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Eco town plans for global warming problems

Overheating caused by global warming has been identified as the “biggest threat” to new houses at the North West Bicester eco-town according to the local paper in Oxfordshire.

The houses are being designed to account for global warming with funding from the Technology Strategy Board, a body set up by the government to promote new technologies, says the Bicester Advertiser and Review.

Councillor Richard Mould of the Eco Bicester Strategic Deliver Board (I do wish they did not have such a self-important name) told the paper:

We’re trying to future proof homes, taking into account global warming for the next 50 years. There’s also provision for shutters to protect them from the heat.

I am not going to be around that long and our renovation will not reach code level five for sustainable homes but we have thought about overheating with our big south-facing windows.

Having lived in southern Spain for a couple of years we are fairly confident of our ability to manage solar gain through the use of night-time ventilation and shutters or other shading during the day. And super-insulation helps keep homes cool in summer as well as warm in winter.

But we have not really thought about the security issues involved in capturing cooler night air. That is why houses in Spain have bars (sometimes very ornate) on the windows. Maybe we will need them here too sometime.

We were told insulating the floor would be a challenge. It is

Insulating the floor and installing under floor heating would be the biggest challenge, we have been told, in doing the eco makeover. It is certainly the first challenge.

We were hoping that the surface screed on the concrete floor would be up to 50mm thick. A bit of hacking with a cold chisel shows that it is asphalt concrete and just 20mm thick. Drilling a hole through the slab has confirmed that there is 100mm of concrete above 100mm of compacted hardcore.

Removing the screed layer and then putting in 75m of insulation and a screed, containing the heating pipes of 65mm would raise the floor level by 120mm. Door opening would have to be raised and losing five inches off the heights of the rooms would do nothing for their proportions.

Breaking and removing 5 cubic metres of concrete sounds like a very expensive and risky option. Much more digging would be needed to make room for insulation, the new concrete slab and the screed. Can we afford that and do we want to take the risk of collateral damage? But it would be nice to reach a passive house standard.

Searching through internet forums brings conflicting experience. Some say they have  dug-out floors, but don’t say how much it costs. Others say it is too expensive, but again don’t quote figures.

The height increase on the existing slab can be reduced by fitting the heating pipes into the top of the insulation and using a heat spreader. But that means there is no thermal mass in the floor and the heating has to run at a higher temperature which reduces efficiency.

Every solution seems to have disadvantages. Mad thoughts flash through my mind: might not the existing slab provide a big heat store if we just laid the heating screed directly on it. Then solar gain, through the big south-facing windows, could compensating for the lack of insulation?

Dreams, dreams of an easy solution. We are just going to have to cost the alternatives and decide what to do.

We can’t be the first people do face this dilemma. It would be good to mown what they did.

 

 

 

Why the Green Deal sucks

Once people heard about our project they suggested we were in line for lots of help from the Green Deal (government website). We looked at it and very quickly decided it was not for us. For a start you have to borrow money at 4% above the rate of inflation. It is about the same margin above the interest you can earn on cash ISA.

It is also well above current mortgage interest rates. In other words, if you want to make your home more energy-efficient look for other sources of money first.

The idea must have sounded great in a Whitehall brainstorming meeting: “Lets have a scheme where people insulate their homes with no up-front payments and pay back the costs from savings on their fuel bills.”

As always the devil is in the detail. The Guardian has a good piece headed “Green deal home insulation programme ‘unlikely to deliver promises’“. It says:

The government’s flagship “green deal” home insulation programme provides no guarantee of saving money for cash-strapped households, and is unlikely to rescue many from fuel poverty, experts warned ahead of its formal launch on Monday.

The sense of doubt and confusion surrounding the policy was reinforced by a warning from a surveyors’ trade body that taking out a green deal loan could cost more than other ways of making home energy efficiency improvements.

 

There are all sorts of disincentives in the programme — cost of an assessment and early repayment penalties among them.

And it offers no foreseeable financial benefit (loans can run for up to 25 years) for the people it should be helping most: the increasing numbers of people facing fuel poverty. The evidence in a rural areas like Mid Suffolk is that their numbers are rising rapidly.

At present there are few Green Deal providers. I went to the website and put in my postcode to find local businesses. Up came a healthy nine companies. One name I recognised as being based in Suffolk. I clicked on four others. There were in Doncaster, Reading, North Yorkshire and Newbury.

Personally, I want to see as much of the work being done by local people so that employment benefits flow back into the local economy.

Yet the Guardian writes about one Essex company which cannot be a part of the Green Deal because of an insistence that Green Deal companies must provide a full range of services.

To sum up: the Green Deal sucks.

 

 

 

 

What did “Eco” written on a electric switch ten years ago mean?

On the first day of the project I am diverted when Lesley calls out that there is no hot water for her shower. After digging out a multimeter which has not been used for years, it seemed the thermostat for the off-peak immersion heater had failed.

So plans to investigate the construction of the bungalow’s solid floor are put on hold. We have a good idea already as we have the original building specifications. But we need to check. Many people have told us insulating the floor will be the most difficult task.

At least replacing the thermostat is an easier job that putting in a new heater, but it does mean a trip to B&Q after the village hardware store told me they could not get them from their plumbing supplier. It seems I was the third person in the past few weeks to want one. They are going to have another go at getting a supply.

I hope they succeed: it would make a contribution to reducing hardware miles.

The switches for the water heating are seldom seen. Generally it is only when we come back from holiday and need to use the boost heater that we glance at them.

They hint at the changes in energy consciousness this century. One is labelled “Eco” and the other “Normal”. I must have written those labels 12 years ago.

Back then I used “eco” as an abbreviation for “economy”. That was when electricity was a lost less expensive. On August 24, 2004, The Times (£) ran a story headed, “Soaring fuel bills spell end to era of cheap energy“. It started:

FUEL bills for millions of householders will rise by more than four times the rate of inflation as a decade of cheap energy prices came to an abrupt end yesterday.

British Gas, Britain’s largest gas and electricity supplier, announced its highest increase since customers were allowed to switch suppliers in 1996.

Since then “eco” has become a prefix for everything from houses to washing powder which claim to be ecological. But not cheap burgers with bits of horse. They come from the economy ranges.

Many words change meaning with time but I was a little surprised to realise that only a dozen years ago I was using “eco” as an abbreviation for “economy”.

A good thing that came from my trip to B&Q was the purchase of a pair of safety goggle, so that the floor of the bungalow can be investigated with less danger.

The bungalow is ours: now the project can start

Bungalow on purchase day

January 25: the bungalow is ours.

Dream became a reality yesterday when we completed the purchase of what will be our new home in the Suffolk village of Debenham. Now we have to work out exactly how we are going to refurbish a 1960s bungalow as an eco home for the 21st century.

We have been thinking about having an energy-efficient home for a long time. I recently found an article Lesley had written for the environmental magazine Vole in 1980 about heat pumps and geothermal energy. It mentions insulation and controlled ventilation too.

England has been slow to adopt these technologies, at least in the commercial housing market. Social housing has a better record.

There are some commercial eco housing developments in East Anglia now, but they are scattered and the work of smaller house building companies. We looked at several and liked what we saw but they were in the wrong places for us.

Our definition of sustainable is wider than just the house. There has to be decent food shop in walking distance and a reasonably frequent bus service into the nearest down.

We have been putting down roots in just such a place for the past dozen years. We came to Debenham and have lived happily in a Victorian cottage in the centre, overlooking the Market Green. We are involved in local things and it would have been madness to move away.

The new houses here did not match what we wanted and the older houses in the core of the village are hard to convert. It is a conservation area and most of the buildings are also listed making energy efficiency very hard.

Then a friend rang to say the buyer of a bungalow had dropped out and it was about to go on the market with an estate agent. My first reaction was that I did not want a bungalow nor a large garden but I was persuaded to look.

Lesley already knew the bungalow from committee meetings. I looked and could see the possibilities: it was a place where we could live in Debenham. It is less than 200 metres from the Co-op supermarket and there is a bus stop at the bottom of the drive.

So now it is ours and we are starting on what everyone around us says is an “exciting project”. I am going to blog about it because I enjoy writing blogs and to share the experience with others who may be thinking of doing something similar.