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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).

BUT...

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: http://www.stbauk.org/ 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) http://www.welshlimeworks.com/
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 - http://www.building.co.uk/Journals/2012/09/27/x/u/l/RESPONSIBLE-RETROFIT.pdf

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.

HURRAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!