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ALEXIS ROWELL: Green home experiment shows way to the future

PUBLISHED: 15:29 24 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:33 07 September 2010

I M absolutely delighted to be able to say that more than 1,800 people visited the Camden Eco House in the three months that it was open to the public. An astounding 890 people looked round it during Open House weekend in September. It s proof, if proof

I'M absolutely delighted to be able to say that more than 1,800 people visited the Camden Eco House in the three months that it was open to the public.

An astounding 890 people looked round it during Open House weekend in September. It's proof, if proof were needed, that people want to see how a Victorian property can be refurbished to reduce carbon emissions by 80 per cent.

The key learning from the Eco House is insulation, insulation, insulation - to paraphrase a former Prime Minister. Roof insulation, basement floor insulation and external or internal insulation on all the exposed walls.

Add in some decent double glazing (because 35 per cent - the cheap stuff - fails within the first three years) and hey presto, you have an energy efficient cocoon that requires virtually no energy to keep it warm.

Mini-wind turbines, photovoltaic panels, grey water recycling, ground source heat pumps - none of these make much sense for individual households although they probably will do for businesses and big organisations.

Wind is a complete no-no because you need huge blades to make wind turbines work cost-effectively and because London simply isn't windy enough (go to the back of the class, Mr Cameron!).

Photovoltaic panels will almost certainly break before they pay themselves back. It would have cost about £10,000 to install a dual pipe system in the Eco House to allow grey water recycling which would never have paid itself back.

And, although I have a lot of time for ground source heat pumps, which extract solar energy from the ground, the reality is that they have mechanised parts that will break and it's not clear they will pay back the £6-8,000 investment.

There's one other thing we need before any of these energy generating measures make sense. Most of Europe now has a feed-in tariff where you get paid more for the electricity you put into the grid than you pay for what you take out of the grid.

This has given households across Europe a real incentive to generate electricity. The Lib Dems, the Tories, the Greens and many Labour backbenchers are in favour of a feed-in tariff. I suggest you all write to your MP asking for one.

Back to the lessons from the Camden Eco House - we have to do the boring stuff, not the eco bling.

Here's what will make sense for most homes in Camden: 1, insulation; 2, double glazing; 3, solar water if you have a south-facing roof (which will pay itself back and, in the Eco House should cover 40 per cent of the annual hot water requirement); and 4, localised heat exchangers (which are basically fans that expel stale air, bad smells and moisture but use the waste heat to warm up incoming fresh air).

Now comes the real challenge. We've done one house. But how do we do the rest of Camden? As of July we have a commitment to put cavity wall insulation in all our housing estates by 2010, but that's only a small proportion of Camden's housing stock. And how do you persuade a private landlord to put in insulation when they don't pay the energy bills?

In short, how do we industrialise and incentivise the whole of Camden to put in insulation and double glazing?

I have a plan!

I would like to see the council lending money for insulation and double glazing to householders and private landlords or their tenants. You would have to sign up to have it done by a Camden-certified contractor in your area. We could then recoup a proportion of the energy bill saving through the council tax.

Landlords should be happy because they would get an upgraded property for free. Householders or private tenants should be happy because they would pay less overall in terms of council tax, plus energy bills.

If someone moves, then the loan would stay attached to a particular property because the incoming owners or tenants would still benefit from lower energy bills. Camden Council's finance director should be happy because he would get his money back in time.

And I would be happy because Camden's carbon emissions would go down dramatically.

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