My dear ol’ dad was in the building trade. Having served his apprenticeship as a carpenter, he became a roofer before the days of ready-made roof trusses. Here’s another one of my unforgettable revelations from childhood: my relatively newly qualified father was atop a house measuring up for the rafters after which he descended and cut all the wood for the rafters – 9 inches too short. He learned the hard way and, since he relayed his story to me, I have never forgotten the old adage, “measure twice, cut once”. He subsequently graduated to the heights of being a joiner.
He told me something else that I never forgot, either: “cavities are in walls for a reason and should not be filled with insulation; it’ll bridge the air gap and cause damp.” Under his tutelage I was naturally something of a chip off the old joiner’s workbench and became a staunch traditionalist. Cavity insulation was a no-no.
Maybe “was” was the operative word. Technologies change, sometimes, even, for the better. Both our neighbours had their houses cavity-insulated, one very recently. They seemed very pleased and were singing its praises. Having increased our loft insulation myself last year, Carol had been interested in the cavity insulation for a while and, in the light of positive reports, I re-evaluated my position. Good grief, is nothing sacred? I had visions of my dear old dad turning in his grave but, nonetheless, we decided to go for it while government subsidies still exist to help with the cost.
Yesterday was Insulation Day. Two youngish chaps turned up with a van containing a fiendish piece of equipment. One of them proceeded to shin up and down a ladder peppering our poor house with 1 inch holes at about 4 foot intervals whilst his accomplice shinned up and down in his wake using the fiendish piece of equipment to blow insulation, at 200 p.s.i. (allegedly), through the holes and into our cavities. They moved like dervishes. Having not arrived until 1:00 PM, they were all done by about 4:30 PM.
I say done meaning that our house’s cavities were now filled with insulation. Cleaning up was rudimentary. The house having had about 100 decent-sized holes drilled through its outer layer of brickwork, the ground surrounding it is now covered in red brick dust. The holes have been plugged, after a fashion, with mortar but the filling isn’t flush so I’ll have to do it properly. The upper storey of the house is rendered and painted good ol’ magnolia but it is now covered in holes almost filled with dark mortar; it looks like a bad case of measles. I did, however, expect something like this so, when a little fitter in better weather, I’ll make it look pretty again.
Now, here’s my real point. Our house has an open fire which, containing only a dog-grate for burning logs, is much more for decorative effect that any serious heating. We light it about half a dozen times each winter, just for fun. Because we have an open fire, our wonderful building regulations now dictated that we had to have a vent installed along with the cavity insulation. Without the vent, our whirling dervishes would be unable to proceed and insulate the cavities. No vent, no insulation. The same rule apparently applies to rooms with gas fires above 7kW but, if below 7kW, no vent is required. Bizarre!
Our house has operated perfectly well, i.e. safely, for 35 years with no vent. Does filling the cavities with insulation change the way the fire/lounge operate? No, I’d certainly hope not.
Regulations is regulations and we now have a vent. The vent is a lined hole about 5 inches in diameter through both skins of our cavity wall. Just imagine that for a moment – 5ins/12cms. It’s like having a complete brick missing from the wall. The wind absolutely blasts through any hole that size. I suspect that our precious warmed air is rising up the chimney and sucking in the cold north wind through the silly vent. Our government is prepared to subsidise the insulating of cavities “to save energy” heating houses but it insists on creating an opposing cold draught. The draught is of such magnitude that, if left unchecked, we would certainly be a damn site less comfortable than we had been to start with. Bloody brilliant!
“If left unchecked” is important, here. We were not alone; no one can put up with such a draught so senselessly created. Fortunately the vent has a grating which is easily removed. The first thing poor, vented unfortunates do is remove the grating, stuff the stupid hole with rags or towels or some such, and replace the grating. Problem solved, the insulation can now do its job and help us stop heating the rest of the town.
Isn’t bureaucracy a wonderful thing?