Category Archives: Housing

3D house printer bound for El Salvador

In the Times, Will Pavia reported that a small white house which appeared recently in a pleasant neighbourhood of Austin, Texas was built without bricklayers. It was an experiment in ‘house printing’ that is being held up as a model which could replace slums of corrugated iron shacks with in the poorest parts of the world.

The printer was developed by Icon, a firm founded by Jason Ballard, a sustainable housing specialist, with the 3D printing engineer Alex Le Roux and the businessman and venture capitalist Evan Loomis.

The giant 3D printer, an enormous aluminium machine, spat out mortar like grey toothpaste, applying even layers of concrete in precise lines that rose steadily to form the outer and inner walls of a 350 square foot home that met all the local building codes (see the process briefly on this video). The roof is made of wood.

Mr Ballard said that the process required mortar that could flow like ink but was thick enough to form a wall. Like paper printers, their machine suffered from jams; when it rained heavily in Austin, he said, “We had to clean it, like, every eight layers”.

Icon has started working with New Story, a San Francisco charity that builds homes in countries such as Haiti and El Salvador – ‘the non-profit working to create a world where no human being lives in survival mode’. It needed a printer that could work outside and manage interruptions to the power supply.

The printer will be shipped to El Salvador, where New Story hopes to print a few test homes by the end of the year before starting on a larger batch to house an entire community.

 

 

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Hawes: as government sheds commitments, ‘we are going to provide for ourselves’

As large-scale cuts in public expenditure began to ‘bite’, the 2010 Conservative manifesto presented the Big Society as its flagship policy, later endorsed by the Conservative–Liberal Democrat coalition. The Big Society Network was formed, owned by The Society Network Foundation charity. It had £2 million from the National Lottery and public-sector grants. However in July 2014, the Charity Commission investigated alleged misuse of funds by the network; it went into administration and was wound up. David Cameron did not use the term in public after 2013 and the phrase ceased to be used in government statements.

Years earlier the people of Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales were realising this vision, because, as John Blackie, a district and county councillor explained: “Here we say (to government), ‘If you aren’t going to provide for us, we are going to provide for ourselves’”.

Necessity has been the mother of invention.

Hawes: 1137 population, 683 dwellings

The Wensleydale line and Hawes railway station had closed in 1959. Then both police houses closed. Last year one of the town’s two banks left, leaving Hawes with a single branch open three days a week. “One of the big issues here is that we are losing young families; if we lose services we lose families,” Mr Blackie said. Four local schools in the Upper Dales are only half full, he added.

In 1992, Dairy Crest, its biggest employer, sold the Wensleydale Creamery, featured in the 1989 Wallace & Gromit film: ‘A Grand Day Out’.

Four of the creamery’s managers and a local businessman bought the enterprise and revived it. More than 200 people now work there and it produces 4,000 tonnes of cheese a year.

Since then the business has gone from strength to strength and a new dairy was built there in 2014.

In 1997, the community opened the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership, in a place where people could get access to council services and pay rents and rates five days a week. Before this, a council clerk visited Hawes one day each week.

Over the years they began to run their library, post office and police station. The police moved in, using a room in the community centre which moved to a new site in 2005, bringing the library with them and opening it five days a week instead of two. These local services would have shut down if locals hadn’t volunteered to run them ‘on their own terms’. The town has a retained Fire Station, crewed by firefighters who provide on-call cover from home or their place of work.

After years of dwindling bus services the community launched its own Little White Bus in 2011 to meet the trains at Garsdale station seven miles away. Today they have a fleet of 10 minibuses that rely on 53 volunteer drivers and nine part-time staff, ferrying 65,000 passengers a year. They also have a Land Rover to take children from the most remote farms to and from school.

After the village was hit by Post Office cutbacks, the Northern Echo reported in 2014 that the Upper Wensleydale Community Partnership had voted to run a post office at the Community Office, a sorting office in the town’s business park and outreach services in Askrigg and Bainbridge. The move followed the retirement of Hawes postmaster whose departure left residents facing a 17-mile drive to the nearest post office. Councillor Blackie said he would also aim to relaunch post office services in some of the 11 villages where sub-post offices had closed over the past 17 years.

Their latest enterprise (October 2017) is taking a three-year lease of the petrol station which was closing down. They hope to install a 24-hour self-service pump and an electric charging point and – one day – to buy the site, offering community shares. It is the first in the country to be run by its community, (part-time staff and volunteers) not for profit but to save local people from making a 36-mile round trip along narrow roads to the nearest filling station open full time. Hawes is so remote that they qualify for a government rebate of 5p per litre to keep the prices down.

Many readers will wish them well as, next year, the partnership plans to buy two plots of land to build affordable homes for rent in perpetuity . . .

and as the Wensleydale Railway Association plans to rebuild the railway from Northallerton to to join the Settle-Carlisle Railway at Garsdale, re-opening the station in Hawes.

 

 

 

Environmentally friendly concrete – the Roman or French model?

As was widely reported in July, a research team led by Paulo Monteiro (professor of civil and environmental engineering) of the US Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, had been analyzing samples from a 2,000-year-old Roman concrete breakwater to determine why Roman seawater concrete is so durable, how its manufacture was more environmentally sound, and how to adapt those characteristics to modern concrete production.

“It’s not that modern concrete isn’t good. It’s so good we use 19 billion tons of it a year,” Monteiro said in a 2013 news release. “The problem is that manufacturing Portland cement accounts for seven percent of the carbon dioxide that industry puts into the air.”

Analysis of samples provided by team member Marie Jackson pinpointed why the best Roman concrete found in 2,000-year-old Roman piers, massive breakwaters, Trajans Markets (below) and the Pantheon in Rome, was superior to most modern concrete in durability.

Phys.org™ a leading web-based science, research and technology news service, updated this news in a July article. Ms Jackson and her colleagues found that seawater filtering through the concrete leads to the growth of interlocking minerals that lend the concrete added cohesion: when seawater percolated through the concrete in breakwaters and in piers, it dissolved components of the volcanic ash and allowed new minerals to grow from the highly alkaline leached fluids.

Marie Jackson says that the mineral intergrowths between the aggregate and the mortar prevent cracks from lengthening, while the surfaces of nonreactive aggregates in Portland cement only help cracks propagate farther. The results are published in American Mineralogist.

As ‘tufo’ volcanic rocks (tuff), common in and around Rome, are not found in many parts of the world, the team is experimenting with substitutions. A more immediate innovation, we suggest, would be further use of the ancient and durable French hemcrete or hempcrete (isochanvre) in Europe. For more information go to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hempcrete.

 

 

 

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A good report from the Ecology Building Society

The Ecology Building Society is dedicated to improving the environment by supporting and promoting ecological building practices and sustainable communities.

It aims to build a greener society by providing mortgages for properties and projects that adopt environmental building practices and improve the energy efficiency of the UK’s building stock, funded through their range of simple, transparent savings accounts.

History

In 1980, during a conference of the Ecology Party (the forerunner of the current UK Green Party), a Yorkshire based solicitor complained of the difficulty he had in finding a mortgage for a property needing extensive renovation. Someone asked ‘Why don’t we start our own building society?’ In those days, a building society could be started with just £5,000. Ten people put in £500 each and some of those still save with the society. It began trading in 1981, from a tiny upstairs office in Cross Hills, West Yorkshire, just a few miles from the current headquarters’ eco-build offices (section above).

April AGM approaches

Several reports have been written about this year’s progress. The first lead was a link from the Business Desk (Yorkshire), which led to an article recording another year of solid results, which continues more than 30 years of uninterrupted profitability with record assets and savings balances for 2016.

For the year to December 31, 2016, it recorded assets of £173.1m (2015: £145.9m):

  • gross lending stood at £30.7m (2015: £42.1m)
  • savings balances rose to £163.1m (2015: £134.7m)
  • and net profit increased to £920,000 (2015: £881,000).

In 2016 Ecology lent more than £30.7m for sustainable properties and projects, with 94% of mortgages advanced on residential properties, including new builds, renovations and shared ownership, and 6% on community-led housing, including charities, housing co-operatives and community businesses. Chief executive Paul Ellis (left) said: “Our priority for 2017 is to continue to grow our mortgage book, particularly supporting more and more people to renovate their homes to a high environmental standard.

“Our financial success is based on sticking to our core principles: thinking long-term, putting our members first and focussing on our social and environmental impact”.

 

 

 

SciDev, Positive News and a Palestine Polytechnic bring good news

hebron7In 2009 Israeli physicists Elad Orian and Noam Dotan (below) set up an Israeli group Community Electricity and Technology Middle East (COMET-ME which became an Israeli-Palestinian NGO). It was initially set up to help people to make their own renewable power, funded in large part by the German foreign ministry.

The Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no electricity at all, or use expensive diesel generators if they can afford them. Area C, which spans two-thirds of the West Bank and is under Israeli control, is home to 300,000 Palestinians. For villages in the mountains of South Hebron — often no more than a few households living in caves in the hillside — Palestinians living in this part of the West Bank are mainly off-grid and either have no access to basic services is a daily struggle. According to Israeli-Palestinian NGO Comet-ME, the Israeli authorities refuse to provide energy to Palestinians as part of a systematic campaign to push them off their lands, into Areas A and B. But these arid, windswept lands are perfectly suited to solar and wind energy

As work proceeded, from 2012 onwards, several disturbing reports came of threats to this work. The following paragraph is typical of such reports.

2013 HEBRON (Ma’an) — Israeli forces on Sunday demanded Palestinians remove 10 solar panels from their rooftops in the Yatta region south of Hebron, a local group said. The team often had to erect turbines at night to avoid confrontation with the Israeli authorities who previously halted installations.

An escalation from state threats in 2014 was widely reported: settlers destroyed solar panels and olive trees in the West Bank on Thursday, local news agencies reported. A group of settlers from the illegal outpost of Mitzpe Yair attacked and smashed solar panels belonging to a Palestinian community in the south Hebron hills, locals told Ma’an news agency.

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An off-grid solar system in Sha’eb el Buttom, a village in the South Hebron hills. In the background is an illegal Israeli settlement that Israel has fully connected to the grid. 

Positive News and SciDev report that, more recently, persistence appears to have won the day, bringing renewable energy to around 2,000 people in 24 villages in the southern West Bank. In 2015 Comet-Me summarised a few years’ work with people in South Mount Hebron to set up small-scale renewable energy systems based on these technologies. These have improved lives and livelihoods by providing clean energy for refrigeration, cooking, making butter and cheese, and communications.

hebron-2Hajeh Nuzha pours milk into a new butter churner, powered by renewable energy. Electric churners slash the time it takes women to make butter and cheese — one of the staple livelihoods here.

Many of the villagers in the Mount Hebron hills live in caves such as this one in Tuba. Family incomes have grown by as much as 70% since the electric goods were introduced.

hebron-3Women also use renewable energy to run laundry machines, such as this one in a home in Sha’eb el Buttom. Electricity has “revolutionised the lives of women”, Orian says, because they tend to do household tasks and take care of butter and cheese production.

As many Palestinians in Mount Hebron had to rely on rainwater harvesting, Comet-ME has built clean water systems for the communities — 70% of whom, the UN reports, are not connected to the water network. In some villages, people use as little as a fifth of the World Health Organisation’s recommended level. Because this often fails to meet their needs, families have paid high prices for extra water brought in by tanker. To reduce this burden, Comet-ME supplies equipment to improve access to clean water. Here the team are installing meters to monitor water use for new water systems.

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A pump and priming tank on top of a cistern in which rainwater is stored. Pipes carry water from the cistern to homes, where taps are installed. Before reaching the tanks, the water goes through particle filters to clean it. The new systems mean that children no longer have to carry heavy loads of water to their homes.

In July 16 the Palestine Energy Ministry granted licensing and permits for its first large-scale solar power plant near the city of Hebron, according to the two companies involved in the development. To develop the 5.7MW PV project, US-owned, Holland-based solar power firm Gigawatt Global formed a joint venture with Jordan and Palestine-based energy engineering and technology solutions company Rack Tech. As reported by Saur Energy International, Fadi Bkirat, Rack Tech founder and CEO said, “This project really is very important at this time because of the shortage of electricity in the vicinity. Also it will be a good way for employment for the Palestinian engineers. It will be very good for the country.”

An MRES course is now being offered at Palestine Polytechnic University in Hebron. The Master of Science in Renewable Energy & Sustainability is a project of eight universities, three from European countries & five from Mediterranean countries, with financial support from the European Union (EU) under the umbrella of TEMPUS projects. It aims to establish a program that will effectively utilize the renewable energy resources and help to support the sustainability of these sources and local environment. 

 

 

 

 

Residents in one of Britain’s formerly most run-down areas now run a housing association, their library and swimming pool

The BBC noted in 2010 that during the 1970s and 1980s, the post-war Castle Vale estate, dominated by tower blocks, became known for poverty and crime. Residents in Castle Vale established a housing association with power and responsibility given to local people. The housing association has helped to lower crime levels, demolish and rebuild 2,275 houses and address health and unemployment concerns.

The area underwent a 12-year regeneration in the 1990s, with 32 of the 34 tower blocks demolished, new homes built and a new retail area created. Read more here. http://old.mycommunity.org.uk/stories/castle-vale-community-housing-association-working-with-stockland-green-opportunities/

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Now the Castle Vale estate in Birmingham is pioneering a new way of running services that councils can no longer afford, due to government cuts. Ray Goodwin, chief executive of the tenants and residents’ alliance, said: “People came together and said this is taking away our community and we are not prepared to accept that.” Read the BBC’s update published on Wednesday 23rd November here.

castle-vale-poolLocal residents’ groups have taken over the swimming pool and the library which were in danger of being closed. Read on here. A resident posted on Facebook: “You keep doing articles in the Tyburn Mail about the swimming pool on castle vale saying how it’s been saved by the community and for the community. I think you need to do an article about its lack of opening times. Half term and it’s only open for a few hours in the week for the public and what about the residents of Castle Vale who work and want to use it when they finish. Guess what it’s shut.” He needs to volunteer to help as 40 others are doing.

castlevale-libraryThe library employs one member of staff and about 40 volunteers look after the library and pool. Volunteer Amanda Cutler was behind a 6,500-signature to save it. She said: “One of the lifeguards came to me one day and said it was closing down. I said it’s not happening and I got a petition together myself. Luckily, we’ve done it, so we’re really pleased.“ Later, facing further cuts, in 2014 the residents pulled together to save their library from closure. A cinema and theatre for the community are also planned. Read on here.

They are now being asked to show other local communities how they can rescue council services threatened by cuts.

 

 

 

Corbyn’s environment and energy plan

Corbyn has launched an environmental manifesto that outlines his plans for the UK to achieve 65% of energy from renewable sources by 2030 – without fracking.

corbyn-eee-manifestoHe undertakes to use the precautionary principle to protect the environment and people from harm – not a pay-to-pollute approach allowing the richest corporations and individuals to wreck our planet.

Jeremy Corbyn plans to put cities, councils, devolved governments and communities at the heart of an efficient decentralised energy system with:  

  • a shift to largely renewably generated electricity and hydrogen powered buses and cars;
  • a network of low-emission zones;
  • cycling on safe cycle lanes and hire schemes in every town and city;
  • more nature corridors created to connect protected nature sites, providing pathways for wildlife such as bats and butterflies and
  • a ban on the use of neonicotinoid pesticides which harm pollinating insects including bees and encourage bee-friendly plants in our parks, urban spaces and countryside.

Jeremy Corbyn also encourages the British public to take action as individuals to help to meet the Paris climate agreement.

A “publicly run, locally accountable energy system”.

He has promised to promote over a thousand local energy companies in the next parliament and legislate to give community energy co-operatives the right to sell energy directly to the communities they serve.

Launching the report in Nottingham, the Labour leader said, “We want Britain to be the world’s leading producer of renewable technology. To achieve this, we will accelerate the transition to a low-carbon economy, and drive the expansion of the green industries and jobs of the future, using our National Investment Bank to invest in public and community-owned renewable energy. This will deliver clean energy and curb energy bill rises for households; an energy policy for the 60 million, not the Big 6 energy companies.”

It would launch a National Home Insulation plan to insulate at least 4 million homes and phase out coal-fired power by 2025. The Labour leader estimates over 300,000 jobs would be created in the renewables sector as a result of these measures.

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At the event in Nottingham, Jeremy Corbyn said that Labour would reinstate the department for energy and climate change in its first month of government, as part of its plan to rebuild and transform Britain, “so that no-one and no community is left behind”.