Let me take you on a technical walk round Le Clos du Verger to show you our small efforts at sustainable living in Les Sarrazies.
It’s mostly about the infrastructure.
When we came here in 2009 the abandoned old farm felt like a time warp. The past family here lived here more or less self-sufficiently until 30 years ago. It was an impressive legacy and inspired us to follow their example in sustainable living in Les Sarrazies, yet in an up to date way. They grew their own food, made their own wine and liqueurs, and raised their own meat. Their other needs were largely met by the artisans also working nearby. The miller produced bread just up the road. The forge over the way sharpened the tools and repaired or made from scratch any object made in metal. The children cycled to the village school. Washing was done by hand in the copper and rinsed out in the stream. The men in the family worked here in their joiners workshop. They pumped and piped water from the well, and although the house was warm and well run, there was no bathroom nor water closet.
It took 2 years hard graft before all the new technical infrastructure was in place and we could move into a habitable space with modern day services.
At the beginning of the renovation we made some choices.
We aimed to reproduce an environmentally friendly lifestyle, but more fitted for the 21st Century. It was a heavy financial investment to create an environmentally sustainable home and 2 holiday cottages but it is paying dividends now. Here are some of the key factors.
- We generate half our electricity needs from the sun, with photovoltaic panels. There is plenty more roof to add more panels so as to be producing 100 per cent of our electricity usage, but we need to save up the initial cost of installation first. The existing panels paid for themselves after 8 years.
- There are 2 km of narrow pipes placed one meter down under our goat paddocks. They collect the heat from the ground that provides all our heating and hot water needs. You can see the team in one of the photos digging the first of 10 long trenches for the pipes. This ground source heat is remarkable in keeping us warm and cosy all winter and gives us a non stop supply of hot water, no matter how many guests are on site. The geothermal installation too has now paid for itself. The photovoltaic panels supply enough electricity to run the heat pump throughout the year so our heating and hot water costs us nothing on a day to day basis. This in turn is reflected in our holiday rental prices.
- We are also self sufficient in foul water drainage. The flush from the loos and other grey water collect into a huge aerating tank – a bio digester – where oxygen breaks down the waste. The dragon in the photo guards the biodigester! The outflow is pure clear water but as a precaution it runs through a reed bed before arriving in a large wildlife pond.
4. We used modern methods of trapping air in the rebuilt walls, and lined them all with excellent insulation. New windows are triple glazed. This all helps to keep the buildings cool in summer and to retain the heat inside in the winter. So we don’t need to run expensive air conditioning nor to have heating churning away at high temperatures.
5. I deliberately do not use a tumble dryer. Throughout the year washing is usually dried on outside lines. When bad weather hits, we made provision for drying washing in the warmth of the heat pump room on ceiling hung racks. Either way, I can dry all the sheets and towels from holiday letting very quickly, without using a tumble dryer.
6. We have no swimming pool! Not even a hot tub.
We created a beautiful low key environment and we are really noticing how more and more customers choose to spend an increasing proportion of their holiday time relaxing here on site, even though one of our conscious environmental decisions has been not to proceed with a swimming pool project. Instead we encourage the swimming opportunities nearby. That spreads the tourism spend and enables our customers to feel far more involved in a French way of life.
7. What we eat we either grow, or it is produced locally. We are close to Bergerac so there are no long journeys for our customers or ourselves to quickly access the wide resources of a beautiful old town. https://www.sarrazies.com/le-clos-du-verger-where-we-are/
On our land we have many fruit and nut trees, a vegetable garden, chickens for eggs and goats for fun. This is a good cycle as the manure from the animals is added to the compost that we collect from the waste tea bags, coffee grounds and fruit and vegetable waste produced by our customers and ourselves. In time, once it is well rotted down, the compost is piled onto the vegetable beds in a no-dig system. Little things, added up, all help the earth.
Of course we are not perfect and we do use planes between the UK and Bergerac, and cars, as do our customers, but we do what we can where we can, and short journeys for bread, etc, are by electric assisted bike whenever possible.
Old and new working together.
This property attracted us just because of the way of life it offered. Martin and I spend several months of the year in the summer kitchen where I cook jams and preserves from our fruit on an old wood fired cooker, using up wood remnants from work round the site. This sounds unsophisticated, and so it is, we love it – but we also have excellent WiFi, smart TVs, and good looking and well appointed interiors to the main buildings. Holiday visitors like the way of life, the way modern technology and old methods can exist side by side to achieve a more sustainable life style and thereby lighten our footprint on the earth.
Every little bit makes a difference.