Everything else

General Nicey

One of our new ex-battery chickens Bernard, or General Nicey as the girls had named her has died. Not quite sure if it was natural causes or if the dog's had something to do with it (generally they leave the chickens alone). At least she had a few weeks of good life following her internment in a battery cage.

Recycled Chickens

We've been wanting chickens for quite some time – we have enough garden and it's another step to help reduce the food miles on the things we eat. The new chicken house is now up (though Chicken Hotel is more like it), it's been varnished to keep the worst of the weather off and the roof has been felted. Next step is to form the run and source the chickens. We could go with some exotic breed, but have decided to have recycled chickens – well ex-battery chickens anyway. We hope they will have a much better life with us and saves them from the dispatchers table.

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Update… the poor ole recycled chickens are at least a month away before we get them, so we purchased some point of lay chickens. Head over to the wifes chicken hotel site for more information.

Newbury Farmers Market – my pick of the market

What a great farmers market again in Newbury – good sunshine too which helps. Most of the stalls were empty by lunch time so trade must have been good too. My pick of this month's farmers market must be divided between three close contenders – Brooklea's Fish Farm (East Hendred) for their trout; Stark House Farm (a well deserved previous pick) and E F J Gould's Cheddar's. It's a close run thing this month, but my pick of the market for March is Brooklea Fish Farm with their wonderful fresh trout.

A Nag’s Tale

I do enjoy a good walk with the dog's, so much so that the traditional greeting is "Adrian Hollister, ah yes I've seen you walking your dogs" followed by "don't you also do Green things?". Helpfully there are more tracks paths and fields around Chaddleworth than anywhere I know. All of them lead to green fields, stunning views and past some wonderful odd things too – the bridge over the duck pond, the beach lined lanes in the middle of no where, and some great living art sculptures.

My walks are usually 3-4 hours though so finding somewhere that I will enjoy and the dog's will be happy with can be quite difficult. I've done trips to Ilsley, Farnborough, Great Shefford as well as trips along the Kennet and Avon Canal from Newbury to Great Bedwyn (and back via train!).

All have been unplanned and some have ended in 6-8 hour journeys! I was given the AA 1001 Walks in Britain book for Christmas and scanned it for anything in my area. As it happens walk 194 is in Chaddleworth and 193 is in Farnborough – two areas I walk regularly. Both taking routes that I'd not tried before. This week I tried the 194 walk from Chaddleworth to the abandoned medieval village of Whatcombe and back.

Knowing the area I could expand upon the walk slightly and took the route via the edge of Spray Wood, back to the Church and then down to Manor Farm. The hill from Manor Farm to the A338 seems steeper than the 90m climb suggests but the views are stunning. Crossing the A338 and heading past Whatcome Stud there is another 100m climb to the top of Kite hill. It's then downhill past Henley farm on the return leg. The last hill is another 100m climb via a restricted byway to the edge of Chaddleworth. As a last variation to the guide I headed past the stud and across the fields to give the dogs one final good run.

All in all a good three hour walk and a great guide. I'll try Farnborough next weekend – it's a longer distance but only 50m climbs.

Chimney Swept

Just had the annual chimney sweeping done. A chap call Mr G North from Headington in Oxford came out with a camera and checked out the whole flu for us as well. He did a great job and was nice chap too. So if you want a propa chimney sweep and inspection contact him on 01865 522 523 and mention you've seen his name on Adrian Hollister's blog.

Another stunning Newbury Show

I was on the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue service stand at the Newbury show this year as a volunteer Fire Fighter. What a great team of people they are and haven't had such as good chat and laugh on 'official' business for a long time. I'll write up a better blog entry once my voice recovers from a long day of talking and chatting!

You can find their web site here.

Downlands in June

""What great weather we have been having, nice long warm and hot days and the occasional overnight shower. All the plants seem to have boomed in the past few weeks leaving fields filling with crops and some wonderful downland walks.

Fuel Duty Protest by the Lorry Drivers

The price of fuel is reflecting a resource that is dwindling and controlled by states that could be considered a threat to the US and US allies. So in some respects I can understand the recent protests by the Lorry Drivers about the cost of fuel, but perhaps not for the reasons that they are protesting. My concerns are not that their businesses are under threat (because actually if they thought about it there are other ways of working and other methods of transport available to them), but that UK lorry drivers are put at a disadvantage against the foreign competition because of our high cost of fuel.

I would like to see a level playing field for all lorry drivers in the UK. Perhaps a system where the fuel duty is change to a road toll fee would be more appropriate. The road toll fee would be added to the price of fuel in the UK and all non-UK resident drivers would also be required to pay this fee no matter where they filled up. Non UK drivers would have to declare entry to the UK and exit from the UK mileage and charged an appropriate level. Personally I would also like to see all inbound lorries weighed and visually inspected to ensure they meet the UK road limitations and requirements.

Perhaps then importers may consider using more rail freight, sea freight and reuse the canal networks?

Eco village calls for shareholders

"Lammas Low Impact Initiatives Ltd have applied for planning permission to build an eco-village in Pembrokeshire. Now the group are appealing for financial backers to get involved by buying shares in the company. Lammas say 'for the first time ever a planning policy exists to allow people to build low impact houses in the countryside and live off the land in a sustainable way, but so far the policy only exists in Pembrokeshire'.", Green Building Press.

See the full article here.

Steamy Bathroom Windows

When my house was built and designed, they forgot completely (as they do now) that the south facing aspect of the house would gain the most sunlight. So they built the house with almost no windows on the south side. In real terms though this has protected the house from the very heavy rain and wind we get up here in the Downlands. What it has not done though it to make the most of the light, with many of the largest windows and doors on the least lit parts.

One of the few windows on the south side is the bathroom window. We have yet to put in effective passive ventilation for this room and it can get a little steamed up. A wipe with a clean cloth usually stops the big drips of water, but one thing that does annoy me is the black mold you get especially on uPVC surfaces (don't blame me for uPVC windows they were already there and I'm not going to throw something into landfill on principal).

I do have a chemical black mould remover, which smells nasty and you can just tell doesn't do me, us or the environment any good. I've also tried steam cleaning, but to be effective it needs to be done once a week and I don't fancy hauling a steam cleaner up there for that task alone. The last option considered was actually something stumbled upon almost by accident.

During the renovation of the house we went for basic white suite and white tile combination (as we could get them cheap, and found a load of tiles on Freecycle). Now I'm ok with white – it's clean, simple and well err white; but the wife – oh no – she wants a sort of black and chrome look to mingle in the white. Ok bear with me here I'm getting to the point… part of this scheme was a blind to cover the window. We wanted a blackout blind as the neighbours next door are a little creepy at times so we looked at a few (Ikea, freecycle etc) but ended up choosing our own fabric and having a blind made for us. Our fabric selection was simple – no light was to get through and it had to match the colour scheme – in this case black.

Getting to the point of this blog though, the black blind is thick and matt and it absorbs a surprising amount of heat. This heat when applied over a period of time is enough to dry out the window area and keep just about all of the horrid black mould at bay. You do need to leave the blind down during the day for it to work, but we are mostly out during the day so it's not a problem.

So my tip here is that to cut down on the black mould and damp issues around your south facing bathroom windows (I wonder how many people actually have south facing bathroom windows?) try using a thick matt black blind and leave it down when your not in the house to let the sunlight kill off the mould for you.

Progress to date – Am I Carbon Neutral Yet?

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.

Improving the carbon footprint of your multifuel stove

Like most in my area, I have a multifuel stove as my primary heating source. I burn coal and wood, with coal as my primary heating fuel. There are some clear pangs of doubt though towards my use of coal. We've all been told how nasty it actually is, but it is a local product (from within our country) and not shipped/piped half way around the world. Should I be doing anything with my coal to reduce my carbon footprint?

I like the green building forum. There are a whole bunch of like minded individual's there, so I started the debate about the use of coal. My main debate points were: coal is sourced locally, I can see how much my I'm burning so I use very little, and I'm not a risk of another state/country turning off the supply for a bit of a larf.

There is a great summary of co2 production from each fuel type on the stoves online web site. It shows that a mix of wood/coal produces less co2 that gas, oil or in fact just about any other type of fuel. I wonder why our local housing association bans the use of wood fuel? No actually I don't wonder, I'm sure it's because they might need to sweep the chimneys twice per year.

So the easiest mix for our multifuel stoves is to use a wood/coal mix, but the most environmentally friendly (well at least the one producing the least amount of 'new' CO2) is wood and wood chip products. I'm testing out some nice looking heat logs from Agrol. They are just big compressed sawdust blocks that seem to burn for several hours and give reasonable heat. The ones I have are not made locally, so there is a trade off, but they are made as a by product of the significant Scandinavian wood industry. I'll let you know how I get on with them.

In summary, to reduce your CO2 in your multifuel stove, the quickest and most effective option is to stop burning coal and burn only wood products. This can be expensive compared to coal, so worst case split the fuel mix to 50/50 coal and wood and ensure that your coal comes from this country and has not travelled half way around the world.

Dog Proof Fedge

Well the fedge has been planted today. Willow, between 2 and 3 rows deep. To make it dog proof I’ve added a wire fence (provided as leftovers from a local farm) nailed to a few wooden posts and a gate from Scat’s in Newbury. The posts are not straight, but it’s dog proof and when the Willow starts to take it should hide the posts just nicely.
It’s already created a nice screen bordering off the upper half of the garden from the rest. The neighbours were also very curios as to why I put lots of dead sticks in the ground. In the few weeks it's been in the ground we have had quite a bit of green leaf growth and it's already looking very good (see second picture below).
Lastly, we have used up some of the spare in a bit of a dead space to create a bit of shelter from the sun. It's a south facing line, so we are going to let these grow a bit in height. The dog has access to dig up and eat these if she wished, but seems not too interested. She has bent a few down by sitting/sleeping on them though.

Dog proof fedge and wire fence combo.  The bricks and wood are to deter the dog from digging under the wire, but once the willow has established it should be find anyway.

From 'dead' brown sticks to green shoots and leaves in just three weeks of willow growth.

This is the basic structure we have used, three rows of Willow.  It's dense on this picture as this is the area the dog can dig and eat is she wishes, and we assumed that we would loose a lot of it.  Apart from a few battle scars, the Willow seems to have come out of it unharmed by the dog.

Given up on Wood Pellet Stove

I've given up trying to get a wood pellet stove. The main suppliers out there are only interested in big business and refer to 'local installers'. Those local installers are just about impossible to get hold of and when you do their prices are in a different league. Mark up's on the products are incredible and labour is twice the cost of a standard wood burning or multifuel stove (although just about the same effort is required to install a wood pellet stove).

Supply is also a little too unpredictable. A few companies might be able to supply me, but only in bulk, and a few more can supply small bags, but at a cost which equates to twice that of coal. I want to be leading edge with my sustainable approach, but not at the cost of living essentials, or making the cost inappropriate for anyone else to repeat.

So the hunt is now on for an alternative. At the moment burning wood (logs, compressed products) seems to be one of the better options.

Gritish Bas

British Gas came out for the third time today. They are finally getting around the move electricity meter. It’s not exactly the engineers fault, but that of their ’system’ and their ‘process’. You phone them up, speak to someone who has absolutely no idea what you are talking about, they then log a call about something they could find on their system that seems to match what you were talking about, and finally an engineer turns up expecting to change a light bulb and not a whole electricity meter.

It’s amazing how such large companies get lost in the procedure. The call centre staff seem to be there to take calls and manage calls, and not to get the customer as quickly as possible to an engineer who can actually help or qualify your conversation. I wonder what it would be like if I could call my local British gas site, get a call logged and then speak to an engineer straight away. How much time in failed appointments would be saved?

The Great Purge

To fit with our new lifestyle most of our old possessions have to go. There are two key reasons for this: to maintain the ‘only what we need’ principal, and to get rid of our external storage. Most of our possession’s are now in from storage and there is a general Christmas feeling in the house when boxes, that have been in storage for over a year, are opened. It’s amazing how much you miss stuff that you’d forgotten about. Our DVD collection for example extends to at least 20 DVD’s (ohh wow), all of which have been in storage. Once out of the box the girls cant remember how they survived without them (well almost). We’ve played tug of war with the girls over daft DVD’s they are not really interested so that we can get them on ebay.

Some our stuff is just not ebay material, and while car boots can generate some cash, in my experience the only people making money are the people on the gates collecting the entrances free. We are however doing a lot of ‘freecycle’. It’s one of those, give it away free to the first person that turns up, sites that run’s mainly via email updates. Our old fridge went in about an hour, and a load of old kids books went in 10 mins to a grandmother who wanted something for her grandkids. It’s a great idea and beats putting it in the waste or attempting to give it to a charity shop (who are increasingly picky about what they take!).

The purge ratio this week is about 5:1 – five items to ebay etc to one keep. No bad I think, but I reckon there is a second
round where some of the retained items can go….

Kitchen Worktops – rubberwood?

Things are progressing quickly with the Kitchen. The rubberwood worktops are being installed in the kitchen and this somehow seems to have made the kitchen look complete. It’s a shame that the worktops have been sat in the transit for over a month as they have slightly warped. Thankfully our chippy (well the old man) is more than a match for warped wood.
Damn hard stuff this rubberwood – it’s eaten three router bits and a bunch of jigsaw blades. The router bits can be re-sharpened, but the jigsaw blades seem to be designed to be dropped in a landfil of after use (as there seem to be no recycling marks on the packaging, nor on the blades). Still, I’ve put the blades in the re-cycling.
If anyone is interested, the carpentry work has been undertaken by Gerald Hollister. You can find his web site here: Gerald Hollister's web site.

Utter Filth – part 1

One key problem about buying a renovation project – especially one from a repossessed house – is that the quality of the house internals are rarely even ‘ok’. We new the house was bad. We viewed the house a couple of times. But nothing actually quite prepared us for the utter filth that lay behind things, under things, stuck to things etc.

The house was fumigated before we moved in (the building society who repossessed it insisted on it), but this seems to do nothing to kill the nasties living in this house. I’m usually pretty immune to flea bites – they prefer the girls, the cats or anything over smelly old me – but in this house I’ve been bitten. Bitten a lot.

Removing the stairs carpet seemed to be the pinnacle of flea activity. The stairs consisted of a lovely (sic) shade of what must have been beige carpet. It had largely been eroded by trampling feet so that in most places only the backing was visible, and through the backing appeared to be underlay.

The smell in the carpets was horrendous and there was no way that I could let the girls in the house with the carpets in. So my priority task was to remove the carpets. Bedrooms, bathroom (oh god the bathroom carpet needs an entire blog article, but I just can’t bring myself to write it), kitchen, lounge, and hall all went on day one. All floors were vacuumed, mopped with bleach, cleaner (sugar soap), and then some great stuff called magic odour zap http://www.screwfix.com/app/sfd/cat/pro.jsp?cId=101513&amp;ts=35700&amp;id=65263). None of this is environmentally friendly, but it just had to be done. What ever was down there had to die. So, end of week one and we had the major smell’s out of the way and the main source of all things crawling.

I had of course ignored the stairs. I didn’t think too much about it, it’s a small staircase and we were trampling dirt in and out the house so it provided a way of cleaning the boots off before getting to the living areas (upstairs). Smells persisted and the girls started to get some serious flea bites. After ruling out just about everything else, I set about removing the stair carpet. Perhaps carpet’s would be a better description though. The first layer came up to review that the underlay (so I thought) was in fact chocolate brown carpet. Hmmm nice. Chocolate brown carpet covered in dog hairs. Hmm not so nice. Chocolate brown carpet covered in dog hairs, lumps of smelly ’stuff’, and a strong smell of ammonia. Hmm, I could taste the air – I didn’t want to of course, but literally the (I’m gagging while I think of it) smell penetrated all.

Anyway, being a man, defender of the home from unwanted bugs, and all round hero, I ploughed on pulling up the carpet’s. Four layers in all. The end result was some rancid carpet just outside our front door, stairs that had to be cleaned with bleach about fifteen times, and me covered on flea bites.

It just amazes me that people live like this and don’t notice something is wrong. How could they not smell the stench? Why were they not bitten by the flea’s? Also, why did they nail the carpets down in the house? 2″ nails bent over. Why didn’t they take up the old carpets? and Why didn’t they vacuum the place once in a while?

Rennovation planning

We still have no house to buy, but I have plans. Many of them. Too

many. But here is my target for the house fabric/infrastructure

rennovation:

  • Environmentally sensative rennovation
  • Sustainable technologies
  • A working family home
  • A working family garden with veggie patch (have I been watching too much ‘Good Life’ – go flick go)

I’ve done a good study of technology available, so here is what I’m looking at:

  • Wood Pellet stove/boiler for central heating/hot water
  • Ground floor underfloor heating (most likely Osma)
  • Thermal Store
  • Solar water heating for central heating and hot water
  • PV to cover base load
  • Ground floor wooden flooring (clean, warm, ‘bounce’, renewable source)
  • 1st floor carpets with sound proofing felt/rubber crumb underlay

    (which seems to contain quite a high amount of recycled products)

  • Very high levels of insulation (perhaps warm roof)