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.
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. Updates Eco friendly gifts for her Some choices for the women in your life, mum, sister, wife or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any woman would be pleased to receive. Love the rainbow turbine t shirt stylish with with an eco message as well. Eco friendly gifts for him Some choices for the men in your life, dad, brother, husband or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any man would be pleased to receive. Cufflinks and skin care may seem a bit dull but these are a cut above your average and the skin care is certainly not a generic body shop I don’t know what to buy you box. Alex
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 hadn’t realised quite how good my new Owl thermostat and heating control is until now. I have obviously been showing off to friends about the smartphone app showing how little electricity I am using etc which is all very exciting. However the cold weather has really bought it into it’s own. When I set it up I programmed in the times I wanted the heating on, start up temperatures etc and left it at that. We had a nice warm summer the heating never came on and I kind of forgot about it. Then, one cold morning last week the heating came on for five minutes or so in the morning warmed the house up and turned off again. A couple of days later it did the same and this evening for the first time it came on in the evening. With my old set up where I programmed the boiler, it came on at that time and then remained on until the end of the timed period unless it got really really hot and then the thermostat might turn it off. The new Owl system starts with checking the temperature and then only turns the boiler on when it is needed, the thermostat seems much more accurate too. An added bonus is that even when the heating is on the new boiler is so much more efficient I am saving money then too. I am going to recommend them to all my customers I think, you can find out more about them here.
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. North London London, Camden, Belsize Park Gardens, The Coach House This looks a pretty smart house with has had a lot of money invested in it. Sounds like they have a real enthusiasm and a lovely house. Includes wall insulation, LED lights and an electricity monitoring system. London, Camden, St Augustine’s Road A project by Camden Council to make a large house as sustainable as possible, worth a view and on the route between the others. Includes solar water heating, draught proofing and a condensing boiler. London, Camden, Judd St, Queen Alexandra Mansions A definite research visit this one, I am always being asked what you can do in a flat and I hope to pick up some tips here. Includes low energy bulbs and wall insulation. London, Hackney, Amhurst Road 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. South London 49 Camberwell Grove, SE5 8JA, London, England A long thin house that sounds really interesting for a nose around with some great green features including rainwater harvesting and solar panels. 3 Acorns Retro Eco-house, 2 Coleman Road, Camberwell, SE5 7TG, London, England 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. Quay House, 2C Kings Grove (Queens Road end), SE15 2NB, London, England A bit further out but I hope I get time to look at this stylish and modern development. Map I have had a go at creating a Google map here there is an obvious route between the first 3 in North London and the south ones are pretty close together too. Home surveys If you feel inspired to change your home after your visit why not book an Ecoalex home eco audit for your house and see what you could change.
When I am out talking to people about their homes the biggest concern they have is not the environment but how much money they are spending on gas and electricity. The announcement of a 9% price hike by Scottish and Southern Electricity is probably just a precursor to more increases from the other energy suppliers so switching is not a long term solution. Even with cuts in the feed-in tariff solar panels are still a viable option but they do nothing to reduce your consumption and require up front investment. The first and best thing you can do to reduce your bills is reduce your demand for electricity. I am often astonished at people’s contempt for energy saving measures such as turning appliances off standby and switching to low energy light bulbs. They seem to regard their profligacy as a matter of pride, boasting of how they have their heating up so high that they walk around their house in their pants. If they really want to do something stupid, they could try standing in the street handing out £10 notes. Presumably these are the same idiots who buy urban 4×4 vehicles, cars whose only benefits are increased fuel consumption and a much greater chance of killing a child. If even Jeremy Clarkson thinks you are a fool you are in real trouble. However, assuming you’re not a fool and would actually like to save money quickly and easily what are the top ten things can you do? 1. Turn stuff off: Lights, phone chargers, TVs etc. You can get Standby busters to do this for you or just get some exercise and bend down and turn them off at the plug sockets. Several options in Nigel’s eco store, that one seems to be the cheapest. 2. Close doors and windows. Not always so easy with kids in the house but if you have the heating on and a door or window open you are heating the outside world rather than your house. 3. Get an electricity monitor with a nice big display and put it somewhere obvious. You will find yourself horrified at the electricity use of some of your appliances. Just seeing the meter tick over will make you reduce your consumption, there is a good selection available here. 4. Carry out simple draught excluding. Look for cracks around windows and doors and fill them. You can use builders caulk for small gaps and expanding foam or insulation where they get bigger. 5. Get your loft insulated, maybe this should be number one. If you haven’t got loft insulation or have less than 60mm you can get it installed for free before December this year. 6. Get your cavities filled. Again free before December 7. Turn the thermostat down. Walking round your house in your pants is for Homer Simpson, put some clothes on and turn the heating down. 8. Change your bulbs. Incandescents are a thing of the past but how many money wasting halogen bulbs are there in your kitchen. Switch to a decent LED bulb now and save money straight away 9. Draw the curtains. A good thick curtain will keep the heat in so draw them at night and make sure they are tucked behind any poorly sighted radiators . 10. Seal your floorboards. This used to be done by a good thick bit of carpet but the trend for wooden floors has led to howling gales sweeping through the living rooms of London. Seal the gaps between the boards with PVA or something like Draughtex, see my video on the options here. There are many more things you can do but these will provide an excellent start and a big cut in fuel bills. Then you can think about renewable energy, switching suppliers etc to get the best value from your newly efficient house. If you would like a detailed report on your home I can offer an Ecoalex Home Survey and if you want a full analysis of your fuel usage and how much you can save I can offer you a Parity Home Energy Masterplan. See my website for details of both. So don’t be an idiot! Save money now with some of the simple measures above. Let me know how you get on and any handy tips you may have.