An ex-council house converted into an eco-home

An ex-council house converted into an eco-home.

It's all very well building new low carbon and passive solar housing, but the vast majority of dwellings standing in 50 years time are already built, so the challenge is to renovate them to the required standard to reduce energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions. To become a sustainable city, every home must be an eco-home.

In most cases this involves persuading homeowners to undertake the changes themselves and one of the best ways to do this is to let them see other homes that have already been renovated/refurbished (the American term is weatherized) and quiz the owners.

In the UK an organisation has sprung up to do just this. All around the country people have signed up to open their houses on certain days of the year so that interested other homeowners can come and visit to see for themselves what changes have been made and ask questions about the installation, benefits and drawbacks of different measures.

The organisation is called the Superhomes Network. It's the brainchild of John Doggert, the Chairman of the Sustainable Energy Academy, who at the beginning of the year was awarded an OBE (Order of the British Empire medal) for his services to energy efficiency. The Academy has now merged with the National Energy Foundation (NEF), an independent, national charity based in Milton Keynes, that has been at the forefront of improving the use of energy in buildings since 1988.

The Network's been widely recognised for its work. At the end of last year it picked up the Retrofit Promoter of the Year Award at the Retro Expo Awards 2013 (which recognises the success of SuperHomes in inspiring thousands of homeowners to take action to green their homes). And in June this year the network won a Sustainable Energy Europe award for its pioneering work on sharing best practice at the grassroots level.

During the month of September they're offering tours of eco-homes and open house events. You can find the one nearest to your home using a superhome locator map.

There is a good mix of housing types, from Victorian, Edwardian to more modern SuperHomes, so people can be sure to find one that is similar to their own home. The tours take people in minibuses around a series of houses in a neighbourhood.

An analysis of feedback from previous similar events has found that:

  • 98% of respondents were pleased that they had visited a SuperHome
  • 98% said that touch-and-feel visits like these are a good way of learning about solutions
  • 91% were definitely clear/maybe clear, on how to tackle improvements in their own homes
  • 76% of visitors said they were inspired to do more in their own homes with a further 21% inspired to do more in general to reduce their carbon footprint.

The benefits of doing a environmental retrofit or not just for the environment or the purse. 87% of people who had had such work undertaken in their homes in another survey afterwards said they felt happier as a result of the environmental improvements made.

As an example of a SuperHome, Claire (right) Claire Le Gresley outside her 1997 detached 2 storey home in Wiltshireand Damian Le Gresley live in a 1997 detached 2 storey home in Wiltshire. They said they were motivated to undertake the renovations by:

"a combination of not being able to ignore the compelling need to act to try and avert a harmful level of climate change, and moving towards a way of life that copes better with the scarcity and expense of resources, particularly fossil fuels, we will inevitably have to face."

They have undertaken a great range of measures from replacing the double glazed windows and adding lots of insulation, to adding a solar thermal system on the roof, a wood pellet boiler/furnace with an insulated flue liner, water-saving devices and a rainwater harvesting system as well, of course, as plucking up all of the leaks such as an old vent ducts and gaps around kitchen pipework.

Is there a similar network in your country or region? If not, perhaps you can begin one.