Pushing the boat out

Today we shall receive delivery of two pieces of ‘green’ technology. No they aren’t solar panels – even though I wish they were with the recent feed in tariff news! Nor is it any other type of energy creation equipment. Instead they are both to reduce resource use. My builder thinks I am mad. And in general I’m sure most people would assume these are extra capital costs that we just don’t need. I can see his point if you are looking at pure finance. But I’m jumping ahead of myself a bit – let me tell you more.

I see the renovation of the Steading as an opportunity to do things differently. We are constrained to some degree by the existing walls and shape of the derelict building but in many ways that is just aesthetics and luckily an aesthetic I really love. So it means what would usually constitute the insides of the building could be anything. I wanted to start on the bathrooms. I read a very interesting article about how bad modern bathrooms for our health and in design so I went all gung ho to look for composting loos we could install instead. I think they have real potential, particularly in warm regions (that includes most of England and certainly Ireland) where things actually decompose fast enough for most of the year. Yet the more I looked into it and looked at my own very cold compost heap, the less I was convinced. Also this isn’t for loos for our use – this is for the paying public, who won’t all be as excusing or as patient as I think I am. When my builder and architect balked at the idea (due to the practicalities) my conviction wavered even further. And then I found out it would be over ¬£1000 per loo. Yes unfortunately the money swayed me. Yet I couldn’t ignore what I had read.

So what do we have up here? Quite a bit of rain. And we have nearly a new build. And we pump our own water. So our first delivery is a rain water harvester. Back in my days of ‘normal’ employment, there was quite a lot of talk about rainwater harvesting, leading to the Environment Agency’s study on the carbon intensity of different systems. The basic premise is that they use more carbon than using mains water because of the carbon intensity of the storage tanks and the extra pumping involved. It’s a very interesting and at the time unexpected outcome and worth taking all their elements into consideration. It also has a much wider policy imperative, which I can only hope policy makers took and still take into account. It’s a prime example of how actual knowledge outweighs instinct when it comes to carbon emissions.

In our situation I think it’s still worth doing because:

  • we don’t have mains water so we would have to pump the water anyway, but we will have to accept the carbon in the tank.
  • The roof area of the Steading is pretty big. By collecting the water we will be stopping the runoff into the burn (Scottish word for a stream) that becomes a raging torrent whenever there is any significant rainfall. As the climate changes these significant rainfall events are going to become more common meaning higher soil erosion around the burn. In my thinking, the local landscape doesn’t need an extra 4000 litres of water.
  • The rainwater is going to be used to flush the loos. This will reduce the groundwater we take from our borehole – extending the longevity of our clean drinking water and the filters we have to have on it.
  • The water will be pumped to a header tank that will then gravity feed the various loos, not using any more electricity.

We had to check with SSEPD (the electricity infrastructure company) that the pump wouldn’t interfere with supply which revealed that actually the pump is pretty low in it’s energy use and will only be used when the header tank is quite low so certainly not more than once a day.

As with so many ‘green’ dilemmas, there is no clear cut answer. I suppose that’s why they are dilemmas. I’ve made a decision based on our local circumstances and fingers crossed it’s the best one.

The burn in spate with Inja looking on
The burn in spate with Inja looking on