Stockholm – ventilation and draining properties in the Swedish capital

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Here we take a tour of Stockholm and look at how Swedish house builders and homeowners cope with the challenges of ventilating and draining properties in a colder climate and cope with the problems brought on with heavy snowfall.

Stockholm in April

In the UK we are predominantly aware of our prevailing wind from the West (it’s actually WSW) and so the pattern continues in Stockholm.  UK has a considerable amount of rain so households generally consider keeping the rain out a priority wereas the precipition is lower in Stockholm, here the priority is given to protection from the cold winter temperatures and winds. There’s also the prospect of snow.

louvre vents

Properties are ventilated accordingly and it will come as no surpise that the majority of vents and air bricks are either louvred or hit and miss. The positioning of them is also much higher in the buildings than in the UK. In London, it’s common place to see vents in the lowest or second lowest course of bricks and in many cases level with the pavements. In Stockholm, it’s likely these vents would be blocked with snow and ice for at least a month or so in winter if they were positioned along the ground. Ironically, if they were, they would be incapable of supplying interiors with combustion air for open fires and log burners during the months when they would be needed the most.

rusted hit and miss vent

We see the same problem with the hit and miss vents here in Stockholm that we see in the UK…

Vents are not being maintained !

It’s absolutely crucial that hit and miss vents are “worked” at least a couple of times a year – moved from open to closed a few times and given a light oil, perhaps a spray with WD40 and then a wipe off with a rag to take away any excess. If not they soon rust like the example above. If they are going to rust, then rusting in the open position above is not a disaster,  at least the vent is still doing it’s job, supplying the house with ventilation.  It’s much more serious if the vent is seized in the closed position, a vent in this position isn’t a vent at all ! On no account should they be painted, they are supposed to open and close and the paint will just jamm up the action and seal it in whatever position it’s in when painted. It will look nice but it won’t be of any use.

round hit and miss

It’s not surprising that the winter ice takes it toll on the brickwork so it’s fairly common to see buildings fully rendered. In fact nearly every building here is rendered and quite often brightly painted.

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There is one exception and that is Stockholm City Hall which features as one of Stockholms “must see” Landmarks in Time Out.   The sheer quantity of bricks used in the building is absolutley breathtaking so, if like us, you love your brickwork then take a look. Don’t look too close though, there’s a fair bit of lime mortaring and pointing to do…

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Switching our attention to drainage, we couldn’t help but notice shop owners and householders putting pieces of cable, wire and springs in the rainwater downspouts. Speaking with our guide, we were told these were to help reduce the possibility of the pipe freezing solid with ice and blocking the pipe and also to make it easy to pull out the ice and loosen it up when the thaw arrives without damaging the pipe.

It is evident that the use of cast iron for gratings and vents is widespread but it isn’t a material often used in the rainwater downpipes and gutters. Instead the Swedes predominantly opt for the Lindab scheme, a more flexible and lighter tin plated rainwater system. These pipes are relatively unaffected by the expansion and contraction of ice and also the corrosive nature of salt used at ground level to thaw ice along pavements.

Looking up along the guttering we saw occasional examples of thawing cables being used – electrically heated wires and tapes used to prevent freezing. We have heard of these being used in USA and Canada but not seen them in Europe until now.

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 Another feature evident higher up is the use of roof ladders and roof dividers. An ingenious but simple method to prevent or at least reduce the ice and snow “avalanche” that occurs from roofs when the thaw comes. As Stockholm is one of northern Europes sunniest cities, it will come as no surprise that when the roof top thaw occurs  – it can happen rather quickly !

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If you do have the chance to visit Stockholm and are interested in the built environment, interiors and architecture then we can highly recommend a visit to Skansen, an open air historic museum and zoo. Here we discovered some fabulous period properties and got the chance to see how the Swedish lived at the turn of the century (1900 not 2000 !) and some of the property construction in rural areas. We discovered some early double glazing that actually looks beautiful …

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We also learnt of a fantastically efficient log burning stove that Swedes had in their homes. It featured a baffle exhaust chimney system that ensured the heat rising from the fire didn’t just escape out the flue and out the building but was restricted so it heated the chimney breast wall. This ensured that when the weather was really cold, the occupant didnt have to go out and get more firewood to maintain the heat but it also had another more envirnonmentally friendly use. It reduced the emmisions to almost zero so preventing pollution and reducing the smog in busy city streets and ensuring rural areas maintained crystal clear air quality . These fires sometimes had elaborate decorations on them in the form of glazed tiles and had a double door opening on the stove. It’s funny isn’t it that we think of DEFRA stoves and smokeless log burners as a new invention ? Aparently, in Sweden, it’s been the norm for years and years !

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Well that concludes our vent and drainage tour of Stockholm. Of course before we left we just had to go in here…

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and see how tidy our workshop could be …

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