Saturday, 13 November 2010

designs completed (almost)

We had a relatively uneventful summer on the house front. A few meetings with Dominic and thrashing out ideas on details that all have to be agreed, such as which side will the sewage pipes come down on, siting of the ground floor toilet, lay-out of the basement space etc etc. It was all rather protracted, but at long last we have designs that we can submit to neighbours for approval and a specification to put out to tender.
Chris and I went to the Big Green Show in Swindon one week-end and of course were inspired by the products to amend the plans, but Dominic says as long as all contractors bit against the same spec that is all right.
I think after the 60 odd pages he produced of specs, he probably needs a break from our project for a bit.
Currently I am gathering quotes for placing PV panels on the roof. I would much prefer PV tiles to panels, for the aesthetics, but they come in at about double the price of the panels, and we have a lot of roof that is available for electricity generation.
Quandary here: should we go for PV everywhere or put solar thermal on the bathroom roof? Probably will just go for the PVs everywhere, as would have dual installation costs. At the moment we will get a paid substantially for any additional electricity we generate beyond what we use. there is apparently going to be a similar scheme for solar thermal panels in 2012 to encourage people to adopt this but cant be applied retrospectively. Also the solar thermal cells are bulkier and so even less attractive than the PV cells.

Next tasks: find window & door manufacturer, probably go to Poland for this, find garden designer, so that builders can do some of the groundwork.

I think things are going to get busy from now on!!

Friday, 27 August 2010

delays and delays

Our original plans were to start building work in January 2010. It is now August. We had to go back to the drawing board and review the plans when we realised that the drains for our house and those of out neighbours were in the way. Routing around the drains would be a highly complex task, so we have looked at how we can make best use of the space we have and the basement will no longer have usable rooms. Instead it will function as a storage and laundry room.

Taking our time over the plans has probably been a good thing, as we have been able to consider the options carefully. Now looks as though main work will start in January 2011, but hope we can get the top floor finished before then.

Geothermal heating will not be a good option as we will not have the drilling equipment that is necessary for it and it seems that directing the heat laterally requires an enormous amount of space to produce the levels of energy that would be required in the house.

Still thinking about whether to collect rainwater. I worry we will have hosepipe bans in the future, but Chris still doesnt think it will be worth doing.

I havent put any posts up now for a while, but hope we can get some interesting info up once things start to happen.

Saturday, 17 April 2010

17 April 2010

Today on the 3rd anniversary of my mother's death, our personal loss is deepened by the tragedy that has enveloped the Polish nation. On the flight to attend the commemorations of the Katyn massacres was a large section of the country's political and social leadership. Amongst them were also respected representatives of the Polish community in Britain.
Those of us who were born in this country after the war have lost those who were a link to the independent Poland that existed between the two world wars. We were brought up to believe in a country of romantic idealists, to believe that courage, honour and integrity were the most important of human virtues. Our heroes were passionate, colourful and, invariably, doomed individuals.
This country bore little resemblance to the post-war state that we visited when some of the restrictions to travel were lifted or to the current re-incarnation of an independent Poland.
Perhaps the tragic accident that occurred this week will make us reflect on what it means to be Polish, to re-evaluate what we hold dear and to embrace as our true Polish heroes those that have shown those noble qualities that we believed in. May their memory guide us in the way we live our lives.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

we are sad

Our beautiful cat, Bella, was diagnosed as having severe kidney damage the other day. She had started showing symptoms of ill health about 3 weeks ago, but had seemed a bit better, so thought she might be recovering.
Bella was 2 1/2 years old. We bought her for Caia as a birthday present 2 years ago and she was the sweetest cat ever. She was very sociable and inquisitive, and at any social occasion would come in to see what was going on.
The vet rang me on Thursday morning to give me the results of the blood tests, and said the kidney damage was so advanced there was very little chance of recovery. Caia's birthday was on Friday, so I thought I would tell her on Saturday and then we would take Bella to be put down. However, watching her discomfort was so upsetting that I couldn't go on with it. On Friday I told Caia and although we were both very upset, decided it would be best to have her put down as soon as possible. We arranged it for that afternoon, 2 years after we had got her.
Goodbye Bella, we will miss you.

Wednesday, 31 March 2010


I have just done our energy readings for the last 2 weeks and they seem to have gone up again. May be a combination of different reasons; another cold spell, Caia back home, me being in a lot, Marlon making door openings to the eaves which are letting cold air. Hope it all settles back down once Marlon gets doors in.

Anyway, topic was meant to be windows. Marlon looked at about 5 local workshops and in the end we chose a middling one. I am delighted as the windows we put in 10 years ago had spiral balances, double-glazed, by Magnets and quite ugly. They hadn't been fitted very well and when Marlon took them out the frames were beginning to rot. I am very,very pleased to have sashes back although Marlon says their fit isn't perfect and they don't have draught-excluders all the way around, but Marlon will fix all that.

When Chris and I visited Ecobuild we talked to a few window companies and Chris thought that with a more mechanised process they could probably provide a higher quality of window. I had thought we ought to be supporting small, local businesses, but in the end you do have to make some sacrifices when you are saving the planet.

Anyway here are some pics.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

signs of success

I have just been doing the log of our electricity and gas meter readings and am delighted because the amount we are using has been steadily decreasing since Marlon started work.
For example we were using 149 KWh weekly on average in a 7-week period before we started insulating the roof and that is currently down to 104 KWh per week in the last 4 week period.
The periods I measure are a bit erratic as I forget to take weekly readings, so then I have to adjust the reading to give a weekly average.
Gas readings show a similar pattern, although there was a bit of an increase in gas consumption at the start of the work, maybe due to plaster being taken off and windows left open.
You could say that there would have been an increase just because the first period included Christmas, but that also included one quite warm stretch and we were away for part of the Christmas holidays.
I would expect readings to decrease as the weather starts to get warmer, but I can also make quarterly comparisons with previous years and will continue to monitor as we bring in solar panels, photovoltaic cells and new boiler.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

What a waste!

Our original plans for the refurbishment included a basement underneath the extension which would house a home cinema, gym, utility room, toilet, shower and storage space.
This would have been encased in a concrete shell and lent itself to being heated by ground source heat.
Two drainage experts, Gareth & Glyn, were to undertake an exploration of the waste pipes, so that Dominic could work out how the waste from various toilets, bathrooms etc would be diverted out of the house.
The weather delayed the visit, and when G&G did come, they found the pipes were not in the place indicated by plans from Thames Water. After digging up half the patio, it turned out that they could access the pipes with their probe through a manhole on our neighbours patio. Instead of running underneath our house, the waste pipe actually runs beneath the neighbours house and from there to a pipe underneath the road.
Unfortunately, G&G found that the pipes would cut across the current plans we have for extending the basement outwards.
So its back to the drawing board and a rethink of what we do. Dominic made the point that we should be able to accommodate everything we want within the current space we have.
We have started to use the room next to our bedroom as a gym anyway, so that can probably stay there. We had also started to think about siting the toilet on the ground floor, so it wouldn't require a pump and a macerator ( I was put off that by the site of Rachel from next door cleaning out her macerator in the garden).
Quite excited about the new plans and new possibilities, lower financial and environmental costs - so it's all win, win.
However, the starting date for this project is slipping by the minute. Hope it will be finished by the Olympics.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010


In 1821, Hegel wrote "When the activity of civil society is unrestricted, it is occupied internally with expanding its population and industry." As a result "the accumulation of wealth increases ....But on the other had, the specialisation and limitation of particular work also increase, as do the likewise the dependence and want of the class which is tied to such work .....the inner dialectic of society drives it go beyond its own confines and look for consumers, and hence the means it requires for its subsistence, in other nations  which lack those means of which it has a surplus or which generally lag behind it in creativity etc". This process leads to the development of international trade, with all its "fluidity, danger and destruction" and to the establishment of colonies for the surplus population of civil society.
Accordingly unrestrained civil society generates a series of systemic dysfunctions - growing divisions between rich and poor, a shortage of markets and a tendency towards external markets which is both liberating and destabilising.

from Social Theory, A Historical Introduction by Alex Callinicos

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Last week I went to a lecture at the LSE called "Prosperity without growth" by Tim Jackson (has written a book by that name). The argument went that there are finite resources and national economies rely on growth to prosper, hence we are encouraged to consume at infinitum.

The solution proposed was that instead economies need to rely on green technologies and service-based industries. Not sure that that would solve the problem. Even green technologies consume resources eg. insulating the house we may use products that are in finite supply. The problem is that technologies are continually improving and whatever we may install in our house this year, in 10 years time there is likely to be a better solution that we will be persuaded to invest in.
Example - we put in double-glazed windows in our house 10 years ago. We are replacing them as now we can get something much better. When will these "better" windows be replaced again. Our house was built in 1872. Those original windows probably stayed in place at least until the 1920s, when the family living there had a bit of a makeover. Many of the features they put in were still there when we bought the house, but due to the general poor condition of the fabric of the house they had to be removed. I wonder how the house will look by 2072 - assuming  that its still standing.

Chris and I attended the Ecobuild exhibition full of "green" salesmen persuading us that there product is the most worthwhile. The man selling ground source heating systems assured us that photo-voltaic cells and solar thermal technology were worse than useless in this country. This echoed the opinion of George Monbiot in the Guardian today - but the generous government subsidies being promised to encourage the installation of these products must be based on some kind of objective reality. Maybe that is an optimistic assessment of the way government works, but I can't understand what their objective would otherwise be. The man from CAT (Centre for Alternative Technology) told us we would be mad not to take advantage of the subsidies.

I blame "Grand Designs" for this madness of taking buildings to bits. I watched a heart-breaking episode tonight of a family that bought a farmhouse in the Alps. Whilst they were away, the pulled out many of the original timbers and burnt them. Some of the structural beams were replaced with concrete clad with new timbers singed and stained to make them look old.

Maybe we should just leave our house alone and just patch up things when necessary and that way we'd have less of an impact on the environment.

Friday, 19 February 2010

while we were away

While we were away M made great progress with insulating. He managed to fit in some celotex between the rafters in the narrow parts of the roof space, so we wont have to insulate within the room. The tricky bits were the dormer windows, because the walls there are very thin and there is no insulation, so M had to take the plaster off there and also in part of the hallway ceiling, as that was the only way to get the celotex in.
Although some mineral wool was laid by the roofers 10 years ago, it was done in a very piecemeal fashion, and has got lots of rubble mixed in with it, which probably reduces its effectiveness. M is lifting floorboards and adding sheep's wool insulation where there are gaps. The house already feels much cosier.
All this is almost done and now we have to make some decisions about storage and about the bathroom design.
I would like to have storage built into the eaves as the sloping ceiling and chimney breasts reduce the number of positions where wardrobes and cupboards can be placed.
D, the architect is coming tomorrow to firm up the plans. Should be a long meeting -but hopefully will help us to resolve some of the issues.

Sunday, 31 January 2010


Lots of dust, can feel it in the air.
Not very squashy, has to be cut to size.
We are only putting it in where there isn't enough space for sheep's wool.

Thursday, 28 January 2010

insulation begins

M started insulating the roof yesterday. After mulling all the materials that were on offer and changing my mind every day as to what would be best, cheapest, most eco-friendly M just went ahead and ordered lots of stuff. We are using the B&Q sheeps wool where we have space and shoving Celotex in between the rafters where there is less space, but mindful of leaving a gap for ventilation of the rafters. All good so far.
Discussed storage solutions with M and have decided on some neat ways of building cupboards and drawers to extend into the eaves space.
We are going to have to divert the drains when we start on the ground floor work. The plans currently showing the drainage from both neighbours as well as ourselves running directly under the house. D, the architect, arranged for a CCTV scan last Saturday, but the drains people were not able to get very far, because there was a bend in the pipe. Chris has been digging a hole over the bend, so that the drain people can come back and break into the drains at a spot past the bend. An architect friend in my ballet class commented that she hoped we didn't mind rats!! So we are going to have a beautifully refurbished, rat-infested home?
Anyway, the whole business is yet another delay, because D cannot make a decision on how waste flows from the bathroom we are installing in the attic until we know exactly where the drains are. This gives me a bit more time to mull over windows, tiles and bathroom fittings.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

insulating the loft - sheeps wool insulation

Today M came over to start on the work in the loft. We have two fair-sized attic rooms, a box room in between them and eaves which lots of junk or "fond memories" depending on your frame of mind.
M is going to put in a bathroom in the box room and then insulate our roof properly. Insulation has moved on in the last 10 years, when the roofers laid mineral rockwool layers in some parts of the roof an not others.
Our insulation is going to be a bit of a patchwork as some of the spaces we have between roof and ceiling are very narrow, but the aim is to make it a whole lot better than it is currently, so the rooms are not freezing in winter and insufferably hot in summer. The other issue is to maintain circulation of air, so that the rafters don't rot.
Today I have been researching the best insulation to use.
B&Q had a fantastic offer on their sheep wool insulation, but it was out of stock.I rang them up and they told me I could order in store they would get some in.
We had a discussion about sheep's wool at out last Transition Town meeting, so I thought I should just clarify. The material from B&Q is 55% natural sheep's wool, 35% recycled plastic and 10% polyester and it is moth- proofed. Apart from that I cannot find any technical details about this product. It is supplied by the John Cotton Group and is called "Sheep Wool Insulation" on the packaging.
The other products I have been able to find are Thermafleece and Thermafleece PB20 by Second Nature, and contain 85% and 60% sheeps wool respectively and there are pro and cons to both products. There is a very useful comparison chart on the Second Nature website. Both moth-proofed based on ISO 3998 and treated with fire-proofing agent.
The price at B&Q make this a no-brainer choice, but I would be interested to receive any comments on this.