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.