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Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Eco Pro Emulsion used in Cardiff Eco Home

One of our customers has built a great new eco-home in Cardiff (see above) and used our lovely earthborn EcoPro Emulsion paint throughout. Looks great both from the outside and the in!
Have a look at

Nic and Carolyn from Downs Merrifield Architects were keen to use a real eco paint that would deliver performance: usability, no odours and great obliteration. The house is currently white throughout, but once they have lived there for a bit a splash of colour will be applied in the appropriate areas.

The Eco Pro range can be found at permanently discounted prices from us @

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Sheep or balloon for your chimney?

Welcome to Chimney Sheep - the draught excluder for chimneys - the Chimney Balloon alternative

Chimneys in older houses can be a real source of draughts. Whilst a good bit of air circulation is required in older homes you can get too much of a good thing!

In the past there has been little choice with blocking up chimneys, but a small company up in Cumbria has developed a great alternative to the chimney balloon. The Chimney Sheep (TM), see

I have used both and I can say that I prefer the sheep as my balloon keeps on slowly deflating and falling out of the flue. The 'sheep' has stayed in place. The sheep is a felt made from Hardwick wool and so has a lot of 'sustainability' advantages over the balloon. It is a natural product (although the handle is plastic) and hence it is breathable, it is also easy to wash and to store when not in use.

So if you are looking to reduce draughts when the stove / fire is not in use then it is a good option to look at.

I would always recommend that you have a cowl on your chimney to reduce water infiltration from above as any draught excluder doing its job will reduce airflow and hence you will need to ensure that the chimney is kept as dry as possible from above. Always remember to remove the draught excluder when using the fire and also during the summer months as this will promote good air flow in the home (which can help with damp issues and internal air quality).

Friday, 16 May 2014

Damp proofing cellars

Some old houses have partially buried walls
Like dealing with solid walls you have a couple of choices here when dealing with rooms that are below ground.

Choice 1 - Work with nature
Choice 2 - Try and work against nature

I am a Choice 1 type of guy, as nature will always find a way of getting through our defences. Ask King Canute!

So we are looking at solid walls that are porous and a subterranean location that may well be permanently damp. How to keep the cellar dry?

Well, this is a difficult aim to achieve with 100% success rate and I think really depends on each households sensibilities and access to a range of resources.

If you find that the walls are not very damp and that you are using the space as a typical cellar function (i.e. there is no pressure on keeping the room totally damp free) then the walls may well be easily treated by using a breathable finish on the walls and ensuring a good air flow. So leaving the walls bare (or painted with a lime / clay / chalk paint) and having a good draught will allow any moisture coming through the walls to be vented away before presenting any problem. Note, though that furniture etc should not be placed too close to the wall as this will restrict air flow and could lead to mould formation.

If you want to use the room as a more conventional living space then keeping it dry gets more important. Having lots of ventilation in this type of room then gets more difficult as we are not so fond on a keen breeze around our ears! So how can we allow the walls to breathe whilst keeping damp at bay?

The way the English Heritage recommend is to use a dimpled membrane. Basically this is a plastic sheet that has dimples in that create a vented space around the wall. See below:

So the plastic keeps the damp away from your new wall, but what happens to the water?

Well this is where individual factors come into play. If the walls are really wet and literally running with water then you will need to install an internal drain rather than relying on ventilation only. This drain can be directed straight into the main drains, or it might need to be fed into a sump and then pumped out (via an automatic pumping system).

So the 'Heritage' system is a bit of a hybrid that wants to work with nature, but has to provide some very clear guidelines in which elements are not acceptable! Purists will no doubt say that it is case of using very breathable materials, drains and ventilation, however I feel that it is down (as ever) to the individual site conditions, usage patterns and sensibilities of the client.

Definition of Economic

There was a great presentation at a Wales Zero / Low Carbon Hub meeting this year and it mentioned the original definition for Economic. It comes from the Latin Oeconomicus and means management of the household. This is obviously quite different from our current meaning based almost purely on finances.

In the wider sense it is easy to extrapolate 'household' to 'world' given the current state of globalism. So do Economics need to be purely about money? After all, as the picture above illustrates, what would we prioritise about our homes? Probably:

  • Cleanliness
  • Comfort
  • Health

  • We probably would not want:

  • Disruption
  • Mess
  • Stress
  • Conflict

  • Yet, we are encouraged to behave in our global household in a manner that pursues material gain and money. How disconnected we have become from what we fundamentally know to be important (the power of advertising and corporations eh!). The pursuit of 'monetary wealth' adds to our carbon emissions and hence will help bring about future chaos predicted by the IPCC.

    The IPCC state that we have to reduce carbon emissions by around a 80% reduction by 2050 if we are to avoid a >2 degree rise in global temperatures (this is seen as a tipping point in the climate). So in theory we have to reduce the carbon emissions of our 1.3 million households in Wales by 80% by 2050. This means radical improvements at a rate of around 36,000 houses per annum (in Wales we have the ARBED programme and this huge 'improvement' project is only tackling around 1,000 per annum!)

    As you may have gathered from reading this blog, getting reductions of 80% in emissions from older terraces is just not viable. It has been done with some TSB Retrofit for the Future projects but they are really expensive and also rely on people living in the buildings in an efficient manner. So what can we do? After all, doing nothing will just help to create an uneconomic situation (think of the issues and costs associated with a >2 degree rise in temperature: mass migration, water shortages, crop failure, flooding, forest fires, sea level rises, ocean acidification, disease spread etc). I think that we are limited to a few options.
    1. Improve our homes to as good a condition as possible (this may only be 20-40% and may be achieved through simple draught proofing, insulation, efficient boilers etc)
    2. Maintain our homes (check rainwater goods, repair silicone seals, repair cracks etc)
    3. Use lower energy materials (wood fibre, recycled insulation, lime etc)
    4. Service infrastructure annually (boilers, mechanical vents)
    5. Install renewable energy generation where possible (PV panels are now much more affordable and provide a good rate of return financially)
    6. Manage energy use wisely (for example only heat areas that you need to a temperature that is as low as feasible)
    7. Think about how we use energy and what we really need rather than what we want
    8. Reduce water consumption with some simple and cheap retrofit devices
    9. Change your energy supply over to a green tariff
    We have the potential for greater impact outside of our homes though. How about?

    1. Walk and cycle wherever you can
    2. Use public transport
    3. Buy things that you actually need rather than what you want
    4. Invest in quality goods rather than throwaway goods
    5. Holiday close to home
    6. Only travel when you need to
    7. Buy foods that are in season (in the UK) or if not grown in the UK when in season in the northern hemisphere
    8. Grow your own food at home / allotment
    9. Get an electric car (second hand electric cars are now well under £10,000 for a 5 door)
    10. Invest in some community renewable projects
    11. Keep fit

    It is essential that we practice old school 'economics' in our lives and this means both looking after our own households, but also the our wider home of the planet. The time to act is now so that we can all help to avoid the costs, heartaches and resource demands of an unsustainable, uneconomic future.

    Do your bit and do think about your children / grandchildren. It is worth it economically, just maybe not financially in the immediate future. That is our choice to make.

    Monday, 12 May 2014

    Insulating window reveals

    Last year I decided to do something about the growing about of mould on my window reveals in the bathroom, but what?

    My situation was as follows:

    High humidity (bathroom)
    Thin double glazed windows
    Cavity wall construction (that has been 'filled')
    Single storey with insulated pitched roof above
    Sill is tiled
    Max of 10mm between reveal and glazing (frame recessed into wall)

    So basically I was suffering from condensation associated with cold spots along the reveals.

    The easy answer was to insulate the reveals internally, but I only had around 10mm of depth available to take any. The thinnest boards are 25mm and this includes plaster board of 12.5mm. They also come in 244 x 122cm boards and this was far too much for the reveal area.

    So what was my solution? 

    Cork tiles were ideally sized as they were thin and came in pack sizes that minimised any potential wastage
    I bought a pack of cork tiles and cut them to size. The reveals were cleaned and then I applied a coat of adhesive all over the reveals so that moisture would not be able to get behind the tiles (this is important to stop mould growing behind the insulation). I then fitted the tiles, waited for them to adhere properly and then repeated the exercise so that there was a double layer of cork. The cork adhesive was then left to dry again.

    I used a breathable natural paint on the cork (earthborn eco-pro emulsion) and so I had to pre-coat the areas where the adhesive was visible using the earthborn Isolating Primer. This was to stop the paint drawing the oils in the adhesive through it. Once the Isolating Primer had a second coat and dry I painted the reveals.

    To date (and this includes a winter and spring) there has been no condensation on the reveals and consequently no mould growth. This solution was cheap, effective and resource efficient (as I only used what I needed with very little waste generated).