Thursday, 25 November 2010

Fossil Fuels & Economic Growth

Fossil fuels have powered the engine of economic growth and prosperity since the Industrial Revolution. What the economists and scientists need to do is to find ways of breaking this link, or at least maintain prosperity without burning ever bigger quantities of coal, oil and gas.
The growth of China (up by 8% on the previous year 2008) and India (up by 6.2%) is powered by their use of the dirtiest fossil fuel of all..COAL!

Friday, 27 August 2010

Insulation is the key to Energy Efficiency

Energy efficiency which embraces a range of strategies, from basic draughtproofing to using energy-efficient appliances and heating systems, is key to eco-design. Of these strategies one of the most critical is insulation. The colder the climate, the more imporant it is for a house to be well insulated. Heat is lost primarily through walls, windows, the roof and the basement. Just by insulating walls and the loft space, heat loss could be reduced by half.
 Materials vary widely in their ability to conduct heat, with metals, for example, being very efficient heat conductors and hence poor insulators, and light porous materials, like wool, very poor heat conductors and consequently good insulators. Air is also a very poor heat conductor which is why materials that are honeycombed with air pockets are good insulators. Increasing the thickness of a material also increases its insulating properties.
  How well a structual element, such as a roof or wall, performs as an insulator is expressed as its U-value, a figure that is derived according to a formula that takes into account the thermal conductivity of each of the components that makes up that element. For example, in the case of a standard cavity wall, the calculation is based on the conductivity of the exterior brick, the airspace, the insulating material, the interior brickwork, and the plaster or other finish. The lower the U-value, the higher the degree of insulation provided.
 The standard way of insulating is to line roof spaces and walls and fill cavities with a baulky insulation product. This may be made of a number of different materials, including cellulose, mineral wool, glass fibre and extruded polystyrene, some of which are more environmentally friendly than others. In most cases, grond and basement floors also need insulation, as dowater tanks and pipes. Heat loss can also be reduced by using a highly reflective material, such as foil , to bounce the heat across a void or cavity instead of the heat being absorbed by a wall - a conventional example is placing foil behind a radiator on an external wall so that heat is directed back into the room.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Construction

In all parts of the developed world, construction is highly controlled. Building codes and regulations, regularly updated to ever more exating standards, specify the materials and methods that are regarded as suitable for safe construction, particularly in terms of fire resistance and stability.In response to such legislation, the construction industry has typically reacted by enhancing the performance of structural elements: one example of this is the treating of lumber with chemicals to promote fire- and moisture-resistance. However, for anyone who is concerned about the environment, treating wood with potentially toxic chemicals to overcome such innate disadvantages is unacceptable.

Timber and timber-frame
Timber construction, which is very common for domestic building worldwide, makes good ecological sense. Wood is a renewable resource and has low embodied energy; timber-frame structures are lightweight , easy to insulate to a high degree of effectiveness and can be readily converted, altered, added on to and remodelled. For builders, timber-frame construction is also both cost-and labour-effective. And because timber construction is relatively lightweight, foundations can be minimal, hence some post-and-beam timber-frame structures rest quite simply on individual concrete pads,rather than on slabs, which means less disruption to the site.
Although timber-frame construction, disguised behind masonary or brick cladding, is very common in housing developements, all-timber  construction is much more the exception in Britain and northern Europe today, because of the perceived risk of fire and the propensity of timber to rot when exposed to moisture. In some areas, timber structures is only permitted for structures of one or two storeys.Over the last 30 years (in Britain) timber has been exhaustively tested for its fire performance than any other material. Such studies have revealed that in the sizes used in construction , timber is slow to ignite,and once ignited burns very slowly. Treated with borax, a naturally occuring salt, timber meets British building regulations for fire-resistance and spread of flame.
 Green oak is the best timber for construction and is also affordable. Whitewoods and redwoods should be avoided if possible. Parts of the structure that might be more at risk from fire or vermin attack can be treated locally with borax paste squeezed into drill holes. Borax can also be applied externally provided it is subsequently stained over. An eco choice for external timber treatent is a non-toxic organic wood stain.
Because of their relatively low thermal mass, timber buildings do not store heat very well but can heat up quickly, while buildings with high thermal mass, which heat up slowly and lose heat slowly, require more energy to reach the desired level of warmth. But the low thermal mass of the timber building need not necessarily be a disadvantage. Such a building can be an ideal solution for modern working families: the heating can be left off during the day when family members are out at work and switched on in the evening to more or less immediate effort.
 Timber also has a role to play in hybrid types of construction. Good energy efficiency can be achieved when the basic structure is a lightweight timber frame, external walls are well-insulated timber and internal walls are made of high-mass materials such as concrete block or brick.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Eco Design

Eco-friendly design is not just a question of choosing between good and bad alternatives, but involves complex equations that take into account both the broader picture and the longer view. While 'ecological', 'environmentally friendly', 'sustainable', 'green', 'natural' and 'organic' appear to be interchangeable concepts, they can imply quite different solutions. The fluidity of these terms has resulted in many interpretations by architects, designers and ecologists, and not a little controversy.
  Broadly, ecological design is design that makes use of resources that come from the earth in such a way that they can be returned to the earth without causing harm, in a cycle that echoes the natural system of living things. 'Sustainability', a related but not exactly equivalent concept, implies using resources, including land and energy, with maximum efficiency, at a rate that does not compromise the needs of future generations. While 'green' has become a blanket term for a rangeof environmentally friendly approaches, 'natural' and to some extent 'organic are even less precise, particularly since such terminology has been increasingly  appropriated by companies seeking to 'greenwash' their products. In design terms, 'natural' and 'organic' have also been used to describe buildings that echo the colours and forms of the natural world which is not the same as designing to protect the natural environment.

The benefits of natural design
Theres no getting away from the fact that eco design is fundamentally altruistic; it's investing in a future one won't necessary live to see, on behalf of generations to come. But alturism, on the whole is not a strong motivator. We live in a 'here' and 'now' society and have grown accustomed to more or less instant gratification of our needs and desires.
  Some builders of eco homes did not deliberately set out to design and construct on ecological grounds; they simply arrived at that point by opting for the most cost and labour-efficient options.
In general, however, it is important to be aware that eco design does not necessarily save money in the first instance, nor cost less. While it seeks to reduce the use of materials, which can result in considerable savings for new-build projects, in some cases there may actually be a greater use of materials.While many eco homes cost next to nothing to heat and power and some actually earn income by exporting home-produced energy to national grids, at the same time, there are higher start-up costs associated with energy-efficient elements such as high-performance glass or solar technology, and the payback period for these can be as long as ten to twenty years. The economic picture, however, is not a static one; with increased demand, it is likely that many eco-products or technologies may cost less in the future, as is already happening in the case of photovoltaics.
  If the economic arguments in favour of eco design are not clear cut, one of the most immediately obvious benefits is improved personal health. Many modern materials and finishes commonly used in construction contain a huge number of chemicals and additives with a proven track record of causing illness. Chief among the culprits are volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a large class of chemicals that includes formaldehyde, organo-chlorines and phenols, which readily release vapours at room temperature or below. VOCs are present in carpets, underlays, paints, varnishes, vinyl flooring, insulating materials, seals and adhesives, household cleaners and air freshners among other products. Health problems associated with VOCs range from skin rashes, nausea, asthma and other breathing problems to chronic fatgue and dizzyness. Designing and decorating with natural, untreated materials will help remove the threat caused by such toxins from the home.
  Less tangibly but no less satisfying, eco design encourages an innate feeling of well-being and comfort. Natural light, fresh air and greater reliance on passive heating and cooling create environments in tune with biological rhythms - houses that feel like a third skin. Materials that connect with the land offer a quality of rootedness that gives a house a true sense of place as well as providing unforeseen sensual delights, such as the velvety sound quality of a straw-bale house, for example.
  Eco design promotes a better style of life in the fullest sense of the term.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Solar electric panels

Solar electric panels turn light into electricity. They are commonly called "photovoltaic" (PV) panels because they generate a voltage from the energy in light. As daylight is abundant, PV panels offer a truly universal opportunity for clean energy. Although they will only ever be part of the solution, given that the sun regularly sets, they are an important part: tried, tested and reliable

Electricity from your roof
At the heart of a PV panel is a junction of two semiconductors, one positively charged and one negatively charged. The light that enters the panel bounces free electrons across the junction, creating an electric current. Using some smart electronics, this low voltage direct current is transformed into high voltage alternating current - the stuff we use every day in our homes

Despite the complexity of the technology, PV panels are very simple to use. Once they are installed on yur roof and plugged in, you can usually forget about them. There are no noisy moving parts wearing ut, no fuel or waste to lug around. Maintenance is minimal and the panels should last for decades (well beyond the 25 year warranty) as the solid state technology does not degrade.


Solar power and domestic needs
One of the few disadvantages of solar power is its poor match to our actual use of electricity at home. The sun is at its highest in the middle of the day when we need very little electricity, and absent altogether on winter evenings when the lights, television and ketle are all on. Happily this does not mean that PV panel owners have to go to bed at dusk - they simple switch to mains electricity instead. Most PV systems are fully intergrated with the national grid and owners are paid for the surplus they export.

System components
Almost any roof or wall can generate electricity with a PV panel attached, but a pitched roof facing due south is best. South-east and south-west facing roofs are also suitable. You will get a decent output from a PV panel even under cloudy skies but direct sunlight pushes this output up to three- or four-fold. Ideally you want a site free from shadow-casting obstructions, but don't be put off if there is a little shading. Your roof must of course be strong enough to support the panels.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Electricity

Electricity is fantastically convenient and clean at the point of use, yet it is the dirtiest of all the fuels we see in our homes because so much energy is wasted in the power station. Out of sight and out of mind, power stations relentlessly spew carbon dioxide and toxic particles into the air. Greening up your electricity use is therefore a top domestic priority.

National electricity generation
Most of the electricity produced in Britain is generated in coal (37%), gas (35%) and nuclear (19%) power stations. Only 4% comes from 'renewable' sources, and much of this is from burning the gas that comes off landfill waste dumps. The supply of truely sustainable electricity, such as wood, wind and solar power, is increasing.

Coal and gas power stations ae the single biggest source of caron dioxide emissions in the UK. Modern gas-fired power stations are the most efficient of the fossil-fuel stations, but half the energy in the gas is still lost up the power station chimney as heat rather than converted to electricty. Nuclear power stations have low carbon emissions but create an ever-growing stockpile of radioactive waste that will remain toxic for thousands of years (long after all current civilisations have disappeared). Whatever the pros and cons may be of fossil fuels and nuclear power, neither can be considered green.

Greener electricity
There are three ways  you can reduce the environmental impact of your electricity consumption: use less, make your own and switch to a renewable supplier. The first of these is by far the most important. As we will never be able to meet our current national demand for electricity using renewable power alone, a truly green future for electricty is only possible if we can radically reduce demand as well as increasing renewable supply. If you can also boost this supply by installing some renewable power of your own, so much the better.

Reduce demand
Everyone can take steps to reduce their ue of electricity. If you use electricity for heating and hot water, consider whether you could switch to a different fuel. It is far more efficient to burn gas in a boiler to heat your home than to burn it in a distant power station and then use the electricity generated for the same purpose

Make your own
Most households in Britain could generate some or all of their own electricity. If you have a sunny roof or wall, solar power is within your reach. If you have an unobstructed view of the prevailing wind, a wind turbine is definitely wirth considering. If a river runs through your back garden, a water turbine is a possibility.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Walls

The walls of your home do many different jobs at once. They support the roof and the floors, keep the heat in and keep the rain, cold and noise out. You will have to act fast if the roof is falling down, but millions of people survive with poorly insulated walls simply by turning the heating up. Getting your walls to work properly in every respect is therefore a top priority for greening up your home.

Warm, green and cosy
Walls with no insulation throw heat away with abandon. Installing insulation can be a major task, given the area you have to cover, but you will definitely feel the results: warm walls make for a green, cosy house. Remember that it is only your exposed external walls that you have to fix, as you can assume that walls adjoining other properties will gain as much heat as they lose

As well as cutting your heating bills by up to a third, insulated walls improve the comfort of your home, prevent condensation forming on your walls and keep the heat out on hot summer days. If however there are any existing problems with your walls,  such as damp, you should address these first or you may make matters worse.


Cavity wall insulation
Many houses built in the twentieth century have double-skin walls with a cavity betwen the two layers. The aim of the cavity is to prevent moisture getting through the wall and into the house. It is also an ideal place to retrofit insulation by blowing it in through holes drilled in the outer wall. The insulation is typically made of polystyrene beads or fragments of mineral fibre which fill up all the nooks and crannies inside the cavity but prevent moisture from tracking across the inner wall

Cavity wall insulation requires professional installation, but this is usually staightforward and takes less than a day. Once the insulation has been blown in to the walls, the holes are made good and the building is left with no significant changes to its appereance

Solid wall insulation
Most houses built before 1930 have solid walls waith no cavity. You can only improve these walls by adding insulation to the inside or the outside. Covering entire walls with a new layer of insulation and a new finish is a big and messy business, so it is worth undertaking with other renovation tasks.

The simpliest way of adding insulation to a solid wall is to stick it on the interior face. Use plasterboard which is designed specifically for this purpose with a layer of high performance insulation already attached. The thicker the insulation layer, the more energy you will conserve. You can do better still by building a new wall in front of the existing one with timber or metal uprights (studs). You can then pack the gaps between the studs with 100mm of insulation or much more. Internal insulation must include a barrier (a polythene sheet uner the plasterboard) to stop water vapour getting into the wall where it could condense on the masonary behind the insulation. This barrier is included in insulated plasterboard products.

The depth you choose will partly depend on how much of your room you are willing to lose (only the exterior walls need insulating, remember) and how many window sills and architectural details you have to work around. If you do not want to lose any of your room space, you could still install thermal wallpaper. This thick lining paper will not do much to cut your heat losses but it will give you warm, condensation-free walls

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Underfloor heating

Despite the best efforts of designers to produce attractive radiators, our homes undoubtedly look better without them. The popularity of underfloor heating is primarily driven by our desire to liberate our walls from these imposing lumps of metal. By turning the entire floor into one big radiator, underfloor heating puts the heating system in its place: in touch but out of sight

Water vs. electricity
Most underfloor heating systems use hot water supplied by a boiler or other heat source. The water is pumped around all the floors of your house in exactly the same way that it is pumped to radiators.

Some underfloor heating systems use electicity to provide the heat instead. These are easier to install than wet systems, but are not at all eco-friendly. Electricity is the dirtiest and most inefficent domestic fuel because so much energy is lost in the power station. It should only be used for heating as a last resort. Electrical systems are also much more expensive to run.

Efficient and effective
Because radiators are relatively small, the temperature of the water that flows through them has to be kept quite high in order that enough heat can be released into the rooms of your house to keep them warm. As underfloor heating uses a much larger surface area to emit heat, it can run at a lower temperature. As modern condensing boilers run more efficiently at lower temperatures, this difference makes underfloor heating a greener choice. But only just: don't rip up your radiators and install underfloor heating for this reson only.

Underfloor heating is also more effective in delivering heat to where it is needed. Radiators create currents of air that take the heat to the top of the room, where we need it least, and create draughts of cold air at floor level. Underfloor heating is more comfortable because it radiates heat gently across the whole room. There are no hot and cold spots and no currents of dry, dusty air. Rooms with warm surfaces and stable air do not require the high air temperatures of radiator-supplied rooms: you may be able to turn down your thermostat, save energy and still be more comfortable 

Not for everyone
Small lumps of metal heat up very quickly; concrete or timber floors do not. The big disadvantage of underfloor heating is its sluggishness. If your home is cold and you want to heat it up rapidly, underfloor heating will not do the job. Underfloor heating works best with well-insulated, energy-efficient homes that do not lose heat quickly and stay at a fairly stable temperature across the day. It is therefore most suited to constantly occupied homes.

Underfloor heating can also exacerbate overheating problems. If you have rooms with a lot of glazing that heat up quickly when the sun comes out, you will be in trouble if your floors continue to emit heat long after the heating system has been switched off. Such problems can be avoided by reducing the risk of overheating with good shading.

Floor finishes
Underfloor heating can be used with any floor finish, but solid floors of stone or tile are best. Underfloor heating can be laid beneath timber floors as long as the timber is dry. Existing floorboards in centrally heated houses will be suitable, but new timber floors should be given time to acclimatise to the building first. Avoid fitted carpets as these act as insulation and slow down the heat flow to the room. On ground floors insulation must be laid first or you will simply heat the ground.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The right house for a heat pump

Heat pumps are best suited to well insulated, energy-efficient homes. Unlike boilers, they cannot produce a huge surge of energy to heat up a house quickly but prefer to chug away in the background, providing a regular output of heat to keep the building at a stable temperature. If you live in a house that cools quickly and is often unoccupied during the day, a heat pump will not be your best option.

Heat pumps become less efficient as the difference between their source and output temperatures increases. Consequently they are ideal for underfloor heating which operates at a lower temperature than radiators. To enable the heat pump to work efficiently, radiator systems may have to be upgraded with bigger radiators which emit more heat

Ground Works
The ground works for a heat pump can be substantial. Depending on the space available, you can either dig long trenches for the pipework in your garden, at about 2m deep, or put the pipes down a 75-100m borehole. Get a survey done first to ensure that the ground is suitable. The trench option is easier and cheaper but may seriously mess up your garden during installation.

Some heat pumps do not need ground works: air source heat pumps extract heat from the ambient external air or, in some models, from the exhaust of a mechanical ventilation system. Unlike the ground which stays at a stable temperature all year, the air gets very cold just when you want to extract the most heat from it, so the efficiency of air source heat pumps can be very poor. They should only be considered for small properties with very low energy demands.

It is also possible to draw heat from water such as a flowing river. This can be a good heat source because the extracted heat is rapidly replaced.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Heat pumps

Heat pumps pump heat. It's as simple as that. They extract energy from one place, which gets cooler, and pump it to another place, making it warmer. These clever machines make it possible to take free heat from the environment and put it exactly where you want it.

Technology
A fridge removes energy from he cold interior, cooling it down further, and releases it out the back, creating a stream of warm air. 'Ground source heat pumps' work in exactly the same way but their purpose is to provide warmth rather than to cool things down. They extract energy from the ground, where the temperature is a steady 10 degrees celcius, and transfer it to the inside of your house. The sun beats down on the ground all year, so there is no shortage of energy stored in the earth. Heat pumps do not store heat, they just move it from one place to another.
Three independent loops of fluid are needed to perform the heat pump's task. The first is a loop of anti-freeze that runs underneath your lawn and absorbs heat from the ground. The last is the loop of hot water that emits this heat into your home through underfloor heating or radiators. In between is the loop of refrigerant inside the heat pump that shifts the energy from a relatively cool fluid to a warm fluid, it cannot work by the natural flow of energy. Instead, the refrigerant is repeatedly evaporated, compressed and condensed to pump the heat in the 'wrong' direction

Quite a lot of electrical energy is needed to power the refrigerant cycle, especially the compresser. This means that heat pumps are not necessay cheap to run or 100% green, despite the fact that they are extracting spare solar heat from the ground. Electricity is the most expensive domestic fuel and has the highest carbon emissions because so much  energy is wasted in the power station. Electricity has aout 2.5 times the carbon emissions of natural gas (the cleanest fossil fuel) and costs about three times as much. However the heat energy provided by a groud source heat pump is typically three to five times greater than the electrical energy needed to run it, so heat pumps are still good eco-choices compared to gas, oil or direct electric heating.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Renewables

How about generating your own electricity? Unsurprisingly there has been huge interest, and this is expanding dramatically now that Feed-in-Tariffs (FiTs) were launched in April this year. Feed-in-Tariffs guaranntee you a premium rate for any electricity you export to the grid, thus greatly reducing payback periods. Indeed, it is anticipated that exporting renewable energy may become a profit centre for the householder. There are two main technologies suitable for home-brewed electricity:

Photovoltaics
Solar arrays, which are usually roof mounted, generate electricity in daylight. They have a fairly high installation cost - typically around £1.000 per sq.m - and the amounts of electricity produced are not that large - typically 100Wh/sq.m/annum. The electricity produced is DC and it needs to be converted to AC for use in the home and for export to the grid. This is done by way of an inverter and a two-way meter. The installation needs to be south-facing for effective use. There are many different systems on the market, including versions that integrate with roof tiles, so that you don't end up with a separate panel on top of a new roof.


Wind Turbines
Come in many shapes and sizes and, invariably, the larger the turbine the better the performance. The small, roof-mounted ones have proved to be very disappointing but 6kW wind turbines, mounted on a pole, can deliver up tp 5,000kWh/annum for a cost of around £20,000. Again, the system needs an inverter to tramsform the current and a two-way export meter. The success (or otherwise) of wind turbines is incredibly location-sensitive: you need good average wind speeds, and a site which is not affected by nearby buildings or trees - ideally somewhere out in the wilds.

Friday, 21 May 2010

Investing in quality

Eco awareness means taking the long view. When you have a considerable surface area to cover, invest in the best quality you can afford. Short-term, stop-gap solutions tend to be supplied by synthetic materials because they are cheaper. However their production and disposal is extremely costly for the environment.
Good quality materials, especially natural ones, tend to wear better. Futhermore, once they show the marks of use, their character tends to be enhanced. Worn vinyl has nosuch charm.
Once you have invested in quality, do spend time and effort on keeping surfaces and finishes in good condition. Regular refinishing and proper maintenance will add years, if not decades, of serviceable life

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Minimizing building material use

The attitudes of our disposable society have found their way into our homes. Nowadays, many people redecorate and refurnish and re-equip their houses much more frequently than their parents' or grandparents' generations and often for no more compelling reason than a stylistic change of heart. While our surroundings are only truly comfortable if they express our tastes and pleases us on both aesthetic and practical levels,  there are still ways in which you can cut wastage in this respect

Strategies include
  • Repairing and restoring existing surfaces and finishes wherever possible. Rather than covering existing timber floors with a new floor covering, i.e. think about sanding and refreshing them
  • Restrict the use of new materials to what you can see. The carcases of fitted kitchen units, bathroom vanities and fitted storage can be given a fresh face with new doors, drawer fronts and worktops.
  • Give your home a facelift with paint, fabric, accessories and other relatively minimal applications of materials. It pays not to rip out everything and start again

Monday, 17 May 2010

Recycled materials

Many natural materials lend themselves to reuse. This is particularly true of the harder wearing types, such as stone, ceramic tile, brick, hardwood and such like. At some point, original building materials salvaged from houses, churches, hospitals, hotels and other sources, become desirable antiques. Well before then, there is a tendency for construction or demolition waste to be treated simply as rubble and dumped in landfill. Types include:
  • Second-hand materials in a variety of formats reclaimed from demolished buildings or other sources - for example, old bricks, stone pavers, tiles, and floorboards. Price and availability will depend on the age and quality of the material and possibly its provenance.
  • Reclaimed architectural detailing, fittings and fixtures. Salvage yards are a good source of details such as doors, windows, fireplaces, panelling, mouldings and trim, baths, sinks, basins, ironmongery, door furniture and a host of other interior features. Again price and availability will depend on quality, style and condition.

  • Furniture and furnishings. There is a large and established trade in second-hand furniture and furnishes, ranging from valuable and highly sought-after antiques to retro pieces dating from more recent perods. Textiles are the most vulnerable to decay, but there are some outlets that sell unused remnants or offcuts and surplus from the commercial sector. Some local authorities will now collect furniture in decent condition, repair it and sell it on at low prices. A number of companies hire out carpet, take it back after it is worn and recycle it into more carpet
  • Materials with a high recycled content. Synthetic materials with a significant recycled content are considered environmentally friendly. Paper and glass are easily recycled. Recycled glass tiles, for example, are produced using a quarter of the energy needed to make cast glass tiles.

    Thursday, 13 May 2010

    Highly insulated glazed units

    Installing double glazing in place of old single-glazed windows is a popular form of home improvement. For most consumers, saving money on energy bills is often more persuasive than environmental issues, along with the fact that uPVC-framed double glazing is virtaully maintenance-free.
    Double- or triple-glazed units trap air between the panels, which insulates against heat loss and helps to reduce noise transmission. Installing low E-glass as the inner pane in a unit reduces the U values still further. In very high-spec windows, the cavities are filled with argon or krypton gas, which conduct less heat than air.
    Window construction and frames also have a bearing on the thermal performance. One of the most popular materials used to make double-glazing units is uPVC. It's cheap, has good insulating properties, can be fashioned into a range of profiles and designs and requires little maintenance. However, as one of the most problematic plastics, it cannot be recommended on ecological grounds. The best insulating material for window frames is wood, either softwood, which is not very durable and needs frequent refinishing, or naturally weather-resistant hardwood, whose sustainable sourcing may cause a problem. Metal frames - such as aluminium - are very long lasting but have high embodied energy and compromise the window's insulating properties dramatically. Composite frames - such as those made of wood powder-coated with aluminium - can offer the best of both worlds
    Replacing original windows with double-glazing does not win universal approval in architectural circles because of its visual effect on the elevational detailling of period houses. In conservation areas, or if your home is listed, you may be prohibited from making this type of alteration.

    Characteristics
    • A range of highly insulating units, double- or triple-glazed.
    • May include low-E glass
    • Cavities may be filled with argon or krypton gas
    • Available off-the-shelf in standard sizes and shapes, bespoke designs are possible
    • Very high specification windows include integral blinds operated by controls on the outside
    • Price depends on specificatin and framing material
    Applications
    • Substitute glazing to prevent heat loss and reduce draughts

    Tuesday, 11 May 2010

    Eco glass

     Low-emissivity glass
    Ordinary glass absorbs and radiates heat on the cooler surface. In cold weather this surface is the external face of the glass or the outer pane in the case of a double-glazed unit. To prevent heat from being lost in this way, low E-glass is coated with a microscopic layer of metallic oxide that reflects heat back into the interior. The basic principle is the same as that low-tech strategy of placing sheets of foil behind radiators to reflect heat back into the room.
    Low-E glass is designed to be used in double- or triple-glazed units, not as single glazing. It is installed as the inner pane, with the coating facing into the gap between the glass layers. Different types of coatings are available to provide high solar gain,  moderate solar gain, or low solar gain, with the high-solar gain glass being suitable for climates where most energy is consumed in heating and low-solar gain glass for climates where most energy is consumed in cooling. Another important factor is siting. In a cold or temperate climate, for example, using low-E glass in double-glazed south facing units reduces the U-value to virtually nil, with the amount of heat lost being balanced by the amount of heat gained from the sun.

    Characteristics
    • Coated with glass with a low U-value. A double-glazed unit that incorporates low-E glass has a similar U-value to a triple-glazed unit
    • Virtually the same in appearance as clear float glass
    • Available in a range of dimensions
    Applications
    • Any glazing aplication where there is the potential for unwelcome heat loss or gain
    • Conservatories, glazed extensions and toplighting

    Monday, 10 May 2010

    Eco glass

    Glass is indispensable in buildings, allowing light into the interior while keeping the weather out. This is not simply a matter of preference and psychological well being, but is backed up by legislation. In the UK , for example, all habitable rooms must have at least one window. Until a few decades ago, most homes featured windows of only a relatively restricted size. In contemporary design, however, the trend is for using greater expances of glass, which unfortunately has the potential to compromise a building's energy efficiency seriously, with vast amounts of heat drained from the interior after dark, and temperatures raised uncomfortably in warm  weather. Recently, new types of glass, such as low-E glass, have been developed to address this problem. Installing highly insulated units in double or triple-glazed versions is also a good energy-saving strategy.
    Glass is made out of basic ingredients - soda, sand and lime - which are abundant and widely available. However its production, which entails melting those ingredients at vast temperatures, is very costly in terms of energy. One saving grace is that glass is readily recyclable with no loss of purity or clarity, and schemes for sorting and collecting glass are well establishded in many areas. Although such recycling schemes generally provide material that is turned back into bottles and jars, recycled float glass for external facades and other uses is also available, along with recycled glass tiles that can be used as a substitute for ceramic tiles and cast glass tiles.

    Characteristics
    • Energy-saving glass comes in a variety of formats, the most popular being low-E glass that is coated with a microscopic layer that reflects heat back into the interior
    • Virtually indistinguishable from sheer glass
    • Enhanced energy-saving can be achieved by incorporating low E-glass in double or triple glazed units
    • Framing and construction of glazed openings has a direct bearing on energy performance

    Saturday, 8 May 2010

    Recycled wood

    Wood lends itself naturally to being recycled, reused and salvaged - which means that there is no excuse for the fact that wood, together with plastic, makes up the greatest proportion of what is dumped in landfill sites. In recent years gone by, many building materials were reused time and again and it was not uncommon, for example, for ships' timbers to find their way into domestic homes as beams and mantlepieces.
    In many instances, recycling can begin at home. We can renovate old floorboards, rather than installing a new floor covering. Similarly, by upgrading fitted kitchens and other types of storage by retaining the carcases and simply replacing the doors and drawer fronts. If you are bringing reclaimed wood into your home, make sure that it does not harbour woodworm or any other infestation

    Types of reclaimed wood
    • Salvaged wooden features and fittings, such as doors, panelling and fireplaces. Good sources are architectural salvage yards, antiques markets and similar oulets. If made of softwood, such features are often available stripped of old finishes. Hardwood features and fittings tend to be rarer and more expensive as a result.
    • Reclaimed floorboards and other types of wood flooring. Old boards can be denailed and remilled to even out dimensions and provide a smoother surface. Antique parquet, particularly if the provenance is known, is highly sought after because of its unique patina and is correspondingly costly.
    • Railway sleepers can be used in the garden to make pathways or terraces and to enclose areas of raised planting

    Friday, 7 May 2010

    Sustainable Flooring and Wall Materials

    Cork
     Cork in various formats has been around for years as an unpretentious, if not unilatarian wall and floor covering. It comes from a harvestable, renewable resource: the bark of the evergreen cork oak, a tree native to the Mediterranean region. Portugal is the largest producer of cork today.
    Cork trees shed their bark naturally every nine or ten years and can carry on producing cork for 200 years or more, which means cork can be harvested without damage to the tree. The cork used to make tiles, sheets and other formats for interior surfaces is actually the waste product of the cork harvested to make bottle stoppers - which makes it a recycled material as well as a harvestable one.
    Cork has a cellular structure and is composed of 90% air-like gas, sealed within each microscopic cell by a waxy substance called suberin. As a result, the material is very light and cushioned, and springs back into shape after it has been depressed. Suberian also contributes to the materal's natural fire resistance.
    Previously, cork granules were bound together with adhesives containing formaldehyde, which compromised its eco credentials. Now, though, many companies are producing cork using environmentally friendly water-based pigments, solvents and adhesives.

    Characteristics
    • Derives from a harvestable, renewable source. Recycled product of the cork bottle-stopper industry
    • Warm and resiliant underfoot. Comfortable to walk on.
    • Excellent thermal and sound insulating qualities
    • Anti-bacterial, hypoallergenic, resists rot, mould and fire
    • Produced in tiles and sheets of various dimensions and thicknesses. Cork-faced floating is also available that snaps and locks into place
    • Some cork tiles have bedevilled edges, which allow for expansion and contraction
    • Mostly found in woody shades, but can be brightly coloured
    • Easy to work with. Damaged tiles can be lifted and replaced
    Applications
    • Flooring, especially in areas where extra comfort is required underfoot. Not suitable for areas of heavy traffic. Generally applied with adhesive
    • Wall cladding




    Go to www.amadiconstruction.co.uk for further information and contact details

    Thursday, 6 May 2010

    Sustainable Flooring Materials

    Palm
    Coconut palms are grown in abundance in plantations around the world, specifically for their nuts. As a palm tree ages, it increases in height until after about 80-100 years it is no longer able to produce nuts because nutrients have too far to travel from the ground to the top. Once a palm becomes nonreproducing, it is cut and replaced with a shorter, younger palm.
    Palmwood is derived from those cut palms that would otherwise go to waste. Unlike wood, the palm fibre is darker and harder at the perimeter; the central portions are soft and light. Palmwood is manufactured by cutting, slicing and kiln-drying the raw material before laminating the strands and bonding them with a nontoxic adhesive.

    Characteristics
    • Abundant, renewable natural source
    • Multiple laminated layers produce a stable and durable wood-like material
    • Available in tongue-and-groove planks cut to various lengths and as panels and plywood
    • Characteristic dark colour with different graining patterns
    Applications
    • Flooring. Store flooring in the area where it will be used for 72 hours before installation. Nail or glue in place over a dry, level subfloor (plywood, concrete or timber flooring).
    • Not suitable for very wet areas
    • Panelling and cladding




    Tuesday, 4 May 2010

    Sustainable Materials

    Homes devour great quantities of materials, both in construction and in surfaces and finishes. Choosing materials with sound eco-credentials helps to minimize the harm done to our planet. There are some materials that represent good green alternatives - simple substitutions for more familiar and, ecologically speaking, more contentious versions.
    When it comes to choosing materials responsibly, sustainability is a key concept. It means selecting materials that do not deplete natural resources, do not damage ecosystems and do not pose  a problem for future generations. Another factor that comes into the equation is embodied energy. Our homes use energy directly for heating, cooling and power. But materials represent energy in an embodied form - the energy that was required to extract them, transport them, process them, deliver them and work with them. The less a material has to be worked before it is used, and the shorter distance it has to travel, the lower its embodied energy

    Alternatives to wood
    Properly sourced from approved sustainably managed plantations, and in solid rather than composite form, wood is a good green material. It doesn't require much in the way of processing and it derives from a living renewable source. Furthermore it lends itself to both salvage and recycling. Properly maintained, a solid wood surface, or a wood with a thick veneer that can be resanded, will last for years.

    Reasons to consider wood alternatives
    • Demand for construction timber far outstrips supply. While international bodies are getting better at monitoring forestry projects, in many circumstances it is difficult to be absolutely sure that a particular batch of wood has come from an approved source
    • Softwoods, which are the mainstay of the building industry, require protection from fire, moisture and pests, which is generally delivered in the form of chemical treatment. Eco fnishing treatments include borax, which is used as a wood preservative, natural waxes, oils and stains
    • In construction, new manufactured wood products such as parallam and glulam - piles of wood glued and laminated under high pressure to produce structural members capable of spanning great distances - are increasingly a preferred eco option. But when it comes to surfaces and finishes, there are a number of alternatives that look and perform just as well as wood
    bamboo
    Ecologically speaking, bamboo is something of a wonder plant. A woody grass rather than a tree, it is incerdibly fast growing and fast spreading, achieving a height of 1.5m within months and full maturity at 5 to 6 years. Its cultivation requires little human intervention and it does not require fertilization or the application of pesticides. Bamboo improves poor soil, cuts down carbon dioxide emissions and is fully renewable.
    There are 1,500 species of bamboo, but most of the bamboo used in the production of bamboo products comes from China and Indonesia The associated transport costs mean that in this sense bamboo is high in terms of embodied energy,. but its other credentials weigh heavily in the balance.
    Strands or strips of bamboo can be laminated into boards, planks, panels and veneers. Other uses include textiles and papers. The best bamboo comes from manufacturers who control the process from harvest to end product and who are able to guarantee that only a small proportion of formaldehyde is usedin the laminating process. Harvested too early, bamboo can be as soft as fir. Mature bamboo, however, is harder than maple and oak.

    Characteristics
    • Renewable, plentiful resource that is fast growing
    • Strips or strands are laminated into a variety of products, including flooring-grade boards and planks, veneers
    • Different degree of hardness are available, with the toughest surpassing maple and oak in strength and durability.
    • Boards and panels are available in different dimensions and with matching finishing details, such as mouldings and trim
    • Very stable
    • Available in verticle grain, flat grain and a mixture of the two, which increaces strength, hardness and stability
    • A variety of woody colours from pale to dark shades. Some types of bamboo flooring feature natual colour variation that makes for a lively surface


     

    Thursday, 25 March 2010

    Dream Kitchens

    Kitchens are the new living rooms, at least in terms of time and money, we invest in them. The living room has been overtaken by the TV. So there is only one room left for people to congregate in, and that,s the kitchen. In terms of adding value, a family kitchen with room for a dining table and ideally open to the garden is the most desirable.
    We advise clients spending between 10% and 20% of their home,s value on a new kitchen. Our kitchen fitters (with more than 20 years experience) can help you design your dream kichen










    We can transform your home, work to your budget and add value, even in the downturn.
    Contact us for free advice on you project at info@amadiconstruction.co.uk
    Previous projects can be viewed at our website www.amadiconstruction.co.uk

    Wednesday, 3 March 2010

    Assessing Your Home Going Green

    When assesssing the green credentials of your house or investigating where green improvements could be introduced, there are a number of areas to explore. Many green solutions are relatively straightforward, while some will involve major upheaval and may be more suited to a new build project than a retrospective fit.
    Examples of ways to make your home a greener place:
    1. Wind Power Wind turbines can produce electricity to supplement the mains supply
    2. Green living roof Generates oxygen, provides good insulation, and offers a habitat for wildlife
    3. Heat pumps Various different designs offer a green alternative for space and water heating
    4. Biomass boilers A carbon neutral option that offers a viable alternative to conventional boilers
    5. Insulation This is key for energy efficiency. Try using natural or recycled materials.
    6. Passive solar power Sunlight can be used with good house design to provide heat and light
    7. Active solar power Solar energy collectors can generate hot water and electricity
    If your home featured many of these ideas, your energy usage would be significantly reduced
    Contact us for further information at: www.amadiconstruction.co.uk

    Monday, 22 February 2010

    Kitchens

    Fitted kitchens are designed to make the best use of all available space. Attached units combine ample storage with a contemporary finish

    The Heart of Your Home
    The kitchen is probably the most important room of all. Modern families now spend much of their time in this area: cooking, eating, working and playing. Whether you want your existing space updated or you want us to undertake more major work- knocking down walls to create an open plan space, for example- transforming your kitchen will pay off

    Planning Your Kitchen
    Planning a new kitchen requires considerable time and thought. An existing kitchen layout is a good starting point. We can reconfigure the layout relatively inexpensively and that can give the kitchen a new look
    In terms of style, handless units are becoming popular as well as fully intergrated appliances- both help the kitchen free part of a living space rather than a functional room

    Intergrated Appliances
    A new hob that lies flat to the worktop; a double oven at eye height, hidden dishwasher and intergrated fridges all help a kitchen feel sleek and less functional, which makes it more visually pleasing, especially in an open-plane kitchen

     

      

      

    Our Fitted Kitchen Services can be viewed at: www.amadiconstruction.co.uk
    If you have any questions regarding our fitted kitchen services.Don't hesitate to contact us a friendly person is at hand to answer your queries.

    Thursday, 18 February 2010

    The Petronas Twin Towers

     

    One of the greatest buildings constructed in the last 20 years. The Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpar, Malaysia are the largest twin buildings in the world. Designed by architect Cesar Pelli, the 88 floor tower was constructed from 1992 to 1998.

    Tuesday, 16 February 2010

    Loft Insulation

    Another way to make huge energy savings is to insulate your loft. Even in very large houses, a loft can be insulated quickly and at a relatively low cost. In fact the reduction in heating costs that result from nome insulation far outweigh the initial expence of installation
    We can help you decide whether you wish to create a "warm roof" or "cold roof" area. For a warm roof, the insulation is taken right up to just below the roof tiles so that the loft space is kept warm. This process is mainly carried out when the loft area is being converted into a usable room. In "cold roofs"  the loft insulation is kept at joist level to stop heat escaping through the unused roof space.

    The type of blanket insulation we use: Mineral wool insulation (i.e Rockwall), this is created from naturally occuring volcanic rock.
    Recycled insulation: this is a green and non-toxic alternative to conventional blanket insulation

    Contact us to discuss an upcoming project.

    Friday, 12 February 2010

    Home Insulation

    Improving your homes insulation is one of the best overall investments of time and money you can make. Although the initial financial outlay may be quite high, the long -term savings on heating bills will make it worthwhile We can insulate most parts of your home against heat loss, and even fairly modest measures can make a considerable difference.
    However, efficient thermal insulation must always go hand in hand with effective ventilation to prevent the build up of condensation

    How Insulation Works
    Heat flows from warm areas to cool areas, and moves in any direction. In the home, warm air expands and circulates, escaping through walls, ceilings,roofs, windows, doors, fireplaces, and anywhere plumbing, ducting or electrical wiring penetrates exterior walls. Thermal insulation acts as a barrier, reducing the amount of heat that escapes.
    The term "U" value is used when discussing thermal requirements in a house, especially in conjunction with insulation products. The aim is to achieve low U-values: this means that a house's insulation is efficient. In a new-build home U-values are governed by building regulations, and the type of insulation used will therefore need to meet certain requirements.

    A Method of Insulating a Solid Brick Wall
    By first fixing wooden battens then inserting the celotex TB3000 (multi-purpose insulation boards) into the space between the battens. Screw plasterboard over the top of the battens, then skim the wall to create a finished surface. This process is shown below in one of our recent projects:

     

      

     

    Sunday, 10 January 2010

    External Wall Insulation

    The standard Building Insulation methods used in most homes in Britain

    Internal Wall Insulation
    • Rooms can be heated quickly
    • Added insulation thickness reduces the internal room dimensions
    • Structural wall is cold and potentially damp, increasing the risk of condensation and freeze/thaw damage
    • Installation is disruptive for building occupants
    • Exposure to cold bridges, resulting in condensation, damp and mold
    Cavity Wall Insulation
    • One of the most common building insulation methods
    • Cavity construction is expensive and time consuming
    • Thicker wall construction reduces the internal room dimensions
    • Limits options for thermal upgrades in the future
    • Outer leaf construction isn,t insulated or protected, increasing the risk of condensation and freeze/thaw damage
    External Wall Insulation
    • Structural wall is warm and dry, increasing thermal performance and reducing building mainteance
    • Removal of cold bridges reduces the risk of condensation, damp and mould
    • The heat retention capability of the existing wall is fully utilised
    • Lightweight construction methods can be used, allowing for fast installation
    • Interstitial condensation can be eliminated, irrespective of climate conditions
    • Eliminates cracking caused by thermal expansion and contraction, even in mixed blockwork
    Of the systems listed above, the one we useand feel is by far the most efficient and effective is external wall insulation. External wall insulation systems are suitable for both traditional and non-traditional solid wall housing and can significantly reduce heat loss leading to lower heating bills and carbon emissions. As well as improving thermal efficiency, external wall insulating systems at the same time revitalise the appearance of homes and can be a major contributors to the regeneration of run-down housing schemes

    Sunday, 3 January 2010

    Wishing a Happy New Year 2010

    Just a quick note to wish you all a Happy New Year. I would like to thank everyone for their help and support. We,re involved in some interesting projects this year which shall appear here in the future

    As soon as is practicable I intend to upgrade the blog to give it a more professional look and to improve its features and functionality.

    Perhaps readers would be kind enough to make comments and suggestions both on the matter of revamping the technical and presentational side of the website and on the kind of content they would like to see more (or less) of. Please leave comments below or drop me an email.

    Once again, Happy New Year!