“Show & Tell” of items (<£50) to make homes cosier, cheaper to run, or more sustainable + YOEH's inaugural talk

First things first: Thanks to Native Architects for giving a great talk last month as the inaugural event of the York Open Eco Homes series (YOEH). It was a insightful talk, followed by a Q&A session with lots of good questions and discussions. Our next event will be a “show & tell” session where anyone is welcome to come along and talk about a item for less than <£50 that has made their home cosier, cheaper to  run, or more sustainable.

Building Low Energy, Healthy Homes –  A talk from Native Architect’s for YOEH’s inaugural event

Sally from Native Architects gave a talk with insight into successful eco building projects from renovation to new build. There was a lot of discussion on use and choice of materials. The highlight for me and possibly others in the room, was hearing about eco-building for a bottom up perspective that few people get the opportunity to do. There were many interesting digressions prompted by audience questions including sally highlighting historical lessons from eco-architecture ( for instance cold bridging, even evident within St Nicks’ environment centre). Having samples of low energy construction materials (such as Pavatherm and Pavadentro) made the evening a hands on experience!

Topics covered included net CO2 emissions per kg of material. With a nice graph on one of the slides showing how emissions generally led to materials being ordered (in emissions terms): “natural” ( with strawbales etc being negative )  < ceramic < synthetic (e.g. plastics) < metal. The audience was also shown spider charts highlighting how multiple characteristics of a materials should considered ( e.g. breath-ability, thermal conductivity and density) to find the right materials or fairer compare multiple materials. The role of influencers on a project or on product choice was also mentioned ( e.g. salesman, contractors and consumers).

Lots of time was given to successful strawbale projects Native Architects had undertaken (e.g. Bodner House), and lime plastering (including some fun photos of a workshop for stakeholders). The challenges for choosing bio-based construction also were discussed. Namely high profile mistakes, poor installation, lack of individual research into building materials, industry inertia, certification processes (e.g. BBA) and of course cost.

The talk was well received, with good questions throughout. The Q&A session was vibrant with lots of questions on approach and materials. YOEH thank Sally for giving a such a fascinating and insightful talk.

 

“Show & Tell” – YOEH’s next event.

Simply put, there are lot of cheap actions that can be done to make our homes cosier, cheaper to run and more sustainable. However, some of them work better than others and its often experience of lesson learned that we work this out. This is therefore a opportunity for people to share cheap solutions that have worked and maybe could work for someone else. Some ideas could be chimney balloons, compact water butts, energy monitors, small insulation works, etc…  I am looking forward to hearing about everyone’s items.

I am continuing being told being eco is expensive, which I find bizarre as a lot of the measure I and other York Open Eco Homes participants have done are cheap or they have saved money by doing them (sometimes alot!).

This is event is open and hopefully will allow everyone present to learn from each other. I just ask that you please message me in advance by email(littleecoterrace[at]gmail.com)/twitter etc if you would take part… Personally, I would love to do a talk on using open source motoring (e.g. openenergymonitor), but this is more around to ~£150 so will have to wait for another event. Instead I will talk about my chimney balloon and how to install it. Other items people have volunteered to talk about so far include: draught curtains, a competing “all natural” chimney “sheep”, and an upcycled wood cutter.

There are speakers and ideas in the pipeline for future YOEH events, please do contact me if you have any ideas for speakers or events you might be interested in.  I look forward to seeing what people bring, and I hope you can make it!

Further links

Post Green Open Homes/ York Open Eco Homes (YOEH), and where to now…

The York Open Eco Homes (YOEH) event (part of the national Green Open Home network) was popular, and hopefully has helped many people think of things that they can do to make their homes cosier, cheaper to run and “greener”. It was several months ago now but we’re spinning out a cool quarterly series of talks and workshops from it starting with talk from a local architects (Native Architects) on building low energy healthy homes. It should be a good evening from a firm that has delivered lower energy footprint schools, village halls, and artist studios to name a few.

As for us, we enjoyed being a host home and I remain staggered by the feedback and attendance. We did not expect over 40 people, the level of interest in our project and certainly not people arriving before the allotted time (teaches us to enthusiastically put the balloons out early!). It was exciting to see so many people thinking about trying to do small measures and being interested in the larger choices. Over 300 people attended the event in York and over 40 popped by by our place. There was a lot of feedback from people that were going to try some the ideas they’d seen on their own house/flat/rental. On top of that the prize of the event, to encourage return of feedback, was a whole house energy audit (worth £250!) kindly donated by Yorkshire Energy Partnership (YEP). Hopefully has helped the lady who won it start saving money

Who came? What did people ask? Or want to see? FAQs?

The event was attended by a real mix of people including: families who’d been living somewhere for a while, young couples about to buy, people in rental houses and flats, and people already considering a renovation project.

We put a lot of love into our ecorenovation & it’s a always joy when people who are also frustrated by how under performing houses typically are in the UK  are starting to explore the options to circumvent waste in energy and money. The main questions were first about the cookies then split by major and minor changes. Often people were interested in things I’ve done little blog articles on before including the floor insulation, chimney balloon, draught proofing, lifestyle, PV panels, and energy monitoring.

FAQs – Photovoltaic panel (PVs)

One of the most common phrases about PVs we heard was that people had “… seen them about, but not thought about putting them on my roof…”. A lot of questions were about cost. Generically when we got ours installed the typical quote for a stardard single roof  was £4k for 4kW (which is still often advertised, e.g. by ecoexperts) with prices increasing from that point. I asked the local company (Solarwall) for the current price range for a low and high end 4kW installation and they said £5.5-6k, which is inline with quotes we got a while back.

As i’ve blog about before, our panels are great and are producing more that we consume in electricity terms and even managed in energy terms last year according to our energy provider’s estimates.

 

FAQs – Energy monitoring

I like data. Graphs, pretty graphics, and anything that conveys information better that words ever could. I was so happy when the guys @openenergymonitor managed to get an updated version of their open source energy monitoring system (EmonPi) to me prior to the event even though it had only just finished kickstartiing. I had previously made the system (EmonTx) for ~£100 + (~£50 extras) and made it during an evening in.

Since building my original system, I’ve become aware of housing groups etc buying sensors systems in excess of £2-3k. This is upsetting. I use open source humidity and temperature monitors (EmonTH), that cost me ~£30. These give me a heads up into how the house is doing in energy terms and whether I need to be worried about damp issues.

 

 

 

FAQs – Lifestyle

There were a lot of questions about lifestyle and about the effort involved in “going green”.

Transport was a particular question point as people were interested in how we managed without a car. The answer to that is really we have tens of vehicles, including vans, electrics, hybrid and along with the usual set from citycarclub. Bicycles are our main transport and we use trains often too.

One biggest messages I tried to get across was that the simplest wins are often through changing little things so that the “green” choice is easier. I think a good example of this is recycling. I have lived places not long ago where throwing the majority of your waste into a hole in the ground is the only option (north Manchester, 2012) and had to make extra effort to not be wasteful. It shouldn’t be that way. For the vast majority of things that come through our homes, it is energetically worth while to recycle (e.g. glass, paper, most plastic, tetrapak… etc ). Food waste can be converted to energy or at least food and pretty plants through composting (community composting can exist for the many of us without gardens ) or anaerobic digestion to create energy with an end product of fertiliser.

 

 

FAQs – Other cheap and big things you did 

A large amount of energy and money saving is possible from cheap tech. e.g.

 

Some other larger changes

 

 

“Renewable” Cookies

For a bit of fun we thought we’d make 3D printed cookie cutters for the event, which raised a surprising about of interest. For if anyone else wanted to give them a try we put them up on thingiverse where they have garnered (as of August 2015) ~300 views and ~60 downloads! I’d love to see photos of anyone else’s 3D print of them…

 

Conflict of interest?

Since posting on micro-scale renewable investing and our PV install two companies I recommended have started doing “kick backs” (Trillion Fund & OnePlanetSolar). Since I recommended them prior to this happening, it is entirely reasonable to say my endorsements are uneffected. To gain a “kick back” people would have to state it was littleecoterrace that recommended them, and in the case of Trillion Fund this would be £50 each. Trillion Fund & OnePlanetSolar are both incredible companies and I stand by my recommendations and leave up to you whether you want to say littleecoterrace is who suggested them to you. We’re more interested in seeing the propagation of renewables so any money we do receive through this, we shall donate to an environmental charity.

 

Where from here? An event next year?

The event was a massive event on numbers as talked about by the organisers (St Nick’spress release. As for us, we would happily get involved again and it looks like I might hopefully be more involved next year. I would sort out some more demos of how the tech works we have used works, and hopefully finished outstanding tasks (like relaying the yard with the tiles we took up).

The enthusiasm of hosts has lead to a spin out quarterly series of open talks and workshops in York for people interested in make their homes cheaper to run, more energy effecient and sustainable. The inaugural talk will be from Native Architects at the environment centre (St Nicks). They have been involved in lots of cool projects aswell as being part of a fantastic proposal to tackle the affordable housing crisis in York by creating a co-housing group (YorSpace) within York Central.

As for non Yorkshire people, in the UK there is a rolling calendar of GreenOpenHome and SuperHome (>60 % CO2 saving) events. So, chances are there will be an open home nearby at some point to see what people have done, what worked and didn’t, & maybe what might work for you.

As for me, I’ve been very busy over the last few weeks so I’ve not been posting blogs. I’ve got drafts on eco product shopping, energy and retrofitting events so I’ll be aiming to post those back towards my original once a month aim…

 

Links

  • Green Open Homes – National organisation leading events that showcase a variety of energy saving improvements in homes. Local events are led by local groups and individual houses are hosted by the people who live in them. The initiative is funded by DECC
  • Super Homes – a network of houses that have achieved at least 60% carbon emissions savings and willing to open their doors to show you how they did it
  • Native Architects – Local architects firm talking at St nicks for a joint event which is that the YOEC inaugural event “Building Low Energy, Healthy Homes
  • Solarwall – Local one stop shop for home eco stuff.

 

Getting A Flue Shot For Our Chimney

In the run-up to the York Open Eco Homes weekend, we’re getting a few final jobs done that we’ve been meaning to do for ages. One of those is to block up the chimney with… a chimney pillow!
It’s tricky to block up old chimneys completely, because the years-thick coat of soot gets salts into the bricks. Salty bricks pull in water. Whilst your bricks are ventilated by an open chimney it’s no problem, but if you just blocked the air off then it’d be bad news; the damp can get pulled through to the inside wall, and that’s how “grease marks” on the chimney breast happen.

 

However, we want our chimney stoppered up since we don’t use the grate, and it just lets cold air into our house. So the solution is a chimney pillow. It blocks off the draught but allows a little bit of air to pass, enough to stop the bricks getting damp.

 

Installing a Chimney Pillow

 

Fireplace
Before the “Shot”
 
It’s a pretty simple item which looks like a giant whoopee cushion. You unwrap it and give it an initial puff just so it’s easy to stuff up the chimney.
 

 

At this point I realised that although the mouthpiece had seemed nice and simple initially, in practice I would need to stuff my head up inside the grubby horrible chimney and get puffing. Rather put off by this, I cast around for other ideas. Luckily help was at hand…
photo 2-3
Our beloved track pump doesn’t mind dusty chimneys
 
…and gave the pillow a good pump up with the bike pump. Once the pillow feels firm, you close the tap and there you are.

 

The pillow seemed to want to slip down on our fireplace, even though it had been stuffed through into the flue. However it’s blocking up the opening OK and isn’t visible from outside the fireplace, so I’d say that counts as mission accomplished.

 

This took about 15 mins to install, and cost £25. I think we probably would have been OK with a small rather than a medium.
 
Anything else to know?
 
The pillow can deflate over time so you’re supposed to check on it every 3 months if you’re not using the chimney. We’ll re-check this one in a week or so since it’s the first time we’ve used one. If you are an absent-minded sort and might put a chimney pillow in, then light a fire under it, the instructions reassuringly advise that the thing will shrivel up and drop out of the chimney, but not catch fire. Punctures can be repaired with Sellotape according to the instructions.

 

We’ll see if it needs taking out during storms with high winds, which could cause high suction in the chimney. It can, on occasion, be very windy where we are so we’ll find out.

 

Does it work?
 
We’ll only really use the pillow during the winter,  so it’s a bit early to tell. It seems to. Our boiler is off now so we won’t be able to track any gas bill change, but it’s a low-cost low-fuss improvement and it should make the living room quicker to heat up.

 

Links
  • Ecotopia – A extensive (UK) online ship for “eco” products –  it is where we bought the chimney pillow
  • York Eco Open Homes – A opportunity to see a range of “Eco” improvements to different homes through York, which is part of the larger Open Eco Homes Project
  • The (US) Chimney pillow site with lots of useful information