Sunday, 11 January 2015

Low Impact Living in Leeds: Three Stories

Yesterday I spent a great day visiting three friends in Leeds trying to live more sustainably in different ways. The day was sparked off by Isabelle, who has decided to take up the new year challenge I set myself in 2014 and measure her carbon footprint so I took along some resources I had found useful including George Marshall's book Carbon Detox.

This was also an opportunity to see her newly insulated house, having followed her blog (with photos!) describing her efforts and lessons learned.

Isabelle's 100-year-old front door
Some people describe your average single-skin Leeds back-to-back terrace as "hard to treat" but this doesn't have to be the case. In essence, there are three places you can insulate a wall: inside, outside or in the middle (but only if there is a cavity present you can fill). There are lots of grants available for cavity walls as they are easy to install (blowing the insulation through holes drilled outside takes about a day per house with no disruption to the inside) and also for loft insulation (a similar quick and cheap win).

Unfortunately there is currently little support for other types of houses, where outside renders or boards change the appearance of your home, and interior insulation boards are disruptive to install as you have to redecorate afterwards. There are also issues when your front door opens directly into the living room, so the door and a thick curtain was one of the first things they did, as you can see in the photo! 

My next visit was to Charlotte's house, where we talked about how much easier she finds it to travel by bus or train with her 8-month-old baby, rather than trying to drive and tend to a baby at the same time. Funny that so many people use their kids as evidence that they need a car... Charlotte has both cavity wall and loft insulation, and like me grows her own veg (she even has chickens!) The cycling has taken a bit of a break for now till her baby boy is a little bit bigger.

I finished the day at Lilac, an innovative development of 20 homes built using sustainable techniques (straw bales and timber, with the timber strengthened by the odd steel joint to provide good moment-bearing capacity on things like balconies). 
Edible planters outside the community house at the main entrance to LILAC
LILAC stands for Low Impact Living (for example, well-insulated low-carbon homes with solar electricity and hot water) in an Affordable Community. I'll be writing more about the affordability and community aspects in future posts. The development was recently featured in the Guardian (Nov 2014) and if you're based near Leeds, three learning days in 2015 and regular socials provide opportunities to find out more.
The pond aids biodiversity and puts SUDS
at the heart of the community. Homes are timber frame
with straw bale walls

This is a co-housing arrangement, where people know their neighbours and have a mixture of private and common space: 8 houses with gardens and 12 flats of various sizes arranged around a courtyard, shared bike sheds, workshop, laundry, play area and allotments and a commitment to be neighbourly. 

People talk about the "sharing economy" but this arrangement facilitates low-carbon living: much more efficient if 20 households have access to 2 lawn mowers, 5 washing machines and 12 cars between them rather than one each (the local council normally requires two parking spaces per dwelling!) You can read more about the community aspect of LILAC here. 

Sustainable urban drainage (SUDS) is provided by water butts on every drainpipe, with run-off from landscaped areas/paths and any overflow from the water butts draining into a beautiful pond at the heart of the community courtyard, including decking which I'm told is wonderful in summer!
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