Pouring the Floors

The monster concrete pump pouring the floor slabs for the two adjacent cottages, this covers the underfloor heating which is attached to the steel mesh. With the heating encased in the concrete slab this provides a high level of thermal mass to stabilise the internal temperature of the properties. We used the same principle on the main house which we built 3 1/2 years ago and it really works well, alongwith the high levels of insulation and air-tightness.

Proof of the pudding...

It's December, and time I blogged again. The last seven months of occupancy have been intense at ECF, not only with moving in but also just catching up with 'normal' family and work life. Despite the festive season being just round the corner, we at least feel we're getting there!

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.

Ventilation strategies

As for living comfort at the levels of airtightness we are building to, it becomes necessary to use a whole house ventilation system. For this there are two main options; Mechanical Extract Ventilation (MEV) and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR).

Airtightness details

Having specified and designed a house to meet the AECB’s Silver Standard, airtightness plays a key role alongside high levels of insulation to achieve a low energy house. In our case we have followed the AECB’s Silver Standard construction details for timber frame buildings which advises the use of a continuous air/vapour control layer inside the building with all joints lapped, sealed and mechanically trapped.

Heat pump installation

Work started on installing our heat pump last week. We have specified a Nibe 1240-5kW - the smallest capacity they make - with integral 'tank-in-tank' hot water cylinder. It 's a very neat unit, being the same size as a 1.9m tall fridge freezer. The pipework next to it will be ultimately enclosed in a cupboard which will still have some storage space at the front, whilst allowing access to the pipes at the back if need be.
Specifying a heat pump uses the opposite logic to specifiying a combustion boiler, as it must be just undersized to operate at its most efficient when taking into account the building's heat loss and anticipated peak heat requirement. The reason for this is that heat pumps dislike being 'cycled' - switched on and off - and actually benefit from running for longer periods at a time than conventional boilers. In extreme circumstances where, say, there is significant heat and hot water demand (eg. Christmas with visitors!) then the heat pump employs an electrical element to supplement itself, but the trick is to set things up so this hardly needs to be used at all, electricity being a relatively high-carbon form of energy.
The unit is being installed in our utility room where all the pipes from the ground loop, hot and cold water, underfloor heating and 1st floor radiators/towel radiators terminate. The guys are making a neat job of connecting this spaghetti together and hopefully by late next week we should be in good shape to switch on and get some heat into the 40 tonnes or so of concrete which forms the floor slab.
As it happens one of the founders of the heat pump supply company - Ecoliving - popped round yesterday to look at our windows (he's building an extension to his own house!) and he told me that the heat pump even had a setting to dry the floor slab out over a four day cycle, this will be important before we fit engineered board flooring.
Anderson Floor Warming of Glasgow are doing all of the plumbing in the house using a German plastic/aluminium pipe system. Hot and cold feeds are fed to manifolds from which each tap is fed, thus reducing pipe runs. Also the hot water feed is circulated from and back to the hot water tank at peak use periods (controlled by a timer) such that when a hot tap is switched on, hot water appears almost instantly.
Apart from the plumbers, the rest of the guys on site have never built a house with a heat pump in it and we are all waiting in anticipation for switch on!

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