jamiehamy

Scottish parliament Committee 'expert' opinion

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I was having a read through the Report for the Scottish Parliament. This committee session took  my interest for obvious reasons. 

 

As I read the transcript, the contributions from Sue Roaf kept making me wonder.

 

I've put some of the ones that stuck out, but you can access it here. Anyone have any thoughts? She covers quite a lot of what gets discussed on here - but maybe an interesting take? It's the section on Greenhouse gas emmisions - quite a long read but I'd be interested to hear what other members think of this session?

 

Jamie

 

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http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10531  

 

“Homes are incredibly important to Scotland because citizens are important to their legislators.”

 

“Now we are beginning to realise that, with the next generation of housing, we have created problems. For instance, in modern, light-weight, cheap-to-build, highly insulated timber housing with very little air movement, people are experiencing very bad indoor air-quality problems. Such houses often have big windows that do not have bits that it is possible to open. The solution is a small machine.”

 

“If we genuinely want the domestic sector to have a resilient and robust future that includes large emissions reductions, we will need to start ventilating houses naturally again, getting rid of the machines and running them on solar energy”

 

“People—myself included—can build or design houses that do not need much heat any more. That is the solution. One way of doing that is to incorporate thermal storage in the buildings, as we always used to in cavity walls, for example.”

 

“We would probably do the citizens of Scotland more of a favour if we mandated for thermal storage to provide resilient heat over time than if we tried to force them to put in extremely expensive and often inefficient and expensive-to-run heat-pump systems.”

 

“We would probably do the citizens of Scotland more of a favour if we mandated for thermal storage to provide resilient heat over time than if we tried to force them to put in extremely expensive and often inefficient and expensive-to-run heat-pump systems.”

 

I do not know how many members have looked out of their windows and seen what I call the great eye of Sauron—the huge gas flame on the horizon—over the past week. For 10 days, millions and millions of tonnes of gas have been flared off. It looks like Mordor over there.”

 

“Singapore recently irked Elon Musk by refusing to allow Tesla cars into its market. It has done that because it does not have any renewable energy and the Tesla is a really big car that uses a lot of energy to get from A to B, irrespective of its being electric. Therefore, the simple message about the size of vehicles is critical.”

 

There is also the point about tariffs. There might be a tariff that reflects excess wind on a particular night.”

 

“We need to take a new approach and say to designers, “When you design a new building, you need to put in a safe climate room for extreme cold, heatwaves and so on.” We can start incrementally by putting insulation into the roof of that particular room, installing double glazing to get rid of draughts and putting in a nice warm carpet. Making every building energy efficient will just not happen.”

Edited by jamiehamy
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Lots of contradictions there and lots of miss understanding.  I would love to know where these "lightweight, cheap to buy, highly insulated timber houses " are .

 

At least my own new house will be complete before they can mess with building regulations and demand we all install high "thermal mass"  And where was all this thermal mass in cavity wall houses? yes they were really efficient to run weren't they.
 

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Just now, ProDave said:

Lots of contradictions there and lots of miss understanding.  I would love to know where these "lightweight, cheap to buy, highly insulated timber houses " are .

 

At least my own new house will be complete before they can mess with building regulations and demand we all install high "thermal mass"  And where was all this thermal mass in cavity wall houses? yes they were really efficient to run weren't they.
 

Glad it wasn't just me! I might pop down and buy one of these new 'warm carpets' and take out the 150mm of insulation we bought. If only I knew about 'warm carpets'! 

 

I'm actually drafting an email to one of my MSPs who is on the committee as I think this 'evidence' is pretty shocking to be honest - politicians make decisions based on this stuff!

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Seems whoever wrote it must have skipped school and just learnt how to build houses. 

Big windows that have bits missing so you can't open them , my god. 

If you build a house that doesn't need much heat why would you build in something to store loads of heat.

I thought it was just our politicians who had a few screws loose.

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" We are getting chronic problems of overheating in Scotland "

 

"  If we genuinely want the domestic sector to have a resilient and robust future that includes large emissions reductions, we will need to start ventilating houses naturally again, getting rid of the machines and running them on solar energy "

 

 

Edited by jamiehamy

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Link to report was missing-

 

http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=10531

 

I skimmed through it, some sensible proposals and some nonsense.

 

The weird comment about safe rooms was, I think about New Zealand, I have been a couple of times and have two friends who live there. Someone seems to have decided that the country is too warm to bother with insulation. Most of the time it is true, but when it gets cold the houses are freezing. I think this was a suggested solution to that problem, but was irrelevant to the discussion.

 

A couple of things I would note -

 

1. Politicians don't seem interested in looking at actual evidence. People should be presenting scientific studies, not personal opinion.

 

2. Why was no one there from industry. The presenters were all academics and special interest groups. There seems to be a view that companies and professionals are biassed. In reality everyone can be biassed, hence the need for proper controlled studies.

 

In fairness most of the building regs are much more sensible than what was discussed here. They were probably drawn up by actual professionals who know what they are talking about.

 

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9 minutes ago, AliG said:

The weird comment about safe rooms was, I think about New Zealand, I have been a couple of times and have two friends who live there. Someone seems to have decided that the country is too warm to bother with insulation. Most of the time it is true, but when it gets cold the houses are freezing.

 

This sounds a bit like what we used to do when it was too hot to sleep in Australia - move to the lounge, which was the only airconditioned room in the (largely uninsulated, timber framed) house.  This is basically the same idea, but with insulation.  

 

And yes, the house was ice cold in winter (this is in Sydney's far western suburbs, which are hotter in summer and colder in winter than central Sydney).

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To be fair, I think you have to realise that she was talking to the Scottish Parliament.

 

She would have started from the premise that she was writing a lesson plan for a bunch of six year-olds, then toned down the complicated bits.

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Roaf (please let her have a big tough dog so the normal summons process can be reversed) made her name with The Oxford House here

 

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxford_Ecohouse

 

That was 1995 and I am not sure about the numbers. Pre-passive, and I am not sure how mant PHs there are in Scotland to provide a 'plague' of problems and an evidence base.

 

There are no witnesses at all who actually build houses.

 

Ferdinand

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Not PassivHaus (which she doesn't actually mention), but there is an increasing evidence base on high-airtightness, highly-insulated houses with MVHR.

There's plenty of feedback now available from Housing Associations, in particular, on the operation of 'low energy' housing in the hands of the great unwashed.

 

And it has to be said that particularly when occupied by the general population, as opposed to being built by the sort of well-educated 'enthusiasts' we have on this forum, the experiences so far have not been particularly good. So I have a lot of sympathy with what she's saying (whilst recognising that she's saying it in an overly simplistic way, for her target audience).

 

MVHR, in particular, can be an absolute liability in the hands of people whose knowledge and of, and interest in, environmental control systems is to switch the heating on when they are cold, and off when they are too warm. Ditto heat pumps - for maximum efficiency they dictate that you must adjust both the design of the thermal envelope and the patterns of use to suit the technology, which most people are not used to, and not willing to.

 

Low energy building design is still in its infancy: we're still at the stage where the technology takes precedence over the person (in terms of the person's lifestyle flexibility and comfort levels). The next step will be to develop design strategies that enable buildings to serve their occupants, not the other way around.
 

 

 

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Para 3 of her first contribution

 

Quote

Unfortunately, year on year, our buildings and houses—even the modern ones—become more challenging. The traditional Scottish house was fairly robust. It might have been leaky and fairly solid with cold bridges and so on, but the roof did not blow off. Let me look at domestic development of efficiency in the past couple of decades. In the 1990s, we had the passive house, which was rather simplistic. You put insulation around a building, stopped the airflow through the windows and doors—so you stopped the draughts—got rid of cold bridging in the structure, put in double glazing or better windows and put a machine at the centre of it. It had a lot of stringent targets, too. In the noughties, we became more interested in sustainability and there was a move to better comfort, better indoor air quality and so on.

Now we are beginning to realise that, with the next generation of housing, we have created problems. For instance, in modern, light-weight, cheap-to-build, highly insulated timber housing with very little air movement, people are experiencing very bad indoor air-quality problems. Such houses often have big windows that do not have bits that it is possible to open. The solution is a small machine. We are getting chronic problems of overheating in Scotland, which Tim Sharpe at Glasgow School of Art has done a lot of work on. That means that, eventually, more Scottish homes will be air conditioned, and that will cost. We already know that many people in Scotland cannot afford to heat their homes in winter, and they will not be able to afford to cool their homes in summer. Therefore, we have a real problem.

 

I think she is fundamentally wrong on how much energy can be saved in even existing buildings with proper work, perhaps 75%, and how much of a contribution can be made by solar panels (in Scotland FFS !!!) .

 

There is also a strong element if the various Greenies - GP, WWF, FOE - needing to take up ever more extreme positions driven by their political position. They CANNOT recognise as a matter of fundamental identity if a solution is reached, as that would be self-liquidation.

 

Ferdinand

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12 minutes ago, Ferdinand said:

Para 3 of her first contribution

 

Ah, sorry - I was just looking at the bits quoted in the OP.

 

Still, PassivHaus was only mentioned as an example of low-energy design; not as the 'evidence base for the plague of problems' (clearly, only a tiny number of certified PH dwellings have been built, anywhere in the UK). And I don't disagree with her that PH is a very simplistic approach (and one that I think we need to move on from).

 

If I take issue with anything, it's her assertion that 'In the noughties, we became more interested in sustainability and there was a move to better comfort, better indoor air quality and so on'. There has certainly been a growing consciousness amongst a handful of academics and architects specialising in low-energy design, but I don't think enough of a move has been made toward implementing design regimes that offer better comfort and air quality. I think that this forum alone is evidence that a lot of even the more switched on members of the housebuilding community still think that PassivHaus remains the Mutt's Nuts; a lot of Planners and Housing Associations still regard it as the ultimate ambition, too.

 

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I think it is fair to say that Roaf is criticising the passive 'approach' ie fabric first / air tightness / very high Insulation / low thermal mass / ultra low energy requirement, and that thinks it is embodied in recent changes to building regs. 

 

I think the general opinion here is that changes to building regs go nowhere near a realistic attempt to introduce passive principles thoroughly, and perhaps go 25-30% of the way before such a characterisation could be made.

 

I think the principles are embraced by most here, but that there are thought to be some quite serious weakness, not including the probable Passivehaus Institute desire to certify that all housespiders in an official PassiveHaus have exactly 8 legs of proven identical length. God help them if Shelob turns up.

 

Things that may be done differently include heat management via water circulation in the slab, and variations on the MVHR systems, and I think here we pay much attention to the issue of solar gain and potential overheating, and the detail of heating systems - ph favouring something electric in the MVHR if I recall. I am sure there are other aspects. TBH As a community of practice by people running small projects we are ahead of the official researchers in some aspects.

 

Ferdinand

Edited by Ferdinand

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Can I request that anyone submitting comments to the Parliament consider posting them here 

 

Cheers,

 

F

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1 minute ago, Ferdinand said:

I think it is fair to say that Roaf is criticising the passive 'approach' ie fabric first / air tightness / very high Insulation / low thermal mass / low energy requirement, and that thinks it is embodied in recent changes to building regs. 

 

I think the general opinion here is that changes to building regs go nowhere near a realistic attempt to introduce passive principles thoroughly, and perhaps go 25-30% of the way before such a characterisation could be made.

 

Yes I agree on both counts; although as one of those (minority?) here who don't embrace Fabric First to anything like the degree embodied in PassivHaus, I'm glad that B.Regs go nowhere near 'a realistic and thorough attempt to introduce passive principles'.

 

I think they've got the balance about right as a set of minimum rules for general housebuilding, though even then, the moisture control and ventilation elements of the B.Reg have got some catching-up to do with energy efficiency parts of the Regs, if recent evidence is anything to go by.

 

Building Regulations are there to ensure appropriate minimum standards, not to evangelise the beliefs of a minority of extremists.

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Sensus - having read your comments above, I wonder what you think is a "realistic" way to build, say, an average size three-bed house?  In particular, what is required for ventilation and moisture control?  And what do you think about insulation levels and the use of triple-glazed windows?

 

 

Edited by DavidFrancis

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My brother has been having awful condensation problems creating mould in a 13 year old flat.

 

When I visited I found that they had all the air vents in the windows closed and the en suite fan timer didn't keep it running after you switched the light off.

 

He had no idea what the vents were for.

 

I can imagine if you gave my mum a house with MVHR the notion that it shouldn't be switched off would wind her up, she is always trying to turn off the extractor fans.

 

This has made me think that there is no consistent way to pass on instructions for how everything works in a house. You might get some from the builder, but they rarely get passed on to subsequent owners. Even then the percentage of people who actually read instructions appears to be negligible anyway.

 

This is increasingly a problem as technology moves forward. Technology can do more and more for us, whether it is drive a car or ventilate a house. But often it is the case that people either don't care or can't understand how to use it, thus a lot of money is spent on technology to no benefit or even that makes things worse if used incorrectly. Unfortunately everything has to be pretty much automatic and foolproof if possible. Look at the poor guy who died in the Tesla. I would be terrified letting my wife or my dad try to use an autopilot system, it would be an accident waiting to happen.

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I thought I had posted last night, but obviously didn't submit. My initial thought had been a significant amount of dumbing down for the audience in question, and that I wouldn't want to live in a house she had had a hand in designing.

 

However, there are some useful discussion points raised.

 

Insulation levels - we have previously discussed the cost / benefit of meeting or exceeding passive levels of insulation. When framed in terms of fuel poverty, and how much it will cost future owners to heat a property, pushing for ever higher levels of insulation and air tightness seems like a positive thing to do, but as many of us have found out, spending an extra £2K on insulation to achieve £20 or £30 a year saving in running costs doesn't make much financial sense.  Where should the burden fall - house builder or successive future owners?

 

The same applies to Heat Pumps, SAP penalises the use of direct electric as a fuel source, yet in many low energy homes, it could very well be the most practical and cost effective solution.  The only way to get around SAP is to install a heat pump, but in a house that only requires a couple of thousand kWh a year for heating does this make sense, especially when you live in an area that already produces over 100% equivalent of its electricity requirement from renewables?

 

3 hours ago, AliG said:

This has made me think that there is no consistent way to pass on instructions for how everything works in a house. You might get some from the builder, but they rarely get passed on to subsequent owners. Even then the percentage of people who actually read instructions appears to be negligible anyway.

 

This is increasingly a problem as technology moves forward. Technology can do more and more for us, whether it is drive a car or ventilate a house. But often it is the case that people either don't care or can't understand how to use it, thus a lot of money is spent on technology to no benefit or even that makes things worse if used incorrectly. Unfortunately everything has to be pretty much automatic and foolproof if possible. 

 

I actually think this is one of the biggest issues we face, but how can politicians deal with problem without being critical of the majority of the population (never a good thing when you need their support for re-election)?

Edited by Stones

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I think it is a really serious problem. The education system spends very little time teaching practical every day life skills. Arguably this is the job of parents, but perhaps knowing how to work a computer or the workings of compound interest would be more useful to people than being able to identify an ox bow lake or a cumulonimbus cloud!

 

Last week my wife called me to say that the car was giving a warning that a tyre was flat.

 

I took her and my 9 yr old daughter and showed them how to blow up the tyres, where the sticker with the pressures was etc. Pointed out my father in law should have taught my wife.

 

I also try and persuade them to watch me fixing things like washers. Sadly I can't guarantee being around forever to do it for them.

 

It never ceases to amaze me how people use smart phones constantly and have no idea how they work or the fact that via Google they have almost every piece of information in the world available. My niece a couple of years ago marvelled as I fixed her iPhone by resetting it, like I was a technical genius. She used to spend most days asking stupid questions that could be answered by Googling. She is basically stupid, although she still should have been able to use Google.

 

This is partly driving the issue of inequality. As time moves on, education and intelligence have ever greater value relative to physical strength. I'd have frankly been useless a couple of hundred years ago! I'm not sure if everyone can actually keep up with the rate at which technology is advancing.

 

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Staying a bit more on the topic-

 

Fabric quality is reasonably foolproof. If you build a well insulated, airtight house then it will cost less to heat pretty much irrespective of whether or not the owners know what is going on. Not PH standards, but say low B on the EPC.

 

However, MVHR needs a reasonable bit of understanding. It also needs servicing and could break down eventually. So would it be worthwhile building a house to these standards then having drip vents or some other natural ventilation system? Would they actually provide enough ventilation or do current standards depend on leakage providing accidental ventilation.

 

Or is it just not possible to build  a house that eliminates most of the costs of air leakage without resorting to MVHR?

 

 

 

 

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5 hours ago, DavidFrancis said:

Sensus - having read your comments above, I wonder what you think is a "realistic" way to build, say, an average size three-bed house?  In particular, what is required for ventilation and moisture control?  And what do you think about insulation levels and the use of triple-glazed windows?

 

That's a very big question, and would require a  far more detailed answer than I have time for here...

 

But to use knowledge that I can evidence from experience, I'd say that air test figures below about 3.5:

a) Become unreasonably challenging for volume housebuilders (therefore unacceptably costly for purchasers) and;

b) Lead to an unacceptably high number of reported problems problems with air quality and circulation on volume housing, even when you fit MVHR.

 

I think we're already beyond the point where cold roof construction ceases to work acceptably in technical terms, particularly with mineral wool insulation, which means that we either need to back off on the requirements, or develop better anti-condensation strategies to deal with it (though there are some relatively easy solutions to be had), or accept that cold roof construction is dead and that warm roofs with better vapour control are the way forward.

 

Glazing technology still has considerable room for improvement.

 

The thresholds for what is 'realistic' also vary between different construction techniques, and I think you have to accept that is politically untenable to dictate to volume housebuilders technical regulations that effectively mean they have to abandon traditional masonry construction in favour of SIPs or other MMC.

 

I tend to agree very much with AliG's post, above: MVHR is a big question mark, but without it (or some other sophisticated air management strategy), and ever with it if you get the design slightly wrong or it isn't maintained properly air quality drops to unacceptable levels if you go below the figure of 3.5 that I mentioned above. MVHR is not yet a sufficiently 'robust' solution, in other words. So a low 'B' on the EPC is about as high as I'd want to set the bar in terms of B.Regs at present.

 

I'm very conscious that we have a long and distinguished history of second-guessing future housing needs and standards completely wrong, so I don't like to get fixated on any one aspect of building performance. As a very simplistic example, if we manage to get nuclear fusion working properly in the next 25 years or so, so that fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions become non-issues overnight, we'd end up with serious egg on our faces if we'd spent the last 25 years building houses that prioritized energy efficiency above occupant health and comfort (which I thing the PH risks, as it stands at present, if applied to volume housing).

 

 

 

 

 

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I once went into an "eco house" and thought it felt a bit stuffy.  It wasn't long before I realised the occupier, who was a tenant, did not have the mvhr turned on, and further more didn't know what mvhr was, the fact they had one, and the fact it should be turned on.

 

Certainly in the case of a rental property, you would think some pretty simple instructions wold be easy to provide.

 

I have yet to encounter this "chronic overheating" phenomena in Scotland. 
 

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16 hours ago, ProDave said:

I once went into an "eco house" and thought it felt a bit stuffy. It wasn't long before I realised the occupier, who was a tenant, did not have the mvhr turned on, and further more didn't know what mvhr was, the fact they had one, and the fact it should be turned on.

 

Yes, we did a bunch of what were originally designed to be PassivHauses on a development of mine, one of which was the show house/sales centre for the scheme.

 

I was about mid-October before I had chance to visit the sales team, and on a bright but cold October morning, it was like walking into an oven (they had a modest solar space on the south elevation). 'Yes, it was absolutely insufferable in August', our Sales lady told me.

 

She'd absorbed enough of the initial briefing to understand that there was an MVHR system, but not that it had a summer bypass setting...

 

It's not the provision of simple instructions that's the problem (we always provided a Home User Guide, and the Site Manager verbally explained the system on handover), it's the provision of sufficient IQ to your occupiers that you can't always guarantee.

 

Heat pumps are a liability as a form of heating, for the same reason. And anything that requires even the most basic routine maintenance (such as changing the filters in an MVHR system) is asking for trouble, too.

 

You can't even idiot-proof them by full automation. I worked for a City Council for a while in a team that managed the Homes for Older People. They had very sophisticated self-managing heating systems, that maintained an exactly programmed temperature profile through the day. Then some Manager would come into work a bit flustered, after running for the bus, decide the temperature was too high for her personal comfort level, and adjust the over-ride in such a way that it screwed up the whole program for the building.

 

I haven't mentioned the name of the Council, as I'd hate any of their care home Managers to discover that the systems have now been altered so that the controls are placebos, wired up to nothing, and for several years their heating has been entirely controlled by telemetry from the property team's computers...

 

 

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1 hour ago, Tennentslager said:

Hey sensus old chap,

Stop calling people stupid idiots, it's not a nice attitude.

 

Sorry!

 

I wasn't being specific, or naming names, and I don't think I called anyone a 'stupid idiot' but merely trying to point out that design solutions need to be robust, to take account of people who don't understand or have any interest in building technology.

 

As you get to know me, you'll also hopefully recognise that as someone who refers to himself as a shifty, untrustworthy fellow (which comment you seemed to appreciate), I'm often a little tongue-in-cheek with my posts. ;)

 

The serious point is that whilst PH is all very well for the sorts of people who participate on this forum and are very clued-up about what they're letting themselves in for, the sad fact is that most building users need a built environment that works without their conscious intervention or active management.

 

Edited by Sensus

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