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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

I can't afford lime render!

Lime rendering done by Welsh Lime Works in Cardiff
Lime rendering is a specialist trade (not to be confused with lime plastering or cement rendering!) and as such it takes time served craftspeople to do it well and it also takes more time to do. These two factors mean that many people who need to have their houses re-rendered choose the cement route. Using cement, of course, represents a higher long term cost. The render will crack and, most likely, damp will be re-introduced to the walls. This will need to be addressed again in the future, whilst a lime render should last the lifetime of the building.

A customer of ours choose cement render over lime due to the cost, however within 8 months the cement had failed, the wall was still wet and she has had to do it again. So the difference in price has already been negated due to failure.

However, this article is about what to do if you cannot afford at the moment to replace the cement with lime.

My recommendations (in general) would be as follows:
  • Keep the existing cement render on
  • Regularly check the walls for failed render (tapping the walls will audibly indicate where the render has become separated from the wall)
  • Repair any cracks (even the small ones, especially if facing the prevailing winds and rain) and any blown areas of render
  • When replacing blown areas, it is better to cut around the render to be removed so that the process of removal does not dislodge any of the surrounding render
  • Use cement render to replace / repair
  • Check for failure of seals around doors, windows, pipes etc and repair as necessary
  • Save up and when you can afford it, replace the cement with lime.
Enlarging cracks allows for a better repair as the new render will fit into it
The rationale behind this recommendation is that where you have a structure that has been altered to try to keep water out then as long as this philosophy is being maintained then it will have a better chance of working than when it is not. Cement render and masonry paint is designed to keep water out and as long as it is doing this then it will provide some protection from wind driven rain, however it needs to be uncompromised. So maintenance of its integrity is really important. The more water that gets behind it, the worse the wall will perform and the more likely damp issues become.

This patching and maintaining is really important to allow the wall to perform as well as it can before the ultimate solution of the lime render is applied. So don't waste your money on putting a new coat of cement render over your pre 1919 solid wall house, repair what you have and save your money up so that you don't waste it on an unsustainable, and still quite expensive, piece of cement based sticking plaster!

If you have a 'rising damp' problem (this is rare to occur in most untreated houses, but can be caused by the introduction of cement based renders and plasters onto a breathable wall) then another cheaper option is to remove the cement render up to around 1m above ground level. This wall might then need to be repaired using lime mortar (re-pointing) or it could be lime rendered. Doing this at ground level means that there is no need for scaffolding and the area involved is much less, thus keeping the costs down. You will need a good drip above this so that any water running down the upper wall is not fed directly into the lime or onto the exposed wall.

If you need to put up expensive scaffolding to do the repairs then this brings an extra dimension as the lime rendering becomes more cost effective in the longer term. So any initial repairs to the cement are best done off of a tower scaffold or ladders.

I have written at length before about lime rendering, but it is worth re-iterating at this point the things to remember when looking for a good lime renderer.
  • Use a company that both supplies and installs the render (this can get over the issue of where, if there is a problem with the final work, you are not inbetween a rock and a hard place where the installer blames the manufacturer and the manufacturer blames the installer!)
  • Remember that rendering is not the same as plastering. So use an experienced renderer.
  • Ask for references and a good portfolio of completed works
  • If it is new company then you will need to ask about the experience of the tradespeople and where they served their time. You can then investigate this company.
  • Read up about lime from trusted sources like CADW, Historic England, Historic Scotland etc (depending on where you are)
  • Ask about the mix that they will use and the finish that will be applied. I am a believer in aggregate being really important. I think that the aggregate needs to be a mix of sizes and also that it contains a high proportion of permeable stone.
  • The finish needs to be appropriate. So a lime putty and permeable stone mix can be easily covered with a lime wash, a less breathable combination of NHL lime and sand will probably work better with a mineral paint.

Friday, 19 June 2015

Energy Efficiency Consultation - A Welsh response


Welsh Government is consulting at the moment with the wider public about energy efficiency and their new strategy. Thankfully we now have the Future Generations Act and this means that we should NOT go blindly down the usual roots of using rubbish drivers like rdSAP, U values calculators etc. In Wales we MUST take into account issues like Health, Prosperity, Economic Development, Our Place in the Wider World etc.

So we stand a chance of getting it right (or at least better than we have for the past decade or so). The consultation document is available from the Welsh Government website (direct link given, or reference WG25502) or use this web address:
http://gov.wales/docs/desh/consultation/150617-draft-energy-efficiency-strategy-en.pdf

My comments are driven by the latest research that has been made available to DECC to organisations like BRE (Buildings Research Establishment), STBA (Sustainable Traditional Buildings Alliance), UCL (University College London). So Government and DECC know the issues around EPCs, rdSAP, Green Deal, Thermal Bridging, U value calculators etc. BRE already have demonstrated 126 unintended consequences associated with 'improvements' to solid walls!

However, it is a huge political issue as so much has been invested in these inaccurate and potentially dangerous tools. Welsh Government can choose (to a certain extent) to be BETTER than the UK Gov and really lead the way to a more sustainable future, but it will take courage. However there are lots of long term benefits to putting Wales at the vanguard of the energy efficient / sustainable building world.

As far as the consultation document is concerned my thoughts are:

5.1 Overcoming Barriers
1.1 Improved Information
- We think that giving people really good advice is important, however it needs to be based on RISK and a good understanding of the actual house / life style. This requires trained people who understand building types, building pathology, the limitations of EPCs, moisture, etc.
1.2 Work with others to encourage energy efficiency
- Again this is fine as long as those people have the time / knowledge to give really good individualised advice that highlights risk and takes into account individual circumstances
1.4 Providing Free Energy Efficiency Assessments to Low Income Families
- The EPC tools used are not reliable for many house types in Wales and certainly gives generic advice that needs interpretation. Luring people in with unrealistic savings and also high risk measures will just create situations where the poorest might be done a serious mis-service.
1.5 Continue to provide advice
- The NEST service is again driven by the unreliable EPC system and so needs to be adapted. It should also look at the wider issue of health, Internal Air Quality (IAQ) etc.
1.6 Making Energy Efficiency easier for people
- We must start with the fact that many energy efficiency measures are NOT easy. We need to give people confidence by providing good and rounded advice that highlights risk and how to minimise them. Honesty is the best policy here.
1.7 Ensuring that the PRS (Private Rented Sector) meet their obligations
- Again we are using EPCs that give advice that is poor, inaccurate and will encourage the cheapest and easiest roots to a E rating. Some improvements that give E's will be detrimental to health of occupants and also not deliver the actual savings. We need to be smarter and to ensure that appropriate guidance is given to minimise this risk. This means appropriate recommendations need to be given. At present the EPC guidance does not give 'clever' advice and this is misleading.
1.8 Review Part L of Building Regulations
- Again we need to ensure that we give lower risk advice / guidance. Pre 1919 buildings need to have better data and we need to consider issues like reverse condensation, maintaining breathable walls, moisture levels etc. We also need to link in Ventilation into the advice to minimise risk to these older properties. The use of EPCs should also be re-assessed and the issues surrounding detailing / thermal bridging etc.
1.9 Drive achievement of the WHQS
- Given the costs associated with continual upgrades should each property be assessed in a manner that makes it as good as it can be (with due diligence to health of the occupants, building structure etc). This might mean that one building at SAP 60, whilst others achieve 85! Having a purely arbitrary level of 65 might cause a lot of problems that will ultimately cost more and also not give the results expected.
1.10 Align community based activity
- Communities need to give accurate advice and this can only be achieved by understanding houses. Whilst people can help drive interest we should rely on trained specialists using the right tools to give the actual individualised advice
1.11 Provide advice to businesses etc
- Each property is different and so using showcases can encourage uptake, but each property needs to be assessed individually and so care is needed not to promote solutions that are not appropriate to all buildings.
1.12 Integrate support into wider business advice
- Fine, but it needs to be good advice and support
1.13 Work with large businesses
We need to look at how we can use large industrial waste heat can be used for community benefit. District heating schemes, linking heat exporters with importers etc. Planning needs to be involved and encouraged to think strategically.
1.15 Increased support via Green Growth Wales
- Support needs to build on a strategic approach to support relevant industries that provide low risk solutions to energy efficiency etc. Wood fibre should be a standard specification product for many Welsh houses and it needs to have the backing of WG  and GGW in order to find its market.
1.16 Advice in public sector
- We need to give low risk advice that is tailored to each building
1.18 Drive efficient use of public purse
- As 1.15 we need to ensure that we develop industries that provide us with low risk solutions

5.2 Supply Chain Development
2.1 Support for installers to diversify etc.
- All installers MUST have training in Underpinning Knowledge of buildings. Recognising building types, understanding how they worker, common maintenance problems, the effects that changes / improvements might have. They must also be able to justify and decisions and the rationale that underpins it.
2.2 Strengthen support for supply chain development
- Again we need to have correct specification based on a more holistic approach, for example health considerations as well as energy efficiency. This means development / use of different materials / products that are currently used. Training and robust detailing driven by Government needs to used to drive this development.
2.3 Support supply chain through WG programmes
- This is key and needs to be driven by RISK assessment (via STBA work) and a HOLISTIC stance that covers FGA requirements. So addressing moisture, Internal Air Quality etc needs to be a WG specification criteria and then this is backed up by contracts that encourage adoption and hence provide a market for newer, better, natural and local products.
2.4 Quality of delivery
- On paper PAS2030 and other warranties offer protection, but in the real world they are either not tested legally, or are pretty worthless due to the complexities of building physics. So we must use RISK assessment rather than reliance on worthless paper comfort blankets. We must address the lack of underpinning knowledge in the construction industry. Builders MUST understand basic building physics, material compatibility issues, common 'improvement' issues etc. Ideally any builder working should have a minimum qualification to be able to do the work and anything done on a solid wall building needs to have additional modules completed and passed.
2.5 Entrepreneurship
- In order to get the right products made we need entrepreneurs to lead on this, BUT they do need to have the support from the specification teams in WG, Local Councils, Housing Associations in order to free up investment monies.

5.3 Skills and Education
3.1 Skills that respond to local need
- In Wales we have the oldest building stock in the whole world. We need to develop specialist skills to work on our older properties. We need to understand them, to know how they were made, how they have been changed over time, what materials have been used, how these materials inter-relate, how we live in buildings and how this has changed building physics. We MUST become specialists in sustainable retrofit. This means upskilling the existing workforce and also ensuring that the new trainees are filled with underpinning knowledge.
- We also want to have the lowest carbon new builds and so again we need to have people trained in concepts like Bio Solar Haus, Passive House, Ty Ynnos etc. They also need hands-on training in practical applications like airtightness, ventilation etc.
3.2 Mainstream provision of skills
- All builders should have the relevant qualification for the work that they do. Pre 1919 houses need specialist knowledge and skills, System Built houses again need different skill sets. At present anyone can call themselves a builder and do work, we need to have better control over who does what to our housing stock.
- All school children should have modules that cover houses. People need to understand their homes and where things are for a whole range of reasons. Secondary schools and Primary can start to address this relatively easily through ESDGC.
3.3 Post 16 training and education
The vast majority of the construction industry is based around new build. We need to ensure that we cover maintenance, building history, materials etc as well as underpinning knowledge on building physics in all courses.
3.4 Enhanced employer engagement
- One of the things that is really difficult to manage is that old habits die hard and so many in business today will only pass on old thinking and old ways of doing things. This is fine on modern buildings, but on older properties it is dangerous and high risk. So again we need to manage employers so that they are appropriately qualified for pre 1919 work if they are taking on apprenticeships.
3.5 Business capability
- CITB have developed new Upskilling courses for pre 1919 energy efficiency work that should be adopted by WG to help ensure that 'new' knowledge is widely understood and used.
3.6 Capital Investment in 21st Century Schools
- Schools must also work cover health, safety, noise, adequate space, ease of use etc as well as energy.

5.4 Innovation
4.1 Support new products and services
- We can all benefit from using new techniques like Bio Solar House and Passive House, but we can make these Welsh as well by using our national natural resources. This should be a priority. Having new zero carbon Welsh Vernacular is one way forward.
- All new products should be designed to further the aims of FGA rather than just energy efficiency.
- Major new products (like wood fibre insulation) must be supported by specifications in contracts from WG and other public sector bodies.
4.3 Energy efficiency in public sector
- The current research needs to inform this, so that we encourage products that fulfill all FGA criteria. Products that are encouraged need to be healthy, low carbon, local etc.
4.4 Smart Living demonstrations
- These should be used to help inform people about their houses and how to manage risk.
4.5 Shared Learning
- Always important, but context is important.
4.6 Innovation on WG programmes
- WG needs to be wise in its work to ensure that it is appropriate, low risk etc and also encourages the right type of innovation. We can be a UK leader here and show how smart we can be by not storing up problems for the future.

5.5 Finance
5.1 Information of financial support for householder
- This is fine, but we need to make sure that the right type of support is available. No point taking up grants to undertake EWI where it is not appropriate.
5.2 WG Investment
- rdSAP and other tools push us in the wrong direction for older buildings and so we MUST be better than the tools that we use. We made them, we can change / adapt them to make them better suited for use. We must not be driven by funding, but have the strength of character to say what we want / need and then for the money to follow that.
5.3 Loan funding
- Any funding MUST be linked to a risk assessment based on best practice. Loans must have low risk works associated with them so that people are not faced with long term maintenance etc associated with poor initial specification.
- We must use the best techniques / skills / materials etc to bring houses back into being homes. No point doing unsustainable face lifts.
5.4 Leverage
- Funds that allow us to work sustainably on our buildings should be used. If it is not right for Wales, then don't use it. Mistakes can take a long time to materialise and then who will pick up the bills?
5.6 - 5.8 Finance for business
- We must get specification etc right to minimise long term costs
5.10 Energy Performance Contracts
- EPC's are NOT fit for use on 1/3 of our stock. rdSAP and SBEM are NOT good tools. DECC, BRE, STBA and many other know this. WG has been told. EPCs are dangerous and MUST not be used in isolation. Pre 1919 buildings are most notably at risk. I cannot stress this enough. We should be using other tools in partnership with EPCs and we must have assessment criteria that take into account IAQ, Moisture content, health, noise etc.

Impact Assessment

Where is the Health Impact Assessment???

The major impact of the strategy at the moment is to put a third of all houses and their occupants in Wales at risk!

The key risks are:

  • Creation of major thermal bridges in houses (environment & economic)
  • Creation of conditions for damp and mould in houses (environment, health & economic)
  • Structural damage due to water ingress (environment & economic)
  • Trapping moisture behind External Wall Insulation (environment & economic)
  • Creation of chronic health problems esp. respiratory illnesses (health & economic)
  • Not getting the savings / carbon saving that are projected (economic)
  • Long term maintenance costs (environment & economic)
  • Costly insurance claims or high costs for owners in stripping out / off 'improvements' (environment & economic)
  • Wales losing it's character buildings and part of its identity (environment & culture)
  • No major economic change as work will go to larger companies (economic)
  • No economic advantage by having a more informed workforce (education & economic)
  • No new innovative industries that put Wales ahead of the curve (economic)

There are more ....

Other issues

There are a wide range of topics / issues that fall out of this. We MUST have a new modus operandi and this is a key document to change this. Our built environment is AT RISK thanks to the blinkered race for energy efficiency, we MUST look holistically both for the sake of the FGA, but also for the future of our built environment.

Tools like rdSAP need to work in conjunction with MOISTURE tools. Moisture tools also need to be based on REAL WORLD situations not the current tests that actually state that they are not fit for purpose for 'in service' conditions. STBA (& soon BRE) work for DECC on solid walls demonstrates that we are storing up problems by using inappropriate test regimes for moisture / damp.

Health NEEDS to be part of this. We spend so much time indoors we need to ensure that the internal environment is as good as it can be, both for the inhabitants and the building structure. We need to measure and value IAQ, moisture levels, humidity and noise if we are to have sustainable buildings.

Wales MUST opt for low risk solutions in the immediate future and this might be focused on things like renewable energy generation solutions rather than energy efficiency. This might be seen as tackling the wrong end of the energy pyramid (and that would be correct), however we must focus on risk, as it is very easy to get it wrong especially when we have an ill informed construction industry and populace. We need to address education / training / awareness first so that we get it right. So initially focusing on low risk activities allows us to work whilst also getting prepared for the more complex structural works.

Friday, 12 June 2015

What constitutes a 'healthy' home?


Health is really important to all of us, yet many of us live in houses with poor internal environments. Some of this is our own fault - we clean using dangerous chemicals; we allow properties to get into a poor state and hence introduce damp from rain; we don't ventilate properly; etc. However, some of it down to the structure of the building. So I thought that it might be worth investigating the idea that using health as opposed to pure energy efficiency could be a way forward for improvements in the housing sector.

So what are the key health factors that could be used to drive new specifications for home improvements?

Allergies

People seem to be getting more sensitive to substances, many of which are airborne. So there is a need for better Internal Air Quality (IAQ) in our homes. Having filters in ventilation systems is an obvious way of improving the situation for cleaning any air coming into our homes, however most properties do not have whole house ventilation systems, but there is a trend towards positive pressure ventilation in retrofits. These units can have filters fitted, but it does mean that they have to be cleaned / maintained on a regular basis and so this means that we have to have a system in place to ensure that this actually happens (otherwise it is waste of money and resources).

Many materials continue to off gas substances throughout their lives, so it usually better to use natural materials that have been treated with natural preservatives / protecting coats.

The main source of allergies, though comes through from our foods and the effects of our lifestyle choices. This could be the type of cleaning materials that we use, whether we smoke in the house etc.

However we can reduce dust circulation by using radiant wall heating rather than conventional radiators or underfloor heating.

Respiratory diseases

Respiratory problems are caused by a range of root causes many of which can be tackled during refurbishment. Issues like high / low humidity, mould and dust can all be effected by what we do to our homes.

It is really important that we manage ventilation in our homes as this helps to control humidity, but it is equally important that we allow any breathing walls to continue to do so. Sealing up older 'moist' walls can introduce damp and hence mould etc. Having a relative humidity of between 50 and 60 per cent minimises the risks associated with dust mites etc and this range can be maintained by the use breathable solid walls. We must also be careful when installing insulation, as poor fitting / specification can introduce cold spots and this in turn can easily create damp / mould issues.

Automatic ventilation control systems that run off information like relative humidity and CO2 levels can really assist with maintaining a good internal air quality. These can be installed where there is a good airtightness in the building and ideally systems would also have heat recovery built in.

Temperature related troubles

Overheating and underheating can cause or exacerbate serious medical conditions, so again we must ensure that properties do not get too hot, or too cold. So design is really important to make sure that properties can cope with the projected changes in climate which suggest that our weather will get more extreme in the future, especially with hot conditions. Unless of course the Atlantic Conveyor gives in and we might then become much, much colder in the winter.

So must ensure that properties are designed for both. Using high thermal capacity insulations like woodfibre boards and batts can assist with this. Being able to create homes that can easily and cheaply maintain a comfortable 19 degrees C in both summer and winter is important.

Highly efficient heating systems need to be used that are appropriate for the type of house, so care is required to specify the best type of system. Some houses only served by oil and electricity, others gas etc, so the most efficient systems need to be specified and this might involve additional works. For example ground source heat pumps (GSHP) only work well at low temperatures and so a well insulated house with managed ventilation is required here. A very efficient GSHP in a poorly insulated and draughty home will be very inefficient.

Mental health

Now this is a real bag of worms. Issues like stress can come from a wide range of factors that can be designed out (or into) our buildings. Common factors that effect stress at home include:

Money worries - making our homes cheap to run is really important (as long as we don't cause lots of 'unintended consequences' at the same time). So installing systems that improve energy efficiency, reduce water consumption, minimise maintenance costs, prolong maintenance intervals etc. is really important. Renewable energy systems that attract support can also help to relieve financial pressures by providing some free energy, but also a small income. However, it should be remembered that people make choices when it comes to spending their money and it may be that the best ones are not always taken.

Families - families don't always get along and having separate spaces can be useful. Knocking through reception rooms to make large spaces may not be the best solution. Sound proofing between rooms is also important to create more private space. Having bedrooms that are acoustically isolated can make sleep better and this can be really important.

Neighbours - again neighbours can be a source of comfort or stress. Whichever it is, having good acoustic barriers between the two houses is important. It is also important that any thermal improvements to one house do not cause problems with any adjoining property. So care needs to be taken here.

Natural light - a lack of natural light effects many people, especially those suffering from SAD and so it is important to ensure that light is maximised. This might mean using sun tubes, roof windows etc.

Worries about safety and security - using good quality doors, windows and fixings, combined with clever design can create homes that both feel, and are, more secure. 

Alleviation of niggles - of course there are no end of these, but some are avoidable: Alleviating pressure drops in hot water when more than two outlets are being used; use of long life bulbs to reduce need for replacement; easy access to water stop-cocks if there is a major leak; isolation valves on water outlets for easy routine maintenance; use of siphon toilets rather than valve to stop constant leaks; use of metal rainwater goods to reduce water damage from leaking or damaged plastic ones; use of breathable paints on breathable walls to reduce re-painting requirements; no drylining allowed to reduce issues associated with just hiding problems etc etc.

Conclusion

When we start to think about our homes in more detail one realises that we need homes that feature:
  • Good, well controlled, ventilation (e.g using CO2 and RH controls)
  • Appropriately insulated both against heat loss but also heat gain (e.g  use of wood fibre insulation)
  • Minimised the use of water (e.g pulse shower heads, variable siphon flushes etc.)
  • Take advantage of any appropriate renewable energy generation potential (e.g FiT and RHI measures)
  • Minimised use of energy (e.g LED lights)
  • Have good acoustic insulation both between houses and within them (especially bedrooms)
  • Have a mix of private and public space 
  • Have sufficient natural light (e.g using sun tubes etc.)
  • Are free from risk of damp and mould (using correct breathable materials)
  • Use natural materials that are less likely to off gas toxic substances (e.g wood)
  • Use materials cleverly to minimise maintenance requirements (check compatibility of materials)
  • Use good quality materials that provide long term solutions to safety and security (good quality doors, windows and locks)
Now all of that is a tad more involved than indiscriminately slapping on EPS external wall insulation and changing a boiler, however if we start to think more about maintaining a good, healthy internal environment then maybe we can reduce costs on the health service as well as providing better housing for the great British public.

The British Thoractic Society estimates overall costs to the country of £6.6 billion due to respiratory disease (or which Gov. says £1 billion is spent annually by the NHS on chronic obstructive Pulmonary Diseases)




So improving our homes will not eradicate these costs, but it will have some effect. So we can either look to continue doing 'improvements' that only tackle a small fraction of the issues facing our stock (and even this we are doing badly in many cases - and this causes more stress and more long term financial costs to the country) or we can start to create a nation of healthy homes.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Forget Energy Efficiency think Health!


Readers of this blog will know my views on lots of the energy driven 'improvements' that we are blindly doing in the UK at the moment.

We are making so many mistakes due to the fact that we are using more than useless techniques, materials etc in a slap dash manner. All of this is being done with the best intentions, but we are storing up many problems for the future by our haste and lack of underpinning knowledge.

In years to come we shall look back at this period in our history and hang our heads in shame, I think that in the worse case scenarios it will be regarded as a modern day 'asbestos' story.

So how can we change and do this better?

Well, a very easy way would be to think about it all in a very different manner.

At the moment all we can think about is energy bills, carbon reduction, fuel poverty and regeneration. None of these things are bad, but they do drive us into solutions that are not fit for purpose. For any readers not up to speed here there are fundamental flaws with how we measure energy efficiency in buildings (especially older ones), how we measure thermal efficiency in walls and also more importantly how awful we are when it comes to moisture. Have a look at the STBA reports on thermal and moisture measuring for more info.

Now DECC know all of this stuff - the STBA have told them, but it takes a long time to change Standards, Conventions, a whole industry! And then there is the political fallout! So basically we will have to wait a long time before we manage to make things better, so in the meantime we shall continue to make lots of mistakes and install lots of inappropriate measures.

So, as a proposal, should we not think about Health.

To have a healthy internal environment we need to provide:

  • Fresh clean air
  • Stable Relative Humidity (around 50-60%)
  • No mould or damp
  • Comfortable internal temperatures that are not prone to overheating
  • Sufficient natural light
  • Low toxicity in materials
  • No off-gassing from materials
  • A long term solution that maintains these conditions

To do this we need to have items like:

  • Breathable walls (where they were designed to breathe)
  • Insulation that is suitable
  • Good ventilation that is controlled by Internal Air Quality systems
  • Natural materials used
  • Low / Non toxic materials used
  • Good quality installers / builders

So the basic idea is that, if we can create safe, comfortable and healthy internal environments then energy efficiency comes as a by-product of this process / specification. So we would create good internal environments that are suitable for human beings. Isn't this the point of a building in the first place - to create a safe, sheltered and nice place to spend time with loved ones?

Won't it be great to look at a building and think 'how can I make this a really great place to live?' The satisfaction in making a house a home that you would want to live in and enjoy. After all someone has to live there and shouldn't we make it as healthy, homely and safe as possible?

However if we work within our current unrealistically blinkered parameters we shall just produce internal environments that help to burden the NHS and also provide people with poor quality of domestic life.

So lets start to put people first and I wouldn't mind betting that we shall be able to not only provide high quality space, but also save more money in the long term and reduce CO2.

Wales is in an ideal place to make this happen, but we need to drop using dangerous tools like rdSAP and also BS5250, especially for older buildings.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

The importance of preparation for wood floors

Preparing floors can be time consuming and dusty task
Wooden floors are glorious things. They have beautiful feel that shows the history of the wood used and reflect the wonders of their individual growth and characteristics. However, if you are using a treatment (like the wonderful Osmo Polyx Oil) it is really important to get a consistent finish on the floor first. A typical application requires a final sand of around 120 grit.

If you don't get a consistent finish then the oil will not be absorbed evenly and this can lead to a number of problems. Recently a customer used new timber on their floor that had not been sanded over after laying. The timber had been put through a planer that had created different finishes on the planks. In some areas the timber had effectively been polished by the planer and in other areas the timber was still quite rough. The new Raw Polyx Oil was then applied.

The Raw product has a minimal amount of white pigment in it to counteract the honey effect associated with oil treatment. It is also designed to have no visible finish, thus making the wood appear to be untreated - raw, if you like.

What happened was that the rough areas allowed the product to 'pool'. This has led to these areas appearing to be milky as the pigment was concentrated in here. Also the polished areas retained their polished appearance as the oil could not be easily absorbed into the wood in these areas. The outcome has been a patchy mix of sheens and colours. Obviously not ideal on a lovely new oak floor.

So it is really important to ensure that the floor has been sanded consistently across the whole surface. Any product will then be absorbed into the timber in a regular manner and hence give an excellent and predictable finish. This is really important where you have a pigment / colour involved in the process.

So time spent in getting this right will bring rewards in the longer term, so build in the time and expense into your equations to allow for good preparation when renovating or installing a new wooden floor.