Retrospective #19: Pragmatic, Not Dogmatic

Last week I introduced the last of the design principles that guided us through our renovation: reduce, reuse, recycle. In practice, reuse accounts for 90% of this trio because there is only so much recycling to do, and the act of reusing reduces waste, material use, and costs. While the New Zealand Building Code allows materials to be reused in some cases, it does not in others. If you are planning any work that involves the structural integrity or weather-tightness of your home, please refer to the building code. The friendly folks at Building Control are helpful, knowledgeable, and pretty well awesome to work with.
One example of reuse that saved us thousands of dollars and did comply with the building code was installing second hand aluminium windows that had been stored in the villa along with mountains of rubbish. We looked at the rubbish and saw resources. The real estate agent said the sale came with all chattels, implying it was a necessary evil given the piles of old carpet, broken plasterboard, paint cans, and boxes full of random effluvia. We agreed, thinking ‘Oh boy!’
At some point in the past, the original lounge windows had been smashed by vandals, and roofing iron was later nailed on the inside wall to keep them – but not rain – out. As a result, they broke a hole in the floor and came in that way, and almost all of the studs in that exterior wall were rotted up to 200 mm when we took possession. Looking at the expense of reframing and re-cladding the entire wall, we were eager to save some money by reusing the ‘free’ windows we inherited.
Additionally, we wanted to demonstrate that a drafty, cold villa in Wanganui could be made warm, dry and healthy without going to the expense of replacing all windows with double-glazing. As I have written about on many occasions, we addressed the problem of heat loss through windows with a host of low budget / high performance solutions that match and exceed the insulating value of double-glazed windows alone.
However, contrary to what some readers may think, eco-thrifty renovation is pragmatic, not dogmatic. The mandate of ETR is low cost and high performance, but it can be achieved in many ways. Here are two examples involving windows.

Lounge Window: Left without plastic film – Right with plastic film
As described above, the lounge window is a large, second-hand and aluminium framed. This makes it one of the biggest sources of heat loss in our otherwise well insulated home. The pragmatic solution in this case was to install a pelmet and floor-length thermal curtains, as well as plastic sheet window insulation. From the picture you can see how effective the window film is at insulating the pane on the right compared to one on the left without the plastic sheet applied. That picture was taken in late July at about 8 am.
Left: Lounge window. Right: New kitchen/dining window.
Not far from the lounge window is another northeast-facing window. This window brings morning sun into our kitchen and dining room. Initially we installed another second-hand window that was left in the villa, but we later discovered two things: 1) the hinges were stuffed; 2) that of any window, this would be the first one from which the curtains would be drawn each morning. Both of these reasons drew me to a local window manufacturer to order the lowest cost / highest performance double-glazed window I could. For our purposes, this meant a large, fixed, thermally-broken window. The location of the window is near our French doors, so ventilation is not an issue in that corner of the villa. What we saved on hinges and latches paid for the extra expense of having the aluminium frame ‘broken’ by a thick band of rigid plastic. Although this window cost us about $700, because of its location it serves a special purpose by letting in daylight exactly where we spend our mornings while still retaining warmth.
As I said, ETR is more pragmatic than dogmatic. There are many shades of grey.
Peace, Estwing

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