16 May 2012

Grand Designs Live 2012

I have deliberately avoided exhibitions like the Ideal Home Show for many years because the thought of spending a day surrounded by sofas and table lamps is frightening. So it took something special to tempt me to go to Grand Designs Live.

Well, two special things actually.

Firstly there was an offer of cheap tickets via work. OK, so my experience from similar shows is that everybody there has got cheap tickets but gamification works and the thought of having won something is always good.

Secondly I actually had a reason for going. My boiler is on its last legs and only made it through the last Winter by resting for a few days in the middle so I was interested to see the latest options for deploying reusable energy at home.

The show was vast, occupying five (I think) sections on the North side (Zones N3-7).

It was zoned, as the advert above implies, into four quarters covering interiors, gardens,  build and kitchens/bathrooms.

I was only interested in the build area really and only strayed out of this to look for drinks and the technology section where I watched far more of Avatar on Blu-Ray than I needed to.

The aisles were narrow and packed with people (what were their excuses for going there?) so getting around was not easy or comfortable. It also meant that the sight-lines were bad and you could not see a stall unless you walked directly past it, if then.

The good news is that I did find several stands on domestic renewables but the bad news is that they were (mostly) more concerned with making appointments to install their product than in explaining to me why I should install them. One even had to rely on an iPhone picture to show me their solar panels.

The technology also because more complicated and I am still not certain whether I need solar heating, solar electricity, a heat pump or some combination of these. The one hard fact was that a solar photovoltaic (PV) panel generates 250W and so a standard installation providing 4kW needs 16 panels. That's a lot of panels. And it's even worse if you want some solar heating panels too.

At the moment I'm thinking that PV is the way to go as electricity is more flexible in its use than hot water - there's a limit to how many showers you can take in a day.

The big disappointment was to find only one stand offering grey water solutions (using scarce food to flush toilets is just mad) and that mean installing a completely separate plumbing system and a burying a large water tank in the garden.

What did work was the things that I did not go there to see, such as the small display of some of the Grand Design houses and some of the architects' and house-builders' stands. I expected to see Huf Haus there, and I did, but I did not expect to see so many similar products with such similar names. None impressed anything like as much as Huf Haus though.

I spoke to a couple of the architects and am thinking again about options for the North side of my house which has been empty since the climbing frame went.

I left Grand Designs Live with more questions than I went in with, which is not what I expected but probably counts as a success. Now I need to read all the brochures, visit all the websites and fend off all the sales calls.

The one undoubted success was adding two new canvass shopping bags to my already impressive collection. It would not be a proper exhibition without one.

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