When we started looking to move out of the city, I was (and still am) totally in love with the Orkney and Shetland islands. So when I discovered that land was relatively inexpensive up there, I got really excited. Really excited. Dreams of a little eco-house between sea and sky, Coll learning to play the fiddle and a fire roaring away in the long dark winter months…
Then I shared this vision of (very) northern living with J, half way hoping for equal enthusiasm but expecting in reality quite a few questions that would require me to consider the reality of such a venture. My expectations were spot on. There were several questions without easy answers, most of which pointed towards not moving north (at this point! Still holding that dream Mr Warren!)
And to be fair, he had some very good points that were key to thinking about how we wanted to live. That is perhaps one of the very most important questions – How do we want to live? A few key considerations for us follow below:
It became clear that moving someplace like Shetland, at this stage of our lives, would mean picking up and leaving all the people and networks we were a part of and having to start all over again. Talking it through, we realised we both wanted to move some where that’s not too far from the people who had become our friends and adopted family over the last 10 years. We also wanted to move somewhere that we knew at least a few people and where we liked the community. It didn’t have to be perfect, but we did need to feel we to fit into the community (or at least have an idea of how we might do so) and it needed to be somewhere that fitted us.
This is a big one, especially now with the birth of the Little Man. All our immediate family live in another country. It’s anywhere from 1 flight and a train journey to 3 flights for a visit now. And at this stage, we didn’t want to increase the effort required to see each other.
We needed to consider how the location of the plot would affect the cost of the build. For instance, shipping to the Northern Isles is costly. We knew we would be building using local materials wherever possible, but some things, no matter where we are, are going to likely have to be brought in from somewhere – say a super efficient loo or eco-paints or hygroscopic paints.
But there were other considerations here as well. Utilities for a start, if they were already on the plot, then great, but if not – what were the costs for conventional hook up (J will write a future post on why we are considering conventional hook up for an eco-house)? What were the costs of alternative hook ups if we didn’t want the standard utilities or it simply wasn’t possible to get them in?
I would likely be fine as a herbalist where ever I set up, but J, who currently works in the environmental field, would likely find it much more difficult in the more rural areas. We also want to be able to both work part time, sharing the raising of our son, rather than there being one ‘bread earner’ and one ‘primary’ parent. So we needed to consider our income.
I should add here, we aren’t building an eco-McMansion. For one, we don’t have the funds and have no intention of being owned by the bank for the rest of our lives. Also, in building a sustainable home, the smaller the house, the better with regards to footprint, materials, amount you have to clean…
A few more considerations: Planning and Consideration of Neighbours
So there is Planning Permission. Now this will be different depending on where you live – UK, US, etc. Here in Scotland, we didn’t want to have to try and get outline planning permission for a dwelling, as I believe that can be quite tricky in the countryside – depending on the area and the local authority. So for us, an ideal was for the site to have outline planning permission for a dwelling.
With regards to neighbours, we didn’t want to live in a housing development. We wanted some space around us and not be right up against others. We currently live in a flat in Edinburgh, on top and next to folk. And that’s a very conscious choice for us for urban living. We feel we either want to be right in the middle of the city or in the countryside. So this need knocked out a lot of the plots available, as most were in housing developments.
But there was another consideration, perhaps one of the most important even though it has turned up last on this list. It has to do other species that would become our neighbours. We didn’t want to unnecessarily build somewhere that would be negatively impacted by us or that felt content (for lack of a better word) without humans coming in and mixing things up. We wanted to try to find somewhere where there had been human activity or even a dwelling in the recent(ish) past and take into consideration the plants and animals who currently lived on the plot. We needed to feel that the place was okay with humans and specifically with us.
And yes, we eventually found a place. So ideal for our purposes that about the only complaints we have is that we wish we were closer to the sea and for a good bike route into the closest village (working on that one – moving the sea is a bit trickier!). We have neighbours but not too close. It’s in a lovely community of people with whom we have many friends and feel at home. It’s in the countryside but only 1 hour and 20 minutes bus journey from Edinburgh city centre. It’s been leveled in the past for horses but surrounded by trees on three sides. No utilities, but options. And it has outline planning permission.
As you can see, the conversations that came from my Northern Isles Dream made us realise that finding an ideal place for us to live really meant us looking at that question – how did we want to live. And there is much more to this question that informed our brief for the architects, materials etc. But more on those topics later!