The soothing sound of canal water gently lapping against wood as you fall into peaceful slumber has got to be one of the best ways to end a relaxing day of leisurely cruising past sights that many Londoners rarely glimpse. Doing so on a vessel that gets the power for its motor, lighting and modern appliances from the Sun, features multi-layer insulation, underfloor heating and a charming wood-burning stove, and is surprisingly bright and roomy inside, seems too good to be true. Meet the Bauhaus Barge, a Dutch-style wide beam houseboat which is all of that and more.
The shell of the 50 x 13.5 foot (15.24 x 4.11 meter) Bauhaus Barge was built in the Midlands by JL Pinder & Sons in 2010. The company also fitted hydraulic steering, to specifications provided by its German-born designer - who has asked that we not use his name. A furniture restorer of many years standing, the creative force behind the project used experience gained in the construction of energy-efficient housing known as Passiv Haus, along with a burning desire to prove that sustainable living on canals was possible, to develop an energy-efficient, solar-powered wide beam houseboat.
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A somewhat unique proposition in the world of traditional narrow/wide beam boat building, where the term eco-friendly is not often thrown about, the huge brick-like Bauhaus features multi-layer composite insulation to help reduce the chilling effects of the British summer - not to mention the colder months. The steel on the sides and roof is spray foamed to afford some basic insulation, then there's a gap of between 50 and 120 mm (1.96 - 4.72 inches) to allow air to circulate from the bilge of the barge to the roof and back again.
"In hot weather the air rises along the south facing side, passing under the roof, and falls on the shaded side to the bilge, which is the coldest area being cooled by the surrounding water," explains the designer. "In harsh winter, even with frozen water, the water below the ice will be warmer than the air above. The warmer water below the ice will generate warm air within the bilge, helping to keep Bauhaus frost free even in the coldest periods. This arrangement of an enclosed passive ventilation keeps also condensation to an absolute minimum."
After the air gap is multi-layer foil insulation. On the sides, this is followed by 50mm (1.96-inch) thick Rockwool slabs positioned between the pine battening. Then, there's foil-backed Xtratherm polyboard topped by plasterboard. The ceiling layer structure is slightly different, in that polyboard is used instead of Rockwool, and then finished with 11mm (0.43-inch) thick oriented strand boards. The floor is different again - there's no spray foam and Rockwool is placed between the joists, followed by 18mm (0.7-inch) of WPS plywood, 6mm (0.23-inch) of XPT foam, then the underfloor heating components, and finally the oak effect laminate flooring.
The layout of Bauhaus is said to offer more internal floor space than many other similar-sized craft, and comprises 25 square meters (269 square feet) of kitchen/lounge, one bedroom/cabin measuring 12 square meters (129 square feet) and another of 7 square meters (75 square feet), and a three square meter (32 square feet) bathroom with shower and toilet. Entry is via a full-size, glazed door at the stern and there's around 6.5 feet (two meters) of headroom. A specially-made, toughened skylight above the lounge offers natural light during the day, as well as security. The German-made double-glazed safety windows and doors are said to provide optimal thermal and noise insulation, and there's a chocolate-colored Bauhaus style 1930's wood-burning stove at the center of the lounge area for warmth in the colder months.
Moving outside, Bauhaus has 25 square meters of 4mm thick, scratch resistant, self-cleaning polycrystalline UniSolar PVL-144 laminate, amorphous photovoltaic panels rated at 1.7kW, housed on the starboard side (ideally facing south) and roof. Although the UK is not renowned for an abundance of bright sunshine, the designer claims that the panels produce an average of 1,400 kWh of free electricity per annum - enough for over 2,000 km (1,242 miles) of gentle cruising up and down London's canal system, and juice for the lighting and appliances (including a fridge-freezer, dishwasher and cooker) within.
The PV panels on the side are also said to take advantage of sunlight reflected off the surface of the water, so light hits the panels from two angles which "will provide you, particularly in mornings and evenings, with more power per square meter than with roof panels alone."
In fact, Bauhaus is said to be capable of producing so much energy during the summer that it's possible to sell the excess electricity.
"Even on a cloudy May day, the PV system can generate over 6kWh," the designer told Gizmag. He does go on to say, though, that the winter months are obviously not so productive and Bauhaus needs to be connected to shoreline power just like other year-round boats.
The panels are routed through a FLEXmax 60 charge controller from Outback Power to the onboard battery bank, made up of 24 wet lead acid cells manufactured by Chloride at 2V/930Ah each, which should "last at least 10 years if properly maintained, its exactly the same as your car battery - just 20 times the size."
The batteries are contained in a custom-made, airtight stainless steel container mounted in the center of the boat and ventilated using stainless steel tubes through the roof - total weight is reported to be 1.2 metric tons (1.32 U.S. tons). The total capacity at 50 percent discharge is around 22kWh and is converted to 230 V AC electricity by an 8kW Studer Xtender XTH 8000-48 inverter, which can also be used as a charger (although there is a Victron Skyller charger on board).
A single charge of the monster battery bank has supplied the Agni Lynch 143 series DC electric motor (which has peak power of 10 horsepower at 48V) with enough power to provide the designer and his family with around 50km (31 miles) of gentle cruising at around 30 percent power, which will get Bauhaus to walking speed or a bit faster (about 5 km/h or 3.1 mph). A 21-inch (533mm) diameter phosphor bronze propeller with a pitch of 27 inches (685 mm) and rudder are mounted below the bottom of the steel flat bottom hull, to further increase the craft's efficiency.
If Bauhaus seems a little on the plain side, it's because money was invested in decent insulation and reliable, proven technology rather than the decorative carvings and custom paint jobs seen on other painted strumpets chugging up and down Britain's canal systems. The designer is also quick to point out that although Bauhaus offers the potential for zero emission cruising and living, there is no guarantee that this will be the case. Much depends on how energy-conservation-minded its occupants are.
Bauhaus - said to have been named in honor of the German Arts and Crafts school which was closed down by the Nazis in 1933, as well as the popular UK rock band formed in 1978 - is restricted to broad beam waterways capable of taking craft up to about 14 feet (4.31 meters) wide, like the Grand Union Canal where it's currently moored.
Unfortunately, the combination of a growing family and the associated difficulties and dangers of trying to push a pram, cycle and/or walk up and down an often narrow access path with little children in tow - together with impracticalities of getting from its mooring location to work, nursery, school, and shops - meant that Bauhaus was listed for sale.
The promotional torch of self-sufficient canal life has now been handed to the new owners, so to speak, who already have plans to film a video for YouTube. The original designer's Bauhaus Barge website (see source link) will remain online for the foreseeable future to "keep the debate on sustainability going, and hopefully somebody will approach me to get involved in another Bauhaus-type boat build."
Technology has, of course, moved at quite a pace since the start of the project two years ago - PV panels have become more efficient and cheaper, for example, there are better and lighter battery solutions to be had, and those thinking about a life on the nation's canal system in a Bauhaus clone might also consider supplementing the solar power generation with a small wind turbine.
Watch out for more news on the solar-powered Bauhaus Barge in the coming months.
Source: Bauhaus BargeView gallery - 22 images