Architect and presenter of Channel 4’s The Home Show and The Restoration Man, George Clarke reveals his latest design challenges and solves your project queries
Eco design shouldn’t be seen as difficult, expensive or a trendy label
‘For some time I’ve wanted to ban the word eco. Controversial, I know, and it may not be very politically correct now that environmental impact is high on the public agenda, but let me explain. The word eco is attached to so many products that eco design (or geek-o design, as I’ve heard it called!) is starting to feel like a niche brand, a trendy gimmick, an add-on that does nothing more than push up the cost. It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard ordinary people who are making major improvements to their homes use the phrase, “We can’t really afford all that eco stuff, so we’re not going to bother”.
‘Eco design, particularly when it comes to the refurbishment of the UK’s existing housing stock, is something we should just be doing anyway and it certainly shouldn’t be seen as difficult, expensive or a trendy label. I’ve just moved into an Edwardian house (right) that was absolutely freezing and I’m sure it has been since the day it was built. In terms of thermal performance, it doesn’t get any worse than this property. However, to make it warm, comfortable and thermally efficient, hasn’t taken trendy eco add-ons, such as PV panels, solar thermals or wind turbines (which would completely ruin the look of this period home). What this house needed was insulation. We should all be thinking about using less energy and being less wasteful before we start installing micro systems to generate our own energy.
‘As I write, my joiner Gemini Joinery (01708 526 123; geminijoinery.co.uk) is replacing the old, leaking windows with new timber-framed sashes using Slimlite double-glazed units. These are constructed from a 4mm clear outer pane and an inner pane of 4mm low-emissivity glass with a 4mm cavity containing insulating inert gas. They are slim, elegant and look even better than the originals. We’ve insulated as many walls as we can and we’ve upgraded all the loft insulation, as well as repairing and modernising the doors, thresholds and draft excluders. By changing the prehistoric boiler for a new, efficient model and replacing old, undersized radiators, our home has been transformed. It’s now incredibly warm and comfortable, and our energy bills have gone down dramatically. These simple improvements to the fabric of the building, rather than the installation of hi-tech add-ons, will make sure this house is sustainable for the next 100 years. What a difference it could make to the environment if the same improvements were made to Britain’s 26 million homes.’
We have a budget of £115,000 to add a two-storey side extension to our semi-detached Fifties house, but local builders and architects are reluctant to Aconsider a contemporary build. Any advice?
‘It’s slightly worrying there are no local architects who are able to design you a contemporary-style extension, as there are many young, talented architects out there who would love to take on a project like this. You have a decent budget, too, so it makes the project even more appealing. This is obviously an important addition to your home and you need the right team behind you to avoid making mistakes.
I always advise using a local architect and builder, so start by going to the RIBA website (architecture.com), where you can put in your postcode and details of your project to see if there are any architects near you who are willing to take up the challenge. If not, you may need to spread your search to neighbouring towns or counties. Also, check out the shortlisted entries in the current Architect’s Journal Small Projects Awards (architectsjournal.co.uk) to see if you like the work of any of the featured designers. You may need to employ a small practice from further afield to create the contemporary-style extension that you’re after. Once you have a design and planning permission, contact a good local project-management company which will be able to find the right contractor for your build and can help run the construction phase for you and keep costs down. Take the time to research the right team for your project and ensure you get the result you want’.
Need George’s help?