DAREN Howarth and his partner Adi did what many of us can only dream of: they built their own eco home, in a clearing in the middle of a French oak forest.
The house, an “earthship”, is constructed from 150 tonnes of earth rammed tightly into old tyres, costs nothing to run and in fact earns the couple money from the generous French Feed In Tariffs (FIT) for the solar electricity the house generates from its roof.
Just last month they received a cheque for £800 (about R10900) from EDF Energy, and even the rainwater system provides drinkable water.
“We’re in Brittany, stuck out in the Atlantic Ocean and a long way from any large city,” Daren says. “The nights are so dark and the stars are so bright, sitting outside and watching the heavens blazing down at you is almost trippy.”
Even in the coldest winter, the super-thick walls envelop the home’s occupants in a sheltering layer of earth, the south-facing windows maximise solar gain and internal temperatures have never fallen below 18°C – and that’s without heating.
Let’s face it, France has had a pretty awful winter. Quite apart from not seeing the sun for months, the long periods of bitter cold have been punctuated by more bad news on the economy and sinister visits from the gas meter reader man. At this time of year, at our lowest ebb, thoughts often turn to escape, and what better dream than living in a bill-free home that actually earns money for you. Think of all those novels one could write.
Relaxed self-building regulations in other European countries – you build it yourself then it’s your responsibility – and generous FIT payments, mean that many EU countries present more opportunities than the UK for owning a low energy home with earning potential.
Germany for example has the most installed solar energy in the world. Last May during an exceptionally sunny period its solar panels provided half the country’s electricity needs.
Germany, Spain, Belgium, Italy, the Czech Republic and France all have much more installed solar power than the UK and although subsidies to kick-start installations have been slashed in the past two years, many properties still have long-lasting contracts of up to 20 years to run.
In Spain laws in some regions forbid the construction of new homes without solar energy built-in which means that development of new homes automatically comes with renewable energy supplies.
Although Daren’s house comes with solar photovoltaic and solar thermal technology, he says “part of its beauty is that it has consumed very little of the earth’s resources.
“Decorative features are made from recycled glass bottles, to create a stained glass effect and it’s part of the earth, not sitting on it.”
Family responsibilities mean that Daren and Adi must move back to Britain and they are selling their “Groundhouse” home which includes a rentable stone gite (holiday accommodation) and five acres of land for £335,000 (about R4.6-million). For more details visit groundhouse.com
Swiss architect Peter Vetsch has been trying to satisfy his fellow citizens’ love for living under the earth for the past 30 years. So far he has built 72 “erdhausen” (“earth houses”) all over Switzerland, creating smooth, organic shapes that seem to cocoon their occupants. Their being buried means low fuel bills, and less use of fossil fuels, something that preoccupies the nature- loving Swiss.
“In Switzerland there is enormous concern about climate change,” Vetsch says. “The government has been making many policy changes surrounding carbon emissions from traffic, heating and industry. There is a feeling that Switzerland is small, and we alone can’t make a huge difference, but we can set an example as well as reduce our energy costs.” © The Daily Telegraph