Tuesday 23 November 2010

Living the advice

There is now a copious amount of advice out there on how to live a low carbon life. However, having given some of it a go I am coming to the conclusion that quite a lot of it was designed by people who haven't tried it out themselves. Recently I have come up against this in relation to household energy saving.

Insulation v's ventilation
The household energy efficiency watchword is insulation insulation insulation. This is all well and good but if you block all of the drafts and insulate everything then the air stops flowing and your house gets nasty and fusty. I am currently stuck in a horrible conundrum in my - rather chilly - bedroom between shutting the window to keep it warmer or leaving it open so that there is some fresh air in the room. I really don't understand how you are supposed to reconcile these two things. If anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them.

Secondary glazing
As we live in a rented house with no double glazing we decided to give the DIY secondary glazing a go. So we bought the plastic stuff from thorns and after several attempts we managed to correctly decipher the instructions. However, it turns out the tape they provide to stick the plastic to the window frames is not actually that sticky when it is being put on old wooden window frames. We have now purchased some ordinary double sided tape that works much better, but we can't help but feel that the DIY kit was designed for lovely shiny new plastic framed windows, but they are probably going to be double glazed already! So who knows what the manufacturers were thinking - they probably weren't.

But we have got past that hurdle and now are windows are beautifully shrink wrapped. Unfortunately they keep getting wrinkly though, so we have to keep reheating it. So over all not a resounding success so far but we shall see how it progresses.

Clothes drying
How are you supposed to dry your clothes in the winter without making your house damp? Line drying clothes in the summer is great, but come the winter they take a lot longer to dry and intervals between rain showers get a lot smaller. So I often resort to drying clothes inside, but as the house is now so well draught proofed and not keep particularly warm this doesn't add to the general atmosphere of the house - cold and damp are not a friendly combination. But what are the other alternatives? I have tried drying clothes in the conservatory, but they never really get completely dry out there, so I am a bit stumped. We are going to have to find a practical solution to this problem though as it is one that we are all going to have to tackle in the future.

So in practice the green advice is not actually always that easy to follow or has not actually been practically tested. So I suppose that is why we are here! We are the pioneers who are trying all of this out, so we can tell everyone else how they can dry their clothes with zero energy in the winter and have a well insulated house with lots of fresh air....

Photos: Our secondary glazed windows - note all the wrinkles that have appeared - boo and Radiator foil.


  1. Charlotte Du Cann23 November 2010 at 18:08

    Dear Kerry,

    Once again you've hit another nitty-gritty low carbon problem on the button. Drying clothes defeated us last year when it wouldn't stop raining for days and even the airing cupboard didn't dry our sheets. We had to put the heating on. In fact it was the only reason we put the heating on. One hour full blast seemed to do the trick. In the old days people hung their washing in the kitchen on wooden racks above the stove. People with agas still do . . . not that they are very lc!

    Any answers out there?

    Best wishes,


  2. In a new house or a radical refurb you could install a heat-recovery whole house ventilation system. That would keep air circulating with only minimal energy loss. You would probably install a wood-burner to keep the house toasty and warm!

  3. Hi Kerry, this is one of the bugbears of British home construction. We need to find an affordable way to retrofit airflow into homes.

    In France, where I live, we have mandatory forced ventilation - a VMC, which is essentially a central fan which, combined with appropriate ventialation slots (in my case at the top of the windows), ensures a renewal of air. To be more efficient, you can combine this with a heat exchanger, which will extract the heat from the outgoing air and use it to heat the incoming air.

    If you have good airflow, you can dry clothes inside on an airer - it works better if you put them by a sunny window - but if it's sunny you should put them outside anyway. BUT don't try drying clothes inside unless you have OK airflow, you are just inviting mold otherwise.

    To solve both your problems, I would try to find someone who understands airflow in your local area. With any luck a few air bricks or particularly shaped ventilation slots will do the trick.

    Good luck!

  4. The problem of lack of ventilation is quite a serious one and I have seen damage to roof timbers due to condensation forming in a loft where all airflow was blocked by insulation. Lack of ventilation can also lead to health problems. If you have a wood burner then you need an air inlet into the room of at least the same area as the flue. In practise this would create a gale and most people make sure that the door is always open and that there are enough cracks round windows etc to ensure air flow into the house as a whole - but you have to be careful or you can poison yourself!

    One option is a heat recovery system - http://www.villavent.co.uk/heat-recovery-ventilators.htm - but these are expensive to install. Most people will have to settle for trickle vents on the window frames.

    At the moment the humidity is around 90% so you simply are not going to dry clothes without some form of heat. I once had a line hung under some clear roofing sheets that covered the gap between a house and the garage. There was a wind tunnel effect that helped the drying process but the washing still needed some time in front of the wood burner to become properly dry.

    It is an irony that most solutions to the problems that Kerry raises require some technology and investment to solve them – but at least we don’t need air cooling in this country!

  5. Hi Kerry,

    A couple of things following on from the other comments. Most old houses are pretty leaky, even with everything shut - i.e. air is circulating. On an average room with a single-glazed window - so the geeks tell me - the air changes 5 -6 times an hour. With a double glazed window that reduces to 3 -4 times an hour. You wouldn't want to reduce it much below that.
    The problems with trapping moisture , which John refers to, are usually due to either not allowing ventilation at the edges of loft insulation, or blocking air bricks, which you should never do.
    I have used the 'Warmseal' film you talk about with success on my (old) timber frame windows - so I don't think they do necessarily aim only at that horrible plastic stuff!

  6. But what is "properly dry"? I've never had my clothes go mouldy which I dry in an unheated room. Of course technological progress changes our perceptions, but I think we need more focus on how our changing perceptions (can) drive the direction of technological change.

  7. No doubt there is scope for research as to what constitutes "properly dry" and how you measure it. Whether a piece of cloth feels damp depends on how damp your hands are (and anyone who goes to ceilidhs can tell you that there is a huge range in people's hand temperature and humidity!) and the temperature of the cloth when you touch it. Maybe Erik has access to

    I've brought in washing on a cold day, that felt dry when outside but later felt damp after warming up in a room that was not overly humid.

    I've also seen a modern house where a family of four were always drying washing inside and the walls were running with water - a large black patch of mould formed on an area of ceiling where there was thinner loft insulation!

    Maybe we need a workshop on laundry techniques and the related science ?

  8. Hi, I've got practical experience of dealing with this.

    My very practical ex-husband devised a system of making a horizontal clothes airer and then fixing it to the high ceiling on the landing. He had to go into the loft and fix into the beams to make it very secure. I t then runs on a pulley system.

    At the bottom of the stairs is the front room which either warms up through sunshine or through the wood burner.

    My tip is hang the clothes up as soon as possible after they've finished washing (helps in them drying without smelling damp). In the winter I do this during the day when it's slightly warmer and then make sure there is some heat in the evening.

    They then take 2 nights to dry. Another huge bonus of this system is that when the clothes dry hanging like this, they don't need ironing.