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Two sugars please!

28 Feb

Our cavity walls are now officially insulated! Finally! I came back from the school run this morning to find two British Gas guys on my doorstep, not Marv and Harry this time (remember? the guys they sent first time round), I’m happy to say! No, this time I got the Miliband brothers , or the version of them that chose a life of filling cavity walls rather than politics (I’m sure there are parallels to be drawn between the two!). These guys unlike Marv and Harry were definitely experts at their trade. Before they started, they prowled the parameters of the house tapping walls, quizzing me about wall depth, chimney breast location, extension plans etc.  In all it took them four hours to complete the job – who knew cavities could be so time-consuming!

Now, like all the tradesmen that come round I offered the Miliband boys a coffee. They took it with milk and two sugars. Nothing unusual in that, except it struck me as I boiled the kettle that every tradesman, with the exception of two, that I’ve made coffee for since we moved in – 12 and counting – has asked for two sugars minimum. That seems a little high to be just coincidence. If you stopped 12 random people on the street and asked how many take two or more sugars in their coffee, I bet it would be fewer than 10. I’m not exactly sure of the significance of this preference of plasters, electricians, plumbers etc for sugary coffee. Are these guys simply the diabetics of the future?! Although there might be a link between the number of sugars they take and how good they are at their job because Marv and Harry took three each and the best guys in the double glazing crew took none!

Anyway, the neighbours must be wondering what on earth  was going on at our house today, because after the two giant British Gas trucks rolled out of the driveway, a big white van skidded to a halt outside. Out hopped a motley crew of four guys, each wearing high visibility jackets. After staring intently at the grass verge outside for a while, the tattiest and most dishevelled one broke away and ambled up my driveway. When  I opened the door, he immediately started talking at great speed and without making any eye contact. Clearly he wasn’t comfortable dealing with members of the public who weren’t wearing high vis jackets. Eventually after concentrating very hard and saying ‘sorry?’ a couple of times, I established they’d come to install a water meter. This was at our request as we are currently being billed on the basis of the old rates system, which means it doesn’t matter how much water you use, they’ll bill you according to the size of your house and the neighbourhood you live in. The four of them were out there for hours, digging away, fags in mouth, music blasting. The neighbours must love me, what with the roar of the machine that the cavity wall guys were using in the morning being replaced by afternoon of pneumatic drills interspersed with Radio 1 and the dulcet tones of four X-factor wannabes!

And how did I keep sane through the racket? A couple of hours pouring over my home furnishing/decor mags followed by  some internet browsing for inspiration for refitting the living room, once its been painted – I’m still working on the mood board. On my travels I discovered pinterest.com which maybe the rest of the world knows about already, but I didn’t.  It’s basically an online pinboard site on all sorts of topics like baking, storage, bathrooms. Cause of where I’m at just now, I especially loved a pinboard for the home by Jen Garry.

I also spent an age noseying round notonthehighstreet.com. It’s billed as an online market place that sells unique products from hundreds of small creative companies. It reminded me of one of those arty shops you find in little English villages, the sort that sell vintage mirrors, wooden key holders and of course fudge!  I didn’t actually look for fudge on there, but I did find this……

Chesterfield Sofa

Here’s hoping that we come in under budget on the renovations!

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What goes up…………..

15 Feb

New boiler, TICK!, Thermostatic valves, TICK, oversized radiators replaced with ones within spec, TICK! Loft insulation, TICK! Oh I can’t wait to see the next gas bill – words I NEVER in my life expected to say! Everything I’ve read says all of these things should cut our bill by at least 30%, which is just as well as paying £200 a month for gas would put pressure on our finances that we really don’t need just now. Of course we would be further along the road to energy efficiency if the cavity wall insulation had been done on Friday but alas it wasn’t to be. Two guys turned up from British Gas, a tall one and a short one complete with beanies. They looked just like Marv and Harry from Home Alone. Anyway, they knocked on the door to let me know they’d arrived, then they went off to inspect the house from the outside while I made them a coffee.

Five minutes later there was another knock on the door. ‘Sorry love we can’t do your cavity wall insulation’. You what now? Turns out that although we’d removed the asbestos tiles  from the utility room (the little ‘outhouse’ on the side of the kitchen) as requested in preparation for the cavity wall insulation being done, the temporary plastic tiles we’d put up to keep the room dry were now in the way!  They were only held in place with a couple of screws but Marv and Harry were adamant they weren’t allowed to remove them. Fair enough I said. What about putting your ladders in a different position and working around the problem?  Beanies were shaken. ‘Sorry love not possible’. OK, could you not do the rest of the house and that bit (we’re talking about 5% of the house) could be done later? Definitely not was the reply. My friend who was here for coffee even said in a loud voice, “could they not unscrew the tiles for a few quid?” We glanced hopefully at them but they took refuge in their coffee which I now deeply regretted making them. To add insult to injury after we established that they couldn’t do the job, they sat outside my house in their van for another hour! So the materials to insulate my cavities and the men who could do the job were there but nothing was going to happen!  For someone with chronic chilblains who has to wear 5 layers of clothes everday to even stand a chance of feeling just cold rather than freezing, this was a form or torture too much to bear!

Anyway we lodged a complaint with British Gas and an engineer was sent out to inspect the site i.e. our house. He shook his head when I told him about Marv and Harry’s antics. Bottom line was he thought they should have started doing the cavity wall insulation (yeah so I was right) and asked me to get someone to remove the tiles while they were working on the rest of the house.  He even told me (off the record) that Marv and Harry probably looked at the size of the house and decided that they didn’t fancy spending their afternoon doing such a big job.  Anyway, the cavity wall insulation has now been rebooked for the end of the month, please let them send Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid this time, bet they wouldn’t be put off by the size of this house!!!!

The troublesome tiles!

Trade Talk

9 Feb

Why do builders/plumbers/tradesmen of any sort think that I’m going to know the answers to their ‘technical’ questions? So, for example just now I’ve had to deal with our (quite good looking!) plumber (one of the tallest men I have ever encountered in real life, his legs end around my shoulder level and I’m 5 foot 2 so I feel like I’ve been talking to his belly button for most of the week!) who wanted to consult me on how I would like our bathroom radiator plumbed in. He said something about it currently being plumbed into the hot water tank, so when the water in the tank gets hot enough the radiator will cut out. He wanted to know if instead, we would like it plumbed into the same central system that the rest of the house uses. A simple question like that I could have handled. However,  hunky plumber man felt obliged to take me through the detail of what the replumbing would involve.  To be fair to him, I do complain loudly to IB when tradesmen address all their conversation to him (and in a similar vein I hate when you buy paint/wallpaper/bathrooms/furniture, salespeople address all the conversation to me) and so it’s kind of refreshing to find one that is equally willing to talk to the woman of the house about the details of the job he is doing. But, I have to admit, I got lost half way through, and after the bit where he said something about taking the pipes down into the garage, in spite of concentrating really hard, all I heard was blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. I did try to look interested. Then I started to panic because I know IB will grill me later on what exactly the hunky plumber said. Then my panic increased massively when I ended up saying yes to reconfiguring the system in the way he suggested, because what if IB knows ten reasons why we shouldn’t do it like that?!  Anyway I’ve said yes now and I can hear him banging away in the bathroom, so it’s too late to change my mind. I might just have to google ‘replumbing radiators into hot water tanks’ before IB comes home!

Although even if I have made a mistake, IB hopefully will still be riding the wave of excitement that his asbestos removal kit triggered when it arrived yesterday. Not since our eldest child donned his first Liverpool kit have I seen such joy! IB needs the suit because we have to remove the six large asbestos tiles on the roof of the utility room (a freezing brick construction that was added on to the kitchen years ago and which you have to go out the back door to reach) before British Gas will do the cavity wall insulation for us. IB has to extract a sample from the tiles and send it off to be tested so we know whether or not it’s ‘landfill’ asbestos i.e. the kind that you can bag and take to the tip! Here’s hoping!

Our 'utility' room!

What goes up most come down – I hope!!!

6 Feb

OMG, we’ve had our first gas bill in, £200 for seventeen days worth of gas!! (I can’t bear to convert that into shoes/tins of paint/tops/bedding etc.) Remember how I said that there are lots of big things that need doing in the house? Well given the size of the gas bill, after sorting the re-wiring, we’re straight onto energy efficiency. We need double glazing, cavity wall insulation, loft insulation and a new boiler! The boiler is over thirty years old and it seems like one boiler year is equivalent to 2.5 human years, which makes our boiler about 75. Given the spluttering, clanking and banging that we have to listen to every time we turn the heating on that seems about right. We also discovered that much like an old person, the boiler doesn’t like being told what to do, so while we were setting it to come on in the morning and the evening only, we eventually discovered, that it was actually staying on all day, but oddly, just to be totally awkward, only upstairs! The other thing we noticed was that many of the radiators in the house were way too big for the rooms. IB went to www.radiatorsizingcalculator.co.uk where you can enter the dimensions of your room and it will tell you what size radiator you should have in it, brilliant idea! So, to go with our new boiler, he’s ordered us eight new radiators all with bright shiny thermostatic valves that allow us to control the temperature in each room and more importantly our gas bill.  In the meantime I do a lap of the house every morning to turn off all the radiators once the kids have gone to school and then I go back around in the evening to turn them all back on again. Even if this doesn’t knock pounds off the gas bill, it will off my waistline!  I’ve also invested in some long johns, thermal socks, a fleece and some of those fingerless mittens that I can wear while typing – who needs heating, its all about LAYERS! Anyway, the plumber is booked for Monday so by this time next week, we’ll have a new boiler, smaller radiators, thermostatic valves and hopefully we’ll have halved our monthly gas consumption!