A Castle in the Sky

In March 2013, after years of talking about it we eventually sell up and move out of the city with our 2 year old, Gracie. We both grew up in the countryside and this is what we want for our daughter. So we swap a 2 bed flat in London for a small country pile on the west coast of Scotland that needs a lot of work. I've done a bit of interior design and my partner, Ed has a good knowledge of the outdoors – but we're on a tight budget and we've both got a lot to learn. It's a life time's project and this is a record of our adventure…


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Heat, glorious heat… (Dec 2)

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Work started last Monday on our conversion to renewable energy with the installation of our wood pellet boiler (see Preparing for next winter (Apr 7).   Vans have been coming and going all week and we’ve had a constant supply of coffee on the go for 15 different workmen.   Several floors have been lifted, yards of gleaming copper pipes connected and huge bits of kit hauled into the workshop.  It’s the beginning of making the house work for us and it feels exhilarating and a bit scary.

Outside at the back of the house now stands a massive 8 tonne steel silo (or wood pellet store). It’s 2 meters wide and 4 meters high and will need obscuring with a fence – a job we’ve planned for next summer.   Ed’s workshop is unfortunately no more and instead houses a dazzling array of equipment including a maze of new pipework and dials, 3 thermal stores (water tanks essentially) and the boiler itself – a massive 2 and half tonne orange box from Austria.     The engineer says we’ll soon be showing off this space-age system (we can operate it through our mobile phones!) to all our friends .  I scoffed at this, but now the job’s done, I’m afraid to say I can feel a few guided tours coming on…

Inside the house, the heating and hot water for the old wing is now on its own circuit; stage 1 of our plan to turn it into a holiday let.  The hot water for the main part of the house (where we live) will be done in the summer (too many more floors to pull up in the run up to Christmas).

Then the last of the salvaged radiators was plumbed in yesterday and we were ready to turn on the boiler for the first time…    It’s a different house:  Walking into the front hall is never going to feel the same again. When Gracie gets out of the bath she runs around naked on the landing.  Getting up in the morning is a treat…

So we have in fact found a way to live here comfortably (see It’s bloody cold but we do have deer… (Mar 10).  We’re starting to realise the potential of this wonderful place.

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Preparing for next winter…(Apr 7)

We knew before we bought the house that we’d like to be as green and energy efficient as possible here, despite the fact that the house is so big.

The oil boiler’s been first on our list to try and replace. It’s taken a few weeks of research but I’m now an expert on renewable energy – and could bore you to death with my knowledge of biomass and geo-therm, hydropower and heat pumps.  We’d imagined wind turbines, solar panels and ground source might all be options – but the thing that’s going to save us here is wood. Or more specifically wood pellets.

It’s a massive job – the installation is big and complicated – and includes a 2 storey high metal box or hopper (to store the pellets) as well as a boiler and 3 accumulator tanks (thermal heat stores) that will take up all the space in both of our out-houses. There’s a whole load of consents to get – listed building, planning and a building warrant – and we need to-scale drawings, diagrams, photographs and specs.  We also need a shed-load of cash; the home improvement loan that we had earmarked for just some of the refurb’ is now all going to have to go on the heating.

The good news is that the government is providing incentives – and once the new system is in we can apply to recoup some of the money in installments across 20 years.

The even better news is that as wood is much cheaper than oil the new system should allow us to have the heating on whenever we need it throughout the winter months which is going to be a life saver.

Now I just need to make it happen before the cold weather returns.