After five years I’ve moved out of BedZed and into a new flat in Bethnal Green. What started as an experiment in sustainable living is now a pretty well known case study in eco building and overall can be considered a massive success. Technically, the flat that I lived in was flawless. Billl Dunster’s belief that “sunlight falling on your living room floor should be a human right” made it a very pleasant place to be and I didn’t have some of the problems with overheating that others did. Most importantly, even in the depths of winter, I had no problems with warmth even though there was no central heating. The main problems have been written about elsewhere but were with the systems set up for the whole development, mainly the CHP and the water treatment plant.
My only reason for leaving BedZed is its location which proved to be just a bit too far for me to get to work. I was spending two hours a day commuting and it just wore me down. My new commute is a five minute walk and it’s great to have everything I need within walking distance of home. The other plus of the move is the energy rating of the flat I’ve just bought is actually marginally better than BedZed. I now have solar water heating, which certainly over the past few days has provided me with all my hot water needs.
Anyway, I’d like to say congratulations to the pioneers — Bill Dunster Architects, BioRegional, Sutton Council, Arup, The Peabody Trust and everybody else who was involved. I know how difficult it is to make any project happen and I can only imagine how much perserverence and passion would have been required to build something that nobody knew would work. And to the countless students and dignitaries on early morning tours to find out more about BedZed who saw me in my pants, I’m sorry.
I’ve got quite into the idea of publishing my energy use information, partly as a way of keeping tabs on what my big carbon emitting activities are, but mainly because I’m interested in learning how easy (or otherwise) it is to work out. I’ll publish it on the blog every month. If you know better ways of working out the CO2, let me know.
For the month of April 2009:
I did 20 days of commuting by train and tube (22 miles each day) = 50.000 kg CO2 (Data source)
I drove 373.3 km in the car at 155 g CO2/km = 57.860 kg CO2 (Data source)
I took no flights or long-distance trains this month. Yay! = 0 kg CO2 (from Dopplr)
And my home electricity usage was 121 kWH = 63.575 kg CO2 (From my Wattson)
So Grand Total = 171.435 kg CO2
Things I’ve left out:
Heat and hot water in my flat (this is provided from our onsite CHP and I can’t get monthly data)
Food (I don’t know how to measure this)
Embedded energy in products I buy (again, I don’t know how to measure this)
Electricity and energy in the office (might be able to do this soon)
Ok, so the Pre Budget Report was a bit boring. Generally a steady as she goes kind of speech. But there was a sneaky commitment in there which seems better than most commentators have given Brown credit for.
He said that the Government would make all newly built homes carbon neutral by 2016. Now only 0.8 per cent of the houses in the UK are built each year, but my calculation that means that by 2050 this single little announcement will mean that 31 per cent of the UK housing stock will be completely climate neutral. That’s not bad when you consider it doesn’t include anything we do to improve the existing housing stock too.
I’ve noticed quite a few stories about increasing interest in environmental performance by the Chinese Government recently. This one says the Government is to spend $175 billion (yep, that says billion) on an environmental cleanup. This one says that Bill Dunster (who designed my house) might get a big gig in China and New Scientist also ran a piece (sub reqd) about all the interest in Dongtan — a suburb of Shanghai which is going to be built to very high environmental standards.
With almost a quarter of the world’s population we all need to hope the Chinese do something revolutionary about the environment, especially greenhouse gases. But I also wonder whether it’s just the shot in the arm European and North American environmental technology firms need. Maybe this will give them the economies of scale and proof that green can be done big that they need.
Ive been living in my new flat at BedZED for just over two months now. I have most things you need: furniture, stuff to cook with, Playstation 2 (okay maybe you dont need one of those) and I have to say Im loving it.
Of course theres the fact that you do get a bit bored of seeing your house in the newspapers and on the TV. I turned on BBC1 yesterday to see Sue Riddlestone (co-director of BioRegional one of the organisations who made the place actually happen) on the Politics Show and thought the background looked familiar. Then I realised there was an outside broadcast unit parked just outside the flat and Sue was on the balcony opposite being interviewed live.
There are still a lot of people coming on guided tours even though the development has been open for two years now. This week it was the turn of an important looking Spanish delegation. Oh, and my mum and dad who were down to visit and tagged along to have a look around the show-home. I havent been yet but apparently I need to go and check out the recycled coffee tables.
Like every housing estate the world over there are a few problems. Last week I got a bit annoyed with the fancy energy saving electronics when a beeping noise started in the service cupboard just near my flat. It was just loud enough and often enough to mean that I could dose off for a few seconds before being woken up as it beeped again. To be fair, Peabody Trust did get it sorted pretty quickly when I called them though.
I dont think Ive mentioned the playing field saga yet. Just across the way from my flat theres an open area which was originally planned to be a junior football pitch. It then got dug up so that a gas pipeline could be put through it and never really recovered so was empty for a while. Now the grass has just about grown back but for some reason a lot of stones have come to the surface and its pretty dangerous to play on so still isnt being used. The discussion in the bar of a Friday night is about what we can do about it.
So I’ve been living here at BedZED for a month and have now gotten round to taking a photo. When I say it looks a bit funny, this is what I mean…
On sunny days like today all the windows are and doors are open and kids are running around. There are also a few people in suits peering round corners. They’ve come from companies and government departments around the world to look at us labrats living in this place.
I’ve started using the car share scheme this week and it all seems to be hunky dory. Very handy for popping down to the shops. I haven’t quite got used to having a card rather than a key to open the car yet and I did get sort of told off for not leaving the car in quite the right place when I’d finished with it yesterday but I’m sure I’ll soon learn.
Last Saturday I packed my life into the back of a van and headed for a new home. From Stoke Newington in north east London, where I’ve lived for the past three years, I drove south — past the glass and steel of the City, over the slow meandering Thames, through the urban grit of Elephant, Brixton and Streatham — and eventually popped up in the green suburbs of south London.
The flat I’ve moved into is a bit special and you can’t really miss the development that it’s part of as you approach. Peeping out from between the roofs of the surrounding conventional late twentieth century flats and semidetached interwar houses are brightly coloured curved chimneys. Technically they’re called ‘cowls’ and are actually heat reclaimers, harnessing energy from the warm air that rises from the flats and houses below. On a day like today they sway gently in the wind, lining up as if they’re all looking at the same thing on the horizon.
The development is called BedZED (short for Beddington Zero Energy Development) and isn’t far from Sutton. I’ve known about it since I was working at Forum for the Future; I remember going to a packed out talk given by architect Bill Dunster just as they were starting to lay the foundations. I was always excited by the prospect of housing that was environmentally sustainable but actually great to live in but somehow didn’t imagine that I’d be able to live here.
It’s now been open for two years and general consensus seems to be that it ‘works’. That’s certainly my experience so far (the AAA energy rated washing machine is my favourite gadget of week one). It’s also just a very lovely place to be and very friendly. Yesterday evening I got to meet some of the other residents for the first time at a BedZED barbecue held around a campfire on the allotments.
Things are still a bit chaotic for me as I don’t really have any furniture yet and the piles of boxes are only slowly getting emptied. I have managed to borrow a tiny bit of wifi from somebody else though until mine gets installed in a week or so.
As time goes on, I’ll try to give you a picture of sustainable living from the perspective of someone living here at BedZED. There have been countless TV and newspaper appearances for the place (a neighbour’s garden was done for a TV makeover show just yesterday) but hopefully I’ll be able to give a slightly more considered commentary over the months and (hopefully) years.
In the meantime, you can find out more at these three sites: