Damian Ryan is a West Oxford local, and a key instigator of West Oxford Naturehood group. Here he shares his experience of making his home more warmer, healthier and more environmentally friendly, througha combination of easy small measures and more major actions. He will be joining us at our online event in May to talk about his home – find out more and book your place here: Improving your home to use less energy, May 19 2021.
In 2011 we bought our first house – a fairly standard, two-up, two-down Victorian terrace in West Oxford. As many people will know and have experienced, buildings like this are notorious for their poor thermal qualities. Solid brick walls and lots of gaps means that our 19th century houses can lose heat on a prodigious scale. Our use of gas to heat these leaky homes (and our water) also means that these houses (as well as many others from later periods) are a major contributor to the country’s greenhouse gas levels.
Having worked on climate policy issues for some years I was well aware of the stats, so it was inevitable that I was going to spend a lot of time making sure our new home was bought up to a more modern standard.
Seven years later, how has it all gone? Well, it’s been a journey as they say, but in a nutshell, we now live in a warmer, drier and cheaper to heat house than we did in 2011. Given that we now have two extra rooms to heat (courtesy of a loft conversion) underlines the impact of the various energy efficiency measures we’ve taken.
So, what exactly have we done over the years? The main answer – probably unsurprisingly – is insulation and lots of it, but we’ve implemented a range of other measures as well. Here’s two lists of the easy / smaller and not-so-easy / major work that we’ve undertaken.
Easy / smaller stuff (i.e. all DIY)
- Immediately doubled the level of roof insulation when we moved in
- Inserted reflective thermal bubble wrap behind all the radiators (about £10 per roll from Homebase)
- Changed all the lights to LEDs – a big saving on electricity as most of the lights were 50W halogen spot lights
- Found all the gaps in windows, doors and floors and plugged them to stop drafts
- Installed thermal curtains in all the rooms and thermal roller blinds in the kitchen
- Stuffed the (disused) chimneys with insulation
Not-so-easy / major stuff
We’ve also had a couple of major alterations done on the house – a new roof for the kitchen and the loft conversion. Both meant we had to ensure compliance with latest building regs, so the thermal properties of the house were improved as a matter of course. Other additional and significant changes include:
- Thermal and acoustic insulation added to part of the party wall (during the loft conversion) (DIY)
- Extra insulation (beyond compliance levels) added in new external loft walls (DIY)
- New combi boiler installed (part of the loft conversion work)
- External wall insulation installed along the full height and length of our end-of-terrace wall and the whole of the first floor at the rear of the property
- Underfloor insulation installed on the ground floor and all the water and heating pipes insulated as well (DIY)
- Mechanical heat recovery fan installed in the bathroom
- Flat roof of the loft painted white (to reflect summer heat) with a specialist paint (DIY)
As indicated, a lot of this work was DIY. It wasn’t always straightforward (notably the underfloor insulation!) but none of it was technically difficult.
The biggest job was the external wall insulation. For this we were very fortunate to secure a sizeable grant from government’s now defunct Green Deal Scheme, which covered nearly 75% of the cost. Getting the grant was relatively straightforward, as was installing the actual installation. The toughest part was finding a good company to do the job (which we eventually did).
Some thoughts and reflections
So, what have I learnt from all this work? Well, here are a few thoughts and reflections:
- There’s a lot of easy things to do that can make an immediate impact on your comfort and / or carbon footprint – notably extra insulation in your roof and changing to LED bulbs
- Make the most of major alterations to go beyond compliance levels when it comes to insulation – it doesn’t cost a lot in the great scheme of things and the difference should be marked from a comfort perspective
- Do your research or talk to people who’ve done similar work already. Unless you’re a DIYer geek (that’s me!) then you probably don’t want to spend ages trying to understand all the technical information about the products available.
- At the end of the day it’s not about the carbon. The main driver for me (and I suspect most people) in doing all this work was actually to create a better, more comfortable and healthier home. If we’re to decarbonise the UK economy over the next few decades, then I think this has to be the narrative and approach we use to get broader buy-in and accelerate action.
- Connected to previous point, we’re also going to need significant public subsidies (eg in the billions) to deal with the toughest housing challenges, notably solid walls. It’s unlikely, for example, that we would have contemplated solid wall insulation without a grant and I imagine that will be true for most people. Given the benefits such subsidies would provide in terms of public health and lower energy spending, we need to see and communicate such spending as an investment for the public good rather than a cost to the taxpayer.
Some photos of the work, showing before and after:
Damian Ryan, December 2018