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Affordable eco housing

Posted 18/03/2010 by RoseS

So when is a house truly an eco home and when is it not? It is a question that has sprung to mind a couple of times in recent weeks after reading the news, first, that UK Premier League footballer Gary Neville is planning a new zero energy home on green belt land on the outskirts of Bolton. Dubbed the ‘tellytubby’ house because of its unusual underground architecture, the property would occupy 8000 square foot of green belt land should it gain the approval of local planning regulators.

More recently comes the news that Britain’s biggest EuroMillions Lottery winners are also following the eco-building trend, by buying Barnsley Hill Farm – a six bedroom property reportedly featuring a 25-seat home cinema, indoor pool, steam room, sauna and hot tub. At a mere £4m, it shouldn’t make much of a dent in their £56m win. And with a carbon footprint claimed to be the same as the average two-bed flat, they won’t have to worry too much about their energy bills either.

Whether or not such houses should really be considered ‘eco’ is a moot point. However, the fashion for buying energy efficient houses – as well as for renovating existing properties to improve efficiency ratings – is fast catching on (see the next issue of C&I – Issue 6 22 March 2010). And not just among the rich and famous.

According to a recent report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), buildings currently account for up to 40% of the world’s energy consumption and nearly a third of man-made greenhouse gas emissions: a staggering 8.6bn t of CO2/year. That figure is expected to almost double to 15.6bn t/year by 2030. And as energy bills continue to rise as a consequence of dwindling fossil fuel reserves, energy efficiency also makes good economic sense.

Installing loft insulation could save around £150/year for the average three bed semi-detached house, with a payback time of less than three years if you install it yourself, according to statistics available from the UK’s Energy Saving Trust; cavity wall insulation should save an estimated £115/year and will pay back in around two years. The savings in annual CO2 emissions are 800kg and 610kg, respectively.

In Europe, around 80% of properties will still be around by the year 2050, with nearly 90% of greenhouse gas emissions arising during a building’s lifetime as opposed to during construction. If the European Union really wants to bring down carbon dioxide emissions, it will need to tackle emissions from existing buildings as a priority. While subsidies for sexier energy saving generators, wind turbines – and soon, for solar power – are welcome, extra funding for less glamorous insulation materials could potentially offer a far greater return on investment.

Cath O’Driscoll – Deputy Editor

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  • Anonymous said:
    21/06/2013 04:36

    It is good to have a back up plan besides fast food as well. We know that diennr comes every night, but somehow I can make it into the most stressful as well.Monday=breakfastTuesday=meatlessWednesday=soup and/or saladsThursday=taco nightFriday=pizza nightSaturday=new recipe, freeze doubled portionor one of our regulars:chick pea stew, chicken tetrazzini, enchiladas, etc.Sunday=grill or crock potTo encourage my family to try new foods and eat more locally and healthfully, we joined a CSA beginning last year. You can find one by going to localharvest on the web.

  • Anonymous said:
    13/03/2012 03:15

    I have children, if it is feuphll. And yes, the do eat broccoli and kale, even the 3 year old, but they also drink milk and eat fresh fruit. The fruit stays cold on my porch - we buy apples by the bushel in the fall when they are fresh and they taste so much better than anything we can get from the supermarket.As for meat - we raise pastured, sustainable meat on land not suitable for tillage - it is too steep and wet for raising grains or vegetables. We raise them with minimal grain use - so no, our meat production isn't a massive contributor to global warming, but an antidote to commercial meat production for those who don't want to be vegetarians. In fact, meat production on a small, sustainable scale allows us to make use of land that would otherwise lie fallow - requiring someone else to grow food on land that could be wild. As for cheating, for those who don't know about it, we participate in the Riot for Austerity, which gets us down by 90% over the average American's energy use. So we're allowed a certain amount of electrical use per person - less than 150 watts per month, per person. We use it primarily on our computers, and on our freezer - and we choose how we use our fair share. I don't think there is a "cheat" factor here - I wouldn't have any trouble with someone saying "a fridge is what I choose to use my energy on" - except that it simply isn't possible to achieve a 90% reduction with a conventional American fridge, unless you are willing to sit in the dark - they simply consume too much energy. What you can do is either choose a chest freezer (which in our case gives us both refrigeration and freezing) or you can get a thermostat and adapt a chest freezer to be a fridge, which uses even less energy. I really don't get the whole "it is the same thing." No, it isn't - a comparable sized, comparably dated chest freezer and fridge have a difference of 800-1,000 kwh of electrical usage a year. That's a huge difference - and given that every household has a fridge, it is enough to shut several dozen coal plants. I get that some people don't want to try anything different, and that this won't work for every person - but realistically, the fridge isn't just a personal choice - it is a major contributor to global warming. It is easy to shift over to cloth bags and to cut back your shampooing - the problem is that those things make very small differences in a very big crisis. The fridge is one of the big issues, and one that realistically, if we ever hope to arrest global warming, we're going to have to come to some solution on. Sharon