Climate Friendly Retrofit part 2: Choosing the right house

In the last blog, I shared a bit of why we were setting out on the journey of doing an eco retrofit (link here if you missed it). In this chapter, I hope to unpack a bit of why we chose this specific house.

Having tried our hand at renovations in the past (even bought a house at auction once) we knew it was important to look past the issues and examine it for its potential. The home is a rare 1960s architect-built house on the outskirts of Bathgate sitting on nearly half an acre with beautiful views of the Pentland Hills and no less than 94 wind turbines (some solar punk inspiration). But there was a lot of work to do, and a handful of reasons it sat on the market for 2 years.

For starters, the home came with an Energy Performance rating of E (on the A through G scale) due to an outdated heating system without thermostat controllers, single glazed floor to ceiling windows, a PVC skylight, very little insulation (more on this in a later post), and two open fires. On top of that, there were damp issues, a crumbling chimney stack, and ivy and brambles covering half the property that was so thick it was impossible to find the property boundaries or see what was underneath (not so subtle foreshadowing…). And that is all before we even discuss the fantastic 1990s decorations, avocado bathroom suites, and cave room. But when you look past all those exciting things (and the fact it took multiple 8-yard skips to clear the house of junk), the house was almost as if it was built with an eco-renovation in mind.

When it comes to net-zero approaches to home design, the two basic principles are minimising the amount of energy needed to heat/run your home while maximising the amount of low carbon energy your home produces.

Before even discussing some of the exciting technology that forms part of our plan, there are basic design principles this house had from the day it was built that add to its ability to achieve those two goals.

Firstly, the house is located halfway down a south-facing hill with small woodlands both up and downhill. This not only lowers the wind around the home, but it also has an effect on how cold and warm air move around the house and gives protection from future flood risks.

From “Permaculture, A Designers Manual”

Secondly, nearly the entire southern and eastern walls are covered with floor to ceiling windows and a roof overhang that maximizes sunlight into the house in the winter but blocks direct light in the summer (sadly some of these are still single glazed).

From “The Eco Home Design Guide”

Thirdly, the walls in the house that the sun hits through the windows are all solid brick creating resulting in a low tech thermal store for all that sunlight (something we feel to touch, even if we still have insufficient insulation)

From “The Eco Home Design Guide”

These three facts alone can work to increase the summer and winter thermal performance of a building before even considering the higher-tech potential for microgeneration with large south facing-roof space and a protected hillside, both perfect for solar arrays.

With all that potential we took the plunge at the end of January, in the middle of lockdown, and moved out of the city. Little did we know Scotland was about to face the worst snowstorm of the year, just after we moved into a home with a low-efficiency rating and before contractors were able to come and do work… But we made it, and now with lockdown easing, and a plan in place, we are now starting to see things come together.

But… here are resources we relied on when making decisions;

Energy Savings Trust

The Eco Home Design Guide

Permaculture a Designers Manual

The Passive House Trust

PawPrint

Tune in next time when I start to unpack how we came up with a plan, what we have done so far and what is to come…

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