Our First Visit to the Eco Home Centre, Cardiff

I’ve been dying to go to this place for ages now, so was very pleased when we finally found the time today. I stumbled across the Eco Home Centre’s website a while back when looking for a supplier of the excellent Homestrip paint remover, and I found that their blog was full of useful, and surprisingly in-depth info about renovations and increasing the energy efficiency of the home.

The Eco Home Centre is a non-for-profit company based in Canton, Cardiff, dedicated to providing information about environmentally-friendly materials for the home: paints, floor waxes, paint stripper, plaster, windows, solar panels, and much more. They also supply many of these materials in their shop at very reasonable prices (cheaper than many others I’ve found online), which I guess is their way of making the eco-choice more affordable.

I had many, many questions about the various eco-products on the market, and the best ways to renovate our home – things I’d been mulling over and reading about for ages – so Rich and I set about asking them! Peter, who runs the centre, was incredibly patient and full of good advice. In fact, we ended up spending nearly 2 hours there! I thought it would be useful to provide a sort of summary of things we decided during this conversation, and some of the tips we picked up along the way:

  • We asked about the best way to insulate the solid walls. We don’t want to use exterior insulation because the bricks are so pretty, so we’re looking for a way to insulate the interior walls. But apparently this is expensive and not without its problems, so we decided that there are probably more cost effective / top priority ways to insulate the house, such as insulating beneath the suspended timber floors and replacing the windows (you’ve seen the post about the plant growing under the frame and into the bedroom, right?!).
  • We discussed the various eco paints available, and settled on Auro No. 321 for the majority of the walls, which apparently has a pleasant citrus smell (although Peter said that not all people like this – why, I love oranges!), a good range of colours, and is more wipeable than clay-based paints. But Peter says that he discusses the various merits of each kind of paint with each person that comes in – everyone has different requirements and preferences. Apparently, the Earthborn clay paints he stocks are particularly breathable and good for houses with damp walls which need to dry out – luckily we don’t have damp in the walls, but that’s a good option for those who do. Anyway, I’ve come back with 2 tester pots to give the Auro paints a go (cream and a deep grey for when I’m feeling more daring!).
  • We bought some more Homestrip to remove the rest of the paint on the stairs, but Peter also kindly gave us a free tin of Osmo Paint Remover to try. I’ve found that the Homestrip is absolutely fantastic at removing solid layers the paint, but it does struggle in places where the lead paint has seeped into the grain of the wood. So I’m going to give this a whirl too and see if it can get these patches clean. The two could be a good combination – clean the bulk off with Homestrip, and the rest with Auro, but we’ll see!
  • Once I’ve cleaned up the floorboards, we’d like to try leaving them uncovered for an industrial look, revealing the bones of the Victorian house beneath. Peter recommended treating the floorboards with ‘Osmo Polyx-Oil, 3004, Raw Transparent’, which is a mix of natural oils and wax, putting it on with a rag to get into all the uneven surfaces. From what I can tell, waxing and/or oiling is the way it would have been done in the past, although I can find disappointingly little about the exact methods either online or in my technical books. The exact oil I decided to use, again on Peter’s advice, is the natural transparent one, which is apparently a fairly new addition to the range. I’d been reading online that waxing or oiling often brings out the yellow colour inherent in pine floorboards (which is what we have), and I was a bit nervous about this, happy as I am with the darker colours of the aged boards. I like the patina – that’s why I want to clean rather than completely sand them. But this version is apparently designed to combat that “wet”, yellowed finish, by using a very subtle white pigment which evens it and leaves it looking as if completely untreated. Sounds good – we’ll put it to the test as soon as we get round to cleaning the floorboards, and we’ll post photos of the results.
  • We’re very keen to remove the paint from the front wall of the house, which is covering over the pretty bricks (the side wall is beautiful – if only the whole house looked like this!). Peter suggested we wait until April to do it, when the weather would be better for repointing with lime and fixing up any bricks which are damaged underneath. But he did stress that this was an important job, given that the impermeable paint is likely trapping moisture beneath – something we have seen some evidence of. He suggested either using a pressure washer or a chemical remover such as Homestrip to get rid of the paint. I’m tempted by the second option, nervous as I am that the pressure washer may damage the brick, but we’re going to need to find out more about exterior paint removal.
  • He also advised that we uncover the air bricks on the ground floor, which seem to have been blocked by the addition of paving around the house, which has raised the ground level. This could be the cause of the rotten joists to the front of the living room, since the air has been unable to circulate. He also recommended digging out an area around the house and putting in some proper drainage to take ground water safely away.
  • I also bought some Osmo Wood-Based Woodfiller in Pine/Spruce colour, which I hope to use to patch up the wooden skirting in places where we’ll paint it after.

The final thing we bought from Peter was a tub of X-tex Artex remover. We are unlucky enough to have tested positive for asbestos (white chrystolite) in all the evil Artex ceilings, which are in the following rooms: living room, kitchen, front bedroom, and underneath the stairs. We’ve been debating about the solution for months now, but have decided that in our case it would be best to remove it, given the amount of disturbance it will face with rewiring, replacement of coving, removal of steel beams and insertion of ceiling roses (others often prefer to simply cover it over). Annoyingly, we approached 2 companies in Cardiff for quotes to remove it, but both refused to get back to us! So we’ve lost faith that they will do a thorough job, and have decided to do it ourselves. We’ve heard excellent things about X-Tex paste, which is supposed to soak and therefore encapsulate any dangerous fibres. It is also made by the same people as Homestrip (Ecosolutions), which we have been so impressed with. We need to do some more research about safety equipment and speak to the council about disposal, so It’ll be a while before we can get this tested, but looking forward to getting rid of all the ceiling swirls!

Anyway, an excellent visit to the Eco Home Centre – Peter’s given us some great tips and advice, and we’re both feeling galvanised to get on with the renovations! He even offered to come out and see the house so he could offer us more advice – something we may well take him up on in the future!

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