Gothic Grand Designs Redemption?

I’m determined not to keep going on about Grand Designs, so this is the last I’ll say on it (at least for the moment), but it was nice to see Kevin find his old critical eye again – I guess he lost it somewhere on the way to all those rich peoples houses.

The Gothic Executive Tudor Timber Frame Mini-Castle featured in this weeks programme was a little difficult to get to grips with at any level – architectural, aesthetic or practical. Personally, whilst I admired the whole Gothic principle underlying the design, the non-structural oak propped up by a reinforced timber frame and plasma TV’s was just too much for me.

Kevin McCloud’s raised eye-brows and scale based scepticism were nice to see, adding a questioning, thought provoking aspect to the programmes that is what Grand Designs is all about to me. Hopefully this healthy dose of criticality is back for the rest of the series …

Enough said on Grand Designs except let’s have a green build please….

Grrrrrand Designs…

I love Grand Designs, it’s been an inspiration to me and is at least partially to blame for this project. But the latest series has so far defined grand in terms of pounds and pence rather than any more noble or aesthetic value. So far we’ve seen rich people building rich peoples houses – grand in terms of Victorian upper class values of opulence and decadence, but out of step with 21st century sensibilities and environmental anxieties.

There have been occasional glimpses of green technology and design – I think a ground source heat pump has popped up at least once, these buildings have obviously been well insulated and therefore energy efficient and I imagine all that glass has been installed with solar gain in mind. But these are not key topics within the programmes and are not being highlighted as I think they should be in a world where sustainable building & living are crucial issues that we need to tackle with tenacity.

Perhaps it’s not the job of Grand Designs to promote the green agenda, perhaps it’s the job of Grand Designs to be a ‘pimp my crib’ show – rich people in James Bond homes showing off to the rest of us. I don’t think that’s what Grand Designs started out to be and I hope it’s not what it now aspires to be now.

Kevin McCloud must shoulder some of the blame for this – I know he cares about sustainability, take for example his involvement with HAB housing (Happiness, Architecture and Beauty):

HAB is committed to creating communities which are a pleasure to live in and sustainable in the broadest sense.

…but the series so far, at least in my watching of it, has failed to get the balance right, failed to promote the sustainable perspective that must gain influence and priority in the development of buildings of all sorts.

In the words of McClouds namesake, Kevin Keegan:

‘I’m not disappointed – just disappointed.’

In the words of the song: emphasize the positive, eliminate emphasize the negative – let’s have a frank and honest evaluation of buildings within the context of the current day, not just praise people for building shopping centres to live in. Perhaps the rest of the series will live up to my hopes….?


Lack of Government support for solar power

As this project progresses certain features become core to the overall design whilst others fall onto the ‘B’ list. This ‘B’ list consists of technologies and design elements that I would like to implement during some future phase of the project as time and money allow.

Electricity-generating photovoltaic (PV) solar panels have always been on the ‘B’ list for reasons of cost, payoff periods and the fact that there is a ready and easy alternative (can’t get much easier than mains electricity!).

I’ve read a number of articles recently that me me glad about that decision. Since government grants were capped at £2500 in May last year applications have fallen off – only 113 households applied between March & September 2007 with around 4,000 total prior to then and installers have been reducing the size of their workforces due to lack of business. The PV industry as a whole seems to be further back than it was when I started this project.

Within feed-in schemes (householders being paid for electricity they generate and export back in to the national grid) receiving no government encouragement – the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform states that such schemes do not fit with the UK energy market, it is increasing difficult to see any practical financial governmental support for green energy initiatives.

So I’ll leave solar power on my ‘B’ list for a year or so and hopefully some support will materialise …. here’s hoping …

How Green is Cement?

Being about to pour several tonnes of concrete into the floor of our barn I was interested to read about the environmental impact of cement usage. Apparently, world-wide cement production creates twice as many carbon emissions as the world’s airline industry does. For each tonne of cement that is produced 900kg of CO2 is released into the atmosphere ~ heavy stuff!

Moves are afoot from major producers to green the production process. Geocycle in Belgium provides technology that allows waste products to be used to power the kilns in which the ingredients of cement (limestone, calcium, silicon, aluminium and iron oxides) are cooked into a clinker before being crushed to a powder and mixed with further additives such as gypsum.

However, with no obvious substitutes and a voracious world-wide appetite for concrete the opportunities and needs for technology to address the issue of C02 in cement production is paramount.

Cash Incentives for ‘Green’ Installations

A recurring topic that has kept popping into my consciousness over the past few weeks has been that of financial incentives to encourage of adoption of green technology in buildings.

Firstly, in relation to the incentives that are available in the UK from the government. I’m interested in an air-source heat pump to provide an easier-to-install alternative to a ground-source pump to provide our heating. Whilst the Energy Saving Trust website lists air-source pumps as being covered under the low carbon buildings programme, the Low Carbon Buildings site itself doesn’t! I guess these are the risks of being a (potentially) early adopter of such technologies.

Secondly, when researching my earlier PassivHaus posting, I become rather envious of the seemingly generous financial assistance available in Germany, not only aimed at specific technologies, but at providing cheap mortgages to sustainable self-builders. If only we had similar support here.

Now I read on the BBC website that the a report from The New Local Government Network (whoever they are) says that planning laws should be relaxed and rebates to council tax payments offered to encourage take up of green energy generation technology. A great idea that I thoroughly applaud – to encourage energy saving through positive support rather than the usual negative approach of increasing taxation – but I can’t help but wonder if such support will ever see the light of day. There seems to be a great deal of ingrained negativity in government at all levels – a layer of civil servants hanging on to our money with all their might and at all costs.

I guess there is some support out there if you can navigate your way through the system, but I hope we’ll learn from others, take advice and really do something positive to begin to address the carbon challenge in a holistic, pragmatic manner.