Planet Friendly Practice

Alistair has a keen interest in new technologies and has invested in many new pieces of equipment for the benefit of our patients at Oak Tree Vet Centre.

This interest extends to trying to reduce the environmental impact of our activities. Here are some of the things we have done.

The outer skin of our building

sip-panel  | Edinburgh Vets

Photo Tour of Oak Tree Veterinary Centre Building Process

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The biggest contribution to reducing our carbon footprint is to have greatly improved the insulation of our building so it takes less energy to keep you, your pets and us comfortable. When we did the big build, we went for a SIP construction. A SIP is a structural insulated panel. Our SIPs are essentially a sandwich of polystyrene foam as the “filling” and two sheets of OSB as the “bread”. OSB is oriented strand board made from wood scraps, glued and compressed into rigid boards. The panels are nailed and glued together with space filling foam, giving a very strong building envelope, without gaps and therefore prevents draughts. All of the space within the roof space is warm and within the building envelope, meaning the greatest amount of roof space can be formed without cold spots or worse still damp areas. Internally, we lined all of the walls and roof with double silver bubble wrap to further increase the insulation.


The roof covering doesn’t really help with insulation but does greatly influence the building carbon footprint. Being in a row of slate covered houses, a slate finish was the only option. Slates are difficult to come by in the UK, as most comes from Spain or China with huge product miles. Fortunately there are now UK produced new tiles by recycling slate waste. We went for BritLock (, meaning used or waste materials have been upcycled into new. On the flat roof, we chose a traditional ridge rolled zinc roof. It will have a long life and at the end readily recyclable into new roofing materials. It was expertly designed and installed by Artisan Roofing, (, a local company.

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High value insulated double glazed windows and doors completed the new shell. These came from a local contractor Mark Smith Glazing.  (


The next big issue is the heating. We started with a gas boiler and an electric heater for the swimming pool but became interested in heating with biomass. For us a pellet system was the best and if you’ve ever seen wood pellet cat litter then you have seen biomass fuel. It is made from sawdust arising from the timber industry and Scotland produces a surfeit of it much being exported to Europe. Going with biomass meant a new shed divided into two, in the back garden, half giving us a 6 tonne store and half housing the boiler. The pellets are blown into the store from a delivery tanker in the car park through a series of flexible tubes. In order to maximise the capacity of our store, we didn’t go with the conventional sloping sides in the store but as surface device called a Pellet Mole which roves over the surface of the pellets and sucks the pellets five times a day to fill the daily hopper on the back of the boiler. The boiler is fully automatic and maintains a constant temperature in a well insulated 500 litre buffer tank in the boiler room. This, through a pair of heavily insulated pipes heats the insulated 400 litre inside tank. This tank is an innovative design, having the hot water tank inside the central heating tank which means that the hot water recovers more quickly after a draw of hot water. We can use up to 800 litres of warm water used in a treadmill session, so speed of recovery is very important. The outer jacket of water in the tank provides the central heating for the whole building and the heat exchanger for the pool. We used to heat the water with a 2kW electric heater which meant the circulation pumps had to run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, far more than required to filter the water in the pool. We now have a 10kW heat exchanger that heats up the pool far more quickly and we can now shut the pool down overnight and at weekends, as the first person in the morning can put on the pump and the pool is quickly warmed to working temperature in time for the first swimmer. As a consequence we are saving 2/3 of the electricity running of the pump which hopefully will itself last longer, before it needs replaced, We designed the system for resilience in the event of a breakdown, upgrading the old gas combi to a modern gas system boiler. This allows switching over to gas in the event of a failure or a service need for the biomass boiler.

Biomass-boiler1-1024x477  | Edinburgh Vets


The back of our building faces south and was an ideal site for photovoltaic (PV) panels. We have a 3.75kW set up on a smart inverter which can cope with each panel producing different amounts of electricity without a temporary shaded panel dragging the rest down. It even has an internet connection and send live data to the manufacturers meaning we can log in and see how the system is doing on an instantaneous, weekly, monthly or yearly basis. The Government pay us for every kWh we generate and a little extra for feeding back into the grid. Also every kWh we make means one we don’t have to buy, so overall a worthwhile project. Here is some of the data we see on a daily basis for May 2017 and the total generation to date. As you will see May is consistently the sunniest month in Edinburgh.

May-2017-PV-generation-300x277  | Edinburgh Vetsoveral-PV-performance-300x234  | Edinburgh Vets

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Good clinical work required good lighting and anyone who has visited the practice will, I am sure have noticed how bright the rooms are. When we opened in 1996, fluorescent tubes and so called switch starters were the choice. As the years have gone by, the tubes have become a little more efficient and the energy hungry switch starters have been replaced with high frequency starters and this made a modest difference too. However the real jump in efficiency has come with flat LED panels that sit in the suspended ceiling grid and look a little like an x-ray viewing box. 1200-luminaires-237x300  | Edinburgh Vets LED-panels-in-the-celing-300x199  | Edinburgh VetsWe used to have four luminaires in each consulting room and each luminaire had four 36W four feet long tubes which meant a consulting room consumed consumed 576W, all the time we are consulting. Each luminaire has now been replaced with four 2 feet by 2 feet panel each consuming just 35W, totalling 140W for the whole room, a saving of 75%   In addition, we have occupancy sensors in most rooms, meaning the lights go off when the room has been unoccupied of a few minutes. Occasionally this catches folk out, if they are sitting very still, whilst waiting, when the vet is in the prep room with their pet. A wave of the hand and the lights come back on.   Every light in the new flat is LED.   Segregating our waste.   We now sort our non clinical waste, so as to maximise it recycling value. We are careful to recycle broken or redundant electrical and electronic items and batteries as they contain valuable rare elements as well as the more common metals.


For many years, Alistair commuted on his electric dog trike, a very low carbon vehicle but as his dogs and he got older and the Edinburgh traffic got busier and some drivers became increasingly hostile to cyclists, even those who obey the rules, an alternative was needed.   The practice needs a small van like car. with lots of room in the back and for many years we had a green Renault Kangoo. It was a 1.6 litre auto, by no means a sports car but never the less very greedy on fuel. Including commuting, we were spending £100 plus VAT per month on fuel.   As the vast majority of mileage was short local journeys the arrival of the Nissan eNV200 Combi was perfect for our needs and an ex-demonstrator purchased in April 2015, following some personal research and visits to Greenfleet ( For the business minded, the fact the car was an ex-demonstrator which firstly meant the initial and very significant sting of depreciation had been borne by others and as the car came from a Nissan Dealer, it, although not new, was not second hand either, allowing a write down in the accounts in the first year. Here is our charge point and the car plugged in. car-edinburgh-vets-1-300x199  | Edinburgh Vets Charge-point-300x199  | Edinburgh Vets Connected-to-eNV200-1-300x199  | Edinburgh Vets

It is simply a case of popping open the flap and connecting the charger – just like a giant mobile phone. Typically it takes around two hours on charge, in the morning, although if the car is really flat, it takes about 3 1/2 hours to charge. No fuss no switches and the car speaks to the charger to slow the charge rate and then stop charging, as the batteries become fully charged. Unplug and off you go. No hanging around in petrol stations for us! The large socket on the  left is a CHAdeMO socket for rapid public chargers. Compared to our 7kW 230V AC one, these chargers push out 400V DC and 125A initially which is 50kW. They will charge the car from flat to 80%, well within 30 minutes.   We were assisted by the Energy Savings Trust. ( in installing the charge point at the surgery and the solar panels have generated more than the car has used, so we could claim to run our car on sunshine! (sun pic) In reality it’s a mix of electricity from the grid and our panels that flows into the car an an analysis of our two  year’s ownership and 18000 miles reveals the following. We have used 4.42MWh at a cost of 10.6p per kWh exc VAT. This is under £20 per month, a fifth of what we were spending in petrol. We do some ad hoc free charging whilst away from the practice and using the 3.5 miles per kWh displayed in my car, we calculated this to be worth about £3 per month. That means we are driving 750 miles a month for £23, of which we pay £20. Additionally, thus far servicing has been less expensive than a normal car at £80 for a minor and £124 exc VAT for a major service, and nothing else has been needed. A set of replacement tyres was fitted at 19,500 miles. There was still some legal use in the old tyres, but eking the last few miles from worn tyres is a false economy, if you have a skid or a collision, in wet conditions. Mainly city driving and possibly the extra weight of the batteries may have shortened tyre life. Driving an electric vehicle (EV) is a delight and if you ever have the opportunity to drive one, do so, take it but be aware you might be spoiled for normal combustion engined cars from that moment onwards! Along with the quietness, the best aspect is the one pedal driving. ( No one likes to be in a slow moving queue but at least in an EV, the constantly changing pace and frequent stops suits their method of operation, compared especially to a manual combustion car.

Moving forward…

Now we have achieved our main targets we aim to look at smaller gains on an ongoing bases. We are committed to becoming as eco-friendly as possible.

If any of you are interested in one or more of these technologies and would like to see them and talk further please telephone 0131 539 7539 and we’ll happily host you.

Invitation to you

If you are local and have an interest in any of these technologies, Alistair is happy for you to see them and answer any questions you might have. Either email us on or give us a ring on 0131 539 7539 and we’ll see what we can do.