Interior designers be damned (Jun07)

I stayed the night with friends in Holland Park. Only a year ago they had completely stripped their house to the bone and refurbished it from top to bottom. I wish they hadn’t!  Interior designers, builders, architects and I’m afraid to say my friends too have managed to create a family home with an energy appetite of a factory – more than 15 times what my family use and costing a staggering £8,000 a year in electricity bills.

I’ve counted the ceiling lights in their kitchen before – there are 22. But this time I counted the other lights dotted around – uplighters, spotlights and lights under the cupboards. There were a total of 44 not including the ones in the cupboards, or indeed those in the super deluxe American style fridge and freezer – nor the lights in the garden that could be seen through the large sliding windows next to the dining table.

Halogen lights were spread about the house light confetti. They’re in every room – even the hallway and stairs, controlled by a sophisticated dimmer system. But they’re a curse of our time – wasteful (energy-efficient replacements are not generally possible), short-lived (they tend to blow quickly) and hot (they can be a fire hazard). The government is talking about banning incandescent bulbs (ordinary light bulbs) but I think halogens should be even higher on their hit list.

Of course, the gargantuan electricity bill isn’t just from lighting. On further investigation I discovered that the renovation included marble floored bathrooms (5 of them), with electric under-floor heating, using 120 watts when it’s switched on. Only one of these bathrooms had a thermostat and was on a timer, two had the heating on pretty well all the time and the other two were only switched on when guests were staying. We still worked out that the electricity cost for this heating alone amounted to at least £500 a year.

Power showers, full flush lavatories, a lawn that’s mown several times a week and a kitchen waste disposal unit (one of those whirring gizmos in the sink) are other eco-horrors in the house. On the plus side I should point out that they have double-glazed windows and… I can’t think of another eco plus point. Oh yes I can – they don’t have an aga and they do recycle their waste. It occurred to me that they’d have to recycle for about 100,000 years (that’s a guess) to save the amount of energy their house uses in a year.

So who’s responsible? My friends should have included eco-criteria in their brief. But I also think that builders, architects and most particularly interior designers should be informed about these issues. To design a house that looks beautiful but leaves a huge ugly footprint is irresponsible – possibly even immoral (one of Al Gore’s views expressed in An Inconvenient Truth is that climate change is the moral issue of our time).

If you’re an interior designer remember that the legacy of your creations will live longer than you. Think green or be damned.

Posted originally on Telegraph Blogs by Julia Hailes

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