To us, sustainability must align economic, social and environmental aspects.
Both for reasons of long term economy and mindful of environmental responsibilities, we’ve sought to make Varis as sustainable as possible. We recognise that almost all our visitors will arrive by car but we choose to let by the week to encourage what is is now called Slow Tourism. We’ve always encouraged visitors to have a car free or a car-light day and offer some ideas here.
We encourage guests to source food locally, sending out a local shopping guide in advance of arrival so guest don’t need to arrive with loaded shopping bags and local food producers and retailers benefit from our guests spend. Our guest welcome packs are usually sourced hyper-locally, often using products from Manuela’s Wee Bakery at Ardelve or Rowan Croft at Plockton.
We provide details of local cafes and restaurants and highlight local activities, leaving details in the house, offering personal advice and via our Facebook page.
We use eco friendly cleaners (mindful of our septic tank) and leave ample supplies of such cleaners and eco friendly dishwasher tablets and washing powder for our guests.
We don’t use chemicals in the garden and have significant ‘wild’ areas merging into the surrounding woodland. The bird feeder attacts a range of wildlife with many birds, deer and pine martens sighted in the garden. We await out first red squirrel sighting.
We are proud of being on the edge of NTSs Balmacara Estate and surrounded by woodland managed by them. They know they are always welcome to Varis if it helps maintain the paths to Kirkton and beyond. We are pleased to be within the UNESCO recognised Wester Ross Biosphere and overlooking Lochs Alsh, Duich and Long and Inner Hebrides and the Minches Special Areas of Conversation.
We employ local people to do changeovers, maintain the garden and do plumbing, electrical or carpentry work as needed. We try to source as much as we can in the Highlands.
But the largest issue is energy. We think we are doing OK.
We have always used Good Energy as our electricity supplier. They are one of the few 100% renewable suppliers. There are plenty of Green Tariffs but, as Good Energy explain, many of these are Greenwashing. Good Energy match their supply with their own or contracted independent generators.
On average over the past 4 years, Varis has imported 5,976KWh of electricity and generated 2,869kWh. Comparisons with other properties are hard and unfair as Varis is often not occupied over the coldest months : but the average Scottish property consumes 17,900kWh energy each year (3,700kWh electricity and 14,200kWh Gas).
In additional Varis consumes some locally sourced firewood each year. While there are some emissions in producing and delivering these logs, we are content to regard this as minimal, especially in the quantities used.
How guests can help
Think about having a car free or low car day (or two). How about a boat trip? Catch a train from Kyle to Attadale Gardens. Walk or mountain bike from the house to Plockton off road.
Where we started
When we bought Varis in 2014 , the house was heated by an anthracite fuelled back burner. This was effective – if you were willing to keep it alight. This was obviously not suitable for a holiday house. The double glazing was elderly and the loft insultation was thinner that currently standards.
We started with an Energy Performance Certificate of D in 2014 but this will have improved. We will need a new EPC shortly.
- Upgraded loft insulation.
- We installed an air source heat pump and solar panels.
- Replaced light bulbs with LED lightbulbs or light fittings.
- Except for beds, we bought good second hand furniture rather than buying new and have continued this even as we upgrade furniture.
- We prefer ‘buy once’ so chose higher quality appliances and contents that won’t easily break. We chose pure white cotton bed linen and towels so that we could replace as needed without worrying about matching.
Replaced double glazing throughout
New very efficient induction hob installed to replace gas hob.
New more efficient oven.
- Refurbished shower room off the utility room. For resilience, we kept an electric shower.
- Replaced flooring in two sitting rooms, adding thickness in floor and improving air tightness.
- Refurbished bathroom installing a giant shower.
- Replaced ASHP with a newer, hopefully more efficient, model. Upgraded radiators and installed Heatmiser controls so we can remotely control heating as needed, particularly switching to background heating only when vacant but able to switch back on easily before guests arrive.
- Replaced some furniture with second hand solid oak furniture. Added new dining chairs.
- Electric vehicle charge point was installed August 2022. We will charge guests at cost for electricity used.
We are looking at the business case for batteries : we are generating about half our use but most of this is being exported to the grid. If we could use more of this energy in the early morning and evening when our peak demand is, we’d reduce our bills to everyone’s benefit with no loss of guest comfort.