Eco-renovated flat – Main room – Jan12
I bought my flat, near Portobello Road, in 1986, with my sister. We shared it for the first couple of years, before she got married and moved out. We re-painted and re-carpeted it throughout but didn’t do much more than that. The kitchen was quite dated even then, but it wasn’t until I eco-renovated the entire flat in 2011, that the cupboards came out. Actually, everything came out – floors, walls, carpet – the key objective was to make the flat as green as possible.
Predictably, it took a lot longer than expected. I chose an eco-architect – Jerry Tate – who had a lot of very good ideas. But, given my environmental expertise, it made sense for me to research many of the products I wanted to use – and where decide on priorities for spending. The frustrating thing is that most of the costs were to do with things that were neither visible nor green – which wasn’t very exciting. These included a supporting beam which had to be installed and which meant I had to get a party wall agreement with neighbouring properties – that cost a fortune. And, another expensive problem was finding asbestos, which had to be removed by specialists.
Before the main building works commenced, I decided to refurbish the sash windows. They rattled and had holes and gaps that let the draft in. English Heritage recommend repairing rather than replacing windows as the greenest option, so I went ahead. However, this turned out to be a mistake. My architect recommended a product called Slimlite, which is double glazing that fits into existing frames. But it was too late for me, unless I wanted to pay to do them all over again! The good thing is that the refurbished windows look good, have been well draft-proofed – and for further heat retention, we’ve installed insulating blinds.
Not so good is that the lack of double-glazing meant I missed Superhome status by just 1%. Superhomes is a scheme that promotes eco-renovation. To get their accreditation, you have to reduce the carbon emissions in your property by 60% or more – my rating was 59%.
If I’m honest, I think that I’ve achieved more than 60% saving because I’ve installed a number of eco-features, that aren’t included in their criteria. For a start, I took advice from Honeywell, who installed my controls. They explained that room thermostats are essential, as they send a message direct to the boiler about when heat is needed and when it’s not, thereby reducing demand and using fuel more effectively. But the real key is for thermostats to be easy to use, which means people are more inclined to turn the heating off, when it’s not needed. So the savings from this will depend on future tenants.
Another feature that could contribute to energy saving is the master-switch I’ve installed. It’s positioned near the front door and turns off all the lights and sockets. Clearly there are sockets that have to stay connected such as those for the fridge, cooker and washing machines, and a couple for re-charging phones or for TV systems – so these ones are not connected to the master switch and are identifiable by being matt, rather than shiny.
As well as innovative controls, I’ve installed a touch screen information system, called ‘HabShimmy‘, which will give information on the amount of electricity, gas and water that’s used, as well on local events and transport systems. For example, you can access live bus timetables, advertise for babysitters or find out when the next recycling collection is due. ‘Hab’ stands for ‘happiness, architecture and beauty’ – Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs fame, has used the acronym in his company name – Hab Oakus – and they’re promoting the Shimmy.
But the key to eco-renovation, I discovered, is insulation. Taking account of both performance and eco-credentials, I chose a range of insulation products from Knauf, which included glass fibre insulation for the walls, which contains 85% recycled glass bottles. Given that my flat is at the top of the building, I wondered if I could exclude insulating the floors and so benefit from the heating in the flats below. ‘Definitely not’, said my architect – Jerry Tate – for two reasons. Firstly, insulation provides acoustic benefits, reducing noise transfer between flats and secondly, the flat below could be vacant and therefore not send warmth through to my floor.
Even the paint I used has an energy-saving dimension. Dulux Light and Space makes the room brighter and apparently means that you’re likely to turn the lights on 20 minutes later in the day. And, of course, the lights are LED, which give about three times the performance of halogen lights for the same power – and should last in good condition for at least 10 years.
I’ve also installed water-saving features in the flat, with low flush loos, low flow taps and the Eco-camel shower head. This aerates the water giving the impression that you’re using more water than you are – tests by Which? Confirmed this could reduce water use by a third and pay for itself within a year.
Another eco-product used in the bathroom were the tiles – the main ones had 40% recycled content, from tile factory waste. And, the more expensive mosaic tiles, used for contrast, which also came from Domus, were made almost entirely from recycled windscreen glass. And the kitchen worktop from Glasseco, was made from recycled green glass bottles – I think it’s the most striking feature in the flat. And I specified green glass because I know there’s an excess of this from all the wine bottles thrown away.
But choosing the flooring was one of my most challenging tasks. In the sitting room, kitchen area, I wanted something that was durable, sustainable and looked good. Bamboo won the day – it’s one of the fastest growing plants on earth – and I chose one that wouldn’t get dented by high heels and so will last a long time. It looks great too – the bamboo has been squashed flat, so you can see the natural bamboo ridges on the smooth surface.
In the bathrooms, I chose cork because I wanted to play a part in preserving the ancient cork forests, which are under threat, as demand for wine cork decreases, because screw tops are taking over. A cork tree can live for 200 years and the cork can be harvested without cutting the tree down.
The rest of the flat was carpeted. I managed to get what I used from an over-order from Interface carpets, which have a reputation for being one of the leading sustainability companies in the world. They said that companies often order more than they need, and so I could use up what was left.
Getting rid of my old carpet was a bit of a trial. I didn’t want it to end up in a landfill, which is what normally happens, and so I tracked down D S Smith Recycling, which took all the waste from the flat and recycled it. As well as the carpet, this included wood and plasterboard – the clean wood was made into chipboard and some of the gypsum poweder in the plasterboard was incorporated into new boards.
I started on this project with a huge advantage in being an environmental expert, yet it wasn’t that easy to do. Even though I used an eco-architect and brilliant builders – Atlantis Group – the research we all had to do to find the right products was extremely time-consuming. I think it needs to be a lot easier before eco-renovation becomes mainstream.
In the meantime, I’m rather envious of whoever it is that gets to rent out my flat. It’s in a great location, has beautiful blossom trees, lots of light and yet it’s warm and cosy – and super energy efficient. I loved living their before I started renting it out, but I’d love it even more post the renovation. And I’d really like to try out the Hab Shimmy and see how it works. Let me know if you’d like to be the first tenant and check out Green Moves, for more details.
The flat is super energy-efficient, having reduced the carbon footprint by at least 59%, and
it’s available to rent. Eco-features include bamboo and cork flooring, a kitchen worktop made
from recycled glass bottles, a master switch for electrics, LED lighting throughout, a dedicated
drying room for laundry, a home office space and a state of the art, touch screen information
system. Email me if you’re interested – email@example.com
For more information about the flat:
– Green Moves – first eco-property search agency are promoting the flat
– Atlantis – Builders who worked on the flat have written a blog (No longer on the web)
– Article I’ve written for the FT – 21Apr12 – It’s Not Easy Being Green.
FT Article - It's not Easy Being Green