In his latest installment of his diary of a new house purchase, David Frise finds it hard to keep his cool

David Frise

Now that spring is here and the sun is visible through the smog, we have turned the heating off in our flat. It is as warm as toast and was very cosy for those long winter nights. In the spring the heating is rarely necessary as the building retains the heat very well. 

In the coming months the problem is certainly not under-heating but significant overheating. Temperatures in the third floor apartments regularly topped 34oC last summer. As you’ll know from my previous blogs, this is just one of a series of problems with the new build flat purchased froma major listed builder.

The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers’ Environmental Design guide defines overheating as “conditions when the comfortable internal temperature threshold of 28oC is surpassed for over 1% of the time.” In my flat block temperatures exceed these comfort levels, as the flats are almost fully glazed south facing with no solar shading, not even a tree. Exposed as they are to the sun from about 11.00 to 19.00, they bake.

One certainty in the world is that the sun will rise and traverse the sky across an entirely predictable path. The ancient builders of Stonehenge knew this, but apparently the modern housebuilder does not

As reported in Building last month, a recent Good Homes Alliance report highlighted this issue but the House Builders Association said Part L of Building Regulations was to blame for specifying levels of airtightness that were too high, causing them to overheat. This may be true, but I don’t think the Building Regulations require you to build south facing, full height glazing with no solar shading.

The SAP calculation sheet describes “Thames Valley overheating risk: negligible”. But one certainty in the construction world is that the sun will rise and set and traverse the sky across an entirely predictable path. The resultant solar gain in our buildings is therefore, likewise, entirely predictable. The ancient builders of Stonehenge knew this, but apparently the modern housebuilder does not. Our builder has said they will “investigate”, which, like the Private Eye  EUphemisms cartoon says, means “ignore it”.

The problem is not helped by windows that cannot be fixed open, so that a gust of wind causes them to blow either open or shut with considerable force - a danger to little fingers. Not a safety issue in the view of the developer though, as a window that can be fixed open is not a requirement of the Building Regulations. We wedge ours open with an old copy of Building, which seems appropriate.

Then there are the corridors, sealed passages that rarely drop below 28oC summer and winter. The SAP calculation claims that pre-insulated pipework has been installed. If they had installed the extra thickness would probably have meant we’d have to stoop in the corridors. But it makes it easier to get a pass on the SAP calculation if you say it’s there, and who is going to check?

This is further exacerbated by the absence of controls to slow or turn off the pumps when there is no heat or hot water demand in the apartments, eg. at night. So the pumps keep pumping hot water through the building 24 hours a day seven days a week. As residents we have no access to the Building Management System BMS so we can’t get them turned off, and I’m still waiting for that commissioning report from the builder – the one that the Building Regulations require.

Does all this make the occupants “collateral damage” in the war against carbon? If that’s so, then how about a product recall – actually we got this wrong, how can we put it right?

So are those Building Regulations “for the obedience of fools and the guidance of wise men”, or are they just an excuse to absolve you of responsibility?

David Frise is chief executive of the Association of Interior Specialists