IT’S the kind of bill we would all like to see. A Hampshire couple who have spent thousands of pounds making their bungalow “carbon-neutral” have got their gas bill down to just £2 a month.
Dan and Jane Fish have installed solar hot water system, solar panels which produce more electricity than they use, a wood-burning stove, solar-powered car and a garden full of fruit and vegetables.
But for the couple, their innovations aren’t about saving pounds but saving the planet, and are part of a whole green lifestyle.
The couple never fly, and Dan, now 77, even celebrated his 70th birthday with a cycling holiday from his home in the New Forest to Dundee.
The couple, who live in Bashley in the New Forest, have opened their doors in the hope of inspiring others to live in a more environmentally friendly way and reduce their own carbon footprint.
Reminiscent of the TV series The Good Life, which hit screens in 1975, the couple set out to become self-sufficient in the 1970s.
It was a difficult economic time and Dan, a naval architect, had work worries. The couple and Dan’s mother decided to sell their homes, buying a larger one in the New Forest where they could all live and also keep livestock and grow their own food.
“We went in for self-sufficiency in a big way,” says Dan. “We had a cow, pigs, chickens, sheep and grew masses of vegetables. It was hard work but great fun and good for our children.”
Initially their decision was as much for economic reasons as environmental ones, but as the couple learnt more about global warming they became increasingly concerned about their own impact on the environment.
“From the 1970s I was reading about climate change and realised it was the most important issue around,” says Dan. “The science is quite clear. For the developed world to have a reasonable chance of halting runaway climate change it needs to have a 100 per cent reduction in carbon dioxide by 2050.”
When Dan semi-retired around ten years ago the couple decided to step up their efforts to live a zero-carbon lifestyle.
Some of the self-sufficiency aspects have gone – they found they didn’t have time to keep animals – but it has been replaced by a renewed zeal to do everything they can to reduce their carbon footprint to zero.
They are, they estimate, somewhere between 90 and 99 per cent carbon-free, depending on whether you count things like the fuel used by trains and the energy used to make tinned food.
They have photovoltaic solar panels, which produce more electricity than they use, a solar hot water system which gives them piping hot water even on winter days, a wood-burning stove run on scrap wood to back up the solar heating, huge tanks to harvest rain water to be used on their vegetable beds, lots of insulation and an electric car which charges up on a normal plug socket.
Carbon-reducing measures range from insulating one room to a very high standard based on a study financed by the New Forest National Park, which cost “rather a lot”, to a polystyrene box which they have had for 30 years, which can be used to cook food which has been heated on the stove.
Their house is filled with inherited furniture and things that have stood the test of time – they are still cooking with pans that were a wedding present 55 years ago.
The only gas they use is for their stove, and their bill is around £2 a month – which also includes the annexe they rent out as a holiday home.
When they made the decision to go carbon-free they gave up flying.
“Flying releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide,” says Dan. “There is no solution to this and since we don’t want to feel we are killing people while we travel, we don’t fly any more.”
Jane adds: “Our last flight was to see family in Canada about ten years ago. We came back by cargo ship.
“It took us a week. It was expensive – it cost about three times as much as flying – but lovely.”
Since then their holidays have involved travelling by ferry, train, bus, cargo ship and bicycle. They made their way to Crete using a variety of these methods.
“We haven’t always been cyclists,” says Jane. “It was an environmental decision. I had to relearn when I was 56.”
“We’re not terrific tough guy cyclists but 20 or 30 miles isn’t too much of a problem,” adds Dan.
The couple admit they are in a fortunate position to be able to put all their environmentally friendly methods in place, but hope to inspire others to make some steps to reduce their own carbon footprint.
“Of course, we’re lucky,” says Dan. “We’ve never been terribly well-off but we do have this place and I’ve got engineering skills, which helps.”
“Because we’re retired we do a lot of things that people who do work can’t, but there are things they can do,” adds Jane. “All our grandchildren have given up driving cars and they’re managing.”
Although some of their projects have required an initial financial cost and others are time-consuming, it seems that for Dan and Jane the most important factor in making their lifestyle changes has been their concern for the future and willingness to make the effort.
“The solar hot water system is fantastic but if you want to be economical you have to use hot water when it’s sunny rather than just when you want it,” says Dan.
“It gives one a nice feeling when you have a boiling hot shower on a cold winter morning and know the water has been heated by the sun. I claim that’s a completely different tingle!”