Monday, 29 November 2010

Week 4 begins ... the latest on windows and on thermal bridges


Week 4 starts and we Still Haven't Placed Our Window Order. The process of placing the order is taking a lot longer than I'd anticipated. I am optimistic that we will be in a position tomorrow, finally, to press the Go button.

This has all come as surprise to me, as I'd thought naively that we could spend time fine tuning our window spec, then present our carefully worked out window schedule to our helpful, local Internorm distributor who would then be able to process it quickly and simply ... no probs, job done.

I realise now that we should have sat down and gone through our schedule with the distributor and talked prices and options at least two months ago, despite not having planning permission or completely finalised window dimensions at that stage. The order process is slow because, while it is easy to spec out the windows for their required energy performance, there are so many other variables to consider and requirements to fulfil. One is the thickness of each pane of glass. If the glazed unit is over a certain area, 4mm glass has to become 6mm. For a given width of bead, this means 4mm less space between the panes, which has a significant impact on the U-value of the glazing. None of these are problems in themselves but overcoming them adds to the cost of the windows unnecessarily.

Better to use slightly less exacting window performance figures in the PHPP. That way, you can order standard products and get a much more cost effective solution. It seems obvious to me now that I am writing this and, in fact, I have used been using conservative figures throughout the PHPP but I think I got carried away by all the exciting "Leading Edge" or best case figures that the different window manufacturers banded about. Assuming your chosen window provider is in the business of manufacturing windows with near Passivhaus performance, the conversation needs to be about what their standard spec is on those windows. It also needs to be about whether window sizes or other variables will make it harder to achieve the energy performance you are planning for in the PHPP.

Here are my rules of thumb:

My "Leading Edge"
Spec Assumptions this time
More conservative PHPP
assumptions I will use next time
Glazing "g"-value 0.6 or 60% 0.5 or 50%
Glazing U-value 0.5W/m2K 0.6 or even 0.7W/m2K
Frame U-value
Spacer psi-value 0.038W/mK 0.05 or even 0.1W/mK

I got it right with the frame U-value, because I knew that the "leading edge" spec was a lot more expensive than their standard Passivhaus spec.

These figures aren't set in stone and I'm sure that each year what is considered standard "Passivhaus suitable" spec will improve.

Thermal bridging

On Thursday, I attended a one day course on how to use Therm, together with a very helpful Excel spreadsheet developed by Peter Warm, to calculate the psi-values of thermally bridged building junctions.

Therm is not at all intuitive but does have the advantage of being the only free software that can be used to derive a psi value for many types of thermal bridge. Therm can only model in two dimensions and more complex (and very costly) software needed to model certain types of thermal bridge junctions.

I have been grappling with this for some months but am now finally biting the bullet and getting to grips with Therm, so that we can replace the conservative (I hope) thermal bridge psi-values (0.2W/mK) we have used in the PHPP to quantify the additional heat loss through the floor-wall junctions of the existing house: this type of thermal bridge is unavoidable in a refurb but can be designed out in a new build.

Likewise, I want to model the junction between the existing house walls and the window jambs (sides), heads (top) and cills.

Meanwhile, the first insulation is being installed around the base of the walls of the existing building and in the base of the new build side extension.

We had to buy double quantities of the insulation in half thicknesses because, even though the thicker sizes do exist, the suppliers will only sell them in very large quantities, unsuitable for a project of our scale. I asked our builders to stagger them slightly to reduce possible thermal bridging in the inevitable, if tiny, gaps between each piece. So instead of this...

As we got around the corner, we started adding a 50mm overlap, like this...

It means a little bit of extra labour but it is essentially a free way to get the best from the insulation you are using. The images above are of the insulation around the base of the existing building, 2 x 60mm thick, which we are fitting from DPC level down about 400mm.

Installing dual layer of Foam Glas, under the toe of the concrete slab, where the weight of the walls of the new build will bear down - Foam Glas can take much heavier loads than other insulation  - we are also taking the opportunity of staggering the two layers to minimise unnecessary thermal bridging.

Later this week, the scaffolders will be here to start setting up the shroud that will cover the building for the next three months while the external wall insulation, the windows and the new roof are put in place.

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