In this week’s instalment, I’m going to focus on how we came up with a plan (even if it does keep evolving). If you missed the first two parts of this story, you can check them out here. In many ways, this part of the story is both very exciting and extremely frustrating.
Before moving in we began to formulate our plans based upon a non-invasive survey, the Energy Performance Certificate, and our extensive photos of the property. Due to the property having been vacant for several years, the information able to glean from these and the previous owner was minimal. And, in our case, we opted to not engage the help of an architect or designer largely because we had existing relationships and networks across the industry and a desire established early on to support business we know and believe in. The jury is still out if that was a good idea, but what it did bring was an interesting perspective and possibly confusion.
Initially, we separated our plans into three streams of work; the fabric of the building (decrease the energy need of the home by as much as possible), microgeneration (produce the most energy as possible on-site), and the heating (use the least carbon-intensive method to heat the house).
Everyone we have spoken with agreed that the biggest impact you can make is on the fabric and the focus was initially here. To some extent, even those of you with Victorian solid wall houses can tackle this with minimal disruption. In our case, we could rely on our survey and EPC for much of the guidance. The worst offenders here were lack of insulation (a saga that deserves a dedicated blog), open fireplaces, zero energy-efficient lighting, a single-ply plastic skylight, and floor to ceiling single glazed window. That is not to say there weren’t quick wins with installing A+++ rated appliances, but as the house didn’t have any, that was a simple addition. Some of those were easy DIY jobs (like upgrading the light fittings) but having moved during the height of the winter lockdown, we had to wait to do the big jobs.
As you will have read in my last blog, we partly chose this house because of its roof size and aspect, because of this, the plan was to fit as many solar panels as possible onto the roof, trying to generate as much electricity as possible and have been working with the team at LiveEco CIC (a social enterprise and investee of Firstport) to design and install our system. We also received great advice from the team at Home Energy Scotland who gave us our first whole-house perspective, validating many of our assumptions.
Upgrading the heating system, however, has not been as straightforward as the other areas, largely because the world is very divided over the best solution. There is a wide menu of options here including air/ground/hybrid heat pumps, infrared, high heat retention electric radiators, and even hydrogen (depending on where you are). It seemed as if every consultant or supplier we spoke to had their preferred technology on that spectrum, with the government incentives steering strongly towards heat pumps. But what is right for our house? We haven’t yet made a decision… I’ll try to unpick this in a future edition.
The other big win in the process of planning was switching energy supplier to Octopus to allow us to start tracking our electricity usage in half-hour increments to better map against grid demand, and potential solar demand. This will come into play in a future blog about solar/heating, but f you want to find out more here is a referral link share.octopus.energy/cute-otter-973.
So 3 months in I’m sitting here in the garden typing this as the first major works (replacing the single glazing) are going on behind me. But the lesson on the planning stage is, be prepared for it to evolve, and be prepared for conflicting viewpoints from people in the sector. Every house is different and its important to not be swayed by what is exciting too early in the process.
In the next blog, I’m going to start taking each of the elements of our retrofit in turn digging into the different advice and options put in front of us, and why we took the decision we did. Be prepared though that our plan is still evolving and there is still much to nail down.