By Jim Allen | E&M West Ltd | www.eandmwest.co.uk
… every move you make,” is an unforgettable lyric from a Police classic; these days it makes me uneasy whenever I hear it given its darker overtones. I feel the same way whenever people talk about breathing walls. If there is one subject that gives rise to confusion and mixed messages its moisture and vapour movement through walls. I’ve been fortunate to attend several CPD sessions touching on the subject, including one excellent day presented by Green Register.
I feel I have a tenuous hold on the concepts, and that some of my long-held beliefs (some may say prejudices) have been confirmed, others blown away, and questions remain. This is my take, yours may differ, tell me about it.
The breathing wall that whisks away moisture from inside the building like some giant passive air-conditioning machine is an attractive concept. Even better is the breathing wall based on organic insulation that squirrels away carbon. It can moderate our environment by absorbing excess moisture and preventing condensation. Why suffocate our buildings with the plastic bag favoured by our Canadian cousins? The new wisdom says the vapour barrier concept is figuratively and too often literally punctured; it can even be made redundant when internally insulating cold solid walls.
Well from what I’ve heard walls don’t breathe, certainly not through the wall in any meaningful timeframe. I may be old school but I can’t help thinking moisture in a wall is a bad thing, and excess moisture and organic materials generally don’t mix. Inorganics like clay, or lime with its biocidal properties seem much better bets if adsorption is what you are after. Even better, ventilate well and solve the problem at source. As for insulating solid external walls, it may be that the clever science and the barking WUFI*1 dog tells us this works, and in the lab and the theoretical model it might, but in the real world of the Green Deal with wholesale adoption of insulation specified by rote and not much intelligent design do we really want to throw away the vapour barrier?
We need new knowledge through research combined with old wisdom if we are going to get this right. The building physicists have yet to find their professional feet. Eventually the education system and professional institutions will get their heads around giving people the right tools and the right training. Until then all of us with experience in our respective disciplines need to be broad minded enough to reach out beyond our professional boundaries and acquire breadth of knowledge to take intelligent informed decisions on our client’s behalf. We must not abdicate decisions to those with a commercial axe to grind or whose main goal in life is following the Golden Rule*2.
*1 WUFI: program which allows calculation of heat and moisture transport in multi-layer building components
*2 Golden Rule: Green Deal acceptance criterion
As 2011 draws to a close, I have been reflecting on where The Green Register (TGR) was last year (facing challenging times) to where we are now (increasing in strength and numbers) and realised quite how many folk have contributed to our resurgence and ongoing success.
The Green Register has run about 60 events in 2011 which is some feat considering the small number of staff we have and the extremely tight budget we work to but this would not have been possible without the rock solid support of The Green Register team – Birgit, Elaine and Viv – who work tirelessly to keep TGR on track, on budget and on people’s lips. Our Steering Group members – Jillian Mitchell, Nicola Thomas, Jim Allen, Brian Murphy, Cath Hassell, Rob Borruso, Jean Pierre Wack, Emma Storey, Brian Gerhardt and Tom Dollard – have continued to guide us through this tricky year and out the other side. We’ve had some excellent local events run by TGR’s Regional Coordinators, in particular Steve Bradshaw and Tom Dollard who bring our message to the regional level and the TGR team have worked in the Bristol area with the Genesis Project in Taunton, Bristol City Council Sustainable City team (particular thanks to Celia Beeson and Christine Davis), RICS South West and Catherine Gandon and Jon Watkins at RIBA South West. Thanks to the Environment Agency in Bristol for hosting our End of Year event in December.
Nationally, TGR has enjoyed a very positive (and ongoing) relationship with: the RIBA in London who are working hard to promote sustainable construction to their members; SusCon in Kent (hope you are enjoying your travels Stephen!) and internationally we ran a very successful event with the Canadians on their Super E system of house building.
We have also had some very generous either low cost or pro bono support from: Greg Annadale who keeps our website sharp; Paul Liptrot whose graphic design skills can be appreciated every time you read a TGR flyer; Emmelie and Pete Brownlee who are working on some short videos for our website (watch this space); Mike Fawcett, Charlie Howes, Christina Robino, Nigel Locker and Lilly Storey who have graciously given their time to work on marketing and PR for TGR; Alex Gostelow whose IT skills have kept our computers going.
TGR is very grateful for occasional and ongoing assistance from Knauf insulation (thank you Craig) and one time sponsorship from Ecological Building Systems, Southern Solar and Steelcase – all these donations have been used to oil TGR’s joints as we get back into gear for 2012.
Last but certainly not least, we are hugely grateful for the continued support from all our members and everyone who attended a Green Register event in 2011. We have reason to celebrate this year with over 60 very well-received events taking place in 2011, but successful events can only be so when they are supported by attendees, so I will take this opportunity to thank you for your support throughout 2011 and for your continued positive feedback which keeps us looking forward into the New Year to new events to come.
I write this with trepidation as I may have missed someone off the list-if this is so, it is not because you are not appreciated, more that the old grey matter is a little tired as we approach Christmas time but thank you to each and every person who has supported TGR.
Happy New Year and roll on 2012!
Lucy Pedler, TGR Director
Assistant Environmental Consultant
Eight Associates is a growing and diverse team of sustainability specialists, passionate about
creating a positive impact in the built environment. We work nationally and internationally on
projects ranging from small residential units to large multi-use developments.
We are looking for a determined and intelligent individual, with a real belief in the role of the
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Responsibilities may include, but not be limited to, the following:
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The following are desirable though not requirements:
- A relevant MSc (in the environmental field or similar);
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It is, however, essential that the successful candidate is:
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£20,000 per annum
Job Start Date
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The Old School House, 178 Ebury Street,
London SW1W 8UP
Expressions of Interest:
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020 7881 3090