Tag Archives: biodiversity

My Shabbihaus eco retrofit project part 4 living wall insulation

Dry air in the house is a good achievement but I have also been worrying about the pollution levels. Two of the three air intakes are located above the back garden and the front one has some good tree coverage between it and the road but it is still a busy traffic area. This made me look at some alternative ways of cleaning the air, I did some googling and came across the NASA research project on houseplants and their impact on air quality. Now before I go any further I do realise that these were controlled tests and we would also need a very large number of plants to get a big impact but I figure it can’t hurt and what I made looks great.

I have been keen to do something with reclaimed wood and also to add some extra insulation to the flank wall in the kids bedroom so I got a bit carried away here and produced this wall made from old pallets with 50mm of woodfibre insulation behind it. I was a bit nervous about this project as it has a bit more of a design impact than some of the other projects, it’s been in a while now though and I am so pleased with the outcome visually. 

The first thing we did was tour the streets collecting abandoned pallets. I found that ones that were slightly broken already were better as they are easier to dismantle than really well built ones. The kids really enjoyed the collection process and I also got them to stain some of the planks we extracted to add some variety to the wall.

Next step was to get hold of some wood fibre insulation, not so easy for small quantities but thanks to https://phstore.co.uk/ for arranging it for me, delivery costs almost the same as the insulation in small quantities but cheaper than elsewhere and charming service too. I then fixed some 50mm battens to the wall at 600mm and push fitted the insulation between. 

The next bit involved a nail gun so was great fun managed to charm the lady at Travis Perkins into giving me a discount and I was off. I fixed them in an offset pattern and tried to group similar widths of board together so it wasn’t too bumpy. 

Then we had to make shelves for the plants to grow on. I used the ‘dice’ from the pallets (technical term for the square bits that go in between the pallets) screwed into the wall to support shelves made from more pallet boards. These dice are pretty tough and tricky to drill through, one of them still has half a drill bit in it where it snapped. 

Once it was all up we put in the plants, I used Chinese evergreen, peace lily, some snake plants and a cutting from an old spider plant. I also put in a watering system! Well, I bought some globes that you fill up and they drip out over a couple of weeks, they are a bit inconsistent but a lot cheaper than some automated system. I top them up with waste water from kids water bottles and they are still growing nearly a year later.

Gabions and cyclamen, a new green roof in Herne Hill

It’s taken a little while to share this new green roof I built in Herne Hill recently.

There were a number of challenges here particularly the height of the roof with no edge protection, we used a harness to install the edges.

The edges were built using gabion cages filled with cobbles. This created a more natural edge and ensured the stones didn’t roll off the edge of the roof and shatter the tiles below, I think they look pretty cool.

I used aerated clay pebbles for the drainage layer again, really like these rather than the plastic sheets and carrying a bag makes you feel really strong as they are so lightweight. We then put in a protective membrane and covered with ultra lightweight green roof substrate from Shire Substrates.

The roof has been seeded with a mixture of wildflowers and grasses with more to be added in the spring. In the meantime I put in some grasses, sedums and also Cyclamen. I wasn’t really sure about the cyclamen but not much else is flowering this time of year a month later and they seem to have settled in well.

I will add further updates in the spring. There are lots of bulbs in there which should appear soon.

Marlow green roof update

Not all my green roofs are in London, you can see one of my early ones in Welwyn Garden City and this magnificent roof on a garage in Spring Gardens in Marlow

Shows edge detail and flowers
Lots of wildflowers growing here

The roof was installed early this year using Shire substrates and materials from Optigreen. I used expanded clay for the drainage layer and large cobbles to create a more natural looking border.

Wildflowers and sedum

The roof had loads of really nice seeds in it and was also planted with some sedums, aliums and stipa grasses and it has really blossomed tremendously.

the long edge of the roof

Green roof in Wood Green

This is one I did last year that has been growing really well. The roof was on a new extension so the clients were able to design in extra big joists so we could support a good depth of soil on the green roof.

They managed to get a 5m extension so we had a good size to work with even with the skylights. It was waterproofed by the contractor ready for installation.

Roof before adding the greenery
Roof cleaned and prepared for installation

The team and myself laid out a protection fleece made from recycled material on the roof, then we added a drainage layer and put a filter fleece on the top to stop roots growing into it. Then we added the substrate, a special mixture of soil, lightweight aggregates, brick chippings etc, this is designed to keep the weight down, drain easily and also stop the plants growing too tall and need maintenance.

The team lay out the substrate

We put a gravel barrier round the edge of the roof and the skylights to assist drainage and add a firebreak. We also put extra gravel under the downpipe from the main roof of the house so the roof can absorb all the water from the roof rather than have it fill up the drains.

Moving materials is always a problem in London and we had to carry all the green roof substrate through the house and up on to the roof. Luckily Ecoalex has some good strong assistants so I didn’t have to do too much lifting. Once we had put out all the green roof substrate at varying depths we were ready to plant.

Planting, workers grass
Roof ready to be planted

For this roof I had a mixture of mature plants and seeds. I included some Stipa tenuissima (the grassy stuff in the foreground) for the first time to see how it would grow and although it browns a bit in the dry periods it seems to be thriving. We also put in a few varieties of sedum to get some ground coverage including house leeks. Other plants included sea burnet and Sempervivum. I picked up all these plants at New Covent Garden Flower market in the morning a great place to pick up plants in London. But these are just to start the roof, the main coverage will develop over the next three years with all the green roof seeds we have planted I used a couple of mixes of native wildflowers including this one from Scotland that has 20 wildflowers and 3 grass species in the mix . Not all these will thrive initially but over time they should each find their own niche on the roof and grow nicely. Gary Grant likes to describe these seed mixes as an orchestra with all the instruments waiting for the conductor to call them in at the appropriate time in the green roof’s own symphony. Below are some pictures of the roof planted and how it has developed this year. More will be added over time.

Low impact green roof in Marlow

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.

Finished roof

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.