At your service – Part One: Electricity

“There is no internal water supply for the tenants here. One outside tap and sink serve four ground floor houses.”

–Edinburgh Evening News, 3 Nov 1959

Information board about conditions in Edinburgh flats up to the 1960s.

Information board describing the lack of indoor plumbing in Edinburgh flats up to the 1960s. From the People’s Story Museum, Edinburgh.

While there may be much that is wrong about the modern world, we do benefit greatly from those services we classify as ‘utilities’. For most of us these days, if we’re thirsty or need a wash we turn on the tap; if the room we are in is a bit dim, we switch on the light; if we’re cold, we put on a jumper, and another, and another, and then the evil tyrant who has the key to the heating controls lets us turn up the heat. But this wide-spread convenience is a relatively recent development, even in the ‘Western’ world. As late as the 1960s, a quarter of the housing in Edinburgh still lacked a plumbed-in bath (no showers!), and as of the 2001 census 12% of households lacked central heating. A sustainable house doesn’t mean you have to leave these conveniences behind, but it does mean re-thinking what we need and how that is supplied. The first step is of course to minimise one’s demand (for water, electricity, and heat), but in the posts to follow, we will largely focus on our thought process behind how our utilities will be supplied. The demand side is wrapped up in our larger design goals and is a discussion for another day.

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Are you still building a house?

When we’ve run into people from Wiston Lodge, this (or some variant) is a question we’ve been asked several times over the months since we purchased our plot of land. And it has been months. When walking around the area, they’d see our bit of land and it was unchanged (until quite recently) since before we bought it in March 2010.

Our plot on 9 May 2010

Looking south over our land on 9 May 2010.

Naturally people we knew in the area were curious why we seemed to be doing nothing. We knew there was a lot to do before the actual building process started (a rough estimate I’d heard is ⅓ preparation/logistics planning, ⅓ building, ⅓ fitting out/finishing). But what has been the biggest lesson so far is how much has to be done before we even have initial design sketches. We thought it would be as simple as, “choose an architect, tell them what we want, get some designs.”

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Finding the plot

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:

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