A side return infill extension with an industrial style. Extensive use of reclaimed materials, high standards of insulation and a wildflower green roof. We completed this project late on last year working with Clements Design as the architects. The project aimed to turn a cramped kitchen into a spacious area for cooking, eating and socialising. There is an industrial and sustainability theme to the project, the materials used are often from or designed for factories. Electrics are contained in galvanised metal conduit and the floor is concrete. Walls are exposed brick, both reclaimed glazed brick and the existing London stock bricks revealed to the world. The large glass panels to the roof draw in light to what was once a dark area and bring out the rich colours in the reclaimed wood cladding. Though the materials could be seen as austere they are softened by the contents of the room that reflect family life, there is space for a large wooden toy stove, a comfy sofa and a gorgeous oak dining table with mismatched chairs. The large rear doors mean the garden can be seen and accessed easily from the house, the doors can be flung open in the summer for barbecues. The green roof will develop over time but already has wildflowers peeking over the parapet and they can be seen swaying through the glass roof. The project was also designed in conjunction with the neighbours and they share the party wall and the box gutter. Sustainability was a key part of the client’s aim for the project. Reclaimed materials were used wherever possible. All the bricks removed in the demolition stage were cleaned and re-used onsite to build the new structure. Internally there are two walls of glazed bricks reclaimed from a lift shaft in Kensington. The other walls are the original brick exposed and insulated on the outside where appropriate. The bi-fold doors are triple glazed with a u-value of 1.09 are factory finished for long life and are made from environmentally sourced timber from sustainable forests. The heating is underfloor and utilises the existing condensing boiler, three Nest controls were added to the system to control this and create two new heating zones in the house. The wood (for drawer fronts, shelves and cladding) is from a reclaimed wood specialist in Guiseley, Leeds, called Machells and is cut down from Yorkshire Victorian mill joists. The large pendant lamps are reclaimed from a 1950’s factory in the Stoke area. The table was made in Leeds from British oak 35 years ago. All the shelf brackets and drawer handles were made in England in foundries using all traditional methods. All lighting is LED, even filament style traditional bulbs are actually LED. The green roof is part plug planted and part seeded with a mixture of wildflowers, meadow plants and some sedums. The roof will flower through most of the year and provide habitat for insects and foraging for birds amongst other biodiversity benefits.
We have nearly finished the extension we have been working on for the last few months in Hackney. The walls, roof and floor are all in place and there is just fit out for the inside and the green roof to go on top.
Last week I completed another green roof in Streatham. It is on the rear of a really interesting house, a 1930s semi that is getting a complete eco-makeover from the owner. He has insulated the walls inside and out with wood fibre and remade the roof in solar panels and that is just the start. All Stephen’s neighbours find it hard to believe how warm the house is without loads of heating! Anyway, last Wednesday he set aside so I could come along and help him build a green roof, here are the photos:
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: 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.
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. 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. We made short work of installing the water retention
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. 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. Then we covered these with more robust wood fibre boards. Then yesterday I started adding lime plaster to the wall for the finishing touches. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org and I can give you a quote. More information on other services I offer is at www.ecoalex.com
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
I am having all sorts of fun today with new gadgets. I went to Ecobuild recently and talked to the good people at Owl about their electricity monitors. I have been meaning to get an electricity monitor for ages , especially as I regularly recommend them to other people. Anyway, I thought it was high time I got one and stopped procrastinating. Then when I chatted to them they showed me their new gadget for controlling the heating this replaces the old wall thermostat with a new one that is connected to the internet. This allows you to control your heating usage from a computer or your phone and as a by product it also uploads your electricity usage in real time to your account so you can look at graphs, analyse your usage at different times of day etc. I got it in the post yesterday and have been setting it up today. First I set up the electricity monitor Then I connected the Intuition device to the internet and the electricity monitor, this was slightly trickier but I got it right second time. Now my home is filled with devices telling me how much electricity I am using, I think when the fridge is off they may now be the biggest energy user in the house. I guess I will get over my excitement soon but it is quite cool to see my electricity use on a website: The next step is to change the boiler thermostat and connect that up to the system as well. I need to turn the power off for that and fiddle with mains wiring so I will wait until my partner is around and she can drag me away when I electrocute myself. A full update on that tomorrow.
On my holidays at the moment having an amazing time in India. Thought I might try and write something about sustainability. So far I think the natural air conditioning is my favourite. This is from the Red fort in Agra. Nice carvings but the point too look at is the thick walls. These conceal a huge air gap that provided insulation to maintain a steady temperature. Then the summer palaces have a brilliant arrangement of screens with holes to draw the wind through. These are then supplemented by water running through the area or over hanging fabrics. This then evaporates in the breeze and creates a cool atmosphere. It needs quite a bit of space to pull it off but the bills are pretty low. Water in this part of the world is fairly limited so will have to work out how too recycle it but will see what I can think of. So will do an experiment with the windows and some blankets next summer when it gets warm.