Posts from March 2008


The patio area around the southwest corner of the house - sunspot for summer days and evenings. It will be topped with black limestone slabs which are due to arrive on Wednesday-ish.
After much delay the American blond oak staircase has arrived but is needing some adaptations by our onsite joiner. The timber is beautiful though and despite the general mess in the house is one of the final landmarks in the building of the house.
The above photo is of the porch area by the front door. We've continued the larch cladding in this area which looks good with the height created by the continuation of the roof line. Jim the electrician is fitting the lights we've bought in the next day or so and this includes one to uplight this area, low energy of course!
Herewith the slate flooring in the family room which attaches to the kitchen/dining. I felt most sorry for the tiler who is trying to lay 82sqm of slate tiles whilst all around are busy with their own trades, typically on Friday this numbered around 12-15 people. At one point he locked the front door so no-one else could come in. The above slating has not been sealed but the bathroom has and the finish looks super. The floor will need resealing every 3-5 years but as this can be done with a mop and bucket it doesn't seem too onerous.

The ideal low energy house?

What we've set out to do at ECF is to build a house which will use 70% less energy than one built to current building regulations. Its timber frame construction detailing hasn't wavered too far from the 'norm' to present any major problems for a timber frame kit manufacturer, decent building contractor or building control, and the costs of going this 'extra mile' haven't been excessive to the extent that they will be paid back within a decade in terms of reduced energy costs.

In essence, we have built to a standard which is accessable now by most contractors and self builders which is around 5-6 yrs before its time if the UK Government is to fully implement its Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH) strategy, on which this building should come in at around 3-4 on a scale of 1-6. There is clearly some distance to go from this to 'zero carbon', so what represents the 'optimum' for 'Level 6 living', the magical zero carbon level required by 2016 for all new homes?

Well, the same principles apply, namely...

  • building orientation to maximise solar gain in winter, spring and autumn whilst avoiding overheating in summer

  • high levels of insulation around the entire building envelope

  • high levels of airtightness coupled with heat recovery ventilation

  • highly insulated and well sealed doors and windows

...but for CSH level 6 the wall insulation would need to be increased to >300mm (from our 200mm), roof insulation to >450mm (from our 350mm) and windows to be triple glazed krypton filled units with insulated frames and glazing spacers (vs. our argon filled double glazed units). This would result in a building which could feasibly rely on the heat given off by its occupants and collected though its windows to keep it at a comfortable temperature without having to introduce a heating system. Construction might rely on internal masonry/concrete walls to store heat and keep a steady internal temperature, with the insulation fixed to the outside of this.

On the face of it quite simple, but a seriously long way from what the UK housebuilding industry is used to. Roll on 2016.....there is a lot of catching up to do and mindsets to be re-programmed.

Earth Hour

I've spent part of this evening contributing to a National Park meeting on renewable energy and sustainable building design and feel quite fired up on the whole subject. I came home, had a great discussion with Steve (before he went to Ikea for late night house shopping), then watched Grand Designs revisited about an underground house which essentially didn't need heating even in winter.

The whole debate about 'eco' and 'sustainable' is massively involved. We have built a well insulated, airtight, timber frame house with a thermal mass of 40 tonnes of concrete in the foundation slab to keep the internal temperature stable - that's great from an energy efficiency perspective, but is that scale of concrete usage a good thing, not least as the production of cement is an energy intensive process? Someone somewhere could maybe establish the whole life cycle energy equation.

Energy efficiency is a very important part of sustainability but I'm not sure if I can get my head around all of the issues. We've got fantastic argon filled double glazed windows with 'u' values of 1.4 (standard windows being between 1.8 and 2.0) and they are from Norway 'cos the Scandinavians having been building sustainable houses for years but ideally we should be buying UK produced windows in order to minimise transportation and support home industries...but it couldn't be done remotely near the cost as they would be regarded as 'one-offs' and 'specials'.

Anyway that's nearly enough...I looked at another blog this eve which prompted me to tell you about Earth Hour whereby you switch off your electricity at 8pm this Saturday for one hour. Its one of those experiments in activism which last year saw the city of Sydney reduce its 'leckie load by 10% thus illustrating the impact of individual actions. See the vid at

The construction of the 'commute' between the office and the house is underway (above) and the patios are being formed around the south gable (below).
Internally the kitchen is on its way. The installers are great, very flexible in their approach which is good because there's a few bits and bobs of adjustment to sort out as well as an evening trip to Ikea tonight to change the handles! The measurements in the utility room don't stack up properly so there's amendments needed there too.

Paint colours - redcurrant glory and simply pearl in the sitting room.

The staircase is 'in production'......not sure what stage that means or when it'll arrive.

This lunchtime I've been buying 110sqm of external slabs to be here by the end of the week; large wardrobe for the hallway to be here tomorrow (Steve has a slot between 8.30 and 10pm this eve to collect that!?); securing the contractor and price for grubbing up and tamping down the massive concrete base of the old dairy shed opposite the front door; finalising the details for the grant contribution to the cost of the heat pump.
Now back to earned employment for the rest of the day.

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