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Semi-detached property built in 1937
General Description

e bought 7 Egerton Road in summer 2007. The previous owners had been elderly and the property had not had much done to it for a significant period of time. This presented both the need and opportunity to improve the property in an eco-friendly way, as well as giving a fairly blank slate from which to work, without the problem of needing to discard recent inappropriate ‘improvements’.  The house required basic renovation work, e.g. to replace ceilings, re-wire throughout, provide missing lintels, and replace some faulty windows. To this we added a number of eco-renovations, including a range of insulation measures, adjustments to the central heating system, provision of a dual-flush toilet, and installation of a wood-burning stove. We have furnished and decorated using natural, no-VOC, sustainably sourced materials wherever possible, as well as re-using materials ‘liberated’ during the course of renovation, found in skips, or acquired second-hand.

After two years we have completed the largest part of the interior work, including all the major structural changes, the installation of high-spec doors and windows at the rear of the property, the insulation of floors, walls, and ceilings, and most of the interior decoration. We will shortly be installing an energy-efficient boiler, building a timber conservatory utilising heat-store principles, and working on our organic garden.

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Vital Statistics
The house is a 3-bedroom semi-detached property built in 1937 in an estate purportedly developed to provide housing for the middle-management of the Morris car plant.
In the north-west corner of a hammer-head cul-de-sac, the house has an unusually-shaped, generously-sized garden, to which we are gradually adding organic veg plots, along with some wild space; 
it is also graced with some mature pear and apple trees. We live here as a couple and use one room as an office.

Annual energy use
We cannot provide comparative or typical-use data for this as we had not lived in the house prior to the renovation, and have been undertaking lots of unusual activities whilst we have been renovating it. At times energy-use has been unusually high, and at others unusually low. 2009-10 will be the first year we can collect data which will reflect our normal energy-use patterns.

About us and why we did it

We both have a personal history of engagement in ethical and broadly political activity going back a number of decades. Four years after meeting on a cycling holiday, we decided to setup home together in Oxford, at just the time that awareness of green issues, and in particular climate change, was rising significantly. We needed a property of sufficient size to give some office space as well as providing living space and a garden. Our various experiences in organic gardening, vegetarian and ethical living, web research, and previous DIY projects, led naturally to the choice to renovate the house according to ecological principles, as far as practically and financially feasible for us.

Heating and power

The house has gas central heating, which we have improved by the installation of individual radiator thermostats, the upgrading to an energy-efficient modulating heat-pump, and the planned upgrading to a high efficiency boiler. We set our central thermostat to a relatively low level, around 16-17C.
As an alternative to this, for days when a whole-house system is unnecessary, we have a wood-burning stove in our living room, which we can use while opening the lounge door to allow heat to permeate through the house.
As gas is a more carbon efficient fuel source than electricity, we use a gas cooker as well as a stove-top kettle which can also be used on our wood-burning stove. We use low-energy lighting throughout the house.
We have Good Energy as our electricity supplier as they produce power generated entirely from renewable resources. Good Energy’s tariff is somewhat higher than average but we are prepared to pay this in order to encourage investment in renewable energy generation, and the additional costs are reduced by the energy-use savings resulting from the insulation and energy efficiency measures we have made.
We have also investigated the possibility of solar hot water panels, but are undecided about the benefits of doing this since we do not normally have stored hot water, but instead use a shower and washing machine to heat water only when needed. Solar Photo-Voltaic panels, for electricity generation, is currently out of our price bracket.


We have taken a whole-house approach to insulation, adding this wherever we can around the existing building envelope. In the loft we have used Warmcel recycled loosefill newspaper to fill between the joists, and overlaid this with hemp insulation bats. The loft is partially boarded using hemp loftboards sitting on raised joists underfilled with Warmcel insulation. We have also insulated the roofspace above our bay window and the flat roof over our rear bay, with appropriate ventilation methods used to prevent condensation while minimising heat-loss.

We chose natural materials for our insulation bats because they make use of by-products and the man-made products use higher amounts of energy in their manufacture.

The bats were very expensive relative to rockwool or glass-fibre insulation: our solution was therefore to use the much cheaper Warmcell in places and so balance practicality with cost.

Our 50 mm cavity walls are filled with special polystyrene ‘eco-beads’ which offer the highest insulation value of all the cavity wall fill materials available on the market.

We have also added flax or hemp insulation bats below the floorboards of our downstairs rooms, although we did decide not to add insulation to the solid floors because of the practical difficulties involved in this and the loss of the original decorative tiling in our hall that would have resulted.
Where we have replaced windows and doors we have installed highly-insulating timber-framed windows. When these go directly to the outside, they are triple-glazed; otherwise (e.g. where they will give on to a conservatory) they are double-glazed.

A task remains to draft-proof the house, by assessing and mitigating heat-loss from door and window seals, the letter-box, etc.
Who we went to for advice and info
We did not have the budget to commission professional services in planning our ecovation, and so researched sources of information and advice ourselves. This was obtained primarily from the following sources:

•    Centre for Alternative Technology, Machynlleth
•    The Ecobuild green building expo (twice), Earls Court – this was really useful
      as it allowed us to meet many suppliers face-to-face at the same time. It’s
      huge and mostly aimed at the construction industry but is worth going to as
      a household DIY-er if you focus your efforts.
•    The online Green Building Forum
•    COIN/ClimateX Oxford Ecovation Open Days (twice)
•    Books: Green Building Bible, Converting to an Eco-Friendly House, The Energy
      Saving House, the Eco House Manual, The 1930s House.
•    The Ecology Building Society AGM workshop sessions
•    Information from and discussion with a number of eco/green builders
      merchants/suppliers, notably: Green Building Store (Huddersfield), The Green
      Shop (Bisley), Ecomerchant (Faversham), LILI (Winslow), Natural Building
      Technologies (Oakley), Earthborn (eco-paints)
•    Lots of web searches for the technical specs of particular products – not
      infrequently available only from european websites in foreign languages!
•    We also phoned up manufacturers, suppliers and contractors and asked them

Who did each part of the work?

We used local contractors for the electrical, gas, plumbing, and major plastering work.
Ecomerchant and Green Building Store supplied the windows, with local builders who had some (limited) knowledge of green building methods contracted to do the fitting.
The cavity wall insulation was done by Miller Pattison, using the one-and-only crew able to fill with eco-beads.
A local carpenter, Hugh Milne, provided fitted cupboards, and built our kitchen to our spec using sustainably-certified timber products.
Local companies supplied and fitted the wood-burning stove and lined the chimney with a new flue.
We did lots of the work ourselves, with occasional help from friends and relatives: pulling down the old ceilings and putting up new plaster-board; opening up and lining the fireplace; building the hearth; tiling the bathroom; installing soffit vents; sanding (by hand!) and waxing the floors; insulating and partially eco-boarding the loft; insulating sub-floors and water pipes; ecologically treating timbers with Borax woodworm/preservative treatment; sound-proofing the party wall; infilling and building dwarf walls; plus all decorative DIY, product/supplier research, and project management.

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