Saturday, 14 January 2012

Catch up

It's two months today since we moved in and a month since the last time I posted so I thought I'd do an update on how things are going with the house. It's not a particularly scientific review, more a recap of the key things that strike me after a few weeks here and which of the many aspects of the house are working best.

These two gizmos mark the points at which the big steel ventilation tubes enter the rooms. 

The one on the left covers the opening of all the pipes that extract the air and these are found in the bathrooms, the utility room and the kitchen. The one on the right brings air into the other rooms (the kitsch but educational planet stickers are optional, we got ours from the National Space Centre in Leicester). One of the big things we've noticed about the house is the quality of the air but it's proving really difficult to express how it differs from a 'normal' (as opposed to 'air-tight') house. I'd half expected an air-tight house to have stale air but it really doesn't, it's just clean. If you walked into our old house on a cold day you were immediately assailed by a wave of hot air; if you walk in here you just notice that the house is warm, rather like being outdoors on a sunny day. I'd expected that we would need to use a tumble drier to dry washing as there are no radiators in the house but, in fact, washing dries quicker than before and is softer (in the early days we even caught ourselves commenting on this, like some moronic advert). The negatives of this are that fruit in the fruit bowl dries out quickly too and we've had to invest in more lip balm.

This is the control panel for the fans that move the air round the house. They have three speed options and we have them set to 2 during the day and speed 1 at night. Apparently if we have a lot of people round we will need to up the speed to 3 or ask visitors to bring their own oxygen (the adviser may have been joking here). We've also got 'boost' buttons to run them at 3 for 15 minute bursts if we need extra fresh air. One thing that I have noticed is that you would not want to be a smoker in a house like this: if you burn candles and then extinguish them you have to open a door to disperse the carbon dioxide as you can feel the air quality deteriorate so goodness knows what cigarette smoke would do.

Next to the fan controls we also have the thermostat. The house is designed to run at 20 degrees but at the moment it's happily maintaining 18 on the ground floor, 19 on the middle floor and 20 on the top floor come rain or shine. The weather it hates, though, is wind and when it was windy the temperatures dropped by 1 degree on two top floors. When we first moved in we set the thermostat to 20 but found the top floors too hot if you were moving around. We're also finding that getting the heating to reach just 19 uses a phenomenal amount of electricity as the house needs to dry out from the build so we're feeling our way in how to solve this. We have just been adding extra heat in the rooms we want to sit in and not upping the thermostat but this week we're experimenting with heating the whole house again and seeing whether, after two months of being lived in, the system uses less electricity.

 Here's the display for the solar thermal, reading 22 degrees on the tubes and 42 in the tank and nothing in kWh. Apparently we have the wrong sort of water tank at the moment so that's got to be replaced....
 imagine my delight. We are finding that the tank is enough for washing up and two showers without needing to have the water reheated but whether that will change when it's replaced I don't know.

And on the subject of water, the rainwater harvester has failed us 3 times so we've switched to mains to flush the loos. There are limits to being eco pioneers.

And the final thing to mention is the concrete floors with the recycled glass on top. It looks very flash and the Picasso finish doesn't show any dirt at all (top choice for a kitchen, purely by chance!) but, my goodness, if you drop anything on it you've had it as there is no bounce at all. We've used more araldite since moving in than we've used in years!