The elec­tric­ity bill shocker that made farm fam­ily think off-grid

The pro­hib­i­tive cost of con­nect­ing a con­verted barn to the mains led to some creative think­ing. Sharon Dale re­ports.

Yorkshire Post - Property - - PROPERTY -

DEREK Corn­forth and his daugh­ter Amanda were thrilled when they got per­mis­sion to con­vert a derelict barn in the heart of the North York Moors National Park.

But fa­ther and daugh­ter got a nasty “elec­tric shock” when they looked into pow­er­ing the re­mote prop­erty.

The barn, near Sut­ton Bank, is com­pletely off-grid but with Derek’s farm­house home just a cou­ple of fields away they as­sumed the cost of ex­tend­ing ca­bles wouldn’t be too ex­or­bi­tant.

“We were amazed when the elec­tric­ity com­pany came back and told us it would be £70,000 to con­nect to the grid us­ing over­head power lines and £250,000 for un­der­ground ca­bles. We couldn’t be­lieve it. Eco­nomics dic­tated that we look for an al­ter­na­tive,” says Derek.

They could have in­stalled a diesel gen­er­a­tor and oil-fired boiler but were keen to find a greener and more cost-ef­fec­tive al­ter­na­tive. So with the help of their ar­chi­tect Shaun Ben­nett, of York-based WR Dunn and Co, they came up with a plan to in­stall a com­bined heat and power unit.

The CHP unit from Pow­er­guard is a rel­a­tively new sys­tem and can run on bio­fuel or diesel. Its gen­er­a­tor charges bat­ter­ies that store elec­tric­ity but the heat pro­duced in this process is also re­cov­ered, re­cy­cled and used to warm water.

So the unit pro­vides all the elec­tric­ity, heat and hot water needed for the barn.

The ini­tial costs are high. The unit was £35,000 as op­posed to a con­ven­tional gen­er­a­tor and boiler that would’ve come in at around £13,000, but it is half as cheap to run and can also be con­nected to a wind tur­bine, which would slash costs fur­ther.

Derek says: “It was about three times more ex­pen­sive but it will use a lot less fuel than a con­ven­tional sys­tem. If we’d have gone for a diesel gen­er­a­tor that would’ve cost £200 a week alone then we’d have had to buy oil for a boiler.

“Long-term, the CHP should be a good in­vest­ment be­cause run­ning costs will be much lower.”

The equip­ment is sub­stan­tial and takes up a good chunk of the large garage, which has been fash­ioned out of crum­bling out­build­ings.

“It looks com­pli­cated but once set it runs it­self. It is com­put­erised and is very con­trol­lable, which will also help cut costs,” says Amanda, who moved into the prop­erty in July.

With the CHP unit, enor­mous amounts of in­su­la­tion and a wood burn­ing stove, she and her part­ner look set for a cosy win­ter in the newly-con­verted barn that was saved from ruin.

Sit­u­ated in a re­mote spot on the Mur­ton Grange es­tate, the 18th cen­tury build­ing was in dan­ger of col­lapse. It was orig­i­nally at­tached to a farm­house that was de­mol­ished in the late 1960s for tax rea­sons.

“The farm­house was empty but rates still ap­plied so it was pulled down to avoid pay­ing them. It’s a shame but that hap­pened to a lot of houses back then,” says Derek, a farmer and a di­rec­tor of the Mur­ton Grange Ltd, who ap­plied for per­mis­sion to con­vert the barn into a home for staff with his daugh­ter Amanda in mind.

The 29-year-old farm ad­min­is­tra­tor, whose fam­ily has worked the land on the Mur­ton Es­tate since 1914, couldn’t af­ford prices are high. In­stead, she was forced to travel in from Thirsk each day.

“It was hard work. I’d go home to Thirsk and if I was needed af­ter that it was a has­sle com­ing back. Now I’m here on hand when­ever I am needed and the barn is lovely to live in. It’s been bril­liantly de­signed, ” says Amanda, who is also closer to her own herd of goats.

“I know I am lucky. Most young peo­ple up here live with their par­ents be­cause they can’t af­ford to have their own home in the national park.”

WR Dunn and Co de­vised the build­ing’s res­cue plan.

Shaun, who drew plans to turn the wreck into a two bed­room home, says: “It was clear that the barn wouldn’t sur­vive an­other win­ter. The roof would’ve caved in and that would’ve been that.”

Biker Con­tracts, of Ley­burn, spent 12 months on the project and used re­claimed stone from the farm­house along with new stone from a nearby quarry. Re­claimed pan­tiles were used on the roof along with spe­cial “bat tiles” af­ter a sur­vey re­vealed roost­ing bats. The hooded tiles al­low the crea­tures to nest in a hes­sian sack be­tween the tiles and the roof­ing felt.

The ar­chi­tects spec­i­fied high lev­els of in­su­la­tion to pro­tect the prop­erty from the gusty winds on the ex­posed site and with no mains water or drainage on site, a bore hole was ac­cessed and a sep­tic tank in­stalled.

“We’re thrilled with it. The ar­chi­tects and builders did a first class job,” says Derek.

“We’re also pleased the national park al­lowed us to con­vert it into staff ac­com­mo­da­tion. If they hadn’t it would’ve fallen down. Now it looks great and it is use­ful once again.”


AF­FORD­ABLE HOME: The barn near Sut­ton Bank was in im­mi­nent dan­ger of col­lapse, left, but Derek Corn­forth and his daugh­ter Amanda, top, have trans­formed it into a a home thanks to an al­ter­na­tive source of en­ergy from to the com­bined heat and power unit.

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