blog entries I wrote during an earlier phase of renovation, 2009-2010, previously hosted on the ClimateX website, which is no longer maintained.
Oct. 01, 2009
We live in an Edwardian semi in Oxford and are about to begin eco-renovation works. The main work will be installing underfloor insulation under the wooden floor downstairs, insulating the side wall of the house externally and the front and back walls internally. We will be using paper-based insulation under the floors and wood-fibre insulation (Pavatex) internally and externally. The external wall will be finished with a lime render.
Previously we have installed additional loft insulation, double glazing, draft proofing, extra floor and wall insulation in an extension and solar water heating. Hopefully this work - as well as sorting out some (isolated) woodworm, condensation and slug(!) problems - will make the house much more cosy and considerably reduce our energy use for heating.
Oct. 06, 2009
Day two and despite some disappointing weather (following a long period of drought), the installer is making good progress. One of the plus points about Pavatex is that it is bio-degradable. This makes a difference during the installation. Instead of lots of polystyrene drifting around the garden (previous experience), we're hoping to chuck all the small offcuts onto the compost heap.
Oct. 08, 2009
At the end of the fourth day of working, all the external insulation has been fitted to the side wall of our house and work has started on rendering to make it water-proof. We have added 100mm of Pavatex woodfibre, which when combined with specific render is called 'Diffutherm'. The Pavatex is 'made from over 95% waste softwood and under 5% inert water proofing additives'. When added to our solid brick walls, the U value should improve from around 2.4 W/m2K to 0.33 W/m2K. This is about the same standard of insulation as required by Building Regs for new homes in 2002.
In any case, you can certainly feel the temperature difference between the insulated side wall and the uninsulated (as yet) back and front. All has gone very smoothly so far - even the scaffolders turning up a day late didn't cause major problems.
Oct. 21, 2009
After the first layer of render was completed at the end of Week 1, Week 2 involved simply waiting for the render to dry. Tomorrow, unless there is torrential rain, our contractor - Merl Cunliffe - will be coming back with a colleague to put on the final layer of render. This all has to be done in one day, to get a good appearance. After that layer has dried, it will be painted. Then there will be some further work in extending the roof by a couple of tiles, to protect the top of the insulation from rain.
The materials for the external insulation have cost around £3000. Merl will work for 7 - 8 days in total, there will be some additional labour in extending the roof tiles, and the cost of scaffolding to add on top. Not surprisingly, this will end up costing many times more than getting insulation blown in to cavity walls. If I recall correctly from a previous home, that took two men in a van about three hours to complete (for all the flats in a block of four) and cost a subsidised £50. Happy days! I blame the Edwardians...
Oct. 29, 2009
Unfortunately preparing our front room for internal and underfloor insulation involves making things far worse before they get better. Plaster has been removed from the walls where insulation will be added, the ceiling coving has been removed temporarily and all the floorboards are up. As well as being necessary for adding the underfloor insulation, floorboard removal also allows proper inspection of all the existing underfloor timbers and checking for damp etc. As the existing joists are not in the best shape, and already extensively patched we'll probably be having new joists installed early next week. I suppose the real suprise would have been no unpleasant suprises under the floorboards...
There is still some debate about what the best form of underfloor insulation will be - the decision really depends on what the damp specialist finds. If there is a damp problem then paper-based options would be ruled out. Hemp might be suitable - we'll just have to wait and see.
Nov. 05, 2009
Our underfloor insulation has arrived and is now sitting in a big stack in the dining room. As pictured, a first section has been installed in the front room. It is a hemp batt - not the Warmcell waste paper-based insulation we had thought we might be having. The damp in the walls below our damp proof course has meant that Warmcell isn't suitable. The hemp product is a bit more expensive, but will still give a good insulation result (see http://www.natural-building.co.uk/hemp_natural_insulation.htm for technical details). It'll be good when we have floorboards again, but for the moment we're at the stage of admiring our lovely new joists and other load bearing timbers and imagining how cosy it'll be when the job is finished.
Nov. 15, 2009
Our underfloor insulation is now just about complete. It was installed by attaching netting hammocks (as they almost certainly aren't known in the trade) to the floor joists to hold the insulation, and then cutting the hemp batts to fit. The hemp has been installed to the full depth of the joists - so that's 150mm in the living and dining rooms and 100mm in the hallway (where the original joists were retained, as they were in reasonable condition). While the floors were up, the central heating pipes were insulated - they previously had no insulation around them at all! New airbricks are also being installed in several places below the floor level, to ensure adequate ventilation. This should ensure when the floor is next taken up - hopefully not for many, many years - the joists are still in perfect condition.
Our internal walls (i.e. front, back plus an overlap with external insulation to eliminate any potential cold spots) are now ready for installing the insulation. Firstly the existing (gypsum) plaster had to removed. Then a layer of lime plaster has been added to make a smooth surface on which to attach the Pavatex insulation. The major reason for removing the original plaster is to ensure problem-free moisture movement within the insulated wall (the insulation system is only guaranteed if conventional plaster is removed).
Outside, the roofers have been working on extending the roof to cover the external insulation; the slates look to be a good match, and there's just one half of the verge to be sealed with mortar. Fortunately, despite yesterday's gales, the roof is still attached to the rest of the house - perhaps due to the starring role of the clothes pegs. Our builders have been doing an excellent job of keeping most of the house habitable during the renovation work, but we're now looking forward to the switch away from 'creative destruction' to re-instating our walls and floors.
Nov. 23, 2009
We are now half-way through the installation of the Pavatex internal wall insulation. Work has been completed in the dining room, just the living room to go. The insulation is 6cm thick and is installed by screwing onto the wall, using insulated screws to fix it in place. We had wondered how it would look to add this extra thickness internally - but even before plaster has been added on top it looks great. It may be partly psychological - but the room does feel cosier already. Certainly, not having a radiator in the dining room (temporarily removed) hasn't been a problem - the heating drifting in from the hall and kitchen have kept us perfectly warm. Not only that, but since the floor insulation has been finished we no longer have any visiting slugs!
Given that it looks like the adding internal insulation isn't going to look 'wrong' in the house, it does make me wonder whether we should have thought more seriously about going for completely internal insulation rather than external insulation on the side wall, and internal on the back and front. However, the external insulation is thicker - 10cm - and we wouldn't have wanted that thickness internally. It will be interesting to look at the costs of the external vs internal insulation when all the bills have come in.
Dec. 09, 2009
A lot of progress has been made in the past week and a half. All the internal insulation is now installed, there is a first coat of lime plaster on all surfaces, and a final coat on some areas. Insulation has also been added within the mini 'roof' space above our living room box bay window and an area of the living room ceiling which was in poor condition has been replastered.
In addition, we have had new wooden double-glazed sash windows installed in the box bay, as it made sense to do this in conjunction with insulating around the window area. Several years ago we had the rest of the sash windows replaced with modern double glazed ones, as they were not in great condition, draughty, prone to condensation etc. At that time we decided against replacing the ones in the bay, due to cost. However, we have had to resort to plastic film over the bay windows in winter to cut down draughts (despite having had them 'professionally' draught proofed) and reduce condensation - which would hardly be a good look in a supposedly eco-renovated property. So new windows it is! They do look very nice and that area of the room is much cosier than it was - even before the radiator has been replaced.
Today a man came and created new ceiling cornice to replace what had to be taken down to install the insulation. It looks very good. Another nice period detail which has been retained is a cutaway shape in the walls next to the bay window (see photo, which will explain this better than I can).
The main work remaining inside is to put on the final coat of lime plaster in most areas, put the radiators on, add, sand and seal the wooden floor on top of the existing hardboard and other finishing details. Outside, work has started on adding conventional external insulation to the bottom part of the wall, below the damp proof course, where eco-materials weren't suitable.
It certainly feels that we're nearing the end, and that by Christmas all of the major work will be complete.
Jan. 05, 2010
Before Christmas most of the remaining work on our insulation was completed, and we were able to start living properly in our home again. As well as the insulation work, we had a new British oak floor fitted, to replace the somewhat battered and woodwormed previous floorboards. It looks rather lovely, as do the insulated walls and details around the windows and ceilings. I doubt anyone would notice we've had internal insulation added, unless we pointed it out.
We're very keen to find out how much energy the added insulation (and much improved air tightness) is saving - but it's too soon to really know as the builders only left the week before Christmas. However, our heating and hot water energy consumption in the two weeks before and after Christmas was more than a quarter lower this year than last - and clearly this year is much colder! Still, we'll need rather more time to monitor 'after' before we can say how much energy and carbon is being saved.
I was speaking to a neighbour with a house of a similar age, and she said they were really having problems keeping the bedrooms in the old part of the house warm enough overnight in this cold weather. Their temperature was dropping to 12C - whereas I don't think our has dropped below 16C (with the rooms generally at 18C when the heating is on). We have bought a couple of temperature data monitors, so should have proper data on this soon.
June 06, 2010
The major work on our home was finished almost five months ago, with most of the little bits and pieces completed a few weeks ago, and only the inevitable final bits of re-decorating waiting to be finished.
Now that memories of the disruption of the renovation work are less vivid, it's a good time to write about just how pleased we are with the changes. To start with - the energy and carbon savings have been substantial. Comparing the first two months of this year with last, we have saved 20% of our gas consumption, which I would estimate means the insulation work has resulted in a heating energy saving of 30%. This is probably a conservative estimate, in that this year was colder than last (so more heating energy needed to achieve the same internal temperature) and I haven't corrected for that in the 30% figure. We'll keep monitoring over the coming months and see how that figure develops next heating season.
Secondly, I would say the house is definitely more thermally comfortable - even though we've ensured we haven't raised our internal temperatures. The walls aren't cold any more, there are no draughts from the floorboards and the temperature stays very constant. Even at the coldest part of the winter, when our heating was off overnight, the room temperatures only dropped by at most 3 degrees Celcius.
Thirdly, when we walk back into the house after being away for a couple of days it smells faintly of new wood. Prior to the work, it used to smell slightly of depressing damp. The eco-renovation work (and associated work) has definitely resolved our damp and condensation problems.
Another benefit, almost beyond price, has been the total lack of slugs since the work! Given how well the floor insulation was detailed, this is not really a surprise. Although, I wouldn't really put anything past slugs...
On to cost - this has not been a cheap exercise. If we add together the cost of external and internal wall insulation and the underfloor insulation, and compare it with the energy savings, the payback period is greater than one hundred years. That is assuming no addition to the capital value of the house, present day gas prices etc.
The cost of the external wall insulation worked out at around £150/m2. Internal wall insulation may have cost as much as twice that - but those figures are very difficult to work out as we had a lot of other work done at the same time by the same people, and most of the cost was related to labour and not materials. I think our internal insulation costs were particularly high because of the period features we retained, and the fact that this was a fairly new area of work for some of the people involved, and they were having to learn as they went along. The good thing is that I am convinced the work was extremely meticulous and of very high quality - but we have had to pay for that attention to detail. Hopefully, as expertise in the sector grows, prices will fall.
Overall, we are very happy with the work that has been done. Of course it would have been great if it were less expensive - but the cost was in line with our expectations - and it has had important benefits beyond just the energy savings which were our main goal. We are hoping others can learn from our experience and will be opening our home as part of Heritage Open Days, 11 and 12 September 2010.