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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
These two books are the perfect starting place to help you get to grips with one of the most vitally important aspects of our society - our homes and living environment.

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    Speaking to a guy today, must have been in his early 60's. Him and his wife just got central heating this year. I quote "We always said we would get central heating when we were old, then I said to her "Hang on, we are old!", so we had it put in. It's nice not having to shiver when you go into a room."

    I don't begrudge this guy and his wife his central heating, they've earnt it, but it brought home to me as a younger person that, in the West, we have got used to a level of home heating which would be considered luxurious to previous generations and still much of the world today.

    Should we be spending a fortune on (largely) imported "green" technologies (GSHPs, MVHR, UFH, triple glazing etc) for our homes or should we just do the basics (like insulation, draft proofing that get you most of energy savings), just heat the living room whilst we're in it, wear warm clothes and toughen up a bit? Does it matter that your house whole house it not thermostatically controlled to a constant 19degreesC?
    My dry-lined, but-not-dry-lined-as-well-as-I'd-do-it-now-if-I-did-it-again house sadly often drops to about 12 degrees in the hall and, until I get the smoky stove sorted (another thread!), rarely exceeds 16 deg in the living room. Sons moan, we wear lots of pullovers. If we get really cold we jump about a bit.... I do like a hot towel after a bath (oh, I mean shower, of course) though.

    • CommentAuthorllwynbedw
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2008 edited
    I think one could argue that the same goes for many aspects of modern life. I remember my father spending inordinate amounts of time fiddling with the car/s to keep them running when I was a lad whereas modern cars seem to behave well for years on end and certainly are immeasurably improved in terms of bodywork (no rust) and safety. My father's generation may consider people of my generation to be spoiled but would not our grandfather's generation have taken the same line regarding the improvements in quality of life made in my father's time? And so on back into the mists of time.

    As for "toughening up" I am curious as to whether other nations display the tendency of the British (particularly the English) to regard physical discomfort as a good thing in and of itself. Certainly I don't see it in the US, Japan, or Spain but I haven't lived in Europe so I don't know if the Scandinavians, French, Italians, Swiss, Germans et alia take the same line. Many would say that there is a thread of self-denial running through the English psyche that makes English people feel that discomfort, poor food and lack of affection should be borne without complaint and even with a certain grim pleasure. Historically that may have been the case but I thought over the past few decades we had moved on from that...

    Yes, I understand that the flip side of the coin is that if people use resources without thought then they become (on a per capita basis) wasteful energy-gobblers like the average US person - as Chris asks, do we really need to have the entire house at 19C even when most rooms are unoccupied. On the other hand, once we start down this road it's difficult to see an end to it. Nick says 16C is about average in his house. As his post indicates, he has survived this so far. But why not cut the temperature to 12C? He'd have to wear a few more clothes, but 12C is a small step down. And why not 8C? With the aid of thermal underwear, gloves and headgear plus plenty of food to fuel his body I have no doubt he would be able to live in a house at 8C and probably would feel warm most of the time. How far can we push it? If we exclude comfort and take as important only what is survivable then the scenarios quickly become absurd.

    Rather than relying on the central heating alone I think people should wear a jumper or some kind of top over a shirt or similar in the house but this is my personal opinion. I know people who believe that they have central heating exactly because they want to prance around in their undies and not feel cold. Emerging from the shower on a winter's day I have a lot more sympathy for that view. :bigsmile:

    • CommentAuthorTerry
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2008
    I think the problem is that we are slowly, but steadily disengaging ourselves from nature. We feel we can control our lives based on the (very) little bit of knowledge and understanding we have of our world and how it operates.
    Being ever so clever we have overcome the need to work our bodies as nature intended, we have out-sourced our imune systems to the pharmaceatical companies, we sustain ourselves on chemically enhanced/modified non-seasonal food. All this propped up by cheap energy.
    Its all going to end in tears. After all a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.

    The most effective way to feel warmer in the winter I find is to be physically active outdoors during the day - dont seem to notice the cold and when going indoors at night, need to turn the heating down. Only problem is that the more wood I cut the less I need - damn :confused:
    • CommentAuthorJohn B
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2008
    I've been living in my motorhome all winter, and it's interesting comparing the temperature to my comfort. I have quite a lot of draughts, and it's those that cause the discomfort. It can be 20 degrees or more inside but I feel cold if there's a cold wind blowing, or 12 degrees with no draughts and it feels fine. I'm watching the temperature at seat level and about shoulder height. At the moment it's bright sunshine outside, but with a cold wind, and with no heating it's 19 degrees at seat height and 22.5 degrees at shoulder height. I can feel a strong draught and parts of me are a bit cold. When the wind dropped the other day I had the door wide open, it was down to about 12 degrees and I was quite comfortable. I must admit I've got very soft, and am sitting here messing about on my laptop, rather than being outside doing something!
    I think we are heading for hard times, working off the debt mountain against the backdrop of Peak Oil, general resource scarcity, belated attempts to tackle climate change, demographic changes etc. We aren't the same nation today that beat the Nazis and put up with rationing, shortgages etc. In that sense we have gone soft and I think there is a shock awaiting us over the next few decades.

    I agree with Terry about us disengaging from nature. When you just move from one climate controlled building to another via an air conditioned car, you lose all sense of the seasons. I have read that people can tolerate quite a wide range of temperature and this range changes with the seasons, i.e. 15C could feel chilly in summer but tolerably warm in winter.

    I'm of the opinion that central heating was an invention of the the era of cheap and plentiful energy. Not many people had it in the UK before the North Sea oil and gas was discovered. We didn't have it until the late 1980's, only 20 years ago. Perhaps in another 20 years the norm will be super insulation, air tightness and a basic back-up heat source only (and dressing for the weather)?
    • CommentAuthorTheDoctor
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2008
    i grew up in a flint farmhouse without central heating

    coal fired rayburn in the kitchen heating kitchen and one bedroom and bathroom and wood burning stove to living room. that was it

    as a result, i have central heating, but it is never set above 17 degrees and used on a periodic basis rather than constant thermostat, and never more than 16 in bedrooms for one hour a night. Window open all night regardless of weather - cant sleep with windows closed.

    wood burning stove keeps the living room toasty, but it is wooly

    socks and jumpers elsewhere.

    people who grow up in stuffy houses carry on as they think they need 21 degrees to sleep at night. real shame.

    went to look at a guys house who wanted a new roof a year ago. It was February, the house was heated to 22-23+ degrees and his whole family were trotting round in vests and shorts with sleet coming down outside. daft

    fortunately, the wife grew up in similar circumstances, so we do not play open / close the window games all night!
    • CommentAuthortomlin
    • CommentTimeApr 2nd 2008
    I hate the house too hot, often our lounge is at 16 degrees and comfortable wearing a fleece jumper. However, is there a minimum temperature needed to ensure the 'wellbeing' of the building rather than the occupants ? eg to avoid dampness particularly in unoccupied rooms ?
    "....tungsten carbide drills...! when I were a lad..." etc etc.

    J :wink:
    I must be the biggest softy of them all. Thermostat is set at 21.1C most of the time, except when it's really cold outside (below -10C) and then it's set to 21.6. In the summer, when it reaches 25C inside I set the thermostat back to 22C otherwise, due to the thermal mass plague, the heat builds up and becomes unbearable, even with the windows open. How many people in the UK would be able to sleep when it's 30C in their bedrooms? Not too many I bet. I don't feel too guilty having the heating/AC set this way as I work from home and there is a legal minimum for workplaces. Since my job is sedentary, it inevitably requires the temperature to be higher compared to if I was doing physical work.

    Still, the climate in Montreal is vastly different than anywhere in the UK so I'm not quite as soft as I sound :updown:

    Paul in Montreal.
    • CommentAuthorTerry
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008
    We find that the higher the thermostat indoors the more runny noses we get.
    Worst colds I ever had were while working in the middle east and having to go in and out of air conditioned accomodation.
    • CommentAuthorllwynbedw
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    Posted By: Chris WardleI think we are heading for hard times, working off the debt mountain against the backdrop of Peak Oil, general resource scarcity, belated attempts to tackle climate change, demographic changes etc. We aren't the same nation today that beat the Nazis and put up with rationing, shortgages etc. In that sense we have gone soft and I think there is a shock awaiting us over the next few decades.

    1) Is there a certain desirable level of "softness" or "hardness"?
    2) If you think there is, how do you establish or define the "appropriate" level?
    3) If you can't or won't define an appropriate level, is this topic at all constructive or is this just "when I were a lad" nostalgia?
    4) Do you think that older people in the 1930s thought younger people were soft? If so, were they right?

    I'm sure that people of every generation believe that they are in a situation in which an uniquely unprepared populace is facing an uniquely challenging future. But think back: the global warming / climate change / peak oil nexus for us; the Cold War and nuclear armageddon for our parents; WWII for their parents; WWI for THEIR parents - I think you get the idea...

    • CommentAuthorTerry
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008
    Morning Dan

    Your examples are more to do with humans playing at politics where, with enough goodwill on both sides the issues were sorted out or we resorted to throwing massive resources (energy, materials, human lives etc) into a war effort to decide who won the day. ie there were options

    What Chris is talking about is, I think, more about humans having backed ourselves into a corner with rapidly diminishing options. The only way out is to completely change tack and that is going to be painful.
    The softer we are the more difficult it will be to adapt.
    IMO, the more we separate ourselves from the natural world the softer we become and the harder it is to adapt to the changes we will be forced to make as nature adapts to our influence (another debate) and we have less resources to maintain our separation.

    That said, we are still going to 'build tight and ventilate right ' :devil: (cue biff on living in plastic bags :bigsmile:)
    • CommentAuthorllwynbedw
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    Posted By: TerryYour examples are more to do with humans playing at politics where, with enough goodwill on both sides the issues were sorted out or we resorted to throwing massive resources (energy, materials, human lives etc) into a war effort to decide who won the day. ie there were options

    To say "ah well, it was just politics" is to ignore the last several millenia of human history over which period war has been pretty much a constant. For whatever reason, the human race seems unable to avoid armed conflict so for all practical purposes we can say that it is unavoidable. One apposite question is, does it matter? Death by a bullet or bomb is as final as "death by global warming" or "death by peak oil". There is no ambiguity about the deadliness of a machine gun but there is considerable doubt over the deadliness of a world in which energy is scarcer. So yes, I would still argue that we should be comparing our problems to the problems faced by previous generations.

    My interpretation of Chris' post is that he is pondering how far should we go in adopting (resource expensive) green technology when we could instead wear more woolly jumpers. I think we come back again to the question of how much hardness or softness is appropriate. Or to use issue you touched on, how close to or far from nature should we be?

    I understand that these are innately difficult questions but if we're just complaining about where we are now rather than making a serious attempt to work out what our destination should be then the thread is essentially self-indulgent waffle.:bigsmile:

    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008
    Posted By: Terrythe more we separate ourselves from the natural world ..... the changes we will be forced to make as nature adapts to our influence
    Interesting that the emphasis of the environmental 'crisis' has moved beyond "how can we prevent or reverse it" to "how can we adapt to its inevitability". So far it's all been about technical things we 'must' do (when we've become reliant on 'the market' to drive that - so far uncooperative), and how to create public/political consent for lifestyle-change (without which politicians can't move). The old chicken and egg.

    Maybe the real significance of the whole environmental 'crisis' is as unignorable shock treatment, to awake humans from the 3000-year dream that we are separate from nature. If there's widespread understanding that we live or die according to the health of nature, which is what we are, then 'solutions' will I think come naturally and quickly and possibly less painfully than presently dreaded. It is 'only' a 3000-year-long delusion - it wasn't so before, and it's not inevitable that the trance will continue forever. It could change quite quickly - that's the mark of these end-days - the exponentially-increasing pace of opportunity and change.
    The way I see things is that we have enjoyed a bonanza of cheap energy, food, plentiful resources etc over the last few decades, particularly in the West, and have become accustomed to exceptionally high standards of living. Most people have "never had it so good" and believe that this trend in rising living standards is going to continue forever. I can't see how this can happen.

    We are in a long term bull maket for commodities, with everything going up reflecting supply constraints and burgeoning demand from the East. We are massively in debt and our most productive workers are going into retirement in large numbers. The pie is going to start shrinking and Asia is, rightly, demanding a larger share. Things are going to get harder for those in the West, there is no question of that and no way to avoid it.

    Question is, how will we respond to this challenge? At the moment we are pretending it isn't happening and that ever more complex systems and technologies will help us to manage problems as they arise and maintain and increase our living standards indefinitely while using less energy and resources. This has been to road to ruin for many a civilisation (like the Romans). It is the "green growth" agenda which I consider to be totally unrealistic.

    Personally, I think we need to be going in the direction of simplifying and localising and accepting that we will have to make do with less, not as a virtue but as an acceptance of reality . That doesn't mean abandoning technology but, in building, it means considering whether it is going to possible, with our worsening resource constraints, to retrofit the entire building stock with the kinds of technologies that will maintain our current accepted comfort levels. Maybe we need to lower our expectations a little?
    • CommentAuthorPeter Clark
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    Hi Chris,

    Great post, I agree entirely.

    Have you read Jared Diamond 'Collapse'?

    All previous civilisations have declined as a result of 'soiling their own nest'.
    But, some, who have found a way to acknowledge the problem, and act, have been able to salvage the situation. The difference is, this time it's global. Therefore more important that we do something, and more difficult to achieve the necessary consensus.

    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    Posted By: Peter ClarkHave you read Jared Diamond 'Collapse'?
    Half way thro it - haven't got to the salvation bit yet. I understand he studies two approaches. Japan did 'top down' - in the 1920s severely deforested, the Emperor decreed tree planting, and Japan is now heavily forested, for its size and population (both comparable to UK). Iceland 400yrs ago did 'bottom up' - the population (not government) changed their ways and from near-ruin now have the highest living standard in Europe (whereas the same people in Greenland didn't, and perished). Any bets which UK will do?!
    • CommentAuthorPeter Clark
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    Posted By: fostertomAny bets which UK will do?!


    I couldn't say, I hope its not neither.

    A bit of both?
    Peter, I've just put an order in on Amazon, sounds interesting. I enjoyed Thomas Homer Dixon's "The Upside of Down" which was on similar subject matter.

    Tom, I don't see a lot of evidence of either approach yet. It would be a lot easier if we had an enlightened Emperor who could decree that measures were taken! Much more difficult in a democracy when the leaders have one eye on the ballot box and the people take too long to catch on because the media and the politicians they rely on for guidance are telling them what they want to hear instead of what they need to hear.

    For example, I'm stunned how little media coverage of Peak Oil there has been. I've yet to hear it mentioned in the mainstream media and yet we're most probably on the "bumpy plateau" right now.
    • CommentAuthorllwynbedw
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008
    Posted By: fostertom
    Posted By: Peter ClarkHave you read Jared Diamond 'Collapse'?
    Half way thro it - haven't got to the salvation bit yet. I understand he studies two approaches. Japan did 'top down' - in the 1920s severely deforested, the Emperor decreed tree planting, and Japan is now heavily forested, for its size and population (both comparable to UK).

    Allow me to modify that a little... Japan is not comparable to the UK in size, being about half as big again as the UK. To give you a little perspective if Japan were plonked down in Western Europe it would be the second largest country, behind France but ahead of Germany. Japan is not comparable to the UK in terms of population as Japan's population is more than twice the size of that of the UK and considerably larger than that of any European country.

    The reforestation issue is interesting, because most of the commercial forestry in Japan was planted I think in the late 1940s to meet the expected surge in demand for wood for reconstruction. Whether that demand materialised or not I do not know, but imports of wood turned out to be so much cheaper that Japan now has vast cedar forests that are not harvested because it is not economical to do so. Japan's native forests are mixed broadleaf with evergreen further north, but the cedar plantations are monocultures, similar to the UK forestry commission connifer plantations. The cover in cedar forests is not as oppressively thick as that of a forestry commission plantation but if you go hiking you will see that there usually is little life on the forest floor except where there has been thinning.

    If my memory serves, about half of Japan's forests are planted and slightly less than half of Japan's planted forests are cedar (cypress is the other popular tree). The problem with cedar is that the trees produce tremendous quantities of pollen starting from an age of about 25-30 years and continue to do so for several decades. The pollen causes an allergic reaction in many humans. As a result, hay fever is rife in Japan (it did not use to be) and makes life quite unpleasant at around this time of year. I never got hay fever in the UK, but I do when I'm in Japan.

    Did the Japanese authorities reforest the country? Yes. Was it a success? In ecological terms, no - the forests are monocultures that do not attempt to reproduce native forest patterns. In economic terms, no - the investment has been unproductive and probably has had a negative return. In terms of social impact, no - pollinosis has become a major problem. Like many supposed Japanese achievements, reforestation doesn't hold up to careful scrutiny. Reforesting parts of the UK might or might be sensible - it's certainly an emotive idea - but let's not follow Japan's particular example without a great deal of thought.

    • CommentAuthorllwynbedw
    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008
    Posted By: Chris WardlePersonally, I think we need to be going in the direction of simplifying and localising and accepting that we will have to make do with less, not as a virtue but as an acceptance of reality .


    • CommentTimeApr 3rd 2008 edited
    All gd info Dan - I look forward to the rest of the book.

    What do our forestry guys think of Viktor Schauberger?
    • CommentAuthorTheDoctor
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008
    there is an element of 'when i were a lad' but it is the 'when i were a lad' lessons that are informing how I live TODAY.

    I am not comfortable in an over heated house TODAY, and this stems from ho i was brought up in the 70's

    so yes, it harks back, but is 100% relevant.

    I am confident that my children growing up without heating blaring all day will leave them healthier in the next generation. My daughter certainly comes home from nursery with less sniffles than her peers.

    I will use a tungsten carbide drill bit - it is a superior piece of kit.
    not heating my house hotter just because i can is a different argument altogether - a non-sequitur
    This is the discussion that i think we need. Some of the technology that cliams to be green is good and some probably isn't. But these things can only be sustianable if the world can afford to provide it for all its citizens In an era where resources are becoming more scares that mean a shock for the pampered rich in the developed world who have had a lifestyle of pampered privilidge for a long time now. I would suggest the priority should be to make sure that everyone has what they need to survive. The other option is to surround our island with barbed wire and watch towers with machine guns mounted and send the poor from our country to plunder the resources we need in the name of democracy so we can sit in our underwear in front of the telly in winter Congratulating ourselves that our homes are greener than those of the worlds poor because twe can afford more insulation and dont produce smoke from our fires.
    i dont want to live in that world i for one would trade a hefty cut in the consumption in this country to live in a more secure and sustainable world. but then again it probably wouldn't mean that much of a cut for me as i'm trying to build a home for my family of six on a budget of £25k, dont have central heating, swimming pool (even solar heated one) or air conditioning other than windows.
    Carbon is probably the criticallly limiting resourse (obviously in the amount we can afford to use rather than in availability), but there are many others that are limmited. In the developed world we have used nearly all of the carbon so far and most of the other resources. it isn't sustainable to go on doing this even if we do it a bit more efficiently.
    • CommentAuthorhowdytom
    • CommentTimeApr 4th 2008
    Well said Martin
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