Friday, 30 January 2015

Passive House and the waterbed effect

What is Passive House?

This is a building standard for new and refurbished buildings.  They are airtight and watertight, free of draughts and damp.  Passive House buildings require up to 90% less energy to heat and light than conventional ones.

This results in buildings that are healthier for those living and working in them.  They are comfortable, with constant, even temperatures.  Air is fresh and warm.  There is no damp or mould and humidity levels are low. They cost much less to run.

The second passive house home I visited had been renovated by a young couple.  They regretted installing central heating, as they'd only had the system running for 2 hours in the previous 18 months.  Effectively the home could be heated by a couple of electric towel rails.  Their tenants were delighted to avoid problems with dry skin and rollercoaster variations in temperature of standard heating systems.  The mechanical ventilation and heat recovery system kept the air fresh and warm by heating incoming fresh air and removing cooking and bathroom moist air.

How is it done?

The key to reaching passive house standards is to put time and effort into the plans.  The essential tool used in the process is the PHPP package.  This is based on an Excel spreadsheet.

Data from the design of the new build or retrofit is entered into the PHPP spreadsheet.  These calculations enable designers to estimate whether the build will meet the standards (for Passive House or EnerPHit for older buildings being refurbished:

Energy performance targets and air changes per hour:

Criteria                                                                                          Passive House       EnerPHit                            

Specific Heating Demand                                                             ≤ 15 kWh/m2. yr          ≤ 25 kWh/m².yr

Specific Cooling Demand                                                             ≤ 15 kWh/m2. yr         ≤ 120 kWh/m².yr 
                                                                                     * PE ≤ 120 kWh/m².yr + ((SHD - 15 kWh/ m².yr) x1.2)
Specific Heating Load                                                                  ≤ 10 W/m2

Specific Primary Energy Demand                                                ≤ 120 kWh/m2. Yr

Air Changes Per Hour                                                                  ≤ 0.6 @ n50

Limiting Value                                                                              n50  ≤0.6-1                  n50  ≤1.0-1

Calculations include the Form Factor, derived from the external surface area and the Treated Floor Area.  The size and shape of the building affect the energy demand of the building and the amount of insulation required.  Data is included from the U values (thermal efficiency) of all construction material including windows.  Thermal bridges, the junctions and links between parts of the building, are potential areas for the greatest loss of heat.  These must be reduced or eliminated as far as possible and data is added to the spreadsheet to demonstrate this.

Airtightness is key to effective thermal insultation and airtightness tests are usually carried out several times during the build to ensure that detailed finish is done to a high standard.  Simple mistakes, such as poorly applied insulation tape, may negatively affect airtightness.  Summer temperatures are included in the spreadsheet and methods to prevent overheating, such as shading.  Data for mechanical ventilation and heat recovery is included.  Primary energy appliances are also calculated for heating, ventilation, hot water and cooking.  The orientation of the building and its geographical location are also included in the calculations.  Solar gain may reduce winter energy use, but may require additional shading to prevent summer overheating.  Windier, colder areas at higher altitude may face bigger challenges than buildings located in sheltered, mild valleys.

What has PHPP software got to do with a waterbed?

The spreadsheet provides a framework for the designer to use, against which everything is measured. Rather than guessing and producing a more or less well insulated house, PHPP channels the work into a disciplined approach, which achieves a specific result.

On paper, building designs look straightforward.  In practice, building takes place in messy, complex situations.  Typically people create problems or require certain amendments to the plan.  A house may lie in a conservation area, which prohibits use of modern, highly efficient, single expanse, triple glazed window units.  The local authority may insist that the facade matches its neighbours, increasing the heat loss from one part of the building envelope significantly.  PHPP helps the designer increase insulation in other parts of the building to compensate for heat loss at the front.

The customer may insist on a particular design element that includes a thermal bridge, which may be difficult to reduce or eliminate.

The client may refuse to spend as much money as the designer suggests on insulation, focussing instead on state of the art facilities in bathroom and kitchen.

The builder may not be able to source material of the required U value for a part of the build, which may mean that PHPP has to be recalculated to make up lost ground elsewhere, if the project is to be complete on time and to budget.

Push down the energy gains in one area, then lift up insulation/reduce the energy loss in others.  PHPP enables a dynamic design process with constant iterations throughout the project.

Why bother?

The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and, as the above link indicates, politicians may rush into new schemes that look as if they will solve all of our housing and energy problems at a stroke.  I see new and renovated buildings that are completed without using a rigorous and dynamic standard: medical centres with noisy reception areas because of 100% hard surfaces, where confidential information is heard by all; public buildings which are too hot in Summer and too cold in Winter; heating vents on outside walls that pump valuable heat into the street.

PHPP and the passive house standard enables designers to achieve a level of energy efficiency and comfort in buildings that will have a long life and fewer problems than those of conventional design.  Whether they meet the standard or not, the discipline helps ensure a quality finish and customer satisfaction.  Bob Prewett's 80% house, above, didn't meet the standard, but achieved a comfortable and energy efficient level, which fitted well with the rest of the street.

PHPP is not an easy or straightforward tool to use.  A new book is designed to assist the designer in getting to grips with the process.  PHPP is cost effective and can be used when standards change or a designer decides to include heat recovery from water and other Passive House Plus elements.

I wouldn't employ an architect or designer who DIDN'T use PHPP, even if their work didn't fully hit the target.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Westminster Paedophile Mystery

Geoffrey Dickens MP made allegations about a paedophile ring that included people in power.  He compiled a dossier of evidence and handed it to the then Home Secretary, Leon Brittan, during a 30 minute meeting in 1984.  It then disappeared.

Leon Brittan, who died last week, was alleged to have suppressed the evidence and to have been involved in abuse of minors.  The satirical magazine, Private Eye, broke the story and continued to make allegations for many years.  One recent article described Brittan's rage at the allegations, plus his adamant contention that they were all false.

Public figures have appeared in the media since Lord Brittan's death to defend his reputation and dismiss the late Geoffrey Dickens as a publicity seeker.

The same media outlets have also published interviews with senior politicians, justifying the choice of ex-disc jockey, Jimmy Saville, to manage a secure mental hospital.  Saville is alleged to have taken advantage of his position and sexually abused a number of inmates.

I have worked with survivors of sexual abuse.  I've never met one person who wanted to take their abuser to court.  Many have never told their parents or family.  It's rare for a survivor to wish to test the judicial system and go through the gruelling court process.  Frances Andrade was forced to go to court and testify against her abuser, because a colleague broke her trust and spoke to the police.

I don't have any concrete evidence to support or contradict allegations by Geoffrey Dickens and against Leon Brittan.

Two questions puzzle me:

1)  Why didn't Geoffrey Dickens keep a copy of his dossier?

2)  Why didn't Leon Brittan sue Private Eye?

Update Tuesday 17 March 2015

Investigative journalist, Don Hale, reports that Cyril Smith MP confronted him and demanded he hand over evidence gathered about 7 paedophile offences committed by Cyril Smith and other powerful people in the 1980s.  This evidence had come to him from retired police officers and special branch members as well as spooks from the security service.  Hale refused.  Special branch police officers visited Hale the following day mob handed and demanded he hand over all his evidence.  They said that publication would not be in the public interest and that it would be a threat to national security.  They told him that if he didn't hand over the files he would be arrested and jailed for 2 years for perverting the course of justice.  They were aggressive and threatened violence.  They ransacked his place, took all the files and demanded to know if he'd kept copies.  He described it as a shock tactic, because it was something out of the blue.

Retired officers now report (confidentially) that they presented evidence of abuse at the time but were told to drop the case.  They were threatened by Special branch officers with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act and that they would likely lose their jobs and pensions if they proceeded.  Cyril Smith was arrested a number of times but released after the intervention of Special Branch.

Geoffrey Dickens may have believed that his dossier would be acted upon rather than destroyed.

The Home Secretary,  Theresa May ,has issued a vague statement that people might be protected against prosecution under the Official Secrets Act, if they speak up.  I wonder if she thinks the law is contingent and that covert bullying that prevents justice is OK.

Lloyds Bank Quaker Founders turning in their graves

Quakers and workers' groups are not much discussed in the UK these days.  They formed our banks, chocolate industry and established fixed priced, fair trading.  They based their dealings on ethics and integrity.  That was back in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Lloyds bank was one of these.

The bank suffered during the financial crisis and was bailed out by the government.  They were ordered to reduce the number of branches and split from TSB, which they'd acquired earlier.  Lloyds swapped bonds for ECNs or Enhanced Capital Notes:

'What are ECNs and CoCos?

ECNs stands for Enhanced Capital Notes. They are, somewhat confusingly also referred to as CoCos or Contingent Convertibles. ECNs are a new form of fixed income security which have arisen out of the need for banks to increase their capital ratios as a result of the banking crisis. The first UK issuer of ECN's has been Lloyds Banking Group plc. This was under an Exchange Offer announced on 3 November to exchange its existing Tier 1 and Upper Tier 2 securities into new ECN's.
The key feature of the Lloyds ECN's is that while they carry mandatory coupon rights they may also be mandatorily converted into ordinary shares if the Core Tier 1 capital ratio of the bank falls below the 5% level (known as the trigger).'

In December 2014 Lloyds Bank announced that they intended to redeem these ECNs for below face value, in order to raise money.  This affected elderly savers and investors, who did not understand what had happened, nor that Lloyds had the power to do this.  Here is one example of the effects of the move.

I have discussed the work of Mark Taber in previous posts about the Co-op Bank.  He has worked on behalf of bond and preference share holders of various banks, ensuring that they were fairly treated.  Mark worked on this voluntarily (although he accepts donations).

When Mark Taber takes up the fight, you know the situation is serious and that financial institutions have behaved badly.

In this case, it appears that government regulatory authorities did not include ECNs in financial instruments that were monitored, leaving customers unprotected.

Lloyds Bank made excuses and implied that investors were remiss when they didn't read about the move, rather than admitting that they kept quiet about the poor deal for ECN holders.

One serious allegation is that Lloyds Bank misdescribed the ECNs and their terms and conditions when they were first offered.  Lloyds also fudged the initial description and definition of ECNs with a simple omission and switch of terms.  Lloyds Bank are challenged on the legality of their action.

BBC's Money Box featured the news in this programme (13.30 minutes in).

Antonio Horta Osorio, Lloyds Bank CEO, has already had time off from the job through stress.  He and his team seem to be ignoring the real distress caused to investors in buying back ECNs at less than half the price.

I believe that the Quaker founders would not approve of this sleight of hand.

Experience from the Co-operative Bank's attempt to trash its core values was that all customers rejected it, not just the affected bondholders.  I still maintain that the only way is ethics.


The case is currently going through the courts.  Here is an interesting comment by one investor.

More Quakers are probably spinning in their graves at this news.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Opening umbrellas causes rain

Occasionally I work with a client who has had a major health crisis such as a heart attack.  They admit to poor diet, zero exercise, high intake of alcohol and heavy smoking.  They are terrified of dying and seem unable (unwilling) to make any changes.  This is someone who is praying for a magic bullet to cure their health problems

Fear won't help them and may trigger further health problems with raised cortisol levels and disrupted sleep.

I introduce them to research findings and the work of specialist doctors and surgeons, who recommend specific incremental changes to improve heart health.  Each idea is dismissed or discounted as unworkable.  

A common argument is counter-evidence from a someone specialising in research that concludes red meat is most likely to cause heart attacks.  (= man/woman in white coat tells The Truth).

What the client fails to notice is that this researcher is an epidemiologist.  That means they don't actually conduct randomised, controlled, double blind studies that demonstrate cause-effect relationships.  They take population studies and compare the numbers of those who do and don't eat red meat with figures for heart disease.  

If I take population studies for those who open umbrellas and the incidence of rainfall in particular areas, I might wish to claim that opening umbrellas causes rain.  My readers would conclude that I'd lost my marbles or basic common sense.  They may NOT challenge big claims by researchers which fail to offer concrete proof.

Robb Wolf and Chris Kresser discuss this particular assertion that red meat causes heat disease.  Chris unpicks the research and demonstrates that early studies failed to distinguish between processed and unprocessed meats, nor did they consider the rest of the subjects' diet and lifestyles.  Later studies that did include these aspects were unable to conclude that red meat causes heart disease.

There is NO evidence that unprocessed red meat causes heart disease or any other disorder.  

If we eat too much protein, we may gain weight, because excess protein is converted to sugar.  We may also have problems with fat on red meat, if it comes from animals fed on grains rather than put out to grass.  That is NOT an argument to avoid fat, but to be wary about what the animal you eat was eating during its life.

I may not be able to help this particular client to change, particularly if it becomes clear that they are unable and unwilling to make any effort to improve their own health.  I regret that some researchers and journalists are so willing to spread misinformation and bad science.  

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

USA diet extremes

My story begins during a first visit to the USA.  Walking through a restaurant, I saw a woman pour bright orange gloop on her salad.  My English friend told me it was French dressing.  Now in Europe, french dressing is a light golden liquid made of oil and vinegar, sometimes with mustard and garlic added.

Kent Altena's video demonstrated what I'm talking about:

In recent years I've been surprised to see how much sweetener is included in low carb recipes from the USA.  This includes mayonnaise and whipped cream, which are generally unsweetened when homemade in the UK.  I made a cake from a recipe by Kent Altena and halved the quantity of Splenda sweetener.  It was still very sweet.

When I've commented on this on blog posts by prominent low carbers, they respond with incomprehension or get defensive.

This indicated that the SAD (Standard American Diet) was already pretty extreme with high levels of sugar.

I read Jimmy Moore's account of consuming a crate of sodas (carbonated soft drinks) in the days when he was morbidly obese.  In his efforts to lose and maintain lower weight, he seemed to resort to extremes.  In one period he ate steak 3-4 times a day (sometimes more) until he finally absorbed what guest interviewees such as Dr Steven Gundry had told him about reducing protein intake.  Jimmy is now permanently on a ketogenic diet, where he sometimes consumes a block of butter with one meal.  He claims this is the only way for him to maintain a lower weight and stay healthy.

I can believe that someone who has been 'metabolically broken' by past consumption habits may require extreme measures to bring health back into balance.

This is NOT an attack on Jimmy Moore or any other health blogger.  Jimmy does a great job spreading the word about health and nutrition around the world.

My concern is that health bloggers generalise from their particular age/gender/genetics/weath/family status/situation/health problem and suggest approaches that may not be appropriate for others.  I've heard the paleo fitness end of the community dismissing some approaches that are probably very effective for those with athritis or for menopausal women, for example.  I've heard childless low carbers dismiss concerns from parents with children who are conservative in their eating habits.  Some are obsessively focussed on food quality and ignored those on the poverty line, for whom such choices may not be available.  I also hear strident calls for very low carb eating, when this may not suit everyone, particularly those who suffer higher cortisol levels, when ketogenic states stress the body.

Many authors and podcasters in the field (including clinicians) make blanket recommendations without caveats or health warnings.

I've heard a young intelligent former vegan recommend that anaemic vegetarians eat a lot of spinach with fat to boost iron levels.  They do not mention high oxalic acid levels in spinach that bind with metals and make the iron inaccessible.

Vitamin K2 is widely recommended.  I hear no mention of how this supplement may trigger heart palpitations.  High vitamin K2 levels are found in spirulina also.  If someone has pre-existing heart arrhythmia problems, these supplements can trigger an episode (which may be life threatening.)

I consume few cereal grains, though sometimes eat Georgian cheese bread.  I've seen relatives die at an advanced age (90s to 100s) with all their marbles intact, despite consuming some bread in their diet on a regular basis.  I am not arguing that grains are good for everyone.  I'm challenging the notion that diets developed for people with extreme metabolic disorders may be beneficial for all.

EU bows to agribusiness pressure

Yes that's right, the European Parliament in Strasbourg has quietly passed a new food law to allow cultivation of GMO crops in member states.

I heard a tiny pieces about it on radio news, but found little on the internet.  Well Charlie Hebdo killings made a 'nice day to bury bad news'.  All heads were turned to focus on Islamic extremism.

As the article tells us:  'This comes in the midst of Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) talks aimed at securing multilateral growth through commerce between the EU and the US. Many environmentalists were afraid that such an agreement would ease GM crop laws since cultivation of GM crops is widely spread around the US.'

USA lawyers are currently suing the Uruguayan government in court (for sums exceeding the national budget) under a similar agreement signed between North and South America.

I'm willing to bet that, when TTIP is signed here, companies such as Monsanto will be bullying our government to allow widespread growth of GMO crops in the UK.

GM maize is likely to be authorised in the UK very soon.

Nature surveyed the pros and cons for GM crops and came down in the middle.

It seems that the European Parliament rushed this law through in a shoddy piece of legislation:

Two contributors to the field achieve a better balance when discussing diet and health, in my opinion. 

Dr Larry Mccleary, a neurosurgeon, gives considered responses to questions and attempts to put himself in the shoes of parents and carers of people with neurological disorders wanting to introduce dietary changes.  

Chris Masterjohn, a lipidologist, is also unwilling to make definitive statements without strong supportive evidence.

Monday, 12 January 2015

Celebrity chefs make poor scientists

I was listening to an interview with celebrity chef, Hugh Fearnley Whittingstall.  He has made his name in tv series showing how he grows fruit and veg and rears (and slaughters) animals on his farm, before cooking the produce.

He admitted that he'd had a shocking health scare.  His blood cholesterol levels were high and he was bordering on levels 'requiring statins'.  He went on to say that this was because of the amount of butter and cream he used to consume.

HFW is a high profile media celebrity and the story was widely reported.  Unfortunately Hugh is no scientist and has swallowed the NHS line on the cholesterol hypothesis hook, line and sinker.

The illustration above indicates another reason why his blood lipids and blood glucose levels may have soared:  sugars and starches.

Here are some other views:  Dr Malcolm Kendrick (on reasons to AVOID statins), Dr William Davis (on ways to become heart healthy through eliminating cereals) and Dr Stephen Gundry (on ways to improve heart and general health through diet and lifestyle).

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Why do doctors get angry when diabetics lower their blood sugars?

I've talked to some people who feel browbeaten by their doctors.  They lower blood sugar levels by changing diet and lifestyle, but don't get the response they expect.  Lower blood sugar reduces blood pressure and endothelial damage in the circulatory system, I thought.  So lower blood sugar should reduce the risk of heart attacks, I believed.

Their doctor may then turn their attention to cholesterol levels and berate the patient for 'very high levels'.  If the patient takes the trouble to note down the numbers to check against NHS guidelines, they may find most numbers within the normal range, but triglycerides are a little higher.  'One swallow doesn't make a Summer' and it's not great scientific practice to take action based on a single reading for trigs (much the same as writing a prescription based on one blood pressure reading.)  You need to know if it's a one-off event based on some temporary trigger or a general trend.

Back to the blood sugar.

I'm a fan of Jenny Ruhl and her easy to read guidelines on diabetes and optimum blood glucose levels.

She helped solved the mystery of these doctors' reactions:

It turns out that some doctors have come to believe a good study that reached some poor conclusions based on shoddy analysis of data.  In short:  the research took 2 groups of people with type 2 diabetes - one lot had no intervention and the other took steps to reduce their blood sugar levels.  Some of the intervention group had heart attacks and died (more than in the non-intervention group).  The conclusion reached was that lowering blood sugar levels was DANGEROUS.

Another look at the data showed that some of the intervention group cheated and DID NOT lower their blood sugar levels.  Those that did had no heart attacks and became healthier.

Always view tabloid headline reports of medical research with scepticism.  It might also be an idea to treat doctors' negative statements about sensible diet and lifestyle changes with some detachment.  They may not have read the original research or treated it with the critical rigour it deserves.

It's your health and life.