I’m a big fan of The Guardian’s environmental coverage, particularly of journalist Leo Hickman’s (no relation) contributions to the UK rag’s Ethical Living section. Last week, Hickman posted an entry about green home renovation in the Ethical Living blog that was part “here’s how I did it” account and part open casting call for “eco-renovators willing to share their tips, experiences and anxieties."

The post, titled “How I greened my home – and why we want to hear about your eco renovation,” is an attempt at “I’ll tell you my story if you tell me yours” journalism in which Hickman uses his own personal experience — warts and all — in undertaking an energy-efficient home renovation to elicit similar tales of both triumph and woe from readers.

It’s great to see a Grade-A British journo stepping out from behind the news desk to talk candidly about a topic which no doubt scares the bejesus out of some readers. For many, the cost and scope of a complete home retrofit is a daunting subject, especially when much of the housing stock in the UK is beyond antiquated and in serious need of upgraded insulation. Hickman writes:

“But this is a reality for less than 0.1% of the population. The other 99.9% of us don't have access to the money required, and - more significantly - are lumbered with working out how to "eco[retro]fit" an existing building. As is common in Britain, that existing building can be more than 100 years old. The Victorians, for example, were a clever bunch, but when they were throwing up housing across Britain they were thinking about how to build solid houses quickly and cheaply. They weren't too bothered about U-values and air leakage rates.
This mentality has largely remained in place right up to today's generation of builders. However, as concern grows about how we reduce both carbon emissions and ever-rising energy bills, and as building regulations have greatly tightened over the past few years, many of us have started to look at how we can improve the eco credentials of our current homes.
It's easier said than done, as I have recently been finding out. A couple of years ago my family and I moved back to Cornwall, close to where I grew up, and bought an old, run-down farmhouse with the hope of renovating it."
Hickman goes on to describe the trials and tribulations of his own eco-renovation, touching down on topics like solar water heating and installing central heating in an old home. He also talks about the frustrations of dealing with a limited budget. Hickman closes the piece with the “we want you!” pitch: The Guardian is on the hunt for five “volunteers” who might “fancy” sharing their own experiences — via web diaries or video blogs — dealing with a green home renovation.
That said, if you ever have an eco-confession (believe me, I’ve got plenty especially when it comes to toilet paper usage) DIY tip or tidbit, green frustration, or anything else you’d like to share, this Hickman encourages you to do so in the comments section. As the other Hickman mentions, for all the endless talk about green home this and that, many of us are clueless as to where to even start in. If you don’t know where to turn, start in here.
And while we’re on the topic of The Guardian and since I mentioned my weakness for eco-unfriendly TP, here’s another voice in the recent flurry of press about America’s penchant for the excessive use of non-recycled TP: Christian Wolmar’s pro-bidet piece for The Guardian: “Let’s wipe out toilet paper." Wolmar writes:
"If everyone in the world used as much toilet paper as people in the UK, let alone Americans, there would not be a single tree left. It is all very well talking about the sustainability of different brands, but in truth we should all be using water sprays."
Okay, so it’s obvious that Wolmar supports the, gulp, “no toilet paper” route. Remember when a few paragraphs up when I praised the other Hickman for candidly writing about his own experiences? Well, this is the point where this Hickman signs off.

Photos: London Permaculture, mezzoblue

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Greening the Victorians
The Guardian's Ethical Living blogger shares how he greened his antiquated UK home. Plus, the Great Transatlantic TP Debate rages on.