Covid Diary 82: Warming up a 200 year old house

I’ve lived in my new house now for almost 2 years but due to being Excluded and without income or any government support, things that in normal times I could get done in weeks are currently taking years.

My house is split into two sections. The original chuck of the house from about 1824 and then a more modern two level extension from about the 1960’s.

The rather small Georgian era roof hatch with the hinges annoyingly on totally the wrong side… obviously no one was ever meant to go up there.

Almost everything has had or needs to be replaced. The electric wiring, many of the windows, the plumping and bathroom…. the list is endless. Some things have to be done out of necessity, some due to legal requirements and others just because… such as the stairs.

One of the main problems the house has is how freezing cold it is in the winter and how terribly hot it is in the summer. The first thing I had done when I moved in was open up the original fireplace in the front room but of course until modern times, there would have been a fireplace in the dining room and likely the bedrooms too. This would all have had the potential to keep the house warm to a nominal level that agricultural workers might have been ok with in the winter.

Due to the construction of the roof, you can’t put usual insulation right up to the eaves as condensation might cause rot and so 600mm thick sheets of these are placed around the periphery of the roof.

The extension section of the building houses the kitchen and bathroom. The kitchen is of an indescribable shape and the bathroom has a very uninsulated flat roof which tends to leak. When the warmest room of the house is 18 or 19 degrees, both these rooms can be in single figures temperature wise and from time to time hover just above freezing even with the heating on with ice appearing on the inside of the house.

Then the opposite problem happens in the summer and the house becomes at times almost unbearably hot. The old Georgian roof has thick black roof tiles and the slope on the roof is so gradual that they really are just above the ceiling. They absorb all the heat of the sun and then radiate it out all night so that it can easily be 30/90 degrees in the original house even at 2am and much warmer in the extension.

Today though I am finally in the position to get insulation added to the roof of the main part of the house and they will be putting in about 35cm or 14 inches of super-modern Earthwool insulation up there. Hopefully this will help the over-heating in the summer and the freezing in the winter.

Originally we tried resting the unfolded ladder against the wall but it made every entry and exit to the loft a little bit too death-defying. Instead a merely inadvisable way of standing the ladder was used.

It won’t solve the problem entirely as the extension parts of the house will still be freezing and boiling hot but hopefully even they will be moderated a little as the heat from the downstairs won’t rush up right through the ceiling and roof.

I’m also hoping it will reduce the noise pollution from outside which can be a lot in the bedroom but not downstairs so presumably a lot of that comes from the roof too.

There are always known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns as Donald Rumsfeld once said and one of the known-unknowns is the tiny size of the Georgian loft hatch. As my landing is very small and on two or three levels even getting up open the hatch door is a challenge. Getting someone to fit through the tiny hole is another one. The insulation is too big to even fit through the hatch so it’s having to be cut into manageable portions in the back garden.

I’m a bit excited to see what difference it will make given that 25-30% of heat is loft through an uninsulated roof.

The idea is that strips of these will be laid in between the rafters just above the upstairs ceilings across the whole house and then more will be put across them to make it a very cosy and air tight fit. It is also entirely fire-retardant to industrial levels which is always useful in an old house with lots of ancient dry timbers.

Of course even if it works, there still needs to be heating in the house and that’s no easy when the government has essentially left you unsupported for 2 years during the pandemic. It’s hard to imagine during WW2 that 10% of the population wouldn’t be allowed to hide in bomb-shelters but in effect that is what has happened to people like myself.

About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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