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What works when planning a major refurbishment project?

Posted by Idalia Dawidowska on 30 August 2016 at 11:30 am

My partner and I bought our three bed end of terrace Edwardian house in Chorlton cum Hardy, Manchester, in February 2014. The house had a reasonable Energy Performance rating of 58 (band C) but was in need of a major refurbishment. At this point we weren’t thinking much about energy efficiency improvements. As time went by we decided that improving the fabric of the house and improving its energy efficiency was more important than the extension so we decided to focus on this instead.

Professional help

I think one of the key ingredients of a successful refurbishment project is to get professional help from the beginning. We were very lucky to find SuperHomer Kit Knowles who carried out a Heat Survey for us through his consultancy business Ecospheric. As a first step Kit sat down with us to establish our priorities – were they bill reduction, increased comfort, a healthier internal environment or lower maintenance costs? 

We were very impressed with how thorough Kit was. As part of the survey he got under our suspended timber floor to establish what was there already (in terms of services, damp and insulation). He also used a thermal imaging camera to identify cold spots and thermal bridges. Only once all this had been done were we able to establish what needed to be done and in what order. Jobs were grouped for convenience and to save cost e.g. doing all the jobs that required scaffolding together. The money spent on getting professional advice at this stage was well spent.

The right installer

The next step was for us to find an installer and to find somewhere else to live on a temporary basis; staying in the house wasn’t an option as it was being stripped back to the bare bones – some internal walls came down and internal plaster was removed. Luckily for us we were able to rent a room in our next door neighbour’s house. Being close at hand really helped as I was able to check progress on a daily basis. Kit also helped by doing quality checks.

Finding the right installer is of course very important. Key to all of this is finding someone with previous experience of retrofitting energy efficiency improvements who is willing to learn. In our case it was the installer whom we met through recommendations that introduced us to Kit. They have worked on several energy efficiency retrofit projects previously and so he was familiar with materials and methodologies.

Visiting a SuperHome

Another thing that worked very well for us was going to visit a home that had already been refurbished to a high standard of energy efficiency. One of the things recommended to us by Kit (linked to a substantial improvement in airtightness in our house) was Mechanical Ventilation and Heat Recovery (MVHR). We had mixed feelings about this. Going to a house which had already got this installed and speaking to someone who had first-hand experience of this really helped us make our decision.

Phased approach

Initially we planned to do the interior of the house first, first downstairs and then up.  We planned to do this for reasons of convenience and cost, but realised once the work had started that this wasn’t going to work. The decoration and other work downstairs was likely to be damaged by ongoing work upstairs, so in the end everything internally was done at the same time. External work will be done in our second or third phases. 

In phase two we are planning to have the gable wall insulated. When planning to have external wall insulation done it is worth bearing in mind that planning consent may be necessary and factoring in the time needed to obtain this. As we are planning to have our brick gable end wall rendered (which will change its appearance) we have already applied for and been granted planning consent.

As part of our final phase we are planning to have solar PV and solar thermal installed. We should then achieve 87% carbon saving ourselves.

Fri 9 Sep 2016 Free Open House Event:

You can join a free tour of Idalia’s house in Manchester on Friday 9 September as part of SuperHome Open Days. This is an exciting opportunity to see work in progress and to discuss the planning of a whole house renovation which will qualify the property for SuperHome status. 50 SuperHomes will open across the UK this September providing great insights into how you can green your own home. To find out more about SuperHomes or to reserve a place on a tour, see

About the author: Idalia is an aspiring SuperHomer. She is refurbishing her home in Manchester for a predicted 86% carbon saving.

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

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