News Alert

Wondering how to further reduce your energy bills? Have a look at the HOBBS report for a few ideas.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

SuperHome Spring Opening 2011

The Sustainable Energy Academy presents: SuperHome Spring Opening 2011

The nearest SuperHome for residents of Nottingham is right here in West Bridgford, and it's open to visitors on 3rd April. Find out more about the house and reserve your place via the SuperHome website or email for open house details.

Between Sunday 27th March and Sunday 3rd April 2011, SuperHomes across the country are opening their doors this spring.
Go to to find out which homes are opening near you!

All of our houses are part of a network of older properties transformed to be low-energy exemplars and opened to the public through the Old Home SuperHome Project from the Sustainable Energy Academy in partnership with The National Energy Foundation.

For more information about open days, please visit our website click on “Get Inspired”. To view a home near you, click on the SuperHome locator map.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Eco-friendly Windows

Here a few facts about windows that I’ve come across on the quest to replace the 59 year old single glazed windows in my house.

Starting with glazing…

Single glazed windows have a u value of around 4-6 W/m2K

If you have good quality double glazed windows already, they may have a u value of around 2.1 W/m2K. (This is pretty similar to the u value of the walls in a house of solid brick construction)

Current building regulations vary for new build and retrofit so be sure to check what u value you require depending on your situation.

For really high spec windows, look for u values below 1 W/m2K. This makes sense in a well-insulated house where the walls have much lower u values than even the best windows.

I’ve got my eye on some windows with a u value of 0.6 for the glazing and about 0.75 for the whole window (EcoPassiv from the Green Building Store). A good window company should be able to tell you both u values.

And then the frames…

UPVC may be widespread, but it has its disadvantages.

The production of UPVC is highly toxic, and leads to toxic by-products. So far, UPVC windows are rarely recycled at the end of their 10-30 year life, and incineration is not an option. In the event of a fire, the toxic fumes are highly dangerous.

Timber framed windows can be far more environmentally friendly if the wood is from a sustainable source. Some come with very natural treatments to protect the outer frame from weather and the UV in sunlight, others are treated more heavily to delay the need for maintenance.

Aluminium cladding is a popular low-maintenance choice for some, but of course aluminium has a higher embodied energy which means a greater carbon footprint.
[Please see comment below]

The best windows now have a layer of insulation sandwiched between the outer and inner part of the frame. And there is an emerging range of ways to fix the windows in position to minimise cold bridging. But that’s a topic for another day.

Left out in the cold.

After the very cold weather in November and December 2010, it is worth sharing a few thoughts that might help with being prepared for future cold winters.

I've recently heard about one person who insulated the loft. This, however, meant that the water tank and pipework in the loft were no longer warmed by the heat lost from the house. They froze in the cold weather and burst when the thaw came, doing thousands of pounds worth of damage.

In a similar fashion, gas boilers inside the house with a condensate pipe draining on the outside may suffer when the condensate in the pipe freezes. This pipe could be insulated or even drain internally so that freezing is no longer likely.

So as an addition to the mantra "insulate walls, floors and lofts", please add insulation to "pipework, tanks or other equipment" because these can often be left, quite literally "out in the cold".

Tanks in the loft should also be insulated, but in such a way that the loft insulation wraps up the side and over the top - leaving the bottom of the tank with an uninsulated surface to the house below - if the insulation is good enough it will keep the water at nearly room temperature - meaning you don't get a cold shock when you run the cold tap!

Green DIY and eco-friendly materials

The 5th in a series of events held at South Notts College in Ruddington focused on green DIY in the home. Here is a short summary of the talks, and some useful facts are listed below. It’s a big topic so just a small selection included here.

Helen Hill introduced the complex topic of embodied energy, showing how hard it can be to compare the energy involved in the whole life cycle of one material against another. More details from her presentation will be included here soon.

Peter Padun talked about the advantages of eco-friendly paints for people and planet. These days it is easier to find “low VOC” paints than it used to be – but watch out for the other chemicals in the pot! Peter brought along examples and spoke about the paints that he’s found to be best from personal experience as a painter and decorator (see his website for more information:

Tina Holt gave a short introduction into eco-friendly windows, furniture and finding recycled building materials. Some of the details are already or will be on the Home page of this site.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Retrofit with GSHP

EcoBuild note: DNC writes: There were also other good lectures and seminars including Retrofit topics. One that I liked was one from Robin Curtis of Earth Energy with advice on retrofitting with ground source heat pumps. I have always thought this would be too difficult, due to the need for a borehole and the need for underfloor heating, and the bulkiness of the GSHP - difficult to fit to an existing house. But it is not as tough as I thought, and the Penwith Housing association has done it on a huge scale in Devon and Cornwall, with social housing. (this talk is due to be on the EcoBuild site as a PDF and I will download it when possible).

Borehole or horizontal?: Certainly, ground based horizontals are difficult to fit because it is unusual to have enough space in the garden to bring in a JCB and churn it up to the required depth. A vertical borehole is a very quick and tidy solution, and yes it is expensive - a bit like root canal therapy in dentistry, painful, but once it's done it's done. And then provides several hundred years of free heat.... I have never regretted getting the borehole at the Peveril Solar house. If there is no access to the rear of the house, it can be done in the front driveway!
Underfloor or Radiators?: Underfloor has always been more efficient at distributing heat from a Heat pump because they work more efficiently if they don't have to heat above 35-40 degrees. But for those contemplating retrofit, there is an answer, and it doesn't have to be gigantic wide aluminium radiators as is often thought.
   If you are replacing night storage heaters, you already have electric points but need to add water pipes. If replacing water radiators, you already have the pipes and the circulating pump, but need to add nearby electric points.
  The space may be limited to the size of the previous radiator. With the circulating temperature at only 35-40 degs, you can put in a fan assisted of nearly the same size as your existing high temperature one. The huge annual savings in overall energy cost justifies the consumption fan assisted radiator, one of the same width and height as the previous, but with a very quiet low wattage fan which comes on when the thermostat deems it necessary.
Space for the GSHP?: We are familiar with Air source heat pumps being placed externally, but GSHPs need better protection, so usually go indoors. If they will not fit indoors, the Penwith HA have retrofitted many houses with GSHPs using a small lockable prefab garden store from B and Q, just large enough to hold the pump, and this can be close to the external wall in a suitable place. It can be insulated to reduce heat loss from the connecting pipes etc. 

EcoBuild Note: Dr Wolfgang Feist

EcoBuild note
DNC writes 7 Mar '11: During my three days in EcoBuild, London, I spent much time with Dr Wolfgang Feist, the creator of the Passivhaus standard, and went to two of his lectures. He was judging the Tall Building work of my students, for the Isover Multi-comfort house competition, and my students came 1st, 2nd and 3rd! You can see their posters and movies on this site:

The winning students are representing the UK against the World in a global eco-sckyscraper shoot-out in Prague in May 18-21 2011. Let's hope they win the world title!

First Passivhaus retrofit in UK

7 Mar '11: Building Design on line carries this report of a passivhaus retrofit for a georgian house in Holland Park, London. It claims to be the first officially certified retrofit to PH standards.
Terrace houses are easier to do as they have party walls, and this example also has a basement, which also helps. The air for the heat recovery system is drawn through the basement which provides some pre-warming in Winter.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Recycled building materials and furniture

If you are looking for traditional building materials, or trying to find a new home for old floorboards, tiles, bricks and the like, it's worth having a look on Salvo

Or if sustainable furniture is on the shopping list, there are a few options depending on your budget.
EatSleepLive is a Nottingham based company that sources an interesting range of furniture made from reclaimed wood (not necessarily very local). If local is important, the pine shop on London road (a short distance south of the BBC roundabout) has some pieces made from reclaimed wood.

If you have a more modest budget in mind, it's worth a look for second hand furniture in the Danish Homestore on Derby Rd or at the auction house. And of course there is Ebay, GumTree, ads in the local papers or the post office window…

And for no money at all, you can join Realcycle to give away things you no longer need or to request items for free - Happy Recycling!