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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Renewable Heat Premium Payment scheme extended

The £300 per solar heating installation subsidy, RHPP, has been extended to 2013. This is a scheme that is aimed at encouraging people to install solar water heating across the UK and also to assist people who are off the gas grid to change over to less carbon intensive ways of heating.

The expected closing date of 1 April 2012 has been extended to April 2013 and more money has been allocated to it as well, with a new larger budget of £25million. This though is split between
  • £10m for a new social landlords’ competition
  • £8m for a new communities competition
  • £7m for an extension of the existing domestic scheme.
Grant levels for individual households remain unchanged. Heat pumps (for off grid homes) will receive 80% of their payment upon completion and the remaining 20% when they are ‘meter ready’. The £7m household voucher scheme will also include costs to cover technical monitoring and evaluation.

Pre-registration for the household voucher scheme will begin on 2nd April, with applications open on 1st May. Vouchers will be worth the same as before and will cover the same technologies as the existing scheme
  • Solar thermal hot water panels – £300 grant (available to all households regardless of the type of heating system used.
    Ground Source Heat Pump – £1250 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
  • Biomass boiler – £950 grant (for homes without mains gas heating)
  • Air source heat pump – £850 grant (for homes without mains gas heating);
Potential new applicants can pre-register with the Energy Savings Trust from Monday 2 April.

Here are the RHPP details at DECC.
However the wider Renewable Heat Incentive has been put back again to the summer of 2013 - further details on the domestic Renewable Heat incentive.

Eco Smart Materials database

Kingston University has been busy collating information on materials, especially those that have a bit of a sustainability agenda - new uses for old materials, new materials made from waste, etc.

A bit of an all rounder really, so not just for building. Interior design, crafts, textiles etc all there and all free to search and explore. Well worth a visit at

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Water collection or saving?

I think that people are starting to wake up to the fact that, even in Wales, we have a water shortage. Admittedly the SE of the UK fares worse than the fresh and green west, but water is growing in importance as the seemingly random effects of climate change take their toll.

Water is also an important element of the carbon debate. Planning has meant that even water flowing from the mountains to the cities on the coast has to be pumped up and over hills. This pumping requires electricity and this is the most carbon intensive form of energy (until we de-carbonise the grid).

So what should we do? Collect water and use it for flushing toilets and doing our washing? Or just try and reduce demand by using tap water more wisely?

In my opinion the installation of a separate dedicated rainwater harvesting system is too costly to justify in a refurbishment situation unless you are having to rip out everything and start again. A full strip out might warrant looking at the costs of installing a harvesting system, but this is not for most people.

This leaves us with the opportunity to reduce consumption. This can be achieved in a variety of ways:

1. Behaviour change - not leaving taps running whilst brushing teeth, showering rather than bathing, not installing power showers etc. This is of course the best and number one solution as effectively it costs nothing and can lead to really significant savings.

2. Replacing high water usage fixtures with less intensive ones. Low water consuming washing machines and dish washers are great here, but what most people think about is fitting a dual flush toilet. These are OK, but they only reduce water consumption by around 30% and most operate using valve technology rather than the old siphon. This means that they can leak and hence use more water than before!

3. Improve existing fixtures. A much cheaper option that replacing the toilet (and hence generally the rest of the bathroom fixtures) would be to upgrade the toilet to an infinitely variable flush using either a MECON or INTERFLUSH system. These maintain the use of the siphon (and hence increase the reliability of the system), but just make it so that you have control over how much water you use to flush the toilet with. This system cannot be more efficient, as you only use the water that you need. These have been proved to be 50% more efficient than a conventional toilet (and hence also more efficient than dual flushes). To upgrade your toilet to an infinite flush system will cost between £15 and £24 dependent on which system you need. This is much cheaper than replacing the whole of the bathroom!

Interflush siphon system - excellent choice if your loo is not a close coupled one
Interflush system - excellent choice if you have a close couple and a side handled flush
Mecon - great for centre flush buttons and for cisterns with blanks / made from plastic

So save your bathroom and pocket, just by using a retrofit device on your existing toilet.

Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Getting the garden furniture ready for summer

With Spring in the air many people are starting to look at their outside furniture and decking. After a few months of little use you might be looking to revive the look and feel of your wood ready for summer.

Wood is affected by UV light, moisture and drying and so needs an annual period of TLC in order to get it looking great again. So what to use for this TLC?

If you have a lot of green growth on the wood or surrounding stones and rocks then you may wish to remove this before starting any maintenance. Getting the moss, lichens etc off of the wood is especially important to allow further treatment to access all of the wood. We would recommend using Osmo's Green Growth remover for this as it is biodegradable and safe to use.

If your chairs / tables / decking etc is looking dull and grey and you want to get it back to looking fresh and colourful again then the stuff to use is oxalic acid. Eco Home Centre sells this in the form of Osmo's Wood Reviver / Power Gel. This is an easy to apply gel that you leave on the wood and then rinse off. Non polluting and biodegradable. This is a natural product that is found in rhubarb and other plants like sorrell. It is much stronger than acetic acid (3000 times so) and so perfect for cleaning and renewing surfaces.

Once revived the wood can be treated with a range of products. At Eco Home Centre we recommend using products that work with the wood rather than against it. So again we recommend Osmo products like their Natural Oil Woodstain (for translucent wood colours), UV treatments, Wood Oils and Country Colour (for opaque finishes) ranges. Note that these treatments need to sit on fresh untreated wood (or wood that has had its original treatment weathered away completely).

For the best UV treatment we would recommend the coloured Woodstains or Wood Oils. The clear UV protector (420 or 410) is good, but isn't able to give the longer term protection associated with a colour tint. If the wood is in a situation where it might be subject to rot or longer periods of dampness, we would recommend using the Wood Protector first. This is a water based product that soaks into the wood and protects against mould, rot etc. It must then be sealed in with a natural oil based product (like the Woodstains or Wood Oils). This system really stabilises the wood to give a great long term finish.

All wood requires an annual refresh and with Osmo products this is a quick and simple job that works with the wood naturally to give it the best finish you can get.

Most un-natural products tend to try and affect the wood by making it waterproof or by sealing it up. The Eco Home Centre believes in working with nature and by using its natural resources it can help the wood protect itself rather than trying to impose an un-natural solution that will ultimately fail. Osmo and other companies have recognised this fact but they are not so well known as other mainstream brands that use synthetic petrochemical solutions on natural wood.

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Got some paint left over?

At the end of decorating you will no doubt have some paint left over. These remnants can be very useful for touching up at a later date (especially since claypaints have no static charge and hence do not attract the fine layers of dust that gradually alter the colour of your walls).

Earthborn claypaints come in a metal tin - great for easy recycling, but not so good for rust issues after opening. So we recommend that you decant any left over paint into some appropriately sized jars. Label them up with the colour and room that it was used in and store them in a cool and dry place out of direct sunlight. We would recommend that you choose jars that minimise the air gap so as to keep the paint from drying out as much as possible.

This simple tip can save you a lot of time and money if you ever need to touch up your painting.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Gradient of breathability in solid walls

Picture courtesy of Ty Mawr Lime

The difference in breathability through a wall is really important. For the past 100 years we have worked with the notion of making the outside more waterproof to stop any water from getting into the wall. Builders, Councils, Individuals have all spent their monies on cement renders and thick waterproof paints thinking that this will stop any water ingress into buildings. But water has its wily ways. Cracks in the render, rising damp up through old walls, aged silicon sealant around windows and doors, blocked guttering and failed roof tiles have all allowed water to get in. Once in, the water is trapped by the render and paint and lo and behold we have peeling paint, blown render, damp internal walls and mould. So much for working against nature and water.

So if we turn the tables and try and work with nature and water, what is is the solution?

Well if we accept that our walls can get wet, then we have to be a bit clever and rediscover what techniques builders used for hundreds of years to keep the insides of houses dry. After all people have never wanted to live in damp homes.

The answer is actually quite simple. All you need to do is to make sure that the inside of the wall structure is less breathable than the outside. This means that any moisture in the wall will always be drawn towards the more porous side. The higher internal pressure also pushes any excessive humidity to the outside.

So how to achieve this.

We need to get a basic idea of how this works in practice. The simple thing is to look at the old buildings and see how they did it. The answer it turns out is really easy, but not only that, it is achieved by using local natural materials so it has a carbon saving as well.

The main elements of creating a breathable wall are:
1. using surface area (the higher the surface area - the more drying surface there is)
2. using a variety of porous materials in layers of increasing porosity to the external finish

So the basic equation is to have a really porous inside coating (like a claypaint or a limewash). This will allow the internal surface to do its thing with temporary peaks and troughs in humidity.
A smooth less porous plaster / render (like a lime based or clay plaster). It is best not to use gypsum here as gypsum will fail over time if it is exposed to lots of moisture
A thick wall (that you already have) - this porosity needs to be less than the external finish (and it generally already is as it will be a mix of stone and brick)
A highly breathable render on the external face (we would recommend a lime putty with limestone aggregate mix) with a reasonable rough surface finish
A final coat of lime wash. This is the most breathable element and will get wet very quickly, but will also dry very quickly.

If you want to keep a stone finish then use the lime putty mortar for the pointing
If you are just looking for a painted finish then use the lime wash or a silicate paint
If you have a very exposed wall then you may need to have a less porous finish on that wall. Silicate paints can provide this as they are tougher than limewash, whilst still being breathable
If in doubt about what to use then contact a reputable lime rendering company

This gradient of breathability has a range of benefits apart from keeping the inside dry.

It regulates humidity in the house, so if the walls can breathe the internal surface can absorb any temporary excess (when cooking, washing, showering etc.) and then slowly release it either back into the room as it's humidity drops, or through the wall. A stable and lower relative humidity in a house has been shown to be much healthier for us, as bugs, moulds etc either prefer very dry or very wet conditions - not so good in the middle.

This ability to absorb excessive amounts of humidity also takes the pressure of high humidity off of other sections of the house, so condensation is reduced.

A dry breathable solid wall is around 38% more efficient than a wet solid wall so there are lower running costs to be gained once the capital work has been done.

Are there any downsides?

Well there is an aesthetic one. Limewash changes colour when damp and so you will be able to see your wall working. This might please some people as it is a very organic process that shows nature at work, but others might wish for a more consistent colour finish.

If you have used a hydraulic lime and sand render then your limewash will not last as long, so there is a cycle of maintenance that needs to be borne in mind. Limewash (depending on location, aspect, etc.) should last around 4-5 years before needing a further coat or two.

Timing is important. Not only does lime need to be applied during the warmer months (spring to autumn) it also needs a keen eye to ensure that the various layers bond well together. So an experienced tradesperson is required. This process takes longer than cement render as you are working with the materials and allowing them to do their curing at the rate determined by nature (weather, temperature, aspect, etc) and the underpinning substrate. So getting the render right might take a few days, or a couple of weeks. So patience is required, this is a way of working with your building and not against it and all buildings have their characters!

In conclusion.

Let your building work for you. Remember that working with your main wall structure brings benefits to the wall itself, the health of the people inside and will ensure that the building has a long and stable life. Working with water is after all a lot easier than trying to work against it.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Rusty beads

Where plaster / render / drip beads are used to create crisp and square edges on buildings you will often find that they go rusty and discolour paintwork.

The reason behind this is that the cheapest beads are galvanised and when they are placed in a damp and alkaline environment any damage to the zinc covering will allow rust to start. Once the bead starts to rust there is little that can be done apart from some cosmetic work, or removing the bead and starting again.

The best way of stopping rust from affecting your property is to use non-rusting beading in the first place. You can use stainless steel or plastic beading, or if you are doing plastering inside you can use wooden beads.