A week learning about sustainable living services

Last week I arrived at CAT for my six month volunteer placement. I immediately went along to the Sustainable Building Services module, part of  the AEES Masters at CAT, but it is also offered as a Short Course. The course offers a theoretical look at how we can save energy, use it wisely and build/retrofit buildings by appropriately managing their ventilation and water systems.

~Day 1 ~

Frances Hill, the module leader, started with ventilation techniques showing innovative ways to control aeration such as indoor fountains. Following this, Tom Baker’s lecture showed the degrading impacts of chemicals used in industry that create contaminated land. After lunch the in-depth solar water heating lecture by Arthur Butler presented the idea that, in some cases, being more efficient can be a waste of time and energy as the pay-backs are incredibly lengthy and often work best in hotter environments.

~Day 2~

We started the day again with a lecture by Frances Hill. This time, on cooling buildings by understanding climatic variations such as humidity. Tom Baker’s lecture on precipitation and flooding solutions such as SUDS (Sustainable Urban Design Strategies) shed light on the flooding problems the UK will be facing in years to come due to climate change. There was much laughter during Louise Halestrap’s lecture on sewage treatment, as we learnt that composting is the solution in more rural areas to our stinky problems, yet finding viable solutions in an urban context is much more challenging.

CAT students before the practical

~Day 3~

All students began the wet morning with a choice of practicals: some in Machynlleth, but most onsite. My choice of ‘compost toilets and clean water systems’ with Louise Halestrap began with a walk to the top reservoir at CAT. We tested the water’s turbidity – its clarity – to determine how many particulates are floating around. We examined all the different types of systems used at CAT, such as UV filters, ceramic filters and more natural systems including vertical and horizontal reed-beds. Some techniques were better than others: the dual-chamber compost toilets came out as being the least energy intensive. In the evening, a tour of sedum roofs and other ‘living roofs’ on site showed us their simplicity and it has inspired me to one day make my own.

Compost toilet onsite using worms to breakdown organic matter.

~Day 4~

The last day of lectures started with Ben Abel talking about clean air architecture in the context of tall buildings (e.g. the ‘Gherkin’ in London). Mentioned was the use of ‘green-washing’ by businesses, occasions when ‘green’ designs are used as a marketing tool rather than being truly sustainable. After lunch it was up to the WISE roof with Tobi to follow the sun’s path to determine the best position for solar panels (information here on data so you can plan your own).

In the evening there was a truly inspiring lecture by Jonathan Essex from Bioregional examining sustainable approaches to construction waste by looking at the behavioural changes possible in the production chain. Personally this was the most stimulating lecture, urging students to start with re-using rather than recycling, to deconstruct old buildings and reconstruct with them same materials to create vibrant and beautiful places.

Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine
Students dressed as the seven dwarfs for the Pantomine

To finish the week a fairytale pantomime was held in the evening to celebrate and give thanks to all the lectures, speakers, staff and students. Titles for the plays included ‘Snowdonia and the Seven Dorks’ (the CAT lecturers) and ‘The Princess and Her Pee’.

All in all the week was riveting. The combination of lectures, seminars, practicals and social tea-breaks allowed us to mingle and exchange ideas. Last week, being the first week of my six month stay here in CAT, has been the warmest welcome I could imagine.