Tag Archives: sustainability

Putney retrofit project

 

#putneyretrofit
No garden to put the sign in

I am currently refurbishing this gorgeous two bedroom flat in Putney. The client is very keen to improve the performance of the house and I am working on the structure to ensure it will be warm, airtight and condensation free for the future. A Parity Home Energy Masterplan has also been carried out for the property and we are using this to inform the refurbishment.

#putneyretrofit
Important welfare facilities in place. Might need a spoon

 

 

The flat is spread over two floors with two roof terraces and the top floor is a loft conversion, this means there are lots of different types of construction and different opportunities to add different insulation types suitable for that construction.

 

We are also working very hard to minimise the VOC level in the flat and using appropriate

#putneyretrofit
Special low emission expanding foam

materials to combat this. I have been been checking all the materials before they come on site and consulting with the client to ensure she is happy. We have had to compromise in some areas, for instance the ceiling height is restricted in the loft conversion so we are using PIR insulation to keep as much space as possible, we have managed to source Isocynate free expanding foam to fill the gaps though so won’t be adding anymore chemicals to the air in the installation.

 

I will be adding updates and photos as this fascinating project progresses. I will mark them all #putneyretrofit

Extension in Kennington with green roof

I went to visit an extension in Kennington which has the biggest domestic green roof I have built. There are some very big skylights so it isn’t all green but it looks great. This first picture shows the rear extension with some rather fine timber cladding, you can see the plants poking over the top of the coping stones:

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The combination of rain and sunshine we have seen this summer has been really good for the plants, even if people haven’t been so happy. I missed the peak flowering of this roof but there were still plenty in bloom on Monday. The clients daughter has a bedroom window looking out onto the roof and has been enjoying the developing scene.

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The skylights really bring light into the house and the kitchen looks even bigger than the space the extension added on. You can see some of the plants waving in the breeze around the sides when you are having dinner.

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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

 

 

Green roof in South London

Last week I completed another green roof in Streatham. It is on the rear of a really interesting house, a 1930s semi that is getting a complete eco-makeover from the owner. He has insulated the walls inside and out with wood fibre and remade the roof in solar panels and that is just the start. All Stephen’s neighbours find it hard to believe how warm the house is without loads of heating!

Anyway, last Wednesday he set aside so I could come along and help him build a green roof, here are the photos:

The roof is on top of this single storey extension
The roof is on top of this single storey extension
The first layer of the green roof, a fleece to protect the waterproofing and retain some of the water.
The first layer of the green roof, a fleece to protect the waterproofing and retain some of the water.
Then we added a drainage layer to encourage free draining.
Then we added a drainage layer to encourage free draining.
Next is the root barrier and then special substrate
Next is the root barrier and then special substrate
We planted the roof with sedums, widlflower plugs and sowed a selection of wildflower seeds
We planted the roof with sedums, widlflower plugs and sowed a selection of wildflower seeds
The finished article
The finished article
It should grow and develop over the next few years until it reaches maturity.
It should grow and develop over the next few years until it reaches maturity.

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:

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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.

 

 

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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Sustainable India?

On my holidays at the moment having an amazing time in India. Thought I might try and write something about sustainability.

So far I think the natural air conditioning is my favourite.

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Red fort

This is from the Red fort in Agra. Nice carvings but the point too look at is the thick walls. These conceal a huge air gap that provided insulation to maintain a steady temperature.

Then the summer palaces have a brilliant arrangement of screens with holes to draw the wind through.

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These are then supplemented by
water running through the area or over hanging fabrics. This then evaporates in the breeze and creates a cool atmosphere. It needs quite a bit of space to pull it off but the bills are pretty low. Water in this part of the world is fairly limited so will have to work out how too recycle it but will see what I can think of.

So will do an experiment with the
windows and some blankets next summer when it gets warm.

Ecobuild

Had lots of fun at Ecobuild last week. Far too much going on to keep up with everything but still pretty interesting. The one disappointment was the lack of many companies with any actual eco credentials. The overall feeling of most people I spoke to was that most of the exhibitors were selling the same products with a thin veneer of greenwash to try and boost sales. Honourable mentions to the companies really trying to make the planet a better place such as the Good Homes Alliance, UK Green Building Council, Action Sustainability and Ecology Consultancy. The last one obviously being a shameless plug as I organise some of their marketing and was on the stand on Thursday.

Managed to attend a few of the talks, these were divided between interesting stuff in the arena and conference areas with high profile speakers and more practical stuff in the conference rooms on BSF and CEEQUAL. I learnt a lot more from these.

Freebies certainly seemed to be well down on last year although the exhibitor drinks were reliably well stocked as always.  Best freebie of the month was a bird box I got at BSEC the week before.

CEEQUAL, Ecobuild and sustainability

Off to Ecobuild tomorrow. I am on the Ecology Consultancy stand on Thursday but heading along Tuesday and Wednesday to see if I can drum up some business as a CEEQUAL assessor, drop me a line ecoalexander@googlemail.com if you are looking for one. Looking forward to catching up with friends and contacts I haven’t seen for a while.

Also looking forward to a little more knowledge than I witnessed this morning from the editor of a national magazine who described sustainability as being about reducing carbon emissions, and maybe some other stuff that wasn’t really important.