30 Oct 2007

On Carbon Offsetting

A couple of weeks ago I went to a gathering organised by Cambridge Energy. The subject of debate was Carbon Offsetting: fix or fig-leaf? And very interesting it all proved to be.

I am of the camp that thinks it's pretty much fig-leaf. The first person I bumped into there was Andy Brown, an old acquaintance of mine who now works at Cambridge Architectural Research. Andy is even more of a fig-leafer than I am. He runs something called Cambridge Carbon Footprint in his spare time; I am not completely clear what it does but one thing it doesn’t do is sell carbon offsets.

The speakers at the event were a mixed bunch. Fiona Harvey of the Financial Times gave a run down of some of the carbon offset scams she had uncovered recently. These included a company selling offsets which consisted of sequestering CO2 by pumping it down into oil wells, when the real purpose of this operation was to increase the gas pressure in the wells and thereby help to extract the last of the oil down there.

Then Michael Schlup told us about the Gold Standard, a sort of UN backed quality assurance scheme for carbon offsets. I wasn’t convinced but he made the interesting point that you can’t realistically offset within Europe because the total amount of CO2 released is already capped (at least in theory, by Kyoto): it therefore only works in territories where there is no capping. Hence so many carbon offsetting schemes being Third World projects.

Now many people are cynical about rock stars offsetting their world tours by planting mango forests in India, but are happy to accept the principle of offsetting home produced renewable energy in order to obtain zero carbon status for a housing project. But logically, it’s all offsetting. As is buying electricity from a green supplier. Unless you aim to live entirely off grid and entirely without recourse to fossil fuels, which most people think is virtually impossible in the Western world today, then you can only approach being carbon neutral by trading your excess renewable power or biomass sequestration project, or by getting someone else to do this for you.

So despite all the scams and the indulgences it attracts, the principle of offsetting is sound. But it still sticks in the craw: the idea that I can burn more carbon if you do something to absorb that carbon. There is, whether you like it or not, something rather unpleasant going on here. It has been expertly satirised by Andy Brown’s son, Alex Randall, who runs the Cheat Neutral website.

This debate is particularly relevant to the Code for Sustainable Homes because it seems happy to accept some forms of offsetting but not others. This is difficult territory.

• The CSH accepts that it’s not possible to have a house generate all its electricity all the time, so it is permissible to trade any surplus you generate on sunny or windy days with the National Grid. Like it or not, that’s an offset.

• But the CSH also recognises that is impractical for every Code Level 6 house to be expected to generate renewable power, so the offset is extended to include community power schemes, such as CHP and district heating. So we have moved a level further out: they now accept offsite offsetting.

• How far off site can this renewable power plant be situated? It seems churlish to impose a maximum distance, so they have to accept that it could be many miles away. But how far? How about out in the North Sea?

By now, you can see that we are straying into very difficult territory. The CSH zero carbon definition is adamant that it won’t allow schemes simply to sign up for a renewable electricity tariff, because anyone can do that anytime. Somehow they want to be able to ensure that the renewable power generated for the scheme is unique and is additional to any other source, but this is much easier said than done. How do you enforce an individual home owner, let alone an entire housing scheme, to finance, say, an off shore windfarm? Especially in a country where we are all free to switch power suppliers at the click of a mouse. The government’s definition of zero carbon hinges on this conundrum and I don’t think anyone is going to be able to come up with a compelling definition, because the rules they dream up will look arbitrary and nonsensical.

The problem is of course that once you accept one bit of the offsetting model as being legitimate, then logically it’s all legitimate. After all carbon molecules don’t much care what happens to them and as far as CO2 reduction is concerned, a carbon molecule sequestered in an Indian mango forest is just as good as one saved from being burned in a power station because you have PV on your roof.

I don’t have a lot of sympathy for the government here. After all, it was they who dreamed up this silly target of the zero carbon home, something that is impossible to exist without embracing the concept of carbon offsetting. They now want to pick and choose which offsetting bits they like and which they don’t. I will rather enjoy watching them wriggle on their own hook.

Damned difficult, this carbon offsetting.

28 Oct 2007

What the hell is the NHPAU?

§ The National Housing and Planning Advice Unit

• The what? I have never heard of it.

§ It’s a new quango. It’s not an independent body, it’s set up with government money, and it seems to be embedded within the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG).

• I do know what the DCLG is, just about. It’s the government department that deals with planning and housing. In fact, it replaced John Prescott’s ODPM (Office of the Deputy Prime Minister). What is it with New Labour and four letter acronyms?

§ NHPAU is five.

• So it is. Maybe I am due a visit from the numeracy squad.

§ Funny you should say that but that is pretty much what the NHPAU does?

• What? Teach hoodies how to add up?

§ Not quite. But it’s there to thwack NIMBIES over the head with a load of statistics and figures, setting out to prove that there is a near-insatiable demand for new housing which can only be met with very large numbers.

• Let me guess. 240,000 new homes a year?

§ Very good. 8 out of 10. In fact the NHPAU is calling for 270,000 new homes a year up to 2016.

• Where have they done this?

§ They’ve come up with a response to the Government’s Green Paper Homes for the Future: More Affordable, More Sustainable and it’s generated a bit of press coverage last week.

• But hang on, I thought you said that they were part of the government?

§ Well not exactly part of the government. Just a review body that consists of members appointed by the government.

• So not exactly likely to contain many critics of government policy?

§ Precisely.

• So who runs the NHPAU?

§ Head honcho is Stephen Nickell, an economist who has sat on the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee.

• Which if I remember correctly is also an independent body where membership is decided by the government. A bit of a pattern emerging here, don’t you think? And wasn’t that Kate Barker also a member of the MPC?

§ She still is. And you’ve put your finger on an important connection. The NHPAU’s job is to further the new housebuilding agenda set out in the Barker reports.

• Hang on a minute. Who commissioned the Barker report? Gordon Brown, wasn’t it?

§ Correct.

• And did he get the answer he wanted from it?

§ Yes, undoubtedly.

• But, to date, it’s all come to nothing. The amount of new housing in the UK actually went down last year. It stubbornly refuses to lift off above the 180,000 a year range, doesn’t it?

§ That’s why we need the NHPAU.

• What, due to the absence of any effective independent lobbying groups calling for more housing, the government does its own?

§ I wouldn’t be so cynical myself.

• So what’s in this report they have just put out? Can you summarise it for me with a few choice phrases?

§ It’s more of the same. An awful lot about affordability, almost nothing about sustainability. They are trying to guess what level of new housing is required in order to maintain affordability at current levels.

• You mean current unaffordable levels.

§ Quite.

• These are a bunch of economists, right?

§ Right.

• So they like to look at things in terms of supply and demand.

§ I’d go further. They are unable to look at things in any other way.

• My guess is that they spend a long time dwelling on the hardships caused by not having enough housing to meet everyone’s aspirations, but almost no time at all looking at the problems caused by trying to meet those aspirations.

§ Your point?

• My point being that it’s a big and complex problem and they have their telescopes focussed on just one relatively small area.

§ Well, what other areas do you think they should be looking at?

• The Irish question, for a start. I bet Ireland doesn’t even rate a mention in the report?

§ That’s correct. No mention of what happens anywhere else in the world, as far as I can see. That does seem rather blinkered, doesn’t it?

• You bet. Do you know what has happened in Ireland in the past 15 years?

§ Tell me.

• They built new homes like nowhere else has ever seen before. Each year they would build more than the year before. By 2006, it had got to 90,000 new homes a year. If that was the UK, the equivalent level would be over a million, not the paltry 270,000 a year that the NHPAU is calling for.

§ I had no idea. I guess it must have made houses in Ireland incredibly cheap, what with there being this huge over supply.

• You are joking. House prices in Ireland have risen even faster than they have in the UK. Since 1997, they have trebled.

§ But according to the economic theories being put forward by the likes of Kate Barker and the NHPAU, that should not be possible. What happened?

• It appears to be that the more homes they built, the more people moved to Ireland to fill them up. First the Irish diaspora started to return from overseas. Then the East Europeans who had come over to build the new houses stayed on in them. They just filled up. As fast as they could build them, the population grew to fill them. This kept the prices high. The demand for new homes was elastic.

§ But I don’t think the analysis the NHPAU has undertaken looks at this issue at all.

• Another question for you. How often do they look at the relationship between rates of new housebuilding and rates of immigration?

§ Well they do analyse migration. They use the term exogenous a lot.

• Exogenous? What does it mean?

§ As far as I understand, it refers to external causes. That is ones beyond the brief of the economists. They suggest that inter regional migration is affected by the housing market, but international migration is exogenous. I guess that means it’s beyond their control.

• Does that make sense to you? Why should migration patterns within a country be fundamentally different to those between nations?

§ I don’t know. Especially as the bulk of international migration now occurs within the EU. It acts like one big country in that respect.

• The point I am trying to make is that none of these economic models of how the housing market works take on board the fact that the demand for housing is always going to outstrip the supply, almost by definition, and that rates of migration, both internal and international, are hugely effected by the supply of housing. In fact, strange as it may seem, but the housing market is just about the only tool a government actually has at its disposal to control the flow of migrants.

§ Are you suggesting that we stop building new homes altogether in order to stop immigration?

• Not really. It’s more that I would like the politicians to acknowledge the fact that immigration rates and new housebuilding are intrinsically linked. If you increase the rate of housebuilding, you will simply increase the rate of immigration. That’s fine, if you want it to happen and you acknowledge explicitly that this is the goal of your policy. But it’s not being acknowledged. In fact, I don’t think anyone in Whitehall has even made the connection yet.

§ So do you think there is a hidden agenda here? Why does this government and Brown in particular want to expand the rate of housebuilding?

• Well, on the surface, it seems that they have been taken in by the affordability argument. That they genuinely think that building more homes will make them cheaper. It would if the size of the overall population was static, but of course it’s not. The population will just expand to fill the new homes, so it becomes a pointless exercise. Unless of course they want the population to grow. It’s hard to say.

§ Is there anything else that’s troubling you.

• Of course there is. There always is. It’s this ever present tension between development and sustainability. However green these new homes are made, they are still going to put stress on the environment. More traffic on the roads, more people in the streets, the schools, the hospitals, more holidays, that sort of thing. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I am thinking that we already have 22 million houses in this country. Isn’t that enough? Do we really need 25 million? What will we gain by having 3 million more? Shouldn’t we be thinking of improving the ones we have got rather than building loads more? But it’s this sort of analysis which is completely lacking from the likes of the NHPAU. They just look at the whole thing in terms of numbers. Where they see demand, they think it must be met with increased supply. It’s all so mechanistic.

§ Aren’t you being a NIMBY?

• Yes, I think you are right. Maybe I am getting older, but I am beginning to question the logic behind endless growth. The usual arguments for housing growth are that without it, our children and grandchildren will never have homes. But this isn’t strictly speaking true, is it? If the population stays more or less the same, which it does without the inward flow of migrants, then we have the same amount of housing available for the next generation as there is for this. People might want more: they might want second homes, or investment flats or smaller units to cope with divorced families, but there comes a point when you have to say: “Enough. Let’s learn to live with what we have rather than keep on expanding the amount of housing.”

It doesn’t follow that this means an end to growth per se. We could extend and improve the houses we have, we could knock down old houses and replace them with state of the art new homes, and we could spend money improving the environment in which we live. But at some point we have to say: “We are now closed for new housebuilding.” The question is at what point does this happen. At 25 million homes? At 30 million? Or at 40 million? When will Britain be full?

Now that’s a very big question, but I think it’s time it moved onto the political agenda. We’ve more or less accepted it with roads now — there are lots of road improvements planned but just about no new motorways. We may be on the point of accepting it with runways and airports — not there yet, but the end is arguably in site. But no one has begun to ask the same questions about our housebuilding programme. Here, it’s still onwards and upwards, to infinity and beyond.

§ I think it’s time for your medicine.

• Have I started dribbling again? Have my dentures become detached?

§ No, nothing like that. It’s just that you are sounding off again. It’s that vision thing, I find it rather disturbing.

• Look, I am sorry, do forgive me. Must make a mental note not to get carried away with the sound of my own voice. Anything on the telly?

§ That’s more like it. I expect there’ll be a repeat of Dad’s Army, just the ticket really.

• Sounds wonderful. Pass the Hobnobs.

26 Oct 2007

Michelle Kaufmann

Check out this video link if you want to know more about California’s answer to Bill Dunster.

22 Oct 2007

Wood burning stoves: solution or problem?

My attention has been caught by a fascinating thread over on the green building forum. It concerns the problems that one contributor, Justin, has been having with his neighbours complaining about the smoke from his wood burning stove. Or, as Justin likes to call them, “rich lard arses with no concept of sustainability, who run their car engines on cold mornings for minutes on end polluting my front garden as I get on my bicycle.”

Cue a general bashing of Daily Mail-reading Mondeo man? Not quite. Paul in Montreal, who contributes knowledgably on a number of subjects on this forum, describes the problems they have been having in Canada. “Wood burning has increased in popularity over the past decade to such an extent that we get smog in winter. This is due to the particulates from wood fires — even EPA low emission fireplaces emit significantly more hydrocarbons and particulates than, say, a gas fire.”

And an environmental health officer going by the handle of Rustychain commented about complaints about wood burners. “If there is a large shift in the number of people burning wood, clean stoves or not, we can expect air quality problems.”

This caused Justin to reconsider some of his earlier diatribe. “One irony is that back in the days when I owned an old house in a more rural village, and ran a hugely inefficient open wood fire, there was so much heat in the flue that the exhaust gas mostly shot straight up into the air and nobody knew about it. This delightful little stove with its two stage combustion and dancing flame burning off the soot as I watch just has less oomph left at the top of the stack. On reflection, it is probably causing more local pollution than the hugely inefficient open fires burning 5 times as much fuel.”

The most recent contribution was from John11668 who suggested that Justin should get a Flue Gas Analysis carried out. “This could give you some ammunition to defend your case to your neighbours but I suspect that it is more likely to demonstrate to you that your appliance is a poisonous nuisance in a built up area. Sold fuel stoves are not really suitable for a dormitory suburb, even if you can see the open countryside from your upstairs window.”

17 Oct 2007

Smoke Alarms: Two or Four?

When Part B of the England & Wales building regs concerning fire protection changed in April 2007, most of the attention, as far as domestic work was concerned, went on the fact that the requirement for self-closing fire doors had been relaxed. This was good news for builders and householders because self-closers have always been very unpopular and have frequently only been fitted to please the building inspector, and have been removed once the job was finalled.

But of course, it’s never quite that simple. The reason the boffins felt relaxed enough to drop a requirement was because of the undoubted success that compulsory smoke alarms have had in preventing deaths and injuries from fire. I have heard it said that their introduction, in 1992, into the building regs has proved to be the single most effective preventative measure ever devised, and that smoke detection has rendered other safety measures largely redundant.

But there’s smoke detection and smoke detection and the latest Part B slipped in a clause about including more smoke detection in new households. Or did it? Up until now, Part B was easily met by installing detectors in the common areas (hallways, stairwells), one per floor. This is the basic standard, known in the trade as LD3. But Part B, 2007 version, suggests that smoke detection should now be carried out in accordance with the relevant British Standard, BS5839 (Part 6). Now this BS standard is calling for the superior standard LD2, which calls for detectors in high risk fire areas, principally kitchens and living rooms, as well as the common areas. If it’s to be LD2, then each two storey house would require four detectors: if it’s LD3, then just the two that we have been fitting since 1992.

You’d think it would be an open and shut case. BS5839 calls for LD2, so LD2 it must be. But the wording of Clause 1.3 in Part B1 is deliciously ambiguous. It says in accordance with BS 5839-6:2004 to at least a Grade D category LD3 standard, despite the fact that the BS specifically calls for LD2!

So what is happening on the ground. How are the NHBC and the local authority building inspectors interpreting this conundrum? Two detectors or four? It seems that the NHBC supports the move to LD2, but isn’t enforcing it. And most local authorities are following suit, though the odd inspector is insisting on the higher LD2 standard. In other words, it’s a mess.

Incidentally, there are basically three different kinds of detector. The cheapest one is the ionisation type which gets fitted into the great bulk of stairwells and hallways: it picks up small (non-visible) smoke particles and is prone to springing false alarms if situated right next to the kitchen door. In kitchens, you really need to avoid smoke detectors altogether and fit a heat detector, whereas in living rooms, especially those with an open fire or a stove, you are probably best off with an optical detector. So a typical LD2 installation would involve using all three types of detector.

Detectors generally are very responsive and this is one of their main failings — too many false alarms, causing householders to disable them in Basil Fawlty-style fits of anger. They are probably good for ten or fifteen years and then ought to be replaced if they are to continue serving their purpose. Most manufacturers have models which can be slid out of their housing without even turning off the mains, so it should be possible to replace a unit without having to rewire.

Thanks to Neil Perdell, Technical Services Manager of Aico for his help in piecing together this article.

16 Oct 2007

The Energy Savings Trust gives me some advice

Dear Mr Brinkley. Thankyou for filling out our home energy check questionnaire: an important step towards using less energy to heat, light and power your home. Using the information you’ve provided, we’ve come up with a practical look at the energy you use and can save at home.

About a month previously I had responded to a questionnaire that had arrived, unsolicited, by mail from the Energy Savings Trust. It asked me lots of questions about my house and suggested that if I send it back to them they will supply me with a mini energy audit. Only I don’t think they called it that.

I was interested to know what they would say because our house is arguably an interesting case. Built in 1992, it was certainly someway in advance of building regulations at the time. In particular, it incorporated underfloor insulation (not mandatory until 2002) and low-e double glazing (back when low-e was cutting edge). The walls had a little extra insulation and the oil-fired boiler heating system was reasonably well designed and included zone control, as well as thermostatic and time switching. It’s a well-built house and it probably rated as a Best Practice for 1992 sort of house, but certainly not an eco house.

The question that I was interested to see answered was what the EST would suggest that I did to upgrade the house. In fact, they have only made one suggestion. That is that we upgrade the boiler to a condensing boiler for a saving of £85 a year. Or, in terms of CO2, 0.6 tonnes.

Funnily enough, we did consider installing a condensing boiler when we built the house. Back then, there was only one oil-fired condenser on the market, made by Geminox, a French manufacturer. Our green-tinged plumber, Norman Cox, was keen for us to fit one, but in the end I took the decision that it wasn’t worth paying the extra £1,000 or so required to fit — cash was tight back in 1992 and I had heard one or two stories about the early Geminoxes which didn’t inspire confidence.

We ended up with a Boulter Camray (now part of the Worcester Bosch group) which has been chugging away these past 15 years. It gets an annual service (cost around £60 plus parts) and it occasionally breaks down. The last time this happened, I enquired from Shelford Heating about replacing the boiler with a condenser but was told that not only would we have to bear the cost of a new boiler, but that the oil tank would have to move because the position we placed it in in 1992 (right next to the house wall) is now regarded as a fire hazard (Part J of the building regs having been “upgraded”). Not only would that double the expense but there is no obvious place in the steeply sloping garden to place a new oil tank. It would in fact represent a major piece of civil engineering. So a replacement boiler would probably end up costing us around £8,000. Hmm. Should have fitted the Geminox 15 years ago, shouldn’t I.

Anyway, I am slowly but surely getting around to the point of this post. The Energy Saving Trust gave us a C rating, based on what I told them. This is sort of similar to the rating we would be getting from an energy performance certificate. I have no quibbles with that: it was what I expected. But the point is that they only made the one suggestion for improvement, which was to replace the old boiler with something more efficient. The saving was actually pretty minimal. Either with or without a condensing boiler, our not very old house still uses a fuck of a lot of oil. Around 2500lts each year (that’s just over a tank full). That converts to just over 25,000kWh, which converts to 7 tonnes CO2 per annum. The Energy Savings Trust estimation is pretty accurate on the size of our oil bill (just about £1,000 with oil at 36p/lt) but grossly underestimates our CO2 footprint: they suggest just 4.1 tonnes of CO2 per annum. I reckon it is over 7 tonnes. Why should that be? Do they use different conversion factors to me? I’m on 0.265kg CO2/kWh, which is the “industry standard.”

So my poser for the day is what should happen to houses like ours? If it was built to Passivhaus standards, or Code Level 4, and was still heated using an oil-fired boiler, it would be burning about a third or even a quarter of this quantity of oil, releasing maybe just 1.5 tonnes of CO2 a year to get space heating and hot water. So, although our house is probably more energy efficient than 90% of the UK housing stock, it still performs miserably in terms of what could be done. But there appears to be no upgrade path apart from fitting a condensing boiler, which really only makes a marginal difference.

I don’t have an answer to this, but it does highlight the enormity of the problem. What exactly do you do to a house that already has cavities full of insulation and has 200mm of the stuff in the loft, but still eats energy like it’s going out of fashion?

15 Oct 2007

My hot tip for property investors

Here’s an interesting little graph, which I gleaned from the Oct 07 edition of Housebuilder magazine. It shows the extraordinary transformation in the supply of new homes in Britain over the past decade. In 1998, nearly half of all new homes were detached. Today, the figure is just 20%. In contrast, flats have gone from around 18% of the total to just under 50%. Effectively, the positions of detached houses and flats have swapped over, whilst terraced houses and semis have stayed much as they were, at least in terms of proportions of overall mix.

Now there are well-known reasons for this turnaround. 1998 marked the start of the brownfield land building campaign and the move towards densification. Or put another way, it marked the beginning of the end of developers being able to buy green fields and plonk estates of detached houses on them at very low densities.

Nevertheless, I am still struck by this graph. The turnaround really is quite dramatic. And it does make you wonder whether this emphasis on building flats is sustainable (in the economic sense). It would seem that, all other things being equal (i.e. pre 1998), housebuilders would be knocking out masses more detached houses than they are, but the constraints of the planning policies have more or less put a stop to this. Presumably the underlying demand for detached homes is as large as ever: given the choice, most people would probably rather bring up a family in a detached house with a garden rather than a flat. And most young flat dwellers would probably envisage themselves moving into a detached house if and when they start families. That looks as though it’s going to become an increasingly difficult aspiration to meet. So if this new housing mix remains in place — or even becomes more pronounced over the coming years — then expect to see the relative value of detached houses increase, and flats to decrease.

How’s that for a bit of financial forecasting? Revisit this blog in 2017 and see if my prediction works out.

11 Oct 2007

On Zaha Hadid

Yesterday I finally got to see the Zaha Hadid exhibition, which is on at London’s Design Museum till late November.

Three things struck me. Firstly, the place was jam-packed full of art and/or architecture students who were busy photographing and sketching the various exhibits. I suspect (it being a school day) that they had all been sent their by their tutors. Hadid is therefore obviously seen as a suitable case to study.

The second thing was how glorious the canvases are. She is a fantastic painter, in a rather surreal, science fiction sort of way. There was bumph in the brochure about how she had studied Russian Constructivism as a student: it’s not a movement I know anything about, but it makes for some really stunning images. If there was a readily identifiable school, I would have said it was Star Wars crossed with Thunderbirds. In fact, her first house design (Peak House?) looked suspiciously like the one on Tracey Island to me. It all had a strangely 60s and 70s feel to it: perhaps a little dated now, but also rather re-assuring. It’s how we used to speculate about what the future would look like before the internet was invented.

Finally, the buildings. One word will do: sterile. They really didn’t do it for me at all. Maybe I am already starchitected out on Libeskind and Gehry, but Hadid’s buildings just looked like more of the same to me. Clever? Yes. Outrageous? Yes, but so what. More like: rich clients wanting to make a statement about their wealth and taste.

I think she should have stuck to painting. Or maybe film sets.

3 Oct 2007

Drilling Down into the Code: Part 3

The Code for Sustainable Homes is a hotch potch. Whilst zero carbon and, to a much lesser extent, water use reduction have been discussed at length, if you were to build the most energy and water efficient house possible, you’d still only score 44% of the maximum available eco points. That would get you to Code Level 1. Code Level 6, the top level, requires a score of 90%.

So how would you go about garnering the other percentage points required to lever your house up from Code Level 1 to Level 6?

The answer is that you have to accumulate credits (of varying value) by undertaking all manner of other actions. Some are relatively easy:
• Provision for cycle storage — score 2.5%
• Provision of a home office — score 1.25%
• Provision of recycling bins and a compost bin — 4.75%
• Use EU approved insulation — 0.6%

Others are more taxing and potentially a lot more costly
• Build to Lifetime Homes standards — 4.75%
• Build to Secured by Design standards — 2.25%
• Improve on Part E sound regulations — 4.75%
• Use A+ rated materials from the Green Guide for Specification — 4.5%
• Build into the basement or the loftspace — 2.65%

You can only afford to lose 10% of the credits available if you want to qualify for Code Level 6. As there are likely to be some areas where your site cannot score at all, the likelihood is that designers will be forced to incorporate practically every feature mentioned in the Code. The elbow room for trade-off is remarkably limited.

This is where the Code gets into sticky ground. A lot of these features — there are 34 tests applied in all — are concerned with good design and best practice, but not necessarily to do with sustainability. For instance, having your builder signed up for the Considerate Contractors Scheme (worth 2.25%) is all very well but doesn’t really make much difference to climate change. So why is it being included in the Code?

And the requirement for A or A+ rated materials is effectively going to blacklist an awful lot of C rated materials. I am not sure the PVCu manufacturers have yet twigged this, but the Code has it in for them.

1 Oct 2007

The joy of selfbuilding the simple way

Every now and then it’s good to forget all the angst we suffer about sustainability and the like and instead celebrate someone who has just done a selfbuild with the object, pure and simple, of building a nice house very cheaply.

Last week, I got to interview Caron Pain in her newly finished Norfolk home which she has put together for a song (around £500/m2). She started digging foundations in January 2006, she had moved by May. MMC? No chance, too expensive, just good old brick and block and lots of local tradesmen. Project management software? You’re kidding — an A4 pad of paper and a mobile phone – nothing more. She hunted down bargains on eBay (the door knobs in the picture cost £6 a pair), she milked B&Q everytime they had a 20% off day (the door itself was a £10 special), and she appears to have loved every minute of it. Brilliant stuff – a selfbuild heroine if ever.