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Monday, 8 August 2016

Water efficient toilet - retrofitted

Simple, but highly effective
Last week I suffered a common complaint from siphon toilets - that of the failure of the diaphragm. The diaphragm is the only thing that can go wrong with siphon toilets - in most systems it is a thin piece of plastic that can be expected to last 10-15 years. This is preferable to a valve system as these tend to leak and hence are not very water efficient. For example, I have had to clean the seal on the valve in my Mothers' house several times in the past couple of years as she has very hard water. This means that calcium deposits 'furrs' up the seal housing and the seal itself and this means that the toilet is often running small amounts of water constantly.

Anyway, I wanted to stay with a siphon system due to their reliability and efficiency. However, I also wanted an even more reliable and efficient system. So, what better than the excellent Interflush Siphon!?

The Interflush siphon has three advantages that suited my tight-fisted tendencies.

1. It has an everlasting diaphragm - basically it is a pivoted solid piece of plastic (see below)
2. It has an interrupter system - this means that there is a small hole in the siphon that is closed when the handle is held down. So you can adjust the amount of water that you use for flushing. Hold it down for a longer flush and vice versa. There can be no more efficient system.
3. It cost the same as a new replacement siphon!

After draining down the cistern it was an easy job to remove and replace the siphon. No leaks! (this is always a worry when you are changing over water based systems). The new system did however have one small issue. Noise. When we use the short flush the pipes started to hum! Not sure why, but I tweaked the water pressure and it was cured. The dear wife was pleased!

I am not sure whether this product is now available from Interflush, which is a shame, but we have several in the Eco Home Centre shop.

A picture below shows the everlasting siphon:


Tuesday, 19 July 2016

What is the Whole House Approach?

A house is a structure embracing complex systems, embodied history and knowledge, not to mention humans!
We tend to think of houses as being simple structures that provide shelter, security and a place to call home. However, they are in fact, much more than this.

First of all, houses are products of geography, history and society. Geography has dictated the form of many buildings. Think of the different materials that have been used to form buildings in the past. I grew up in Wiltshire where thatch is quite common and there are even some chalk rammed earth houses. Now living in Wales I am surrounded by stone houses.

Geography also places a different set of pressures on buildings. Exposure in areas like west Wales and Scotland is unlike that faced by East Anglia or Kent. Buildings reflect the needs that the weather and topography place upon them. 

History has had wide ranging impacts on buildings. This might be the type of human activity that has taken place in the area (farming, industry, maritime etc), the effects of war and natural disasters, ..... Advances in science have facilitated change by the development of construction materials coupled with advancing building techniques and machinery. Globalisation and the role of the market have also altered how, why, where and what we build. 

Social pressures have also influenced buildings. Where once we would never have dreamed that it was safe or hygienic to have toilets in the house, we are expect new houses to have en-suite bathrooms.

The points above, are only the briefest because the topic is huge, but the principles are there. Houses represent a physical point in time that reflects their origins, but they also then continue to amass these markers in time. People extend and demolish, redecorate, add and remove services, change functionality, follow fashion, .... Each of these changes leaves a mark.

These marks are important. They are largely guided not by specialists. but by individuals. The decisions that have been made are not always the right ones, nor are they always done to a high enough standard. The decisions and their execution are again complex in nature. They are driven by different forces: economics, knowledge, skills, tradition, fashion, material science, ....

So when are are faced with new pressures in the world like: climate change; austerity; fuel poverty; wealth creation these will have an effect, for better or worse, on our buildings. For example, the past few years the main driving factor has been the encouragement to make buildings more energy efficient. This is no bad thing, however we have undertaken this task with self attached blinkers. Everything has been designed with one thought in mind, to reduce carbon and fuel consumption. This in turn has led to serious mistakes and huge amounts of wasted resources both in terms of physical, mental and economic waste. We are now taking out Cavity Wall Insulation (CWI) where is was put into narrow cavities, or into houses in exposed areas of the country, or where is was done without undertaking necessary repairs prior to installation. I fear (and know) that we shall be doing the same with External Wall Insulation (EWI) and Internal Wall Insulation (IWI) in years to come too. All for the same basic reasons: wrong materials used, poor craftsmanship applied, tunnel vision in the design stage, time pressures, funding requirements.

So can a different Whole House Approach (WHA) work and what is it?

The WHA is all about understanding a building, assessing the risks of different solutions, addressing the needs of the occupants (both now and for the future), making recommendations that can be explained and justified, ensuring that the craftsmanship and systems used are of a high enough standard. Ideally the building is also monitored and assessed into the future so that changes can be fine-tuned and lessons learnt and shared.

Building Surveyors should be able to assess a building independently and accurately. However, we need to ensure that they are not taking the easy route and one that leaves stones unturned. It is worth reading my earlier post about the Home Buyers Report and its potential to leave important factors like damp in the hands of 'interested profit making parties'.

Owners need to understand their properties - ain't that a can of worms! Ideally this should be taught in schools, but for now we have to rely on Building Surveyors (and RICS) and the power of the internet to inform.

We also need to have skilled and knowledgeable builders, architects, planners, building control officers, maintenance teams, ....... Yet another can'o'worms! The trouble here is that it does take a really strong and courageous person at the moment to make decisions that are ultimately correct, but that currently fly against the prevailing modus operandii of the construction industry.

For this to change we need changes in regulation, standards and decision making tools. Now that DECC has gone this might mean that a lot of changes that are in the pipeline might get lost, or it might be that the new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy drives this forward with new vigour! Time will tell.

Anyhow, back to what is the Whole House Approach!!

The WHA is about looking at all the factors that effect a building. We need to address and assess the risks associated with:

Underpinning Structure - What is it? What is it made from? How well was it made? What orientation is it?
Design - Does the building work well? Is easy to maintain? Is it accessible? Is it easy to navigate? 
Social factors - Is it noisy? Do smells waft into un-wanted places? Is it easy to clean? How will any changes reflect in the appearance of the building?
Energy efficiency - Is it easy / cheap to heat? Will it require cooling? Where is the heat lost / gained?
Energy generation - Can the building generate energy? Which technology is best for particular building?
Moisture movement - Is there damp? Will changes introduce damp? How is moisture managed?
Ventilation - Is there sufficient fresh air? Is the fresh air fresh?
Material compatibility - Can we use standard materials or do we need specialist ones?
Water efficiency - Can we reduce water use?
Monitoring - Can systems be used to help owners monitor and reduce resource consumption?
Maintenance - Can low maintenance be created? How can alerts be created to trigger responses to need?
Preservation - Do certain features need to be preserved / protected?
External environmental factors - How exposed is the building? Is there a flood risk? How will it perform in a warming world with more extremes of weather?
External social factors - Is there a skilled workforce available? Are the materials available locally?
....

Starting to get the picture?

The main complicating factor is that all of these are interlinked. 

For example, by wishing to improve the energy efficiency of a wall it will generally require the addition of insulation. This then creates RISKS. Is it compatible with the existing structure? Will it effect the appearance of the building? Will it introduce damp? Will it change the way the ventilation system works? Will it need maintaining? What happens if it put in by low skilled workers? Can you preserve wanted features? When will it be done?

After all of these questions are answered it may be that the better (lower risk) solution is to generate energy instead of saving it. But this needs to assessed and a reasoned solution presented.

So will this work? 

The main point behind the WHA is one that minimises the risk associated with proposed changes. Once we can understand the risks, we can assess them and make informed and hopefully rational decisions. This does not mean that it is a recipe for doing nothing, just that we might make fewer long term and costly errors.

A WHA therefore needs really well informed professionals who are independent, have time to make recommendations, have back-up of accepted knowledge and standards, but most importantly have the support of owners of buildings who wish to create a long-term future for their investment. A start has been made on this process by the STBA and you can access their Responsible Retrofit Wheel free of charge.

Thursday, 14 July 2016

Community Work with Renew Wales

Saron Chapel in Treoes

Eco Home Centre is a Rounded Developments Enterprises project. RDE is a not-for-profit organisation that does work with other partners in Wales and one of our main ones is Renew Wales (see www.renewwales.org.uk). Renew Wales is a great concept where experienced community groups help other not-for-profit organisations with climate change linked projects. These projects can cover a wide range of issues: community gardens, community energy, sustainable transport, training and education, .....

We have been one of the mainstays for helping community groups with their buildings. Most of this work is to help groups understand their buildings and also how to refurbish / redevelop them in a more holistic manner. We follow the guidance created by the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (STBA - see www.stbauk.org) These groups include:

Saron Chapel in Treoes
Nantyffyllon Miners Institute in Nantyffyllon
Kings Church in Newport
Amelia Trust Farm in Walterston
Cathays Sports and Social Club in Cardiff
Harlech Swimming Pool in Harlech
Ysgol Glannau Gwaun in Fishguard
Chirk Scout Hall in Chirk
....

The work has varied from looking at heating systems, renewable energy options, damp and maintenance issues, design and new builds. Getting the balance between social, economic and environmental issues is not easy and I think that we have been instrumental in groups really starting to understand both their community building and their own homes. We have found that people come to Renew with one particular issue and leave with the knowledge that there is a large amount of interlinked factors that they also need to be aware of in order to find the correct solution both for them and their property. Factors like intuitive navigation, noise, access, maintenance and servicing are often overlooked, yet they are vital to the day to day running of a community centre. Just getting people to think in a more holistic manner really has really allowed them to make much more informed and longer term decisions.

If you are involved with a community group, are based in Wales and have a property that could do with some holistic advice then think about giving Renew Wales a call. The Renew Wales model means that the service is free for the group and you will benefit from around 5-6 days worth of consultancy from experienced community practitioners. This advice could be in the form of business development, outreach, training, marketing, fundraising or the more specialist services from people like us.

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

House update

I know that we are at the start of summer here in Wales (not that you can tell on a day like today) but I thought that it was worth sharing an update on the house.

Two years ago the lime rendering was completed on the house and I had hoped that this would be sufficient time for the render to have worked its magic, so I took the damp meter home last week.

The inside of the external walls had been covered in mould in localised areas and they were reading between 20 and 25% wood moisture equivalent. The same areas where tested again and they are down to around 12%. So I can report that the external walls have indeed dried out and the house is much drier.

So why do we still have a slight smell of mould when we come back after a weekend away?

Well the internal walls are still wet. The fools who replaced the wooden suspended floor with new concrete ones are still causing me problems. The moisture is being forced up from the foundations and into the walls due to the Damp Proof Membrane (DPM) under these floors. I have installed a chemical DPC into the walls, but it is not working well enough, so I feel that I will have to try again, or bite the bullet and install a physical DPC.

I have injected into the mortar of the wall, but I will also do the bricks this time if they are really damp. So it will be off with the skirting boards and in with the Dryzone.

So 3/4 of a victory so far, just the final furlong to go. Just goes to show that you can rely on the old technology, but the newer stuff can be temperamental!

Thursday, 12 May 2016

Old Paint Brush Revival

Got any solid brushes in the drawer that you are thinking of throwing out?
Many of us have a load of old paint brushes in the garage, cupboards, left in plastic bags etc. With all the best will in the world, we were going to clean them up properly, but we just forgot. Well all is not lost!

When it comes to paint brushesat the Eco Home Centre we have some great new brushes from EcoEzee, but we also have an even more sustainable product from EcoSolutions: Brush Renew

Basically this is a non toxic, non burning, water based product that will remove all the solid dried paint from your brushes overnight. Brilliant. Just leave the brushes in the solution overnight and then wash out in the morning. No nasty fumes, no worries about skin irritation etc, just perfectly clean and restored brushes.

So if you accidentally forget to give your brushes a very thorough clean after use then all is not lost.

Eco Solutions Brush Restorer
Click on the image to be taken to the Brush Renew page on our E-shop

Blog 2 Vlog?

Thanks to a grant from a lovely local charity we are going to branch out into Vlogging! We already have a You Tube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/EcoHomeCentre but we haven't used it for years!

The plan is to film some of the buildings diagnostics that we do in order to highlight certain aspects of maintenance and improvements to houses. I will also be doing a tour of my house and the improvements that we have made and why.

If you have a topic that you would like to be covered (and that would be of interest to others) please let me know and I will see if I can make a short video about it. Also if you in the Cardiff region and are happy to have your project recorded, I might be able to come around armed with a video camera, thermal imaging camera, protimeter and brain to make a short film.

Contact details are:
info@rounded-developments.org.uk
029 20373094

Monday, 9 May 2016

House Prices, Supply and Turkeys

House builders in action
There seems to be a story being told to us that the best way to reduce house prices is to build more. This all sounds reasonable. Supply and demand and all that. The free market is the answer.

But let's think for a minute. Getting large companies for build more so that they can make less money on each one? That is not attractive to them, surely. House builders are in the business of making money. They only really care about building in order to keep share holders happy, so why would they want to build good houses for people and get less for them. Surely it is in their interest to keep supply short. I would be like turkeys voting for Christmas would it not?

So we must look at this 'crisis' from another angle.

We all know that there are many houses standing empty across the UK, but most are in depressed towns. So do we leave them empty or do we encourage people to live anywhere but London and the SE? After all building loads more houses in the SE will just put ridiculous pressure on water supplies, transport systems and also entail many people spending their waking hours sitting in traffic. So maybe encouraging companies and also Gov to relocate might be an idea.

Maybe we need to make lots of land available for individuals and micro / SME companies so that we develop a smaller scale building industry. So fairdo's to some aspects of Government that is trying to encourage this - http://www.selfbuildportal.org.uk, however, it is only really scratching the itch of a much bigger problem. We need to free up land banks that large companies own and also change policy for Government organisations to require them to sell off land for self builds a la social housing system. Section 106 agreements could also be used for such changes.

So if we are serious about our housing crisis we need to radically rethink how we deal with housing and stop the assumption that the house builders are the solution. Effectively, they are the problem and they are also not the type of home builders that we really need for a low carbon future.

Monday, 25 April 2016

Do you need a new damp course?

3 injected damp proof courses in this house, courtesy of Heritage House
When we buy a house a surveyor will often find high readings on their protimeter ('damp meter'). This then leads to a recommendation to have a 'damp proof specialist' do a report. The mortgage company will insist on having the damp treated. This will mean that the damp specialist will almost invariably diagnose 'rising damp' and a recommendation to have an injected DPC (Damp Proof Course) and the removal of the 'damp' plaster internally up to a meter high.

This is the common practice that is accepted as industry standard. IT DOES NOT WORK (in many properties)!!!

The picture above shows where a house has been injected 3 times at different periods. When will we learn that it doesn't work?!?!?!?

Surely just seeing that a wall has been injected three times might indicate that the solution is wrong, but no, we just blindly go on doing the same old thing. Wasting your time and money!

If you have an old house (or even a new one!) use a damp specialist that does not have a DPC to sell you.

There are solutions, but generally DPCs are not one of them. Save your efforts and money for getting a proper solution that works permanently. Happy to assist if needed.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Beware the "Damp Meter"

This is the tool of choice for damp proofing companies
The Protimeter is pretty much ubiquitous in the damp and building surveying world. The meter is used to show owners how damp their homes are. This is also invariably 'rising' damp that 'will require' an injected DPC. However, is this tool an actual damp meter?

The short answer is NO!

These meters measure electrical resistance between the two prongs. That is not necessarily the same as the amount of water between them. Originally they were developed for timber to check how dry it was. In timber the only real thing that will conduct electricity is water and hence they were quite useful. However, this is not the case in masonry.

So what else could they be measuring?

Well, there is another factor that can give a high readings on a protimeter:

Carbon content. As you may be aware some old mortars were made using dust from industrial waste. This is especially true in areas like Cardiff where we have black mortar. This mortar is high in carbon and hence conducts electricity well. So high readings may well be to do with the mortar, not moisture.

So, if you have a high reading in a house without old mortar / plaster, then a high reading is probably indicative of dampness. However, the key question is then; What is causing the Damp?

Well this opens up a range of options (however, the majority of the damp industry only looks for 'moisture' along the base of ground floor walls).

The damp could be caused by:

Hygroscopic salts. These are actually very common in walls and are often the cause of high readings. Salts can be introduced by the building process, water ingress and from the combustion processes associated with fireplaces. So if you have high readings around the base of the fire place / hearth this may well be salts not rising damp. The salts are 'hygroscopic' and that means that they attract moisture to them. So this moisture might be linked to condensation, being located in high humidity areas like kitchens / bathrooms, etc. So the moisture is probably associated with salt not 'rising damp'. So just keep dusting off the salt residues until they disappear and lo and behold you will have cured the damp. Simple.

Condensation. Virtually all external walls have a cold bridge along their base and this attracts moisture to condense there. This is natural and nothing really to worry about unless it is causing some mould issues. This condensation can also be caused by a lack of ventilation. So again you might need to look at ventilation / insulation rather than jump straight into a potentially unnecessary damp proof course. Note that thermal bridging can occur in a number of other places (ceiling edges, around window frames etc) where the wall is cold for some reason so again check issues like insulation cover and building defects.

Leaks. Old or current leaks can show up on the meters, so this is a case of fixing the cause, or just allowing the wall to dry naturally.

Material incompatibility. Old houses have walls that allow moisture to pass through them, however most modern materials are designed to resist moisture movement. Commonly you get a combination of materials that don't like each other in terms of moisture and a lot of problems stem from this. Gypsum plaster is particularly prone to becoming hygroscopic when it has been placed over old lime plaster.

Penetrating damp. This is the likely cause of most damp issues. The industry tends to recommend injecting more DPCs into the wall rather than addressing the actual problem. This tends to be simple and cheap maintenance issues like sealing around windows, cracked render, repointing etc.

So if you see a 'damp' meter, make sure it is attached to something that has an inquisitive brain and also nothing to sell you!!

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Building Science

From: http://www.battlemccarthy.demon.co.uk/
When you start to dissect how buildings work it is really complicated. A right old mix of elements like:
Solar Gain
Thermal loss of materials
Ventilation rates
Air change requirements for different rooms / activities
Acoustic characteristics of materials and structures
Noise generation and levels
Lighting, natural, artificial, reflected...

This doesn't even start to take into effect the human elements of knowledge, behaviour etc.

Modelling how a building will perform is really difficult, especially for the domestic market. We often find that pressures to improve some elements of a buildings performance can have a detrimental effect on others. For example the pressure to decrease the need for energy for heating has led us to insulate our walls, floors and ceilings and reduce draughts. However this has had a knock-on effect on moisture movement, overheating, ventilation rates and hence internal air quality.

Should we be driven by the science then?

Well I think that we need to be aware of the science, but not completely reliant on it. We need to know the interactions between all the different elements of building science: the relationships between materials, ventilation, solar gain, heat sources, conductivity, noise, acoustics etc. However, we also need to rely on our knowledge of human behaviour, our own experiences of living in houses and the experience of other trusted people. This is especially important with older houses as we will not have all the facts and figures to plug into the equations that the science uses. What is the thermal capacity of your living room wall??

The need to refurbish our existing homes for the future, though, does not go away. We know that we cannot just tackle issues on a individual basis as we will just upset other elements of the building. So, we really need to address the whole house, not just one element of it. Easier said than done in a world of specialists and doubly difficult when building regulations are not joined up or compassionate towards older houses.

Using the processes expounded by the STBA and ourselves is one  of the very few ways forward as we really need to look, think and act holistically.

Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Sand and lime


When building we use the term 'sand' a lot for mortars, but what do we mean by it and is sand what we really need for lime renders and plasters?

The picture above shows some 'soft sand' on the right and 'coarse / sharp sand' on the left. It is really important that any render is mixed with a coarse / sharp sand. This is often termed 'Builders' sand. The angular nature of the aggregate is important, however it is not the only important factor in choosing the best aggregate for the work.

Two other major factors are:

Grade of the mix. It is really, really important that any aggregate is well graded and this means that it has a wide range of particle sizes in it. You need a variety to ensure that it is well bonded with minimal air gaps. Dust is therefore key to a good render mix. Many mixes are just a combination of different uniform sized particles (e.g. 2mm mixed with 1mm and 0.5mm). These mixes do not give the variety needed.

Type of material. Many mixes are sands or crushed quartz. These rocks are not very porous in themselves, they rely on water moving around them to give the porosity needed for a lime render. Using a porous rock, like limestone, as part of the aggregate mix allows water to pass both through and around the aggregate.

We would therefore recommend that you use well graded limestone aggregates for renders.

Note that there are other issues as well like colour of aggregate, amount of pozzolans in the mix etc as this affects the colour of the render and also the amount of 'free lime' in the mix. Care is therefore also required on these fronts.

Wednesday, 27 January 2016

Should Wales become the Self Build Capital of the UK?

We are used to seeing groups of similar houses in new developments
We all know that the House Builders are not really there to provide us with great homes. They are there to create profit for their shareholders and to be able to pay large salaries to the 'fat cats' at the top.

They work on a 1/3rd model. Cost of land = 1/3, Cost of building = 1/3 and profit = 1/3.

To maximise this profit they obviously build as cheaply as possible, hence they have resisted any real attempts from Government to impose stricter controls on energy efficiency, sustainability etc. Houses are built with the minimum standards, the cheapest products and quickly. So much so that most of the houses built don't even reach the minimum standards in practice (a study in 2004 found that 60% of homes didn't reach building regulations minimum standards)

So is there a different way?

I believe so. I think that if we dealt with land differently we could democratise house building. We have seen the poor value for money that Governments get when they sell off land to developers. In Wales we are experiencing a situation where land has been sold off for around 1/10th of its true market value. What if Government and other public bodies sold off some of this land for self builders, what would happen?

I believe the following benefits would happen:

1. We would help to diversify the types of houses built. This would lead to a completely different feel to our urban landscape as it would be characterful and easy to navigate. "Turn left at the wacky house with a turret and then right at the red house and we are the timber clad house with the raised beds in the front"

Self built homes tend to reflect an owners needs rather than those of the developers
2. The Government would get a better return. It could also incentivise Housing Associations and Co-Housing, Housing Co-ops etc to build on plots. This helps to make new homes more affordable to those with little disposable income.

The Telegraph produced this map showing where houses were more affordable
3. It would encourage a better standard of building. People would demand better standards if they could see their house being built. This would help drive the supply for low carbon homes, 

4. It would help to embed low carbon skills in SME's rather than larger construction companies, as it would be they who were building these new homes. These SME would also be employing local people and keeping the wealth in Wales.

5. It would provide more work for local architects as each house would need to be designed separately in order to fulfil the needs of the client and the environment. Again this keeps the money here in Wales.

6. It would help to drive a movement across the UK and this would help Welsh business, as we would be at the vanguard. We desperately need skills to export and this could be a way forward.

7. It would encourage people and companies to move to Wales if we had a culture of self build. We would soon be seen as the place to do business. Build your own home and your own life afresh in Wales - the way that you like it. We are not so limited by location anymore and Wales has lots to offer in terms of countryside, natural resources and great culture.

8. It would engage people in their communities more. They would, after all, be building the communities themselves, bit by bit. A strategic masterplan from the outset would control development and ensure that the provision of community space etc. But each household would be embedded into the space it has.

9. It would provide longer term communities. If you have built your dream house, why move out? Sense of place would be created and people would take more ownership and pride in their neighbourhoods.

So lots of positives, but would it stack up?

Well even if you look at £800,000 per acre for some land in Cardiff (it would be much less elsewhere) this would equate to £90,000 per plot. The Solcer House is a net exporter of energy and this has been built for around £1,000 per sq m. So an average 3 bed of around 90 sq m would be another £90,000. So for £200,000 approx. people could be building carbon negative homes if we did it as a self build. 

Average cost of new 3 bedroom house-builder built home around Cardiff is around £250,000.

So it seems to make sense, at least to the point of trialing the idea. Obviously there are lots of potential issues etc - size of plots, Section 106 agreements, planning, ....... but it just might be a way of Wales pulling its own socks up, giving the power to develop to the people and avoiding lots of money flowing out to the large corporations and the City of London.

Wales could be a land of Bio-Solar, Passive, Solcer, Ty Unnos, Wild & Wacky homes built for the future by the people of today. What say you??

Love a real fire?

Image from Burley Stoves
Wood burning stoves are gaining in popularity. Good thing too. However, you need to know more than just that you want to have a carbon neutral energy source.

Efficiency. The efficiencies of wood stoves vary tremendously. The design of stoves go from the simplest grates to the more complex second burn options. Most are now rated and so look out for those that give the better rates.

Cleanliness. Hand in hand with efficiencies go the amount of soot produced. More efficient burns create less soot, so again if you don't want to be emptying out large amounts of waste, look for high efficiency stoves.

Drying wood. Wood needs to be dry before being burned and so you may well need to store wood so that it can air dry. This requires space and some sort of system so that you can have a stack of wood drying and another ready to burn.

Source of wood. Great if you have a source of natural wood, but if you are going to be burning waste wood you need to be aware that there is a bit of work required to get it ready for burning (removing nails etc). Also different woods burn at different temperatures. Wood like oak, blackthorn are great for burning, but birch, lime and pine are not so great. Check out: http://www.firewood.co.uk/heating-qualities/

Location of stove. Ideally the stove will be away from a wall and air will be able to circulate around it freely. This will allow the maximum amount of heat to be transferred to the room.

Air for burning. If you have stove that takes air from the room you will be encouraging colder fresh air into the house (in fact you will need to have external ventilation into the room). Also if you are using the stove as secondary heating you will be drawing your heated air into the stove and straight up the flue! So it is much better to draw fresh air into the stove directly from outside using a dedicated air inlet. Many new stoves have this capacity for a direct air inlet, but the older ones do not. By using fresh air from outside you will make your stove much more efficient.

Stove fans. If you have your stove set into the chimney breast then you may wish to look at a stove fan. These are powered by the heat of the stove itself and help to circulate the warm air around the room. They are expensive, but do work well.

Sizing. Think about what you will use the stove for. If it is just secondary heating then you will only need a small kW stove, but if you are to use it for heating the whole house then you will need to think about circulation of air as well as sizing. Too big a stove can overpower a room and make it unusable (unless you are into swimwear in the winter!) It may be better to have two smaller stoves in separate rooms etc. So care is needed here as it can be a bit of a balancing act.

Flue liners. There are two main grades of liners. Personally I would go for the higher grade as you will be peace of mind and a longer guarantee.

Installers. Always use a HETAS installer.

Carbon monoxide sensor. All stoves should be monitored by a working carbon monoxide alarm. No point having a lower carbon future if you are not here to enjoy it.

Sweeping. Check with you installer that the stove can be swept easily. This will need to be done annually on average.

Chimney pot. The pot should reduce the amount of water able to enter the system, so ensure that you have a cowl of some description. Do not fit cowls with fine grating as they can be blocked more easily. Again your installer should be able to advise.

So, have a think about these factors before you buy and fit a stove. Good luck!

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Proactive Maintenance

Not your average building, but a building nevertheless.

I had a meeting with the management team at the Wales Millennium Centre to discuss how we could do some work together. It was a productive meeting, but more importantly they are on the ball.

I walked in to see their DEC (Display Energy Certificate) with a proud rating of 42. Performing well above average for this size and type of building. So they are not only talking the talk, they are walking the walk.

However, the best thing about the meeting was to learn that they have a proactive maintenance system in place. This is really impressive and important. The great thing is that it shows that they really value their building. Given the cost of making the venue it makes sense to allocate sums to maintaining it. Not only that they have worked out what they are going to do to it for years to come to ensure that it keeps looking great and working well.

Of course things will come up and need immediate attention, but the fact that they are checking, cleaning and testing all aspects of the building on a regular and systematic basis means that it will continue to be fit for purpose for decades to come.

I think that people can take a leaf out of their book. Even though the building cost millions to construct and hence costs hundreds of thousands to maintain it acts a great example for home owners. A house costs tens or hundreds of thousands to buy, yet how much do we allocate for annual repairs, improvements etc? Generally nothing I would guess. We wait and wait until something goes wrong or we cannot put up with the issue any longer. By this time the problem will need major investment in time, resources and hassle factors to put right. If we all did a few checks around the house, once or twice a year it would save millions of £ across Wales.

I only wrote about this a couple of weeks ago, so scroll down for some pointers on what to check and save yourself the heartache and hassle (and not to mention many £'s) of major repairs.

Also remember that we offer some services in support of this like our Pre-Purchase Home Report and Damp Reports. Good luck.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Are natural products just about being eco?


As stockists of a range of natural products are we just a bunch of hippies worried about the environment? The short answer is NO.

At the Eco Home Centre we are all about sustainability and all that this encompasses. But this is a much misunderstood term and so here are some hard facts and rationales behind some of the choices we have made for our supply chain.

Earthborn claypaint - highly breathable paint that is brilliant for application on lime plasters / breathable substrates. IF you put conventional paint (or a low porosity natural paint) on a wall that is highly porous it will not last long. So using a paint that is designed for use on lime / porous wall it will last and do what you want it to do. It also has no real smell and no VOCs.

Osmo Polyx Oil - this is not a perfectly natural choice as it uses (de-benzenated) white spirit as its solvent (unless you use their Polyx 2K product). However, it does use natural oils for its working element. The great advantage though is that it wears really well, gives a great finish, does not need to be re-sanded between coats or before future re-application. It also is loved by professionals as it does not create 'tramlines' on application. SO this does what you want it to do, brilliantly.

Auro 524. This is a new paint that is completely based on natural materials that are sustainably sourced and also it is manufactured using renewable energy sources. Ticking all the eco boxes here, but more importantly it is a great quality paint. Breathable, excellent opacity, easily cleanable, compostable, no VOCs. ......

Eco Solutions Home Strip. A safe paint remover that can be used without fear of poisoning, skin irritation, smells, VOCs, .... So again something that works really well, but without all the downsides associated with nasty chemicals like Nitromors.

Auro and Earthborn Wall Fillers. These are great products that remain workable when dry. You get really smooth finishes etc, but you can still sand them back once they are dry. Products like PolyFilla go really hard and if you don't get the correct finish first time you have to spend a lot of time getting it right. These more natural fillers are therefore much more user friendly.

I could go on.

So it is all about getting products that do the job properly and well. I have no time for 'eco' products that are kind to the environment but that don't work. People need high quality products that will do what is needed, last a long time and be easy to use. The fact that all of this is available with products that also are 'natural' and 'eco' just proves the point that we can do a lot with less oil being consumed, less waste, less pollution, less risk to health!

Maintenance and the consumer society


One might think that with the growth of consumerism that we would naturally consume more maintenance products for our homes, but the trend seems to be the opposite.

The rush to be at the front of the queue for the latest gadgets etc does not sit well with the need for the regular and mundane nature of building maintenance. Checking whether you have cracked render, failed silicon around the windows, leaking gutters etc is not as glamorous as a new internet accessing tool.

So I often find that some houses with easily fixable problems (like many damp issues) get to the state where a 'damp proof expert' ends up recommending an expensive (and completely inappropriate) solution. These homes are often stuffed to the gunnels with disposable electronic kit, so there is not a lack of money, just a lack of priorities.

The 'quick fix' nature associated with modern consumerism doesn't help here either. Once people see that they have a problem any solution must be quick, cheap, no hassle, immediate, ... Unfortunately, due to the delay in acting they have often missed the boat. If maintenance is done regularly then you can use quick fix solutions. For example:

If you see that your silicon has failed around the windows, then it is a quick job to remove the old and replace with new. This will stop any more water getting into the structure. Simple. However, because people don't do this, the first they will know will be when damp has penetrated through the structure and the plaster inside has failed. This then becomes a job that might involve replastering, redecorating etc.

Exmaple #2: If you see that the ventilation grills on your ground floor are becoming blocked, just clean them up. Simple. If you don't then your solum (underfloor area between the wooden floor and the earth) won't work properly and eventually the floor joists will start to rot etc. This then becomes a major job. It will also take a nasty turn, as the builder coming in will fill your mind with having the floor replaced with a concrete one. This will of course be maintenance free!!! Naturally the new concrete floor with cause a range of new damp problems, ..........

So take a break from the computer / curved screen TV / smarter (than 6 months ago) phone and get outside and have a look at your biggest ever investment and give it a few precious minutes of your time. This will save you a lot of heartbreak, money and time resources in the long term. A few basic tools will allow you to do most of the work yourself (or it will be cheap for a good handyperson to fix for you). Houses are not as addictive as modern consumerist stuff, but they can a real drain on your resources if you ignore them for too long.

I would recommend checking the following:

Windows and door seals (esp. those facing the prevailing winds)
Guttering
Renders / pointing (again esp. those facing the wind and rain)
Drains around the house (to ensure that water is being taken away from the walls)
The roof (to spot any broken or slipped tiles)
Vents and extracts (clear to ensure that they are working properly)

I reckon that a thorough check will take around 5 or 10 mins. 

Then it is a case of keeping your eyes, nose and ears open for any changes. A new drip might be the first sign of a guttering issue. A small damp patch might indicate the need for a check of the seals around the window. A musty smell might alert you to a blocked vent, ....

So when you look at it this way, actually you can fit in all the consumerist stuff that you like and some basic checks on your home. For more guidance on maintenance, especially on older properties have a look at Cadw's Maintenance Matters website.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Auro 524 - what's the fuss?


Auro has been busy developing a new paint range that has been based on their new binder - REPLEBIN®. This new biogenic binder (made of plant alcohol ester with organic acids) manages to hold the paint together better than any of its forebears. This means that it has excellent abrasion characteristics. The new paint passes the Class 1 high abrasion resistance test.

The binder also helps the paint cover a variety of surfaces. The new 524 is able to cover a wide range of existing types of finish. This means that you may well need one less coat of paint. This can save a lot of time and resources and this leads to a saving in cost. 524 is suited for all indoor surfaces, it adheres to old and new plaster including lime plaster, dry lining boards, previously painted surfaces even on latex (vinyl) paints and other 'difficult' substrates. Note that it is suitable for lime. Most emulsions are not suitable for lime plasters due to the need for the plaster to breathe. With 524 it has an SD value of 0.05, so it is an open pored product.

The use of natural ingredients (in line with Auro's philosophy) means that the paint is low odour and also classed as VOC free. The ingredients are also vegan.

This binder is holding together improved ingredients that create a paint that is very opaque. This is important as it means that it can obliterate variations in the existing wall finishes. This means that even dark or patterned surfaces can be covered white quick and easy: It is classed as a top opacity product with a rating of 99.5 % (Opacity Class 1).

As far as application is concerned the paint dries quicker than its predecessors and can be easily applied by brush, roller or with spraying equipment. It has little to no dripping and splashing, thus making painting more pleasurable.

The paint is more expensive per litre than other natural paints, but it is cheaper than many of the 'designer' paints. So if you are looking for the highest quality paint, with the best environmental credentials then look no further than the 524.



Wednesday, 2 December 2015

New Solid Wall Insulation Guide


Bristol City Council came to the Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance (the STBA) to address the issues associated with the Solid Wall Insulation (SWI) works that they were doing. The video and associated tools (that can be found at https://warmupbristol.co.uk/content/planning-guidance-your-home) have been developed to help locals find out about solid wall insulation (SWI) and the issues associated with it.

As you will know we are board members of the STBA and so have a keen understanding of the issues around SWI. So we recommend that anyone thinking about SWI should have a look at the video made for the Bristol as certainly many areas of Wales are in a similar climate / weather pattern to those living over the channel.

Getting the balance right is really, really important and the whole house approach is one that we have been delivering on for many years. With Bristol taking the lead we hope that many councils in Wales will learn from this ground breaking work and adopt a similar approach.

We really need Building Control, Planners as well as Architects and Builders to get onboard with this knowledge and concept. Without their buy-in it is difficult for owners of houses to enact on the best advice. Our focus on energy only is ruining houses and homes and we need to stop, take a breath and really look at each house individually.

Assessing the structure, materials, occupation, context and character of a building is MORE important that just looking at how much energy it is predicted to use (by using inaccurate EPCs). We need to ensure that the integrity of the house is improved by addressing ventilation, material compatibility etc otherwise we will end up damaging the health of the structure and its occupants. That is a waste of resources, money and ultimately will not address the underpinning threat of climate change.

So if you are thinking about refurbishing your home and want an independent assessment of what to do, what the risks are, what materials will minimise impacts on your health etc etc then give us a call at the Eco Home Centre.

Thursday, 19 November 2015

New tool for upcyclers

New Grime Go from Eco Solutions
One of the major issues when undertaking upcycling is making sure that the furniture / object is really nice and clean, ready to take new paint / varnish etc. Getting objects ready can be a smelly, toxic process that is not good for lungs, hands etc. So, thanks to the lovely people at Eco Solutions there is now a safe solution.

Grime Go!, available from ourselves, for a reduced price (as ever!) is easy to use and really effective. So if you are planning some upcycling, or just want to have some of your stuff a really good deep clean then it is worth trying it out.

It works inside and out so you will be able to find a wide range of uses for it.




Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Home Report Video from Profiad Ni



Thought that this might be of interest as it shows the types of advice given when we do a Home Inspection Report. The winners of the Profiad Ni competition had visits from us for around 2 - 3 hours each followed by a written report that re-enforced the messages about damp, energy efficiency, maintenance, ventilation, structure etc.

It was a great couple of days (if a tad tiring) so many thanks to Bethan from Profiad Ni for arranging it all.

Happy watching.

Friday, 2 October 2015

Brick face failure

This is quite common to see bricks suffering from old age (and occasionally poor pointing)
This is the type of wall that is commonly rendered over (using cement) because the bricks have lost their faces and hence are much more prone to the weather.

The rendering over can of course cause many more problems due to old bricks (with lime mortar) not being compatible to modern waterproofed cements. The obvious answer, assuming that you are happy to render over, would be to use a compatible lime render. This will work with the wall to help keep it dry and also provide it with the necessary protection from the elements.

What to do though if you want to save the look of your home?

Well, getting the same bricks to match is difficult and would require lots of research as many of the old bricks were made by small local factories that have now succumbed to nationals and multi-nationals. Getting a colour and texture match is therefore a bit tricky.

The answer, though, is staring us in the face (apols for the pun). Each of the damaged bricks will have a perfectly preserved face on its other side, so all we need to do is to turn it around! Easy (said.)

Removing the mortar can be a bit tricky, but where the original lime mortar is, it should be much easier as the mortar is softer than the brick. Where it has been re-pointed using cement the opposite is true and this causes more problems. The use of lime mortar is important for this very reason. Mortar in old houses was there more to keep the bricks / stone apart rather than to stick them all together. When we started building thin walls (cavity walls are effectively two very thin and unstable walls) we needed to stick them together using strong cement mortars and wall ties.

Anyway, back to the point. How to get them out. Well there are a couple of tools that are generally used: Angle Grinders and also Masonry Plunge Saws. The main issue is minimising dust. Silica dust can be nasty and so make sure that you wear a mask. Personally I think that it is worth hiring a Masonry Saw (also known as Wall Saws).

Wall saw
Basically, you then cut around the brick(s) in question and then you can remove them, flip them around and reset it back into the wall using a matching lime mortar. Good luck!
Brick turning

Friday, 11 September 2015

Killing mould naturally

Mould commonly appears where walls / surfaces are cool and damp

How to treat mould? Well it is commonly assumed that the best way of doing this is using bleach. However, if you do use bleach you will experience several things:
  • The mould will return quite soon (bleach only works on hard surfaces and so will not kill the mould 'roots' in any porous material)
  • It will smell terribly
  • You will have to get out the gloves to protect your hands
  • You will have to be very careful to ensure that you don't bleach anything else
So are there any better and safer alternatives? Thankfully the answer is a resounding YES.

You can buy products like the Auro Anti-Mould System (that we supply) or you can make some mixes yourself.

Systems that actually work and are safe include:
  • Hydrogen Peroxide (this is the main ingredient in the Auro product)
  • Tea Tree Oil
  • Borax
  • Baking Soda
  • Vinegar
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract
The best are those that are not just alkaline (Baking Soda and Vinegar) but also naturally antisceptic, antifungal and antibacterial. So the Hydrogen Peroxide, Borax, Grapefruit Seed and Tea Tree Oil (ensuring that it is from Melaleuca Alternifolia) provide the best solutions. These work on porous surfaces as well and so kill the 'roots' as well as surface mould.
  • Tea Tree Oil use a spray in a 2% solution
  • Hydrogen Peroxide use a spray in 3% solution
  • Borax use a spray in 6-7% solution
  • Grapefruit Seed Extract use a spray in 0.5-1% solution
I would recommend that Hydrogen Peroxide is sprayed on and then left for around 10 mins before being wiped off. The rest can be sprayed and left on to act as a longer term inhibitor.

I would also suggest that you need to deal with the root cause of the mould in the first place. This might be making the surface warmer (potentially by using insulation), making the material drier (by increasing ventilation around the area, using correct materials, eliminating water ingress etc).

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Home Buyer Report - The Journey

This is what the Home Buyer Report (HBR) looks like that you will probably make a lot of decisions by when you buy your new home. One of these will cost you around £450 - £700 depending on the level of investigation requested. Most people opt for the cheaper version.

So what do you get for your money?

The report is designed to look in detail at the condition of the house and make recommendations as to any course of remedial actions required. This is of course important for you to know as there may well be some major issues like subsidence or damp.

The majority of the report is basic tick boxing and space for some additional comments. However, mostly what goes into the comments box is something along the lines of: damp noted in such and such room, we recommend that a damp proof specialist provides a report. Quite often 'rising damp' and 'injected damp proof course' are mentioned. This is odd given that most truly independent damp specialists suggest that only around 5% of damp houses are suffering from 'rising damp'. So why is it put in those specific terms when the rest of the report is otherwise quite generic?

The answer seems to be this all pervasive thought that damp only occurs at ground level and is always caused by rising ground water. This is so common that many houses, that I have been to where a HBR has been shared with me, surveyors have not even tested for damp above the ground floor (unless it is blindingly obvious). It is almost that penetrating damp doesn't exist for some surveyors. I have not seen reference to orientation of the house or exposure levels in any HBR to date.

So, the next step on your house buying journey is to get a damp specialist in. Having spent £450 on a report and found that there is damp, you are starting to have doubts about buying, so having a free report from a damp proofing company seems like a good idea. What little we know.

The reports from a damp proofing company virtual all say - you have rising damp and require a damp proof course (DPC). This will in turn cost you between £3,000 and £6,000. Not so free now is it! Then you haggle over prices, it comes down a couple of thousand if you are lucky and the 'required improvements' to the house come to £2,000 - £4,000 net. Plus you have a guarantee! Sound OK?

Well actually, as you may have picked up, most damp is not rising damp. So the money spent will probably not cure the damp. In fact it can make it worse in the long run. But the guarantee? Unfortunately it is not worth the paper that it is printed on. It is a chocolate teapot. Looks great, makes you feel like you can have a cuppa at anytime, but make one and whoops!

So, be aware that if you do have damp picked up on your HBR, it may just be worth your while employing an INDEPENDENT damp specialist who will not just go through the motions and come to the conclusion that you need an expensive (and ultimately potentially dangerous) (DPC). S/he will look at the whole house holistically, assess the pathology of the building - what has been done, when, how well, using what etc. and should then be able to provide a much better and more appropriate set of recommendations or comments.

This can be fraught with difficulty as most of the time you have to use little physical clues, an eye for detail, years of experience, knowledge of the real world building industry and some imagination. Houses have years of history associated with them. We don't keep records of who did what and when, we don't have pictures of the work being done etc. Experience is key. A qualification is good, but really it is the experience of seeing large numbers of houses, noting common faults, listening to owners and tenants and getting their stories etc that really provides the knowledge to be able to diagnose buildings well. Afterall the only real way of knowing what is actually going on is to take the building apart, so given that this isn't going to happen the best solution is to rely on the experience of a truly independent specialist.

Just to add a bit of paranoia into this (because it is warranted), Estate Agents want to sell you the house. It is their income. They want you to buy the house with blinkers on. 'Lovely location', 'Close to a good school', 'Good transport links' etc. Similarly Surveyors don't want to take the risk of doing a diagnosis as it is frought with unknowns, better to take the money and pass the buck onto a specialist in damp. The average 'Free Survey' damp specialist comes from a company that wants to sell you a damp proof course, .......

Knowledge is power and it is important when making the biggest financial decision for your family that you get it as right as you can. Getting information from a reliable, independent source that will explain what's going on, the physics and material science behind it etc is really important and worth the money.

What is the point in spending £ thousands on a DPC when actually the damp is due to some pointing issue, or a failed window seal, something that might cost you a couple of pounds.

I know that this sounds like a sales pitch as we provide this independent service, but whoever does it, the principles hold true. People like me, who understand damp and materials, will be able to give you a much better, much more detailed idea of the issues that face a house and hence will allow you to make a much better decision.

Friday, 14 August 2015

Rising Damp

From Yorkshire Times article entitled 'Rising Damp in Old Houses - It's just a myth'
I have been to two houses in the past couple of days, both of which have had damp proof courses (DPCs) injected into them. These new DPCs and associated work are now actually causing more damp problems than were there before!

One house has evidence of approximately two injected DPCs and the owner was being recommended to have another one. I bumped into a neighbour who had seen the original plans for the houses in the Glamorgan Archive and guess what, it turns out that it has had a DPC since the day it was built!! 

What are we doing believing damp proof 'specialists' from commercial damp proof companies? Their 'free' surveys might not cost anything, but the recommended treatments that they come up with with see thousands of pounds leave your account. So much for being 'free'.

So in the first house, there was a lot of damp all around the front bay and along the west facing wall. The damp 'specialist' failed to identify that there were a number of large cracks in the render, or that the render on the bay was blown. Neither did he mention anything to do with the lack of ventilation in the house, .......

In the second house, the damp was now appearing over a metre from the ground. No doubt that there was damp in the floor of the house, but sealing up the wall as a cure, really?? That is just trying to hide the damp, not to actually deal with it. Now the owner will have to remove all the hard waterproof render and start again with a proper solution. More expense, disruption and hassle. Why?!

If you are serious about solving a damp problem, rather than causing one we would recommend that you use a good independent damp specialist in older buildings. We could save the 'hard working families' of the UK lots of un-necessary expense and also help to preserve our built heritage rather than introducing ridiculous ineffective modern quick fixes.

For a good rant, have a read of the Yorkshire Times article here

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Measures working, but still more to do

Last year we spent a lot of time getting the walls of our home sorted. I dug a trench around the house and installed drainage to make sure that rainwater was taken away from the plot as quickly as possible. The walls were also stripped of their cement render and a lovely new render from Welsh Lime Works was applied.

So where are we now?

Out of the red and into the green
Well I went around the house yesterday to check moisture readings in the external walls and I am happy to announce that the levels are down from the mid 20% to around 10-13%.

So the external walls are drying out even now, despite have amount of water that was allowed into them after the cement render was removed and then the application process associated with the lime render. So great news!

However, the internal walls where concrete replacement floors have been installed are still wet. The lower part of the wall, where the waterproof render and plaster has been fitted is around 10%, but above the 1m mark where the original lime plaster is still intact is wet through (mid 20%s). I have been hoping that the silicon treatment that I installed would have had an effect by now, but it seems as if there is still water being sucked up by capillary action between the waterproofed render on the walls.

I think that I will have to inject more silicon cream into the mortar at the base of the walls to see if I can reduce the amount of water being drawn up. The water pressure that is created by replacement floors is amazing, but I have little choice as to the action I can take, bar cutting out the mortar and installing a physical DPC - lots of dust that the rest of the family might not appreciate!

So, good news on the main piece of work on the house, but still a little more to do to remove the issues created by blindly following the conventional damp industry and mortgage providers.

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

I can't afford lime render!

Lime rendering done by Welsh Lime Works in Cardiff
Lime rendering is a specialist trade (not to be confused with lime plastering or cement rendering!) and as such it takes time served craftspeople to do it well and it also takes more time to do. These two factors mean that many people who need to have their houses re-rendered choose the cement route. Using cement, of course, represents a higher long term cost. The render will crack and, most likely, damp will be re-introduced to the walls. This will need to be addressed again in the future, whilst a lime render should last the lifetime of the building.

A customer of ours choose cement render over lime due to the cost, however within 8 months the cement had failed, the wall was still wet and she has had to do it again. So the difference in price has already been negated due to failure.

However, this article is about what to do if you cannot afford at the moment to replace the cement with lime.

My recommendations (in general) would be as follows:
  • Keep the existing cement render on
  • Regularly check the walls for failed render (tapping the walls will audibly indicate where the render has become separated from the wall)
  • Repair any cracks (even the small ones, especially if facing the prevailing winds and rain) and any blown areas of render
  • When replacing blown areas, it is better to cut around the render to be removed so that the process of removal does not dislodge any of the surrounding render
  • Use cement render to replace / repair
  • Check for failure of seals around doors, windows, pipes etc and repair as necessary
  • Save up and when you can afford it, replace the cement with lime.
Enlarging cracks allows for a better repair as the new render will fit into it
The rationale behind this recommendation is that where you have a structure that has been altered to try to keep water out then as long as this philosophy is being maintained then it will have a better chance of working than when it is not. Cement render and masonry paint is designed to keep water out and as long as it is doing this then it will provide some protection from wind driven rain, however it needs to be uncompromised. So maintenance of its integrity is really important. The more water that gets behind it, the worse the wall will perform and the more likely damp issues become.

This patching and maintaining is really important to allow the wall to perform as well as it can before the ultimate solution of the lime render is applied. So don't waste your money on putting a new coat of cement render over your pre 1919 solid wall house, repair what you have and save your money up so that you don't waste it on an unsustainable, and still quite expensive, piece of cement based sticking plaster!

If you have a 'rising damp' problem (this is rare to occur in most untreated houses, but can be caused by the introduction of cement based renders and plasters onto a breathable wall) then another cheaper option is to remove the cement render up to around 1m above ground level. This wall might then need to be repaired using lime mortar (re-pointing) or it could be lime rendered. Doing this at ground level means that there is no need for scaffolding and the area involved is much less, thus keeping the costs down. You will need a good drip above this so that any water running down the upper wall is not fed directly into the lime or onto the exposed wall.

If you need to put up expensive scaffolding to do the repairs then this brings an extra dimension as the lime rendering becomes more cost effective in the longer term. So any initial repairs to the cement are best done off of a tower scaffold or ladders.

I have written at length before about lime rendering, but it is worth re-iterating at this point the things to remember when looking for a good lime renderer.
  • Use a company that both supplies and installs the render (this can get over the issue of where, if there is a problem with the final work, you are not inbetween a rock and a hard place where the installer blames the manufacturer and the manufacturer blames the installer!)
  • Remember that rendering is not the same as plastering. So use an experienced renderer.
  • Ask for references and a good portfolio of completed works
  • If it is new company then you will need to ask about the experience of the tradespeople and where they served their time. You can then investigate this company.
  • Read up about lime from trusted sources like CADW, Historic England, Historic Scotland etc (depending on where you are)
  • Ask about the mix that they will use and the finish that will be applied. I am a believer in aggregate being really important. I think that the aggregate needs to be a mix of sizes and also that it contains a high proportion of permeable stone.
  • The finish needs to be appropriate. So a lime putty and permeable stone mix can be easily covered with a lime wash, a less breathable combination of NHL lime and sand will probably work better with a mineral paint.