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My Shabbihaus eco retrofit project – part 1 introduction

Many of you, like me, will have listened watched or read about a wonderful renovation project where the house has become a wonderful palace of efficiency, costs 10p a year to heat and it’s the most comfortable and relaxing place in the world. You gaze on in envy at the ventilation, triple glazed windows and wonderful insulation. Then comes the tipping point, what did it cost for this the interviewer asks? ‘Oh, only £80,000 on top of the cost of the building work’ and at that moment you realise this is never going to happen in your home.

So, what can you do without breaking the bank? I thought I would share some of my experiences of trying to improve my property on a tight budget, with a low income and the property occupied throughout.

Ideally you would start with a whole house plan for your property, this includes an assessment of the general condition of the place and a list of all the efficiency improvements that it is possible to make to the property. You don’t need to carry them all out and certainly not all at once but it gives you a path for the next 10 years or so, you can also tie this in to any other projects you are planning, redecoration, extensions etc. You can see mine here.

Of course I didn’t start with this, I started when the boiler broke but I have got round to it now and I don’t think I got too far off course. The other thing you should probably do is monitor the conditions in the house so you can get a picture of it’s performance and the effect of the changes you make. I have been even worse at this but have some stats on energy use  that the smart meter collected, otherwise it comes down to ‘we felt warmer’ and ‘the mould didn’t reappear on the walls’. Still I am quite happy and it’s slowly getting more comfortable.

So, what did I and what did it cost, here we go in chronological order with the points where it coincided with other works, details to follow over the next couple of weeks

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New green extension in Hackney

Just a quick update, we broke ground on a new extension last week. It’s mostly just digging at the moment but still exciting. I got to put up a sign outside the house:

Ecoalex, new project

The project will develop over the next few weeks. The walls incorporate high levels of insulation and will be made using reclaimed materials including a white glazed brick interior and re-used wood cladding.

I spent some time in @thewashcoffee going through the plans from Clements Design with Shaun the project manager on Wednesday, checking the build process and making sure we will avoid thermal bridges. The design looks sound and we are starting on the steel supports over the next few days.

The guys all look smart in the new Ecoalex hi vis vests and are looking for opportunities to save materials on site and re-use as much as they can in the build.

Hi Vis

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Dreaming of a green Christmas?

I am certainly dreaming of one, I enjoy Christmas as much as anyone but I do worry about the waste that goes on at this time of year. Presents are great but sometimes there are rather more than anyone needs, especially in a big family. Like many families we have instituted a one present per adult rule and this has certainly cut down on unnecessary pairs of slippers etc. However cute little nieces still need a present each and we still need to get a few presents for those close to us.

So now we have reduced what can we do to re-use and recycle the presents, along with getting some nice eco friendly presents for everyone. I have tried to find a few things that can help with this.

Eco friendly Christmas paraphenalia

Recycled Christmas crackersAs well as recycling your Christmas wrapping paper make sure yours is made from recycled paper, while your at it get some recycled crackers too. You can make your own Christmas decorations quite easily or buy ones made from recycled materials and all good lights these days use LEDs, saving you energy and reducing fire risk. I have listed a selection in the products section of the website that you can buy online.

Green toys for kids

To be honest kids toys are pretty amazing these days and you aren’t going to distract them entirely from computer games and plastic Kids rocket ship toyfun but there are lots of interesting alternatives out there that you can at least supplement them with. Every kid loves to climb in boxes and a cardboard rocket ship could be even better, a wooden racing car is a much healthier alternative to a plastic one for a small child, and with fewer chemicals. Kids also love creatures and creepy crawlies so a pond dipping kit or a bug jar could make them happy. More details of these eco friendly toys here. Thinking further ahead you could get a bat box and an id book and see what bats you can attract when they come out of hibernation.

Gadgets for grown ups

Home energy monitor and heating control
Owl Intuition E energy monitor

Everyone likes a gadget at any time of the year and Christmas usually brings lots along so why not get a few that help reduce energy use rather than increase it. I have been going on for a while about my Owl monitor and heating control and I still really love it. You can impress people by showing them your houses energy use on your phone and impress yourself by turning the heating on when you are on the bus home.

I recently started looking at products in B&Q as well as NHBS and Nigel’s Eco Store and they have just started to stock Lightwave products. These link up not just to the heating and electricity but also all the sockets and light switches in the house so you can create a real smart home and control the lights and all the appliances from a remote, your pc or your home. They sound great, if you buy some let me know how you get on.

How about saving water? A water pebble makes a cool little gift, put it in your shower and it helps you reduce water usage as well as looking funky. If too much water is a problem for you at times, why not get a green roof to soak some of it up?

If you have a wood burning stove you really must get an eco fan to go with it. These sit on top of the stove and circulate warm air around the house. They are made of two types of metal so it rotates when it gets hot.

I hope these gifts have wetted your appetite for a green Christmas, I have my eye open for some more and will add them in when I find some good ones.


Eco friendly gifts for her

Some choices for the women in your life, mum, sister, wife or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any woman would be pleased to receive. Love the rainbow turbine t shirt stylish with with an eco message as eco friendly t shirt

Eco friendly gifts for him

Some choices for the men in your life, dad, brother, husband or partner. I have tried to pick a range of items that any man would be pleased to receive. Cufflinks and skin care may seem a bit dull but these are a cut above your average and the skin care is certainly not a generic body shop I don’t know what to buy you box.


Using less energy

The miracle of the Owl

I hadn’t realised quite how good my new Owl thermostat and heating control is until now. I have obviously been showing off to friends about the smartphone app showing how little electricity I am using etc which is all very exciting.

owl-intuition-c-dataHowever the cold weather has really bought it into it’s own. When I set it up I programmed in the times I wanted the heating on, start up temperatures etc and left it at that. We had a nice warm summer the heating never came on and I kind of forgot about it. Then, one cold morning last week the heating came on for five minutes or so in the morning warmed the house up and turned off again. A couple of days later it did the same and this evening for the first time it came on in the evening.

With my old set up where I programmed the boiler, it came on at that time and then remained on until the end of the timed period unless it got really really hot and then the thermostat might turn it off. The new Owl system starts with checking the temperature and then only turns the boiler on when it is needed, the thermostat seems much more accurate too. An added bonus is that even when the heating is on the new boiler is so much more efficient I am saving money then too.

I am going to recommend them to all my customers I think, you can find out more about them here.


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What can I do to reduce my power bills? – top ten tips (and a small rant)

When I am out talking to people about their homes the biggest concern they have is not the environment but how much money they are spending on gas and electricity. The announcement of a 9% price hike by Scottish and Southern Electricity is probably just a precursor to more increases from the other energy suppliers so switching is not a long term solution.

Even with cuts in the feed-in tariff solar panels are still a viable option but they do nothing to reduce your consumption and require up front investment. The first and best thing you can do to reduce your bills is reduce your demand for electricity.

I am often astonished at people’s contempt for energy saving measures such as turning appliances off standby and switching to low energy light bulbs. They seem to regard their profligacy as a matter of pride, boasting of how they have their heating up so high that they walk around their house in their pants. If they really want to do something stupid, they could try standing in the street handing out £10 notes. Presumably these are the same idiots who buy urban 4×4 vehicles, cars whose only benefits are increased fuel consumption and a much greater chance of killing a child. If even Jeremy Clarkson thinks you are a fool you are in real trouble.

However, assuming you’re not a fool and would actually like to save money quickly and easily what are the top ten things can you do?

1. Turn stuff off:

Lights, phone chargers, TVs etc. You can get Standby busters to do this for you or just get some exercise and bend down and turn them off at the plug sockets. Several options in Nigel’s eco store, that one seems to be the cheapest.

2. Close doors and windows.

Not always so easy with kids in the house but if you have the heating on and a door or window open you are heating the outside world rather than your house.

3. Get an electricity monitor with a nice big display and put it somewhere obvious.

You will find yourself horrified at the electricity use of some of your appliances. Just seeing the meter tick over will make you reduce your consumption, there is a good selection available here.

4. Carry out simple draught excluding.

Look for cracks around windows and doors and fill them. You can use builders caulk for small gaps and expanding foam or insulation where they get bigger.

5. Get your loft insulated, maybe this should be number one.

If you haven’t got loft insulation or have less than 60mm you can get it installed for free before December this year.

6. Get your cavities filled.

Again free before December 

7. Turn the thermostat down.

Walking round your house in your pants is for Homer Simpson, put some clothes on and turn the heating down.

8. Change your bulbs.

Incandescents are a thing of the past but how many money wasting halogen bulbs are there in your kitchen. Switch to a decent LED bulb now and save money straight away 

9. Draw the curtains.

A good thick curtain will keep the heat in so draw them at night and make sure they are tucked behind any poorly sighted radiators .

10. Seal your floorboards.

This used to be done by a good thick bit of carpet but the trend for wooden floors has led to howling gales sweeping through the living rooms of London. Seal the gaps between the boards with PVA or something like Draughtex, see my video on the options here.

There are many more things you can do but these will provide an excellent start and a big cut in fuel bills. Then you can think about renewable energy, switching suppliers etc to get the best value from your newly efficient house. If you would like a detailed report on your home I can offer an Ecoalex Home Survey and if you want a full analysis of your fuel usage and how much you can save I can offer you a Parity Home Energy Masterplan. See my website for details of both.

So don’t be an idiot! Save money now with some of the simple measures above. Let me know how you get on and any handy tips you may have.

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Thermal blinds

Catching up with a few things round the home today and finished installing my new thermal blinds in the bedrooms. These serve two purposes, they are blackout blinds to keep out the light from buildings behind and they also thermally regulate the rooms.


I got the blinds from Blinds 2 Go, whilst the blinds themselves are of very high quality their cutting service leaves a little to be desired. They claim to make the deductions to ensure that the blinds fit in a recess however ours arrived too large to fit in the window recess. To remedy this I replaced the bulky and cheap feeling plastic fittings with metal ones from Fix my blinds, this gave us enough room to fit the blinds in the recess.

Now I have got the blinds up I am very pleased with them. They have a slightly spongy backing with a reflective surface that provides the thermal barrier.

So far I have only tested their ability to keep heat out and this seems to be working fine. The blinds are very close to the window so work in a similar way to secondary glazing creating an air pocket between the window and the blind. It is certainly more attractive than secondary glazing.

Although this may seem like a small thing it can have a big impact on the energy efficiency of the home. This report by Historic Scotland shows blinds to be an effective part of the strategy for your home, one of many incremental steps that can improve your home without costing the earth.

If you want to know more about what you can do to your house why not commission an Ecoalex home eco audit. If you want a full model of the efficiency of your home consider a Parity Home Energy Masterplan.

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Home Energy Masterplans

I have nearly completed my training to become a Home Energy Masterplan surveyor for Parity Projects. This seems to be the perfect complement to the rest of my work as it provides detailed energy modelling for each house.

Their masterplan covers energy use in the home in tremendous detail, modelling the energy performance in the house. You start with the roof, walls and floor then every window and door. All their dimensions and components are entered into the Parity Software, then you add in the appliances in each room and their usages. Once all the information has been inputted by the surveyor they run all the figures through their computer and produce a bespoke report detailing all the changes that can be made to a home, how much energy they will save (and how much money) and how much carrying out the work might cost, obviously really useful information for anyone looking at options for work on their house.

So I have completed my test survey at an example house and have only one more stage to go, carrying out an actual survey under supervision. I am sure I could do this quickly if anyone would like to get one for their house, they start at £250 for a flat and £290 find out more here. Email me if you want a survey carried out on your property.

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Eco audits

I have completed Eco audits on a few houses now for Ecoalex and thought I might share with you some of the things I have learnt.

Most people so far have been more interested in getting their houses warmer rather than saving money. Their houses are failing on the most basic of functions, keeping the occupants comfortable. Using fewer resources and saving money is also important but hasn’t been the key driver. There are also often easy and cheap actions that can be taken to make the houses warmer. For instance this front door has a wonderful halo of light around it from the sunshine streaming through the large gaps all around it.

You can see in the picture I have pointed out a couple of other simple things to resolve like the unused curtain rail, ripe for a nice curtain to keep out draughts. Front doors, particularly nice hand made ones seem to be letting in air in many houses, they can be sealed quite easily either with DIY solutions. If you don’t fancy DIY we can fit routed draught excluders to the door.

Another area I have noticed people neglecting a little is insulation. There is usually some in the loft but often not enough, then there are loads of other areas such as crawl spaces round a room in the roof that can be stuffed full of insulation. At the moment it is available for about £3 a roll in DIY stores as energy companies fulfill their obligations and you can even get it installed for free in certain circumstances so get it done now. Get in touch with me if you want a hand




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Energy savings from insulation project

I have just got the energy bills from my first insulation and draught proofing project for and they are excellent:


This was for a four bedroom detached house in Hertfordshire and we carried out the following measures in November/December last year:

Since then we have added 200mm of insulation in the flat roof of the house whilst building a green roof and also in other hard to access roof areas with the help of a local builder. This should mean we see a reduction in energy over next year as well.

In 2012 we plan to start installing internal insulation in the empty cavities in the walls of the house.

Apart from the energy savings, carbon reductions and money saving the most important thing to the occupants of the house is that the living room is warm and comfortable.

Have a look at my website and let me know if you would like me to do the same for your house.