I don't think actually being carbon neutral is possible at the moment, but heading in that direction is a great idea. To date I've done a lot of the infrastructure changes to the house in prep for the bigger things that will greatly help:
1. Complete renovation of the central heating. The upstairs has oversized radiators (that can run at a lower temperature) with TRV's all around*; the downstairs is now using Osma's underfloor heating system with heating sensors in each room. The underfloor heating also includes cold spots (unheated areas) for the dog and pets to lie down without baking.
2. Good levels of insulation. The walls have been insulated with cavity fill; the loft has only 100mm of insulation (will be upgraded to 500mm when the loft based infrastructural work is complete); and the ground floor has the very cosy 50mm osma underfloor heating insulation. The biggest change we noticed was the ground floor – even without the ufh on the floor was no where near as cold.
3. A ratings. All our appliances are A or A* rated. We have a built in kitchen with high efficiency technologies including an induction hob; and our laundry has A* rated washing machine and tumble dryer. Do wot? A tumble dryer in a carbon neutral home? Well it's one of those things that comes with a big family – you need clean and dry clothes and you can't always rely on the weather. We have a White Knight A* rated tumble dryer – cheap to buy, cheap to run and all parts are apparently marked for recycling.
4. Wood is good. We've used wood just about everywhere we can. Real wood that is, as un-manufactured as we can get. My theory is that by using wood from a sustainable and local source we are locking up carbon for a good many years and at the end of it new tree's will have grown to absorb even more carbon. So we have an engineered oak floor downstairs. This is a kind of oak ply, with a layer of oak, and two layers of pine. It's very strong, works well with the ufh and is very easy to clean and keep clean. All the skirting, doors, architraves etc are real wood (not mdf) and where possible we have reclaimed wood from other projects, the tip and even people moving house.
5. Electrical overhaul. We've had all the switches and sockets replaced with some decent MK ones. Half were broken, didn't work well, or were just too filthy to clean. While this doesn't save carbon or the environment (as the swiches and sockets require a lot of nasty things in the manufacture), it's better to be safe, and by buying something that will last for some time – i.e. MK stuff – I hope that they won't be changed for at least 30 years. We have also added the provision for extra isolators required for solar/wind power.
6. Central Heating boiler powered by wood. Central heating here is solid fuel. There is no gas in the area and I'm loathed to move to bottled gas or oil, both of with seems to be controlled at the moment by unstable loonies. Burning coal is in some ways good – it's a local product and there is a very efficient distribution system. But as pointed out in an earlier blog – coal chucks out a good wodge more co2 than gas and it's a messy business dealing with coal. A 50/50 mix of coal and wood is however very low carbon compared to gas, but for co2 neutrality burning just wood is good (as the new tree's that are planed absorb as much co2 and the ones you are burning – well that's the theory). So the solid fuel stove has been upgraded and repaired with new seals etc and we burn logs, wood bits, and some manufactured wood chip logs. All of which are by-products of the wood industry.
Things to do…
a. Solar hot water – not just for hot water though, I want this tied into our heating system as I'm sure it can provide enough to heat the UFH most of the year.
b. Thermal store. Part of a above I guess, but these are expensive at the moment, so I'll keep looking.
c. P.V. I'm gonna get a small <100W panel and see what sort of output I get. d. Wind. likely to be out at the moment due to the noise and planning issues. e. Grey Water. I've eyed up a couple of 1000 litre storage containers. With them buried in the ground I should have (given enough rain water) enough to flush the downstairs loo, supply the washing machine and water the garden.