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Could bacteria develop a new type of eco-friendly plasterboard?

We are delighted to be partnering with Microbiologists from the University of Bath’s Department of Biology & Biochemistry, and concrete experts from the Department of Architecture and Civil Engineering to explore the possibilities of a bacteria-based construction technology (BBCT) being the future of biodegradable construction materials.

We are also massively grateful to PBC Today for sharing our work on this, you can read the full article by checking the link to their website below:

News

Adaptavate secures £500,000 Government funding to continue developing biomaterials of the future.

Adaptavate have been awarded a £500,000 development project co-funded by Innovate UK, the UK’s Innovation agency. This is to further develop techniques to take CO2 from the atmosphere and other CO2 emitting processes, such as lime and cement. The project focusses on locking this into construction products, such as the award winning Breathaboard technology.

‘This is a really exciting project at a pivotal point for Adaptavate. It enables us to grow the team and technical partnerships at a really exciting time in our industry. It affirms Adaptavate and the partner universities as leading the way in CO2 sequestration in building materials and industrial processes – helping us reach ambitious CO2 targets that are being set by governments and industrial bodies”.

Tom Robinson, Founder of Adaptavate

In parallel the project is asking the question; can the waste of these materials be used as soil nutrients for use in agriculture, to grow more crops and bio-materials, completing a circular economy approach to construction bio-materials? Ground up construction waste will be compared to the digestate from Anaerobic Digestion (AD) of the same material. The AD process also generates synthetic gas, predominantly Methane. Here a second and third nutrient loop can be exploited as the Methane created can be burnt to create electricity to run the factory, creating CO, which can sequestered in the curing of new material. This is totally in line with Adaptavate’s purpose: to positively disrupt the material flows in the construction sector.

“Environmentally positive solutions are not one size fits all, and neither are business cases. This project will allow us to scale the next generation of bio-materials though absorbing CO2 from emitting processes all over the world through localised production models. This is a really transformative way of looking at this conservative, vertically integrated industry that is looking for a step change”. 

Jeff Ive, Technical Director at Adaptavate

The project builds on the strong relationships that Adaptavate have built with the University of Bath and Bio composite Development Centre in York.

“Personally, I am really excited to work with Adaptavate as it builds on our track record of working with this Innovative leading SME, realising the potential impact of a previous BBSRC funded project carried out in collaboration with Adaptavate. There is great potential is the development of genuinely low carbon, possibly even carbon neutral building materials for the mainstream industry – this is a real potential game-changing solution and we are excited to be a key part of it.”

Professor Pete Walker, of the University of Bath and Director of BRE Centre of Innovative Construction Materials

News

Is plaster the new toilet roll?

Demand for building materials and DIY products in lockdown skyrocketed stretching UK supplies and risking supermarket style product restrictions.

Toilet roll, flour, and wall plaster? What do these items all have in common? All have seen a buying surge by the public that’s put huge pressure on manufacturers and suppliers to keep up with demand. At Adaptavate we’ve felt this through a real rise in enquiries about Breathaplasta.

The panic buying of toilet paper at the start of the coronavirus pandemic gave way to a rush on baking ingredients and a flour shortage during lockdown and now a DIY binge that’s stretching UK supplies of cement, plaster, fence panels, paint and power tools, all of which are in huge demand right now as DIY shops report a surge in sales up 250% on last year.

With more than 9 million Britons furloughed during the three months of lockdown, many have turned to much delayed DIY projects to fill their days and have diverted funds they’d otherwise have spent on foreign holidays, meals out, trips to the pub or luxury fashion into home improvements with DIY projects, ranging from mending fences to laying patios, skimming walls, painting and decorating all proving popular. I’m sure we’ve all seen the ‘What we haven’t got…’ signs outside our local B&Q or Homebase, all featuring plaster and plasterboard. It’s become a ‘hot commodity’!  

Last week Kingfisher, which owns the B&Q and Screwfix chains, both deemed essential businesses and allowed to remain open throughout the coronavirus lockdown, said they were hiring up to 2,000 temporary workers after online sales soared by more than 200% in April and May.

“I wouldn’t quite say plaster is the toilet roll of the building materials industry, but it’s probably not far off,” said John Newcomb, chief executive of the Builders Merchants Federation (BMF). “The availability issues are either in builders’ merchants or DIY stores and there has been a big shortage of plaster as well as issues around bagged cement – it’s the products purchased by consumers and tradesmen, so it’s those who buy smaller quantities who are worst affected.”

“We are also seeing excessive demand for external materials like fence posts and panels, exterior paint and garden sleepers,” said Newcomb. “There is this extreme demand from consumers and now, as tradesmen start to return to work, they’re adding to that.”

Plaster factories have not been able to keep up with the extra demand, even though some businesses are working overtime, drawing parallels with the flour shortage that occurred earlier this year created by the lockdown baking craze.

This is why we’ve been called on so much as people are looking to make the change from standard gypsum plaster to Breathaplasta which is not only better for our buildings and healthier, but is mixed and installed in a similar way to regular plaster making the transition from gypsum easy. A versatile product Breathaplasta gives multiple health benefits in terms of reducing problems with condensation and mould, absorbing pollutants and helping to save energy by improving insulation.

“I guess the best thing about it at the moment is that you can actually buy it!” said Tom, our founder. “We managed to get our manufacturing and supply chain up and running with safe social distancing protocols straight after lockdown – that is one of the benefits of being a smaller business, we can quickly react to changing situations around us and adapt much faster than bigger companies.”

Back in March supermarkets began rationing certain items amid the initial coronavirus panic and basic items such as toilet paper, pasta, wipes and soap were all restricted as consumers emptied shelves across the country. So, will we see something similar in the DIY world? It’s unlikely that we’ll see any of the same restrictions applied to building materials and DIY items as much of the initial panic around the coronavirus has settled down somewhat and as building materials are not considered essential items in the same way as groceries and other supermarket essentials. 

The work of housebuilders and major contractors has mostly avoided disruption, said Newcomb, who added that plaster supplies and other building materials were being prioritised for essential projects, particularly within the NHS. The most likely outcome is that product supply will continue to fall short of demand in the short-medium term and that we’ll see an increase in the use of new and different brands to the mainstream construction products until supply levels normalise towards the end of the summer, perhaps late August or early September 2020.

At Adaptavate, whilst the last 4 months have been incredibly challenging, we’ve been happy to support the more traditional merchants and contractors to help keep their projects on track by supporting them in making the switch from gypsum plaster to healthier, more ecological products such as our Breathaplasta. We’ll continue to help ease the pressure on the supply chain and work around the current constraints on the construction industry. As a small business, we hope that the customers we’ve gained through this challenging time will stick with us into the future and help catalyse the transition to healthier building products that are better for people, buildings and the planet. It has been such a shift in industry, society and ecological impact on our planet in the last 4 months and the time really is now to make the transition to a better way of living and working. Or in the government’s words ‘building back better’! We’d love to have you by our side – thanks for the support!

Blog

So…what do you do?

When small talk goes large

It’s a small talk classic. “What’s your name?”. Done. “Where are you from?” Asked. According to the laws of polite chat, the next question is: “What do you do?”. The response is usually a job title, wrapped up neatly in a few words with a business-speak bow on top. But that doesn’t actually answer the question. If you have a job: what impact does it have on the people and places around you? Cause and effect. What do you make happen? What do you actually do?

Good job, guys!

Shout out to the teachers, doctors, nurses and other people in professions that are by their very nature, benefitting the wider world. Loving your work. Some jobs aren’t so good, but then again they aren’t so bad. Meh. And then there are the jobs that make a killing. Most of us have to make a living, but if your sole aim is to make a killing, you’re probably going to end up doing it in more ways than one. All jobs impact profit, people and planet. The three aren’t mutually exclusive but it’s allllll about the balance.

The pudding

This matters now more than ever. Humanity’s shit is hitting the planet’s fan. If proof was still needed, check out IPCC. Or walk down a beach of bleached coral. Watch Jakarta drowning and Australia burning. The climate and ecological emergency (CEE) is here. It’s not a concept for Future Us to worry about. It’s cold, hot, gale-force hard fact.

Has bin

So, what do you do? Professions on the wonk with the profit/people/planet balance are knowingly expediting the CEE. Think big finance investing in fossil fuels, politicians with their fingers in their ears and pesticide companies exterminating the actual birds and bees.

And then there’s the branders and advertisers elevating products of destruction to products of desire. Alan Jope, Chief Executive of Unilever was reported to have said recently: “I sometimes wonder if we’re in the branded litter business, branded trash”. Spot on, Alan. The world’s in flames, but at least the insides of our bins are looking fit. Nice one guys. And even the bins have to go somewhere. Recycling is good, but it’s not the panacea we want it to be. We need to create less packaging in the first place. Whatever name you want to give it, single use plastic = always pointless. Still, that sexy bin though. Sigh. RIP, world. Rest In Plastic.

In good company

This is what some people do. The green economy is a huge commercial opportunity. Increasingly, being green is the only way for businesses to survive. Mark Carney, the hemp-smelling bivouac-dwelling crusty who…oh wait, no. Mark Carney is the Governor of the Bank of England. Mind. Blown. Anyway, he recently talked of the business opportunity in climate activism. He was saying years ago that climate change could have a catastrophic impact on financial firms that don’t take action. So that’s what Mark Carney does, and that’s his two bobs worth well spent. Cheers Mark.

The cool kids are doing this. There are now 3,243 (and counting) B Corps around the world including Danone, The Guardian and Ben & Jerry’s. A what corp? A B Corp. They’re certified businesses that meet strict standards of social and environmental performance, public transparency and legal accountability to balance profit and purpose. It’s a whole thing and it’s getting bigger. History will not look kindly on companies that were the last to balance profit with sustainability and environmental purpose. This cannot be stressed enough: in every industry, ‘business as usual’ is over whether we like it or not.

The lie of the land

So what do you do? You definitely don’t greenwash. If we were to compare greenwashing to another global threat, it would be the equivalent of a doctor knowingly infecting people during a pandemic while simultaneously cashing in on selling fake vaccines. Making a killing. Greenwashing is arbitrarily dropping the words ‘sustainability’ and ‘purpose’ into company messaging, and saying things like ‘reimagining energy’ without doing anything meaningful at all. Companies who greenwash may aim to make money out of a global emergency, but the practice shows a level of moral bankruptcy that will ultimately leave those involved poorer in every respect.

So what do you to avoid this? It’s easy. To avoid greenwash, adapt your business or job according to the CEE. Say what you’re going to do. And. Then. Actually. Do. It. Be honest or you’ll look like a twat. We see you.

You do your best

Do your best. We live in a broken system. None of us are perfect, and we can always be better. Let’s try not to judge each other on what we have done and instead encourage improvement on what we can do. It can be hard to identify greenwash platitudes over genuine incremental action. If in doubt, elevate a flawed company for trying to do something positive, rather than shoot it down for not yet doing everything positive. Within reason.

Ikea, probably the world’s most prolific producer of domestic spaff, has pledged to become a circular business. And while the beef burger big boys still have a space reserved on the naughty step of environmental misdemeanours, Burger King’s project Meltdown has at least given it a few moments of reprieve to play with the nice kids. By stopping single use plastic toys in their kids meals, Burger King predicts it will save an estimated 320 tonnes of single use plastic every year. Are these companies perfect? That’s a hard no. Are they trying to be less imperfect? Reckon so.

Never do nothing

The more professional power you have, the more influence you have. That’s a huge privilege, and those affected the most by the climate emergency often don’t have the same luxury. Changing broken profit/people/planet priorities takes bravery. Speak up. Be the first. Start awkward conversations with clients and colleagues and make them less awkward. This is about courage and transparency, not guilt and transgressions.

Be positive and progressive, and be kind. Acknowledging the climate and ecological emergency is hard; it pretty much requires an existential crisis, but it’s going to happen anyway. What we’re thinking won’t make any difference. What we do, might.

Future tense

So what will you do? There’s a jumble of an Einstein quote floating around online that goes along these lines; “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it”. Obviously this was said in The Olden Days when things were black and white (check out the photos). But in today’s nuanced technicolour, the idea still holds its own. No matter what your job title, it’s always worth fighting the good fight. So next time someone asks “What do you do?” you can answer honestly that you do good.

Inspired by day two of Creative Change Makers 2020. Thanks to Chrissy Levett, Paul Barlow, Xavier Rees, Jonathon Porritt, Chris Turner, Sian Sutherland, Adah Parris, Mark Shayler, William Skeaping, Paul Irwin and everyone else who spoke on the day.

A guest blog post by Ella for Adaptavate.

June 2020

Better cleaner Innovation Adaptavate
News

Collaboration is key to unlocking the potential of bio-based building materials

Our exciting recent collaboration brings Breathaboard one step closer to global manufacture and distribution as the business teams up with the Sustainable Technologies Business Acceleration Hub (STBAH) – a programme partnered with the University of Bath and funded through the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF).

The STBAH programme provides business acceleration and research collaboration with the University of Bath for innovative companies involved in low carbon products and services. We are excited about the potential outcomes from this collaboration both from technical and commercial perspectives. Past collaboration with the University of Bath was pivotal to Adaptavate launching our first product innovation – Breathaplasta – our internal wall plaster that is highly breathable, reduces condensation and mould growth and absorbs indoor air pollutants.

The collaboration with the STBAH programme has already enabled access to bespoke business consultancy support that’s helped to bring the company’s innovative bio-based Breathaboard one step closer to market. The consultancy is now ongoing as we develop a platform for licensing our game changing technology globally.

The programme has also helped to facilitate collaborative research with the University of Bath into the feasibility of a self-healing wall plaster using specialised bacteria. This exciting novel application of this emerging bio-technology has proven promising and may have applications in a range of built environment products we are looking to develop in the future.

Discussing the STBAH business support and research collaboration, Jeff Ive, Adaptavate Technical Director said:

The STBAH programme has been extremely helpful to Adaptavate, both from technical and commercial perspectives. The free business support has already been instrumental to Adaptavate as the company grows through a pivotal stage of securing initial license partners for our core technology and raising the necessary capital. For us, the links with the University of Bath have also been invaluable and we’re delighted to continue to collaborate with them on this research project and on other project developments we have in the pipeline”.

To read the article in full please follow this link to the STBAH website.

Blog

Lath and plaster vs. board and skim.

Out with the old and in with the new? Should we keep lath and plaster or replace with modern plasterboard?

Do you live in a period house? Perhaps it’s Edwardian era, Victorian or Georgian? If you do, you’ll likely have come across lath and plaster construction. But what is this building method? Why is it no longer in widespread use? And should we worry about preserving it as a heritage feature? Or is it simply out with the old and in with the new?

What is lath and plaster?

The lath and plaster technique was generally used to finish interior walls and ceilings from the 1700s to the early-to-mid 1900s before it was superseded by modern gypsum plaster and plasterboard.

Lime plaster was traditionally used to finish wall surfaces in period homes with the plasterwork generally attached in two ways – plaster onto hard surfaces, such as brick and stone walls or plaster onto laths, strips of timber nailed to a timber stud frame. Traditionally, the external and loadbearing walls were constructed of solid brick or stone and internal and non-loadbearing walls were constructed using a timber stud frame or ‘studwork’.

Studwork is comprised of ‘plates’ that are fixed on the floor (bottom plate) and ceiling (top plate), ‘studs’ are the vertical supports between the two plates, and ‘noggins’ are horizontal pieces of timber nailed between the studs to increase rigidity.

Laths or ‘lathes’ are narrow strips of timber nailed horizontally across the timber stud frame or ceiling joists and then coated in plaster to finish the wall surface. The technique derives from a more basic historical building method called wattle and daub that’s been used for at least 6000 years. 

Laths can be sawn or riven (split) with the latter providing greater strength and durability due to the split along the natural grain of the wood. Hardwoods are commonly used such as oak, chestnut and larch.   

Wood lath is typically about one inch (2.5 cm) wide by four feet (1.22 meters) long by 1⁄4 inch (6.4 mm) thick. Each horizontal course of lath is spaced about 3⁄8 inch (9.5 mm) away from its neighbouring courses.

The measured spacing is critical and allows plaster to be pushed or squeezed through and behind the laths locking the plaster to the wall as it sets – these ‘curls’ of plaster are known as keys and they play a vital mechanical role in securing the plaster to the wall. Traditionally, lime plaster was mixed with coarse animal hair such as horse or goat hair to reinforce the plasterwork, thereby helping to prevent the keys from breaking away. ‘Haired lime’ also allowed greater flexibility in the lime and helped prevent cracking.

Cut through diagram of a lath and plaster ceiling showing the plaster ‘keys’ that lock the lime plaster firmly in position.

Why did they stop using lath and plaster?

In a word, ‘cost’.

Though there were advantages to the lath and plaster technique – it more easily allowed for ornamental or decorative shapes, provided sound insulation and helped to slow fire spread – new materials superseded lath and plaster because they were simply faster and less expensive to install.

Lath and plaster was a skilled craft and a time-consuming technique and the advent of cheaper, mass produced, pre-manufactured plasterboard meant lath and plaster largely fell out of favour by the 1930s and 1940s. Plasterboard was simply faster and less expensive to install.

But while the technique has slowly died away, it has not been lost forever as there is still a strong demand for lath and plaster in renovation and conservation work. There’s an enormous legacy of buildings with lath and plaster construction across the UK and, as any specialist heritage architect or installer can tell you, lath and plaster is still alive and well today. But why would you choose to use an outdated construction technique that’s been replaced by faster and cheaper methods?

Should I keep lath and plaster walls and ceilings or replace them?

Out with the old and in with the new, right? Well, not quite. There is a lot to consider before jumping in and ripping out your old walls and ceilings and at least three good reasons to keep them in place.

Firstly, if your building is listed then you may need consent from your local planning authority to carry out any significant works to your property and this usually includes the removal of lathe and plaster walls and ceilings. Altering or demolishing a listed building without consent can attract heavy penalties including large fines and even imprisonment. An offence is committed unless works have been specifically authorised by your local planning authority (more on this later).

Secondly, the removal of a lath and plaster wall or ceiling is truly a filthy job and will generate clouds of dirt and old lime dust. It’s not a job for the faint-hearted and it’s not a job that your builder will thank you for. Consider carefully whether it’s really necessary and what you are achieving through its removal. Simple repairs and maintenance can easily be made to lath and plaster walls and ceilings, though you should always consult your local planning authority if your property is listed.

Visit the Real Homes website to learn more about fixing problems with old plaster.

Thirdly, there’s an argument that says that owners of listed buildings are the privileged custodians of our country’s built heritage and that they have a responsibility to ensure that any works they carry out to the building remain faithful to the original. Both plasterboard and gypsum plasters were unknown and unused until well into the 20th century and replacing traditional architectural elements with their modern counterparts would not only alter the character of the building, but could lead to damp and decay by reducing the building’s breathability – its ability to disperse moisture.

Additionally, there are some advantages to traditional lath and plaster construction. Most importantly are its sound-proofing properties and ability to delay and deter the spread of fire.

Lath and plaster, being of hard wood construction and lime plaster, is denser than gypsum plasterboard or drywall and this helps absorb low-frequency sound. Additionally, the irregular shape of the plaster keys between the walls disrupts and deflects noise and cuts down on reverberation and echo. There is an obvious difference between a room fitted with lath and plaster and a room fitted with modern gypsum plasterboard – just ask anyone that lives in a modern plasterboard lined home if they think their building is well sound-proofed.

Traditional lath and plaster is also known to delay and deter the spread of fire. Studies have shown that lath and lime plaster walls and ceilings will spread fire at a slower rate compared to standard gypsum plasterboard. It is known that carbonated lime (lime that has had months to cure) has an inherent fire resistance, but it is also thought that the dense lath and plaster construction reduces the supply of air/oxygen to fuel the fire, thereby reducing its ferocity and delaying its spread.     

Can lath and plaster be removed in listing buildings?

The UK is rich in heritage with a wealth of historic and listed buildings across every region. It’s estimated that there are over half a million listed buildings in England alone with many listed for their special architectural interest and importance in their design, decoration or craftsmanship. Special interest may also apply to nationally important examples of particular building types and techniques.

Consent to work on listed buildings can only be provided by local planning authorities and they have a duty to ensure works are carried out in a manner that safeguards the special architectural or historic interest of the building. Consent to work is usually only given once detailed plans for any alterations or extensions are submitted and approved by the local authority – with approval subject to a number of conditions. Commonly these conditions will mandate for the retention of original features and architectural fixtures or surfaces or, where in poor condition, replaced on a ‘like for like’ basis – replacing laths with laths and lime plaster with lime plaster. Establishing a good relationship with your local authority historic buildings officer is vital to running a successful renovation project and it’s advisable to contact them early on if you think Listed Building Consent will be required. 

So should I replace Lath and Plaster with plasterboard?

When you compare the two, it is quite clear why modern drywall techniques and plasterboard have superseded lath and plaster construction. It’s simply much faster, more efficient and cheaper to replace lath and plaster with pre-manufactured plasterboard. But cheaper isn’t always better and fast setting, hard plasters and gypsum plasterboard can have a seriously detrimental impact in older buildings by reducing permeability or ‘breathability’ and trapping moisture. This can lead to damp, decay and general deterioration of the building. Before you start ripping old walls and ceilings down it pays to ask yourself what you’re trying to achieve and whether modern materials are right for the property. Most importantly, check whether your property is listed and if you’re in any doubt, seek advice from your local planning authority building conservation officer. Otherwise your quick and efficient renovation project could end up costing you a lot more than you thought.

What about breathable plasterboard? Can I use this instead?

Adaptavate are the first company to develop a breathable plasterboard as a ‘drop in’ alternative to standard gypsum plasterboard. To find out more about this unique product please follow this link to our Breathaboard product page.

There are board products on the market that are breathable and can be used in place of standard gypsum plasterboard, but they look and feel very different to plasterboard and are not so easy to work with. The two main options are wood wool board and wood fibre board.

  1. Wood wool board – consists of long-fibre wood shavings bound together into a panel using a cementitious paste. They are a similar size and thickness to plasterboard, but are friable and can be considered tricky to work with. They cannot be scored and snapped like plasterboard and so many smaller sheets are required with a saw needed to cut down to smaller size or shape. Wood wool boards are the ‘go-to’ in the heritage sector for any boarding requirements as they are breathable and excellent carriers for lime plaster. Want to use wood wool boards? Why not use Breathaplasta, our breathable, quick setting lime plaster – follow this link to our product installation guide.
  2. Wood fibre board – consists of wood fibre compressed into thick and rigid boards through the application of heat and pressure and sometimes with additional additives. These strong, durable and dense boards are designed for insulation and can be up to 100mm thick making them ideal for insulation projects, but less well suited to common ‘everyday’ boarding projects and smaller internal spaces.
    Want to use wood fibre boards? Why not use Breathaplasta, our breathable, quick setting lime plaster – follow this link to our product installation guide.
News

Adaptavate invited to speak at Futurebuild 2019

This years Futurebuild saw a new owner, a new look and a fresh take on the future construction industry. We are only a small startup, but we were honoured to be asked to speak at the UK’s largest Future building show – for being recognised for the fresh way we approach the industry.

We were invited to speak on 2 occasions for this years Futurebuild. On Tuesday, Tom spoke about how we are creating mainstreamable natural material alternatives to the current products. He shared how our products are designed to be ‘drop-in’ alternatives so that no re-skilling is needed on site or by specifiers and he also shared how our processes will enable mainstream production to be scaleable and at low running cost. He also was able to present some case studies from recently completed projects where healthy material choices were paramount for the client.

Jason, our commercial director was invited by LWARB to speak on the ‘Waste Stage’ about our vision for the Circular Economy within the construction material industry. He shared how we are re-thinking the feedstocks we make materials from and how we use waste streams from the agricultural industry to incorporate into high performing products. The audience were particularly interested that the waste streams from our products are compostable and could be used to help provide nutrients to soils to grow more material.

We want to thank LWARB and NBUK for inviting us to speak and being part of what were really engaging sessions. It is always great to get questions at the end of panel discussions and share different perspectives!

News

Germany to phase out coal by 2038 leaves plasterboard industry with big questions.

Germany have relied on coal as a significant source of their power source for many years now making up 45% of its electricity generation from hard coal and lignite. However earlier this year, the German government have taken a decision to put in place a phase out timeline to stop coal production by 2038 and to significantly increase its usage of renewables.

Whilst this is a great step in the right direction for the environmental impact of the German power industry, it will have some knock-on effects. Principally, for Adaptavate, it has an effect on the plasterboard production industry. This is due to Flue Gas De-sulphurisation (FGD) gypsum which is a by-product of the coal power industry and is widely used as a feedstock for gypsum plasterboard and plaster. Evidently, with a reduction in coal power plants, there is a knock on issue.

In Germany, 6.8 million tons of FGD gypsum was produced in 2014, most of it in lignite coal plants. In addition, 4.5 million tons of natural gypsum and anhydrides (another calcium compound) are produced in quarries annually. Most of the 11.3 million tons of gypsum is used in the building sector for building products such as plasterboard (link). This reduction in FGD leaves an industry facing a significant feedstock fragility issue as plasterboard is the second most wildly used building material globally.

Even if the reduction of supply of byproducts from power plants, such as hard coal flue ash and FGD gypsum, does not lead to a dramatic shortfall in supply, the sector – and politicians – face the task of investigating the sustainability of possible solutions and supporting their rollout. This report highlights the challenges and opportunities, written by the German Advisory Council of the Environment.

There are ways that this shortfall may be managed and there is a 19 year lead time, but the construction material industry has traditionally been a slow to act industry. Some of the challenges are with the supply chain are technical and ‘social’ and based on industry professional awareness and change of behaviour. This doesn’t happen overnight and the big question is – can the industry react in the timeframe required?

This places Adaptavate’s Breathaboard in a strong position as this rethinks the material flows in this sector, as it uses renewable feedstocks and is totally detached from gypsum as a feedstock, yet is a drop-in alternative to plasterboard. In addition, our process is scaleable and doesn’t use any high temperatures, making it flexible, low-energy and low-carbon.

Due this anticipated challenge in the industry, we are actively searching for more production partners across Europe and would be interested to hear from you if you would be interested in finding out more about our products and partnerships. We can see from Germany’s recent change in energy strategy that the time is right to be bringing products like Breathaboard to the market.

Blog

10 Top Tips for dealing with damp in a heritage home

  1. Do not rush into remedial action – treat the causes, not the symptoms.
  2. Avoid expensive, intrusive and potentially damaging work until you have consulted with an expert. Take qualified advice.
  3. Avoid ineffective and potentially damaging industry solutions such as injected damp proof courses (DPCs).
  4. Remove cracked cement render and refinish external walls using breathable lime-based renders.
  5. Check for damaged pointing and re-point using soft lime mortar.
  6. Repair or renew gutters and downpipes and ensure that water is channelled away from the house to a soakaway or drain.
  7. Replace modern concrete floors with a breathable alternative.
  8. Improve ventilation, especially in kitchens and bathrooms.
  9. Insulate the home using only natural, hygroscopic materials, such as sheepswool, wood fibre or hemp.
  10. Strip modern internal finishes and replace with lime-based plaster products such as Breathaplasta. Lime plaster has an attractive natural finish. If painting, ensure that a natural, breathable paint is used.
Blog

Dealing with damp in heritage homes

Damp and condensation issues can be a real hassle in any home, but there are certain additional considerations for heritage buildings. In this blog post we will take a look at how to correctly identify and treat damp and condensation issues in older buildings.

Damp and condensation is a problem that can affect any building, old or new and has a wide range of causes from damaged and leaking roofs and walls, to insufficient insulation, poor ventilation and the use of incorrect buildings materials over generations of extensions and refurbishments. Excess moisture in the home can cause a lot of concern to the homeowner as they’re all too aware of the potential damage that it can cause to the building fabric and finishes as well as the health impacts it can have. But it’s also easy to become overly concerned and rush into taking the wrong approach to dealing with damp and this can cause further issues and even greater damage.

It’s common for homeowners to be uncertain of what the cause of damp and condensation is in their home, unsure of the severity of the problem and of how to tackle the problem.  This can lead to homeowners commissioning ineffective, inappropriate or even damaging remedial work. In this blog we’ll be taking a look at the main considerations when dealing with damp and condensation and how to tackle this in a heritage home.

Types of damp

Understanding what kind of damp is affecting your property is the first step in diagnosing the problem and identifying potential causes. But bear in mind that it’s very easy to take the wrong action if you focus on the symptoms alone and not the root of the trouble. There are three main categories of damp and these are generally characterised by their source:

Rising damp is caused by capillary action. This is where moisture from the ground moves up through the walls in opposition to gravity. Ground water is drawn up through the tiny spaces within permeable building materials such as brick or stone. The moisture will dissolve soluble salts from the building materials and may also carry soluble salts from the ground. It is most commonly seen at the base of walls and the ‘tide mark’ at the limit of its extent is caused by these soluble salts which can become visible as white salt efflorescence as the wall dries. Rising damp is one of the most talked about types of damp but is relatively rare and is frequently misdiagnosed, leading to expensive, ineffective and often damaging treatment methods.

Penetrating damp is caused by a failure of the external fabric of a building which leads to water ingress. It tends to happen as a result of structural problems, such as faulty guttering or roofing, or cracks in external walls. The water that passes through saturates the depth of the wall, often becoming contaminated from contact with the building fabric and then leaving brown staining on the internal surface. It is a relatively common cause of damp and generally occurs in older buildings but can occur in properties of any age and at any level of the building. Issues seen at high level are most likely to be penetrating damp, but even at the base of a wall it is still more likely to be penetrating damp rather than rising damp.

Condensation is caused when warm, moist air meets a surface (or air) of a lower temperature. Where the two temperatures collide, the warm air loses its ability to hold moisture and the moisture it can no longer hold is deposited (condenses) onto the cold surface. A good example of this is windows. Double and triple glazing reduces condensation on windows by keeping the surface temperature of the glass warmer, but windows are still generally cold surfaces and so attract condensation. This isn’t to say that condensation only occurs on windows. Moisture will condense on other cool surfaces, particularly adjoining wall surfaces and ceilings. It can even form within the wall itself. This is known as interstitial condensation and often occurs behind modern interventions, such as drylining or insulation. Condensation is often associated with other forms of damp that might cause the external walls to be cold or introduce additional moisture to the inside of a building. Condensation is characterised by black mould growth and is an increasing problem for UK homeowners as increased energy efficiency through improved airtightness has reduced natural ventilation.

What are the symptoms?

The most serious consequence of damp is harm to the fabric of the building. Timber, especially, can suffer significant damage if wet rot (infestation from fungal species) and wood-bring beetles take hold. This can lead to extensive damage and can eventually lead to the timber losing its strength and, in the worse cases, even cause structural failure. Masonry (brick, block and stone) is much less at risk, but will still deteriorate in prolonged or extreme damp conditions.

The next big issue is a significant decrease in thermal performance. A damp building loses approximately 30% more heat through its walls compared to a dry building. This has a big impact on the comfort of living spaces and can lead to increased energy bills as heating must work harder against the cold, damp conditions.  

Water condensing on cold surfaces such as windows, walls and ceilings can lead to condensation-driven black mould growth. The spores released by the mould can be very harmful to human health.

The most visibly obvious effect of damp is unpleasant staining and degradation of internal decorative finishes. Whilst annoying to the homeowner, this must be of least concern as it doesn’t have consequences for the structural integrity of the building or the health, comfort and wellbeing of its occupants.

Internal symptoms are vital indicators of the presence of damp, but it’s important not to assume these are the main problems to overcome.

Breathability

To understand and be able to deal with damp in a heritage home it is essential to understand how the building works, particularly in terms of managing moisture. Before the advent of cavity walls, vapour barriers and impermeable building materials that are all used in modern buildings, moisture was managed very differently.

Before about 1919, houses were built from permeable materials with solid walls and no damp proof course or membranes. Older buildings manage moisture by absorption and evaporation, and this was generally aided using open fires. Water from rain, the ground and airborne moisture generated from the building’s occupants were all absorbed into the fabric of the building where it could move freely through its surface and readily evaporate through the permeable finish. This is referred to as ‘breathability’ and is one of the main features that stands out heritage homes from modern buildings. Permeable materials maintained a balanced equilibrium that prevented the building from becoming damp.  

The system works well so long as routes for absorption and evaporation remain unimpeded. Problems arise when modern materials are introduced to the system – vapour barriers, damp proof membranes, impervious plasters, renders and paints – and the building can no longer ‘breathe’ and naturally expel moisture. The introduction of such modern materials breaks the system by disrupting routes for absorption and evaporation and this can result in serious damp problems.

Common causes of damp and condensation

One of the biggest mistakes when dealing with damp and condensation in a heritage house is to focus on the kind of damp that’s present. This is simply a symptom of an underlying cause. It is very common for unnecessary and often damaging remedial work to be carried out to treat the symptoms and not the root cause of the problem – this can be very expensive for the homeowner. The only way to effectively deal with damp is to identify where the water is coming from and the mechanisms involved. This can be a complex issue as damp and condensation can be caused by many factors. Below are some of the most common causes.

Gutters and downpipes are a very common cause of damp. Inadequate, poorly maintained or leaking gutters can channel large amounts of rainwater and concentrate it on one part of a wall. Even small leaks or gaps can generate a surprisingly large amount of water. It’s also surprisingly common for downpipes to empty at the base of walls rather than into a surface drain.

Cement renders are a fine example of modern impervious materials. Using impervious materials such as cement will disrupt its ability to ‘breathe’ and prevent absorption and evaporation from occurring. Cement renders are especially problematic for heritage homes as they are rigid and inflexible and incompatible with the softer permeable construction materials that make up the underlying building fabric. The result is that the render cracks as it cannot accommodate this movement and then lets in rainwater that becomes trapped behind the impervious cement render.

Modern floors are a further example of compromising breathability. Replacing a breathable solid floor, such as brick or stone, with an impermeable material such as solid concrete (with a damp-proof membrane) will prevent rising ground water from evaporating through the structure. Instead, when water hits the impermeable barrier, it migrates sideways into the base of the wall, which then becomes damp.

Raised ground is another common cause and can be hard to rectify. The external ground level should always be lower than the internal floor. If it isn’t, water contained in the soil will penetrate the wall above the internal floor level, causing it to become damp. Hard landscaping will exacerbate the problem as this tends to pool rainwater against the wall unless sloped away from the house.

Inadequate ventilation and modern wall plaster can combine to create serious condensation.  Modern living creates a very large amount of water vapour from sources such as cooking, washing, bathing, drying clothes indoors and even simply from breathing! In a heritage home this moisture used to be managed by permeable materials – the ability of the house to ‘breathe’ and expel moisture through absorption and evaporation. However, the use of modern gypsum plasters has significantly reduced this breathability. This reduced breathability combined with the reduction in use of open fires and a greater push for airtight, energy efficient homes has had the unintended consequence of trapping moisture inside our homes. If there is not enough ventilation to remove this airborne moisture, serious condensation can occur, especially if walls are already cold and damp. Effective extract ventilation in kitchen and bathrooms is crucial for reducing condensation.

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