An ongoing programme at the Findhorn Foundation is to replace the static caravans of the original caravan park, many organically extended over the years, with more robust and energy efficient structures. These ‘eco-mobiles’ need to fit into the definitions of the caravans legislation as they have the luxury of being exempt from planning permission and building warrant.

Our chalets are already unique in being insulated for year round occupancy, having underfloor heating and untreated timber cladding – the larch boards go grey with time. Now we were to provide a bespoke design for handicapped people. Acting as our client, Kathleen Burke was looking for a fully accessible building that could be used by all of their guests including the disabled. Guests attending courses run at the Foundation are an important part of its life and economy and the high standard of the chalet would enhance this activity. This chalet then, has an access ramp, generous circulation and a wet room to allow those in wheelchairs to take a shower.

The specification of the building had to meet the criteria of the Foundation which has pioneered the use of materials that are locally sourced, are benign, not toxic, have low embodied energy and are not derived from fossil fuels. The building sits on oak piers on precast paving slabs, which were set on the original site slab of the caravan that it replaced. Ground beams are glulam made at Norbuild from local redwood, the kit is made of a Structural Insulated Panel System (SIPS) panels which is light, energy efficient and transportable. The steel profiled roof is a concession to transportability too. Whilst its high embodied energy does not make it an obvious choice for a green building it is light weight and reusable.

There is an interest at the Foundation in sustainable heating systems and during the building project the opportunity to move away from an LPG gas boiler to an air source heat pump was taken up, even though it delayed the completion of the project. The extra cost of £5000 for this decision was to be recouped over 20 years with an immediate benefit of a zero carbon system. This is because the Foundation has three wind turbines and produces green electricity to match its needs. The Natural Energy Company of Newport-on Tay provided the Japanese heat pump and it has performed very well. We await feedback on the running costs. A pre-requisite for the use of heat pump technology was the underfloor heating, which delivers heat at 35 degrees not 70 degrees. The mild climate means the air from which heat is extracted is rarely very cold. The principle of heat pumps is to maximise efficiency. This is compromised when the temperature difference between extract source and delivery gets excessive.