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Green Building Bible, Fourth Edition
Green Building Bible, fourth edition (both books)
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    • CommentAuthorRex
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2022 edited
     
    What ho one and all,

    This was an incoming question and answer on the Quora forum this morning; thought it was interesting:

    Why are British houses so badly built?
    Brits will never understand this and will keep saying their houses are very well-built, they last for centuries and so on, but as a foreigner, I know very well what you mean.
    Yes, houses in Britain do last for centuries. So they’re not badly built in this meaning. It’s more about the quality.
    • Insulation is atrocious. Again, Brits will disagree, but when compared to other European countries (especially the ones where we have real winter), insulation is really poor.
    • Building materials are often not really good and the emphasis is on price. Internal walls are almost exclusively drywalls, external walls are usually cavity walls using hollow bricks. Blocks like on the picture below (which are very common elsewhere and which are really great in terms of insulation) are rarely seen.

    • Windows. Many houses still have those ancient sash windows. Again, please explain how the houses are well insulated with sash windows. Last time I stayed at the hotel, there was a centimetre wide gap even when the window was closed. Besides, I still occasionally get a flyer in my mail advertising double glazing. I thought the rest of Europe was starting to implement triple glazing now…
    • Floors are usually made of wood. Honestly, with no exaggeration, I’ve never been to a house where floorboards don’t creak yet. Plus they are sometimes not completely level. But they are usually covered by carpets, so you can’t see it, but still, you often feel the floor is not even. Especially when you’re barefoot.
    • Plumbing. This is a chapter on its own, but what shocked me the most is this:

    Yes, it’s an old building (but aren’t they all?). It does occur on new ones from time to time as well, though.
    • Electrical installation? Very often Brits (especially on Quora) brag about having super safe regulations and the best plug in the world… Well, I’d be careful with the superlatives, but I don’t disagree in general. But a few things are really odd. First of all, pull cords in bathrooms instead of light switches? No, thanks. Then the question of sockets in bathrooms, many people here are convinced that people in countries like Germany, France or Italy are dying every day, because they have sockets in bathrooms. They even have washing machines there! That’s a big no-no in the UK. But a 12kW electric shower directly above the bathtub? Yeah, that’s perfectly normal. But the most peculiar thing these days would be the fact that practically every house here only has one phase. It causes other issues as well, but if we’re pushing on electric vehicles, well, good luck with one phase chargers.
    • Garages. They really are called garages, but even the newly built ones will hardly fit a car in.
    • One small detail, but quite quintessential. There are virtually no roof overhangs. I understand there is usually no rendering and it doesn’t snow much, but still, I find it personally much better to have some overhang and be able to stay dry when standing at the door looking for a key.
    • Then there are small things like separate water taps (the worst invention ever), door handles, funny hinges, no shutters, holes in doors instead of mailboxes and so on.
    Of course there are houses that are absolutely spot on, nice and highly practical. Just like anywhere else. But in my opinion, majority of houses have at least some of these issues. And newly built houses usually have no corners left uncut.
    I get it, different country, different habits. But surely, when the floor creaks, it shouldn’t be considered normal anywhere! This really gets me, when I was looking for a place to rent, I visited tens of properties. And usually the agent acts like they can’t see it and they have no idea what you’re talking about. You put a bottle on the floor and it rolls away. But they don’t understand why you don’t like it. It seems like everybody got used to mediocrity, or even substandard housing?
    I love many things about Britain (especially music and raspberry trifle), overall I enjoy being here. But the quality of the housing stock is in my opinion not something to be proud of. After having lived in three other European countries and visiting many more, I’d say it’s really bad in Britain. Of course it can be (and outside of Europe often is) much worse, but that shouldn’t be a consolation.
      House2.jpg
      House3.jpg
  1.  
    Posted By: RexWhy are British houses so badly built?
    Brits will never understand this and will keep saying their houses are very well-built, they last for centuries and so on,

    Wot Rex said +1
    There are houses centuries old - but I'd wager that the modern houses won't last centuries, maybe 50 years or so before major referbs are needed.
    • CommentAuthorRex
    • CommentTimeMar 28th 2022
     
    Mine is a timber frame but I very much doubt that it will be around in a few centuries time.

    As for all the smart houses, the electronics will have given up the ghost and be unrepairable.

    There is an article in today's Telegraph regarding the folly of the government push to install ASHP in the average house. The life expectancy and replacement costs are much greater than a gas boiler.

    In the maisonette that we rent out, I have a plain vanilla, boring old Potterton boiler with nothing to go wrong. Every year, I 'service' it myself by sticking the vacuum onto the air intake filter to remove the dust and it passes the annual safety test with flying colours.
    • CommentAuthorMike1
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    Posted By: RexBrits will never understand this and will keep saying their houses are very well-built
    I wonder if they do? Seems to me there's plenty of negative views of UK quality. A comparative international satisfaction survey would be interesting.
    • CommentAuthorCliff Pope
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    The real question is surely why are British houses so expensive?
    They cost so much that they have to be built to the lowest possible standard.

    In effect they are paper houses - what you buy is really only a permit to have a house on that plot, and that costs so much there isn't much left over for the details, like bricks, mortar and fittings.
    • CommentAuthorJeff B
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    Posted By: Rex

    As for all the smart houses, the electronics will have given up the ghost and be unrepairable.



    Or more likely outdated quite quickly and then incompatible with some new gizmo that comes along!
    • CommentAuthorJonti
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    Rex,

    the answer is straight forward and is answerable in two parts.

    There is a lack of good quality tradesman who have either the required knowledge of what/why or an eye for the detail.

    The second part is there is a complete lack of quality control. I have worked in the UK, Germany and Switzerland in the construction industry and I can tell you that the latter two are lightyears ahead of the UK in ALL aspects of the construction trade.

    Where the solution lies is in the quality control and guarantee which is enforced.
    • CommentAuthorGarethC
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    I think it's much to do with the lack of land upon which you're allowed to build Cliff, and therefore the high cost of that land. If we didn't have strict planning permission regulations, such that you could build what you want where you want, then building land would be cheap and housing a lot cheaper, as the land cost is such a high chunk of the cost.

    I'd also argue that new houses would tend to be better quality too. Another problem with the current situation is that, because of the shortage of housing caused by the lack of buildable land, a builder can build a house and it is guaranteed to sell. That provides little incentive to do anything other than the bare minimum in terms of attractiveness and quality.

    Whether you'd want a building free-for-all is another matter....
    • CommentAuthorJonti
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    GarethC,

    I would argue there is plenty of land that already has some form of planning permission for housing that is not being built on. In England alone government figures put this at 1.1 million and if you combine this with the 650K of empty houses that would solve the lack of housing.
    • CommentAuthorMike1
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022 edited
     
    Related to this, here's what (middle-class low-density) development might look like in the UK if the population were given the choice:

    https://www.architectsjournal.co.uk/news/inside-graven-hill-the-uks-radical-self-build-experiment" >
    You should be able to see this one article without a subscription.
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    Thanks for the link, Mike. It's good to read an update, even if it is a somewhat depressing one. Let's hope they come up with a plan to rescue it.
    • CommentAuthorSimonD
    • CommentTimeMar 29th 2022
     
    Posted By: RexAnd newly built houses usually have no corners left uncut.


    This made me chuckle. Sums it up.

    One area where UK house developers do seem to be at the cutting edge are profits. Was is Persimmon who published figures of about ÂŁ60,000 profit per house? On the average house price, that's not bad at all for the shareholders, shame about the new owners :sad:
    • CommentAuthorgravelld
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2022
     
    A market doesn't work well for all participants when there are information asymmetries.

    I think one of the biggest problems in the UK market is that most home owners have precisely zero idea about housing performance.

    They have a vague idea that, for example, 'insulation is good' but...

    - In the next breath: "but you can have too much!" ( with no qualifying statement)
    - "Houses need to breath". "Can you explain why?" . "Erm... My dad told me". Home owner proceeds to intentionally leave holes in fabric in whimsical places, because that's what he thinks it means.
    - "My Aga is brilliant, it does the cooking and also heats our water for free" (one of my neighbours came up with that beauty).
    - The belief that one's house is this architectural landmark-cum-snowflake that has to be preserved despite being characteristically identical to 100s or 1000s of other dwellings and not even that brilliantly built in the first place.

    Quite honestly I need to stop reading threads like this because it makes me despair at how little progress we are making.
    • CommentAuthorSimonD
    • CommentTimeMar 31st 2022
     
    Posted By: gravelldQuite honestly I need to stop reading threads like this because it makes me despair at how little progress we are making.


    That's why I've been spending the last 3 years building my house myself. I had no idea what I was doing when I started but thought I wasn't too far off a lot of builders anyway. Problem is, learning how to do it all properly takes an immense amount of time and effort, partly because the necessary information is difficult to get hold of in this country and, as you say, there's a lot of nonsense out there too. :cry:
    • CommentAuthorwholaa
    • CommentTimeApr 5th 2022
     
    Pull cords are safer right? I hate pull cords myself but I just leave the switch outside. Is three-phase common outside the UK? What are the issues with door handles and door hinges?
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeApr 5th 2022
     
    Posted By: wholaaPull cords are safer right? I hate pull cords myself but I just leave the switch outside. Is three-phase common outside the UK? What are the issues with door handles and door hinges?
    The reason pull cords were common was indeed because building regs decreed them safer, but now switches outside the door are more common. I use wire-free kinetic switches, which happen to be outside the doors. Dunno what the issue with door handles and hinges is.

    Posted By: Rexthe most peculiar thing these days would be the fact that practically every house here only has one phase. It causes other issues as well, but if we’re pushing on electric vehicles, well, good luck with one phase chargers.
    Three phase is a lot more common in murrica because they only have 120 V on a single phase. I just bought an EV and was quite surprised to see them say to always, as far as possible, use a slow charger (i.e. a single phase domestic charger), because that's the only way the BMS will properly balance the cells in the battery. That was my plan anyway since I have a single phase charger so I'm happy to go along with the instructions.
    • CommentAuthorcjard
    • CommentTimeApr 6th 2022
     
    >Why are British houses so badly built?

    It's simple

    No one cares

    Point your finger at anyone in the chain from field to house, digger man to end buyer, and ask yourself "does that person care?"

    No
    • CommentAuthorrevor
    • CommentTimeApr 6th 2022
     
    Posted By: cjardPoint your finger at anyone in the chain from field to house, digger man to end buyer, and ask yourself "does that person care?"


    Not entirely true but I mostly agree. Had some great guys on my build self employed who were keen to do a good job took pride in their work. But I did ask around locally to find the best. Where I had problems was with larger organisations particularly glazing companies, charlatans and dishonest that was the senior managers and MD in one case.

    Ask a builder what they do for a living and chances are they will say they are in the "building game" That says it all.
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeApr 6th 2022
     
    Posted By: revorNot entirely true but I mostly agree. Had some great guys on my build self employed who were keen to do a good job took pride in their work.
    Same here but I think self-builders are an exception since in almost all cases they are the end buyer and they do care about the result. It's probably also largely the case for 'custom builds'; it's the mass developments by speculative builders that are the main problem.
    • CommentAuthorMike1
    • CommentTimeApr 7th 2022
     
    Posted By: wholaaWhat are the issues with door handles and door hinges?
    From his/her comment about sash windows and separate water taps, maybe he/she also thinks that thumb latches are still specified in the UK. No idea about hinges, though there are still some nasty cheap ones on the market.
  2.  
    Posted By: Peter_in_Hungary
    Posted By: RexWhy are British houses so badly built?
    Brits will never understand this and will keep saying their houses are very well-built, they last for centuries and so on,

    Wot Rex said +1
    There are houses centuries old - but I'd wager that the modern houses won't last centuries, maybe 50 years or so before major referbs are needed.


    Posted By: RexMine is a timber frame but I very much doubt that it will be around in a few centuries time.

    As for all the smart houses, the electronics will have given up the ghost and be unrepairable.


    I think theres a bit of rose tinting going no here. Some friends recently moved into a mid 1960s property - that was built to a high standard with quality fittings etc but was basically unaltered. It needs a major refurb - wiring doesn't meet code and most has needed to be replaced, heating system is defunct. Windows were all done before they moved in. Kitchen needs replacing. They going to save the bath/sink/toilets as they're really cool, but they were marginal after 55 years of use. Its structurally sound, but would really benefit from insulating either internally or externally.

    There are timber frame buildings that are 100's of years old. So long as you keep the external shell watertight they survive. My friends previous home had parts that were centuries old, but much has been extended/altered/replaced. Yes, a lot of London Terraces are 100 years or more old, but a lot have had chunks of wall rebuilt, roofs replaced and all of the modern services probably weren't installed until, in some cases, the 1980's and have been done again since.
  3.  
    Of course it should be remembered that whilst there are houses 100s of years old there are many that were built 100s of years ago that did not survive. Whether the surviving houses are because of build quality / type or luck of circumstance is a question.

    Here there are quite a few adobe houses surviving but a great many more that have melted into the earth from whence they came. (IMO an adobe house is quick and cheap to build but don't expect it to last more than a generation or two)

    However I liked the phrase - a modern house built with no corner left uncut !!
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2022
     
    Posted By: Simon StillThere are timber frame buildings that are 100's of years old.
    I live next door to one that is 500 years old. It has had extensions added but the original part is mostly still there. There's a farmhouse in an outdoor museum in our nearby town that's 600 years old. Google says the oldest timber building in the world is 1400 years old https://www.guinnessworldrecords.com/world-records/oldest-wooden-building But as Peter says, there an awful lot of old buildings that aren't there any more for the few that are.

    Modern services aren't designed to last. Come to that, neither are buildings. Our architect was using an explicit lifetime of 60 years (the standard apparently) until I realized and told him we hoped and expected it would last a bit longer than that! 1960s electrics were probably at the end of the perishable insulation that disintegrated after about thirty years or so.
  4.  
    Out of interest, what do you get done differently on a build that is intended to last 100 years, compared to one that is intended to last 60 years?
    • CommentAuthorrevor
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2022
     
    Posted By: WillInAberdeenOut of interest, what do you get done differently on a build that is intended to last 100 years, compared to one that is intended to last 60 years?


    A slate roof for a start.
    No flat roofs.
    Loads of insulation
    No OSB or anything that disintegrates if it gets wet
    Cavity walls
    Windows set in the inner leaf or over the cavity.
    Brick faced no render
  5.  
    For a starters use good quality timbers properly seasoned and pay attention to good well fitting joints instead of nail plates.
    For second don't use cheap wall ties - actually don't use wall ties at all - i.e. don't build with cavity walls. I'm not sure that solid walls will help longevity but IMO it will certainly help with reduced energy use (with EWI) but cheap wall ties are /will be a disaster.
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2022
     
    Posted By: WillInAberdeenOut of interest, what do you get done differently on a build that is intended to last 100 years, compared to one that is intended to last 60 years?
    Not really sure it made much difference. It's mostly just a mindset, I think. But to get to specifics:

    Posted By: revorA slate roof for a start.
    Well, no. Aluminium as I said. Slate doesn't bend.
    No flat roofs.
    Well, no. EPDM which I expect will have to be replaced once or maybe twice.
    Loads of insulation
    Absolutely.
    No OSB or anything that disintegrates if it gets wet
    Loads of it but not anywhere it will get wet. Ditto plasterboard etc.
    Cavity walls
    No chance!
    Windows set in the inner leaf or over the cavity.
    No. Windows set in the insulation.
    Brick faced no render
    No. Lime render everywhere over the bales. Inside too. No bricks anywhere (except for one course at the base of the timber garage and broken in gabions in the garden). I dislike wet trades.


    Posted By: Peter_in_HungaryFor a starters use good quality timbers properly seasoned and pay attention to good well fitting joints instead of nail plates.
    Well, we used C16 (actually C24 'cos that's what our merchant had) untreated for the most part. We used nail plates for the major structural supports; not taking loads, just stabilising the joints, and we used loads of joist hangers and we used a lot of screws. 'joints' not so much.
    For second don't use cheap wall ties - actually don't use wall ties at all - i.e. don't build with cavity walls. I'm not sure that solid walls will help longevity but IMO it will certainly help with reduced energy use (with EWI) but cheap wall ties are /will be a disaster.
    I agree with you there, although GBS seem to disagree and think that basalt wall ties in PH are OK. There's a British disease that thinks cavity walls are the bees knees.
    • CommentAuthorowlman
    • CommentTimeApr 8th 2022
     
    Posted By: djh


    +1
    Solid walls with generous roof overhang is the way forward IMO.
    •  
      CommentAuthordjh
    • CommentTimeApr 10th 2022
     
    There was an interesting European project to try to upskill areas into building NZEB using PH standards together with renewable energy. It was called PassREg and it published its final report at https://www.passreg.eu/ along with other information. One of the areas being upskilled was Carmarthen - anybody know whether it's had any lasting benefits in terms of the quality of housing etc? A quick search shows some public projects built to PH standards.
    • CommentAuthorCranbrook
    • CommentTimeApr 12th 2022
     
    Very interesting thread...

    So given everything and trying to find a good value solution, what would be everyone's build detail if they were given a plot of land to build a home on??
   
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