Give your mind a vacation

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Lydia Polzer
spent last Christmas on an intense 10-day retreat – Once you have heard her experiences, there’s still time to book yourself in for this year.

Ever since I lost my childlike excitement about everything sparkling, Christmas lost its, well, sparkle. So my relief was great when I found a low-impact, alternative to Christmas crackers and stockings last year on a hill near Sheringham in rural East Anglia. A 10-day Vipassana meditation retreat does add a new dimension to “Silent Night”. The Christmas period in noble silence sounded like music to my carol-worn ears. I added up the hours of meditation on the daily schedule of the retreat and felt a little intimidated when I got to eleven.

That’s a lot of silence.


Self build homes

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This is the first in a regular series about self-build.

In a small town in Eastern England the Harrall family have recently moved into their self-built house. The 4-bed structure is packed into the earth, has a planted roof, vegetable garden and energy consumption a quarter of an ordinary house of the same size.

Jerry Harrall describes his single-storey, Teletubby-esque home as “earth-sheltered”. “This building is a response to global climate change,” he says. “Our whole lifestyle is a response to that.”

Unobtrusive to the point of invisibility from the road, there’s a big hedge, a gravel area, then the two buildings, which are the performance part of Harrall’s PhD at the University of Lincoln – his aim being to prove the long-term value of passive solar design, where buildings absorb and retain heat. Harrall’s buildings have no foundations – just concrete blocks placed on the floor, rooted by gravity. His home’s earth roof is covered by a woven membrane to keep it in place, and I notice that the periwinkles planted to cover it are slightly sparse, having succumbed to a disease. We enter via raised wooden walkways. For rest of story click “more” below.
The Self-Build Book: How to Enjoy Designing and Building Your Own HomeThe Self-Build Book: How to Enjoy Designing and Building Your Own Home – buy it from Amazon US


Ben Law’s Woodland House

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We reviewed Ben Law’s first book, THE WOODLAND WAY, a while back. In fact it was one of the things that inspired me to start this web site, along with “Off the Grid” from the Centre for Alternative Technology in Wales.

Now Ben as brought out a detailed record of the building of his home. THE WOODLAND HOUSE has all the virtues of his first book, but is more accessible, more focused and more useful — at least useful to anyone who is thinking of building a timber framed house.

The book combines sufficient detail so that you could copy his design, with an emotional warmth that lets you know the sort of person Ben is and how much this building means to him.

Buy The Woodland House from Amazon for £11.20. Normal Price – £16.95


Biofuel Wars

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Josh Tickell vs Maria Alovert – with thanks to Maxim Online

In the blue corner: Josh Tickell, has been featured in these pages before. He’s a skinny, blond, motor-mouthed Louisianan who moved himself to L.A. in an RV painted with sunflowers and butterflies—and powered by biodiesel, an alternative fuel source made primarily of vegetable oil that can be poured directly into diesel engines after it’s mixed with methanol and lye to separate out the glycerol, which isn’t good for engines. Biodiesel is based on materials grown, not mined, making it, in theory, sustainable, and thus, Tickell will gladly tell you, one step toward energy independence, clean air, and a shiny, happy planet free of wars for oil.

The trouble is, biodiesel isn’t available at the local filling station. If you want to scarf down some French fries and then drive your car home on the grease that made them crispy, you’ve gotta make it yourself.

In the red corner: Maria Alovert has not been written about here before, but we must be one of the few sites on the web to have forgotten to mention her. Alovert is also on a mission to promote bio-diesel, but she does it in a very different way to Rick Tickell, and that’s the cause of the problem.


London building claims zero fossil energy

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A property developer has launched an energy self sufficient block of flats in London. Yorklake Homes said the four flats generate all their own energy from non fossil fuels within the site boundaries.

Designed by Bill Dunster’s architecture firm, the main source of energy is a Swift silent wind turbine, one of the first domestically available near-silent wind turbines, it generates power at mains voltage. It was commissioned by Renewable Devices and supplied by Scottish and Southern Energy plc. When combined with solar panels it enables the development to generate as much electricity as it consumes.


All about self-build – book review

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This comprehensive guide to building your own home is written by someone who has actually done it. All the pitfalls and delights are laid out in over 500 pages. And there are plenty of pitfalls.

The time, money and effort involved in self-build has blown many marriages apart, and busted many a bank balance. The first thing to decide is whether self-build is really for you. Have you got the money? Whatever you think you will have to spend, double it. Will you find the land? That can be time-consuming. And assuming you are not actually doing the building work yourself, are you able to organise the many professionals you will need — from architect to builders to craftspeople?


The Autonomous House

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autonomous house
Off-grid Pioneer

BBC Radio had a great dive into the archives tonight (saturday), with a show about our past visions of the Future House.

From the 1970s it featured the first well-developed idea for an off-grid home — The Autonomous House designed by Brenda and Robert Vale. And from the 80s – Biosphere 2. Both were off-grid ideas that were ahead of their time. The Vale’s ideas are just coming to fruition all over the US and the UK

Listen to the programme


They practice what we preach

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Jules Dervaes urban homestead and its motley array of off-grid projects have turned into something of an obsession for the entire family. So far their achievements include a homemade solar oven, solar pv panels, home-reared animals, biodiesel-brewing for their car, and a vegetable garden growing a sizable percentage of their own food.

Situated on a 66’ X 132’ city lot (1/5 acre), with approximately 1/10 acre under cultivation, including 1,300 sq. ft of container gardening, they have integrated a blend of organic edible landscaping, permaculture and bio-intensive gardening methods to achieve maximum productivity. Their garden amazingly produced over 3 tons (6,097lbs) of fruits and vegetables in 2003 and 2004. Jules calls his project Path to Freedom.


Go Gooshing

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Don’t go shopping, go gooshing. The Ethical Company Organisation (ECO) has launched a new ethical products web site, listing products sold by ethical companies that care about animal rights, human rights and the environment. Look out for the sign on the right, to tell you that a company has joined the scheme. Buying their stuff sends a message to the companies that are not ethical as well as to ones which are.


Green, green grants of home

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Alex Benady guides you through the maze of UK government payments to reduce your dependence on the grid.

After promises from the Prime Minister to take climate change seriously, the UK government has ended its solar panel subsidy programme seven years early. The pot of £31m lasting until 2012 was intended to offer cheap electricity and green electricity with grants of up to 50% for building solar panels.

The decision to end the grant was intepreted by many as anti-environmental backsliding. No such thing claims the Department of Trade and Industry which administered the programme. There are still plenty of cheap loans and grants for saving energy in your home. It was a spot of much needed house-keeping designed to tidy up the higgeldy-piggledy system of grants and subsidies and that has sprung up around the areas of energy conservation and alternative energy.


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