Part Twenty Five – More Larch (Or “your Lupins Or Your Life”……………..)

This twenty fifth entry was published originally by JSHarris on the 17th December 2013 and received 2,148 views on the closed forum

There’s been a lot of internal work going on, doing first fix (now pretty much completed) and the chippy’s have been doing a superb job on the cladding.

The idea I had of using a bit of black UPVC fascia board for the lower board of the cladding looks OK. I think that, when the ground level is brought up to the base of it, it will make the house seem to float a bit above the ground (blimey, I’m at risk of sounding like a bloody architect – more on them later). This is the partly clad house showing the black lower level:

There will be some black corner trim added to finish things off, under the corner post.

Here’s a photo of Tony and Steve fitting the cladding. I have to say they’re doing a really good job. I’ve hired them on a day rate and will almost certainly use Tony for the internal joinery, based on the quality of the cladding work.

To finish off the cladding photos, here’s a photo of the end of the house as it looked mid-afternoon today:

The other major addition to the exterior of the house has been fitting Mike, our Guardian Dragon, in place on the roof. I had him specially made in a colour to match the slates. His purpose is to protect our house and also be a memorial to our fathers. As regular readers will know (from entry fourteen of this blog ) my wife’s father died without seeing our home built. My own father died when I was 19, and by a strange coincidence they shared the same first name and year of birth. So, under the base of Mike, our Guardian Dragon, there is this plastic encapsulated inscription:

Mike also has to keep a look out for the pair of red kites that have very recently taken up residence in our valley. As masters of the air they take some beating, turning almost within their own body length at times. Here’s the view of the valley from Mike the Guardian Dragon’s perspective:

It’s fair to say that, for whatever reason, our house attracts a fair bit of attention. I’m used to neighbours, members of self-build forums I’ve chatted with, and even people from the local authority popping in for a chat and a look around (and they are all more than welcome to pop in any time – if anyone else here wants to visit, just PM me to make sure I’ll be there).

Last Friday, whilst driving to the house, I had a call from an architect. He drove down from Marlborough and spent an hour or two chatting about the build, the challenges of designing and building low energy houses and, to my surprise, complemented me on the architectural design! As I’d struggled to get to grips with the aesthetic elements of the design I was quite chuffed with his comments. He’s starting a new architectural practice and wants to move away from the commercial work he’s been doing for the past 20 odd years and focus on encouraging people to build passive houses – I’ll happily pass on his details if anyone here is looking for an architect who is keen on low energy construction. I suspect he may well end up working in some way with MBC Timberframe if things work out.

Yesterday I had another visit from an architect, this time someone local who’d heard that something out of the ordinary was being built and just turned up on site. I gave her the guided tour, and she was also impressed, not just by the architectural design, but by the clever way MBC Timberframe had designed in airtightness and good insulation levels.

I really need an architect to visit and tell me I’m rubbish at architecture, as at the moment I’m in danger of developing an ego to match that of some of the other architects we spoke to, before deciding to DIY the design……………………

The encouraging thing is that, in our small way, we are helping to make people think about energy efficiency, and prove that it is possible to build low energy houses without incurring a cost penalty over a more traditional build method. If I can persuade two or three people of the wisdom of this approach to house design and construction, and if they then go on to persuade two or three people each, then before long we will make a difference and show that we can improve the quality of new UK housing stock, without incurring prohibitive build costs. That has to be a good long term goal, let’s hope that we start a revolution!


SteamyTea 18 Dec 2013 07:55 AM :

If you can convince 3 people to build a house like yours, and they do the same, in 15 years there will be 21,523,360 houses built. Just out of interest how many square meters is your plot in total, then I can work out how much land it will take.


 jsharris 18 Dec 2013 08:17 AM :

It’s a fairly small plot, Nick, roughly 34m x 18m on average, so around 600m².

The key to getting new house energy efficiency improved is to convince the big developers that they have to do it, and that would have to be because customers (or perhaps lenders) started to demand it. At the moment I have it on reasonable authority (from inside a building control department) that perhaps 60% of new builds don’t even meet the requirements of Part L1A, because many (most?) developers take short cuts when it comes to insulation and airtightness, so we have a fair way to go.


coopers 18 Dec 2013 08:28 AM :

Cladding looks good Jeremy. Boards are a good width and it’s a lovely colour. We’re still planning on black cladding but keeping options open. (That’s another “yes or no” post for later!).

Have there been many comments on the plastic slate? I think it looks good.


  SteamyTea 18 Dec 2013 09:10 AM :

If 60% or so of new builds are not up to the current legislation that is down to Building Control not enforcing the rules (maybe the rules need changing or the Planning department stipulating that every house must be tested). I think with this it is really down to legislation and enforcement rather than selling something that many people will not believe costs them no extra (actually many people will just not believe it at all).

If we all had a plot about your size then only 8 to 9% of our land area would be housing. No shortage of land is there.


jsharris 18 Dec 2013 05:30 PM :


The problem is with the way the regs are implemented, and there are really two issues.

The first is that, say a developer builds 20 identical houses on a development (and mirrored versions count as identical under the regs). At present they only need to get one of these 20 houses inspected and air tested, the others they can do what they like with. Needless to say (and I saw this first hand when visiting a development of 5 houses when we were looking for a builder) developers don’t bother to fit insulation properly or do airtightness detailing on the houses that aren’t going to be inspected or tested.

The second problem is that developers only hire building control companies that pass their houses first time. Those building control companies that ask for defect rectification before sign off don’t get employed again.


Everyone so far has commented on the good looks of the “slate”, and we’re very pleased with it. The solar panels go on tomorrow and It’ll be interesting to see how they look up against it. My only slight concern is that the solar panel side flashing is quite wide, so there will be fairly wide black bands at the sides (around 70mm or so). The slates couldn’t overlap the flashing by more than 50mm or so, or else it would have meant nailing through the flashing itself, which could have caused leaks.


ProDave 18 Dec 2013 07:12 PM :

Looking very good.

I was surprised at the boards going horizontal. I shouldn’t be as that’s the way it’s done in the south. Up here, almost all timber cladding is done with vertical boards, wide boards on first, and then a narrow board on top of the joints.

Looking at your site, all your top soil has gone. Did you keep a pile of it back for landscaping afterwards, or are you having to buy some in when you are ready?


 jsharris 18 Dec 2013 07:42 PM :

Thanks for the kind words. Funny you should say that about the boards, Dave, as when we lived in Scotland I bought a shed “kit” (really just a stack of timber and some rough drawings). I was surprised that it was vertically planked, with 6 x 1 boards, then the gaps covered with 3 x1 boards. I hadn’t realised it was normal practice North of the border. Down here horizontal overlapped boards are the norm, and seem to have been for centuries.

There was no top soil to speak of. The soil we found was primarily waste from when the houses behind had been built, they just shoved it down the hill and let it pile up on our plot. 90% of the stuff we dug out was just spoil that had been dumped, only the last 1/2m or so was true base level sub-soil/mudstone.

We’re going to remove maybe another 1/2m from the site in places, then import a lot of decent topsoil. Expensive, but we have no real choice.


 coopers 19 Dec 2013 08:41 AM :

“The slates couldn’t overlap the flashing by more than 50mm or so, or else it would have meant nailing through the flashing itself, which could have caused leaks.”

Hmmn, could they be bonded to the flashing somehow? Would be good to see a close-up pic of the area where the flashing and tiles meet. Maybe we can think of a way around it before we do ours!


jsharris 19 Dec 2013 06:13 PM :

I don’t think there’s an easy way to bond to plastic slates, especially as they need to continue the staggered overlap up along the line of the flashing. I can’t quite see why the flashing has to be so wide, but now we’ve got half the panels on (sorry, no photos yet – it was pouring with rain and pretty gloomy) I can’t say that the gap looks at all noticeable. The colour match between the very dark slates, the black flashing and the black solar panels is pretty good, and with the panels inset back into the roof they certainly don’t look anywhere near as obtrusive as some on-roof installations.


 joiner 20 Dec 2013 08:47 AM :

I’m still trying to talk some our officers into a visit, but keep getting the “national standards” argument.

Have now resolved to suggest a visit by a company promoting a development hereabouts and hinting that they might get an easier ride if the 32-house estate had genuine “eco” credentials and was promoted as the benchmark for the rest of the county!

Wish me luck.


SteamyTea 20 Dec 2013 08:52 AM :

joiner, on 20 December 2013 – 08:47 AM, said:

Wish me luck.

Good luck


 jsharris 20 Dec 2013 09:57 AM :

Sounds like a good approach. One of the architects who visited last week said that nothing much would change unless developers could see an advantage in making better homes. He felt that the problem was that there was a price premium for better insulation and airtightness, My view is there need not be if the house is designed to be intrinsically well-insulated and airtight. Convincing developers that better house performance can have value to potential customers is the challenge, and that can probably only be done by giving realistic running cost figures and showing potential customers just how much their bills could reduce by if they bought one of their houses.

I like the idea of local authorities promoting energy efficient homes, but suspect the only way this will happen in reality is if developers are offered cash incentives (in the form of lower S106 contributions etc) and if they are subject to independent build quality scrutiny (so they actually end up building what they say they will).


joiner 20 Dec 2013 12:27 PM :

Would be a lot easier if LA building was allocated to ‘approved’ contractors (who were subject to unannounced inspection) and the ‘benefits’ of compliance with the LA standard subject to removal if conditions weren’t met.

LAs are selling off all their ‘spare’ assets in parcels that are being snapped up by the large developers, so any opportunity to place conditions on the sale of the land and subsequent OPP is weakened/lost.

But we’re back to the knowledge base of LABCs and their awareness of what’s possible. Nothing will/can follow without that.


 ProDave 20 Dec 2013 02:47 PM :

I thought EPC certificates were supposed to drive this?

Give every house an energy rating, and of course, all customers will demand an A rating, like they do when buying a fridge for example.

Doesn’t seem to have happened.

I will be disappointed if my new house does not get an A (SAP2009 says it should)


 notnickclegg 20 Dec 2013 04:15 PM :

Houses are not fungible like fridges though. I can’t just decide one day that I’m going to buy one, then choose the one with the best rating and have it delivered the next day.

 The average person buying a new house has enough difficulty finding one they like, that meets their needs, in an area they want to live, at a price they can afford. A house that works with all the other compromises but doesn’t have an A standard EPC is hardly going to be rejected by the buyer, especially if they’ve spent months trying to find something that meets all their other requirements.

Maybe if people knew the actual cost (in sterling, comfort and – lastly, because that’s what it is to the average person – carbon), they’d be more willing to refuse the crap that’s sold as housing in the country.

I personally think the changes will be led be a new group of smaller developers who learn to design and build to much better than building reg standard. Unfortunately, the change could take a decade or more without government intervention.


 oz07 20 Dec 2013 05:05 PM :

So a standard brick and block construction built to regs can achieve a B on an epc

Whereas a passivhaus no doubt achieves an A?

There isn’t enough difference to bother a punter – as said above location and a home which fits the lifestyle are the main priorities


 notnickclegg 20 Dec 2013 05:30 PM :


And unless the buyer is absolutely set on buying new (and I’m sure many are), they’ll also be comparing that B standard new home with an E standard (upgradeable at extra cost to no more than D) older home and thinking the new home is *much* better. And in many ways it is, it’s just nowhere near as good as it could be.


 jsharris 20 Dec 2013 05:38 PM :

A passive house may well exceed an A rating, as the rating is a low target (a bit like the ratings used for fridges – they have had to add stars to the A rating and are now up to A**** as the best I think – and windows – some A rated windows are pretty dire in terms of thermal performance compared to a PassivHaus certified window).

To get an A your house probably isn’t near the PassivHaus standard, as anything with an energy efficiency score of over 92 gets an A. Our passive house scores 102 on the EPC energy efficiency score (at the design stage) and is just within the PassivHaus Institut certification limit at about 12.5 kWh/m²/year (the PassiveHaus limit is generally 15 kWh/m²/year).

The difference in running cost between a house that just scrapes an A rating and one that meets the (more than 20 year old) PassivHaus standard is probably pretty significant. At a rough guess the energy bills for a passive house might be around 50% or less of those of a house that just scrapes an A. In our case the running costs are negative, as with a score of over 100 we will actually generate and export more energy (in primary energy terms) than we use. Ignoring FITs, we would have no energy bills (except the standing charge), with FITs we will have an income from the house.


 joiner 21 Dec 2013 07:11 AM :

And those last two sentences are what the marketing blurbs of the Ideal House will have as standard at the head of their publicity material.

They should also be at the head of Building codes as both a statement of intent and minimum acceptable to achieve compliance.


 SteamyTea 23 Dec 2013 01:50 PM :

Is the PV in and connected now as I think there is a FITs deadline at the end of the month.


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