A couple, Michael and Dot Rea, from Wiltshire decided to buy a house on the island of Unst, one of the most northerly inhabited Shetland Islands. It is on same latitude as Alaska and Southern Greenland, yet it is extremely cosy inside. The outside temperature in August barely gets above 14c and there is often a 100mph gale coming in off the North Sea. So how do they manage to keep the house so warm with relatively little costs?
The couple admit that even when there was snow on the ground they did not need to put the heating on, the timber framed house has sunlight streaming through its windows and Michael explains that insulation and heat recovery is the key. He believes that the easiest way to become zero-carbon is to use less green energy and not harness it. He wants to light the whole house with just 100 watts, the same amount used by a single traditional bulb, but in extreme weather conditions on the Island he hopes to use the same as having just three 100 watt bulbs on.
Michael's home is generating interest due to the high energy costs and the oil crisis, so much so that the housing and regeneration branch of the Scottish Government are using his house as a model for sustainable building and living. Officials in London are also monitoring the house as they want all new builds to be carbon neutral by 2016. China has also expressed interest as the area Guanzhou is to have 5,000 eco houses built there and may want to utilise some of Michael's innovations.
The house cost very little, the off the shelf timber frame flat pack cost just £37,000 to which they added a customised sun room at £3,500. It is made from Scandinavian redwood which is a renewable resource and chosen by Michael because it is lightweight which makes it easy to heat compared to traditional stone. Labour costs and the green technology used took the overall cost to £210,000. They did win sponsorship from companies so Michael estimates that the true cost would have probably been £270,000 without those.
He hopes to have all his energy for free, apart from maintenance costs. The couple stumbled upon their idea after talking with someone from the Energy Sustainable Development who suggested using their new project as a demonstration. The insulation is 140mm of Celotex foam that lines all of the walls and has aluminium foil on each face. This means that no heat is left in or out of the house. The windows of the house are filled with argon which is a gas that acts as an insulator, he only paid an extra £1,500 for this. The windows are also very large to allow radiant heat from the sun.
Planning caused rome problems for the couple and the weather added to them, also because of how remote the Island is they have to wait for certain things that anyone would take for granted when building a house. Such as their need for a digger, there is only one on the neighbouring Island of Yell and at the moment it is being used to build a car park for their Nature Reserve and so the couple just have to wait.
The quickest way to get to Unst is by flying to Sumburgh and then a further three hour drive, there is an airport there but the other way is quicker. Locals did think that the couple from Wiltshire were a bit strange but they were years ahead of many developers in terms of going green. Michael believes that new builds will never reach the new energy targets without having heat recovery systems which involves a heat exchanger. It replaces the used air from inside with fresh air from outside and therefore no heat is actually lost.
The house also has a fuel cell storage system which can store four and a half days of energy for the house. The house has LED lights instead of light bulbs and rainwater is used for the garden, washing machine and toilets. Wind turbines allow the house to be totally self sufficient which he believes gives the house 95% of its energy.
If you wanted to be totally self sufficient this house is a shining example of how it can be done. Michael grows his own food in the garden and even though it took a long time in the making it is now completely finished.