The blog

Roger Hunt is an award winning writer and blogger specialising in sustainability, old houses, housebuilding and traditional and modern building materials. He is the co-author of Old House Handbook and the companion volume Old House Eco Handbook.

Hidden London

Hidden London

Impending development often means there is a chance to step back in time because archaeological investigation may be undertaken as part of the work. This is especially true in London where layers of history have been laid down by successive generations as the city has evolved.

Visiting Barratt London’s Landmark Place site close to the Tower of London, I watched as, layer by layer, Continue Reading

SPAB Working Party

For the last 25 years conservation experts and volunteer heritage enthusiasts have come together to join the annual Working Party run by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB). I went along to join them and created a video about the Working Party at Sullington Manor Farm near Storrington, West Sussex. They were working… Continue Reading

Environmental Pocketbook

Environmental Pocketbook

If you’re going to invest in just one book on sustainable, low carbon building I’d strongly suggest that you make it The Environmental Design Pocketbook. Now in its second edition, this useful volume by Sofie Pelsmakers should be essential reading for architects, designers, developers, planners, students, clients and anyone else involved in the construction and operation of buildings.… Continue Reading

Building lime knowledge

Building lime knowledge

Lime, in the form of mortars, renders, plasters and paints, is a key component of old buildings and essential to their repair – or at least it should be. Today lime-based materials are also emerging into the mainstream and being used within low carbon construction systems, employed in everything from homes to superstores. All this… Continue Reading

Drain problems

Drain problems

A blocked drain is not a pleasant thing to wake up to. What’s worse is the realisation that it’s something that can generally be avoided by doing what I’m always talking about: maintenance. The drainage system is easily forgotten because much of it is hidden away underground but, as with any element of a building, it… Continue Reading

Building remembrance

Building remembrance

Visiting Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, the poppy installation at the Tower of London, reminded me that the built environment frequently plays an important part in both remembrance and memory. Each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies that flood the moat of the Tower depicts a death in the British forces in the First… Continue Reading

Battersea Power Station

Battersea Power Station

This weekend there will be over 800 buildings, neighbourhood walks and architects’ talks to enjoy as Open House London once again reveals great architecture for free. Sadly Battersea Power Station, one of the buildings I visited last year, will not be open as the 42 acre site is undergoing redevelopment. Nonetheless its history and its future can… Continue Reading

Linoleum naturally

Linoleum naturally

Lino is a bit like Marmite, people either seem to love it or hate it. For some it conjures thoughts of cold and institutional floors and it’s often (wrongly) used to describe vinyl. Unlike vinyl, which is petroleum based, linoleum has outstanding eco credentials and antimicrobial and hypo-allergenic properties. A hard-wearing and almost totally natural product, linoleum… Continue Reading

Research, research, research

Research, research, research

Location, location, location may be the estate agent’s mantra but when you buy an old house research is just as important – it helps you understand what you’re buying and will make a renovation project more successful. What’s more, much of the fun of working on an old property is finding out more about its history… Continue Reading

Water savings

Water savings

Water is a finite and precious resource, we all know that – or at least we should. I was reminded when I visited Bermuda. Here the architecture is influenced by the need to collect rainwater. Stepped and whitewashed roofs are a key feature of many buildings with their wedge-shaped limestone ‘glides’ designed to channel rainwater into… Continue Reading

Energy: Nest Thermostat

Energy: Nest Thermostat

Controlling your heating system is one of the quickest and easiest ‘wins’ when it comes to saving energy (and money) in the home and, although I’ve mentioned thermostats here before, I make no apology for writing about them again. In the USA Nest has been a trailblazer both in terms of technology and design. Now the Nest Learning Thermostat is available in… Continue Reading

Switching on to style

Switching on to style

There’s nothing very sexy about light switches or power sockets. At least this is what I’d thought until I went to a recent launch event for MK’s Elements range of ‘decorative wiring devices’. I came away realising that switches can be cool. What’s more I delved a bit deeper into wireless light switch solutions which… Continue Reading

Repair not restore

Repair not restore

Visiting Coventry to speak at an SPAB Old House Eco Course I was reminded of the complex philosophical issues associated with caring for our built heritage, particularly the value of good new design in an historic environment and the need to understand the fundamental principle of repair rather than restoration. The ruins of Coventry Cathedral… Continue Reading

Insurance and flooding

Insurance and flooding

Flooding is something I’ve already written about but it seemed important to think about the insurance implications relating to old buildings. In this Q & A I’ve asked Amanda Harman, who works as senior client manager of High Value Households at Aon Private Clients, for her views: What are the particular insurance issues relating to… Continue Reading

Responsible retrofit

Responsible retrofit

Retrofit requires an understanding of the building coupled with an holistic approach. This may sound simple but it isn’t, buildings – especially old buildings – are many layered entities and it’s not only the structure that has to be considered, it’s the behaviour of the building’s occupants. When planning retrofit strategies, heritage, technical and energy… Continue Reading

Drying flooded old buildings

Drying flooded old buildings

Flooding may not be making the headlines anymore but there are still plenty of people with homes that have suffered damage. What worries me is that I’m hearing about insurance companies, loss adjusters, landlords and contractors who are pushing ahead with inappropriate and rushed work to older buildings without thinking about the long term consequences.… Continue Reading

Secondary glazing

Secondary glazing

Replacing or double glazing old windows in the name of energy efficiency is expensive and hugely destructive to our heritage. There is another way: secondary glazing. Secondary glazing added to the inside of a window has little impact on the look of the building, does negligible damage and is reversible. Equally importantly, secondary glazing cuts… Continue Reading

Review: Architecture and Climate

Review: Architecture and Climate

As we seek to make our buildings more energy efficient, the relationship between architecture and climate has never been more relevant than today; or so we may think. Dean Hawkes begins the eight essay narrative, that forms the core of Architecture and Climate, An environmental history of British architecture 1600-2000, (Routledge) by describing the period when… Continue Reading

Sustainable drainage

Sustainable drainage

With the emphasis currently on dealing with the aftermath of flooding, it’s easy to forget that we should be looking at the causes and solutions. Flooding is nothing new, it’s happened throughout history, but things have been made worse because of the way we’ve interfered with natural landscapes. We’ve constructed vast areas of impermeable surfaces… Continue Reading

Avoid energy bill panics

Avoid energy bill panics

As winter closes in we’re getting ready to face the dullest, darkest weather the climate can throw our way. And there’s more bad news for those inclined to reach for the thermostat at the first sign of seasonal chill. Several of Britain’s biggest electricity providers have announced eye-watering price rises, even though wholesale costs of… Continue Reading

Choosing CCTV security

Choosing CCTV security

So what do you need to know about installing CCTV to guard your home? Until recently it wasn’t something I’d though much about but, after a relative was subjected to a number of doorstep cons and various other crimes had been committed locally, a CCTV installation was suggested by the police. These systems not only… Continue Reading

Breathability, airtightness, ventilation

Breathability, airtightness, ventilation

When it comes to old buildings and making them energy efficient there’s one very important point to understand: old buildings work in a different way to modern buildings. Old solid wall buildings – whether medieval timber-framed houses or Edwardian terraces – are designed to allow a degree of moisture penetration into their structure. But, and… Continue Reading

Wallpaper art

Wallpaper art

Wallpaper is an often overlooked art form. Through its textures, colours and patterns, it provides an air of individuality that paint can never match. As a result it spectacularly changes the feel of a room, even if it’s only applied to one ‘feature’ wall. Although probably first developed in China around the 3rd century AD,… Continue Reading

Renovation tale – Part 12

Renovation tale – Part 12

This is the final tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… Even though the temperature outside is approaching freezing, we’re all dripping sweat and ‘gunshots’ echo from the suddenly contracting timbers of my 1900 terrace house as they’re sapped of moisture. It’s all because the plumber Steve, who is walking around the… Continue Reading

Fit for the future

Fit for the future

The other night I pledged to continue promoting sustainability through my writing. Let me explain, I’d been invited along to Centre Point, in London, by the National Trust for the launch of the Fit for the Future Network. This network, created by the Trust together with Ashden, the sustainable energy charity, aims to allow leading… Continue Reading

Richard Rogers Inside Out

Richard Rogers Inside Out

My last visit to the once revolutionary Pompidou Centre in Paris was a long time ago; other buildings associated with Richard Rogers have featured more recently in my life: Lloyds of London, Heathrow Terminal 5, the Millennium Dome, The Leadenhall Building or ‘Cheese Grater’ now rising above the City of London as its tallest building.… Continue Reading

House history in Shoreditch

House history in Shoreditch

When a homeowner asks what they should do when starting a renovation project, I usually suggest that they should understand the building. I don’t just mean getting to know the structure and it’s idiosyncrasies, I mean really getting to know it, and its context, so that mistakes are avoided. All buildings, whether they’re churches, castles,… Continue Reading

Overheating in homes

Overheating in homes

A lot has been written about overheating in homes recently, especially in relation to energy efficiency measures introduced under the Green Deal. The BBC quotes Prof Chris Goodier, of Loughborough University’s department of civil and building engineering, who “said the risk of overheating had been overlooked in the ‘big rush to insulate and make homes… Continue Reading

Review: Pevsner’s architectural app

Review: Pevsner’s architectural app

Yesterday I nearly missed my stop on the tube. Why? I was engrossed in Pevsner’s Architectural Glossary app that I’d just downloaded from iTunes. This simple but amazingly comprehensive app guides one through the architectural lexicon from abacus to zigzag, taking in terms as diverse as hagioscope and Quattrocento along the way, while enhancing the experience… Continue Reading

Funding fears at SPAB

Funding fears at SPAB

With the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) imminent there are fears for England’s heritage with government seeming to feel that this is a soft target. Indeed, in the current climate, it appears to be viewed as an unaffordable luxury. This is hugely worrying for all heritage organisations but no where more so than at the Society… Continue Reading

The performance gap

The performance gap

Ensuring that what has been designed is the same as what is being delivered is ever more crucial as we strive to improve the energy efficiency and overall performance of buildings. It’s a subject I explored in the May issue of Show House magazine here while Sofie Pelsmakers offers some useful links on the subject here. Image… Continue Reading

Lighting history

Lighting history

Incandescent light bulbs (lamps) have illuminated the world for more than a century. They’ve done it in a way that has felt natural in historic interiors and has been flattering to the complexion because traditional tungsten filaments provide a spectrum of light not dissimilar to fire or candlelight. Now they’ve been banned in favour of… Continue Reading

Eco-boilers help cut costs

Eco-boilers help cut costs

Capable of cutting costs and energy use, new boilers or appliances can prove a shrewd investment as the Goring Heath Almshouses charity recently discovered. According to a news report, the charity installed a new biomass boiler with the intention of saving as much as £10,000 a year on their heating costs. Currently, the charity supports… Continue Reading

Old House Eco Handbook

Old House Eco Handbook

Each time I write a book I say to myself “never again”. This is all very well but when a good idea comes along it’s hard to resist. Towards the end of 2010 I watched as the ink dried on my signature at the bottom of a contract for “a book provisionally entitled ‘The Old… Continue Reading

Climate change partnership

Climate change partnership

Your Social Housing in a Changing Climate is a new report from the London Climate Change Partnership. It makes fascinating reading and there were some illuminating presentations at its launch at City Hall earlier this week. The report focuses on the Colne and Mersea blocks in the London Borough of Dagenham. These two blocks, comprising 200 flats,… Continue Reading

The View From The Shard

Whatever one may think of The Shard it does provide a unique understanding of London and its architecture. The View From The Shard, as the visitor experience is known, is a slick people moving operation that whisks you via two separate lifts to levels 68-72 without you really realising that you’ve travelled. Only when you… Continue Reading

Centred on solar

Centred on solar

The solar PV (photovoltaic) industry has had a bumpy ride of late and more than one installer has told me that “domestic solar has fallen off a cliff”. Even so, at the recent launch of the BRE National Solar Centre in St Austell, Cornwall, Greg Barker, Energy and Climate Change Minister, tempered the difficulties of the past… Continue Reading

RIBA honours Passivhaus Feist

RIBA honours Passivhaus Feist

The news that Professor Wolfgang Feist – the founder of the Passivhaus Institut – is to be awarded a RIBA honorary fellowship next month confirms both the growing acceptance of the Passivhaus standard in the UK and his contribution to sustainable architecture. It also emphasises the fact that high levels of energy efficiency and good… Continue Reading

Think before extending

The Government’s announcement allowing extensions and conservatories to be built without planning permission raises many issues. Not least of these is the fact that an ill conceived extension could detract from the value of neighbouring properties if it’s not in keeping with the existing building, out of scale or of a low standard. With any… Continue Reading

Retrofitting with care

Blogging here has been on hold recently because I’ve been busy writing my next book: Old House Eco Handbook. It’s a companion volume to Old House Handbook and, instead of focusing simply on the care and repair of buildings, it builds on the subject to consider all aspects of retrofitting from insulation to energy generation.… Continue Reading

Beautiful brick

Conservation meets new build, meets sustainability. This was the theme that emerged from yesterday’s Brick Development Association (BDA) Conservation Day at the Building Centre in London. Dr Gerard Lynch, the acclaimed expert on historic brickwork and master bricklayer, was first to speak, proving that the art of creating fine brickwork hasn’t vanished despite the loss… Continue Reading

The Prince’s House

I didn’t expect to like the Prince’s House at the BRE Innovation Park, Watford. Developed by The Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, construction originally began in 2009 and I’d watched it slowly grow. The front elevation had struck me as trying to be both modern and traditional without being either; the large, single pane… Continue Reading

The legacy of Angels

Rescuing buildings does more than preserve our built environment, it brings people and communities together. On this occasion it was within the plush interior of the Palace Theatre in London’s West End: the great and the good, celebrities and journalists and, importantly, people from across the country who had saved their local heritage. These people… Continue Reading

Review: If Walls Could Talk

Review: If Walls Could Talk

by Lucy Worsley, Faber and Faber Buildings are about more than the materials they’re made of and the architectural styles they embrace, they’re about the people that live in them and the way they use them. This is something Lucy Worsley understands and, in her book If Walls Could Talk, An Intimate History of the… Continue Reading

Old houses and The Green Deal

Good to see a letter in The Times yesterday on The Green Deal, albeit under the slightly misleading headline ‘Insulation is bad for old buildings’. Signed by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, Kevin McCloud, The National Trust, Loyd Grossman, Chair Churches Conservation Trust and many other organisations and individuals from the conservation… Continue Reading

The Restoration Home debate

The Restoration Home debate

The BBC2 series Restoration Home has provoked much debate, some of which accompanies my previous blogs Restoration Home and What is restoration?. Among those to have joined this debate is Alan Tierney of Picketts Historic Building Conservation. He wrote to the BBC after the second episode to complain and has suggested that I share both… Continue Reading

Restoration Home

Restoration Home

This is not my first blog about old buildings and television but the new BBC2 series Restoration Home can’t be allowed to pass without comment. For those who missed the first episode the series is presented by Caroline Quentin, who “has a deep passion for old buildings”, with the help of architectural expert Kieran Long… Continue Reading

View from Tower Bridge

View from Tower Bridge

Last Thursday I stood 42 metres above the River Thames on the walkways of London’s Tower Bridge and was struck by the ingenuity that has gone into constructing our built environment. Tower Bridge required two massive piers to be sunk into the river bed and the erection of over 11,000 tons of steel to create… Continue Reading

The Ashden Awards

The Ashden Awards

Over the years I’ve sat through a good many awards ceremonies but few, if any, have been as inspiring as last week’s Ashden Awards for sustainable energy. There was none of the hype or greenwash often associated with sustainable solutions; just ordinary people, or rather I should say extraordinary people, with good ideas and the… Continue Reading

Sustainable brick

Bricks are such an integral part of the architectural landscape that it’s hard to imagine building without them, but are they sustainable? Not unsurprisingly, the Brick Development Association, which represents the majority of the United Kingdom and Ireland’s clay brick and paver industries, reckons they are and has now published the Industry’s sustainability credentials in… Continue Reading

Dealing with damp

I talk a lot about dealing with damp so I’ve been practising what I preach at the 1900 house we’re renovating in America. Virtually everyone with an old house will experience some sort of damp problem. The most important rule is to diagnose the actual cause and tackle the problem at source, rather than simply… Continue Reading

Wolfgang Feist and Passivhaus

Amongst the hubbub of Ecobuild this year I spent an enjoyable hour or so interviewing Wolfgang Feist, the founder of the Passivhaus Institut, for Show House magazine. You can read the resulting article here but, earlier in the day, I’d wandered round the German stands and gathered the thoughts of exhibitors from the birthplace of Passivhaus.… Continue Reading

New homes lose heat

Having recently been writing about how the walls of old buildings appear to be performing better than we thought, it’s ironic to discover that recent research shows that some new homes appear to be falling well short of meeting their carbon emissions reduction targets. In some cases they’re exhibiting actual heat losses that can be more… Continue Reading

Insulation worries

Four days of speaking and answering questions at the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show in Birmingham has only strengthened my concerns about the issues relating to the insulation of walls in old buildings. Twelve months ago the subject was barely on most people’s radar but, this year, the volume of questions relating to the topic… Continue Reading

Old walls perform better

For the past year or so I’ve been following some interesting in-situ research by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) about the energy performance of old buildings. Now the results from the first stage of that research are suggesting that standard U-value calculations, used across the construction industry, underestimate the thermal performance… Continue Reading

The restoration question

Repair not restoration has always been my mantra when considering the renovation of old buildings. What do I mean? Well, repair is about mending with minimum loss of fabric and thus retaining character and authenticity; restoration is about returning to a perfect state, a process often based on conjecture and potentially resulting in fakery. Taken… Continue Reading

Wrapping up for winter

I’m frequently asked about what can be done to save energy and keep buildings warm in winter so there seems no better time to share some of my thoughts than when I’m snowed in. With any property, adding extra insulation in the loft is the most important thing you can do. But do be sure to allow… Continue Reading

National Maintenance Week

National Maintenance Week

Maintenance is vital whatever the age of a building. Nonetheless, it’s worth remembering that maintenance should be considered on the drawing board, at the point of conception, when many potential problems can be designed out through careful detailing and the specification of appropriate materials. Another important point is the very real ‘green’ benefit of maintaining… Continue Reading

The future kitchen

A huge flow of embodied energy passes through the kitchen. This was one of the messages to emerge from a panel debate hosted by home furnishing specialist IKEA when it lunched The Future of Kitchens, a report it had commissioned from The Future Laboratory. Frustratingly, although this event happened some time ago, very little energy… Continue Reading

Flooding and old buildings

Flooding and old buildings

Incredibly, a YouGov survey commissioned by Landmark Information Group has revealed that, although one in four homes are at risk of flooding, 83% of homeowners don’t believe their homes are at risk. In the hope of making people more aware, Landmark – a supplier of digital mapping services, property and environmental risk information – launched… Continue Reading

Why old buildings need to breathe

Why old buildings need to breathe

Spending three days talking and lecturing at the National Home Improvement Show made me again realise the huge importance of getting across the message that old buildings need to ‘breathe’. Many people simply don’t understand that using the wrong materials can be an expensive mistake which may wreck their home. The way old buildings work… Continue Reading

Leaf Awards 2010

‘Crossing borders to create excellence in architecture’ is the strap line for The Emirates Glass Leaf Awards 2010 and, at the Awards ceremony in London last Friday evening, I certainly wasn’t disappointed – the event brought together a global cross section of innovative and inspiring schemes. Represented in ten categories, winners ranged from Broadcasting Place,… Continue Reading

Renovation tale – Part 4

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… I can see daylight through the ragged hole in the roof, small wispy clouds meander across the blue sky and seagulls wheel serenely through the air. Normally I might enjoy a scene of such apparent tranquillity but it is disturbed by all… Continue Reading

Learning the lifestyle

Sustainable living has to be learnt. Even something as basic as putting out the recycling means understanding what can and cannot be recycled and which bin it must be placed in. When it comes to the home itself, things potentially become much more complicated. The most ‘eco’ home on the planet will fail to meet… Continue Reading

Old buildings and television

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially when it’s dished out to millions of viewers on primetime television and concerns old buildings. It’s all very well to say that pointing or totally rotten timber floors need to be replaced but, if words such as ‘lime mortar’ and ‘ventilation’ are not included in the voiceover,… Continue Reading

Review: Green Guide for Historic Buildings

Review: Green Guide for Historic Buildings

published by The Stationery Office for the The Prince’s Regeneration Trust With retrofit now high on the agenda there’s a desperate thirst for knowledge but a huge lack of reliable information, especially when it comes to listed and historic buildings. Addressing the energy efficiency and environmental issues relating to old buildings of all types and… Continue Reading

Re-cording a sash window

Re-cording a sash window is not as difficult as many people think. Recently I did ten in quick succession at the 1900 house we’re renovating in America and, for once, remembered to take pictures of some of the stages. The job is done from inside and only requires basic tools. With big windows especially, it’s useful… Continue Reading

Retrofit challenge

PRP architects’ Future of Retrofit event in Manchester last week brought into sharp focus the immensity of the task ahead for owners of existing homes when it comes to reducing CO2 emissions. For private homeowners and social housing providers alike, retrofitting poses more than tricky technical questions. It has the potential, quite literally, to change… Continue Reading

Crops in construction

The news that Make architects has chosen to form the facade of the University of Nottingham’s Sutton Bonington Biosciences building from modular straw bale panels is a reminder of the role crops play in the construction and finishing of buildings. Some years ago I visited Forbo’s factory in Kirkcaldy on Scotland’s east coast and saw… Continue Reading

Brooking appeal

The first time I met Charles Brooking was on an organized walk through the Surrey countryside. In no time at all I was being ushered into a series of nondescript sheds in the garden of his parent’s house below St Martha’s Hill, near Guildford. These were no ordinary sheds full of garden accoutrements. Instead, they… Continue Reading

Palpable Trust

Lecturing last weekend for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings at Tyntesfield, on the outskirts of Bristol, I had a chance to see the National Trust at its best. At this extraordinary Victorian property – one of the last great Gothic Revival country estates to survive – there is none of the stuffy,… Continue Reading

Eco essay

One of the magazines I write for is Show House and this month it’s published EcoHouse, a supplement sponsored by what house.co.uk. Although aimed at housebuilders, the eco essay I’ve written for EcoHouse will resonate with many who are considering the issues associated with ‘green’ housing and communities so, with permission, I’ve posted it here. Tweet Continue Reading

Awarding brick

In the wrong hands bricks are bland and boring and contribute to a barren, soul-sapping built environment. What I saw in Vienna last week was brick at its most inspirational. Wienerberger, the world’s largest brick producer, was handing out its Brick Award 2010. This was a celebration of brick at its best – a splendid combination… Continue Reading

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading

Solar confusion

Do you know the difference between solar thermal and solar photovoltaic panels? Having just written a piece on solar photovoltaics, I’ve realised that many people who oughts to know better simply don’t have a clue. At best they understand that these systems are something to do with renewable energy. This is particularly worrying because on… Continue Reading

Renovation tale – Part 1

Renovation tale – Part 1

This is the tale of my first major renovation project some years ago… On the table is the surveyor’s report; yellow Post-it notes stick from its pages in such profusion that they no longer have any relevance. Phrases like “needs attention”, “must be thoroughly overhauled” and “a fair amount of dampness” are highlighted by marker… Continue Reading