slef-reflections on the environment


Around Weston

Flash Floods of Weston

2007-07-24 (Permalink): Although a small puddle formed uphill of our house, it soon soaked away, so I thought we'd got away without any problems from the unexpected Summer Rain [niq's soapbox] around here, but it seems I was wrong...

Walking along Kewstoke Road yesterday, I was surprised to see sandbags outside one house. When I mentioned it in the greengrocer's, Nicky (excuse any misspelling) said they'd been sweeping the water flowing down the hill away from the shop door, as it would kill the wood floor and the electrics beneath if they didn't. It seems the other side of the hill also had some flash floods, reported in The Weston Mercury - News: The day the rains came down.

Even so, it was much less than up-river in Gloucestershire and across in Oxfordshire, where Midcounties Co-op has mobilised its resources to combat flood chaos [coop news] by distributing essentials like water.

It seems finding out whether you're in a flood risk area is unnecessarily difficult because the Environment Agency gives its reasons for stopping flood data being used [Free Our Data] - in short, they want to sell us our data a second time!

In the longer term, it looks like things may change drastically around here if an entrepreneur from Burnham-on-Sea succeeds in his plan to wall in Weston-super-Mare with Severn Lake. (tip WWN ) What would that do to floods?

Is this storm coming for you?

One of the bad things about moving to live in the west country is that we are now on the front line of any storms that leave the Atlantic for England. To make matters worse, we are on a hillside and some idiot put the boiler vent facing into the prevailing wind, so I have to relight it at least once each bad storm.

Today's storm (2007-01-18) is the worst yet. Average wind speed is reported by TV as 35mph, gusting over 70. Anything that wasn't bolted down or very very heavy and hadn't already been blown away has now gone.

I keep going out quickly to do things like add weights to the bin or wedge one of the garden tables against the fence, but I don't feel like fixing my bicycle and riding to town along the coast today. On the first trip out, as I was checking the roof for damage, one of the neighbours' six-foot fence panels flew off. On the second trip... well, this used to be a fence on the other side of the path by our back wall:

Photo of no fence

Now it's just a concrete post surrounded by debris. If this is part of the storm heading for Erich Schubert then I think Munich has done the right thing.

niq commented:

"FWIW, in the real westcountry (West Devon, near the cornish border) we've missed the storms. A bit of wind in the morning, and some drizzle, but nothing substantial."

Yes, seeing what happened further north - roofs ripped up in Manchester - and east - house collapse in King's Lynn (pic 9) - then it seems we got off lightly this time. I hear that Germany declared it a hurricane, but I haven't confirmed that online. Euronews coverage.

As far as I can see, there's snapped aerials and all the windows look like someone has sneezed over them, but damage mostly stopped after the fences were ripped to bits. I heard that the sea overtopped the wall in Weston, but I can't find pictures. I'll see myself what town is like later today.

Update: niq, you didn't get an email notice because your mailserver is cocked-up:

"550 Error: 23Your subject line looks like spam"

Damnit, it's your phrase in the subject line!

And now for something completely different: Snow

After being told by a few people that it rarely snows on this coast, here's my view at 9am today (2007-02-08):

[photo of snow]

Naturally, this means travel chaos, school closures, horsemen of the apocalypse and so on. Got to love England's reaction to snow. It's all melted now (noon), of course.

Update: more snow blogging today from Rob Bradford's Weblog The monkey with the keyboard!, WEBlog -- Wouter's Eclectic Blog and Disconnected Mutterings of a Random Geek.


Housing

National Solar Week (18th - 24th June)

Maplin Electronics wrote:

"Maplin Electronics has launched National Solar Week (18th - 24th June) providing solar advice online and in store for eco-minded shoppers who want to do their little bit for the environment without making major changes to their lives or bank balance!

The solar advice day on Thursday, 21st June [...] the government should show a commitment to the environment [...] By removing VAT on all energy-efficient products, the Government can do their bit too.

We're committed to making solar technology affordable and amenable to every customer, so we're counting on you to sign our petition and pledge your support."

A tax break for renewable energy seems like a good idea to me. I recently increased the insulation of my home. Southern Electric run a funding scheme and it was charged only 5% VAT, so tax incentives for energy-efficiency are obviously possible. I've done the insulation before things like installing renewable energy collectors because the tax breaks and funding make insulation much more attractive.

Finally, I took the Co-operative Group Climate Challenge yesterday, but there seems to be little detail about it online, apart from Sam's announcement. I'll probably comment more on tCG's strange web services elsewhere soon.

Petr Kratochvil made this comment about his web site:

"For people interested in green living and environment. We're building an ecological house and we want to support 40 others in their ecological living by giving them £10,000. We have only one planet and we have to take really good care of it now."

Visit his site if you want details of how to take a shot at the 10k (summary: mail them some proof of your greenness and post on their forums, then it pays out if they raise a million).

This money-raising site is produced by a company doing similar work to us, but I'll be watching this with interest. There's not much choice of eco houses, so maybe its forum will offer up some tips for greening older houses too.

Plumbing

This was the plumbing section on my Bad Technology page:

I hate plumbing. It is really inconvenient if it goes wrong, plumbers are pretty rare these days and most of my attempts to fix anything to do with plumbing end up wet and/or messy and/or damaging the house.

I was just starting to understand the sealed system at the old house and then we moved to a house with an open vent system with loft tanks and inverted loops and draincocks and stuff. Humanity has invented the internet and other great stuff, but it seems we can't invent a heating system that is reliable, affordable, environmentally-friendly, understandable, hackable and doesn't fail messily.

On what may have been the coldest day since we moved here, the heating stopped. Testing the controls, looking at the system design and working through a troubleshooting list suggested that the sensors were working and the boiler was working but the valve that sends hot water to the tank or heating was just clicking and sending nothing to the heating.

I tried calling our usual plumber. Voicemail. So, I popped the cover off the valve. In addition to the wet/messy/damaging worry, that also involves electrics. Water and electicity - an ideal combination(!)

There were some springs, a round bit and a worrying number of wires (live, for all I know). Also dust. A lot of dust. Thick lumps of dust. Grab the air gun, blow out the dust. Set the controls to try the heating. Still no joy. The round bit seemed to be twitching and making the ticking noise. Tapped it with the screwdriver handle. Nothing. Hit it. It moved. Pump starts, boiler starts, sound of heating pipes expanding as the hot water enters them again.

I think that's my first successful fix to the plumbing in three months. Be cautious, but give it a go - I guess that's the same tactic that works for my successful computer hacks.

Update: within 30 minutes of posting the previous plumbing celebration, a coffee machine exploded, covering many square metres with coffee and grounds. Counter-top, walls, doors, floor. The wet/messy/damaging balance was restored. It took an hour to clean up. Moral: don't celebrate plumbing too loudly or water will take revenge.

A blog test

This isn't all housing, but much is: seen via vitavonni

A. Copy the list below to your own journal and:
Bold the actions you are already taking
Underline the actions you plan to start taking
Italicise the actions that don't apply to you

B. Add one (or more) suggested action(s) of your own

C. Leave a comment here, so that she can track the meme to your journal, and copy your suggested action(s) back to the master list.

Update: the sodding original is only open for comments from livejournal customers. Silly. Very silly.

  1. Replace standard incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs
  2. Choose energy efficient appliances
  3. Wash clothes in cold(er) water
  4. Turn the thermostat of your hot water tank down to 50C (125F) - I've put it to 60C, but it's not possible to go lower at present, thanks to stupid location of the tank meaning the hot water runs at least halfway round the edge of the house before getting to a point it needs to be hot. When I replace the water heating, this should be possible.
  5. Install a programmable thermostat (or turn the heat down over night and when you're out of the house)
  6. Register with the [Canadian Marketing Association's] Do Not Contact Service to reduce the amount of junk mail delivered to your house. - Substitute MPS. Must do this.
  7. Eat less meat (particularly feedlot beef) - but what's a feedlot?
  8. Walk, bike, carpool or take public transit as often as possible - I live in the countryside, yet still move large packages on my bike.
  9. Make sure you know what can be recycled in your area, and try to recycle as much household waste as possible
  10. Compost using an outdoor compost bin or an indoor vermicomposter
  11. Clean or replace filters on your furnace and air conditioner - air con would be evil here.
  12. Buy local, organic or fair trade food where possible
  13. Reduce air travel
  14. Wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket - it's got a spray-foam cover and the outside is cold to the touch. Wrapping the loft tanks in insulation jackets made a big difference.
  15. Use a clothesline instead of a dryer whenever possible
  16. Plant a tree - soon
  17. Buy fresh foods instead of frozen
  18. Keep your car tuned up and your tyres inflated to their optimal pressure
  19. Use biodegradable dishwashing liquid, laundry soap powder, etc.
  20. Drink tap water (filtered if necessary) rather than buying bottled water
  21. Turn the tap off while brushing your teeth
  22. Unplug seldom-used appliances and chargers for phones, cameras, etc., when you're not using them - well, I switch them off at the wall
  23. Plug air leaks and draughts around doors and windows with weatherstripping - need to fix a couple of windows, but it's beyond me and local tradesmen seem crap at responding.
  24. Switch from disposable to reusable products: food and beverage containers, cups, plates, writing pens, razors, diapers, towels, shopping bags, etc.
  25. Consider garage sales, Freecycle, eBay, or borrowing from friends/family before buying a new tool or appliance
  26. Reuse bathwater, maybe to flush the loo, water the garden, etc.
  27. Make sure your roof is well-insulated.
  28. Always wear a jumper/sweater and socks indoors unless it's warm enough outdoors to go without both.
  29. Run your vehicle on biofuel/sustainable fuels
  30. Set up a grey water barrel to use when clean water isn't necessary
  31. Put grey water on your garden immediately without storing it.
  32. Install tanks to collect rain-water from your roof for watering the garden, washing your car, etc.
  33. Don't keep windows open when your heater is on
  34. Turn off lights that you don't need
  35. Stop your engine when waiting more than 10 seconds
  36. Install a solar panel on your roof for water heating - who fits them in England? I hate roof-work.
  37. Ask your bank for an online-only account - I have one, but won't move the rest until they make it secure.
  38. Try to make more use of daylight
  39. Walk and run more - I'm not walking for the hell of it. Waste of energy.
  40. Wrap loft water tanks in insulation jackets where possible
  41. Lower the power consumption of your computer with cpudyn, device power managers and similar tools
  42. Use non-air-con ways to keep cool whenever possible

An anonymous commenter wrote:

"50C water temperature? Quite a bad idea http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legionella"

which is confirmed by Legionella at Reliance Worldwide with the advice:

"Keep stored hot water above 60C"

Thanks for the info! If someone has a livejournal account, can you let the original poster know, please?

etbe: fluorescent lights and why it's worth saving resources mentions dimmers, but I've written about dimmable flourescents before (summary: only 110V have traditional dimmers, but there are integrated-controller ones in Europe and specialist bulbs ) Lars Wirzenius: Energy meter is a good idea. I've also seen clamp-meters which mean you avoid unplugging, but they're much more expensive.

More feedback on the water heating.

Rafael Villar Burke wrote:

"Most regulations already mandate that.

This requirement conflicts with how performant are low temperature heating systems, as most solar ones... so, to be safe, they're less efficient."

Joe Buck commented:

"If you have small children, and set your hot water heater at 60C, expect to take them to the hospital with second-degree burns on a regular basis."

Even if it was 60C at a tap, it will still take 6 seconds to burn, according to Burn Safety: Hot Water Temperature, but I was talking about storage tanks, not a water heater. Sorry if that was unclear. After running around the house floors and walls to get to a tap from the storage tanks, it's never going to be at 60C unless your pipes are super-insulated or your water flow is very fast (unlikely, as most tank-fed systems won't have much head).

CompWizrd commented:

"You can also get water faucets that are limited in the maximum temperature they'll put out.. it mixes in cold water as needed to keep the temperature down

Far as I remember, they're required nowadays anyways.. Or maybe it was the pressure regulated ones.. those keep the temperature at a set level. Even if someone flushes the toilet, it will reduce the hot water coming in, to keep the temperature regulated."

I read somewhere that there's a maximum of 49C for new fittings in the USA, but I'm not sure there's a limit here in England yet.

Gardening: May Mint Madness

We've just harvested a bumper crop of mint (spearmint, I think) which was threatening to take over its part of the garden. I asked: anyone got any good recipes that use kilos of mint?

Boris suggested:

".. essential for Pimms! And after a few you won't actually care that you've not used it all."

cmot asked:

"Let it ferment, then distil it and bring it to Debconf 7?"

Well, I don't like Pimms and don't own a still, but I'll not doubt the alcohol-love of my commenters in future! Holger suggested:

"- Green tea with mint (I like gunpowder best with mint)

- There is some nice Jamie Oliver recipe with lots of herbs including mint and lentils

You can actually freeze the stuff as well. It discolours and looks ugly but retains the taste."

While trying to find the Jamie Oliver recipe on the BBC site, I stumbled across this sea bass recipe which was quite good, but next time I'd at least halve the pesto because it was so sickly rich. It doesn't use much mint, so I've taken up the last suggestion and frozen most of it.

Now, does anyone want to recommend good recipes that don't mind the ugliness of frozen mint?

Holger wrote:

"Jamie Oliver recipe: SALMON WRAPPED IN PARMA HAM WITH LENTILS looks probably doesn't matter as it wilts a bit anyway and volumewise most is made up by the spinach.

Also: With green tea the looks doesn't matter that much if you brew it in an opaque tea pot."

alephnull wrote:

"Another way of freezing the mint is to put it into ice cubes. Just pack them into an ice tray and top them up with water. They don't wilt as much and look better too."

Thanks, both! I'll try them later.

Compost Awareness Week

Did you know that it's the last day of Compost Awareness Week today (Saturday 12 May)? No, nor did I. I was pretty aware of the compost bin when it flew across the lawn before I bricked it down. Maybe that's not what they meant.

Getting a compost bin has reduced our rubbish to less than a bag a week, but we've yet to get any compost yet, after six months of winter. So last week, I tried a coco peat brick that you reconstitute in water. Easy to transport, but it seems to need mixing with regular compost to give a decent growing soil.

Are you aware of your compost? Go on, give it a hug.

Update: Alex Hudson wrote:

"Actually, I was aware of compost awareness week!

We have a nice local website which many local groups use, including EcoLocal - they were doing build-your-own compost bin today, and handing out soil conditioner.

I actually built our composter out of fence panels which blew down in winds a while ago, and I like the idea of using wooden/constructed bins than plastic (though I suspect plastic is much more efficient)."

I moved recently. I seem to have some random tiles and bricks, but I left all the wood behind in King's Lynn. The fence panel that was lying around when we saw the house was cleared away before we moved in. I'm not sure that I'm good enough at woodwork to build-my-own anyway. I don't know if plastic is better - I guess it insulates better, but they still tell you to wrap it up in winter, which is nuts: any wrapping would blow away in a storm.


Cycling

Cycling has moved to its own page, including all the above topics.


Driving

Driving is one of the biggest threats to our immediate environment.

Toll news? Not fantastic

Kewstoke is connected to the town of Weston-super-Mare by the mile-or-so of Kewstoke Toll Road but since 2005, there has been no toll collector. Unsurprisingly, the number of the least desirable vehicle types (Chelsea tractors/SUVs and light goods) using this coast road has doubled while the toll has been missing.

Now the council is looking at putting up the season ticket rates from 5.50 to somewhere between 22.00 and 35.00 if they bring the toll back. A seven-fold increase? The alternative is to abolish to toll: which do you think is more likely?

The latest report lists

"Unrestricted access and egress between Kewstoke and Weston-super-Mare"

as a benefit of abolition. Becoming a rat-run between the town centre and M5 is a benefit for who exactly? Certainly no benefit to the residents of Kewstoke or the top end of WsM who get the extra traffic wriggling along small roads with junctions not designed for that flow. Probably no benefit to drivers if they start to rely upon a hazardous road along the cliff-tops, which can be totally closed by just one break-down.

It also goes against the Joint Local Transport Plan which says the council will

"direct traffic and particularly freight onto the most appropriate roads. Manage safe travel taking into account the current and desired uses of the network. Improve quality of life for local people."

Are press releases like Toll Road Accidents Reduced trying to convince us that driving along the cliff-tops is safe?

More reports can be found among the items of the Strategic Planning and Economic Development Policy and Scrutiny Panel

Fear The Councillor

If any planners want to see the impact of your short-sighted regulations, please visit Bowthorpe

"planning regs mean you only have to provide one space per home. Hence families with two cars, or couples who work in opposite directions and need two cars, often have to block their roads without meaning to do so."

Surely short-sighted would be to cater for today's car parking requirements? Thanks to climate change, oil decline and other reasons, it looks like there won't be as many cars tomorrow. Two-car households may be a temporary problem.

If people are parking inconsiderately, bring in a one-car-per-house permit system with edge-of-zone car parks (and let two-car houses buy permits from car-free houses). If you build roads big enough for today's peak use, then in the future, there will be oversize roads for the traffic levels when that land could have been better used for housing.

Ah, criticising the barking policies of Antony Little... blogging like it's 1999.

Never mind the wheels...

Never mind the wheels what about the fuel ?

Update: Morrisons have withdrawn unleaded petrol from suspected stations as a precaution. Well done! Meanwhile, last I heard, Tesco were still denying that the contaminated fuel was anything to do with them, while flushing their tanks. Hey, it's not their cars which are kangarooing.



Around Lynn

Until September 2006, I lived in King's Lynn, so I still have friends there and look out for some topics to do with it. I'm also still helping to update some community websites for that area.

On Wednesday 11 April, Friends of the Walks will meet in St John's Church at 6pm. Topics for discussion include the group's future role after the heavy work has finished. There will be more updates to the website in the next few weeks.

Low Carbon Lifestyle Tour

2007-09-15 (Permalink): It's nice to get email from someone previously mentioned on my site.

Mukti Mitchell emailed:

"The Southampton Boatshow programme made by Meridian ITV will include 4 minutes on the Low Carbon Lifestyle Tour and will be screened this week as follows:

Sunday 16th September 1800 ITV4; Monday 17th September After Midnight (0100 Tuesday 18th) ITV4; Thursday 20th September 1930 ITV Meridian (ITV1 in South England) (ITV4 Is a national network channel available via your free digi box.)

The programme includes footage filmed on board yacht Chance during the round Britain tour. I hope you enjoy the programme."

Previous post: Carpenter Mukti Mitchell has set off on a tour of the coastline of Britain in a zero-emission microyacht promoting low carbon lifestyles. During the course of his voyage, he will be stopping at 40 ports and towns around the country with events organised to promote low carbon products and services.

He doesn't call at Clevedon or King's Lynn (I guess they're too far inland) but he's currently in South Wales and should be calling at Wells-next-the-Sea on 21 July and Sheringham on 23. More dates

The Phone Co-op (agent 471) is a co-sponsor of this event with, among others, Ecotricity, Resurgence and Co-operative membership so at least two of my co-operatives are supporting it.


Comments are moderated (damn spammers) but almost anything sensible gets approved (albeit eventually). If you give a web address, I'll link it. I won't publish your email address unless you ask me to, but I'll email you a link when the comment is posted, or the reason why it's not posted.

You can use this form to comment on my WsM Forum posts without registering, too.

This is copyright 2007 MJ Ray. See fuller notice on front page.