Having finally sorted out the design scheme, it is time to concentrate on one of the most important elements of this remodel — how energy efficient the house is.
In the past, we had enjoyed a fair few years in our previous self-built home, where heating costs were low and jumpers not usually a requirement. Having now spent three years in a cold, leaky, poorly insulated 1960s home, we vowed to improve things significantly.
Our son was particularly affected: his dormer bedroom is currently located in a badly built timber structure, so apart from a few happy months in the shoulder seasons, he is either to be found of a morning freezing cold under any number of duvets, blankets and towels, or lolling around, red-cheeked and stripped on top of the sheets, window wide open and fan on but still slowly cooking. Character forming it may be, but it’s hardly good for him.
Additionally, the rest of the house is of uninsulated cavity wall construction, supplemented by the added discomfort of leaky, misted double-glazed windows. What’s more, an open fire in the front living room was too hopeless to use and was attracting arctic chills into the whole house.
It wasn’t just our comfort that was at stake — our heating bills were shockingly hefty and at least in that first year, when oil was hitting £90/barrel, we really felt it. As a result, we vowed to tackle both the generation and consumption element.
Generation was relatively straightforward as a decision — helped significantly by the government’s incentives for installing renewable heat. We ditched the oil tank and replaced it with a brilliant new wood pellet biomass boiler (from Windhager), which sits in our stable block. A heat main was dug under the drive and feeds a large cylinder in the utility.
Two years on, it was one of the best decisions we made. The installation cost around £15,000 and we receive payments of around £3,700 per year (paid quarterly). So it will pay for itself within five years.
Running costs are good (although oil has cheapened considerably in the meantime) and we buy around five tonnes worth of wood pellet bags per year. In the winter we were hand-filling the hopper every three to four days; in the summer, typically once every three to four weeks.
Additionally, we opted to replace the open fire with a woodburning stove — as much to seal the flue up as the additional heat it would provide. We’re just finishing our first winter with it and the heat it generated on cold evenings undoubtedly reduced our fuel bills and more importantly, provided plenty of cosy comfort — much needed in our house.
The 5kW stove (from Aga) has used £120 worth of logs, and the overall fireplace rebuild, by a local chimney/fireplace specialist, using reclaimed bricks, adds a lot in terms of visual appeal.
Clearly, we need to use the remodel to get the heating consumption down, too. The original EPC shows an existing usage of 363kWh/m2/yr, which we are targeting by boosting insulation levels and new glazing. One of the great things about re-skinning existing homes is that it allows you to boost insulation levels externally — more of this in the months to come.