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.
Catching up with a few things round the home today and finished installing my new thermal blinds in the bedrooms. These serve two purposes, they are blackout blinds to keep out the light from buildings behind and they also thermally regulate the rooms. I got the blinds from Blinds 2 Go, whilst the blinds themselves are of very high quality their cutting service leaves a little to be desired. They claim to make the deductions to ensure that the blinds fit in a recess however ours arrived too large to fit in the window recess. To remedy this I replaced the bulky and cheap feeling plastic fittings with metal ones from Fix my blinds, this gave us enough room to fit the blinds in the recess. Now I have got the blinds up I am very pleased with them. They have a slightly spongy backing with a reflective surface that provides the thermal barrier. So far I have only tested their ability to keep heat out and this seems to be working fine. The blinds are very close to the window so work in a similar way to secondary glazing creating an air pocket between the window and the blind. It is certainly more attractive than secondary glazing. Although this may seem like a small thing it can have a big impact on the energy efficiency of the home. This report by Historic Scotland shows blinds to be an effective part of the strategy for your home, one of many incremental steps that can improve your home without costing the earth. If you want to know more about what you can do to your house why not commission an Ecoalex home eco audit. If you want a full model of the efficiency of your home consider a Parity Home Energy Masterplan.
I have nearly completed my training to become a Home Energy Masterplan surveyor for Parity Projects. This seems to be the perfect complement to the rest of my work as it provides detailed energy modelling for each house. Their masterplan covers energy use in the home in tremendous detail, modelling the energy performance in the house. You start with the roof, walls and floor then every window and door. All their dimensions and components are entered into the Parity Software, then you add in the appliances in each room and their usages. Once all the information has been inputted by the surveyor they run all the figures through their computer and produce a bespoke report detailing all the changes that can be made to a home, how much energy they will save (and how much money) and how much carrying out the work might cost, obviously really useful information for anyone looking at options for work on their house. So I have completed my test survey at an example house and have only one more stage to go, carrying out an actual survey under supervision. I am sure I could do this quickly if anyone would like to get one for their house, they start at £250 for a flat and £290 find out more here. Email me email@example.com if you want a survey carried out on your property.
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
All the estate agents I have seen in Brittany list the energy certificate in the window alongside the house details. Some of them even include predicted emission levels for the houses. Certainly makes some of those cottages look tricky to keep warm.