Thursday, March 24, 2011

Boxing clever

Today I feature a guest post by a friend of mine, David Burke.

In Praise of Stand-Alone Post Boxes

There is a Western European nation that suffers long, damp, moderately cold winters. To reduce energy use, it builds new houses with double glazing, walls, roofs and floors with high insulation levels and requires high performance gas boilers. Grants are available to upgrade existing houses. In some cases external doors are insulated. 

This same nation, having done all it can to reduce the carbon footprint of the house, then permits a hole of about 50mm by 300mm to be cut in the external door. This hole is usually fitted with a metal draught flap (sometimes a poor performer) which, after occupation, is often held open, sometimes all day thus obviating much of the benefit of all that energy saving construction. 

The Western European nation is, of course us and as you will have guessed I'm talking about the letter box. The letter box as we know it, is a bit of a villain really. Not only does it lose energy when the flap is held open all day with letters, but it requires the postman walk all way from the road to the house to make a delivery, it's often in an awkward position requiring the deliverer to perform minor gymnastics and once found it can have a nasty bite, scraping hands and fingers. And that is without taking account of the dog behind the door!  And, of course it provides a welcome starting point for the burglar. So why do we do this? Is the no other way of dealing with the household delivery of letters and papers?  

Well, I have no answer as to why we do it, except perhaps that we have always done it.  But there is a way to over come the problems presented by our little friend, the letter box. 

In Australia no front door has a hole cut in it. Or in New Zealand. I don't think that they do it in the USA either (to name but a few). Instead, they provide a letter box at the road side. Sometimes lockable, sometimes not.

The benefits include :-
  1. Reduced energy loss
  2. Reduced price for the door
  3. Reduced carbon for postal delivery as times are reduced and they can often be be done by bicycle
  4. Improved efficiency for Post Office as productivity will rise.
  5. Improved security
  6. Improved convenience as deliverers will have easy and simple access to the delivery point.
  7. Reduction in the minor injuries that badly placed and awkwardly designed letter boxes cause.

Set against this are two things: the cost of providing an external box, although this will be partly  offset by the savings to the door, and our cultural wish to have our post delivered to our front door.

If you don't want to do a something then you will always be able to show it can't be done, however I think that the benefits to the nation, of providing kerb edge post boxes far outweighs any initial cost. And the culture? Well how long ago was it when the dustman went round to the back of your house to collect your dustbin? And what happens now?

Finally, the photos (from Australia) show post being delivered by a man on a Honda moped, as well as various post box designs one showing the savings for the post man of not having to walk the length of a huge drive to deliver a letter.      

So there are health and safety advantages, there are energy saving benefits, and there are convenience benefits. Even in these straitened times these seem good enough reasons to me to promote a change in the building regulations.  And, of course, the postal service benefits although I'm not sure that you can make a building regulation for that!

D. J Burke FRICS (Rtd) 

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