When people ask us if the house is finished yet …and I say ‘Yes‘; but even as the word comes out, I hear Linda saying ‘No‘.
‘…well, sort-of finished‘; we agree.
Thing is, when a job like self-building a house is 97% complete there’s so little fight left in you that you call it ‘finished’ or ‘as-good-as’ and put your tools away before the pipes have been boxed-in, the window boards have been cut to fit around the quirky shape of the straw bale walls, and before a wall has been built around the loo. Don’t ask. People ask a lot of questions about living in a straw bale house. Mainly they’re to do with the perceived risks of fire, vermin, and rot. ‘How long will your house last?’ They ask …as though we’ve built a summer camp …but the winter will destroy it.
Don’t laugh, but when push comes to shove, what lies behind their fears-on-our-behalf is the story about the three little pigs. Being told, at such a young age, that danger lurks if you build a house of straw, seeps into our formative minds and unconsciously throbs out its warning for the rest of our lives. We’re all quite damaged in that way.
Having survived the danger of being attacked by wolves, fire, rot, and vermin for twelve months – so far …and with every prospect of being able to survive another twelve – I can tell you that when you live in a straw bale house you are unaware of the fact that the walls are built from straw. …Except that it is incredibly warm; there’s pleasing undulation to the lime-plastered walls; there’s no condensation or humidity in airless corners of the bathroom; and there’s a subtle wholesome smell in the atmosphere.
Being off-grid, do you have to run your generator all the time? Apart from using straw bales as the material of choice for our walls, something else we’ll all be doing in future is to generate electricity for our own consumption. For the last forty years the price of solar panels (PV) has been falling. In 1977 a panel used to cost £56 for every watt it produced – today it’s 23p. There was a great surge of interest in installing panels ten or fifteen years ago on the basis that you could sell electricity to the back to the grid to earn a handsome second-income. Conjoining the idea that you installed solar panels only to earn money has backfired now that the price you will be paid for each unit of electricity has fallen to a fraction of the original offer. Another result of conjoining the idea is that few people consider installing solar in order to cut their tie with the electricity grid. Why should they?
PV panels have a design life of 25 years. Lead/acid batteries will need to be replaced every 5 or 10 years (…but they’ll only last that long if you look after them.) Installing your own off-gridPV electrical system will cost £10k – £15k. And you’ll get the VAT back on that if it’s a new build. Two or three more lots of batteries, over the years, might be another £12k, say.
The average annual electricity bill in the UK today is £600. The average annual price hike is 8%. In twenty-five years we’ll be paying £4,100 a year for our electricity. The average household will have paid £65,000 for grid electricity during the 25 year life of a Solar Panels.
I know I won’t be believed when I say this – but it makes no sense to connect your new-build house to the grid. And in answer to the original question …about whether we ‘have to run our generator all the time’ – last year we ran it for 20 hours.
We used to live on board a boat. On board we learnt to manage our resources …and that lesson helps us keep our generator run-time to a miserly minimum. We don’t use high demand devices on a cloudy day. We look at the weather forecast and if it’s going to be sunnier tomorrow – that’s when we do the washing; make beer; run our light/industrial workshop tools.
By the way, our boat’s got a new home, too. Nice innit? Lucky boat.