Lime part 2 – lime mortar

Of all the different types of lime I have worked with, lime mortar has been the easiest to work with and most satisfying.  Lime mortar should be used to point all stone walls.  Whether it is or not is moot point, certainly in the UK its use was forgotten about until comparatively recently.  Large parts of my stone house have re-pointed using a cement based mortar.  Why should lime mortar be used instead of cement based mortars?  As laid out in part 1 its the breathability of lime.  Water can find its way into stone when it rains but needs to find its way out for two reasons, firstly freeze thaw and second all rain is acidic.  Both degrade the stone.  The outcome of using cement can be seen in the first picture.  The stone wears away leaving the cement based mortar behind.  Lime will allow this water out.

2015-01-27 15.08.06

When we bought our house we paid for an excellent survey as part of the lawyers fees.  Everything this survey said was defective has been proved accurate.  One thing the survey mentioned was that boundary walls needed re-pointing.  In 2004 we paid a building firm do the sideway portion of the wall.  I had become aware of the need to use lime mortar and the firm was “lime aware” and did a great job.  It cost a fortune though and was only a small proportion of the wall.  I did some research and decided I could do it myself.  I bought the lime mortar and had a go at a short stretch of wall myself.  It looked great so I carried on in the gap between my job ending and doctorate starting in 2005.  It took me about 6 weeks to do 40m of a wall roughly 1.3m high that summer.  I had one day off when it rained.

In practical terms there’s not much to it.

  • The first thing to do is the preparation.  The joints need to be cleared out.  This can be hard work especially if there is cement in them.  I bought a slate hammer which looks a bit like a geological hammer.  The old mortar needs to be removed to a depth of about twice the width of the joint.  Wear eye protection.
  • The lime mortar is mixed with sand.  Its the colour of the sand that gives the final lime mortar its final colour.   I didn’t worry too much about consistency on this count (I bought lots of batches of sand and lime) so my wall varies in colour, but I think it adds to the charm.  The ratio is up to you.  I used a 1:2 lime/sand ratio but it could be 1:3 or lower.  Mix the components dry in a bucket and then add water until the mix has a consistency of dough. Wear eye protection.
  • Do in dry weather when the temperature is not going to drop below 6 degrees C at night.
  • Then you have to get the lime mortar into the cracks.   First spray water over the area you are working on.  I tried and failed to point using the proper tools.  Lime mortar is alkaline and abrasive so I wore washing up gloves and used my hands.  Wipe any excess of the stone with a damp cloth.  Keep spraying the area gently for some hours so the set is slow and cover at night with plastic sheeting.  The lime mortar mix will keep damp for several days, cover bucket and work up with a little more water the next day.  Unlike concrete or cement you are not racing against the set.
  • One possible problem is the joints are wide or lots more mortar comes out than you want- which is easy with friable old lime.  Lime supposedly will not set if the depth is more than about 5 cm.  There are two ways round this.  The first is to build up the joint in layers.  The second is in fill with stone.  I did the latter getting bits of stone from stonemason’s skips around me.

Here is one bit of the end result.   I still have some bits to do.

2015-01-27 14.12.14

As wrote in our book;

Another area where we can make a difference with personal action is to gain and develop useful, practical skills. As we discussed in Chapter 9, although we may have gained expertise in other areas, many people in our generation are de-skilled in the practical talents which will become more important in the future. Being able to make or repair things, or to build something using local or recycled materials, or to grow and process your own food may all be more important skills in the future than some of the talents we value highly today. Gaining these kinds of practical skills boosts our personal resilience, and if a range of these skills are available within our neighbourhood, working together builds up the whole community’s resilience. If you have a particular skill, can you share it with others? We can learn some skills from books or the internet
but generally speaking we learn best by being shown how and having a go.”


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One thing we have learnt this week – good time for renewables

CAT solar roofWith the collapse in the oil price ongoing is this a good time for renewables?  On the face of it it would seem not.  However Lord Stern has been speaking at the annual richfest at Davos trying to persuade people that counter-intuitively it is a good time for renewables.

His arguments are very simple, fossil fuel energy prices are very volatile.  The price of renewables is falling and the only way they are going is downwards.  Since he brought out his seminal report the cost of renewables have fallen 10x.   Oil and gas prices?  With the recent falls around about 50-60%.  Certainly nothing of the same magnitude as renewable costs have fallen.  His argument is also you cannot tell where fossil fuels prices are going to go next.  You can with renewables.

Lord Stern went onto claim that green growth would be better growth with less traffic jams and respiratory diseases.  He reckons pollution in China knocks an astonishing 10-11% off its GDP.   Given the images of Beijing we see on the TV this seems plausible.  He didn’t mention peak oil or energy security but should have done since we have argued on this blog the recent fall in oil prices does fundamentally alter the theory.  In fact in some ways it confirms it. (One idea being that oil prices after global production of oil peaks are very volatile with huge swings up and down).

Stern also thinks its a good time for renewables since we should think about carbon taxes or reducing fossil fuel subsidies when prices are low since higher costs of such moves will be offset by falling crude prices.  Good luck to him on that one.  All over the world governments are continuing to subsidise the fossil fuel industry the latest being fracking.  Whether Stern had any impact at Davos only time will tell but he speaks the right language.


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Dungerness power station

EDF have got the nuclear regulator to extend the life of Dungerness power station.  It was due to close in 2008, they got a first 10 year extension and now want to extend it to 2028.  The details are up on their webite now.  This power station has had a very chequered history.  Construction started in 1965 Dungerness power station was expected to be generating by 1970.  It actually started generating in 1983.  There are a few other problems that Dungerness power station has.  The first is that the trains used to take away the waste cross an airport runway (no I’m not making this up).  The second is that the ness (the shingle spit that Dungerness power station is built on) is being washed away.  A whole fleet of lorry’s and JCB’s constantly shift the shingle that is washed away back for 6 months of the year.  They will have to do so for many years after it stops producing electricity.  So much for low carbon energy.

I’m not in the least surprised that EDF has asked for this, nor I’m afraid am I that they got it.  It makes sense to them to sweat their assets especially as they have had two or three power stations shut down due to cracks in the reactor cores (now up and running again at lower power output).  However running old power stations especially nuclear into the ground worries me.  We are in a different world now where the UK has installed at least two Dungerness power stations worth of solar alone over the last year.


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One thing we have learnt this week – economics is not working

money-running-awayThe Archbishops of Canterbury and York have spoken out today, essentially saying for many in the West economics is not working.  You could also argue that economics is not working for many people in developing countries as well.  While incomes for some in India and China have soared many people have been left behind in grinding poverty.  TEARFUND made a strong defence of continuing to work in India recently.  However the COfE hierarchy are focusing on the UK.

They are talking about many of the things that concern me.  A widening gap between rich and poor which has been found to be actually bad for economic growth.  The all encompassing obsession with conventional economics which has us locked into a growth model that is unsustainable.  They suggest a living wage which I fully agree- its difficult to see how anyone can not support workers not being paid enough to live on.  This would also be a way of cutting the social security bill since almost no one would need tax credits, which are merely the state subsidising bad employers.

Its not just me but economics students who are dissatisfied and think current economics is not working as we have covered before.  I listened to a programme on the radio covering this the other week.  The issue has spread around the world with economics students wanting to question the economic theory that led to crash.  Even in “communist” China the only theory being taught is neo-liberal economics.

We also need to ask how we are going to have a functioning economy in a post oil world.  At the moment with rapidly falling oil prices no one is taking any interest in this issue.  But it was only recently that everyone was complaining about high food, energy and transport prices.   It should be pointed out that apart from petrol and diesel these other costs are showing only modest falls, meaning our book is as relevant as ever.

Economics is something we attempted to address in our book.  I’m still thinking about this and at the moment I’m reading two Christian books on economics.  I will be  reviewing one of these on this blog in the future.  In the meanwhile in my view economics is not working which is one reason, perhaps the primary reason for the rise of alternative nationalist parties all over Europe.  Give the lowest paid a living wage and a lot of these problems would dissipate.


Image from the brilliant openclipart site (click on it for artist etc.).

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Working with lime part 1.

This is a very different blog post from previous posts on the subject of working with different types of lime.  By lime I mean the building material.  This series of blogs will detail my experiences good and bad of working with it.  Lime has a reputation of being an eco-friendly building material and this is semi-true, certainly compared to concrete.  But it also has a number of features that make it not just attractive as a building material but vital in certain instances.  The most important of these are that it breathes.  When used in dwellings this makes a huge difference to levels of damp – and this is one reason why I have used it for two specialist insulation projects.

But first a little chemical background (see figure below).  If you heat limestone to about 900 degrees C the carbon dioxide is driven out in a chemical reaction leaving calcium oxide (known as quicklime).  The lime is then “slaked”.  That is water is added.  This violent reaction liberates a lot of heat forming calcium hydroxide.  This is what we call lime and is the basis of lime products. In the presence of carbon dioxide the calcium hydroxide slowly changes back to limestone forming a hard mortar or other lime variant.   To slightly complicate things there is a from of lime called hydraulic lime which will set under water, this contains clay impurities and requires water to set.  The other forms I have worked with and will describe will gradually set in the air. Of course you do not use lime alone but mix it with other things such as sand or dyes.

lime chemistryI have worked with a number of different types of lime product.  Lime mortar to re-point a stone wall, “course stuff” a sort of lime plaster used internally as a surface to put other things on, hydraulic lime and limewash which is a breathable alternative to paint.  I will describe these and how I have used them in more detail in future posts.


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One thing we have learnt this week – falling oil prices

oil price chartWho would believe it but falling oil prices are as a big a crisis as high oil prices!  In 2008 the UK government hosted an international crisis meeting in London on the oil price (then at an all time high).  A few months later with the global financial crisis once again we had falling oil prices.  They then recovered (see graph) as a financial stimulus helped the global economy to recover and from 2011 were remarkably steady until August 2014.  Since then they have plunged and show little sign of stopping.  This week stock markets have been falling in sympathy which is the opposite to what we expect.  Various theories are being put forward to account for these almost totally unexpected falling oil prices.  Just to recap here are some of the main ones going around;

  • Global economic slowdown particularly in China has lowered demand.  This is undoubtedly true, the Euro zone inflation has gone negative this week.  Almost all the main economies in the world with the exception of the US/UK are not doing that great.  All global booms have happened at a time of low energy prices and visa versa.
  • Plenty of supply, again true.  OPEC refuses to cut production and shale oil is almost at a peak in the US.  Added to this the US will start exporting again and a whole heap of other countries are increasing their production.
  • Saudi Arabia wants to kill off fracking in the US.  Whether this is true or not – its widely believed by analysts.  Could this fracking be the next sub prime with about $200 billion in loans tied up in an industry which can now not be profitable?  Could this explain the fall in stock markets?  As evidence the Saudi’s refuse to contemplate any increase in production even though their economy needs much higher oil prices.
  • The US has persuaded Saudi Arabia to maintain production to hit Iran and Russia.  Again widely believed.  Evidence as for the last point also Ian supports Assad and the Saudi’s the Sunni opposition.
  • Peak demand – mentioned in one article this week.  Obama has mandated better fuel efficiency for US cars/trucks.  Whilst these are poor by EU standards, they along with less people driving could mean demand at least in the developed world might have peaked.  Counter argument – not so China and other BRIC’s.

Here are a few of my own relating to OPEC’s attitude.

  • What better way to knacker the crucial climate talks than to have very low energy prices…   If this theory is true we will see a cut in production in December followed by soaring oil prices.
  • Kill off electric cars.  Electric cars have three shortcomings at the moment, one of these is the price of the batteries.  This is set to plunge with massively increased battery production.
  • Just maybe Saudi Arabia knows something about its oil supply we don’t.  If production cannot be maintained much longer at current levels then killing off the alternatives and other sources of supply would be essential.  It would at least allow high oil prices to benefit Saudi Arabia for some years.  Evidence?  Thin.  Ghawar is the largest field in the world and has been in production since 1948.  It must be close to peak production.  Also the wikileaks which suggested Saudi Arabian oil would peak about now.

OPEC’s attitude is probably a mixture of the above.

What does this mean for peak oil?

  • Well first it does not mean its dead.  Oil is a finite resource (so is Uranium, natural gas and coal).  The Saudi oil minister’s comments this week that we would never see $100/barrel were in that context idiotic.
  • Falling oil prices are bad for production.  The whole oil industry is set up now for high prices.  All the cheap easy to extract fossil fuels are over.  The IEA World Energy outlook suggested a huge decline in conventional oil in 2010 that will be very difficult to make up.  Exploration will fall leading to higher prices in the long term.
  • People are focusing on production and not supply.  This is the same mistake they made when coming up against Marion King Hubbert.  He looked at where the reserves were going.  Almost all producers can increase production in the short term.  One student has forseen these falling oil prices and sees huge price increases.
  • Even at $50-69 a barrel oil prices are high by historical standards (red line on graph).
  • Peak oil theory does not discount up and downs in production and one theory on price is that we will get huge swings as demand rises and falls in response to price.

To conclude to quote the Madagascar penguins out of context, what comes down must go up.  At the moment it does not look like there is a floor under oil, so $20-30/barrel to me seem possible, although economics commentators such as Larry Elliot disagree.  Later on this year after the climate talks I think we will start to see strongly rising prices.

We are getting lots of hits on the basis of the search “oil prices”, new to this site and a Christian then you might want to consider buying our book.


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New Year resolutions

1357600133Its customary at this time of year to make some New Year resolutions.  I’ve never been a great one for this to be honest, but I think its time with the big climate talks taking place this year to make some eco resolutions.  In our book we split up stuff you could do to prepare for a post oil world into a number of areas.  These were energy, transport, food and chemicals (basically material goods) at three different levels.


Most readers of this blog or our book will have an interest in reducing their energy usage and made huge strides in this direction.  New Year resolutions in this area include continuing to reduce electricity usage.  One way of doing this is by LED’s.  My electricity consumption has fallen throughout 2014 thanks to installation of more LED’s and a very efficient CF (with rapid warm-up and incandescent style light).  At the moment its frustrating since there are no 100W equivalent LED’s on the market but I will continue looking.  I am planning to buy 3 more very efficient high power CF’s soon.  Our natural gas consumption is still rising after reaching a low a few years ago.  I’ve done most of the easy stuff on insulation and one very recent difficult and time consuming specialist bit which I will put up a blog post on.  There is one bit of roof which needs to have its insulation sorted out and laid neatly between the rafters etc.  That I will do.


The next of the New Year resolutions relates to transport.  This is a more difficult one for me.  My wife has to have a car for work.  I don’t and rarely use it.   I mainly cycle, walk and don’t fly.   There are occasions when I have used the car when I could have cycled, so I suppose my pledge for this year is to do so as little as possible.


Another difficult of the New Year resolutions…  We can recycle a lot and do but cutting usage we have found difficult.  Our waste bins for non-recyclable waste are being reduced in size this year so hopefully that will help reduce our waste.


As I have blogged before measuring your energy use and carbon emissions from this is quite easy, its all the stuff we buy that’s more difficult to gauge.  The main of my New Year resolutions of this year is going to be on food.  This is partly because Andy, I and one other are writing a book on food.  Its been a bit of an epic saga but hopefully it will come to fruition this year.  Since I wrote this I have trying to cut our meat consumption.  Not easy, but I will continue.  I am now making all our own bread and will attempt to grow as much as can in our vegetable patch.  The last few years have been good to us on this part with good to great crops of homegrown fruit or vegetables.  I will continue to try to cook as much as locally grown fresh food as possible.

Other stuff

I’m going to more on twitter and am considering going to Paris for the UN climate talks (easy to get to by train).  I’m going to make a small nest for solitary bees and do some grafting onto my apple tree.  You got any tips or ideas -please feel free to post.


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End of year thoughts

thIts customary at this time of year for some end of year thoughts.  Like many pundits I cannot wait to see the back of 2014 and hope 2015 will be better for not just me but more importantly many of those struggling against a background of war, disease and poverty (often all three).  Having cheered you all up its time for some hopefully positive end of year thoughts on some of the stories this blog has attempted to cover this year…

  • The biggest story of the year is the most recent, that is the collapse in the oil price.  I think it fair to say its caught everyone by surprise and is continuing.  As a blog we have covered this story several times to work out what’s going on.  To all the theories I’d like to add two more one of my own and one other.  First, I heard a theory from an economics company on the radio.  They suggest that its all down to the economy slowing in China. Having looked at Chinese data such as freight movements and electricity consumption they reckon the Chinese growth rate is half what its said to be.  As evidence they cite the fact that so far lower oil prices have not lead to higher consumption.  My own thought was perhaps the Saudis have worries about maintaining their production and want to finish rivals off before their fields go into decline.  Just an idea, watch this space.  Whatever happens this does not mean peak oil theory is dead.
  • The next big story for our end of year thoughts in the UK at least (and its still a big deal in the USA judging by social media) is fracking. Going by the large number of blog posts on it we have done (greater at present than fracking wells in the UK) this is the story that just keeps giving (more than shale gas production).  Fracking for oil and gas needs high energy prices and it remains to be seen what will happen in the US and elsewhere now oil and gas prices are collapsing.  The Saudis may or may not be trying to finish off fracking deliberately, but either way they are making a pretty good job of it.
  • Talking of requirement for high energy prices…  Another story that doesn’t go away is Hinkley C.  This story was covered in our book and EDF has still not definitely signed up to building one.  There are rumours its partners are pulling out and its looking for Arab money.   I suspect end of year thoughts next year will still be saying the same as this year on Hinkley C.
  • Another big story we keep coming back to has been the Energiewende in Germany.  How is Germany coping with such huge increase in renewables?  Are they using more coal.  The data often seems contradictory.  If Germany is having problems then they are ones I would like to have!  My own country is following fast down this road and urgently needs to think about energy storage – although with the price of batteries falling this may happen of its own accord.  These are stories that will crop up again next year.
  • The last of our end of year thoughts is climate change.  Again we have covered this story several times this year.  The big story on this will of course happen in 2015 in Paris for the COP21 talks where we have to reach a binding agreement.  The “oil lamp” is at the moment thinking of decamping to Paris in December to do some lobbying.
  • This blog attempts to write from a Christian perspective on all the above, but also likes to bring you the quirky challenging stuff.  Someone in my homegroup undertook a challenge last August to buy as little as possible for a month.  Its well worth a read.  This site will attempt to challenge and inform over the next year as well.


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One thing we have learnt this week -solarbox

If you see one of these painted green you can charge your phone in it.

If you see one of these painted green you can charge your phone in it.

In the UK phoneboxes have traditionally been red, however if you are in London and see a green one its a solarbox.  With all of us on the move and wanting to keep in instant contact with everyone all the time one major problem is that often we run out of charge.  The idea is that you can pop into one of these solarboxs and charge your mobile devices using a solar PV panel mounted on top.

The “solarbox” is a great idea in theory but there are a number of practical problems I foresee.  The first is security.  At least one shop I know offers this facility (not solar powered), but you lock your phone in a locker.  The second is related to the first, it takes time.  My phone takes at least an hour to charge fully (and I think you should discharge and charge completely).  The third problem with the solarbox is that there are a huge number of connectors that might be required.  At Greenbelt a few years ago an energy company bought a small wind turbine and offered a free charging service.  It was as you can imagine very popular.  The company had bought literally dozens of leads and adapters so that any phone could plug into it.  These problems aside the solarbox is an idea that could work.


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Community currencies

bristol-pound-300x154Community currencies (or local currencies as we called them) are something we covered in our book.  We wrote

The idea behind a local currency (technically speaking, a voucher for legal reasons) is to help build a vibrant local economy, keep money circulating within the area and stop it ending up in the bank accounts of large corporations. Rob Hopkins uses the image of money leaking out of a community like holes in a bucket, but the local currency won’t fit through the holes. In the designated area pounds sterling can be exchanged for the local currency, usually at a rate of 1:1. Shops and businesses in this area can opt to accept payment with the local currency – and give it out as change.

The biggest of the community currencies is the Bristol pound.  Launched in 2012 it seems to be pretty successful.  About 600 businesses accept it and it can be used to pay local taxes.  In theory almost half a million people could use it.   This week the Community Currency Knowledge Gateway has been launched by the New Economics Foundation.  Its meant to be a comprehensive guide for those interested in setting up their own community currencies.  In continuing hard times there has never been a more pressing need for community currencies.


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