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Green Deal Home Improvement Fund Returns!

The Green Deal Home Improvement Fund (HIF) will return at the end of this month (November 2014) providing a further £100m of subsidies for householders wanting to improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Sadly the initial £120m fund was used up very quickly (see my previous post about this) and many homeowners lost out. But it is good it is returning and on the previous scheme homeowners were entitled to claim up to £7600 on energy efficiency measures such as insulation, but we will have to wait and see what the new system offers. Here is a link to my post about what was previously offered. I will keep you posted with any new developments!

Here is a link to the Telegraph article on the subject.

November 15, 2014

Green Deal Home Improvement Fund Closes

Just a few weeks after the Green Deal Home Improvement Fund was announced it has closed. On 24th July, the HIF, which allowed homeowners to save up to £6000 on installing insulation, ran out of funds.  The government budgeted 120 million for this scheme and and twitter has been going mad with news that in it’s last two days 80 million of the fund was used, cue conspiracy theories about insulation suppliers buying the vouchers to sell at a higher rate later. More info here

So how can you save money on installing insulation now?

The energy saving trust has a link for landlords where you can save up to £1500 on tax paid on energy saving measures for each house you rent out. A lower rate of VAT is also applicable to any energy saving work to an existing house. If the house is new it’s VAT free. More info here. Another way is by upgrading existing external walls while having a kitchen extension for example. The house will already be messy and builders will be on site, so it will be cheaper for them to just add to a job. Of course, DIY internal insulation is quite feasible, if you have the time. I would really emphasise that breathable insulation is a must on solid wall properties. For more on breathable insulation have a look at my other post.

August 1, 2014

Association of Environment Conscious Building (AECB) Conference in Bristol 2014

Ashley Vale Tour - AECB ConferenceThis month, I attended the AECB conference in Bristol. Kicking off with the new mayor, an architect who not only turned up on his bicycle but was wearing red trousers was superb! George Ferguson is very passionate about really making the most of the bid for Bristol as Green Capital and it was really good to hear about the various initiatives going on in Bristol today. Unfortunately I had to miss two great talks by Jonathan Hines (Architype) and by Mark Elton (Sustainable by Design) as they clashed with the Ashley Vale tour (a case study for my new book). Read more about the Ashley Vale Tour in my following post. The following day there were more interesting talks and it was yet again hard to choose between them. I enjoyed Kate de Selincourt’s talk about natural ventilation in buildings, which highlighted many issues about poor indoor air quality. Particularly when people don’t keep trickle vents open or use extractor fans because they are noisy. Several pieces of research were looked at which showed very high levels of indoor humidity leading to increase in dust mites and also high levels of organic compounds (pollutants) in the air which is very bad for health and particularly asthmatics. Another interesting talk came from Fran Bradshaw, partner at Anne Thorne Architects who spoke about her new-build straw bale house in Norfolk, including a thatched roof. This was very inspiring use of local people and a pioneering approach to creating a house for her family that fits in with the local vernacular. The house had very little embodied energy as it used local materials and it will save energy in the future due to the high insulation value of the bales.

Another great conference over, feeling more inspired about the rest of the year and looking forward to the next one (and hopefully some AECB events at the new Oxford branch!)

July 23, 2014

Ashley Vale Self Build Co-operative Bristol

Ashley Vale BristolAshley Vale Bristol

Clare Nash recently visited Ashley Vale self-build co-operative in Bristol which will form a case study in her new book (see publications page). She visited residents and interviewed them and also went on a tour as part of the AECB Conference in Bristol. This was a very informative tour, covering the site history and politics, including the difficulties of fighting off a developer and then gaining planning permission for 20 unconventional dwellings. A real inspiration, and certainly a good example of how to deal with the housing crisis. These homes are individual, larger than standard but at very high density. This would not have been possible with conventional house building planning rules and ‘the car rules’ typical estate planning. So it is a very good example of what could be done to solve the housing crisis. Ecomotive were the ‘developers’ who enabled this development to take place and it’s director Jackson Moulding was the founding member of the National Self Build Association (now the National Custom and Self Build Association (NACSBA). Ecomotive and Snug Homes are now keen to help future developments like this go ahead.

IMG_0418Interviewing the residents at Ashley Vale was a really rewarding experience as everyone was so keen on the development. People rated the community very highly and everyone seemed to know everyone, even the tenants. Local people in surrounding housing have also benefited with communal green areas and crime is very low. Three houses were open on the tour and it was interesting to see useful passive cooling techniques, such as low level openings and high level roof lights letting air circulate in a sun space. All the houses are timber frame with cellulose insulation, which creates a very breathable construction which is a very pleasant atmosphere to live in.

These houses were a lot cheaper to build than your average home. Plots cost £25-35,000, build costs were – £45-80,000. Cost per m2, around £500 which is extremely low, take note Mr Boles! Being green needn’t cost more than a traditional house, in fact if you do it yourself or as a community it can cost less!

Ashley Vale BristolOverall this is an excellent case study as it shows that the housing crisis needn’t be solved by identikit, soul less housing, instead you can identify a self-build plot and let people get on with building their own homes, creating fantastic communities as they do so.




Get money from the government for installing insulation! The revised Green Deal

Did you know you can now get up to £6000 from the government for installing insulation in solid wall properties? You will need a green deal assessment (cost £100-150, £100 of which you can claim back if you make energy saving improvements ) and then you can claim 75% of the cost of installing the insulation, up to a value of £6000. Extra insulation can really save you a lot of money on your energy bills. You may have heard of ‘Passivhaus’, these kinds of buildings are fitted with 220mm of insulation in the walls and 270 – 300mm in the roof and the inhabitants of these houses rarely need to turn the heating on! Clearly it is not possible for everyone to achieve this level in a retrofit project, but significant savings can be made and significantly improve your comfort. If you are thinking about an extension or other refurbishment works to your home this would be a great time to apply for the green deal and get the maximum advantage. If you are planning to buy a house, you should also bear this in mind as the government is offering an extra £500 for homeowners who apply within the first 12 months of owning a home.

In addition to this excellent deal there are many other improvements the government is part funding, you can get up to £1000 towards any two of the following:

  • a condensing gas boiler on mains gas
  • double or triple glazing as a replacement for single glazing
  • secondary glazing
  • replacement doors
  • cavity wall insulation
  • floor insulation
  • flat-roof insulation
  • insulation for a room in the roof
  • a replacement warm air unit
  • replacement storage heaters
  • flue gas heat recovery units
  • a waste water heat recovery system

For further details please look at the government’s green deal website pages

June 27, 2014

The Old House Eco Course

The Old House Eco HandbookOn Saturday I attended The Old House Eco Handbook Course in Coventry  which covers the principles in the book of the same name. It was run by the Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and some really interesting research and findings from actual case studies were discussed and shared. It was presented by the authors Marianne Suhr and Roger Hunt. Cathie Clarke from Heritage Skills Hub was also there tweeting about the course throughout the day. The following points are some of my notes from the course:

  • A Natural Building Technologies study showed that a wall insulated with 100mm internal insulation had the same u value as a wall insulated with 80mm of insulation but which included 20mm in the window reveals – so often this is left out and it is so important for saving energy.
  • Using lime mortar allows bricks to be re-used – cement mortar does not
  • Single glazed windows with secondary glazing and shutters (glazed shutters can look lovely) have as good a u value as modern high performance windows (1.8 W/m2K)
  • A good website for conservation glazed shutters.
  • You should always use breathable insulation and breathable lime or clay plaster when renovating old buildings as this allows water vapour to pass freely from one side to the other (this is something I always do on refurbishment projects).
  • It is very hard to have a vapour control layer that will truly stay vapour impermeable in walls. This is due to picture nails, electrics, shelves and anything else that may cause a punctuation in the wall. This is why breathable insulation is so important as it eliminates the need for a VCL.
  • There are many ‘quick wins’ to draughtproof your home before you resort to expensive alterations.
  • If a front facade has beautiful details and is mostly windows, internal wall insulation is not going to make the most difference, but upgrading windows should be first priority, while maintaining the original character.
  • u values are not the only way to measure efficiency in walls. Decrement Delay is the time lag from heat passing from one side to the other. Obviously this is longer (and more efficient) the wider the wall is.
  • There is up to 40% heat loss through the roof, so definitely worth insulating the loft! However with too much insulation (over 300mm) the weight of the insulation itself will reduce the air pockets within the material and it will not be so insulating.
  • For the same reason, don’t tamp down hemcrete in a shuttered wall as it will also lose the air pockets that make it so insulating.
  • Good rule of thumb – the more you insulate, the more you ventilate.

Jonathan Garlick from SPAB concluded with 3 things he learned when he first joined SPAB:

  1. Live in the house for a year before doing anything
  2. Work on the garden and look back at the house, working out what to do
  3. If you are poor you will likely be a better custodian of an old building as you will not throw a lot of money at a project, potentially making poor decisions


June 15, 2014

Installing renewables a “no-brainer” even for those using gas with the new RHI funding

Recently I had a meeting with Mark Partridge from Bright Green Renewables (www.brightgreenrenewables.co.uk). I have recommended his company a few times as Mark is passionate about renewables and is therefore a good person to work with on eco schemes. We were chatting about the renewable heat incentive (RHI) scheme and how this has changed the market. Previously only clients using oil were seeing the majority of the cost savings of using a renewable heating system, but with the new RHI scheme, it’s also now a no-brainer for clients using gas as well. In addition solar photovoltaic panels are looking increasingly attractive. The feed-in tariffs, although down from what they were at their peak, still make it more than worthwhile with the significant reductions in the panel cost and performance improvements of these systems. Bright Green only install German made panels which they say will last at least 25 years as their quality far exceeds panels from other countries. The Feed-in-Tariff (FiT) scheme for Solar PV is now 20 years, index-linked. Across the board for most renewable energy systems you would now be looking at a 5-7 year pay back, the lowest it has ever been.

One thing clients always ask me is the cost to install a heat pump or some PV panels. Mark gave me a rough cost estimate of £5000 to £7000 for your average heat pump fit out in a 3-4 bedroom house, although this would rise for a larger house. PV panels should not cost you no more than around £6000 for a 16 panel 4kWp system, or £2,000 for a 4 panel 1kWp system (the minimum to make it worth your while).

Cost savings can be as much as 75% of your current heating bills for a professionally installed heat pump system. You can also combine this with solar PV panels so that the electricity used to run the heat pump (using either radiators or underfloor heating) and your lighting/power can be generated from the panels, allowing you to be almost completely off grid during daylight hours!

June 6, 2014

Make sure you are well insulated to save money with an air source heat pump

DSCF9919With the new Renewable Heat Incentive launched recently, I thought I would write a brief post about air source heat pumps. If you are thinking of replacing a boiler running on oil any time soon, then it would certainly be worth looking at replacing it with an air source heat pump. An engineer came to my house recently to service mine and told me that you can save as much as two thirds on your heating bill when compared to oil. This is certainly what we are experiencing but then we have the ideal conditions for it to be efficient. We live in a very well insulated new build home and the heat pump runs water through oversized radiators at low temperature. If your house is poorly insulated then you will need to run your ASHP at a higher temperature which will make it inefficient and expensive to run as otherwise the majority of heat will disappear through the walls before you feel it in your home. This is why oil fired radiators feel hot to touch, at least that way some of this heat will stay in your home! ASHP’s also run very well combined with underfloor heating as this works best at low temperature.

Therefore if you are thinking of installing a heat pump, it is best to ensure you have a well insulated house or refurbish to achieve this. With the right amount of insulation you will also qualify for the RHI fund that I wrote about in a previous post. With an average cost of £8000*  to install a heat pump, you could recoup most of this over a 7 year period from the government.

*Heat Pumps the Great Debate;home building and renovating magazine; April 2014

May 25, 2014

Vernacular self-build today

DSCF7269DSCF7386I presented a talk at Oxford Brookes University today on the subject of my masters (How Vernacular Technologies can be used in Modern Sustainable Housing Design) and how I apply it to my work today.

Does vernacular self-build have a future?

I spoke about how vernacular building is a time rich product and it has been written that as such it is no longer sustainable. In developed countries it is only the rich who have the money to pay others to self build to their design, in developing countries, only the Campesino’s (farmers) have the time, while everyone aspires to the modern, climatically unsuitable brick buildings.

Poorer quality homes built today vs vernacular self-build

Ironically we live in far poorer housing stock now than we did when we had the time to build for ourselves (stone/cob country cottage versus thin walled brick facade suburban house; earth dwelling versus high rise concrete flats), albeit with all mod cons (indoor WC, power showers, televisions, computers etc).

Over-complicated technologies

I noticed when reviewing my masters case studies that a lot of the issues were associated with technologies, emphasising the need for good passive design, minimising the need for add on technology.

Self-finish custom-build creates less waste

I also noticed that many of the user issues were to do with personal preference over fittings. One example I gave was at the Swindon case study by Habhousing (Kevin McCloud’s venture) with Glenn Howells architects and Stride Treglown landscaping. Small baths were fitted to save water use, however one father of 3 said he would have preferred a larger bath so that all 3 children can be bathed simultaneously and he will probably retrofit a new bath. Though this appears trivial, multiplied over a housing development it has waste implications. Had the occupants had final choice over these fittings, there would surely be less need for retrofit. In the self-build scheme in Stroud (Springhill Co-housing) by Architype, the community came up with a common design that was then subtly altered to individuals tastes in terms of fittings, room layouts etc.

This kind of semi-self-build seems to me to be a partial answer to the problem of self-build affordability, while still ensuring better quality homes with community and infrastructure. The biggest asset to the Swindon and Stroud schemes in my mind is the community and quality of design. These qualities would have been very high on the agenda of a vernacular builder, whether he was conscious of it or not.