First things first


Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Donnachadh McCarthy and Energy Saving in Period Homes

Donnachadh McCarthy on ‘Energy Saving in Period Homes’ on 27 November 2009 at Mycenae House

Donnachadh began by describing the speed with which the polar ice is melting, and the potentially disastrous consequences to everyone from global warming. He asked how many people in the audience know their carbon footprint, and emphasised that this is the basis for changing habits and reducing energy consumption, saying ‘We only take notice of the measurable’. Many of his friends and clients take care to save energy in small ways but then expend a large amount of energy by flying log distances. The first requirement, therefore, is to make a meaningful impact by considering a person’s total carbon footprint, and this involves more than just the energy efficiency of their home.

Donnachadh explained that he lives in a typical period house with solid brick walls. It is carbon negative as the solar photovoltaic panels on the roof (the first house in London to have them) generate more electricity than he needs, and he exports the rest to the national grid. To save electricity, he has recently changed all his lighting from low energy bulbs to LEDs (light emitting diodes) which have a rating of about 1 to 2 watts each. He only uses gas for cooking. Solar thermal panels on his roof produce hot water in the summer months, and in winter his high temperature wood burning stove with back boiler generates hot water and also warms his house with the aid of an ‘eco-fan’ that sits on top of the stove and blows warm air away from it. He burns waste wood, but it is possible to buy wood that is grown as a bio-fuel.

He has not added wall insulation because external insulation is not be possible in a conservation area and is expensive, while internal insulation slightly reduces the room and may create a damp problem. Donnachadh also saw no merit in either wind turbines on roofs or ground / air source heat pumps, and was critical of Aga cookers, which are lit all year round.

Donnachadh emphasised the need to draught-proof as much as possible (letterboxes, keyholes, around doors and windows and anywhere that could be a source of air leakage. In older properties this includes sealing the chimneys with chimney balloons.

Alistair Smit from iGenSolar, a local solar design and installation company, described the benefits of solar PV roof panels (generating electricity) and solar thermal roof panels to provide hot water. The cost of installing such systems is paid for by the ‘free’ energy provided, particularly as energy costs are likely to rise significantly in the future, and because of the government’s proposed Feed In Tarrif system that is due to begin on 1st April 2010. This might produce an income of a few hundred pounds per year and would reduce the time it will take to recover the capital cost of the installation.

James Barratt of French & Sashey, a local draught-proofing and timber window restoration company, spoke about his own company’s experience of timber windows. Although they can replace timber windows most of their work is draught-proofing, which is much cheaper at a rate of about £300 per window. Even windows with rotten timber in them can often be saved by replacing the bad wood. James also believes that draught-proofing timber windows is much better than secondary glazing, which is mostly made of PVC or aluminium and costs more to install and is less effective. Double-glazing is only worthwhile if the whole windows need replacing. PVC windows were criticised as being environmentally unfriendly.

Pippa Hack, Strategic Development Manager, described Greenwich Council’s energy-saving policies, including demonstration houses and grants, and explained that the Borough has signed-up to the 10/10 carbon saving initiative, though this does not apply to the buildings of their own tenants and schools.

The packed meeting of some 70 people applauded the speakers for an evening that had been extremely informative and enjoyable.

Transition Westcombe: Average Carbon Savings & Costs Chart for Energy Savings Measures (Short)

Savings measure / Annual saving Kgs CO2 / Source / Cost / Saving per Year / Payback

1. Loft Insulation 0 – 270mm / 800 / EST / £230 / £200 / 2 Years
2. Loft Insulation 50-270mm / 400 / EST / £240 / £55 k/ 5 Years
3. Floor Insulation / 270 / EST / £100 / £45 / 2 Years
4. Cavity Wall Insulation / 1050 / EST / £260 / £145 / 2 Years
5. Solid Wall Insulation, Int’l / 2400 / EST / £7000 / £380 / 18 Years
6. Solid Wall Insulation, Ext’l / 2500 / EST / £12000 / £400 / 30 Years
7. Double glazing (new) / 720 / FC / £6000 / £135 / 45 Years
8. Solar thermal hot water / 390 / BRE / £5900 / £560 / 10 Years
9. Draughtproofing / 150 / EST / £75 / £45 / 2 Years
10. Temp controls, boiler & rads / 840 / EST / £200 / £65 / 3 Years
11. Wood-burning stove-boiler / 6000 / EST / £9000 / £600 / 15 Years
12. Wood-burning stove / 600 / EST / £3000 / £200 / 15 Years
13. Reduce temp. 1 degree / 200 / FC/ £55 /
14. Heat one less room / 100 / CG /
15. Low pressure shower, not bath / 100 / CG /
16. Hot water tank insulation / 150 / EST / £10 / £20 / 6 mths
17. Ground source heat pump / 0 / DECC / £10000 / £190 / 36 Years
18. New condensing boiler , if / 1300 / EST / £1500 / £235 / 6 Years
existing one is 10 yrs old

Sources :
BRE = Building Research Establishment. Changing Spaces.
CG = Chris Goodall, Guardian
DECC = Low Carbon Buildings Programme, Dept of Energy & Climate Change
EST = Energy Savings Trust
FC = Felicity Carus, Guardian
IGS = iGenSolar
Note. The full Carbon Savings Chart and Carbon Calculator for your individual footprint is available in table form by emailing


A. Contact the Energy Saving Trust on and key in your postcode and requirements for information on national grant schemes. 0800 512012

B. Utility Company Grants for Insulation
Try your utility supplier (gas or electricity) for their CERT offers. Look at their web sites or telephone them for insulation offers. You can take up offers from any of the energy companies, regardless of who supplies your gas and electricity.

C. Government grants for insulation
Warm Front.. Up to £3,500 to households on certain benefits and over 60, to improve their heating and energy efficiency.
D. Greenwich Council Grants
Grants are help are available for insulation and heating improvement for people on certain benefits

E. National Grants for generating energy & solar hot water through the Low Carbon Buildings Programme:
Solar thermal hot water: Overall maximum of £400 or 30 per cent of cost
Ground source heat pumps: Overall maximum of £1,200 or 30 per cent of cost
Wood heaters/stoves: Overall maximum of £600 or 20 per cent of costs
Wood fuelled boiler systems: Overall maximum of £1,500 or 30 per cent of cost
Solar photovoltaics (solar panels): Maximum of £2,500 or 50 per cent of costs
Wind turbines: Maximum of £2,500 or 30 per cent of the relevant eligible costs.
Small hydro: Overall maximum of £2,500 or 30 per cent of the relevant eligible costs.

This scheme ends on 30th April 2011. Applications for power generation (electricity) can only be accepted up to March 2010 when Feed-in Tariffs will be introduced. Heating only applications can be made up to April 2011 but applicants should take into account that projects must be completed before this date.
The Feed-in Tariff is due to come into force in April 2010, when parts of the Low Carbon Buildings Programme are phased out. Residents can at the moment still gain the benefit of the Gov Grant ahead of this date next year when the up-front grants will cease and the Feed-in Tariff will take over as the incentive. The addition of the Feed-in Tariff or Clean Energy Cashback scheme due to come into legislation in April 2010 this then makes Solar PV one of the best solutions to meet this requirement as it can also start to generate a site income.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

A community orchard for Westcombe Park?

We need your suggestions - urgently! - for identifying possible sites for a community orchard.

We have been approached by an organisation promoting community orchards in London, and they would like us to register our interest in taking part so they can apply for funding to help us set up an orchard in our area.

To make their funding bid they need to hear from us in the next couple of days, and our confirmation of interest should include any ideas we have on potential sites.

That's where we need your ideas.

Don't worry too much about the practical aspects, including ownership - that can be looked into and negotiated on later. You may think it needs to be a very big site, but in fact an orchard could be small or large. You might know of land in your street, or in a disused local nook, or on a local housing estate.

Please have a think and email any ideas you have for sites to, with the subject line 'Orchard sites'.