At Ecology our commitment to sustainable living extends beyond our mortgage lending: our staff and Directors also do their bit! Non-Executive Director Mark Jones, a Chartered Civil Engineer and Chartered Environmental Manager, outlines his project to refurbish a neglected agricultural property near Trawden, Lancashire.
Our property is over 100 years old and has been subject to subsidence and the DIY removal of internal supporting walls. Needless to say, when we bought it, not many of the floors were horizontal or the walls vertical! The property was constructed with reclaimed materials from an old barn, which was on the site prior to the construction of a row of houses by a local farmer. One part of the house was a butcher’s shop, with the lower ground floor being the cold store for the stock; it remains very cold down there even in the summer, as it’s essentially an underground room. The property is constructed with solid wall rubble on sloping ground and thus has two stories at the front and three on the back.
To refurbish the property, we started by underpinning the foundations. When we dug down, we found that the old foundations were essentially large stones, barely wider than the walls, so it had been constructed just like a three storey boundary wall. The weight of the back end of the house had probably forced its way into the ground within the first couple of years of it being built. In fact, we found 50 year old newspapers pasted across the cracks that showed it had not moved for some time!
The next phase was to level the floors and provide support to the ceiling’s front wall and the chimney stack. I commissioned a steel frame to be built inside the property walls, to replace the supporting walls that had been removed in the past. I managed to source some recycled beams and columns from a local factory that had been demolished and had them cleaned and cut to size. Once the property was structurally sound came all the normal refurbishment such as re-wiring, plumbing, and trying to straighten walls, floors and doorways as much as possible.
As the money became available, we have undertaken other improvements. First, we internally lined the outside walls where possible, to insulate them. We replaced the roof with largely recycled materials and added a breathable membrane beneath the slate and stone covering, as well as insulation board between the rafters. We also filled the space between the new ceilings and the roof joists with insulation to reduce heat loss. The existing windows were a mixture of materials, mostly wooden double glazed, and we had these refurbished where possible and replaced with wooden frames where we could not. The glazing was replaced with a mixture of Argon filled double or triple glazing depending on what could be fitted in the existing frames.
The gas central heating boiler has been sent to the museum of antiquities, and replaced with an A-rated condensing boiler until we can find a practical and economical renewable source for heating the house. I have laid ducting underneath the yard at the back of the house for the potential use of a ground source heat pump if it becomes cost effective. I have also been working with some neighbours to get an agreement to install some micro-generation, in the form of a water wheel in the watercourse running along the bottom of the property boundary, but the negotiations with the Environment Agency have met with opposition. Plans for a small wind turbine were frustrated by objecting neighbours and difficult planning officers.
Even after all this work, we still have draughty old house, so we encourage the use of thick woolly jumpers… which brings me on to the next part of the grand plan. With the property came four acres of weed infested grassland. We didn’t want to blast this with herbicides and pesticides, so after twelve years we’re now getting it to the stage of wild meadows. Part of the land has been planted as a fruit orchard and vegetable patch, which the slug and bird population appreciate; another section has been isolated as a wildlife area with a pond and a few hundred trees planted within its boundary.
The rest of the land, along with some other small patches of land we rent and own, are used to keep rare breed animals such chickens, sheep, and ponies. There are two ponies, an Exmoor and a Highland, both of which are on the endangered species list. We also have two herds of sheep and a few orphans. Our Hebridean sheep are small, black, and have two or four horns, which appear to have specifically evolved to catch you where it hurts most when examining them. The other herd is North Ronaldsay, which have some unusual dietary requirements, having for generations fed on seaweed on the shoreline of North Ronaldsay. These are small and slow growing (the lambs weighed less than a kilogram) so they are not particularly commercial, but there are only a few hundred left in existence.