Ventilation ducts in Hollywood

17/07/2012 by

While brainstorming a blog post on ventilation ducts, one of the first images that popped into my head was Bruce Willis. The action hero is one of many who has used a duct to break in, escape or otherwise evade his enemies. But like a doctor watching an episode of E.R, the building services engineer will wince when this corny cinema cliché flashes across the screen.

TVTropes.org does a great job of exploding this and other myths from the movie world.

When heroes find themselves trapped in a room with all doors and windows locked, the quickest exit is always through the ventilation duct. Air vents also work excellently in reverse for breaking in and infiltrating a facility, as well. Covers require little or no effort to remove, openings are always within reach, they’re always able to support the weight of a person even though they were only designed to carry air, they are wide enough in diameter to allow an adult to pass through, there are no internal obstacles like bracing or blowers (except for the occasional menacing giant fan blocking the branching corridors), they are free of normal sheet metal’s dangerously sharp edges, they are totally soundproof, and there’s never a lack of light or chance of getting lost unless the plot calls for it.
And the escapee always emerges without having picked up so much as a speck of dust.

The lo-fi website zyra.tv also covers this misconception, along with other common mistakes from the movies and misconceptions from general life.

Remember:
* All ventilation shafts and ducts are easily accessible.
* Ducts are the right size for people to crawl along.
* The air flow system will not be turned on while you are crawling through the tunnels.
* All ventilation systems lead somewhere, usually somewhere useful.
* All ventilation shafts are well lit.
* All ventilation shafts are CLEAN.

However, if you are serious about ventilation, heating and air conditioning, have a look at product comparison and other resources on ESI.info Building Services.

How to choose safety glass

09/07/2012 by

Specifying the right type of safety glass for your project can be of vital importance. The Standard Patent Glazing Company is an expert in the field: founded in 1902, the company specialises in the design, manufacture and installation of patent glazing systems for contracts anywhere in the UK. Darren Lister provides this useful guide:

Toughened Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating A)

Toughened safety glass (sometimes called tempered glass) is produced by heating annealed glass to approximately 620ºC, at which point it begins to soften. The surfaces of this heated glass are then cooled rapidly. The technique creates a state of high compression in the outer surfaces of the glass and, as a result – although most other characteristics remain unchanged – the bending strength is increased by a factor of up to five times that of annealed glass.
When broken, the toughened glass fractures into small pieces (called dice). As these particles do not have the sharp edges and dagger points of broken annealed glass, it is generally regarded as a safety glass. While these dice may cause minor cuts, it is very difficult to cause a severe injury with them, provided the fragments are small enough.
Toughened safety glass must be cut to size and have any other processing (such as edge polishing or hole drilling) completed before toughening, because attempts to “work” the glass after toughening will cause it to shatter.
All toughened glass has the highest Safety Rating available, which is Class A to British Standard 6206.

Laminated Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating A or B)

Laminated glass consists of one or more panes of glass attached to and separated from each other by means of interlayer materials. Laminated glass is usually made from annealed glass, although it can also be manufactured using toughened, heat-strengthened or wired glass. It is no stronger than the glass it is made from and cracks as easily. However, when laminated glass breaks, the glass fragments tend to adhere to the interlayer material. Although the glass itself may be annealed glass, on breaking, any sharp cutting edges are not generally exposed. The performance of the glass depends very much on the type of interlayer, and there are many different types. The most common interlayer is PVB (polyvinylbutyral) sheet, which usually sticks to the glass very well and produces a high-energy absorbing interlayer of uniform thickness.

  • 6.4mm thick laminated glass obtains a Class B safety rating to BS 6206.
  • 6.8mm thick laminated glass obtains a Class A safety rating to BS 6206.
  • All laminated glass with a PVB interlayer at least 0.8mm thick obtain a Class A safety rating to BS 6206.

Wired Safety Glass (Safety Class Rating C)

This is a product which has been regarded as a safety glass for many, many years. The wires in wired glass tend to hold the glass together when it is cracked. They perform this function admirably when used in roof glazing and, most particularly, in providing fire resistance, but up until recently most of the wired glass products on the market were not classifiable as safety glass to BS 6206. Wired glass is now supplied with thicker and stronger wires to obtain a safety Class C rating to BS 6206.

View The Standard Patent Glazing Company’s beautiful photo gallery of completed work here.

Case study: soundproofing a music room using folding sliding doors

09/07/2012 by

Doors, by nature, will allow a certain amount of noise to escape. However, there are specialist designs and techniques available to help alleviate the level of audible sound. Here is how Baca Architects and Sunfold Systems solved a musical soundproofing dilemma.

The clients wanted the music room to have an open, airy feel

A client approached Baca Architects, requesting that as part of their home they wanted a music room. This room was to form an important element of their living and leisure time.

A central point of the house was perfect for their requirements for entertaining guests and a key part of the family’s time together, but when it came to the times where privacy was required, they needed to be able to close the doors for recording purposes.

To create the open feel the clients required whilst also having the option to shut off the music area, lead architect Robert Barker wanted to incorporate interior folding sliding doors as an effective and visually appealing solution to the overall project. “Noise transfers so easily through most doors, so it was important for the internal folding sliding doors we used to be flawless, to create a balanced sound level,” he commented.

The music room had to be soundproofed for recording purposes

Robert chose to use Sunfold Systems’ timber range of folding sliding doors, the SFK69 painted in white. This is the highest specification timber system available, and is manufactured from triple laminated solid timber sections. As noise control was key, it was vital that the joints, tracks, frame construction and head detail connectors had no air gaps, to make sure that there was no flanking sound either side.

By using slim-width panels and through the natural slim sightlines of the SFK69, both the structure and the appearance of the internal sliding door system worked well together to achieve the desired effect.

Soundproofing sliding folding doors

Set in stone: time travel at BGS Keyworth

04/07/2012 by

The recently opened Geological Walk at British Geological Survey’s headquarters in Keyworth near Nottingham crams three billion years of the Earth’s history into a beautiful, 130m long stone concourse. Stephen Parry (Mineralogist and Petrologist at the BGS) and Michael Heap (Managing Director of expert natural stone suppliers CED Ltd) did the time-walk with me.

An ammonite-bearing block of Portland limestone

Each step on the Geological Walk takes you 25 million years closer to the present day. What can we learn from this ambitious project? Read the rest of this entry »

Rainfall levels and siphonic roof drains

22/06/2012 by

BLÜCHER® was founded in 1965 and has since grown into one of Europe’s leading stainless steel drainage specialists. In this guest post, Frank Netherwood (Technical Manager from BLUCHER UK Ltd) explains the siphonic drainage principle and how it’s used in BLÜCHER products.

Frank Netherwood: Whilst a gravity system is simple to understand, the siphonic system is a little more complex … Read the rest of this entry »

Unseen, unused, unusual: roofscapes

15/06/2012 by

Think how much, in terms of sheer square metreage, of a city’s space is taken up by roofs. For such an essential building element – the sine qua non of even the most basic shelter – roofs are often unseen and unappreciated. In this post, I take a look at some unusual and appealing roof designs… and finish off with a fairytale for good measure.

Dutch roofscape

One of the more spectacular uses of a roofspace is to place a great, big infinity pool on top of it. This is what the septuagenarian architect and urban designer Moshe Safdie did on the Marina Bay Sands opulent hotel and casino in Singapore. The project is, apparently, the most expensive integrated resort property ever built.

The SkyPark pool, Marina Bay Sands (image by Eduardo MC on Flickr)

On a more modest scale, the Urban Sketchers blog “features sketches and often equally colorful stories behind the scenes by 100 invited artists/correspondents in more than 30 countries around the world. Some are architects and illustrators, others are graphic designers, web developers, painters or educators, all sharing the same passion for drawing on location.”

Beauty is sometimes hidden in unusual places. But if you look for it, it will definitely come up where you would not expect it to be. City roofs are a perfect setting for these findings.

In a previous post, we have summarised different types of green roofs as another way to make the roofspace work harder. Turf has been a traditional roof covering in Norway for thousands of years, and this Inhabitat post shows some good examples.

It was not unusual to keep livestock grazing on the roof either – serving the dual purpose of keeping the grass short and the animals fed. Occasionally, you can still see goats on green rooftops in Norway, as well as on the Old Country Market in Coombs, British Columbia, which makes a good trade from this curiosity.

From Hardanger, Norway (image by janticom on Flickr)

The practice was not without its dangers, though, as this old folk tale shows:

The husband who was to mind the house

Once upon a time, there was a man who was so bad-tempered and cross that he never thought his wife did anything right in the house. One evening, in the haymaking season, he came home, scolding and swearing. “Dear love, don’t be so angry” said his wife, “tomorrow let’s change jobs. I’ll go out and mow, and you can mind the house.” Yes, the husband thought that would do very well. So early the next morning, his wife took a scythe and went out into the hayfield with the mowers, whilst the man was to mind the house and do the work at home.

First of all he wanted to churn the butter (…) When he had churned a bit, he remembered that their milk cow was still shut up in the barn and hadn’t had a bit to eat or a drop to drink all morning, although the sun was high. It was too far to take her down to the meadow, so he thought he’d just get her up onto the roof, for it was a sod roof, and a fine crop of grass was growing there (…)

Now it was nearly dinner time, and he hadn’t even finished the butter yet, so he thought he’d best boil the porridge. He filled the pot with water and hung it over the fire. When he had done that, it occurred to him that the cow might fall off the roof and break her neck, so he climbed up onto the house to tie her up.

He tied one end of the rope around the cow’s neck, slipped the other end down the chimney, and tied it around his own leg. Then he had to hurry, for the water was boiling, and he still had to grind the oatmeal. He began to grind away; but while he was hard at it, the cow fell off the roof, dragging the man up the chimney by the rope. There he stuck fast. As for the cow, she hung halfway down the wall, swinging between heaven and earth, for she could neither get down nor up…

Don’t try this at home

Clay and concrete tile roofing: free design guides

07/06/2012 by

1. Concrete roof tiles guidance

I have come across some interesting design guides on Forticrete‘s website, free to download.

Re-roofing in a conservation area: Hardrow Glade concrete tiles at Friers Court, Wentworth, South Yorkshire

Forticrete is part of the Concrete Tile Manufacturer’s Association (CTMA) and therefore has access to a number of useful data sheets on various topics relating to the construction of roofs.

The association represents the interests of its members – Forticrete, Cemex, Monier, Marley Eternit and Sandtoft – who collectively produce an estimated 95% of concrete roof tiles in the UK.

The association supports the Roofing Industry Alliance, whose main aim is to increase the quality and reliability of roof construction.

Documents are available on the following topics:

  • Changes in rafter pitch
  • Dry fix ridges
  • Eaves detailing
  • Mortar bedded hips
  • Mortar bedded ridges
  • Party wall junctions
  • Side abutment detailing
  • Top edge abutment detailing
  • Valley detailing (parts 1–3)
  • Vent tiles and pipes
  • Verge detailing (parts 1 & 2)
  • Surevent: condensation control in roofs

2. Clay roof tiles guidance

The Clay Roof Tile Council has a technical library full of similar information. The CRTC collectively represents over 90% of UK clay roof tile production. Its members are Dreadnought, Marley Eternit, Keymer, Redland and Sandtoft.

Sandtoft Heritage Service clay roof tiles at the Reform Club, London

The Clay Roof Tile Council’s online library covers information on topics including:

  • Repair and maintenance
  • Design specification
  • Material specifications
  • Health and safety
  • Handmade technologies
  • Machine made technologies
  • Wind uplift calculations
  • Quality control
  • …and a very handy little glossary of terms.

Selecting and specifying roof tiles

On ESI.info, you can find, compare and select roof tiles in concrete, clay, slate, natural stone, fibre cement and zinc. You can also find timber shingles and shakes.

Search results can be filtered using parameters like roof pitch, tile type, manufacturing process, installation method and product accreditation. Why not have a go – and tell me whether you found the site easy to use?

A burning issue: should we really be subsidising the biomass industry?

25/05/2012 by

Is the extensive burning of biomass for electricity generation a good use of (arguably) renewable resources and an important contribution to the low-carbon economy? Or is it in fact a threat to our environment and the timber industry, and an inefficient use of a very valuable resource?

In this guest post, Stirling-based building product manufacturer Norbord argues the latter.

What is the most responsible use of timber?

The background
Wood is a valuable resource, which, unlike other sources of renewable energy, is limited due to available land area and the length of the growing cycle. In the UK, current sustainable harvest is fully utilised by Norbord and other manufacturers through a lifecycle of grow –> use –> re-use –> recycle – and then, and only then, –> recover for energy.

This responsible and environmentally efficient lifecycle ensures carbon is stored for many years before being released back into the atmosphere when it is finally burned to produce energy.

As part of its commitment to a low carbon economy, the Government has introduced subsidies to electricity generators under the Renewables Obligation (RO). These subsidies incentivise the burning of wood for electricity-only generation, at efficiency levels of less than 30%.

The issue
The wood panel industry relies entirely on UK wood (virgin and recovered), which is now under huge pressure from the large-scale biomass energy sector. In simple terms, our industry is under threat because the Government subsidies allow the energy generators to pay more than double the price currently paid by the UK wood panel industry for its primary raw material. As a result, this has driven up average wood prices by 60% in the last five years.

And the problem looks set to grow. There has been a huge increase in the number of planning applications for biomass power stations that generate electricity by burning wood. These plants have the capacity to consume many times the entire UK’s timber harvest. Additionally, the Government is introducing subsidies with respect to the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme, which will further distort the market.

Biomass protest (image by faul on Flickr)

The impact
The threat to the wood panel industry is clear, however the current legislation has wider-reaching consequences too:

• The loss of the wood panel industry would cost tens of thousands of jobs across the UK, many of them in manufacturing, damaging already fragile economies.
• The environmental impact – the inefficient burning of wood will in fact generate a net increase in UK CO2 emissions, to the order of hundreds of millions of tonnes.
• UK bill-payers, already struggling with rising costs for household energy, are actually paying £810 million a year for these so-called ‘green’ subsidies through hidden charges in their bills.
• Consumers will experience significant price increases on wood panel products and other manufactured items, driven by the rising cost of raw materials.
• Large negative impact on the UK’s balance of trade, as we would need to import wood from overseas to meet demand.
• Distortion of the ‘Hierarchy of Use’ for wood, to which the UK Government is committed.

What’s being done?
The Wood Panel Industries Federation’s Make Wood Work and Stop Burning our Trees campaigns are backed by Norbord and the other UK panel producers, and supported by other forest product industry organisations. They are national campaigns aimed at persuading the Government to encourage the best possible use of this valuable and limited material.

Working with leading organisations within the building trade, we are lobbying the government to review current and proposed legislation. An Early Day Motion has been tabled in Parliament in support of the Make Wood Work campaign. Specifically, we are asking the Government:

1. To respect the obligated “Hierarchy of Use” in the framing of legislation.
2. To review the RO and RHI incentives with respect to their distortion of this Hierarchy.
3. To incentivise the use of wood for energy only after its full lifecycle use, for carbon storage.
4. To better integrate the process across disparate Government Departments.
5. To commit to, and deliver on, an expansion of productive woodlands.
6. To engage fully with the wood processing industry as represented by the Wood Panel Industries Federation (WPIF) and Confor (Confederation of Forest Industries).

How can you help?
The Biomass Issue has consequences for the UK economy, our environment and for the tens of thousands of UK workers whose jobs are at risk as a result of this legislation.

Please support our campaign by signing the petition.

Thank you to Norbord for this guest post. What are your views on biomass and the Government incentives? Whether you are in opposition to the above or in support of it, I would love to hear from you.

In the meantime, here is some more background information:

Esprit d’escalier: the wit and symbolism of the staircase

04/05/2012 by

What is it that fascinates us so much about staircases? More symbolically rich than any other building element, the staircase gives rise to a multitude of associations.

The staircase is a place of fleeting conversations, chance meetings, contrived accidents, secret assignations, ghostly encounters, lost opportunities for witty responses, and a symbol of lofty ambition.

It can be a descent into the underworld (‘Abandon all hope, ye who enter here’) or a Jacob’s ladder leading into heaven.

Do you dream about going up or down stairs? It could mean that you are coming to a decision on a complicated issue… The bottom of the stairs represents your current reality; the top landing is the conclusion for which you strive.

Any budding guitarist, of course, will attempt to learn the inevitable ‘Stairway to Heaven’ intro. (The bane of many a music store.)

There is even a page on Pinterest entirely dedicated to ‘Wonderful stairways and staircases‘.

For photographers, staircases are a constant source of inspiration. When viewed from above or below, the stairway takes on a purely graphic, geometric quality – like an abstract pattern rather than a physical object.

Out of self-indulgence, I thought I would share with you some of my favourite images of stairs and steps – below.

In the meantime – if you need to find, compare and select staircases, balustrades and handrails, ESI.info is a good place to start:

Imminent launch of the new Kingspan Potton show house

05/04/2012 by

With just a month to go until Kingspan Potton launches its new show house, the finishing touches are now being added. This includes the installation of Sunfold Systems’ internal door sets. In this guest post, Sunfold’s Sarah Maginn explains how the company’s products will help achieve the project’s CSH level 4 target.

As a folding door specialist, Sunfold Systems started the first leg of its door and window installation at the new ultra energy efficient show house in St Neots back in November last year. Working alongside a number of high-quality suppliers such as Mitsubishi, Nu-Heat, Thinking Bricks and Allergy Plus; Sunfold Systems has supplied its own range of thermally efficient products to help Potton achieve its sustainability target.

The Potton show house, which is officially launched at the beginning of May, has been designed as a contemporary barn to exceed the requirements for level 4 of the Code for Sustainable Homes (CSH); an initiative that was launched to ensure that all new homes constructed in England and Wales can be described as zero-carbon by 2016. The show house, when fully functioning, will demonstrate the key ways to achieve the Code by meeting the sustainability requirements of a new home measured against nine design categories – such as energy and CO2 emissions, pollution and waste.

First to be installed from the Sunfold range were the SFCW window systems. These were fitted as part of the first fix back in in November, and consist of an aluminium and timber combination frame that holds excellent U-values. The exterior doors were fitted at the beginning of February, including a four-panel aluminium bi-folding door set using the SFK70 aluminium system as well as a mid-range SFK20:20 three-panel bi-fold set. The Antelli front door with a high-insulating core accompanied by side and top lights followed shortly after and, as I type, internal door sets are being fitted ready for project completion.

Now that the scaffolding has been removed, onlookers can truly see the beauty of the self-build project, which will be completed in the coming weeks and officially launched to the public on the 8th May 2012. The barn – which has been designed for open-plan, spacious living with natural light flooding through the windows and bi-folding doors – will, once finished, house a number of advanced sustainable characteristics to create not only a lovely example of living space but also the energy efficiency that can be achieved by such a home.

Project manager Brent Ackerman commented: “The aim was to make the property as thermally efficient and air-tight as possible in order to achieve the credits required for the Code for Sustainable Homes. The brickwork on the outside of the barn has been finished, the landscaping is now well underway, the bathrooms and kitchen are in place and decoration is almost complete. Once finished, we will really be able to see the spacious interior of this barn-style home.”

You will find further information on Sunfold Systems’ ranges on ESI.info, where products and systems can be compared side-by-side. Potton self-build is active on Twitter, as is the Sunfold Group.