Modern house boat

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click to enlarge

Introducing the Original Twist canal going house boat; in the style of a narrow boat only bigger, better and absolutely modern. As a living unit it presents an economical lifestyle choice. For £160,000 you get very low cost housing and maybe some change left over for a holiday house, long ski breaks and other good things. A comparable land based house or flat would be twice the price because of the cost of land, a boat on the other hand effectively rents the river via the canal licence.

A house boat might be small but as well as reduced outgoings there are some great advantages. You are never stuck anywhere you don’t like; if you need a change you can just cruise to somewhere else, maybe near a cosy riverside pub. River life can be like an aquatic pub crawl but without the driving. You’ll make more friends among the friendly and hospitable canal community too, especially with the most interesting boat on the water.
There is more scope for travel than just the English waters as you can get a tow across the channel to use a huge French network extending all the way down to the South of France where winters are not so harsh. Otherwise the house boat is an attractive proposition for a house swap so the whole world is your lobster.
It’s a tough life being retired!

The Original Twist Eco-house boat is all about, modernity, comfort and enough economy to make a modest pension go far. Many traditional ideas have been updated to achieve this.

Construction
Unlike a go-anywhere narrow boat ours is 10 feet wide and 55 feet long – we’ll forgo visits to a few stretches of narrow canal in exchange for a lot more room and the garage – yes that’s right, a garage.
The shell of the boat is normal steel but without the enclosing steel roof parts. The front saloon and the rear transom are full height steel as is the central bulkhead that separates them. The two open parts between the steel constructions are connected at roof level by tubular trellised ladder frames which run the length of the boat interrupted only by the central bulkhead. The open parts of the boat are then covered by 2 insulated wooden rooms made of plywood and foam panels (SIPS).which are factory prefabricated – complete with windows, pipes, wires etc. This makes the boat lighter, cheaper and better insulated.

The two central living spaces house the kitchen a bedroom and shower room, all with heated floors. Each has a large pop-up roof (just like on a camper van) to give a more spacious feel while being flattened whenever a low bridge is encountered. These roofs carry the solar panels and can tilt sideways in either direction to catch the sun – the simple mechanism to switch hinge points is activated by the flick of a switch.
The steel and glass front saloon is very light and airy with a door giving access to the front deck. Standard fan-coil units are turned on end to make a pair of powerful demisters for the huge windscreen and to heat the room too.
A flat sun deck on the roof of the saloon makes a great place to watch the world go by and as we shall see later the boat can be steered from up there too.
The steel rear transom accommodates the propeller shaft, engine mounts, rudder mechanism, a niche for the air source heat pump.  A tail hoist mounted across the back (like on delivery trucks) supports a light vehicle such as a Polaris RAZR side by side.  After adjusting the height the ramps are dropped and locked onto a nearby bank so one can drive off in style and comfort. What is life without wheels?  Because the hoist can be folded up, the length of the whole boat can be shortened to navigate some of the tighter locks. An awning can be extended over the vehicle and there we have it; the first house boat with a garage.

Eco-tech
The real point about eco-technomologicalness here is to get along as cheaply as possible without damaging the planet. The 24 solar panels on the top produce a nominal 6kWp; more than most domestic arrays and enough for the small air source heat pump and to charge the batteries for the electric hybrid drive system. The hybrid drive is almost identical to that on the Original Twist hybrid 3-wheeler found on this site; here with a Lynch motor and a Kohler water cooled diesel. The usual benefits of a hybrid drive are there; the batteries give a few hours silent cruising and the diesel can take over indefinitely. The batteries are mostly solar charged or sometimes diesel engine charged with the Lynch motor doubling as a generator. Many moorings supply electricity so the batteries can be charged on cloudy days. With the air source heat pump the heating will run cheaply and conveniently off connected electricity or the batteries.  So there are 4 sources of heating power; the PV panels, wet panels, outside electricity and engine cooling . Most boat engines are cooled by river water but here a second coil in the heat bank uses the 60% of wasted heat to make hot water. There is no connection to the river or the gunk that blocks up the filters (boat owners nod knowingly here).
Heating is state of the art with a couple of tweaks. Twin heat banks with my stripper circuit make year round use of the 3 wet solar panels and the tanks are plumbed to optimise the little 2kW heat pump which delivers about 6kW. N.B. River water is not used as the heat source. See ‘Air source heat pumps in Southern Europe’ also on this web site.
Notable omissions are a wood stove and any gas as there is no need for either.

Controls
Control of all the lights, heating, entertainment and even the steering is done by i-pad and Z-Wave meshed radio modules which are cheap, reliable and plentiful home automation items. Narrow boats are usually driven from the back, a bit like a bus driver standing on the rear bumper. We can sit at the front in the saloon and steer from there or from anywhere else within range of the wi-fi; perhaps the sun deck even from the nearby pub! The Z-Wave controller allows for plenty of home automation tweaks like lighting control, security and leak detection, all from anywhere in the world. Theoretically the boat can be driven from anywhere there is an internet connection.
Actuators to move things like the roof panels and the rudder are operated by compressed air which is cleaner and easier to maintain. An i-pad and Z-Wave relays makes child’s play of these things; even a simple dimmer switch allows proportional control of the rudder.  The motorised satellite dish also needs to fold into a recess in the centre section when a bridge is encountered.

Neat extras
To make the kitchen a great place for eating while admiring the view the picture window on one side tilts up and out and a table is pushed outwards to make use of the outside space. Once parked up an extending awning over a drop down side deck, complete with an extending Barbie unit, makes an outside cooking area.

Central dust extraction – The centre section houses a fixed dust extractor plumbed to outlets around the boat to make cleaning much easier.

With a boat like this life will certainly be rich and varied.

ECO-HIPPY – One who is sufficiently off-grid to live almost cost free.

Heating News – Autumn 2015

ENGLAND FRANCE ITALY – Transcontinental Edition

Heating consultancy – England, France, Italy
England and Italy are covered so if you need a stove and a heat bank just get in touch, wherever you are, and I’ll get them to you. My usual transport goes from England to Italy every 2 weeks via France so sensible heating is equally available there. Just fill in the contact form below and we can start to chat.

Heating – Not too late for this winter
A system makeover might seem like a daunting prospect but it can often be as simple as connecting a new tank in your technical room to a few pipes that are already there. The most essential connection is to the wood burning stove; all the other power sources like solar and gas can be added later. There is an immersion heater on the tank to provide backup power if it is ever needed.
A heat bank and stove can be shipped out in about 6 weeks and installed in as little as 2 days.
Not only will your heating bills reduce dramatically but you’ll be cosy and in most cases safe from power cuts. If you were snowed in for 2 weeks without power would your existing system give you heat and cooking facilities? System continuity in a power cut is one of the most important considerations when designing rural heating systems.
Make sure you are safe and comfortable this winter. There is a contact form below.
Special offer on Solar panels
If you buy a stove and tank together I’ll arrange solar panels at trade price – like a big 3 panel kit with pump, controls and fluid for €2,000 + IVA. This is top quality Italian kit at a spectacular price especially as it‘s in Euros.
If you are in the UK or France I’ll do a similar deal and get the panels sent out to you from Italy.
(Subject to supplier price change)

Italian farm house scores a ‘C’
We’ve had the Energy Performance Certificate done on our Italian farm house as it’s up for sale. All the eco systems fitted to the house were officially vindicated by an unusually high ‘C’ rating, narrowly missing a ‘B’, so this proves that old stone houses can be efficient. Apparently the energy rating is an important factor as far as house buyers are concerned and quite rightly so as the wrong systems can cost a fortune to run.
Briefly, the spec. that achieved this was:
Wood stove (Clearview 650) with back boiler
Specflue heat bank
Wet solar panels
PV solar panels
Underfloor heating
Insulated roof
Double glazing.

The whole energy package actually returns a profit every year but we were still relieved that the applied criteria gave a respectable result.

If you’d like to talk about a high performance heating system like this please get in touch using the contact form below. Many versions of the system have been fitted in Italy and several refinements have been added to make it a well honed product known to the supplier as ‘The Italian Job’.
UK energy costs
Gas Gas Gas! If you live in the UK and have access to town gas you have enviably cheap energy. About 3p/kW.hr in fact which means a big 28kW gas boiler costs about £1 an hour to run and 50p for the typical smaller boilers. Knowing that winter lasts for about 200 days gives you a guide to your potential gas bills; 4hrs a day = up to £800 down to £400.
The exact cost depends on the boiler efficiency of course and a condensing boiler will get around 93% (versus as bad as 75% for an old one) but – and here’s the rub – only if the temperature of the return water is low enough to enable the latent heat to be condensed out of the exhaust gases. Upping your efficiency to 93% will save about £280 a year so the boiler is a good idea but it will only return a good result with low return temperatures. The best way to guarantee this is to fit a new tank or, to be specific, a heat bank like the one from Specflue. This stainless steel tank has a long list of benefits, such as integrating solar, wood stoves, under-floor etc but with regard to gas use and hot water delivery it is particularly impressive.
The gas boiler is directly connected to the tank (i.e. no coil) and can deliver full power to hot water to give fantastic recovery times and also continuous use of multiple outlets rather like an overpowered combi-boiler. The return temperature is managed and always correct for condensing mode. Hot water is extracted via an external heat exchanger so the hot water is fresh and pressurised so you can fill the kettle and saucepans with hot water. The pressure you get from your hot taps will now be the same as your cold taps which will put a bit of zing into a previously dribbly shower.
Don’t be put off by last winter’s bad press on condensing boilers – ‘Thousands left without heat in cold snap’ etc. Plumbers were quick to blame the kit but it was the condensate drains freezing and this problem can be bypassed with a break in the tube; the water drips into a funnel and any overflow is caught by a small plastic bowl.

UK electricity.
I used uSwitch to get a deal for 12.251 p/kW.hr after an informative chat with one of their advisors. A £400 annual saving so well worth the cost of a phone call. He will also tell me when a better rate comes up for a free switch to another provider..
It was interesting to note that Economy 7 at 6.232p/kW.hr was still twice the price of gas so the immersion heater is pretty much redundant as is economy 7 itself in most cases. The exception would be an air source heat pump where, despite a poor night time COP due to low temperatures, one would still be running a little cheaper than gas. The all electric eco-house is a possibility then.
UK electricity is almost half the cost of Italian electricity. As a rule of thumb every 1kW for 8 hours a day will cost you £1 (£365 a year) and this could be near your current use as a power meter usually reveals background consumption of around 1kW with a few lights, fridge and computers.
Replacing a 60W bulb with a 10W LED saves 5p in just 8 hours (£18 a year) so chuck all those old bulbs in the bin NOW and remember those curly CFL bulbs are not comparable so go straight to LEDs.

Eco house design

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click to enlarge

I was thinking about a small but overtly modern eco-house design a while ago and realised that it could not be smaller than the panel area required to run the small air source heat pump on a winter day. So the design is basically a big set of panels with a small house underneath. A 6kW array would be good for just over 2kW, just enough to run a small ASHP which in turn would be able to heat the well insulated house. Here is a sketch of what the house could be like. Using modern building materials it would be unusually low priced for the amount of space provided.
See the full article here
https://originaltwist.com/2015/05/20/eco-house
Comments welcome.