Thursday, January 03, 2008

Putting my own house in order

As a Green councillor, clearly I talk green, and push for greener policies to be passed locally and nationally, but to what extent am I actually practising what I preach and living a green lifestyle? I do the easy things (use low energy light bulbs, recycle, compost, buy organic, local food as much as possible, walk, cycle, use public transport, don't own a car, avoid flying whenever possible etc etc), but today was the day I got to find out just how green my home is (or isn't as the case may be), as I had someone from the London Green Homes Concierge Service come and do a full audit of the energy efficiency of my flat and discuss ways of improving it.

The London Green Homes Concierge Service was launched with a flourish by Ken Livingstone and Brockley councillor and London Assembly member Darren Johnson at the beginning of December. It was one of the Green Group budget items that the Mayor agreed to in order to get the support of the Greens for his budget. You may remember that Lewisham was a pilot area for this scheme earlier on in the year. Since that pilot the scheme has evolved so that it isn't just a service providing an energy efficiency assessment of your home, but also a 'concierge' service that provides advice, arranges quotes and generally holds your hand for the next 12-months as you make the changes to improve your home and reduce your carbon emissions. I was going to sign up to the pilot scheme, but wasn't quite clear what I was getting for my money. The new scheme, now launched London-wide, seemed more comprehensive so I decided to give it a whirl. Being green shouldn't be difficult or a sacrifice, individuals need support to make changes, which is exactly what this particular scheme is about.

Anyway, two Green Homes officers turned up at my home, bang on time today and did a thorough assessment of the energy efficiency or otherwise of my home. Was easily impressed when one of them said he had done an energy audit of Ethical Man Justin Rowlatt's house (well they must be the experts, mustn't they?)! They did an assessment for an EPC (energy performance certificate, the thing that's part of the homesellers' packs), but also went much further than that, with thermal imaging, a blower thingy (technical term) to assess how draughty my flat was, using a smoke pen to show me how heat was escaping through my leaky sash windows etc. At one point the entrance to the flat looked like something from a crime scene/contamination zone as it was all covered over with this blower door thing to assess how airtight my home is.

After all that they sat down and went through their findings and suggestions with me. My flat scored slightly above national average on the EPC at 63/100, where the national average is about 55/100, but way below the 80/100 required by current building regs for a new-build house. This was mostly because as a ground floor terraced flat I don't lose any heat through a roof or through the walls shared with my neighbours. Also, the EPC doesn't take into account draughts, and as I was all too aware following the cold spell in December, my flat is very draughty.

Frighteningly, they assessed the carbon footprint of my 2-bed flat at 3.7 tonnes a year, way above what we need to get our total individual carbon footprints down to in this country to avoid runaway climate change (in my defence, this didn't take into account the fact that I have a green electricity supplier and assumed levels of gas use that may well be above what I actually use!). Then they suggested measures I could take to get this down to 2.2 tonnes and save 1.5 tonnes of carbon a year.

Interestingly, the number one thing I could do to improve my home insulation is to add wall insulation to my solid brick walls, either internally or externally. Jean was right! This apparently would reduce my carbon emissions by 20%. The nub of course is cost and the trade-off is between having internal wall insulation, which takes about 2 inches from the width of your room on each side it is installed, plus entails redecorating onto the insulated plasterboard, or external insulation, which would involve adding insulation and rendering to the outside of a Victorian property and may look unsightly, but apparently is slightly more effective. Something to ponder, and I will certainly do it as and when I redecorate areas, but not sure whether I am willing to get the whole lot done just yet, with all the upheaval that entails. They're getting me quotes anyway.

After that, the next big energy efficiency gains, but again at a big financial cost, were replacing the windows and getting underfloor insulation and sealing the gaps between the floorboards. The efficiency savings they proposed were based on triple-glazing, rather than double-glazing and I've agreed for them to get me some quotes as my windows are at the very least in need of renovation, if not replacement. I suspect that triple-glazed sash windows will be horrendously expensive, but it may be a sensible once in a lifetime investment. I'll see. I'm quite keen to get the underfloor insulation and to get the floorboards sealed, as my lovely stripped floors are very draughty, but I'm not keen for the insulation to become nesting material for all the local mice that occasionally venture into my flat, so will need a bit of reassurance on that front.

Replacing my boiler with a gas-condensing one would knock about 10% off my home's carbon emissions, but as my current boiler is only about 7 years old, I won't be forking out on that just yet. They also suggested replacing the radiator temperature controls with something a bit flashier involving zoning and room thermostats and again are getting me quotes on that. The other measure they sometimes suggest, such as solar hot-water, aren't options for a ground floor flat with no roof and a garden shaded by a huge London plane tree.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to getting the full report and finding out more and getting some quotes for some of the work, though if I have everything they suggested done it will be very expensive. In the meantime I have been filling in draughts in my windows with rolled up bits of old council meeting papers and am going to make a big sausage draught excluder to go in front of my cellar door. Greening my flat up and improving its energy efficiency is my big resolution for this year, watch this space for updates.

1 comment:

Jim Jay said...

Good post - I like this sort of thing