Then over a period of years we have drastically improved the wall
insulation one room at a time, when doing other work such as decoration
or new kitchen, or just when we felt sufficiently energetic. We have
also largely double glazed, without altering the appearance at the
Thus we believe our approach demonstrates how very substantial
emissions reductions can be achieved on a limited budget by making
changes in instalments and by using DIY and a one man builder. If you
are lucky enough to have cavity walls, then just have them insulated
professionally, and go down to the pub while we are sweating away
insulating solid walls.
When our emissions reduction hit 70% we named the house "Walsall
Ecohouse". Currently our CO2 emissions are 75% below their 1998 level.
We have no renewables, as the payback times are even longer than for
the internal wall insulation. However we are planning a modest active
solar air heating system which will collect warm air in a blind window
(to be set against the wall upstairs at the south facing rear) and fan
it through pipes to the North facing front room. (Web search "active
This property was built between 1700-1920.
It is a
a suburban area
The household is
a semi-retired couple,
with an average occupancy of 2 all year round. No planning restrictions are in effect.
Annual Energy Use
2,200.00 kWh (Standard)
909.00 cubic metres
About us and why we did it
We are Martin and Jane Normanton.
We've always disliked waste and planet abuse, and Martin has had a
long interest in energy efficiency. It was a growing concern about
climate change, and a trip to the Hockerton Housing Project, that
motivated us in 1999 to start to go far beyond the easy measures of
loft and cylinder insulation.
Have a look at Hockerton Housing Project for a view of what the Hockerton Housing Project is all about.
If having read about our eco renovations you would like to contact us, please do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visits to our house are also available by appointment. (Walsall is between Birmingham and Wolverhampton).
Heating and Power
In 1999 we replaced the storage heaters with gas central heating
powered by a Worcester Bosch Greenstar HE 30 condensing combi boiler.
We employed a plumber we knew and trusted to install the boiler and
oversized radiators downstairs, and insulation of all pipes running in
unheated areas. We specified the best controls, i.e. a programmable
room [house] thermostat as well plus Thermostatic Radiator Valves
(TRVs). If we were doing the work now we would certainly upgrade to the
HE Plus version of the boiler, which works with an intelligent room
thermostat to modulate the boiler down as the desired room temperature
Through the installation of TRVs, a new condensing combi boiler and
acute attention to detail, in terms of when and how we use our heating,
our energy consumption has diminished significantly.
Hot water for our shower and bath are provided by the combi boiler.
Hot water for the kitchen and bathroom sinks is provided by individual
electric water heaters with 10 litre storage tanks. The small
quantities of water used in the sinks are not an efficient use of the
boiler and much of the heat is lost in the pipe run - not to mention
the time wasted waiting for it to arrive. Although they are not as well
insulated as we would like, the tanks are set to hand hot and so heat
losses are bearable.
Originally we did not think it would be truly cost effective to
replace storage heaters that still worked. However the fuel savings far
exceeded our expectations and the project was on course for a ten year
payback when rising fuel prices shortened this to seven years! Note
that an old gas heating system with a boiler with a pilot light and
poor controls is just as bad as storage heaters for CO2 emissions.
To minimise gas use Martin does “the dance of the TRVs”
(thermostatic radiator valves) which aims to heat different rooms at
different times. The dance goes as follows: When going to bed turn down
the TRVs in the living room and study and turn up the TRV in the
kitchen-diner and bathroom, so that when the programmable thermostat
brings the heat on in the morning only the necessary rooms will warm
up. Then at breakfast time turn up the living room and study TRVs and
turn the kitchen-diner and bathroom ones part way down. If we are going
out for long we turn the programmable thermostat down one degree.
We focused extensively on insulation, applying different methods to
the different environments throughout our house. The insulation of the
solid walls has been a major project and we have achieved it in
instalments, as opportunities arose.
Most of the insulation is internal wall insulation (IWI). This has the
advantage, compared to external insulation, of relative cheapness. If
you are renovating a wreck the extra cost is minimal, but in our case
the plaster was sound, so it has been an expensive project; the cost
including labour is in the region of £500 per room, giving 20 year
payback. Replacing the Victorian plaster coving in the Dining Room the
cost a further £600! Currently we have just insulated the front living
room, and have ordered replacement coving in wood at a third the cost;
we just hope we will be able to install it OK! The insulation should
raise the value of the house since Home Energy Surveys will be required
for all house sales after June 2007. And of course properly installed
insulation needs no maintenance.
The system we have used is Martin's invention, honed over successive rooms.
The common method is to use insulated plasterboard which is now
available with fairly good insulation levels, but a problem remains in
ensuring a good seal for the vapour barrier. The boards need to be
installed with the full perimeter bead of adhesive on each one to
prevent moist air from getting behind them and forming condensation.
Even with care you cannot be sure that each bead has made full contact
with uneven walls - assuming that your builder is willing to apply a
full bead in the first place.
So instead we have developed a system where we can SEE that the
vapour barrier is complete before finishing off with ordinary
foam insulation sheets are placed against the wall and
then held by 20mm battens secured by frame fixings passing through
the insulation into the wall. The battens cannot rot as they are
warm side of the insulation, so I call this a warm batten system. The
insulation boards are foil backed both sides so the inner foil layer
forms a vapour barrier, it “only” remains to prevent air
through the joints. The standard way of doing this is to use aluminium
tape, but, while it sticks very well to the boards, having used it I
have little confidence in its long term adhesion to the floor, ceiling
So we now use expanding foam to seal all the joints; to do
this we leave 15mm gaps all around so that we can insert the tube of
the can of expanding foam right into the gap. Only when I can see that
the insulation is completely airtight does the plasterboard go on,
hiding the unsightly mess behind.
The photo below shows the insulation
in position into the bay window on the right, and the first sheet of
plasterboard has been positioned over it on the left. You can see the
green expanding foam. In this room we wanted to minimise the thickness
of the insulation system, so as well as hacking off the plaster we
omitted the battens, holding the whole to the wall by frame fixings
through the plasterboard.
While it achieved the aim, I would recommend
using battens when you have space, as you can subsequently attach
things (such as kitchen units) by screwing through into the battens,
the gap created by the battens is useful for running services and if
the wall is uneven you can correct this by packing the battens.
When we insulated the wall in the kitchen, which has a solid floor,
we also excavated a 100mm wide trench at the edge of the floor and
insulated between the edge of the floor and the wall to a depth of
600mm. This works well as floor insulation while avoiding the expense
of replacing the floor to insulate under it.
In 2002 we insulated the gable end wall where it is inside the
garage (a full depth lean-to in brick) by an entirely different method
which saves both cost and disruption. This is a form of external wall
insulation, as it is applied in the garage, but being under cover it
does not need to be weather proof nor professionally finished, so it is
cheap and also lends itself to DIY. Because the insulation is fitted on
the outside of the wall it avoids condensation by using the house wall
as the vapour barrier (as in cavity wall insulation). It also avoids
cold bridging at internal walls, not to mention the saving in cost and
disruption by being in the garage and not inside the house. We used
200mm of fibreglass insulation on timber studs, covered by panelling
consisting of a neighbour's discarded hardboard doors.
This still leaves one downstairs wall waiting to be insulated - the rear-facing study.
Pic: Solid Wall
Most lighting is by low energy bulbs.
With low energy bulbs 3W is enough for the hall light which is on
all day. Almost as important as the efficiency of the bulb is how
effectively the light is distributed to where it is required. Pendant
lights are better than ones attached directly to the ceiling, and we
use mostly uplighter or paper globe shades. Bathroom and bedroom lights
which are rarely on for any length of time use 40 watt bulbs, and we
last bought a 100 watt bulb in 1987.
We begun with S Day (switch-off/ standby day), and from there
culled, improved and replaced many of our electrical appliances,
particularly those with stand-by options.
Standbys: S Day was 17th August 2001. That was when Martin switched
everything “off” and timed the rotations per minute of the disc on the
electricity meter. Calculations then showed that we were still using 86
watts. As there are 8,760 hours in a year that is an annual use of 753
KWh or 34% of our current consumption! War was declared and after the
TV had been switched off at the switch, and the computers and VCRs at
the sockets this figure was halved.
But where was the rest of it going? How about three LED clock-radios
and two answer-phones? But how much were they using? Reinforcements
were ordered in the form of a plug-in meter to measure the electricity
consumption of individual appliances. The current one cost £25 from
Maplins Electronics. This has revealed various horrors, and is
accordingly named “The Judge”.
The Judge found that Jane’s halogen desk lamp used 4 watts when
“off” – it is now awaiting recycling. The LED clock which is in our
son’s bedroom was still on despite his having left 5 years before; it
was unplugged, saving 3 watts. But not much we can do about the
answer-phones which use 7 watts and 5 watts respectively.
The 22 year old fridge-freezer was also quickly condemned, but won a
reprieve when we could not find a modern replacement with a big enough
freezer. After being externally insulated with 60mm of polyurethane it
is now about a ‘C’ rating.
We found that our dishwasher used 1.5KWh per wash, so it has been
replaced by Martin hand washing using about 0.2KWh for HW. The washing
machine is an ‘A’ rated Bosch. The tumble drier was last used in 2004
and sparrows now nest in its vent.
Bathrooms and Toilets
This uses only 2.5 to 4.5 litres of water per flush (the most used smaller flush is 60% less than conventional British models).