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:
- Terraced house – for warmth on both sides
- South facing garden (yard) – this means solar panels can be on the back, and so do not detract from the house’s appearance
- Suitable for alternative energy
- With a garage
- In a village
- 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.
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.
She 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.
My 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.