That time of the year which I dread the most has come. The days are terribly short and the sky gets dark around 6pm. The weather has turned in London and it is noticeably colder in the evenings. Autumn is upon us and the single glazed Crittall windows in my flat hasten to remind me. It is warmer in the flat than outside – whether it is due to the oven or hob in my kitchen being on, the portable heater by my chair as I work, or simply the body heat emitted by me and other people being in the flat. The result is an annoying film of condensation on all the windows.
When I moved into this flat, I fell in love with the 13 foot high ceilings and the large 10 foot high windows. It is situated within a grade II listed Victorian factory building, which was converted to flats in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is probably one of the least green housing developments in the city. In addition to my lack of double glazing on the windows, there are gaps when the hinged windows are closed, allowing a constant leak of cool air from the outside to permeate the flat. The heating system comprises electric heaters fixed to the walls – two in the living room, one in the corridor, and one in the bedroom. My living room, with its factory height ceiling, overlooked by a mezzanine level, is a big space to heat and rarely warms properly because the heat from the heater inefficiently makes its way straight up to the ceiling for no one to enjoy. My bedroom, which also benefits from a double height ceiling, is slightly better since it is a smaller, enclosed room. The other energy guzzling criminal in the flat is my hot water boiler, a large monstrosity situated on the mezzanine level, constantly heating a large tank of water. Finally, I am solely to blame for the energy inefficient light fixtures. The flat was originally fitted with bare bulbs (the previous owner having stripped the flat of any sort of light fixture), which I replaced with aesthetically pleasing fixtures, complementing the look and use of each room. I realised a few years later, that my choices were less than ideal. Energy efficient bulbs were too large for four of the fixtures. My favourite light, beautifully designed, uses a mirrored bulb and therefore also cannot be substituted with an energy efficient one. The remainder use halogen bulbs, which at least are slight improvements over incandescent bulbs.
The grade II listing of the building and location of my flat on the third floor pose challenges to replacing the windows to same-look double glazed windows. I am at least trying to find suitable foam seals to fill the gaps in the windows and stop the draught from coming in. I am experimenting with isolated heating solutions – that perhaps portable, personal heaters are more effective and efficient in the living room. I am using energy efficient bulbs where I can, having replaced two light fixtures and bought smaller versions for the two remaining fixtures. The remaining light fixtures and water heater remain unchanged.
I try to make decisions in my day-to-day life that are helpful and not harmful to the environment. I am more conscious and conservative with my water use. I switch off lights when the room is not occupied or in use. I recycle everything that is recyclable and I try to use the stairs instead of the lift. I don’t drive and haven’t owned a car for ten years in London. I could be doing more and could be living in a more sustainably built, energy efficient home. But my flat is only one example of the problem facing London’s buildings. Many were built or converted before the rise of the global consciousness about dwindling resources, demands on energy, and climate change. How do we correct the development mistakes of the past?