First Steps of an Eco Renovation

First steps of eco renovation


In the previous post, I looked at essential preparation before embarking on an eco renovation. Once we had a plan, we were ready to start the eco renovation itself. This was exciting and scary! It was a huge undertaking, and it didn’t take long to realise that we needed flexibility in our plans, altering as necessary.

I initially intended to continue living in my house during the renovation, thinking I could just squash into one corner. However, the builder and the architect thought I should move into a rented home for the 6 to 8 months they estimated it would take to do the build.

The builders had to take plaster off some walls, and take a lot of the house apart, to know what was happening behind the scenes before they could finalise the details of the plan. This project was growing, taking on a life of its own. For instance, to accommodate under-floor heating the builders needed to dig up all the lower floors. Squashing in a corner was impossible.

Dug out floor

Budget for unexpected expenses

So now, as well as the build, I needed to budget for rent, removal, and storage of a lot of my belongings. I searched the local papers and online for somewhere to stay, and visited various prospective homes. Ideally, I wanted somewhere in the same village as the cottage. Nothing suitable come up, but an apartment turned up in a nearby town. It’s a bit of a drive to my building site, but I can retreat to peace and quiet when it gets hectic. I stored much of my furniture with my trusty removers, Cotswold Carriers, so that I only needed to rent a small cheap place.


With me out of the way, the builders got to work pulling down bits of my house. One of the first things they needed to do was strengthen the building with rolled steel joists (RSJs.) These beams provide a lot of strength to the first floor of the house and help strengthen the whole building. Putting them in place was a major job in itself. Holes had to be made for two RSJs to go across the house from one side through the middle wall (which was still standing) and into the wall on the opposite side.

The builders told me that they would have to make pads for the RSJs to sit on in the wall. These provide insulation, and without them, cold would come in through the ends of joists from the outside walls. When I heard about these pads, I imagined something soft like a mattress, but they turned out to be made of a special insulating bricks. Not as soft as they sounded!


Once we’d started dismantling the house, we realised that the floor to the attic needed to go. It would also be a good idea to lower the first floor ceilings, to give more height in the attic bedroom.

As there was a couple of inches (5 cm) difference in floor level between the two halves of my cottage, (it used to be two cottages.) The builders were able to even this up, so the whole of the first floor would be one level. They dug out the ground floor by two feet (60 cm), leaving space for the insulation and under floor heating to go in.

At this point some old plaster remained on some of the walls. As we discussed various options of insulation for beneath the under floor heating, Sandy, the architect sketched these out on the walls! It seemed a good use of the plaster and made it easier for me to understand the different levels of the floor.

Writing on wall

Be flexible with your renovation plan

So, as you can see, the process of starting the eco-renovation of an old house requires a plan. However, there is also a need for re-assessing and “thinking on your feet” as you get down to details.

The builders then discovered that there were no lintels or joists across the top of the windows, and they were amazed that the windows hadn’t collapsed. As it was, rotting window frames were all that held them up. Before the builders took out the old windows, they had to prop them up with Acro props (metal props) and put in concrete lintels to hold up the walls. Otherwise, when they took the windows out, the building would have collapsed.

Because the walls were so thick, it took two (and in some cases three) lintels side by side along the depth of the wall to hold the weight of the stonework above.

Lintels over windows

I went into this aware that building work always takes longer and costs more than expected. However I hadn’t anticipated it to become obvious so soon. The building had been renovated in the 1970s, so we had thought that during that builders would have fixed any major structural issues. It turned out we were wrong!

So my advice for you is: with an old building, never take anything for granted. You never know what horrors lie beneath the plaster.

Stop Press – My clever friend Yvonne, who is the Editor (and sometimes Ghost Writer) on Cotswold Eco Build, has won a major blogging award! In 2015, Yvonne started a blogging initiative as a counter to the violence occurring in our world. Her post, 1000 Voices Speak for Compassion has won a BlogHer 2016 Voices of the Year Honorees award in the Impact category.






How to Prepare for an Eco-Renovation

This is the house before any Eco Renovation
My 17th Century Cottage, before any Eco Renovation

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.

How-poorly-insulated and cold the cottage was
My poor cottage in the snow before the Eco Renovation

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.

Pineland real wood kitchen

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.

Air Source Heat Pump from Ice Energy

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.

Photo Voltaic Panels from Ikarus Ltd

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


How to find an Eco Architect for your build


The first job when starting an eco-renovation of an old house is to find an architect. It is best to do this before you have made your purchase, so that you know your house will be suitable for development. When I set out to do this, the first place I looked was the RIBA: the Royal Institute of British Architects. I had hoped to find a list of Eco Architects, but I couldn’t find this information on their website.

I did know about some organizations that could be useful, so I began the research, and here is a run down of what I found…

CAT: the Centre for Alternative Technology  

CAT runs an education center, which innovates and tests new sustainable ideas. CAT was founded in 1973 on the site of an old disused quarry, in Mid Wales. The Centre is constantly changing and adapting, getting involved in exciting new projects, schemes and ideas, building on over three decades of knowledge and experience.

CAT logo
Centre for Alternative Technology

CAT has become one of Europe’s leading eco-centre, receiving tens of thousands of visitors every year, who come to learn about their work.  For information about their courses and visiting, as well as lots of other useful eco information, go to


The Green Register

NEW-GREEN-REGISTER-LOGO-CMYK  This register has lists of architects that could be suitable. However, when I was investigating I couldn’t find any information about what the architects listed had done, on the website, just contact details. I rang three companies to discuss my project, but all were very large organizations, not interested in my little cottage.

Passive House

Passive house (or passivhaus in German) is a term that refers to a standard of energy efficiency within a building that needs little or no energy to run the building. There are various levels of this, and buildings are tested and catagorised depending on how low the levels of energy input. A building that is completely passive is one that has no carbon footprint at all. There is a passivhaus website with information about testing and monitoring buildings, not archtects though.


AECB: the Association for Environment Conscious Buildings

This is a network of individuals and companies who have the aim of promoting sustainable buildings. It brings everyone together to share and promote best practice in environmentally sustainable building. I became a member of the AECB, attracted by the fact that they sent out two monthly magazines, keeping us up to date with the details of various eco building projects especially passive house projects.


When I started investigating this site, I found more individual architects, rather than large firms, and this was what I needed. It was through AECB that I found an architect.

Local Eco Architects

Since making this post I have additional information local to my area. Marcus Simmons, who I know, is part of a cooperative called Community Outreach Building, and one of there directors is also an architect who takes a very sensitive sustainable approach. His practice is called Manifest Design Workshop. Another small but very dynamic and helpful architects firm we work with is called Transition by Design, both are based at Oxford UK. If you wanted a third quote (and it’s good to shop around), they could also advise on other local practices who take a sustainable approach. I’m also sure that Hook Norton Low Carbon group have good contacts with suitable local architects.

Welcome To Cotswold Eco Build


Welcome to Cotswold Eco Build, and to my very first blog post! A few years ago, I bought a cottage in a Cotswold village, with the plan to make it as eco as possible. As this project got bigger, more and more people became interested in what I was doing. I decided to keep a record of my build – and so this blog was born.

Lots of people ask about how much it is possible to do to an existing building to make it much more energy efficient. Many are also keen to learn what can be done in their own homes to make them more eco. I’ll do my best to answer those questions throughout this blog. I haven’t got everything right, but my mistakes can be your guide – you can learn what to do and also what not to do!
Ist-Blog-6-PicIt all began while I was living and working in London, getting tired of living in a crowded city. I also had  a growing interest in all things eco. I was aware of all kinds of building techniques, such as strawbale and earthships, that were able to produce buildings that needed no source of heating whatsoever! Now that is truly eco!

At first I wondered what I could do to eco up my city flat. Compared to a lot of buildings mine had a lot going for it; it was a big old terraced Victorian building, separated into flats. I had noticed that when it began to get cold outside in the winter, I didn’t need the heating on at first. The terrace of houses kept each other warm.

However, I wanted to go further with creating an environmentally friendly home and decided to move. It was quite a challenge to find the right house, and at a price that was affordable.

It turns out London is the third most expensive place in the world to buy a property, behind only Hong Kong and Monaco. You’ll notice this blog isn’t called London Eco Build, but Cotswold Eco Build – and yes, moving to the country. So adjusting to that is another challenge I faced.

Ist-Blog-1-PicWhen we were in the planning stages, the architect and builder told me that the best thing was for me to move out of the house (yes, I was living in it in this dilapidated condition). With me out, they could gut the place and then make a plan from there – that was scary!

Right now my house has had its insides ripped out, and is all ready to go back together again. But airtight and thermally efficient. (I am learning a lot of new words on this journey, like thermally efficient).


It’s hard to believe, looking back at these photos, just how terrible the house was. Before we started I was living in it like that!

I hope you’ll feel as excited as I do about this project. We will move through the stages of what is happening on my building site. Also look at linked subjects that will interest you – like amazing eco builds I have visited. We used some astonishing products to rebuild my shell of a house!

I plan to publish a post filled with useful information every two weeks. The next post will explain how to buy a suitable house for Eco Renovation. But you don’t have to wait that long – if you subscribe to receive updates you will get a cool free PDF booklet packed with tips for you to easily make your home more eco right now, whilst also saving you money!

I’d love to hear from you. If you have any questions about my build or about Eco homes, let me know in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them in future posts. Meantime, do please sign up for this free PDF packed with Eco-tips for your home.


How to Buy a House Suitable for Eco Renovation

2nd-Blog-Title-Pic5 Essential Steps Before Buying a Home For Eco-Renovation

I’m not a typical eco-warrior, having worked in the fashion and textile industry, and never worn a fisherman’s smock top in my life. But eco-aware people come in suits as well as flip-flops. I’ve recycled, avoided excess packaging, used public transport. Even though my London apartment had a tiny patio instead of a garden, I had a composter, which – in theory – could take all the kitchen waste. With the compost it produced then being passed on to others. It didn’t work out because the composter leaked – probably my fault, but I tried!


When I decided to move from London to the Country a few years ago, I saw it as a chance to ensure my new home was as environmentally friendly as possible. My search to find the right home took a while because, to be honest, I had a lot to learn! The good thing about that is I can now pass on what I’ve learned.  I cangive you tons of tips for how to choose a house suitable for eco-renovation.

Step 1: Evaluate what works in your current home

Why look for your current home’s good points?

When I started looking into what makes a home environmentally friendly, I sometimes felt overwhelmed. There were lots of options. Knowing what already works gives you a foundation to build on and makes it feel more manageable.

When we approach change from a belief that what we have isn’t good enough, it creates feelings of lack and of struggle. So seeing what works in your current home will help you feel more confident about your search.

My apartment had its good points. Being insulated by others on both sides and above meant heating bills were low. The composter hadn’t worked well. On the up side I now knew a lot about composting and that could put my knowledge to use in a new home.

  • Exercise for you: make a list of what’s good about where you live now.


Step 2: Decide what type of property best suits your lifestyle and personality

Be realistic. If you don’t have time or the desire to maintain a garden then you might be better off in an apartment. If you currently live two minutes walk from your office, buying an energy-efficient house and then driving fifty miles to work will not do much to reduce your carbon footprint!

I loved the bustle of city life, so I initially looked for energy efficient properties in London. There were few of these on the market, and I felt discouraged. Then I looked at a house in Camden, in North London, that had been “ecoed-up,” and realised the best option was to buy an ordinary apartment in need of renovation.

  • Exercise for you: consider what about your lifestyle you want to keep.


Step 3: Be Flexible

Finding the right apartment proved tricky, and gradually my search moved into the suburbs. I realised that the cheaper prices in the surrounding countryside meant I could buy a house instead of an apartment. I work from home, so I wasn’t tied to a job in the city.

  • Exercise for you: Decide what you need to retain from your current lifestyle, and what could change.

Step 4: Make a list of desirable points your new home should have

Once I had decided to look for a house in the countryside, instead of an apartment in town, I began researching in earnest, learning as much as I could about the best type of property for eco-renovation. It needed retain the insulating benefits my apartment had, and be suitable for alternative forms of energy. To avoid too much car usage, it needed to be in a small town or village with the easy access to shops and amenities. Living in a lonely detached cottage on a wild moor was not on the agenda!

After considering both environmental concerns and my own needs, I made a checklist of desirable points. This was my list:

  1. Terraced house – for warmth on both sides
  2. South facing garden (yard) – this means solar panels can be on the back, and so do not detract from the house’s appearance
  3. Suitable for alternative energy
  4. With a garage
  5. In a village
  6. Near shops
  • Exercise for you: List what desirable points your new home should have.


Step 5: Be open to all possibilities and use your imagination

Even after I widened my search nothing I saw seemed right, and was beginning to feel despondent.

A friend came round, and as I made a tea I told him about the struggle I was having. “It’s getting ridiculous,” I said. “I’ve been looking in Buckinghamshire and that’s just about equal distance from everyone I know, and near absolutely nobody I know.

My friend said, “I don’t know why you don’t just move back to the Cotswolds.”

I almost dropped the teapot I was holding.

That was it! I’d grown up in the Cotswolds and loved the rolling hills, beautiful views, and the quiet and slower pace of life.

2nd-Blog-4PicI’d love to say that once I’d made this decision, everything fell into place. But it took a while.

Then one day a friend and I went on another expedition into the Cotswolds. This cottage we visited was early Victorian, or possibly a little older. As we stood outside with the estate agent, I remembered my family driving past the house when I was a child. It felt as if I almost knew it. I had a good feeling!

A little old lady answered the door and we stepped into a formal dining room. She led us into the living room, full of little-old-lady things. It was hard to imagine my stuff in it. Looking at the bricked up fire-place with its electric fire, I had a sinking feeling. Maybe it wasn’t the right house after all.

2nd-Blog-BShe led us into the kitchen. Outside the large window was a raised garden. Although it was winter and few plants growing, I could visualise it filled with herbs, vegetables and flowers. I could almost smell sweet peas, lavender and rosemary. A little table and chair suggested it was possible to eat in the kitchen. With our coats on, we didn’t notice the temperature.

As we went upstairs, I felt happier again. One of the bedrooms had a set of stairs leading to an attic room. The estate agent stayed to chat to the owner, while my friend and I went upstairs. Although it seemed as if we had stepped back into the 1970s, the room was spacious and I could imagine setting up my design table and working in this airy space. A large dormer window looked out over traditional Victorian houses towards hills in the distance.
2nd-Blog-AMy friend stood at the window. She turned to me and said, “Well, this ticks all the boxes.”

I knew then it was decision time. Either I bought this house or gave up looking and stayed where I was in London.



  • Exercise for you: sign up to receive updates, and to receive my free guide Eco Tips and Hints.