roof

A rooftop home for our honey bees

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(This is the 2nd in a series of posts about Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House.)

We’ve wanted a bee hive for some time now, but the challenge has been to find a home for it.

The nuns next door weren’t too keen on hosting a hive, even though there’s a monastic tradition going back a thousand years. But understandably they were a bit worried about visiting kids (etc) getting stung. Fair enough!

There isn’t really space in our backyard native garden for bees, particularly as P is not keen on flying insects of any type.

So having seen a River Cottage episode that featured bee hives on the roof of a London terrace house, my mental cogs started turning.

After the renovation of our house, we ended up with 99m2 of ‘flat’ roof (9 x 11m). By flat, we mean 5° slope, which is comfortable and safe to walk on.

The bee hives still needed a completely flat home, and a way of anchoring them down so they didn’t blow over in strong gusts.

So with a side of the roof partially shaded by trees, we set about creating a ‘sled’ for hives to sit on:

The 'sled' in place on the roof, providing a solid (and flat) base for the hives.
The ‘sled’ in place on the roof, providing a solid (and flat) base for the hives.

The two rails of the ‘sled’ are made of hardwood, treated with linseed oil for extra durability. A block of wood raises up the lower end of the sled to get the rails horizontal.

The sled is anchored to a metal rail, screwed into the roof.
The sled is anchored to a metal rail, screwed into the roof.

The wooden rails are anchored into a galvanised rail (a piece of ‘angle’ in building jargon) that is fixed into the roof. Note the nylon spacer between the metal rail and the corrugated roof. Extra-long roofing screws go through this, ensuring that the metal is held off the roof, and there’s nowhere for water or leaves to build up.

Detail of the top end of the sled, showing the wood, metal rail and nylon spacer.
Detail of the top end of the sled, showing the wood, metal rail and nylon spacer.

The whole arrangement was easy to build, and was all done in less than a few hours (including stuffing around time).

The sled is light but very solid. A few cross-bars were added after the photos above, for the hive to be strapped down to. (More on this later.)

There’s a good metre between the sled and any roof edge, making it a safe working area. The sled is extra-long to allow space to put boxes when the hive is opened, as well as giving future expansion space 🙂

The next post will give details on the Warré hive itself.

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Bringing honey bees to Lewisham House

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Our new Warré hive, in place on the roof, just waiting for some bees!
Our new Warré hive, in place on the roof, just waiting for some bees!

Not long after we created our vege patch, we obtained a small hive of native stingless bees. These are cute little guys, flying around and pollinating our plants. The perfect set-and-forget way of increasing biodiversity.

But after a natural beekeeping course run by Tim Malfroy, I had a hankering for more. So I put down my name for a Warré hive, which would give us a home for European honey bees.

Last summer, however, we were renovating the house. We thought that bees and builders probably weren’t the ideal mix, so we held off.

When this summer rolled around, we were ready, but still had one big challenge: where to put the bees?

In the end, we decided to put the bees on the roof. We know, that’s a little odd, but bear with us.

There’s too much to cover in one post, so we’ll be doing a series of posts:

Installing solar-powered roof ventilation

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Some time back we installed a R3.5 batts in the roof of the original half of the house, along with reflective foil. Despite this, the roof space still gets very hot in summer, and after a run of really hot days, we can feel the heat radiating down into the rooms over night.

For this reason, it’s highly recommended to ventilate the roof space during summer. While traditional ‘wheely birds’ are an option, what I’ve read suggests that they simply don’t draw through enough air in an hour to make a real dent on a typical roof.

We therefore focused on an active ventilation system. There are heaps of different options, but my search narrowed down to two products, both solar-powered:

In the end, we went for the Solar Star, which seemed like the better fit for our needs. For the size of our roof, a single Solar Star RM 1200 model was the recommended option, and we  bundled in a thermostatic control.

The Solar Star unit, sitting on our table before installation.

Installation was simple enough. It comes with a plastic flashing suitable for a corrugated roof, plus the necessary screws and instructions. We further simplified the process by fitting the unit directly under the ridge capping, which allowed us to skip a lot of the more fiddly waterproofing steps.

The flashing installed for the Solar Star, looking through to the reflective sarking underneath (which we cut a hole through at the end of the job).

All up, the job took about an hour, most of which involved getting the tools onto the roof and generally stuffing around.

The Solar Star installed, just under the ridge of the roof. Not pretty per-se, but far from ugly.

Ideally, at this point I’d be able to report (with graphs!) the roof temperature before and after installation, compared to the outside temperature. But life has been busy!

So I can report that the fan runs steadily and quietly, and I’ll post later with a purely qualitative assessment of the impact.

Understanding the house

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While endeavouring to improve the sustainability of our house, it’s proven useful to build an understanding of every aspect of how the house is put together.

As we’ve had things fixed by our do-all tradesman Wilhelm, I’ve been working alongside him. Now I need to highlight that I have absolutely no handyman skills at all, and have struggled to hammer in a nail in the past. Nonetheless, I’ve been able to provide a second pair (of unskilled) hands, helping to speed up jobs, reduce the cost, as well as allowing me to see what’s done.

This has meant working under the floor to remove old building rubble (to remove hiding places for rodents, etc). It’s meant helping to nail insulation up in the roof.

This has led to a number of observations:

  • It’s very cool under the floor. When we extend the house, can we put in place a wine cellar or “root cellar”? Can we make use of the cool air to ventilate our pantry, or maybe even the whole house?
  • It’s very hot up in the roof. We’re putting in place reflective foil to reduce the amount of heat getting into the roof space, but once it’s in there it’s trapped. Can we do something to get the heat out?

Too often, houses can be a mystery, with hidden corners and spaces. Before making any major changes, it’s worthwhile exploring these spaces to understand how the house ticks.