Birch Cottage has no electricity bills, no oil or gas for heating, just a small woodstove, which can be fuelled inexpensively from a fuel source that is infinitely renewable. High levels of insulation and an efficient thermal store heating system then make the most of the heat generated to give a low cost, comfortable and healthy living environment.

When we refurbished the cottage we wanted to achieve several things. Firstly to demonstrate that a very average old cottage could be upgraded to make it energy efficient, and that this could be done without specialist training in the materials involved.

Secondly, that we could create a healthy living environment by using natural materials that were commercially available.

Thirdly that the cottage would run exclusively on renewable energy. Electricity from the sun and wind, and heating and hot water from the sun, and a sustainable woodfuel source.

Visitors often comment that the cottage ‘just feels right’, and is a comfortable space to live in. They can’t define exactly why that is, but there is something about a space that uses natural, breathable materials – in this case lots of local timber, and which has the edges softened, and is mostly hand finished, not mass produced. Natural light from several sources on two sides wherever possible also adds to that undefinable feeling of ‘rightness’.

We’re also asking visitors to Birch Cottage to do something challenging, without (we hope) making it too obvious. The building asks them to change their behaviour and think about energy and waste a little more than they might otherwise. In sunny weather the heating system takes care of itself, but during the winter months, the wood stove is crucial in maintaining the thermal store temperature to supply heating and hot water. It’s only a few minutes per day but more thought is needed than flicking the ‘on’ switch. Similarly, our waste sorting system takes no more time, but presents visitors with an instant record of the proportion of waste that is recyclable or compostable.

We hope that these two small adaptations will give visitors an insight into how small changes can make a difference to the way we live and that it need not compromise our standard of living. So far, our visitors seem to agree.