Many of you, like me, will have listened watched or read about a wonderful renovation project where the house has become a wonderful palace of efficiency, costs 10p a year to heat and it’s the most comfortable and relaxing place in the world. You gaze on in envy at the ventilation, triple glazed windows and wonderful insulation. Then comes the tipping point, what did it cost for this the interviewer asks? ‘Oh, only £80,000 on top of the cost of the building work’ and at that moment you realise this is never going to happen in your home.
So, what can you do without breaking the bank? I thought I would share some of my experiences of trying to improve my property on a tight budget, with a low income and the property occupied throughout.
Ideally you would start with a whole house plan for your property, this includes an assessment of the general condition of the place and a list of all the efficiency improvements that it is possible to make to the property. You don’t need to carry them all out and certainly not all at once but it gives you a path for the next 10 years or so, you can also tie this in to any other projects you are planning, redecoration, extensions etc. You can see mine here.
Of course I didn’t start with this, I started when the boiler broke but I have got round to it now and I don’t think I got too far off course. The other thing you should probably do is monitor the conditions in the house so you can get a picture of it’s performance and the effect of the changes you make. I have been even worse at this but have some stats on energy use that the smart meter collected, otherwise it comes down to ‘we felt warmer’ and ‘the mould didn’t reappear on the walls’. Still I am quite happy and it’s slowly getting more comfortable.
So, what did I and what did it cost, here we go in chronological order with the points where it coincided with other works, details to follow over the next couple of weeks
Lots of green roofs going in recently and I need to spend more time documenting them. This one in Marlow on a garage was a new design that I am quite pleased with.
I have been working for a while to reduce further the plastics going into a green roof. I used to work with SUDS (Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems) a lot in the past and one thing I always noticed was the number of pipe manufacturers trying to shoehorn more plastic into natural drainage systems. Roofs obviously need to be waterproof so I can’t change that bit and we need something to protect it from sharp objects etc. Then comes the drainage layer which is lots of plastic sheets, this is important to hold a bit of moisture but also to makes sure it drains effectively. So drainage is important for weight but maybe we can make it of something else. For this roof we used aerated clay balls wrapped in a filter sheet that is held in place with some extra large cobbles. So the plastic is at a minimum.
The cobbles add a really nice touch to the edge of the roof and enhance the appearance considerably especially on a roof like this where there is no parapet. The soil is also held in place by the cobbles and I guess some of it may wash between them but not off the edge of the roof.
The roof has been planted with about 15 different plants, some sedum and ornamental, seeded with 30 different wildflowers and also bulbs planted to come up later in the year. I am monitoring progress and plan to pick up some crocus bulbs in autumn to plant.
If you like the look of this, drop me a line or give me a call 020 8133 0190 and I can see what we can do for you.
I went to see the roof I built in Kennington last month and took some photos I thought I would share. I wrote about this one last year showing the build up process to a green roof. I was particularly pleased that the insulation we put on as an added extra has made a real difference to the householders, the side return was previously a no-go area in the cold winter months but has now become habitable with the added warmth.
Anyway here are a few photos to illustrate how well the roof has been growing over the last nine months:
Overall I am delighted with the roof and the clients are really pleased too. The roof has already developed really well and should develop further over the next few years. The roof should reach maturity after three years but different plants will dominate in different years and seasons.
If you want your own green roof give me a ring on 020 8133 0190 or drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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
As 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 fun 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
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.
I recently finished the first green roof I have built for a while and thought you might like to see a few pictures. This one was on top of a bike shed in Stockwell and it’s looking pretty good. Took a bit more work than I expected, although small it has just as many corners as a bigger one so had as many fiddly bits to do. I worked it out after a while though and it looks really good.
The clients had a good supply of soil so we didn’t need to get any elsewhere, they also had a good idea of what they wanted to plant. We used a combination of herbs, grasses and other plants. They wanted to try as many plants as possible to see which ones would take to the roof, should be a good plan and I hope the roof will evolve over the next few years, it will be interesting to see which plants are most suited to the roof conditions.
The only disappointment so far is the photos I took with my new phone which are all washed out and bluey. It’s just down the road so I will see if I can get some better ones but here are a few for now. If you want one for your shed or extension get in touch.
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.
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.
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.
We 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.
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.
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.
I have been planning a few visits for Open House this weekend as it is a great chance to snoop around and pick up tips for future projects. I have found 3 eco homes in South London and 4 in North London so you can choose, or get up early and do them all. The North London ones are all tours with www.superhomes.org.uk and need to be booked and the South London ones you can just turn up for.
This is a house I have visited before and found inspirational when I visited. They have produced an excellent pragmatic retrofit that didn’t require rebuilding the whole house but still made a big difference to costs. This one is a little off the map from the others but I didn’t want to miss it out. Maybe have a cup of tea round Kings Cross and then head out here or visit first or last depending on where you live. Includes biodiversity features along with the usual wall insulation etc.
Another inspiring home that shows real practical changes you can make to any house and save. The owner is inspirational too and I left with a copy of his book last time I visited and have used it lots since, you can buy one here or probably when you get to the house. Includes solar thermal, solar panels and my favourite the ecofan.