for People with a Passion for Period Property

Warming up for climate change

By Greg Pullen

It's a traditional Maori draught excluder flown over from New Zealand

An erratic climate seems to be here to stay. Greg Pullen asks what this means for our homes and what we can do about it?

Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher, believed there was only one gamble in life worth taking - to believe in God. After all, atheism will get you embroiled in arguments with those strangers who bang on your front door armed only with a bulky overcoat and a Bible. And after death, if you're wrong, turning up at the Pearly Gates is going to be awkward.

And so it is with global warming, climate change or whatever you choose to call it. There are some who still argue that this is just the way of the world and changing our habits is pointless (hello Jeremy Clarkson). On the other hand, surely it's worth trying to preserve this blue and beautiful planet.

The only problem seems to be the same old problem of recent years. Doing your own little bit isn't enough, wholesale change is what's needed. And since the government has little money left the private sector has to be encouraged to make a shilling out of each new initiative. So we have shiny new rules that insist all windows must be double-glazed, all new heating systems highly efficient and most new houses built on land that's already been developed. This is presumably to save the countryside for growing bio fuels which is the latest white elephant charging over the horizon.

But first a little physics. There is only so much energy in our universe, and when it's all gone the game's up. I know this is difficult to imagine but trust me, it's true. The final form that energy always reaches is heat, which unsurprisingly heats the planet up. So before people start wittering on about solar power, wind farms and so on just remember that although these might not generate any CO2 (even though they do) they're still heating the planet up.

However, most energy use does generate CO2. CO2 is bad because it traps heat in our atmosphere and could turn earth into another Venus, which is a very hot, very foggy and a very inhospitable place.

As far as home owners are concerned they are responsible for two types of energy, embodied energy and energy in use. Embodied energy is what it takes to build, refurbish or maintain a house. Period houses often have tiny embodied energy because they were made from little more than the trees and earth that surrounded them. Modern houses on the other hand involve many tonnes of concrete, steelwork and composite materials as well as the obvious things like bricks, much of which has often had to travel long distances to arrive on site. Energy in use is easier to understand; basically it's your heating and lighting bills and although you might not think that amounts to much, the energy used in domestic homes is about 30% of all energy demand in the United Kingdom, about equal to the industrial and transport sectors combined.

But before you rush into the arms of the double glazing salesman there are a few things you should know. To create the double glazing, new boiler or whatever you're thinking of fitting a certain amount of embodied energy will have been used. So you have to save that same amount of energy in use quite quickly if you're to make the world a better place in the time scale scientists say is on the table. One of the most energy hungry materials you can make is glass, and plastics aren't much better. There are studies that show uPVC double glazing might never save the energy and CO2 involved in its production, and one assessment I saw for a little Dorset cottage reckoned the CO2 payback time was in the region of ninety years. Given that uPVC has a life expectancy of perhaps thirty years, this seems a little less than eco friendly, particularly since the discarded windows are likely to end up in land fill where all the nasties used in its manufacture leach out into the soil and waterways. And frankly I'd rather keep the eight tonnes of oil needed to make one tonne of uPVC to run my old motorbikes on.

I can understand with escalating fuel bills every home owner must be thinking of ways to keep themselves comfortable a little more cheaply but it all has consequences. Basically the more low tech and local the solution the more eco friendly it is. And I still occasionally sell houses for elderly couples who get by with nothing more than an open fire in the sitting room and an electric heater in the bathroom, which is exactly the way it was when I grew up. And maybe that's something future generations will have to get used to once again.

Greg Pullen is a consultant to Strakers, Devizes. Tel. 01380 723451 or visit


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