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Installing Freesat – Starter for 10

Category: Starter for 10 February 11th, 2011 by mbc

Given the problems I’d had with the signal from the TV aerial I thought I’d look into satellite TV. There was no way I was going to pay and any escape from the clutches of Sky seemed to be liberating. With the promise of more HD channels than Freeview, Freesat looked to be the way to go.

Starter for 10

The 'Starter for 10' series is my way of sharing some of my experiences.

I'd love to receive any hints, tips or advice you may have that will add to those already given. Any that are worthy of inclusion will be added with appropriate acknowledgements.

Just post your suggestion as a comment below... thanks

(As it transpired, the problems I was having with the digital signal from the roof mounted TV aerial (the signal dropped intermittently and TV screen went blank momentarily) were more to do with the TV I was using than the signal and the allure of more HD channels on Freesat doesn’t stand true any longer after the introduction of Freeview HD last year – but you live and learn.)

So with a dish, cabling, a Freesat receiver, a satellite finder and a compass I set about looking for satellites…

I’ll not go into too many details about getting the dish up on a wall as it’s pretty straight-forward. I will give one word of warning – make sure that you get the moveable hinge on the bracket that you fix the dish to the wall with correctly aligned so that you’ll be able to move the dish horizontally from east to west rather than up and down as I did first time!

You’ll need to run cables to the dish from your receiver. For Freesat with a receiver with two tuners you’ll want to run two cables so that you can watch one channel and record another or record from two channels simultaneously. Buy good quality cable – I used PF100 Coaxial Satellite Cable bought in a 100 metre long roll.

From Barn Conversion 2011

My cable run is quite long (over 25 metres) and I was worried about loss / degradation of signal. However, having experimented, the key to maintaining a good signal seems to be maintaining uncut runs of cable. I’ve had more problems getting a strong, uninterrupted signal through cables that have joins along their length than from long cables. So try and run complete, uncut lengths of cable, rather than patching together bits and pieces.

You’ll need f-type plugs for connecting the cable to the receiver at one end and the LNB at the other. Buy them by the pack from a DIY or tool retailer rather than individually from an electrical store as you’ll tend to get more for your money. I recommend outdoor compression f-type connectors for connecting the cable to the LNB.

Let’s start to align the dish. Firstly, make sure the receiver is switched off…

From Barn Conversion 2011

With the dish wall mounted but still lose, we first need to get the skew on the LNB set correctly. This is a pretty dull subject and most dishes will have a leaflet with a map that will tell you how to set your particular LNB correctly for your location, so please refer to that.

Next we’ll get the dish aligned vertically. With a spirit level held vertically across the face of the dish get it level. Tighten the appropriate nuts and bolts on your bracket to retain the level …easy hey?!

We then move on to the more tricky horizonal alignment.

Luckily, I’m able to get a clear view of the sky from field to the side of the barn, so I’ve no issues about a blocked line of sight to the Freesat satellites. The satellites we need orbit over Africa and can be found in the south-east of the sky. We’ll be looking for the Astra group of satellites at 28.2º east for TV channels and the Eurobird satellite at 28.5º east from which the electronic programme guide (EPG) is transmitted.

The easiest way to find the satellites is with a satellite finder. This is a small gadget with a dial on it that also gives an audible indication of the satellite signal strength from the current bearing of your dish. Make sure you’ve switched your receiver off. Attach a short length of cable to the ‘To LNB’ (or equivalent) f-type socket of the finder then connect this to the LNB. Connect the cable from your reciever to the ‘To receiver’ (or equivalent) socket of the finder.

Switch your reciever on – this will power the satellite finder and you can start hunting satellites.

I found it easiest to start with the dish pointed east (many online guides suggest start from the south but the sky seems more cluttered with satellites when coming from that direction).

Move the dish slowly from the east, southwards aligning the dish with the first strong signal you can find as you move toward the south. Lock the dish onto the signal by tightening the approriate nuts and bolts.

Now check your reciever. Most boxes have some method of checking signal strength (for example, on a Humax FOXSAT-HDR the select Menu > System > Diagnostics) so go to the appropriate page on your system and check signal strength. If signal strength is low then tweak the positioning of the dish. As long as you’ve found the correct satellites you should only need to make very small adjustments so be careful.

Once happy with the signal then remove the satellite finder, connect both cables to the LNB and recheck signal strengths. In a dual tuner system, if there’s a problem with the signal to one tuner and not the other your issue is probably with the cable or connections so recheck all the connections before moving the dish.

Once happy with the signal then make sure that your dish is bolted firmly in place.

With a long cable run you may want to use an in-line LNB satellite signal booster on each cable. They are best installed close to the dish where there is more of a signal to boost. In my case, I’ve placed them just over half-way along my cable run – after the cables enter the house where they are patched into the cabling that runs to the wall sockets. They seem to have boosted my signal significantly.

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Visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology November 2010

Category: Barn Conversion Journal December 9th, 2010 by mbc

I visited the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT) again recently and I wanted to share the impression it made on me as I came away a little bit disappointed.

From Travel

I first visited CAT back in 2006 before I had ventured very far into the world of construction or conversion. I was still bright eyed and excited by the prospect of converting a pile of stone and slate into a home. I was looking for inspiration – for a roadmap through the technology, materials and techniques I should employ in following the ‘healthy house, sustainable, ecological & environmental’ approach to conversion that I saw as doing the right thing. At the time CAT at least started to provide that inspiration – it was somewhat informative if a little shabby. The technology I was looking for was here, albeit not with all the supporting information I desired – but at least it was a start. I didn’t discover the roadmap I was looking for, but from the information I picked up from the displays and the information sheets & booklets I bought in the shop I was able to begin my journey. Much reading, searching and spending of money later here I am with my renewable based heating, solar hot water panels, UFH, insulation, an inclination toward PV and an impossible desire for the barn to be facing directly south.

This time I came to CAT with a different agenda. I wanted an update from the horses mouth. After all, ‘CAT is concerned with the search for globally sustainable, whole and ecologically sound technologies and ways of life‘* so I turned to CAT to get a view of the current state of play. In that I was disappointed…

From Travel

Things don’t seem to have moved on at CAT over the last four years, at least from the perspective of the ‘casual’ day visitor. To be honest, except for the shiny new training and education centre, I can’t recall a single new exhibit or shiny bit of technology since my last visit. By the time we left my disillusion had reached a peak and I could even bring myself to buy any further information sheets or booklets from the shop – our only trophy was a small lady bird shaped torch that my son had taken a fancy to.

In fairness perhaps the casual day visitor isn’t CATs focus – perhaps they see themselves as being a campus for the training of missionaries for spreading the word. All those trainee architects and designers who seemed to be so engrossed with their laptops and lecture notes ready to venture forth and make the previously unsustainable sustainable. I must admit I’m attracted to the MSc in Architecture: Advanced Environmental and Energy Studies by distance learning myself – If I ever have a couple of lean years in prospect and a few grand in the bank I’ll be putting my name down. BUT I’d still like to some more shiny new inspirational exhibits…

* from CAT’s Mission Statement

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PassivHaus state of play October 2010

Category: News October 29th, 2010 by mbc

There’s a nice summary of the current state of PassivHaus building in the UK on The Ecologist website. I was interested to read the reasons that Chris Herring, director of the Green Building Store was quoted as giving for the slow take-up of this approach to building design and construction in the UK:

Chris Herring … puts it down to a combination of factors: suspicion of European ideas, the language barrier, the lack of a publicly funded body to promote best practice in construction in the UK since the privatisation of BRE, and the fact that the Government’s Code for Sustainable Homes has gone in a different direction (with a focus on renewables).

I’d like to add some further comment to that…

Personally, PassivHaus is a swings-and-roundabouts proposition – low bills and the satisfaction of ‘doing your bit for the planet’, weighed against a sterile and cold (in the sense of formal and aloof) interior. I like a ‘life giving’ open fire and all that it entails; I even enjoy chopping wood and laying the fire (probably because I don’t have to do it everyday). Sating the primal attraction to fire is a pleasure, one that I fear I may miss in a PassivHaus. So PassivHaus with a fireplace may suit me, but is that a compromise too far?

The other issue is builders. From experience builders, like most of us, prefer to remain in their comfort zone, using tried and tested techniques and materials. Whilst not demanding a massive shift in either aspect of building, PassivHaus construction is different enough to worry some and put off others. It is seemingly fashionable amongst the Grand Designs set to bring in foreign seemingly super efficient teams of builders who come ready made with the appropriate skills for PassivHaus, that’s not something I would do (and nor should YOU!). Our local builders need support and opportunity to develop the necessary skills. As developers, renovators and convertors we need to provide the opportunity (And I’m not sure that BRE can’t still provide the necessary support but I’ve not had enough contact with BRE to comment in any meaningful way). In short, it has to be an evolution toward PassivHaus standards rather than a big bang … and the evidence of the houses mentioned in the Guardian article suggest that evolution is underway.

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Combined Heat and Power

Category: Systems of interest September 30th, 2010 by mbc

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems generate electrical power and heat simultaneously.

There are three main technologies utilised to provide CHP systems – External combustion, Internal combustion and Fuel Cells.

External combustion
Central to the generation of electricity is the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine operates by being heated externally and so is described as an external combustion engine (ECE).

Fuel Cells
A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts an input fuel into a number of outputs – an electrical current, heat and waste water or carbon dioxide. The primary function of a fuel cell is usually generating electricity but they run hot and so provide heat as a ‘bonus’. A wide range of fuels, both fossil based (gas, coal, oil) and renewable (biomass) can be utilised.

Internal combustion
Commonly used in automotive applications the fuel burning internal combustion engine (ICE) that we are all familiar with is applicable to CHP applications although the noise, emissions and need for servicing make the other options more generally suitable.

The Green Angle
Greenpeace claim that:

 ‘On average, our large, centralised power stations throw away two thirds of the energy they generate.’


In contrast the overall efficiency of CHP systems can be in excess of 80% at the point of generation.

With CHP power & heat generation is moved closer to the consumer. Being close to the consumer has two main benefits:

  1. With its dual function – heat and electrical power – the CHP facility avoids the inefficiency of it’s single purpose cousins such as the traditional coal electric power station. In such traditional power plants, generated heat is often treated as a waste product and merely vented or otherwise disposed of.
  2. Power does not need to be transferred over distance to remote consumers and so losses during transmission and distribution of electricity through the national and local distribution networks are avoided.

The Combined Heat and Power Association website has more detail on the advantages of CHP over traditional power plants.

Large CHP installations are sized to provide for the needs of large consumers of heat and power such as industrial sites or large hospitals. Mini installations can be sufficient for the needs of a group of dwellings. Micro CHP is applicable to the individual householder.

CHP techology can be further evolved to incorporate cooling. Through cooling generated heat using absorption chillers a CHP plant can add the ability to provide cooling and become a Combined Cooling, Heat and Power (CCHP) plant.

Micro CHP ~ Now?
The first widely available micro CHP unit in the UK is the Baxi Ecogen micro-CHP unit. This is basically a replacement for a traditional gas boiler that contains a sterling engine and so is able to generate electricity as well as heat water. It can generate 3.5kW to 6kW of heat that can be boosted to 10kW or 24kW if necessary – thus allowing a relatively standard heating range of between 3.5 and 24kW. The Ecogen is capable of producing up to 1 kWh of electricity. It can be grid connected, with excess electricity sold back to the grid operator. In the UK these micro CHP units can be included in the Government’s Feed-in Tariff Scheme providing owners with an additional payment on top of the standard price for any power they sell back to the grid. See my recent article on Feed-in Tariffs for more details.

Worcester (a part of the Bosch group) have the Greenstar CDi DualGen in development. It has a similar footprint and specification to the Baxi Ecogen unit. It utilises a stirling engine that can generate up to 7kW of heat (that can be boosted higher) and 1kWh of electricity. The Greenstar unit is due for full release in 2012 following a europe wide field trial.

So, is now (September 2010) the time to consider CHP as a viable technology?

I think the answer to the question depends on your specific project. Let’s start with this advice from the Worcester-Bosch website:

‘Micro CHP is most suited to older buildings that are poorly insulated for example, with sash windows and no cavity wall insulation.’

That quotation causes a couple of issues. Firstly, for the sake of sustainability and common sense the fabric of the building itself should be addressed. Insulation installed and leaky windows renovated or replaced. Then secondly, once the building has been sorted out, what are the heating & energy requirements – is a CHP system appropriate and can it be made to pay? That’s a pretty straight-forward analysis based on:


  • The cost of installing the CHP system.
  • It’s cost of running in terms of how much fuel it will consume.
  • Cost of servicing.

  • How much it will save you financially in comparison to other forms of heating.
  • How much will be generated electricity save from your electricity bill.
  • Feed-in tariffs confuse things somewhat, suffice to say that the electricity generated will be have a value to you beyond the current 13 pence or so that you’ll pay per kWh on a standard tariff.

Also, bear in mind that the systems I’ve been discussing here are gas powered (the Ecogen has an LPG version), so you’ll need a mains connection or the ability to juggle LPG bottles.

To me this seems an immature technology, one perhaps for early adopters who aren’t too sensitive to the raw economics of these systems in comparison to the heating only alternatives such as modern condensing gas boilers, heat pumps and wood-burners. These systems also seem more suitable for replacing old gas boilers than for installing in ‘green-field’ sites such conversions or new builds with no mains gas.

Further References

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Feed-in Tariffs

Category: Essential information September 27th, 2010 by mbc

Whilst I have no immediate plans (or money) to install any electricity generation technology at the barn, I like to keep an eye on future opportunities and thought a review of Feed-in Tariffs may be in order.

The Feed-in Tariff (FIT) scheme has been available through electricity suppliers since April the 1st 2010. The aim of the scheme is to encourage the uptake of small-scale (up to 5MW) low carbon generation technologies through tariff payments made on both generation and export of produced renewable energy. The scheme is designed with the goal of providing a monthly income from your installation that will be greater than your monthly loan repayment to install the equipment (bear in mind this factors in long term loans usually of 20-25 years). It is the large energy companies, (or rather their customers to whom they pass the costs on) rather than any government body that foot the bills for these systems.

The following technologies are eligible for entry to the scheme:

Photovoltaic (PV)
Anaerobic digestion
Micro CHP – this is a pilot programme with 2kW upper limit to generating capacity.

The financial benefits of the scheme come in a number of forms:

The Generation Tariff – you earn a fixed amount for each kilowatt hour of electricity (kWh) you generate and use.
The Export Tariff – you earn an additional fixed amount for every kWh of electricity you generate and sell back to the grid.
Savings made through the reduction in electricity bills.

The exact amount you get paid through the Generation Tariff will vary depending on your specific generation system. For example, a new Solar PV system generating four or less kWh is eligible for a payment of 36.1 pence per kWh, for a medium-large sized wind turbine (>15 – 100kW) the payment is 24.1 pence per kWh. The tariff levels are index-linked for inflation and will be paid for a set period of time – in the case of the examples, 25 years and 20 years respectively. The full table of tariff levels is available from the Energy Savings Trust website in PDF format.

There are plenty of example scenarios with tempting £’s value headlines around the web, I’ll leave it to you to search them out if you’re interested. There are also plenty of online calculators out there to tempt you in and hopefully further inform you – start with the one on, the link is below. But, to summarise what I’ve found, typically for a family home consuming 4-5,000kWh of electricity per year, 2-2.5kW of solar PV panels will generate an income for the householder of upto £1000 per year with around £150 in savings from reduced electricity costs.

Bear in mind that you’ll need to work with a Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS) certified installer to be eligible for the scheme.

Futher references:

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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…

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…