Sustainable India?

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.

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Red fort

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.

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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.

Green roofs of Verona

In Italy at the moment taking a short break. We went to the opera at the roman amphitheatre in Verona last night. In the cheap seats you have to arrive an hour or two early to get a good position so we had quite a while to look around before the opera started. When you walk round the top of the arena you are level with the roof line of Verona and get to see some lovely roofs created at the top of these buildings.

This was the best one but the position of the sun made it very hard to get a good photo.

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Maybe it will look better full screen on a computer than it does on my phone. This one was quite nice too and much easier to photograph.

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I should think their main purpose is to provide somewhere cool for the residents to hide from the heat. However they still provide much needed biodiversity in the city and even soaked up some of the run off from the rain that ended our opera after the first two acts.

CEEQUAL assessor

Just completed the CEEQUAL assessor course to upgrade to the new CEEQUAL version 5. The course was carried out online which was interesting, it was certainly more compelling than most online courses I have seen before.

The new version 5 has a reduced number of sections from 12 to 9 and the layout of the questions and associated guidance much improved. There is also a new section on project strategy which looks interesting. I look forward to reading through in more detail when I get the new manual.

My use of CEEQUAL so far has been helping with contributions to the ecology section of the assessment when working at The Ecology Consultancy. I hope to expand this in the future to include initial assessments for companies considering CEEQUAL and then full assessments through to the award stage. If you would like to learn more have a look at the new CEEQUAL page on my website.

It’s raining meadows

After last weeks exciting pictures of the roof in Hertfordshire there has been even more growth:

Even the local wildlife is taking a keen interest:

There are also some fungi appearing, will have to get the mushroom book out and see if these are edible ones:

It looks like the roof is fairly comfortable with itself now and should ebb and flow over the next few years developing the right type of plants for the conditions. If you want one on your roof I would be happy to build it, full details of my services and contacts here www.ecoalex.com

Rain not just good for ducks

Greener roof

The green roof I built in Hertfordshire last year has put on a remarkable growth spurt in recent weeks:

Greener roof

I am very pleased with how it looks now. We had been experimenting with a micro irrigation system to keep it watered in the hot months but this has been redundant given the weather lately. In it’s own small way it is also reducing run off to the surrounding area and lowering the chances of flooding.

The growth is also high enough to be seen from the road:

Simple ways to improve the efficiency of your home Part 1

This is based on my recent talk at the London Green Fair and includes links to extra information and websites that may be useful.

The ideas here are deliberately simple and hopefully easy for most people to follow at home. There are no numbers, U values and technical terms, just ways for you to make your house warmer and cut your bills. Based on my experience working on people’s house s through Ecoalex ltd, I estimate a cut in bills of 10-15% is possible just by implementing a few of these changes.

Insulation

There are three main areas where you can add insulation to your house, the roof, walls and floor:

Roof

Currently you can get your loft insulated for free by many energy companies as part of the Carbon Emission Reduction Targets set for them by government. So if your loft isn’t insulated get it done now, latest deals on the Money Saving Expert site here. The offers won’t last forever and this will save you money.

Walls

Again, cavity wall can be free at the moment so get it done if you can.If you have solid walls it is more complicated and expensive but consider solid wall insulation.

Floor

If you have a cellar it can be quite easy to put insulation under your floor. If not it is probably only worth considering if you have the floors up for another reason or there is a major draught problem with the floor. Carpets can help tremendously.

Energy

You have probably replaced most of your old fashioned energy guzzling bulbs now. However, evil bulbs may well still lurk in your house, particularly the kitchen. Halogen spots are the scourge of anyone trying to reduce their electricity bills. Inefficient producers of light that heat up so much they need fire protection these bulbs are usually used as down lighters restricting their light to a small area of the room. I don’t expect people to change their lighting entirely but changing these bulbs can make a huge difference to your energy use. On a recent survey I worked out that replacing 7 50 watt bulbs with low energy LED bulbs would save £40 a year (based on 3 hours use a day) and cost about £60 so the bulbs pay for themselves in 18 months. They also last longer and aren’t a fire hazard.

Turn things off

You have probably done this already in your house but remember to turn off the TV properly and unplug mobile phone chargers etc. They don’t use a lot of electricity individually but collectively it builds up and they don’t do anything when you aren’t using them.

Get an energy monitor

These can help you work out where you are using energy and also quite fun. The list on money saving expert is getting a little old but a good place to start.

Heating

Check your boiler on the boiler efficiency website and see if it is worth replacing with a more efficient model. This can be quite expensive but save quite a lot.

Put panels behind radiators on outside walls. If your radiators are under windows make sure they aren’t covered by curtains and consider a shel above them to reflect heat back into the room.

Loft insulation with clutter part 2

So a slow update, didn’t take long to get the stilts in but got caught up in other projects and only just returned to writing this up.

The stilts arrived in a timely manner, they are made of recycled plastic and feel very tough. We then spent most of the day preparing the loft and clearing out the boards that were already there. Once this was done putting in the stilts was relatively easy. So the loft is prepared and waiting for the insulation guys to come in and lay it out. Looks a bit sinister in the photo though: Image

Find out more about insulation in your home at my website

Blinds and curtains, a traditional solution

I have been having quite a long chat with Roz from Little Purple Dot about windows. She has sash windows with brushes installed but still finds they are draughty. Obviously the most effective thing to do would be to add secondary glazing or replace the windows, however secondary glazing looks a bit ugly and new windows are pretty pricey. This took us to discussing curtains, shutters and other more traditional (and cheaper) solutions and she pointed out this report from Historic Scotland which had some interesting results. Insulated shutters and glazing produced the best results but thermal blinds were not far behind.

I always have an eye for a bargain and the blinds in my bedroom need replacing so I am going to give them a try and see what difference it makes. Further updates when they arrive.

If you are thinking of improving the performance of your house have a look at my eco retrofit site www.ecoalex.com

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?’

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