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EcoHouse Risan, sustainable-energy efficient

Another year, will it be as hot again this summer in the Balkans as it has been in previous years? It is getting hotter with many stronger storms, causing structural damage. Temperatures go up to 35° and 40°C, without air conditioning, it’s impossible to live now.
Our EcoHouse, built some 10 years ago, offers beautiful cooling. We try to maintain an indoor temperature low enough not to exceed 25ºC. How to achieve this or expect to find this in Montenegro, when in 2009/10 no cooling firms existed, in line with Passivhaus’s thinking, nor Component suppliers and Manufacturers? Were there the necessary skills to deal with air conditioning units, heat pumps, insulation, or others?  No, not really!

EcoHouse Risan
Eco House Risan

To find out how to build an energy-efficient house took us time to learn. From 2009 until 2013 we attended endless Passivhaus conferences in Germany and Austria, where we met incredible builders of heating and ventilation systems and other suppliers to build a Passivhaus. Interestingly though, none, not even the best-rated companies in the sector, offered air conditioning! Why does one need air-conditioning, based in middle Europe? With more frequent and longer summer heatwaves, this mindset must change. Try living for 10 or more weeks with outside temperatures in the 30°s to 40°s! Also none of them had a branch in Montenegro; Belgrade yes, but Serbia has been a foreign country since 2006. One criterion of a Passivhaus is that components need to be sourced as close as possible to the site. We were, though, put in contact with a wonderful architect who specialised in Passivhäuser, based in Graz.

Climate change is truly showing what it is, irregular weather patterns, heat, little rain or sudden floods. Fires have frequently started in the mountains around the Boka, high up where nobody can reach. We have observed eagles on a mountain the locals called ‘Eagle Mountain’. One year, the fires were closing in on the area where they nested, and we could see them flying around nervously as the fire was creeping up – luckily the fire did not get too close. A few years ago we had military helicopters flying up and down with buckets scooping up water from the Boka to pour over the fires.

EcoHouse Risan

This is a view from the road to the house, it shows the large terrace of the Studio with a view of the Eagle’s mountain.
We spent a bit more time in the UK in 2023 but were surprised one talks so little about sustainability; it does not seem to be much of an issue. Climate change was almost dismissed, as it had been a cold ‘normal’ English summer where cooling was not really required. Admittedly energy saving is higher on peoples’ minds, after the shock caused by the war in Ukraine. even so, the gas industry still seems to be trying to preserve its market share instead of seeing how the companies involved can change to being energy providers not just focused on oil and gas.

My own aerospace engineering business was affected by the September 11, 2001. event and I needed to change my life. I decided to take a year to do Social work, it is different, it is a profession concerned with helping individuals, families, groups & communities to enhance their individual and collective well-being. It aims to help people develop their skills and their ability, Education and Training is critical to resolving problems. This was and still is needed in the Balkan Countries,
I also learned much about poverty, being cold not being able to close windows, or doors, as they did not fit. The thought was, it’s ok, it was warmer in the summer and in the winter one moved together to stay warm. I met some incredible people, with most of them I am still friends. My VSO post (Volunteering Overseas), took me to Skopje, Macedonia, a Disability NGO, to help raise money and develop projects. With my work with the EU, I got a project with the UN going, which helped with getting Visas for the Balkan people, and a regional  NGO called 4x4x4 Balkan Bridges, which included Macedonia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Albania. It may just read, that 4 countries, but politically were not allowed to talk together. Yet they had the same problems, poverty, poor health, poor housing, their education was not good, we could develop projects together to bring in some money and know-how.

Richtfest 28 March 2013
3 flags, MNE, Scottish & Norderney
27 01 2006 Burns supper in MK

James, a Scot, had been working for the EU in the Balkan countries for many years, and our paths crossed in Skopje!

James with his EU team in white, and his super local interpreter, with whom we are still in contact.

With both of us having life-long interests in Environment and Ecology, we decided to live in Montenegro, with sea, mountains, and a country keen on environment and ecology, or so we thought!
We seized the opportunity while developing our ‘Passivhaus knowledge’ for the build of our EcoHouse, to help to create the Montenegro Green Building Council. We were approached by local environmentalists and a government agency, the Montenegro Green Building Council was formally established in December/January 2010 www.gbc.me is a proud member of worldgbc.org.
We retired as board members in 2016.
Developing a Mediterranean Garden will go on forever, James built his stone walls which have become an art form, Our Studio apartment, EcoHouse Risan Studio is a beautiful place to relax, the spacious terrace is surrounded by an old vine,  Kiwis (Mr & Mrs), roses, jasmine, and other plants, we have harvested some 70 kg Vranac grapes one year 2017, James made wine and Rakija, while I was busy making our homemade grape jam, sadly all is gone. We now harvest kiwis, and our plants are a delight, at all seasons, but they need water. The nightingales are singing their song, the whole area is magic for heart and soul. Living here is special.