Charlie Baker - Q4, 2004

October 2004
So we are going to convert a batch of separately let rooms back to a family house. The basement is full of the lives of former residents, the electrics are shot, several of the windows and a few areas of the floors. There's no damp proof course, no cavity, no felt in the roof, single glazing throughout, and the most arthritic boiler I have ever seen. But in return an almost complete set of fireplaces, all the chimney pots, stripped original woodwork on most of the house
So making this right is going to be interesting. Got a couple of months to plan.

Mortgages hmm, can you do those sustainably? Well in the broadest terms, yes I think you can. The Co-op Bank doesn't use invest in anything iffy, and doesn't like its customers doing it either so theirs is probably the only ethical mortgage we can get, not the cheapest but not far off and if we're going to have to give them money for 25 years it'd be nice if it wasn't going to provide loans to arms manufacturers.
They still want you have an injected damp proof course though! I thought everyone had cottoned on to the fact that injected damp proof courses in houses like this don't do much, other than supporting a small industry running around leaving drill hole marks round your house injecting chemical goo into your house. We've told them there's no need for one; the house has been here for 100 years and while there's plenty of evidence of moisture, it has soaked through ceilings from roof leaks and through walls from dodgy downpipes and worn out pointing.

November 2004
So we're rewiring. Not a lot we can do about PVC cabling (poisonous in fire, fossil fuels to make and quite polluting while they're at it) but we can do something about the lighting. Let's take the opportunity to do the lighting properly, this wants to be a sustainable house but it wants to be designed and poor lighting has killed too many nice buildings, interestingly good lighting has made a the proverbial pig's ear look like a silk purse too. I'll go for the latter.
Problem with a bit of money for refurbishment but unallocated is that the first spend is higher than the subsequent ones as you run out. We went for iGuzzini, not wildly pricey but not cheap either, and when you get to spec up half the house you can get quite carried away. We've gone for low energy replacements in all the upstairs rooms except the bathroom, which is a near complete rebuild with the floor having had to be entirely replaced, but downstairs we've had a bit more fun. Problem is how to you create accent/spot lighting with low energy fittings – tungsten bulbs are ridiculously inefficient – only 15-20 lumens/watt, even tungsten halogen (low voltage) lightbulbs are not that much better (25 to 35 lumens/watt). So fluorescents (100 l/W) have to be the mainstay, but years ago I bumped into high intensity discharge (HID) lamps, they used to take ages to warm up but you got pure white very bright light once warmed up and recently I've bumped into cycle lights using the technology so they must have speeded up a bit, and they're nearly as efficient as fluorescents.

December 2004
So we've paid quite a lot of money for dimmable fluorescent downlighters (18W), quite a few HID spotlights (20W) for task lighting and we've allowed ourselves 4 dimmable low voltage tungsten halogen lights 2 each in the lounge and dining room, but getting this done by the electrician while he's here rewiring has to make a bit of sense.
Some things need to be done before we move in. I haven't had carpet for decades, with 4 small children I don't want any. You have to hoover it, it can promote respiratory problems – especially if you are as scummy as we are when it comes to cleaning! We've got a full set of timber floors that have been covered virtually since they were put in.
So sanding throughout it is, but I've always had an issue with varnish. It sits mostly on top of the wood so once it wears off, the floor discolours in the wear patch really quickly. I've always liked stuff called Danish oil, problem is that while it uses natural biodegradable oils, they are carried in one of those there volatile organic solvents. Charlie who's doing the floors isn't keen, says it makes him feel ill. My mate Phil Roberts from Gwalia in Wales showed some stuff called Polyx oil so we're going to try that, really low VOC content and very benign generally – don't want to poison the children if I can help it.
You know that feeling you get when you've just varnished or glossed and you think there's something else in your head with you – that kind of stuffy feeling, the Polyx oil gives you none of that – I like that!


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