Team COP22 – an important role for everyone!

Paul Allen at the UN climate conference in Marrakech.

COP22 is rapidly filling up with a very powerful team. To play my part, I offered another Zero Carbon Britain presentation, this time at the Climate Change Studio, alongside visions from Australia and Denmark.

climate-studio-3As the second week opens, the full ‘Team COP22’ is rapidly assembling, and finding a collective voice. The ‘World Climate Summit’ set the scene over the weekend, with an inspirational presentation from Bertrand Piccard telling us how his pioneering trans-global solar-powered flight demonstrated that something that so many people believed to be totally impossible could actually be achieved. A wide range of global business leaders then followed his lead, with a clear message that ‘we can do this’.

Yesterday over 80 heads of state and ministers arrived in Marrakech to hopefully show high-level climate leadership. Today the ‘COP22 Low Carbon Solutions Conference’ is bringing together national leaders, CEOs, technical experts and policy makers – their message so far has been a clear and collective ‘yes we can’.

Many forward thinking academics and researchers are also playing a crucial role in Team COP22. For example, the Tyndall Centre’s event showed the numbers behind the currently planned levels of growth in aviation and shipping, allowing us to see the massive proportion of our carbon budget they will consume if we proceed with investments, such airport expansions, that lock us into growth in these areas.

Many larger NGOs have set up innovative new programmes to assist countries in increasing ambition in the National Determined Contributions (NDCs) they offer to the COP process. New initiatives such as the ‘NDC Partnership’ or the ‘Emissions Portal’ will play an important part in supporting countries to close the emissions gap. There are also hundreds of grassroots organisations from across the globe with real-life projects, such as bringing energy to rural areas or developing new agricultural practices. Organisations such as the Global Eco-Village Network then work to cross-fertilise and scale-up these powerful practices.

climate-studio-5COP22 has also assembled a great many spiritual and religious groups that show ways to find life satisfaction beyond consumer culture, whilst bringing to bear their considerable collective influence to encourage increased ambition across many cultures. The ArtCOP is another active part of the team, presenting a range of provocations, but so far I have not found anything that brings to life the zero carbon world that so many people at COP want to create.

In the negotiating halls, the amazing Climate Action Network produces the daily ‘Eco’ newsletter, which offers updates and analysis on the negotiations. They also run the ‘Fossil of the Day’ award, for the countries that have been least helpful in the day’s negotiations.

However, every bit as important as any of the negotiators, delegates or NGOs are the citizens from across the globe, such as yourselves, who follow events at COP22. By consciously witnessing and sharing this process, you help build social licence and can ensure your national delegates play their part. Do feel free to write to your elected MPs and let them know that you want to see higher ambition. Many thanks everyone!

Presenting Zero Carbon Britain at COP22

Sharing a platform with inspiring people and organisations from across the world, Paul Allen has been presenting CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research to new audiences at the UN climate talks in Marrakech.

zcb-presentaion-at-turkey-pavilionMy first ZCB presentation was on Friday at the official Turkey Pavilion, following the invitation I had received on my cross-fertilisation tour the previous day. This event was organised by Tanay Sidki Uyar, from EUROSOLAR Turkey, the Turkish Section of the European Association for Renewable Energy. Tanay is an inspirational driving force behind Turkey’s annual International 100% Renewable Energy Conference (IRENEC 2017). Tanay opened the event with a 100% renewable vision for Turkey. IRENEC is an interesting organisation; it provides an international platform for the sharing of knowledge and ideas around the technical, economic and political aspects of the transition to 100% renewable energy. It works hard to build the networks required to realise this vision through industry, architecture, transportation, local communities and training. http://www.irenec.org/eng/

Also sharing the platform with me was Zhu Songli, researcher from China’s Energy Research Institute, who presented a dramatic overview of the extraordinary transformation taking place in China, and her perspectives on the ambition for what should come next. Then Frank Wolke, Head of Section at Federal Environment Agency in Germany, delivered another powerful story. Frank offered an overview of the German Energiewende programme that has transformed both attitudes to and delivery of energy across Germany. http://energytransition.de/

zcb-official-side-event-cop22

My second ZCB presentation of the day was a more formal, official COP22 side-event run by the International Network for Sustainable Energy (INFORSE). The aim of side-events is to present evidence and information from industry, NGOs and civil society that will be useful to the delegates and their research teams in developing the COP agreements. Titled “Improving NDCs: Ecovillage development, energy access, & zero carbon societies in Africa, Asia & EU”, the aim of the event was to present evidence showing how local solutions in both the Global South and North can lead to more ambitious plans from each country (called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs). The side event selected examples which, as well as rapidly moving away from fossil fuel emissions, could demonstrate wider access to energy in the Global South whilst also improving livelihoods for both North and South. http://www.inforse.dk/

This side-event opened with a range of presentations from the Global South, beginning with Kosha Joubert, Executive Director of the inspiring Global Ecovillage Network, then followed by a range of amazing examples from Zimbabwe Permaculture Institute, Bhutan, South Asia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. http://gen.ecovillage.org/

Then to demonstrate increased ambition from long industrialised countries I presented the most recent ZCB research, including some initial findings from the new Zero Carbon Britain: Making it Happen report (due to be published next month). This was followed by Preben Maegaard and Leira Gorrona from the Nordic Folkecenter for Renewable Energy, who explored their transition to 100% renewable energy and zero carbon economies with a strong focus on local solutions.
http://www.folkecenter.net/gb/

I have several more side-event presentations planned for later in the week. I’ll keep you posted…

New perspectives on adaptation and resilience

Donald Trump’s election as US president has opened pressing new conversations around the resilience of the climate movement and its need to adapt to this new circumstance – but the core response is to remain united on the Paris Agreement, reports Paul Allen.

Even though Hillary Clinton received the most votes nationally, Trump tapped into the anxiety of many US citizens around shrinking economic opportunities, immigration, falling incomes and globalisation. So over the past couple of days, delegates and observers at COP22 have been exploring the implications of a Trump administration on the Paris Agreement.

Many from the US remain confident that the rapidly expanding deployment of clean energy solutions by businesses, cities and states across the US has created enough new employment and gained sufficient momentum to continue the drive to decarbonise the US energy economy, and will therefore influence the policies of the new President. The Trump campaign has promised to create millions of new jobs for American workers – and it may well turn out that the renewable energy revolution is actually one of the most effective ways to deliver this in the realities of the 21st Century. After all, there has been clear cross-party support for investments in clean energy as well as in climate resilience. Trump’s commitment to infrastructure investment initiatives could actually provide a vehicle to deliver both of these.

It is important not to underestimate the impact of interfaith groups in the US. Over recent years, a coalition of development, faith, environmental and business groups have been actively engaging both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, educating them on how investment in renewable energy is not charity or a hand-out, but rather a smart investment with economic, environmental and security benefits for all Americans.

US interfaith press briefing at COP22
US interfaith press briefing at COP22

With this in mind, I attended a US interfaith press briefing to see what perspectives they offer. Jenny Phillips, pastor of the United Methodist Church USA and member of the Green Faith group was quietly confident. She said “We are still absorbing the implications of the election, and we can’t know everything yet, but we do know some things won’t change – faith groups know climate change is real. Our churches’ strong clear voice will keep on rising, affirming a strong new politics and delivering action on the ground. Global momentum is still building and is unstoppable.”

I asked the panel if President Trump had ever expressed any faith or belief, or is he the first non-Christian President? They suggested Trump had expressed a relationship with the Presbyterian Church, and the US interfaith community were currently in the process of preparing to reach out to him.

Increasing numbers of governments across the globe understand that rapid climate action can reduce the dangerous impacts on their people whilst offering public health and economic co-benefits. Undoubtedly these governments will continue to move ahead on their Paris Agreement commitments and if President Trump decides not to honour America’s commitments, he will quickly learn that this will impact on his ability to gain support from global leaders on other issues important to him.

Climate is now a high-level geopolitical issue, and any country perceived as not doing its fair share will quickly lose standing in the world.  The US elections do nothing to change this fundamental truth.

Cross-pollination day at COP22

Paul Allen reports from day four at the Marrakech climate change talks.

xuq215jc
One of the amazing interactives from the India@COP22 Pavillion, with falling micro-droplets of water spelling out key messages as a backdrop.

Today I don’t have any formal commitments to give presentations or to meet people, which means it is the ideal day for cross-pollinating our Zero Carbon Britain (ZCB) work around the various national pavilions and stalls. My aim is to offer the ZCB scenario to as many countries as possible, as a model that might allow their team to make comparisons with their own scenarios or, if they don’t yet have a zero carbon national scenario, to inspire them to consider developing one. Here are some of the responses so far…

Japan were very enthusiastic, immediately introducing me to Dr Shuzo Nishioka, who keenly swapped my ZCB flyer for their report on ‘How to achieve long-term transitions to full decarbonisation’. You can read more about this here.

Malaysia, for example, did not yet have a whole country scenario, but offered visions for an individual green, smart, low carbon forest city.

The USA seemed intrigued by my request and gave me contact details to officially request information on Zero Carbon Scenarios – I will keep you posted.

low-carbon-asia-research-centre
Experts from the Low-Carbon Asia Research Centre were keen to make comparisons between ZCB and their work.

The team in the highly impressive Indian Pavilion were also very helpful, taking me into a tranquil meeting space to talk to their technical experts. Basically they see the need for it, and are working on something along those lines, but don’t have it quite yet. The most recent relevant work they could offer was Planning Commission Government of India’s ‘Final Report of the Expert Group on Low Carbon Strategies for Inclusive Growth‘.

The Turkish Pavilion was very positive, explaining this was an issue they felt to be very important. As we talked over a cup of Turkish tea, they explained that to help kick-start their research they were holding an event titled ‘Solutions in Energy: Energy End Use Efficiency and Transition to 100 % Renewable Energy’ at their Pavilion tomorrow at 1pm. They politely asked if I could present the ZCB scenario for them in a 15 min slot, alongside visions from other nations. I keenly accepted and look forward to sharing with their wider group. Another positive response came from the Low-Carbon Asia Research Centre – they were very keen to make comparisons between ZCB and their work, and became most excited at my suggestion of taking their scenarios to writers who could then tell stories of the daily lives of people who inhabit the future world they describe.

The COP process is ideally set up for such cross-fertilisations. There are literally thousands of experts from almost every country across the globe, and much information is exchanged. Oceans, biodiversity, buildings, transport, adaptation, mitigation, resilience or finance – this amazing pool of knowledge and passion forms a sphere of ambition, which encourages and supports the negotiators. But more than that, as each and every participant returns home they take a little of the COP process back with them to share with their communities, helping build ambition and social licence for the Paris Agreement across the globe.

Now off to do some more….

Mood remains positive at COP22

The ‘emissions gap’ is now formally recognised by the UN, and innovative projects are emerging to deal with it. Paul Allen reports from Marrakech.

ndc-partnership
Johannes Friedrich introduces a new alliance that aims to help countries ramp up ambition

The USA Pavilion was very quiet indeed this morning, as US delegates were drawn into an internal press briefing on last night’s election. But our time together at COP22 is limited, and the task is large, so everyone is pressing on, many even harder than before. Shortly after 11am, the USA Pavilion opened with a powerful up-beat presentation from Johannes Friedrich of the World Resources Institute introducing a new alliance that is coming together to enable countries to increase ambition and close the emissions gap.

Perhaps the most powerful official recognition of the need to increase ambition is this year’s United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report. This offers an independent scientific assessment of how pledges by countries compare to emissions trajectories required by the Paris Agreement goal of staying well below 2°C and pursuing 1.5°C. This difference has become known as the ‘emissions gap’, and it must be closed. Article 4 of the Paris Agreement specifies that each country’s next offer should represent progress beyond their current Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) pledge and must reflect the highest possible ambition. The Emissions Gap Report not only estimates the gap, it focus on how action to close it can be scaled up, helping inform the political process.

But how do countries, many of which may be struggling to provide the basics for their citizens, access the support and resources needed to develop and implement even more ambitions plans? Such a monumental task requires a new approach – to share information, access finance and technical resources, and coordinate action.

Johannes’ presentation at the USA Pavilion introduced a new ‘NDC Partnership’ from a broad range of governments, international institutions and non-state actors. They have come together to provide the tools, best practices and support that countries need to transform economic systems and development priorities: how energy is produced, distributed and used; how cities are designed; how land is farmed; how forests are protected; how businesses operate and much more.

It takes a three-pronged approach:

– Creating and sharing knowledge

– Facilitating technical assistance and capacity building

– Making funding responsive to each country’s needs

The Partnership recognises that countries are in charge when it comes to identifying their needs, but aims to make sure the support for developing countries is responsive, inclusive and effective – and ultimately enables greater ambition.

I have just received an invitation to Minister Hakima El Haite of Morocco’s official opening of this NDC Partnership. I am aiming to encourage them to extend the project to help countries share research in wider topics such as sociology, psychology, law, arts and culture, so they can better overcome barriers and so gain social licence for their NDCs.

I will keep you posted….

It’s Trump – what now for climate action?

What are the implications for international action on climate change of the election of Donald Trump?

There’s shock all round in the environmental movement as the news sinks in that the next President of the United States is a climate sceptic who has threatened to derail the Paris Climate Agreement and has suggested that climate change is a Chinese conspiracy.

CAT Chief Executive Adrian Ramsay says:

The election of a climate change sceptic as leader of one of the world’s biggest emitters of greenhouse gases is very bad news for the environment – there’s no sugar coating that.

“Coming just days after the Paris Agreement came into force, and at a time when negotiators at the UN climate talks in Marrakech are being urged to be more ambitious, Trump’s election risks slowing global momentum on climate change. However, the Paris Agreement is bound in law and – despite the rhetoric that we’ve seen over the past months and years – Trump cannot simply repeal it over night.

“Time will tell what the true impacts of this election will be, but we cannot afford to wait and see which way Trump will jump. At Marrakech we can push for greater ambition, and as citizens of the Earth we can continue to campaign for the changes we know need to happen if we are to keep global temperature rise to within ‘safe’ limits.”

Later today our man in Marrakech, Paul Allen, will give us a view from inside the COP22 UN climate change talks, where he says the American Pavilion has gone eerily quiet…

“Facilitative dialogues” – Paul Allen at the UN climate talks

Marrakech is turning out to be a different kind of meeting from Paris, but that does not make it less important, in fact quite the opposite.  If Paris was about creating the framework, Marrakech is about deciding the rules so that goals are achieved.

paulearthThe most common phrase of the day in almost every session I have attended is “increasing ambition”. This can be done by turning up the guilt or it can be done by increasing inspiration – showing both that zero is achievable and that there are additional benefits in doing it. Of course, the key advantage of the latter approach is that it is less divisive and works better to unite communities across the globe.

So many people want to accelerate the transition to the zero carbon economy. People around the world are taking action to install solar and wind solutions, block coal and oil infrastructure and protect forests. People want a different future and are creating it. This determination has grown stronger and louder since Paris.

Marrakech must ensure that this increase in ambition results in plans that match the global goals. So this is why so many need to talk about increasing ambition, as the 1.5C goal really can’t wait. However, just like Paris, Marrakech is driven by incredibly complex negotiating processes. And, thankfully, just like Paris, it has attracted an amazingly bright and highly motivated collaborative global tribe inside and outside of the official process. Working amongst them constantly inspires me, as they get to grips with it all and work out how best to influence the process, flagging up the key issues and phrases.

Perhaps the most important phrase to get to grips with at this point is “Facilitative dialogue”. Due to begin in 2018, this cop22-monday-7thdescribes the official COP process of ratcheting up ambition. It is a chance for countries to take stock of how close they are to achieving the key long-term goals of peaking emissions and achieving net zero emissions early in the second half of the century.

“Facilitative dialogues” are designed to inform the next round of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – the pledges that each country makes to show their contribution to tackling climate change. Once countries have a clearer idea of the direction of travel, they will have the motivation to either update or communicate their new NDC by 2020.

It is an incredible feeling to join these astounding people in this process, everyone I have spoken to about our Zero Carbon Britain work sees a clear role for more positive scenarios in increasing ambition for NDCs. This will be the core topic of the first session run by the American Pavilion facilitated by the World Resources Institute – I will be there to see how it goes, and to offer America a hug!

Once again climate has become the focus of global diplomacy

Up-beat delegates and observers from across the globe are now arriving in a surprisingly wet Marrakech for the 2016 UN Conference of the Parties (COP22) – Paul Allen reports.

cop22-monday-7thIn many ways, COP22 will be under a lot less pressure than its Parisian forerunner. It will not be a high-profile event, which allows space for higher quality, more detailed conversations. Coming into global force last Friday, the Paris Agreement established both the commitment and the framework for dealing with climate, but although many here are happy with the “well below 2C” goal, the means to actually deliver it require a lot more complex research and negotiations. So COP22 is really aiming at fleshing out the detail. Some key questions being explored include:

How should we track progress?

How can countries increase ambition?

How can poor nations be supported?

How does all this link to adaptation?

And not least…

Who will be the next US president – and how will that affect progress?

So perhaps the most important over-arching task for everyone participating at Marrakech is sorting out the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) from COP21.  These form the basis of the Paris Agreement; they are the pledges that each country laid out at last year’s negotiations, showing their contribution to tackling climate.

The first and foremost challenge is that, cumulatively, the current pledges fall well short of achieving COP21’s “well below 2C” temperature goal, and many are waiting to see if this will be an open public discourse or an elephant in the room.  But, in addition, the NDCs are very diverse in format, as countries have been working to very different baselines – which makes it hard to quantify their cumulative impact. So at COP22, delegates will begin demystifying this process by creating a more uniform framework for future NDCs.

The ‘global stocktake’ is one of the key elements of the COP process, designed to deal with the recognition that current NDCs will not meet the “well below 2C” temperature goals. Stocktakes regularly assess collective progress towards meeting the goals, and are part of the ratchet mechanism that is designed to raise nations’ ambitions.  Worryingly, the first one does not take place until 2023 although there will be a test run, called the “facilitative dialogue”, in 2018 – we need to make sure this sets a good pace.

I feel confident we will see progress during COP22. Zero Carbon Britain has been invited to the COP to present robust scenarios showing that we can get to zero carbon, to support those working to raise ambition. Despite the rain, the atmosphere feels very positive this afternoon as I sit observing the first meeting of the technology framework negotiations. If the speed with which the Paris Agreement was ratified is anything to go by, there is commitment. This early ratification means that once-distant deadlines have been brought forward to drive forward action during these coming 10 days.

CAT at UN COP22 in Marrakech

During November Paul Allen will be presenting CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research at COP22, to help increase ambition after Paris. Here, he gives us a brief overview of the process and how CAT will contribute.

SG delivers remarks at the closing ceremony of COP21Today the Paris Agreement becomes legally binding, having reached required number of signatories on 5 October. Having followed the UN climate process for many years, I know how slow this can be, but the speed with which the various countries ratified the Paris Agreement demonstrates a new commitment from many nations to deliver solutions necessary for dealing with climate change. Under the Paris Agreement, nations have agreed to combat climate change, by acting and investing in a resilient and sustainable future that will keep a global average temperature rise below 2 degrees C, with the accepted international aim of working to limit warming to 1.5 degrees C.

The ratification of this Paris Agreement just days before the start of the UN COP22 Climate Change Conference in Marrakech sends a strong signal that no time will be wasted. Following on from Paris, COP22 aims to agree on the collective steps that need to be taken to combat the global challenges of climate change and foster sustainable development. There is recognition that many nations need to increase the ambition of the ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ (NDCs) they have each offered, whilst also focusing on implementation.

Since the early days of the climate change convention process, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have been actively involved, attending sessions and exchanging views with participants and delegates. I have previously been involved in delivering presentations for CAT at previous COP meetings in Poznan, Copenhagen and, of course, Paris last December.

marrakechThe COP22 site will consist of a ‘Blue Zone’, which will only be available to those with formal accreditation from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  A second ‘Green Zone’ space will be created for civil society. In parallel to the formal COP22 negotiations, a wide range of ‘side events’ will be scheduled in both zones. These aim to deepen the thinking, strengthen the debate, present best practices, and develop partnerships and advocacy, as well as formulate proposals, share knowledge or practice, and consolidate or launch initiatives which act on climate.

There is clear recognition that this connection allows vital expertise, experience, information and perspectives from civil society to be brought into the COP process, to generate new insights and approaches. But even more than this, the access and participation of observers promotes transparency in this complex global process, and helps generate wider engagement and creation of social licence. These interactions are delivered in an atmosphere of mutual trust that acknowledges respect for others’ opinions, and takes into account the nature of intergovernmental processes.

At COP22 in Marrakech, I have, so far, been invited to present findings from CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain research in the following side-events:

In the official Blue Zone I will be presenting at ‘Improving NDCs: Ecovillage development, energy access and zero carbon societies in Africa, Asia & EU’. How can local solutions lead to ambitious NDCs, provide energy access and improve livelihoods? Many ecovillages and local communities are net zero carbon, energy self-sufficient and offer extraordinary opportunities to scale up local renewables, climate friendly agriculture and eco-system restoration.

In the wider Green Zone I will be presenting at ‘Transition to innovative and clean technology demands a new mindset’. We wish to emphasise that sustainable solutions in technology are based on an ethical and value-based approach. It becomes evident that a paradigm shift is required to move towards a truly green planet.

Paul photoBut as well as these official presentations, simply being present at COP22 allows me to visit a wide range of international pavilions, NGO stalls and events to share our work with representatives and members of the UN, official delegations, non-state actors, NGOs, private companies, trade unions, the scientific community, farmers, indigenous people, state organisations and institutions and local authorities. I will keep you posted how I get on.

Paul Allen is CAT’s Zero Carbon Britain Project Coordinator

Ask an expert: eco refurbishments

Want to refurbish your home in a sustainable way? With over 25 years’ experience, including as tutor on CAT’s Eco Refurbishment course, Nick Parsons has some great advice – here are his top tips.

1. Make it air-tight.

Stop unintentional ventilation (this involves designating an air-tightness layer – and sticking to it!) and design in sufficient intentional ventilation. For a whole-house retrofit this will almost certainly be whole-house mechanical ventilation with heat recovery (MVHR), but for incremental retrofits, or those with less stringent air-tightness targets, passive ventilation may suffice.

2. Insulate, insulate, insulate!

Don’t automatically believe that Building Regulations standards of insulation are enough. They aren’t bad, but in many cases we should be aiming for far better. If you have the space – and the money – Passive House levels of insulation (U values of 0.15W/m2K or less) and air-tightness (less than one air change per hour for the refurbishment EnerPHit standard) can dramatically reduce your heating requirements and massively improve comfort.

External insulation of solid walls will make your house look a bit different. Ducks are optional.
External insulation of solid walls will make your house look a bit different. Ducks are optional.

3. Insulate externally! (Unless you can’t…)

External insulation of solid walls, if detailed properly, puts the entire building fabric inside a warm ‘tea-cosy’. But it does make your house look different.

4. Risk-manage your insulation

If you have to insulate your solid walls – or sometimes even add insulation to your cavity walls – internally, excellent detailing is critical. Insulating walls internally makes the room warmer but makes the walls themselves colder and more at risk of interstitial condensation – condensation within the new thickness of the wall, behind the insulation. This can rot joist ends and other embedded timbers, and maybe grow mould. Cold walls may also suffer from deterioration of the masonry due to frost damage.

If you insulate internally, make the whole process a documented risk management exercise – identify the risks, identify control measures and document how you will implement them. In certain circumstances, consider embedding sensors and monitoring equipment in hidden timbers so that you can know if moisture levels become critical. The expense may be off-putting, but it will be a great deal less than the remedial works if you have inadvertently shortened the life of your house by doing what you thought was the ‘right thing’.

In general the use of ‘breathable’ (water-vapour-permeable) insulants such as wood-fibre or cork may reduce risks, but very careful detailing is still required.

Greater risks exist with non-breathable insulants, but if they are installed with extreme care, the risks may be capable of being ‘managed’ and minimised. If you are installing them yourself, take advice from someone with a lot of experience. If someone else is installing them for you, are they experienced with such boards? Do they fully understand interstitial condensation and vapour control layers (VCLs)? Have they read the manufacturer’s installation instructions?

5. …and consider its environmental impact

Materials such as plastic insulation – made from crude oil – are high in embodied energy (the energy, including transport, used to get the product from raw material to the merchant’s shelf), but look at the units used. If the measure is weight, a heavy bit of ‘green’ insulation may be higher in embodied energy than a much lighter piece of ‘non-green’ insulation.

You may in any case wish to avoid wherever possible materials made from petrochemicals.

But ‘environment’ may mean more than ‘the world in general’. What about your immediate living environment? You may feel better in a room lined with vapour-permeable, moisture-buffering wood-fibre than in a room lined with petrochemical-based insulation.

6. Minimise thermal bridging

dscf3495You may believe – perhaps because your builder or consultant told you – that having low (good) U values guarantees good performance but thermal performance may be let down by weak-points in the insulation layer. Typically this would be where partition or party walls interrupt the insulation layer, where walls turn into windows or doors, or where internal insulation has to be thinner to accommodate fixtures or fittings. In practice, your U value may not be as low as you believed it to be.

The picture on the left shows: on the left, a wall prepared for insulation to ‘return’ on to internal wall to cloak the thermal bridge; in the middle, Pavadentro wood-fibre board prior to plastering; and on the right an existing brick wall with a lime ‘parge coat’ (air-tightness layer) to reduce air-leakage through voids in the brick wall.

 

7. Minimise thermal by-pass

Thermal by-pass, or ‘wind-wash’, occurs when cold air is allowed to get to the ‘warm side’ of the insulation. This can best be explained in two scenarios:

The first is a loft-conversion. The eaves areas are cold voids. The stud walls to the room (which are built off the floorboards) have been insulated to a good standard but there is only 100mm of insulation between the 150mm floor joists.

The ventilation air which enters at the eaves vents (a good ‘howling gale’ to keep all the timbers healthy) can blow directly under the floor of the heated bedroom, providing instant cooling!
Small pieces of plywood or similar board, sealed at all perimeters, placed between the joists at the edge of the floor on both sides of the bedroom will cure the problem. ‘Plugs’ of quilt insulation placed in the gaps will not do such a good job (as quilt insulation is generally air-permeable), but will be better than nothing. Once these gaps have been sealed, the insulation should in any case be increased to approximately 300mm.

The second scenario involves insulation to the sloping ceilings above an attic bedroom, carried out, as the law requires, by roofing contractors when re-roofing the house.

The house was sold and the new owner decided to remove all the attic ceilings. All but about six of the sheets of insulation fell out from between the rafters. What this tells us is that, while the insulation was in place, the cold air in the ventilation gap between the insulation and the slates was able to migrate to the warm side of the insulation, rendering the insulation almost useless.

8. Plan to do it all!

Many insulation plans are carried out incrementally, perhaps as other work is required, or when a room needs comprehensive re-decoration or (externally) when the cost of re-pointing an elevation can be avoided and put towards the cost of externally insulating that elevation.

When planning your works, ideally plan to do the whole house, even if you know it is going to take you 10 years to achieve it. I’m 29 years in and starting to re-do the internal insulation using better materials and methods than were available in 1987! Plan how your individual works are going to ‘knit together’ so as to limit thermal bridges, where condensation and mould may otherwise occur.

Above all, you don’t want your works – undertaken with the best of intentions – ultimately to shorten the life of your house.

image1About the author
Nick Parsons has worked in energy-efficient and sustainable building and renewable energy for over 25 years. He provides consultancy and project management services to individuals, small businesses and community organisations and is a regular tutor at CAT and elsewhere. See www.sustainablebuilding.org.uk for details.

CAT courses
The next eco-refurbishment course with Nick takes place from 4th to 7th November. For more information and to book, please visit http://courses.cat.org.uk/ or call us on 01654 704966.