Sustainability is now a big part of most new build projects – but what about the millions of older homes in the UK which make up the bulk of our housing?
Experts say that somewhere around 80 per cent of the housing we will be living in by 2050 has already been built, so clearly it’s vital to look at existing properties.
And while you might think there is little to be done if you live in a traditional brickbuilt 1900s property, you couldn’t be more wrong.
It is possible to achieve staggering improvements in your home’s carbon footprint as hundreds of people have already shown through a new project launched by the Sustainable Energy Academy.
The SuperHome award for older houses has already been achieved by more than 100 homeowners who have retrofitted their property and massively reduced its carbon footprint.
The SEA aims to have a nationwide network of SuperHomes open to the public to demonstrate just what can be done in terms of energy saving and cutting carbon emissions.
Already, homeowners searching for inspiration can check its database for properties which have used technologies they are interested in or, alternatively you can search by area to find a property nearby that you can visit.
SuperHomes have achieved carbon savings of between 60- 80% and if even a quarter of people living in traditional homes took similar steps the combined savings could be dramatic.
Improvements can be made to almost any type of older properties – SuperHomes on the database already include everything from terraced houses to maisonettes and stone cottages.
Environmental designer, Charlie Baker, is an excellent example of a SuperHomes owner and has achieved carbon savings of more than 80% at his Victorian house in Manchester.
In addition to <#66#>solar thermal panels<#>, the house benefits from triple glazing, a wood fired boiler and thermal store and a wood burning stove.
When Charlie moved into his end-terrace home in Chorlton with his partner six years ago, it had no energy efficiency measures.
“Really, nothing had been done at all apart from a couple of inches of loft insulation,” he said. “The windows were still single-glazed, the chimneys were open and the heating system needed to be replaced.”
“We put in a wood burning boiler but we were burning an awful lot of wood and it was still cold and we quickly realised that we needed to address the heat loss.”
As well as triple glazing, the couple decided to insulate the exterior of the gable end of their house. Many high-rise buildings now have insulated cladding to reduce heat loss but external insulation isn’t something you often see on houses in the UK.
“It has been common practice in some countries, such as Germany, for many years,” said Charlie, “I’m really not sure why it hasn’t taken off here, although it might be linked to the British near-obsession with bricks!
“Many people spend a lot of money on double glazing because they think it will make a big difference to heat loss but often, more heat is being lost through the walls surrounding the windows than through the windows themselves.”
Unfortunately, he says, the British seem preoccupied with technologies such as air source heat pumps when something as mundane as insulating the outside of the house is usually much more effective in cutting costs and reducing carbon emissions.
The gable end of his home now has white render over insulation and he says it hasn’t created a stir in his neighbourhood.
“We went for external insulation because installing internal insulation is extremely disruptive and also cuts down on your living space,” he said.
There are various options available to cover external insulation including render or even a “pretend” brick finish.
The couple still haven’t completed all the work they hope to undertake on the house but they’ve already had five open days.
“Figures from the SEA suggest that at least half of people who go to an open day then undertake improvements to their own home,” said Charlie.
“It’s a great way to get people interested. Visiting a home that has been retrofitted allows people to see that some things are not too complicated and they could easily do them.”
“They can ask questions about costs and results and see what a particular energy-saving measure would actually look like in their own home,” said Charlie, of Manchester-based URBED design.
According to the SEA, over 50,000 people have already visited SuperHomes for inspiration and as more homes join the network, this figure is bound to increase substantially in years to come.
It is a fairly simple concept – but one that could offer the UK huge benefits in meeting energy and emission targets in the future – and retro-greening is set to become a new buzz term in sustainability circles.
The SEA, an energy charity, has already won a number of awards for its SuperHomes project and was shortlisted for a prestigious Climate Week award in 2011.