WELCOME TO SMART-LIVING

  • By Darren Hall
  • 08 Oct, 2016

Prosperity without impact? 

IS IT POSSIBLE TO LEAD A FULFILLING LIFE WITHOUT CAUSING DAMAGE TO THE PLANET? 

I think most of us want to do the right thing, or at least would like to think that aren't doing the wrong thing. When asked about doing more, most of us feel unable for two major reasons; firstly, cost and secondly knowing what the 'right thing' really is. But let's be honest, we also don't want to give up our consumer lifestyles. 

The good news is that cost is becoming less and less of an issue every day, and often, by looking at life in the slightly longer term, doing the right thing is also the more cost effective. Technology and innovation means we don't have to choose between the best thing and the greenest thing, but can be tricky sorting the green-wish from the green-wash.

That is what smart-living is all about.


Smart-Living is a project I started in 2014 to go 'beyond green'. My aim was to help the current generation of 'conscious consumers', as well as offering the knowledge and incentives to others who have acknowledged the need for change, but don't know how. I have made some big mistakes on the way, but learned a lot. Now, with your help, I hope I can bring it all together in one place.

 So what is a conscious consumer?  

I'm sure there are lots of ways to define it, but my simple definition is anyone who thinks about more than just themselves when they are buying something; e.g. the producer, the materials, the waste, the pollution or simply whether they even really need it in the first place!  Many people are already conscious consumers, for example looking our for the fair-trade label or have made the shift to free-range eggs, but aren't sure they can afford to do any more or aren't confident how to.

Take my Mum and Dad, who are pensioners living on a tight-ish income. They retired to a dormer bungalow with a small garden and a veg patch. They can afford to visit the grand-children in Ireland a couple of times a year and go on holiday occasionally, so they are not poor, but definitely not rich. Dad has replaced most of the light bulbs because he knows it will save them money, and has stuck with the cheapest electricity provider for the same reason. He knows about climate change and accepts it as real, but doesn't believe he can do much about it. So I talked to them about 'smart milk'.

What on earth is smart milk? 

By way of an example I told my parents about a visit to a UK farmer who had given up dairy farming because the supermarkets paid him less per litre than the cost of producing it. The farmer also showed me a perfect looking cowpat - pristine two years after the cows were long gone. He explained that his cows had been so full of anti-biotics, they were basically producing clean sh*t, so much so that no bacteria meant no bugs, which weren't being pecked at by the birds, leaving the cowpat looking like a plastic one from a joke shop.

By comparison I also talked to them about my visit to Yeo Valley Farm where they explained the principles of organic farming; animal husbandry standards, crop and animal rotation, mixed pasture and soil protection. And I passed on the comment that stuck with me; if there is one product on which you should spend a few more pence, it is organic milk. It is smart for health, smart for animals, smart for nature, and smart for farmers. 

p.s. Asda semi-skimmed milk is 75p for 2 pints. That isn't even smart business. It certainly isn't sustainable. 





Solar Power

By Darren Hall 21 Nov, 2016
In the summer of 2016, I installed a 4 kW system on the roof of my new house. It cost just over £5000 and should pay back in around 5-7 years. My electricity bill has dropped dramatically, and it feels great to be generating my own power instead of buying it from someone else.  I also installed a switch to allow spare electricity to heat the water in my immersion tank. It has been working so well that I turned off the gas hot water system completely from May until October.

UPDATE: I switched my gas boiler off in April this year and have been meeting all the house's hot water needs using the solar panels alone. Even with a few days of rain, the tank stays hot enough for showers and washing up, topping itself up whenever there is a bit of brightness, so I'm saving money on my gas bill as well as my electricity bill. 

Solarsense 4kW PV system comprising 14 x 285W panels

I live in a detached 1950s house just south of Bristol, and having recently moved in was interested to fit solar panels. I work from home about half of the week, so would be able to use a reasonable amount of the power generated, but my primary motivation was to support the renewable energy market. My energy supplier is Ecotricity, and they handled the connection extremely smoothly through their 'Microtricity' team.

Solarsense are based in near Nailsea, a couple of miles away so I chose to support a local firm. The assessment process was incredibly simple, and I was offered a 15% discount on the initial quote. Warren was efficient, polite and knowledgeable. He had already checked the orientation and size of my roof using 'google earth' before arriving so all he had to do was check my electrical system and make sure the scaffolding company wouldn't have any problems. The final quote of £5105 arrived a couple of days later and I booked the fitting for the following week, putting down a deposit of £880.

Installation and commissioning took less than a week, with scaffolders arriving one day, panels fitted the next, and the electrician finishing off the third day. I had a chance to 'borrow' the scaffolding over the weekend to clean out my gutters, before it was all packed up early the next week. Simples!

Because I paid an extra £400 for an electrical switch for my immersion heater, I have a box on the wall in my airing cupboard that shows what is going on, and I can't help taking a look on sunny days to see how well the system is performing. The panels are fitted on two sides of the house at right angles to each other, so the east facing panels start generating power as soon as the sun is up over the tree line at around 7am, and the power finally stops as it gets blocked by another tree line about 8pm. As long as I don't put appliances on at the same time, I rarely use much additional power. The residual use in the house is less than 200 W, which seems to be for the fridge & the freezer, plus any standby power I don't switch off. The only appliance that goes over the limit of the panels is my kettle which is a fast boil 3.5kW model.

My one (BIG) gripe about the whole process was the lack of explanation about the new rules on the link between the house's Energy Performance Certificate and the Feed in Tarif I was eligible for. To be fair, Solarsense mentioned it in passing, but failed to say that it wasn't possible to retrospectively change the EPC after the system had been commissioned. Therefore, fitting the system wouldn't help improve my EPC until after the FIT was set. I was 1 point below the necessary D rating, and simply having replaced all my bulbs for LEDs since the certificate was done, was enough to sort it. However, I'm told there is absolutely no wriggle room on this once the system has been commissioned, so now I am stuck with a lower rate of return for the entire life of the system. VERY ANNOYING and I think VERY UNFAIR but I'm not sure who to blame; me for not checking sooner, Solarsense for not explaining it to me and the government for being so bloody-minded about screwing the FIT payments down to the minimum.

If you can afford it I highly recommend it, it feels great :-)

By Darren Hall 29 Oct, 2016
In 1992 I was lucky enough to go backpacking around Egypt & Israel. In between visits to Jerusalem, the Dead Sea and Luxur, I went to Dahab to snorkel in the 'blue hole'. It was an astonishing experience, and at the time, I had no idea that it was going to be life changing.

I swam out over the edge of the reef, as if flying off a cliff, and stared down into the abyss, heart racing and almost chocking as I gasped at the disorientation. Light blue turned to azure and then a deep, deep blue, stretching down to infinity, broken only by the flickering of diver's air bubbles rising to the surface from far below. I panicked, and turned back to the edge, blood pumping in my ears and my senses reeling.

As I regained my composure I became aware of the incredible biodiversity around me; hundreds of brightly coloured reef fish darting in and out of the crazy shaped coral. Bigger fish lazily drifting past seemed unconcerned at this big weird white thing flapping about amongst them. It was how I imagine taking LSD must feel; colours so vivid that I can still recall them now.   

A few days later I tried to describe the experience to my brother. He listened dutifully before uttering a single sentence that was to redefine the rest of my life: "I'm glad you enjoyed it, as it won't be there for much longer. Ocean acidification is killing it all". Garry was a lot greener than I was, becoming environmentally aware as a teenage beach bum back in the days when Surfers Against Sewage were just getting started. I was an engineer, fixing aeroplanes,  and largely wrote off his anti-establishment rhetoric as 'hippy shit'.

Somehow, this particular statement stuck with me and, pre-google, I took time to find out what he was on about. If he was right (he often wasn't) the incredible beauty I had experienced was far too precious to gamble with and I couldn't sit idly by. Not only was he right, but by virtue of my visit, I too was contributing to the death of the reef.  

Garry massively oversimplified the issue, but in a nutshell, increasing carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere caused in the main by human related activity (such as fossil fuel powered travel) are being absorbed into the oceans, increasing their acidity and bleaching then killing the coral. At the time the science was still relatively new and open to critique. It isn't now, and the Great Barrier Reef is the latest to hit the headlines.  

Snorkelling elsewhere a few years later, I was astonished to swim into a large octopus, holding onto the reef with half of its arms (or are they legs?) whilst searching with its others. We spotted each other almost simultaneously and for a split second I was in an underwater horror movie about to be suckered to death. We froze, staring intently at each other, and before my eyes he turned from bright orange to the colour of the bleached coral around him. I was less than two metres from him, and had to stare hard at the same spot before I could make out his outline as he morphed and disappeared.  

It is unforgivable that we would consciously allow such incredible natural life to be destroyed by our selfishness. I know I can't fix it for Occy, but I can try to minimise my part in his demise. Smart-Living is my invite for you to join me. Everyone is welcome, wether you are a lifelong environmentalist wanting to do more to mitigate the impact of your daily life, or a newbie taking your first steps in becoming conscious of your consumer choices.

Come on in - let's make the water lovely again.   
 
By Darren Hall 08 Oct, 2016
IS IT POSSIBLE TO LEAD A FULFILLING LIFE WITHOUT CAUSING DAMAGE TO THE PLANET? 

I think most of us want to do the right thing, or at least would like to think that aren't doing the wrong thing. When asked about doing more, most of us feel unable for two major reasons; firstly, cost and secondly knowing what the 'right thing' really is. But let's be honest, we also don't want to give up our consumer lifestyles. 

The good news is that cost is becoming less and less of an issue every day, and often, by looking at life in the slightly longer term, doing the right thing is also the more cost effective. Technology and innovation means we don't have to choose between the best thing and the greenest thing, but can be tricky sorting the green-wish from the green-wash.

That is what smart-living is all about.


Smart-Living is a project I started in 2014 to go 'beyond green'. My aim was to help the current generation of 'conscious consumers', as well as offering the knowledge and incentives to others who have acknowledged the need for change, but don't know how. I have made some big mistakes on the way, but learned a lot. Now, with your help, I hope I can bring it all together in one place.

 So what is a conscious consumer?  

I'm sure there are lots of ways to define it, but my simple definition is anyone who thinks about more than just themselves when they are buying something; e.g. the producer, the materials, the waste, the pollution or simply whether they even really need it in the first place!  Many people are already conscious consumers, for example looking our for the fair-trade label or have made the shift to free-range eggs, but aren't sure they can afford to do any more or aren't confident how to.

Take my Mum and Dad, who are pensioners living on a tight-ish income. They retired to a dormer bungalow with a small garden and a veg patch. They can afford to visit the grand-children in Ireland a couple of times a year and go on holiday occasionally, so they are not poor, but definitely not rich. Dad has replaced most of the light bulbs because he knows it will save them money, and has stuck with the cheapest electricity provider for the same reason. He knows about climate change and accepts it as real, but doesn't believe he can do much about it. So I talked to them about 'smart milk'.

What on earth is smart milk? 

By way of an example I told my parents about a visit to a UK farmer who had given up dairy farming because the supermarkets paid him less per litre than the cost of producing it. The farmer also showed me a perfect looking cowpat - pristine two years after the cows were long gone. He explained that his cows had been so full of anti-biotics, they were basically producing clean sh*t, so much so that no bacteria meant no bugs, which weren't being pecked at by the birds, leaving the cowpat looking like a plastic one from a joke shop.

By comparison I also talked to them about my visit to Yeo Valley Farm where they explained the principles of organic farming; animal husbandry standards, crop and animal rotation, mixed pasture and soil protection. And I passed on the comment that stuck with me; if there is one product on which you should spend a few more pence, it is organic milk. It is smart for health, smart for animals, smart for nature, and smart for farmers. 

p.s. Asda semi-skimmed milk is 75p for 2 pints. That isn't even smart business. It certainly isn't sustainable. 





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