Thursday, January 25, 2007

One window closes - another one shuts

Last night's marathon length housing co-op EGM on window replacement has got me to thinking about the best ways to make your home environmentally friendly and the compromises we all have to make in order to fit our ideal with what is actually achievable.

Why wont everyone pay for me to do what I like?Our choices were simple but perhaps a little expert advice might not be misplaced, if readers are willing to chip in with their thoughts. We are coming up to a time when many of the doors and windows need replacing and, as part of coming up to the decent homes standard the co-op has collectively decided to re-do the whole lot. This will be an invaluable step forward for our energy conservation.

Of course, as we're part of the lunatic fringe the co-op tends to contain people who think climate chaos is something to be averted and want to replace the windows in an ecologically friendly way. Bloody communists. What next? Giving to charity?

But wanting to be good to the environment and doing that effectively with the resources available are two quite distinct things. Last night we heard pitches from a number of companies on the products they can provide and the materials from which they are made. Our choice essentially comes down to this. Eco-friendly timber sourced in a sustainable way or horrid PVC made from oil and dead penguins. Both materials perform pretty much equally in terms of heat retention / energy efficiency so, as windows, although wood looks a bit nicer there doesn't seem much in it.

We are directly responsible for the futureHowever, there is a complication. The timber frames cost three times as much and, for a job the size of the co-op, we are talking a difference of £150,000. Which seems like a lot of money. In fact, whilst the co-op can afford timber we would be cutting our finances very tight, perhaps irresponsibly so.

For me the two key priorities are how the product performs in conserving energy and how long the windows actually last. Now the PVC might last forty years, whilst the timber may last eighty - but I do have my doubts about windows that last longer than the walls around them, but that's an aside I suppose.

There is absolutely no question that PVC is an evil material but is it so evil to justify spending a very significant amount of money that could provide decent insulation, solar water heaters and other improvements. Christ, even if we could afford it with £150,000 we could employ half a dozen full time environmental workers for a couple of years who could have a massive impact on reducing the carbon footprint of the local community.

Timber will make us feel like we've chosen the best, but in fact we'll have gone for perfection in one area whilst completely ignoring the glaring environmental deficiencies that lie elsewhere in the co-op. My question to the readers of this blog is this - is it better to go with the best available building material at the expense of other improvements that would increase the sustainability of the co-op as a whole, or compromise on the material, choosing an unsustainable source for our windows, which would leave us enough money to ensure we are coming up to scratch in other areas too?


Matt Sellwood said...

The answer is clearly to rob a bank and fund everything you need to do by means of proletarian expropriation.

Or are you to bourgeois now that you're in the Green Party - eh? eh? :)


Racheblue said...

Hmmmm, tricky one eh! My gut feeling is to go with the sustainable timber as it is twice as cost effective long term as the evil PVC, plus aesthetically wood always wins, but, yes... the money... Is there a middle ground, some other less expensive but sustainable material you could use?? Perhaps a different source??

If not, then you'll just need to raise the extra money - how about a fundraising event? Apply for a grant or two? Obtain sponsorship from an Eco company? Even see if Sarah Beanie or her BBC pals will help - though you may have to suffer 6 months of being filmed as well?!!
Best wishes, Ecomonkey :)

Natalie Bennett said...

Do you have the best possible ceiling nsulation and (if you've got the right sort of walls) wall insulation? If you haven't then it may well be you should go the horrid PVC route then use the rest of the money for that. If not, then as I understand it (without being an engineer), the windows will be the next big thing to do, and perhaps you should make them as "green" as possible?

Jim Jay said...

Bank Robbery: I'm always in favour of this - but the proceeds tend to remain in my personal swiss bank account to fund my recreational activities.

Other sources: I've a feeling we've boiled it down to the real options - but you could be right - perhaps tere is a compromise there.

Extra money: the thing is, it is *a lot* of money. Raising hundreds is relatively easy, thousands possible but more than a hundred thousand? Cripes...

There are some grants and things available however even f we get them tey are likely to be a very small proportion of the toal costs.

We could go for a loan and do it in two stages - stuff lke that *but* it still means we are spending £150,000 on sustainable sources for the material when we could spend it on other areas.

Insulation: its pretty poor. I sleep on a shelf in the loft directly below the roof were most homes would have layers of insulation so I'm acutely aware of the minimal (roof) insulation that we have at present.

Don't know about the walls though. I suspect its poor, but that would be useful to find out.

I'm still tending towards PVC plus other improvements at the moment. been havng some very interesting informal chats with other cooperativistas on this ...

Emily said...

I prefer the sound of the wood. (Even tho I missed out on the meetings).
Even if it does cost so much more, are you sure the coop doesnt have enough money? We have been saving up for Years now. Besides, there are talks about new development plans, possibility of expanding the coop etc, and if this is done, could we not use some of the money from this to make the other improvments needed?

Jim Jay said...

Hi Emily!

The co-op has *just* enough money to do this and nothing else. There are other options like getting a loan, doing the windows in stages which would spread the cost out... so it is doable - but this doesn't change the fact we're still spending £150,000 more on something that we could spend elsewhere - *possibly* increasing our energy efficiency well beyond what we have now.

We couldn't use the money from the other co-op (I think) because we'd finance that with a loan specific to the task and use our current co-op as collateral - in other words the new co-op would be self financing but is being given a initial push by us.

I could be wrong about that. But as you say we can have wood. As it were. There's no doubt it's the most ecologically sound material and a bit nicer to look at - but if we take the co-op as a whole what is the most sound option? Just good windows - or a range of lovely improvements...