insulation’s what we need….!

…in which David and Zaria come to terms with internal wall insulation.

So, thanks to Lewisham’s archives we discovered that our house was built in 1900. Originally it had a tiny kitchen and an outdoor toilet and housed a family of six: two parents and four adult, working offspring.  The most fascinating thing, to me, was the social profile of those first occupants: they worked in shops, apparently as specialised shop assistants; haberdashers and one ironmongers. This house was built for the worker-ants of the city. Nowadays we feel like the lucky privileged to live in this charming house, (although perhaps our status as slightly more fortunate worker-ants could be argued: we’re educationalists). I feel incredibly lucky to live here myself, and enjoy its Victorian charm, but who knows the future occupants of this house, or their fortunes indeed of the city. I mention this because a large part of my concern around environmental degradation and climate change is social: how badly it affects us is closely linked to our access to resource and our social position. For example, remember how terribly badly the poorer citizens of New Orleans suffered after hurricane Katrina, and, closer to home, how apparently homes in areas of lower pollution in London are becoming more desirable, with, one presumes, a consequent price-tag. Neighbours, be thankful we live up a nice hill with (ahem) lots of trees on it!

EPCMuch as we love our house, our Energy Performance Certificate,  makes us cringe, and we’re doing our best to improve it. The place is a heat colander, costs a fortune to heat and belches CO2 into the atmosphere. In a previous post I attached a graphic of a useful outline guide to making our home more environmental. The first step is to make the building more energy efficient, stopping up drafts and insulating so that less heat escapes through the walls.

The first step was to find out where the heat was actually escaping from. Apart from the chimneys, which I addressed in the last post, it seems it was everywhere. But we started with the walls. They needed to be insulated.

Those with homes built approximately after 1920 may have cavity walls, which can be filled to great effect and for very little disruption or cost. For those in Victorian properties with solid brick walls, it’s either inside or outside. For us, both were a problem. My friend Paulina, who lives nearby (see left) had opted for external, which works fine for her but it does appear to stick out a bit from the other terraces. You can see why external isulation isn’t allowed in conservation areas. Apparently you can have different colours, though. More on Paulina’s opinions in a later post on what it actually feels like to live in an internally insulated home.

We went for internal, mainly because we have a locally famous wisteria plant clinging to two of our walls, which we judge to be possibly almost as old as the house. We love it, and were indignant at suggestions that we might cut it down to facilitate external wall insulation.

There were two standout house_plantissues involved in internal insulation: firstly, the insulation would mean the removal of all cornices, features and moulding on the walls, which to us are important features of the house’s history. Secondly, the insulation in total is about 8cm thick, which means losing all that space off rooms, some on two walls, and so the furniture and shelving possibly not fitting. These were both barriers, so we had to put our thinking caps on.

We only had original mouldings and cornices on the ground floor, so we agreed to go for the first floor only, which included the bedrooms. Internal insulation only goes on the inside of external walls. Interestingly, I also found this graphic taken with an infrared camera which shows the relative warmth and cool of of books on a bookshelf against a cold wall.

thanks to for the image

This is great, because we have loads of books and ironically many of those books are about Sustainability and Environment and how we’re all going to hell in a handcart, etc.

We also wondered about the change in shape of rooms, and walls and atmosphere and windows. Around the time we were thinking about it we went to St Fagans, the Welsh history museum, where I saw this window, and wondered about what our bedroom might look like with 8cm of insulation on it.



I’m going to need to dedicate a new post to the actual process and effects of internal wall insulation. Below, however, an image of how it actually works, which explains the technical details better than I could.

Next…an adventure in which internal wall insulation becomes real..


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