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Aran's first green roof in centuries starts to bloom

Aran Islands

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Beautiful yet rugged,
the Pabshsaer Barr Aille, aka the Sea Pink, clings to a crack in the limestone cliff near Synge's Chair. Now hundreds of cultivars of this wild Inis Méain plant are growing on the first green roof to be built on the Aran islands in centuries. The Clochán, built in the bronze age which a few feet behind our green roofed studio still has an intact green roof on it. Its a reminder that there is nothing new under the sun.  We have plenty to learn about becoming sustainabile from looking at the past. Read more about the living roof here here


A green roof grows on Inis Meain...

Sean has been busy installing the first living roof on Inis Meaini
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This is how the roof looks with  liitle shoots of Ameria Maritima  - Lady's Pincushion or Sea Thrift - growing in special trays.

Read the whole story here

Our plan to turn a 150 year old dilapidated shed into a low carbon usable space has been given a boost by a visit to the
biannual Solar Decathlon in Washington DC in October.

The students build  5-800 sq ft zero energy houses,
producing as much energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, as it consumes. Even though the home might be connected to a utility grid, it has net-zero energy consumption from the utility provider--usually measured on an annual basis.

Take a virtual tour

The student team from Darmstadt, Germany, won the competition designing, building, and operating the most attractive and efficient solar-powered home.
 The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took second place followed by Team California in third place.

 Team Germany's winning "Cube House" design produced a surplus of elecrticity back into the grid even during three days of rain. This is the team's second-straight Solar Decathlon victory, after winning the previous competition in 2007.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon challenged 20 university-led teams from the United States and as far away as Spain, Germany, and Canada - sadly none from Ireland or the UK -  to compete in 10 contests, ranging from subjective elements such as architecture, market viability, communications, lighting design, and engineering, to technical measurements of how well the homes provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, appliances, and net metering.

New to this year's competition, the Net Metering Contest was worth 150 points towards the final results and was the most heavily weighted contest. It challenged teams to generate surplus energy, above and beyond the power needed to run a house, which they fed into a power grid.

Team Germany earned 908.29 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 897.30 points, and Team California with 863.08 points.

Solar Decathlon Individual Contest Winners:

Appliances - In the Appliances Contest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the most points based on keeping a refrigerators and freezer cold, washing and drying 10 loads of laundry during the contest week, and washing dishes in a dishwasher five times during the competition--all on electricity generated only from sunlight. The team scored 93.53 out of 100 possible points.

Architecture - Team California took first place in the Architecture contest and earned 98 points out of a possible 100. A jury of architects judged homes on the aesthetic and functional elements of the home's design; ease of circulation among the public and private areas; integration of various spaces into a holistic design; generosity and sufficiency of space in the house; and the house's design surprises meant to inspire visitors.

Comfort Zone - Team Germany topped the contestants in the Comfort Zone contest, with 92 out of 100 points for maintaining indoor temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 40 percent and 55 percent.

Communications - Team California's communications efforts, including communications plans, student-led tours, and team Web site, were judged best by the jury of Web site and public relations experts with a score of 69.75 points out of a possible 75 points.

Engineering - The University of Minnesota won the Engineering contest, which was evaluated by a group of prominent engineers, who determined which solar home best exemplified excellence in energy systems design, energy-efficiency savings, creative innovations in design, and reliability of energy systems. The University of Minnesota scored 96 out of a possible 100 points.

Home Entertainment - The Home Entertainment contest required students to use electricity generated by their solar houses to run interior and exterior lights, a TV, a computer, and a kitchen appliance to boil water. Teams were also required to hold two dinner parties and a movie night for neighbors. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned 92.62 out of a possible 100 points.

Hot Water - The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the maximum 100 points in the Hot Water contest's "shower tests," which aimed to deliver 15 gallons of hot water in ten minutes or less. Of course, the water was heated by the sun.

Lighting Design - The University of Minnesota was named the winner of the Lighting contest where teams earned points based on an evaluation by a jury of lighting design experts. Jurors toured each house to evaluate the aesthetics, innovations, energy efficiency, user-friendliness, flexibility, and performance of the teams' lighting designs. The University of Minnesota earned 72 points out of a possible 75 points.

Market Viability - The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won the Market Viability contest, which evaluated whether the cost-effective construction and solar technology in a team's design would create a viable product on the open market. Judges gauged market appeal based on three criteria: livability, feasibility of construction, and marketability. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette earned 97 points out of a possible 100 as judged by the professional jury.

Net Metering - Team Germany took the top spot in the crucial, 150-point Net Metering contest. Teams were awarded 100 points if the energy supplied to their home's two-way electrical meter registered zero or less after all of the energy demands of the contest week. Each house in the 2009 Solar Decathlon was connected to a power grid and equipped with a meter that measured both its consumption and production of energy. When a team's meter showed a negative number, the home had generated surplus energy--worth up to 50 additional points. Team Germany scored a perfect 150 points in this contest.

The application process for the next Solar Decathlon, to be held in Autumn 2011, has already begun.


Daily photos from throughout the competition are available at the link below.


Huff, puff and build your house

Building your own house is a straightforward and cheap affair, especially when it's made out of straw, mud and pure hard work, writes MANCHAN MAGAN

MY FIRST house, built in 1997, cost me €6,000. My second, larger and more luxurious house cost €26,000 in 2002. Until the property crash this would have marked me out as a freak, a sort of dumpster-diving refusenik, the sort social services keep an eye on. Now, people are suddenly listening.

I signed the deeds on July 7th and went straight to the library to learn everything I could about roofing, plumbing and electricity. Six weeks later the house was built. It cost, as I say, €6,000 (I could probably build it for €10,000 today). The walls were made of bales of oaten straw, laid like Lego blocks on to a thin band of concrete.

I squashed the bales down tight with bands of wire looped from the foundations and up over the wall plate, and then I built a roof on top. Everything wobbled a bit at first, but I kept tightening the wires until it firmed up, and then plastered the walls with lime and sand. Erecting the walls took five friends and me a day, and another four days for the roof. Then we left it all to settle for a while before I began plastering.

Building a basic house should be no more complex or expensive than this. Unfortunately, a lot of vested interests ensure that it is. Governments, banks and employers all benefit from having a society yoked under mortgages - it ensures control, compliance and vast profits through taxes and interest payments. Now might be a time to reconsider all this. A house should, and can, cost the price of a car - something you repay over a year or two, instead of your life.

There's more

The green green roof of Aran

The Aran Green roof project......
Thatch is traditionally used to roof Aran cottages,  but we are now building the first living green roof on the island. Watch the progress as Sean restores a dilapidated shed using locally sourced materials to make a snug environmentally friendly room that one day soon will be a studio, library, retreat and low carbon hideaway.
Our thanks to one of Ireland's  foremost environmental and conservation specialists David Brickenden for his valuable  advice on this project
Watch the green roof grow here