Will making my house green save me from the zombie apocalypse?

I was pleased to see lots of discussion of the zombie apocalypse on twitter the other day, all sparked by this blog from the US Centre for Disease Control http://blogs.cdc.gov/publichealthmatters/2011/05/preparedness-101-zombie-apocalypse/ So I was thinking about how the zombie apocalypse might affect my business of eco retrofitting, pretty badly I think and I am not sure a bicycle is the right mode of transport to escape from zombies. However I did realise that many of the measures you take to improve the environmental performance of your house would also help you come the zompocalypse.

Draught proofing and insulation are essential to cut noise that would reveal your presence to any lurking zombies and also help reduce the chances of any airborne infections. Traditional methods of keeping your house warm, heavy curtains, shutters etc will stop any tell tale flickers of light from your zombie hideaway.

Evading zombies is dirty work so coming home to solar thermal water heating means you can wash the smell of fear right off, providing you can get a safe source of water that is. Perhaps a pond on your green roof could help with this? Of course a green roof could also provide some much needed fresh veg to supplement your diet of looted cans and dried food.

Assuming the zombies have knocked out the sewer and drainage facilities things will be getting pretty smelly so a SUDS system with plenty of reed beds will be an excellent way of processing your waste while reducing possible flooding issues in your neighbourhood.

I also guess that the zombies will have taken out the power network so you will need some way to power your SOS signals for help. Photovoltaics on the roof should solve this as well as providing some power for low energy lighting to illuminate your weapon stripping.

Not sure what happens in the winter, it always seems to be hot in zombie films but I am guessing that even if the zombies do die out power and fuel will still be scarce so ground source heat pumps would be a good way of heating your hideout. If you meet with others and develop a compound you can start to add other measures: a combined heat and power plant would maximise what fuel you have and perhaps a wind turbine wouldn’t attract interest from the zombie hordes.

In summary therefore, going green will help when the zombies come! Next up ‘The rise of the machines, will biodiversity help us fight back?’

Green roof finished and watered

After a short break whilst I was catching grass snakes on the M25 we have finished building the green roof. The final part involved mixing a substrate with a 20-30% organic content, we managed to find a local source of hardcore to mix with this and create something for growing in.

Adding the substrate to the roof

It took a while to get the stuff up there as we didn’t want to carry heavy buckets up to the roof. Once we had filled in the gaps between the drainage pebbles we sowed a wildflower mix. Finally we added a few areas of crushed brick and a log to provide a few habitats for invertebrates. We finished just in time for the weather to break and along with the thunder and lightning there was plenty of rain to help it all bed in. Now we just have to wait and see what grows.

The completed roof

Green roof update

Just a quick one, not finished yet but the roof is progressing nicely, we have the sedum in place for the middle of the roof and drainage channels laid out in pebbles across the rest of the roof.

Nearly there

Now all we have to do is add in soil from the garden in the gaps so it will grow a range of native plants. As this will involve a fair bit of lifting we are going to get some people round for a green roof party and they will all help moving the stuff about.

Green roof on the way

I have been planning to make a green roof for a while and this week events overtook us as the roof I have been planning to use sprung a leak in the rain. This meant bringing everything forward but was a useful method of avoiding procrastination. However it did mean we needed to re felt the roof before getting started on the green roof bit.

So I stripped the felt on Tuesday between further rain and cleaned off the roof. This revealed a number of boards that had to be replaced. So ripping and measuring took place.

The roof stripped of rotten boards

Whilst we were doing this we took advantage of the holes in the roof to work on another aspect of the retrofit, insulation. There was plenty of room in the roof for insulation but without taking the roof off, no way of getting it in there. I suppose this means the leak did us a favour but still quite hard work. But we did manage to get 200mm in across the whole roof which should make a big difference come the winter.

Thick insulation in the roof void

We have checked the strength of the roof and because the joists are quite close together (320mm) we should be able to get something a bit more substantial than a sedum mat for some of the area at least and are planning a wild flower area with some sedum in the middle to keep the weight down. The new boards are in place and the butyl liner is due next week so we should have it complete pretty soon.

Quite proud of our carpentry, they all fitted first time.

Eco retrofit part 2: Insulation

Work on the house is ongoing and I have been looking at ways of adding extra insulation into the house without taking the walls down. I think if we are going to do the major insulation work it will have to wait for the summer. However we took a picture of the house in the recent snow which was useful for pinpointing areas where the heat was escaping.

The back of the house showed a lot less snow on certain sections:

Particularly under the window section and to the left and right of the windows. The loft was recently insulated under a government grant scheme so was pretty good at retaining heat. The easiest way to get insulation in here was to lift the tiles (they are all interconnected) and put in new insulation. When we did this we discovered some old insulation, this had been installed about 25 years before and as well as being pretty thin by today’s standards had been used for nesting by squirrels! We decided it was best to take this out and start again, luckily there is a lot of government sponsored insulation available at the moment made from recycled bottles so we had plenty of cheap stuff to replace it with. We have managed the right hand side of the house so far and will begin work on the rest when there is a nice dry weekend and some scaffolding available, temperatures in the house have again increased after this work.

Part three: green roofs

The next step is to work on a green roof. We photographed this large area during the snow:

You can see a lot of heat is escaping where the boiler outlet and the skylight are. We think a green roof will provide an attractive and eco friendly form of insulation. There is a smaller flat roof on the other side of the house that we plan to experiment with first before tackling this one. May take until the summer but will update when I can

Eco retrofit

I have been working on a really interesting eco retrofit project for the last few weeks. The house was built in 1922 as part of a Daily Mail Ideal Home Village for that year and is timber frame with lath and plaster walls and cedar tile cladding.

The house has cavity walls which are currently uninsulated the foundations are fairly shallow so there is a space of about a foot and a half under the floor which is divided around the room walls. There are lots of air bricks giving access to this area so it is pretty cold and draughty under there.  The loft has been fully insulated using one of the government grants.

I have three phases of work planned on the house:

Phase one – Quick fixes

So far I have been working my way round each room filling gaps and sealing holes using a combination of decorators caulk and expanding foam where necessary. The foam is to be avoided if at all possible as it is a pain to work with and a pain to clean up after both from your hands and around the holes, it does help with bigger gaps though.

I have renewed the draught exclusion materials round all the doors and added extra where necessary.

To find all these gaps I have been using a smoke tester, it’s a bit tricky for the whole room but for the doors it shows exactly where to add extra draught stuff.

Phase two – Insulation

As mentioned the loft has already been done but the cavity walls and other areas need to be looked at. This is the tricky bit I think, how to get stuff inside the walls. On a brick cavity wall the answer is simple, drill some holes and pump in loads of foam however this isn’t deemed possible for a timber frame house. We have contacted several cavity wall insulation companies and they won’t even come round to look at the house. I suspect this is because they can only get grants for basic installation and it isn’t worth their while tackling anything more complex. I also believe there are some unresolved damp issues that can come about when you fill the entire cavity so at least we will be avoiding those.

So far I have stuck insulation to the inside of the walls in a few limited areas where this can’t be seen. Next I will begin lifting tiles on the lower roof spaces and fitting insulation here. I am putting off the main part for the moment as it is a bit daunting. We think we will have to take out the inner wall of lath and plaster and then add insulation to the cavity and then replacing the lath and plaster with plasterboard.

Phase three is environmental enhancements, more details soon.

Green Roof Consultancy

Just a quick one this but quite pleased that last week I registered a new company for the first time. Working at The Ecology Consultancy I set up a new company The Green Roof Consultancy

The company is a partnership with Dusty Gedge and Gary Grant. I also helped them with their stand at the World Green Roof Congress and will be providing a little marketing assistance along the way.


Death of an automobile, reduced, reused and finally recycled

And so the moment came that the surf car finally died. For three years I have been part owner of a Renault Laguna estate with a group of friends. We bought it because we were fed up paying extortionate hire costs for a car to go surfing in. We also wanted to go abroad with a car and this costs even more.

So after some research we found a suitable car for sale at the end of my friends road and bought the car for £700.  We took the car down the West Coast of France. The battery ran out at one point but it ran pretty well.

After this trip we were already in credit against hiring a car so anything else was a bonus.

We took the car to Spain and Portugal. and then back to France where some Frenchman in a van tried to take it off the road by reversing into the door and a speed bump tried to remove the exhaust but still the car went on. We even bought a new door in the right colour from a scrap yard. And Nick proved it was big enough to sleep in.

This year we managed a trip to France and Spain again with no trouble. Then I discovered the car had air conditioning and got it recharged. I think this may have been the downfall of the car. Not long after I went to France with my girlfriend and the car stopped in the tremendous heat (40 degrees). The car made it back but never seemed the same> then last week just outside Broadwoodwidger she went bang on the A30. We opened the bonnet and there were flames coming from the engine, luckily we had an extinguisher in the boot and the flames were easily quenched. We called the fire brigade to make sure and then got towed to our camp site unloaded our boards and tent and waved goodbye for the last time.

The parrots are back

My ring necked parakeets have returned. In London the reaction to these is a bit mixed, some people like me get quite excited, others are a bit non-plussed or even hostile. I like them though, each year they come along for about a week. They make a load of noise ( I think this may be why some people don’t like them) and spend the week stripping the Indian bean trees outside our flats. By the end of the week the whole street will be covered in bean husks and they will be gone.

I think the transient but regular nature is what appeals to me, they are only there for a short time but usually herald the start of warmer weather and cheer everyone up. I first saw them only three years ago and discovered the next year when posting photos to my flickr account that they come back at the same time each year. It’s the nearest we get to the changing of the seasons in central London.

Also cheered me up as I was back from the dodgiest client I have met in a while. They are supposed to be worrying about lizards on their site but are very reluctantly paying lip service. This morning they were a little like naughty schoolboys because I caught them digging a trench in an area they shouldn’t have been. No damage done and they assure me it won’t happen again but you never know. I prefer dealing with the parrots.

Lizards at large

Lizard catching season has started already and I have been quite successful catching them on a site in South East London. So far I have caught 9 and some judicious strimming has been corralling them effectively.

We have a splendid new residence for them in some specially restored grassland. Hopefully we will be able to clear the rest of the lizards from the site in the next five or six weeks and the council can get on with building a school on the site.

Sustainable living for a sustainable planet