Back in 2019 we made a family decision to move from Cambridgeshire to the South West of England. We were drawn to the beaches and the moors, but particularly to Totnes in South Devon because it was a place where we could live sustainably. We made our move in November 2019, but for us (and millions of others across the world) 2020 didn’t turn out as we expected. However, we have now found what we were looking for, and in the summer we move into our new sustainable home, which happens to be a boat!
How we got here
Having struggled to find any sustainable housing in Devon (or affordable land to build one on) made us painfully aware that funding and legislation to support sustainable housing in the UK just isn’t working. We refused to give up though, and thought about other ways to live, consuming as little energy and wasting as little resource as possible. We also revisited our original list of priorities, and realised that living near water was important (but not necessarily the sea) and living as close to nature as possible was important (but not necessarily a big garden). Our revised list of priorities and a lot of research on the internet led us to something we never knew existed. A solar powered canal boat.
What we’ll be living on
What we found is a 65′ x 10′ solar powered widebeam built by Ryan Collingwood at Thames Solar Electric. It’s entirely free of fossil fuels, powered by solar panels on the roof feeding a 96 kWh battery bank which in turn powers the twin electric engines which drive the prop. The power from the panels is enough to keep all our appliances (minimum A+ rated) running, even through the winter. There’s a heat recovery ventilation system (75% efficient) and heating is powered by an eco log burner. In addition, the boat has rainwater harvesting, which channels water through a 3 phase filtration system for use in the bathroom, washing machine and dish washing. We’ll need no gas, hardly any water, and probably no electricity at all.
It’s not a compromise on living standards either. We’ll have 4G broadband (30Mbps), TV, a fully fitted kitchen, bespoke bathroom, and two decent sized bedrooms. The photos of the living area in the Sunflower (Ryan’s first solar powered boat that he and his partner still live on) give you some idea of the feel inside the boat. To get a house with our river views would cost you 5 or 10 times as much as we spent, and we can move our house and moor it anywhere. We can paddle board straight off the back of the boat and I can fish without leaving home. Oh, and we have no mortgage, and living costs around 40% lower than before (including the premium we happily pay to eat organic and sustainable food).
What’s the catch?
Many of the common drawbacks of living on a canal boat (condensation, heating, maintenance costs) aren’t a problem with what Ryan is calling ‘the Big Green Machine’. The one compromise you have to make is space. We don’t have a spare room, a utility room, a garage or a loft. We’ve had to pare down our belongings until what we have is what we really need. Particularly precious things we can’t fit in the boat but can’t be thrown away are stored with understanding relatives (though we could use container storage without spending much). We actually like this way of living, because with less room we can’t buy lots of things we don’t really need! For us sustainable living isn’t just about reducing emissions and saving energy, it’s about reducing consumption, full stop.
If you’re family, friends, colleagues or ex-colleagues, drop by and visit us. If you want to live on a boat but you’re not convinced get in touch, and once it’s safe we’d be happy to do a tour. I’m sure Ryan will be happy to do the same for those nearer London.