30 May 2006

Big day for Triodos, big day for us!

This morning, Triodos Bank celebrated the opening of their second branch in Spain, after Madrid, in Barcelona. An informative organic breakfast was called upon where the press was received by the general director, Esteban Barroso and the director of Catalonia, Joan Antoni Melé.

It is not without pride that we can tell you that they finished just on time to make it down to the solicitors and sign with us the mortgage for our flat! We archived an ethical mortgage thanks to Triodes who took time to listen to what the R3project really is about and who decided to collaborate with us. Thank you Isabel, Esteban and Joan. We now have the key and the flat is ours, let’s make it happen.

Triodos Bank is a pioneering force in the world of sustainable banking.
It aims to help achieve a more decent, dignified and kinder society and a world that respects people, the environment and different cultures.
Triodos Bank finances companies, institutions and projects that add cultural value and benefit people and the environment, with the support of depositors and investors who want to encourage the development of socially responsible and innovative business.
Triodos Bank's approach takes account of people, planet and profit to deliver a positive return over the long term. This social, ethical and financial approach is expressed in the Triodos name itself. Triodos - 'tri hodos' - is translated from the Greek as 'three-way approach'.
In essence, Triodos Bank aims to offer its customers both sustainable financial services and products and a good service.
[From Triodos]

29 May 2006

Bike Parking for all Tenants

Part of living the green lifestyle is using public transport or cycling. In Rull Street N°3 quite a few tenants seem to enjoy going for a ride; the only problem: no lift, not very safe in the streets and not enough space for all the bikes in the entrance hall. So we are looking into indoor bike parking solutions and look what we have found last weekend! SLIM by Modular, a vertical bike parking that saves you space.
Last friday the first Slim parking got inaugurated at Terra Foundation’s headquarters in Barcelona (c/Avinyó 44 if you want to have a look).

Slim is a slanting steel rail which holds the parked bike in place without having to use your hands. It’s fixed to the wall and floor and comes with an optional security cable to lock the wheels and saddle to the structure. All you need is your own lock to secure your bike to Slim. Its design allows you to attach the wheels as well as the bike with only one lock as this pushes the wheels into the rail and makes it almost impossible to detach them. We tried it out and it might take a little practice to hold your bike up but the slope makes it fairly easy to fit any kind of bike without applying too much force. Great for small spaces like entrance halls and easy to put up.

Other parking solutions available from Modular are Indoor (foldable vertical support) and Trident (horizontal security support for 1-2 bikes) to attach to the wall and a wide range to attach to the floor.

Apart from designing and manufacturing bike parking solutions, Modular have made it their responsibility to be eco-friendly. All materials and packaging used are made sure to be recyclable. Paper packaging and instruction manuals are made from recycled paper and tell you how to recycle or re-use them again. All products are designed so that the energy consumption and cost of recycling stays as low as possible. Modular developed a service system to take your old product back if you decide to replace it with a different design in order to recycle it. Well, it seems they have just what we are looking for…

27 May 2006


If you have to wire your flat from scratch or simply want to save energy, here are some basic tips on how to do it more environmentally friendly and healthier by choice of materials, way of installing, safety and reducing the energy consumption.

• use PVC free (hence recyclable) components
• put the wires in straight 90° horizontal or vertical lines. That way you reduce the electromagnetic fields and know where not to put a nail in the wall.
• avoid putting the wires through the main living spaces and next to your bed. Light switches operating with a cord hanging down from above mean you don’t have to sleep so close to an electromagnetic field in case it affects you.
• to completely eliminate electromagnetic fields, use parallel installations for different voltages (220V and 12V) and disconnectors at each base. Each consumption source has an independent wire. That way if you haven’t got anything plugged in nor the light on in any room, no electricity runs through those cables until you switch the first appliance on. This will result in a lot of wires but if you are sensitive to electromagnetic fields it’s a great solution. The company Klaus in Barcelona (web only in Catalan) are specialists in eliminating electromagnetic fields 100% and they use only PVC free materials.
• Plan to switch to solar energy in the future when you have put up those panels by putting independent circuits from the beginning.
• use energy efficient light bulbs and appliances
• turn off electronic devices (DVD players, TV, computer,…) you’re not using and unplug your charger from the wall when you’re not using it.

More useful tips on how to reduce your impact at home via ClimateCrisis.net Thanks Reinder for the tip!
Image: Genius of Electricity by Evelyn Beatirce Longman, 1915.

the Layout

So you can start to imagine it too:
• open kitchen & living room
• 1 bathroom
• 2 bedrooms
• 1 studio
• 3 balconies of which one is half used for storage & the washing machine

to heat or not to heat and how to heat

Not many second hand flats in Barcelona have central heating so instead people use very energy intensive electric heaters or bottled gas heaters (not without danger). We thought since we have to do the whole flat up we might as well use the opportunity to put in a radiant floor.
Why? –Because underfloor heating is supposed to be the most comfortable and eco-efficient form of heating. This is because it heats up the rooms evenly from the bottom to the top (since heat rises) instead of localised heating through radiators that need to produce a lot of heat in order to keep the other side of the room hot too. Plus no heat is lost through ducts. It’s also healthier they say, since it doesn’t dry out the air as much and heats up your feet and hands first (warm hands and feet, cool head). Another big advantage is that it is totally silent and non-obtrusive. It saves you a lot of space and you won’t have to worry about the aesthetics of any radiators. Eco-friendly material is also available such as a cork base (local and fast renewable) and PVC-free tubes (hence recyclable) to conduct the hot water.
Now this all sounds great but after a reality and wallet check it doesn’t seem too efficient anymore since the cost of installing a radiant floor is not worth what you save on energy and in our case it demands some massive construction work. The only possible exception is a water heating system (other types are air-heated and electric radiant floors) used in conjunction with solar heating.
Now we are in Spain so solar heating sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Think again! First you need permission to decorate the roof of the building (which normally is communal and used for sunbathing and laundry drying) with the solar installation (and some people don’t like the look of those). Second, the solar heater needs somewhere to store the hot water and where do you put a big black 2m high and ø1m water deposit in a 55m2 flat?
An alternative to solar heating is one of those new efficient gas heaters that heat the water for the floor and for the rest of the house. But that still leaves us with the actual radiant floor installation whose cork base and water tubes are normally covered with concrete. Now that is a hell of a lot of added weight for an old building like ours which means the old floor would need to go. And that means 2 weeks of picking the floor (and screaming neighbours) as well as getting rid of the rubble by carrying it 3 floors down (! no lift in that part of antic Barcelona). We’d also have to check with an engineer if we can take out the old floor (who knows what’s underneath) and if it’s structurally safe to add a radiant floor to this old building.
Conclusion: So after having a clearer picture of what it would mean to install a radiant floor (money, risks, side effects, time, …) we started wondering if it’s worth it. After all we are in Barcelona where you’d use heating at most 4 months a year. The advantage would obviously be the fact that the rest of the year you don’t have to sit amongst use-less radiators but don’t they do small sexy ones nowadays? And if you operate them with that energy efficient gas heater (that reuses the heat of the gas flame to heat the water, …) until you convince the rest of the flat owners to invest into communal solar heaters? You could still make the whole thing PVC free, insulate the flat properly so no heat is wasted and have a timer on it for more efficient use. We’re still investigating on this but if you have any suggestions please let us know!
More information on radiant floors: EERE (US), Klaus (Spain), Self Build ABC (UK)

Moving House without CO2

A new home always means packing up your things and moving them into your new space. Here a few tips on how to make the whole job more pleasant and eco (2 things that normally go together).

reuse cardboard boxes instead of buying new ones.
Find out when the paper gets collected in your neighbourhood and you’ll have plenty of boxes to choose from if you live near shops. Or ask your local corner store or supermarket for boxes.
• Try to avoid bubble wrap
You can wrap fragile objects in your bed sheets, clothes or towels that need to be moved anyway to the new place. For an alternative to bubble wrap check out Geämi. Make sure not to use very large boxes and to mix heavy and light objects in each box to avoid super heavy boxes as lifting those can seriously damage your back.
• Try to avoid CO2 emission
Now, if you move countries or larger distances, are the proud owner of a nice piano or just own a lot of furniture already I don’t suggest you move by bike. Your options in this case would be finding a transport company that rent out energy efficient transport modes (hydro, electric, solar, …) or if that’s not on offer yet, compensate your CO2 emission by becoming a member of for example CeroC02 (Spain) or the CarbonNeutral Company(UK). The mission of these companies is to reduce CO2 by for example investing into anti climate changing technologies or forestry projects.
If you mainly move boxes rather than furniture I suggest using muscle power as your main energy source and no oil. Get all your friends together, put the beers in the fridge for later and action! Bikes with carriages are for rent or what about the always good humoured rickshaw drivers that might not mind touring your pots and pans instead of tourists for a day. We’ll see … any other idea for a contribution against climate change? Be creative!

The Renovation that needs to be done

Apart from beautiful beams and French windows in need for restoration the flat doesn't have much to offer yet. So this gives us enough freedom to choose and put the most efficient installations from scratch. The most important eco aspect however is to reuse whatever we can. This means for example restoring the woodwork (windows, doors,...) and the floor as well as keeping the bath tub which is in perfect condition. Unfortunately the plaster walls need to be removed to optimise the space. What else needs doing in general:
• electricity & water installations
• remove & put dividing walls
• fix humidity from soil pipe along the outside wall
• replace the toilet on the balcony (!) with a washing machine
• the bathroom
• the kitchen
• painting
• furniture & products for domestic use
• city garden
• ...

21 Tips for a Sustainable Home towards Agenda 21

This is a list of what you can do to make your home more sustainable. We will step by step develop these further and look for the best solutions for our flat.
Sustainable Living on an Every Day Basis
1. water consumption
2. energy consumption
3. improve comfort
4. better use of domestic equipment
5. recycling
Sustainable Through Maintenance
6. maintenance of the installations
7. maintenance of the facade
8. maintenance of the roof
9. maintenance of the railings and locks
10. maintenance of balconies and windows
Sustainable Shopping for Your Home
11. electro domestics
12. heating and air conditioning
13. furniture
14. new or second hand eco housing
15. products for the home
Sustainable Renovation
16. construction material
17. thermo and acoustic insulation
18. reuse water
19. renewable energy
20. correct management of construction waste
Last But Not Least
21. Make it all happen!
[via Ajuntament de Barcelona & Collegi d’Aparellarors i Arquitectes Tècnics de Barcelona]
For more information (in Spanish) : Agenda de la Construcción Sostenible

The 5 Rs of Eco Design

You may have come across Reuse Reduce Recycle as the key principles towards a Restorative Economy to do ‘less bad’ and most of all ‘more good’.

In May this year however, a discussion on o2-Global about how many Rs an eco design product / service / packaging / man-made thing should cover resulted in 5 Rs. This means that if a design can incorporate Reuse Reduce Recycle Recover and Respect it pretty much deserves a green label. You might argue that there are many more Rs to add but to keep things simple and manageable, o2UMW has outlines them as the following which will guide us towards an eco flat (renovation & living it). R3project examples in orange.

Innovation Checklist: The 5Rs of Great Design

Use materials (and support firms) that help reverse damage or -- add -- to natural capital.

Run all finances through an ethical bank, go carbon neutral, use sustainable materials (such as FSC wood), …
Examine impacts the item will have on stakeholders, as well as eco-systems -- social plus environmental justice, look for the win-win-win scenario (triple bottom line).

Support the local economy (shop local, local crafts, …), respect the environment (aesthetic, neighbours, local plants for the garden, … ), …
Reduce the materials needed to do function, including: less materials used, less weight to transport (reduce fuel demands), less energy to manufacture, less energy to store (aseptic pack vs. refrigerated milk), less energy to use (compact fluorescent bulbs vs. incandescent), reduced toxicity (reduce to ZERO).

Reduce the use of energy & water (alternative sources, smart wiring & plumbing, energy-efficient light bulbs and white goods, efficient use of energy & water, …), noise (insulation,…), CO2 (by compensating and cycling), food miles (by shopping locally), …
Reuse something already manufactured, and make item easy to BE reused with minimal remanufacturing (Like wine barrels that get turned into taiko drums when they retired from wine making).

Materials in the flat (bathtub, doors, windows, …), grey water, restore second hand furniture, use plastic containers in the kitchen instead of cling film, …
Create item to be fed BACK into the resource loop (includes Cradle to Cradle), have a robust and easy to use system to RECOVER materials, and USE RECYCLED substrates to make the item (100% PCW paperboard) wherever possible. Under this clause we would naturally tuck the old favourite -- RECYCLE the things you recovered.
From: o2UMW

Use recyclable materials (PVC free water pipes, …) and recycle (comfortable facilities to recycle glass, plastics, paper and organic waste on a day to day bases).
[via o2-Global]

Buying the Flat, Getting a Mortgage & Starting to Go Eco

We found this flat in November last year and since then it has been quite a fight against the money sharks of the Spanish property market! Prices are high and still rising and the owners are normally estate agencies rather than private owners with a lot more experience than most people in the art of rip-off.
So it happened that the owners of this flat tried to sell it to me with a big fat structural wall right through the middle of it which meant no access to half of the flat without some major building work! I had to get my Spanish man to talk to them as 'pretty blonde female' didn'’t seem to be taken seriously when she said she'’s not going to buy it without a doorway. And oh what a surprise! it worked and this week they are putting the door into the dividing wall. Something to bear in mind when buying a flat is that it'’s easy to follow what others tell you rather than to stop and think. In my case the owner of the flat had a very good connection with a bank. So without thinking twice I went there and they gave me an attractive deal. It was so easy and I felt kind of obligated that I didn'’t even think of who I was going to give my money to. Three months later though this bank realised that the flat doesn'’t have the license (called cédula’ in Spanish) you need by law to live in a flat. I mean how could it have those papers if there isn'’t even a bathroom or kitchen in the flat?! Negotiating started all over again, we came to a new agreement but I wasn't very confident with the bank. Which is why (better late than never) I looked into ethical banking and found Triodos.
Meeting with Triodos in their brand new office was a whole different experience. They actually try to understand the whole project, were interested in who I am and what I do not just to make sure I can pay my bills but because they needed to know where the money goes. Their conditions might not be AS good as those an ordinary bank can offer you but at least you sleep well at night and it'’s certainly about more than Euribor.
All this meant quite a few months waiting with a headache but made time for dreaming up a flat. In the end everything happens for a reason they say and here the reason for me having to wait must have been clearly giving birth to the R3project. The idea was always to make my flat eco-friendly since I am an eco designer, grew up amongst vegetables and cows (thanks mum and dad) and have this passion for greening things. BUT I had my reservations: ‘uh, more expensive?... more time consuming?... can I really do it?'…I thought, well, I can install some solar panels later and use eco-friendly paint but will I research everything from what water tap is the most efficient and which heating system makes the most sense?
So this last month when things started looking more positively and we pretty much had assured the buying of the flat I got my act together and decided to go for a full eco-friendly renovation, and share my experiences with you. You can be as eco as you want but when it comes down to practicality it's often easier to go with the flow which right now is not green. I hope my research will help you though make your home more sustainable.

Only the Beginning

We found the flat, it's been registered with the government and evaluated so now we 'just' have to buy it! For that we need a mortgage, an ethical one please! Then we'll move our stuff in there, carbon neutrally of course- anyone up for cycling? And then it's shopping for eco building materials...

A quick Welcoming Note

Hi & Welcome! This is a blog about how to renovate a flat (in Barcelona) in an eco-friendly way and how to live a greener urban lifestyle. Petz Scholtus and Sergio Carratalá Lamarca are the main bloggers but guest writers will be invited. The flat really exists so you can follow the research, analysis, final decisions and practicality of eco concepts and products available to renovate a flat and live in it in a sustainable way. The blog will create a dynamic diary / guide for everyone to participate by commenting (so please do!).
Enjoy the show!