My piece of paradise

Today I had high hopes of getting lots of advice for my new house. I was heading off to an eco fair where I would meet a human being from the SEAI sustainable energy authority of Ireland, face to face, ask questions, find out about grants and generally get advice on how I move my inefficient new (80 yr old stone built but new to me) home up in the energy ratings. It’s currently G, the worst possible rating!

How wrong I was ๐Ÿ˜”

There was no human from the SEAI. There were some of their fliers that someone else had brought – just like I do when I go to energy events.

Thankfully Duncan Stewart was there imparting words of wisdom. I didn’t want to hog the floor with all my questions so I listened and learned. I learned about insulation; external, attic and cavity wall. I learned about windows; triple glaze north facing but double glaze south facing. Move windows out to fit with external insulation. Little tips that completely turned my plans on their head!

So now I won’t get new windows in first. I’ll insulate the external walls. Or perhaps I’ll get the extension done first. Or the roof ………..

His message was clear – climate change is real and co-ops are the way to go.

A wise woman suggested I blog progress on my house so I’ll do my best. Please feel free to ask questions, share tips or generally use this space to inform everyone of what we can do to raise the energy rating of our homes. I’d love to retrofit to passive house standard but I don’t think my budget will cover it.

Contrary to some peoples belief I am not very energy literate. I don’t understand half the facts and figures so I feel like I’m in the dark with this project. I get policy. I get the process for planing. I get participation but I do not get kilowatts and the rest. This will be a major learning and I’m enjoying being in deeper on the confused consumer side – it will help me feed into policy from that angle.

Should be fun – I’m dreading it!

Theresa O’Donohoe

May 3rd 2015

Published by Theresa OD

Change maker and mother of 5 living in the west of Ireland

22 thoughts on “My piece of paradise

  1. Hi Theresa,

    from the little experience I have from meeting the people from SEAI, Ruth Buggie from the communities division and Declan Meely from emerging technologies, is that the way they are looking at it is through the lens of coordinated community approaches to installations, retrofits, with solar, geothermal and wind all within their area of development.

    Ruth may be the one to talk to if its a case that there is a local network, some well situated south facing roofs, and perhaps a central community space. SEAI are looking especially for these networked community approaches and may be willing to use a portion of their investment fund for fund matching projects with EU Social Funding through programs such as the Urban Development fund , a part of the Rural Development Fund, and the forthcoming Axis 3 Sustainable Transport fund that will focus on sustainable , low carbon local transport.
    In relation to this, SEAI already offer a 5k grant to assist in electric vehicle purchases. This kind of basis can be developed. Personally I think what the Bristol Biobus is doing is a good model for the integration of biogas cooperatively among organic farmers and growers.

    1. Thanks Eimhin. I’ll probably hold off on some things until a co-op gets going. Solar photovoltaic especially being one as its evolving at such a fast pace. Any pv I put in now would probably be obsolete next year.
      A poo bus would be great!!! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ

  2. Glad to see you are externally insulating. Sticking insulated slabs internally is a much poorer option. Once you have the insulation and windows done, and get some airtightness detailing sorted, I’d consider installing a heat recovery ventilation unit if the budget stretches. I’d suggest that your location would mean your house will be subject to heat loss more through a bit of cold carried on a damp wind than extreme cold, so airtightness detailing will be really important. Best of luck with the renovation. How far are you from the sea?

    1. Thanks Dave. I’m not too sure but I’d guess a mile as the crow flies. The inner wall is actually wet in some spots. I reckon internal insulation would get wet. However external might do too. Head wreck ๐Ÿ˜€

  3. Funny we are at a similar project a fixer upper cottage with planning for a new extension. Our roof was first in agenda. We are taking off rest of slates today. Treating timbers with boron for woodworm, then getting ready to re roof and insulate with home processed sheeps wool. Inside and out we are taking off all cement plasters that lock in damp to these old stone walls and will insulate inside walls with clay straw followed by clay or lime plasters. That leaves walls breathable. Extension we are hoping for lime hemp walls. Mike and I have been self learning this stuff for years delighted to be finally stuck in to our own project! Come visit and we can share our learning. Will watch the blog!

    1. Are you doing a blog on this Suzie? I’d be interested to see how your project goes. photos would be great..I’m guessing others would be interested too..

  4. Hi Theresa
    I am happy to contribute to your project and promise to keep it simple. A house can always be upgraded in stages as your budget allows . . . and so that it doesn’t wreck your head ! Having an overall strategy might help and it can be adjusted if you feel the need to do something out of sequence.
    I agree strongly with Dave’s suggestion that airtightness should be your first strategic objective and it is also probably the cheapest measure to do. At the same time a designed approach to positive ventilation of all the rooms is the other ‘integrated half’ of making your home airtight as it would be unhealthy without adequate ventilation once you make it airtight. There are proprietary airtightness systems available which use tapes, membranes, adhesives and mastics to seal all the draughty leaks in the house. The roof is the biggest challenge and will have the biggest impact. I’d need to know more about how the roof is built to make suggestions.
    An external insulation system is rendered on the outside with an extremely robust waterproof render, so external insulation does not get wet and you don’t need to worry about this. These systems have been in use for many decades with no problems. I first specified an EWI system 20 years ago on a 12 storey building and there have been no problems. It is the best and right place to put the insulation. The appearance of your house will not change as the render can be finished to suit any requirements, texture or colours. There are SEAI grants for EWI, and other measures, and these were recently increased, but it is still considered expensive by many people. Look them up on SEAI website. I would not honestly recommend any other type of insulation on a house like yours. I am currently saving up to have EWI installed on my house so I know it will seem expensive, but it is worth it in the long run. Sustainability is all about the long term view.
    I could write a book but this isn’t the right place for that. I hope this helps you get started on the right road !

    1. Just getting back to you Jay. They are both the only quotes I have got to date! I got a quote to have the roof replaced to incorporate extended rafters for Ewi, air tightness, new barges and major insulation. He included spray on insulation. What’s your opinion on that stuff?

      1. Hi Theresa
        The approach of extending the rafters to accommodate EWI is good and weathering a wall with a generously wide eaves is good practice as it also keeps the gutters away from the wall. If you are completely replacing the roof ( a big job ) then I would recommend cross-battens to create a designed and defined ventilation zone above the insulation separated by a wind-tight membrane. A really airtight and well insulated roof will make a big difference in your location.
        I think insulating the roof along the slope of the rafters is a good idea and allows you to use the attic floor for storage. The insulation will be fixed in place and protected by the vapour control barrier/airtightness membrane on the warm side of the insulation. I would recommend rigid insulation be fixed either to the top, or the bottom, of the rafters to reduce thermal bridging, increase the insulation value. If fixed on the bottom of the rafters it will protect the membrane from damage over time. Insulation laid on the attic ceiling tends to get pushed around over time because it is loose laid and unless you build a raised floor (another expense) you can’t store anything on top of the insulation.
        Spray on insulation is very good at getting into ‘difficult to access’ areas of a roof. If used with a membrane as described above this could well be very cost effective. The only alternative I would suggest is high density, high performance rockwool batts between the rafters with rigid insulation above, or below, the rafters. I would need to know what the whole of the proposed specification is to comment in detail.
        Windows are the least cost effective energy efficiency measure and they are an expensive item to replace. If the frames are ok then improving the weatherstripping could be step 1 for airtightness. Step 2 could be replacing the glazing to a higher spec. However if the window frames are beyond repair and need to be replaced because of their age and condition then I would suggest a good glazing spec in Accoya timber frames. Accoya timber has a 50 year guarantee that it won’t rot or deteriorate, yet it is not a hardwood. I have used new Accoya windows on a 200 year old cottage and good joiners know about this material. The additional cost of using Accoya is minimal as it is a sustainable treated softwood. Accoya requires minimal maintenance with a breathable paint system.
        Heat recovery ventilation (HRV) is good but is the most expensive ventilation option which requires filters to be changed regularly (which most people seem to forget to do). Aereco Ltd have a less expensive ‘demand controlled ventilation’ (DCV) system which requires less building work. Aereco will give you a quotation and ProAir (based in Claregalway) will give you a quote for an HRV system. By talking to them you will learn about these systems.
        . . . till next time !

  5. Hi Theresa,
    I really get tired of Duncan, he is right in a way, resilient communities are the future, but he has not grasped why they don’t take off.
    If you strip the roof put on over rafter insulation to keep structure warm and extend the eaves so that EWIS forms a composite warm coat to your building, don’t get hung on the breather thing, not many truly understand the building physics involved as the differentials get pushed out. Think HRV as heating. Windows and doors next, solar space and don’t forget the floor – the latent cooling of evaporation in old floors is one of the biggest factors overlooked, especially when the heat goes up, the floor gets colder!
    SEAI have grants but are next to useless at holistic thinking. ๐Ÿ˜Š

    1. Thanks Fergus. EWIS – external wall insulation? What’s HRV? I reckon I’ll have to take up the main concrete floor to insulate and radon proof. I’ll investigate the others – see what’s under the timbers. Hopefully not a rat!!! T

    2. totally agree Fergus.the floor is a big one re latent heat/thermal mass inertia.and SEAI are useless in terms of holistic….well said.being trying to say that for years.

  6. Best of luck with the house Theresa

    Not an expert on these things at all – but taking on a task like this – means planning for the long term. How will you use the home, how does the layout of the house work for you???? – will it need extending at some point.

    What im saying is – you don’t want to do the big job – and having to come back in a year or 3 to extend – plan everything you might want to do – so it all falls under the one job.

    That’s what I think anyway – but im no expert

    Fergal – just wondering do you think resilient communities have yet to take off – and what can be done???

    Part of the issue I see is that if you take rural communities – its too easy to ponder on whether the community has an actual future (ie survival is more priority – then been resilient – think of it as being like needing a new electric car – but struggling to keep the current car on the road.

    The developer led model – of wind development – means communities are also absorbed in fighting projects they feel will cause them issues.

    For a resilient community to be embraced – people need to be confident there will a) there can still be a community there for the long term – and b) be able to see a future for themselves there

    1. Hi Theresa,

      I share your view, SEAI have no realistic understanding of the problem on the ground nor what to do about it, I also share Duncan’s enthusiasm, however, as a talker he just uses the sound bites and has not actually carried out anything he talks about (although I did some work to try to repair one of his in Wicklow once!).

      We recently achieved 5 # “social affordable” A1 rated homes in Dublin for Co-operative Housing (NABCO) despite SEAI’s lack of understanding, they wanted us to achieve 20% renewable savings but could not grasp that we were creating *100%* – eg, no energy poverty and the very best internal environment. Al achieved at less than the currently accepted price per square metre by using fully thought out methods rather than the usual anecdotal “thats what we always did” approach of most building designers.

      All buildings are unique so its important to get specific advice, as building pathologists we understand how to achieve the best out of any building at most economy no matter how bad it is!

      Appropriate use of materials has always been my motto, sad that we see events where that ethos has been subvented by false economy pushed onto the designers by the hydrocarbon industry – there is no such thing as fire proof plastic – the words are ‘retardant’ or ‘resistant’ so unless you fully understand it, don’t use it!

      Another industry to spread its false ideology is the concrete sector, its a great material, but we don’t need to use so much of it if we design intelligently.

      Give me a call sometime and I’d be glad to have a look and provide some meaningful advice.


      *Fergus Merriman MSCSI MRICSRegistered Building Surveyor B0069MERRIMAN SOLUTIONSChartered Building SurveyorsDesign & Assigned CertifiersProject & Property ManagersSustainability & Renewable Energy ConsultantsGlendree, Feakle. Co Clare. Tel:+353 86 8044844*

      On 25 June 2017 at 11:40, Building Bridges between Policy and People wrote:

      > ryanscottage commented: “Reblogged this on ryanscottage.” >

      1. Thanks Fergus. Funds are spent now so I can do no more. I tried to use Seai fund on installation of solar PV and heat pump instead to solar thermal but they were having none of it. I should’ve put in a wind farm. They’d probably have paid for that.
        Pop in if you’re passing ๐Ÿ˜Š

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