Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Things I may always look at and just shake my head. Part one.

Doctors bury their mistakes, gardeners dig them up, and architects plasterers wait for the painters to come and paint them over. But if you're building a house, then you're going to live in your mistakes, or with them, or looking at them every day.

I have often regretted my words, and in fact I've also regretted my silence a few times. The upstairs ceiling is a case of both. Part of the plan for being able to breathe in the house while maintaining high thermal efficiency is the ventilation system. Air comes in at the top of the middle of the East wall, goes through the heat exchanger and is sent through ducts around the house. It returns through another set of ducts, goes back through the heat exchanger to ensure that the we're not losing too much heat in the winter, or gaining too much in the summer, then air leaves the house on the high north wall. It took a lot of time and mental gymnastics to work out where these ducts should all go, to ensure all parts of the house would have suitable amounts of air flowing through, and we wouldn't have ducts in the way to trip over or bang our heads on. The final plan had two ducts running across the upstairs south ceiling, from the machine room at the east to the west wall in the master bedroom. The south ceiling has two beams running east-west, one a third of the way up, above the edge of the corridor and the south edge of the master bedroom, another two thirds of the way up, in the middle of the master bedroom and above the stairs. The ducts were to go above the higher beam, covered by a bit of ceiling coming horizontally away from the sloping ceiling, then heading up vertically to meet it again. 

Two ducts were necessary along this bit of ceiling, one delivering fresh air to the master bedroom and to the downstairs room, and the other extracting old air from the kids' room, the loft in the back of the master bedroom and the geta bako (shoe cupboard) in the genkan. So, this bit of ceiling seemed like it would be rather large.

I had the idea of leaving one of the ducts along the higher beam, but sending the other duct along the lower beam. This would have had a more balanced effect on the ceiling, so that rather than one boxy protrusion around half a metre wide, and another beam-sized protrusion a quarter of that, there would be two protrusions, both around 30 cm wide, rather like wide beams. I discussed this a little with the site foreman and architect, and then made the mistake of suggesting it directly to the man in charge of the ducting. The result was that, rather than one of the ducts ending up along the lower beam, it moved to the other side of the higher beam. 

"You don't want it to go along that beam. It'll look strange." They said. 

And I believed them.

They probably just thought that it was too much trouble changing it, or perhaps wondered what on earth was I doing putting these stupid ducts in the house anyway, rather than allowing in real fresh air, bracing or stifling depending on the season. And if I did want these ducts, then surely I'd be happy for them to create a massive ripple on the ceiling. Or perhaps they were more concerned about the other hundred items on the list of things to do.

So now we have something that is likely to make people think, "What the f..." And I'll have to explain that the ventilation ducts are behind there, or tell them the tale I have just told, or pretend the reason is to accommodate the down-light, because we can't put anything through the vapour barrier just under the plaster board on the ceiling, or I'll have to make up a more elaborate story.

Or perhaps they won't notice. I mean, nobody looks at ceilings, do they?

Or perhaps they will just politely say nothing, and I will have no opportunity for elaborate story making.

But I will notice. And I may always wonder why I didn't dig my feet in and tell them what I wanted. 

Of course it may look better when the paint is on. 

Or it may look worse.