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Sarah's Impossible Project

Last week was such nice weather that instead of writing a blog, I managed to get around to sweeping the Autumn leaves (having got used to an untidy garden I wouldn’t bother at all but I need the leaf mould for the no-dig and raised beds), fill in the holes in the gravel drive, do the spring cut of the ‘meadow’, get the rest of the veg seeds planted on a heated tray in the greenhouse and start digging up the patio.

It was then so nice to relax with visitors in the garden over the Easter weekend! I hope that everyone was able to catch up with friends and family or just get out in the sunshine.

But now we are back into semi-hibernation until the weather warms; so I’m back on the house project. On this I am working with Haydn Bennett, a Salisbury Architect with Passivhaus experience, and Salisbury renewable energy specialists, Energytec, Limited to figure out what is possible. Haydn, who is clearly a very courageous professional, asked me to come up with a ‘Clients Brief’; which I thought I would share it with all of you and see if you have any feedback (send messages please!). Despite aspirations, I am very aware that the end point is unlikely to be 100% sustainability, mostly because it is likely to require trade-offs between use of non-renewable resources, creation of waste streams, use of ethical companies, etc, etc. i would dearly love to hear from anyone out there who has attempted any of this, whether disastrously or successfully – I need help, sanity and a giggle before it all gets too serious!

Here goes:


  • to assess how far Beech house can become a ‘circular domestic system’ .

  • to establish how far it is viable/practical to achieve such ‘total sustainability’ whilst also enhancing the property as a home.

  • To make recommendations as to the best/alternative combinations of measures and methods and associated trade-offs.

Envisaged scope:

A combination of deep retrofit and installation of renewable energy to allow elimination of fossil fuel dependence and reduced reliance on the national grid for energy needs.

This is envisaged to include the following elements:

  1. Maximisation of passive energy with adequate shading/ventilation to reduce excessive heat build up combined with insulation (as far as practical) (i) Increase of natural light within the house to reduce artificial lighting requirement (ii) Consideration of appropriate/adequate energy sources once best retrofit achieved (consider potential conversion of gas fired aga to solar power and use to heat water) (iii)Non-lithium active energy storage (eg small-scale pumped hydro)

  2. Reduce water requirements through use of rainfall capture system, water-efficient fittings, appropriate re-use of grey water, (compost toilet on new office space)

  3. Improve connectivity/outlook between the house and garden (particularly kitchen)

  4. Zone the house into 3 independently-controlled zones, including but not limited to installing new stairs and doors. To consist of (i) main house, (ii) original garage connecting to upstairs bathroom (iii)office above garage to have new bathroom installed.

Areas (4ii) and (4iii) should be off-grid as far as possible, renewable-powered, reliant on rainfall/water reuse.


  • Mix of solutions depends on efficiency of resources (with regard to wise use of resources, zero waste creation, ability to achieve carbon neutrality, ‘cradle to grave’ consideration of all new components, as well as financial cost).

  • Use of circular systems, bio-systems (biomimicry), re-use of resources and repurposing of ‘waste’ from the scheme are to be considered.

  • Financially viability: ‘investments’ should either give a better rate of return than current bank interest rates, or costs offset by expected rise in house value).

  • The original energy efficiency rating in 2011 was 68 (higher end D category), with a potential of achieving only 72 (lower end of C category); the environmental impact rating was 67, with a potential of only 69 (not very impressive for a house only built in 2000). Since then the loft insulation has been doubled, whilst solar panels and an energy storage battery have been installed, so possibly the original potential has been nearly reached. It will be very interesting to see how much the overall EPC can be smashed.

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