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Thursday, 13 December 2012

Mould at ceiling edge

I have seen a lot of mould at the edges of ceilings, especially where the wall is an external one. So what is the cause of this?

There are a number of potential suspects:
  1. Lack of ventilation
  2. Water ingress from leaky roof / blocked gutters
  3. Lack of insulation
1. It is unlikely to be lack of ventilation, although poor ventilation in higher humidity rooms (bathrooms, bedrooms, kitchens) can make the situation worse.

2. Water ingress can be another source of damp and hence mould, but here the mould tends to follow the water, so will head down the walls as well. It is worth noting that gutters should be checked regularly to ensure that they are working properly.

3. Lack of insulation is the probable culprit here. Cold spots caused by a lack of insulation makes the surface cold enough for the mould to grow nicely. Insulation, especially in the eaves, is notoriously poorly fitted. It is already the area in the loft that has the lowest level of insulation due to the junction of roof and ceiling, but it is also tricky to fit, so many people find that it has not been done properly.

So we would recommend having a look in the loft space and checking that the ceiling is uniformly covering the it. I would also ensure that it is as well insulated as possible in the eaves (whilst remembering not to block them as this could cause other ventilation issues for the loft space).

Once the insulation is correctly installed, treat the mould with Auro Anti-Mould Treatment and then you should have a permanent solution.

As an aside, I once found a mould patch in the middle of a bedroom ceiling. No leaks etc, just a odd spot of nasty mould. A quick trip up into the loft found that the insulation had been installed really badly and there was a bald patch that correlated exactly with the mould in the room. Thankfully there can be easy solutions to what can appear to be major problems with houses!

Thermal Mass or Lightweight Build?

Timber framed houses are regarded as being low in thermal mass

Stone houses are thought of as high in thermal mass
Thermal mass is a simple idea but is actually complex in nature. The general idea runs thus:

Lots of high density materials (like stone, brick, concrete) can even out the temperature in buildings as they are able to absorb high daytime temperatures and then slowly release this stored heat back into the building during the cooler evenings. So buildings, made of these types of materials, will naturally and automatically create more constant diurnal temperatures for the occupants during the summer. In the winter these same materials will require heating from an external source (central heating for example). It will take them longer to heat up, but once warm they will remain warm and again help to regulate the heat through a 24 hour cycle.

Lots of low density materials will not have the capacity to 'store' excess heat and so light weight buildings tend to heat up and cool down quicker. So in the summer they cannot absorb the suns heat as well and so they are not so warm in the night time. In winter they will heat up quicker, but again cool quicker.

This all sounds quite straight forward. The larger the amount of heavy heat absorbing material the more constant the temperature in a house.

So in theory if you are planning to stay in a house for most of the time (working from home, retired, etc) then building or buying a thermal mass based house could be a good thing. If however you are out of the house for most of the day and only use the house in the evenings, then a light weight house seems more appropriate.

However there are some complicating factors, most notably:

Where is the thermal mass? - Does it get the passive solar gain from the sun, or is it shaded
Is the habitable area in touch with the thermal mass? - New buildings might be made of brick, but this might be separated from the internal environment by layers of insulation, so effectively the only internal mass might be some plasterboard.
How airtight is the building? A low thermal mass house might be very airtight and so able to keep some heat in, whereas a high thermal mass house might be very draughty and so lose much of its gained heat because of this.
How well insulated is the building? Again high thermal mass that is made from a good conductor of heat can take more heating in the winter due to a lack of insulation.

The picture is therefore more complicated. Life, eh!

When buying a house you don't have a choice over what it is made from. But it is worth bearing in mind that older pre-1919 solid walled homes will have a higher thermal mass than a modern house. This is borne out by experience of many where older houses are cool in the summer and require constant trickle heat in the winter, whilst modern homes can be too hot in the summer and only require short periods of heating in the winter.

There are therefore a series of advantages and disadvantages to both systems. But could we create a house that has just the advantages?

In the UK we almost make our new homes inside out with regards to thermal mass. We tend to put the thermal mass on the outside (bricks) then insulate it from the living space and then line out our homes with a thin thermal mass product like plasterboard. We are also generally very poor at making airtight homes and also at managing ventilation. So imagine a house that has a light weight external wall, lots of insulation and solid brick or block internal walls. High thermal mass floors located in sun areas can also act as thermal collectors of heat, whilst those that are not could be lighter weight, well insulated and airtight. Large windows to the south will allow the sun in to heat the thermal mass and small windows to the north (that only allow heat to escape) can be smaller and better insulated (triple glazed).

Passiv Haus houses are good examples of where these types of ideas are used. They are also very airtight and use heat exchangers to minimise heat loss through ventilation. All very good. There are a few issues with them though that require a change in living practices in the UK - all rooms the same temperature, using the ventilation system for fresh air in the winter rather than opening windows etc.

So if designing a new home, it is worth thinking about what materials you use, where you use them, why you are using them and how to use them.

If you refurbishing an older house then be mindful to keep the thermal mass working for you. Higher thermal mass insulation like woodwool can be useful, but be careful not to isolate the thermal mass behind structures like insulated dry lining as can lead to a host of other problems. Never easy is it!

Monday, 3 December 2012

Damp internal walls

How is this possible? Damp on an internal wall? - So no water ingress from blown render or poor pointing, no leaking gutters, no cracked tiles, no raised pavements above damp proof course, so what is going on?

Internal walls in older buildings were not built with very good foundations or very good damp proof courses. Some had slates installed, others bitumen, but many have nothing at all. The basic idea for these old houses was that they either had suspended wooden floors, or solid packed earth floors with quarry tiles. These coped with damp is different ways.

The suspended wooden floors were well ventilated so that the moisture from the soil would be 'wicked' away by the draughts. The solid floors were covered with a breathable covering thus allowing moisture to slowly evaporate into the house itself.

Both of these systems was helped by having breathable walls - the bricks were covered with lime plasters and breathable lime paints, so again any moisture in the walls could be dispersed into the internal atmosphere with little fuss.

So why are we seeing problems now?

There are a few reasons:

1. We have replaced many suspended floors with solid concrete floors. This process involves laying down a damp proof membrane under the floor and wrapping this up against the internal walls and filling the floor area with insulation and concrete. This means that any moisture in the ground can no longer come up through the floor. Sounds good. Unfortunately, this only puts extra pressure onto the internal wall. Any moisture is effectively concentrated into the internal wall foundations and hence the walls become wet through capillary action.

2. We have blocked up the vents under existing suspended wooden floors. This means that the moist air above the soil is not wicked away. This allows moisture to build up under the house and hence the walls can get wet.

3. The internal walls in our homes have often been replastered over time. Old lime mortar has been removed and more modern gypsum plasters used. These gypsum based products are not designed to survive in a moisture rich environment. So any sustained moisture in a wall will cause the plaster to fail. This in turn means that the plaster starts to become hydroscopic - attract more moisture to it. A self fulfilling failure system is hence in place.

So are there any solutions?

1. For replacement solid walls it is a bit late really as the pressure on the walls is so great. However, you can inject damp proofing silicone creams (Eco Home Centre sells DryZone) or install a new physical damp proof course. This will help to reduce the amount of water that is able to reach the living area. Care also needs to be taken to ensure that the plaster used is breathable and also that there is a gap between the floor and the plaster (normally hidden behind the skirting boards). I would also ensure that the skirting boards are treated against moisture so that they do not rot from the back.

2. Unblocking the vents and ensuring that there is a good draught under the floor should allow the walls to dry out.

3. Using breathable renders and plasters internally (predominately lime based) will allow moisture to travel through it without harming the finish (note that paint finishes need to be breathable as well - lime wash, claypaint and natural emulsions are all possible).

Choosing the right solutions can be difficult, so please contact the Eco Home Centre for more guidance if required.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Silicone sealant, what's to know?

Many of us do not think about the variety of sealants that are on the market. We tend to rely on builders and others to get the right one for the job. However there is a wide variety of options.

I was in the Builders Merchants close to me the other day and asked for a 'good' silicone sealant. This apparently required a inquisitive look from the person serving me. What, you want a good one? Are you sure? The basic one is £2 and the better one £6. This indicates that all the builders do not wish to part with the extra cash for the sake of having a better product. Bear in mind that the vast majority of the professionals will be 'doing you a favour' by saving you money. However, they might not actually be saving you money in the long run!

So, in support of this post I had a quick look on the internet and found a great wiki post at DIYFAQ that explains the difference between the different types and their attributes.

There are a few excellent suggestions / facts there, notable of which are:
  • Silicone is flexible, but not very good at tensile pressures. Most silicone will move 10% - so 1mm for every 10mm of silicone bead, but some claim to move up to 20%. This may well be better around doors and windows where movement is high. It also means that when sealing around a bath it is better to fill the bath first and then seal it so that the silicone is under compression rather than tension.
  • Sell by dates are very important with silicone and so be aware of this when using.
  • You can get 'Neutral Cure' silicones that do not smell of acetic acid. These tend to be the better ones.
  • The acetic acid in the silicone encourages mould growth and so use of alternatives is recommended for around showers etc.
So don't just think of silicone as all the same, there are some very important differences that will affect how suitable each type is and how long it will do the job for. Long term solutions are really important for key areas like join between walls and windows. Get it wrong and water will get into the walls etc. So have a chat to your builder and maybe educate him / her on this and ensure that you get the right silicone for the job. Good luck.

Monday, 26 November 2012

Give the walls a tap - They might be dry lined

Dry lining is one of those building practices that is commonly known, but little understood.

To know if your home has been dry lined just requires a little tap of the knuckles against the wall. If it rings hollow then the wall has been lined. If it sounds solid and your knuckles hurt then it is still a solid masonry wall!

Knowing this is really important.

Why? Well walls are normally dry lined for a reason. Not many people think - "I want to go through some extra expense and disruption at home just for the heck of it". The main reason why walls are dry-lined is because they are damp. Hence the term dry lining. This is one job that does what is says. It creates a dry lining for your home. It does not even attempt to solve the problem, just covers it over so that you cannot see it. For some, landlords and people trying to get a good price for a damp house, this is a great system. Relatively cheap, easy and, due to general ignorance, no real complaints from tenants or major price reduction demands from new owners. So all is well?

Not really. Our homes can really suffer from dry lining:
  • Walls that were dry lined due to damp, remain damp. Damp walls transmit heat better, thus making your home more costly to run;
  • Mould grows in the cool moist environment behind the lining and can spread their spores through gaps in the lining;
  • Mice and rats can find ready made homes behind the lining and spend their time chewing through wires etc;
  • Any structural problems remain hidden behind the mask of the plasterboard lining;
  • Joists that are embedded in the walls can rot quicker in the damp environment;
  • Hanging heavy objects on plasterboard is not as secure as fixing into solid masonry;
  • Lots of dry-lining is done with dot and dab fixing. This can fail in a fire and be even more dangerous for you, your family and the fire service;
  • Most dry lining is also not sealed properly and hence warm moist air can get behind it, condense on the cooler walls and create more damp problems for the house;
  • .......
The ideal solution is that you fix the problem that the house has properly. This might save you a lot of money both in the short and long term. The damp might just be coming from a broken gutter, or cracked render, or an internal leak. So find out the cause of any problem before embarking on any dry lining. If you house is already dry lined it is worth spending a bit more time finding out why and trying to find any root cause. Even though the problem is hidden, it probably has not gone away.

So be careful and aware of dry lining and always find out what the initial problem was and resolve it, if at all possible.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Wood treatment in wet conditions

I thought that it was worth sharing a customers unfortunate situation with regards to treating wooden decking.

Having laid a beautiful deck the whole area needed treating and a really good oil from Osmo was choosen. All well and good. However, with the 'summer' that we had, the deck was sodden, so even though the day choosen to treat was a dry one the wood had not recovered from the deluges it had experienced for weeks prior to this.

The moisture level in the wood was so high that the oils could not penetrate as they would normally. This meant that the oil acted more like a paint than a wood oil. It therefore took longer to dry and also formed a glossy coat on the surface rather than the matt / silk finish that was desired. Not a happy customer and also left with a situation that was difficult to rectify without complete removal.

The people fitting the deck were professionals, but the pressure of time etc meant that they just got on with the job rather than thinking about moisture levels in the wood. Ideally the moisture content should be 20% or less. So if in doubt, check the wood with a moisture meter first to ensure that the treatment used will work properly.

We would also recommend treating the decking before it is laid down. This will allow you to treat the underneath and this helps balance out breathability of the timber. This makes it more stable in the long run. Also we would recommend that you treat any ends / cuts so that you protect these most sensitive of areas of deck. This might mean being around when it is being installed and  / or giving clear instructions to the installers so that it does actually get done.

At the Eco Home Centre we would recommend using Osmo 4005 pre-treatments for any end grains (assuming the timber has already been tanalised - if it has not then treat all of the wood with this pre-treatment). Then an Osmo Wood Oil for a UV stable finish. You might wish to finish off with the clear Osmo Anti-slip top coat (430). However, remember that you need to ensure a low moisture content in the wood before starting any treatment. Good luck.

Friday, 16 November 2012

DIY Gift Idea

Many of us are DIY'ers. Some are keen, some less so. For some people the idea of a hammer drill as a gift can be inticing: as it may just encourage the loved one to get out of the chair and put the shelves up that have been in the packaging for the past 8 months. This tactic will no doubt have some successes, but others will be doomed to failure, especially if the shelves end up wonky. The cost and effort of getting the drill suddenly seem like a bit of a waste of resources. Let alone the arguments, dust, bleeding knuckles etc.

So is there a more subtle way of getting some jobs done around the house where the products bought are less likely to go to waste? Well, I have been thinking about this and I reckon that you cannot go far wrong with some good quality paint brushes.

Most people are prepared to have a go at painting. The idea of paying for a decorator for smaller painting jobs (say one room) does not sit well with many people. An 'I can do that' mentality comes to the fore and before you know it the paint brushes are being sought in the shed / garage etc. This search, though, often just turns up some old, tired and matted brushes in a forgotten drawer*. What then? Well it generally means a trip to the local DIY store for some of their cheapest brushes and rollers. This in turn leads to the frustration of hairs in the paint work, poor quality finishes and a lack of willingness to do any more painting for at least another year.

So how about this for an idea for the reluctant DIY'er in your life.
A set of quality paint brushes that are great to use, give an excellent finish, look marvellous and also have the bonus of being very eco-friendly. Not only that, they also contribute some of the price to rainforest protection projects. This is why we stock the brilliant Eco Ezee range of brushes.

Sceptical? Well, as a little true story to back this up I had a complaint once about our excellent Auro paint. Apparently it would not go on properly. Fearing the worse I went to see the job and found the builder using his tried and trusted paint brush to apply it. To be generous, lets say that it was 'in a poor state'. I had anticipated this as a problem and presented him with one of the Eco Ezee brushes and told him to try again. A little while later I had a text stating 'I am in love with a brush'!! With the right tools, anything is possible!

If you have a keen DIY'er in your life (lucky you) then they always appreciate good quality goods that will help them make an expert job of the whole project. These brushes are comparible to the professional ranges, but are cheaper (and have all the benefits listed above to boot!) What's not to like?

*Just so that you know we also have a great Brush Restore product from Eco Solutions that will return all those old brushes in the forgotten drawer back to a usable state. You can then use these cheap old brushes for any less important painting tasks like treating fence panels etc.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Ventilation solutions for homes

Positive ventilation system diagramatic
Many of our houses are getting sealed up all in the name of energy efficiency. Draughts around doors are being sealed, windows are being replaced (often without trickle vents), chimneys are being blocked up, lofts insulated, vented suspended floors replaced by solid concrete slabs. We have also brought more humidity into our homes by installing indoor toilets and bathrooms (this could be for the better though!)

All this extra moisture needs to go somewhere. In a fully breathable structure the walls, floors and roof do all of this for us, but many of our homes now have cement renders, conventional painted walls, non breathable insulations etc. The moisture therefore is trapped in the home and on its internal surfaces. This if course can lead to condensation issues and the associated troubles of damp and mould.

So this gives us two choices - reinstate breathable structures, or manage the humidity in another way. Given that the former can require lots of work and disruption I thought that it was worth looking at the alternatives.

One solution to reduce damp on internal surfaces is to have greater ventilation. Here's the rub. How to get warm air into your home to provide you with greater drying capacity without introducing a stream of cold air. Afterall we are trying to reduce carbon emissions etc by making our homes more airtight and by reducing consumption of energy.

There are three main solutions, but each has issues.

Positive pressure - this is the easiest solution. Basically the concept is to pump fresh air from the attic space into the rest of the house. Air in the attic is generally a couple of degrees warmer than outside ambient temperature, however it still represents a source of cold air. Other issues are that because you are using one point of entry for the fresh air its effectiveness is reduced when doors are closed and also where most of the damp problems are downstairs (unless you provide ducts to a lower level for the main air input). Ceilings also need to be airtight so that the pressurised air does not just go straight back into the attic! So care needs to be taken when thinking about how you live and whether you are prepared to accept cooler air as a means of getting fresh air.

Whole House Heat Recovery Ventilation - this is probably the most complicated (but probably the best solution). Here you have a heat recovery system (again normally in the loft space) that takes 'stale' and moist air from some rooms (kitchen, bathroom, living room) and uses it to pre-heat the incoming air from outside. Many of these are around 90-95% efficient at transferring the heat. The fresh air is now pre-heated and pumped to the rooms where it is required. This really does get to the root of the ventilation problem, however it requires ducting to be installed through the house. This is fairly instrusive and disrupting, but it might be the solution that you desire.
Whole house system

Solar air ventilation - this is a compromise between the two solutions. What happens here is effectively a positive pressure system with pre-heating and control elements added to it. Air is preheated using roof based solar collectors (just like the solar thermal systems that you see around) but rather than water, they heat air. The pre-warmed air is then pumped into the house as per positive pressure (so the same issues still remain), but this time the system is designed to give you control over how much air is delivered and at what temperature. The fan units have inputs from three sources normally (the solar collectors, the loft and the eaves). This means that they can cool the house as well as warming it. This system needs you to have an accessible roof that is preferably facing south. This solution is more expensive than the simple positive pressure system, but cheaper than a whole house system.

Nuaire sunwarm system showing solar air panels, fan and vent input
Hope that this give you an overview of what is available, in an add-on technological sense, for getting ventilation into sealed older homes that minimises carbon emissions and running costs.

Monday, 5 November 2012

Is painting a real headache?

"Thanks for painting my bedroom. I love the colour, but I think I need to sleep in your bed tonight!"
Extreme? Not for some.

Painting (even the ones touted as being eco-friendly because they are water based) can cause a serious reaction in some people. The chemicals given off by the paint drying and curing can give some people really bad headaches, rashes, sneezes and breathing problems. We often hear of people not being able to use a room once it has been decorated. The painter (and most of us have decorated at some stage of our lives) will bear the brunt of it all, but the family will also end up with the fumes for weeks to come. All the nasty stuff has to be given off within a month of being painted, but this is a long time in your own home. So the effects of painting can be long lasting. It is not uncommon to hear that people have been forced to move out for a week or two before they could bear to return to their home.

Paints with higher levels of solvents in (these tend to be glosses, satins and wood treatments) have an even greater effect on sufferers as the level of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) in these paints are greater than water based ones.

The large companies are trying to get below the VOC figures that the EU is imposing, but they have their hands tied by their processes that are fundamentally based on the petro-chemical industry. However, despair not. There are a number of eco paint companies that have solved the problem many decades ago, just by using natural ingredients.

Earthborn make VOC free products in the form of their claypaint, their ecoPro emulsion and their ProAqua Eggshell and Varnish. There is virtually no smell at all from these paints and what you can smell is perfectly harmless. You can literally paint the walls of your bedroom during the day and sleep there that night with no ill effects, even if you are chemically sensitive.

Auro have a wide range of water based and oil based paints and finishes. However their paints are made using oils from plants like linseed and oranges. They therefore have VOCs but they are all natural. So if you can tolerate peeling an orange then you can probably use Auro paint with no ill effects. Auro products do smell because of the natural oils, but they have a refreshing citrus aroma. The type of VOC is therefore very important to appreciate. Man-made ones tend to be much more problematic than natural ones (after all we have evolved with nature all around us and so we are used to its chemicals).

Why not use our Eco Paint Chooser to find out which paint is most suited to your particular needs. Our philosophy is to find the right paint for the job even if this means finding one that will not leave you with a splitting headache or a nasty rash.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The love of a good porch

Call this a porch?

Now that's more like it!
Porches are an under-rated element of a home, so often now we see a little canopy that is not even that good at keeping you slightly drier as you search for your keys at the bottom of your bag or pockets. Really, why bother?? Chocolate hammers etc spring to mind.

Porches can, and should be much, much more. We value conservatories as a link between the house and the garden, but not a porch - the link between the house and the outside world.

The front door area is:
  • The entrance to the home
  • The place where we meet and greet family and friends
  • The place where we also bid them farewell
  • The place where we enter the home (in all weathers)
  • A source of draughts
So porches can and should be:
  • Attractive - so that we project a warm and welcoming image to the outside world;
  • Spacious - so that we can gather together and welcome people to the home;
  • Glazed - so that we can visibly wave farewell to visitors whilst remaining in the dry;
  • Have some storage facilities - so that we can take off coats, boots etc in the dry;
  • Be easy to clean - outdoor clothes and boots can then drip dry and be stored without worry;
  • A buffer zone - an area where one external door can be opened and closed before the main entrance to the house itself is opened. This reduces draughts (and associated heat loss) significantly;
  • Light - all this activity needs good lighting, so use natural light (see glazed) and sufficient artificial lights, probably combined with a white-ish colour;
  • In keeping with the rest of the house - this is important as a good porch is very visible and so needs to complement the existing structure.
Get it right and a porch can be a real asset to a home, but it does require a little more planning and thought than we get through average builders and architects. We would recommend having a really good think through the points above to see what you can achieve with yours.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Stoves in draughtproof homes

Here is the problem. We love open fires / stoves in the UK as they are part of our heritage, but we are sealing up our homes, thus starving the fires our oxygen. The answer? In the UK we have regulations that state that if you have an open fire (solid fuel, gas) you have to have the appropriate ventilation to ensure that it is safe with regards to carbon monoxide etc. All very sensible, but many people only use their fires / stoves occasionally so get left with a great big vent that just lets in cold air and negates any benefit that having a fire might give.

I was in a rented property a few years ago and my visit (for damp diagnosis) accidentally co-incided with the service visit from the gas engineer. The house had a disused gas fire, but because it was a rental property the engineer insisted that a 30cm square vent was installed otherwise he could not sign off the property and hence it would not be available for rent. So the landlady was forced to install a 900cm2 vent into a house for an unused heat source. This of course meant higher consumption of valuable resources and higher bills for the tenants. Even if the vent were to be covered when not in use it would still represent a major cold spot for the house. When our reliance on stoves has diminished we are still having to allow for their use by making major structural changes (for the worse) to our homes. So is there a solution?

The basic answer is yes!

Many stoves are now available with a direct external air feed. This is effectively a dedicated air intake for the stove, so the air needed for combustion is brought into the stove direct from the outside. No reliance on internal air at all. They come in a couple of forms. Some bring air down the chimney and use the exhaust to pre-warm the intake air, others are pipes that bring air from a wall closeby to the intake. So if you are fitting a new stove we would recommend that you insist on a model that has this dedicated air intake. This then allows you to conform to the regulations and maintain a warm home, even if you are only using the stove occasionally.

The problem remains for those people (like me) who have an older stove. The present answer of smashing a hole in an external wall and putting a plastic vent over the top just means cold air is brought across the room in order to feed the fire - this really is madness. However the solution is still fairly simple, if more difficult to fit. Basically it still involves bringing fresh air into the house, but we would recommend bringing an air feed to as close to the fire as possible as this will reduce draughts throughout the house. An external vent (with filter to stop insects etc getting in) should be fitted to a point as close and convenient as possible to the fire. An insulated pipe / tube then needs laid to bring the air to the stove. The end of the tube then needs to be located as close as possible to the stove (side of the chimney breast for instance). A closeable metal vent then needs to be installed over the end of the pipe (a plastic one might melt if too close to a stove / fire) so that you can still close it off when the stove is not in use.

This type of solution will give you a much better solution that you can control, that complies with the regulations, doesn't just create draughts and cold spots in your home and still allows you to draught proof the rest of your home to a level that will cut your fuel bills.

More phaff than just knocking a hole in your wall, but nevertheless a much better solution I think. Your thoughts welcome.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Fitting Lindab Guttering when tight to the tiles

Lindab is a great product. The fittings are designed to be easy to fit, but one issue has been pointed out to me that is of importance, but also that is easily solved.

A comment came to me from Edward this week, namely:

In order to use the standard fascia bracket (KFK) you really need to be able to snap the guttering in at the back. If the existing roof overhangs the fascia this may be impossible. When you are on a ladder it is difficult to get the gutter to snap in at the front due to the strong rolled edge. In this situation, even if your fascia is vertical, you need the adjustable fascia bracket (SSK) because the guttering can be placed into it underneath the existing roof and the bracket has a snap-on front clip. Not all of the suppliers stock both kinds, and the Lindab literature does not seem to explain the problem!

Thankfully Eco Home Centre can supply both the KFK and the SSK bracket. In fact in an earlier post we recommended using a 50:50 split of KFK and SSK brackets in order to keep the guttering square. The SSK is the adjustable version and so can take any inaccuracies out of a fascia. The difference in clip though between the two also has an advantage where the fitting is tight. So remember to order SSK's as well as KFKs
KFK Bracket

SSK Bracket

Friday, 12 October 2012

Damp proof injections - how to do it!

This is how it should be done on older solid walled brick built buildings. The damp proof cream needs to be injected in the lime mortar (NOT the brick) and it should be injected every half brick. The hole should then be plugged so that water cannot get into the holes from above (otherwise water will be trapped above the damp proof layer and that sort of defeats the point!) So many older buildings have their bricks injected and this is just plain wrong.

Different manufacturers have different quality products. We recommend (and stock) Dryzone as they have the most silicone in their cream, so they might be more expensive, but having tried some cheaper alternatives (being a cheap-skate myself) I found these not to work, so in fact I wasted my money. If a job is worth doing it is worth doing well. A lesson learned.

Ideally your home should not need damp proofing if you preserve its breathable nature i.e. repoint using lime mortar and if paint use a breathable paint like earthborn silicate paint, Auro's Lime Paint or a limewash. However, sometimes building societies insist on a treatment that they understand and also damp can be so bad that you need to stop anymore water from getting into the wall in order to give other treatments a fighting chance.

Note that it is almost impossible to inject a damp proof course into stone built / rubble fill walls. For this you will need to investigate using an Electro-Osmosis system to ionically repel water molecules. Sounds fun doesn't it!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

Will Green Deal increase Fuel Poverty?

Green Deal is based on a couple of major factors to determine the 'Golden Rule'. The predicted performance of your house (via an Energy Performance Certificate) and your behaviour in it. These two factors are designed to predict how much you can afford to pay back against the approved green deal 'improvement' measures. The Golden Rule states that your bills should be no higher than they are currently and that the savings accrued from the 'improvements' are used to repay the loan that will be attached to your house.

So all sounds lovely - house improved at little to no upfront costs and no difference in the amount of money flowing out of your bank account (the money just goes to different places).


Firstly, the way that the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) is calculated is not very good at predicting the energy performance in older homes (inc. solid walled terraces). It tends to assume that your walls perform worse than they actually do. This under predicting of performance means that the savings that are predicted by the model will be over-estimated. This could be a major issue, especially since one the major priorities of the Green Deal is to insulate solid walls.

Secondly, the way that the assessment tools work means that they don't take into account damp in a meaningful way. The measures that might be recommended therefore can either cause or compound damp problems. Damp walls are less thermally efficient than dry ones by around 30%. So in reality some of the 'improvement' factors might not perform as well as expected.

Thirdly, models use precise specifications in their calcs. They do not take into account factors like poor detailing (causing thermal bridging). So how your house appears in a computer model will be different from how it actually is, no matter how many assurances one puts on it. So in practice your house will not perform as well as the models predict. The Green Deal providers will be looking for 'value for money', so materials used will be the cheapest possible and there will be huge pressure on installers.

So the upshot of these factors is that it may well be that the savings predicted are over-estimated. Thus you will be offered measures / costs that may well be unrealistic. This could be devastating for those already close to fuel poverty. The repayments to the Green Deal Provider will be fixed and so you will not be able to influence these, so the only variable will be reducing energy costs. With energy costs rising this would mean a drastic change in the heating level of your home.......

The fact that the interest rate on your loan is set at 7.5% for the Green Deal Provider this could leave an especially bitter taste in the mouth for those potentially facing higher costs thanks to the programme that is designed to save carbon and money.

For more info on the report that sets out the limitations of the Green Deal calculation tools visit: and look at the Responsible Retrofit of Traditional Buildings.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Ton Mawr - a new local lime render for SE Wales

A brand new lime render product is now available in South Wales from Welsh Lime Works and it is made from the limestone at Ton Mawr Quarry in Taffs Well.

Using limestone as a base aggregate for lime renders is really important as it takes the pressure off of the lime as a binder. It therefore lasts longer, is more breathable and now thanks to the use of a local resource it is now even lower in carbon.

The render has already been used in Cardiff and has gone on really well (thanks also to Welsh Lime Works pump application technique). The render has a red ochre colour to it, but can be finished in any colour with a limewash.

I thought that it was worth sharing the knowledge that there are some really good companies around who just cut through the obstacles and get on with it. So congrats to Welsh Lime Works for their willingness to make restoration of local solid walled homes even more sustainable.

Lime - don't be a piggy in the middle

Lime rendering and plastering is one the key ingredients of a sustainable older home. Lime putty render with a stone dust aggregate has a very low embodied energy, it is very breathable and it is the correct render of choice for solid walled houses. So the choice of using lime render is a really obvious one.

So are there any issues to worry about?

The short answer is yes.

The main issue is that lime is not cement (hurray for that!) and builders are not trained in using lime. Some builders even get cement wrong, so what are the chances with lime? Well, to be honest, not good. Lime is a more natural product and it cures using natural processes (carbonation) and so it is subject to the fluctuations of the weather. Getting the mix right and applying it correctly takes experience and a real sense of how the lime is curing. Getting it wrong is therefore quite easy. Temperature, humidity, type of substrate, method of application etc all effect when the layers of render are applied. It might be that the second coat is applied the following day, or it might be the following week. An experienced lime renderer will be able to have a look, a touch and then gauge what to do and when. An inexperienced renderer will not be able to do this. They might be able to follow instructions from a book, but it really does take a lot of hands-on knowledge and experience of a product in order to get it right.

Different substrates might require different types / mixes of lime. So a renderer needs to be really au fait with the range of mixes etc in order for the render to be successful.

It is therefore possible for an application to go wrong. If it does fail it can be down to two possible factors. The specification of the mix OR the application of the render. This is where you can become Mr Piggy stuck in the middle, because, no doubt the lime supplier will be tempted to blame the trades person and vice versa. You, on the other hand just want your render done correctly. What do you do?

Answer - get stressed.

Is there a solution? Thankfully, yes (well in fact two).

Solution One:
1. Read up on lime and the need for it and also all the different types and choices
2. Source some good experienced lime professionals (seek some references)
3. Ensure that the supplier and professionals engage with each other to come up with an agreed mix
4. Have an agreement in place to cover eventualities
5. Investigate having an insurance policy in place (similar to the FMB Build Assure Warranty)

Solution Two:
1. Use a reputable company that actually makes and installs the lime render and that offers a guarantee.

I know which alternative I would choose, but either should work and give you the peace of mind you require.

If you choose Solution Two and live in or around South Wales I would recommend contacting either:
Welsh Lime Works (Mark - 07800 892521)
Vale Lime (Martyn - 07702 150138)

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

At last! An official report that backs us up

Many people might think that we are a bit left-field and that banging on about breathability etc is a waste of time. However a DECC (Department of Energy and Climate Change) commissioned report has just been published -

Main conclusions are:

• Traditional buildings perform differently in some respects from modern buildings, both in their existing state and when subjected to retrofit measures.
• There is a lack of understanding of traditional building performance in industry and in policy, and a lack of connection between good research, standards, certification processes, guidance and practice.
• There is a lack of connection between high-quality research intelligence and the guidance documents which inform retrofitting procedures.
• There is significant uncertainty with regard to the application of models and performance simulation software to this class of buildings.
• Some methods for assessing traditional buildings are inappropriate and give incorrect results, and some are misapplied and thus give false confidence in some measures.
• Traditional buildings often perform better in terms of heat loss through fabric than as stated in standard models and assessment methods. This means that the likely paybacks from some retrofit measures, such as solid wall insulation, may be less than assumed.
• Traditional buildings require different assessment and practice with regard to the control of moisture in buildings, which is vital for fabric and human health.
• A systemic approach is necessary regarding the assessment and retrofit of traditional buildings if rebound effects and unintended consequences are to be avoided and opportunities for long-term improvements seized. This process should include the whole supply chain and users.
• There are good opportunities for the development of safe, robust, energy-efficient and cost-effective retrofit measures for many areas of traditional buildings. However these will have to be developed on a different basis and structure from some current Green Deal proposals.


Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Buying an old terrace house? Fore warned is fore armed!

Old terraces in South Wales look great and they can be a really good buy, however they can also bring their fair share of headaches as your keen-ness to improve the house and make it your home takes hold.

Many of the houses' past 'improvements' can cause a multitude of problems. Who is going to tell you about this? The estate agent (they would not tell you even if they knew!)? The surveyor (they are not trained in 'historical' buildings unless they a specialist conservation surveyor)? A builder (they are not trained either, unless you get a specialist conservation builder)? An architect (not trained .....)?

So what do we do?

We rely heavily on our existing knowledge / experience of houses, ignorance and a large slice of luck. Not always the best combination.

So here are some pointers to look out for when viewing.

Render - start with a biggy!! Many old terraces have been rendered using cement render. This can be catastrophic for the house. Avoid houses with these renders as it may be trapping in damp, especially where you can see cracks in the finish etc. Blown render also is a warning sign, so tap the walls to see if they sound hollow. Take a damp meter with you and check around the ground floor. (The remedy for this is to replace the render with a good lime render).

Replacement concrete floors - another No-No. Concrete floors often focus moisture from the soil into the walls, including the inner walls. Expect damp to appear. Just check under the carpet, of if a laminate is down etc, just by jumping on them you should be able to tell if they are solid or suspended timber floors. Use your damp meter to test inner walls up to around 1.2m high. (The remedy here is very difficult and really only an inject and hope job).

Dry lined walls - Expect a horror story behind these. Dry lining is there for a reason. The reason being that the house has damp and the previous owners could not be bothered to fix it properly. To test for dry lining tap the walls to see if they sound hollow of not. Your damp meter will not show the damp, but it is still there lurking behind the plasterboard. (The remedy here is to take off the dry lining and sort out the real problem with the walls).

uPVC windows without trickle vents - uPVC does not really fit with old houses, but nevertheless they are there. An absence of trickle vents means that you are more likely to have condensation problems, especially in bedrooms and other high moisture areas. (Remedy is either to install trickle vents or to replace with some nicely vented wooden windows!)

Pointing done with cement mortar - many stone and brick houses have been re-pointed using cement rather than lime mortar. This again traps moisture in the walls and will fail. (Remedy is to re-point using the correct lime mortar).

Bricks and stone painted using conventional masonry paint - masonry paint is designed to be water proof, but old buildings need to be able to breathe and this paint stops this. Expect that the paint will be blown off over time. Look for peeling, bubbling and flaking paint. (Remedy - take the paint off and repaint using a breathable paint).

Bowing roof with tiles on - many houses have been re-roofed using tiles rather than slates. Often the extra weight of the tiles can put excessive pressure on the roof timbers and hence bow the roof. A bowing roof can also be a sign of rot in the timbers. (Remedy is to inspect the timbers and ideally replace the tiles with slate).

These are the big problems that can expect to create a major hole in your finances, so best to be aware before you buy (remember that you can always ask Eco Home Centre to come along to a viewing). This information can help you to avoid a lot of headaches, tears and an empty bank account. Or ideally, it can help you reduce the asking price and have some money set aside for the necessary appropriate repairs.

I am always wary of the houses that are advertised as 'newly refurbished, ideal for first time buyer'. i.e done up as cheaply as possible to look OK for someone who has no experience of what lies beneath!!

If you want help when viewing a property Eco Home Centre can help. Have a look at our pre-purchase inspection service page.

Good luck!!

Monday, 24 September 2012

Where do breathable solid walls fit into Building Regulations?

In Wales we have a glut of solid walls. Lots of buildings built during the mid and later stages of the nineteenth century to home the workers in the mines and docks. The urban areas of Wales are notably these old terraces that we made from a mix of local and imported stone, brick and the old lime mortar. These houses are so common in Wales that we have forgotten that they are actually classed as Historic Buildings.

Part F (Ventilation) of the Building Regulations classifies Historical Buildings in a number of ways, but the web version crucially includes the definition (see 3.11):

'buildings of traditional construction with permeable fabric that both aborbs and readily allows the evaporation of moisture'

It recommends that with regard to Historic buildings (3.22 c.) that it might be beneficial to include:

'making provisions enabling the fabric to breathe to control moisture and potential long term decay problems: see Society for Protection of Ancient Buildings Information Sheet No.4 The need for old buildings to breathe, 1987.'

SPAB have a range of books and publications that all state that buildings should have the correct materials used in their refurbishment (although they don't go into the use of stone dust rather than sand!)

However this part of the Building Regs refers to ventilation and so most of the advice on how to deal with breathable structures will come down to venting it more so that humidity in the building can be removed. Not by using the inherent nature of the wall to do this for you!

So is there better news elsewhere?

Short answer is no. All the other building regs (and the paper version of F) do not include 'buildings of traditional construction with permeable fabric that both aborbs and readily allows the evaporation of moisture' as their definition, they all harks back to Conservation areas, Listed buildings, Historical Interest...

Part C of the building regulations looks at Resistance to contaminants and moisture. By its very title it is not going to be pleasant reading for anyone with an Historic Building. Firstly, there is no mention of breathability in the definition of Historic Buildings. However, there is a slight glint of light at the end of the tunnel, namely:

The need to conserve the special characteristics of such historic buildings needs to be recognised. In such work, the aim should be to improve resistance to contaminants and moisture where it is practically possible, always provided that the work does not prejudice the character of the historic building, or increase the risk of long-term deterioration to the building fabric or fittings. In arriving at an appropriate balance between historic building conservation and improving resistance to contaminants and moisture it would be appropriate to take into account the advice of the local planning authority’s conservation officer.

So if you have a Local Authority Planning Officer who understands breathability and the possible structural damage that can be caused by using non breathable materials etc - see SPAB and others like us, then you might stand a chance.

Any more luck in Part L - Energy Efficiency?

One might hope that the recognition that damp walls are 30% less efficient than dry ones might show its face in Part L, but alas no.

OK, BRE know what they are talking about and they have a new BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment Standard. I have had two looks at this. Firstly a quick overview to see if there were some references to damp (after all we are talking about refurbishment of old buildings here). No category.

A search for damp on the website, brings up some info on Historic Buildings again, but with the definition being more linked to the one without 'buildings of traditional construction ...'

Under Compliance Note 4 (Historic Buildings) -Historical buildings typically have high levels of air infiltration leading to discomfort and heat loss. Historic buildings however also typically require a higher level of infiltration to remove structural moisture in the absence of impermeable damp proofing. The refurbishment should be designed to meet the requirements of Building Regulations Part F section 3.11–3.16 and reference is made to the guidance provided in:
  • The guide to building services in historic buildings, CIBSE, 2002
  • BS 7913: Guide to the principles of conservation in historic buildings
  • Building Regulations and Historic Buildings, English Heritage 2004
  • Guide for Practitioners, conversion of traditional Buildings, application of the Scottish Building standards, Historic Scotland, 2007
One credit is awarded:
Where an assessment is carried out to establish the current levels of air tightness and structural moisture prior to the specification of fabric measures and heating systems. The assessment should establish the appropriate level of ventilation for the building, based upon:
  • the balance required to achieve a healthy, comfortable and draught-free environment whilst allowing appropriate building breath-ability in relation to structural moisture levels.
  • a minimum requirement of 0.4 air changes per hour (or 8 litres/second per person) should be assumed. This may be greater where the structure needs higher levels of ventilation in order to deal with structural moisture levels.
  • ventilation rates are sufficient to allow structural moisture to be dealt with effectively.
Two credits are awarded where:
The first credit is achieved and where the following testing was also carried out in order to develop the ventilation/air tightness strategy for the building:
  • pressure testing was carried out before and after refurbishment in accordance with the appropriate standard
  • temperature and humidity is monitored before and after refurbishment
The only other grain of comfort in the new BREEAM comes with:

Under Compliance Note 7 (Design Aims)  - The design aims should be formed following a discussion and/or a site inspection with reference to a surveyors report (where available) which highlights any problems with the existing dwelling (e.g. rising damp, excessive condensation, thermal comfort etc.)

So within BREEAM Domestic Refurbishment there is a mention of damp, but it's remedy is ventilation and it also relies on surveyors to notice it in the first place. Worrying again for all those believers that damp should be dealt with using materials so that it is a permanent solution.

I think that the system is definitely against the growing number of people who recognise the need for appropriate solutions for our aging stock. The shame is that it will be future generations that will suffer along with the very nature of the buildings that we are trying to improve.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Fitting new wooden doors

I have been having some work done at home and one of the main areas of improvement has been the fitting of new wooden doors. The old doors were rotten, single glazed and draughty, so it has been a job worth doing. So what have I learned.

Getting a good wooden door is difficult. I wanted an FSC hard wood door that had good insulation, but every door retailer I spoke to could not give me a U value for their doors. In fact only one of them knew what a U value was! All the doors were only 44mm thick and so getting any good double glazing into the frame was impossible. In the end I had to settle for an 8mm spacer.

Getting a pre-treated door is effectively a waste of time. I got untreated doors as I wanted to use Osmo products to treat them, so I knew what to use in the future for extra treatments. I primed them, painted them and went around with a close eye to ensure that all the relevant sections were painted inside and out. However, because nice square new doors do not go into lopsided solid wall holes the frames and doors had to be trimmed. This of course, removed the treatment, so I had to go around once all was 'square' to ensure that the wood was all treated again, especially behind the frames etc. If I had relied on a pre-treated option there would have been the issue of what they had used, how it was applied, colour etc. Nightmare!

Fitting new doors in old holes is difficult. It took two experienced carpenters a whole day to fit one door. Admittedly they did it well, but all the same when you hear of companies fitting a full complement of doors and windows in a day then you must question how they are doing it.

Sealing the door is difficult. Using an expanding tape is the best way of getting an airtight seal, although good airtightness tapes can help on the inner edge. I will be using Auro Cork filler.

Insulating the doors can be difficult as well. I used InsOwall insulating plaster between the frame and wall. This works well in dry locations and could fit into tight spaces.

It is worth remembering that once the doors the right size etc there is even more painting to do - in the lock cavity, behind the hinges, in any holes drilled for keys etc.

Bearing all these things in mind and the pressure of time etc felt by builders you really need to be there to ensure that all the treatments are applied correctly etc. This is, of course, very difficult to achieve. We all have work to do.

Ideally I would recommend that it is worth getting a pre-hung door set that is fully draught-proofed, fitted with all the ironmongery, treated etc. This means that there is less that can go wrong and because it will be made to measure there should be little to no planing, trimming etc. So the frame should last longer due to its treatment remaining intact. This also reduces the risk of swelling etc, thus making the door set last longer. Pre-hung doors can also be installed with better hinges and lock systems, thus making them more secure. All in all a much better job.

Eco Home Centre can provide you with high quality wooden pre-hung doors from ARU - and part of me really thinks that I should have hung the expense (they are around £800 each). However, because I was able to draw on free labour it made economic sense to do it the long winded way.

A lesson learned!

Friday, 7 September 2012

Eco Paint Chooser

Paint seems like such a simple product. Just some colour for your home surely? Not at all!

  • Paint can ruin your building projects if you get it wrong. 
  • It can cause damp where damp never was before. 
  • It can cost you an arm and a leg if you get it specified incorrectly.
As you might be starting to gather, getting the right paint is really important. As you might have read already in this blog, breathability of materials is key to the success of refurbishment of older buildings. Well modern conventional paints are not breathable, hence the link to damp and also to the fact that in many situations conventional paint will just blister, bubble and fall off of walls.

So getting the right specification of paint is really important. However, the eco-paints are products of their ingredients and so their character changes depending on the manufacturer and type of paint. Some paints are great for hallways, others for bedrooms, some will go over metal, others needs to be applied to bare wood to function correctly. This is where the new Eco Paint Chooser comes in.

Have a look at: to find out what sort of paint best suits your particular situation, sensibilities and needs.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Green Deal - too good to be true?

Green Deal - the Government's Flagship programme to improve our inefficient housing stock at no apparent cost to the owners. All approved, regulated, guaranteed, ....... What can go wrong???

The basic premise is to give people the opportunity to get long term loans for improvements on their homes against the estimated future fuel savings of the house. There is a 'Golden Rule' that means that you can only borrow the amount that your savings can pay back over a specific time period. However there will be a 6% interest charge on the loan, so this will mean that most of the measures will be cheap solutions like cavity wall insulation, loft insulation, replacement bulbs etc. Any really meaningful improvements like external wall insulation are so costly that the payback cannot realistically cover the initial capital costs and the interest associated with it. The pressure will therefore be on to make the insulation costs as low as possible and to utilise either the ECO (Energy Company Obligation) payments from the energy companies for those most in need, or contributions from the owners, to make it viable. So there will be your money on the line as well.

In order to make the major improvements, like wall insulation, more profitable the cost of the work will be driven to a minimum. Low cost will mean high volumes, low quality and a lack of proper advice (despite what the Green Deal says).

The Green Deal is designed to improve houses that are 'hard to treat' (mostly houses with solid walls, that are off the gas grid etc.) The 'low hanging fruit' of cavity walled houses are largely done, lofts have been filled and water tanks lagged. So the typical Green Deal house in Wales will be older stone and brick built terrace and hence a completely different beast from post 1920's homes. The industry as a whole struggles with these older properties and this is very evident with the new Green Deal. It will be applying conventional materials, products and skills to properties that actually require traditional materials and skills.

The focus of the Green Deal is also based around carbon / energy efficiency NOT sustainability.  The figures that decisions are made on are largely based on 'averages'. These averages in turn are based on lowest common denominators / worst case scenarios that are built into the SAP calculators, which in turn generate the Energy Performance Certificate and Green Deal reports. So it is likely that savings will be over-estimated. I had a new EPC done recently for my PV panel requirements. This had a green deal element to it and the estimated energy use was way out - much more than we actually use (by around 40%), so the savings that were estimated from this were in turn much more than we would actually get. This system defines the core of the Green Deal - the Golden Rule no less. So if this is wrong what chance do we stand?

The system and calculators also do not recognise damp as an issue. So the materials that would be specified will be driven by cost and their energy efficiency. So products like phenolic boards that are very good at insulating and relatively cheap will be specified. On paper they are the best (a long as you only think about carbon and energy efficiency). These boards will then be covered by cement render (generally) because this too is cheap, readily available and the 'skills' required are ubiquitous. However both of these products have MAJOR issues with them when used on older buildings. Both are designed to be water proof. Fine if there is no water in the walls, but rising damp? Cracked render? Leaking gutters? Water does have a knack of finding a way in. So once in, it won't be able to get out. What then?????

There are systems that are breathable (i.e. work with moisture and hence can provide a long term solution for damp). Wood fibre board with a lime render for example. But these types of systems are more costly and require more skills (that are presently very rare). They are also not as energy efficient (for same depth) as the phenolic boards. So the chances of getting them specified are remarkably low. The right solution for many properties will therefore not even get a look in at the Golden Rule / specification stage.

So we shall be installing the wrong boards for many properties. On properties where it is OK to specify phenolic boards, the issue of quality raises its head. Thermal bridging caused by poor installation has been shown to be one of the major problems affecting the Arbed scheme in Wales. This will be the same for Green Deal. Using airtight tapes, taking care over window reveals and sealing around pipes etc are all really important in ensuring a good result. Not doing them can cause water ingress, cold spots, condensation and mould. Housing Associations in Wales who utilised the Arbed scheme are now having to put their reactive maintenance teams to work on the improved properties to sort out these types of issues. It could be you!!

The issue of guarantees might be seen to solve the issues, but believe me it shall not. Ever had a damp proof course guarantee? Tried to claim on it and had success? I would pleased to find someone who has. An example of external render guarantees came to light a few years ago in Grangetown. An improvement scheme installed new render on the outside of a row of terraces. On a couple of them the paint then started to fall off of the walls internally. The owners complained and wanted to claim on the warranty, but were told that the work only guaranteed the external finish NOT the internal, so there was no claim possible. Marvellous. Expect to see the same with Green Deal.

I am sure that for some Green Deal will be a good solution, but I really urge people to think about what they are doing first. The Green Deal Assessors will have little to no idea about older homes. They will be Domestic Energy Assessors with an enhanced piece of training (one day I think). Green Deal does not consider damp and so they will have no training in it. No doubt at best it will be 'consult a damp proof specialist'. This is no sign of quality of knowledge either.

I could go on, ....

So Green Deal will soon bombard our high streets / builders merchants / phones / emails etc with great promises of improvements to your home with apparently no additional cost. Sound too good to be true? Well it might just be*.

*unless you are one of the financial institutions getting a 6% return on your money!! Not bad in an era of 0.5% interest rates.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Expanding foam - a natural alternative

Expanding foam is used extensively for window and door fitting. Terrible stuff. It is used to cover up poor workmanship and it also can fail quickly and leave you with poorly insulated and leaky window surrounds (note that some foam is now designed to flexible, but did you know that!?)

The trouble is, what to use as an alternative?

Well, there are alternatives out there. The choice depends on a number of factors:

The state of your reveals (the wall part next to the window)
The time that you have for the work
The finances available to you
Your sensibilities for having a job done correctly
The need for airtightness in the design of the building

The main alternatives are:
1. Expanding tapes. These are superb at creating a weathertight, airtight and insulating fit for doors and windows, especially in new builds where the reveals are relatively accurate and smooth. Companies like Iso Chemie produce excellent tapes that expand to fill the gap, whilst not attaching themselves directly to the reveal, thus the window can move and flex and not break the seals. Brilliant.

2. Cork filler. A new product from Auro combines natural latex with cork to give a paste similar to caulk that can be painted over etc. This is better for reveals that are jagged and would require a lot more remedial work before a tape could be fitted. The filler remains flexible and hence maintains a seal even when the windows flex and vibrate (as they all do).

Both systems will cost more than the cheap expanding foam, but then they do a proper job that will last. So if you don't want leaky and draughty windows think about how they are fitted and whether you want to live with windows that perform as expected, or whether you want to waste your money on a false economy.

Friday, 27 July 2012

New advice service from Eco Home Centre

Eco Home Centre specialises in eco refurbishment of properties in and around SE Wales. We have been helping people with their homes for over a decade and we know that we have a lot of advice to offer homeowners / tenants / landlords about their houses.

We see mistakes being made all the time: the wrong materials being used; poor workmanship; inappropriate and often un-necessary work being undertaken; low cost, but high maintenance options being taken; etc. It is so depressing that people are wasting their money on this work. After all people generally want things done correctly and for the good of them and the house. However, they get poor advice from builders, surveyors and architects because these professions are not trained in older buildings, their structures, materials and their subsequent requirements.

This is where Eco Home Centre comes in, as we have a decade of experience in reading a house and diagnosing it. After all, the terraces of Wales all have over 100 years of history playing on them as well as their original structures. They have seen years of weathering,  'improvements', DIY, extensions, changing fashion etc all of which have affected them. Finding the right path for the house is therefore more complicated than you might think. Every house is different and that means that you need a personalised plan if you are to make your home more sustainable.

At Eco Home Centre we believe that sustainable refurbishment is about doing work correctly. This means that you have to find materials, equipment, systems etc that work with the existing structure in a way that does not compromise its future performance, whilst maintaining a balance between finances, the wider environment and also social considerations (like health, light, air quality, family interaction etc).

So at Eco Home Centre we have a service where we come out to visit you in your home, spend some time finding out your priorities etc and the structure of the house and any associated problems. We then write up the conclusions and provide you with a report to use with your builders / architect so that they get it right.

This service can save you lots of time, hassle and money. Nothing worse that spending a lot of money on doing things that will just provide you with stress and extra expense into the future. Better to spend some more time on preparation and get it right first time!

If you are interested in this service we now have time during the week, but also in the evenings and weekends, to come over and plan out a great refurbishment plan with you.

Contact Peter on 02920373094 or to book an appointment.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Unifying mixed surfaced walls

Old walls can have a right old mix of surfaces on them - some old lime, some newer gypsum, paint, filler .... Trying to get an even coat of a plaster or paint over the top of this can be a bit of a nightmare! Having gone through this myself I know what a frustrating problem this is.

I called LaFarge to see if they had a solution, but they said that all their products were gypsum and so not suitable for use over any old lime. Oh the honesty was great.

So the alternatives?

1. Knock off all of the plaster and start again using lime plaster. This would have been a good solution for my situation as a lot of the plaster was blown, but the thought of all that dust and mess!

2. ....umm

Thankfully, there is a new kid on the block - Auro.

The new Auro 305 Universal Primer has been developed to provide a uniform finish for the application of Auro natural paints. Still made from all natural products it looks like it will  be a real boon for people with these awkward walls.

The wall still needs to be prepared - old paint taken off / rubbed back etc so that the wall does not have any loose materials on it, it also needs to be filled etc to sort out cracks etc, but then after that basic preparation the walls can be treated with the 305 to give a much more uniform substrate for the paint. Marvellous!

Small holes can be filled using the Auro filler, whilst larger areas can be filled / smoothed with the Auro 311 natural fibre plaster. All the treatments are breathable and provide an excellent smooth finish that is really easy to work with.

Friday, 22 June 2012

Partial Cavity Fill Insulation on new cavity walls

I have just been over to a community project in Cardiff to have a look at their new building (and old building that is suffering from poor workmanship and maintenance). The new building looks great, but closer inspection revealed a load of issues, but the main one was with the insulation. It is a really common fault and one that drives me mad!

The insulation was, as commonly the case with new buildings, a partial fill in a block work wall using boards. This was designed to fulfil building regs (and no more - another bug bear!) and I am sure that the drawings do fulfil the regs, however the reality will be different. Why? Two main reasons:

1. The boards were not fitted snugly together, so in some areas that I could see there was at least a centimetre gap between the boards. This will create cold spots in building that could lead to damp via condensation. It also severely affects the costs of running the building as the actual build would not meet building regs if this poor workmanship were factored in.

2. The boards that were more snugly put together (not very many from my visual inspection, as most had a 5mm gap between them) were not taped. This allows air to get behind the insulation and again negates a lot of their effect.

If you are to build an extension with these insulation boards that you really need to ensure that:

A. All boards are butted up tight against each other
B. All joints are taped using high quality tape that will last a very long time
C. All insulation is clipped back to the internal wall (this had been done in the case I looked at this AM)

Would you pay to have a cut through of a wall looking like the picture below?? Project management and attention to detail is key and so important to get what you are paying for, otherwise your newly built structure may end up being a real disappointment with much higher energy bills than you were expecting. Be warned!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Underfloor vents - keep 'em clear

Underfloor vents are really important for the health of your home. The airflow that is facilitated keeps any excess moisture from the ground away from your floor joists, thus helping to keep them damp and rot free.

It is really common to see vents blocked by: rising paths around houses; debris from rendering; deliberate blocking to stop draughts. When the vents stop working effectively the levels of moisture can build up in the wall structure as well as creating more humid air under the suspended floor. The ends of the joists are really in trouble when this happens.

Another common problem with maintaining good air flow under suspended floors is when one or more ground floor rooms have replacement solid floors installed. This blocks the flow of air under the house / remaining suspended floor unless vents / pipes are installed into the solid floor to maintain a through draught. This is very rare indeed to see. Just having one vent at the front or back of the house is not enough to give adequate ventilation for the remaining suspended floor as certain areas develop stagnant air pockets.

So we recommend ensuring that you have a good through flow of air under any suspended floor, even if this means creating vent channels through retrofitted solid floors.

Having a draught under your house might be a good thing for the health of the building, but not so attractive for keeping the inside of the house warm, so we recommend insulating your floor using breathable insulation so that you can have a healthy and warm home during the cold and wet seasons.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Grey water recycling

Greywater is waste water from showers, baths, washbasins, washing machines and kitchen sinks. You can collect it from some or all of these sources and, after treatment, use around the home for purposes that do not require drinking water quality such as toilet flushing or garden watering. However, water from kitchen sinks and washing machines tend to be more contaminated than shower etc and so should not be used as a source of grey water unless you are thinking about a more complex treatment system.

The final use of the recycled water is really important to consider. If you have low flush toilets, no garden, or are the type of family that rarely washes the car, then looking at new grey water recycling systems should be a low priority.

The pie chart below sets out average use for the UK. The only segment that shines out for grey water use is the toilet flushing. Given that water use can be radically reduced (around 50%) by using equipment like Interflush or Mecon variable flushes the figures that you can affect by recycling water are quite minimal.

Currently there are no regulations to cover the quality of reused water. Although there are some national standards relating to reused water that have been developed by the British Standard Institute and these would require a system that has:

• a tank for storing the treated water;
• a pump;
• a distribution system for transporting the treated water to where it is needed; and
• some sort of treatment.

So if you are to store the water then a more complex (and hence expensive) system is required. This is because untreated greywater deteriorates rapidly in storage.This rapid deterioration occurs because greywater is often warm and rich in organic matter such as skin particles, hair, soap and detergents. This warm, nutrient-rich water provides ideal conditions for bacteria to multiply, resulting in odour problems and poor water quality. Greywater may also contain harmful bacteria, which could present a health risk without adequate water treatment or with inappropriate use. The risk of inappropriate use is higher where children have access to the water.

Do not worry, though, as it is possible to reuse greywater without any treatment provided that the water is not stored for long before use. For example, once bath water has cooled, it can be used directly to water the garden. Very simple devices are available to make this practical. Among these is the ‘WaterGreen’ by Droughtbuster UK Ltd , which is essentially a hose pipe with a small hand pump to create a siphon. This allows cooled bath water to be taken directly from the bath and sent through the hose to the garden. Using greywater in this way may not suit everyone, but it does provide an inexpensive and easy way of saving water and avoids greywater storage issues. It is particularly useful for keen gardeners when water use restrictions are in place. Experts usually advise that greywater should not be used on fruit or vegetable crops.

Other equipment is designed to reuse greywater direct from a sealed main drainage system. For example, a valve can be fitted to an external waste pipe that drains water from the bath or shower. This valve can be used to direct greywater to a water butt where, once cooled, it can be used for garden irrigation. An example of this type of valve is the ‘Water Two’ valve, which can be fitted to existing piping and switched to either divert greywater to a drain or to storage.

Our advice therefore would be to think about water use and to reduce consumption as the first course of action. Once this has been minimised, then you can re-assess what your demands are and then see if grey water use is right for you. Note that rain water harvesting and use might be a better option than grey water use.