The Roberts family live in a large Edwardian terrace in Reading, close to the Royal Berkshire Hospital, where Chris used to work as a midwife. “When I turned 50 a couple of years ago, we calculated that I could retire early; I have been suffering from a bad back since a minor car accident in 2004 and I was finding it increasingly difficult to enjoy such an active job. It’s no good being unable to kneel next to a woman in the advanced stages of labour without having to have gas and air as well,” she laughs.
It has been a long-term ambition of Chris and husband Tim to live in an ecohome. “We have been to see lots of new builds and modern architect-designed ecohomes but we have to accept that those are well out of our price range, and our daughters are happy at school and have a good social life in Reading. Living in the back end of Wales in a house underground just wouldn’t go down well,” she says.
Planning an Ecofriendly Conversion
With a sizeable NHS pension, earned over 30 years of nursing and midwifery, Chris and Tim also had some savings and managed to get a local authority grant to cover some of the work. “We started planning this before the government scheme for ‘retrofitting’ got into full swing – we have actually become trend setters, although that was never intended,” she explains.
By converting existing housing to more energy saving and environmentally friendly homes, the government hopes to reduce fuel usage, increase the proportion of renewable energy that we use overall, and to combat the effects of climate change.
Chris and Tim started by considering all the obvious things they could do – low energy lighting, intelligent socket management systems, a new boiler, a bigger window in the lounge, which is south facing, and a small conservatory. “We got quotes for cheaper simpler things like complete draught proofing, adding thermostatic valves to all our radiators and putting reflectors behind all the radiators. Then we tackled the pricing on the bigger jobs; super insulating the loft, having the internal walls insulated, having some of the windows changed to triple glazing and having under floor insulation (those Edwardian floorboards look nice, but they allow a lot of heat to escape).
Getting the Work Done
Once they had a ball park figure for the costs involved in the ecofurb project, Chris handed in her notice and the project got going in early May 2009. “The bigger jobs were tackled first – we started at the top of the house with the insulation, and then worked downwards to change the windows that were south facing so that we would gain more heat when it was sunny to save fuel. The boiler was changed, the central heating was overhauled and we had an inner layer of insulation with new plaster boarding throughout. This took a couple of inches off each room and we needed all the door frames to be redone, but still using the original wood,” Chris explains.
All the carpets were ripped up, and when the internal work had been done, Chris and Tim chose a new colour scheme throughout using traditional paint colours, natural fabrics and some of the newest ‘green’ materials. “We opted to seal the floors once the under floor insulation was in place and polish them and have wool rugs, which looks great and is fairly ecofriendly, although we did have one of the new waste tyre carpets in the kitchen, to cover the concrete floor,” she says.
Checking the Results
By the end of September, all the work was done and the family has been analysing their carbon footprint to see how it has improved. “We took the decision 4 years ago not to fly and we use public transport or bikes to get around Reading, so we hardly use the car. We have managed to cut our energy usage by a massive 60% by doing what we have done and our home looks modern and fresh, but it is still an Edwardian terrace, with some of the original features. I think it works well,” says Tim.