Rob and Karen Rickey have renovated and extended their postwar house to dramatically reduce energy consumption — creating a home which is now unrecognisable from the original building.

The house, in Devon, was a sad 1950s creation with past alerations which had hindered its hope of being energy efficient. Fortunately, with a wealth of experience – both personal and professional – of environmental design, the task of transforming this home was the perfect challenge for architect Rob and his wife Karen.

Now, the couple can blissfully enjoy their beautiful views across Dartmoor in the comfort of their draught-free home.

The Project

  • Name: Rob and Karen Rickey
  • Build cost: £100,000
  • Build time: 6 months
  • Location: Devon
Rob and Karen Rickey's updated 1950s home

Redlands stands elevated on the edge of Crediton in Devon and enjoys far reaching views

The Site

Rob and Karen Rickey bought a draughty 1950s house with a neglected garden, in the same area as the home they had lived in for the past 19 years. They made their last home as energy efficient as they could, and were keen to take on the challenge that their new heat-leaking house posed.

In the brick construction house – known as Redlands – they saw the opportunity to create a light, airy, comfortable home with a beautiful and productive garden. They hoped success would show that it is possible to upgrade an old home and really improve its energy efficiency.

Woodburner and dorrway to the garden room

The large glass doors may be opened in wet weather thanks to the covered verandah beyond

The Brief

Rob Rickey is an architect by profession, with a Master’s in the Environmental Design of Buildings. He is also a certified passive house designer, and used the Passive House Planning Package computer modelling software to guide their project.

They intended to reduce the building’s heating requirements by at least 80 percent, and improve comfort and air quality. They also wanted to reorganise the layout to make better use of the space, sun and views.

They would reuse the majority of the building to limit need for materials. This would also help them stay on budget.

The wooden staircase

The striking ash staircase from Young & Norgate has been repositioned more centrally in the entrance hall to create a better flow of space


Karen is from Devon and Rob is from Louisiana, USA. They have lived in all kinds of different houses between them and used this experience to aid their design.

Their key aim was to create a home influenced by passive house standards. To do this, openings were enlarged on the south elevation to take full advantage of solar gain, and they improved insulation.

To make the most of the light coming in from the south, they opened up the interior by removing some internal walls. The staircase was also moved (and replaced with a beautiful bespoke ash one) to better suit the new layout.

They positioned the sunroom, open plan sitting room/kitchen diner, and master bedroom to the south and these all enjoy beautiful views. A brise soleil provides shade to the first floor rooms in summer.

The old roof was reused and the exterior clad in a rich red self coloured render, which reflects the colour of the Devon soil. This helps the house fit in with the surrounding red brick houses.

Rob and Karen Rickey's living area

The ceiling height has been raised in the sitting room to enable taller glazing


Planning permission for the alterations was almost refused on the grounds of the proposed new sunroom and verandah which project beyond the line of the house to provide shade. Ultimately though, consent was granted, and one year after moving in, Rob and Karen were able to begin work.

The living area with woodburner

Ceiling heights have been raised in the sitting room to enable taller glazing and therefore deeper sun penetration in winter

The Build

Local builder, Simon Mildon, was recommended by a friend and arrived with his team to begin stripping out the old bathroom while the couple were still living in the house. Rob and Karen then moved out for three months so that the demolition works could be completed, the rotten floor joists replaced, and walls repositioned.

The couple did as much as they could themselves calling on their sons Tom, Ben and Alastair to help. Once first fix electric and plumbing were undertaken, Karen fixed mesh netting under the suspended floors to hold sheep’s wool insulation in place. They moved in before flooring and interiors were finished and got their friends on board to help decorate by holding a painting party.

Rickey's kitchen with whisk light pendant

The unusual light pendant is made from an upcycled industrial whisk


Therm (THrough-life Energy and Resource Modelling) software helped design their energy efficient home. After ensuring the main rooms were oriented towards the sun for passive solar gain, their priority was airtightness and insulation. 450mm of glass fibre loft insulation, breathable airtight membranes in the first floor ceiling, and 180mm of external insulation serve this need.

Existing plastic windows were upgraded to triple glazing clad externally with low-maintenance aluminium. These are fitted into projecting plywood boxes which align with the external wall insulation and prevent cold bridging.

Their house is not yet up to PassivHaus Retrofit standards, but they have managed to reduce annual gas usage by 72%. They also installed the following to generate electricity and keep running costs low:

  • A ventilation system with heat exchanger ensures good air quality
  • Photovoltaic panels on the roof of the garden studio generate 179 units of electricity
  • A low output woodburner

After a few finishing touches – favourites of which include their stainless steel worktops and whisk light fitting reclaimed from a university kitchen – the Rickey’s comfortable home with low running costs was ready for them to enjoy.

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