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

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.

 

Creating an insulated breathing wall

As you may have noticed from my twitter feed I have been working on creating a breathing wall. This is for a wooden house built with cedar tiles on a timber frame. The house has cavity walls and then lath and plaster inside. I previously built a green roof on this house and we insulated it with rock wool.2012-07-05 12.52.58

For the walls we were wary of using artificial insulation because of worries about condensation. The house was built with all natural materials and it’s own way of ventilating and we didn’t want to interfere with that. With this in mind we decided to use wood fibre insulation.

First we stripped out the laths and started adding in wood fibre batts.IMAG0757

Then we covered these with more robust wood fibre boards.IMAG0767 (2)

Then yesterday I started adding lime plaster to the wall for the finishing touches.IMAG0775

This is the first wall and we have discovered a few things. Firstly we will need more wood fibre boards as the uneven distribution of the timber frames means you have to cut them a lot and some gets wasted. Also took a while getting used to the plastering again but my training from Paul at DIY Plastering paid off and I was soon into the swing of it. The final skim on the plaster should be done on Wednesday providing there isn’t too much moisture in the air. More updates soon.

If you are interested in a similar project on your house drop me a line alex@ecoalex.com and I can give you a quote. More information on other services I offer is at www.ecoalex.com

My modest grand design

You may have seen from my social media updates (twitter, facebook, linkedin and google plus) that I went to Grand designs live the other week. After my first visit to the Ideal Home Show I thought I should try this one too.

Quite a strange selection of exhibitors. There were lots of the sort of stylish products you see on Grand designs but also some incredibly hideous sofas and art works that look like the before picture of a home make over show or in one case a living room designed by Elvis and Liberace working together. The Elvis chair

This is me in a giant rotating silver chair, it wasn’t even very comfortable.

I last went to Grand designs 5 or so years ago and it has got a bit smaller since then, a reflection of harder times I guess. But it has definitely also got greener which was very pleasing to see. There were quite a number of water saving devices including my Korean friend from the Ideal home show with his Softrong shower head.

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The architecture section was also excellent with lots of new ideas and interesting companies. I had a good chat with ….. from ….. who was building extremely efficient homes and reducing costs with a standard template. We had a good chat about the houses and materials used, I was particularly interested in the low emission expanding foam he used. This was from Soudal and is Isocynate free so reduces the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems. It wasn’t the cheapest to get hold of but I managed to get some which I used in a project last week and it certainly has a lot less odour than previous foams I have used.

After this we arrived just in time for the debate that interested me most low tech v hi tech materials with Kevin McCloud and Will Stanwix of Hemp Lime Construct There was a very large audience for a debate on materials but maybe some of them just wanted to see Kevin McCloud in the flesh. The host and many of us were expecting Kevin McCloud to come up with lots of exciting hi tech solutions but it seemed he had a bit of a change of heart carrying out his research for the talk and felt that low tech materials had a lot of very useful qualities and could be used in modern developments as well as in restorations. He showed us some of his modern houses built in Swindon

These incorporate low tech ideas liek the wind cowls on the roof which use general airflow to ventilate the building without resorting to mechanical methods and is largely constructed from hemp crete. So in the end Kevin didn’t propose many hi tech materials but just a wider use of low tech solutions in modern situations.

Will Stanwix then came on to talk about his use of low tech materials with everything set up for him. As you would expect he talked a lot about hemp crete and using lime, particular benefits included:

  • Heat storage as well insulation
  • Regulation of humidity
  • Managing water ingress
  • Improved indoor air quality
  • Sequestration of CO2 in materials
  • Renewable, reusable and recyclable

Rather than fighting the atmosphere and setting up barriers you work with it creating buildings that will last and are less likely to fail.

Then the topic was opened up to the audience and we were asked who was currently working on a project, then if we were considering using low tech materials. Before I realised it everyone else had put their hands down so I got the microphone and discussed my wood fibre and lime plaster insulation project. They were both very positive about the idea, my plan is to fill cavities in a wooden house with wood fibre batts and then use wood fibre boards instead of plasterboard to add extra insulation. This will then be plastered with lime so we will create a breathing wall. I had largely reached this conclusion because I wanted to regulate moisture in the house and avoid condensation build up. However after chatting with Will and Kevin they added that using the wood fibre would also add some thermal mass to the building so it will capture heat over the day and release it in the evenings, an added bonus.

So a good end to an enjoyable afternoon out.

Lime pastering course

I have spent the last couple of days on a lime plastering course in Bedford. I am learning this skill so I can deliver more retrofit services to the customers of www.ecoalex.com. One of the key ways to improve the energy performance of older houses is to add internal insulation to walls. There are lots of people offering this service with celotex and other oil based insulation materials. These are very efficient and applicable in many more modern homes, however they do require careful installation of vapour barriers in the walls and have a risk of condensation. I want to be able to offer my customers something a little different, Natural Insulation. This will enable be breathable and allow moisture to pass through it naturally rather than gathering hidden inside the construction of the wall. After talking with a vegan customer I have been looking at wood fibre insulation in batts and boards. To get all this finished properly it needs plastering, modern plaster sets solid and isn’t breathable so I have been learning to work with lime.

There is a resurgence of interest in lime plaster at the moment, partly because of heritage projects like St Pancras station and partly because of a renewed interested in it’s flexibility and breath ability. This meant there was a choice of a few courses, however a lot of them were quite rural and a good distance from London so I chose DIY plastering in Bedford and I am very pleased I did. The course was one to one so I got plenty of help from Paul and could have it tailored to my requirements.

When I got there Paul had prepared two walls, one typical brick one and a second much flatter one to simulate the type of wall I am building using wood fibre insulation. After checking my fitness we agreed to try and plaster both walls so I could tackle any different lime issues. I started with the masonry wall applying two guides across the wall that would cover all the bumps and undulations and produce a flat surface. I then filled in with plaster and used a straight edge to get the plaster flat and even.

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Then we left this to dry and I moved on to the flatter surface set up to simulate wood fibre board. Here I applied a much thinner coat of plaster, embedded some mesh in it and then a second thin coat. This was then flattened using the straight edge. Only 10-15mm of plaster are needed as the base wall is so much flatter than an older brick wall. Once these two walls had dried a little I went over them with a float, flattening the surface and adding some roughness for the skim coat. That was day one completed.

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Day two was all about getting things smooth, very satisfying it was too. After drying overnight both walls had developed some cracks, especially the masonry one where we had a much thicker covering of plaster. Many of these could be sealed again with the floats but the larger ones needed a bit more compression from the trowel and some extra plaster adding. Next we added the top coat of plaster, this had more lime and less sand to make it smoother, but went on the same way using a trowel. Once the wall was covered with an even layer of topcoat we left it to dry. During this time Paul gave me a quick tutorial in filling holes in walls, very useful for my bathroom wall. Then I went over the wall with a float to even out the plaster further.

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After this and some more drying I went over it with a trowel to get it even flatter and remove the air bubbles. It was all very pleasing to produce such a flat surface. At this point you can keep going making it flatter and smoother gradually using the trowel and the float. Looking forward to using the skills on an insulation project next month in Hertfordshire, get in touch if you would like me to help you with your house. I am based in Central London but can travel. There are lots more photos on my Google+ page.

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The Owl and the boiler part 2

So after much enjoyment of the new energy monitor and a new found fascination with how much energy the fridge uses I embarked on installing the new boiler control at the weekend.Image

This little gadget replaces the standard wall thermostat with a new one that is supposed to be more efficient. As Ecoalex I really thought I should give it a try. It was fairly easy to install, after turning off the power I removed the old wall thermostat and exposed the wires in the wall. Of course my wiring didn’t match the wiring colours mentioned in the installation booklet but a quick google search for the same set up helped here and I connected the new unit. After a careful bit of fiddling to get the covers on we were done.

Then I had to connect the thermostat to the internet via the Network Owl device. Once I had updated the firmware this was very straightforward and the whole installation would probably take half an hour if I were to do it again, maybe less.

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Now it is all online I have a secure website which shows me what electricity I am using and what the heating is doing in my flat. More importantly I am able to programme the heating from the website or a smartphone. As I have a fairly new well insulated flat in Central London my heating bills are fairly low but anything I can do to reduce them further is a bonus. Also this is the sort of gadget you used to see on Tomorrow’s World so it is very exciting to have one at last. As well as setting the programme I can turn the heating on and off remotely using a smart phone. This means if I am out at the theatre or stay out unexpectedly I don’t need to heat the flat. Alternatively if it is freezing out and I am on the way home I can

Imageturn on the heating before I get there and arrive at a warm flat.

I can also input holidays into the system so it turns off the heating when I am away automatically. As well as this I get to see what electricity the house is using on the same screen or on the smartphone app (to the left). So far I am very pleased with all the new toys and they seem to work very well. Once it has been installed a while I should also be able to get a better Idea of usage patterns and see what I can do to reduce my bills. Currently I only have 3 days data so it isn’t too exciting.

I also hope to use it to show to Ecoalex customers and illustrate how they might save money on their bills as well.