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

Monday, September 26, 2011

AECB annual conference

The annual conference for the Sustainable Builders Association (AECB) took place on 16th and 17th September this year in Nottingham, and I went along to it for the first time. As a home-owner rather than a building professional, I thought I might be out of my depth, but I had a wonderful time and can highly recommend it!

A large part of this year's focus was on retrofit, but talks and workshops covered a wide range of topics, including:
- The launch of the AECB's "Less is More - Energy Security after Oil" discussion paper by David Olivier
- Renovating existing homes and creating new buildings to Passive House standard
- Embodied carbon and sustainability of buildings and materials

There was also a talk on "a community network promoting energy efficient buildings" - by me, about Transition West Bridgford's Eco House Group, the events organised over the last 18 months, and this blog!

If you are thinking about starting a major low-energy or sustainable refurbishment (or new build), it is worth joining the AECB as a supporter member (for about £40+), just for the useful documents that you can then download. But there is much more on the website - a forum, articles, courses, the chance to find out who's who and what some of the UK's leading sustainable builders and architects (etc.) are working on, and events for local groups.

Green Street eco housing

Eco Houses are attracting a lot of interest, judging by the speed at which the new homes on Green Street in the Meadows sold. Here are a few paragraphs about this development:

The development, which is a mixture of three and four bed contemporary town houses, comprises 38 homes in total. Designed by Nottingham based award winning architects, Marsh Grochowski, it is positioned next to the picturesque Victoria Gardens on the Trent Embankment.

The scheme builds on Blueprint’s core values of design driven quality and sustainability. Features include solar photovoltaic supplemented electricity, whole-house heat recovery, super insulation and air tightness way above new building standards.

The homes were priced from around £175,000 to £235,000 and were sold nationally by Savills via their Nottingham office and locally by Royston & Lund in West Bridgford. 

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Lower Energy Terraced House

I'm just back from 2 wonderful and inspiring days at the Association of Sustainable Builders' (AECB) annual conference. Of which more anon....

There were many interesting people to meet there and so much to learn.

Here is just one example of an ongoing refurbishment being carried out in Manchester by Andrew Gill, one of many people I met at the conference:

It is well worth a read! There is a lot to digest!

Eco Houses Under Construction - Event 3

Event 3 – the second visit to the timber frame new build

We were again lucky to have fine weather, and 35 visitors gathered on site to learn more about the insulation strategy for the house, and the reasons for choosing lime render as part of the outer shell.

Architect Mike Siebert (of Ecologic Homes Ltd.) explained how and why a range of insulation materials were used. These included a wood fibre sarking board for the roof, load-bearing polystyrene beneath the entire building and outer walls and blown recycled newspaper in the timber frame walls, plus some extra additions to reduce cold bridging at key locations (see on photo with brickwork). 

Further roof insulation will be added between the rafters as well. Another interesting product used was foamglass in the form of a load-bearing plinth block, which is also highly insulating, to complete the thermal barrier.  

Tony Saunders (of Lime Technology Ltd) and Clinton Parker (the plasterer) talked about the benefits and uses of lime render and lime mortar, including its “self-healing” characteristics. There was also a discussion of various ways to use hempcrete (although not used on this project).

Clinton, who is an experienced plasterer (but using lime render for the first time) explained how he found it very easy to use and apply.

Michael Siebert, architect – Ecologic Homes Ltd 07508 161333
Tony Saunders – Lime Technology  Ltd. 0845 603 1143
Clinton Parker – 07904 084234 (the plasterer who did the lime render work)

The Eco Houses Under Construction project is funded by Climate East Midlands, East Midlands Improvement and Efficiency Partnership and Communities and Local Government with a Growing Climate Friendly Communities grant. It is delivered by the charity Groundwork East Midlands.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Low energy users pay more per unit

Many people who are interested in low energy homes are in fact less profligate in their use of energy than most just because they are aware of the cost to pocket and planet.

But the way that the energy companies organise their pricing structures means that the first units used cost more, while energy used above a certain threshold becomes cheaper. This is rather unfair if you are a very low user, so it is worth shopping around to see if you would pay less with a different energy company.

I understand (but have not fully checked the details) that the Co-op has a flat rate deal that may work out cheaper for those who use less energy. You can also check on the website for details of the energy mix to get an idea of how "green" their energy is.

Other companies who focus on renewable energy over fossil fuels are Good Energy and Ecotricity

Nottingham's growing group of Superhomes

The number of homes undergoing energy-efficiency retrofits is growing!

The Superhomes network showcases homes that have reduced their carbon emissions by at least 60%, and they have just celebrated the opening of the one hundredth superhome to join the network.

You can view details at, and using the "Find a Superhome near you" feature you will see that Nottingham now has 2 Superhomes and one aspiring superhome. (And there are more in the pipeline - including people who have been attending our local Eco House Group events).

This autumn, Superhomes all over the UK are open to the public - for example, Nottingham's newest Superhome, the one in Mapperley Park. This home is open on 2nd October and you can register to visit through the Superhomes website or via (it is a combined event).

Three contrasting eco-houses

Local architect Julian Marsh has passed me details of an ultra-low energy refurbishment in Nottingham city centre - converting a lacemaker's house into an up-to-date eco home. Click Lacemaker's house to view.

If you are looking for more modest refurbishment ideas (including low cost improvements), have a look at LowEhouses.

And if you'd like to read more about the very interesting eco home that Julian Marsh made for himself (below)  on the site of an old meat factory, click here.

If you are familiar with the Passive House methodology, this offers a different approach to achieving a sustainable home which Julian calls the Active House approach.

(The text has kindly been made available to us by the Architect's Journal from this article in their March 2011 issue.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

24 Hours of Reality

For an update on climate change and how it is affecting us already.....

 Al Gore’s follow up to An Inconvenient Truth is here. "24 Hours of Reality" is a global event to get people all over the world watching the live transmission, together.

Book a night in or watch it with friends - the date for your diary is 15th September at 7pm

 Click here to watch it:

For all sorts of other inspiring stuff, have a look at the rest of Global Action Plan's website. You may have heard of the EcoTeams programme that they have run across Nottinghamshire, but they do a lot more besides:

Low E refurb design

If you are wondering how  much money you can save by using different energy saving measures, here is a 2 page document which may help - sent to me by architect Julian Marsh.

This is a design proposed for a refurbishment of a typical terraced house in the Meadows area of Nottingham, but it is broadly applicable to many solid wall homes. It includes both low cost measures and higher cost measures to create a predicted 88% reduction in CO2 emissions with a comparatively modest outlay.

This house, when refurbished, will be used as a show home to illustrate the technologies, their costs and benefits to the public. To view, go to:

It is not the only interesting projects running in the Meadows. For more information about MOSES (Meadows Ozone Energy Services, a community owned energy company, go to

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Considering PVs for your roof?

If you are fairly local to West Bridgford and are considering PV panels for your roof, why not join a group of would-be PV owners who are getting together to research, and possibly buy, PVs as a group?

This first meeting is for buyers (not for companies who install PV) to get together. Independent expert David Nicholson-Cole of Rushcliffe Solar will be there to provide independent advice on whether your roof is suitable for PV, and how much electricity it might be able to generate.

Just come along to Belle and Jerome in West Bridgford at 7.30pm on Monday 12th September 2011 (we'll be upstairs).

If you are interested but can't make this date, or have any other questions, just email for more information.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Michael and Mo’s low energy home – Part 5

Heating and hot water
On moving in, the 6 year old Worcester combi boiler was found to be a bit leaky, so was replaced in early 2011 with an ALPHA condensing boiler with gas saver unit (a tank that pre-heats the incoming mains water). 

These are linked to a 90 Litre solar thermal tank, heated by a flat solar thermal panel on the lower extension roof. When it is sunny, the solar thermal panel on the extension roof rapidly heats the water in the tank, cutting off if it exceeds 65oC.

The condensing boiler has good controls, and each radiator has adjustable (TVR) controls.
The boiler, tank + solar thermal panel were installed by ISR plumbing.

The 2.46 kW PV system with 10 panels was installed in June 2011. The inverter is in the loft space, where it needs to be to keep cool.  This was installed by TEAM UK Renewables of West Bridgford.

Still to do:
Much draught-proofing has been done, but there is some more to do before the MVHR is installed. The MVHR will be a partial (rather than whole house) system, supplied by Titon. A very low energy unit has just come on to the market and is due be installed in September 2011.The main focus is to extract stale & damp air from the kitchen and bathrooms, and deliver fresh air to the ground floor dining room.

Other outstanding tasks are the fitting of new floor with under-floor heating, to the dining room.
Investigation of ground water levels & consideration of extra rainwater storage for garden use only.

Michael and Mo’s low energy home – Part 4

Some floors have been replaced & insulated on a room by room basis.

In the study, 150 mm Celotex was fixed between the joists by removing the floorboards, attaching battens beneath the joists, and resting the insulation boards on top. Above that, Michael and Mo put down a bamboo flooring over a 15mm chipboard subfloor.

The lounge floor was a bigger job, because of the need to adjust the levels to make space for under-floor heating. First the floor and joists were removed. Then the new joists were put in, but at a lower level. 150mm of Celotex (supplied by  Westville) was put down between the joists and held up by battens. Above that is 18mm chipboard and then 15mm of thermaboard. This thermaboard has tracks cut into it for the under-floor heating pipes, and it also acts as a heat store. On top of that is 16mm of engineered oak flooring.
The old fireplace was replaced at the same time, and is used very occasionally. Most of the time only the under-floor heating is used and Michael and Mo are very pleased with it. 

The dining room awaits similar treatment.

Most of the original lighting has been replaced with LEDs and compact fluorescent lights. The old halogen lights caused problems in the bathroom and kitchen by sucking the moist air up through the fittings in the ceiling and creating a damp problem in the spaces above. In the loft above the main bathroom the excess moisture rising from the bathroom resulted in ice on the joists in the recent extreme winters.  Additional ventilation vents to the loft space have been now fitted in order to reduce this effect.

Michael and Mo’s low energy home – Part 3

Walls – internal insulation
Those areas of the house without external insulation have mostly been insulated internally.
At the front (the hall, the downstairs loo, the pantry and the first floor landing), Michael has used a product called “Spacetherm”. This product is a flexible aerogel blanket supplied by the Proctor group as a laminated plywood/Fermacel board, but they have stopped supplying it in this form. 

Thermally, aerogel is an excellent material with a very high u value even at thicknesses of 10mm or 20mm. However, it is not user-friendly! It “unravels” if you try to drill through it, so fixing curtain rails or picture hooks through it is a problem. It is difficult to install and plaster due to the uneven fixing using an explosive Hilti gun to nail the boards in position. That said, with perseverance, the results are impressive, both visually and thermally.

Single storey extension and window reveals
The extension at the back already existed when Michael and Mo moved in, but required reroofing, and the addition of 270 mm mineral wool insulation.  In this area, the extension was internally insulated using the 20mm “Spacetherm-F” panels on the walls, and finally plastered. Around the window reveals, 10mm of Spacetherm blanket was used. The plasterer did a remarkable job and the end result looks great – but it was extremely tricky and time-consuming to achieve.

Michael and Mo’s low energy home – Part 2

Existing UPVC double glazed windows have been left as they are. However, there were some failing single glazed leaded windows, with gaps! It was very draughty. These have been replaced with triple glazed windows (sandwiching the original leaded lights inside the new windows to retain the style). The draughts have been eliminated, making a huge difference to comfort.

Walls – external insulation
The majority of the wall area (9 inch solid brick) has been externally insulated and rendered by Westville Insulation. They used the Permarock system, with 60mm of Phenolic foam and a K render to form a weather-proof outer surface. Phenolic foam is more highly insulating than most other options, including mineral fibre and polystyrene, for the same thickness. The thickness of 60mm Phenolic is commonly used as this would bring a solid wall house up to the same level of insulation as a new build at 2011 building regulations.

As soon as the external insulation boards were in place, the house felt noticeably warmer and much more comfortable. Not only that, but the house started to dry out! This means that there has been some cracking of paint and plaster in the main bathroom and other areas.
The external insulation does not surround the entire house for a number of reasons. The centre of the front elevation has been left un-insulated for aesthetic reasons, as has the chimney breast. With just 60mm of insulation, the overhang at the eaves is not reduced greatly and there is no detrimental impact on the appearance of the house. If anything, the whole house looks more attractive than it did originally.

Michael and Mo’s low energy home – Part 1

Michael and Mo live in a 3 bed detached house built in 1935. With a floor area of 160m2, solid brick walls and almost no loft insulation or insulation beneath the ground floor, it was neither warm nor cheap to heat when they first moved in.

Three years on and a long list of improvements has made a significant difference. Further work is planned, but here is a summary of the changes so far (Part 1 to Part 4)

The loft

On moving in, the loft had a thin layer of glass fibre insulation, completely squashed by dust and rubble on top. This was no good at all, so it all had to be removed and replaced with a combination of 50mm thickness of Celotex boards (highly insulating PIR, or Polyisocyanurate) and 150 mm Knauf “SpaceBlanket” (protected glass - fibre insulation). Recycled laminate floor boards were placed on top of the Celotex boards to allow access and storage above the insulation.

Another neat feature of this loft is the insulated loft hatch. Michael did this himself. First he put draught-excluding tape around the hatch, then put an insulation board on top of the hatch. Over that he attached a “blanket” of “Thinsulex” quilt onto the top of hatch, extending beyond the hatch by about 50cm all the way around. When the hatch is closed, the insulation covers the hatch and the surrounding area. The draught-proofing tape within the hatch opening stops air flow between house and loft.

Things you need to know about Insulation and Electrics

With many people thinking about insulating the loft, under the floor and so on, it is perhaps a very good time to draw to your attention to the issues around electric cables.

If, like me, you start to glaze over at the first mention of electricity, don’t worry – there are some very basic facts you need to know, and from there on in you just need to ask a competent electrician.

First thing – don’t just leave your cables going through, within or adjacent to insulation, close to underfloor heating, and so on. They may get too hot and become a fire risk. That’s not to say you can’t put your cables there, it just means….

Second thing - a competent electrician can do the calculations you need, to check what size cable is needed for the particular situation, in case it needs increasing to dissipate the necessary amount of heat.

In addition to your electric cables, watch out for downlighters, which also need to dissipate heat. Some electrical installers just pull your loft insulation out of the way, solving one problem but creating another. (Most downlighters should have fire hoods over them as well, while we’re on the subject.) Again, the solution is a good electrician (with something called a Part P qualification and the relevant experience).

And while we’re here, a reminder that the Wiring Regulations call for the installer of any new circuit to affix a label to the Consumer Unit (old version is a Fuse Box) which indicates when the next inspection is due. If you don’t have one of these, chances are you have not had your wiring checked in 10 years, which is definitely not a good idea.

The process is called a Periodic Inspection and Testing Report (PIR), and there has just been an Amendment to the 17th Edition of the Wiring Regulations released, coming into force on January 1st 2012, when it will then be called the Electrical Installation Condition Report (EICR). Unless you have been advised differently (because an inspection has found deterioration in your installation), the Wiring Regulations require there to be a PIR done every 10 years, or on change of ownership.

This information has been provided by Helen Hill, who is a member of the Eco House Group, and a qualified electrician.

If you are looking to find a competent, qualified electrician, Helen makes the following suggestions: 

1) Trustmark has a website where you can look for a local tradesperson. It is the government’s approved operator scheme which ensures standards, processes and complaints procedures are maintained. Info at .

2) The equivalent to Trustmark, if a company is installing renewable energy, is the Renewable Energy Assurance Ltd (REAL) scheme, info at , and a company does not need to be in both Trustmark and REAL if they do both types of installations. REAL also has a database where you can look up companies to see if they are members of the scheme. They, and Trustmark, also have Deposit protection schemes.

3) Qualifications – some people calling themselves electricians have just done a very short course (which can be as short as 5 days, costing £795) to get the Part P qualification, usually for domestic installations only. For example, kitchen fitters can get a Part P limited scope qualification this way, so they should not do other types of installation. On the other hand, some people spend two years at college getting City & Guilds Electrotechnical qualifications, followed by further qualifications including the C&G 2391 Inspection & Testing. There should be someone in each company who has sufficient knowledge and experience to pass the 2391 in my view, as it is supposed to assess the skills and knowledge necessary to fill in the Electrical Installation Certificate correctly.

4) The Part P qualification means that the electrical company should work to the current Edition of the Wiring Regulations (17th , and an amendment will take effect on Jan 1st 2012), they should issue Electrical Installation Certificates or Minor Works Certificates (needed when selling your house), and they should notify the Local Authority Building Control that work has been done to the standards set out in Part P of the Building Regulations, if the work done is notifiable (such as a new circuit). If the work is done “cash-in-hand” they are working the black market, avoiding VAT administration, and you probably have no guarantees of workmanship, warranties, or safety, as they will not want records of transactions.

5) Trade Associations – most electrical contractors will be members of a Trade Association, so that they can notify Building Control directly through their Trade Association. This is easier and cheaper, as going it alone costs about £150 per notification. Examples of electrical Trade Associations, in no particular order are NAPIT, NICEIC, ELECSA (with SELECT in Scotland) and so on. Another advantage of using one of their members is that they have Work Guarantee Schemes, should the company go out of business.

Eco Houses Under Construction – Event 3

After the first 2 events in July attracting over 80 visitors between them, the date for the 3rd event has now been set.

This event will be held on Saturday 10th September at 12.30pm on site at the timber frame new build.

Since the first event held at this site, a roof, triple glazed windows and lime plaster have been added. One very important development that you can’t see is the blown insulation within the timber frame walls (a recycled cellulose fibre which results in high airtightness and thermal mass but low u values and cost). To find out more about this phase of the build and the products and methodologies used, please email and I will reserve your free place at this event.

If you missed the first two events, there are summaries on this blog.

 The Eco Houses Under Construction project is funded by Climate East Midlands, East Midlands Improvement and Efficiency Partnership and Communities and Local Government with a Growing Climate Friendly Communities grant. It is delivered by the charity Groundwork East Midlands.

DIY insulation in action

If you are considering some DIY insulation, here is an update from Ian which may be of interest... "The dining room was made from half the integral garage but there was no insulation in the new wall - just 165mm of blockwork. I spoke to one of the professionals at an Eco House Group seminar in 2010 and he advised insulating it. I bought some 1.2m x 2.4m x 50mm Kingspan foam boards from secondsandco and have put most of them up. I was going to use coving adhesive but Wickes only had 25Kg bags so I used dabs of plaster on the wall and aluminium tape round the edges. I had already lined the metal door with polystyrene to keep a bit of heat in the garage. Also there was a large gap at the bottom of the door so I put 25mm strip of 6mm plywood inside an old bike inner tube and bolted it to the edge of the door."

Climate change progress in Australia

If you are on this blog because climate change is a concern, there is interesting progress on the horizon in Australia, potentially..... Follow this link to read about it or sign the petition

Introduction to Permaculture Design

Our local Straw Bale education centre at Farmeco in Screveton is running courses in introduction to Permaculture Design. While we might focus on eco houses here, our gardens are really important too, whether we focus on our carbon footprints, using water wisely, or making the most of our gardens for herbs, vegetables and wildlife. If you may be interested in a 2 day course at Farmeco Community Care Farm (14-15 September or 12-13 November), contact David Birrell at