Life: after fossil fuels

 

 


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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 life: after fossil fuels. Is their life after fossil fuels? The answer is: yes, plenty!

 

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

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.

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The "before" - what we found back in 2008

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 was to positively engage sympathy from our 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 did mean Planning Permission (&/or careful product selection) was required for:

 

  • 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 Biomass Boilers with the "Air Quality" Officer met with a less-than-useful response. Those were 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 in 2008:

 

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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 [picture 1]. The entire area was lit by one 40w tungsten filament light bulb that had been broken so there was broken glass everywhere. 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 energy saving lightbulbs or LEDs 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 [picture 2] and Heating Header Tanks [picture 3]. 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.

4

5

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The Heating & Hot Water system: the Boiler [picture 4] belonged in a museum. Have a look at those heating controls [picture 2]. 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. The Domestic Hot Water Cylinder (DHWC) [picture 3] had rigid foam layer of insulation. The DHWC 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.

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Whilst we are on the topic of heating controls - this was the original 1980s Thermostat [picture 7] still there in 2008. Yes it was ancient but this was the least of our problems. Now lets turn our attention to all those Tungsten Filament Light Bulb Spots [pictures 8 & 9]. 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 energy savers the previous owners may have saved themselves some money.

 

OK - enough bewilderment. In the summer of 2008 we took control and the retrofit Project started. Read about it below.

Before [2008]...

After [2011]...

 

The Project - what was done, what it cost and when we did it

Item Date Cost Type Comment
Double Glazing n/a none Saving heat Pre-installed. Probably the only carbon-waste-negating item the house had already!
Energy saving lightbulbs May 2008 £400 Saving electricity Spotlight-type from Lightbulbs Direct
Pipe Insulation June 2008 £39 Saving heat From a DIY store - fitted ourselves
Attic Lighting June 2008 £55 Project overhead Not a true eco-feature but necessary in order to insulate the attic ourselves
Loft Tank insulation June 2008 £37 Saving heat Fitted ourselves. Later this was discarded as the tank was replaced when the solar panels were fitted.
New Loft Hatch June 2008 £63 Saving heat Fitted ourselves
Sheep's wool loft insulation

June through October 2008

£999 Saving heat We 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 flooring June through October 2008 £618 Project overhead An 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 garage July 2008 £650 Saving heat Old wooden door replaced with UPVc equivalent.
New door between garage and garden July 2008 £650 Project overhead Old wooden door replaced with UPVc equivalent.
Garage Door July 2008 £1905 Project overhead Rollover Garage Door fitted by SWR. Not an essential 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 & controller August 2008 £2480 Saving heat Fitted by a local plumber. This boiler is now only a backup for the wood-pellet boiler
Chimney Balloon August 2008 £30 Saving heat Fitted ourselves. Since obsolete when the stove was fitted.
Solar powered security lights October 2008 £122 Saving electricity Fitted ourselves but a big waste of money - later replaced by mains-powered versions that were much better
New Curtains October 2008 £240 Saving heat Thick lined curtains made to measure
Draught proofing & miscellanious insulation October 2008 £80 Saving heat Fitted ourselves
Energy saving security light November 2008 £23 Saving electricity Fitted ourselves
Radiator Foil November 2008 £65 Saving heat Fitted ourselves. We overspent on this due to an attempt to use double-sided sticky tape rather than wallpaper paste.
Energy saving security light December 2008 £99 Saving electricity Fitted ourselves
Cavity Wall Insulation December 2008 £219 Saving heat Inserted by Mark Group
Wood Burner Dovre 250 April 2009 £2720 Saving carbon - heat Fitted by local company Nature's Warmth
A++ fridge/freezer June 2009 £420 Saving electricity Fitted ourselves. Replaced built-in units
Water butts and fittings August 2009 £70 Saving water Fitted ourselves
Kitchen LED lights August 2009 £250 approx Saving electricity Fitted by local electrician (ceiling units) & ourselves (undercupboard units). Supplied by Wattlite & Lightbulbs Direct.
Biomass Boiler KWB Easy Fire for Wood Pellets September 2009 £15590 Saving carbon - heat Fitted by Green Systems UK Ltd. Cost was £15,590 - £1500 Low Carbon Building Program Grant = £14,090
Water Softener September 2009 £1320 Project overhead Not essential but we live in a hard water area
Barilla Solar Thermal hot water system & tank April 2010 £3750 Saving carbon - heat Fitted by British Eco - £1000 Low Carbon Building Program Grant = £2750
Photovoltaics 2.96kWp Mitsubishi panels & new consumer unit April 2010 £13500 Saving carbon - electricity Fitted by British Eco. New Consumer Unit fitted by local electrician.
Removal of trees from rear garden June 2010 £855 Making growing space Local 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 options August 2010 £800 Saving water Fitted by local plumbers
Replace all radiators September 2010 £1450 Project overhead Fitted by a local plumber. The originals had all rusted through so we opted for slightly larger units.
Fruit Trees December 2010 £152 Making growing space Planted 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.

 

In December 2010 we drew a line under the project costs and considered the work complete. This does not mean that everything is "finished". Continual home improvements are underway. For example all the lightbulbs were finally replaced by LEDs in 2013, the front doors was insulated internally in 2012 and a new build Conservatory was added in 2014/2015. These are now treated as running costs or normal home improvements.

 

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 expenditure Amount 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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References: References