Sustainability...... a complicated subject full of potential pitfalls. What does the responsible planet-user do when he discovers the electric car he's just bought took twice the energy to build as a 55mpg BMW, and will last half as long? Or his presumed carbon-neutral wooden furniture actually came from a dwindling area of rainforest on the other side of the world? Or the insulation he's just had installed produced more CO2 during its production than it will save during several average British winters, if such things ever occur any more? 

As providers of sustainable tourism, we hope to give you a holiday that is at least as enjoyable as a holiday abroad, whilst minimising the amount of CO2 and greenhouse gases produced.

This page is split into several headings to describe how we've tried to achieve that minimisation. I apologise in advance for wordiness, but you can pick out the bits you're interested in:

  •   Construction materials
  •   Energy Use
  •   Recycling
  •   Opportunities for using local produce

Construction materials

We've aimed wherever possible, to use natural materials manufactured with a minimum of energy use.

The cabin walls are constructed from Douglas Fir logs, sourced from mid-Wales, about 60 miles away. The same timber has been sawn to make the stud wall frames, and more Douglas Fir and some Oak have been sourced from a local sawmill to clad the walls and ceiling and make the doors.

There is 250mm of sheepswool insulation in the roof, and a further 200mm under the floor. The cavities of the stud walling are filled with warmcell blown recycled newspaper. The insulation value of log walls themselves is difficult to assess, as the logs taper, with widths varying from 300mm to 500mm, and the lateral joints varying correspondingly.

There are large areas of double glazing on 3 sides to maximise passive solar gain.

Roof tiles are bitumen shingles from Katepal.

Most furniture, including the kitchen, is wooden.

All the paint we've used has been carefully vetted for environmental impact. On the exterior, we have used a number of paints from the Osmo country colour and opaque gloss woodstain ranges. On the interior, an ecologically sound fire retardant was hard to find, but I believe we have chosen the best alternative, a product called Holz Prof. This is claimed to be 'ecologically secure', and was recommended by Log Cabin UK through their contacts in Finland. See www.holzprof.ee. We've also used Osmo Polyx oil to coat ceiling, logs and floor.

Recommendations: For log cabin construction, I'd highly recommend Matt and Ian at www.logcabinuk.com - very easy to communicate with, full of ideas, generally a pleasure to deal with. For sheepswool insulation, www.blackmountaininsulation.com  are based in North Wales and are competitively priced. A local firm, www.pineland.co.uk made the cabin kitchen, with some additional finishing touches from myself, and they were a pleasure to deal with.

Energy Use

Our chosen appliances consume energy in three ways - by absorption of solar energy, burning of wood pellets, and electricity consumption.

Solar energy

I found this a comparatively straightforward decision. We have 2 water-heating solar panels, connected to an unvented, pressurised water system, meaning the shower works directly from the system - no need for a power-hungry (6KW or more) electric shower. Early indications are that the solar panels should provide almost all the hot water during the summer (they are ideally sited on an unshaded south-facing roof). The system should pay back its extra initial cost in about 10 years.

There is a backup immersion heater - see under 'electricity consumption' below.

Recommendations: we chose Llani solar - www.llanisolar.co.uk - to supply and install the system. Prompt, professional service.

Wood pellet heating

We chose to heat the cabin using a space-heater, with no radiators or hot water feed. If the cabin had been for our own use, I would probably have gone for a large log-burner, but I felt that in a self-catering holiday let, it was too much to expect our guests to fetch logs and learn how to light and use a wood-burning stove. I therefore chose a large wood pellet stove, a Piazzetta P960F, which I particularly liked as it is the only one I could find which incorporates an oven, and will potentially save some of the electricity required for cooking. By the way, why hasn't some bright spark at Aga or Rayburn applied wood pellet technology to cooking? It's the perfect way to convert cooking, my last current major use of electricity, to biofuel.

This was not an easy decision - it's hard to find anyone other than a salesman who already has a pellet stove, and having bought the stove I've found it difficult to find someone to install it - most suppliers tend to supply one or maybe two makes of pellet stove and are wary of installing a different make. There are also potential pitfalls with pellet supply - the quality (ie type of wood content and dryness) needs to be consistently perfect, otherwise the burner may be damaged, and there are areas of the country where it's difficult to find a supplier. All this is improving, though, and I have high hopes that I've made a good basic decision. At the time of writing, we haven't yet used the stove a lot, it hasn't had to cope with winter weather, and we have yet to experiment with the oven properly. It may seem like an obvious plug for our business, but I would strongly advise anyone considering a wood pellet stove for their own home to come for a short break and try ours out - I would have welcomed the opportunity myself a year ago.

From a sustainability point of view, the technology has pros and cons, but on balance it's pretty good. It uses electricity to power the ignition and feed systems, and 2 fans to distribute hot air. The actual burning of wood pellets is one of the most efficient uses of biofuel, and is well-developed, having been in existence in Europe for 2 decades or more. Our stove has a high initial cost, although there are others at prices more comparable with, say, an oil-fired boiler. Running costs appear to compare favourably with other fuels.

Recommendations: I'm sure there are good suppliers and installers out there, but I haven't found them!

Electricity consumption

I would dearly love to generate our own electricity. The cabin is in a sheltered site, so wind generation is not practical, but in the medium term I want to explore the possibilities of generating power from the river. Our old millstream, fed from a weir a quarter of a mile upstream, was filled in a century ago, and my initial research suggests costs would be prohibitive - if anyone reading this knows different, please get in touch.

As the next best approach, I have chosen the most genuinely green tariff I can find, greenenergy 's 'Deep Green' tariff, and tried to minimise consumption by choosing electrical appliances and fittings which are built to last and have the best possible energy ratings. In no particular order, these are:

Lighting - the cabin has several levels of lighting, including overhead globes (18w low energy bulbs equivalent to 100w), wall lights (Megaman GX53 13w low energy), floor uplighters (2w warm white LED) and deck lights (multiple optic fibre lights run from a single bulb). I was initially worried about lighting, as cable runs are virtually impossible to alter once a log cabin has been built, so I got a local firm to sketch out a design - I would highly recommend them - thelightingsolution

Cooking - as mentioned above, the wood pellet stove is a potential, as yet untried method of cooking with low electricity consumption. There is an AEG induction hob - induction hobs claim to use 20% less power than a conventional electrical hob, and work by creating a powerful electro-magnetic field below the ceramic surface which transfers energy as heat to the pan above by agitating its ferrous molecules. Induction zones are faster and more energy-efficient than radiant ceramic zones because the Induction technology uses only enough energy to heat a particular pan, rather than heating up an element, the glass surface and then the pan, so any heat-loss is minimal. There is a conventional single fan oven, and also a microwave oven.

Washing machine - AEG L76810  Wash energy rating A Spin drying energy rating A

Dishwasher - Bosch SRV43M03GB Energy rating A, Cleaning performance A, Drying performance A, Energy consumption: 0.80kWh/cycle, Water consumption: 13 litres/cycle, Estimated annual energy consumption: 176kWh/year, Estimated annual water consumption: 2,860 litres/year. 

Fridge - Miele K2329S Energy rating: A++

TV - LG 22LG3000

Bathroom extractor - this is a heat exchanging unit triggered by a humidity sensor, which returns heat from extracted air to the building.

Other electricity-consuming devices are an extractor hood above the cooker, a home cinema system, and a vacuum cleaner.

Recycling

The building process has been fairly good in this respect. There hasn't been a large quantity of waste, and of what we have generated, approximately half by volume has been wood offcuts, which have ended up on the log pile for our own woodburning stove. The building industry has improved considerably with packaging over the last few years, and a further quarter has been cardboard, easily recycled through Shropshire Council's scheme. The remaining quarter has gone to landfill, with a large proportion of this volume being polystyrene - some firms have moved on to air sacks to cushion packages, but a good few have yet to replace polystyrene. Having said this, we haven't made any trips to the skip, and all landfill has gone into our normal wheelie bin system.

Shropshire Council pick up and recycle glass, cardboard, composting waste, paper, foil and cans. At the moment, glass, paper, foil and cans all go into a single container, which has to be sorted on collection at the end of the drive. We will slightly improve on this at the cabin by sorting these four categories ourselves (with the help of guests), and presenting them already sorted into separate containers. In addition we will also collect plastic bottles, which will need to be taken into Ludlow periodically.

Opportunities for using local produce

Ludlow prides itself on its local food, and the opportunities here to cut down on food miles are probably better than most areas of the country. This section is under research and will be completed shortly.