Do you know where your water comes from? You probably just turn on the tap and there it is. Flush the toilet and off it goes. Most of us have no idea where our water comes from, or where our sewage goes.
At CAT we do things differently. We’re completely off-grid when it comes to water – we have no mains water supply or sewage treatment. So we have to think very carefully about how we use this precious resource.
Here’s how our water works.
Reduce, reduce, reduce!
We start by minimising the volume of water that we use. Low flush toilets, waterless urinals and compost toilets help by reducing the amount that gets flushed away. Low flow taps and water efficient shower heads mean less goes down the drain. Which of these things could you do at home?
So what’s left? We need it for drinking water, for hydro electric turbines and to power our cliff railway. Let’s focus on how we get it clean enough to drink, and how we treat the wastewater so it can be safely returned to the river that flows past CAT.
Good enough to drink
The CAT reservoir, which is nestled in the hills behind the visitor centre, holds most of the water used on site. It was created to directly power the machinery for the old quarry on which CAT is built. The other sources of CAT’s water are rainfall into the lakes, ponds and rainwater butts across the site.
The water is siphoned from the middle of the reservoir, using atmospheric pressure to force it up through a pipe. This method doesn’t use a pump, which ensures that the system is low-energy.
Water is then piped down the hill to CAT. Water to be used for drinking passes through slow sand filters to remove pollutants. While this process effectively removes pathogens, the water is later treated by ultraviolet (UV) purifiers to finish the job.
Greywater and foul water from CAT flows into settlement tanks, where solids are separated from liquids. Solids are composted whilst liquids are passed into a series of reed beds which sit below the CAT site.
The reed beds clean the water through a combination of the micro-organisms in the reed beds, and the physical and chemical properties of the reeds.
After being passed through these beds, the now clean water is returned to the river below CAT, where it is joined by the water that has powered our hydro turbines, driven the cliff railway and heated a building through a water-source heat pump. All of it borrowed – and made to work very hard – on its way from the mountains to the sea.
Over the summer, we’ll be giving free guided tours of the CAT water systems so you can get a close-up look at some of these systems. Take a look at our events calendar for details of what’s on when.
If you’d like more in-depth info, the three courses mentioned above run back-to-back and can be booked as a package. Book two or more of these and we’ll give you 10% off. See courses.cat.org.uk for details, or call us 01654 704966.
There’s a quiet revolution happening in South Korea. People are moving ‘back to the village’ in huge numbers following the economic crisis and rejection of the consumerist and competitive urban lifestyle.
For many this is a difficult transition from a highly service-orientated city culture, but there is a group for whom it is particularly challenging and that is the unmarried women who are making the shift in large numbers. These women are not only bravely embracing a new way of life with limited skills but are also tackling long standing traditions and prejudice around gender roles.
This week we welcomed two such women: Jijeong and Bohyun from the Wanju Ladies Club, a cooperative established to up-skill and enable single women returning to the country. In just three years they’ve established the cooperative and created training courses and materials on heating, cooking, renewable energy, insulation, rainwater harvesting and up-cycling. Jijeong and Bohyun are two of the seven founding members who are all activists in social and environmental movements and experts in the field of alternative and appropriated technology.
By up-skilling women in this way the club hopes to enable women to be more autonomous in their homes but also to elevate their status within their communities, improve the lives of the village as a whole, and to establish these women as role models for future generations of girls to become learners and teachers, transforming culture over time to be more inclusive and welcoming.
Jijeong and Bohyun came all this way to learn about CAT’s evolution and how we’ve challenged gender stereotypes over the years, from hiring a female builder Cindy Harris to lead construction at CAT for 17 years, to continually questioning our thinking and actions to attract a more diverse audience to CAT as members, visitors and students. Our latest Zero Carbon Britain research ‘Making it Happen’ (coming soon!) also features special content on gender and race equality and the author Helen Atkins was interviewed by Jijeong and Bohyun during their stay.
We are the first to admit we don’t have all the answers but hope we can help them during their visit by sharing how we aim to inspire people from diverse backgrounds. So what’s next for the Wanju Ladies Club? Well they’ll be setting up an advice service for aspiring community energy projects as well as a construction cooperative for social housing initiatives, and that’s just for starters…. We wish them all the best for what sounds like an amazing and very worthwhile project.
The next Zero Carbon Britain short course will explore ways we can deliver a climate positive future, while maintaining a modern lifestyle. We also look at how ZCB can be used successfully to inspire positive action, stimulate debate and build consensus in our communities and places of work.
Scholarship entries will be judged by a panel of CAT staff and announced on 17th August on the CAT Facebook page.
By entering, you accept that CAT will post the winner’s first name and surname initial to our Facebook page.
The prize includes all course fees and full board accommodation at CAT.
Find out all you need to know about building your dream home with a visit to Build It Live Bicester self-build show and see live demonstrations from CAT. 11-12th June.
The Centre for Alternative Technology, in association with Build It Live, are offering pairs of FREE tickets (worth £24) – just by following this link.
Build It Live self-build show will take place on 11 & 12 June in Bicester, on the borders of Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and Northamptonshire. The latest addition to the Build It show calendar, Build It Live Bicester is brand new and is being run in association with Graven Hill – the UK’s first large-scale self-build project. Graven Hill has outline planning for 1,900 new homes, along with a primary school, local pub and shops and lies just 5 minutes’ drive from the exhibition.
Many of us dream of creating our own little eco home, somewhere where we can live a greener life in a space that we’ve designed and built ourselves. But finding the perfect spot and gaining planning permission isn’t always easy. It’s with this in mind that the Graven Hill project has been developed in Bicester, Oxfordshire.
Spearheaded by Cherwell District Council, the project has outline planning permission for 1,900 new homes, and offers opportunities for a range of different sized projects, including detached, semi-detached and bungalow designs, using a mix of kit homes and self-build projects. There’s the potential for groups of people to work collaboratively, for example by creating a terrace of eco homes, and a primary school, local pub and shops are also planned.
All properties will be built to high environmental standards, complying with Passivhaus principals for energy efficiency, and there’s the flexibility for individual designs to incorporate higher environmental standards, so this could be a useful route in for anyone wanting to create an eco home of their own.
Join CAT at Build It Live
Whether you’re interested in a plot at Graven Hill, thinking of building a home elsewhere, or if you’d like to retrofit an existing property, come to Build It Live Bicester on 11 and 12 June to meet experts in a range of building materials and methods.
Taking place just a few miles away from the Graven Hill site, the show is an opportunity to discover thousands of cutting-edge and traditional products and meet over 150 of the UK’s most innovative suppliers. There are around 30 free seminars and workshops, developed to address specific problems and inspire confidence when taking on a building or renovation project.Here’s a flavour of what’s on offer:
At the Build It Manchester show earlier this year, CAT’s carpenter Carwyn Jones demonstrated eco-friendly building techniques and upcycling with pallets.
Eco friendly building techniques: Come along to see CAT doing talks and live demonstrations covering a range of topics including environmentally-friendly building techniques, renewable energy, eco-sanitation and woodland management. There will be a daily demo programme and experts on hand to answer your questions. Also see the free seminar on Building a Sustainable Home, at 3.30pm daily. Graven Hill zone: Find out about opportunities to build your own home on Graven Hill and join the live Q&A to discover how to reserve a plot. Speak to the Graven Hill team and listen to their keynote session in the main seminar theatre at 11.10am each day. See the various homes that can be built and learn about the Design Code. The Naked House: See a section of a new build as it comes together – a fascinating insight into how things are installed, from underfloor heating to roof trusses and floor joists.
Find a builder: Talk to the Federation of Master Builders who can guide you through the process of finding the right contractor for your project. Access their database of trusted builders in your area.
Self builders’ stories live: Gain inspiration and confidence from people who have realised their self build dreams. Hear their stories in the live theatre, on the show floor.
The brown-field site was previously used as an ordnance depot by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and acted as the main supply base for the British Army’s operations during the Second World War. Materials from the demolished MOD buildings will be recycled for use in the construction works.
The project team have worked with ecologists to ensure their plans protect and encourage biodiversity, and more than half the site will be set aside as community woodland and open space. Allotments, cycle paths and sports pitches are also planned.
Later this year sees construction of the first ten ‘pioneer’ homes, one of which has been designed by Ed Green, joint programme leader on CAT’s Professional Diploma in Architecture, who is keen to develop self-build designs that can be delivered at a lower cost than more mainstream building projects.
We are so excited about our tiny house courses – new from us to you!
Running three times this year, spaces are filling up fast.
Learn how to make a beautiful and bespoke tiny house from the ground up: including the timber frame structure, interior and renewable systems.
Carwyn Lloyd Jones, our very own master craftsman (and TV star!) will guide you through an inspiring and practical week where you’ll learn how to:
• Build a timber frame tiny house (approx. 6ft x 10ft)
• Clad the walls
• Build different roof shapes (including pitched roofs, curved roofs and green roofs
• Install windows and doors
• Fix the structure to a trailer base
• Create simple, functional and smart fitted furniture
• Integrate Solar PV and thermal for electricity and hot water
• Harvest rainwater
• Include a compost toilet
Jam packed with practical hands-on exercises and talks from experts, this course will give you the skills and enthusiasm to build a tiny house of your own – whether it’s a little off-grid home, outdoor workspace or a glamping pod for summer getaways.
Carwyn will also give you a tour of his very own tiny house caravan as seen on George Clark’s Amazing Spaces.
Last year was full of firsts for us and a great coming together for all involved in the company. The first residential self-build frame for the county, the honing and strengthening of skills and relationships, and a great new website!
The movement towards low impact living is really gaining momentum with more and more people looking for alternatives to the mainstream. Questions about how we can live a more carbon neutral lifestyle are being asked, and there are so many people doing amazing things to answer them.
It always takes time for new ideas to filter through, and one of the aims of Ty Pren is to bridge the gap between self-builders and local councils. Roundwood timber framing provides a strong framework for affordable, low impact homes that are sustainable, beautiful and a big step in the right direction towards a zero carbon Britain.
The August bank Holiday weekend saw CAT’s annual Eco Refurbishment course, covering all the theory and practicalities of how to get your house towards performing better than many new- build properties. The course consists of classroom theory sessions and hands-on practicals, as well as tours of CAT’s own drainage, sewerage and water-conservation installations and its renewable energy set-ups.
Tutor Nick Parsons said: “The practicals are an essential part of the course, giving students a chance to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom sessions to practical situations. These sessions would not be possible without the support of the companies which provide materials and reference material free of charge
A group of eager DIY-ers have been busy learning about eco-refurbishment at CAT. Over the past few days they’ve learned about ecological improvements you can make to existing buildings through practical exercises and specialised guided tours of CAT.
The developments in environmentally conscious building are coming along in leaps and bounds, but as it currently stands few people in the UK will have the opportunity to construct their own new eco-home. Refurbishing existing housing stock can make a massive contribution towards reducing our carbon footprint and lowering our wider environmental impact.
As the week draws to a close we would like to say a big thank-you to Recovery Insulation, Natural Building Technologies, and Clan Insulation who provided materials free of charge for the practical sessions on the Eco Refurbishment course. Thanks also to Sally and Keith Hall at Green Building Press who donated copies of the Green Building Bible for the students. Nick Parsons, the course tutor, said: “it’s great to have samples of a wide range of materials – particularly insulation materials – and to be able to work with them. Students have found this particularly valuable, and we really appreciate the generosity of the suppliers”.
You can find out more about our autumn short courses on our website.