Balebarn eco lodge becomes a recording studio!

Musicians playing inside Balebarn Eco Lodge at Wheatland Farm, Devon

Balebarn Eco Lodge becomes a recording studio!
Morning Ian,

I’ve been meaning to thank you for a lovely few days – and especially for letting us use Balebarn eco lodge for recording. I’ll send you over what we recorded when I’ve edited them down. We didn’t get as much done as we’d hoped for – amazing how unproductive a few G&Ts make you! We did get some good stuff down though.

The guys were blown away by the place and said they’d bring their families back – so you have some repeat business there!

I hope Will came down with the keys (or left them somewhere obvious).

All the best

Our Devon eco lodges win Gold Award for sustainable tourism in England

The Visit England Awards for Tourism Excellence have just been announced. Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges took the Gold award in the Sustainable Tourism Category, presented at the Gateshead Sage yesterday (11 May 2015).

We’re surprised and delighted. To come anywhere in the top five is wonderful, especially with the stiff competition. We achieved gold in 2012, and to do it for a second time is a real accolade. Probably what helps us stand out is our absolute commitment to sustainability. We are not just greening an accommodation business, we are running a ‘green’ business that supports, and is supported by, wildlife in the countryside – in other words we’re using, but also growing (quite literally) what economists sometimes call natural capital. If only more economic growth would take this path!

But it’s about much more than just looking after our wildlife, because if wildlife conservation teaches one thing it’s that you can’t protect isolated ‘pockets’ – you have to look at the whole system. And it’s the same for sustainable business. For our lodges and cottage that means thinking through the environmental implications of everything we’re buying, and everything we’re throwing out. Usually, the best way to go green is to do less of both. This award particularly recognises our inspirational ‘not-at-all-brand-new’ Balebarn Eco Lodge, built with many recycled and reclaimed materials and constructed to standards that ensure it will use minimal energy over its lifetime.

But we’ve also ensured all our other accommodation is highly energy-efficient. Our annual fossil fuel use for home and business is about 0.7kWh/m2 (the Green Tourism Business Scheme say ‘good’ is anything under 240kWh/m2) and our kgCO2/room-night is actually negative because we generate more wind and solar power than we use.

Words and statistics are one thing, but there’s nothing like seeing, so here’s a new video about Wheatland Farm produced by one of our marketing partners, Green Traveller

Further information
Wheatland Farm Eco Lodges is owned by Ian Ripper and Maggie Watson. 01837 83499 / 07780708747
Other winners in the Visit England Awards sustainable tourism category were:
St Cuthberts House Bed and Breakfast in Northumbria.
The Green House Hotel in Bournemouth.
At-Bristol Science Centre, which aims to be the UK’s most sustainable science centre.
Colton House, a luxury guest house in Staffordshire.

Reclaimed kitchen takes shape in Balebarn Ecolodge

Balebarn Lodge’s new kitchen is finally taking shape, put together by Simon from Exeter firm Chunky Monkey, who custom make furniture out of reclaimed wood. The worktops will be storm damaged sycamore. The cupboard fronts are pieced together from offcuts and then sand blasted and painted. We’re really looking forward to seeing it in its full glory!

[update: in autumn Chunky Monkey won the Devon Environmental Business Initiative’s Green Manufacturer award 2013. Well done Nigel and Jackie!].

New sewage plant for our eco lodge

We’ve chosen a bio rock sewage treatment system for the new Eco lodge. It uses no power, is good with variable loads and has an excellent discharge quality.

Here it is being ‘discharged’ from the lorry! A bit of a tricky moment for Ian but at least they don’t factory test them before delivery.

Solar PV and hot water for the new Eco lodge

Source Renewable, a local firm from South Molton, is installing solar PV on the new Eco lodge. it’s just under 4kW at peak generation. They’ve been really helpful with the solar hot water Ian is putting on too, advising on special mounting for our tin roof.

Worst bit was finding rust spots in the roofing sheets that needed to be fixed. But Ian pinched a sheet from the car shed that had the same profile and all was well.

The inverters take up a fair bit of room in what we hoped would be the reading hide-away, but we’ll box them in. They can’t go in the loft as it would get too hot.

Eco lodge update: plastering and insulation, and a look back at the windows

Here’s a short video update for the eco lodge. We blogged about the windows when they arrived, but I don’t think we showed it on video. So here they are, coming off the lorry and then opening wide for the view. Wow!

Local plasterers Martin and Edward plastered the whole of the inside ‘envelope’, ie the air tight layer on the inside of the building. So then it was time for internal partition walls (woodwool), ceilings with insulation above them, and more plastering. The insulation was not sheeps wool in the end, but a combination of warmcell – recycled newspaper – and recycled bottle insulation, like a big duvet. But Ian can tell the tale.

Local flooring for the new eco lodge

No, not some modern art or fancy jenga game – it’s the larch for the new eco lodge, once again felled just 8 miles away in Mike Moser’s conservation woodland. He milled it for us, but we had to have it ‘thicknessed’ and then sanded. For that it made the short (15 miles) to Mike Latham’s joinery at South Molton. ‘Bit of a pile’, he said, when we rang to arrange collection. ‘Oh’ replied Ian ‘but I said it was about 100m2?’. ‘Yes’, said Mike, ‘But I forgot to mention that to the lads!’.

So here’s some of it stacked inside the lodge ready for flooring.

Paper and bottles for roof insulation

We’re insulating the roof in the new eco lodge with recycled newspaper and bottles. Originally it was going to be local sheep wool, but the factory doesn’t treat it against moths etc so we’d have had to get into the roof and spray it each year – and that wasn’t really practical. So instead we’ve gone for a mixture.

On the flat sections it’s warmcell – treated pulverised newspaper that you ‘fluff’ into a thick heat retaining layer.

But that won’t work on the sloping sections, so here we’re using insulation made from bottles – it just looks like the the inside of a nice new duvet! It’s 85% recycled. Shame it’s not 100%, but never mind. It’s important to be closing the waste loop and buying products made from what might otherwise have been rubbish. These industries need support.

A bat gap for the new eco lodge

One problem with modern buildings is the lack of nooks and crannies that wildlife can share. Well in the new eco lodge we’re leaving space for bats, sparrows etc under the roof. I can’t say under the eaves because there aren’t any. But there will be a gap between the overlapping cladding, leading to a space before the internal sealed insulation. It should be ideal for bats and I’ll be surprised if the sparrows don’t like it too. Ian assures me it’s extremely well sealed from the inside, so smells and wildlife visitors won’t be a problem. That’s good, because smell is usually the main reason people find it hard to get along with bats. But bat’s need homes too, and I love seeing them flit along the hedgerows of a summer evening.

Eco lodge construction waste

We over ordered slightly on the straw, so here’s some of our construction waste going to a good home. Andrew and Tim came and took away about 80 bales of straw. They’ll use it for animal bedding less than a mile from where it was grown. We’ve kept a bit back for the chooks, to make a target for George to shoot arrows at, and some for a friend’s allotment. All in all, a very different picture from the normal picture. The UK construction industry is said to be responsible for 40% of all UK waste. Not here. Even the half round off cuts from the larch cladding have been used as fire wood. And the trimmings from the ends of boards have been turned into dormice boxes (thanks to WWOOFers Katie and Kate).

Windows arrive for the new eco lodge

It’s nail biting stuff when it’s your own £8000 worth of windows coming off the lorry… The double glazing for the new eco lodge has arrived from ecomerchant, an ethical company supplying sustainably-sourced goods. We went for double glazed throughout in the end, as we wanted the incoming heat (solar gain) that mainly south-facing double glazing offers and didn’t really need the noise reduction triple glazing confers (or the price tag). The windows will still be extremely efficient in terms of energy conservation.

When ecomerchant rang with the delivery details we said ‘OK, we’ll get some friends lined up to help.’

‘You’ll need a lot of good and strong friends’ came the answer!

And one of the nicest things about the day was that people readily turned out to help us get the glazing under cover. Bruce from the school car share, Paul who put us in touch with the gosling lady, Andrew and Tim Roberts, our neighbouring farmers. Thanks to you all, and to local contractor Andrew Tucker for going above and beyond the brief handling job we asked for.

It was like something off Grand Designs, and when the telescopic handler started lifting the main window out of the lorry I was terrified. But Andrew clearly knew what he was doing. You must need real patience to move such a big bit of machinery so carefully and slowly.

Cutting it fine with the lime

Ian has just about finished the lime render ‘scratch coat’ on the eco lodge – just about in time. Lime needs to stay frost free for several weeks after application or its surface spoils. So it’s pretty late in the year to be rendering the outside of the new eco lodge. But we needed to get it done so we can finish putting back the wooden boards on the higher sections, where they hold down a vapour-permeable membrane that in turn protects the wood-wool boards.

So rather than risk the whole thing Ian has just done the base coat, and the top coat can wait until next spring.

Meanwhile, he’s also started on the other side of the ‘sandwich’ wall, putting up the wood wool boards on the inside – and the straw bales behind it. Here he is, taking a break from stuffing the gaps.The lime render, by the way, came from local supplier JJ Sharpe, just 10 miles away in Merton.Constructing the wood wool and straw bale sandwich to insulate Balebarn Ecolodge

Straw bales arrive for the eco lodge

The bales have arrived for the eco lodge – 300 of them…

…but they’ve not come far. From just 4 fields away to be precise, supplied by our neighbouring farmer Denzil Pinhey. For now, we’ve unloaded them into the garage. Next task will be to figure out how to go about getting them up. The straw is the sandwich filling between 2 slices of wood wool. But do we put the timbers or the straw up first? I guess we’ll do a bit of test construction before gathering a bale- raising party.

The eco lodge’s design stage SAP calculations

We’ve found a local energy assessor to do our SAP (Standard Assessment Procedure) calculations. At the design stage of a dwelling you have to show that it will have a sufficiently low carbon footprint when it is being used (its energy running costs if you like). Sufficient that is to meet current building regulations. Every dwelling has to have both a design and final stage SAP (and after September 2010 the rules for the design stage get even stricter). Our assessor is John Harding (07810 388263) – Ian picked him because he showed a real interest in our unusual build and seemed keen to get involved in sustainable building (plus he’s local to us in Devon, living in South Molton, and says he can sharpen a mean scythe!) The SAP gives you a score on a scale where 100 would be complete carbon neutral (ie running the building has no net carbon footprint).But to get the score you have to assess a lot of component parts – and big parts like floors, walls and roof can themselves be complex. For example, between inside and outside of the building you have an insulated cavity (straw in our eco lodge) but in places structural components bridge that cavity – called ‘non-repeating thermal bridges’ – like the window sills and where the rafters join the tops of the walls. All these have to be detailed so you can calculate the thermal transmittance (or resistance) of the wall. To get the figures right you need to consider the materials used, their thickness (eg the stud work) and how much of the wall they represent. The windows also need to be considered. They will lower the SAP score because they transmit heat out. But they have their good side too – through solar gain. So their contribution to the score depends where they are on the building and what you use to glaze them. We have big South facing windows (they gain heat in the winter when the sun is low but absorb less in summer when the sun is higher in the sky) and also East facing openings (West facing windows can absorb too much heat during the summer, meaning you need to cool the building, without offering that same heat in the winter when the Sun is more southerly).

We’re pretty sure we’re going to put double glazing in the big south facing windows because they’ll give us more solar gain. Triple glazing is more about sound proofing, and although it does retain more heat it also keeps out warmth from solar gain in winter (but windows on the northern side, where the entrance door is, will be triple glazed). The design stage SAP should help us understand the consequences of that sort of choice.

And then again your SAP score also depends on how you are planning to run the building – what you’ll be using for heating and hot water etc. Interestingly, a less well insulated building that is efficiently heated and powered can have a similar SAP score to one that is well insulated but more poorly run.

Of course, we’re aiming for the highest (best) SAP we can get. John said that if we’d known exactly what we were going to build (and how) before even picking up a trowel we could also have applied for the higher levels of the BREEAM code for sustainable homes.

But our build is more ‘as you go’ than that, partly because we’re researching it as we go along – finding our local source of timber, and our straw bales from a neighbouring farmer ‘across the fence’. And BREEAM certification also comes with a hefty price tag attached.

So we reckon the best way to get the highest SAP score we can is to take advantage of the requirement for design stage calculations and then see where we can make improvements.

Collecting more sustainable timber for the new lodge

Here come the joists for the mezzanine floor in the new lodge. They are larch, and about twice as heavy as the spruce we’ve bought for the walls.

But like the spruce it has all come from Mike Moser’s oak woodland restoration project 8 miles away in Week. Not your average looking lumber yard perhaps, and we had to borrow the trailer from Andrew at the farm shop, but Ian brought it all back and and stored it away.

We don’t need it yet – Mike wanted it out of the way. He milled it last winter. Some of it is still losing resin. The bees might like that – they use resin to make propilis (filler to glue up gaps in their hives).

The new ecolodge master bedroom – framing the view with wood wool boards

Finally some walls are going up, and we can begin to envisage the views. This is looking out from the master bedroom through walls taking shape out of wood wool. View from Balebarn eco lodge master bedroom window, framed as the woodwool boards go up

To quote the supplier, Ty Mawr,:”They are strands of wood bound together with minerals. The Ty-Mawr range of boards conform to EN 13168 and are certified Ecobiocompatible. They are waterproof, freeze-proof and damp-proof, making them appropriate for use in even the most severe temperature conditions. Swiss regulations classify these products as practically incombustable.”

And as an added bonus, they have low embodied energy and they’re good sound barriers too, which will be useful for the internal walls.

The wood wool boards make a sandwich, with straw bales for insulation in between. They’ll be rendered (probably with lime) on the outside. I quite like their tactile appearance, but it could be a bit overpowering!

Wood wool boards stacked inside the shell of Balebarn ecolodge

Here they are stacked up. One advantage on a self build is that they’re pretty robust to the elements, and don’t have to be covered up immediately.

Buying local brings us local benefits

Once again we’re seeing the value of buying local. Ian is working on the floor for the new eco lodge. The first step was to get rid of the old floor and non-structural block walls. We were going to break up the concrete and re-use it in gabions to build a bank and reinforce the front of the building (waste not want not!). But Martin Bragg, our local (and reliable … and well-priced…) digger driver had a better idea – scrape up a temporary bund, build the bank with the recycled concrete, then cover over with earth. Thanks Martin, that saved a few pounds on difficult-to-fill wire gabions, gave us the structure we needed, and created a much better feature. Digger reusing construction waste to create a bund outside Balebarn ecolodge

Next task was to source the aggregate for the floor. The first lot came from Jewsons in Okehampton (11 miles), but it arrived in a huge delivery truck that buckled the edge of the concrete drive and barely manoeuvred through the gate. So when we realised a local builders merchant, AMP building supplies, was based at Winkleigh’s old WWII airfield, that seemed much more sensible. Phil turned up in a much smaller vehicle, and instead of having to set up a business account, with credit references etc, he just said ‘I’ll leave the tab open if you’ll be wanting some more’.

And once that was done, we needed some custom-made steel ‘shoes’ to keep the existing wooden posts inside the building from penetrating the damp course (see picture). Sounds complicated. But luckily, Chris Hodgson’s engineering workshop in nearby Hollocombe was more than willing to help, even tidying up Ian’s sketched drawings before they went for fabrication.

It’s surprising what’s available on your doorstep when you look! It’s good for us, and it’s good for the local economy too – these are the people we meet ‘down the pub’ and in the village, and that make Winkleigh a thriving community.

Impressive U values for the eco lodge floor

Ian has finished calculating the thermal insulation value (the U value) for the floor of the new eco lodge. Well, it’s not quite finished yet, as the picture shows, but here’s the plan.

The U value measures the overall ability of a wall/roof/floor to prevent heat loss. It’s measured in Watts per square metre per degree Kelvin (W/m2.k) and takes into account all the thermal conductivity (k values) of the components of the structure, as well as other factors that affect how heat is lost from the building. Until recently, building regulations required floors to have a U value of 0.7 or below. That’s now been brought down to 0.22 W/m2.k. So how do we fare?

The floor will be high-proportion recycled aggregate, then 150mm insulation (Kingspan, for it’s exceptional insulation value, which we think outweighs it’s only light-green manufacturing process – well they have been trying at least), then another 150mm of concrete made of 70% ash cement and recycled aggregate. Because it’s above the insulation, this layer becomes part of the thermal mass of the building, acting as a heat store to help regulate temperature. On top of that we’ll be putting down larch floor boards sourced locally (8 miles) from Mike Moser’s oak woodland restoration project.

Overall, that will give us a U value of 0.11 W/m2.k – twice as good as the 2010 building regulations.

Rainwater harvesting in recycled industrial containers

[Maggie] 2000 litres of lime and ginger body lotion, 1000 litres of tri enzyme rejuvenating mask and 1000 litres of Japanese camelia oil – supplies for our self catering welcome packs? Not quite… They are four 1000 litre industrial storage cubes we’ll be re-using in the new eco lodge to store rain water off the roof. Because of the legislation about drinking water quality in the accommodation we’ll probably only be able to use rain water for flushing the loos, unless we get into energy intensive treatment sytems. But we’ll see. Maybe a clearly labled tap in the kitchen and or bathroom?

The cubes have come from a local company, Barnstaple-based Devon Pallet Recycling. They cost of £48 each. A new one might have cost us up to £600. So thanks are due to our friend Paul for the tip. And good on Devon Pallet Recycling for turning waste into a marketable resource.

The cubes will need a bit of a rinse. Ian reckons there may be a litre or so of the lime and ginger left in one. If I get body lotion in my stocking in a recycled plastic bottle I’ll not know whether to be apalled or impressed.

Probably appalled actually – lime and ginger isn’t really me.