Essentially, the Good Life could go off the grid for water, power, heating and cooling systems. We can irrigate our own vineyards, olives and vegetable gardens. Here’s how…
Water – from our 200 year old sternas
A sterna is an underground water storage system, holding up to 70 cubic metres. In the early houses there was a well inside the house with a bucket to draw the water. Later the access was outside and the bucket operated by a small motor. In most cases the sterna’s fell into disrepair once houses had access to mains water. New houses no longer built in the sterna’s, it is enormously difficult to excavate down into marble and granite foundations.
We were lucky, both our sterna’s were far greater than we needed, but they did need repairing. With extensive flat roofs, we had more than enough clean rain water. But our waste water, both grey and black, was a problem. Grey water comes from washing machines, showers and kitchen cleaning. Black water is toilet waste and water. Both run into septic tanks in the vineyards, where they are essentially lost to the subsoil. We wanted to clean the water for irrigation.
A new German system was our best option, it was the only fully biological system available and it returned water that was drinkable. We preferred to use it in the garden. And unlike mains water, which is desalinated water, it has not been cleaned with chemicals and is gentler on the soil.
The only drawback was the underground space the two main septic tanks needed to work their magic. The final hole was 3 metres deep, and 6 by 3 wide. With a concrete lid of that size we decided to create a special area in the vineyard as a yoga centre. Once shaded, it also serves as a quiet space for painting ‘au plein aire’.
We elected to keep our mains water supply, but we use very little of it, and we could easily manage without. Drinking water (potable) is available in each apartment and has been further filtered and purified.
How to get rid of air conditioners
Greek islands get hot in the summer, but we didn’t want air conditioners pumping hot air outside, noisy motors running and dry inside air that can affect the sinuses. The answer was a new technology, again from Germany, a fan coil heating and cooling system that had several great advantages. Firstly, the same unit covered both functions. But unlike reverse cycle air conditioners, this heating system was identical to normal central heating.
Secondly, the engine that drives it also runs the water heating system, and both hot water storage and engines/pumps were well away from the house – so no noise. With the photo voltaic cell panels on the roof, the whole system runs without using power from the grid.
Photo voltaic cells
The new generation photo voltaic cells are much more efficient and produce more power than ever. Cycladic houses have flat roofs, and the panels are barely noticeable. We are still on the grid for power, but we have become power neutral with the energy we feed into the grid.
Re-using, re-cycling, repairing
Our kitchen shelves are made from old boat timbers, the chestnut ceiling timbers are also re-used where possible from the originals we found in the house. We managed to save any cupboards, original fire places and of course the amazing marble wall stones were sand blasted back to their original dazzling white.
In the garden, we cycle our organic waste, chipping our grape and olive prunings into compost, returning them into the clay soils.
Marble - the most amazing building material
Working with marble either for house walls or external walls is an experience. It is the natural rock on the Cycladic Islands, and still used in new houses. The old houses, with 55 to 60 cms walls are impressive. They hold the heat in winter and keep out the sun in summer. But marble is far more than a building material - it is utterly beautiful, every stone different, shot through with ochres, greens, black and pinks. The word marble comes from the Greek ‘marmaron’ meaning ‘shining glittering rock’.
In the Good Life we have, as far as possible, exposed each rock so that we can enjoy the natural beauty of the stones.