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

where to buy antabuse in uk 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.

follow link 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.

 

cheap clomid uk 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.

 

It’s Draught to Let Hot Air Escape!

Our House was Full of Holes!

The house had rather better ventilation that we would have liked when we got it… due to a hole in the roof! So that was obviously first priority. Seriously though – just walking round the house and holding a ear or a hand to gaps you can hear where you heat is escaping. We obvisouly need airflow to be able to breath and avoid damp buildup, but in reality the old terraces are extremely leaky and that air is carrying money spent on heating a house with it.

The double glazing and uPVC doors were installed a couple of years before we moved in, which is a major and costly part of most retrofits. Although aesthetically these don’t appeal to everyone (myself included), their thermal and draft performance really do beat the wooden doors typical of a house of this age.

The real decisions we had to make were on how to avoid losing precious indoor heat from the house. The power of controlling the flow air and exchange with the outside is huge. If our project were larger we would have probably invested in mechanical circulation combined with a heat exchanger (like these people did); this kind of system give you all the benefits of a leaky house in terms of fresh air and humidity but without the extremely costly heat loss. However, we choose the simplest and easier options to keep the project on budget.

Wall/Loft Insulation

The easiest and cheapest stage in any retrofit project is loft insulation. It has short payback periods, you can buy it cheaply from any hardware company and at the time of writing you can get free loft insulation installed if your house doesn’t met the standard (links at end of article). For us the loft insulation needed topping up by ourselves at small expense as it hadn’t been done properly and we didn’t quality for any grants.

If you have cavity walls, again currently the easiest route is a single phone call to get cavity wall insulation of the government’s energy company obligation ECO schemeThere used to be some scepticism about this as with all “green” technology, but for typical houses the consensus is clear that this is the cheapest and best option. We had the extension done and this took a few hours with little effort under the ECO.

If you have solid walls (like us for the main building) then the question is rather different. Solid wall insulation is costly, but considering the massive amount of house stock for which this is currently the best option it is being funded on and off by the government by schemes including GDHIF (here is a worked example with the grant). It is worth checking if any funding is available whilst if you are thinking about doing any work and I would recommend YouGen as the place to start checking. Solid wall insulation for the two external walls of the house would have been a great option, however we missed the funding window during our works and at the time it was unfortunately out of budget.

Gaps – Ceilings, Loft holes

Whilst re-laying the loft inulsation we released the extent to which the loft hatches were just vents for hot air. There were simply un-insulated boards with gaps, this would have had a massive effect on heat loss. Our approach was to re-board the ceiling to create a new loft hatch, fill up the previous one and insulate both.

Other places you could hear air escaping were by pipes passing through walls where a gap was presen the material would make a gap when expanding or contracting with temperature. These kind of air leaks were solved simply using silicone sealant or expanding foam.

Insulated pipe, but gap for air loss
Insulated pipe, but gap for air loss

Air Vents

We had 3 vent covers downstairs, which when removed really showed the horror of hole size in the walls of the house (photos below). The amount of air that would escape through these would be huge. The controlled/”active” air flow was argued to be the best intermediary, compared against managed/mechanical ventilation by those we spoke to and it makes a lot of sense. Although humidistated fans were mooted as a first option, conversation with people who had installed them lead us to the conclusion that a switch linked to the shower was best. So we installed a single iris fan for the extension to control the humidity. During the summer the windows are often open so it is of little relevance, but it is important to increase ventilation in the winter.

The vents look the same now, they are just filled with insulation and aren’t costing us money.

The bathroom is vastly nicer now with the new fan (photo below), and very much less damp. As the decision was mad to have a single fan, the timer is currently set for 30 minutes and it can also be turned on whilst using the kitchen.

Our house has become less cat friendly. However, by insulating the cat-flap and vestigial vents with kingspan it is obviously noticeable the difference in the drafts.

Of our two fireplaces, one is sealed and the other remains an open flue. We’ve bought a chimney balloon too, and this is only used in the winter to cut out heat losses.

Did it Take Lots of Effort?

These are small changes. They cost very little and make a large difference. The external wall insulation would have been the largest expense if we had done it, but it would have been done by contractors so it wouldn’t have been much effort on our part. Still, the most effort was in installing the loft insulation and insulating the vents which took at most a few hours.

If is possible to achieve a lot more than we have here, and there are lots of great examples on the low energy building database (LEBd). Many people have achieved houses that through design or retrofit do not require heating

The key thing is to remember to still keep the place airy and keep a note on how humid the it is and whether any damp problems exists or are developing, if they are then further air circulation is need. We track this using an arduinio linked to our energy monitor. We’ve not had any issues, but if we do I will install a second fan that would be constantly on and have heat recovery.

Links

– The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (GDHIF) – grants that can pay upto 67% for energy-saving home improvements

– Passive House Trust (PHT) – the UK national body, which has lots of information and links up

– low energy building database (LEBd) – a database of case studies with more information.

– Cheap heat exchanging extractor fans (<£300 installed and <£5 a year to run)

more links on the blog’s links page

Floored by insulation – An alternative to more damp proofing?

Our little c.1900 terrace had a damp problem like many other terraces and we knew this when we bought it. On investigation we found that the floorboards rested directly onto Victorian tiles, atop scree & earth, leading to the wooden skirting and doors sucking up the water into the plaster. After one stormy afternoon we suddenly realised faint pencil marks on the doors were previous tenants tracking the “wicking”! Our predecessors hadn’t ignored the problem but seemed not to have known the cause – the property has already had two damp proofing injections done over the preceding ~15 years. We were informed by the surveyor and the damp contractors that this work hadn’t alleviated the problem. Could we succeed where others had failed? We started to discover we could hit two birds; cold floors and damp problems, with one well-cast stone.

Before –  the “damp” floor (laminate on quarry tiles on scree)

Options? – damp proof injections vs. insulated floor with DPM

It seemed from the response from the major “damp” companies that the options were very limited. We would have to spend ~£1-3k on “damp proof injections” or on stripping back the plaster, coating with damp proofing, and re-plastering. But a manager of a local construction company (York Eco Construction) offered something quite different, and it seemed to tick all the boxes. He suggested we dug out the floor, lay a damp proof membrane (DPM) to make a barrier from the wet earth, with a concrete slab on top and finally a joisted and heavily insulated floor for a similar cost to the injection option. Considering the similarities in cost, it was really a no brainer for us to go for his suggestion as it tackled the root cause of the damp, and would get rid of a major heat loss path in the house.

Getting stuck in

It was a pretty intensive few weeks, with full days at work then evenings and weekends doing the renovation. We took up the tiles and laminate (photos below). This was partly to keep on a tight budget, but there are worse ways to spend an evening than levering tiles up with a knife in one hand, and clutching a glass of wine in the other! The original Victorian quarry tiles were stacked outside and are going to be used later in the project when we do the backyard/bike shed. They’re far too pretty not to reuse. With the floor now stripped back to rubble and dirt, it was time for some serious digging.

Drawing the line – getting contractors in

We had always known that with our zero level of experience, we would be calling people in for certain jobs. Also with such a lot of soil to move we simply didn’t have enough time or energy to fit in digging around work. Moving the few tonnes of scree and fitting the damp-proof membrane (DPM) were perfect examples of these get-the-experts in kind of jobs.

The contractors dug out the floor exposing the expected but still alarming lack of foundations in the property! Like many of the chocolate workers’ terraces in York, the house were built just resting on a ”brick footing” – see photo below, & UWE description.

Due to a mishap with the rising spur, for a brief period our beautiful house resembled a muddy puddle and it was hard to believe a warm wooden floor could materialise there. But soon 100mm depth of concrete was poured on the damp proof membrane (DPM) by the contractors, which was left to dry for what seemed ages as we lived with all the furniture in the two upstairs rooms!

Insulating the floor – the important bit!

We didn’t want to scrimp here so we went for the established insulation boards due to a trade-off of insulation vs. space vs. cost. There’s much discussion to be had here of thermal resistance (R-values) and overall values (U-values) but I will cover that in a more technical post. The joists (2×4″) & insulation (100mm Celotex) were laid on top of this and dutifully sealed into place by the contractors with insulation foam: a very important factor in making insulation work is consistency! Then the floorboards (18mm solid wood, FSC) were laid atop.

Finishing the aesthetics 

Now it was time for finishing touches of paint, skirting boards… This “making good” was done by a mixture of us and contractors. We had some complexity with a water leak, so some of the work had to be re-done (which is at least another blog post in itself!). Some parts were a nightmare – like straight skirting boards on our curving ~115 year old walls! – and other parts like painting were great fun! We learned most things as we were going along, with one unexpected little trick we’ll uses with any project from now on is the usefulness of panel pins (e.g. holding skirting boards in together, allowing gluing, or cabinets together before the main screws go in).

This part of the project was a massive job.The work ended up being done by a mixture of contractors & us, which made for an interesting first big project! I believe eco-living means cosy living – and no cold floors & houses that aren’t damp – so us properly doing the floor insulation was a crucial part of the renovation. All-in-all it was probably the 2nd most worthwhile part of project (after the PVs), and one of the most noticeable day-to-day changes as you notice the warm boards under your feet.

links/references