Innovating eco lodge: Bryn Elltyd, North Wales

Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House, side view of solar panels

Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House, side view of solar panels

The 2013 UK Green Hotelier competition, which searches the UK for the most innovative sustainable hotels, was thrilled to award Bryn Elltyd Eco Guesthouse runner up.

The owners, Ceilia and John have had green leanings and solar panels since 1983 but gave up the city life to pursue an idea of setting up a sustainable guesthouse in Snowdonia six years ago.  They won early acclaim with the Government Green dragon award and  runner up in Sustainable  award from the Wales Environment awards.  This was followed by  Green Tourism Business Scheme Gold and Renewable Energy project of the year award from Gwynedd and Welsh assy Gov.  This year has seen them busy with runner up at Green Hotelier and winner of Small Accommodation provider with the National Considerate Hotels awards.

Bryn is a two person partnership with John doing most of the innovation and technology at this six bed guesthouse himself and so where they have got to today is particularly impressive. They were the only Welsh to even make the shortlist for Considerate Hotel awards and sat amongst the Savoy green team and other rather large establishments.

Exploiting local heritage and new technologies they have continued to sensitively develop their unique green dream. The  old granite house was the 1883  manager house for the Wrysgan slate mine. It lies in a fold of the old Ffestiniog Steam railway and yet  within 200m are two modern hydro electric  plants and now Bryn’s electric car charging points.

As ex-teachers, Ceilia and John enjoy using their project to educate others. Last year, the OCR  exam board had a three page “A” level question on them and they were on the front page of the Ecology Building Society Annual Report. They were the only Welsh 'Superhome' to open on the national open day this year and gained the longest visitor feedback of over 900 words.  Local involvement includes working with groups: Gwynedd business week, Young farmers,  Blaenau Ffestiniog Green town, Guest speaker at Bangor uni eco event etc. Despite all of this, John maintains that it is the education of the guests and their interest in the eco developments that he finds most rewarding.

Customer satisfaction for children does not get better than collecting the duck eggs and harvesting  food and appreciating the meaning of local. This includes the three arrays of solar water and electric panels making local energy.  They encourage wildlife exploration on their small mountainside and have planted native species within the area as well as in their garden.

And the sustainable initiatives...   

Bryn have just had another GTBS accessment and gained Gold again with an even higher score. John states that 'GTBS really is the best measure of sorting the green wash people who talk from those that have actually achieved.  Ceilia says it is like doing a full school Ofstead inspection.'

With 39inch granite walls, on a house exposed 700ft up a mountain energy has always been important.  Insulation has been the key with cunning building work linking old and new. Some rooms with windows have no outside walls. Sheep’s wool and  wildflower meadow green roofs keep guests cosy with separate solar arrays and rain water harvesting for the loo.  Even some modern filled cavity walls have been dry lined with extra internal insulation.  The technology is appropriate and thought through. The 39inch granite dining room walls are not insulated - instead a boiler house was built on the other side of the wall. This massive wall now acts as a radiator taking warm air from the boiler house into the building structure.

In the boiler house is a 25kw boiler that takes local wood, turns it to gas and burns it extremely efficiently at 900c. Efficiency is heightened by the fact that this is fully auto with temperature sensing  and averaging of heating zones every 30 seconds. This is computer integrated with massive 10m of  solar thermal tubes, which John recycled - all they need to do is empty ash every six weeks to nourish the orchard and veg plots.

This old house has always had carbon neutral  heating,  but replacing the old 19kwt glass fronted back boiler fire that needed 17t wood per year by a wood gasification boiler has reduced wood down to 6t year.

Two high efficiency glass fronted log burners provide homely warmth. One is so refined it could have battery a powered remote control and be integrated into room thermostats. It also uses about a third of the logs of a normal fire. Heat is also taken in passively by the two conservatories and diverted into the house by appropriate low tech auto green house vents.

All the electricity is made on site or bought from 100% UK based renewable sources - just as well they have two commercial hydro plants within 200m.

Their two latest green innovations are transport related. They have built a bike store using some of the old conservatory timber structure with recycled slate and a sedum biodiverse roof. They hope to hire out bikes for a new bike 8k bike route around the local lake, due to open in 2014.  They have also installed two electric car charging points - one point is 32amp and will charge while you have a 4 hour ramble or local steam train ride.

Water is a valuable resource as the ducks on Bryn pond will testify to, as will the native brown trout which are the water quality indicator for the reed bed.  Water for Bryn is metered and monitored.  All loos are low volume flush. All rooms are en-suite with showers. All white goods are at least A rated.  Hundreds of litres of garden watering vats are filled after the loo flushing tank is full. Clockwork timers limit the watering process.

Nature is a key visitor attraction in Snowdonia and this is very much reflected at Bryn. They have extensive bird, bat, lacewing boxes and have engineered natural hides and log piles to ensure biodiversity. Avenues of native planting up the stream bed helps keep the biodiversity of their acre of ground.  Five benches of mainly recycled timber are all equipped with logs to rest wine glasses on for guests to appreciate the natural surroundings.

Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House, filling the rooms with natural light

Bryn Elltyd Eco Guest House, filling the rooms with natural light

What are the benefits of running a green guest house?

Great for the planet and preserving for future generations. The running cost for the central heating, of just £1200 a year, are more than covered by the government RHI scheme.  No more tending the fire every two hours and feeding it 17t timber per year.  Solar electrical energy installation  gives us tax free income and will break even in  six years, unless energy prices go down!  Our LED light bulbs have an eight year guarantee. The  nurtured wild life and birds are uplifting and hopefully the electric vehicle market will develop. We love being up there with the pioneers!

What are future plans at the Eco Guesthouse?

Install a new all electric high efficiency range cooker with inductive hob and win more veg plots from the mountainside. I (John) will shortly complete a Mine leader qualification and take guests locally into the Wrysgan slate mine, even on a dark winter’s night.

Ceilia and John are also determined to develop more links exploiting the one change from London Euston mainline train and learn more Welsh.

 Finally we asked John, what three bits of advice would you give to others looking to do the same?

  • Do not wait for government / councils to lead. Look at your micro needs
  • Do not look for short term gain
  • Look at the triple bottom line of people, planet, profit. In other words look at the total value and costs of what you do.

Update: John has contacted us to say the guesthouse is now carbon neutral. All energy is powered by their renewable sources. They have switched their cooker hob to induction so it only draws power when a pan is on top. And they have three electric car charging points all powered by their renewable sources.

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