My views on Ghost Estate Houses and what should be done…

I’ve been in an interesting position over the last few weeks; although the house in question isn’t on a ghost estate, it has lain unfinished since the golden Celtic Tiger building year of 2005. The project is essentially to upgrade the house to current standards and it got me thinking about the thousands of ghost estate houses across the country and what we can do about them…

I’ll cut to the chase, as far as I can see it there are essentially only two options and I’ll give an explanation in a moment why these are the only drastic solutions available:

1. We demolish them down to ground level, cover in top soil and then replant as fields – returning them essentially to what they once were.

2. We open them up as tourist visitor attractions with paid guided tours with the emphasis on showing the foolishness and greed of Irish banks, developers and politicians.

Surely you’ll say that the houses could be used for something, maybe social housing? But my argument is that the amount of money, time and effort spent trying to even approach current standards just isn’t worth it (or in some cases even possible). Even attaining current standards is in some cases impossible and you might as well forget trying to go further and reach a more stringent standard such as PassivHaus. Let’s therefore look in detail about the basics over what has to be done and what the problems are:

1. Insulation

Generally the houses are woefully insulated with typically 60mm of white or at best grey polystyrene (no tradenames but you know what I’m referring to). This gives a U value in a block rendered wall of 0.35-0.3, substandard even when you compare it to the elemental Building Regs standard of 0.27, and completely crap when compared to the PassivHaus standard of 0.15

This is assuming that the insulation has been fitted well, generally at this time, build quality was appalling, builders were rushing the construction, had no care or pride in their work or appreciation for the trades that followed. Block layers wanted to lay blocks as quickly as they possibly could in order to move onto the next job, they had no real interest in installng the ‘bothersome’ insulation that (in their eyes) wasn’t there responsibility anyway. You have to remember that a lot of the block layers at the time sprung up due to the demand and the only ‘qualifications’ they had in this regard is that the previous week they built a block shed.

You might as well forget completely the concept of blocklayers (at this time) understanding the concept of cold bridges, again the walls were built as quick as possible with adding any further insulation (at window reveals for example) infringing on the time that they could be laying further blocks!

So, the problem is that you just didn’t know what is lying within those cavity walls; you therefore have the expense of using thermal imaging cameras to ascertain what’s there, internal insulation (with inherent condensation risk problems if high levels are required) or insulating externally (don’t forget the expense of changing wndow cills, soil and rain water pipe positions etc… If these are already installed.)

So far we’ve only looked at the insulation in the walls, you’re going to get into problems upgrading the insulation in the floors if the internal walls are done (all the door heads would have been set for an insulation thickness of 50mm for example), you may also get into problems with window heights if the floor is raised. You will also risk condensation problems if the insulation is increased internally on any ‘on rafter’ roof face.

2. Airtightness

I’ve written a lot about the importance of airtightness, suffice to say that it’s going to take quite a bit of effort getting the ‘ghost’ houses even attaining Building Regulation Standards let alone anything appraching Passivhaus.

In summary, you’re going to need to spend a stack of money even to complete the houses to 2005 standards, a stack more in insulation and airtightness to get to 2011 standards and a load more money and possibly an impossible task (silk purse and sow’s ear comes to mind) to go further to anything even approaching Passivhaus standards.

Surely, these houses would be OK for social housing? No, I say, why should we use sub-standard housing in this way! Social housing deserves and should get better, especially when houses of this type are going to cost the occupants more to run in fuel bills.

So that is why I say, either a. Knock them for b. Use them to show future generations how building could go so badly wrong.

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