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Thursday, 23 April 2015

Cabling and pipes into walls

Walls tend to have a lot of 'punctures' through them
In the UK we build walls and then make holes in them. This is a bit strange when you think about it, but in older houses we are forced to drill through walls in order to install our modern conveniences and technology. So old houses have a range of holes for soil pipes, TV aerials, washing machine drains, phone lines etc. We have also drilling into walls to inject cavity wall insulation, chemical DPCs etc. Take a look at your house and see how many times it has been drilled through.

Surely drilling and placing a cable / pipe through is a simple matter with few risks?!

Oh how wrong we can be. Having just been to a house where incorrectly installed cables and pipes are potentially causing a lot of damp (even on the cavity wall extension).

So where does it go wrong?

Well the most obvious problem is where we encourage water to track into the wall by:

1. Drilling down at an angle rather than horizontally / slightly angled up. A downward slope encourages water to run into the hole especially if it is not properly sealed.

2. It is almost impossible to adequately seal holes / around pipes etc. Most of the time contractors don't even bother trying to seal around holes.

3. Cabling is not looped around so that all cabling enters from below (if cabling goes down the wall and straight into the hole, water will track down it and into the structure).

4. Many holes are drilled into walls that face the prevailing wind rather than exploring another less risky option of an East or North facing wall. This means that the weak spot of the hole is exposed to the worse of the weather.

Sometimes it is difficult to access the best place on the wall for a hole and this is especially the case with Damp Proof Course injections. These tend to be fitted on the external face of the wall and need to be as close to the ground level as possible (generally). This often means that the drill holes are sloping down into the wall due to the body of the drill being next to the ground. The trouble with this is that rainwater running down walls will enter these holes and put water above the DPC! It is vital therefore that these holes are sealed completely and in a long lasting manner, However, more often than not I see holes unfilled, ill fitting plastic plugs pressed in or a dot of mortar placed roughly over the hole. In the long term these will all let water into the structure and cause damp.

So when faced with having to drill through a wall, remember:
  • Keep the drill level (or sloping up slightly)
  • Seal around the cable / pipe using a good quality sealer and press into the wall as much as possible
  • Ensure that the cabling does not encourage water into the wall
  • Put as much cabling through the lee side of a building (rather than facing the prevailing winds)

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Shoe missing in street

This could be titled: 'How to get a roof load of water into your floors and walls'.

Note the crack between the wall and the pavement
This is a very common sight in urban areas. Downpipes have had their shoes kicked off / removed and so all the water from the roof is being poured into the base of the wall rather than angled off into the main road drain.

In this particular location there was a large gap between the council's pavement and the wall. This has meant that for years the wall have been subjected to way more rainwater than it can cope with. No wonder there was damp in the wall inside.

The simple solution is to re-fit the shoe and get the system back working again. There will still be runoff entering the gap, but at least the volumes might decrease to a level where the wall can cope again.

Oh, for those who were wondering a 'shoe' is as follows:

Wednesday, 1 April 2015

How much insulation is it best to use on solid walls?

Wood fibre board insulation being used externally
Many of you will be aware that I am slightly reticent in recommending certain insulation types on older buildings. This is because of the risks associated with damp, thermal bridging and structural failure. So assuming that you are planning on using a breathable insulation (like wood fibre), how much should you apply?

The Part L of the Building Regulations wishes any refurbishment to get to around 0.3 - 0.35 U value for a solid wall. It thinks that all solid walls have a starting value of around 2.1 which is actually normally much worse that they are. This has led to companies putting on around 120mm thick insulation. Knowing the starting point of your wall is really important as thick walls can be as low as 0.8, so around three times better than predicted. In Wales most solid walls are around 300mm thick and these have an average of 1.51 (from Caroline Rye). So around 30% better than predicted.

In order to get Building Control approval for anything more than 0.3 then you will need to cite that this is a breathable wall and hence special considerations are available for it.

The recommendations I would give change depending on whether you are applying External or Internal Wall Insulation. The base reason also changes.

External Wall Insulation (EWI)

The situation with EWI is that whichever material you choose the real key is to get thermal bridging and rain protection sorted. Reveals, roofs, rainwater systems, etc are all really important to get right. It can be more effective to put 20mm over all the surfaces (inc reveals) than it is to put 100mm just over the walls (not in the reveals). So it is key to get the specification and detailing right.

The more insulation you put on, the less effective the insulation becomes in relation to its thickness. This means that the first cm of insulation reduces heat loss the most, the second will provide less heat loss, the third less still. So there is a rule of diminishing returns at play at here. So there is no point putting on loads of insulation when you will get a similar return from less. As a rule of thumb here to get down to 0.3 you will need 100mm of insulation, However, this assumes that you are starting with a U value of around 2.1. So if your wall is 1.51 then you should be able to use a 80mm board, but remember to put on the 20mm reveal boards!

Even with a breathable system you will need to ensure that it is weathertight. So make sure that the required work is done to rooflines, eaves, guttering etc. 

Any EWI needs to have a protective covering and again this needs to be breathable and also long lasting and so we would recommend a lime render combined with a lime proof mesh and a breathable paint finish (silicate paints are ideal for this).

Internal Wall Insulation (IWI)

Wood fibre board installed internally (from Inglehome)
IWI has the consequence of making the outer side of the wall colder and this can lead to a number of problems including damage from freeze / thaw. Using a vapour membrane also draws in moisture into the wall, so it is really important to use the right insulation system here. Breathable systems can be used without a vapour membrane (unlike the conventional insulation systems that either have built in vapour control, or require a separate membrane). This lack of barrier makes the system a lower risk in the long run.

Research is showing that a safer U value to aim for, is around 0.7 to 0.8. This means that many thick walls may already have this type of value and so not need any insulation. However, most walls are around 1.51, so in order to get down to 0.7 you only need 40mm of wood fibre board. Having a wall that allows a little more heat through it than recommended by Part L is important as this helps to keep the wall dry and safe. 

If installing IWI it is also really important to remember thermal bridges. So reveals, between floors, fold backs along party walls etc need to be assessed and treated appropriately.

If using a wood fibre system you would need to use a breathable finish on the walls. So a lime plaster skim and a claypaint would be ideal.