Wednesday, 22 September 2021

Semi is one of the greenest houses in UK

A COUPLE have spent more than £200,000 transforming their Henley house into an eco-friendly “superhome”.

A COUPLE have spent more than £200,000 transforming their Henley house into an eco-friendly “superhome”.

Ian Petrie and his wife Fiona Blair bought the semi-detached former council property in Vicarage Road in 1998 but did not begin the extensive makeover until 2012.

The couple, who live with their sons George, 17, Harry, 19, and Arthur, 23, stripped all the floors, ceilings and walls to install thick layers of insulation.

Workmen stuffed the floor spaces with up to 8in of padding and converted the loft into a living area with 12in of thermal lining in the roof. They also filled the outside wall cavities and coated the house with 3in of external insulation.

All the windows were replaced with triple glazing, which is filled with argon gas to increase its heat-saving properties. These were fitted with airtight seals to keep draughts out and stop heat from leaking, as were the front and back doors.

The contractors then installed a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system, which continually pumps air in and out of the house through a series of ducts. The warmth of the air leaving the property is used to heat air coming in.

Four solar panels were installed on the roof. Two of these convert sunlight into electricity while the other two heat up the water supply.

The electrical panels generate up to 2,500kWh a year, just over half the amount the average British household uses.

This is fed into the National Grid and the Petries claim back a small payment through the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme.

Their house doesn’t need a central heating system but it has a gas boiler to top up the hot water when there isn’t enough sunlight. The family only switch this on for about an hour a day in the winter.

They get their gas and power from Ecotricity, a supplier that uses only “green” energy sources.

Other features include a 5,000-litre underground rainwater tank which feeds the toilet and washing machine plus a wood burner in the lounge which also heats the water.

The couple decided to pursue the project after Mrs Petrie sold half her stake in the Henley Veterinary Centre in Reading Road, having previously been the sole owner.

Both have a long-standing interest in green issues. Mr Petrie, a retired teacher, is a member of the Henley in Transition environmental group and stood as a Green Party candidate in the town and district council elections last year.

The house was uninhabitable for eight months after the work started so, rather than renting, the family lived in two yurts, a type of traditional Mongolian tent, in their back garden. These were lined with thick insulation and heated by wood burners.

They moved back indoors during the spring of 2013. Earlier this year, Mr Petrie began transforming the garden to allow him to grow his own vegetables. He keeps four ducks in a caged area with a pond that drains the birds’ droppings into various plant beds to act as a fertiliser.

He nicknamed the system “quackaponics”, a pun on its similarity to the aquaponic growing method.

The house now almost meets the stringent EnerPHit standard, a European measure of how “green” a property is.

It falls slightly short on airtightness but meets the criteria on heat and energy usage and the Petries say it is far more environmentally friendly than most in the UK.

It has also been designated a “superhome” by the National Energy Foundation, a charity that campaigns for homes and businesses to become as energy-efficient as possible. There are only about 250 of these in the country.

Mr Petrie, 65, said: “This wasn’t an economic decision as we’ve probably spent more money on it than we should have. It was all about living in a more environmentally friendly way.

“We made a few changes after moving in, like upgrading the central heating and putting in a bit of loft insulation, but until 2012 all our time, energy and money went into Fiona’s veterinary practice and the house was a very low priority.

“However, the money was there once she’d sold part of the business and the house was in a bit of a state so we decided to go ahead.

“If I bought the house over the road tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t aim for such a high standard as it wouldn’t be worth it.

“It would probably have been cheaper and more practical just to knock it down and start again from scratch, not least because we could have reclaimed the VAT, but the neighbours might have protested!

“I knew a lot about the technology as we spent a lot of time at eco-building exhibitions, so it didn’t need much research.

“There’s actually nothing that clever about what we’ve done, it’s just a case of heavily insulating the place, making it airtight and installing the MHRV.”

He said the family enjoyed living in the yurts and they never felt cold, even when temperatures dropped to -8C in the early months of 2013. They also saved at least £16,000 on rent and bills.

Mr Petrie said: “We looked at lots of options like caravans, boats and camper vans but then we came across yurts and they turned out to be awesome.”

Now the family never feel cold because the house is almost completely free of draughts, which can make a property feel cooler than it actually is. Their two pet dogs and three cats help to keep it warm with their body heat.

Mr Petrie said: “The main reason people turn up their heating isn’t the air temperature itself, it’s the fact that the air is moving. If it’s less draughty it feels much more comfortable.

“The house is also comfortable in the summer because the MHRV stops heating the air from outside. We open the windows overnight and the walls become cool, which stops it getting too hot in the daytime. It feels like we’ve got air conditioning on a warm day.

“It’s a self-regulating system that doesn’t take much effort on our part. The temperature stays between 19C and 21C throughout the year. I haven’t worked out how much we’ve saved. We’ve got three young men living at home and the cost of electricity for their computers is probably quite horrendous!

“However, the feed-in tariff offsets that to some extent. We also don’t pay any gas bills for heating and only pay a little bit towards the hot water and for cooking.”

Mr Petrie said the project was only feasible because the house, which was built from coarse concrete in the Forties by Wimpey, was in poor condition and needed to be stripped out for cosmetic and structural improvements.

He said refurbishing other properties to the same extent could be too expensive but smaller improvements could still be made.

He believes all new homes should be built to EnerPHit standard to keep their environmental impact to a minimum.

Mr Petrie said: “This kind of property is very difficult to make airtight as the walls are very porous. It’s hard even for houses built 10 years ago because that wasn’t part of the builders’ remit. All new builds ought to be at this level — we should be putting the central heating engineers out of business!

“There’s a premium to pay for the MHRV and the triple glazing but there are cheaper versions and the prices are coming down all the time. It doesn’t cost much just to make a place airtight.

“The trouble is the housebuilding firms don’t have to pay the energy bills and there isn’t much demand for homes that are cheaper to run so they can’t recover the extra costs by selling at a premium and don’t bother. There should be laws requiring new homes to be at this standard, or as near as possible.

“This is a much bigger phenomenon in Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries but over here there’s not much interest. The Government seems to be at the mercy of the building firms and waters down any legislative improvements that might reduce their profits.

“I’m very proud of how this house performs. The nice thing is that the technology isn’t obtrusive. It still feels like home and we never have to worry about whether we left the heating on or set the timer properly.”



A COUPLE have spent more than £200,000 transforming their Henley house into an eco-friendly “superhome”.

Ian Petrie and his wife Fiona Blair bought the semi-detached former council property in Vicarage Road in 1998 but did not begin the extensive makeover until 2012.

The couple, who live with their sons George, 17, Harry, 19, and Arthur, 23, stripped all the floors, ceilings and walls to install thick layers of insulation.

Workmen stuffed the floor spaces with up to 8in of padding and converted the loft into a living area with 12in of thermal lining in the roof. They also filled the outside wall cavities and coated the house with 3in of external insulation.

All the windows were replaced with triple glazing, which is filled with argon gas to increase its heat-saving properties. These were fitted with airtight seals to keep draughts out and stop heat from leaking, as were the front and back doors.

The contractors then installed a mechanical heat recovery ventilation system, which continually pumps air in and out of the house through a series of ducts. The warmth of the air leaving the property is used to heat air coming in.

Four solar panels were installed on the roof. Two of these convert sunlight into electricity while the other two heat up the water supply.

The electrical panels generate up to 2,500kWh a year, just over half the amount the average British household uses.

This is fed into the National Grid and the Petries claim back a small payment through the Government’s feed-in tariff scheme.

Their house doesn’t need a central heating system but it has a gas boiler to top up the hot water when there isn’t enough sunlight. The family only switch this on for about an hour a day in the winter.

They get their gas and power from Ecotricity, a supplier that uses only “green” energy sources.

Other features include a 5,000-litre underground rainwater tank which feeds the toilet and washing machine plus a wood burner in the lounge which also heats the water.

The couple decided to pursue the project after Mrs Petrie sold half her stake in the Henley Veterinary Centre in Reading Road, having previously been the sole owner.

Both have a long-standing interest in green issues. Mr Petrie, a retired teacher, is a member of the Henley in Transition environmental group and stood as a Green Party candidate in the town and district council elections last year.

The house was uninhabitable for eight months after the work started so, rather than renting, the family lived in two yurts, a type of traditional Mongolian tent, in their back garden. These were lined with thick insulation and heated by wood burners.

They moved back indoors during the spring of 2013. Earlier this year, Mr Petrie began transforming the garden to allow him to grow his own vegetables. He keeps four ducks in a caged area with a pond that drains the birds’ droppings into various plant beds to act as a fertiliser.

He nicknamed the system “quackaponics”, a pun on its similarity to the aquaponic growing method.

The house now almost meets the stringent EnerPHit standard, a European measure of how “green” a property is.

It falls slightly short on airtightness but meets the criteria on heat and energy usage and the Petries say it is far more environmentally friendly than most in the UK.

It has also been designated a “superhome” by the National Energy Foundation, a charity that campaigns for homes and businesses to become as energy-efficient as possible. There are only about 250 of these in the country.

Mr Petrie, 65, said: “This wasn’t an economic decision as we’ve probably spent more money on it than we should have. It was all about living in a more environmentally friendly way.

“We made a few changes after moving in, like upgrading the central heating and putting in a bit of loft insulation, but until 2012 all our time, energy and money went into Fiona’s veterinary practice and the house was a very low priority.

“However, the money was there once she’d sold part of the business and the house was in a bit of a state so we decided to go ahead.

“If I bought the house over the road tomorrow, I probably wouldn’t aim for such a high standard as it wouldn’t be worth it.

“It would probably have been cheaper and more practical just to knock it down and start again from scratch, not least because we could have reclaimed the VAT, but the neighbours might have protested!

“I knew a lot about the technology as we spent a lot of time at eco-building exhibitions, so it didn’t need much research.

“There’s actually nothing that clever about what we’ve done, it’s just a case of heavily insulating the place, making it airtight and installing the MHRV.”

He said the family enjoyed living in the yurts and they never felt cold, even when temperatures dropped to -8C in the early months of 2013. They also saved at least £16,000 on rent and bills.

Mr Petrie said: “We looked at lots of options like caravans, boats and camper vans but then we came across yurts and they turned out to be awesome.”

Now the family never feel cold because the house is almost completely free of draughts, which can make a property feel cooler than it actually is. Their two pet dogs and three cats help to keep it warm with their body heat.

Mr Petrie said: “The main reason people turn up their heating isn’t the air temperature itself, it’s the fact that the air is moving. If it’s less draughty it feels much more comfortable.

“The house is also comfortable in the summer because the MHRV stops heating the air from outside. We open the windows overnight and the walls become cool, which stops it getting too hot in the daytime. It feels like we’ve got air conditioning on a warm day.

“It’s a self-regulating system that doesn’t take much effort on our part. The temperature stays between 19C and 21C throughout the year. I haven’t worked out how much we’ve saved. We’ve got three young men living at home and the cost of electricity for their computers is probably quite horrendous!

“However, the feed-in tariff offsets that to some extent. We also don’t pay any gas bills for heating and only pay a little bit towards the hot water and for cooking.”

Mr Petrie said the project was only feasible because the house, which was built from coarse concrete in the Forties by Wimpey, was in poor condition and needed to be stripped out for cosmetic and structural improvements.

He said refurbishing other properties to the same extent could be too expensive but smaller improvements could still be made.

He believes all new homes should be built to EnerPHit standard to keep their environmental impact to a minimum.

Mr Petrie said: “This kind of property is very difficult to make airtight as the walls are very porous. It’s hard even for houses built 10 years ago because that wasn’t part of the builders’ remit. All new builds ought to be at this level — we should be putting the central heating engineers out of business!

“There’s a premium to pay for the MHRV and the triple glazing but there are cheaper versions and the prices are coming down all the time. It doesn’t cost much just to make a place airtight.

“The trouble is the housebuilding firms don’t have to pay the energy bills and there isn’t much demand for homes that are cheaper to run so they can’t recover the extra costs by selling at a premium and don’t bother. There should be laws requiring new homes to be at this standard, or as near as possible.

“This is a much bigger phenomenon in Germany, Austria and the Scandinavian countries but over here there’s not much interest. The Government seems to be at the mercy of the building firms and waters down any legislative improvements that might reduce their profits.

“I’m very proud of how this house performs. The nice thing is that the technology isn’t obtrusive. It still feels like home and we never have to worry about whether we left the heating on or set the timer properly.”



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