I hope that's what it is because living in an eco house and using more electricity than you did before doesn't make sense, although it's in keeping with the politican's joke about the UK having the greenest government ever (just google the phrase).

Looking back from the porch here's a picture of what I was doing over the weekend:


I have been planting a winter garden at the front of the house with the advice of a very nice man from Ashwoods, our local nursery and a lot of inspiration from the wonderful National Trust garden at Anglesey Abbey (although minus the Rubus cockburnianus which takes the word invasive to a whole new level!). Readers who know me will understand just how blissful it was to be taking plants out of pots (where they've sat for 4 years) and planting them during a blizzard whilst listening to John Rutter on the mp3 player.

Out in the back garden I've started planting up too but I will finish that over Christmas or when the trees have been planted (we're getting a load to replace the trees that had to be cleared for the build). I just wanted to post this picture which shows the rehau tower in all its glory. I think you'll agree it's something I've got to work with rather than ignore!

Monday, 5 December 2011

Blimey, it works!

You have to zoom in on the picture to get the full effect of it but this is one of the windows on the top floor when we opened the blind this morning. One of the bedrooms has got a duff blind at the moment and some heat still escaped through the triple glazing and the glass was clear. The blind on this window was down so no heat escaped and this is the pattern of frost outside to prove it.

And you know the best bit? We haven't had any heating on in the house for the past three days apart from a bit of additional heat in the sitting room because all the insulation has kept the temperature steady at 19°.

I know I shouldn't really be surprised this bit works ..... but I am!

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Flushed with success

The problem with being an eco-pioneer (she wrote with tongue firmly in cheek) is that sometimes you are more like a guinea pig testing out the system for those who follow and 7am this morning was a case in point.

Back in August when this gizmo was installed, I pondered what would happen if the rainwater harvester ran out of water. When it first arrived I had been told that the system automatically switched over to mains water when water levels started to go down but this morning that most definitely did not happen. We woke up to find that none of the loos filled after they were flushed and once we'd wrenched off the panels covering the service duct you could see the lights on the right of the control unit were flashing on and off whilst the 'tank low' light was showing orange.

Fortunately for us, even though it was a Saturday, our wonderful erstwhile site manager was on site by 8.30 and he took the manhole cover off the harvester and refilled it from a hose pipe. As it filled the gague started to move from 30% to 100% full and we were able to flush the loos again, but the lights on the right kept flashing alarmingly. Everyone stood around wondering why it was doing that as the system now seemed to be working and then inspiration struck. Just above the unit is a control switch so I said why didn't we just switch it off and switch it on again....

..... and that, dear readers, is how we rebooted the system. All those years in systems support coming in handy at last!

Mind you, I'm still expecting the experts in on Monday to check the system's working properly.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Never again!

Only a couple of pictures this week, for reasons that will be obvious.

Here's the view of the site from January 23rd...

... and here's the view from much the same spot on November 12th.

The past week can best be described as mad and hasn't left much time for sitting down, let alone blogging. Moving house is hassle enough but I don't recommend moving to "a carbon-negative, electricity-generating, boiler-free marvel" without nerves of steel.

Over the last week, whilst shifting boxes, furniture and getting on for 2,000 books ("I know there'll be a lot of books to pack, vicarages always have a lot of books") I've had a day's instruction on how run this marvel. In a normal house you move in, sort out the heating timer and bung up the thermostat. In this one we've had information on using the temperature controls and ventilation system, learned what the significance of this gadget is and why some walls have things that look like aliens at the top. I was also part of an hour's instruction with three experts on passive houses which ended with one of them saying "it will be interesting to see how all this works"...

... not the most reassuring thing you want to hear in a stressful week.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Eve of move

So, after nine months, we are about to move in and this is what those four views looked like this morning:

The famous feature window is apparently somewhere between here and Germany and is due to be arriving on site, with a crane to install it, on Monday. This is also the day the removers first come in so that won't be chaotic will it? I suppose we could ask if the crane could lift the furniture onto the first floor.

There are two things outside that will make you laugh. Remember back in April when I talked about the inlet tower for the Rehau pipe system? Well at the side of the house in the first picture and tucked into the corner of the picture from  the south-west corner you can see the two towers. They are at least 1.5m high and I'm just going to have to find a way of incorporating them into my garden design because it will be impossible to try and disguise them. I'm looking at modern gardens from the Chelsea Flower Show for inspiration which is well out of my comfort zone as my normal style is more rustic than clean and tidy.

The other thing that may well raise a smile is our outhouses. I showed the foundations last month and here's the finished product.
Witty comments have included the suggestion that we have a sauna and a query about when the horses are arriving. Personally I'm now seeking the opportunity to tell any visitors that we haven't any room but we do have a stable round the back and I'm wondering about the possibility of a nativity scene next month. Pass me those tea towels!

Although we're about to move in the house isn't 100% complete and the eco garden isn't even10% complete so I'll carry on posting, by public demand. In the meantime, think of me this coming week as all our belongings get carted from one side of the garden to the other and I ponder why we have so much old tat when I'm a regular contributor to freegle and jumble sales...

Mea culpa

It's now the end of week forty and we move in the day after tomorrow so apologies for not posting pictures for week thirty-nine.

In my defence I spent the weekend making up flat-pack furniture and hardly drew breath, let alone stand in the garden and take photos.

On the plus side I'm now the proud possessor of:
three of these

two of these:
one each of these

and sixteen of these

...... how's that for productivity?!

Lucky I've got an IKEA Family Card is all I can say.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

End of week thirty-eight

We move into the eco house two weeks from tomorrow and this is what it's looking like at the moment.


The stick-on bricks are finished and, as the mountain of concrete shows, work has begun on landscaping the front. Ironic isn't it that the house and hard landscaping are made of recycled aggregates when all these aggregates are being carted off site but there are limits to what one can achieve.

In the garden the mounds of earth (left) have now been flattened so it's not long before I can start reclaiming my garden. I can't tell you how frustrating it's been not to be able to get outside this season.

The next stage inside is to finish the bathrooms, hopefully before we move in and seal the wooden flooring on the corridors. 

The floors were uncovered for the first time this week and it's been a bit of relief to see how they soften the space vibe.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

We are not alone

Got to show you this. Here's the kitchen last night in all its LED wonder:

And this is what it reminded me of:

 ..... I'll be off to buy some spuds then.

Monday, 24 October 2011

End of week thirty-seven

This week the terrace has been laid. Like the blocks that formed the house walls the pavers are made of recycled aggregates and they sparkle in the autumn sunlight, which is rather fun.

As the last two photos show, the glass for the feature window on the western wall is still not available so the window has been boarded up for the time being. 

My daughter remarked that it looks like we're building in a priest hole and I know what she means: this is what it looks like from inside the room.


Looking  into other rooms and the corridors you zoom forward four and a half centuries as seen in the bathroom here. 

We're not sure which of the following two images is the inspiration for the shower cubicle but, either way, it's making us laugh.

Our other source of amusement is the electronic blinds which have finally been fitted. I've had two school parties visit last week and they have also enjoyed seeing them in action. I will take a photo of the blinds for next weekend but they really are great entertainment.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Space oddity

So as the René Magritte exhibition comes to an end at the Tate in Liverpool surrealism comes to our own neck of the woods - take a look at this:

Yep, your eyes do not deceive you, we have a radiator stuck on the outside of the north wall of the house. I am told that this is basically a heat dump for the solar thermal tubes. The tubes will generate hot water during daylight so if we are away and not using enough hot water this radiator will radiate the excess heat into the atmosphere, rather than blowing up the house.... 
.... I have a sneaky feeling that they're having me on about this.

Apart from our bizarre radiator the rest of the house continues as before and here are this week's views, in rather pretty autumn light.

The JCB at the front has been digging in the drains and you can see the base of the terracing around the house. 

Just opposite the front door the builders have put in the foundations for our bike shed (stop laughing, you). Take a look, it's even got electricity in case we can one day afford an electric car - ha! As if!

Friday, 7 October 2011

End of week thirty-five

After the grand unveiling of last week the external views of the house don't look so different. We're still waiting for the stick-on bricks to finish the north-east corner and the glass for the bay window at the top of the western wall. The builders have been finishing off the bottom of the walls with insulation boards and an external finish of slate. Originally the plan was to do that bit in lead but sense has prevailed, otherwise we'd be having to replace it endlessly when it got pinched.

In the back garden the pipework has gone in to connect the rainwater harvester. 

At one point in the week we had a network of 2m deep trenches running from the house to the harvester. Seeing men in hard hats making their way slowly through these alongside the great mounds of soil really emphasised the 1914-18 feel of the back garden, especially as I'm off to see Journey's End this weekend. But now they have both gone and the garden has been levelled out. In fact, it's  a lot more level than it was before which is rather curious.

So here's the evolution of the back garden to date:

As you'll see from this third picture I'm actually in a position where I can start thinking about laying out flower beds - FINALLY!!

At the front of the house the final bit of the build is starting. We aren't having a garage on the site but we will have a a garden store and a bike shed [insert joke here] and here's where they're going.

Take a look at this photo of the generation meter. Seven days ago it read 56.6 kWh and today the reading is 195.5 kWh. That means the house has generated enough electricity in a week to run a dishwasher for over three months (well, I think so, time will tell).