Life in a green house - Review of the Big Green Home Show

Clay Technology magazine
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11 Dec 2012

Scientists tend materials on a billionth-of-a-metre scale for better solar panels. Numbers are tapped into computers to optimise carbon-fibre reinforced composites for lighter, stronger building materials.

Despite these advances, natural materials and time-seasoned approaches thrive. Clay materials and sheep’s wool endure as insulation, while popular underfloor heating systems draw inspiration from Ancient Rome. The Big Green Home Show, held from 26–28 October, outlined how both are applied to sustainable self-builds and retrofits.

Richard Hollins retrofitted his family home in High Wycombe under the Greening-the-Box initiative. ‘I was lucky that the house was south facing,’ he said, though he didn’t seem lucky with much else. Part of the house was built in the 1940s. The single skin brick walls were more than 200 years old, and the gable end wobbled.

Nevertheless, he was determined to slash the heating bill and recreate a house with zero greenhouse gas emissions. To do this, he enveloped the home in continuous Dow styroform insulation – a strong polystyrene originally intended for use in roofs. This was covered in a mesh with lime render, which hardens as the years pass. ‘It is only 5–6mm thick,’ he said, ‘but you would struggle to break it with a hammer’.

The one part of Hollins’ house that didn’t receive extra insulation was the roof. ‘You need air to get out of the house,’ he explains. ‘You could end up with something you can’t c