Eco features

Old Andalucian houses like ours have many built in comfort features. For example our thick white painted exterior walls keep the summer temperature around 10ºC cooler inside than out, the patio is a shaded area for part of the day, the fountain provides a cooling tinkle of running water and the high ceilings indoors allow air to circulate. There are some things old Andalucian houses do less well though. In remedying these we’ve used passive measures (that only consume the energy required for their manufacture), employ recyclable energy sources where feasible and generally do our best to minimise our carbon footprint.

Hot water is provided for most of the year by a solar water heater on the roof. Special shower hoses reduce water consumption by 30% without reducing the shower “experience”. Electronic recording thermometers help us to optimise energy use room by room. All our light bulbs are low wattage types. Window blinds and curtains help block excessive sunlight in summer. Three metre high south facing windows in the living room and upstairs gallery help warm the house on sunny winter days. The garden is watered using well water which then goes straight back into the water table (except for the lawn sprinklers, we use the more efficient drip irrigation). The pool pump runs automatically on a schedule designed to ensure effective water filtering while minimising electricity consumption.

The size of the living room makes both cooling and heating a challenge. The thick walls help but we’ve added a mixture of active and passive measures. Our experience in tropical climes is that ceiling fans are an effective (and healthier) alternative to air conditioning so we have installed two in the living room Opening the full length arch windows and thick curtains when it’s cool outside, then closing them during the warmest part of the day, helps too. Ecija has a shorter winter than most of Europe, and even then sunny days with blue skies are common, but the temperature can drop quite a bit at night. Our open fire mainly uses local olive wood sourced from the regular pruning needed to maintain a tree’s yield of olive oil - a virtuous closed loop for the CO2 involved We also have three 3KW gas heaters that will be lit several days prior to your stay to get the mass of the house warmed up. They are powered by just a pilot light, but one that feeds a vertical catalyser mat for extremely efficient combustion.

Given the present state of the art, the only realistic way to achieve a really comfortable temperature for a good night's sleep is to use air-conditioning. Other schemes are either impractical (air cooling systems use large reservoirs of water and are very heavy) or too experimental to have the reached the market. Having bowed to the inevitable we looked for ways to limit energy use. The first and easiest thing was to buy 'A' rated units using heat pump technology and then to reduce consumption by programming the target temperature and active period. We also applied passive measures. To reduce the workload on the air conditioners we painted the flat roof above the gallery bedrooms with a highly reflective mixture of white exterior paint and ceramic micro spheres. Other passive measure include reflective curtains for the large gallery windows and wooden slatted blinds on the outside of most bedroom windows. In the winter the air conditioners double as heaters.

Possible future projects include: A solar heater to extend the pool season, installation of multiple sail style shades over the patio, leading edge technology to generate serious amounts of electricity using concentrated solar power (CSP).
As you can see this is definitely work in progress, so if you have ideas do let us have them!