Diary Of An Eco-Builder

How to generate your own energy, shun toxic materials - and still enjoy all the mod-cons

It's a tad surreal, but the expression seems to capture our nervousness about the risks of radical action. For our Clapham self-build, the proverbial bathwater consists of all the conventional assumptions about how houses should work, the usual compromises about carbon emissions, pollution, resources and waste.

If it is possible to generate all your own energy, use entirely non-toxic materials and send next to nothing to landfill, why do otherwise? Given public suspicions of what this involves in practice, however, we are also very focussed on our baby: domestic bliss with all mod-cons. We are confident that contemporary environmental design not only holds on to this baby but significantly improves its health. Ford and I plan to enjoy life in Tree House without any sacrifice in quality of life and all the benefits of a warm, light-filled, healthy home.

Which brings me to the important issue of our bath. London is the most water-stressed city in Europe, the South-east has just been through the driest eight months since 1975 and the Environment Agency is urging us all to take showers instead of baths. So you might expect me to have removed the bath from our radical environmental specification. Except, of course, this would involve throwing our quality-of-life baby out with the eco-compromised bathwater.

The key issue is not so much owning a bath but how often you use it. For us, baths are not instruments of cleanliness but of relaxation, designed to meet a very particular need after (say) a long day digging the allotment. As this need is relatively infrequent, we take few baths. But when the need does arise, nothing can replace a good soak.

A typical bath uses 80 litres of water compared to only 30l for a shower, so it makes good sense to opt for a shower for ordinary ablutions. However, showers are more convenient to use than baths as well as more water-efficient, so if you currently live without a shower, don't rush to install one if your twice-weekly bath will be replaced by daily showers. Above all, if you are planning to install or improve your shower, don't be tempted by a power shower - an environmental design disaster that uses more water than a bath for a marginal gain in physical sensation.

Instead, choose a shower with a low-flow option on the showerhead and responsive controls that encourage quick stop-start actions: stopping to lather up, restarting to rinse off (see www.hansgrohe.co.uk).

Having made it on to the specification, the bath for Tree House (currently in our back yard) comes with excellent eco-credentials in every other way. First, it's salvaged: an old roll-top bath I bought at auction for a knock-down price. Second, the original surface is intact, so the toxic and highly energy-intensive process of re-enamelling is not required. Third, we are replacing the rusted taps with a pair of new globe cocks which will fill the bath rapidly and so minimise heat loss before you get in. This is the opposite strategy to all the other taps in the house, which have built-in flow restrictors and aerators to give the best results for the least water throughput (Hansgrohe taps include these as standard).

To really save water, there's always the self-cleaning option. Not easy for humans, but a highly effective feline strategy. As our four cats are not only self-cleaning but also integral to our quality of life, there's absolutely no way, real or proverbial, that these babies will ever get thrown out with the bathwater.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Sport
Australia vs New Zealand live
cricket Follow over-by-over coverage as rivals New Zealand and Australia face off
News
Zayn has become the first member to leave One Direction. 'I have to do what feels right in my heart,' he said
peopleWe wince at anguish of fans, but his 1D departure shows the perils of fame in the social media age
Life and Style
Researchers found that just 10 one-minute swill-and-spit sessions are enough to soften tooth enamel and make teeth vulnerable to erosion
health
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
The Regent Street Cinema’s projection room in the 1920s
film
News
Leah Devine is only the ninth female to have made the Young Magician of the Year final since the contest began more than 50 years
peopleMeet the 16-year-old who has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year
News
Jonathan Anderson was born in Northern Ireland but now based between London, where he presents a line named JW Anderson
peopleBritish designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
News
Andy Davidhazy at the beginning (left) and end (right) of his hike
video
News
Taylor Swift is applying to trademark song lyrics from 1989
people
Voices
The popularity of TV shows such as The Liver Birds encouraged Liverpudlians to exaggerate their Scouse accent
voicesWe exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
Property search
Property search
  • Get to the point
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing