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How to make a 1920s terrace property warm and energy efficient

Posted by Tasha Kosviner on 26 August 2014 at 10:17 am

Making a leaky 1920s house energy efficient is a daunting prospect. But it was experience renovating their previous home – a barge – that gave Jurgen Huber and Zoe Allen the confidence to take on the task. 

"The practical experience I gained of altering, fitting out, and designing a boat, and the contacts I had made, helped a great deal in converting our house,” Jurgen says. 

And it was confidence that was well placed. The work that they did on their mid-terrace central London house cut their bills by 50 per cent and delivered an impressive carbon neutral home. So how was it done?

“We tackled the house fabric first, adding insulation to the floor, loft, ceiling and the inside face of the external walls,” Jurgen explains. 

“We then installed double glazing and draught-proofing throughout.”

Having made the critical energy saving measures, the couple then turned their attention to the way in which the house was powered and heated. 

“Not being on the gas mains, the previous space and water heating options for the house were not very green,” Jurgen says. “Instead we chose an air-to-air heat pump, electric under floor heating and an instantaneous water heater. We also bought the most advanced appliances such as LEDs, the most energy efficient fridge freezer and an induction cooker.”

The air-to-air heat pump is not eligible for government incentives but at £600 as opposed to the £2000+ an air-to-water heat pump (that does qualify for renewable heat incentive) costs, Jurgen says he doesn’t mind. 

“The air-to-air heat pump costs little to run, provides instant heat when we need it and we can switch it off when we are warm. It’s so simple and easy,” he says.

The couple also kept costs down by choosing measures that they could install themselves. 

“We spent around £4000 on the first phase,” Jurgen tells me. “This included £3000 on all insulation materials and boards, £600 on the easy-to-install air-to-air heat pump, £250 on an induction cooker and £90 on a water heater.”

All this enabled the couple to get their energy usage down to between 3000 and 3500 kWh per year. To complete the picture, they then turned their attention to where those kWhs would come from. The obvious answer was solar electricity.

“We took out a £12k loan to install a Panasonic HIT PV solar system,” Jurgen explains. “It is the most advanced solar PV system we could find. It powers our house with 16m2 of panels. In nine months of the year it produces more electricity than we use – more than enough for two adults and two children. And because I buy my energy from a small renewable electricity supplier in winter months I can claim that our home is truly carbon neutral all year around.”

Further renovations have seen the couple adding a glass conservatory with a U-value of 1.4 to the sunny side of the house. This provides extra space and huge solar gain, helping heat the whole house even in cold winter months. The cost was £8000.

Are they happy with the results? 

“We’ve a very comfortable home that can be quickly heated or cooled at very little cost,” Jurgen replies. 

The Hubers’ home will be open as part of SuperHome Open Days in September 2014. SuperHomes are older homes refurbished by their owners for greater comfort, lower bills and and at least 60 per cent carbon emissions. Their home can be viewed at


More information

YouGen guide to solar electricity

YouGen guide to insulation

YouGen guide to heat pumps

If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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