We are both self employed, I have a degree in architecture and my wife Sarah has an administrator degree.
My motivations for the retrofit were completely environmental. I am preparing a future for my children, not an apology. At the end of the day I am trying to show leadership and trying to get other people to follow suit so we have a fighting chance of not leaving the planet worse than we found it.
This Victorian end of terrace house was uninhabitable when we bought it and we moved in to it in 2004. All the windows in the house were the original single glazed windows, except the attic windows which were bad 70s windows and had rotted. There was no insulation except some tufts of the old glass fibre in the attic. A hole had rotted through the floor in the bathroom and the joist had rotted through in the kitchen behind the sink.
The house was freezing and we burnt £1600 of gas in the first year we lived there and we were still cold, it was crazy!
Firstly we installed the wood fired boiler and 2000 litres of thermal storage space. Then we insulated the house using both internal and external wall insulation as well as insulating some floors and the roof. We also comprehensively draught stripped the house and the windows and added double and some triple glazing.
The house is warm now and I like the fact that we don’t pay for heating for most of the year – we pay nothing for gas because we no longer use any! We are now intimately acquainted with every single Kilojoule of energy that provides heat to this house. I like the way the solar and biomass systems work together. Manchester doesn’t get much sunlight but we can store it for over a week if we are careful with the hot water.
What’s impressive about this house is that the moisture level has never risen above 60% and is sometimes as low as 45%, which is exceptional in my view – for a heated house. I would quite like to keep it that way as it keeps all the dust mites and other pathogens at bay. The one thing that we have found in this house, keeping it in its Victorian state and using lime plaster as the new plaster, is that the moisture handling ability of the house seems exceptional. Air quality- including moisture content- is a big issue.
The solid wall insulation was a particular success. It was up quickly, in just 3 days, with very little mess – it was great. External wall insulation is a no brainer, you cover up all your maintenance needs, you make the house look different but if you’re careful where you use it that can be a bonus. The process is completely non invasive, and there are no cold bridges so you get massively more efficient systems out of it.
We are very satisfied with the whole process. If we hadn’t done it we’d be living in a freezing cold, draughty house with water coming through the roof. Also, I’m sure that the house is good for our health, because the humidity levels are low and because there’s no carpet.
The consolar stratifying tank is my favourite bit of kit in the house for its overall performance. It will hold a tank full of hot water for over a week and will hold hot water up to 85°C. The way that the coils work means it doesn’t need to be turned up to 60°C to kill legionnaires. It has got a heat exchange coil for the domestic hot water and the body of hot water doesn’t move so it doesn’t need to be sterilised and is sealed anyway. This means that I can let the temperature in the tank drop to 40°C, which I can still shower in as long as I don’t hang about. So it means you can go for quite long periods of time with usable warm water and for hand washing 40°C is fine. When the water is at 85°C it gets automatically mixed back down again to a usable temperature so no one gets scalded. So that’s just a thoroughly lovely piece of kit that does its own thing and every now and again I go and peer at it to make sure the water pressure in the solar system is up to the job.
The second best feature is the wood fibre external wall insulation. The fact that we didn’t have to put a base coat on it and that it went up without a fuss very quickly was great. The polymer render over the top of it doesn’t crack and it is flexible despite being incredibly hard. We reckon we got a couple of degrees temperature change on the whole house just from using wood fibre on that gable, but also a decrease in the humidity of the house. So it definitely did the house quite a lot of good.