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Thursday, 27 March 2014

Chimney Flue Lining

Lining chimneys is a common place practice these days, especially with the rise in people fitting new stoves and burning wood.

There are a couple of points though that might go un-noticed when specifying  / getting quotes for a flexible liner.

Firstly there are two grades of liner. One (and this will probably be the one that you are quoted for) comes with a 10-15 year guarantee and is called a 316 Grade. The other is a thicker grade and comes with a 20-25 year guarantee, this is known as a 904 Grade. Price difference between the two is around £10 per metre and given a normal house height of 9m, this will equate to around £100 difference. Given that this will be a fraction of a fitted price I personally specified a 904 when we had our chimneys done.

Secondly there is the insulation. Most fitters will not insulate the chimney, but it is recommended that this is filled to help stop condensation issues with the liner. It should also help stop any old soot from being burned off from contact with the new hot flue. So it is worth enquiring about insulation options when lining an old chimney.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Important E-Petition

HM Government

There is a very worthwhile petition that has been prepared by the Heritage Skills Hub in the UK. It is summarised as:

Keep traditional skills alive! Construction, repair & retrofit of heritage buildings, must be integrated into craft & professional construction courses
This sentiment backs up the STBA position of trying to ensure that our older buildings are not subjected to inappropriate treatment by the mainstream construction industry. It is worth remembering that standard courses for virtually all construction trades and professions in the UK do not study pre 1919 buildings in depth (if at all) and so they have no understanding of how they differ from your conventional modern building.

So if you want to have easy access to trades people who understand your house we need to start somewhere. The alternative is to have inappropriate work done on our homes that will just eat up more carbon, money and effort for years to come. Let's have a system where we do the right things once rather than the wrong things again and again.

The petition can be found at 

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Why in Wales do we use plastic guttering?

One of the many problems with poorly fitted and cheap rainwater systems
You would think that given that we live in a lovely green and fresh land that we would know that having a reliable, effective and sightly rainwater system is a good idea. But no, we have been lured by the cheapness and ubiquity of black plastic as a rainwater handling material.

In this world you tend to get what you pay for and guttering is no exception when it comes down to the basics. Plastic uPVC guttering might look cheap and cheerful, but it is anything but cheerful! Common problems with plastic are that:

It expands and contracts more than any other guttering material, so it breaks its seals, comes loose, warps and is generally rubbish.
It degrades under UV light, so it gradually becomes brittle and so can break
It is not very impact resistance, so any knock can crack or break it

But it is cheap! But is it?

The cost of the products is cheap, but replacing it when it is broken is not. So most people just don't bother, especially if it is a private rental property. So then the rain continues to spill over, soak the wall, .... and lo and behold in a few months the house is starting to get damp, or renders start to fail etc. Getting these types of problems sorted is starting to get very expensive.

I am a great believer in saving money. So what's on my house? Lindab Steel Guttering. Yes it was more expensive than even a 'good' plastic system, but it has not leaked, failed, cracked for over 10 years. It has withstood the weight of the snow without a groan, it has seen hot summer storms without creaking or warping, major deluges without overflowing and it still looks new. It is great when you can fit and forget. No worries about repair work, borrowing ladders and wobbling at the top. The lack of worry is worth half the cost on its own!

It is worth noting that some major landlords have seen the light, Cardiff Council for example only fit Lindab steel guttering. They know that it makes sense as it will save them huge amounts in the long run, both on reactive maintenance contracts, but also on planned maintenance when they have to go into repair water ingress damage etc.

Tuesday, 18 March 2014

Retrofit Guidance Tool - DECC Approved

The STBA have launched the brand new site Responsible Retrofit that can be found at This is the new home of the DECC funded Responsible Retrofit Knowledge Centre and Guidance Wheel.

This is the culmination of years of research from groups like English Heritage, Heritage Scotland, National Trust, CADW etc. However, don't be fooled by this 'heritage' tag. What this research has been aimed at is the missing link between the mainstream construction industry and our conservation industry. So if you live in a pre 1919 building that is not listed / in a conservation area etc this is the site for you! This means that in Wales it is essential reading for the owners of around 35% of housing stock. Mind you, England isn't too far behind and even Scotland and the North of Ireland have around 20-25% of their housing built prior to WW1.

The system works in a simple way. You let the system know what type of house you have and then what you are intending to do. It will then raise a series of RISKS. This is important as it is not definitive given that every house is different. So it can let you know whether what you are planning carries any major risks and also what other effects your planned work might have on other aspects of the house. As you might have gathered from reading this blog, one thing tends to effect another and this at least highlights the linkages.

Once you have looked at each measure it produces a report for you and also takes you to the knowledge centre where more information and links are given that direct you to research papers, case studies etc.

I sincerely hope that this resource will be the fundamental guidance tool for the refurbishment industry. So, have a look and get acquainted with the resources that it pulls together. It is worth noting that DECC funded this piece of work and so it does stand a chance of being something that the industry will have to comply to. Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

STBA Guidance Wheel Launch in Wales

The shape of refurbishment to come!!

This Thursday sees the Welsh launch of the STBA Guidance Wheel Retrofit Tool - The "Green Wheel“

It shall all take place on Thursday 13th March 2014 at the Radisson Blu Hotel, Cardiff – Meridian Gate Bute Terrace – CF10 2FL from 5.30 - So no excuse for work getting in the way! (well as long as you don't work nights!)

This is a superb new innovative retrofit tool that will help to make good decisions about retrofit measures on traditional buildings, identifying risks and balancing energy efficiency with heritage considerations.

The programme will be:
5.30 pm Tea / coffee
6.00 pm. Energy Efficiency Retrofit of traditional buildings in Wales and the Heritage Cottage exemplar project, John Edwards, CADW Assistant Director and STBA Co-founder and Steering Group Member
6.20 pm. The Guidance Wheel - Isabel Carmona, Lead on the trial of the Guidance Wheel & Nigel Griffiths, Director of the STBA
6.55 pm CIOB / CITB remarks / toast
7.00 pm Reception

So if you can make time and are interested in making a major step in the right direction with the refurbishment of our precious terraced homes then register with Vicky Coxon on ASAP to book your place.

Oh yes, and it is FREE!!

Monday, 10 March 2014

Osmo solve 'oil treatment' problem

As you may be aware there is a major choice to make when treating wood with a natural protector. An oil based or a water based solution?

Oil based treatments are harder wearing and last longer, BUT they do change the colour of the wood and enhance the grain (see above)

Water based treatments do not change the colour as much, but they do tend to lift the grain of the wood.

So what if you want to keep the colour of your wood, but want the longer lasting protection etc? Well up until now it has been a problem, but those clever people at Osmo have now produced Osmo Polyx RAW. This is a new product that has some white tint in the mix to counteract the enriching effects of the oil, plus they have done away with the matting / satin agents that produce the finish, so that the wood is left looking as close to its original state as possible. (Note that 'Red' woods will be enhanced with the reddiness of the wood and so the white pigment in the RAW might turn this pink.)

So if you love the look of your untreated floor / worktop / furniture etc and want to give it the all the protection you associate with oil treated products then there is now an answer!

Eco Home Centre is selling this new product and you can find it in our Osmo Tints product range

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Common re-pointing problem

I was walking around yesterday waiting for my car to be fixed and being in the 'trade' it just struck me how many stone walls in Cardiff have been re-pointed using cement. Almost every house (that wasn't covered in cement render - don't get me started!!) had cement in a similar condition to the photo. The hard cement has been placed over the old lime mortar and is now just falling away, looking awful, whilst still managing to increase the moisture content in the wall.

The whole process is ruinous in a number of ways:

1. Most importantly the mortar used should be a lime based mortar (ideally with a stone dust aggregate), the cement used just helps to trap moisture in the wall and this leads to a host a other damp problems internally

2. Any re-pointing should involve the removal of the old mortar. Just placing mortar over the top means that any loose mortar underneath just weakens the whole repair. It also means that that mortar doesn't bind to the stone / brick properly, it then just falls off looking cheap and like you just don't care about your property

3. The mortar here has been placed so that it juts out where it should be level to the stones / bricks. If it is protruding it is more likely to 'catch' rainwater and bring it into the walls again giving yourself damp problems

So, when you are paying a lot of money to have a whole wall re-pointed (most of the cost is in labour and scaffolding), why not get the materials right and save yourself the cost of a) having to have it done again within a couple of years, and b) having to deal with the subsequent damp that it is likely to attract into the house.