Wednesday, 26 May 2010


How about generating your own electricity? Unsurprisingly there has been huge interest, and this is expanding dramatically now that Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs) were launched in April this year. Feed-in-Tariffs guaranntee you a premium rate for any electricity you export to the grid, thus greatly reducing payback periods. Indeed, it is anticipated that exporting renewable energy may become a profit centre for the householder. There are two main technologies suitable for home-brewed electricity:

Solar arrays, which are usually roof mounted, generate electricity in daylight. They have a fairly high installation cost - typically around £1.000 per sq.m - and the amounts of electricity produced are not that large - typically 100Wh/sq.m/annum. The electricity produced is DC and it needs to be converted to AC for use in the home and for export to the grid. This is done by way of an inverter and a two-way meter. The installation needs to be south-facing for effective use. There are many different systems on the market, including versions that integrate with roof tiles, so that you don't end up with a separate panel on top of a new roof.

Wind Turbines
Come in many shapes and sizes and, invariably, the larger the turbine the better the performance. The small, roof-mounted ones have proved to be very disappointing but 6kW wind turbines, mounted on a pole, can deliver up tp 5,000kWh/annum for a cost of around £20,000. Again, the system needs an inverter to tramsform the current and a two-way export meter. The success (or otherwise) of wind turbines is incredibly location-sensitive: you need good average wind speeds, and a site which is not affected by nearby buildings or trees - ideally somewhere out in the wilds.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Investing in quality

Eco awareness means taking the long view. When you have a considerable surface area to cover, invest in the best quality you can afford. Short-term, stop-gap solutions tend to be supplied by synthetic materials because they are cheaper. However their production and disposal is extremely costly for the environment.
Good quality materials, especially natural ones, tend to wear better. Futhermore, once they show the marks of use, their character tends to be enhanced. Worn vinyl has nosuch charm.
Once you have invested in quality, do spend time and effort on keeping surfaces and finishes in good condition. Regular refinishing and proper maintenance will add years, if not decades, of serviceable life

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Minimizing building material use

The attitudes of our disposable society have found their way into our homes. Nowadays, many people redecorate and refurnish and re-equip their houses much more frequently than their parents' or grandparents' generations and often for no more compelling reason than a stylistic change of heart. While our surroundings are only truly comfortable if they express our tastes and pleases us on both aesthetic and practical levels,  there are still ways in which you can cut wastage in this respect

Strategies include
  • Repairing and restoring existing surfaces and finishes wherever possible. Rather than covering existing timber floors with a new floor covering, i.e. think about sanding and refreshing them
  • Restrict the use of new materials to what you can see. The carcases of fitted kitchen units, bathroom vanities and fitted storage can be given a fresh face with new doors, drawer fronts and worktops.
  • Give your home a facelift with paint, fabric, accessories and other relatively minimal applications of materials. It pays not to rip out everything and start again

Monday, 17 May 2010

Recycled materials

Many natural materials lend themselves to reuse. This is particularly true of the harder wearing types, such as stone, ceramic tile, brick, hardwood and such like. At some point, original building materials salvaged from houses, churches, hospitals, hotels and other sources, become desirable antiques. Well before then, there is a tendency for construction or demolition waste to be treated simply as rubble and dumped in landfill. Types include:
  • Second-hand materials in a variety of formats reclaimed from demolished buildings or other sources - for example, old bricks, stone pavers, tiles, and floorboards. Price and availability will depend on the age and quality of the material and possibly its provenance.
  • Reclaimed architectural detailing, fittings and fixtures. Salvage yards are a good source of details such as doors, windows, fireplaces, panelling, mouldings and trim, baths, sinks, basins, ironmongery, door furniture and a host of other interior features. Again price and availability will depend on quality, style and condition.

  • Furniture and furnishings. There is a large and established trade in second-hand furniture and furnishes, ranging from valuable and highly sought-after antiques to retro pieces dating from more recent perods. Textiles are the most vulnerable to decay, but there are some outlets that sell unused remnants or offcuts and surplus from the commercial sector. Some local authorities will now collect furniture in decent condition, repair it and sell it on at low prices. A number of companies hire out carpet, take it back after it is worn and recycle it into more carpet
  • Materials with a high recycled content. Synthetic materials with a significant recycled content are considered environmentally friendly. Paper and glass are easily recycled. Recycled glass tiles, for example, are produced using a quarter of the energy needed to make cast glass tiles.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Highly insulated glazed units

    Installing double glazing in place of old single-glazed windows is a popular form of home improvement. For most consumers, saving money on energy bills is often more persuasive than environmental issues, along with the fact that uPVC-framed double glazing is virtaully maintenance-free.
    Double- or triple-glazed units trap air between the panels, which insulates against heat loss and helps to reduce noise transmission. Installing low E-glass as the inner pane in a unit reduces the U values still further. In very high-spec windows, the cavities are filled with argon or krypton gas, which conduct less heat than air.
    Window construction and frames also have a bearing on the thermal performance. One of the most popular materials used to make double-glazing units is uPVC. It's cheap, has good insulating properties, can be fashioned into a range of profiles and designs and requires little maintenance. However, as one of the most problematic plastics, it cannot be recommended on ecological grounds. The best insulating material for window frames is wood, either softwood, which is not very durable and needs frequent refinishing, or naturally weather-resistant hardwood, whose sustainable sourcing may cause a problem. Metal frames - such as aluminium - are very long lasting but have high embodied energy and compromise the window's insulating properties dramatically. Composite frames - such as those made of wood powder-coated with aluminium - can offer the best of both worlds
    Replacing original windows with double-glazing does not win universal approval in architectural circles because of its visual effect on the elevational detailling of period houses. In conservation areas, or if your home is listed, you may be prohibited from making this type of alteration.

    • A range of highly insulating units, double- or triple-glazed.
    • May include low-E glass
    • Cavities may be filled with argon or krypton gas
    • Available off-the-shelf in standard sizes and shapes, bespoke designs are possible
    • Very high specification windows include integral blinds operated by controls on the outside
    • Price depends on specificatin and framing material
    • Substitute glazing to prevent heat loss and reduce draughts

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    Eco glass

     Low-emissivity glass
    Ordinary glass absorbs and radiates heat on the cooler surface. In cold weather this surface is the external face of the glass or the outer pane in the case of a double-glazed unit. To prevent heat from being lost in this way, low E-glass is coated with a microscopic layer of metallic oxide that reflects heat back into the interior. The basic principle is the same as that low-tech strategy of placing sheets of foil behind radiators to reflect heat back into the room.
    Low-E glass is designed to be used in double- or triple-glazed units, not as single glazing. It is installed as the inner pane, with the coating facing into the gap between the glass layers. Different types of coatings are available to provide high solar gain,  moderate solar gain, or low solar gain, with the high-solar gain glass being suitable for climates where most energy is consumed in heating and low-solar gain glass for climates where most energy is consumed in cooling. Another important factor is siting. In a cold or temperate climate, for example, using low-E glass in double-glazed south facing units reduces the U-value to virtually nil, with the amount of heat lost being balanced by the amount of heat gained from the sun.

    • Coated with glass with a low U-value. A double-glazed unit that incorporates low-E glass has a similar U-value to a triple-glazed unit
    • Virtually the same in appearance as clear float glass
    • Available in a range of dimensions
    • Any glazing aplication where there is the potential for unwelcome heat loss or gain
    • Conservatories, glazed extensions and toplighting

    Monday, 10 May 2010

    Eco glass

    Glass is indispensable in buildings, allowing light into the interior while keeping the weather out. This is not simply a matter of preference and psychological well being, but is backed up by legislation. In the UK , for example, all habitable rooms must have at least one window. Until a few decades ago, most homes featured windows of only a relatively restricted size. In contemporary design, however, the trend is for using greater expances of glass, which unfortunately has the potential to compromise a building's energy efficiency seriously, with vast amounts of heat drained from the interior after dark, and temperatures raised uncomfortably in warm  weather. Recently, new types of glass, such as low-E glass, have been developed to address this problem. Installing highly insulated units in double or triple-glazed versions is also a good energy-saving strategy.
    Glass is made out of basic ingredients - soda, sand and lime - which are abundant and widely available. However its production, which entails melting those ingredients at vast temperatures, is very costly in terms of energy. One saving grace is that glass is readily recyclable with no loss of purity or clarity, and schemes for sorting and collecting glass are well establishded in many areas. Although such recycling schemes generally provide material that is turned back into bottles and jars, recycled float glass for external facades and other uses is also available, along with recycled glass tiles that can be used as a substitute for ceramic tiles and cast glass tiles.

    • Energy-saving glass comes in a variety of formats, the most popular being low-E glass that is coated with a microscopic layer that reflects heat back into the interior
    • Virtually indistinguishable from sheer glass
    • Enhanced energy-saving can be achieved by incorporating low E-glass in double or triple glazed units
    • Framing and construction of glazed openings has a direct bearing on energy performance

    Saturday, 8 May 2010

    Recycled wood

    Wood lends itself naturally to being recycled, reused and salvaged - which means that there is no excuse for the fact that wood, together with plastic, makes up the greatest proportion of what is dumped in landfill sites. In recent years gone by, many building materials were reused time and again and it was not uncommon, for example, for ships' timbers to find their way into domestic homes as beams and mantlepieces.
    In many instances, recycling can begin at home. We can renovate old floorboards, rather than installing a new floor covering. Similarly, by upgrading fitted kitchens and other types of storage by retaining the carcases and simply replacing the doors and drawer fronts. If you are bringing reclaimed wood into your home, make sure that it does not harbour woodworm or any other infestation

    Types of reclaimed wood
    • Salvaged wooden features and fittings, such as doors, panelling and fireplaces. Good sources are architectural salvage yards, antiques markets and similar oulets. If made of softwood, such features are often available stripped of old finishes. Hardwood features and fittings tend to be rarer and more expensive as a result.
    • Reclaimed floorboards and other types of wood flooring. Old boards can be denailed and remilled to even out dimensions and provide a smoother surface. Antique parquet, particularly if the provenance is known, is highly sought after because of its unique patina and is correspondingly costly.
    • Railway sleepers can be used in the garden to make pathways or terraces and to enclose areas of raised planting

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    Sustainable Flooring and Wall Materials

     Cork in various formats has been around for years as an unpretentious, if not unilatarian wall and floor covering. It comes from a harvestable, renewable resource: the bark of the evergreen cork oak, a tree native to the Mediterranean region. Portugal is the largest producer of cork today.
    Cork trees shed their bark naturally every nine or ten years and can carry on producing cork for 200 years or more, which means cork can be harvested without damage to the tree. The cork used to make tiles, sheets and other formats for interior surfaces is actually the waste product of the cork harvested to make bottle stoppers - which makes it a recycled material as well as a harvestable one.
    Cork has a cellular structure and is composed of 90% air-like gas, sealed within each microscopic cell by a waxy substance called suberin. As a result, the material is very light and cushioned, and springs back into shape after it has been depressed. Suberian also contributes to the materal's natural fire resistance.
    Previously, cork granules were bound together with adhesives containing formaldehyde, which compromised its eco credentials. Now, though, many companies are producing cork using environmentally friendly water-based pigments, solvents and adhesives.

    • Derives from a harvestable, renewable source. Recycled product of the cork bottle-stopper industry
    • Warm and resiliant underfoot. Comfortable to walk on.
    • Excellent thermal and sound insulating qualities
    • Anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic, resists rot, mould and fire
    • Produced in tiles and sheets of various dimensions and thicknesses. Cork-faced floating is also available that snaps and locks into place
    • Some cork tiles have bedevilled edges, which allow for expansion and contraction
    • Mostly found in woody shades, but can be brightly coloured
    • Easy to work with. Damaged tiles can be lifted and replaced
    • Flooring, especially in areas where extra comfort is required underfoot. Not suitable for areas of heavy traffic. Generally applied with adhesive
    • Wall cladding

    Go to for further information and contact details

    Thursday, 6 May 2010

    Sustainable Flooring Materials

    Coconut palms are grown in abundance in plantations around the world, specifically for their nuts. As a palm tree ages, it increases in height until after about 80-100 years it is no longer able to produce nuts because nutrients have too far to travel from the ground to the top. Once a palm becomes nonreproducing, it is cut and replaced with a shorter, younger palm.
    Palmwood is derived from those cut palms that would otherwise go to waste. Unlike wood, the palm fibre is darker and harder at the perimeter; the central portions are soft and light. Palmwood is manufactured by cutting, slicing and kiln-drying the raw material before laminating the strands and bonding them with a nontoxic adhesive.

    • Abundant, renewable natural source
    • Multiple laminated layers produce a stable and durable wood-like material
    • Available in tongue-and-groove planks cut to various lengths and as panels and plywood
    • Characteristic dark colour with different graining patterns
    • Flooring. Store flooring in the area where it will be used for 72 hours before installation. Nail or glue in place over a dry, level subfloor (plywood, concrete or timber flooring).
    • Not suitable for very wet areas
    • Panelling and cladding

    Tuesday, 4 May 2010

    Sustainable Materials

    Homes devour great quantities of materials, both in construction and in surfaces and finishes. Choosing materials with sound eco-credentials helps to minimize the harm done to our planet. There are some materials that represent good green alternatives - simple substitutions for more familiar and, ecologically speaking, more contentious versions.
    When it comes to choosing materials responsibly, sustainability is a key concept. It means selecting materials that do not deplete natural resources, do not damage ecosystems and do not pose  a problem for future generations. Another factor that comes into the equation is embodied energy. Our homes use energy directly for heating, cooling and power. But materials represent energy in an embodied form - the energy that was required to extract them, transport them, process them, deliver them and work with them. The less a material has to be worked before it is used, and the shorter distance it has to travel, the lower its embodied energy

    Alternatives to wood
    Properly sourced from approved sustainably managed plantations, and in solid rather than composite form, wood is a good green material. It doesn't require much in the way of processing and it derives from a living renewable source. Furthermore it lends itself to both salvage and recycling. Properly maintained, a solid wood surface, or a wood with a thick veneer that can be resanded, will last for years.

    Reasons to consider wood alternatives
    • Demand for construction timber far outstrips supply. While international bodies are getting better at monitoring forestry projects, in many circumstances it is difficult to be absolutely sure that a particular batch of wood has come from an approved source
    • Softwoods, which are the mainstay of the building industry, require protection from fire, moisture and pests, which is generally delivered in the form of chemical treatment. Eco fnishing treatments include borax, which is used as a wood preservative, natural waxes, oils and stains
    • In construction, new manufactured wood products such as parallam and glulam - piles of wood glued and laminated under high pressure to produce structural members capable of spanning great distances - are increasingly a preferred eco option. But when it comes to surfaces and finishes, there are a number of alternatives that look and perform just as well as wood
    Ecologically speaking, bamboo is something of a wonder plant. A woody grass rather than a tree, it is incerdibly fast growing and fast spreading, achieving a height of 1.5m within months and full maturity at 5 to 6 years. Its cultivation requires little human intervention and it does not require fertilization or the application of pesticides. Bamboo improves poor soil, cuts down carbon dioxide emissions and is fully renewable.
    There are 1,500 species of bamboo, but most of the bamboo used in the production of bamboo products comes from China and Indonesia The associated transport costs mean that in this sense bamboo is high in terms of embodied energy,. but its other credentials weigh heavily in the balance.
    Strands or strips of bamboo can be laminated into boards, planks, panels and veneers. Other uses include textiles and papers. The best bamboo comes from manufacturers who control the process from harvest to end product and who are able to guarantee that only a small proportion of formaldehyde is usedin the laminating process. Harvested too early, bamboo can be as soft as fir. Mature bamboo, however, is harder than maple and oak.

    • Renewable, plentiful resource that is fast growing
    • Strips or strands are laminated into a variety of products, including flooring-grade boards and planks, veneers
    • Different degree of hardness are available, with the toughest surpassing maple and oak in strength and durability.
    • Boards and panels are available in different dimensions and with matching finishing details, such as mouldings and trim
    • Very stable
    • Available in verticle grain, flat grain and a mixture of the two, which increaces strength, hardness and stability
    • A variety of woody colours from pale to dark shades. Some types of bamboo flooring feature natual colour variation that makes for a lively surface