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Homebuilding and renovating show - the good, the bad and the ugly

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 28 April 2014 at 10:59 am

From the sublime to the ridiculous, there were all sorts of goodies vying for attention at the Homebuilding & Renovating Show in Birmingham at the end of March. Tasha and I both visited and here's a summary of some the things we found interesting.

Cathy's favourites

Did you know that we flush away 30% of the clean water we buy (that's quite a lot of money we're putting down the toilet - especially those of us on meters in the south west!). I knew it was a lot, but didn't know it was that much, and so was interested to hear about the reAqua system. 

Coincidentally we also use about 30% of our water for showers and bathing. So it makes sense to use the latter to flush the former. That's were the reAqua system comes in. It takes all waste bath and shower water, filters it and treats it with disinfectant, then uses it to flush the toilet. There's also an enhanced product, the reAqua+ which recovers heat from the bath and shower water and transfers it into the building's central heating system. Recovered heat is then transferred to your hot water cylinder or the cold feed of your combi boiler reducing the cost of heating water.

The systems can be retrofitted into existing properties as well as being ideal for self build. 

I had an interesting chat with Knauf, the German insulation manufacturer, at the show. There's often a perception that insulation installed under government schemes is a bit cheap and cheerful (to say the least). I wanted to know what they are doing to make sure that solid wall insulation is done to a high quality. I was so impressed with the answer that I want to share it with you.

They train all their own solid wall installers. The installers pay for their training, but that doesn't mean that they all pass. If they don't reach the grade they don't get the jobs. Knauf checks all the quality of their first three installations (when they are on probation) and if they aren't up to scratch they have to go back and train again. This strikes me as a good model, that some other manufacturers across the various renewable energy and energy saving sectors could copy. The more manufacturers support installers, the more confident customers are going to be.

Tasha's favourites

Customer confidence can also be garnered through rigorous testing and official endorsement, both of which have been achieved by  the Zenex GasSaver - a system which captures and reuses heat that normally escapes through the boiler's through pipe. Whilst I didn't actually see them at the show, I did pick up a piece of literature about them and was so impressed I thought it deserved a mention. 

Generically known as a passive flue gas heat recovery system, independent testing by TUV, TNO and Gastec has shown that the system can save up to 37 per cent  of energy required to deliver hot water. The system is also recognised under the government's SAP scheme both lending it extra credibility and meaning it can count towards the energy rating of your building. 

The system works by providing a separate, cooler environment for condensing escaping flue gases and recoving heat that would otherwise be lost. This is then used to pre-heat domestic hot water. It has to be installed at the same time as a new boiler and on its own costs over £600. It can also be bought in conjunction with either a Baxi/Potterton or an Alpha boiler at a better price. 

Back on the subject of insulation, I was interested to see Sempatap Thermal still advertising themselves as a useful alternative for people who've hitherto resisted internal solid wall insulation. Whether they're resisting it because of the loss of light, space or period features, or because of the hassle and expense of shifting electical points, boilers or fitted furniture, Sempatap claims to be a solution. 

Often referred to as 'insulated wallpaper', Sempatap can be pasted onto existing walls by any competent DIY-er. And because it's only 10mm thick and made of a soft, Latex foam, there's less loss of space, natural light or characterful bumps, often associated with older solid walled properties. 

Don't install without thought though: the slimness means that it will never provide as effective an insulative layer as 50mm of say Kingspan or Celotex and the relatively high cost means payback from your energy savings could take 60 years.  

Back to Cathy

I can't resist mentioning the most ridiculous product I saw on display. The PlinthVac caught my eye as it claimed to be 'eco-friendly'. It's a little vent in the kick board under your kitchen units. When you sweep the kitchen floor, instead of bending down and sweeping the dirt into a dust pan, you just push it towards the vent. It starts a little motor and sucks the dirt into a small box, which you have to empty a couple of times a year. Just in case you don't realise why that's eco-friendly, it's apparently because it saves you getting the vacuum cleaner out! A bargain at £156 + £10 for delivery. Sadly, Rega Ventilation hasn't put it on its website yet.

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