Are there easy ways to make my home more eco-friendly?
People think that making something eco-friendly will involve sticking solar panels all over and having hi-tech kit throughout their house, but the best way to make your home environmentally friendly is to reduce your energy bills by super-insulating wherever you can. So that could be putting three times as much insulation as you think you need in your attic, or if you live in a terraced house with a basement then think about insulating underneath your floor. Then look for, or rather, feel for drafts — a draft excluder or draft-proofing strips here and there will do wonders for keeping a room warm. Then, once you’ve got your heat use under control, consider other tips such as a new boiler. Then you need to make yourself eco-friendly. Turn the thermostat down a degree or two and put on a pullover.
I want to change my home’s layout. Is hiring an architect expensive?
A good architect pays for themselves, so the short answer is no. But if you get the wrong one, it can be very expensive as you might not quite get what you want. A good architect takes time to understand their client and what they want, and builds your dream not theirs. Look at the RIBA website (www.architecture.com) to give you an idea of fees and practices you might like to work with. Or visit the Ask An Expert feature at Grand Designs Live where you can access all kinds of professionals for a free consultation.
Would a minimalist interior look good in my Georgian townhouse?
I don’t see why not! I live in an old house with a pretty minimal interior and I love it. A simple rule of thumb would be to say that anything that is of the building — like light switches, door handles or handrails — should be of the era, even if it’s simple, iron and new. I’m a fan of Schneider and MK — they offer products that are modern, safe and available in all kinds of discreet finishes. The Schneider Screwless Flat Plate range is particularly good and is available with toggle switches (pictured, from £21.50, rselectricalsupplies.co.uk). Then you can go for sleek, modern furnishings without clashing with the house itself. Decide where the stop line is with keeping to the ‘Georgian’ feel of the home and stick to that throughout.
I love Crittall windows, but are there any budget alternatives?
You’ve got expensive tastes. I don’t know of any other companies making them — and they are even more expensive now that you have to conform to regulations with thermal breaks and double glazing. If you love them that much, you could consider part-glazing your home with Crittall for the opening windows and use big non-opening plate sheets of glass for the rest. Single Crittall windows cost around £600 (crittall-windows.co.uk).
My apartment block is noisy. Do you have any tips for better acoustics?
Of course, carpets and underlays are noise reducing in any case, and many apartments actually have clauses saying you can’t use anything but carpet, so no bare floor because of the noise transmission. But there is also now a range of specific underlays that carpet shops sell that are very good for acoustics, all relying on the fact that they use more than one material. The best acoustic insulants are those that work across a range of frequencies, so contain a range of materials to achieve this. Cork is also a very good sound insulator — look at Granorte’s range of cork tiles, they are a super-sustainable product from Portugal with prices starting at £30 per sqm for stick-down and £55 per sq m for click tiles (granorte.co.uk). Or buy slippers for your neighbours.
■ Kevin McCloud will be at Grand Designs Live at London’s ExCeL, May 5-13, granddesignslive.com