It’s not easy being green…
Richard Lemmer | 25.04.12
Guest blogger Julia Hailes discusses the best way turn a property green...
In 1986, when I bought my London flat, I re-painted and re-carpeted it throughout. Since then it’s had a few minor makeovers, some carried out by tenants, as the property has been rented since 1995. But in 2010 I decided to do a major overhaul – and the key objective was to make the flat as green as possible.
I’ve worked as an environmental consultant for 25 years and have written nine books on eco-issues, including green building. Yet despite all of my experience, I missed “Superhomes” status on this project by just 1 per cent. Superhomes is a scheme that promotes eco-renovation. To obtain their accreditation, the carbon emissions of a property have to be reduced by 60 per cent or more – my rating was 59 per cent.
The pivotal factor in falling short appears to have been my windows. The Victorian sash windows had been in a terrible condition, rattling in places and with large gaps that let the air in and the heat out. I got them repaired and draft-proofed, which did reduce the heat loss, but clearly I should have had them double-glazed.
My mistake was to repair the windows before eco-renovating the entire property. I subsequently discovered that I could have used Slimlite double-glazing in the existing windows. One compensating factor is that I’ve installed insulating blinds throughout the property (although they can only retain heat when they are pulled down).
Insulation is the key to eco-renovation. Given that my flat is at the top of the building, I wondered if I could exclude insulating the floors and instead benefit from the heating in the flats below. “Definitely not,” said my architect, Jerry Tate. There were two reasons why. First, insulation provides acoustic benefits, reducing noise transfer between flats. Second, the flat below could be vacant and would therefore not send warmth through to my floor. Taking account of both performance and eco-credentials, I chose a range of insulation products from Knauf, including glass fibre wall insulation, 85 per cent of which is composed from recycled glass bottles.
Choosing the flooring was one of the most challenging tasks. In the sitting room and kitchen area I wanted something that was durable, sustainable and looked good. I opted for bamboo, one of the fastest growing plants on earth. I chose one that wouldn’t get dented by high heels and so will last a long time. It looks good, too: the bamboo has been squashed flat, so the natural ridges are visible.
Of equal importance is the sensible disposal of waste materials from the flat. Keen to avoid landfill disposal I tracked down DS Smith Recycling, who took all the waste, including carpets, wood and plasterboard, and recycled it. The clean wood was made into chipboard and some of the gypsum powder in the plasterboard was incorporated into new boards.
I started on this project with the huge advantage of being an environmental expert and yet I struggled. Despite using an eco-architect, the research we all had to carry out to find the right products was extremely time-consuming. I am delighted with the end result, and I’m sure it will be cost-efficient to live in, but I don’t think I’ll be able to increase the rent.
Domestic eco-renovation needs to be much easier and more cost efficient if it’s going to make any serious contribution to reducing the UK’s carbon emissions.
A version of this post originally appeared on FT.com
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