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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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    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2007 edited
    In the days when we first started to use wire ropes for lifting loads we used to pass the rope through an eye or cleat and fix it back to itself with a wire rope grip (a u-bolt with a flange) The trailing free end of the rope would be tied onto the rope to keep it out of the way. This worked well but after a couple of mishaps where the u-bolts were not inspected and they either were damaged or worked loose through overloading it was decided to use two wire rope grips should be used in case one failed between inspections. No problems ever occurred but someone eventually decided that three would be better than two and this was common safe practice for many years. That was until some safety manager in an office saw a picture and thought that we should halve the risk by using SIX; this became law!

    How much of this kind of thinking is wasteful of resources without adding benefit?
    • CommentAuthorRimu Homes
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2007
    Loads and loads and loads,

    I just got off the phone with our engineer to tell him we can't source C24 219 x 44 at short notice, in the lengths he specified for a project. I asked if we can use 219 x 38 instead and he said that would be fine. I can't rememer how many times I have had similar conversations over the years. Usually with engineers.

    The term 'over-engineered' is a pet hate of mine as engineering is about accuracy. In my opinion if an engineer feels he has to over specify he should consider a different career.
    The culture of over ordering of materials is another pet hate.
    • CommentAuthorbiffvernon
    • CommentTimeSep 12th 2007

    Mathematician: the integer greater than 2 and less than 4

    Physicist: a value greater than 2.5 and less than or equal to 3.5

    Engineer: three's three but we'll call it ten to be on the safe side.
    I'm afraid it is a sign if times. Everyone is so worried about getting sued that they err on the side of caution every time.

    What I think engineers, building inspectors etc overlook is the fact that the manufacturers and the people who write the standards that we all work to have already allowed for a margin of safety so there is no need to add your own on top.

    As for the Health and Safety fascists, with that lot it is all about having a piece of paper to say you have considered the risks etc. They never check whether policies are being implemented until someone comes a cropper, then the fingerpointing starts and new legislation follows.

    I'd like to live in a country where you are allowed to take a few risks and you live with the consequences of your actions. Make all these regulations into guidance that you can choose to follow or not. Most people do the right thing anyway, unless the "right thing" is an afront to common sense, and those that don't ignore regulations in any case. They serve no purpose other than to reduce the productivity of the economy.
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 25th 2007
    >>I'd like to live in a country where you are allowed to take a few risks and you live with the consequences of your actions. Make all these regulations into guidance that you can choose to follow or not. Most people do the right thing anyway, unless the "right thing" is an afront to common sense, and those that don't ignore regulations in any case. They serve no purpose other than to reduce the productivity of the economy.<<

    And then there was Northern Rock. There's always one. An old joke: What's the difference between Doctors and Engineers? Doctors can only kill one at a time.

    • CommentTimeSep 25th 2007
    I always wonder what goes through Fire Officers' minds, when Architects developers and householders are trying to get out of onerous fire requirements, and these guys live eat and sleep the consequences.
    • CommentTimeSep 25th 2007
    Fire Officer thinks........The home owner will prop the fire door open with a wedge, but my ass is covered because I insisted that they fit the self closer.
    The best thing you could do to reduce deaths from fire, Tom, is ban cigarettes.

    I had a fire officer out to a student house at my own request. I'd already fitted self closing fire doors, protected stairwells, escape windows and mains smokes when I renovated it off my own back to future proof against changes in regulations. He recommended fitting fire extinguishers as well which would require professional annual service and regular checking by me even though I no idea how to use them.

    The students in that house regularly wedge the fire doors open, they have filled the stairwells and landing with crap so you can barely get past, despite me repeatedly telling them not to do this because it is a fire hazard. I took the view over the fire extinguisher that the only way they would have any idea how to use them is if they had set them off for a laugh previously, in which case they wouldn't work anyway. I'd rather they just got out ASAP and let the place burn.

    I think my point here is that you don't always have to be told to do the right and the safe thing and that sometimes what you are told to do makes no sense in the particular circumstances.

    As for Northern Rock, Jon, they are in the state they are in because they took risks safe in the knowledge that they would be bailed out if things went wrong, so they made hay while the Sun shone. The only way to stop this happening again would have been to let them go to the wall, but the authorities lack the bottle and the banks know it.
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007 edited
    >>The only way to stop this happening again would have been to let them go to the wall, but the authorities lack the bottle and the banks know it.<<

    Or allow mandatory takeover of deposits together with full funding of all insurance deposits (as in the US or Germany): Leaves the bank swinging in the wind if the FSA were to have the power and then use it.

    The point about the comment was that, if society requires certain activities to be critical to their wellbeing such that those running the activities should not be allowed to take disproportionate risk then regulation or mandatory review is necessary. NR took on excessive risk and the remains of the banking industry now suffers (as will all homeowners soon).

    Using the same comparsion, I would not like to see a state of affairs where one or two engineers were allowed to take excessive risk (either in overestimation of their own skills or in reduction in times taken to do a task). The review process undertaken by building control, and the occasional overestimate that must be made in order to be sure that they will be satisfied is an unfortunate necessity. Once upon a long time ago, when clients did not build in advance of approval, more economies could be made.

    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007
    Posted By: jonOnce upon a long time ago, when clients did not build in advance of approval, more economies could be made.
    and the cathedrals that didn't get the calcs right fell down so we're no longer aware of the failures.
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007

    Not so long ago Tom. I remember working for a practice in the early '80's where construction drawings would not be issued, as a matter of policy, until Building Regulations approval had been achieved.
    As far as I can see Jon, what the central banks have done in this crisis, whether it be the BofE, the ECB or the Fed, is act as lender of last resort to any bank that gets in trouble, i.e. they create balances in their own accounts (effectively print money) and lend this money to the troubled bank in exchange for dodgy collateral (like Northern Rock's sub-prime loan book). This way they reliquify the banks balance sheets allowing them to meet their obligations and keep on lending. Every pound or dollar or euro that the central banks lend to the banking system, allows the banking system as a whole to lend out another 9 to borrowers under the fractional reserve system (because the people who withdraw their money from Northern Rock will just stick it in another bank somewhere). So the $500 billion the central banks have just pumped into the banking system (out of thin air remember) will eventually increase the money supply by $5 trillion, or about 4 times the GDP of the UK. That is a frighteningly large amont of money and convinces me that any amount will be printed to keep things going inevitably leading to hyperinflation. Our currencies are being destroyed before our eyes and most of us don't even realise. I'm looking at buying some gold and silver bullion...

    If the bankers knew there would never be a bail out then they might want meet with you are look you in the eye before they lent you some money, i.e. like things used to be. It isn't just Northern Rock who have been at this, it is all the banks and they have doing it with credit cards and car loans as well. We haven't heard anything about them yet. The way I read it, Alistair Darling has effectively underwritten the entire UK banking industry with his recent actions and that will backfire on the tax payer at some point in a big way.

    Re engineers calcs, do you think building inspectors actually check these documents? I'm skeptical, I think they see ABC Chartered Enginners on the sheet and just file them...

    I think there are people who do the right thing without regulation (all they need are the guidelines to work to) and there are people who cut corners and continue to do so despite regulations because they think, usually correctly, that they will never be caught. It is only the former group that bear the costs and that just ain't right.
    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007
    Posted By: Chris Wardledo you think building inspectors actually check these documents?
    In my experience yes, they pay outside consultants to check my consultant!
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007
    Re engineering calcs, it seems to me that some authorities risk review each submission to determine the level of checking: The potential for up to a 25% liability established by the law courts has not, to my knowledge, been overturned. So I'll sit on the fence, as it appears to be the most comfortable place to be, on this one.

    I agree that the fractional reserve system is fraught with difficulty particularly in times of crisis. However, wrt banks, I am personally not too concerned and so do not see a great deal of risk with respect to Darling's underwriting, particularly as it is a little vague as to what 'the current crisis' means. However, were he to support some of the investment funds (particularly those that are effectively leveraged or are trading options) in the UK's equivalent of the 'sub-prime' sector, I would be exceptionally concerned.
    I understand many of the banks, including the big well know names like Barclays, have set up SPVs in offshore centres to invest in CDOs, the leveraged instruments backed by the sub-prime junk. They have invested in the US market as well as the UK. This whole thing is spread throughout the international financial system. The banks have implicitly backed these SPVs although they are technically "off balance sheet", which means they will have to bail them out. If they can't they will have to go to the central banks for loans to bolster their balance sheets.

    My guess is the central banks will print any amount necessary to underwrite the financial system. Ultimately it is the little guy who pays through higher rates of inflation, eroding the value of his savings. The hedge fund guys and the bankers will have taken their slice and salted it away long ago. The whole thing is corrupt and will never change until we have a currency backed by something, whether it be gold or maybe even carbon quotas, and private sector organisations are allowed to fail when they cock up.
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 26th 2007 edited
    I think fiat currencies are with us to stay Chris. To value currency relative to something you need to know the future of the something that you are valuing it against so that your currency does not suffer from massive changes relative to the general economy (either long or short term). You also need a method of creating inflation as it is this that produces a disincentive to overt risk taking and allows government to control (sort of) its own borrowing (Japan proves me wrong of course)

    I wouldn't expect the high street banks to have taken on too many leveraged instruments and that, if they have, I would expect their liabilities to be limited to capital investment only. Hopefully the high street, in the period of calm we are in now, are trying to remove these instruments from their sheets and transfer it to others. Hopefully the others aren't my pension vehicles.

    Out of interest, why do you think banks would be major players in this field? Insurance, Pensions, Investment banks, I would understand, but why high street banks such as Barclays?
    It will be no suprise that I disagree with you Jon. All currencies were linked to gold from when they were first invented until 1971 when the dollar, as the world's reserve currency, broke the link with gold. They did this because the gold link imposed a discipline on the federal government to act responsibly and live within its means (because if they didn't other nations would ask for their paper dollars to be exchanged for gold bullion as the French did in 1971) . The Vietnam war meant they could no longer live with this. Fiat money has only lasted 37 years and I wouldn't give it more than another 5... The Roman empire collapsed when it started debasing its coinage, I think we're going the same way.

    Inflation is an INcentive to take risk. In an inflation, I can borrow paper money, which is being devalued and use it to buy real assets, like property which is going up in nominal terms. This is what buy-to-let has been about. If I thought that property would stay fairly stable in price I would have to be mindful of the rental yield and the letability because I would need to repay my mortgage with interest, rather than just letting inflation do the job for me.

    Re the high street banks. They all have investment banking arms and they have been looking at the massive profits that have been made in hedge fund management. Bankers being bankers have fancied a slice of the action. Borrow some Yen at 1 % in Japan and use it to buy a mortgage backed CDO with a AAA rating yielding 7% and pocket the difference. Stick it in a SPV offshore out of the way of the regulators. There were rumours about Barclays a few weeks ago. I don't think Northern Rock is the end of this, but, if the central banks are going to bail everyone out then the bubble will just continue to inflate.

    Going back to the building control thing, it would interesting to put some bogus engineers calcs for approval that looked fairly convincing but with some errors in them and see what they came back with...

    I doubt this will end until Peak Oil is recognised as an imminent reality. That will be what finally bursts the bubble, say 2011 ish? Who knows. Without growing energy supplies, I doubt the economy can continue to expand and without expansion we can't earn the money to repay the debts plus the interest, so how can the banking system as it is currently constituted continue? It will be interesting to see what actually happens. I may be carted off the an asylum as some kind of delusional fantasist...
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 27th 2007
    >>Inflation is an INcentive to take risk.<<

    If that were so Chris, the South Sea and Dutch Tulip bubbles would have been impossible. Both driven by new paradigms and both far more disasterous for the participants than our housing bubble will be. I suspect we may be getting off topic.
    I don't get your logic Jon. The bubbles you mention weren't bailed out because there weren't any central banks around to bail them out by printing more fiat money. Consequently, the bubbles burst and those foolish enough to have suspended disbelief were left with some worthless tulip bulbs they had paid millions for i.e. they lost everything and learnt a valuable lesson. We are keeping our bubble going by printing more money. We are effectively saying "we will buy your tulips bulbs off you for whatever you paid for them, don't worry you won't lose a penny". This can only encourage further speculation.

    To quote Bill Bonner in MoneyWeek this week, "What is different is that, instead of permitting reckless speculators to get what they've got coming, losses will be socialized - redistributed to consumers and savers everywhere. And instead of allowing the market to liquidate weak companies and remove the rot, the rottenness is encouraged to spread." I agree.

    However, you are right, this is all way off topic. I'm having a chimney repaired at the moment. The builders should have started a while back but they are waiting for a "method statement" from a health & safety consultant (I will be paying for this). I suspect that 5 years ago, they would have just got on with it taking common sense precautions as they always had done in the past, and probably have finshed by now. No wonder building work is so expensive these days. CDM regulations - another example of the cure being worse than the disease.
    • CommentAuthorjon
    • CommentTimeSep 27th 2007
    Agree to disagree? I understand your logic behind the Northern Rock case and believe that Mervin's initial response was admirable from a societal point of view (if not from a political one)

    Good luck with the Builders!
    • CommentAuthortony
    • CommentTimeSep 27th 2007
    Double joist under stud wall ? Now two bits of wood bolted together at certain centres etc . Why not use a bit of wood twice as wide???

    Typically 2 of 195x47 plus bolts and labour = more cost, more waste, more time than one bit 195x 97 ? Cheaper quicker and better
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