There’s often a reason people do as they do

When Valerie Cappell and her family decided to build their dream home, they determined “to do the right thing” by making it as ecologically-friendly as possible.

But the “Grand Designs-esq” adventure turned into a nightmare when she discovered the highly sustainable wool she had chosen to insulate the four-bed property was hosting a moth infestation of “biblical proportions”.

Despite being reassured that treating the organic substance with pyrethrin would be sufficient to ward off insect invaders, she had to rip apart swathes of the wave-shaped house.

Having consulted experts and sent portions of the infested wool for laboratory analysis, the biologist has now been told by Rentokil that her traumatic experience is shared by many others who opt for organic insulation.

“It was soul-destroying and incredibly stressful when we couldn’t work out where all the moths were coming from,” she told The Telegraph.

“I think our situation could be the tip of an iceberg – many more people must have installed this kind of insulation.”

As with many another new solution to an old problem, say, how shall we organise the economy then? We need to consider a derivative of Chesterton’s Fence. Why didn’t people do it this way before?

35 thoughts on “There’s often a reason people do as they do”

  1. ” . . .the highly sustainable wool she had chosen to insulate . . .”

    How is wool more sustainable than fiberglass? I mean, its not like there isn’t a massive amount of pollution caused by raising wool-bearing animals (pollution from producing feed, feces, energy, etc) and its generally a ‘put in once and don’t touch for 30 years’ situation.

    While wool – if nothing else, requires chemical treatment to prevent, say, moth infestations along with fireproofing. So even if the wool is ‘sustainable’, the chemical production and treatment process won’t be.

  2. The last time I looked, highly sustainable wool insulation cost a bomb.

    Also, moths got to live somewhere. Seems highly ecologically friendly to provide them with a nice, warm little place of their own.

  3. Bloke in North Dorset (mid channel)

    Agammamon,

    Greens and lefties, I know there’s little difference in reality, don’t do 2nd order effects, let alone anything higher.

  4. I suspect the reason was cost rather than this, but, you’ve got something that works.

    One thing that always gets me about greenies is how they go after minor shit. I’m not knocking the general idea of using less energy, not wasting resources. But a once-every-30-years thing just isn’t worth bothering about. It’s the stuff like heating and driving that matters.

  5. How long does it take for wool to rot away? And if this wool does not rot, then what is she using to preserve it?

  6. Greenies fall for anything allegedly or apparently ‘natural’ or ‘sustainable’ — wood-burning stoves, wind power, wool insulation…. They rarely consider trade-offs, costs and benefits or unintended consequences – ie an environmental audit.

    Greenies don’t get that collecting washed plastic from every household in the land, sorting it, compressing it, transporting it in containers to Felixstowe and then shipping it to China to be made into toys or whatever is – probably – more environmentally harmful than just burying the stuff or ideally recycling it locally. (And as for re-cycling paper…, don’t get me started.) That said, recycling plastic creates another tradeable commodity and increases economic activity; but the greenies don’t seem to see that as an advantage.

  7. “Greenies don’t get that collecting washed plastic from every household in the land, sorting it, compressing it, transporting it in containers to Felixstowe and then shipping it to China to be made into toys or whatever is – probably – more environmentally harmful than just burying the stuff or ideally recycling it locally.”

    I’ve always said that the best thing we could do with domestic waste is bury it, extract the methane for some free energy, and in 50 years time when oil has run out, dig the whole lot back up and recycle the plastic that will still be there (and presumably will be worth a fortune if we haven’t found a cheap way of making plastic without oil by then). Everybody says ‘Plastic lasts for centuries in landfill’, well great, it’ll still be there if/when we need it then!

  8. “a derivative of Chesterton’s Fence. Why didn’t people do it this way before?”

    Or, why did people stop doing this as soon as alternatives were available?

  9. Jim,

    Yup. And maybe in 50 years we’ll have figured out how to do it well.

    Aluminium is the only thing I recycle.

  10. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    When we were renovating our house in Austria, my missus mad a detailled study of alternative methods of insulating. She wanted wool, or a similar material, because she had sen it on Countryfile. But the maths didn’t add up, for all her efforts to calculate the cost/efficiency ratio, wool came pretty low down. Aa it turned out the builder had his own method of mixing polystyrene in with plaster. I bet the plaxe is a real firehazard now.

    Strangely it didn’t even occur to us that creatures could still be living in there. We’d have had to drill holes everywhere to get the nozzle of the Vapona tin in.

  11. @BnliA,

    Reminds me of the time I brought a sealed plastic bag of dried mushrooms back from China. A year or two later, found it at the back of the larder, crawling with moths, most dead, some still moving.

    Not surprised there were insect eggs in with the shrooms, but that there was sufficient moisture to support them over several generations.

  12. We’ve discovered a wonderfully cheap and effective method of insulation: a triumph of applied science, a moth-free wonderland of cosy warmth throughout the winter.

    We insulate us.

  13. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    BiGgie, don’t buy spices from Spar supermarkets. The creatures I found living in the jars after a few weeks were like something out of Dr Who.

    dearieme… sigh… the whole point of the exercise is that one can spend the whole day wandering about the house dressed JUST IN YOUR PANTS ! Provided one has net curtains, of course.

  14. “Plastic burns well. Wouldn’t it be better to incinerate it rather than trying to recycle it?”

    Because once its burnt its gone. The extra energy gained by burning it is insignificant in the terms of how long it could sustain Western lifestyles, so the best thing to do is hide it in the ground, in case we need a resource in the future.

    Hopefully we’ll have solved the problem of making plastic-like materials from something other than oil, in which case the waste can stay safely in the ground, doing no harm, if its valuable then we will dig it up and recycle it as use it.

    Win/win.

  15. “dearieme… sigh… the whole point of the exercise is that one can spend the whole day wandering about the house dressed JUST IN YOUR PANTS !” What a stupid bloody ambition. I like my trunk well wrapped and my goollies free to air.

  16. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    As Sir Sidney says in Carry on up the Khyber

    “Personal equipment must at all times be kept clear of rust and dust and allow the free circulation of air.”

  17. Knew a guy who went back in later life to do his doctorate, something about energy costs etc.
    He liked to point out the tomatoes in the local farmers market were much worse environmentally and energy use wise than the supermarkets tomatoes shipped in bulk from California and Mexico and he had the numbers to prove it

  18. Give it time, will be able to prove the vegetable grown in a town centre building are better environmentally and energy wise than stuff shipped in bulk from overseas.
    Will take time. And a lot of renewable energy generation.

  19. @Jim,

    The thing about fossil fuels (make plastics) is that within 50 years, we’ll be using them only for things you can’t do any other way. So there’ll be thousands of years of reserves (or resources, whatever) and it’ll cost $10 a barrel again, and TimN will hopefully be retired on a pension not too closely tied to Shell’s share price.

    The value of waste plastic is probably less than you can sell its calorific value for (assuming you do the German thing of making leccy and heat out of it), so any economically rational person will tell you to do that. Unfortunately, it doesn’t contribute much to landfill methane because of that low rate of decomposition.

  20. @BniC, The hothoused veggies are apparently heat and CO2-blasted to finish in response to tiny changes in market prices. Most of it doesn’t need it – short term supply shortage that you can make a few extra euros off and they fire up the burners. It’s not normal practice for most of the toms you eat.

    Still, the energy expenditure on agriculture is vast. Possibly even without accounting for the sunlight consumed, it eats more energy than it gives humans in nutrition (which you obviously can’t say for subsistence agriculture – which is one reason the greenies want to take us back there). Earlier this year, with the inclemently cold weather, the vineyards around here were all packed with giant candles every night to stop the vines freezing. Given the summer, I bet they wish they hadn’t bothered.

  21. Bloke in Costa Rica

    “it eats more energy than it gives humans in nutrition”. It would be a neat trick if it were otherwise. Greater than 100% efficiency. Not quite sure how that works. If you count sunlight this is vacuously the case, but it’s irrelevant anyway. The energy inputs to agriculture are not available to humans unless we learn how to photosynthesise etc..

    Cavity walls need a cavity. There was that mania for filling them with polyurethane foam a few decades back, and a lot of people made a lot of money doing it. I wonder if it was the same people who made a lot of money hoiking it out again when it disintegrated and bridged the damp course. Probably your best bet these days is appliqué fire-retardant foam board up against the inner course of no more than 1/4 of the cavity width. Bit difficult to retrofit, unfortunately.

  22. Bloke in North Dorset

    “Breaking news: filling your cavity walls with smug doesn’t work.”

    I wouldn’t want to fill her cavities with my smug, at least not in the missionary position and without her wearing a gag to stop her talking.

    But look on the bright side, a fool and her money have paid for quite a few honest builders to make a living and have a good chuckle while they were dong it

  23. Jim,

    I’ve been looking into plastics production on Mars. Cellulose based plastics are acceptable replacements for most use cases. For the other cases polymerization of methane appears to be the best option.

    Methane is cheap to produce using water and CO2, assuming one has a cheap source of electricity, which we get from the excess RE generation capacity we need to ensure the heat stays on in the winter. Now that I’ve done most of the design work on a Sabatier reactor, I can’t figure out why someone isn’t mass-producing these already.

    The point is, unless patent trolls get in the way, I simply can’t see how it will be economic to dig up landfills to recover plastic in 50 years.

  24. Pcar – the social housing flats near me have had solar panels for a few years. 10 to 18 panels if memory serves, per building.
    No idea how efficient they are or what they produce – as a larger roof area than a house they will presumably be more cost effective than a small roof house with just 4 or 6 panels.

  25. Assuming these social housing flats are in the UK, they won’t produce enough energy during their effective lifetimes to outweigh that consumed during their manufacture. At latitudes more than 45 degrees from the equator, PV cells can be viewed as a sort of storage system – energy (electricity) is ‘stored’ during the manufacturing processes and gradually released over the next few decades as the sun shines.

    Different if installed in southern Spain or Arizona, of course.

  26. @Bloke in Costa Rica, September 2, 2017 at 8:59 pm

    …Probably your best bet these days is appliqué fire-retardant foam board up against the inner course of no more than 1/4 of the cavity width. Bit difficult to retrofit, unfortunately.

    Agree. As for retrofit: when I was in Sweden they were retrofitting by adding insulation to external wall, then building a new wall with cavity in front. Sensible old-school technique. Blair’s and left’s obsession with old is bad, modern is good resulted in the Greenfail Tower type shiny new insulation cladding.

    Blair: the most destructive & expensive PM the UK has ever had – allowing tax & spend aholic Brown to be chancellor was Blair’s decision.

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