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Fuel | My Barn Conversion - Part 2

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Category: Books October 8th, 2009 by mbc

I’ve really enjoyed Roger Deakin’s ‘Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees’, the book takes you on a gentle journey, part biography, part manifesto, part travelogue.

As I expect to be spending substantial amounts of time sourcing, collecting, cutting, splitting and stacking logs to keep us warm over the winter, one particular quote struck me as good advice – advice that I’ll try to apply whenever I get around to building that wood store …

…a mosaic of cut log ends that wall the whole of the south-facing end. The summer sun will dry out the end grain, drawing out the sap until the wood is pure energy for the fire.

Anthony Watts’ recent comment on external insulation on my Insulation post (damn, I’ve still not finished that series of posts!) also reminded me of other passages in the same book, where when travelling through eastern Europe, Roger saw houses with great stacks of logs against the house walls, drying whilst improving insulation. Perhaps not a whole solution but potentially a partial, practical, low cost (assuming Anthony burns wood) one.

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The case for coal

Category: Barn Conversion Journal November 6th, 2008 by mbc

Now here’s a conundrum…

First the facts:

  • The barn lies just outside of the South Wales Coal Field.
  • Our heating system will comprise of solar thermal water heating (from in-roof panels) with a multi-fuel burner as the ‘primary’ heat source (& a backup electrical heating coil in the tank) [Read the background to that]
    (I’m still not sure if this stripped down heating system is a brave or foolish solution, but the decision is made and plans in place).
  • I will have a need to keep the multi-fuel burner fuelled, albeit infrequently, and providing some heat over-night and into the next day.
  • I have a free source of a couple of tons of anthracite that was mined locally – probably the longest journey it’ll take is from the garage where it’s lain unthought-of for the last 10 or 20 years to my place 7 miles away.
  • This is an area with no mains gas, so that isn’t an option.

Now the story:

Although I intend to burn the coal and buy coal in future to allow me a longer (overnight +), slower, gentler burn than I can get with wood alone, this has bothered me a little bit from the environmental perspective of the CO2 release.

However, the other day, as I was driving to the barn musing on that very point, I passed a big dirty tanker making a delivery of fuel oil to a house. That put a different perspective on things for me…

Why am I feeling guilty – surely it’s better for me to burn (relatively) clean, high grade coal that has been sourced locally than oil that has at least come from the North Sea and potentially from half way around the world!?

Add to that the fact that I plant trees and plan to plant more shortyly and I have to ask, do I have anything to feel guilty about?

Answers on a postcard or please post a comment below please!

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Peak Oil ~ what is it & what bearing does it have on green building?

Category: News April 27th, 2008 by mbc

Peak Oil is a notional point in time. It is reached when the rate of global oil production hits its maximum level from which the only way is down. In these terms downs means escalating costs of extraction & production, restricted supply, unfulfilled demand and increasing prices.

The foundations of the peak oil concept lie in the Hubbert peak theory of Marion King Hubbert that accurately predicted that United States oil production would peak in the early 1970’s. The term Peak Oil currently usually used in relation to world oil production as a whole. Conservative estimates place the date at which Peak Oil is reached at between 2020 & 2030, whilst more pessimistic commentators will suggest that the point has already been passed.

Whilst much of the comment and speculation around the subject reads like Princess Di or JFK conspiracy theorists letting their imaginations run wild, there are tracts of thought that can help us in consideration of designing our homes and living environments sustainably.

So what has this got to do with barn conversions?
Most obviously, restricted oil supplies lead to expensive energy. We are already being subjected to soaring energy costs and uncertainty (whether or not this is related to Peak Oil I’ll leave to you to decide). Under these conditions sustainable, self-contained energy solutions become attractive not just from a isolationist perspective, but also a financial one.

We must also consider the wider impact of oil supply as it extends its tendrils into so many other aspects of modern life. The plastics, chemical fertiliser & pharmaceuticals industries all rely heavily on oil. What alternatives are there and how can we insulate ourselves from the impacts of change? This question when coupled with the challenges of climate change has lead to the transition town movement.

A Transition Initiative is a community working together to look Peak Oil and Climate Change squarely in the eye and address this BIG question:

“for all those aspects of life that this community needs in order to sustain itself and thrive, how do we significantly increase resilience (to mitigate the effects of Peak Oil) and drastically reduce carbon emissions (to mitigate the effects of Climate Change)?”

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Heating & Hot Water – a solution?

Category: Barn Conversion Journal March 28th, 2008 by mbc

From the start of this project, I’ve been through numerous options regarding the method by which we’ll heat the barn and generate hot water for domestic purposes. It’s been a long and twisty road but I think I’ve arrived at a solution that I’m comfortable with (at least for the time being).

Let’s start off with the one aspect that has always been in the plan – underfloor heating (UFH). With the healthy house ethos driving many of our design decisions, we’ve always intended to use underfloor heating and that has remained a constant. Actually, that’s only half true – I originally intended to have UFH on both the ground and first floor, but the idea of the weight of a screed on the first floor just seemed wrong to me (as does the idea of having no screed and therefore minimal thermal store). But I digress…

I started off with the intention of implementing what I thought to be a green solution of a ground source heat pump backed up by an electric water heater (pretty much to the disgust of my green friends). On advice this turned to an air source heat pump (to even more disgust from the green lobby). What eventually put me off these solutions (at least for the time being) is the apparent complexity of the technology involved, the need to consume an often difficult to estimate amount of electricity and a general feeling that I was over complicating the solution to my particular challenges.

I’ll also add that certain aspects of the heat pump installation industry seem to resemble uPVC window or second hand car salesmen. But again I digress…

After considering pellet and gasification boilers and again developing the creeping suspicion of over design I got to my current favoured solution…

Wait for it…

Solar Water Heating with a multi-fuel burner as the ‘primary’ heat source (& a backup electrical heating coil in the tank)…

We’d always planned for a multi-fuel burner in the barn, being the son of a coal merchant and living in the area from which the world’s finest anthracite comes, I have few qualms about burning coal. So the burner has been promoted to the primary heat source and coupled with a ‘foundation’ of solar water heating I feel I’ve a simple yet hopefully effective solution. We’ll specify a tank that can take additional feeds if we feel the need to beef things up with for example a pellet stove in future and plumb ready for that eventuality. As hopefully we’ll be able to move into the barn during the Summer we’ll start off with minimal requirements which will build as the year draws on. Will it all pull together and work? I’ll keep you informed…

Comments / Questions?

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Pellet Stoves – a current evaluation

Category: Systems of interest March 5th, 2008 by mbc

I feel like I’ve somewhat misrepresented pellet stoves in the past.

To recap, pellet stoves are wood burners with a difference, they burn pellets made from pressed waste wood, that are feed from a hopper into a combustion chamber all of which is often controlled electronically.

I’m sure no-one has really been reading who’ll take offence, but I feel that I should redress the balance. When writing about biomass heating, I stated that:

biomass systems are often bulky and so can require extensive storage space for both fuel and machinery

…with no statement of assumptions and seemingly no exceptions.

After further research, I’ve found some nifty looking pellet stoves such a those from Rika, that offer full biomass credentials whilst remaining compact in size and offering levels of control not available with more crudely fuelled wood or multi-fuel burners. I especially like the Rika option that allows remote control of the system by mobile telephone. Read More

So, to redress the balance: Biomass can be compact as well as clean and green!

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Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter… https://twitter.com/barnconversion/status/368427314868396032

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

I love the interior of this conversion and the great use of horizontal slats on this conversion. I retains the essential ‘barnyness’ of the building… flemish-barn-by-arend-groenewegen-architect

Coming soon, my barn conversion guide… Interesting earthship greenhouse project on Kickstarter

I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]


Barns Gallery on Remodelista

There is a lovely gallery of barn related inspirational photographs available on Remodelista.

Barns – the Long House

Situated on the North Norfolk coast, this is a building to admire…

Barns – the Balancing Barn

A stunning piece of architecture, although not entirely to my taste…

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

The Daily Mail reports on a new fast-track route through planning controls for the conversion of barns…

De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

“A bit like a private sector, modernising, repurposing St Fagan’s…”


What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety


Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

Thoughts on making YOUR barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

The 2012 Stirling prize was won by a outsider, the Sainsbury Laboratory…

The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

The efficient, shiny world of construction in 1923…

Design in Storage

When designing a layout it’s easy to forget to plan for storage…


Green Deal slow beginnings?

Oh dear! The green deal hasn’t got off to a very auspicious start… As reported in the Telegraph today since it was launched nearly a year ago just 12 homes have taken advantage of the Green Deal with a few hundred more in the pipeline. 71,210 households had been assessed for Green Deal measures such […]

The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

Eric Pickles vague compromise on planning reform keeps the house happy (for now).

Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

There seems to be only one thing that is certain in the world of energy policy and that is that costs will rise annually above and beyond anything that inflation can currently throw at us. Beyond that, smoke screens & confusion seem to reign. Take the recent news for example… It’s reported today that the […]

Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

The leader of Plaid Cymru has promised a “Green New Deal” to rejuvenate the Welsh economy and help maintain Wales’ position at the forefront of Green policies.

Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

The government is due to announce a temporary increase in the maximum depth of extensions that can be built under permitted development rules.

Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

Sustainable development – with the term now enshrined in planning law, what does it mean?

Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

While reading up on the response of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) to the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) I came across this quote from Sir Patrick Abercrombie…