Don’t throw stones in Greenhouses – Part 2

In my previous blog I discussed our response to the BFP challenge concerning whether anyone had a home greener than John Laker’s. The answers was: Yes with bells on. Although our blog-host paper chose not to follow up that story in that specific week it was rapidly followed by a lengthy response from local architect Anthony Mealing. Our reply to that also wasn’t published so we enclose it below FYI:

“Re: Anthony Mealing’s & the “Greenest House” in Bucks. This debate reminds me of the old adage about what people in green-houses shouldn’t do (throw stones). I heartily agree that a truly “low-impact” or “sustainable” home is a super-insulated one, with solar panels for hot water, and space-heated by wood. However Anthony’s advice to build with wood ignores his own advice about considering “not just the end user bit”: most of the wood consumed in the UK construction trade is shipped in from over-seas. As for Anthony’s performance figures for Photovoltaics (10.7% to 22%) one might add “so what?”. He forgot to mention that the conversion efficiency of a tree is only 5%. His point about “grant-aid” to purchase Photovoltaic solar panels is out of date. That was scrapped in February. The Feed-In Tariff replaced grants and are paid for by your electricity company. It isn’t paid for by tax payers. It’s paid for by a levy on fossil fuel users. Grid “buy back” of electricity isn’t subsidised at all. It is purchased at a derisory wholesale rate of 3p/kWh. (Remember you probably pay about 13p/kWh to import it.) Anthony goes onto recommend “wind driven electrical generation” instead. I assume the architecture trade is about to recommend a 4 meter diameter wind turbine for every home? That is how big it would have to be to be economical. Even then it would still be subsidised by the same Feed In Tariff as Photovoltaics. Home windpower is a non-starter in High Wycombe. Forget it. And on what assumption are gas and electric heating “both not really green”? You can go out on the free market and buy bio-gas and electricity from renewable sources these days. The world is changing quickly.

Building regulations have now changed such that, at some point, all future homes will be “carbon-neutral” but let’s face it; few of us will ever live in such a house. So we have to go with what we’ve got. Or is Anthony drumming up business for the Architecture trade by suggesting we tear down every old home and build a new one? That isn’t going to happen of course. Instead we will be forced to refurbish all our old homes to modern standards as John Laker did.

As for cars… Well, there is no such thing as an environmentally friendly car. Electrical cars are so efficient that they emit less carbon well-to-wheel even when using coal-generated electricity. As for “embedded carbon” of a car… Carbon footprinting is a notorious way to mislead. Let me illustrate: the per-person carbon footprint of an average New Yorker is far lower than that of anyone in High Wycombe. Few have cars. But where would you rather be when the lights go out or the supermarket shelves are empty? Carbon footprinting means nothing without resilience. John Laker’s home is by no means the greenest house in Bucks but he hasn’t missed the point at all. John is a champion for change. Real change in a world where simply killing the TV standby will no longer be enough.”

Anthony’s spirited response to John Laker’s efforts contained many good points but also some mistakes which we address above. However Anthony’s letter did earn a published response from Marlow’s Dave Hampton. (Altough, in response it is worth pointing out that there are two Super Homes in this area. The second is in Totteridge pictured above.) If anything the local community has an embarrassment of riches open to them. Two Transition Towns so close to each other with two registered Super Homes. These are ordinary homes with quite ordinary folk living in them. Not crash test dummies. Can there be any reason for anyone to still linger on the same old myths and misconceptions about low-carbon homes any more? The future is sitting right there in our own towns and neighbourhoods. We need only knock on the door…

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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