Ten years ago, Virginia was living in London, working in a highly stressful job in a publishing company and feeling under great pressure. “I was working hard and, although I enjoyed my work, there was not much else in life. My husband had died two years earlier in a car accident and there seemed to be no point to trying to do much for a while,” she says.
Although her grief was still a major dominating influence, a holiday in Yorkshire with some friends gave Virginia the chance to take a long hard look at her life. “I realised that I had done London and publishing and I desperately wanted some space and freedom,” says Virginia.
Within six months, Virginia had sold her three bed terrace in London and had bought an old farmhouse on the outskirts of a small village in East Yorkshire. It needed major renovation, including rewiring, a new central heating system and major insulation and refurbishment. “I wanted to see if I could live in a fairly self-sufficient way. I had no mortgage and I had some money left from the sale of the London house to use for the work and I wanted to see if I could just get by on doing occasional consultancy work and some freelancing – that meant looking at the monthly bills to see if I could minimise them.
As the house needed major work and the heating and plumbing systems needed to be completely replaced, Virginia sought advice on the most cost effective system to put in, that would also reduce her impact on the environment. Fortunately, the farmhouse came with just over an acre of land. “I decided to divide off a potential building plot and apply for planning permission – there was no rush, but I put the wheels in motion. I then split off some of the land to grow my own vegetables and keep some chickens,” she explains.
The land also needed major work and Virginia decided that as it needed to be completely re-dug to prepare for growing and building, she may as well install a ground based heating system. This involved laying a long coil of tubing 2 metres under the ground in long trenches – after installation the land would be dug over and made ready for her other plans.
“To dig up the garden or land of a house where everything was finished would have been a great disruption – but doing it all at once actually saved me time and money,” points out Virginia.
Ground Source Heating
The principle of a ground source heating system is that the temperature around 2 metres underground maintains its temperature throughout the year and can be used to warm water to power and air our underfloor heating system. “As the old farmhouse had thick stone walls, it was well insulated in that respect – I put in triple glazed windows and completely insulated the loft space – which made it as well insulated as a purpose built modern eco-house,” laughs Virginia.
The pipes and the ground source heat pump were installed and Virginia opted for underfloor heating throughout her new home. Her recent calculations, three years after everything was finished, shows that her heating bills are around £1000 less per year than they would have been if she had powered a new central heating system with oil or electricity. “Mains gas was not an option, but even that has become incredibly expensive now,” says Virginia.
Solar Panels Complete the Heating Solution
With the addition of <#66#>solar panels<#> on a south facing roof, Virginia now has a house that uses virtually no power from the national grid to keep her house warm in winter and provides all her hot water. “I have the vegetable garden and the few chickens I wanted and I even sell some to the local farm shop. The land for the building plot got the planning permission and I sold that off 2 years ago – the new house next door is now finished and I have managed to achieve the self-sufficient lifestyle I was after – almost!” laughs Virginia again.
Self sufficiency is now shared by her new husband of two years and their baby daughter…