Life: after fossil fuels

 

 


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Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe

 

Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative

LCCC

 

Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59

Superhome 59

 

This website proud host of the High Wycombe Local Food Guide

Local Food

 

Insulation - Pipes & Domestic Hot Water Cylinder

Remember the picture of that Domestic Hot Water Cylinder? Look carefully at the photo (left). Here we have insulated all of those pipes. In fact we didn't even question whether pipes were hot or cold. We did them all. You could probably save yourself a little bit of money by lagging only the hot pipes. The pipe insulation is flexible foam. You buy it from DIY stores. It is not expensive but you will need a lot of it for a job like this. There are only two dimensions you need be concerned with - 15m and 22mm diameter. But measure first! Focus on the areas with the biggest wins - such as this airing cupboard. Remember you only need a gentle heat to air your laundry. You don't need to cook it.

 

Space in the cupboard was restricted around the shelving. Pipes were also fitted very close to walls making squeezing the insulation in a bit of a struggle. But boy, is it worth it! You can cut the foam with a pair of scissors. I did this a lot to fit the lagging around cupboard shelves and pipe fittings. You will also need to do some cutting to ease the lagging around any pipe bends. Remember to NOT lag over any valve where a screw driver is required to stop the water flow. Finding these stop valves in a hurry is very important in any plumbing emergency. You have been warned!

 

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We had just such an emergency with the first month. We were insulating the long pipe runs in the attic when a pipe joint burst. The joint in question was joined via a flexible hose and compression joint to a Shower Pump. Sadly the earlier DIYer had soldered the other end of the joint to a length of Copper piping. This is a big no-no as the heat weakens the plastic. The joint was extremely fragile and was ready to pop with the slightest movement. The incident caused panic at the time as I was alone in the house. I was lucky enough to have some plastic sheeting and a large plastic box in the attic left over from the move. This gave me enough time to switch all the electricals off in the house and grab a mobile phone and the Yellow Pages. I had to hold my thumb over the pipe end to stem the flow of hot water. It was too hot but luckily some bubble wrap came to my rescue. Even so we had water dripping through a light fitting and into the bathroom below.

 

Thankfully the emergency plumber turned up and figured out how to switch the water off. However, his visit was very expensive (it was a Saturday night) in more ways than one. Although very lucky, in that we didn't sustain any structural damage during he leakage, we recognised that all the DIY piping had to be removed and replaced by a professional before any further pipe insulation could be done. Within a week it was all fixed. Expensive - but what price can you put on these things? The lesson was learnt. We certainly don't relay this story to put anyone off. It is not a fault of the Insulation exercise but it is useful to reflect that you do need to be careful around amateur pipework and take the following precautions:

 

  • Before embarking ensure you have plenty of water-tight plastic sheeting to hand

  • Bubble wrap as very useful for handling hot water pipes

  • A 20 gallon plastic container is handy if you can't hold the leakage

  • Try and make sure you are not alone in the house

  • Have a mobile phone with you

  • Have some numbers for emergency plumbers programmed into the phone or keep the Yellow Pages handy

  • Make sure you know where your fuse box is

  • Make sure you know what each fuse on the fuse box is for

  • If water is going to leak onto any electrics immediately switch off the power

  • Keep a torch handy in case you need to power-off the lights

  • Get House insurance!

 

Having said all of this.... I have insulated a lot of pipes in my life and never had this happen before. It was bad luck. I hope it doesn't happen to you. Copper piping soldered together is very robust. Flexible piping should be equally robust. Any piping, if properly connected, should be able to withstand slight movements. Be suspicious of joints between copper and plastic piping.

 

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Anyway, we digress. Back to our Airing Cupboard. See the picture - right. Here we have fitted an extra insulation jacket for the Domestic Hot Water Cylinder. These are available from DIY stores and are quite common so you can shop around for a bargain. We got ours for £13 from local DIY store ("Focus DIY"). It comes in a pack of four panels of red plastic which seals in in the mineral wool insulation. Open each pack and shake them to let the air inflate each panel. Carefully maneuver each on around the cylinder using the instructions on the pack. Do not cover the top of the heating element. Tie off with the laces supplied. I also used some tape to make a neat job of the jacket around the top of the cylinder.

 

Note that not all cylinders are the same size. Measure yours first to ensure you get the right one. However there is not a lot of diversity and the DIY store we went to only stocked one size. It happened to fit our DHWC Heater Tank perfectly.

 

There you go. Job done. It took only a few minutes to fit the jacket. Fitting pipe insulation is a bit more time consuming but remember - it took Noah more than half an hour to build his Ark.

 

Low Carbon Man

  • A bit fiddley to fit in some places. Not exactly pocket-money cheap.

  • It is easy to find and buy the insulation. It was fun the fit it.

 

Insulation - Attic Water Tanks

Why insulate those water tanks in the attic? Firstly - they are meant to be! Local Byelaws dictate that all such tanks must be insulated. The reason? Frost. Uninsulated Tanks and fittings can freeze and be damaged in winter. The resulting damage could be expensive. Secondly - it would be nice if you didn't have all kinds of contaminants floating around in the water. This is especially important for the hot water tank which must have a lid.

 

As we are planning on adding a lot of extra insulation to the attic then it becomes more important to insulate the tanks. Since they can no longer rely upon heat flowing up from the living space underneath then they will need to endure cold temperatures using internal warmth. Having said that, it is not recommended that you apply extra loft insulation underneath these water tanks. The reason is to allow some residual heat to escape to the underside of the tank. However you will still need to insulate AROUND the base of the tanks to stop that heat from spilling out into the attic space itself.

 

The photo's here show the small Tank which is the Header for the Hot Water system. I purchased a new lid for it (no original lid has been found). This cost £1.38 + VAT & Delivery from www.bes.ltd.uk Then I fitted the insulation jacket. This was also from BES and cost £2.17 (+ VAT & Del). The 50 Gallon Tank is the Header for the Hot Water system. It too had no lid so we purchased one from BES (£15.26 + VAT & Del). Finally I fitted the large tank with its own insulation jacket (BES for £7.80 + VAT & Del). The final view of the finished tanks is pictured right. The jackets are just Mineral Wool sealed into plastic bags. You will need to cut then to fit around any pipes then tie of everything with the plastic string included in the pack.

 

There you have it. Job done. Very satisfying. However, remember to wear gloves and a dust mask around mineral Wool insulation because it irritates both skin and lungs.

 

Low Carbon Man

  • A pain-in-the-arse to find the bits and fit. Not exactly dirt cheap either. No enormous benefit either.

  • A bit of an adventure for the purist.

 

Insulation - Loft Hatch

The original loft hatch was nothing more than a 1cm think piece of ill fitting hard-board. It was also very small. Since we were planning on getting a lot more loft insulation up there, plus using the loft for storage, it became clear that something larger was required. After browsing the web I came up with www.jupiterblue.co.uk who sell a variety of plastic loft hatches by mail order. I chose the largest one I could with the maximum level of insulation. In this case it was a "PD35" (755mm x 560mm) for £41.99 (+VAT of 9.36 & Delivery of £11.50). This hatch has a full 100mm 'plug' of polystyrene and is air-tight to meet the provisions of the new "Part L" Building Regulations in force in England.

 

It took a couple of hours work to remove the existing loft hatch and open up the space to fit the new one. The golden rule here is that you can do what you like but NEVER cut through a load bearing joist! The only 'fiddly' aspect of such a job is trying to get a good fit. In this we were very lucky in that our house builders had fitted some wood around the old hatch that was exactly the excess width we need to remove. Once I cut this away the fit was perfect. I also had to make the hole much longer. This required repositioning a non-load joist that the builders had thoughtfully nailed into place. I had to take a hack saw and cut through the nails at one end before pulling it out. I made the hole larger and then re-nailed this section of wood back into place. I took the opportunity to move the entire hatch area further away from the space frame trusses as this would help us to get things into and out of the attic (plus it enabled a fold-up ladder to placed there later). Once you have the right sized hole the new hatch simply pops into place to be secured by eight screws. Job done

 

To finish it off I did mastic around the outside ceiling joint. We were lucky in that we didn't cause any damage to the ceiling. It only needed a lick of paint to conceal the newly exposed areas that had not previously been painted. This is the advantage of making things BIGGER! Here you see a photo of the final installation. This was actually a very easy job to do and an important one. The only disadvantage is that we found the 100mm plug of polystyrene takes up space when open and is highly vulnerable to getting damaged. We will probably find a cunning way of propping it open. Otherwise we might recommend a hatch that pushes up and clear of the opening.

 

Low Carbon Man

  • Difficult to fit and the door doesn't quite fit properly because the frame is distorted.

  • Certainly an infinite improment over the original door. It looks better and gave us better access too.

 

Insulation - Attic

Ever wondered what £999 (this included VAT and delivery) worth of Black Mountain Sheep's Wool Insulation looks like? It arrives on two pallets (which can easily be moved by one person). Each pallet had 18 rolls. The total of 36 rolls covers around 55 squared meters. The pallets always come in handy for building that compost heap you always promised yourself you would build if only you had a few old pallets! It took a couple of days to haul this lot into the attic. It isn't heavy just bulky and very dirty. The rolls are mostly well wrapped in plastic bags but not all. Everything is covered in a layer of black dust that will settle around your house whilst you move it. I can only assume that the place this is made in Wales is co-located with an old coal pit. The alternative to Black Mountain is Thermafleece but that is 30% more expensive. Why did we choose sheep's wool? Well it has vastly lower embodied energy than mineral wool but the aspect that really swung it is that it can be handled without gloves and causes no skin irritation. Thus it can be used over top of the existing mineral wool to 'seal it in'. This should make the loft a much nicer environment to move around in. Anyone who has ever spent any time in a loft insulated with exposed mineral wool will tell you that it gets in your lungs and makes for an uncomfortable experience.

 

The picture (right) shows the next stage of operations in the attic. Each one of the seven recessed ceiling lights need to be sealed into airtight boxes. Each box had to be made up from materials to hand. I bought some 47mm x 47mm batten as the existing joists are 94mm deep. A couple of these, cut to length, slot into the gap between the joists. Screw in good 75mm (size 8) screws through the joists and into the ends of the battens, Then a third, longer, length goes over top of the joist so that the unit is load bearing. Put two of these either side of the light fitting and smaller lengths along the joists to make the remaining sides of the box. The battens can be screwed or glued but make the unit robust enough to take being stood on. Then cut a section of chip board (or whatever you have to hand) to fit over top as a lid. I used self-adhesive door seals (visible in the photo) between lid and box to get a good seal. You will have to include some holes to allow wires in and out but you can mastic all round for a good seal.

 

You can screw the lid down but there shouldn't be a need to be too thorough. Remember that you may need to get to the top of the light again, one day, for maintenance. This will effect whatever you put over top of the air-proof box too so think about it! Next step is to lay the first insulation. At this point everything should be easy for most DIYers. You have to remember to lay any electrical wiring over top of the insulation in case it generates heat. This will also ease maintenance. Whoever laid the wires in our loft took no notice of this advice so we had to dig around to find all the wires. Several wires were threaded underneath walking planks near the base of the inverted A-Frame. In theory you could unwire these and do the job properly but we didn't worry. We made the next phase difficult for ourselves as we wanted to be able to walk over the insulation in places and have some storage. The normal advice is that extra loft insulation makes storage impractical. Other advice tells you it can be done but to more than 40% of the attic should be boarded. My enquiries lead to no good explanation or advice on the matter.

 

Therefore we had to use common sense. If your attic is to be lived-in, rather than used for storage, then Building Regulations require proper load-bearing joists to be installed. Apart from that we guess the only limits are the extra weight you add to the attic joists if 'over-joisting'. Hence, restricting the amount of over-joisting, to save weight, seems a good idea. We planned to fit the 40% and bought enough 100mm x 47mm joisting as seemed sensible. It will be spread evenly through the attic space and must be screwed to the existing joists using "L" angle-brackets. The insulation is 100m thick and we will be making two passes to get the additional 200mm. The first layer will go at right-angles to the existing joisting then the second layer at 90 degrees again. Hence the two layers of over-joisting will be angled to match. This provides a strong but lightweight frame. Remember that all this weight is in the attic so, even if you screwed everything down firmly, to make the loft floor stiffer, the house underneath has to hold it all up! Therefore we preferred a minimalist structure with no attempt to make the existing ceiling stronger.

 

Try and position the load around the sides of the loft, near the load-bearing walls, rather than the middle. Do not add over-joisting over existing pipe-work or obscure access to the stop-cock valves. (You may need those in a real hurry one day!) If you (like us) are planning for future installations of Solar Thermal or Photovoltaic Panels then think about where additional pipe-work or wiring will go. Provide routes around or through any raised flooring so that work can be done without having to rip out all your good work. This may all seem like hard work. And it is. However, if you call someone in to do some work in the attic, a few years down the line, then it will all be worth it as your installers will be able to move around and work without putting a foot through your ceiling. Just make sure that the new flooring doesn't get in their way. So keep it to a minimum. The roof joists are already holding up all your water tanks so they are quite strong. They also sit upon a rigid box structure so will take a reasonable static load. If in doubt get a builder in and talk to your Local Building Control Officer.

 

Over-boarding (as illustrated) is necessary for any areas where you may need to access. Follow the advice on the pack and do not allow it to be supported by joists further than 600mm apart. Do as we have done here and mark the position of all wiring, pipes and ceiling lights on the top of the boards for future reference. You are not meant to trap the wires between boards and joists although this is probably more to do with stopping you from drilling through them. We cut slots in the over-joists to fit the wires through. (Do not cut such slots into your ceiling's load bearing joists!) As long as some air can pass then over-heating should not be a problem. We also avoided having to thread wires over joists as much as possible by routing them around the joists however, sometimes, the available lengths did not allow this. In areas where access is not likely to be required you can probably get away with spare furniture board, and the like, whatever you have lying around. However this stuff is dangerous if you try and step on it as it is unsecured. This kind of thing is only good for static storage.

 

Update March 2010: when we used Black Mountain Sheeps Wool we found that some of the rolls didn't fluff up to the full 100mm advertised. As we had plenty to spare we didn't worry about it and just laid a third layer where necessary. The problem mostly effected the centre of each roll where the wool was most compressed. We spoke direct to Black Mountain about this when we visited their stand at Ecobuild 2010 in Earls Court, London. Although they said they knew of two other clients who had reported the same problem the wool normally self-inflates to the full width after a few days. They do sample-check the product and had detected no problems. If this is to be believed it seems we were unlucky on this occasion. To their credit they were were very gracious and offered to give us free rolls! We declined this offer as unecessary and wished them luck. Caution is still advised. If it doesn't rise to the full width after a few days give the manufacturer a call as they seem interested in rectifying the problem and are happy to help.

 

Low Carbon Man

  • The sheeps wool is expensive. Add in the cost of fitting over-boarding and this was a £2000 project. Poor payback the way we did it.

  • The hard work was very rewarding and really keeps the house snug and warm. We have good access and lots of storage.

 

Cavity Wall Insulation

8am on a very cold 10th December - there was a knock on the door - it was our Cavity Wall Insulation installers from the Mark Group. It took them six months to turn up after the first visit of their Surveyor. They promised six weeks originally! In the end we had to phone them to get an appointment - for November. Then they didn't turn up citing an accident on the motorway. Then they couldn't get us another appointment for another four weeks. On the phone their customer service is abysmal. Even worse, when the guys turned up they explained that they couldn't actually do two sides of the house. They couldn't access one end and the north side had flint insets and no cavity. They wondered why their Surveyor had not thought of this! After a hasty renegotiation on the price they cracked on.

 

At this point events unfolded very well. The guys did a good job and were neat, tidy, helpful and polite. They answered all our questions and cleaned up afterwards. Apart from the over-zealous use of a hose pipe near an open conservatory door, we had no complaints about the actual install. They drill holes in the wall, in multiple places, and blow in fluffy-white glass-fibre. Then they fill the holes. It is a bit if a dusty process due to the drilling but otherwise it was relatively simple. They also fitted an air-vent for the lounge because of the fire-place. We assumed this was for Building Regulations so we didn't question it. However it did negate all our draft reduction measures so it will need a temporary cap when the fire is not lit. It was also a very cheap job - only £219

 

Low Carbon Man

  • Problems with the installer somewhat spoiled the experience.

  • Undoubtedly the cheapest insulation we fitted in comparison to the cost.

 

Radiator Foil

.In December 2008 with the Winter settling in we decided to insert radiator foil behind our radiators. We purchase three rolls of "Climaflex" from B&Q. This is a thin sheet of polystyrene with a reflective metallic finish on one side. These have to be cut to size and carefully inserted and fixed behind your radiators with the reflective side facing the back of the radiator. The idea is that it stops the radiator from heating the wall. Instead more of the heat is radiated into the room. It should make you feel warmer quicker. In theory it works allowing you to turn the thermostat down and save carbon. It is quite simple to do with a couple of problems as we found out.

 

The first problem was cost. The rolls cost £7 each and you will need two for most houses. (We had loads left over!) OK, so that is £14. Then there is fixing it to the fall. Big deal. If you can use wall-paper paste then try that. From B&Q that will set you back about £5 for a pack. Budget for at least £20. There are DIY alternatives that are even cheaper such as corrugated cardboard and aluminum cooking foil. This is great but you still need to stick these to the wall. Here comes the second major problem: unless you wish to drain your heating system and remove you radiators you will, no doubt, fix the panels in place whilst the radiators are still mounted on the wall. The first thing you learn about this is: DIRT!

 

The wall behind your radiators is probably quite dusty and dirty. Make sure you clean it thoroughly. In our case we used a piece of wooden batten and a cloth regularly soaked in hot water. This we wrapped around the batten and vigorously wipe down the wall behind the radiator until it looked clean. The foil rolls make the panels very curvy. I couldn't see how I would keep the panel in place whilst the glue dried. I also thought I would just get glue everywhere when I tried to insert the panels behind the radiator. So I elected for double-sided sticky tape. This does prove very expensive. I roll of 5m sets you back about £2.50 at B&Q. Not cheap when you consider that we ended up using about 70m for the project in a five-bed house. That was easily £35 worth of tape making it the most expensive element. Then you must buy the right tape. We tried carpet tape but the adhesive softens when hot.

 

Any panels where I used carpet tape ended up falling off the wall. Peculiarly this appeared to be a big problem on the north facing wall. I assume this was because of the larger temperature differential between wall and air. This meant going back to the DIY store several times to purchase heavy duty double-sided sticky tape to replace the carpet tape. Make sure you don't make this mistake. In the end I gave up on the tape in frustration and purchased some wall-paper paste. Any panels that start peeling away will be stuck back with this sort of glue. The Climaflex manufacturer does advise you to use wall-paper paste. Maybe it softens the polystyrene so that it doesn't try and curl up? Certainly no one tells you how difficult this is going to be when you start out. The batten, you use to clean behind the radiator, will have to be re-used to press the panel to the wall. There is no way you are going to get your hand down there. It means you can't apply too much pressure on the adhesive. Another negative point for double-sided sticky tape.

 

Is it worth it? I believe so. The radiators do feel warmer as the heat does radiate into the room so you feel warmer whilst being further away from the radiator. It is difficult to measure this but I have now gone around to all the upstairs radiators and turned them DOWN from "4" to "3" (out of 5) on the Thermostatic Radiator Valve. This equates to a 20% saving but this is hardly scientific so don't quote me! The Laws of Thermodynamics tell me that energy cannot be created or destroyed so we can only guess this idea works by directing more of the heat INSIDE YOUR HOUSE. Less is waste heating the wall behind the radiator. We recommend everyone does this but take note of our lessons learnt. The DIY solutions might be more fun and a bit cheaper but probably will always look a bit amateurish which is something to consider when selling a house. We chose a "pro-look" if only to see how neatly it could be done. Afterall, the people in to Post-Carbon Living have to share their homes with loved ones and you don't want to upset them with ugly foil patches on the walls. For this reason I sized the panels to be about an inch smaller than the radiator on all sides to make them less visually intrusive. I have had no complaints so far.

 

Low Carbon Man

  • We made a mistake using double-sided sticky tape. The foil is fiddley to fit. Not sure what benefit there is - you can't measure it.

  • You feel you have done a really worthwhile job. Rooms feel warmer quicker.

 

 

December 2011: full thermal imaging survey

Thermal ImageIn late 2011 we performed a full thermal imaging survey of Superhome 59 both inside and out. This was performed across the weekend of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th December 2011. We used a Testo camera borrowed from Wycombe District Council Building Services via a joint project between Transition Town High Wycombe and the Wycombe Strategic Partnership's Community Carbon Taskforce. The survey can be downloaded here but be warned that this file is 15Mb:

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References: References