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February 25th, 2008
The Zero Carbon House

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thumb_zero_carbon_houseZero Carbon House is a project to deliver a low energy house. It is located on the Shetland Islands in northern UK. The project has been gaining much attention and much support. Plans have been developed to include solar and wind generation and a unique horticultural area as well. Vector1Media asked Michael Rea, the owner of the property to share his story about Zero Carbon House. The following is his personal account and description of the project.

The project began as a demonstration for a zero carbon footprint house located on the most northerly island in Great Britain at Uyeasound, Unst, Shetland. The construction site has great historic interest as it was a trading station used by the Hanseatic Merchants from Bremen, Germany who established a booth on the site during the 14-15 th century.

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Behind the booth was the Merchants house which was demolished in the late 1950s to make way for the new house which stands on the original site. The location was used in the 19th-and early 20th century as a hotel and local folk law has it that Robert Louis Stevenson stayed there while his father built Mucckle Flugga lighthouse.

In 1983 my wife and I purchased the booth which was in a very sad state and had existed as part of the 19th century start up premises for the trading company that is still trading on Unst, Alexander Sandison and Co. The premises were used as a shop and it was also the island bakery. The upstairs part of the premises was a sail loft where they made and repaired those products and a well at the back of the house is Shetland’s deepest well, and provided the water for the bakery.

We found all of the old day books and account books which we loaned to the archives in Lerwick. This gives an insight into the social and commercial life of the island. Although the truck system had been outlawed, the accounts still showed that it was still operational at the later part of the 19th century.
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In 1992 a hurricane with recorded wind speeds of 215 mph caused so much damage that we had to demolish the property. We used a local company to do this work and I had a telephone call from their head man who said ‘ Michael, we have chucked your hoose in the Loch’.

We spent a number of years deciding on what we wanted to put onto the site and traveled to Canada and Scandinavia to look at timber-frame houses. We eventually decided to purchase a timber frame house from Scotframe Timber Engineering in Scotland. From there, we took an off the shelf house kit from their designs, re configured it and added a sun room and what was going to be the garage incorporated this into the house structure to provide an office and an additional utility room.

I then met Dr. Jeff Kenna in 2000 who is the CEO of Energy For Sustainable Development and Jeff asked me to consider using our house as a demonstration project. Jeff and I and his company also worked on community energy schemes to show that communities can own wind farms and bring substantial funds into their own communities from selling energy to themselves using a structure called an ESCO. Coupled with carbon credits this can bring huge benefits to remote and urban communities.
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Dr Jeff Kenna designed the carbon credit scheme that was adopted for the Kyoto Protocol.

We made an application to The Carbon Trust for matched funding for our project and we were turned down as they thought it was to Innovative. My wife and I then realized that the only way to proceed with the project was to fund it ourselves. Through the generosity of several companies with sponsorship arrangements this has substantially lightened the financial burden to us. The Scottish Gov have also assisted with the financing of the project as a demonstration of sustainable housing.

We have very severe planning requirements on Shetland and we detailed the house to fit into the environment, structural mass, colour etc. The general consensus is that we have a very pretty house which is user friendly, and is a structure for us to grow old in as well as being a family house.

The structure went up in November 2006 in gales of force 10-12. This took 3 men 4.5 days to complete. From the end of November 2006 to April 2007 we had some of the worst weather that Shetland has experienced in living memory.
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The entire house was scaffolded with 3 lifts on the gable ends. The cladding was put into place during some of the worst weather that I have ever experienced. All the nail heads were coated by me with 4 coats of anti rust paint and the indentations of the nails were filled with exterior grade filler. All knots were coated with 2 coats of knotting. Four coats of Jotun Demidekk paint were applied. This gives an impervious surface. We had looked at paint finishes over the years and decided to use Jotun paints as they are a very well respected company and produce a good product with a wide range of colours. Most importantly they have a long life if they are applied properly.

We were very generously sponsored for the complete external paint requirement by Jotun Europe. The colour that we chose is called Alabaster.
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Phase 2 of the project we are now working on which is the horticulture project. Two British Universities are working with us on the project . We will be using vertical growing techniques and the hydroponic growing system. Using LEDs we will be able to manipulate the plants through the light spectrum’s without the need for energy hungry conventional lighting systems.

Several other technologies will be introduced into the project which will demonstrate to commercial growers technologies which can help them to become more profitable as well as import substitution thus removing food miles.

Michael Rea
built and lives in Zero Carbon House.


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