Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Game On!

I'm sorry to say that my blog has been somewhat neglected of late. You see, since April last year I have been embroiled in buying and moving into our first house in Belgium

Home Sweet Tervuren Home
The good news is that we are now installed in what started out as a 1960s 2 bedroomed bungalow with garage underneath but which was extended in the mid 1980s to almost double its floor area.  The house is a real mash up  from the 1963 open cavity wall and uninsulated floors of the original bungalow to the cavity wall and insulated block work of the extension and the circa 1985 gas fired heating system which replaced the original oil fired central heating boiler.  The house was double glazed about 7 years ago and so is reasonably thermally efficient. The loft was also converted into living space and seems to have been well insulated in the process. I estimate that the current heatloss is around 10kW @ 0oC.  The current oversized boiler is probably around 75% efficient.  This makes it an ideal candidate to be a test bed for the first Nextgen low carbon heating system installation.

When we moved in I immediately noticed that the the hot water system almost completely innefectual.  The 220 litre storage tank was heated to around 70oC twice a day by the adjacent gas boiler but lost almost all of its heat in two or three hours due to convection currents around a 20 metre long loop of unlagged pipe. A quick calculation shows the daily heat loss to be of the order 20kWh or ~ €2 per day - ouch!  Ironically the loop was designed to save water water by using a circulation pump to circulate hot water around the loop allowing hot water to be instantly available at a sink at the opposite end of the house.   This and the mass of unlagged pipes around the boiler led to the bizarre situation where the otherwise unheated garage was the warmest room in the house! 

Some loss from a hot water system based on a hot water tank is inevitable.  As a comparison Steven Harris of the Energy Savings Trust recently reported in his blog loosing around 7kWh per day from his solar powered hot water system.  In my case three hours of my time with adhesive tape, scissors, a knife and €25 of pipe insulation reduced the hot water heat loss by at least a factor of two with the happy side effect that we now normally have enough hot water for a shower at almost any time of the day!

Boiler post Insulation
Notwithstanding the “emergency” pipe insulation above my intention is to run the system "as is" for the first year to get a benchmark energy consumption for the dwelling.  This will then serve as a cross check against the Nextgen  energy usage simulation computer model which will be used to predict the payback period of the system.  It will also serve as a reference from which future energy reduction steps are measured.  My ambition is to reduce the carbon footprint of our house by at least 50% and perhaps as much as 70% compared to when we moved in.  This radical reduction cannot be achieved without a plan. Now that we are settled in I will have to get busy with simulations and costings.

Let the game begin! 

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Stuff and Nonsense?

Looks nice in the brochure :o)

[Written in April 2011 - more on that later] We recently took delivery of a beautiful new solid oak bedroom suite.  It filled us both with joy and a little guilt.  Joy because we have been looking for new bedroom furniture for over five years and this is the first complete set that we have both liked;  Guilt because it was made in Vietnam and bought and shipped via the UK.

Let me say I’m not against Vietnam.  I’m very pleased to be able to put money into this relatively poor country and given the obvious quality of the workmanship they deserve every penny.  No, it’s the carbon cost of sourcing from the other side of the world that worries me.  Oak is a very heavy wood so surely the carbon cost of its transportation is very high?  Of course it was not shipped to us by air; it came by container by sea. The carbon cost of shipping a container is actually relatively low and our furniture no doubt shared a container with several other commisions by the same company.
Unfortunately that container ship went to Liverpool and our furniture went into temporary storage before being shipped to us by road on a regular removals van.  This removals van had a stop in Boulogne before coming to us but was going on to Italy before returning back to the UK.  The last part of the journey had, no doubt, a much higher carbon footprint than the journey from Vietnam to the UK.

This may be a good point to bring in two other [not so] topical news items, namely the earthquake in Japan and the trade deficit in the UK.  There are warnings that there may be goods shortages due the Japan earthquake and resulting lack of Japanese widgets being produced for all kinds of goods and equipment.  Japan is a very strong exporter and has cornered the market for several commodities, clearly to such an extent that they dominate in those markets.  Taking these suppliers out of the supply chain is obviously having a detrimental effect on the manufacture of many types of goods.  Is this good for the world economy? No.  At the same time the UK, which seems to be struggling to be effective in producing goods for export is instead importing (like me) goods from around the globe. Our appetite for Sony PlayStations and TVs, Samsung mobile phones etc, etc is never ending and we have very few competitive products that the Japanese and Koreans want in return.

I’m not calling for protectionism, that is a bad thing, or blind patriotism – I never bought a British Leyland car because I never considered them to be competitive in quality versus the Japanese or even the French offerings.  What we need to do is find our competitive spirit and (re)start to produce goods that people both locally and globally will want to buy.

Talking of “stuff”, I’m writing this blog on the train to Frankfurt.  Sitting opposite me is a mother and daughter with three huge cases of luggage.  I have to wonder why they need to travel with over 60kg of stuff in tow.  In my lifetime there has been an explosion of “stuff”.  At the same time we are all (current recession included) much better off than we were a generation ago and our appetite for stuff just keeps growing.

My wife, Kate, and I are starting to wonder just how much stuff we really need.  Perhaps it is time that we simplify our lives and live more sustainably, going back to sourcing things locally where possible. That means taking a long look at what it is that people actually need and making it here in Europe.  Buying fewer, more expensive but higher quality, longer lasting items might actually be good for us and also good for the planet