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English construction industry should play bigger part in EU plan to cut greenhouse gas emissions

One of the unknowns throughout the building work was how air-tight we could make Ridgeway. We were told it was more difficult with a conversion and we would be doing well if we got a 3 (m3/hr/m2 air loss at a pressure of 50 Pa).

I don’t understand the formula but the lower the number the better. English building regs for new houses is 10, while extensions and renovations do not have to be measured. At the start of the project I told Karl, the builder, that we were aiming at 1. His reaction was: “That would look good on the CV.”

The approach was to nag every tradesman who cam through the door, follow the architect’s instructions and use vast quantities of tape, expanding foam and mastic on every join and anything that looked like a hole.

The first test came out at 2.45 which comfortably meets both German and Swedish building regs. As we don’t need a further test to meet any standards I am not planning to spend the money on one. But we have identified leaks and closing those should bring the figure down to about 1. That is not quite Passivhaus but getting close.

We worked hard on plugging the gaps because air leakage would reduce the efficiency of the air-source heating and the mechanical heat recovery ventilation. Several people told me British workers could not build air tight. We have shown that they can given the right design and by ensuring that everyone working on the site was aware of the importance of blocking every possible leak.

But still major construction firms are apparently often struggling to meet even the inadequate English standard. The fact that on new estates only a sample of buildings are tested and the developer gets to choose which ones are does not help improve things.

With the news today that EU leaders have agreed a pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40% by 2030 improved standards in the construction industry become increasingly important. For anyone who tells me British workmen are the problem I now have the experience to respond: “Rubbish. They just need the right plans and committed managers.”

 

 

 

 

 

BT has the worst customer service I have experienced in the UK

BT has the worst customer service I have encountered in the UK, by a big margin. And the rolled eyes when I mention my problems suggest many people share this view. The men on the ground are helpful and could teach there bosses a lot but they are not listened to. One engineer told me: “This is why I hate my job now — I used to enjoy it.”

The fault clearly lies at the feet of the chief executive and main board directors who have engendered  a culture that disdains the customer. Yesterday I was told by someone in Executive Level Complaints (a call centre in the UK and the only person in BT I have a direct line number for) that she could not help because she was not trained for broadband.

It reminded me of the engineer who could not complete a job because he was “not flat roofed trained”. I don’t blame him because it was clearly a serious disciplinary with severe punishment if seen eight feet off the ground. I do blame a management culture which does not trust people to make their own risk assessment and fill in a form explaining their decision.

Thrice men have arrived to do work involving a Power Networks electricity pole which also carries phone lines only to have to call for help because of a sensible safety requirement that a second person is required when a pole has to be climbed. Every time the first man had to twiddled his thumbs while someone else was called from 20 or 30 miles away.

Why did a manager not send two people in the first place? It is typical of the waste and inefficiency I have seen from BT during our work at Ridgeway.

The story began December last year when Power Networks were asked to move the electricity supply to make room for external insulation. They condemned their existing pole which also carried the phone line and said they wanted to underground the supply.

I contacted Openreach, the BT owned telecoms infrastructure business, and asked if they would like to underground their line too. We would leave the trench open or put in a conduit for their line to be pulled through. No, came the reply, they preferred to have their lines overground.

Then Openreach surveyors came to look. The overground man says the cable should go underground. The underground man to whom I explain the costs would have to be met by Openreach because they had rejected the offer to use the trench we had dug for Power Networks, decides it could go overground.

Anxious to get everything in order and working before we moved house, I contacted Openreach who were not ken to talk to me because their customer for this job was Power Networks. But they did. After the third visit and a lot of man hours we had a wire running from the bungalow to the the pole. In between, I had to get someone in to cut back trees. The third man was not prepared to use a new bracket we had fixed within reach of another man without flat roof training. At present I can’t face asking them to come back and remove the extra bracket.

Finally I was assured the job was complete except for a connection at the pole in the street and something which had to be done at the “frame” in the exchange.  On my third subsequent call to Openreach I was assured this work had been done and I was ready to ask BT to transfer the service from our old address 200 metres away.

But I was told there was no service to the bungalow. I explained Openreach said the work had been done. That was not what the “system” said.

Would they ring Openreach to check? No they were not allowed to talk to Openreach.

Inevitably the man, who arrived the day after we had moved, had to call for another man who was working 30 miles away and sit in his van waiting. The connection had not been made at the pole and the work at the exchange had not been done: Openreach had misled me.

When the service starts working I am pleased. Our broadband speed had almost trebled to about 17.5 mb/s.

Some days later there is a surprise visit from and Openreach engineer. He tells me he been sent with some instructions about a conduit and under grounding the supply. I briefly tell him that his employers had rejected the suggestion to underground the line.

Two brackets: one line

Two brackets: one line

“I have driven 30 miles to hear you say that,” he says. Then looks up at the wire and adds: “That is what they have left you with?”

But that was not the end of it. A week ago we lost both our phone and broadband services. The phone was reconnected the following day but no broadband. More hours on the phone. Very busy and the automated voice suggests a ringback. The ringback come from the wrong department so it is another hour waiting.

Then I am told that I don’t have a contract for a broadband service, there is not capacity at the exchange to provide it, and there has been a technical error. They would deal with it in a week’s time. Not good enough and I grow increasingly angry.

Eventually they agree to try to do it with 48 hours. The service is reconnected the following day. But the broadband speed has been cut to less than it was before we moved.

Why don’t a switch to another provider? First, Openreach handles the infrastructure for all of them. Second, BT’s extensive network of wi-fi hotspots means that I can get a connection on most places.

 

 

 

 

It was a good idea but it did not work for me

At the start of turning Ridgeway from a 1960s bungalow (a very nice one) into an early 21st century eco home it seemed like a good idea to blog about the work. It was a fairly simple writing task which should be well within my capabilities as a journalist and would not take so much time that I would neglect managing the project. And I was an experienced blogger having written successfully and influentially about the media.

What could go wrong? Several things: for a start, I found talking to suppliers, contractors and researching took more time and was more stressful than I imagined. But mostly, I could not find a way of writing entertainingly while maintaining good relations with contractors and suppliers and individual tradesmen.

DSCF1542

A memory of high summer: the sedum roof on our extension in flower

Now the work is mostly completed and we have moved in. All the eco stuff is working well although some tweaking remains to be done. We had guttering before the rains of the past few days but no downpipes: it seems they were damaged in transit and further supplies from Sweden are awaited. That is just a minor irritation.

So a New Life, for Ridgeway, myself and Lesley is really beginning now. The blog is being revived with a rather wider focus — a lot will be about the house but also other things which interest me.

We are still opening boxes, some containing things have remained in the loft since we moved from London to Debenham 15 years ago. So some memories will probably creep into the blog as I am reminded of my past life, the places with have visited and the rings we have done.