my employer, arup, has done some work for the c40 group of cities on use of technology in reducing carbon emissions. the report can be found here, and i will be looking more closely at this to see if i can adapt any ideas for my smart sustainable home.
the flat i live in was built in 2006. it has a number of features that mean it’s pretty energy efficient by nature of its design. it has flats above and below and to either side, meaning there are only two surfaces of the ‘cuboid’ through which to lose significant amounts of heat. it has big windows, but good double glazing. the windows may well still be responsible for the biggest heat loss, but we get loads of natural light pouring in reducing the need for artificial lighting. i’ve already mentioned the fantastic waterloo sunsets we get every evening.
as i’ve mentioned in a previous post, our location, in waterloo, central london, provides great access to public transport, with two tube stations and a multitude of bus routes on our doorstep. for the five years we’ve lived here we haven’t had a car, nor have we had need of one. and although we have great access to public transport, most of my journeys are on foot. i can walk to work in 35 minutes, and the south bank, covent garden and the west end are all within easy walking distance for all my leisure and shopping needs.
my biggest sustainability failing, i have to admit, is recycling. but i do have to apportion at least some of the blame to my waste collection authority, lambeth council. when we first moved to this area, i was full of enthusiasm to recycle and even bought a special bin that hid nicely in a cupboard and yet helped us segregate materials. the trouble was that we filled our council-provided recycling bags within a couple of days. what then were we supposed to do with them? according to the council, they were supposed to be put out on the street only every sunday evening, ahead of the collection early on monday morning. but where is anyone living in a compact flat (as a good proportion of lambeth residents do) supposed to store bags of (recyclable) rubbish for days on end? with non-recyclables, you just chuck each full bag in the wheelie bin outside as it becomes full but there was no such provision for recyclables. this was the question i put to lambeth council and over four years later i have yet to get a response.
in perhaps another peculiar design move, my block of flats has a single water meter for all occupants, so we just pay for water prorated on the proportion of floor area wach flat occupies. therefore there is little incentive to save on water becuase you have such little influence on the bill. my household with three occupants having daily showers/baths will pay the same as a theoretical single man with an adversity to personal hygiene in the same size flat. and regardless of financial incentive, apart from the basics such as turning taps off while toothbrushing and not spending overly long in the shower, we are restricted in other potential savings. we have no direct access to our cistern as it integrated in to the bathroom behind some tiles. when replacing heating elements in our hot water boiler, the plumber noted that it is possibly oversized for even the three of us. with limited resources and a potential house move on the horizon that is not something i would consider replacing, even with something more efficient.
in terms of sustainability, i believe that the aspects discussed above are all that i have within my direct control for my current home. there are others down the supply chain, particularly in areas such as food, clothing and technology, where i might be able to exert some choice or even influence, and that is undoubtedly an area i will be exploring in more detail in future posts, but my influence there is limted as an individual consumer. other aspects are completely outside my scope. biodiversity, for example, because i neither own nor have any sort of stake in any outdoor space. but outdoor space is a requirement for my future home, so this, and other aspects will form part of the agenda!
what is a smart sustainable home? there are clearly two aspects to this. taking the smart part first, there is an emerging trend for integrating technology in the home, with lighting and media controls integrated and much, much more. take a look at this video on bbc news for microsoft’s take on this.
what about a sustainable home? this is something that has been growing steadily for years, particularly in the last decade with an increasing number of people improving their homes’ energy efficiency and even generating electricity at home.
to some, a smart sustainable home must sound counter-intuitive, and there are inevitably some conflicts. more tech around the home must mean more energy use for one. and then there are the other aspects of sustainability. much tech is made in countries where abuse of labour is known to occur – look at the recent reports of abuse at factories supplying apple (i’m sure they’re not alone in this). economically there are also aspects to be considered, not least whether i can afford any of this!
so plenty of challenges ahead. right now i’m trying to buy a house and i’ve got plans for that place which i will be looking into in this blog.