New green extension in Hackney

Just a quick update, we broke ground on a new extension last week. It’s mostly just digging at the moment but still exciting. I got to put up a sign outside the house:

Ecoalex, new project

The project will develop over the next few weeks. The walls incorporate high levels of insulation and will be made using reclaimed materials including a white glazed brick interior and re-used wood cladding.

I spent some time in @thewashcoffee going through the plans from Clements Design with Shaun the project manager on Wednesday, checking the build process and making sure we will avoid thermal bridges. The design looks sound and we are starting on the steel supports over the next few days.

The guys all look smart in the new Ecoalex hi vis vests and are looking for opportunities to save materials on site and re-use as much as they can in the build.

Hi Vis

Biodiverse green roof in London

Last week I completed a ‘green’ green roof. Not only was it a green roof with plants increasing the amount of green space in central London but we also managed to use it to improve the energy efficiency of the house we were building it on.

The customers were really interested in using a small roof area they had to create a wild area of land to increase bio diversity. They are not far from Roots & shoots the environmental education centre and wanted to recreate some of the wildlife areas there. We planned out the roof to include different heights of soil, a wide range of native plants and areas of logs and brick dust to create habitats for invertebrates.

A week or two before the build I was on a CORE retrofit course learning about different types of roof insulation. This included a method where the insulation was placed above the roof’s waterproofing. This was perfect for this job as the roof already had excellent waterproofing and the plan was to lay the green roof on top of this. A quick call to the customer to ask them and they confirmed that the rooms below were cold so we added this to the project.

The project was planned over two days:

On day one we moved all the materials through the house, erected the scaffold tower and began laying the insulation:

There was quite a lot to move but it all went pretty smoothly.

green roof biodiversity
Green roof substrate

Day two started with us collecting some wood from the previous nights storm to create a log pile for invertebrates on the way to the site, oh and a full English for the guys helping with the work.

Installation of fleece and drainage layer
Installation of fleece and drainage layer

We made short work of installing the water retention

 

Continue reading “Biodiverse green roof in London”

External wall insulation

I have been developing my services for external wall insulation. There has been demand from a number of customers and the new green deal cashback offer of up to £6,000 is particularly attractive to customers.

I can now offer all the services involved to get your solid wall house fully insulated from the outside. First I can get your house prepared to receive the insulation including treating any damp, repointing brickwork etc. Then you have a green deal survey for £99 along with a quote for the external wall insulation. Once this is done you should be eligible for the cashback on the works and you can repay the balance either in a lump sum or through green deal finance.

You may be worried about the appearance of external wall insulation. I recently attended the Walthamstow green open homes event and took some pictures.

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The above house has been insulated on the side and this has then been rendered. You can probably see the work better in the next photo.

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The door is for ashes from the fire and has had a special insulated panel built in to stop heat loss through this detail. Finally there is a close up of the profile to give you an idea of the build of the work. The insulation is fixed to the wall using plugs. Then a bottom coat is added to the insulation followed by a mesh. Finally a render in the color of your choice is supplied to the top. If you don’t like render you can get a brick or a wood cladding.

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Of course if you have the whole house done you won’t have an exposed edge like this.

So if you are based in London get in touch and I can help you make your home warmer for less. Email alex@ecoalex.com to get started.

Dreaming of a green Christmas?

solar powered christmas lights

I am certainly dreaming of one, I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone but I do worry about the waste that goes on at this time of year. Presents are great but sometimes there are rather more than anyone needs, especially in a big family. Like many families we have instituted a one present per adult rule and this has certainly cut down on unnecessary pairs of slippers etc. However cute little nieces still need a present each and we still need to get a few presents for those close to us.

So now we have reduced what can we do to re-use and recycle the presents, along with getting some nice eco friendly presents for everyone. I have tried to find a few things that can help with this.

Eco friendly Christmas paraphenalia

Recycled Christmas crackersAs well as recycling your Christmas wrapping paper make sure yours is made from recycled paper, while your at it get some recycled crackers too. You can make your own Christmas decorations quite easily or buy ones made from recycled materials and all good lights these days use LEDs, saving you energy and reducing fire risk. I have listed a selection in the products section of the website that you can buy online.

Green toys for kids

To be honest kids toys are pretty amazing these days and you aren’t going to distract them entirely from computer games and plastic Kids rocket ship toyfun but there are lots of interesting alternatives out there that you can at least supplement them with. Every kid loves to climb in boxes and a cardboard rocket ship could be even better, a wooden racing car is a much healthier alternative to a plastic one for a small child, and with fewer chemicals. Kids also love creatures and creepy crawlies so a pond dipping kit or a bug jar could make them happy. More details of these eco friendly toys here. Thinking further ahead you could get a bat box and an id book and see what bats you can attract when they come out of hibernation.

Gadgets for grown ups

Home energy monitor and heating control
Owl Intuition E energy monitor

Everyone likes a gadget at any time of the year and Christmas usually brings lots along so why not get a few that help reduce energy use rather than increase it. I have been going on for a while about my Owl monitor and heating control and I still really love it. You can impress people by showing them your houses energy use on your phone and impress yourself by turning the heating on when you are on the bus home.

I recently started looking at products in B&Q as well as NHBS and Nigel’s Eco Store and they have just started to stock Lightwave products. These link up not just to the heating and electricity but also all the sockets and light switches in the house so you can create a real smart home and control the lights and all the appliances from a remote, your pc or your home. They sound great, if you buy some let me know how you get on.

How about saving water? A water pebble makes a cool little gift, put it in your shower and it helps you reduce water usage as well as looking funky. If too much water is a problem for you at times, why not get a green roof to soak some of it up?

If you have a wood burning stove you really must get an eco fan to go with it. These sit on top of the stove and circulate warm air around the house. They are made of two types of metal so it rotates when it gets hot.

I hope these gifts have wetted your appetite for a green Christmas, I have my eye open for some more and will add them in when I find some good ones.

Updates

Eco friendly gifts for her

Some choices for the women in your life, mum, sister, wife or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any woman would be pleased to receive. Love the rainbow turbine t shirt stylish with with an eco message as well.organic eco friendly t shirt

Eco friendly gifts for him

Some choices for the men in your life, dad, brother, husband or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any man would be pleased to receive. Cufflinks and skin care may seem a bit dull but these are a cut above your average and the skin care is certainly not a generic body shop I don’t know what to buy you box.

Alex

Green roof on a bike shed

I recently finished the first green roof I have built for a while and thought you might like to see a few pictures. This one was on top of a bike shed  in Stockwell and it’s looking pretty good. Took a bit more work than I expected, although small it has just as many corners as a bigger one so had as many fiddly bits to do. I worked it out after a while though and it looks really good.

The clients had a good supply of soil so we didn’t need to get any elsewhere, they also had a good idea of what they wanted to plant. We used a combination of herbs, grasses and other plants. They wanted to try as many plants as possible to see which ones would take to the roof, should be a good plan and I hope the roof will evolve over the next few years, it will be interesting to see which plants are most suited to the roof conditions.

The only disappointment so far is the photos I took with my new phone which are all washed out and bluey. It’s just down the road so I will see if I can get some better ones but here are a few for now. If you want one for your shed or extension get in touch.

Green roof on bike shedAnother close upClose up of the roof

 

The smart green home Part 1

After seeing Oliver Heath at the Real Home Improvement Show in London in September I have been looking about for new ways to make your home smarter in an eco friendly way. We have all seen promises made about the home of the future controlled at the press of a button but largely filed these away along with the hover car in to things we won’t see any time soon.

Screen grab of energy monitor controlThese dreams are slowly becoming reality though and I have managed to find a few devices that are available now which can help you control your home and the energy used much more effectively. I installed an Owl energy monitor and heating control on our new boiler when we had it installed back in March. We hadn’t used it much because it has been pretty warm in London until a few weeks ago but now we have programmed it so the heating isn’t on when we are out at yoga but ready for us to get home. The best bit is turning on the heating on the bus home and getting in to a lovely warm house.

This is the first of many systems controlled by your computer and from a smartphone app. B&Q are now stocking Lightwave products, these have a link attached to your wifi router which then controls light switches, sockets, radiators and the room thermostat throughout the house. This means you can turn off all the lights when you are in bed, control the heat in individual rooms and even press one code to turn everything off when you leave the house a simple but brilliant idea. You can also dim the lights to change the atmosphere in a room, something that the Philips Hue has taken even further, this allows you to change the colours as well, not widely available in the UK yet but I will feature it when it is.

water monitoring pebble

I am sure there will be a flood of smart devices over the next year, connected to the internet of things and I will try and feature the ones that are actually available to buy now and let you know how they can save you energy or water as well as making your home a better place. Even little things that make a small difference and look cool like the water pebble.

Update 24/11/2013, found this cool smoke and carbon monoxide detector to add to the smart devices for your house.

Projects update

A quick update on recent projects.Bike shed roof

Green roof on bike shed

I have nearly finished a green roof on a bike shed in Stockwell. It is all ready for planting and the customer has a great plan for herbs and succulents in a geometric pattern.

It looks pretty good at the moment but I will come back with a full update and some details of the build when it is finished.

Natural insulation

Even more exciting is the end of the natural insulation project I have been working on all summer. Since I finished the lime plastering the walls have been allowed to dry (it takes a bit longer than normal plaster) and painted with clay paint.

I am pretty pleased with the finished results and the householders are much warmer.

Stairs

 

The National Home Improvement Show

We headed off on our bikes to Olympia for the National Home Improvement Show with mixed feelings. I had bought tickets in a two for one offer a couple of months earlier and every week since they had sent me offers for free tickets so I was a bit annoyed with the organisers but the show sounded interesting and possibly more sustainable than the Ideal Home Show at least.

Cycling to OlympiaWe got there in time to see Oliver Heath talk about Smart homes and smart living. We were a bit worried that it started off like an advert for British Gas but once he was into his stride it was a really fascinating run through gadgets and devices that can make your house more efficient. Starting with heating he talked about smart meters and the difference they could make to our future heating controls. Then he moved on to discussing The Nest which is a very stylish new thermostat that controls your heating.

The Nest

So far these are only available in the US but I will keep a look out and feature them when they come to the UK.  In the meantime we have our own home grown version The Owl Intuition which I have talked about before and have at home. This gadget also replaces your thermostat and allows you to control your heating from anywhere in the world. The manufacturers are working on software that will help you to reduce consumption further by prompting when you can manage without heating. They’re also looking into a feature to notify friends or family if the hot water hasn’t been used for a long time which could be used as an alarm for the elderly.

The current version already gives great reports on your current usage and your history. Find out more about them on my product pages here.wall thermostat

Oliver moved on to talk about water-saving gadgets including the water pebble which times your shower and helps you reduce it and water saving shower heads which can reduce your water use without changing the feel of your shower. We have one at home and it certainly works. He also discussed a water pedal tap for your kitchen so you can turn the water on and off hands free when cooking, along with a kit for converting your existing toilet to low flush. I have converted my own toilet to low flush using a kit as well, further details in a blog soon.

Other sections of Oliver’s presentation covered ventilation systems and atmospheric changes such as light bulbs and paints. The section that made him most excited though had to be powering his hybrid car with the energy collected from his solar panels! If you are thinking of copying that I have found some good solar panel kits that you can fit yourself or I can arrange for a full scale installation.

If you have ever attended a home show you will know that there are many stalls and many more people! We find therefore that it is best to target a few stalls and escape.

So we visited a couple of stalls which have a wide range of low energy bulbs as I am looking to extend the range I offer on ecoalex.com and also need a few new ones around the house.

We also visited the Chimella stall. This was the launch of this product which is similar to an umbrella but is for putting up your chimney to reduce drafts and catch any dirt. The product has been designed

with great care and offers a real alternative to the chimney balloon as it can be removed if you want to use your fireplace. I hope to strike up a deal with Mr Chimella in the future as I thought it was a pretty cool product but if you want one now you can order one direct from him.

After this we were getting a bit tired so we headed off for tea and cake to chat about the new ideas we had picked up.

 

The miracle of the Owl

I hadn’t realised quite how good my new Owl thermostat and heating control is until now. I have obviously been showing off to friends about the smartphone app showing how little electricity I am using etc which is all very exciting.

owl-intuition-c-dataHowever the cold weather has really bought it into it’s own. When I set it up I programmed in the times I wanted the heating on, start up temperatures etc and left it at that. We had a nice warm summer the heating never came on and I kind of forgot about it. Then, one cold morning last week the heating came on for five minutes or so in the morning warmed the house up and turned off again. A couple of days later it did the same and this evening for the first time it came on in the evening.

With my old set up where I programmed the boiler, it came on at that time and then remained on until the end of the timed period unless it got really really hot and then the thermostat might turn it off. The new Owl system starts with checking the temperature and then only turns the boiler on when it is needed, the thermostat seems much more accurate too. An added bonus is that even when the heating is on the new boiler is so much more efficient I am saving money then too.

I am going to recommend them to all my customers I think, you can find out more about them here.

intuitionchbanner

Open House Weekend

Last week was Open House weekend as the 40,000 or so people that went to Battersea Power Station should know. Having had a quick peek at it recently as part of the improvement zone project I was able to visit a couple of eco homes instead. Having seen quite a number of architect led fantasy eco homes as part of other tours I was eager instead to see some normal houses that had been upgraded at a reasonable cost and with great savings.

The first visit was to The Coach House in Belsize Park a lovely house on the end of a Georgian terrace. Waiting outside we particularly admired the tradesman’s entrance with the big Tradesmen sign above it. tradesman

We were welcomed in by the owners along with a couple of other early risers. We began with an introduction to the house and the owners ambitions for the refit. They wanted to achieve somewhere near the 80% reduction in carbon emissions and energy usage that the government has committed to for 2050. They have achieved something near this through insulating the walls and the roof, replacing and refurbishing windows and using low energy bulbs and heating controls.

The walls were particularly impressive, the internal wall insulation added at the front of the house is almost impossible to spot:

Internal wall insulation

 

And the only way to tell that the outside has been done is to tap the wall and listen to the slightly hollow sound created by the foam underneath:

IMAG0996

The roof was mostly flat and had been insulated externally with decking placed on top of that so you can walk on it:

roof insulation

 

Inside there is a an Owl electricity meter and Passivsystems heat control. I was pleased to learn afterwards that they had used a Parity Home Energy Masterplan to plan out the refurbishment of their house.

You can read lots more about the house and see videos on the Superhomes website. Well worth a look, particularly to see how unobtrusive wall insulation is. A lot of people I speak to seem to think it will make there rooms tiny but this is definitely not the case, and you get great windowsills for plants etc.

This was further illustrated by the next house we visited in a mansion block near King’s Cross. This was also a super home and a cosy flat Judd-St-374x294

on the top floor. The flat had also had internal insulation on the walls and this time the ceiling as well. Again the insulation couldn’t be seen and the owners had also added coving to the ceiling and the same time improving the look of the flat.