Archive for the ‘Home’ category

BBC South Today: Thermal Imaging

February 7th, 2016

BBC South Today Thermal Imaging from Sustainable Witney on Vimeo.

Jenny’s 10 Tips for Sustainable Living

March 22nd, 2015

New Sustainable Witney blogger Jenny Guildford offers advice for living more sustainably.

I’d like to share my top 10 tips for a sustainable lifestyle. I’ve been learning how to live more sustainably over the years, so it’s time to impart some useful eco tips!

washing-up sponge1. Break up with disintegrating washing-up sponges

End the habit of using endless disposable washing-up sponges – you know the kind you buy at the supermarket and end up chucking in the bin after a few weeks. Instead, invest in a washing-up cloth that can be thrown into the washing machine after a few weeks (with other things) and used over and over again. I’ve used Euro Scrubby successfully for the past year.

2. Spend more on less

Treat every purchase as a long-term investment. Depending on your budget, always try to buy the best you can afford and you’ll end up spending less in the long run – and save landfill from filling up with multiple (broken) items.

3. Paint the home green, not red

Thinking of re-vamping your home this spring? Earthborn produce the most luxurious, clay-based environmentally-friendly paints on the market. They’re also great for solid walls as they allow them to breathe – perfect for Cotswold stone cottages! Claypaint and Eggshell both come in a range of 60 gorgeous colours.

Several candles in glasses with a twig design4. Burning the eco candle at both ends?

Opt for a soy wax candle. Soy candles are sustainable, non-toxic and non-carcinogenic. I particularly love this Domestic Goddess candle.

5. Filtered water is better than bottled, and more!

We all know that filtering water at home is a better option for the planet than buying endless bottles of the stuff. Well, you can go one better than this. Choose bamboo charcoal to filter your water instead. You can even use the spent charcoal as a moisture trap – and then go on to use it in the garden or allotment to increase water retention! This is a completely natural and biodegradable option. Visit Charcoal People.

6. Do you need to buy it new?

Ask yourself this question every time you need something new: ‘Do I absolutely need to buy it new, or can I get it second-hand?’ With the power of the Internet, it’s very easy to source second-hand items instead of buying new each time. Hunting out bargains in vintage stores, charity shops or car boot sales can also be good fun! Freecycle is a brilliant resource too.

7. Ladies, please!

Use washable cleansing pads instead of disposable cotton wool pads that end up in landfill. Particularly good for removing eye make-up. I received these for my birthday last year and haven’t looked back!

Three onions in a row

8. Loosen up

Supermarkets really don’t mind if you put loose fruit or vegetables on the conveyor belt. I’ve been doing this for years and haven’t once been given any funny looks by sales assistants.

9. You’re a firestarter, twisted firestarter

For those of you with an open fire – or even better – a wood burning or multifuel stove, keep all junk mail that arrives through the letterbox, spent receipts and envelopes that you cannot reuse, to use as fire lighting material.

10. Be a natural

Try to buy clothing and other textiles that are made from natural fibres such as cotton, wool, silk, kapok, jute, sisal, bamboo, hemp, alpaca, or linen. The list goes on! It’s estimated that almost 2,000 microfibres get rinsed out of each piece of synthetic clothing every time it’s washed, which then ends up in our oceans. Read more about this here.

Happy sustainable living!

Three tips for keeping cool in a hot summer

July 24th, 2014

Here at the SW fortress of solitude, we usually concern ourselves more with keeping warm in winter than cool in summer: our thermal imaging project, for example, is targeted at reducing heating costs more than anything else.

In theory, if you properly insulate your house, then you proof it against both extremes (and so should have a cooler home in summer); in practice, keeping cool in a heatwave is always harder than you’d expect for us British, isn’t it?

With that in mind, here (hopefully still with a few days of heatwave ahead of us) are three simple ways to keep your house cool, without having to invest in expensive and climate-harming technology like air conditioning.

1. Close your windows

It might seem counterintuitive, but in hot, still weather, you should close your windows. Only if the air is cooler than in your house, or is moving quite fast, will it actually cool you down to any extent. And it certainly won’t cool the building down unless it’s a lot colder than that: brick retains an awful lot of heat.

2. Put shutters up, or reflective material

Heat should be deflected from south-facing windows during the hottest parts of the day. If your house is unusually Tuscan in appearance, you might have shutters on those windows; if not, you can put up temporary internal shutters using a reflective material.

You can buy solar-reflecting film for windows, and have it installed permanently, although you might not want something in place all year round, especially in the depths of winter. A more DIY and temporary option – if you don’t need it outside July and August – is to put a reflective sheet up, outdoors if possible, but close to the panes indoors if necessary.

You can attach a tanning blanket or car windscreen sunshade to a couple of hooks in the window frame; or even more cheaply (and as a first experiment, to see if it makes a difference), strengthen sheets of tinfoil with a “frame” of double-sided silver gaffa tape, and stick it up with Blu-tac or similar. Shiny side out, and try not to worry about what the neighbours think.

(Curtains won’t work anywhere near as well: mirrored surfaces are best; and even if the curtain material is a pale colour, it still warms up considerably in the sun, and then re-transmits the heat into the room’s air as much it does as back through the window.)

3. If you do decide to open the windows, cool the draughts with water

Any draughts you do have, you can cool even further through the evaporation of water. You need to work out which way through the house the draughts are blowing first, and then turn your attention to the window(s) through which the draught enters.

If you’ve got net curtains or fabric blinds against these windows, mist them with a water spray. You can also hang towels or other damp cloths near the draught, although try to keep them out of the sun as that will just dry them on its own! When the water evaporates into the draught, it will take heat out of the air. So as the draughts blow through or over the wet fabrics, they will cool slightly. This is how zeer pot fridges work, or terracotta wine coolers.

Dampening the air does have the effect of spreading a little bit of dampness through your house; but then if you’ve persevered this far with this article, sweat pouring off your brow, thoughts turning sluggish in the sun, then damp is probably the least of your worries: for at least the next month or so!

No April Fool: just energy-efficiency advice

March 24th, 2014

LCEO_warmmeet_webflyerOn Tuesday 1st April from 5:30pm, SW member Dale Hoyland will be giving a talk on the subject of keeping warm, whilst keeping bills down and reducing reliance on fossil fuels and energy suppliers.

If you want to find out easy ways to insulate your home, get hands-on with different materials, see in real-time the difference LED bulbs make in comparison to older technologies, and discover financial help to make those larger energy-efficiency improvements, come along to this FREE public meeting a week tomorrow, at the Methodist church on Jeune Street in East Oxford.

This event is being organised by the Low Carbon East Oxford community group with the Oxfordshire Affordable Warmth Network.

Sunday crafting: decorating a plain cushion

March 9th, 2014

How do you upcycle a completely plain cushion into something a little more individual? As this project shows, personalising your soft furnishings doesn’t have to involve too much sewing.

Let’s assume you’re starting off with a perfectly serviceable, but boring, cushion and cover. (We’ll be blogging about creating cushion covers from scratch at a later date.) Sustainable Witney supporter (and ReFashion repairs expert) Joy Griffin started her project with some cushions that came free with her new sofa.

You will need:

  • Paper
  • A piece of fabric for the appliqué: this could be recycled from rags, as sometimes the more contrasting the pattern, the better!
  • A piece of iron-on interfacing
  • An iron and ironing board
  • Sewing needle and thread (preferably matching your design and/or your cushion)

Get your design down on paper

You can pick what you like as your image, though simple shapes work best. Flowers, stars, geometric shapes…whatever. Browse the internet for inspiration or look around your home to see if there’s a motif you want to repeat. Then you can either draw it by hand or perhaps print an image from the internet and blow it up on a photocopier. For her project, Joy chose a Scottie dog as you can see below!

Turning the design into a finished product

Place your printed design on top of the material you’ve chosen for the design, with a piece of iron-on interfacing in between. Pin them together, then iron them together. The interfacing should bond to the material but not to the paper. It will strengthen the design and make it easier to apply fabric glue later.

Now cut out your shape and remove the paper pattern. You should (hopefully) have your desired shape cut out in material and reinforced by the interfacing.
cushion with Scottie dog design

Attach your design to the cushion cover

If you chose non-fraying fabric, you’re in luck. You can use fabric glue to attach your design to the cushion and the whole project will involve zero sewing.

But if it’s a fraying fabric, you will need to hem around the edge of the design. If you choose to sew the design to the cushion cover rather than gluing it, remove the cushion from the cushion cover first, then pin the design where you want it to be and turn the cover inside out so you can work from the “wrong” side.

Finishing touches

You can add texture to the finished design with some extra touches such as ribbons, buttons or sequins. Joy decided to create a little “collar” for her dog with tiny heart-shaped buttons. Again, these can be either sewn on or glued on with fabric glue.


You should now have a cushion that’s completely unique to you. If you decide to give this project a try, please do send us your pictures – we’d love to feature them on the blog!

Got into the garden yet?

February 13th, 2014

Between the floods still clustering along the Windrush, and the sleet hanging menacingly in the air, you might not feel ready to begin a season’s gardening. But, trust me: spring is just round the corner. If you’re thinking of growing your own this year or even next, then a few small jobs completed in the next month or two could reap big rewards.

If you’ve got an allotment, you probably already have a list of tasks as long as your arm that you know your have to tackle. There are plenty of non-growing tasks, although the local garden centres (usually so keen to hurry onto the next season) don’t have much in the way of spring supplies in yet: trust me, I’ve tried! But you can also already start planting hardy veg like carrots, and broad beans, and even kick off your leafy greens, tomatoes and herbs indoors: have a look at sites like for more ideas, and don’t forget that past editions of Gardeners Question Time are available in perpetuity!

If you don’t have an allotment, or indeed much existing space to grow your own, you’ve still got time to build a square-metre raised bed from waste wood (the best garden investment I ever made.) And if that doesn’t suit, then Edible Gardens meet every second Monday of each month in the coffee bar of the Methodist Church on the High Street. They’re a local group who aim to help bring grow-your-own to everyone, with a public veg bed project in the town centre alongside the flowers, and plenty off ideas about how you might, say, share growing space with someone, in return for helping out with digging….

Finally, don’t forget that this Saturday is the pre-season volunteer open day at Cogges. Along with 2014’s first volunteer-run “Big Dig” in the Victorian kitchen garden, there’ll also be an opportunity to chat to existing volunteers from all areas of the farm museum. There’s no better way to learn gardener’s lore or essential skills than by actually gardening, alongside other gardeners, and hearing what they have to say. When you do decide to take the leap and grow your own, a stint helping out at Cogges might give you the edge in that first season!

After all, they might say the best gardening is done with pen and paper in the kitchen; but surely the best result is to have managed, all by yourself, to put food on your plate for next to nothing. 2014 could be your year for doing just that.

Thermal imaging feedback meeting, WODC Woodgreen offices

January 12th, 2014

On Tuesday 11 March 5.30pm–7pm, Sustainable Witney will be hosting an evening meeting for people who have had their home thermally imaged to highlight energy loss, in the ongoing 2013-2014 season. There will be a brief presentation from an expert, followed by a chance for people to ask specific questions about their own images.

The meeting will be in committee room 1 at the West Oxfordshire District Council offices at Woodgreen, which are themselves at the large “1” icon on this council PDF map (be warned that there are other council offices, further out of the town centre, at Elmfield!)

If your house was imaged in 2012-2013, but you weren’t able to attend the last meeting, you’re welcome to come along: but do bring a printout of your results, as we can’t guarantee we’ll have previous years’ results to hand. The different meeting format does mean that we hope to avoid the long queues that beset 2013’s meeting.

Thermal imaging of homes starts next week: sign up here

October 27th, 2013

Want to find out how to keep your house warmer, for less money? In November, Sustainable Witney will have possession of a thermal imaging camera for the first time in the 2013/2014 season. So if you’re worried you might have a draught too many, or you normally just can’t get the house warm whatever you do, then our voluntary service might help, and you can sign up by emailing us your street address here.

We’ll take thermal images of the outside of your house, and with these to hand, you can more easily work out what improvements to your home can have the most impact on its insulating properties. We’ll even have a public meeting on 11 March 2014, where we’ll give you a printout of your images, explain the results, and offer you a one-on-one consultation with an expert.

As always, we’ll be prioritizing Witney residents – we’re all doing this in our spare time of an evening, and a whole week of nights can often be made unsuitable by the weather alone – but if you’re in one of the surrounding villages then do still sign up, as we’re considering running a separate scheme for those.

While the first serious cold front of winter is approaching the UK, and while the energy companies are getting into trouble for price hikes (all except Ecotricity, who now offer 100% green energy at less than the big suppliers!) then you might think it’s the perfect time to email us on, and get on the list for thermal imaging.

(As always, because of the nature of the survey, which is very weather sensitive; and because we’re volunteer-run and have limited time available: we can’t guarantee a time or date. But we’ll let you know when your house has been imaged! We should also be clear: there’ll be no commercial involvement in the public meeting, and no pressure to buy any product or service.)

Want your house to be thermally imaged? Bookings are open!

July 23rd, 2013

It feels like the wrong time of year to be thinking about heating your home, doesn’t it? But a well insulated, draught-proof house gives you options for keeping warm and cool; and whatever the temperature outside, it isn’t going to last….

So if you’re worried you might have a draught too many, or you normally just can’t get the house warm whatever you do, then help is at hand. We offer a voluntary service to Witney residents, where we take thermal images of the outside of your house. With these to hand, you can more easily work out what improvements to your home can have the most impact on its insulating properties. We’ll even have a public meeting some time in March 2014, where we’ll give you your images, explain the results, and offer you a one-on-one consultation with an expert.

Because of the nature of the survey, we have to do it in the colder months, but we’re now taking requests for November and February, when we’ll next have possession of the thermal camera offered by WODC.

Over a hundred Witney residents had their homes imaged by us in the season of 2012/2013: if you’re interested, then you should email us on, to get on the list for next winter!

(Also because of the nature of the survey, which is very weather sensitive; and because we’re volunteer-run and have limited time available: we can’t guarantee a time or date. But we’ll let you know when your house has been imaged! We should also be clear: there’s no commercial involvement in the public meeting, and no pressure to buy anything.)

Our thermal imaging open evening in pictures

April 17th, 2013

As Dale so rightly mentioned, our thermal imaging project was a tremendous success. We took images of around a hundred houses, and we had over half of those householders turn up to our open evening!

Here’s a few photos to give you an idea of what went on:

Katherine from SW chats to people in the queue for Dale's sage advice

Katherine from SW chats to people in the queue for Dale’s more in-depth advice

SW chair Brigitte chats to an attendee

SW chair Brigitte discusses the results of the imaging with an attendee

Noticeboard with printouts

Useful information on thermal imaging and options for insulation/improvement, for while people waited

Despite the sheer number of attendees taking us by surprise, it was still a fairly relaxed event. And as you can see, it was very informal. Because the event was run by a volunteer organization (i.e. us!) and West Oxfordshire District Council, then there was no unnecessary “hard sell” that you might get with private thermal imaging.

We’re hoping to do some more thermal imaging next winter: subscribe to our news emails and watch this space.

The heating’s still on, but is your house now losing less?

March 29th, 2013

Before the Easter break is fully upon us, I wanted to provide a brief follow-up to the thermal imaging project. The Sustainable Witney volunteers have worked extremely hard on this project and given up their evenings to venture out into the cold, all in aid of helping residents of Witney to spot where heat (and therefore money!) is leaking from their homes. On behalf of them all, a huge thanks goes out to everyone who has been interested in this work, requested a survey of your property, and especially those who were able to attend the ‘See Your Results’ public event on 12th March. This took place in the early evening at West Oxfordshire District Council’s offices, and arriving slightly late, straight from a meeting in Oxford, I was confronted by a long queue stretching out of the door to the committee room and around the lobby – a fantastic turnout of residents eager to receive a one-to-one analysis of what their photographs showed.

At this point, I would have liked to have included a couple of nice photographs of the event, reported back on the number of people who attended, and provided summary feedback from the typical issues seen by Witney residents, from their thermal images. However, for me, the evening was a blur: I would estimate that I must have spoken to at least 30 residents, and my colleague Viviane a similar number, so a really good event, if not a little rushed. We did get round to everyone in the end, as we were being ushered out of the building as our booked time was well and truly over!

As the cold weather lingers on, I hope at least some of you have had chance to make improvements to your home in places identified by this project; whether that be a simple DIY job such as installing radiator foil to reflect the heat back into your home (were we able to spot the heat impression of all the radiators on your thermal images?!) or some draught-excluding brushes around that front-door, or perhaps some seal strip around the window, or a squirt of expending foam around the kitchen sink waste outlet. Perhaps you’ve got around to doing a bigger job; topped up the loft insulation, progressed wall insulation?

If you have any general questions about improving the energy efficiency, saving money on fuel bills, accessing financial assistance through Green Deal funding etc, the Oxfordshire Affordable Warmth Helpline is a good resource: 0800 107 0044. Lines are generally open 9 – 5, Monday to Friday (but is closed over the Easter break). There is still limited funding to be able to install some energy efficiency measures for free (such as described above: radiator foil, thermostatic radiator valves, draught-proofing) for qualifying residents in Oxfordshire; more information on the above Freephone number, or at

For more information on the work I do at United Sustainable Energy Agency (merging with National Energy Foundation in the new financial year), please see my profile here. As a Witney resident myself, I look forward to a similar project being repeated next year hopefully, building on the success of this year…

Reminder: general meeting and woodfuel talk on Thursday 4 April

March 27th, 2013

A week tomorrow on Thursday 4 April, Sustainable Witney will be hosting a talk on procuring woodfuel from Riki Therivel at the Oxfordshire Community Woodfuel Programme. The talk starts at 6.30pm and the meeting is at The Fleece.

From 6pm we’ll be doing committee business and administration: you’re welcome along to that too, but you might get volunteered for something….

Sustainable Witney meeting with woodfuel discussion

February 7th, 2013

On 4 April, Sustainable Witney will have its regular meeting in the back room at the Fleece, starting at 6pm.

After a short admin meeting, at 6.30pm we’ll move onto a discussion with Riki from the Oxfordshire Community Woodfuel Programme. They’ll be discussing smarter (and cheaper) ways of sourcing wood for fuel including “logs for labour” swaps, and also funding for installation of woodfuel boilers.

Dismantling a pallet into reusable wood planks

January 3rd, 2013

Wooden pallets are practically the original and most recognizable example of discarded and waste wood. Also, you usually expect to see them consigned to the flames: it almost isn’t a successful Guy Fawkes’ Night, until you’ve put at least one of them on the bonfire.

But they’re also a convenient source of second-best reclaimed wood, if you can get your hands on them well in advance of your DIY project. Taking apart a pallet is really satisfying – it’s feels a bit like magically conjuring usable wood – but there are a few tricks you’ll need. Here’s a video that shows one successful method:

In short, you start by lump-hammering the chocks – the cuboids of wood between the planks – at right angles to the nail direction. This gradually bends the joins apart and eventually frees the chocks entirely. Once you’ve got some chocks to prop up the upturned remainder of the pallet, you can lump-hammer individual planks away from others, and they drop down between the chocks. As you proceed, continually claw-hammer any nails back out, in the opposite direction from how they were hammered in.

» Read more: Dismantling a pallet into reusable wood planks

The easiest way to support Sustainable Witney

November 12th, 2012

It’s amazing that so many people come along to our organising meetings; even those who can’t commit much time, still help out with specific events and make them such a success.

Nonetheless, Sustainable Witney appreciates that there are lots of you out there who really like what we do, but simply don’t have the free time to give us a hand. If that describes you, then please know that your vocal support for Sustainable Witney is enough!

… But if you do find yourself thinking “I wish I could help more” but not finding the time, then you can quote this code – SUSW1 – if and when you switch your energy supplier to Ecotricity.

» Read more: The easiest way to support Sustainable Witney