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One of us grew up in Cornwall (solid granite walls and open fires) and one in western New York State (timber frame houses with huge boilers and hot air heating). We met in 1964 on a Roman dig, married seven years later and have lived in Birmingham for almost 34 years. We spent much of our lives in education (between us teaching primary school (15 years), archaeology in adult education and as a visiting lecturer in assorted universities (20 years) and lecturing in the business school the University of Central England (20 years)).
Most of the time we were bringing up our two sons we lived in a 4 bedroom detached house in Birmingham. In 1979 we used almost 42,000kWh of gas; our electricity use peaked at 6,500kWh in 1998. By 2009 we had reduced our gas usage 65% to about 15,000kWh and our electricity usage 70% to 2,000kWh electricity.
After retiring we acquired an allotment. Chris spotted the for sale sign on our current house when cycling back from the allotment. We had been considering how best to “downsize” from our by now well insulated old home (HIP rating C) and wanted to experiment super insulating a semi-detached home for our retirement.
We first became aware of the warming effect of CO2 on our atmosphere when we saw the “Keeling Curve” in 1980 and waited to see how world governments would rise to this challenge. And waited and waited.
In 2005 we joined the Living Witness Project, a Quaker initiative encouraging personal responses to climate change. Joining with others we worked to reduce the energy usage of our Quaker meeting house 91% between 2005 and 2011 doing much of the work ourselves (www.cotteridge.quaker.eu.org/concern_for_the_environment.htm).
We learned from this project what can be achieved and wanted to demonstrate it in a relatively “average” three bedroom semi while customizing our home to suit our retirement within the constraints of the Bournville Village Trust design guide.
• New central heating system inc. A rated condensing boiler (£7,148)
• Smokeless wood burning stove (£2,959)
• Solar PV panels (2.4kWp) mounted on garden pergola (£13,350: prices have dropped since)
• Solar Thermal panels (£3,350)
• Low energy lighting (£100)
• Low energy (A-A+) appliances
• Cavity wall insulation (reduced U value from 1.42 to 0.56) (£129)
• DIY dry lining insulation of walls (reduced U value from 0.56 to 0.2) (£2,000)
• DIY Loft insulation (reduced U value from 0.7 to 0.2) (£50)
• Loft Storage room with insulated floor & insulated hatch cover (£3,464 inc. labour)
• DIY floor insulation (reduced U value from 0.6 to 0.2 & eliminated droughts) (£1,000)
• Double Glazing inc. patio doors (PVC, argon filled with soft low E coating; reduced u-value from 5 to 1.2) (£11,346)
• New, insulated front door (£970)
• Unheated conservatory: passive solar heating (£18,244)
• Water saving: Dual flush toilets (2.5/4L), eco shower heads, shaped bath (£500)
• Water saving: 800L water butt (£300)
We believe the home is now consuming about 85% less energy than it would have had we moved in without spending six months improving and insulating it. It is warm and snug in winter and cool and well ventilated in summer. Our bicycles take pride of place in the cycle shed carved out of the old garage. We take great pleasure in reading our gas and electric meters weekly, graphing our modest usage and trying to think of new ways to reduce it.
We are rather embarrassed to receive £200 heating allowance for a full year of gas which cost a total of £211. The main benefit or our PV electricity generation is our feeling of comfort knowing we generate just about what we use over a year. The feed-in tariff received will pay for the PV installation (including the pergola and armored cable) in a little over 15 years.
Our favourite improvement is probably the cavity wall insulation–a huge improvement in warmth for a very low expenditure! That, however, is not a particularly visible improvement. On a chilly day it is a great pleasure to watch the flames from a wood fire in our smokeless wood burner while basking in its warmth. Our incessant search for unwanted local trees also has helped us integrate into our new community.
We have added some tertiary perspex glazing on two windows. Our next major step will be to build a front porch!
Updated on 04/03/2013