The smart green home Part 1

After seeing Oliver Heath at the Real Home Improvement Show in London in September I have been looking about for new ways to make your home smarter in an eco friendly way. We have all seen promises made about the home of the future controlled at the press of a button but largely filed these away along with the hover car in to things we won’t see any time soon.

Screen grab of energy monitor controlThese dreams are slowly becoming reality though and I have managed to find a few devices that are available now which can help you control your home and the energy used much more effectively. I installed an Owl energy monitor and heating control on our new boiler when we had it installed back in March. We hadn’t used it much because it has been pretty warm in London until a few weeks ago but now we have programmed it so the heating isn’t on when we are out at yoga but ready for us to get home. The best bit is turning on the heating on the bus home and getting in to a lovely warm house.

This is the first of many systems controlled by your computer and from a smartphone app. B&Q are now stocking Lightwave products, these have a link attached to your wifi router which then controls light switches, sockets, radiators and the room thermostat throughout the house. This means you can turn off all the lights when you are in bed, control the heat in individual rooms and even press one code to turn everything off when you leave the house a simple but brilliant idea. You can also dim the lights to change the atmosphere in a room, something that the Philips Hue has taken even further, this allows you to change the colours as well, not widely available in the UK yet but I will feature it when it is.

water monitoring pebble

I am sure there will be a flood of smart devices over the next year, connected to the internet of things and I will try and feature the ones that are actually available to buy now and let you know how they can save you energy or water as well as making your home a better place. Even little things that make a small difference and look cool like the water pebble.

Update 24/11/2013, found this cool smoke and carbon monoxide detector to add to the smart devices for your house.

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.

 

Green sky thinking week

I was very excited to hear about Green sky thinking week at Ecobuild last month. Of course when it came to signing up for events I found it a lot harder to actually fit people in, I would definitely have enjoyed the pub quiz on a Tuesday but that’s football night and I can’t let that slip. I eventually managed to fit in two events towards the end of the week and headed off to them on my bike filled with excitement.

First up was Beautiful green: Luxury with an eco conscience, an event by BACA architects hosted at a Mott MacDonald office in the city. This was a very smart building, so smart in fact that you had to park your bike down the street out of view. The event was all about Serenity a house they are planning at the moment

It looks pretty cool and the couple building it want an extraordinary house and they want it to be environmentally friendly, they might even try for Passivhaus which could be a real challenge. It looked like a really good project to be worked on and they are certainly happy about it. There was also a good article about the house in The Guardian that day.

As well as seeing all the plans for the house they talked about there other work, including lots of flooding work. I was really impressed with their awareness of engineering issues and how a building interacts with the environment, the effects of climate on it etc. I hope the people suggesting that the Southbank Centre add a green house to their building to cook audiences in might learn a little something from this approach.

The second event I managed to get to was Carl Turner Architects Slip House event on the Friday Morning. This was in Brixton so another easy bike ride. The first thing I noticed was it was next door to the Tree House which I visited on Open House day a few years ago. Seems there are a few free plots along this road and the planners are obviously inclined to allow more interesting developments in the area.

IMAG0687

The house certainly makes an impression, some of the pictures of it at night look amazing. It was featured on Grand Designs so had a lot of interest at Open House, this event was more like an exclusive session of that. We got the house tour and then we also got an enthusiastic presentation from Carl about the house, construction etc which was fascinating. The work done on insulation was very impressive, no windows on the sides of the house means they have put in lots there as well as in the roofs which are very thick. The other thing I learned which was really interesting was that you can get mixed panels of Solar Hot Water and Photovoltaics:

Panels 2

Not only do these save space but the water in the hot water panels can be used to cool the PVs on sunny days and help them run more efficiently, sounds like a great idea. Carl also showed us his electricity use on his Owl intuition and it was about half mine in a two bedroom flat. His use includes heating with a ground source heat pump and an office for three people on the ground floor so very impressive unless they sit in the dark and eat raw veg.

The one thing I did find hard to envisage was living in such a tidy house with so little clutter, look at the kitchen here:

Kitchen 1

I know they had tidied up for an event, but still it was incredibly neat. If I lived in a place like this I can’t imagine how many piles of things I would have lying around.

So I really enjoyed the events I managed to get too for Green Sky Thinking week, hopefully I can get to more next year,

Energy savings from insulation project

I have just got the energy bills from my first insulation and draught proofing project for www.ecoalex.com and they are excellent:

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This was for a four bedroom detached house in Hertfordshire and we carried out the following measures in November/December last year:

Since then we have added 200mm of insulation in the flat roof of the house whilst building a green roof and also in other hard to access roof areas with the help of a local builder. This should mean we see a reduction in energy over next year as well.

In 2012 we plan to start installing internal insulation in the empty cavities in the walls of the house.

Apart from the energy savings, carbon reductions and money saving the most important thing to the occupants of the house is that the living room is warm and comfortable.

Have a look at my website and let me know if you would like me to do the same for your house.

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 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.

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.