St. Nicholas Church lighting trial…

A really good lighting test at St. Nicholas Church in Gloucester. We tested out lots of different styles, effects and colours on various parts of the church. The idea is to produce an exterior lighting scheme, but the interior effect will be amazing.

Can’t wait to see this scheme up and running.

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Project Shack: the first piece of the jigsaw…

This the first post in a new series on my blog (drum roll)… I give you Project Shack!

What is ‘Project Shack’?

We are going to build a new shed / shack / lodge at the bottom of our garden, which will give us another space for a whole variety of things which will enhance our lives. This is where I can use my decks and do the mixing which would otherwise be too disturbing for other people in the house. It’s also a space for sleeping and will give us a third bedroom for guests. It’ll be a space where we can create art, sit and read, hold gatherings.

We’re going to do it using only second-hand, used, free, scrounged, reclaimed or recycled materials, with a major focus on natural materials. Some materials may not be free, but they must be previously-used or second-hand. There are two main reasons for this approach.

1) Less environmental impact and a more sustainable approach to building and living.

2) Lower overall cost, which means we can build this shack and still afford to eat!

I want to see how little money we can spend while still creating a warm, well-designed, functional and beautiful structure. I want this project to be an inspiring example for all the budding DIY and frustrated builders out there, who also have limited funds but big aspirations.

So, to underline our commitment to the project and as a first and very important piece to the jigsaw, we have just bought from Ebay two second-hand double glazed windows…

Conservatory windows

These bad boys cost only £40.00, maybe saving £400.

2 x UPVC double glazed Windows

Dimensions = h 1400mm, w 738mm, d 60 mm

‘Two fixed panel windows (none opening). They were left over from my conservatory and are still in the packaging. Just been in my shed getting in the way for around a year so selling them cheap to get rid of them.’

This is a great example of something second-hand but still virtually brand new. Something discarded by the previous owner which wouldn’t otherwise have been used, and in their original packaging. Triple bargain. These are large windows, each 1.4m tall, giving a total area of glazing of just over 2m squared.

I’ll post some of the designs for the shack which we’ve been working on and hopefully will be able to post regular progress reports.


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!


New windows…

We’ve just had 2 new windows fitted in the back bedroom and bathroom. the old ones were roughly 10 years old and were on course to fail in the next year or so. There was a lot of condensation on the inside in the mornings and the room were quite cold.

Anyway, the first test was to see if there was condensation on them in the morning – nothing there!

The large bathroom window has a higher glazing bar with a small opening at the top, giving a large and unobstructed view over the back gardens. Really weird effect, given that usually windows have the central glazing bar. Really happy with it and it’s also resulting in far less condensation, even directly after showers.

The guys from Safestyle UK kept asking us if we wanted it frosted but we didn’t. There’s a really good view from there and it really helps to open up the internal space. We’ve got a blind which we use when it’s darker etc so no chance of anyone with a telescope having a sneaky look!

The windows are part of the grand plan for making the house more energy efficient and should help to keep the temperature more even.


Windows, render, solar panels…

Surveyor from the 2050 grant scheme in the morning.

This guy looked like some aged hippy from back in the day! He’s had solar panels for 6 years and had a slightly manic look about him. One interesting fact from him… did you know that in 1970, the average internal temperature in the home was 15 degrees C, whereas now it’s 22 Degrees C?

Anyway… we are officially on the 2050 grant scheme! Someone apparently dropped out as they spent 3 months faffing about with quotes etc, then in the end said the internal insulation would cause too much disruption. The grant people were offering to pay for 75% of the work cost! It’s like saying here’s £4K, do you want it? No thanks, it’s too much hassle. Fair enough.

See my previous post about the 2050 grant.

Well, the guy says we’re on the scheme and this entitles us to a 75% grant for the external insulated render and also a 50% grant for solar PV panels! Brilliant. If we hadn’t signed up to the scheme, the funds would have gone to a Passiv House in Exeter! Everyone we’ve talked to wants to keep the funding for Gloucester, in Gloucester.

This means that the render will now cost £1,500, down from £7,500 (with another smaller grant also taken off) and the PV panels are now something like £4,500, down from £9,000. We got a quote and survey for the panels a year ago, with the cost coming out at roughly £6K per KW generated. The system we had designed was for 2 KW, meaning roughly £12K. Since then, prices have come down, due to demand, meaning that now it is only £4.5K per KW.

An average 3-bed semi would use something like 2.2 KW annually, so the 2 KW system is about right. The feed-in tariff of 41 pence per unit right now is amazing value and because of this, we will be able to sell each unit back to the grid for more than 4 times what we buy each unit for (roughly 9 pence). This means that the PV panels will be making us £700 per year + we will be getting all the electricity the panels generate for free.

So, in exchange for these huge grants, the Council wants to use us, but mainly the house, as an eco case study for renovations of a Victorian semi-detached. No problem. Most people live in older properties and the work we’re doing here will hopefully inspire other people in older properties to consider similar improvements.

So, James from Safestyle UK (windows) has also just left, after getting here at 6pm. We’ve just signed up for two new windows at the back of the house, one in the bathroom and one in the bedroom. They are technically “B Grade’ which is roughly 1.6 U-Value for the whole window and 1.36 at the centre. The lower the U-Value the better as this is a measurement of how much heat passes through the material, in this case two pains of glass and an Argon-filled air space. Current building regs specify 1.8 for a double glazed unit.

The idea is that the windows are installed on 8th November, then straight after, the render is installed. We’re still very hopeful we can afford the solar panels, and if we can, these can be installed at any point up to the end of the year (or at least signed up to or ordered). Given all this, the house will be insulated and powered. The income from the panels will be used to offset the cost of the loan we’re having to get to pay for most of this! We will also not be using as much electricity for heating, especially as we’re also selling our tumble dryer.


New windows…

Just had our new double-glazed windows installed – very exciting I know (??).

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It makes such a difference not having the condensation within the glazing panels! The sound difference is also massive. You can just about hear a car going by, whereas before it was pretty clear. It all seems well done and feels solid. This now means we can finish all the decorating in the living room – when we get a chance!



We had a new experience the other day with a typical double-glazing window salesman…

We’d already had some general costs for different sizes and types of replcement glazing from a local window company, so we knew roughly what sort of figures to look for, but the whole 30 mins was quite interesting.

We’d never had to deal with these issues before, but (at least) the glazing needed replacing given most had been installed 11 years ago and had failed. The prices from the local window guy were for the glazing panels only, whereas the guy from Safestyle Windows wanted to sell us all new frames as well (surprise surprise). Safestyle are the ones who have that really annoying advert with the bald buy in a kings outfit who says, ‘you buy one, you get one free!’ (in a northern accent).

The company are based in Burnley and make all their own doors and windows, so they have the complete sequence from manufacture to installation, which I like. Also a major local manufacturing employer in Burnley, with 600 staff. Because they make their own products, they make each window to fit each opening exactly, whereas most companies buy in wondows, which may not fit so well.

It was a good job i’d already worked out the total cost of the replacement glazing from the other local guy, as we wouldn’t have had any figure to compare to this one. The local guy had said to replace all the frames and glazing, it would be between 3 and 4 times more than just the glazing, given extra work and materials etc.

The problem with the Safestyle approach (as with many other similar companies), is that they give you a price, based on a quick measurement of the existing windows, then ask you what you think of the figure. We said it seems very expensive (as everyone knows you’re meant to), then he called the office to get a better ‘today only’ price. What happens is you have to make a decision on the spot, otherwise it reverts back to the higher price, which is open for 12 months. The ‘today’ price worked out as 28% cheaper as well.

So, after writing down and working out some figures, we went for it. We’re getting all the front windows done, with the Argon-filled K-glass types, which are caegory ‘B’ on the new energy chart. The U-value (basically the rate at which heat passes through the glass, or any material) is 1.3 for the new windows. The lower the U-value the better, meaning less heat passes through the glass. Our existing windows are around 3.0, meaning the new ones will be maybe  56% more efficient.

Building regs also state that the minimum now is 1.8 for new windows, so we’re well within that as well. Anyway, they’re sending someone over this week to measure up, then middle of next month the work will take place – quite exciting!


House & garden progress…

Ok, mucho progress in the last week or so.

Claire has been cracking on with the bathroom decorating. She’s painted the skirting with undercoat and top coat and varnished the door twice. She also varnished the bath panel to stop drips marking the side. I’ve just got to fix the handle on the door and that’s pretty much done.

We’ve got window people coming on Monday to look at the failed glazing! I’m hoping we can just remove the glazing panels and it looks like we can from the outside.

The loft people are coming on Tuesday morning to take measurements and ask us what we want for a possible loft conversion. They’ll do a survey and a basic design and costings, then we’ll see where we go from there. It’s all free and they’ve already sent us loads of information to look through.

The bathroom sink table is arriving on Tuesday, which means we can then get on with installing the sink we already have.

Acrylic sheet samples are also arriving on Tuesday (hopefully). We might be using an acrylic sheet for the shower door, instead of glass. This will be cheaper and probably safer + we can easily drill holes for handles etc. We’ve ordered 5mm thick, colour and frosted samples so we’ll see what looks good.

We’re going to spend as much time in the garden today as we can, sorting out the raised bed, clearing rubbish, dump runs and drying washing. Already went to the dump once yesterday and got a whole area by the old bathroom cleared – it’s looking much bigger already.


Double glazing…

Ok, we need new double glazing for parts of the house.

The DIY Doctor site has a good article about what to do and why we are experiencing condensation inside the glazing unit.

They are called ‘sealed’ units, but actually aren’t. Moisture and air still get into them and the only reason you don’t get the condensation effect inside the unit with a new window is that the moisture is absorbed by new silica balls. Once these are used up and ‘full’ the unit will fail. This normally happens around 10-15 years, so in a way, the system is designed to fail – not a great investment!

You can also get true ‘sealed’ units which use a vacuum between the glass sheets. No air inside = no heat transfer. These are still quite expensive as the seals have to be very good. Something between these would be Argon filled, which uses an inert gas to greatly reduce heat transfer. Also Pilkington ‘K’ glass is now standard which is a low emissivity glass, which lets light in but keeps heat inside. It works by working with the longer wavelengths of light but not with the shorter wavelengths of heat (ok, a very quick explanation I know!).

What I don’t want to have to do is rerplace the whole window, when the problem is just the glazing units. Not good for the pocket or environment. Just have to find a local company to do the job as it is DEFO not a DYI job!