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Building 'zero carbon' homes.

(29 Posts)
worldgonewild Wed 27-Dec-06 18:17:13

Building 'zero carbon' homes. Is this possible? The 'consultation' begins!

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Thu 28-Dec-06 15:44:27

Personally, I think it's a load of spin. I live in a national park, where my friend's neighbour has been battling the planning authority (ie the park) for several years to try to get planning permission for a small wind turbine to power his farm, to be told he has an ice cube's hope in hell of succeeding. Meanwhile, they're digging up another part of the park to build a giant gas pipeline...

This is also a conservation area, so if you manage to get planning permission for anything, the park as good as tells you what building materials to use, and what colour to paint it: a chap up the road from here was ordered to paint his new solid oak front door white. We could only replace old white painted hardwood windows with new white painted hardwood windows. So unless planning authorities are on board, the "consultation" will be nothing more than talk. Or more likely, there will be rules dictating what you can build, but you will never get planning permission to do it.

(OK, I'm a jaded old cynic)

SenoraPartridge Thu 28-Dec-06 15:53:06

the thing is, building, as opposed to rennovating, is almost never "zero carbon". In fact it probably never is.

This isn't the UK, but here there is a big tendency to pull down houses and build new without any thought at all - lots of perfectly good 10 year old homes have gone from round here lately to make way for more profitable flats. It drives me up the wall.

but anyway, roskva - this government's definition of "consultation" appears to be asking people questions and then ignoring the answers and making policy, or, better still, making policy and then asking people about it (as with Trident).

worldgonewild Thu 28-Dec-06 21:40:10

Yes, there is no point in initiatives from the centre if local planning authorities aren't playing their part. They are often slow to catch up and worse, bogged down with Nimbyism.

When recently dealing with a council planning officer on site, where I was looking to install 30 solar panels on a school, I got the distinct impression he didn't know what to do with the application. Finally he decided it could go through as long as the neighbours couldn't see it!

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Fri 29-Dec-06 15:27:55

At least here you have to renovate where possible rather than rebuild. From speaking to dh's danish relatives, in this country we could a lot more to make houses more thermally efficient, thus reducing substantially the amount of energy needed to heat them. In Denmark, for example, triple glazing is standard, cavity wall construction is unheard of, and roofs and walls are incredibly insulated.

worldgonewild Fri 29-Dec-06 17:19:32

The Danes and Scandanavians are way ahead, driven on by colder weather conditions no doubt!

Yes, it is far better to improve existing housing stock. There are some programmes here in the UK to help with the costs of loft insulation and cavity wall insulation (driven by building techniques here which I have to say I don't understand!).Double glazing is of course now common.

There maybe another factor at play affecting the UK's slow uptake of energy efficiency measures, apart from warmer weather. The North Sea oil & gas deposits discovered in 1979. The Danes never had as much of the spoils and hence decided to diversify their energy mix some time ago. Good decision! Energy efficiency was a part of this.

The UK would do well to follow the Danish example.

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Fri 29-Dec-06 20:47:30

At least you don't have to get planning permission for cavity wall insulation. I wish we had a big enough garden for a heat pump - ours is the size of a smallish patio: the park would have trouble objecting to something under ground on the basis that it spoils the view!

DominiConnor Fri 29-Dec-06 20:51:49

Building can be negative carbon if you do it right.
Big blocks of wood are mostly carbon that has been sucked out of the atmosphere. If you get farmed wood, and build it so that wood doesn't rot for a long time, you can end up with a building whose construction has a net effect of lowering CO2.
Wood is also a good insulator of course.

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Sat 30-Dec-06 13:42:33

Doesn't that depend on where the wood is grown? If it has to be transported across continents, then the transport will release carbon. The problem is, that the issue of cost tends to be the deciding factor: I still wince at the wood floor we put down, which came from China - no environmental controls, no health and safety legislation, no minimum wage, and transported half way round the world. Unfortunately it was a quarter of the price of sustainably farmed European wood, and half the price of reclamed wood available locally.

SenoraPartridge Sat 30-Dec-06 15:04:49

I'm pretty sure even wood homes are not carbon negative once you take the concrete foundations/windows/new central heating system etc into account. But I don't mind being proven wrong - show us some calculations dc.

DominiConnor Sat 30-Dec-06 16:36:33

Sadly the "greens" have scored a hit with their "transport is evil" theme. Yes wood transport uses energy, but it's very hard to build with just what happens to be in walking distance.

China is indeed a bad place, and caring for the environment there can carry the death sentence.
But very little wood comes from China, since they chopped nearly all of it down long before civilised countries even had the industrial revolution, that's why their cooking is so reliant upon low energy processes.

I suspect your "Chinese" wood was actually from SE Asia, but processed in China with it's low labour costs.
Little Asian wood is farmed, and few countries there take much heed of their environment. Think of that as evolution in action.

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Sat 30-Dec-06 19:02:31

I think SP has a point - I read somewhere that concrete is one of the most environmentally unfriendly substances on the planet, and that in some places marine habitats are being destroyed because sand is dredged in huge quantities for the building industry.

I have also wondered (and not found an answer) as to what is the carbon cost of building a wind turbine, bearing in mind that it is made from steel or composites and held into the ground with a huge mound of concrete...

worldgonewild Sat 30-Dec-06 19:56:33


Regards wind turbines;

(1). 'The new generation of 140-metre turbines, need foundations the size of half a football pitch.' (!)

(2). 'Writing in the Journal of Applied Ecology last year (vol 42, p 605), Andrew Gill from the Institute of Water and Environment at Cranfield University in Silsoe, Bedfordshire, UK, noted that only 1 per cent of all papers on renewable energy published in the past 15 years considers environmental impacts onshore, and none offshore.'


RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Sat 30-Dec-06 20:09:52

So basically a wind farm means filling the countryside with concrete. No wonder people don't want them in their area!

worldgonewild Sat 30-Dec-06 20:24:48

Personally I favour off-shore development . Still, even here, we go into unchartered waters as few studies of their impact have been made apparently.

Whatever we do, there's an environmental impact. Best to find the least worse case scenario, especially with good payback.

DominiConnor Sun 31-Dec-06 08:44:02

Although obviously it's not your fault, this does contain the standard spin of measuring energy productions by "homes".
This is a very dodgy unit...
Firstly, a minority of homes are powered entirely by electricity, so actually although the spinners for wind like to give the impression that 750K homes are being supports by this, the reality is that if wind had to do the "heavy lifting" of things like water and building heating, the number would drop hard.
Also note that never ever will you see "wind powers X factories or Y offices." That's because the numbers you get look a lot less sexy.

A better way of thinking of the output of any energy source is to divide Britain's energy needs by 60 million.
The output of this hugely expensive and unreliable experimental lash up then drops from 750,000 (at peak in optimum conditions, when everything is working properly, and not allowing for maintenance) to nearer 100,000.

Also it will kill birds in such huge numbers that we can viably expect to see an entire new ecosystem evolve. The dead birds will support scavengers in the water, and maybe even raptors can evolve to dodge the blades.

Here's a little though experiment for you to try and objectify one's view of the merit of different energy sources.
Imagine the RSPB said that a new nucelar plant would kill millions of birds per year.
Would you see that as a good reason not to build it ?
What if it was known for a fact that the new nuclear reactor would kill dozens of people.
Still up for nuclear ?
What if the reactor spent a large % of it's time needing maintenance ?
So why is it different for flaky dangerous windmills ?

worldgonewild Sun 31-Dec-06 10:32:59


I believe the UK needs a complete energy mix. Not one option or the other. All of them have their good & bad points, including nuclear.

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Sun 31-Dec-06 10:46:47

It's also up to us to consider changing our habits - I did a quick count of the number of appliances on standby or with lights/displays on when not in use in this house, and was quite shocked: it's not just the TV, but also the sterilizer, the toaster, the hi-fi, my computer , dvd player and various chargers dh leaves plugged in including 2 phones and his razor. If all of us remembered to switch them off at the plug, then the country as a whole would need less energy in the first place! I've also discovered (long story as to how) that to keep my fridge at the right temperature, the freezer is 25% colder than it needs to be, using more unncecessary energy.

SenoraPartridge Sun 31-Dec-06 12:45:15

dc: sorry, but your thought experiment is based on false premises. From the RSPB website: "The available evidence suggests that appropriately positioned wind farms do not pose a significant hazard for birds". Their objection is to poorly sited wind farms. As for needing maintenance: surely that's true of all power sources?

But anyway I think the problem is that we need to get out of the mindset that says that new stuff - new technology, new homes, new power stations - will provide the answer to climate change. The unfortunate truth is that while new technology may help where , we will have to curtail our energy use one way or another. And to bring the argument back to the OP, imo that means (among other things) looking more carefully at renovation options before we consider new buildings.

worldgonewild Sun 31-Dec-06 13:17:02

Good to hear this from RSPB.

Yes, energy conservation and efficiency should be top priorities.

New build is often 'rush' build these days anyway and quality suffers as a result. I've met many a builder who has said that they wouldn't trust sinking their money into new build because of the terrible 'rush' building techniques used.

DominiConnor Sun 31-Dec-06 16:25:25

Yes ,the RSPB does want windmills put where they will kill fewer birds., You will note that the tone of most of their pronouncements are that this is not the case.

All sources of power do indeed need maintenance, but none more so than windmills.
You've got lots of moving parts out in places thet (hopefully) get blown around a lot.
Sea water is bad for the axles, turbines and thge structure in general.

Structures in rough seas take a serious pounding, and of course you can't pick a sheltered area else you don't get wind.

Look at the numbers of people killed fixing oil rigs. You may thing that acceptable, but a few people can keep a lot of energy coming out of an oil well, many more are required to fix windmills.

I agree totally that we need a mix, and that it's worth doing experiments in weird implausible engineering to see what happens.
Maybe we can find a way of making windmills useful, give it 50-100 years and even solar electricty might seem rational.

The technology you see today is like Babbage's computer. Very impressive to see what the Victorian could do with gears. But no one ever played a video game on one.
It took over a century, and the work of several top tier genuises to turn computers into reality.

Babbage's stuff looked like a computer, but wasn't. Same applies to faux green stuff.
Expensive toys and long range research, not a viable strategy.

SenoraPartridge Sun 31-Dec-06 17:09:50

windmills are useful already though. You may be right about offshore windfarms (though I suspect not given that offshore windfarms tend to be closer to the coast than oil rigs, making a huge difference to the risks involved with fixing them).

worldgonewild Sun 31-Dec-06 19:49:57

DC. I think that technological development moves at lightening speed compared to 100 years ago. Goes without saying really. For a taster of what one organisation linked to the US govt has achieved within the last year check this link out;

(google it as MN is not linking it)

If anything 'technology' is running away from us!

P.S. Mother Earth decides when technology stays up and running after all .

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Mon 01-Jan-07 11:17:05

The hype about windfarms in particular also ignores what can go wrong. One farmer about half a mile from here did manage to get pp for a small wind turbine. About two years ago, the gear mechanism on it broke down, and the turbine was basically out of control on a very windy night when it would usually have been switched off (which always seems to me to beat the point, but there we go). Even from our house, it sounded like there was a helicopter hovering outside - it must have been even worse for the immediate neighbours - and the police closed the road the farm is on to all traffic except residents, because there was a very real fear the blades would break off. That was a little turbine - imagine if the same happened on 140m monster.

RoskvaTheRedNosedReindeer Mon 01-Jan-07 11:24:27

Dh has been reading over my shoulder, and pointed out that this country is way behind the rest of Europe in using hydroelectric energy, and that there is an experimental tidal turbine in the Cleddau estuary at Milford Haven. Apparently there are technical challenges to getting the electrical output from a tidal turbine in a salt water environment, but it is also being used to study the potential environmental impact.

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