Brian's Blog

…one man's contribution to the Weeeeerly Wild World

Eco big and small

A few months ago I was going to have a little rant about the batteries that I bought for my cycle lights (while I was on my cycle tour of Scotland). Manufactured by Energizer the batteries are labelled as “Eco Advanced”.

batteries

The eco-themed packaging boasts that these are the “World’s first, made with recycled batteries.” However, just beneath this heading/bold claim there is smaller print stating that they are only made of 3.8% recycled batteries -that’s quite a specific figure (not “approx.” or “up to” or “a minimum of”.) My inner-reply was “What’s the point?” It’s such a small amount. Furthermore, how much trouble, and expense, and energy-devouring efforts have they gone through in order to produce such a battery? The cynic in me just assumes that the 4% “benefit” is lost/cancelled out, or worse. At least the packaging is recyclable – the plastic is type-1.

I didn’t rant about that at the time, but now I’ve had a little larger thing/purchase enter my little world in the form of insulation boards for the roof of my house which is currently being overhauled.

ecotherm

This blog post comes to you from my “Smurf House” / “Big Blue Circus Tent”:

smurf_house

These [2.4 x 1.2m, 5cm-thick] boards that have been purchased are supplied wrapped in plastic sheeting emblazoned with “EcoTherm”, a registered trademark, the website for which informs me this is “PIR insulation.” They were chosen by my roofer to replace the ‘rockwool’ which filled my roof-space incorrectly. Some of the original insulation I had bought and installed myself and wasn’t the itchy glass-wool variety like the rest of the roof but “Knauf Earthwool”. Wikipedia informs me the new stuff/boards chosen by the roofer is “Polyisocyanurate”. Whenever I read “poly” in anything my brain translates that to “plastic” which is what this is: a “thermoset plastic” whose “chemistry is similar to polyurethane (PUR)”. To be honest, my understanding of chemistry is far too limited for me to make sense of all the sciency stuff on the Wikipedia pages; I asked Google the question: “is polyurethane biodegradable” and the result was yes, but then I have seen (on Wikipedia) a video of a fire test of the material, showing that it seems to withstand fire very well. Logic tells me: “you don’t want this stuff to degrade for the expected life-span of the lifetime of a house, or whatever is reasonable/expected in these realms, and if something can withstand fire so well, it’s probably not going to biodegrade very easily/quickly at all (I may be wrong).

insulation

Incidentally, the “Knauf Earthwool” stuff’s website uses the registered trademark “Ecose Technology” to stamp its product with an “Eco” badge, stating that these products “benefit from a no added formaldehyde binder, which is up to 70% less energy intensive than traditional binders and is made from rapidly renewable bio-based materials instead of petroleum-based chemicals.” (“Petroleum-based” again being “plastic” in my mind.) While it wasn’t the right stuff for the job (I was just trying to mimic what was already in my roof), this stuff will get re-used in my flat roof.

As my regular readers will probably have realised, I’m quite conscious of eco-stuff and the use of plastics in particular. When it comes to house repairs, especially when one doesn’t have too much financial luxury to seek out specifically what is the most eco-friendly way of doing things, one is at the mercy of the builder/roofer/trades-person, who is familiar with the ‘typical’/tried-and-tested way of doing things. There are also time constraints; we didn’t know the insulation needed replacing until the roof was stripped, and then the stuff required had to be ordered promptly so the job could be completed with minimal exposure to the elements.

Incidentally, while we were waiting for the supply of insulation boards, my house had to be sheeted over. This was done with brand new plastic sheeting, again chosen by the roofer. I asked him what would be done with it once it is taken off my roof, “Is it not recycled?” and he said it would just be thrown in the skip along with all the other waste – typical practice of the building trade. It’s such a shame that not only does the building trade choose the materials based on cost and tried and tested methods that might not be the most environmentally friendly (breeze block is apparently very energy intensive to manufacture) but it puts little into practice regarding recycling or re-using stuff. I can appreciate that the plastic sheeting will have numerous nail holes in it once it is removed from my roof, making it impractical to protect someone else’s roof, but with a little time each hole could be taped over front and back before being rolled back up and used again; this is what I intend to do – my mum is involved in collections for refugees that are housed in make-shift camps and said such plastic sheeting is in demand there, it just disappoints me that there isn’t a routine/process in place that perhaps takes back the plastic sheet from the roofer/builder and melts it back down and turns it back into a fresh new hole-free sheet; it’s substantial stuff having already survived 50mph winds and lashings of rain with no ill-effect.

I also got the roofers to put all the old battens to one side for me to use as firewood in the winter; as far as I’m away wood would be sent away and then incinerated anyway so I’ve saved on the transportation cost and saved myself on heating bills for a while.

Links:

http://www.ecotherm.co.uk/our_products/pitched_roof_insulation.aspx

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyurethane

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mineral_wool

http://www.knaufinsulation.co.uk/products/glass-mineral-wool-rolls/loft-insulation-rolls/earthwool-loft-roll-44

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2 comments on “Eco big and small

  1. meltdblog
    14 September, 2016

    It would be interesting to know more about why the existing insulation is inappropriate. Was the fibrous insulation atop the ceiling or against the roofing? Typical practice in this part of the world is to have sheet or membrane insulation against the roofing in addition to fibrous matting on top of the ceiling, but we tend not to use the “attic” space for anything.

    • Brian
      15 September, 2016

      The space in the roof was packed full of the fibrous insulation (atop of plasterboard which forms my bedroom ceiling) and there needed to be an air gap between the insulation and the modern roofing felt stuff. The roofer explained that “failing to leave an air gap leads to damp” patches… and probably degrades the felt stuff, and I’d guess the original stuff suffered because of that.

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