My Shabbihaus eco retrofit project part 2 Boiler replacement

This came about through problems with the old boiler rather than careful planning. Firstly I replaced the thermostat with a Smart controller, this was about 5 years ago and the choice was limited but I got an Owl controller which allowed us to control the heating with a smart phone.

This allowed us to monitor electricity use as well as program the boiler simply online and turn it off for holidays etc. The controller was easy to fit as you replace the existing thermostat and use the same wiring. Once this was done the heating started coming on only when the temperature in the house fell below the required temperature we set. The previous controller turned on the heating when it was programmed to, regardless of the internal temperature and waited for the thermostat to turn it off again. This fine control and ease of use saved us 10% on our gas bills straight away.

The monitor really helped us concentrate on electricity use around the house and focus on reductions, however it also coincided with having kids and being at home a lot more so our usage actually went up for each successive year, as shown below. Now they are a bit bigger we are out more and using the meter to concentrate their minds too and starting to take our usage down again:

The boiler was an old Worcester and only about 64% efficient. A fault developed with it so it started heating up radiators whenever we used the hot water so we decided to get rid of it. I did plenty of research and luckily enough this coincided with Ecobuild so I was able to go round stalls there to look at a good range of boilers and ask silly questions. Efficiency of most boilers is well over 90% so my main concerns were how it would fit in my kitchen and reliability. I eventually settled on an Intergas boiler, not quite so common in the UK but it came with a 10 year guarantee and has very few moving parts and good reliability.


Very pleased with the boiler and five years later there have been no problems. We are warmer, the shower works better and our gas bills went down.

Very pleased with the boiler and five years later there have been no problems. We are warmer, the shower works better and our gas bills went down.

We also got TRVs installed on all the radiators.

My Shabbihaus eco retrofit project – part 1 introduction

Many of you, like me, will have listened watched or read about a wonderful renovation project where the house has become a wonderful palace of efficiency, costs 10p a year to heat and it’s the most comfortable and relaxing place in the world. You gaze on in envy at the ventilation, triple glazed windows and wonderful insulation. Then comes the tipping point, what did it cost for this the interviewer asks? ‘Oh, only £80,000 on top of the cost of the building work’ and at that moment you realise this is never going to happen in your home.

So, what can you do without breaking the bank? I thought I would share some of my experiences of trying to improve my property on a tight budget, with a low income and the property occupied throughout.

Ideally you would start with a whole house plan for your property, this includes an assessment of the general condition of the place and a list of all the efficiency improvements that it is possible to make to the property. You don’t need to carry them all out and certainly not all at once but it gives you a path for the next 10 years or so, you can also tie this in to any other projects you are planning, redecoration, extensions etc. You can see mine here.

Of course I didn’t start with this, I started when the boiler broke but I have got round to it now and I don’t think I got too far off course. The other thing you should probably do is monitor the conditions in the house so you can get a picture of it’s performance and the effect of the changes you make. I have been even worse at this but have some stats on energy use  that the smart meter collected, otherwise it comes down to ‘we felt warmer’ and ‘the mould didn’t reappear on the walls’. Still I am quite happy and it’s slowly getting more comfortable.

So, what did I and what did it cost, here we go in chronological order with the points where it coincided with other works, details to follow over the next couple of weeks

Gabions and cyclamen, a new green roof in Herne Hill

It’s taken a little while to share this new green roof I built in Herne Hill recently.

There were a number of challenges here particularly the height of the roof with no edge protection, we used a harness to install the edges.

The edges were built using gabion cages filled with cobbles. This created a more natural edge and ensured the stones didn’t roll off the edge of the roof and shatter the tiles below, I think they look pretty cool.

I used aerated clay pebbles for the drainage layer again, really like these rather than the plastic sheets and carrying a bag makes you feel really strong as they are so lightweight. We then put in a protective membrane and covered with ultra lightweight green roof substrate from Shire Substrates.

The roof has been seeded with a mixture of wildflowers and grasses with more to be added in the spring. In the meantime I put in some grasses, sedums and also Cyclamen. I wasn’t really sure about the cyclamen but not much else is flowering this time of year a month later and they seem to have settled in well.

I will add further updates in the spring. There are lots of bulbs in there which should appear soon.

Marlow green roof update

Not all my green roofs are in London, you can see one of my early ones in Welwyn Garden City and this magnificent roof on a garage in Spring Gardens in Marlow

Shows edge detail and flowers
Lots of wildflowers growing here

The roof was installed early this year using Shire substrates and materials from Optigreen. I used expanded clay for the drainage layer and large cobbles to create a more natural looking border.

Wildflowers and sedum

The roof had loads of really nice seeds in it and was also planted with some sedums, aliums and stipa grasses and it has really blossomed tremendously.

the long edge of the roof

Green roof in Wood Green

This is one I did last year that has been growing really well. The roof was on a new extension so the clients were able to design in extra big joists so we could support a good depth of soil on the green roof.

They managed to get a 5m extension so we had a good size to work with even with the skylights. It was waterproofed by the contractor ready for installation.

Roof before adding the greenery
Roof cleaned and prepared for installation

The team and myself laid out a protection fleece made from recycled material on the roof, then we added a drainage layer and put a filter fleece on the top to stop roots growing into it. Then we added the substrate, a special mixture of soil, lightweight aggregates, brick chippings etc, this is designed to keep the weight down, drain easily and also stop the plants growing too tall and need maintenance.

The team lay out the substrate

We put a gravel barrier round the edge of the roof and the skylights to assist drainage and add a firebreak. We also put extra gravel under the downpipe from the main roof of the house so the roof can absorb all the water from the roof rather than have it fill up the drains.

Moving materials is always a problem in London and we had to carry all the green roof substrate through the house and up on to the roof. Luckily Ecoalex has some good strong assistants so I didn’t have to do too much lifting. Once we had put out all the green roof substrate at varying depths we were ready to plant.

Planting, workers grass
Roof ready to be planted

For this roof I had a mixture of mature plants and seeds. I included some Stipa tenuissima (the grassy stuff in the foreground) for the first time to see how it would grow and although it browns a bit in the dry periods it seems to be thriving. We also put in a few varieties of sedum to get some ground coverage including house leeks. Other plants included sea burnet and Sempervivum. I picked up all these plants at New Covent Garden Flower market in the morning a great place to pick up plants in London. But these are just to start the roof, the main coverage will develop over the next three years with all the green roof seeds we have planted I used a couple of mixes of native wildflowers including this one from Scotland that has 20 wildflowers and 3 grass species in the mix . Not all these will thrive initially but over time they should each find their own niche on the roof and grow nicely. Gary Grant likes to describe these seed mixes as an orchestra with all the instruments waiting for the conductor to call them in at the appropriate time in the green roof’s own symphony. Below are some pictures of the roof planted and how it has developed this year. More will be added over time.

Low impact green roof in Marlow

Lots of green roofs going in recently and I need to spend more time documenting them. This one in Marlow on a garage was a new design that I am quite pleased with.

I have been working for a while to reduce further the plastics going into a green roof. I used to work with SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) a lot in the past and one thing I always noticed was the number of pipe manufacturers trying to shoehorn more plastic into natural drainage systems. Roofs obviously need to be waterproof so I can’t change that bit and we need something to protect it from sharp objects etc. Then comes the drainage layer which is lots of plastic sheets, this is important to hold a bit of moisture but also to makes sure it drains effectively. So drainage is important for weight but maybe we can make it of something else. For this roof we used aerated clay balls wrapped in a filter sheet that is held in place with some extra large cobbles. So the plastic is at a minimum.

The cobbles add a really nice touch to the edge of the roof and enhance the appearance considerably especially on a roof like this where there is no parapet. The soil is also held in place by the cobbles and I guess some of it may wash between them but not off the edge of the roof.

The roof has been planted with about 15 different plants, some sedum and ornamental, seeded with 30 different wildflowers and also bulbs planted to come up later in the year. I am monitoring progress and plan to pick up some crocus bulbs in autumn to plant.

Finished roof

If you like the look of this, drop me a line or give me a call 020 8133 0190 and I can see what we can do for you.

GLA warmer homes scheme

I am proud to be working with Retrofitworks on the GLA warmer homes scheme. For the past year we have been providing retrofit co-ordinator services to the scheme and provided new energy efficiency measures for over 250 homes throughout London.

As well as providing new boilers we have been improving ventilation, insulating walls and roofs and helping customers improve the windows and doors of their properties. We have even provided a new boiler for a pensioner living in a caravan.

The scheme involves a number of fully trained Retrofit Co-ordinators developing a plan of energy efficiency measures for the project based on a telephone interview and an advanced energy survey from a Domestic Energy Assessor.

The Retrofitworks retrofit co-ordinator team

Once the measures for the property have been agreed with the homeowner installation is carried out by one of the PAS 2030 certified installers and once complete carefully checked by the retrofit co-ordinator.

The scheme is one of the first to offer this independent verification of the work and this is creating better value for the client and the GLA as the co-ordinator is adding in extra measures for the funds available.

Putney roof insulation

The first stage of this project was replacing the insulation in the sloping roof of the dormer and adding storage to the eaves. The loft conversion has been done reasonably well and the flat roof area and rear wall properly insulated. 

#putneyretrofit
Original insulation showing the gaps and missing sections

However the existing sloping roof was not so successful. Polystyrene insulation had been installed between most of the joists, but not all, not sure why but they had missed some areas leaving big gaps in the insulation envelope.

#putneyretrofit
Starting to insert insulation between the rafters. Still some gaps to fill.

We replaced the 50mm of polystyrene with 50mm of KIngspan between the joists to create an airtightness barrier we filled all the gaps with Isocynate free expanding foam and then taped

them with aluminium tape. Then we added a further 50mm of insulated plasterboard below the joists.

Many loft conversions leave the eaves storage area uninsulated and the doors can prove a weak

#putneyretrofit
100mm of rockwool going between the rafters in the eaves storage area.

point with the wind whistling through them. We had already added rockwool to the floor area and we took the wall/roof insulation down to meet this and insulated the end walls as well creating a ‘warm’ storage area.

Putney retrofit project

 

#putneyretrofit
No garden to put the sign in

I am currently refurbishing this gorgeous two bedroom flat in Putney. The client is very keen to improve the performance of the house and I am working on the structure to ensure it will be warm, airtight and condensation free for the future. A Parity Home Energy Masterplan has also been carried out for the property and we are using this to inform the refurbishment.

#putneyretrofit
Important welfare facilities in place. Might need a spoon

 

 

The flat is spread over two floors with two roof terraces and the top floor is a loft conversion, this means there are lots of different types of construction and different opportunities to add different insulation types suitable for that construction.

 

We are also working very hard to minimise the VOC level in the flat and using appropriate

#putneyretrofit
Special low emission expanding foam

materials to combat this. I have been been checking all the materials before they come on site and consulting with the client to ensure she is happy. We have had to compromise in some areas, for instance the ceiling height is restricted in the loft conversion so we are using PIR insulation to keep as much space as possible, we have managed to source Isocynate free expanding foam to fill the gaps though so won’t be adding anymore chemicals to the air in the installation.

 

I will be adding updates and photos as this fascinating project progresses. I will mark them all #putneyretrofit

Extension in Kennington with green roof

I went to visit an extension in Kennington which has the biggest domestic green roof I have built. There are some very big skylights so it isn’t all green but it looks great. This first picture shows the rear extension with some rather fine timber cladding, you can see the plants poking over the top of the coping stones:

IMG_20160718_143650.jpg

The combination of rain and sunshine we have seen this summer has been really good for the plants, even if people haven’t been so happy. I missed the peak flowering of this roof but there were still plenty in bloom on Monday. The clients daughter has a bedroom window looking out onto the roof and has been enjoying the developing scene.

IMG_20160718_143829.jpg

The skylights really bring light into the house and the kitchen looks even bigger than the space the extension added on. You can see some of the plants waving in the breeze around the sides when you are having dinner.

IMG_20160718_143606.jpg

IMG_20160718_144054.jpg

Sustainable living for a sustainable planet