In the developed world, how we construct and live in our buildings accounts for almost half of our overall carbon emissions. But we could significantly reduce our domestic carbon footprint if all our housing stock were adequately insulated and efficiently heated.
Of course it is not as simple as that if you happen to live in sub-standard council housing or rent an unmodernised Victorian terrace from a private landlord whose main interest is maximising the profits from their buy-to-let portfolio.
And even if you do own your home – or that part of it not covered by a mortgage – the cost of ground source heat pumps, solar electric panels and roof-top wind generators might not be within your income range – and in any case may not seem to justify their expense in terms of energy bill savings or carbon emissions averted.
But there are simple things that we can all do to substantially reduce our utility bills and make our houses less wasteful of energy. And since it is anticipated that 80% of current housing stock will still be in use in 2050, it is crucial that we make our existing homes - and how we live in them - much more energy-efficient.
It has recently been estimated in the UK that it will cost an average of £15,000 per house to achieve national carbon reduction targets. This is of course well beyond most people’s budgets but most of us have barely yet begun even to think about the cheap and easy measures that we can achieve.
The first thing is to stop giving our houses TV inspired cosmetic makeovers and throwing out the black granite worktops because they are so 1990’s now. We need to regard our homes as the assets that they really are – not commodities from which to make an annual gain, but the places where we make our lives – the basic source of our shelter and wellbeing among an interacting community of neighbours.
My own eco-building work is mainly in traditional and vernacular buildings. So the less familiar renewable materials like hemp that I highlight here are not suitable for every application. But it is worth exploring the range of natural building and insulation materials and methods that are increasingly available as alternatives to the carbon-heavy concrete, brick and breezeblock that we automatically tend to use to ‘improve’ our homes. I particularly like hemp because it is a fast growing renewable crop with many versatile uses other than as a building material and lime because it absorbs carbon dioxide as it re-carbonates into limestone. By contrast, cement gives off a tonne of carbon dioxide for each tonne manufactured and used.
(Links to some useful eco-retrofitting websites follow the pictures below)
INSULATED & BREATHING HEMP/LIME FLOOR
HEMP/LIME PLASTER INSULATED WALLS
HEMP, LIME & CLAY PARTITION WALLS
The Yellow House – http://www.theyellowhouse.org.uk/
Donnachadh McCarthy – http://www.cix.co.uk/~dmccarthy/mygreenhouse.html
Ecovation (Eco-Renovating) - http://ecovation.org.uk/
Penney Poyser – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8ATpxabVmvc
Green Building Forum – http://www.newbuilder.co.uk/forum/welcome.asp
Energy Saving Trust – http://www.energysavingtrust.org.uk/
Hemp, Lime & Clay
Steve Allin – http://www.hempbuilding.com/
Hemplime Construction Products Association – http://www.hemplime.org.uk/
Studio MGM Architects (Ralph Carpenter) - http://www.studiomgm.co.uk/hemp.htm
Sustain and Build Video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcctSvVFheA&feature=related
Building Limes Forum – http://www.buildinglimesforum.org.uk/
Sustainable Build UK – http://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/UsingLime.html
Becky Little and Alison Davie – http://www.littleanddavie.co.uk/about.htm
Devon Earth Building Association – http://www.devonearthbuilding.com/
Katy Bryce & Adam Weissman – http://www.cobincornwall.com/
Kevin McCabe Cob Building – http://www.buildsomethingbeautiful.com/
Making Cob video – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2i1cHHJAguA&feature=related