Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Time moves along smartly as usual, but here it has been occupied by getting involved with the Earthworks Trust Sustainability Centre at East Meon, and a visit to the earthship in Brighton.

The Earthship tour was rather illuminating, and whilst I do not propose that we build something exactly similar, there were lots of ideas that I shall ‘pinch with glee’. Included with this are some pix, which will give you a view of what the whole thing looks like.

The whole thing is situated in Stanmore Park on the outskirts of Brighton, near to the University. There’s a section in the park, which the local council is renting out to those seeking to test alternative ideas – which includes a raft of organic growing, a small tree nursery, and so on. In the midst of this is the Earthship, which started off as the ‘brainchild’ of some 45 like-minded individuals, and is now approaching completion – some four years on – and will act as community centre.

The neat thing about it, as a Community Centre, is that its running costs will be virtually zero since it really is self-sufficient – water, electricity, sewage, heating. When we went on Sunday, and bearing in mind that it was a chilly, but sunny, three or four degrees outside, the interior space was a cosy 21 degrees centigrade, with no heater on!

Let’s take a trip around the construction. First, the whole thing is partially cut into the hillside. The back wall that provides the primary load bearing structure is made from old tyres and rammed earth.

In the first instance the Environment Agency threatened to prosecute them, because one is no longer permitted to bury old tyres willy nilly, and clearly it seemed to the EA that that was the general effect. However, after some discussion of what was intended, common sense (that rare event) prevailed, and they let them get on with it.

The dwelling area then effectively emerges from what is in effect a back wall of tyres and rammed earth. The whole thing is orientated East-West, and comprises just one story, so it has a very long axis with maximum exposure facing South, to catch the sun.

Most of this South-facing wall is taken up with glass, double-glazed, and coated with a silver salt that allows light through but reflects infrared back into the interior space – passive solar heating. Two thirds of this length is effectively double skinned, since there is a long ‘conservatory’.

The rammed earth wall at the back acts as a mass heat store, soaking up heat in the day and then slowly releasing it at night. The walls are ‘plastered’ using a wattle and daub formula employing the soil and clay from the site, and I have to say that I haven’t seen a better finish using conventional plaster.

Within the interior space are two deep gullies in the floor that will contain plants. These will be watered using ‘grey water’ – from the sink, shower, etc. This will effectively be cleaned by flowing through these planted gullies, and then collected at the end of the run to be used for flushing the toilets.

The ‘black’ water from the toilets goes into a sceptic tank, which overflows to a reed bed so that the final liquid effluent is just clean water, which soaks away.

All the water is collected from the building’s roof, and they have storage for some 8,000 litres – for the inevitable dry spells.

Electricity is generated by an array of 18 photovoltaic panels on the roof, and a small wind turbine. Water is heated using two solar water panels on the roof, and is supplemented by a wood chip burner in the main interior space.

So as long as the people using the place are sensible about how they use water and power, there is quite enough for all purposes.

And that, of course, is half the battle. We are so used to being utterly profligate with resources, without consequence, that we waste grotesque amounts. I am reminded that in the UK, and most ‘developed’ nations we use drinking quality water to flush our lavatories. Let’s hope that’s not too widely known among the 2.7 billion people with no access to proper sanitation and drinking water; they’ll be really pissed off when they find out.

I shall now go and fulminate over the next part of the Iraq debacle, as War on Want and others have blown the whistle on the cosy deal that the US and UK governments are doing to ensure that US and UK oil multinationals get the lion's share of operating the Iraqui oil fields. Now we see the truth. Greedy bastards.

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