Tag Archives: insulation

GLA warmer homes scheme

I am proud to be working with Retrofitworks on the GLA warmer homes scheme. For the past year we have been providing retrofit co-ordinator services to the scheme and provided new energy efficiency measures for over 250 homes throughout London.

As well as providing new boilers we have been improving ventilation, insulating walls and roofs and helping customers improve the windows and doors of their properties. We have even provided a new boiler for a pensioner living in a caravan.

The scheme involves a number of fully trained Retrofit Co-ordinators developing a plan of energy efficiency measures for the project based on a telephone interview and an advanced energy survey from a Domestic Energy Assessor.

The Retrofitworks retrofit co-ordinator team

Once the measures for the property have been agreed with the homeowner installation is carried out by one of the PAS 2030 certified installers and once complete carefully checked by the retrofit co-ordinator.

The scheme is one of the first to offer this independent verification of the work and this is creating better value for the client and the GLA as the co-ordinator is adding in extra measures for the funds available.

Reclaimed materials in side return extension in Hackney

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.

Nine months in and this green roof has been thriving

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:

The flowers are growing well including the grape hyacinth
The flowers are growing well

A really good selection of wildflowers has sprung up
A really good selection of wildflowers has sprung up

Maybe I should have made the middle access a little narrower
Maybe I should have made the middle access a little narrower

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 alex@ecoalex.com

 

 

Reclaimed bricks and cladding looking great

We have nearly finished the extension we have been working on for the last few months in Hackney. The walls, roof and floor are all in place and there is just fit out for the inside and the green roof to go on top.

The glass roof had to be lifted into place by hand
The glass roof had to be lifted into place by hand

The yellow London stocks were reclaimed on site. The doors have a u value of 1.09 including the frame
The yellow London stocks were reclaimed on site. The doors have a u value of 1.09 including the frame

All the wiring is in galvanised steel conduit. The exposed bricks will be protected by external wall insulation on the outside.
All the wiring is in galvanised steel conduit. The exposed bricks will be protected by external wall insulation on the outside.

The glass, reclaimed cladding, exposed steel and reclaimed bricks really work well together.
The glass, reclaimed cladding, exposed steel and reclaimed bricks really work well together.

A lightweight industrial screed is making up the floor
A lightweight industrial screed is making up the floor

New green extension in Hackney

Just a quick update, we broke ground on a new extension last week. It’s mostly just digging at the moment but still exciting. I got to put up a sign outside the house:

Ecoalex, new project

The project will develop over the next few weeks. The walls incorporate high levels of insulation and will be made using reclaimed materials including a white glazed brick interior and re-used wood cladding.

I spent some time in @thewashcoffee going through the plans from Clements Design with Shaun the project manager on Wednesday, checking the build process and making sure we will avoid thermal bridges. The design looks sound and we are starting on the steel supports over the next few days.

The guys all look smart in the new Ecoalex hi vis vests and are looking for opportunities to save materials on site and re-use as much as they can in the build.

Hi Vis

Projects update

A quick update on recent projects.Bike shed roof

Green roof on bike shed

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.

Natural insulation

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.

Stairs

 

Open House Weekend

Last week was Open House weekend as the 40,000 or so people that went to Battersea Power Station should know. Having had a quick peek at it recently as part of the improvement zone project I was able to visit a couple of eco homes instead. Having seen quite a number of architect led fantasy eco homes as part of other tours I was eager instead to see some normal houses that had been upgraded at a reasonable cost and with great savings.

The first visit was to The Coach House in Belsize Park a lovely house on the end of a Georgian terrace. Waiting outside we particularly admired the tradesman’s entrance with the big Tradesmen sign above it. tradesman

We were welcomed in by the owners along with a couple of other early risers. We began with an introduction to the house and the owners ambitions for the refit. They wanted to achieve somewhere near the 80% reduction in carbon emissions and energy usage that the government has committed to for 2050. They have achieved something near this through insulating the walls and the roof, replacing and refurbishing windows and using low energy bulbs and heating controls.

The walls were particularly impressive, the internal wall insulation added at the front of the house is almost impossible to spot:

Internal wall insulation

 

And the only way to tell that the outside has been done is to tap the wall and listen to the slightly hollow sound created by the foam underneath:

IMAG0996

The roof was mostly flat and had been insulated externally with decking placed on top of that so you can walk on it:

roof insulation

 

Inside there is a an Owl electricity meter and Passivsystems heat control. I was pleased to learn afterwards that they had used a Parity Home Energy Masterplan to plan out the refurbishment of their house.

You can read lots more about the house and see videos on the Superhomes website. Well worth a look, particularly to see how unobtrusive wall insulation is. A lot of people I speak to seem to think it will make there rooms tiny but this is definitely not the case, and you get great windowsills for plants etc.

This was further illustrated by the next house we visited in a mansion block near King’s Cross. This was also a super home and a cosy flat Judd-St-374x294

on the top floor. The flat had also had internal insulation on the walls and this time the ceiling as well. Again the insulation couldn’t be seen and the owners had also added coving to the ceiling and the same time improving the look of the flat.

 

 

Open House Eco Highlights

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
BelsizeT_hall-sunlight-374x294

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
Judd-St-374x294

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

3 acorns

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

Quay House

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.

Lime pastering course

I have spent the last couple of days on a lime plastering course in Bedford. I am learning this skill so I can deliver more retrofit services to the customers of www.ecoalex.com. One of the key ways to improve the energy performance of older houses is to add internal insulation to walls. There are lots of people offering this service with celotex and other oil based insulation materials. These are very efficient and applicable in many more modern homes, however they do require careful installation of vapour barriers in the walls and have a risk of condensation. I want to be able to offer my customers something a little different, Natural Insulation. This will enable be breathable and allow moisture to pass through it naturally rather than gathering hidden inside the construction of the wall. After talking with a vegan customer I have been looking at wood fibre insulation in batts and boards. To get all this finished properly it needs plastering, modern plaster sets solid and isn’t breathable so I have been learning to work with lime.

There is a resurgence of interest in lime plaster at the moment, partly because of heritage projects like St Pancras station and partly because of a renewed interested in it’s flexibility and breath ability. This meant there was a choice of a few courses, however a lot of them were quite rural and a good distance from London so I chose DIY plastering in Bedford and I am very pleased I did. The course was one to one so I got plenty of help from Paul and could have it tailored to my requirements.

When I got there Paul had prepared two walls, one typical brick one and a second much flatter one to simulate the type of wall I am building using wood fibre insulation. After checking my fitness we agreed to try and plaster both walls so I could tackle any different lime issues. I started with the masonry wall applying two guides across the wall that would cover all the bumps and undulations and produce a flat surface. I then filled in with plaster and used a straight edge to get the plaster flat and even.

Image

Then we left this to dry and I moved on to the flatter surface set up to simulate wood fibre board. Here I applied a much thinner coat of plaster, embedded some mesh in it and then a second thin coat. This was then flattened using the straight edge. Only 10-15mm of plaster are needed as the base wall is so much flatter than an older brick wall. Once these two walls had dried a little I went over them with a float, flattening the surface and adding some roughness for the skim coat. That was day one completed.

Image

Day two was all about getting things smooth, very satisfying it was too. After drying overnight both walls had developed some cracks, especially the masonry one where we had a much thicker covering of plaster. Many of these could be sealed again with the floats but the larger ones needed a bit more compression from the trowel and some extra plaster adding. Next we added the top coat of plaster, this had more lime and less sand to make it smoother, but went on the same way using a trowel. Once the wall was covered with an even layer of topcoat we left it to dry. During this time Paul gave me a quick tutorial in filling holes in walls, very useful for my bathroom wall. Then I went over the wall with a float to even out the plaster further.

Image

After this and some more drying I went over it with a trowel to get it even flatter and remove the air bubbles. It was all very pleasing to produce such a flat surface. At this point you can keep going making it flatter and smoother gradually using the trowel and the float. Looking forward to using the skills on an insulation project next month in Hertfordshire, get in touch if you would like me to help you with your house. I am based in Central London but can travel. There are lots more photos on my Google+ page.

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What can I do to reduce my power bills? – top ten tips (and a small rant)

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.