Diary of an Eco-Builder

Environmentally friendly innovations may be new or very, very old

There's nothing like a good hobby to keep you occupied at weekends, and building a carbon-neutral ecohouse certainly offers unlimited diversions. Like any good hobby it has its conventions, by which I don't mean rules of thumb (eco-builders soon learn to be wary of these) but rather collective events of like-minded enthusiasts, the kind of meeting where you might otherwise hope to meet Dr Who or Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Last week I took a train to Exeter, at considerably less than warp speed, in search of ideas at the annual Homes for Good show.

There's nothing like a good hobby to keep you occupied at weekends, and building a carbon-neutral ecohouse certainly offers unlimited diversions. Like any good hobby it has its conventions, by which I don't mean rules of thumb (eco-builders soon learn to be wary of these) but rather collective events of like-minded enthusiasts, the kind of meeting where you might otherwise hope to meet Dr Who or Captain Jean-Luc Picard. Last week I took a train to Exeter, at considerably less than warp speed, in search of ideas at the annual Homes for Good show.

My favourite product was the cheap and cheerful Windsave wind turbine ( www.windsave.com). The beauty of this dinky 1Kw device is its simplicity: because its power output is perfectly controlled to dovetail with your mains supply, you can simply plug it in to an ordinary mains socket and let it loose, reducing what you draw from the grid whenever the wind blows.

Our tree rules out this option for us - we will have to rely entirely on solar power - but if your house faces the wind, this might help you to make good use of it.

Our roof-top solar power station also inhibits high-rise gardening. This is a pity, because I was impressed by NatureMat ( www.greenroof.co.uk), a ready-made living roof which, when laid on a good substrate, will survive extended periods of drought without watering. As well as being attractive, green roofs increase biodiversity, slow down stormwater run-off and improve your insulation. I'm a sucker for green roofs, so our bike shed will have one, if nothing else.

As we won't achieve our "carbon-neutral" goal without an exceptionally energy-efficient interior, it was good to see some new ideas in energy-efficient lighting, in particular the Chameleon uplighter by Lampholder 2000 ( www.lampholder.co.uk). Although energy-efficient bulbs now come in all sizes (see www.megamanuk.com), most of those available in the shops are too big for standard half-bowl uplighters.

The Chameleon succeeds in hiding an energy-efficient bulb in an elegant, tapered design - a good example of an apparent eco-constraint inspiring a rethink of a tired form.

Homes for Good may not have attracted many time lords, but its curious mixture of old and new meant that I was never quite sure which decade I would be stepping into next. For example, one exhibitor was promoting vinegar and bicarbonate of soda as an exciting new household cleaner.

This may seem a bit cheeky, but the innovation of the Seven Generations "Cleaner" range is to package a variety of natural cleaning ingredients in simple and attractive bottles that can be returned for cheap refills time and again ( www.sevengenerations.co.uk). The range is currently only available through their shop in Bath, but hopefully other outlets will follow.

Going even further back in time, Jan Sharpe ( www.jjsharpe.co.uk) was showing off a slick earthen floor for her kitchen made out of nothing other than soil, sand and straw, a warm and durable surface that is a pleasure to walk on and easy to fix if damaged. It might seem experimental and bizarre, but like many eco ideas it is simply what most of humanity has done for thousands of years.

Finally, if you would rather fast forward to an ecological lifestyle, there's a new property website dedicated to greener, more energy-efficient homes. See www.greenmoves.com.

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