500 Year Vision

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Small bugs to help with insulation

August18

In a pleasingly synergistic development… I am about to elicit the help of very small bugs to insulate my windows.

We have beautiful old windows, which are just in need of a little tlc. Unfortunately, they are somewhat leaky (airwise), and it would seem that everybody else (from here) who visits the house, not only hates them, but also thinks they will be ineffective and should be ripped out and replaced by, at the very least, a smart set of PVC frames. I am reluctant. They may be a little draughty, but they belong to Novy Mlyn. Sparkling, perfectly flat new windows are not for me, so I have been undergoing as much restoration as possible over the summer. It is part of the ethos of Novy Mlyn to reuse as much as possible, ripping out and replacing perfectly good double windows goes against the grain, and the evidence that new double glazed windows would be more effective is inconclusive.

But… if they are to work, I must eliminate the obvious leaks. I was trying to work out a method of testing each window for drafts, and was considering using joss sticks, or something smoky, so that I could see where air was getting in and out of the windows. They are Vienna style (1m by 2m ish, two windows approx 30 cm apart). The house is odd, really. It is a town house in a village, it would suit Prague or Tábor better (but then would have been worth UK millions, rather than just Czech millions). It’s really important to draft proof the windows as I need to stop heat just walking out of the house in the winter. I am terrified that it will be as cold at Novy Mlyn as it was in our flat in Moseley (who in their right minds would build houses from a single layer of bricks?).

So, I have been working on the windows, cleaning them thoroughly, stripping and repainting the frames (the bit set into the wall). It was the windows which made the place look like it hadn’t been lived in for 20 years, cracked and peeling; a graveyard for dead insects.

After several weeks of work, my shoulders and upper arms have benefited from the toning effects of hard labour, while my lungs have suffered the consequences of melting and sanding of leaded paint. Pleasingly, I now know that my windows are not rotten, and none of them need to be completely replaced. Less pleasingly, I know where the gaps are, and they’re considerable. Over recent weeks I have been thinking about what to fill these gaps with, from the D shaped plastic stuff used by contemporary joiners, to an organic alternative, such as shafts of straw.

This sheds some light on the number of dead flies we found in the 30 cm gap between the two sets of windows. When we first arrived at Novy Mlyn it was positively creepy. Very Miss Haversham with cobwebs all over the place. Even now, the spiders are quick to work compared with my speed at cleaning, and it would seem that food for spiders is plentiful at Novy Mlyn. Bugs are getting into the house in great numbers.

I know this’ll sound a little bit soft, but I leave the bathroom light on when we are away from the house, so that Novy Mlyn is not in complete darkness (for the cats). When we are there, I also leave it on all night for me to find the loo. I cleaned the bathroom today, and there were lots of little bugs in the bath, on the windowsill & inside the lamp (which is low energy, of course, as are all the lights at Novy Mlyn).

The other day I attempted to design a fly screen, using one of the many pairs of net curtains which have been left behind in the house. This was only effective in keeping out moths and mosquitoes (in itself important), however we were plagued that night with the sort of tiny flies which could fit through the net (at least that wasn’t as bad as the flies… it took us a little while to find the source of those… not the types interested in scraps of food… but instead insistently bugging us humans while we tried to work, and it took us a while to figure out why. We have a keen hunter living with us now, unfortunately he sometimes hides his prey out of site and forgets about it. For us, an unforeseen consequence of fitting a cat door.)

Instead of clean running water, we have variety of alternatives; these include rain water, water transported from Tábor, bottled water (Evian to my friend Ross), alcohol based disinfectant gel and wet wipes. As I’ve mentioned before, we have an ongoing relationship with wet wipes. I try to use them for other purposes after the initial use, as they’re hardly a sustainable option, but am accruing a wet wipe mountain. For your information: we have found that the Helen Harper brand wet wipes are best for removing oil based paint from skin (!).

Today I put the windows back in the frames in our bedroom. It was very warm again so I figured out a better version of the fly screen/mosquito net. I also went looking for some material to plug the gaps in the windows… after playing about with some long stemmed grass for a while (plentiful, local, but unsuitable) , then looking around for alternatives… laddered tights… some kind of string, perhaps… I realised that I have the perfect measure… wet wipes. Pleasingly, these fit exactly into the gaps, and I have a huge supply dry and clean enough for this job. As the frames are white, they are even camouflaged.

Now, my plan is simply, window by window, plug up the gaps I can see, then using a light and my new screen, see if any of the little bugs make it into the house at night. If no, I have blocked any gaps that would lead to significant heat loss. There is always method in my madness.

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