Retirement retrofit for Cambridge Open Eco Homes

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Elizabeth Baggs outside back doorComing new to Cambridge and Open Eco Homes, my first month as the new Cambridge Open Eco Homes project worker has offered a fairly steep learning curve, but as co-author of the Centre for Alternative Technology’s The Home Energy Handbook I feel as though I’m on good solid ground when it comes to appreciating low energy homes.

But there’s always something new to learn and visiting Elizabeth Baggs’ terrace house, was a real eye opener. Elizabeth has gone through a lot to create the home she wants. The back wall ripped out, extension built, builders all over the house for months on end, microwave meals because the kitchen was out of action. Not what most people want from their home at any age but what makes Elizabeth remarkable (and very sensible) is that she has done this in preparation for old age.

And now she has the house she wanted without moving house: one full of light and warmth, and with reduced energy bills and a lower carbon footprint. In the process of restoration she has also got rid of an awkward set of steps, replaced her kitchen and installed a wet room. This is sensible future proofing and reminds us that retrofitting is a good opportunity to get some of the other things you want at the same time. Where as in the past she would complain of having to sit in her living room with hats and scarves she now says it’s too warm.

Passive solar gain from extension

This idea of creating a bundle of improvements that are not all to do with energy or carbon savings makes loads of sense. Think about the improvements that will mean a lot to you and incorporate them if you can. The Dutch project Energiesprong have taken retrofit in a different direction by offering an ultra-quick process where householders get a new bathroom, kitchen and a pre-fabricated external skin on the house. This really cuts down the disruption but doesn’t allow you to change the internal shape of the house or add on an extension.

Elizabeth’s renovation has come in several stages, with each stage leading on to fresh thinking and a further development. First there were conversations with Cambridge Carbon Footprint and small quick wins with draught proofing and secondary film glazing. Later on came double-glazing. After that the extension and more passive solar heating, followed finally with complete external and internal solid wall insulation.external insulation compared to neighbours lightened (2)

What I need to focus on now is finding more hosts in Cambridge like Elizabeth. Our events are not until September but we need to find our homes and hosts by the end of May. So if you have a low energy home and like the idea of opening your home to visitors for a couple of days in September, get in touch at allan@openecohomes.org or tell us about your home on this short form.