Green property: energy-efficient homes

Sarah Lonsdale tests the latest ‘eco’ products and sorts the fads from the finds. This week: peeking into energy-efficient homes.

It may be August, but already drops of condensation on the windows and that autumnal freshness to the mornings is an unwelcome reminder that the cold season is approaching. Those of us living in older homes will be praying we don’t get a winter like the last one and wondering what we can do to make our homes more energy efficient.

Well, help is at hand. Next month, dozens of owners of period homes throughout the country – including those in areas of planning restriction such as conservation areas and areas of outstanding natural beauty – will be throwing their doors open to show people how they have achieved energy savings of up to 80 per cent.

“The most common comment when people come in for the first time is: ‘But it’s just like a normal house’,” says Chris Handel who, with wife Hilary and son Charlie, is opening his Twenties home in the South Downs.

“When people think ‘eco home’ they seem to expect some modern timber pod, or a hobbit house. Our house is nearly 100 years old and looks no different from many others in the area,” says Chris, a commercial property director.

The Handels have reduced their CO2 emissions by 62 per cent, from 10.5 tons to four tons a year, with measures such as floor, wall and loft insulation, double glazing, a wood-burning stove, and a new boiler.

“The best things we did were the simplest and most cost effective. The insulation cost £1,000 and the wood burner £3,000 and between them these two did the most work in reducing emissions,” Chris says.

He says another good move was investing in a gadget that measures the moisture content of logs. “We spend about £300 a year on wood now, so it’s important to get it seasoned, otherwise you can’t use it.”

“He used to be a motorbike fanatic,” says Hilary, a script writer. “Now he’s into growing vegetables and checking the water content of logs. I prefer him that way.”

Throughout the country, people such as Hilary and Chris are squaring the circle of ”old home energy efficiency’’ in unusual and inspirational ways, even in protected areas.

Jonathan and Claire Wright, who live in a Victorian former merchant’s home in a conservation area in Faversham, Kent, for example, have become the first home owners in the country to install StoTherm bonded polystyrene blocks to two external walls to minimise heat loss from the 1870s building.

The blocks are stuck to the outside wall and then rendered, giving 200mm (8in) of extra insulation. “When we bought the house it was fairly dilapidated anyway and our survey pointed out that the walls needed re-rendering,” says Jonathan, an human resources manager. “Re-rendering alone would have cost £15,000 whereas installing this system was only £8,000 more expensive and gives us the security of lower bills.’’

The family has also installed a new condensing boiler and a wood-burning stove, which they feed with cherry, apple and pear prunings.

The Wrights decided not to double-glaze their sash windows; instead, they are going to install insulated timber shutters.

“I wasn’t happy about double-glazing the windows,” Claire says. “I found a study by Glasgow Caledonian University, which tested different coverings for traditional windows and concluded that insulated shutters actually perform better than double glazing.”

Although they have made some radical changes to their home, it looks like any other Victorian semi. “Our builders called us pioneers, but we don’t feel like Grand Designs-type people,’’ Claire says. “We’re just an ordinary family living in one of the millions of Victorian houses we have in this country, trying to reduce our carbon emissions and stop our fuel bills from crippling us.”

* The Wrights and the Handels are opening their homes as part of the ‘Old Home Superhome’ Heritage Open Days initiative. For details of homes to visit near you go to There are now about 50 accredited ”superhomes’’ around the country.

* Morso digital moisture reader (for logs):; Glasgow Caledonian University report ‘Improving the thermal performance of traditional windows’: – Telegraph