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Renovated 1980's developer home

Our house was built in 1982 by Linden Homes, 
a speculative developer, as part of an estate in Oxpens, Central Oxford. It was constructed to very poor energy standards as they then applied, prior to the 1982 building regulations; it only has thin loft insulation, no cavity insulation and single glazed windows. The house did however have two substantial benefits; it was mid terrace and had an unobstructed southern aspect at the rear.

We have tried systematically to improve our poorly insulated house as part of a downscaled and low carbon lifestyle. We hope ours is a study in the simple and practical changes that could be applied across all houses of this age and type.

Vital Statistics

This property was built between 1960-1985. It is a mid-terrace house with 3 bedrooms, located in a suburban area in the South East. The household is a couple with no children, with an average occupancy of 2 all year round. No planning restrictions are in effect.
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Annual Energy Use

(No energy use data is currently available for this ecovation.)

About us and why we did it

Mark and Alice Luntley.

We are both motivated by deep concern about climate change and a strong moral motivation to reduce our emissions and waste. We didn’t want to be armchair campaigners who just talked about what governments should do, and we felt that the renovation of our house provided the perfect opportunity to put our principles into practice.

Heating and Power

As one of our first and most important steps on the path of ecological renovation we had a new solar-combi boiler installed.

Heating became a priority, partly by default, as we needed to replace the original boiler, which was reaching the end its life and was close to failure. This presented us with a great opportunity to install a solar-combi system which achieves high boiler efficiencies, although it is still quite rare in Britain. The new boiler is an Atmos Mono Solar, a Dutch condensing combi boiler designed to function with the variable water temperatures of solar system. The flat plate solar system warms a 100 litre heat store which then preheats water entering the boiler.

We took the advantage of this heating upgrade to seek out other efficiency improvements. We replaced two undersized radiators and fitted and carefully set good quality Thermostatic Radiator Valves on all the radiators. We also installed new electronic controls which allowed full programming - the old system had run on a timer and single thermostat.

Tags: Solar Thermal Panel, Radiators

Insulation

Insulation has been added to the loft, external wall cavities and the garage.

We added 100mm of Thermafleece sheepswool insulation over the 70mm of rockwool that was already in the loft. We filled all external wall cavities under a subsidised local council scheme and at the same time persuaded the installers to insulate the cavities in the wall and ceiling of the garage. As is typical of developments of this period, the garage is built into the ground floor of the house. The garage walls, are therefore external surfaces and a major source of heat loss. In the near future a builder will line the garage with a further layer of insulation.

Tags: Loft, Cavity, Solid Wall

Lighting

As part of our drive for installing as many efficient appliances as possible...

... we also installed compact florescent lighting.

Appliances

Overall, we have installed efficient appliances ranging from compact fluorescent lighting to a heat exchanging fan in the bathroom.

For our kitchen we also specified solid wood (due chipboard's high embodied emissions). We also invested in a Swedish Ifö Cera toilet, which uses only 2 to 4 litres of water per flush (45% less water than the conventional British models). 

Tags: Electronics

Bathrooms and Toilets

We made some alterations to our bathroom -

We added a heat exchanging fan to the bathroom, and now have a Swedish Ifö Cera toilet, which uses only 2 to 4 litres of water per flush (45% less water than the conventional British models).

Tags: Heating and power, Water & Sewage, Appliances

Extension

We had a conservatory added to increase the house's thermal performance. 

We commissioned an architect-designed conservatory for the south facing rear of the house. To maximise performance, the glazing is located solely on the south wall of a well-insulated shell: the side walls are built of brick with 100m insulation and the floor has 100mm of insulation under terracotta tiles. In the spring and autumn we can open the sliding doors to allow the warm air to enter the house whilst in the summer electronically controlled vents in the roof are opened to reduce solar gain. Despite this the conservatory is still too hot in summer and we intend to fit solar blinds next year, but apart from this we are delighted with the conservatory which we consider our “a little bit of Spain”.

We have also obtained planning permission for a porch on the north facing front of the house which will prevent cold air forcing its way into the house when the front door is opened. 


Kitchen

A solid wood kitchen.

As chipboard has high embodied emissions we specifically sought out a solid wood kitchen.

Obstacles and How we Overcame Them

A few problems arose in finding contractors. Our boiler has also proven somewhat unreliable.

Although we had no problem finding an architect who could give us what wanted, we hit a major problem with finding skilled contractors who were competent and willing to implement the plans. However this seems to be a common problem in Oxford, even for more conventional projects.

We have also had some major performance problems with our boiler which has required six repairs during its warranty period. We have heard good things about the Atmos make so perhaps we might just have a ‘duff Friday afternoon boiler’. 

Information Sources

We used a combination of established expertise and reading to understand ecologically-directed renovation and discover the best ways for us to embark upon it.

We started by commissioning a full energy survey, which identified the main sources of heat loss and the priorities for renovation. Further understanding of the things we might do came from the solar installers, the architect and general reading. 'Factor Four' by Amory Lovins was a major inspiration, and is certainly a recommended read, as is the 'Natural House Book' from the Centre for Alternative Technology. 

Low Carbon Lifestyle

There are other aspects to our low carbon lifestyle.

We see our house improvements as one component of an integrated strategy for reducing our contribution to climate change. Our two cars were replaced with a Toyota Prius hybrid and we now take all our holidays in Britain. Probably the greatest single cause for our emissions' reductions has been our decision to live within walking distance of work - Alice even changed her job so that she could avoid commuting.

In terms of our eco-renovation, electricity consumption has already fallen by 45-50%. We are preparing a full energy audit to be added later.

Top Tips

Simplicity, planning and the minutiae of day-to-day activities proved to be the most effective means of instigating environmentally sound change in one's house and oneself.

  1. Keep it simple. There are too many people trying to sell you fancy systems and products. Keep to what is tried and tested.
  2. Take things slowly. It takes time to pull together the contractors and the various parts, so start with an overall plan and implement it in incremental stages.
  3. Change the way you live. Make sure that the changes in the house are part of a wider level of behavioural change - in terms of how you live in the house and where you live.

 
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