You need insulation and ventiliation

A critical part of the Government’s strategy on climate change is to persuade people to waste less energy by insulating their homes. In fact this is the Government’s main strategy. The United Kingdom energy bill payers (and that means virtually every householder) have to pay a hidden almost unpublicised levy on their fuel bills. Roughly, this amounts to about £40 per annum, but it is set to double over the next few years. The energy companies collect this money and have to spend it on a limited number of measures. The lion’s share of the money collected is spent on home insulation.

Home insulation is a very good thing; you can easily recover the money spent on insulating your loft in two or three of years, because so much of your heat would otherwise be spent in heating up the air around your roof. The energy companies do in fact meticulously spend money on insulating roofs and cavity walls; if they did not spend what they have collected they would face a fine of 10% of their annual turnover, so there is a strong incentive for them to insulate people’s homes.

This has created a very strong insulation industry with plenty of insulation expertise. They can be in and out of your home very quickly, although you may have the bother of sorting out what you have dumped in your loft, it is well worthwhile doing this, and who knows, you may find some old treasures which you can sell or which the local charity shop can use to good purpose.

Over the next few years there will be even more energy bill payers money being spent on insulation, and the insulation prices are very good, so I would urge everyone   to insulate their lofts and cavity walls; it will pay you to do this, and through the levy on your energy bills, you will have already paid for other people’s lofts and cavity walls to be insulated in any event.

One thing that seems wrong about the loft insulation and cavity wall scheme, is that there ought to be an additional incentive if we are to get on with a nationwide insulation programme. The best way of doing this is to invert the present price structure of the energy companies so that the more you use, the more you pay per unit of energy. Then when you insulated you would be saving energy at your highest price rate, not at present at your lowest price rate.

Insulation is very important. In order to try and save energy further the Government is setting air tightness standards for new homes. Here, I think, that they are on much more uncertain ground, because although air tightness does keep the heat in, it also comes at a price, and you have to be very aware of that price and what you should be doing if you live or work in an air tight building.

If a home (or school or office) is very air tight then it needs a proper ventilation system so that air inside the building can be exchanged for fresh air outside the building. In Victorian times building had natural drafts, because of the way in which they were built. There were chimneys where air could move through, and drafts from doors and windows which were built out of wood and expanded and contracted allowing the flow of air through them.

Modern design tends to close all the places where drafts could operate, and this means that air must be circulated somehow. A large office building or a school should have air conditioning ventilation not necessarily to chill the air but to exchange it with the air outside. If you have a new home which is built to air tight standards you have to ventilate it yourself, in most cases.

The reason for this is that when you live in a building you respire and your respiration exhales carbon dioxide, as part of the body’s energy exchange system. A normal home will, if no one lives in it, hold the normal carbon dioxide atmospheric concentration at 385 parts per million (ppm). When a person exhales, he or she exhales carbon dioxide at somewhere between 35,000 and 50,000 ppm. Imagine four people in a small room for five or six hours, where the room and the building are very air tight then you will see that concentrations of carbon dioxide will build up rapidly. This will cause drowsiness, lack of concentration and lethargy.

Studies in the United States show that most schools and offices have carbon dioxide concentrations of around 5,000 ppm, do led to lethargy, drowsiness; you thought that you fell asleep watching television because either the program was so boring or because you were tired, but it might well be that you have been in a poorly ventilated room and carbon dioxide levels have risen.

The answer is simplicity itself; open a window and get the stale air out and let some fresh air into the room. It will of course let some heat out of the room, but if your room is air tight, you might have found it to be too hot, anyway. It is particularly important that classrooms, where children have to concentrate in order to learn, are well ventilated.

Just think of it if you are sitting lethargically on your sofa, digesting your Christmas lunch – you will feel much fresher and enjoy it even more if you open the window and let some fresh air in.

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