Disconnect the gas!

One woman’s experience of getting the gas disconnected #GasFree.

In April 2021, I moved into a very normal house. Gas central heating, double glazing and stripey lawns. I was 63, and on my own. I planned to “eco-up” the house.


With energy prices rising and a new £5k government grant announced, more of us are starting to think about shifting to renewables or getting a heat pump – than ever before. In this blog from self-described “little old lady” and local resident Ro Rodgers, you can hear how she “eco-ed” up her house, with solar panels and a heat pump, and finally disconnected the gas! 


Smaller Lifestyle Changes too

I was downsizing, and fortunately that gave me some spare cash.  So, there have been some big-ticket investments aimed at getting the gas disconnected and installing solar panels and the heat pump, BUT ALSO many much smaller lifestyle changes like…

  • turning things off
  • getting up with the sun
  • buying very little other than food
  • never driving anywhere that I can walk

Big-Ticket items like getting the gas disconnected

This blog is about the big-ticket items and, oh my goodness, did I pick the right time to do this given what has happened with gas prices!  Before I moved in, I started to investigate solar panels and heat pumps. I was working out how I could eventually disconnect the gas and go gas-free! Much of my information came from the St Albans Sustainability Festival in 2021, but of course Google helped too!

Getting Solar Panels Fitted

The panels were easy. I got a really good quote via Solar Streets – which they did from Google Maps and a few photos I took within the house. I am lucky to have a large south facing roof now, but on my previous house I had panels on that were east and west facing. The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity. The solar panels came with an app so I could see how they were doing from my laptop.

“The whole installation process for getting solar panels was easy and unremarkable. By the beginning of June, I had solar panels happily working away making electricity”

The only issue I encountered was with my electricity supplier. because you need to have a 2nd Generation Smart ter if you want to get paid. I had a first-generation meter, and my supplier would not even put anyone on the waiting list for a 2nd generation meter if they had a 1st gen. This caused quite a delay to me getting paid because I had to swap energy suppliers and then go on their waiting list. 

Moral of the story

If you are thinking of getting solar panels, swap to Octopus and get a 2nd gen meter before you do anything else. [*This is a personal opinion of the author and not that of Sustainable St Albans! Ed]

Getting the Heat Pump Installed and Getting the Gas Disconnected

Disconnect the gas – and get the heat pump installed!

The heat pump followed. I had an air source heat pump installed… (there wasn’t room for a ground-source heat pump).  

It was more difficult finding a supplier because there weren’t so many options – but again the answer came from #SustFest.  I got a quote from Better Planet, who I originally spoke to at the sustainability market. 

The first thing everyone asks me is: “does it work and did you have the floors ripped up?”

Yes – the heat pump absolutely does work, and it uses the existing radiators.

So then the gas boiler was taken out and a unit was fitted outside, and that was the sum total of all the disruption. Now my heat pump unit is fitted on the outside wall of my house – but it could be anywhere outside – as long as it is away from a neighbour’s wall.

Getting used to the heat pump

I have found the heat pump more difficult to get used to than the panels. This is mainly because of the app that mine came with as it is one of those apps that decides for me what I want and doesn’t really want to let me decide for myself! It was more complicated than it should have been to get my set-up right. However, I now have a set-up that works, warms the house and the hot water beautifully, and does not munch its way through enormous amounts of electricity. 

£5k grants to get your boiler replaced

I now get quarterly payments from the government for having the heat pump, through the Renewable Heat Incentive, but I had to wait until I had lived in the house for 6 months to claim it. (The RHI no longer exists, but there is now a £5000 boiler replacement grant.)

“Once the pump was installed, I had the gas to the house disconnected.”

This proved to be remarkably easy with the supplier but a nightmare with the gas fitters. I had a real struggle getting gas fitters to understand that I no longer wanted gas in the house.

” The guy who eventually came removed my gas hob as requested but didn’t cap the gas to the house as he couldn’t believe that is what I wanted. We got there in the end.”

Final step was to get my induction hob fitted. I have to say, I love that!

Gas free living…

“I do not burn any fossil fuels”

So, now I am living in an all-electric house and generating a fair proportion of my own electricity even in the winter. I do not burn any fossil fuels. Now I have everything set up as I want, I hope to at least generate as much electricity as I use as an average across the year.

I’m moving on to eco-up the garden now!

Ro Rodgers


Links and resources:

Find our ‘Get some Solar’ resource page here, with all sorts of useful information.

To find installers:

Local Installers used by Ro:

Government £5k Boiler Upgrade Grantsee here for information


Solar Streets photos: installing solar panels. A Solar Streets spokesperson said:

“As electricity prices have surged even higher, (by at least 54% at the price cap increase from 1st April and likely more) the return on investment on solar panel systems is actually better than it has been since Solar Streets started 3 years ago.

The time it takes to break even has fallen -from around 11-12 years to 7-8 years – at current typical levels of pricing (based on Octopus Price of 38p/kWp versus their price 12 months ago of 16p/kWh). 

The headline price for the popular 10 panel system with a capacity of 3.7 kWp is now £4,810.  That system will save 0.75 tonnes of CO2 per year

What is ‘Passive’ about a Passive House?

Building and living in a Passive House -Why did we build a Passive House?

Approaching retirement, we lived in a lovely village far from the support services we might need as we age.  So, I searched, and found, a house for sale in an appropriate location and asked my husband to view it.  He went to the wrong house!  But he arrived home excited about demolishing it to build one to our own design.  Serendipity?


This blog about building and living in a Passive House, is written by Linda Shall, a volunteer with Sustainable St Albans. Linda lives in Harpenden with her husband and cats! Linda is also giving an online talk about her experience of the Passive House on 23 June – requires booking.


I recently graduated with a BSc in Environmental Science and learned that running a Passive House emits much less carbon dioxide than conventional ones.  We investigated this environmental sustainability claim…demolished the ‘wrong’ house…and built one of the earliest Passive Houses in Harpenden.  We moved in a whisper before Lockdown One! So, what is passive about a Passive House?

What is ‘passive’ about a Passive House?

A Passive House is one that becomes and remains warm enough for human comfort all year round, without using an ‘active’ space heating system that is likely powered by fossil fuel.  We have NO boiler, NO radiators. 

In essence, a Passive House captures the energy in sunLIGHT (not heat) entering through its windows, converts it to heat for circulation around the building; along with heat emitted by human and animal bodies, domestic appliances, computer equipment, hot water, cooked food etc…

What are the essential basics of a Passive House?

Passivhaus certified

They are –

  • insulate, insulate, insulate!
  • draught-free construction
  • high-performance windows and doors
  • mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

There are no prescribed building products to achieve Passive House standards.  Consequently, all Passive Houses do not look the same and are not built using the same materials. 

What matters is that the detailed performance requirements in the Passive House Planning Package are fulfilled to achieve the mandatory comfort, health and energy standards for certification by the Passivhaus Institute in Germany.  A straw house could be a certified Passive House if it meets the standards!


ONLINE TALK Building and living in a Passivehaus – One Harpenden resident’s real life experience

Thursday 23 June 8-9pm. ONLINE PLEASE REGISTER IN ADVANCE.

In this one-hour online meeting, you will hear from Harpenden resident Linda about her experience of building a new house to Passivehaus standards. Time for Q&A at the end.


Insulate, insulate, insulate!

For buidling and living in a Passive House, insulating the outside walls, roof space and beneath the ground floor is essential basic #1 for a reason.  Often, Passive House outside walls are 450-500mm thick compared to new conventional cavity wall thicknesses of 250-300mm.  Ours comprise several empty and filled cavities, waterproof membrane and myriad insulating materials, to prevent inside heat and outside cold from moving through the walls. 

Our house sits atop an underground c300mm thick polystyrene raft to prevent heat leaching into the ground.  ‘Whoa!  Plastic?’ But I contend this is where plastic is the best material, and lasting around 200 years is hardly ‘single-use’… 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the:

  • absence of warm/cold air leaking outside/inside the house
  • reduction in outside traffic noise penetration through thicker walls?

Draught-free construction for a Passive House

We applaud the heroic properties of ‘line of airtightness’ tape used throughout the house.  It hermetically seals joints between any two materials.  It is so much more than duct tape that dries out, cracks and bubbles over time.           

Other draught prevention solutions include no metal cold ‘bridges’ through outside walls eg nails, screws, brackets, ties, mesh etc.  Borrow Sustainable St Albans’ Thermal Imaging Camera to find them! 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • permanent absence of draughts
  • constantly warm temperature everywhere?

Passive House high-performance windows and doors

Passive House High performance windows

We are enthralled by the properties of Passive House windows and doors.  Although not a prescribed product, they help achieve Passive House standards more easily.   

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions due to the …

  • high G-value triple-glazing that captures and keeps more solar energy than standard window glass
  • fine-tuneable hinge/locking systems to pull windows and frames closer together?

BUT… We do acknowledge the challenges presented by keyholes and cat-flaps!

Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery – MVHR

Passive House Mechanical ventilation and heat recovery

In a conventionally-built house, internal air turns over between 6-15 times PER HOUR which means that it needs to be warmed 6-15 times PER HOUR for comfortable living.  Because of our superior insulation plus draught-free construction plus high-performance windows and doors our internal air naturally turns over only ONCE EVERY 3 HOURS. 

Consequently, we mechanically ventilate our house to keep the air fresh, dry and warm.  MVHR technology transfers 95% of the heat in stale, damp air extracted from bathrooms and kitchens and transfers it to fresh, filtered incoming air for circulation around the house by a low 35w/hr fan (saving ten times the amount of energy it uses). 

What’s not to like about the reduced carbon dioxide emissions of constantly fresh air that is warmed passively by sunlight and heat emitted during the normal running of the fridge, freezer, TV, hairdryer, computer, shower, humans and pets etc. 

So – does building and living in a Passive House live up to billing?

Ours does!  Building and living in a Passive House has set new sustainable standards for us. We have no draughty room corners, windows or doors; we set our preferred temperature per room – bedrooms cooler than living rooms; incoming air is filtered against air-borne pollutants; we suffer much less noise penetration from road and air traffic.

We prevent overheating in summer by shading windows using an array of external blinds, louvres, an awning and hit-and-miss cladding over smaller windows.

Of course in winter, heat is not created from sunlight inside the house when window blinds are closed, nor is it emitted from most domestic equipment when we are away from the building.  Consequently, when returning after a few days’ absence it takes the air a few hours to reach our preferred temperature.  It would take less time if our household comprised more people, as we resumed operating heat-emitting equipment around the house.  Because we could, during the build we installed a small air-pump for occasional use, which we have used a few times on these occasions.  We also installed under-floor heating for emergency use in the lounge, which we have NEVER used!   

Finally…the building cost of a Passive House

Yes, the capital cost per m2 is higher than for a conventional house.  Recent estimates state c7% depending…. this concentrated our minds on how many rooms we actually need.  We had 14 rooms, now we have 10; overall square meterage is down 18%.  We compensated for the extra capital cost by building a smaller house more suited to our lifestyle needs.

But we have slashed our carbon dioxide emissions by an extent we didn’t think possible. 

How to green your money so it helps the planet

For most working adults, by far the most effective way of reducing your personal carbon footprint is to kick the carbon out of your cash. If you have a mortgage, or a pension, a savings account or even an insurance policy, you have put your money in someone else’s hands and they are doing something with it. That something could be helping the planet, or harming it.


This is Week 16 of our #CountdowntoCOP campaign, encouraging people to sign up for one or more of the 16 Count Us In steps.  We have had a guest blog each week since July during the countdown to the UK-hosted COP, focusing on one of these 16 steps.

In this blog, Simon Grover, Green Party District Councillor in St Albans District, discusses the various ways we can make our money work for the climate rather than against it.


How much difference can you make if you green your money? Well, one pension provider estimates the average UK worker’s pension finances 23 tonnes of CO2 emissions a year. That’s on top of your personal footprint of 10-13 tonnes on average. Another pension provider estimates that moving your pension savings is 27 times more effective than giving up meat, flying and driving combined. 

Stop and reflect on those numbers for a minute.

“Another pension provider estimates that moving your pension savings is 27 times more effective than giving up meat, flying and driving combined.”

Of course, unlike avoiding the car, moving money around doesn’t usually stop emissions immediately. That coal mine you had invested in still produces coal if you sell your shares in it. But the more of us who move our money, the more is invested for good instead of not-so-good. And the more the finance industry is encouraged to do better things with our money.

A small note: as with all financial decisions, if it involves a lot of money, it’s a good idea to get some independent financial advice before doing anything.

Green your banking and saving

Your current and savings account money doesn’t just sit in a vault. Your bank uses your money to invest, to make money for itself (and perhaps a bit for you too). So what is it investing in? It’s not easy to find out, but you can switch to a bank that is rated highly for its ethical operations. There are lots of lists, including this one at New Money, which rates the following banks most highly; Triodos, Ecology Building Society, Nationwide, Co-op and Monzo. Switching bank accounts used to be impossibly difficult, but is now much easier and quicker. 

“Switching bank accounts […] is now much easier and quicker.”.

Green your pension

Your pension is probably your largest investment that you don’t even think about. What companies are your workplace or private pension savings invested in? There are likely to be some horrors in there. Not just coal mines and oil companies, but tobacco, arms and gambling too. Look at the Make My Money Matter campaign for ideas on finding out, and asking your employer to make sure their scheme is a good one. If you want, you can usually choose a more ‘ethical’ option in your employer’s scheme. If you have pension savings from a previous employer, you might move them to a greener provider. Have a look at Good With Money for ideas.

Photo by Jonny Caspari on Unsplash

“What companies are your [..] pension savings invested in?”

Green your mortgage

Although a mortgage is a loan to you, you pay interest on that, so you are significantly supporting your mortgage provider, which is a financial institution. Is your mortgage provider genuinely part of the low carbon transition? Or are they dragging their feet? The Ecology Building Society is well known as a ‘green’ business, even giving better deals to eco-friendly homes. But there are others too. For example, see this article at This Is Money

If you have installed energy efficiency measures in your home, or want to put the cost of doing so on your mortgage, you might be able to get a discounted ‘green’ mortgage. As well as The Ecology Building Society, there are other banks and building societies that offer these.

Green your investments

There are now a huge range of ‘green’ investment funds, that you can invest in through ISAs or other investment products. You could be investing in eco-minded companies through shares and bonds, or even in low carbon property and infrastructure. Watch out for greenwashing and ‘too good to be true’ offers. Perhaps try a well-known platform or investment manager like Nutmeg, Hargreaves Lansdown or M&G. For more on this, try Your Ethical Money.

Remember that it’s not all about taking money away from high carbon companies. Some of those companies might need encouraging to transition to the low-carbon future. Oil and gas company Orsted has already moved 100% into renewables, for example. Different investment providers will have different attitudes to this issue.

“Watch out for greenwashing and ‘too good to be true’ offers.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Green your bills

Of course, the money you spend also has an impact on the world. Green shopping gets a lot of attention, but what about your everyday household bills? As well as switching to a ‘green’ energy supplier, you can invest environmentally to reduce your bills. This is also an example of moving money that DOES have an immediate effect on reducing emissions. For example, getting solar panels and insulation to reduce your heating or electricity bills. Getting an electric car can even be seen as an investment in reduced fuel bills over time. Recent Sustainable St Albans blogs cover many of these topics.

Not sure where to start?

It can feel hard to know where to start with greening your money. But it’s well worth a try as it can make such a huge difference. An easy way to start is with Make My Money Matter  who can help you ask your pension provider to improve the green credentials of your pension, in just a few clicks.

“An easy way to start is with Make My Money Matter.”

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 Simon’s advice to help you choose the “Green Your Money” 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. 

Easy ways to wear clothes to last

Greta Thunberg went on the cover of Vogue Scandinavia in August and called out fast fashion brands. According to the UN, the fashion industry is widely believed to be the second most polluting industry in the world, accounting for more than 20% of wastewater globally and between 8 – 10% of carbon emissions. There is huge scope to reduce our carbon emissions, simply by changing the way we shop.


This is Week 13 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 blog, by Emily Southcombe of Upcycled Living, explains why wearing clothes that last is one of the most important – and simplest – things you can do to take part in Count Us In.


One of the #CountUsIn 16 highest impact steps to reduce your carbon footprint is “wear clothes to last”, whether this is buying clothes that you know are good quality and won’t fall apart after a few wears, buying second-hand, upcycling clothes or repairing what you already have. There is a lot of talk about the solutions to climate change being expensive but buying second-hand and wearing clothes to last will only have a positive impact on your pocket!

Second-hand is on trend

Since the very first “Second Hand September” campaign, run by Oxfam in 2019, a lot has changed. Lauren Bravo’s book ‘How to Break Up with Fast Fashion’ challenged us all to stop buying clothes which have a negative impact on the environment and the workers who made them. Second-hand clothes have gone from having stigma attached to them to becoming the eco-conscious and ethical thing to do. Campaigns such as ‘Slow Fashion Season’ by Slow Fashion UK have taken off and many people pledged to buy #nonew in 2021. The first Sustainable Fashion Week took place from 11th – 19th September where the organisers curated a week of community-led action encouraging people to change their clothes buying habits to protect both the planet and garment factory workers. 

“Second-hand clothes have gone from having a stigma attached to them to becoming the eco-conscious and ethical thing to do.”

Second-hand is more sustainable

If you love clothes shopping but want to reduce your impact on the planet one of the best ways to increase the lifespan of clothes is to buy second-hand. Sites like Vinted and Depop are great for online second-hand clothes although charity shops are still the best way to see what you are buying. Equally vintage markets such as Brick Lane market have a wealth of vintage treasures. Selfridges has second-hand concessions and also sells upcycled clothes including upcycled jackets from Levis.  More locally, St Albans area companies and influencers like Knickers Models Own, Luxe Leopard Lifestyle, The Preloved Edit and Twenty Outfits can help you hone your second-hand style.

Repair or upcycle your clothes

Many more people are looking at upcycling and repairing clothes themselves following the success of TV’s Great British Sewing Bee and The Repair Shop. Having holes in your clothes has often been seen as embarrassing (apart from ripped denim!) but there is no reason not to repair your clothes. It’s much preferable to throwing them away.  As the saying goes, ‘the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in your wardrobe’ and in the UK there is now a national movement of stitchers who are trying to encourage people to mend clothes to make them last longer. #stitchitdontditchit is run by a group of women who organise gatherings to promote the benefits of repairing clothes. Slow Fashion UK have also started hosting stitching parties. 

“As the saying goes, “the most sustainable clothes are the ones already in your wardrobe.”

How to get started with clothes repairs

All you usually need to do a simple repair is a needle and thread. Sometimes de-bobbling with a small hand-held gadget will give an item a new lease of life. If it is a more difficult repair job, and you don’t have a sewing machine, you can always go to a local tailor such as Stitch to Fit on Holywell Hill or A&A Tailoring on Catherine Street. At the Sustainable Markets during SustFest it was great to speak to people who were mending their own clothes and upcycling unwanted second-hand fabrics. The Repair What You Wear website is a fantastic resource which has loads of tips and advice for people who have never sewn before and are looking to do a bit of repairing. They also do mending and upcycling tutorials.

Making things last longer or repairing old things obviously isn’t limited to clothes, there is so much that can be repaired or upcycled in the home. 

Photo: Upcycled top by designer Philmore Clague
Photo: Upcycled top by designer Philmore Clague

Instagram inspiration

Have a browse of some of these Instagram feeds for inspiration.

Wearing clothes to last is an easy step

The great thing about the #CountUsIn campaign is that it encourages individuals to take steps that work for them. Not everyone can commit to making the same lifestyle changes and so it is great to sign up for the steps you are able to do and then get updates on the carbon you are saving both during the Countdown to COP and afterwards.

So for your step, why not jump off the fast fashion train and, instead, wear clothes to last. There is a saying that the world doesn’t need a small number of people doing sustainability perfectly, it needs millions of people doing it imperfectly. Next time you want to buy a new item of clothing, pause and think of the alternatives – upcycling what you own or looking at pre-loved options. Just have a go!

“..buying second-hand and wearing clothes to last will only have a positive impact on you pocket!”

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 Emily’s advice to help you choose the “Wear Clothes To Last” 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 “Tell your politicians” by Jess Simmons.

How we insulated our Victorian home

Insulation is a strange affair – lots of effort with nothing to show. Friends admire the kitchen clock, the lights, the flooring. ‘But you should see the insulation,’ I cry. ‘Just pause and you’ll feel it.’


This is Week 12 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 blog by local resident Judith Leary Joyce tells the tale of insulating their Victorian terrace.


I never thought the day would come, but finally we’re on the last leg of our home retrofit. (See Judith’s earlier blog about the project here. )

In terms of insulation, it took me a while to get my head round what was needed. Here is what I worked out (apologies to any experts reading this): we first had to stop the cold air coming in, and then make the place cosy. (Technical term!)

“We first had to stop the cold air coming in, and then make the place cosy.”

Stopping the draughts

Draughty homes make up 14% of UK emissions so this is serious stuff. Our house was no exception. Built in 1901, we had single brick walls, no cavity to fill, ill-fitting doors and windows – you name it, we had it. Just trying to catalogue it all bent my brain. 

Windows

Our Victorian sash windows with secondary glazing were in reasonable shape but draughty, so we refurbished with double-glazed units and held onto the secondary. Then we replaced our ordinary double glazing with Internorm triple-glazed windows and doors – I’ve been teased too much by my Swedish friends to consider anything else! I just love these windows and the feel they give to the place – especially the quiet – but we weren’t totally convinced by the installers, so we borrowed the Thermal Imaging camera from Sustainable St Albans and had a good look. Sure enough, we still had draughts at the junctions. It just needed one small adjustment by the makers and we were done. 

Using a thermal imaging camera to check for draughts
Using a thermal imaging camera to check for draughts. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Entrance

Our hall and front door are an eco-nightmare – it is essentially a conservatory with a draughty front door and letterbox. The best option was to seal it off with an external double-glazed door between the hall and rest of the house. The Crittall style looked great and kept the warmth in beautifully, but the lack of a ridge for the door to sit in meant there was still a draught. Fortunately, Aluco took on the challenge and now we are fully sealed.

Judith used an attractive Crittall door to seal off the porch. Photo: J Leary Joyce

Fireplace

And then there was the draughty old fireplace. It had to go, but dear heaven, that was a tough day! I can tell you that dust and soot from 1901 is dense, smelly and invasive. Walking through the room I couldn’t see a thing – we definitely should have moved out and lived with our daughter during this one! That left us with just one chimney, which we then filled up with insulation – thankfully, a lot less messy. 

“We had single brick walls, no cavity to fill, ill-fitting windows and doors – you name it.”

Draughts sorted, but how do we breath?

Leaky houses make for plenty of fresh air, that’s for sure. So what now? We needed fresh air to stop condensation and mould, but we didn’t have space to install a full Mechanical Ventilation Recovery System so we went for single room Heat Recovery Ventilators. As with much of this process, opinions differed: did we need one in each room or since we have a fair bit of open plan would one on each floor be enough? I’m definitely for the ‘belt and braces’ approach – I can’t bear the thought of having to start again – so we’ve gone for one in each room. Big bonus – helps get the washing dry.

Cosy house 

Cold draughts sorted, now we needed to retain the gentle warmth created by our Air Source Heat Pump. Just like zipping up a warm jacket to retain body heat, we needed to ‘duvet’ the floor, walls and roof to hold heat in. This is where concrete floors in newer houses struggle – it’s fine as draught-proofing, but it’s very cold and draws heat out of the room.

We could have used the conventional foil covered Celotex/Kingspan insulation. Product specifications show it works very well, more efficiently in fact than anything else for its thickness, but it’s made from petroleum products.  We really wanted to do our best by the Earth, so we took advice from Ecological Building Systems and used wood fibre Pavatherm and Isolayer in the floor and walls, and used sheep’s wool in the loft.

“We needed to ‘duvet’ the floor, walls and roof to hold the heat in.”

Insulating external walls

Our carpenter attached a wooded frame to the external walls, which was then filled-in with two layers of Pavatherm, and then Isolayer (eco plaster board) put on top. Thickness between 100mm and 160mm.

Insulating the external walls of a Victorian end of terrace home.
Insulating the external walls of a Victorian end of terrace home. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Insulating Floors 

Our floors now have 160 mm of Pavatherm between the joists, with the floorboards on top. Where we were installing underfloor heating, we replaced floorboards with Econna Board.  

We did the insulation under the floorboards ourselves. I say ‘we’, in fact my husband John did the bulk of it. He worked out a way of suspending a sling of waterproof breathable roofing membrane between the floor joists and filled it with a double layer of Pavaflex, 160 mm thick. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, we measured each gap, I sawed the ‘bat’ to size and we fitted them into place, plugging any small gaps with offcuts. As we progressed the rooms became quieter and ‘softer’. Finally we added Pro Clima Contega tape between the walls and the floor to cut off any last bits of escaping draught. It was so satisfying, knowing we were creating a warm, cosy room. Whoever thought insulation could be sexy! 

Insulating the floor of a Victorian end of terrace home.
Insulating the floor of a Victorian end of terrace home. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

Lime plaster 

Natural fibres need to breath, so finishing the walls meant lime plaster and eco paint. Easier said than done, I’m afraid – turns out lime plasterers are a rare breed, especially when it comes to a ‘small’ job. The plaster goes on in layers, so there’s lots of coming and going before its ready to be painted. In our case, the kitchen installation was looming and no plasterer in sight. We finally struck lucky by tapping the network. Never mind being six steps from Obama; three steps from a plasterer was far more exciting! 

What about insulating the bay window?

We have a traditional Victorian bay window in the front room, so 100mm of Pavaflex was not doable. After hours of googling and asking questions, I found Diathonite, an insulating plaster that can vary in thickness to accommodate strange spaces. Turns out lime plasterers are the people to apply it – of course they are! Although we did discover late in the day that any standard plasterer could do it, if they’re willing to try something new.  

Using Diathonite to insulate the bay window of a Victorian end of terrace. Photo: Judith Leary-Joyce

A happy insulation ending

It’s finally finished and looking great. Yet again, despite all the hard work, nothing indicates that the wall is anything other than just plastered. But we’ll know – and together with the insulation under the floor we should finally have warm feet this winter!  

Favourite insulation memory? 

A mercy dash to pick up Pavaflex from a marooned delivery in Northampton. Plumbers were due the next day to lay down Econna Board so the dining room had to be finished. I arrived at the depot with 30 minutes to spare, cold and pretty fed up. But then the person behind the counter asked me where I’d parked my lorry. I felt 10 feet tall! It kept me going through the stormy drive home, our Nissan Leaf overflowing with Pavaflex and the late night of measuring and sawing. We did it in time and of course the plumber was a day late. But never mind all that – I looked like someone who might drive a lorry!

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 the inspiration of Judith’s story to choose the “Insulate Your Home” 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 encouraging you to Wear Clothes to Last by Emily Southcombe.