Green buildings open days

Abigail SaltmarshA studio made from clay, sand, straw and water and a former council house that uses the sun to heat its water. Energy efficient buildings in Norfolk are throwing open their doors this week to showcase their green credentials to the general public. Abigail Saltmarsh reports.Abigail Saltmarsh

Explore the streets and country lanes of Norfolk and you'd be forgiven for thinking some of these buildings are fairly similar to others that are lived or worked in in the area.

But step in through the front door, chat to the owners and you'll discover just how different they really are.

From Thursday to Sunday this week, the Norfolk branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) is once again working with the owners of green buildings in the county to mount a series of guided tours.

James Frost, director of CPRE Norfolk, said: 'From barns to water mills, cottages to smallholdings, studios to sheds - each of the 12 buildings selected has something remarkable to offer.

'Many harness the energy of the wind, sun, river and rain. Some are hand-made - built from straw, cob or rammed earth. Some have roofs of sedum, wildflowers and grasses. Many use sheep's wool, recycled newspaper or other recycled and reclaimed materials. 'Another is banked by the local hillside into which it is built. Whatever people's interest, all of these green buildings will provide ideas to adapt to one's own project or property.'

Bookings are being taken through the Energy Saving Trust and individuals are invited to reserve places as quickly as possible.

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Matt Wicks, Norfolk county manager for the Energy Saving Trust, said: 'The open days are a great opportunity to see the different practical measures to save energy that can be integrated in houses old and new.'

The Norfolk branch of the CPRE works to protect the beauty, diversity and tranquillity of the Norfolk countryside and coastline.

With more than 1,000 members, five district groups and a county office in Norwich, it focuses on the future of rural landscapes in Norfolk and the quality of life for its inhabitants, and works closely with the national body of the CPRE.

This will be the third year the organisation has mounted the Green Buildings in Norfolk event, and visitor numbers are expected to be higher than ever.

'Since we started the event in 2007, the thirst for information about technologies, materials and building techniques has been growing steadily,' said James.

'Awareness of environmental issues has increased, along with our fuel bills, and many more people are seeking the alternatives.

'This makes the Open Days a fabulous opportunity to be inspired by buildings and people who are one step ahead and have much to share.'

t Booking is essential for all the tours and is being done by telephone only until Friday, September 11 on 01376 531547. Lines are open from 9am to 5pm. A brochure with full details of all the buildings participating is available at

t If you are interested in Green Buildings, you may also be interested in Green Build 09. Organised by North Norfolk District Council and now in its fifth year, Green Build has become a major event in the diary of anyone keen on developing a 'greener' lifestyle. This year Green Build will feature more than 40 exhibitors covering renewable technologies, grow your own and local food, energy efficiency, waste and recycling and eco-building techniques. There will also be talks, demonstrations, a food court and many children's activities. The event takes place at Felbrigg Hall, near Cromer on Saturday and Sunday, from 10.30am to 4pm. For more information, visit the Green Build 09 website at


t Visit a very different shed at Potter Heigham. Winner of Eco-Shed of the Year, this is a single storey rammed-earth garden building with a high thermal mass and extremely low carbon footprint.

The building has a roof of sedum, wildflowers and grasses. All materials were sourced close to home and it has a sedum roof.

The man behind the building's construction is Michael Thompson, a joiner, who stumbled across the method for making a rammed earth structure while watching television.

Michael saw the Build an Eco House in Seven Days programme, which had an internal feature wall built of rammed earth, and fell in love with the idea.

Three months of research followed before he started work on a derelict piece of land at the back of his home, transforming it into his shed, which includes an extensive workshop, in about six months.

'The shed cost �2,700 in materials because the walls are free. It was just the floor, roof, doors and windows that had to be bought,' he said.

While 66pc of the earth came from the excavations, the rest was imported from Stalham Scout Hut six miles away and everything came from within a 10-mile radius of the home.

'I had a zero budget for the build which meant whenever anything came up I had to think of another way of getting round it; in the end I only spent what I absolutely needed to,' he said.

t Built in 1778, abandoned in the 1920s but restored as a private home in 1938, Itteringham Mill is again using the water from the River Bure to provide its energy - but this time as electricity.

The mill uses a micro hydro-turbine to generate its electricity and since the end of 2006 has been self-sufficient, producing an output of between 3.2kW and 4kW.

Currently owned by Peter and Elisabeth Downs and located in parkland gardens of 2.5 acres in north Norfolk, the mill will open again as a bed and breakfast operation later this year.

Work to renovate the mill has recently been continuing and the building, which is highly insulated, has had has a water source heat pump, rainwater harvesting and solar panels for the heating of hot water installed.

t Take a closer look at an ex-council house in Kirby Bedon and you will realize just how green it is.

Architect Donal MacGarry and his wife Deirdre have transformed their 1930s house in Mill Lane, Kirby Bedon, near Norwich, into an eco-home.

Now it features photovoltaic solar panels, insulation from recycled paper, solar water heating and a wood burning stove.

Donal, 67, said: 'I've always been interested in all aspects of building conservation and, although sometimes it seems pointless doing small things, we have cut our energy consumption.'

The couple, who have four children and four grandchildren, spent about �70,000 altering the house. They had an extension built onto the existing two-bedroom home which has extra think insulation and the solar panels on the roof.

They also used recycled newspaper to insulate the existing home and made use of the stables outside for the water heating panels and an existing water tank to use for rainwater harvesting to flush the toilets.

Donal added: 'It's been fantastic. The biggest gains you get are from doing a very thorough job with the insulation.'

t Step into the Cob Roundhouse, at Banham, and get back to basics.

This single-storey, single room studio, was built by Norfolk cob expert Kate Edwards, with minimal environmental impact.

Clay and sand from its foundation trenches and nearby fields have been mixed with straw and water to build the walls.

There is now passive solar gain from south facing windows and the building has a shallow pitched, sedum planted roof.

Kate, who runs Edwards Eco Buildings, in Fleggburgh, said: 'It is so simple and people have been building with it for centuries. In the Yemen, there's a 10- storey tower block made from cob that has been standing for over 1,000 years.

'It is fantastically environmentally friendly and sustainable. You dig up your materials where you are working. Most of them will usually come from the foundations you have dug for your building.

'Anything extra you need can be found close by. There is no need for cement, concrete blocks or bricks, which are heavily engineered and account for high levels of CO2 emissions, and of course, your building materials don't have to be transported.'

t Marsham Barns, at Kenninghall, has also been transformed into a green home. These former agricultural buildings have been converted sustainably by the designer and owner using traditional, local materials and incorporating several energy efficient features. The building now has a wind turbine and ground source heat pump, and uses a rainwater harvesting system.

t Out at West Walton, near King's Lynn, Stella and Tony Richardson have made lots of green adaptations to their rural bungalow.

The couple, who bought the house 13 years ago, installed a solar panel to help supply their hot water. They then decided they wanted to use rainwater in their baths and so Tony designed a system to collect it and pump it into the house.

'Our next move was to install a wind turbine,' said Tony. 'It provides us with about 10pc of our electricity.'

Next they plan to invest in a photovoltaic panel, so they can generate more of their own electricity naturally.

'This is something we can keep doing over the years, adding another panel every so often,' he said. 'One of the reasons we were happy to take part in the open days was to show people that these things aren't necessarily as expensive as they think they are - and you can take small steps, doing one thing at a time.'