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How to retrofit an ex-council property - our SuperHome owners are doing it and so could you!

Posted by Shanics Olton on 14 September 2017 at 2:25 pm

London, a city of history and soon-to-be city of the future. By January 2018 all of London’s iconic Black Cabs will be electric vehicles and the lampposts which were originally intended to guide you home will be used by them as charging points to help take you home. These latest developments are vital for the city that consumes the most energy in the UK. Our latest SuperHome owner, Pamela Harling, is playing her part by engaging in the 10th year of SuperHomes and their nationwide Open Days, supported by Ecology Building Society. SuperHomes are exemplary residential properties refurbished with energy efficient measures and renewable technologies to achieve a minimum 60% carbon reduction.

Pamela’s long held interest in retrofit stems from her own visits to green open home days. After seeing the impact that owners of retrofitted homes can have on the environment, Pamela decided it was her turn and embarked upon the search for a property with potential for a carbon conscious retirement. In the summer of 2014 Pamela found her retrofit project - a 1920s ex-council property with a very poor EPC rating of F. By mid-2016 most of the work had been done and Pamela was able to settle down in her now 100% carbon neutral home.

So how did Pamela manage to turn her home from a run-down ex-council property into a new-era home fit for a comfortable retirement? Well it wasn’t as easy as the fairy tale where the frog turns into a prince but if you keep on reading we’ll let you into some of Pamela’s secrets.

Pamela's home in North London


The EPC rating of ‘F’ prior to Pamela’s retrofit must have stood for ‘freezing’, as she tells me that her first 2 winters there were very grim. But this only spurred Pamela onward in her battle against the cold and draught and the pursuit of her dream home. The first major step was to get advice from experts in retrofit and with support on the environmental works from Pamela’s local sustainability group, began knocking down walls and moving the staircase. 

Pamela has an array of technology in her home and fine-tuning the mechanics has taken some trial and error. One technology Pamela could not live without is a classic of any eco-retrofit, solar photovoltaic (PV) panels. Pamela’s father was an electrical engineer and had installed solar panels on his own home at the age of 80, an impressive feat. This ancestral inspiration along with Pamela’s own interest in how energy is generated spurred her desire to install her own. Despite initially feeling unsure about the return on investment, Pamela tells me that they’re an explicit form of marketing domestic sustainability and effective way of getting the message out to others, making them a worthwhile route to pursue.

“The sight of solar panels on your home lets people know you’re thinking about energy efficiency and that they should be too.”

Pamela’s solar PV has been performing better than she had expected but not all the technology she’s had fitted has been plain sailing. In hindsight, Pamela feels that she should have spent more time putting questions to the installers and builders to get to know all the new technology a bit better – after all she would be living with them for the foreseeable future.

It also took a number of call outs from the installers of Pamela’s air source water heating panel which was very noisy and providing water at scolding hot temperatures. After a long wait, a trip to the shops for a thermometer and one desperate call to the manufacturers later, Pamela was finally able to diagnose the problem herself (and it’s worked beautifully ever since).

However, Pamela’s problems didn’t end there. The winter after settling down into her newly designed home, Pamela could not feel the heat she should have from her wood burner. Of course with external wall, loft and floor insulation Pamela’s home was much warmer than in the earlier days of her project but a wood burner should add further comfort when used during those frosty winter months we all know a bit too well. Drawing from her experience with the water heater, Pamela got in touch with the manufacturers who helped diagnose the problem. One piece of advice Pamela has for anyone retrofitting their home would be to make the manufacturers of the technology your first port of call whenever you’re experiencing any problems.

As for anyone starting a new project, you’ll be learning as you go and although retrofitting can be tough (and we didn’t say it was easy), Pamela has a huge sense of satisfaction from what she’s achieved and the knowledge she’s gained. Now, after a three year adventure she can finally enjoy a new carbon neutral way of living.

If you would like to visit Pamela’s SuperHome open day on either 16th or 17th September, then please book your place now!

About the author:

Shanics is a summer intern at the National Energy Foundation and is part way through a Corporate Social Responsibility and International Business Masters.

 She is interested in all areas of sustainability. 

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

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