Monday, February 09, 2009

The Perils of Energy Efficiency


Our home is a “new build” house. I love new build houses - in fact this is our third one. The thing I like best about them is that you move in to a home that is completely fresh and untouched. The walls are painted builder’s magnolia (a cream colour) and you start with a completely clean slate. The other really cool thing is that you cannot do anything at all in terms of decorating until the house has had time to dry out. This takes about a year. So you have the perfect excuse to just take your time and get to know the house before you break out the paint chips and wallpaper samples.

However there are two things you do need to do. Unless you want to live in a fish bowl, you need curtains. And unless you want to be looking at bare bulbs (which hurts your eyes) you need to choose light fittings for all the ceiling lights. Curtains are not so much of a problem - although they are expensive and it takes a while to get them designed, made and installed. As for light fittings - well, before the days of environmental friendliness and energy efficiency these were not much of a problem either. But they are now.

All new build houses in Britain are required by law to be energy efficient. To be fair, this has its advantages. Our 96% energy efficient house is a lot cheaper to run than one which is not as environmentally friendly. However, one of the things that made it so energy efficient was the installation of some very weird ceiling lights that cannot by law be changed. What makes it even more complicated is that you are not allowed to do anything electrical in your own house unless you are a registered electrician - which none of us living in this house are. So basically you need to choose fittings compatible with the weird lights. These are not easy to find. Factor in the number of light fittings we had to source - over twenty-five ceiling lights (we have a big house) - and you can see where this was a bit of a challenge.

Most of the light fittings we were allowed to have were, in my opinion, really horrible. I was not happy. Now I am a fan of ceiling lights that go flush to the ceiling, hiding all the cords. We could not have any of those in this house as they simply could not be installed due to the energy efficiency regulations, much to my intense frustration. For one brief moment I considered flouting the regulations and tried turning off the fuse for the lights to see if we could install some of my preferred lights ourselves. I immediately found myself listening to the burglar alarm make a horrible high pitched beep every sixty seconds to inform me that the power had been turned off. I wondered for a slightly hysterical moment if it was a burglar alarm or an energy efficiency alarm and prudently decided that I’d have to obey the rules this time.

In the end it took months of searching before I finally found some pretty shades that would work for ceiling lights from Laura Ashley, and eventually I found some environmentally friendly chandelier style lights for some of the other rooms at John Lewis and British Home Stores. But five of the lights - for the bathrooms - were proving a real problem. They were very strange, the light bulb virtually flush to the ceiling in a fitting that looked like an upside down lamp. This made installing any sort of a shade or decorative fitting very difficult. So every time we went into a bathroom or en suite bath, we were being ‘blinded by the light’ as it were.

Finally on Saturday, after over a year of searching, the brilliant 21st Century Husband spotted the light fitting pictured above. The colour is suitably neutral, so it goes everywhere, and the shells reflect the light from the energy efficient bulbs absolutely beautifully. I was shocked by the price I must admit - £60 for some metal and a few shells - but I was so thrilled with how nice they looked I bought five of them. Now every ceiling light in our house has fitting on it. Hallelujah! It’s taken us a year, but we’ve done it!

Oh dear, did I just say a year? I guess that means it’s time to start (gulp!) decorating!! I’ll just break out those paint chips and wallpaper samples...

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