By Jem Casey
How to turn a 200-year-old building with two-foot thick limestone walls into a low carbon dwelling? Variations of this question are being asked by millions of people around the world, when confronted with the reality of Climate Change - ever rising costs of heating and cooling our buildings and tighter budgets.
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Our solution starts with the roof, where we have installed a green living roof of native Aran Island wildflowers. It all came together in September 09 and the native plants are already taking hold. Next we turn to insulating the inside of the dwelling with lime and hemp. This will keep the house warm while allowing the walls to breath and eliminate damp.
Underfloor heating will be provided by a small wood-buring stove which will heat up a "back boiler" of water which is in turn pumped though pipes laid in a concrete mass otherwise known as the floor. The secret here is to create a "fly-wheel" effect to store the heat and let it out slowly.
Up on the roof:
A handkerchief sized green roof (40 sq m) takes shape on a 300-year-old building that disused for decades
So what sort of flowers grow?
On our roof we have Sea Pinks (see first photo) aka Thrift, aka Armeria maritima, or Rabhan (Noinin an Chladaigh, Pabshsaer Barr Aille) in Irish. The plants have been propagated in trays and on geotextile mats on otherwise barren rocky fields.
The green roof and restoration work is being carried out by Sean Faherty, a talented craftsman from Inis Méain who is planting out rolls of geotextile with Pabshsaer Barr Aille, which will eventually cover the main cottage.
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Making the most of your Green Roof:
The Wild Flowers of Aran
On Inis Méain, the least spoiled of the Aran Islands, you can wander for hours among stone walls built by hand over centuries and be astonished by the array of wild flowers all around you. On the limestone crags you will find Arctic flowers growing within inches of Mediterranean plants, a unique feature of the karst landscape. The flowers include Spring Gentian, Pyramidal Bugle, Dense-Flowered Orchid, Irish and Mossy Saxifrages, Purple Milk Vetch, Bird's Foot Trefoil, Mountain Pansy. All shades of Thrift, Bloody Cranesbill, Common Butterworth, marsh orchids, Mountain Everlasting, Ladies Mantle, Long stalked Cranesbill, wild Thyme, Field Gentian, stone Bramble, Spleenworts, Harts-0tongue, Rusty-back. Many are protected flowers.
Sea Pink (Pabshsaer Barr Aille) grows on exposed seacliffs all over Europe and is ideally suited to the rigours of life on a green roof, where plants often suffer from prolonged periods of drought. This rugged plant can survive in a teaspoon of soil and develops tenacious roots which the wildest Atlantic storms cannot disturb. We are also planting commercially grown sedum (spurum, stonecrop, album roseum and saxangulare)
A roof for the elves
Green roofs are nothing new:
They have been standard construction practice in many countries for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, mainly due to the excellent insulative qualities of the combined plant and soil layers.There is a long, if mostly forgotten history of green roofs in Ireland and Scotland. Earth-sheltered huts dating from the Viking era have been found in both regions. In addition, around 1000 A.D., sod-covered roofs were used in Iceland and Scandinavia. Later on, early 19th century settlers in Canada and the northern United States introduced grass roofs. And if you think American peoples lived in tepees, think again, most lived in mud or underground sod houses with timber roofs covered in living sod.
In the cold climates of Iceland and Scandinavia sod roofs helped to retain a building 's heat, while in warm countries such as Tanzania, they keep buildings cool.
For generations the thatch was the preferred way for protecting buildings, but thatch is no longer suitable for modern buildings and the art of thatching has all but died out. A sustainable future will be found by looking to the past and to the contemporary green roofing skills of places like the Faroe Islanders 1,000 miles to the north of the Aran Islands.
These are some of the steps we have taken to install our living wildflower roof on the island of Inis Méain, off the West coast of Ireland.
Our building is a beautifully constructed outhouse which is over 150 years old. It has two foot thick limestone walls and measures 23 ft by 10 ft. At one time it was used as a dwelling for one of the poorest families on the island. The last time it was lived in was in the 1950s according to our neighbours. It is hand built using the rough lime stone from the fields, all bound together with lime and then thatched in the traditional way with rye straw.
Tiny Living on Aran, page 2 page 3