Sarah Beeny Visits Our Eco House

Sarah Beeny Visits Our Eco House

Evening all! We are excited to announce that Our Eco House will soon be seen on the small screen by 2 million people courtesy of Sarah Beeny’s popular Channel 4 TV show, Double Your House for Half the Money.   In fact it is on the small screen tonight at 8pm.  This is our first blog post since our first day of filming that happened back in April, the production company imposed a curfew because they did not want us to give the plot away – fair enough some people are bad at keeping things under wraps.

Certain teller regarding how our build will get cut suggest that we may be portrayed as letting our hearts rule over our minds. Personally I don’t think we have a problem with that, as that’s why we moved to Whitstable and bought a cheap little house. Its all about having a small mortgage, low running costs and as much freedom and flexibility as possible – hang on that almost sounds commercially saavy…

The behind the scenes gossip is that Sarah’s got her head screwed on, family is a priority and and once the clock strikes home time she’s off like a bullet from a gun. I don’t blame her; life must be busy with four children and two concurrent shows to shoot!

Stay tuned for site updates including photos, details on what products have been used where and details of how we plan to fine tune the place.  There are  a number of little projects still to complete – we plan to build a garden room with a bathroom and wee kitchen when we get a chance…


6 Fantastic Eco Fence and Wall Ideas

After six months of living in our (very basic) house you would have thought that we would have nailed all aspects of refurbishment. Not so, last weekend whilst sitting out in the garden soaking up the first real sun of the year, Brown piped up with “How did we say we were going to finish the boundary of the garden”, “We didn’t” was my reply. Over the last few days we have been browsing books and surfing the eco-web looking for inspiration. The below are the 6 best solutions we found for building a fence or wall for our eco project.

1. The Recycled Pallet Fence

Whilst pallets are not necessarily eco friendly in their own right due to the chemicals that are applied to preserve them, they are at least already made, so no energy is expended in cutting down more trees. I also think that when painted black – against the correct backdrop they can look pretty striking.

Painted Pallet Fence

2. The Recycled Glass Wall (Using Gabions)

I’m not sure if this design will be possible for our scheme, but I love the structural concept, which I have seen used before in Whitstable at Deadmans Corner. Galvanised steel meshes (a gabions) are filled with a product of your choice, in our case we would choose to use something surplus to requirement such as building rubble or used glass bottles. The great thing with glass is that you can install light boxes around the edge of the structure (LED of course) and create a fantastic feature wall.

Recycled Glass Wall Using Gabions

3. The Bits n’Bobs Fence

It you find yourself with plenty of old tiles, floorboards or other bits n’ bobs like corrugated steel you could make a bits n’bobs wall. In order to lend the structure some element of style you probably need to draw it out (at least loosely) before you start so you don’t end up with something butt ugly. Unfortunately in the past many good-natured eco warriors have lacked design credentials and subsequently put people off trying this type of thing with their Frankenstein like creations. Check out the below for an example of how to do it right!

Recycled Fence Bits and Bobs

4. The Woven Chestnut & Hazel Fence

Originally brought to the UK by the Romans, chestnut has been used to construct enclosures and hop gardens for centuries.  It makes a fantastic raw material for this type of construction because it is is coppice friendly, growing strongly between the typical 10 year cycles of coppicing.

Near to Whitstable there is a large supply of Chestnut in the well managed Blean Woodland, one of the South Easts most notable ancient woodlands.  The traditional fence design most associated with this type of tree is the chestnut pale, you may have seen it around sand dunes in the past, people local to us can purchase this type of design from Torry Hills, just down the road in Sittingbourne.

Personally we prefer a woven chestnut & hazel fence design and are looking for somebody who can help us construct something like the below:

Woven Sweet Chestnut and Hazel Fence

5. English Willow Hurdles

Willow when alive grows in beds of rich peaty soil, unfortunately it is not found locally near our house. It does however grow within the UK in managed rural areas such as The Levels in Somerset. Willow Hurdles are a traditional method of enclosure, which had been in decline for sometime. More recently craftsmen and women have been rediscovering the skills required to make this lovely natural product, meeting the growing demand from eco-conscious gardeners. Whilst more expensive than many fencing systems, considering most suppliers hand make them willow hurdles compare favourably with expensive FSC certified panels.

Willow Hurdle Fence

6. Bamboo Screening

Bamboo grows fast, so fast according to our architect that if you go to a plantation you can actually hear it expand! There are a number of suppliers that offer traceable stock these days, so you should be able to buy with confidence. One thing to note though is that on its own, much of the bamboo available in the UK will not be enough to form a fence in its own right. The best thing to do is to use it as a covering for an existing ugly wall surface. I can see potential to use it to screen and existing concrete wall at the bottom of our garden, which whilst looking a little wonky, can probably be modified to last another 20 years!

Eco Bamboo Screen

Thanks for tuning in, It would be great to get your thoughts in the comments!

Is This the Light Bulb of the Future?

Sounds like a bright idea… We plan to use LED lighting throughout our scheme, as you can see from this product, and various others out there, they can slot right in where your old bulb was – assuming you buy the right size.

Some advice we got at Eco Build was to double check the lumens outputted, there are some cheap solutions out there (not this one) which are not really bright enough. Assuming you start to compensate buy doubling or trippling, you make limited saving and you are munching the same amount of power….

We want to right a bit about Original BTC, but will do that in a future post, we love that fact that these fittings are still made in the UK, using porcelain and other lovely finishes, coming soon 😉

home iq

In a world where almost anything and seemingly everything can be controlled with a smart phone, there are things we probably didn’t consider. Here is a new one: a light bulb.

Launched as a project on the funding platform KickStarter, LIFX is a Wi-Fi-enabled energy-efficient LED bulb that homeowners can control with a smart phone. It’s rated for brightness exceeding 900 lumens, or about equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb.

“You want smart bulbs to be as bright as possible, because with full control via the app, brightness is your only limit,” says founder and CEO Phil Bosua. “With LIFX you’ll be able to choose from over 16 million colors, control every light from your smart phone, and do some cool tricks like visualizing music just by changing your light bulbs, and all without compromising on brightness.”


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Couchcruising: Luxury Part-time Bedrooms Part 2 of 2

A week or so ago I mentioned that we are considering making a part-time bedroom out of our small front room, since then Brownage has also latched onto the idea of doing the same in new space to the rear of the house. Why do we need to think about this now?  Well there is a god, after 4 months of pretty nippy times spring is on its way and Space Shuffle Architects of Kent have nearly completed our building control drawings – thanks for your hard work Heather, Tom & Patrick!  When I say nearly, we still need to confirm all the electrical points, switches and plumbing stuff.  Relating this back to the opening point, if we wanted a snazzy wall bed it would not be a good idea to locate a light switch in the only location that the bed will fit… We’ll gat the tape measure out later, before then, I’m going to share a few of the slumber solutions we have to choose from.  Maybe some will be new to you?


When many people in the UK think about futons, the words ‘student’ and ‘Ikea’ are likely to come to mind.  Often stained, smelly and broken this type of home furnishing has been particularly bastardised, which is a shame as it’s a great idea.  Western futons usually feature a configurable wood or metal frame that folds in the middle; in the raised position it is a couch, flat it can be used as a bed. The mattress is usually filled with foam, but some suppliers such as XXX offer an eco option.  Either type will normally feature a removable cover available in a variety of colours so you can match it to your space.

Futons originate from Japan and have always be designed to offer a comfortable sleeping solution that can be hidden away during daylight hours, this allows the room to function as more than just a bedroom – perfect for our scheme.    According to Wikipedia, futons are sold in Japan at speciality stores called futon’ya as well as at department stores. They are often sold in sets that include the futon mattress (shikibuton), a comforter (kakebuton) or blanket (mōfu), a summer blanket resembling a large towel (taoruketto), and a pillow (makura) generally filled with beans, buckwheat or plastic beads.  No doubt Rakuten would be a decent place to start your search if you are after an authentic one.  Personally I’m not sure it is going to work with our place!

Futons are designed to be placed on tatami flooring, and are traditionally folded away and stored in a cupboard during the day to allow the tatami to breathe and to allow for flexibility in the use of the room. Futons must be aired in sunlight regularly, especially if not put away during the day. In addition, many Japanese beat their futons regularly to prevent the padding from deforming.

These are my three favorite new futons available in the UK:

1. These guys offers futons made from organic cotton fabric and pure, organic British wool wrapped around a recycled cotton and wool filling.  They don’t use foams, plastics or fire retardant chemicals. Fire retardancy is achieved naturally by the high proportion of wool filling.

2. looking similar to the Dojo futon, the Maki Yotos eco credentials are based on the fact that the wood used to produce the frame is from FSC certified pine forests.  You therefore know (in theory) that your purchase is not contributing to illegal or at least ill thought out deforestation

3.  Also featuring a frame made from sustainably sourced wood, the Roman futon has a more sofa feel to it that the other examples thanks to its optional headboard arms, there are a variety of fabric finishes to choose from, but I am not sure how eco friendly they are.

Murphy Beds

Whilst the futon hails from the Far East, the popular Murphy/ wall bed was created in the USA by William Murphy.  He apparently developed the design out of necessity as he initially lived in a one-room apartment in San Francisco and wanted to entertain lady friends, a strong incentive! For some reason this design has never really caught on in the UK, one of the reasons maybe that it requires specific DIY skills to fit it to the wall, where as a sofa bed can just be bought, carried in and requires no setup.

These are my three favorite wall bed designs available in the UK:

1. This design is far too clever for its own good; when it folds open across a sofa it reveals a hidden headboard and the shelving even pivots too.

2. No quite as cool as the Clei Swing the beds, the London Wallbeds Campus comes in various finishes and includes integrated downlighters

3. No good if you want to put couples up, but fine for the odd random guest we like the simplicity of this design.

Sofa beds

Also hailing from the USA the popular sofa bed was created sometime after the murphy bed by Italian upholsterer Bernard Castro.  He invented the innovative folding metal frame mechanism in the early 30’s, opening the first Castro Convertibles store in 1931.  The brand got bought out in the 90’s by a competitor, retired and has recently been brought back to life with a limited product selection.  They only seem to sell in the USA, so us Brits will have to make do with local offerings.

These are my three favorite three sofa beds available in the UK:

1. Pretty much all of Raft Furnitures sofas (made using reclaimed teak) can be turned into a sofa bed, we like the simple lines of the Oscar the best

2. Made from sustainably sourced wood combisofas versatile products will make you feel good knowing your new bum rest has not hurt the environment (it might also make your eyes ache if you pick the wrong fabric.

3. The Ramola is at the bottom of this stack not because it doesn’t look as good, it does, but unfortunately, it is not really an eco option due to its aluminium construction.  It does look rock solid though, and it made in the UK, which is a big bonus, no energy used to ship it from China.

Other Couchsurfing Solutions

Recently you might have seen us mention the Matroshka system, in addition to that I also managed to find: This pop-up trundle bed also looks well made, but would not work in our scheme as we don’t have enough floor area in the bedrooms L

A better solution might be: The duo means that two people who are strangers can use your sofa bed, they just need to push them apart – or together if they get on better than planned!

If you can think for any other couch surfing solutions feel free to suggest them in the comments!

The Eco Caravan You Can Self-Build

Whilst browsing for some FSC certified furniture (harder to find than you would think) I stumbled across this interesting little mobile space

The Leaf House is the creation of Laird Herbert from Whitehorse, Canada, this portable home takes up a small amount of space, is big enough to live in comfortably, and reportedly accommodates a family of four.

Designed to withstand the cold Canadian climate, Leaf House Version.2 (there were earlier attempts) is a custom built, fully self-contained portable home, it has been constructed using Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) timber, recycled materials, natural finishes and eco-friendly building products.

The home is built on top of a trailer base, it features a living area with sofa bed, raised sleeping quarters, fully functional kitchen, bathroom with a compact bathtub and an open dining area. Furthermore, the home features many self-sustaining elements including a composting toilet, propane tankless hot water system, propane GE cooker and a half fridge  The lighting is LED and the water is held in a 35-gallon (132-liter) storage unit.

Incorporating a tin roof, the home’s design elements are simple enough to blend in with its surroundings. Pack some portable deck chairs and outdoor furnishings, and you can create an extended exterior living area!

Leaf House Version.2 is currently on the market for CAD$44,500 (£28,500), which is a steal if you take into consideration that it cost Herbert CAD$40,000 to build. If you are reading this from the other side of the world shipping this shed may not be practical.  Thankfully for you self-builders out there the plans are available to buy here

What do you think? I love the cute Kitchen!

Our Five Favourite Things At Eco Build 2013

Eco Build 2013 at ExCel London

Eco Build Logo

We spoke to Space Shuffle about Eco Build last December, so it was a shock this morning to see a reminder on my phone telling me it had started, where does the time go!  As with all such shows it is claiming to be the biggest and the best, and the exhibitor list and other elements definitely go some way towards supporting that.  We plan to attend on at least 6th and 7th, as on the final day we have a number of meetings with potential suppliers which will limit how much of the educational side of the event we can experience.  As with all conference / trade shows, the ammount of real insight is often hamstrung by a sales message, so our jury is still out on this until we attend, we will report back in a later post which includes photos (wow ooo – exciting huh!)

Key areas we want to investigate include MVHR (mechanical ventilation & heat recovery) systems, combined electrical and renewable solid fuel heating, windows & glazing in all forms, roof finishing, flooring and of course lighting and anything electrical.   These are all likely to represent big parts of our build cost, so any deals that can be done, or any savings made through using new technology will be brilliant outcomes.

Unfortunately it looks like Laura will not be able to make it to the event (you always have to be free with your own Yoga school) but I will do my best of remembering and capturing (on camera) what I see.  I am really looking forward to the attraction elements, particularly the Practical Installer area (live project demonstrations) and The Evolution of Light, a showcase on the future of lighting, how it can benefit both our health and that of the environment.

If you are going along keep your eye out for the ecototem

Watch out for the next post!