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Home comforts

by Frank Schnittger Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 01:11:47 PM EST

House clad in 120MM insulation and with new ventilation grills visible near the apex of the roof.

The last 6 months have been a crazy busy time for me and my family as we have a new baby in the house and are (hopefully) moving towards the end of a major home renovation. My eldest daughter, her partner and new baby have been forced to move into the family home by Dublin's crazy house prices and it has given us the opportunity to have a major rethink about how the family home should function.

I could no longer justify having a detached house largely to myself, and so their move is very welcome from my point of view. They have injected a new energy into the house and increased our ambition for what the house can achieve. A government deep-retrofit scheme has enabled us to improve its energy rating from a very average (for a 1980's house) D rating to A1 - the highest possible, and it is now apparently one of the ten most energy efficient older houses in Ireland.

This has been achieved by a combination of active and passive measures. 16 PV solar panels and a 5 Kw battery pack power an air based heat pump and the house is ventilated through an active heat exchanger system. All carbon based heat sources (a solid fuel stove and an oil fired range) have been removed and the chimneys blocked up.

The exterior of the house has been clad with 120mm insulation and the basement studio has been brought into the same energy envelope through similar insulation on the inside of the walls. The ground floors have been insulated with 120MM insulation boards and under floor heating has been installed. Attic insulation has been increased, all windows have been replaced with triple glazing, and all "thermal bridges" between exterior and interior of the house have been eliminated. Finally, a lot of attention was devoted to making the house as air tight as possible.

From a project management point of view the greatest difficulty was the sheer amount of stuff that had accumulated in the house over 37 years when added to the contents of a second home moving in. It was only possible to clear a few rooms at a time and a lot of stuff was damaged due to damp and mould caused by drying concrete floors and temporary storage under tarpaulins outside. A very fine building dust permeates everything and we are fortunate none of us suffers from asthma.

In retrospect we would have been better off paying a removal company to remove all contents and store them off site for the duration of the building process, but then we underestimated both the scale and the timescale of the project. All fitted furniture had to be removed to facilitate the poring of concrete over floor insulation and heating systems and this generated 3 skips full of waste and a lot of replacement costs!

The building contract and government grant towards the cost only includes the enhancement and refurbishment of the shell of the building plus the installation of the energy equipment, so all replacement flooring, fitted furniture, doors, architraves, skirting, painting and decorating is down to us. Fortunately the kindness, hard work, and expertise of friends, relatives and neighbours made this job a whole lot easier. But combined with the demands of a newborn child it has been a busy 6 months!

The main un-budgeted cost over-runs related to unexpected requirements to replace the fascia and soffit in the roof to accommodate the increased insulation, and to "tank" the basement studio walls to prevent any risk of a damp problem emerging between the walls and the internal insulation. For some reason the well water was also disturbed resulting in a need to replace and upgrade the water purification systems.

We're on the home stretch now with the hall and downstairs bathroom only cleared on Christmas Eve. We've got 4 rooms to go in terms of clearing and flooring and painting etc. and a lot of flat pack furniture to buy and build for replacement storage, but the pressure is now off. We have a warm comfortable house with enough space for our immediate needs and the remaining work can be done as time and human energy levels permit.

The garden was transformed into a building site as the work progressed, but that's a problem for next spring and summer. Broadband and TV are still not fully functional (thanks to our suppliers not delivering on their part of the deal!) but our wireless Wifi system is adequate in most parts of the house to meet the most pressing needs, if not up to much for streaming or work usage.

I will try and do a more technical review of the specifications, performance, environmental footprint, cost and energy savings of the house in due course. It is quite difficult to source adequate technical expertise for all these relatively new systems within the Irish building industry at the moment, but hopefully that capacity is growing all the time.

At a personal level, transferring a home from one generation to the next can be quite a transformative experience. I was forced to stay with a friend nearby for almost 4 months during the building process and living out of one bag with only intermittent Wifi was quite discombobulating for me. My thanks for their kindness and tolerance!

It would also be remiss of me not to thank our project manager, Richard McCarthy of Towards Zero Energy, and our chief building contractor Flo of Floelen Construction without whose expertise, dedication and hard work this project would simply not have been possible.

And  now the real work begins: Baby Sam demands my attention!

This is awesome! We are gradually working in that direction at our house.

One difficulty in Colorado is that there is usually a week or so right about now when it gets below zero F (-18 C) and stays there day and night. Heat pumps have a hard time in this situation, and the "official" recommendation is to retain your natural gas furnace as a secondary system for use when it is more efficient than the heat pump. There is a serious risk of pipes freezing in these conditions.

We are attempting to join the local electricity supply option that uses 100% sustainable sources. There is a degree of greenwashing going on by the power company, however, because the amount of such energy available is a small fraction of the amount customers want.

Dust is bad. Suggest you get a vacuum cleaner with a HEPA filter and use it often...

by asdf on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 04:29:26 PM EST
Yea I have to admit to a small degree of scepticism as to whether our climate justifies the level of investment we have put in. The house is at 700 ft. above sea level (nothing by Colorado standards) which means we're slightly colder than, say, Dublin, but still night frosts are increasingly rare (with global warming) and you can count the days p.a. where it stays below 0 degrees centigrade all day on one hand. But the government grant is only available if you go for an A rating so we went the whole hog.

Personally I don't think there is much wrong with a sealed stove for very occasional use on cold days/nights or when you want a convivial fireside chat with guests, but retaining it wasn't an option. Going all electricity is much cleaner (dust wise) and Ireland's electricity system is becoming increasingly sustainable - although the 40% target for renewable electricity in 2020 looks likely to be missed.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 04:44:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
According to this linked story Ireland will reach its target for 40% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020 but fail to reach its 16% target for total energy production from renewable sources by 2020. The next step in our carbon footprint reduction plan is to acquire an electric vehicle just as soon as prices become more affordable and second hand vehicles on the market improve in terms of range and longevity.

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Fri Dec 27th, 2019 at 01:37:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
My house in Minneapolis (which is on the colder end of the inhabited world in the winter) has pretty drafty windows that I believe are original to the house (built in 1951). I will replace them eventually, but more for the functionality (they are very hard to open) than energy savings. In terms of both cost and energy, break even will be decades, if ever.

I've had the house for just over a year now, here's a link to all the cosmetic remodeling I've done to the place. It's a solid house, insulation and such is all up to local standards.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Dec 28th, 2019 at 03:56:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Looks great! You need a cover over that fireplace, though!

Our house is also a mid mod design, although it is not an architect's dream, just a generic mid-50s ranch.

by asdf on Sat Dec 28th, 2019 at 10:08:04 PM EST
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The fireplace cover got tossed because it was ugly. I'll never use it for an actual fire; I'll get a natural gas insert eventually.

I like the modesty of the mid-century box houses, and yeah mine is very pedestrian as well. Architect designed houses are of course more fun but I don't feel like I'm missing out. The space is functional and fits my wants/needs really well versus what else was on the market when I bought a year ago.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Tue Dec 31st, 2019 at 04:25:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I think if you have to borrow the money at retail bank interest rates you will never see an adequate return on your investment, even after the government grant. However I was in the fortunate position of being able to choose to invest in shares or in my home, and I chose the latter. The payback is not just in terms of reduced energy bills, but increased comfort and usable space for my family. In Ireland it is normal to heat only a couple of rooms in the house and use the rest only for sleeping etc. Now we have much greater usable space all year round for work, pleasure or whatever.

After 37 years the house was also in need of some significant repairs/maintenance/replacement which are included in the overall cost, if not in the grant aided element. If it serves the next generation as well as it has served mine, then I will consider the money to have been well spent, and at much lesser risk than investing in stocks right now.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Sun Dec 29th, 2019 at 03:03:30 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My compliments on a project well planned and with excellent results.

As I mentioned earlier, I need to start a similar refurbishment and upgrade ... or make a decision to move to a more modern home. 😄

Living in the city of The Hague, I'm limited by ordinances and don't have the freedom for exterior wall insulated cladding needed. I did make the decision for "Irish heating" this winter season ... limiting heating to the living  quarters. It seems this will cut the heating bill by 20%.

Most likely I will start this spring by renewing roofing, adding thick insulation and solar panels with the electrical installation. I will not do a feasibility study as I'm sure it will be a poor return on investment. It will add comfort and surely will cut the utilities bill.

Global Warming - distance between America and Europe is steadily increasing.

by Oui on Sun Dec 29th, 2019 at 04:18:14 PM EST
[ Parent ]
a lot of attention was devoted to making the house as air tight as possible.

Be aware of Sick Building Syndrome while all the various building materials out gases (dries.)

It has been suggested that sick building syndrome could be caused by inadequate ventilation, deteriorating fiberglass duct liners, chemical contaminants from indoor or outdoor sources, and biological contaminants, air recycled using fan coils, traffic noise, poor lighting, and buildings located in a polluted urban area ...


Laminated flooring can cause more exposure to chemicals and more resulting SBS symptoms compared to stone, tile, and cement flooring.[13] Recent redecorating and new furnishings within the last year were also found to be associated with increased symptoms, along with dampness and related factors ...

Might want to consider doing a 100% ventilation of the building once a day for a month or so until everything settles down.  

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre

by ATinNM on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 05:35:53 PM EST
The upgrade included a ventilation shaft for each room which exits the building via a heat exchanger. (This is an upgrade on what ventilation existed before which consisted largely of opening a door or window). So far this has worked well and there is a marked absence of cooking odours etc. despite the fact that a hob has yet to be fitted over the hob.

The dust was generated by work on concrete and block walls within the house and has rapidly subsided as that work has reduced... Certainly everything dries quickly but that is a plus compared to the damp and mould problems we had before. There were a lot of doors and windows open while the main work was in progress.

The house is located in open countryside so traffic, noise and air pollution is not a problem, and the ventilation system has pollen filters etc.  We have made extensive use of laminated flooring so hopefully there won't be an issue with chemical emissions. So far no one in the house has contracted so much as a cold, so, touch wood, things are looking good.

Index of Frank's Diaries

by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 07:37:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A new baby. A new hope.
Besr wishes to you and your family, Grandpa.
by StillInTheWilderness on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 08:50:23 PM EST
Thanks, charmer!

Index of Frank's Diaries
by Frank Schnittger (mail Frankschnittger at hot male dotty communists) on Thu Dec 26th, 2019 at 09:25:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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