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Talkback: Planting to cut winter fuel bills

Hi Adam when I take my dogs for a walk up the golf course I always walk next to the bushes as it cut down the wind speed and always feels wa...

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oldchippy
Hi Adam when I take my dogs for a walk up the golf course I always walk next to the bushes as it cut down the wind speed and always feels warm than walking down the fairways,There must be savings to be made by over insulating the out side of a property with the right plant,may be some one will develop a new plant for this purpose. Oldchippy.
Adam Pasco
Yes, I agree, oldchippy. It makes sense, doesn't it. We know that hedges, fences and walls protect us from high wind, although this affect only works for a certain distance from the fence (the distance depends on its height). Turbulence is created the further away you move.

Plants surrounding a property must help reduce the strength of cooling winds in winter, and also produce shade that helps cool warm air in summer.

It would be interesting to find out by how much we could all cut down on heat loss, and calculate the saving on fuel bills. Now that would provide a very good incentive for people to plant more. Perhaps the Government would then promote this, or even subsidise people who create gardens. Well that's a thought!
Gardening Grandma

This is very interesting. The opposite issue would be that plants can hold damp into walls. Not sure I know what I am talking about here, but i believe that older houses were built with very thick walls and small windows to provide maximum insulation in winter. Modern houses are more vulnerable to changes in temperature and need modern heating. They are also less well suited to having climbing plants grow on them, I should think. Between this and problems with roots undermining  the foundations, any insulation using plants would have to be done very carefully, presumably. Are we just talking about windbreaks?

Adam Pasco
Interesting thoughts Gardening Grandma. There are several different ideas and issues wrapped up together here, so in addition to understanding the physics involved in insulation/wind chill/draft proofing/heat transfer/summer cooling/shading/etc there are many practical considerations to take on board.

In many situations our properties benefit from the warmth direct sunshine provides, warming brick walls, or solar panels on the roof to warm water or produce electricity.

We know building construction also plays a part in controlling warming/cooling, from building a entry porch before getting to the front door to having a conservatory or lean-to against the property, double glazing, cavity wall insulation, and so on.

So, moving beyond the construction of the house, and the costs involved improving their insulation/heat loss and so on, it would be interesting to see more research on the influence of the outside environment, including our gardens, on our homes.
happymarion
I have been doing this for the last 49years, My front garden faces north so it is packed with trees and shrubs. I habe built a conservatory on the back of the south facing lounge which heats the lounge when i open the patio dividing door on sunny days. the west facing long wall of the house with two bedrooms and the lounge on it has ivy covering it. The east wall has the drive right uo to it so shelter comes from a Lonicera nitida hedge on the other side of the drive which is in next door's garden. My huge back garden is full of large trees and shrubs and provides lots of shelter and shade. Both humans and wildlife love it. My motto is "Bare soil is a no-no". Perhaps we shoud add "Bare walls are a no-no". No matter how small your garden is you can always go upwards.

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galest

My house wall are 18 inches thick and the saying "they keep the house cool in summer" is true but they do not keep the house warm in winter. The disadvantage of old houses is the walls are solid so no cavity to fill with insulation. A modern house for all the walls are thin they can be insulated so in return the house is far warmer.

Gardening Grandma

Interesting! Happymarion, I love the idea of your garden, but I'm still hesitant about growing things up my walls, because of the issues mentioned earlier - damage to rendering (already old and probably not too strong) and root and perhaps roof invasion, since I live in a bungalow. My son lived  for a while in a house that had been seriously undermined by tree roots. Also, what about damp?

Galest, thanks for your comment. I have a 1930s bungalow and had free cavity wall insulation fairly recently because of our advanced age! Since then, we have had problems with damp mould on the walls. I suppose the cavity was there for a purpose that was defeated by the CWI.I have sometimes wondered whether old houses with thick walls suffer from damp because they have no cavity. This would obviously make the house colder. My mother lived in an old house with 18" thick walls that had been incorporated into an early C20 terrace. It was very warm, insulated by the other houses. Perhaps we should all go back to living in terraced houses!

nutcutlet

Read somewhere that if you don't want the ivy on the wall you can erect a trellis close to the wall and grow it up that. I think you have to have a walk space behind it though, ivy won't let a bit of a gap stop its progress. Not sure I like it for an idea but might work. My house is cedar clad so I won't risk stopping  air circulation by any of these means.Growth in the garden has stopped the buffetting of wind we used to get though.

Grandma, I think you should get the company to have a look at the problem. It will only get worse, so get them back to see if they've bodged it up.

Gardening Grandma

Thanks for your concern, Joe. It is not a botched job, I think, but the wall's inability to 'breathe' and tends to happen where there isn't much air circulation or where condensation runs down - behind furniture or below windows and beside the doors of the conservatory.. We have wallpaper, which insulates a room, but which also makes it harder for a wall to breathe.Draught-proof houses mean less ventilation, too. Wales is a very damp place and I dry washing indoors (no choice). More ventilation defeats the aim of cwi but perhaps we should install a few more ventilation grilles.  

When you say you dry the laundry indoors, do you mean that you don't have a tumble dryer?  If you have room - maybe stacked on top of your washing machine - I'd suggest that you consider the value of having one.  Drying things indoors means that all the water has to go somewhere, and if it means your property is affected by damp/condensation as a result, things aren't going to be improved by just a few grilles.  Any mould can even affect your health, as well as the property itself.  The dryers don't always have to be the sort which needs an outside wall for the vent/exhaust - you can get condenser dryers relatively cheaply.

Gardening Grandma

Well, it is nice that people are concerned for my welfare. I am beginning to feel that I have hijacked this thread, though. I do have a condenser tumble dryer, but can't stand the noise of it working and tend to dry things on the radiators in the two living rooms. Honestly, the problem is not that bad, though it is a nusance. I looked up problems with cwi on the Which website and found the following.

"Cavity wall insulation causing damp is very rare, but it's worth checking whether your home's at risk. You can use the checklist below to assess your home's damp risk. Ask any potential installer about these factors, too.

Damp could occur in properties as a result of cavity wall insulation if there is a combination of these factors:

  • your home is exposed to severe levels of wind-driven rain (zones three or four in our mapt)
  • your home is located in an unsheltered position, eg not protected by trees or other buildings
  • the external walls are poorly built or maintained with, for example, cracks in the brickwork or rendering.

Published guidance by the Building Research Establishment says that in these cases there is 'an increased risk of rain penetration if a cavity is fully filled with insulation'. Rain could penetrate the outer wall, bridge the cavity via the insulation material and transfer moisture to internal walls, causing damp." 

Our area of Wales is in Zone 4, which has 'very severe problems' with wind-driven rain.

Anyway, back to the issue of insulating our homes with plants! (Actually, I made a typo the first time I wrote this and suggested that we discuss insulating our homes with pants.)

  

I agree it will create dampness then mould. Houses need air to circulate round them
Gardening Grandma

What is 'it', Jill? The cavity wall insulation,  drying things on the rads or growing plants up the walls.?

rendered walls do often seem to have more problems with damp etc than you might expect - depends a bit on whether the render was done as an initial part of the construction or whether it was added at a later stage to unify the apearance of a property where there have been additions/extensions/alterations using different materials.  These can (and do) expand and contract at slightly different rates, depending of course on the weather and aspect.   I believe some rendering is more able to "breathe" than others, but the fact that it's often painted as well can mean that the paint acts as a sort of waterproof layer which - if it has any breaks in it - can lead to rainwater getting behind the render.   Problems arise because the dampness is more or less trapped and can't evaporate easily.

A neighbour of mine - who is a builder - says that many more people than usual have contacted him lately to ask for help in dealing with dampness in walls - even brick walls which he'd usually expect to suffer less.  All due to the prolonged rain we've had over the past year, he says, which has meant that there has been little opportunity for things to dry out before the next lot of rain............

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Gardening Grandma

Our render is painted, old and does have the odd crack. We need to re-render, I expect, but when it comes to spending money my OH likes a long ponder and a good weep into his wallet.

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