Insulation, temperatures and stove…

Some observations about heating, insulation and the stove…

The difference between the inside and outside temperatures last year before started to use the stove was 9 or 10 degrees. We would get the temperature up to the low 20’s in the evening with the stove on, then in the morning, it would be as low as 16 or 17 degrees, meaning quite a large overall drop during the night.

So far this year, before we just lit the first fire last night, the temperature difference between inside and outside was something like 12 or 13 degrees. The outside temperature was around 6 degrees for a couple of days in the morning, while inside it was around 19 degrees, giving a 13 degree difference. This was after two very cold days, with clear nights.

Since last winter, we have had the loft hatch replaced with a new and much less draughty one, had the double glazing replaced with new and had the external insulated render installed. The hypothesis is that more heat will be retained within the house and for longer periods. I also hope that less heat will need to be produced in order to raise the temperature inside (due to less heat escaping and less cold air entering).

Last night was the 1st fire of the year. The temperature was 21.6 when we went to bed and in the morning, it was 19.2 degrees, giving a 2.4 degree drop over the 8 or 9 hours with a clear night. The outside temperature this morning was 9 degrees, giving a 10 degree difference.

So, the difference seems to be around 10 degrees still but the temperature drop was only 2.4 degrees, compared to last year when it was something like 6 degrees. Seems like progress but we haven’t had the really cold weather yet!

The other thing i’ve noted is the amount of wood which we just used, out of the stack by the stove. For the 4 hour fire last night, we used about 1/7 of the whole stack, meaning about 7 days (1 week) worth of fires, burning between low and medium heat.


Jamie & winter…

I was talking to Jamie the other day about the seasons and how it’s coming up to Autumn, which would then turn to winter. I asked what he was looking forward to about Winter (trying to put a positive spin on things!). It took him about a second to say Christmas!

We started to go through all of the reasons why winter is actually a pretty good season.

Log fires: One of my favourites. This year, I worked out how much wood we used from the previous year and ordered that much in early spring. It’s all been chopped and stacked since April and we should have enough to last till March 2012. Log fires are awesome and really raise the spirits on a crap winter day.

Jamie and Jac were loving coming down from having a bath and standing in front of the stove while getting dry. Jamie even asked me about getting the fire lit in the middle of summer so he could do that.

Insulated render: Now we’ve got the whole side and most of the rear of the house insulated, as well as the loft hatch re-done, the heat we do make by the radiators and stove should be kept in the house for longer. We’ve also had new windows front and back which has already made a difference. This should make the cold weather easier to live with.

The boys birthdays: Jamie’s 5th at the end of October then Jac’s 3rd at the end of January. Always lots of fun and breaks up the season each side of Christmas.

Halloween: Lots of potential for fun and excitement, as well as creative ideas for making things. Walking around with spooky lanterns and torches in the garden. Pumpkin pie (using pumpkins from the allotment – not this year but hopefully next!) and ales. Yum.

Claire’s birthday: Last but certainly not least. The middle of February signals the approach of Spring and brighter and warmer times. A good way to finish off the season!


Pre-Winter house / life organising…

This year we are going to be sorted out before winter hits, around the end of September.

We’ve already had the external insulated render done and I finished chopping our firewood at the end of April (giving a good 6 months seasoning time). We’ve started the allotment and aim to do the major rotavating in the autumn. We’ve painted the stairs fun colours and applied the first coat of paint to the newly plastered upstairs hallway/landing areas.

So, we’re now onto the next phase, which will include getting the wardrobes back onto the landing and out of both the boy’s room and our room, shifting the bed and chest of drawers (which our lovely friends have just given us!) around in our bedroom, buying some tall Ikea storage shelves for the under stairs cupboard, putting all the random boxes and toys in these new shelves, finishing off the last piece of skirting behind the sofa, finishing painting the skirting, re-painting the walls and fire place area, ordering a single stone piece for the hearth (probably Forest of Dean stone), fixing edging around the hearth, painting the shelves to the right of the fireplace, stacking logs under these shelves, finding a battered old armchair to go in front of the logs, fitting the new kitchen worktops and hobb, building the new electric meter box cupboard, cutting the new mixing table to size and building a wooden cover which slides over it all.

I’m sure there’s something i’ve missed out but those are the main things! This will make the winter much more bearable and mean less stress all round.


Render work – day 6, 7, 8 & 9…

So the insulated render and guttering to the side rear of the house are now finished. The landing area is plastered, a new loft hatch has been installed and the loft window removed and bricked up.

Days 6, 7 and 8 went very quaickly, with some quick progress. After literally 6 months of planning, research, form filling, grant applications, phone calls, planning permission debates (x6), delays (3 months) for cold weather, scaffolding erecting and finally deliveries of materials to site; it is finished.

The scaffolding is still up, and we expect this to be taken down soon and there is still a slight query about if we actually paid for new guttering to the front as well.

Days 6 and 7 were taken up with the actual application of the render, which they simply sprayed on using a large machine which pumped the render from a large plastic barrel. Claire was at home taking pictures and when I saw them I was impressed. We had wondered why they were shifting the packs of render to the front pavement!

So, the first layer was applied on day 6 and the next day the second layer was applied. They left the final layer as a very rough finish and I got home slightly shocked at the finish! Day 8 they came back to finish it off and used a number of heavy/rough sanders to smooth away the rough areas.

Finally, day 9 (yesterday) a guy was around to fix the guttering to the rear areas, on top of new fascia boards. He also filled in a missing brick from the front corner and replaced the old gate back onto the wall, as well as clearing the site.


Render work – day 5…

Well, the boarding out for the render is now ‘finished’ but there are a couple of things i’m going to have to mention to them! One of these is the very apex point of the insulation, which is just sealed, without any kind of capping piece. The whole system relies on the sealant so this needs to be improved a bit. There is also a whole section to the side of the bathroom window where there is no flashing.

They also fixed on all the edging strips ready for the render and cleared up. We also talked to the guy who will be installing the new single piece insulated loft hatch. He had a look and said it would be no problem making it smaller than the existing 60 x 120 cm hatch, maybe to 60 x 80 cm. This will really improve the heat loss issue and stop the cold drafts coming down from the loft.


Render work – day 4…

More progress on the render.

The plumbers were also around today to extend the soil pipe and pipes from the bathroom. Nearly up to the top of the house with the boards and the loft window has been blocked up.


Insulated render work (day 1) starts…!

The work has finally started!

Bloody hell – 3 months late but it feels good. The builders started around 9 in the morning and worked till lunchtime, when they went off to find a replacement drill and didn’t come back! Jac wasn’t too keen on the noise and vibrations from the drilling but he got used to it after an hour or so.

To be fair to them, they’ve made some good progress and have finished the equivalent of the ground floor storey with insulation. They drill holding screws into the brick, with pads over the insulation boards which hold the boards in place. These are also supported on metal tray brackets which are also fixed to the wall. They’ll then apply a mesh over this then render onto that.

To be fair to them (again), I was convinced by the 3 guys. I went out there for 10 minutes to talk to them about the corner detail at the front. We have a gate there and also wanted the render set back from the front. As we were talking, the 1st one said that the rotten wooden frame (which was partially set into the wall) was drawing water into the wall, the 2nd said we had to be careful to leave enough space to get the wheelie bin through the space and the 3rd said we could always fix the gate to the other side of the opening to widen the gap! All very logical points and it showed they knew what they were on about. Earlier, one of them had also suggested putting the power cable through the cat flap instead of the door, to keep the heat in.

So, we’re setting the render back from the front by a brick depth, to keep the facade character independent of the render part. The work they’ve done so far looks solid. More progress soon (I hope).


Insulated render materials delivered & chimney work…

Materials have arrived for the insulated render work, which will start this coming week.

The pink box-looking things are packs of Kingspan K5 phenolic boards, which are used with renders. These are the main part of the insulation for the house and will apparently bring the insulation level up to modern building regs standard!

Product details here: kingspan K5

The other thing is the rear chimney stack. This needs some work, as parts of the mortar are gone and the flashing might need replacing. Obviously there is a big gap there! One option is to get it re-mortared, but the quote we’ve got is only £200 more to get it totally taken down and roofed over. I’d rather do a proper job on it than just patch it up. This does mean getting permission from the neighbour, which might take some time.



Claire’s at home today and the surveyor from the insulation company is there measuring up. She’s doing a good job looking after the boys and talking to the guy and so far it sounds like it’s going well.

The lastest update is that the total area for the insulation is measured at 71m2, not the 80m2 we were basing it all on. The 80m2 figure was measured from the 3D SketchUp model, which I put together of thw whole house, and which I thought was to the nearest few centimetres! Anyway, i’m not complaining as just that difference will mean £855 less cost.

If anyone out there in the blogosphere picks up on this post, here are a couple of useful bits of info, which you can use to make a decision about home improvements and sustainability.

We have a Victorian, 3-bed semi-detached (c. 1890). We’re getting the whole side elevation done and most of the rear.

The whole point of doing this is to improve the temperature inside the house and also reduce the variation of temperatures. There’s also reducing condensation inside by reducing the contrast of temperatures. When the water vapour in the air hits the colder wall surface (or a lot of the time around window edges) it condenses into water droplets and this leads to mould growth and poor inside air quality.

So, when we introduce some heat via the log burner, hopefully this heat will stay inside for longer and we won’t need as much heat to provide a comfortable temperature. We’ll hopefully only have to use the electric radiators for a very short time also.

The overall cost of this type of external insulated render system is £80 – £110 per square metre. Ours is coming in at roughly £100 / m2. This is roughly £7,600 for the render system and there are a number of other bits and pieces on top of that. We are getting a £3,000 grant from the Gloucestershire Warm & Well scheme + another £380 odd grant from another scheme, which brings the cost down to roughly £4,500.

The external insulation is under warranty for 30 years and is covered by the manufacturer (Weber). The insulation is designed to bring the Victorian, solid brick wall structure up to current Building Regs standards, of roughly 0.35 U-value. This is the same as any new house built within the last few years.

The insulation uses 50mm of phenolic board insulation, which is a compressed, closed-cell foam, which is the thinnest and most efficient material available. There are a number of layers on top of this with a water-proof top coat.

As well as this, we’re getting a new loft hatch, to sort out the cold air coming into the house and getting the hallway area re-plastered, over the bedroom wall, bathroom and ceiling, including around the area of the new loft hatch. We’re also getting the guttering and facia boards sorted out externally.

So, exciting stuff – we’ve signed up to it and can’t wait to get it all started!


PassivHaus design…

You’re going to be hearing about this term more often in the years to come.

It’s a German building system which is setting the new standrards for sustainability and efficiency.

‘PassivHaus is based on enhancing building envelopes to reduce heating loads to the point that a conventional heating system can be eliminated. Developed from a German- Swedish academic collaboration in 1988, the first PassivHaus buildings were completed in 1991 in Darmstadt, Germany, the same city in which the PassivHaus Institute was founded five years later. Today, over 9,500 PassivHaus buildings have been realised in Germany, over 2,500 in Austria, and approximately 12,500 worldwide.’ (AJ)

So, insulate around the whole building to a point where a central heating system isn’t required. This then saves money and energy.


DYI & the killer cat…!

We made a bit more progress on a few house jobs over the weekend, but most weren’t to do with anything we’ve already got on the ‘to do’ list.

All the jobs were insulation related, but also cat related to a certain extent. Because of the single storey, flat roof bathroom extension at the back of the house being so badly insulated (probably due to the roof), this creates quite a cold area, which works its way into the main living areas.

Due to this, i’ve been wanting to insulate around the door from the kitchen to the utility/bathroom area. So, I managed to cut and screw up a standard draft excluder to the bottom of the door. Plus, there was a big gap at the top of the door, which i’ve blocked off, using a modified metal corner brace, a wooden baton and some insulating rubber type tape.

I just drilled some screw holes into the metal bracket and screwed this into the wooden doorframe, then screwed the baton to this, then stuck the rubber tape stuff to it. There are now no drafts around the door and the fitting that in part only took 15 mins! Just have to paint the baton white and wood-filler around the edges.

The other kitchen door related bit was fitting a new cat flap into the existing kitchen door, so Tinks can get into the bathroom/utility/back door area, so she can use her litter tray and eventually the back door cat flap to the great outdoors!

This was slightly more complicated than it sounds (see images). It involved knocking out 2 glass panes and a wooden support bar, clearing away all the glass and bits, buying edging and plyboard, cutting the wood edges and hole, bending the board into the opening, screwing the cat flap to the board, getting Claire to re-screw it in as I messed that bit up (!!!!!!), cutting and gluing edging strip front and back.

Quite a fiddly job but it’s draft proof and functional, even if there are 3 different colours of wood in that bit! So, now the litter tray is in the toilet/music room and we just have to teach Tinks how to use the cat flap.

Finally, the kitchen window has been sealed with draft proof plastic sheeting. This covers all the window, except for a smaller opening part at the top, which we open when cooking. It makes a big difference and will help a lot over the winter, given the window is old and drafty.

A day after this was fixed up, Tinks decided to make a break for freedom via the small window, in the process ripping parts of the sheeting with her claws! We now have tasteful taped up plastic sheet, which we’ll have to re-do once she’s officially allowed out. I’m feeling stressed just thinking about yesterday!


Winter insulation jobs…

We’ve been thinking more and more about insulation and how to protect ourselves for the fast approaching winter season.

We’ve put together a list of jobs to do in the next 2 months, which will make a real difference over the cold months.

– Get maybe 3 quotes for external insulated render (nearly got 2)

– Research and fit loft insulation (done)

– Install new loft hatch to stop cold air getting into house (got quote – linked with external render)

– Fit living room skirting boards

– Draft sheets over kitchen window + draft excluder under door

– Fit up heavy curtains in doorway into kitchen

– Fill in & re-point external & internal holes through brick work

– Re-block up second decorative fireplace

– Finish off window storage area with insulation

– Fix up 2nd electric heater

Ok, we might not get all of that done, but we’ll defo do the priority ones, such as the loft hatch, kitchen window and curtains. The render would be ideal, but we still have to get the 2nd quote back and the 3rd one which is for wood fibre boarding, rather than phenolic sheets.


Stratford Park, Stroud…

A day out in Stroud, first looking at someone’s insulated render system (part of the Stroud Open Homes weekend) and finally to Stratford Park.

Interesting to talk to a guy called Nick about their render. They now don’t need to use their central heating because it’s that good. They use a wood burner for the primary heat. I’m sure I know the guy from somewhere as well, just can’t place him!

Here’s the link to Nick’s project:

The first house we went to, the guy there had opted for internal insulation, which we’ve done upstairs, as the quotes he had back were too much.

Anyway, the park there is amazing, combining duck pond & fishing, museum, bandstand, playground, woodland walks and leisure centre complex.

Amazing cedar trees alert!


Loft insulation update…

We had a contractor come by the other day to check the loft insulation. It’s a free scheme from the Energy Saving Trust. I had already rolled out a fair bit of sheeps wool insulation, over the beams of the bedrooms and hallway, which I hadn’t got around to installing between the roof joists.

Anyway, the guy said i’d done a brilliant job and there wasn’t anything else they could do! The partial boarding which was already down around the middle of the loft would also insulate to a certain degree anyway and it was overall more insulation than they would have put down. That’s one less job to worry about.

Now the only insulation issue is to tackle the loft hatch. A new insulated wooden loft hatch would be something like £180, but this is the main reason why the cold air just falls from the loft and down the stairs, ending up in the living room!

We might try and install an insulated panel, which fits above the loft hatch, which can be removed when necessary, but which will stop the drafts. We rarely need to go up there anyway and it would pretty much cut out all the cold air from the loft.

Also, still waiting for the quote from the insulated external render people. The company who just came round to look at the loft will also provide a quote for the render.


Home insulation…

Exciting insulation-related news… You could save a bit of money and CO2!

A colleague at work sent around a link to the Energy Saving Trust website which has a grants section. Apparently if you have kids under 16, you can get a grant for 100% free loft insulation. This is one of the cheapest (usually) and most effective ways to save on the heating bills. I had already gone through the EST to get a couple of quotes for installation which came back as only £125, which I thought was a really good deal, considering the time and materials involved!

The other insulation we’re in the process of investigating is insulated render, for the side and back of the house. As we’ve just installed new double-glazed windows to the front + as we like the brick and render character of the house type, we’ll leave the front alone and just focus on the rest.

We’ve been researching any suitable rendering companies who can fit this sort of system. There was a guy in Stroud who did this but he went under or just stopped doing it! So, after 5 or 6 calls around and lots of web searching, I found a contractor in Bristol, called the Joyner Group. I talked to the MD Mr Joyner, who sounded really enthusiastic and into the subject. He got Paul, one of his surveyors to contact me. He came around today to measure up and get some details. I found out a lot more about the various processes and there’s nothing stopping us going for it, except the cost!

So, the system is either a 50-60 mm phenolic insulation, or a 90-100 mm polystyrene type, both to achieve a U-Value of 0.35, which is the current buildings regs standard for new homes – toasty warm! The system Paul suggested was the Weber Therm XM K1.5mm acrylic, with stippled finish.

Data sheet here: 07_001_weber_therm_XM_01

This sounds technical, but it’s basically the insulation, stuck to the wall, with plastic reinforcing fixings, with several coats of different render material applied over it, with a coloured and stippled finish, with acrylic for water-proofing. It’s designed to be flexible, to respond to extreme variations in temperature and has a 30 year guarantee.

We can choose any colour for the render – Claire immediately said PINK! I said…ummm….NO! Well, i’m open to something bold, but maybe not pink, although i’ve stayed in a couple of pink cottages in Ireland which actually looked really good, particularly the contrast with the green landscape!

So, with this plus the internal insulation upstairs, we should be toasty over the winter, assuming we can actually afford to go ahead with the render. Paul’s going to get us the quote back in the next week and he said from placing the order to the end of the work is 2 weeks! Bloody hell.