Soon after I moved into my seventeenth century Cotswold cottage, I needed to decide what to do, how I wanted to alter the cottage. I threw around various ideas, and spoke with Sandy Hickey, the architect.
A cold and small cottage
The cottage had a living room, dining room, kitchen and four small bedrooms, one of which had a stairway off it. Up this stairway was the room I intended to use as a studio, but that soon proved impossible. As summer changed to autumn, I discovered how poorly insulated and cold that room was. I had to work in a lower room.
The cottage’s kitchen wasn’t very big, and before I moved in, I had thought about extending it. When I looked into the costs of what I’d planned, I began to rethink. Besides, now that I was living in the house, I realised that I liked having the patio area just outside the back door. The rest of the garden was on a higher level than the patio, and to get to it you went up some steps. It felt a bit more public, so I liked a tucked away private space near the back door. If I extended the kitchen, I would lose that lovely outdoor space.
A kitchen made of real wood
Before I made a final decision about the kitchen, I met with designers from Pineland Ltd. This kitchen company make their kitchens in real wood, which is better for the environment than the MDF particleboard used for most kitchen furniture. Pineland Ltd surprised me with the imaginative and practical layout suggestions they came up with. By utilizing the space really well, I could get almost everything I wanted into the kitchen, and not having to extend would keep costs down.
I kept hearing from people who have done building projects that it would cost more and take longer than you expect. So I thought the best thing to do is to expect it to, then no nasty surprises.
Sandy and I had several meetings to discuss what we were going to do and how far we wanted to take this – if I wanted to gut the place and start from four walls, or if I wanted to tinker around altering a few things. I decided to take a middle ground, and do quite a lot, but not tear everything out.
Plans for my Eco Home
Sandy drew up plans detailing what type of insulation we would need in which part of the cottage. At this point I realised what a very complicated build I was embarking on. It was almost as if having an existing building was a disadvantage: the cottage has very thick outside walls, and at that stage we didn’t know if these were hollow and not very insulating, or if they were fairly solid. For all we knew, they might even have been a bit of both. There was so much we didn’t know.
Another thing to consider was how airtight and warm the building would be when finished – we needed to work out how much heating the building would need before we started. This is not easy to know with an old building. We decided to go for an air source heat pump to heat the hot water and the radiators. So long as a building is well insulated, this is highly efficient: for every 1kW of electricity it uses it makes 3.2kW of heat output. With the cottage being so highly insulated we would use less energy for heating the house and hot water anyway.
This would be backed up by a small wood-burning stove in the living room. It is possible that when finished, the cottage will never need the wood burning stove. However, it is much easier and cheaper to fit it during the build, than it would be to fit one afterwards if it turned out to be necessary.
Another issue concerned solar panels. There are two kinds of solar panel: thermal (which make hot water) and photo voltaic (which make electricity). Originally I planned to have both sorts, but with the solar thermal panels lots of hot water would be wasted in the summer, when there is more sun shine to produce it and just me having showers.
It would be much more sensible to have just PV panels. There is a program in the United Kingdom where you can sell excess electricity back to the National Grid. Not only that, I can have my PV panels linked up to the highly insulated large tank of hot water, and I will be able to heat that with my own power. So I can get free hot water anyway!
Preparation Checklist for Eco Renovating Your Home
- Decide on a budget – and be prepared for it to increase
- Decide a realistic timescale and prepare to be flexible
- Consider any additional extensions you may want to do and factor them in
- Decide which renovations are essential, and which can be dropped or changed if costs or timescale increases beyond your budget
- Consider types of heating/air conditioning, to find out which would be most suitable for your house and for your particular needs