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.