How to Repair and Reuse

Fixing is in my blood. It comes from an insatiable curiosity about how things work, be they black holes and the Big Bang, or why things stop working, like the kitchen drawer that suddenly won’t close. Quantum physics and General Relativity are beyond me, but I sorted out the kitchen drawer after close inspection. In between there is a huge range of things, both fascinating and (often) fixable.


This is Week 9 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week’s blog, on the step ‘Repair and Reuse’, is from expert fixer, Philip le Riche, who has run countless Restart Parties, keeping hundreds of fixed items out of landfill.


Why do I love to repair things?

It all started when, still at infant school, I was given a few batteries, bulbs, and bits of wire which I quickly learned to connect together. Not many years later I progressed to a crystal set which my father and I built. I messed with electronics throughout my teens, and unsurprisingly, took a degree in Electronic Engineering. For most of my life I’ve had some electronic project or other on the go. And if anything broke, my instinct was always to try and fix it.

“…for most of my life I’ve had some electronic project or other on the go. And if anything broke, my instinct was always to try and fix it”

Why do we have such a turnover of electrical and electronic goods?

Partly it’s because many devices are no longer built to last, but built to a price. On the other hand our toaster, a wedding present in 1979, is still giving daily service after 42 years.

Another reason is that spare parts and service manuals are often unavailable or exorbitantly priced, or essential security updates are no longer available. Some manufacturers, whilst trumpeting their green credentials in fact do all they can through legal, commercial and technical means to stifle the independent repair sector.

The Right to Repair movement was born in the US out of the frustration of farmers, often of necessity very practical folk, prevented from repairing their farm machinery. Right to repair legislation is often hotly contested by manufacturers, using specious arguments about safety and quality, indeed, recent legislation in the UK has been so watered down as to have little practical effect. The Restart Project has been at the forefront of campaigning.

St Lukes Repair Fair

The Restart Project and Restart Parties

When I retired I got more heavily into fixing. Looking around for a way to usefully employ my new found freedom, I came across the Restart Project. Their mission is to fix our relationship with electronics by enabling people to fix stuff instead of throwing it away. Watch the one minute Restart Code here. Not knowing very much what to expect, I attended my first “Restart Party” in Kentish Town Community Centre and found a real buzz: members of the public with their broken electrical and electronic items, and a dedicated group of skilled amateur fixers assisting them.

I immediately caught the bug and have since attended dozens of similar events. One of the fascinations is that you never know what challenges you’re going to be faced with. Perhaps the most unusual was a dentist who brought along his machine for filling root canals! (Unfortunately it needed a new transformer which we couldn’t help him with on the spot.) 

With more familiar items we often have a good success rate.

Table lamps and headphones we can almost always fix, or suggest where to get spare fittings. Radios, cameras, TVs and monitors, battery operated toys, musical keyboards, paper shredders and small kitchen, household or garden appliances are just a few of the many and varied items we’ve had success with. We see many laptops which, with suitable attention, could still give a number of years’ service.

As well as electricals, some repair events also cater for fabrics, bikes and furniture. The same curiosity about how things are put together will take you far with these too. Though not my speciality, I was thus able to replace the zip in my gardening anorak and repair a trouser pocket! If you want to learn how to mend clothes, Sustainable St Albans has an excellent page on Sustainable Fashion to help you get started, and YouTube is your friend!

The impact of repairs

Beyond the satisfaction of fixing something and seeing the delight on the owner’s face when you’ve done so, fixing helps reduce the mountains of e-waste produced every year, and the carbon footprint of replacing all those items.

During the 2021 lockdown, as one of a group of volunteers with local charity Computer Friendly, we refurbished many donated laptops for disadvantaged children. We estimated that manufacture of new replacement devices would have generated some 88,000kg of CO2, the equivalent of driving 460,000 miles or taking 90 return transatlantic flights!

St Lukes Repair Fair

How you can learn to make repairs

You might think that all this is beyond you, but why not have a go? There are lots of resources online to help you.

Screws are there to be undone, with just a little care and maybe an egg box to keep them organised. But you will do well to get a universal screwdriver with a good range of interchangeable bits. Just remember to unplug a mains device before starting, then be prepared to be amazed at what you find inside!

For the know-how, the Internet is your friend. Search for the make and model of your device with the problem appended, e.g. “disassembly” or “replace battery”. For hints and tips on a wide range of types of device, as well as basic theory, the Restart Wiki assumes no prior knowledge and provides a wealth of information.

Restart Parties and Repair Cafés are an excellent way of learning about repair and gaining confidence as well as getting your stuff fixed. Though suspended during the pandemic, they are held by various easily reached groups in London and one in Bedford, with more are springing up. Upcoming events are advertised by The Restart Project.  To start one locally we mainly need a small but keen group to organise it. Could that be you? Fixers can be found.

What individuals can do

  • Learn to make simple repairs.
  • Support the repair sector whenever you can. It provides good jobs as well as helping save the planet. Search online.
  • Offer your old smartphone, tablet or laptop on eBay, Freegle or Freecycle, even if broken, instead of leaving it in the bottom of a cupboard. But wipe your personal data first.
  • Consider buying independently but reliably refurbished devices rather than new, and save money! Do you really need the very latest model?
  • Recycle your devices, but only as a last resort. Recovering scarce raw materials can be difficult and expensive, but is better than landfill.

Remember every item you repair or reuse is progress towards a more sustainable future, and don’t forget to spread the word.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Philip’s inspiring advice to choose the “Repair and Reuse” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on “dialing it down” by Ian Yenney.

The Road To My First Electric Vehicle

I remember thinking I would never become an EV driver but now I’m a convert. This is the story of my journey to a true believer.


This is Week 8 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We will have a guest blog each week until November’s UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

This week’s blog, on the step ‘Drive electric’, is from proud EV driver Shaun Williams, Sales & Marketing Director of St Albans-based EB Charging. EB Charging offers EV charging solutions, such as the new charging posts at Westminster Lodge.


“I’m a car person, I love driving!”

A few years ago – before I joined EB Charging – I worked with our Marketing Director, Dave, at a previous job. We were chatting about the fact I wanted to buy a new car. Dave had already pledged to stop flying in his commitment to doing his bit for the environment and had just returned from a trip to Spain, where he’d taken the train.

When I told Dave I was considering a big, fast German GT model, his response was exactly what I expected. He told me to buy an EV: “and not one of those hybrids. You want to get a full Battery Electric Vehicle (BEV).” In the same conversation, he also predicted that the date the UK would stop selling new petrol and diesel cars would be brought forward, which it has.

I gave the standard ‘petrol head’ response: “No way! I’m a car person, and I love driving.” I reminded him of his own car ownership history, which included some very fast cars with big engines. He said: “Well, nobody was aware of the environmental issues when I was driving those things.” He reminded me that now we know better, we have an obligation to do better. And in hindsight, my response was more than a bit hypocritical for someone working in the green energy supply and efficiency space.

“I gave the standard ‘petrol head’ response: “No way! I’m a car person, and I love driving.””

Besides, I’d already had some previous EV experience which I had mixed feelings about. In my previous role, I’d driven a Mercedes plug-in hybrid EV (PHEV) which had a large petrol engine and a small battery capable of around 16 miles on a full charge. The car itself was nice, but I remember thinking: “What’s the point of this? You can’t go anywhere using the battery, it just flicks over to the petrol engine when the journey has barely started.”

The personal benefits of that hybrid as a company car were fantastic: reduced benefit-in-kind (BIK) tax, reduced road tax, an initial purchase incentive and no congestion charge. But how could all that be justified for a car that did 16 miles using its battery and then swapped to a high-polluting petrol engine? To me, it felt like nothing more than a token gesture.

Photo by Michael Fousert on Unsplash

“You’ll have to get an EV now…”

Fast forward a few years, and a few more gas-guzzling cars later, and I accepted a new role with EB Charging. I knew that as soon as I saw Dave he was going to tell me, again, that I needed to buy a BEV.

After a meeting with the CEO in which he outlined our vision, values and strategy, we went outside to look at the EV charging system in the car park. Immediately, he pointed at my German oil burner and said: “You can’t drive that anymore.” As if on cue, Dave came out of the office and said: “You’ll have to get an EV now.”

And suddenly, my EV ownership was a case of when and not if. That night I remember sitting at home, thinking about all the reasons not to go electric:

  • “I can’t switch to an EV, I drive too many miles.”
  • “The range of the battery is too short for me to get anywhere.”
  • “There aren’t enough chargers in the UK yet.”
  • “EVs are too expensive.”
  • “There is not enough choice in the EV market.”
  • “They aren’t really that environmentally-friendly…”

I was getting range anxiety before I’d even bought the car! Now, I know that none of these things are true. They’re simply myths that need to be busted.

“I was getting range anxiety before I’d even bought the car! Now, I know that none of these things are true. They’re simply myths that need to be busted.”

So, the next day, I started the process of finding myself an EV. It took a little research and a few phone calls, but I’m now the proud owner of a used Tesla Model S, and I love driving it as much as I loved driving my petrol cars.

Inevitably, the first person I saw when I got to the office with my new car was Dave. “Well done,” he said, “Now you just have to stop flying!”

There was only one response: “That will never happen to me.”

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

Where to start: find all the information you need

Interested in hearing more about Shaun’s journey to EV ownership? Check out this Radio Verulam interview [link to follow after broadcast], where he talks in more detail about buying, charging, and driving his electric car and becoming part of the EV community.

Go to the new resources page on the Sustainable St Albans website, to find video guides, local dealerships, a searchable database of EVs, and more.


Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

Join in today and use Shaun’s inspiring advice to choose the “Drive Electric” Step as your pledge.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26. Each blog will focus on one of the 16 steps. Look out for next week’s blog on Repair and Reuse by Philip le Riche.

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

5 good reasons not to talk about climate (and why you should anyway)

This week marks the start of our #CountdownToCOP campaign, where we encourage people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps, and make the changes which really matter. We will have a blog every Sunday until the international climate talks in November, COP26, focussing on one of the 16 steps each week.


To kick us off, Catherine Ross, our Sustainable St Albans trustee and author of our Climate Conversation pack, focuses on the Count Us In step “Talk to Friends”. She looks at all good the reasons not to talk about the climate.


1. It’s weird and uncomfortable. Who brings up climate change with their family, friends and colleagues?

It’s true, talking about anything serious with friends, family, and colleagues can be difficult.  Asking people to talk about climate change feels a bit like talking to them about weight loss or giving up smoking; you don’t want your mates to feel you are judging them, or being ‘holier than thou’. Plus, it means mentioning something frightening and sometimes overwhelming; the havoc climate change is wreaking on the world.

But, the thing is, talking about climate issues is critically important. 

The well-researched Count Us In framework lists “talking to friends” as one of the 16 highest impact steps you can take. When the world-renowned climate scientist and communicator Katherine Hayhoe gave her TED talk, she chose to call it “The most important thing you can do to fight climate change: Talk about it”. 

If you do one thing after reading this blog, watch her talk.  

The chances are, your friends, family and colleagues will be glad of a chance to talk. Our recent residents survey tells us 86% of people are worried or very worried about climate change. They may well be relieved that you have made the first move.  

2. I’m no climate expert. I don’t know enough to talk confidently about climate change. 

I understand this one too.  What if someone asks a tricky technical question about carbon dioxide levels, ice ages, or carbon capture, and you’re left feeling out-on-a-limb? 

If this is your worry, then here are three things to remember; 

First, no-one can argue with you about how you feel. If you say to someone, “I’m worried about climate change, and I’d really like to understand better what I can do about it.  Do you feel the same way?” then you’re not claiming any special expertise, but you are opening up a conversation.  You’re engaging as equals, who want to know more. 

Second, there are loads of materials out there to help you.  For example, Sustainable St Albans has a ready-made pack called Climate Conversations which takes you step-by-step through a conversation. Using Climate Conversation means you can have a climate conversation with your friends, family or colleagues without anyone needing to be the expert. 

Third, you don’t need to be a climate scientist to talk about the actions you are going to take in your own life. You’re an expert on what changes will work for you, so focus on that. The Count Us In framework gives you the information on what steps are most effective, and you can use this to talk to you friends and family about which steps would work for them.  (You can sign up for Count Us In as part of the St Albans Climate Action Network, #StAlbansCAN.)

3. I’m not convinced it will make a difference. 

Having face-to-face conversations with your friends and family might not directly reduce your carbon pollution but it’s one of the most important things you can do. Research shows that friends and loved ones are some of our most trusted sources of information. By talking about your experiences you’ll raise awareness of climate issues and you might help someone else feel confident enough to take their first step too.

There are other benefits too. Sharing your experiences with others might give you the support or determination to succeed with your own next steps.  You might find they have tips for you too, for example about local solar panel installers. 

Talking can also help you and those close to you deal with any eco-anxiety you have. By sharing your feelings and realising you aren’t alone, it can help you cope. 

Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

4. I don’t have a clue where to begin.  How do I start a conversation about climate change?

You will know the best way with those close to you, but here are possible openers:

  • “Do you know any good local bike routes? I’m trying to ride more because I’m worried about climate change and I’m looking for recommendations.“
  • “I had a great vegan takeaway last night.  I wasn’t sure whether I would like it, but actually it was delicious.  I’m trying to eat less meat because I’m worried about climate change.” 
  • “This jumper was a great bargain, do you like it?  I found it online in a secondhand store. I’m trying to buy fewer new clothes because I’m worried about climate change.”
  • “My daughter was really upset about climate change last night, and I felt a bit helpless because I didn’t know what to say to make her feel better.  Does that happen at yours as well?” 
  • “I’ve signed up for the local St Albans Count Us In page because I’m worried about climate change, and want to do something more. Have you heard about it? I’ll send you the link.” 

Choose a small practical thing to comment on, which is natural for you to say, and then link it to how you feel. Ask for their advice or input. Then see how they respond, and take it from there. 

It is often better to avoid talking about climate change in the abstract. Think about the things that matter most to the people close to you, and explore how taking action can help them protect the things they love and improve their lives day-to-day. That’s different for different people, but might mean starting with the state of the lake in Verulam Park, how air quality affects their child’s asthma, or how cycling will help with getting fit. 

Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

5. I do want to have a conversation about climate change, but I don’t know how.

This is where Sustainable St Albans can help you.  You can use our ready-made Climate Conversation pack to guide you through. 

You simply gather a group of friends or colleagues, either on-line or in person. We provide all the materials you need to hold your own Climate Conversation.

A Climate Conversation is a chance to take time to discuss the climate crisis, your thoughts for the future, and deciding what actions you could take. It takes about 2 hours, or a couple of lunch-hours at work.

You could use the Climate Conversation pack at a work team meeting, in your book group, faith group, mums’ group, or any other small group you are part of.  Why not send a WhatsApp today to a few people, and see if they are interested? 

Our website has all the information and FAQs.

If you want to know more how to talk about climate, we also really recommend the Climate Outreach’s Talking Climate guide.  They suggest useful mnemonic based on REAL TALK. 

I know it might not be easy, but it’s important and worthwhile, so please do try.  Good luck with all those conversations!

We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 

We’re in – are you? make the changes that matter in the #Countdown To COP

We're in! - are you?  Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.
We’re in! – are you? Local residents Emily, Lizzie, Alastair, Kate, Caroline and Catherine are all taking action.

#CountdownToCOP will show you how you can take steps in your life to make a big difference to our planet. Join us over the next 16 weeks as we encourage St Albans District to make the changes that matter and protect what you love.


It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Visit the St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.


In November this year, the UK will host COP26, the international conference where countries will agree the next steps on tackling climate change.  Sustainable St Albans is linking with environmental groups and volunteers across the district to encourage ordinary residents like YOU to take your own steps too. It’s called #CountdownToCOP.


In the build up to the COP26 conference, we are encouraging people across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages to take your own steps to reduce your carbon pollution using the Count Us In framework.  These 16 steps have been selected based on what is most effective at reducing your personal carbon pollution, their power to influence leaders and their ability to involve everyone. 

Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are just two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution and encourage others to do the same. These are both Count Us In steps. From now till November, in the #CountdownToCOP, we will feature one of these steps each week. We will share resources to help you take each step, and inspiration from others who have.  Watch out for our blogs and social media posts with more information each week.

The 16 highest impact steps, to cut your carbon and inspire others to do the same.

“Wearing clothes that will last or speaking up at work are two of the 16 most effective things you can do to reduce carbon pollution.”

Join in with #CountdownToCOP today

It’s easy to join in with #CountdownToCOP. Environmental groups of St Albans District have come together to set up the St Albans Climate Action Network who are hosting their own special St Albans District Count Us In page. Simply visit the page, explore the 16 steps and pledge to take one step by choosing “Take a Step”. When you register, tick that you are part of the “St Albans Climate Network” to have your step counted on the St Albans page.

You can choose whether to appear on the St Albans District Count Us In page with your full name, your first name or anonymously.

You can track the carbon impact of your own actions. As more people join, we will all see our cumulative efforts across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages. 


Which of the 16 highest impact steps will you commit to do?

Choose something you know is realistic, that you can do in the next few weeks:

  • Food
    • Cut food waste – Reduce the amount of food that is wasted or thrown away in your home.
    • Eat more plants – Reduce the amount of meat in your weekly diet.
    • Eat seasonal – Eat food produced at its natural time of the year.
  • Travel
    • Fly less – Reduce your plane travel to dramatically cut your carbon pollution.
    • Walk and cycle more – Travel by bike or foot wherever you can.
    • Drive Electric – Make your next car purchase an electric vehicle.
  • Home
    • Insulate Your Home – Install or enhance the loft insulation in your home.
    • Switch your energy – Move your home to a green energy supplier.
    • Get some solar – Install solar panels to generate energy for your home.
    • Dial it down – Turn down the heating in your home by a degree or more.
  • Lifestyle
    • Wear Clothes to last Buy fewer new clothes and wear them for longer.
    • Green your money – Choose financial institutions and funds that invest responsibly.
    • Repair and reuse – Repair your belongings rather than buying new.
  • Voice
    • Tell your politicians – Ask politicians to act or invest in infrastructure to support a step.
    • Speak up at work – Come together with colleagues to make change at a bigger scale.
    • Talk to friends – Start a conversation about Count Us In and encourage others to take a step.

“… all we need to do is pick a step, and give it a try.”


Sustainable St Albans will help you take your first step

For example, week one is all about “Talking to Friends” and you can find resources to help you here, including our free Climate Conversation pack.

The mission of Count Us In is to inspire one billion citizens to take a step.  Which step will you take? Explore the St Albans District Count Us In page now and take part in the #CountdownToCOP.

Retrofitting a 1901 end of terrace (with the environment in mind)

‘I’ll only agree to open plan if we go eco.’ Wise words stated confidently from a place of complete ignorance.


This blog by local resident Judith Leary Joyce tells the tale of retrofitting their Victorian terrace, trying to keep the environment at the heart of everything they did.


Our Victorian end of terrace house has always been cold. We face north and the only direct sunshine is early morning and sunset, so not much help in the warming department. After 40 years I was totally committed to doors that closed with draught excluders that stopped my feet freezing, so the thought of doing the standard open plan extension wasn’t something that filled me with delight. But more important than my cold toes – what about the Earth? I just refuse to countenance anything that would increase our carbon footprint. 

Unless………..  we went all out to try and reach EnerPHit standards (little brother of PassivHaus).  We knew we had no hope of achieving carbon neutral in a 1901 house, but we could make it a lot better, so it was a compromise that excited us both. As much as any building work will ever excite me!  

Recently  retired after a long career as a psychotherapist, then management consultant, I’ve lived in the same house in St Albans since 1979. We’ve been members of Friends of the Earth, Soil Association, Greenpeace since the late 70’s, studied Deep Ecology with Joanna Macy in the late 80’s, gave up long car journeys light years ago, composted and been a plastic vigilante long before it became so pleasingly popular. So this renovation was just the next step on the journey, but extremely important to me. 

Before the retrofit
Before the retrofit

Big learning curve

You know the one – you don’t know what you don’t know and you have no idea what questions to ask. All you can do is Google and follow your nose until you have some chance of holding a sensible conversation.  

So with apologies to any eco experts reading this, we identified three tasks: 

1. Make the house sustainable

First step and most important is to make the house as sustainable as humanly possible. For us that meant: 210mm deep insulation on outside walls – new and old, 160mm  insulation under the floors, triple glazed windows and doors,  rebuilding original 1901 sash windows with new double glazed units and reinstalling our existing secondary glazing, heat exchange ventilation, eco paint; A+++ appliances, an air source heat pump, a combination of underfloor heating and radiators, double glazed internal doors between the cold hall and the rest of the house, plus of course, sealing up every gap we could find. 

“In essence you need to design and renovate in a way that means you put in less energy, then keep what you’ve got, so you cut cost to yourself and the Earth”

2. Renovate with eco materials 

The means by which you make the home sustainable is an early choice. You can use materials that are traditionally used in building – cement, kingspan, plasterboard – all products that cost the earth in some form. Or you can use materials that are eco-friendly in their own right. Then we’re into timber frame, Pavaflex, lime plaster, breathable paint…

We knew from the outset that we would have to go down the eco route – I’m far too much of a vigilante to do anything else. The big limitation was our knowledge. The problem with starting so blind is that we were sure to miss something and now it’s too late to put it right. So one learning was that we should have employed an Eco Builder rather than go with good ‘normal’ builders who were also flying blind.

I’d love to give recommendations at this point, but we were already on the way before we realised how much difference this would have made to our lives. When we did try to find local people for specific jobs, we weren’t successful, but received a great response from Clare Nash in Oxford who gave a talk to Sustainable St Albans about eco houses. I wrote to ask her about our front wall/bay window and how to insulate well without losing the shape. She was very helpful and introduced us to Diathonite. https://clarenasharchitecture.co.uk/?sfw=pass1620116006

If anyone has specific recommendations for local retrofit experts who are interested in smaller jobs that won’t be a full strip back, let’s hear them! 

“We constantly reminded the builders that the Earth was the main consideration”

3. Renovate without polluting 

Then there’s what to do with all the stuff left over or taken out. Early on we could see the irony of pulling out old stuff and sending it to landfill in order to have an eco house. Crazy. I’d love to say we managed not to do that, but we couldn’t stop it all. Everything is wrapped in plastic or comes in those huge plastic sandbags that the builders just chuck in the skip. 

We did our best. We constantly reminded the builders that the Earth was the main consideration. We tolerated their teasing as they came in to yet another load of recycling pulled out of the skip after they’d left the day before. And we became experts on Freegle and Facebook Marketplace. Turns out other people need all sorts, from left over bits of plaster board to the much loved kitchen we would have kept had it fitted into the new space. I’ve got the scrap metal person on speed dial and a mass of stuff ready for the charity shops when they open up. 

After the retrofit
After the retrofit

Biggest learning?

To get the right people in place at the outset.  Obvious really, but then we didn’t understand the true implications of our task until we’d already begun. You would, quite rightly, assume it’s the architects job to alert us to the reality, but sadly we chose someone with the right eco credentials, but no appetite for the challenge of an old house. He just focused on the extension, which could be done right, assuming that the rest of the house was a lost cause. He would answer our questions – once we knew what to ask – but did little to open our eyes. Maybe he’d never met vigilantes before – at least not ones that lived in an old end of terrace. When he did mention the rest of the house, he just assumed no change; when in fact, if he’d said jump, we’d have asked how high. 

It’s easy to see all this now. It’s mostly over (just two more rooms, doubling insulation in the loft plus solar PV to go) and we’re comfortable again. From this place, I wouldn’t change anything. We’ve learned a lot, gained a new interest and become first class building bores. 


Which reminds me – did I tell you about the day I did a mercy dash to get more pavaflex……………???