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I met Richard, a widower, in 2006. He wooed me with tales of climate change and cataclysmic disaster, and we married in 2011.
A friend told us that Glebe House, exactly half way between each of our old homes, was for sale: “I have seen the house you should buy, but it is very ugly”. It had the garden Richard wanted and the Wallingford town centre position I wanted.
We worked for over one and a half years (2013-2014), on renovations to make the house warmer and to improve the internal spaces. After suffering a rogue builder who fleeced us of massive amounts of cash, we had to learn a lot about building, to manage the project ourselves.
This winter, we had the garden landscaped to protect us from the noise of the road, producing one pond for wildlife, and one pond for me to swim in. (The ducks keep getting this rule muddled). Richard grows food in the garden, and the lawn is a wildflower meadow, with flowerbeds full of plants to encourage wildlife.
Richard is a retired director of climate change research at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology. After I met him, I began a new career as a domestic energy efficiency advisor, running Ecomorph, within the construct of the ill-fated Green Deal.
We have joint concern for our ravaged planet, and wanted to renovate our house as a model ecofit, showing what could be done with such a prevalent home type as a 1960s house.
We transformed the house and garden, converting the loft into a large living space and re-arranging the interior. Insulation was the priority, and although the house already had filled cavity walls, we super-insulated with thorough loft insulation, and external wall cladding.
The ecofit was designed to reduce our carbon footprint dramatically, whilst increasing the comfort and the aesthetic of the house. Many people think it is a new house, due to the complete change in the facade from external wall insulation.
This house was freezing! The windows upstairs were the originals: single-glazed, draughty windows with rotten wood frames. There was a strange dormer from the gigantic master bedroom, which flew over a patio space beneath. Its ‘cheeks’ were barely insulated.
There was minimal loft insulation, and an old boiler-room that infringed on the kitchen space and was a terrible heat-loss area, shining brightly red on the thermal camera.
Most miserable was the outdoor space. A back garden given over to featureless grass and a dying pear tree, with rubbish piled up in a corner. The grass had been used as a carpark, and the carport between the house and garage used as a throughway, for cars, and, as it turned out, for the howling gale and road-noises that rushed through it. The front garden was tarmac and useless earth mounds.
We got the keys to the house on a damp, mild November day in 2010 and promptly went on holiday. We returned to a frozen Wallingford, gradually defrosted the house, and went out for a couple of hours. On our return there was a monsoon in the kitchen. The mains feed to the coldwater tank had burst.
We camped out for 2 years in a patched-up home, planning refurbishments. One was definitely to convert the loft and replace the cold water tank with a mains-pressure cylinder on the ground floor where it could do less damage.
The new layout has helped to open up the house, transforming the kitchen and loft space. The outside of the house is beautiful to look upon. Our winters are now warm and our summers cool thanks to proper insulation and ventilation.
I love the triple glazed windows which seal with a sucking in of breath, protecting us from the world outside. It has also greatly reduced road-noise.
Wildlife-friendly improvements to the garden give a feast to the eye with colourful flowers and fruits and an engaged insect population; bumble-bees rolling delightedly in the poppies.
We have just installed batteries for the 8kWp of solar panels. This is such an exciting move forwards. Although they are only lead acid (we couldn’t afford lithium), they provide 4kWh of storage. This is enough to tide us over the summer nights, and also to smooth out usage during the day.
What I mean by that, is that if you put the washing machine on and then the sun goes behind a cloud, the batteries take over until the PV clocks back in again.
Batteries! Hoorah! We got them up and running yesterday, and they are feeding of the 8kWp of solar panels that we have on the east and west roofs.
We have imported zero electricity in the last 24 hours.
Updated on 13/07/2016
Ecomorph is the energy efficiency advice service set up by SuperHomer Sue Roberts to help householders reduce their bills and carbon emissions. The company can arrange domestic energy surveys with Energy Performance Certificates. The service dovetails with the refurbishment of Glebe House, where ideas were tested. For more information see www.ecomorph.org