Standing on the inside looking out – graphing my house temperature in the heatwave

So, how did my old wooden house cope with the heat?

It’s not brilliant, but it’s also not unbearable.

I was at home most of Tuesday, and graphed the temperature rise. Inside temperature from the thermostat / Outside from the BOM Moorabbin Airport readings.

Inside vs outside temperatures in my wooden house, 14/1/2014

Unlike last time (2010), the overnight temperature had been a lot warmer, and thanks to this being just day one of a four-day heatwave, in the evening it didn’t drop off allowing the house to cool down.

The roof insulation that we have now made a little bit of a difference I think, but undoubtedly we saw the inside temperature slowly rise across the day. Better window protection is what’s really need to fight off the heat coming in, I suspect.

The additional fans we have make a real difference to comfort levels, even if they don’t seem to affect the temperature reported by the thermostat. Ceiling fans in two main rooms (plus a third in one of the bedrooms) plus portable fans help make it bearable.

Overnight Wednesday/Thursday the outside temperature dropped a bit more — down as low as 24 at midnight — allowing us to cool the house just a little from outside. As I write this, the thermostat reports 28 degrees. But to really cool the house will have to wait for the cool change on Friday afternoon.

And, in time, I’ll keep considering further house upgrades such as external blinds, window glazing, wall insulation, and the dreaded evaporative cooling and/or air-conditioning.

(By the way, if anybody had an appointment at the mobile Blood Bank in Bentleigh this week, they’ve cancelled the session due to the heat.)

Power consumption

Meanwhile, some interesting reading:

– Stuff like this makes me ponder that it’s a little unfair that some areas likely to see power cuts caused by the stress put on by those with juice-hungry air-con, but which affects everybody — whether or not they have air-con, and whether or not they are offsetting their grid usage with solar. Surely in the age of smart meters, they could limit everybody to X kilowatts off the grid?

Ceiling fan – and the forthcoming heat apocalypse

I’ve got a new ceiling fan in the kitchen. The bloke at the lighting shop said that in a kitchen, a metal fan is good because it can be easily cleaned — whereas in a bedroom, quieter wooden fans are more often used.

He also reckoned for the size of the room, the larger 52 inch blades would work well. So here it is in all its glory.

Ceiling fan in kitchen

I’m still getting used to it being there up. Sometimes I catch it out of the corner of my eye and think it looks like a gigantic spider up on the ceiling.

At full speed it certainly produces quite a breeze, and helps cool the room down a lot. Wish I’d got it done when I got the livingroom ceiling fan put in, but better late than never.

(I’m hoping the installation cost isn’t too bad… it’s been almost a fortnight since it was installed, but I still haven’t received the bill from the electrician.)

Which brings us to the weather. Here’s the forecast.

7-day weather forecast, Melbourne, 13/1/2014

I’ve previously graphed how the temperature rises in the house, but that was before I had the good insulation put in the roof (might do an update this week). The insulation means the house doesn’t heat up very quickly… so a single hot day is usually quite manageable.

The run of long days we’re expecting this week (worst since Black Saturday in 2009) will be a challenge though, as the house won’t get a good chance to cool down overnight. Having tried the ceiling fans (now in three rooms) on previous hot days, they do help, as do portable fans.

But no doubt I’ll be pondering my stubborn refusal to get air-conditioning… though there are other less energy-hungry approaches, such as outside blinds over the windows, window treatments, and wall insulation.

Insulation is back in my roof (just in time for winter, it seems)

Well, I’m getting there.

Last week I had a ceiling fan installed in the livingroom. It’ll help on hot days, and because I have ceiling ducted heating, also helps distribute heat better on cold days as well.

Old light fittingNew light fitting/fan

To do this, the old light fitting was removed. I’m hoping it might be worth something — I was never that keen on it, but it does appear to be an original, making it about eighty years old. There appears to be a reasonable market for such things.

In contrast, I really like all the other (antique) lights in the house — except for the kitchen. Of course, now I’m realising that I should have arranged for the kitchen to have a ceiling fan installed as well. And while I was at it, I could have got them to install the heat guards for the down lights in there. They were switched from halogen to LEDs, so not as warm, but still worthwhile to assist with the insulation.

Speaking of insulation, that got done yesterday morning. The old loose stuff had been removed last year. The very hot day or two last week was unbearable. Winter last year wasn’t much fun either. My estimate is that in a weatherboard house with no roof insulation, the temperature would drop by at least a degree per hour if it was cold outside, which made a big difference to the gas heating bill.

So I finally got around to booking insulation back. This document from the Victorian Department of Sustainability reckons the recommended level of insulation for ceilings in Melbourne is R2.5, but I decided to go for R4. (Confusingly, I subsequently found this Federal government web page which recommends R4.1. Hmmm.

The material they used was something called “earthwool” — which unlike conventional glasswool doesn’t cause irritation if handled without gloves.

Roof without insulation
Roof with insulation

The installers appear to have done a good quick job, but it was a tad irritating that they’d booked in for 7:30am (necessitating everybody being awake and dressed early) but didn’t show until 10am. Not to worry; I think it’s already made a difference… after they’d finished, I turned the heat on (damn it was cold yesterday).

Gaps were left around the down lights, with spare earthwool to fill in the gaps once I’ve had the electricians back in to install the heat guards.

So, hopefully having insulation back in the roof will make a big difference, and it means the various housey things I’ve been meaning to get done are progressing.

Other projects in progress:

  • Sort out the spare room for Jeremy’s use, once the drainage issue at the back of the house is solved (water leaks in the window during very heavy downfall)
  • Solar panels on the roof (I already have solar water… hopefully there’s enough north-facing roof space for PV panels as well)
  • Fix the rattling laundry window
  • A nicer, heavier rug for the livingroom
  • Consider external blinds for some north/west-facing rooms to further reduce heat
  • The constant tidying and reduction in clutter… have made good progress over the break, but there’s still a lot to do

Memo to self:

  • Light globe for ceiling fan: GE Tiny Spiral, 15 watt CFL (75 watt equivalent) x 2, E27 screw

Cleaning out the roof

I spent about 4 hours in the roof on Sunday, with an industrial vacuum cleaner from Kennards, trying to clear out some of the residual insulation and other crap from up there.

Cleaning inside the roof

I had thought the half-day hire would be enough, but man, it’s hard work manoeuvring around up there, let alone with a big vacuum cleaner accompanying you. The placement of the heating ducts didn’t make it any easier, nor of course having to scrupulously step on the rafters, rather than putting my foot through the ceiling. Getting into some of the nooks and crannies was really difficult, particularly where the roof meets the ceiling.

Nor making it easier was that the vacuum cleaner’s head didn’t seem to want to detach from the wand, somewhat limiting the flexibility of the unit. I spent much of the time just waving the hose around.

It was quite exhausting, and by the time I had to take the cleaner back (it was $67 for a half-day, which in practice meant not just 4 hours, but 11:30 until 5pm; or $82 for a full 24 hours, but I wouldn’t have had the time or energy to do it) I reckon I would have done about half the roof. I had however concentrated on the worst (dustiest) sections, including the outsides of the ducts themselves.

While up there I also removed any number of bits of junk that had been left behind by others over the years: numerous bits of wire, chunks of roof tile, and a 2 metre-long piece of pipe. There are a lot of other bits of disused pipe which will be somewhat harder to remove, and will require a plumber to be done properly.

The idea is to make it easier for the new insulation to be installed. The carpenter guy I’ve been working with takes the view that the cleaner/tidier the area, the better the job achievable, which is probably fair enough. Given how knackered I was, hopefully it’s now clean enough.

All the effort certainly had one outcome though: I’ve decided no way am I going to install the insulation myself. It’ll be well worth paying the pros to come in and do it properly, and avoid hours of frustrating, exhausting work.

I’ve also learnt that scrabbling around in the roof space exercises muscles which don’t normally get used (and are still sore) and that I I’m not very good at spelling vacuum.

Proof that roof insulation works

The lack of insulation in my roof at the moment does make a noticeable, tangible difference.

Normally I have my central heating set to 20 degrees until 9:30pm, and I used to have it set to 12 degrees… I came up with that on the basis that when the insulation was in the roof, overnight it would never drop below about 15-16 degrees, even in the middle of winter.

Now the insulation’s gone, if the heating is left off, the temperature will drop to 11-12 degrees… a real difference in heat retention, and in comfort.

The house is too damn cold overnight at 12 degrees, even with double doonas. I’ve reprogrammed it to 15 degrees overnight. Which of course means the heater switches itself on at night (resulting in some noise) and I’m obviously using more gas.

Will try and push ahead with the next steps in roof work, before getting better replacement insulation installed.

The plan for the house

I was chatting to a carpenter bloke about various things around the house, which helped solidify some of the ideas I’d been pondering for some time now. After years of inaction, I’m finally starting to move on them.

I’ve had the Attic Ladders people come in for a quote, and they’re now booked-in to install a ladder into the ceiling this Thursday. It’ll be in the front hallway. They’re also arranging for someone to cut up and take away the old water tank which is still up there, and to tidy up some of the old disused pipework which is preventing there being more usable space.

Then I’ll get the carpenter bloke back in, to look at what I originally called him for — to check and repair the ceiling at the front of the livingroom, which is drooping a bit.

Replacing the loose insulation with batts (which should be more effective, and less dusty) is on the agenda, and I’m pondering replacing the kitchen halogen down-lights (which I currently avoid using very much) with LEDs. Flat boards will go into the ceiling to create some storage space.

The 4-drawer filing cabinet in the back room will be replaced with a 3-drawer one (I’ve already consolidated/chucked-out a bunch of paperwork) in the ex-diningroom cum computer room, replacing an existing storage unit which also holds papers (as well as being a perch for the printer).

I’m pondering a small shelf unit along one wall of the laundry to accommodate the laundry basket with the toolbox, which is currently stored in the back room.

The gutter along the back porch will gain a second down-pipe. At present when it rains heavily, it overflows because it has a very slight drop to single existing down-pipe on the eastern side. That water then leaks through the back window.

Once the roof has storage space, and the leaking window issue is solved, that’ll allow me to clear out the back room, which should work as a bedroom for Jeremy, currently sharing with Isaac. It’s small, but will still be an upgrade.

That’s the plan so far.

(This is one of those posts I’ll probably look back on in a year and wonder why I never got past step 1.)

The heat in the house

I spent the day working at home yesterday rather than venture out into the world of 43 degree temperatures and train heat troubles, though admittedly I also missed out on comfy air-conditioning at work.

My house doesn’t have air-conditioning. It does have internal blinds in most rooms, the exceptions being the kitchen and the bathroom, which get a little warmer than the rest of the house on days like that.

It’s fine if the internal temperature stays below the mid-20s. Much higher than that, and I’m not going to pretend it’s pleasant, but running a fan (and forgoing a shirt) and drinking plenty icy cold drinks is generally enough to make it bearable.

As Monday wore on, the temperature rose steadily outdoors; more slowly inside. I tried to keep track of it by checking the thermostat temperature every so often, and comparing to the Bureau of Meteorology’s observations for Moorabbin Airport, which is probably the closest weather station.

By 10am it was 30 degrees outside, but 23 inside. Outdoors it peaked at 43.4 around 5pm, but inside the peak was 32 degrees around 7:30pm — as hot as I’ve ever seen it indoors — and it stayed up that high until bed time, by which point outside it had started to drop, though not very far.

How my house dealt with Monday's heat

This morning as I write this, the BoM says it’s 33 outside. The thermostat says 30 inside, but opening up the house makes it feel like cool air is coming in, since there’s a bit of a breeze.

On my shopping list to help deal with the heat is a ceiling fan for the livingroom (the only main room lacking an antique light fitting), and having seen how external blinds have made a huge difference at M+J’s house and also at my mum’s (and they’re quite cheap, even professionally fitted), I’m considering those too for the NW-facing rooms.

Air-con? I doubt it; for a few hours of a few days a year it doesn’t seem worth it. Evaporative cooling? Maybe.

And I’ll keep the icy cold drinks coming.

How did your place cope?

Wacky idea

I’ve previously joked to my architect brother-in-law that given the relative space in my front garden (larger, somewhat wasted space) and back (smallish) garden, I should organise to have the house moved forward by 2-3 metres.

We laughed it off, but by chance I found there are companies that move houses from anywhere to anywhere, such as this mob. The cost? $50-70K. I wonder how much of that is the transport?

I suspect there’s no way it would be worth the cost and hassle.

But I guess ultimately, within reason, you can do anything you want, for a price.