Life: after fossil fuels

Our pick of the best reads:


Jeff Rubin "Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller"


 

Greg Craven "What's the worst that could happen?"


Andrew Simms & David Boyle "The New Economics"


Anthony Giddens "The Politics of Climate Change"


Tamzin Pinkerton & Rob Hopkins "Local Food"


Donella Meadows, Jorgen Randers Dennis Meadow "Limits to Growth"


Alexis Rowell "Communities, Councils & A Low-Carbon Future"

 


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Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe

 

Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative

LCCC

 

Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59

Superhome 59

 

This website proud host of the High Wycombe Local Food Guide

Local Food

 

Welcome to post-carbon family life. We answer the question: is their life after fossil fuels? Yes, loads! Our journey started way back in 2002 but much of the research on this website dates back to 2007. You'll forgive us if it isn't updated. Instead please follow us on our Blog, on Facebook, on Twitter and on YouTube for the latest news, views & updates.

 

This post-carbon life is a pleasure, not a chore. We answered the questions we set ourselves and you are welcome to inspect the results in our very own future home: a post-carbon home, a "Superhome". A home with a 90% lower carbon footprint.

 

80% of all the homes we will be living in by 2050 are already standing today. Most of us are going to have to modernise what we already live in. More than that - our homes are more than just machines with carbon footprints: the way we live, our economy and how our communities work also counts. Hence some smart thinking is required. Holistic thinking; we developed our "Ten Steps" as guidance through the project. It lists everything you can do from changing your lightbulbs to re-building your local community.

 

Superhome59 is a five bedroom family home in Buckinghamshire, UK. The objectives of this retrofit were multiple: firstly, massively reduce our carbon footprint; secondly, reduce the amount of space and hot water heating required; thirdly, reduce the amount of electricity we needed; fourthly, provide space to grow our own food; finally, reduce our water consumption. This was less of a project and more a program of works designed to modernise this old home as subtley as possible. Not so much an "eco-refit", more a modernisation. We took a typical old home and future-proofed it. Come on in and see what we did... 

Visit Superhome 59 when you want

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Superhome 59 is open to the public. In the last few years we have had visits from the local Council, from local social housing managers and even from a Member of the European Parliament. You can see what they saw and learn how to get your little slice of the post-carbon pie.

There is no entry fee. This is not a show home. There will be no people with suits to sell you anything. The approach is relaxed. You are just visiting a home that has benefitted from a few extra home-improvements. If you are looking at maybe extra loft insulation, solar thermal hot water, photovoltaics or a fancy biomass boiler then Superhome 59 has it all. You can come and kick the tyres. Try before you buy.

You can visit Superhome 59 whenever you want with some prior notice. To let us know and to book your place go to: www.superhomes.org.uk/59.

Max of five people per tour. Tours last 50 minutes.

How to find us (with bus route info):

View Larger Map
This is not our first attempt to retrofit a home. Prior to the commencement of the current phase of work on Post Carbon Homes there was an earlier experiment on a home some three miles to the south of our new location in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, UK. We too everything we learnt onto the current Post-Carbon Home when we moved location in May 2008. If you would like to learn more about this home please click here.

The "before"

The property was purchased in 2008 and we moved in in May of that year. The house is quite average in many respects but we chose it for a couple of important features:

 

  • A large Double Garage

  • A large South-Facing Roof

 

This was one home that had considerable room for improvement. Since it was built in the mid-1980's the previous occupants had performed some cosmetic modernisation on the interior but had, otherwise, made few practical improvements. When we moved in we found the following horrors:

 

  • No Cavity Wall insulation

  • No Water Pipe insulation

  • No Domestic Hot Water Cylinder insulation

  • Less than 100mm of Mineral Wool loft insulation

  • No Insulation Jackets around either Hot Water or Heating Header Tanks in Attic

  • Some very bad DIY plumbing

  • The original 1980's Gas Boiler

  • Rudimentary Heating controls/timer

  • Built-in Kitchen appliances of unknown efficiency rating

  • Gas Fire in Lounge to Open Chimney

 

To the previous owner's credit they had replaced the original single-glazed window units with White PVC Double Glazing - but that was about it. So we inheritted a house in fairly "average" condition for its age. It reflected most people's priorities over the last thirty years. Energy was cheap and Climate Change was just a theory. (As an example the ceilings had been punctured to install recessed ceiling lights. A very fashionable idea at one time but a nightmare for anyone trying to make a house air-tight to modern building standards.) We obviously had a lot of work to do. It was an ideal opportunity to demonstrate some best practice for the modern household and the informed DIYer.

 

The biggest challenge for us will be engaging a sympathetic Local Planning Authority. The House is in a Conservation Area and Smoke Control Zone. Although this will not impact most of the basic changes to the internal systems, it would mean Planning Permission (&/or careful product selection) for such work as:

 

  • New Conservatory

  • Bio-Mass Boiler

  • Wood-Burning Lounge Stove

  • Tree Removal/Planting

  • Photovoltaics

  • Solar Thermal Panels

 

Before we bought the property we had already made an informal approach to the local Planning Authority to ascertain their attitudes to Solar Panels. Good news - they were sympathetic and stated that they were unlikely to raise any objection. However later enquiries about lists of locally approved Bio-Mass Boilers with the "Air Quality" Officer met with a less-than-useful response. Clearly we were in for interesting times. On the flip side we did have an interesting advantage - as the property was of brick & flint construction the walls were several cm thicker than other houses of that era.

Let's tour the building in its "moved in" state:

 

The Attic: It is enough to make you want to run away screaming. What you see is what you get. Less than 100mm of Mineral Wool Insulation between the joists. The entire area was lit by one 40w tungsten filament light bulb. The ceiling has been punctured in no less that seven locations as the traditional ceiling roses had been replaced by recessed ceiling lights. The recessed lights are not that useful in distributing the light around and make it a little challenging getting CFL's that fit the recess. What is more the ceiling in no longer air-tight. Air can leak directly through the light fittings and into the attic above. You will also see above the Hot Water and Heating Header Tanks. They were not insulated - well, not properly. The 50 gallon tank actually had some mineral wool just floating on the top of the water surface.  Oh yes, and we are not counting the seven Bees Nests under the rafters.

The Heating & Hot Water system: the Boiler belonged in a museum. Have a look at those heating controls in the second photo. The previous owners had had them just switched ON all the time. No wonder really. Most of the heat was lost on the way from Boiler to Hot Water Tanks through uninsulated Pipes running the length of the Attic space. On the right we see the Domestic Hot Water Cylinder. Yes it has rigid foam layer of insulation. But we found out the reason why. This has been replaced in 2003 for reasons unknown. Not a single pipe in this Airing Cupboard had any Insulation on it. The Cupboard remained a good way of cooking your laundry not airing it.

Whilst we are on the topic of heating controls - here is the Thermostat. Yes it is ancient but this is probably the least of our problems. Now lets turn our attention to all those Tungsten Filament Light Bulb Spots. There were fifteen "R63" spots and nine "R80" spots. Some didn't work but that was OK because the previous occupants had left a large bag of spares in the Garage. Obviously they had needed them! Within our first two weeks in the house two more bulbs failed. That is one a week. Talk about throwing good money after bad. We did find one energy saving lightbulb at the house - it was fitted inside the outside light next to the front door. Maybe if the money spent fitting recessed lights had been spent on CFL's the previous owners may have saved themselves some money. OK - enough bewilderment. Let's take control....

Before...

After...

 

The "after": what was done, what it cost and when we did it

ItemDateCostTypeComment
Double Glazingn/anoneSaving heatPre-installed. Probably the only eco-beneficial items the house had already!
Energy saving lightbulbsMay 2008£400Saving electricitySpotlight-type from Lightbulbs Direct
Pipe InsulationJune 2008£39Saving heatFrom a DIY store - fitted ourselves
Attic LightingJune 2008£55Project overheadNot a true eco-feature but necessary in order to insulate the attic ourselves
Loft Tank insulationJune 2008£37Saving heatFitted ourselves
New Loft HatchJune 2008£63Saving heatFitted ourselves
Sheep's wool loft insulation

June through October 2008

£999Saving heatWe added 200mm (2 layers of 100mm) on top of existing mineral wool. Purchased about 100m2 of sheeps wool (100mm deep) which cost us £999.
Attic flooringJune through October 2008£618Project overheadAn additional £618 was required for tools, wood and boarding gave us the storage space and access for future solar panel & boiler work via attic.
New kitchen door to garageJuly 2008£650Saving heatOld wooden door replaced with UPVc equivalent.
New door between garage and gardenJuly 2008£650Project overheadOld wooden door replaced with UPVc equivalent.
Garage DoorJuly 2008£1905Project overheadRollover Garage Door fitted by SWR. Not an essential eco-item but replaced the broken original. New roll-up door has a foam interior sandwiched between aluminium and plastic exterior walls. Helps keep the warmth inside the fabric of the building as the boiler is in the garage. It works too. High embodied energy but gave us good security.
New Gas Boiler, TRV's & controllerAugust 2008£2480Saving heatFitted by a local plumber. This boiler is now only a backup for the wood-pellet boiler
Chimney BalloonAugust 2008£30Saving heatFitted ourselves
Solar powered security lightsOctober 2008£122Saving electricityFitted ourselves but a big waste of money - later replaced by mains-powered versions that were much better
New CurtainsOctober 2008£240Saving heatThick lined curtains made to measure
Draught proofing & miscellanious insulationOctober 2008£80Saving heatFitted ourselves
Energy saving security lightNovember 2008£23Saving electricityFitted ourselves
Radiator FoilNovember 2008£65Saving heatFitted ourselves. We overspent on this due to an attempt to use double-sided sticky tape rather than wallpaper paste.
Energy saving security lightDecember 2008£99Saving electricityFitted ourselves
Cavity Wall InsulationDecember 2008£219Saving heatInserted by Mark Group
Wood Burner Dovre 250April 2009£2720Saving carbon - heatFitted by local company Nature's Warmth
A++ fridge/freezerJune 2009£420Saving electricityFitted ourselves. Replaced built-in units
Water butts and fittingsAugust 2009£70Saving waterFitted ourselves
Kitchen LED lightsAugust 2009£250 approxSaving electricityFitted by local electrician (ceiling units) & ourselves (undercupboard units). Supplied by Wattlite & Lightbulbs Direct.
Biomass Boiler KWB Easy Fire for Wood PelletsSeptember 2009£15590Saving carbon - heatFitted by Green Systems UK Ltd. Cost was £15,590 - £1500 Low Carbon Building Program Grant = £14,090
Water SoftenerSeptember 2009£1320Project overheadNot essential but we live in a hard water area
Barilla Solar Thermal hot water system & tankApril 2010£3750Saving carbon - heatFitted by British Eco - £1000 Low Carbon Building Program Grant = £2750
Photovoltaics 2.96kWp Mitsubishi panels & new consumer unitApril 2010£13500Saving carbon - electricityFitted by British Eco. New Consumer Unit fitted by local electrician.
Removal of trees from rear gardenJune 2010£855Making growing spaceLocal tree surgeon. These were mostly 18ft leylandiis that screened the home from the south blocking out the sun all year round. The house is far warmer in winter now. Replaced with fruit trees that will not shade the house even when fully mature and lose their leaves in Autumn.
Replace plumbing & toilets with lo-flush & lo-use optionsAugust 2010£800Saving waterFitted by local plumbers
Replace all radiatorsSeptember 2010£1450Project overheadFitted by a local plumber. The originals had all rusted through so we opted for slightly larger units.
Fruit TreesDecember 2010£152Making growing spacePlanted ourselves. Replaced the leylandii removed earlier.

 

GROSS TOTAL

£49,000

Total ignores LCBP grant funding that no longer exists. Note that the costs above exclude a lot of incidental expenses such as tools and materials.

 

Cost Breakdown

 

The total project cost looks quite horrendous but matters are not as simple as they first appear. The above list actually excludes things such as a new fitted kitchen and security system because they had no bearing on the nature of the 'eco-retrofit'. This means they didn't contribute materially in either saving water, energy or carbon nor did they increase our capacity to grow our own food. A more accurate breakdown is thus (figures are now net of LCBP grants):

 

Type of expenditureAmount spent overall
Saving heat (both space heating and water heating)£4902
Saving electricity£1314
Project overhead (non-essential associated costs)£5998
Saving water£870
Saving carbon - heat (doesn't reduce usage)£19560
Saving carbon - electricity (doesn't reduce usage)£13500
Making growing space for food£1007
TOTAL£47,151 net of grants

 

There is a lengthy appraisal of this projects costs and benefits over on our blog. Rather than bore you with the details here we recommend that you take some time to browse through "Was it Worth it?" Part One and Part Two.

The Sustainable Energy Academy & Superhome 59

We were delighted to have this eco-retrofit recognised by the Sustainable Energy Academy and became Britain's 59th Superhome in August 2010. The project name is "Old Home Super Home" and the title is reserved for old homes that have reduced their carbon footprints by 60% or more. We reduced ours by 90% if not more. Learn more here: www.SuperHomes.org.uk

 

     

 
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