Building & Renovating

Properly energy efficient building standards are long overdue to become the norm, something which applies to both the retrofit of existing properties and the design of new builds. We’ve done both, so this is the story of our eco-renovation of the old (in our case a two-hundred year old B Listed steading in rural Perthshire) and the building of a brand new low-energy home in the same area. We’ve probably made most of the classic mistakes along the way and may have invented a few of our own, so if we can pass on our experience to others, it might just help

Cowboys on the High Range…

The saga continues. I’ve previously documented the behaviour of MMAXX Ltd, the numpties (UK coll.: complete fecking idiots) who installed our ground source heat pump. But more has emerged, for which read on…

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Heat Pumps and History

…or rather, historic houses: between 2009 and 2014 we embarked on a complete eco-renovation of our house – a Regency-era listed steading in Highland Perthshire. We took it back to the stonework, insulated it throughout and installed a ground-source heat pump (GSHP), biomass stove and solar thermal panels. It wasn’t cheap (our initial budget rapidly became a rounding error) but we now have a 270m2 (floor area of heated spaces), 200-year-old farmhouse that is both warm and comfortable – winning UK Renovation of the Year in 2014 was just a nice piece of validation for our hard work.

So, with now nearly a decade’s hindsight, what difference did it make?

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Easy Gains: Removing VAT on Retrofit Energy-Saving

For all the publicity that the ‘sexy’ side of climate change mitigation gets – wind, wave and solar power or the shift to electric vehicles – all of which are necessary and laudable, the biggest difference that we can make is to reduce our demand for energy in the first place.  Continue reading Easy Gains: Removing VAT on Retrofit Energy-Saving

The Bookshelf Constant

It is an invariant law of the universe that books expand to fill the space allocated to them, plus ten percent. I call this The Bookshelf Constant. You can’t outwit this any more than you can gravity and it is entirely independent of how many books and bookshelves you buy.

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Renovation of the Year

Yes, really. We’ve been judged, voted upon and are winners of the 2014 Daily Telegraph/Homebuilding & Renovating UK Renovation of the Year.  Which is nice and we have an impressively heavy glass trophy and some rather nice photographs by Nigel Rigg to remind us of this.

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There. Or thereabouts.


It’s taken us six years, but we’re there. Actually I’d say we’re three months from finishing and probably will be for several years, but all the basics are in place, remaining work being the painting of woodwork and one bedroom, the tiling of one of the bathrooms and the rectification of various minor-but-annoying balls-ups by the main contractor.

Continue reading There. Or thereabouts.

Recycled Warmth

The last piece of the insulation jigsaw went in today: 27 bags of Warmcel recycled newspaper-based insulation, blown into the floor of the new master bedroom. This room sits above the unheated stable and tack room, now our garage and plant room, so when we used this room as our living room, it was perennially freezing unless we had storage heater, radiator and the log burner on, full blast. With the heat pump now in the plant room, we also needed better sound insulation between the floors – the pump isn’t particularly noisy but the buzzing of the compressor would definitely not aid a good night’s sleep.

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Pass the Anthracite…

Our renewable energy (lack of) saga drags on. Using our own records and technical audits from both BRE UK and a new supplier recommended by Danfoss, we’ve been able to demonstrate that our original renewable systems supplier, MMAXX Ltd, and their managing director, Neil McFarlane, had neither the competence to take on the work in the first place nor the integrity to admit it and either turn down the project or bring in people who did know what they were doing. That’s led to more than a year of non-functioning systems, damage to our property and a system that has so far provided neither the heat nor hot water specified and required. It’s also failing to deliver the promised savings or environmental benefits.

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Stoves Online

Our woodburning stove in the kitchen, replacing a very old and burned out multifuel stove,  is a Woodfire 12i, sourced from Stoves Online ( The first one they sent was damaged in transit – whether by their courier or by MMAXX Ltd we don’t know (MMAXX didn’t check it over on arrival at their depot, unpacked it then brought it up dumped in the back of a van, so I know where my money goes) – but Stoves Online were unfailingly helpful and courteous over arranging the replacement.

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Funny thing – before I moved back to Scotland, I’d never come across the habit of “Taping and Filling” – using Ames tape to seal the seams between adjacent sheets of plasterboard and then plastering and sanding the joint smooth. But it seemed to make perfect sense – after all, why should we pay for plasterboard and then pay some highly skilled bloke to spend days plastering it? Continue reading Plastered