Wednesday 13 December 2017

More insulation for our walls and roof

When we first moved into our home in Assen we were disappointed by the lack of insulation resulting in a high energy bill even with low indoor temperatures during our first winter.

We have now lived here for more than ten years. Each year we've done something which has improved the energy efficiency of our home, including this year when we inexpensively added more insulation to the top floor of our home. The result is that this winter our home is again a little warmer and also more energy efficient so more economical than it was before.

Two days of snow followed by warmer weather and rain and
we still have solid snow on our roof. The area under the red
square is where we made the most recent change. The area to
the left of the red square is a bedroom which we had already
insulated in a similar way a few years ago.
The roof
This year's improvement was quite minor: We added insulation to the ceiling above the top floor landing and staircase. This results in the first floor landing and ground floor entrance hall being better insulated than they were before. This job actually began in the first winter that we lived here when I quickly added some thin insulation panels to this area after seeing our first winter fuel bill. It continued a few years later when I doubled the thickness of that insulation but then remained as an unfinished job until the beginning of this year when we began the last part of it, stretched out over months because of other commitments, beginning by adding yet more insulation to reach a total thickness of about 10 cm, covering this with reflective and damp proof foil and finally hiding that with plasterboard (aka gipsplaten, gypsum board, sheetrock), sealant to fill the gaps and applying some paint. Actually, the job is still not quite finished. I need to paint again.

Anyway the process was simple and can be summed up in one photo:
10 cm of solid insulation above double sided bubble wrap foil which itself offers quite good insulation and reflects back energy otherwise lost due to radiation. Gaps in the foil are closed by reflective tape where there are joins. Wooden battens are installed to support the weight of the plasterboard sheets. It's quite important that there is an airtight seal as this prevents condensation from forming behind the insulation where it is cooler.
Also the walls
It's been five years since I last wrote about insulating our home but that's not five years of doing nothing. Another job which was completed a couple of years ago was taking apart the lower parts of the front and back walls on the ground floor of our home. I had long suspected that there was not much insulation inside these walls, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they were better constructed than I had expected. In total there was 4 cm of glass wool plus another 3 cm of polystyrene solid insulation bonded to an asbestos sheet which provides weather protection on the outside of the house to a height of about half a metre (we don't have any other asbestos so far as I know, except a fireproof panel on the door to the room with the central heating).

The existing fibreglass looked a bit sad, clearly it had been damp at some time, though there was no sign of any damage to the wood, all of which looks brand-new from the inside despite being 40 years old. The insulation was not very evenly distributed. I removed it and it was possible to see some gaps through which air could come from inside the house, the probably source of the damp which had discoloured the fibreglass. I sealed the gaps and all around the edges so that the wall is now both air and water tight and no further damage should be possible.

I then used the same double sided reflective bubble plastic here. It's the same double sided bubble wrap type foil as I later used in the ceilings upstairs. In this instance you can see it installed on the inside edge. On top of this I installed the existing fibreglass a bit more evenly than before. It had been discoloured but there was nothing wrong with it. On top of that there is now then another layer of reflective foil which helps to reflect out sunlight in the summer. There is a radiator mounted on the other side of this wall. The interior reflective material is intended to help to keep radiated heat inside the house.

Afterwards I re-installed the original polystyrene + asbestos outside panels, slightly further out than before because the thickness of the reflective foil has added slightly to the overall thickness of the wall. The asbestos is something I intend to dispose of in due course, but covered in paint and on the outside of the house it's not really a danger so for now it will remain until we think of a better alternative. Note the paintwork behind - one of the other problems with these sheets is that paint other than the original brown of the house seems to peel of its own accord. This has been repainted and now looks a lot better again.
Low cost improvements
Neither of these jobs cost much to do. The results of them are difficult to quantify, but thicker insulation and reflective materials to keep infra red energy within the house ought to be expected to bring improvements. We notice that even on cold nights the wall behind the radiator now feels warm rather than feeling cold so it seems that the reflection within the wall is helping. Even more obvious is that we keep snow or frost on our roof a lot longer than any of our neighbours do. Our immediate neighbour's home, featured in some of our photos because it's closest by, is far from the worst in this regard.

Neither of these two jobs was expensive to do. The materials (reflective foil, insulation, tape, sealant, glue, screws) are cheap. It required a bit of planning and took quite a few hours, but it's a reasonable DIY job.

A less inexpensive job
Last year we also had a problem with one of our windows. The seal had broken on an older double glazed unit in our front room, dating from the 1970s, and we arranged for this to be replaced by a new triple glazed unit:

The old glass looked misted up all the time because moisture was caught between the two panes. This is not a rainy day photo even though it looks like one.

The new triple-glazed HR++ panel before installation. It only covers a small percentage of our total glass area but at least this small percentage will perform far better than before.
With windows, the glass isn't the most expensive thing. Labour for fitting this new glass cost more than the glass itself. However this was not a job which I could have done myself as the glass was heavy and needed to be lifted quite high (it's the longest window at the top in our living room in the photos. This more expensive job simply couldn't be done by myself but we did need to replace the panel anyway so decided to pay the small extra cost for triple glazing over double glazing. Our thinking was this while this won't make a huge difference to our energy consumption nor even to our comfort (getting rid of the misty glass it's more of a cosmetic difference), it will at least make a small positive improvement. I estimate that the downstairs will leak energy about 5% less than before.

Measurements made with an infra-red thermometer show that when the outside temperature is -2 C and the inside temperature of our home is 17.5 C, the inside of the older double glazed panel is 9 C while the inside of the new triple glazed panel alongside is 14 C. Clearly heat loss with be much smaller through the triple glazed panel.

Our current plan is to replace other double glazed units with triple glazing as they fail. When we bought our home there was single glazing upstairs but we had that replaced some years ago.

Better insulation = a more pleasant home
Better insulation means a more comfortable home, less energy consumption, a lower carbon footprint, and lower bills. What's not to like about any of that ? Many effective treatments can be made

A white roof is an energy efficient roof ! This photo was taken later the same day as the photo at the top, after a little rain and slightly higher outside temperatures. All four homes originally had identical insulation but our home, the left-most of the four, benefits in quite an obvious way from the extra insulation we've added.

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Brexit: A long journey through uncertainty

Drenthe is known as "the world's cycling province" for good
reason. We continue to enjoy riding our bikes around the
countryside but brexit has cast a shadow over everything.
Sixteen months have now passed since all certainty was removed from our lives by the brexit vote. It was obvious at once that this would cause a monumental change in millions of peoples' lives, including our own. The only way in which we could guarantee to be able to remain where we are with the rights which we have was by becoming Dutch so we started the process of applying for citizenship within a few days of the vote.

Our children now have Dutch citizenship but Judy and I are still waiting for a decision. Though we had lived here for nearly ten years supporting ourselves by running our own business we had never entered the Dutch education system. We therefore first had to complete exams the result of which would demonstrate our ability with the Dutch language and show that we could fit into Dutch society.

A group of "Nieuwe Nederlanders" in Assen in May 2017
after the ceremony in which they received Dutch nationality.
One of our daughters is in this photo but Judy and I are
still waiting.
Judy had actually taken the exams some years ago as part of an immigration course for women but we delayed Judy's application so that we could apply for citizenship together (a joint application costs €1200 vs. €900 each for individuals). I passed all the exams on my first attempt but the process still took quite a long time. I booked the first exams immediately after the brexit referendum but I couldn't sit them until September 2016 and then I had to wait for the results from those before I could book in March 2017. It took more than a month to get the official certificate and an appointment at the city hall and as a result it was May 2017 before we finally applied for Dutch citizenship.

Within a few days of application we received a form letter telling us that a decision would take up to a year. Our children received the same letter last year and for them it actually took less than a year for the entire process so we're hoping that we get lucky with this timing and that we might actually know before the end of 2017 whether we can become Dutch. It's more likely that we will not know until some months into 2018.

Geslaagd ! My exam results from March.
The process has been enormously expensive. €900 each for our two children, another €1200 for us + the best part of another €1000 to pay for exams and transport myself to and from the city where I had to take the exams and pick up the certificates. We also already had to pay the British government 321 pounds twice to renounce British citizenship of both of our children (the Dutch government doesn't like dual citizenship, though that might yet change). What's more, our cycling component export business used to sell mainly to British customers but the reduced value of the pound has done some harm to our sales to the UK and that has reduced our income by several thousand euros right at the same time as our costs have been increased. A brexit double whammy which we've had to work through as best we can: we've had no holiday in the last two years.

How much uncertainly is too much ?
Two months ago we passed the ten year anniversary of our arrival in the Netherlands. We had long planned to have a party to celebrate, but with a permanent shadow above us we were not in a party mood.

We still do not know whether we can continue to live our lives in our own home. We still don't know if we can continue to run our business here. We could still be forced back to the UK, where we have no home and no job.

There was plenty of information available about the benefits
of the EU
before the referendum but this was unfortunately
drowned out by decades worth of deliberate misinformation.
A three way race
All EU28 countries, including the UK, agreed in advance on the process. There would first be agreements about the UK leaving and then there could be negotiations about the future status of the UK. The first group of things which needed to be agreed include the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens here (i.e. the rights of my family and myself).

Unfortunately, the British Conservative government has proven itself to be completely unable to make any sensible statements which could protect our rights. They simply do not seem to know the brexit that they have brought about is for or what they want to achieve. Even from afar it's obvious that this is still an internal dispute between Conservative party factions, some of whom are so fascinated by the supposed "freedom" of a no-deal brexit that they don't mind harming everyones' rights to achieve it.

The clock is ticking in Brussels as everything needs to be agreed before the end of March 2019, but that's not the biggest problem facing us. The two year period is a maximum. The British behaviour is so erratic that they could decide to walk away at any time, leaving none of the issues addressed, including the rights of citizens. That means that we could easily lose the right to remain in our own home.

For us this has become a three-way race:

  1. We desperately hope that the Dutch government will allow us to become Dutch citizens.
  2. We hope we are Dutch before the British government does something stupid because otherwise we stand to lose our home.
  3. Everything must be resolved before the March 2019 deadline, but that's probably the least important of the three constraints.

As for those still living in the UK, I can only wish you luck. Brexit is a tragedy which will harm the UK. Given time, perhaps the UK can re-join the EU.

Does anyone in the UK know what they want ?
I recently watched two Channel Four News debates showing what the UK's population was now thinking about brexit. The first debate included only brexit voters:

The debate is introduced by Conservative MEP Dan Hannan. He claims at 3:50 that both the EU and the UK are equally interested in preserving citizens' rights but at 41:07 he talks specifically about wanting to restrict the rights of EU nationals. Such mixed messages were typical of the brexit campaign and they have resulted in no-one who voted leave actually knowing for certain what "brexit" is actually supposed to be.

Though the people in this debate are nominally "on the same side", they don't actually agree with each other. People were told what they wanted to hear, with different groups targeted specifically with messages that they wanted to hear (e.g. at 26:00 you'll hear how workers in ethnic restaurants were told that they would be able to employ chefs more easily once the UK left the EU).

The second debate included only remain voters:

I had hoped that this debate might be more enlightening, but actually this group is just as divided as the group of leave voters. Some of them now want to accept brexit, some want to continue to fight against brexit but there's no more agreement on what brexit actually is amongst this group than there was amongst the leave voters. How can you either accept or fight something which is so poorly defined ?

As time has passed it's become quite clear that not even the British government knows what they want. Their attempts at negotiation thus far have been described as a "textbook example of failed strategic thinking" and it appears that they're determined to ignore experts even if the result is enormous damage to the country. It's hardly surprising that the EU also doesn't know what Britain wants.

Citizens' rights ?
The two videos above cover many of the concerns of normal British people. There has been much discussion in the press as well. We quite often read about how the UK wants to restrict the rights of EU citizens, but rarely do we hear of concerns from the UK about the situation that their fellow citizens who happen to live in the EU, like ourselves, may find themselves after the UK leaves the EU and removes rights from EU citizens. The British people, and particularly the government, appear to see no problem in using even their own citizens as "bargaining chips".

If I were an EU citizen living in the UK now, I would be planning to leave. The position of the UK towards immigrants from the EU has been made quite clear enough.

Our situation is a different. We want to stay here. The Netherlands has always welcomed us and treated us in exactly the same way as any other EU citizen. The UK may have given up on us, but the EU continues to try to defend our rights even as "our" government seems intent on taking them away. Our children are now both Dutch and wish to stay here and we wish to become Dutch citizens as well.

To live under the uncertainty that we have for so long is causing us an enormous amount of stress, but we hope that it will turn out for the best.

Update November 2017 - Brexit Impact Studies and a useless British government
For some time now the people leading brexit, especially David Davis, have been claiming that they have brexit impact studies covering 58 different industries which show how well off the UK will be after brexit, but they've refused to publish them. Last week the high court gave a deadline for publication and the story about these studies them mysteriously turned into something along the lines of "the dog ate my homework". The have still not been published. They probably do not exist.

The EU, meanwhile, has published studies. They're publicly available and can be read. The only one of these which I've completely read thus far is that pertaining to citizens' acquired rights. There's bad news, as we expected: We almost certainly don't have any right in law to remain in our home in the Netherlands after the UK leaves the EU because the British government will have taken our membership of the EU away from us. This is precisely the reason why we began the process of trying to acquire Dutch citizenship a few days after the referendum vote. Without it we have no certainty (we've still heard nothing).

Meanwhile, the Conservative party in the UK is in chaos. Members of the cabinet have been forced to resign for unpleasant sexual behaviour and putting a foreign government above their own, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are undermining the authority of the Prime Minister while trying to push her towards the hardest possible (most destructive) brexit, but at the same time she's also threatened by an attempt to undermine her plan for brexit and in addition likely to face a vote of no-confidence. How much longer can Theresa May remain Prime Minister ? No-one knows, but it doesn't look good.

And what do I read today ? A leading Conservative and brexit supporter, John Redwood, has been advising investors to pull their money out of the UK because the economy is going down the toilet, while both Cornwall and Grimsby in Lincolnshire, both of which voted overwhelmingly for Brexit are now suffering from the result of their vote. Grimsby's brexit supporting local MP has actually called for the town to be made a special case which remains in the EU, while the Cornish have noticed that a lack of migrant labour is already causing problems with their tourist and vegetable growing industries.

Update December 6th 2017 - The British government is incompetent
Today we learn that the British government hasn't actually bothered to commission any impact studies at all. They're going into brexit completely blind about what the outcome will be, and a good part of the British population seems quite happy about this. What's more, there's been an admission that the cabinet hasn't even bothered to have a conversation about their goal in brexit.

Most people would put in more effort if they were choosing a new ornament for their house. No-one should be happy that their future is being gambled away based on nothing but a completely unsupported hunch, which has some slogans which they think sound good, but no facts behind it at all.

In other news, we've unfortunately still had no news about our Dutch citizenship application.

Read more about our experience with brexit:

Brexit: There was plenty of information about what the EU did for the UK, for those who sought it out.

Since the brexit vote I've quite often heard or read opinions along the lines of that the EU didn't do enough to educate British people about its own importance, or that remain campaigners didn't do enough. Of course it would have taken a lot to drown out the drone of negativity from the British press which has published literally hundreds of negative stories, often ridiculous and mostly completely without basis, but which unfortunately did sway opinion.

However it would be wrong to think there had never been an effort to explain what the EU is and does. When my children were at school in the UK in the 1990s they were given several explanatory magazines, one of which I have reproduced in full below:
The first page shows the countries in green, purple, pink and blue which were then members of the EU, with their dates of entry, and also prospective members in orange.

Under "Exports": "In belonging to the EU, the UK is part of a Single Market which makes it easier for British firms to trade with our continental neighbours. The removal of long and expensive customs procedures means that an estimated £135 million a year is saved by British businesses in reduced paperwork alone. Delivery times have been cut by 20% and freight charges reduced. The EU gives Britain a market of 371 million people. As 10% of UK jobs rely on exports, this means more jobs for British workers." "Job-Creation measures": "Britain receives the largest grant of all the Member States from the European Social Fund - Objective 3 allocated £1.3bn for 1997-1999..." Opportunities to work abroad: "The Single Market means that British people can set up a business or exercise their professional activity in any EEA country..."

Backing British business and industry, international negotiations: "Outside the EU, British businesses would face regulation without representation. By being part of the EU, Britain was able to benefit from the best GATT (fore-runner of WTO) deal for decades. With our partners the UK has a more powerful and influential voice on the international stage". Thanks to brexit, that's all going

The Common Agricultural Policy has been criticized a lot, but it's also offered a life-line to some farmers.

"Did you know that the problem of 'quota hopping' by Spanish, Dutch and other fishing boats exists because British fishermen sold their licenses to them ?"

"How much does it cost ? Every person in the UK pays £12.14 per day towards general Government expenditure - of this, less than 37p goes to the EU which spends it on common programmes (many of which are of great benefit to the UK as highlighted in this brochure)" "Did you know that it is YOUR MINISTERS WHO DECIDE on Europe ? There is no 'European Government' in Brussels. The European Commission proposes new laws but these can only be agreed by the Ministers of the 15 Member States. British Ministers must account for their actions in the Council of Ministers before the Westminster Parliament "
"Europe at a glance" is just one of three such magazines given to our children which I found recently when clearing out things in our attic. The EU tried to educate the British public about what it did and why.
Read more about our experience with brexit: