Our objectives for the conversion of this redundant barn are simple:
This has been a very enlightening journey into the world of green building, as Kermit says ...
“It’s not easy being green”
After some initial research it became very obvious that there is a wide spectrum of choices when it comes to low-energy, sustainable building options.
From our initial research it was clear that even the manufacturers and agents for many of the products claimed widely different results. And it felt that many of the companies, particularly in the electricity generation field, had only recently jumped on the band wagon. A few simple questions revealed that some of the ‘experts’ knew less than us.
So how to separate the wheat from the chaff? I put myself on some workshops with the AECB (The Sustainable Building Association) and Lizzie managed to win a series of free consultations with G-Ten (a company offering “practical and personalised support to help people live a more sustainable life”) and we read the Code for Sustainable Homes guidelines, the BRE papers and The Green Building Bible.
We then went through a phase of discovering that more we understood, the more there was to understand. Having put together our preferred sustainable solution we then went to see some people who had already started using solar thermal, solar pv (photovoltaics), GSHP (ground source heat pumps), warmcell and sheep’s wool insulation - and other products. This is when you find that all the glitters is not gold.
One of the problems when converting a barn is that you are starting with old random rubble stone walls that are not straight. So some of the ecologically friendly products get ruled out because of the cost, the space they require and finished wall being flat and straight, hiding the true character of the building underneath.
Although I didn't want to use a “celotex” type product when we started (because of the oil used in its manufacture) in the end it comes down to practicalities and price.
We have ended up using a combination of Xtratherm and Durox block for external wall insulation, and sheep wool for internal insulation and sound proofing.
We console ourselves with the thought that the “celotex” is made from a by-product of oil production and will be used to save oil in the future.
During our research we fell upon some information by Tim Pullen of WeatherWorks who is an independent consultant, regular speaker and contributor for Home Building and Renovations magazine and author of Simply Sustainable Homes - a no-nonsense guide to what works and what does not work when attempting to create a sustainable home.
I think it was partly because the advice in Tim's book fell in-line with our own conclusions and partly because of his down-to-earth approach that we arranged an initial meeting with Tim followed by a site visit to Llan Adan Barn.
Having decided on the why and how, we needed help on the what. One of the really useful outcomes of the meetings with Tim was starting to short-list which manufacturers to go and see. Our next process was to visit customers who were using the equipment and materials that we had short-listed and make our final decisions.
Our aim is to create a low-energy, sustainable home that far exceeds current building regulations (although we will fall well short of our early hopes to achieve Code for Sustainable Homes Level 5). In short our approach is insulation, insulation, insulation and low energy consumption:
It would be really great to be generating our own electricity from day one, but we plan to do this as soon as finances allow. We may be helped in this by the proposed Green Grant scheme and improvements and lower costs in the technology.
We have been very happy with our sliding aluminium windows from AJS Windows at our previous home, but we still went through a process of researching different window systems.
In the end we chose Velfac System 200 windows and doors. They are beautifully made and are highly thermally efficient. Velfac proved to be very professional and helpful to deal with.
Velfac do not produce wide sliding doors, so for our sitting room we have used AJS Windows again, and the whole barn looks very smart with the grey / green windows in the oak frames.
With the high levels of insulation and air-tightness we are hoping to keep our heating bills to a minimum.
We are using a Worcester-Bosch system 10 ground source heat pump to drive the under-floor heating. We have been very happy with the UFH at our two previous barn conversions, and using heat from the ground to keep the new barn warm is a very pleasing thought.
There will be a Charnwood Cove 2B wood-burning stove in the “snug” (which will also heat the domestic hot water in the winter) ...
... and a Jotul F250 in the sitting room.
In the master bedroom and bathroom a feed from the hot water store will heat in-floor Trench radiators and towel rails.
We have kept the DHW system separate from the space heating, mainly to maximise the efficiency of the GSHP for space heating.
We chose Velux solar thermal panels because we thought they would sit low in the slate roof and match the Velux roof-light in the same section of roof. As it turns out the fitting kit for the Velux solar panels do not sit very flush with the roof, and this is a minor disappointment.
The Charnwood boiler stove will also heat the Gledhill 270 litre hot water store.