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Transition Network - The Launch Of Salisbury Transition City


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#21 joiner

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 08:34 AM

Getting any of the 'public bodies' to acknowledge shortcomings in our housing stock has become increasingly "problematic". Getting things done by being a pain in the ass isn't the way it should need to be and it frustrates me to hell to have to go down that route. I got my very first "reminder" of the protocols governing councillor/officer relationships after a frustrated outburst on being told that an elderly (and undergoing chemo-therapy) constituent's council flat, with one bedroom wall black with mould, heated with storage radiators, couldn't be insulated because it was "an old solid walled property". She (and the other four elderly residents in the block) had been told that fitting the gas-central heating (grid supply in to within four feet of the building), postponed twice in the previous two years, wouldn't be fitted for another eighteen months.

I had to argue my way to the top of the Arms Length Management Organisation into which all council social housing had been transferred. You can imagine my reaction on being told that no one had any reason to complain about the flats, and the organisation certainly didn't need to justify themselves to anyone because the properties had all been brought up to meet the Decent Homes Standard and that the flat of the woman I was representing had been inspected and found to be "actually just above that standard". I got up and walked out at that point.

That "standard" basically requires that a building has a roof that will keep the rain out.

The manager I had spoken to complained about my rudeness. When I was taken to task for standing up and walking out, I said that had I not then I would probably have been arrested for GBH because no one that stupid deserved to live.

I ratcheted up the case with press releases and photographs (in which I was helped by our local MP, an excellent constituency worker who had actually come to the OAP's flat at 10am, straight from having landed at Gatwick, having flown in from Afghanistan at 05.00 that morning) and the gas c/h was, magically, fitted within weeks and the bedroom boarded out with insulated p/b.

It shouldn't have been necessary! :angry:

#22 ProDave

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 08:50 AM

I'll just temper the above with a Landlords perspective.

We used to own a 1980's timber frame built ground floor flat. Not good by current building standards, but certainly not a bad building.

We had a high turnover of tenants in that few staying beyond a year, so we experienced all sorts from those that kept it immaculate to those that infested the whole place (carpets and furniture had to be disposed of) with cat fleas.

But my point is, one tenant was constantly complaining of condensation. They said water was literally running down the walls, and the bathroom ceiling was turning black with mould. This had never happened before (and never happened again afterwards)

Every time I or the agent visited, there were wet clothes hanging in every room on an assortment of clothes horses and that was the cause of the almost tropical levels of humidity in the flat that has to find somewhere to condense. We bought them a dehumidifier but I don't believe they ever used it.

Since that event, whenever I see someone on tv complaining at the mould in their rented property, my first thought is a lot of it is to do with your lifestyle, and my second thought is rather than let it build up at least clean the bloody wall or ceiling from time to time.

Edited by ProDave, 28 June 2015 - 08:52 AM.


#23 jsharris

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 09:18 AM

I'm sure there are good and bad tenants, but almost by definition, a tenant who attends a Transition City launch, is passionate about energy saving, reducing their carbon footprint and creating a more sustainable community is not likely to be one who wastes energy by the bucket load and behaves badly towards their landlord.

One major problem is that we have people with vested interests giving very poor advice to people on low incomes who are eligible for grant aid. The example of the lady mentioned above being told that fitting electric underflor heating to a Victorian flat is typical. It was exceedingly bad advice, as I am near-certain this will have been fitted with no, or just the barest minimum level, of insulation. Quite apart from that, the heating is probably struggling to provide enough heat for the flat, as I doubt that the fabric of the building will be that thermally efficient.

This sort of bad advice is a direct consequence of the hodge-podge of schemes that governments have tried over the past few years to create jobs. I'm cynical enough now to have realised that virtually every grant scheme that is advertised as being intended to help those on lower incomes reduce their fuel bills is, in reality, a thinly disguised job creation scheme, with the real intention being to use these schemes to reduce unemployment.

It is time that communities got together to lobby for direct funding to charitable bodies to assess and install energy saving measures for those on low incomes, with the cowboys who double the price because there is a grant available being kept away from direct grant funding. For example, if a charitable body handled grant money, undertook proper energy audits for those with difficulties, drew up staged energy saving plans (that include education on energy use as well as fitting energy saving measures) and then competitively tendered for things like insulation and new heating systems, with the grant money going to the charitable body, NOT the supplier, then we could do a lot more with the limited amount of money that is available. It doesn't need a rocket scientist to realise that giving government grant money direct to companies isn't going to deliver best value.

#24 SteamyTea

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 09:39 AM

Down here this is such a charity:
http://cep.org.uk/ou...dvice-services/

Don't have anything to do with them these days, but I think they try their best.
There were getting involved in a few community wind and solar projects, which may not be the best use of resources, but I suppose they have to finance themselves somehow.

Our biggest problem is that energy is really too cheap, I just done a quick calculation and for me to spend £4000 on improvements, energy needs to be 35p/kWh.
It may sound harsh, but we really do need to pay more for energy if we want to get reductions.
And we must get these half baked government schemes stopped. I am not sure what a government can do to reduce usage without initially supporting alternatives, other than put current prices up. I think the money, however is is raised (via energy bills, VAT, income tax), would be best spend on large infrastructure rather than micro generation.
I wonder what objections there would be to a wind farm if the installer was the government. There would be no more cries 'it is all about the money'.
An extra £30 on our total energy bills (gas, electric, biomass, transport fuel) would raise about £1bn. Willing to put in 58p for the week (about the price of a packet of crisps).

Edited by SteamyTea, 28 June 2015 - 09:41 AM.


#25 jsharris

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 09:53 AM

That sounds very like what I had in mind, Nick.

One thing I've noticed from talking to a few people having problems with high energy bills is that often some of the biggest savings are pretty easy and cheap, and usually don't need a lot of technology, either. I've given a handful of talks now, and most questions are about fitting heat pumps or solar panels. Every time I have to explain that they are just "nice to have" things, not essential requirements for reducing energy use. I'm still surprised at how little people know about major causes of heat loss, like draft proofing. It's getting to the point where I tend to start off asking people questions about what steps they've made to reduce ventilation heat loss, before moving on to talk about insulation. The last thing most people need to worry about initially is the high cost, high tech stuff, as most of the big initial benefits come from relatively cheap and easy energy saving measure, including education.

#26 joiner

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:15 AM

Dave, as Jeremy says (and as in all situations) there is good and bad.

What was bad about that situation was that the gas c/h had been scheduled and cancelled twice before (at the time I got involved it was the third time). all the surrounding bungalows had been completed in the first and second tranches of work. The tenants in that particular block of flats (converted from what used to be the village's school) had been told to expect the gas fitters and had cleared their furniture away from the walls and generally made ready for the gas installers. When the installers hadn't arrived by lunch time the lady in question phoned "the council" (as it was then, before the ALMO) she was told the job had been cancelled because the funding had had to be re-allocated elsewhere.

To add insult to that injury, and in expectation that a simple pensioner would accept the opinion if it was expressed forcefully enough, was the statement of "fact" that a solid walled property couldn't be insulated. That REALLY annoyed me because I had just done precisely that with my own Victorian solid-walled pile.

And she did wash her bedroom walls down with a diluted bleach solution because she was of a generation that used to live in properties like that and so knew what to do to keep their places clean and tidy. When I asked her what her health visitor said about the mould, believe it or not she said she never mentioned it to the nurse and always made sure the wall was clean before she came. Pride! Her little flat was immaculate AND she tended the communal gardens and paid for the little "improvements" out of her pension because it was difficult enough to get the council to mow the grass along the paths.

The Decent Homes Standard does nothing more than raise the condition of existing, pathetic-standard housing out of the slum category.

I recently got a young couple with two small children moved out of their private-rented flat into one of the new affordable houses just built here. Over the winter I lent them our dehumidifier because one (north-facing external) wall in the kid's room was running with condensation because the sash window had been nailed shut by the landlord "because it was dangerous". There are four Rumanian blokes in there now. You have to be that desperate to live there.

The point of that story is that when I took up the young couple's case I was told that the place had passed the check to be included on the new allocation lists for rehousing so must have at least met the Decent Homes Standard.

Apparently, if you've got 3" of B&Q insulation in the roof you live in an energy efficient property regardless of how the rest of the place stacks up.

The point made by all these stories is that regardless of the sector in which a rental property sits there are some disgracefully poor standards out there that continue because they are managed by people with a pathetically poor knowledge of what can be achieved.

Renting out a property that falls so far short of what we on here would consider the absolute minimum is to take advantage of people who can't afford not to live in it.

If a tenant makes a mess of a property then they can be (and are) evicted. Forming 'community partnerships' between LA social housing and private rental companies and owner-occupied groups means that if such a tenant is evicted then they can't "hedge hop" from one provider at one end of a village or town to another provider at the other end of the village or town, where they can repeat the process all over again. If that mutually advantageous process breaks down it is usually because a private landlord can't be assed to do a background check before filling up a property that has been empty for a week. Hence the four Rumanians.

#27 SteamyTea

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:15 AM

I always ask how much energy people have used in the last day/week/month/year. Not one has known the answer.

I cut 30% of my usage by very simple measures.
The best was just using E7 for water heating (no cost)
The second best was a washing line (2 quid)
Then was draft proofing (16 quid)
New glazing (600 quid).

We should start the £100 challenge. Who can save the most energy without spending more than £100.

#28 joiner

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:20 AM

:rolleyes: From what baseline?

#29 SteamyTea

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:26 AM

Was that asked of me Joiner.
The baseline is current usage.
Most of us on here have already done the simple stuff, so we are out of the competition

Why I have this dilemma on how much to spend to reduce the losses from my hot water cylinder.
I think it is going to have to be extra insulation in the cupboard, should get 2 inches of PIR or similar on the walls.

Edited by SteamyTea, 28 June 2015 - 10:28 AM.


#30 jsharris

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 10:55 AM

I'd like to help with a group of like-minded volunteers to do just this, go around and offer unbiased advice and education to people to help them save energy. We need a safe framework to do this within, if for no other reason that assuring those who ask for help that we are not going to rob them etc. but if we can get enough volunteers, with the right mix of skills and knowledge, we could make a difference.

I'm not the best person to advise on retrofit insulation or heating, but I would be more than happy to do free thermal surveys and help to educate people about the simple ways they can save energy and how they should be cautious when dealing with any company, especially the big utility companies, that offer to help them save energy, keep the home warmer, etc.

I've heard some horror stories recently, some of which have made me very, very angry. Even our own MP seemed to think he was doing the right thing by heating his house with a heat pump, yet I'll lay money that he could have done a great deal more, for less money, by improving the airtightness and insulation level of his house first. There is a massive amount of ignorance around, and interestingly during my chat with our MP yesterday he illustrated this well. He had a Daikin ASHP fitted and admitted that it took over a year to get the settings right, as no one in the UK understood the product well enough to set it up properly. This is exactly the same experience that I had with our heat pump; a lack of UK knowledge about products like this.

A also had a long chat with a local architect yesterday, who is enthusiastic about low energy design. He shared my view about the lack of understanding by manufacturers and suppliers about their products and independently expressed his deep concerns about condensation risk with SIPs construction if the detailing isn't right. It was very reassuring to talk with a professional who had reached much the same conclusions as I have about the critical need for good detail design at points like the wall/floor junction. It was also very reassuring to talk with an architect who had an in-depth understanding of condensation risk analysis and the vapour permeability of materials, and the impact that has on interstitial condensation risk.

Edited by jsharris, 28 June 2015 - 10:56 AM.


#31 DamonHD

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 11:03 AM

Hi JSH,

A chap in the TTK Energy Group looks after SWLEN http://www.swlen.org.uk/ which does very practical stuff to help local people save energy without wasting cash.

Maybe you could have a chat with them about what they do?

Rgds

Damon

#32 jsharris

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Posted 28 June 2015 - 11:14 AM

Thanks Damon, they sound like they are helping to do the very same thing. I'll see if we can contact them to pick their brains and share some ideas with them and start something similar here. It should be a good thing to do within the Transition City framework, as we can then use the credentials and support that has from the local council to resolve the safety and security issues of going to people's homes to offer help and advice on request.

Edited by jsharris, 28 June 2015 - 11:14 AM.