Better than new: Give your home an eco facelift

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Want to give your home a stylish eco-facelift, and save thousands of pounds? Donnachadh McCarthy explains how, with a little ingenuity, he did both

A A A

Soon after I decided to leave mainstream politics – I was the deputy chair of the Liberal Democrat Party – and concentrate on becoming an eco-auditor and writer, I looked around my home and realised that, like many a politician's property, it had suffered from years of neglect and now badly needed repairing and redecorating. Knowing that more than 72 million tons of waste is produced each year by the UK construction industry and that huge resources and CO2 emissions are involved in producing new building materials, I resolved that the refurbishment should be as eco-friendly as possible. I would avoid new products and, where I had to buy new ones, would opt for those with good environmental credentials.

The interesting thing, in view of the current silly debate on whether we can afford to go green with the economy in turbulence, is that without my realising it, going green saved me a huge amount of money. If I had gone down the usual route of buying the various items new and non-eco, the materials would have cost just under £7,500, whereas buying the reused or eco-versions cost only about £1,400. The only extra costs from going eco were the £100 premium that using organic paints cost, £20 extra to use architectural-rescue window handles instead of new ones and about £400 in extra labour costs due to additional time in preparing and installing reused materials instead of new ones. I also had to pay a couple of hundred pounds in van hire to fetch some of the reused materials.

My back-of-an-envelope calculation estimates that deciding to go down the eco-route saved me a whopping £6,100.

One key thing I have found is that you have to have eco-sympathetic tradespeople. If I did not really get into the detail with them, they would be down at the local superstore buying horrible new versions of products before I could stop them. The results, not only in monetary terms, have also been really positive. A recent visitor complained that while I was always going on about how my "3 Acorns Retro-Eco House" is carbon negative, I had not told people how beautiful it was. Another visitor, who is an architect, said I had invented a new style, "warm minimalism". I love the results and feel that the reused materials really add to the sense of warmth and nourishment that I love about my old two-up two-down early 1840s inner-London home.

So here's how I fitted it out.



Windows & Curtains

I needed to tackle the flimsy cheap curtains that I had brought with me from various previous homes. There was also a set of horrible floral curtains that I had inherited from the previous owners and which I had vowed to replace the moment I moved in, but which were still there 13 years later. I had long wanted to replace them with luxury red velvet curtains, so I finally dived into eBay, simply typed in "luxury red velvet curtains" and up popped a long list. I chanced on an incredible offer from someone who, inexplicably, was removing almost brand-new curtains from a large manor house. And so, when they arrived I was able to simply drape them over the curtain rail, giving me four layers of cloth which now keep the living room cosy in winter. They were worth about £1,500 new, but I managed to get them for £200.

I similarly replaced the tacky bedroom curtains with red velvet ones from eBay for about £60. The blind hanging over the door into the garden from the dining room was a grubby obscenity that I had been long ignoring. Having come across The Curtain Exchange shops (www.thecur tainexchange.co.uk) that sell reused luxury curtains, I thought I would give them a try, as there is one close to me in Dulwich. There I found a wonderful full-length fawn set of luxury curtains, which I got double-lined to keep even more heat in. They cost £300 including the new lining and alterations, whereas a new set would have been about £1,000.

Embarrassingly for someone who advises on energy efficiency, I found a large gap in the door when we removed the former drapes, which I duly got my carpenter to repair.

As well as sorting out the curtains, I decided as part of the project to redo the kitchen to try out retro-fitting of double-glazed units to the existing window frames. I ordered the units over the phone and my handyman fitted them. They do not look quite as good as new windows, but they were about an eighth of the cost, and they help to save heat as well as preserving the existing wooden frames. I also got a lovely pair of original Victorian ornate window handles for refurbishing the bedroom window from Lassco in Vauxhall for £30. The website www.salvo.co.uk will tell you where to find your nearest architectural salvage store.



Furniture & Fittings

There really is almost no need to buy new furniture in the UK. There is an abundance of reused and antique furniture available almost everywhere. Avoiding new furniture means you do not have to worry about whether the wood has come from virgin rainforests or not. The settee had long become dilapidated and so I was delighted when the lodger's aunt announced she was getting rid of her very good living room suite – which I got for the price of a day's van hire. All I had to do was to find some throwovers that matched the living room colours and the pieces fitted in well.

Two of the mirrors came from some dressing-tables that were being thrown out, while the Art Deco chairs for the dining-room suite were a great find at Greenwich Market, costing only £50 each. The new armchair in the bedroom came from a local secondhand furniture store. I stocked up my Denby Baroque crockery set by logging on to eBay and successfully bidding for a whole range of secondhand pieces.

New lamps that fitted in with the old style of the house were picked up in a curiosity shop in Islington and from the Crusaid charity shop in Pimlico for a song. As cotton is responsible for more than 25 per cent of pesticide used globally every year, reducing the large amount of cloth needed for the curtains helped me to avoid becoming responsible for even more. I likewise avoided new cotton by buying lovely luxurious soft new bamboo fibre towels for the bathroom from www.natural collection.com



Flooring

One thing I did not need to do was to renew the carpet in the front room, which was replaced when I moved into the house, but I am proud that even then I chose an underlay from John Lewis that was made from 100 per cent recycled consumer waste, did not cost more than the regular alternative and is still great 16 years later.

However, the carpet tiles in the kitchen were "disgusting", according to my more blunt friends and needed replacing. It just so happened that my handyman's neighbour was replacing his kitchen wood flooring and it is now gracing my kitchen floor. The bathroom and reception lobby were covered by thin, depressing tiles without insulation. I decided this time to try out the www.freecycle.org website, which helps people to get rid of unwanted items for free, and was delighted to have someone who lived in nearby Kennington reply to my posted request looking for flooring, saying that he had a large amount of flooring in his garage which was I was welcome to have. Three weeks later, it was installed over wood-fibre insulation made from FSC certified wood (Forest Stewardship Council – www.fsc.org). The bedroom had already been done years ago with recycled solid oak flooring left over from the refurbishment of a house in Hampshire.



Bathroom Fittings

To be frank, by the time I got around to putting the house back in order, the bathroom was a disaster area. Both the roof and the water-tank, which, bizarrely, had been inaccessibly locked into the bathroom ceiling, had been leaking for some time and so the plasterwork was a mess. In addition, there was only a plastic-tube shower attached to the bath's taps. The handyman went about ripping off the roof and replacing the timbers and plaster. He rescued as much of the existing joists as he could and even reused the wood from the pallet on which the new plasterboard was delivered in the roof repairs. I grabbed the opportunity to install Warmcel insulation (www.excel fibre.com), made from mineralised recycled newspaper, in the flat roof above the bathroom.

Nicholas, my multipurpose handyman, then installed a proper shower in the bath, which would be supplied by my solar hot-water panels. I got the shower-head at a local architectural rescue shop for a tenner. However, Nicholas said that despite my determination to do everything as eco-responsibly as possible, I had to bite the bullet and buy a new plastic shower-wall unit for the bath.

I muttered reluctant agreement, but said I had to go out and get my daily Indy. I returned triumphant: by an extraordinary coincidence, one of my neighbours had thrown out a perfectly good glass-topped dining-room table. The reinforced safety glass was exactly the right size for my new shower-unit and now resides there proudly.

The wooden panelling that had some years previously replaced the unpleasant Formica original bath surround, had been found thrown away in our local park by some illegal tipper who had been refurbishing a local pub. Its deep brown tones add warmth to the room. A magnetic soap holder was one of the very few new items that I bought during the refurbishment. This is because it ensures that the soap does not melt in a puddle and so slashes the amount of soap I have to buy, again eliminating waste.

Walls & Ceilings

When I told my mates that I was going to paint the dining room walls acid yellow, lime green and burnt sienna, they thought I had gone completely off my rocker. After all, how could I break with the current minimalist orthodoxy of having everything white?

However, having looked at the really handy website for the organic paint company Ecos Paints (www.ecos paints.co.uk), where you can mix and match your colours using a virtual on-screen room, I was determined to risk being different. The resulting colourful room is absolutely glorious when the sunlight floods in and is echoed in the yellows and greens.

My painter, who had never used organic paints before, told me when I got home that he never again wanted to use chemical based paints again. Most high-street gloss paints contain appallingly high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which may be carcinogenic.

I will admit that I went for a palette of softer, contrasting creams and fawn for the bedroom. However, in the kitchen, while I used organic white emulsion on three of the walls and ceiling, we decided to strip one wall back to the original bricks and not paint it. It adds a pleasant warmth to the room and, of course, used no resources at all to create, aside from the necessary labour.



Donnachadh McCarthy FRSA works as a business, school and charity eco-auditor and is author of "Easy Eco-auditing". www.3acorns.co.uk

Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Voices
A man shoots at targets depicting a portrait of Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a shooting range in the center of the western Ukrainian city of Lviv
voicesIt's cowardice to pretend this is anything other than an invasion
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
music
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
booksNovelist takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Arts and Entertainment
Al Pacino in ‘The Humbling’, as an ageing actor
filmHam among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
News
Fifi Trixibelle Geldof with her mother, Paula Yates, in 1985
people
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey fans rejoice, series five returns later this month
TV
Arts and Entertainment
booksExclusive extract from Howard Jacobson’s acclaimed new novel
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Credit Controller (Sales Ledger, SAGE)- London, Old Street

£12 per hour: Ashdown Group: Credit Controller - London, Old Street A well es...

Y4 Teacher - Leicester

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: We are currently recruiting ...

VMware Infrastructure Engineer - (VCP, VMware) - £45k, London

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Infrastructure Engineer, VMware (VCP, NetApp,...

Business Development Manager

Salary/Rate: £32,000/annum: M&E Global Resources Ltd: Description/Main Duties ...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor