Highgate green pioneers show a house is never too old to be eco

Insulation, eco-heating systems, energy-efficient behaviour, upgrading appliances and using renewable energy can save home owners money- no matter what the house is

Victorian and Edwardian houses can be converted into energy-efficient havens.

A handful of architects have taken 19th century buildings and transformed them into environmentally beneficial ‘super homes’.

Insulation, eco-heating systems, energy-efficient behaviour, upgrading appliances and using renewable energy can save home owners money and help contribute to saving the environment.

Sarah Harrison, the founder of eco-refurbishment, an eco-home advice company in Chester Road, Highgate, turned her cold Victorian semi-detached home into a warm eco-property.

She said: “I had a history of working with sustainable materials but everyone was only interested in new buildings.

“People were beginning to worry about climate change and knew that Victorian houses were notoriously inefficient in terms of conserving energy. They thought the only solution was to pull them down and start again.

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“My semi-detached Victorian house was so uncomfortable; it was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. There was appalling condensation and really high energy bills.

“I love Victorian buildings though, so I decided to see what I could do. At first I focused on trying to lose less heat. I insulated the inside of the external walls, the floors, and the roof, and double glazed the windows.”

The walls were internally insulated with fibre board, heat recovery units were placed in the bathrooms, a sunpipe was fitted, a solar thermal system was set up and a wood-burning stove was put in the living room. These were only a few of the changes made to the house.

A ground-source heat pump, solar panels, low-energy LED lighting and solid wall insulation can all work together with environmentally-friendly fabrics including sheep’s wool and recycled materials to create the perfect eco-home. However, homes like this remain a tiny minority.

“I think there’s a lack of knowledge and understanding. The cost is also off- putting but there are cheap ways to create a more energy- efficient building,” said Sarah.

“All the evidence shows that a top quality, energy-efficient AAA-rated fridge saves huge amounts of energy. Draughts around windows can be stopped inexpensively and secondary glazing can be used as a less pricey alternative to double glazing.”

Harrison’s home is being used by charity the Sustainable Energy Academy as an example to others who might want to reduce their carbon footprints. Homes account for more than a quarter or all UK carbon emissions.

John Doggart, chairman of the Sustainable Energy Academy, organises open days at the ‘super homes’.

They give visitors a chance to experience a low-carbon living environment so they can see how easily some of the eco-features could be applied in their own home.

“Many people are wary of undertaking whole-house renovations because they don’t understand the technology, don’t appreciate the upheaval or can’t imagine the warm and cosy home they will achieve. Visiting a super home provides an answer to their questions,” he says.

“The two biggest things you can do to transform your house is fit a high-efficiency gas condensing boiler and insulate your house’s walls and windows.

“Each house is different; the price of renovating a house into a super home varies from �10,000 to �30,000. The cost is worth it. You’ll save money on fuel bills and help save the planet.”

Haynes has produced an eco-house manual to help those who want to make their home eco-friendly, price �21.99.

The book includes information on how to alter or renovate your property to reduce the impact on the environment. It also demystifies complicated initiatives like feed in tariffs and provides advice on the right materials to use for insulation, solar panel installation and heating mechanisms.