Monday, 16 December 2013

Wring Out Your Onesie

There’s a bizarre sloshing sound in both owner-occupied homes and those lived in by tenants right now. It’s this. Since there is no greater fear than turning on the heating, people wear multiple layers, until they end up looking like the Michelin Man. Warfare breaks out between couples and flatmates, with one sneakily boosting the thermostat, the other then sneakily lowering in once more.

One of my friends even works at home clad in paper overalls, which he claims keep him toasty. There’s woolly hats, fingerless gloves, and scarves in the privacy of your home.

Others use improvised insulation, like blankets on the wall, polystyrene plastered to ceilings etc. You never know – it could work.

But the fear of switching on the heating causes another problem – and it’s a big problem. The name of this big problem is… condensation.

This wearing of jumpers under blankets in the lounge is done under duress as occupants watch their own frozen breath snake upwards to the ceiling, where this deluge is distilled until it flows in rivulets down the walls. There it used productively, to irrigate vast fields of mould and mushrooms, with plantations springing up all over the place. Last year I found mould growing on my pillow.

This has been troubling me for some time. Yes, the energy companies are greedy. Yes, older homes – i.e. those built over fifteen years ago let the arctic winds waft bracingly through the walls. Cavity walls were intended to let homes breathe, but are now being systematically and in my experience – inexpertly - filled with insulation. Insulation is now universally regarded as a good thing. Nobody questions this, well, except for a few shy voices whispering at the back.

These voices ask a question. State funding for what is sneeringly referred to by our condem overlords as ‘green crap’ has been insulating lofts and packing cavity walls with warmth promoting material across the land. It’s universally accepted as a brilliant idea, and judging from my experience, lagging the loft makes the place so much warmer. But it also seems to make condensation worse. So that home of yours is warm, but steamy, and opening the window isn’t an option, since the icy hand of frost will barge inside, rendering the energy saved useless.

You can’t leave the vents open. You can’t leave the heating on. Dehumidifiers can help, but they’re electric and so costly in own their way. I’m left wondering if, in a few years time, homes that have become pulsing with groves of toadstools on the ceiling will be visited once more, this time to remove the insulation. In the meantime, I’m still looking at passivhaus developments, with envy.

One friend’s rentier knows of a leak in the roof, but blithely lets the water seep in, because it’s being sucked up by the posh new loft insulation. What a stupid man.

There we all go, sloshing around the xmas tree, wringing out our onesies, contemplating mushrooms. There must be a better way. Perhaps we should wear wetsuits. Constantly.


Anonymous said...

I am sat here in my draughty kitchen on one side my faithful Labrador and on the other the condensated window which is without any nice way of putting it overnight dog breath.
I am about to open my door and windows and within a short while this will have gone as it does when boiling taties or drying undies on the radiator .
I have my jumper on ( nice Christmas one from last year) and my heating off ,the fridge says 11C my heating clicks on at 9 or 10 ,50F in old money .this is not cold ! We have not yet had any cold weather this year !

Insulation as your blog has said can be an evil and properties are not designed well in this regard.
I built some new flats which are so well insulated you can just about live with background heat sadly to meet requirements they are also pretty airtight .
They are designed it seems to me for hibernating young people who are happy to live off warmed up pizza , what they are not designed for is the couple in their late 50's boiling a large ham for Christmas who ear holed me yesterday about condensation running down the windows .
Cross ventilate ,and boil as much and dry as much as you like ,or stay warm as toast and live on pizza.
Simple as

Dog breath gone in time took to write this.

Simon PLD

RenterGirl said...

It's not been too cold this year so far. Butw when boiled food causes condensation, then to open the window means you freeze, it's impossible.

Anonymous said...

Re dehumidifiers, they cost about 3 pence an hour to run. Initially quite expensive to buy though.

Regards, HB Welcome.

Rich Tee said...

I recently bought some bathroom (moisture resistent) tester paint pots, in magnolia naturally, to repaint a small area affected by mould in my bathroom. Seems to do the job just fine, but the agency still complained about mould in the bathroom. I am not sure what area they are talking about because, of course, their letters are always deliberately vague. Even though I fixed the worst part they still complain.

An alternative to a de-humidifier is a moisture collector, small device that sits on my window sill. Costs about £8 a year for the calcium chloride refill bucket. Not effective in large areas though.

Tesco Value Chef said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tesco Value Chef said...

I don't really understand why there's talk of gadgets and techniques to keep mould down. The building should work properly in the first place.

By coincidence, I've always lived in older buildings and never had an issue until my last-but-one flat which was built in the late '80s and sprouted mould everywhere despite running a dehumidifier (supplied by the landlord, who nevertheless insisted there wasn't a problem) and leaving windows open.

Anecdotally, I know a letting agent who also says she's seeing more and more problems with mould.

I know nothing about buildings, but something's obviously gone wrong with the industry in the last 20 years or so.

Anonymous said...

The answer is to build home properly with effective ventilation. Scandinavian houses often have heat recovery ventilation systems where the air in the house is extracted and passed through a heat exchanger, which warms the replacement air from outside. This feature is a minimal additional expense when incorporated into a new building but expensive to retro-fit. We should be demanding that they are added to a all new builds, but instead the developers know that we're more likely to find something visual (like a shiny kitchen) a more exciting selling feature.

RenterGirl said...

Yes - we must include better ventilation. The Finns can do this. So could we. See also - passivhaus...