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Big J

Old houses versus new building

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In the interests of continuing the discussion from the other day, but on a slightly different tangent, I thought I'd start another thread.

 

I've never been a fan of old houses. Cold, damp, draughty and usually not built for someone my height. Ongoing maintenance issues too. Obviously, many of them were built to the standards of the day, and I don't think that they are bad per se, just out of date and in many cases fit for replacement. 

 

We're in the process of trying to find someone to live. Whether that is buying a house or building has yet to be determined. We went to our first house viewing yesterday and is was broadly disappointing. A pretty spacious Victorian house, that ticked many boxes, but looking at it, all I could see was huge heating bills, subsidence in the floors, potential damp isses and potential rewiring all (not especially well) hidden behind a veneer of reasonably recent decoration. 

 

We've lived in three houses in the past 11 years. All fitting the type of small farm houses/cottages. 107 sq metres (5 years), 127 square metres (5 years) and 95 square metres (the last year). In that time we've burned just over 200 cubic metres of firewood, which equates to about 70 dry tonnes. Each kilo of wood (as deduced from Google searches, please feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) releases around 1.65kg of carbon dioxide on combustion, so it's reasonable to assume that we've created around 115 tonnes of Co2 in that time. We've also burned around 7000l of oil too, so that's another 19 tonnes.

 

In the scheme of things, our houses haven't been badly insulated, especially considering their vintage. The second house (127 sqm) was assessed with a thermographic camera by a thermographer friend of ours, and he said he was surprised how well it performed. 

 

Anyway, my point is that many older houses perform so badly that ecologically speaking, you'd be better off demolishing and starting again. The embodied CO2 in a typical new build is around 50-80t (depending on sources online, and size of house). An ecologically minded house would be less, and a timber heavy construction can bring this down further. Taking an average of 65t, it took us just 5.5 years to produce that amount of CO2 heating in our houses over the years, and when you consider that the average house age we've had over the past 11 years just under 200 years, that's a huge environmental cost over the centuries.

 

I realise that older properties can be upgraded to a point, but they never come close to modern standards. Additionally, measures such as cavity wall insulation have created huge issues in affected houses with damp, as the cavity was intended in the first instance as a control measure for moisture. 

 

I'd be interesting to hear your thoughts regarding realistic ways to improve housing stock in the UK. The present crop of dreadful "only just up to regs" houses being built by the mass developers isn't helping matters.

 

 

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"I realise that older properties can be upgraded to a point, but they never come close to modern standards" Simply not true. Yes it's expensive but doable over time. EWI can be as thick as you like as can roof insulation. Insulation of the floor slab and the foundations is probably the area that is problematic. Our old barn was above the regs of the time when converted it. It has the outside character of an old building but is easy to heat and dryness of modern build. 

Edited by Woodworks
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It can be done, but it's more expense.
Seen loads of French barns/longeres with interior insulation throughout.
But i know about the height issues with Devon ceilings.

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19 minutes ago, jamallio96 said:

I'm slightly confused at how 1kg of wood can produce 1.65kg of carbon dioxide, didn't realise burning things created mass!

It doesn't create mass but it rearranges it.  When you burn wood you are also using oxygen from the atmosphere for the reaction to work.  The CO2 is then created from the wood (partly carbon) and the O2 in the atmosphere (oxygen).  CO2 = 1 part carbon and 2 parts oxygen.  I think the chemical bonds in the wood also contain some oxygen and contribute.  Something like that anyway, its been a while since I studied that stuff.

    

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2 hours ago, Woodworks said:

"I realise that older properties can be upgraded to a point, but they never come close to modern standards" Simply not true. Yes it's expensive but doable over time. EWI can be as thick as you like as can roof insulation. Insulation of the floor slab and the foundations is probably the area that is problematic. Our old barn was above the regs of the time when converted it. It has the outside character of an old building but is easy to heat and dryness of modern build. 

Possibly, but many old houses simply don't have the internal space to insulate, and external insulation would completely change the building.

 

I actually worry more about the post war construction than what was built before it.

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Interesting question.

 

I live in an old house, 1840s ish. Yes it's draughty and a bit of a pain to heat, partly because it's in a Welsh valley which doesn't see the sun from October to March! By the same token, it's beautiful and full of character. Also, the main components are really well built, unlike many modern houses which are built down to a price. (See various recent examples of huge snagging lists for new build houses).

It does require a bit of maintenance, but considering the age and size, I don't think it's too bad. One day I may demolish it and build a wooden or passive straw bale house (like Ben Law). Not sure we'd ever be able to afford that, however.

On balance we love it, but moan a bit more in winter when it's cold and draughty.

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We do have the internal space to insulate I should add, but a consultant suggested the cost of this would be so much it would take a long time to pay back in reduced oil bills. Maybe one day. That would be preferable to rebuilding, but I think it would be a lot of work to make it much more efficient.

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1 hour ago, Big J said:

Possibly, but many old houses simply don't have the internal space to insulate, and external insulation would completely change the building.

 

 

But it's doable and whats the problem with changing the outside look of the building? If we are not prepared to except some sort of compromise we will never do anything. Dads old place looked awful as it was. I slate hung the south and west sides with insulation behind. Then in the last round of grants he got the north and south EWId and frankly it looks better than it did. Now the whole place is way warmer and drier. Can get some pics if your interested

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1 hour ago, Woodworks said:

But it's doable and whats the problem with changing the outside look of the building? If we are not prepared to except some sort of compromise we will never do anything. Dads old place looked awful as it was. I slate hung the south and west sides with insulation behind. Then in the last round of grants he got the north and south EWId and frankly it looks better than it did. Now the whole place is way warmer and drier. Can get some pics if your interested

I personally don't have any issues with changing the facade, but planners and parish councils generally aren't keen. 

 

Having been to your house, I can attest to the fact that it's beautifully finished and detailed, and I'm sure that the attention to detail in the insulation which you can't see is of a similar standard. Most people don't have your cabinet making/joinery skills, and many don't have the means to commission someone else to do it. It's just a lot more expensive to work within an existing building.

 

A reasonable example would be a house that we rented for 3 years near Aviemore when we were doing a lot of work up there. We shared it with friends. It was an old croft house, two bedrooms with a very large stove that I installed and electric heating. There was no insulation in the roof, though it did have double glazing. It was almost entirely unheatable in deep winter. Aviemore is subject to some of the coldest weather in the UK, and when it was properly cold (just below freezing through the day, minus 10 at night), with all the electric heating going, and the 15kw stove on full blast, you'd maybe get the bedrooms up to 10c if you were lucky, and 15-16c max in the living room with the stove. The house was also very exposed on the north east face, so any beasts from the east dropped the temperature inside further. 

 

What it needed was the roof completely rebuilding and completely cladding and externally insulating. And I reckon that would have cost as much as knocking it down and rebuilding.

 

It was in a beautiful spot though, with one of the best views in the Highlands. The front garden stops at the road. 

 

No photo description available.

 

Image may contain: sky, cloud, tree, outdoor, nature and water

 

Image may contain: cloud, sky, tree, outdoor and nature

 

The daft thing is that the whole way the house is orientated, there aren't many windows on the aspect that overlooks the loch. All that view and you couldn't see if from any room unless you got up and walked over to a window to look out. 

Demolish and start again!

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