Our green makeover is in its final stages – and the last few steps are a hard slog through refurb fatigue.
Tom’s maisonette makeover is almost finished. Photograph: Tom Lipinski.
With the structure of our eco-loft extension finally complete, we have thrown ourselves into insulation overdrive. We want to do away with central heating – in the loft to start with, but eventually in the house as well – so we’ve taken an almost Scandinavian approach to the entire “separation from the elements” concept.
We insulated over, under and between the timber structure. We squeezed silicone in between the cuts and joints. We added vapour barriers and thermo-reflective breather membranes on both inside and outside of the insulation and then we taped up all the joints for good measure. The bits we couldn’t get to directly received a generous dose of tightly packed Rockwool or expanding foam. In the end we consumed over 12m³ of Kingspan and nearly 30 rolls of Rockwool – most of it ended up in the loft.
At the end of this process we ended up with an object looking more like a spaceship than a conventional loft conversion. But,desperate circumstances – the issues of climate change and running out of natural resources – require equally desperate measures.
However, all the way through this build there was one overriding compromise . We wanted to achieve a thoroughly sustainable structure, and in one important respect it will be – it will save vast amounts of CO2 and water once completed. Unfortunately, in order to gain enough space internally we were forced to use products whose environmental credentials we were not always happy with.
You can go a good distance towards ultimate construction sustainability, by using only FSC certified wood, avoiding uPVC and aluminium and reclaiming as much as you can from the original building. We have managed to achieve most of these, but when it comes to space-saving and effective insulation, we just had to compromise.
Insulation from natural sources, such as hemp, recycled cellulose or sheep’s wool would have doubled the thickness of our walls. If one is allowed complete creative freedom – when building a new house, for example, all of these materials provide a viable alternative to petrochemical-derived products. But in the case of refurbishing a draughty Victorian home, an additional six or eight inches of wall thickness would have made it impossible to locate a staircase over the existing hallway. In turn, we would have had to sacrifice a room below and defeat the whole idea of a larger and better living space. Which explains why we ended up using a lot of conventional mineral wool insulation.
New windows and roof terrace doors have also arrived, and so did the Trespa exterior cladding (the black cladding in the photo above). . Finally, it looks like we just might get our garden back for the summer (so far it’s been used as a building site, rubbish, tool and material storage as well as canteen for the builders).
But there is still a long way to go. The roof terrace needs finishing, our green roof needs to be hoisted all the way to the top of the house, the interior is a mess and we haven’t even got around to dealing with microgeneration, rainwater harvesting and grey water recycling systems (although the latter is on its way to us from Montreal, apparently). Despite everything progressing along nicely, we are fast developing serious refurbishment fatigue.
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