Situated in the EA municipality and within the Urdaibai Nature Reserve, Las Casas de EA ASTEI, a rural, boutique eco-lodge and corporate retreat, combine a great location just off the Cantabrian Coast with five hundred years of history and a warm, welcoming and super efficient wood-based design and architecture.
As family businesses, Las Casas de EA ASTEI has become the success story of both Mertxe Begiristain, who manages the tourism business, and her son, whose architecture, design and engineering skills have led to the creation of the first home in Spain to produce more energy than it consumes. We met Mertxe during our Basque Country destination visit in 2015. Here’s her story.
- How Las Casas de EA ASTEI became the first home in Spain to produce more energy than it consumes;
- How the pioneering Casa VITA was built, and what makes it so energy-efficient and sustainable;
- How systems thinking has helped Las Casas de EA ASTEI to become a sustainability leader in both hospitality and building design.
Mertxe, can you tell us about the origins of Las Casas de EA ASTEI?
As traditional farmhouse, ASTEI was built to shelter a farmer family, its animals and farming equipment. In 1974, my family took over, and over the years used the building for activities such as breeding cows for milk and dairy products (very early days), restoration and sale of antique furniture, and its current use as a rural home.
ASTEI, the name of the farmhouse, means ‘a place of oak’ in the Basque language, whereas EA is the name of the small village to which it belongs.
When and why did you decide to focus on sustainability?
My husband, Peio Gorroño, is the manager of a firm called Egoin, a leader in construction with biodegradable, flame-retardant, energy efficient panels. He decided to take a gamble on constructing a building with new technologies, and the pilot project was La Casa VITA in EA ASTEI. Taking advantage of the fact that the house already had a tourism history, we realized that we had to provide an offer that was different and innovative at the same time.
The entire complex – houses, pool and spa – is heated by a biomass boiler, which uses pine chips from the construction company in a way that we revalue the residue and close the life cycle of the wood. This helps us to significantly reduce our CO2 emissions and to offer accommodation that is environmentally sustainable, which fits our world view.
Tell us more about La Casa VITA…
La Casa VITA is a pioneer building in Spain, built with a modular system of prefabricated wood and constructed with biodegradable, renewable and ecological materials, seeking maximum integration into its surrounding environment.
La Casa VITA is the first home built in Spain that produces more energy than it consumes and surpasses the existing standards for the Swiss label Minergie-Eco and the German label Passivhaus, the most advanced in energy consumption.
The energy consumed during the first year of operation at La Casa VITA was very low; we are talking about 2,834 kilowatts. We achieved this by reducing energy and water consumption, and waste.
To heat the water, we have covered the roof with 49 solar panels. A geothermal probe provides the first instalment of heat output. And, a Canadian well over 50 meters deep tempers the air intake into the house to around 17-19 degrees Celsius. This means that you have a stable, constant temperature no matter whether the outside temperature drops below zero or rises above 40.
However, the real technological innovation lies in the construction’s seal, providing a very high level of insulation.
What areas are most difficult to manage in terms of sustainability?
Raising awareness among our Spanish guests! Most of our English or German guests are very conscious and knowledgeable about energy efficiency, so sometimes they are the ones giving us sustainability lessons.
Thank you Mertxe.
Our thanks to Basquetour – the Basque Tourism Agency for facilitating this meeting and for hosting us during our destination visit of the Basque Country in November 2015, part of SLP on Tour.
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