Category Archives: bathroom

Positive Pressure – Negative Results

Editor’s note: Another weekly column in the Wanganui Chronicle.


Oops! What a difference a word makes. In last week’s column I inadvertently used “our home” when I should have used “a home” when referring to a positive pressure ventilation system. In the context of explaining that dehumidifiers are valuable at times, I wrote:

“It’s there at the ready should we need it, but like a positive pressure ventilation system installed in a roof cavity it only removes the damp that is already inside our home.”

Please note we do not have a positive pressure ventilation system nor would I ever consider installing one. They are expensive and research shows that they make homes two to three degrees colder. As such, they are certainly not suited to an eco-thrifty approach to low-cost / high-performance housing.

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The term “positive pressure” may not be familiar to you, but the name brands certainly will be. The two largest companies are known by their initials and are more-or-less household names in New Zealand. Smaller companies tend to put a snappy word in front of the word “vent” to brand themselves. Fictional examples would be Platinum-Vent, Uber-Vent, or Sweet-As-Vent.

To the best of my understanding, positive pressure ventilation systems make homes colder in two ways. The first and most obvious way is that they pump cold, dry air from the roof cavity into the living spaces. This tends to make homes dryer at the expense of warmth.

The other way requires a more holistic understanding of how a home functions, so we can expect letters of complaint to the Chronicle from those ardent writers who neither read for comprehension nor tend to believe in scientific research.

As I have written dozens of times over the last 40 months, restricting airflow around curtains is critical to their functioning as window insulation. Closing off the top of a curtain track with a pelmet or similar strategy, and ensuring that curtains touch the floor are the most important factors in curtain performance. But at least one positive pressure ventilation company specifically recommends that purchasers of their system leave the tops and bottoms of curtains open to allow ample airflow. This advice makes homes colder.

Aside from the accidental miswording, last week’s column was all about arresting moisture before it builds up in a home. Dehumidifiers and positive pressure ventilation are after-the-fact approaches. They treat symptoms of unhealthy homes. But like modern medicine, treating causes is better and more cost effective than treating symptoms.

With this in mind, here is a question from a Chronicle reader.

What is the best covering for bathroom windows? I have a large window over the bathroom vanity. I like to keep the bathroom door open for ventilation but all winter the cold is coming in via the window. Wary about putting thermal curtains up in a room prone to moisture. I have a showerdome which is brilliant at minimising steam from shower. Your advice would be appreciated. – Liz  Solly

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Thanks Liz,

There is no reason that any bathroom cannot have a curtain or Roman blind. The key, as you have identified, is managing moisture. Shower Domes are great, as is a similar product called Steam Stopper. But in both cases, an extractor fan with a ten-minute delay timer may be an additional measure to ensure that the bathroom won’t suffer from perennially high humidity. From this perspective, any type of window covering should do, although I would avoid cotton. Manage moisture first and effectively at its source, and then you should never have to worry about mould.

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Along the same lines, I got this feedback from another reader:

“Since [we] put polythene under my house, my home is significantly warmer and drier.  In the kitchen it was common for me to have large damp patches appearing on my wooden floor, so bad I used to think that the kids had spilled something without telling me!  Since the polythene went down there is no sign whatsover of that rising damp…. My home feels healthier, drier and warmer, my only regret is that I wish I would have done this years ago. Thoroughly recommend. Thank you Nelson. 🙂 ”


Peace, Estwing

Mixing Old and New to Create a Character Bathroom

For regular readers of this column it is obvious that energy efficiency is a major part of eco-thrifty renovation. From an energy perspective, the ‘eco’ need only stand for economic because the financial benefits are so easy to document.

One need not have any green intentions to fully embrace energy efficiency on a purely fiscal basis. The Scrougiest Scrouge and the Grinchiest Grinch should be all over LED light bulbs, insulation, and Energy Star appliances.

The financial payback of many energy efficiency measures gives a better return than the best term deposit available. Additionally, there are the intangible benefits of comfort, health and family well-being.

But there is another aspect of eco-thrifty renovation that does not offer such clear financial payback, and may in some cases cost more than bog standard conventional building practices. This involves reusing materials, which in most cases is labour intensive.

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 If you pay a builder to do it the cost comes in wages. If you do it yourself the cost comes in time. In either case, the costs can often be justified by a unique and beautiful product. Character and craftsmanship are worth paying for in the same way that good artwork is worth paying for.

Personally, I pay in blisters, abrasions, sawdust up my nose, small cuts on my hands, and a sweaty brow. Reusing materials is a labour of love.

Reusing materials forces one to work slowly; to be mindful; to focus on beauty rather than speed. It is a welcome break in a busy world.

One interesting feature in our bathroom came as a result of a clumsy plumber. While placing the basin on top of the porcelin pedestal four years ago, the plumber cracked the top of the pedestal. He slapped a few pieces of black electrical tape on it and left. And so it remained for two years while I completed 267 other projects.

Then one day after my dissertation had been accepted, my family was away, and there were no waves at the North Mole, I crawled under the house and retrieved the rimu studs I had stored there in 2010. On a scale of craftsmanship, this project ranks fairly low, but one great thing about repurposing timber is that imperfections are just part of the character. Beware, however, there is a fine line between character and a dodgy job.

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For this project I framed a shelf under the basin with the rough sawn rimu studs I had pulled out of our walls while reframing and adding insulation. The shelves themselves are dressed rimu from the old hospital in Aramoho that was pulled down last year. I bought it for $1 per metre.

But for me, the coolest feature is the weathered post that conceals the drain – a job previously done by the cracked pedestal.

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I got the post from next door while rebuilding a fence for our neighbour. The totara ‘4-ba-4’ has beautiful raised grain and was weathered to a gorgeous colour by thirty years of coastal winds. I ripped a channel the length of the post and chiseled out the wood to create a cavity just wider than the drainpipe.

In total, the project presents the vintage wood in a contemporary way. Mixing old and new is a style choice that can work well or can totally bomb.

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The age of the timbers are mirrored by the century-old Methven taps in the basin above them. We carried this theme throughout the bathroom with a vintage cast iron claw foot bathtub and reproduction retro taps to echo the Methvens. Screen shot 2015-01-24 at 6.54.47 AM

The vintage basin and tub stand out in the bathroom in part because of their character and in part because of the dark paint on the walls. The high gloss paint is easy to clean and reflects natural sunlight around the room from the giant north-facing windows. The space feels light and roomy, and is always warm even throughout winter. It is a welcoming space in all respects.


Peace, Estwing

Retrospective: Bathroom

Editor’s note: This is an early posting of tomorrow’s article in the Wanganui Chronicle. I won’t have time to post tomorrow. 
Many renovations are heavy on kitchens and bathrooms and light on everything else. It appears that there is a belief that these improvements will increase the resale value of a home while also improving functionality and/or style for the current occupants. That thinking is hard to argue with, except that new kitchens and bathrooms can cost tens of thousands of dollars each, and that the housing market appears to be stalled in Wanganui, and it could take quite a while for dwellings to appreciate enough to ‘pay’ for the renovations when ultimately sold. (Wow, that was a long sentence.)
Old kitchen before conversion to bathroom.  
Large expenditures on new kitchens and bathrooms may exhaust a homeowner’s funds available for renovation, and preclude them from investing in strategies that will definitely pay for themselves in a matter of years, such as insulation and solar hot water. But let’s face it: insulation is not sexy. A new bathroom or kitchen is.
Old kitchen before conversion to bathroom.   
Eco-thrifty renovation is about finding the middle ground between serving the needs of a home’s occupants, keeping expenses reasonable, and putting less pressure on the planet. Instead of, say, spending $10,000 on a flash new bathroom and another $10,000 on a flash new kitchen, we were able to get functional and attractive versions of each, plus insulate our home and install solar hot water for under $20,000.
Terry Lobb wrote a guest column here on our kitchen a couple of months ago, highlighting some of the unique design elements made possible by shopping for second-hand, quality items, such as our antique leadlight cabinet doors purchased at Hayward’s Auctions and our Shacklock 501 coal range purchased on TradeMe. We used both of these sources, along with Wanganui’s Renovator’s Centre, when outfitting our $2,000 bathroom. Purchases included a claw foot bathtub, a toilet, a pedestal sink, a laundry tub, and a wall cabinet.
Temporary shower.  
Temporary shower.  
But quality, second-hand goods are just part of eco-thrifty renovation, which also includes efforts to improve thermal comfort and energy efficiency. Our bathroom has a large, northwest-facing window that receives a lot of winter afternoon sun that could potentially raise the temperature of the room to the high twenties, unless heat-tempering strategies were used.
We ‘capture’ some of the sun’s heat in thermal mass that takes the forms of a heavy, iron tub, and two layers of plasterboard on the wall opposite the window. Thermal mass absorbs excess heat in the afternoon, ‘stores’ it, and then releases it when the temperature of the room drops overnight. In order to slow the cooling of the room, we insulated the ceiling and the two external walls. We also installed a pelmet over the window, and use thermal curtains and window blankets during cold weather.
Extra layer to plaster board going being installed. 
This combination of materials and design strategies has provided us with an attractive bathroom (color choice made by the wife) in which we can take an evening shower in the middle of winter using free solar hot water, and then step into a 23 degree room also heated free of charge by the sun.
Fully installed tub and vanity.
All this was done in a tired, old villa. Imagine what one could accomplish if starting from scratch.
Peace, Estwing