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Traditional Retrofit - Where on earth do I start?

Low Carbon Cottages - startOn several occasions I have been asked by people ‘where do I start?’ Traditional building retrofit does seem a bit daunting if you don’t have a plan.

In Carbon Footprinting one of the main principles is to understand your current performance or the baseline and this process should also highlight carbon hotspots areas where the most amount of carbon is being created and focus on reducing this area.

This is a great method to apply to your traditional holiday cottage and depending on your motivation this will change on how you assess your building.

Firstly get your bills out and assess them, looking at the amount of each bill you are using and the cost of that over a whole year, bear in mind this winter was a lot more mild than the year before. It may also be useful to turn these into a pie chart to visualise where your money is going and where your energy comes from. You could also turn the amount of energy or material (wood, oil, gas, electricity, water, sewage) into a value of KgCO2e (the amount of greenhouse gases created by using these materials or method of energy) using referenced figuressuch as DEFRA's guidance here (or wait until the Low Carbon Cottage toolkit is available ;) and this should do it for you). By focusing on the most cost or carbon intensive areas will help you make bigger savings in whichever element you want to focus on, cost or carbon. 

Also if you rent or have bought the property in the last 7 years (from 1st August 2007) you should also have an Energy Performance Certificate, if you don’t you can get one commissioned for around £50-70. Alternatively you could get a Green Deal Assessment which is an EPC and a survey designed to understand your habits and how you use your house and will provide more information to help you reduce your costs and carbon that way too. Green Deal Assessments will also mean you could apply for funding through the Green Deal Structure, Feed in Tariff and Renewable Heat Incentive – click for more information on each.  The cost will be around £100-200 for a Green Deal assessment.

These methods are useful but many not highlight some of the lower cost options that may be more suitable to you, e.g. draught proofing and window shutters etc. and this is a very one size fits all method and won’t take into account to the very specific nature of your property. The advice doesn’t mention about the need for breathable materials – see here for more information on breathability.

There are 3 types of specific assessment you could undergo to directly assess your holiday cottage 2 of these I have already discussed – Thermal Imaging and Airtightness and one I haven’t mentioned is measure the thermal value of your walls. If you are interested in looking at solid wall insulation then this is a really useful test.

An EPC will always suggest internal or external wall insulation to a solid wall property but the software will assume a specific average thermal value to the wall (this is called a U-Value) however much research has shown this to be pretty inaccurate and your wall may actually be performing better or worse than you think. Before you spend £4-14k on wall insulation it be worth checking if this is going to be a cost effective improve or can your money be better spent elsewhere? Wall insulation can be a great method of reducing your bills and carbon emissions but there is no harm in assessing some of the less invasive options first.

Another topic I have written about is monitoring your property and collecting data which has been very useful for the project. See more information here.

By using some of these methods they will help you understand what areas need working on first and will help you focus your money in the areas that need it most. People often feel buying new appliances or renewables are a good starting point, I would suggest going through this process and really understand where you need to start, i.e. if you loft isn’t insulated then do you really need a A+++ rated new TV? And you should try and reduce your demand for utilities, so when renewables are installed, they are appropriately sized and you get the best rate of Feed in Tariff or Renewable Heat Incentive. NB the new RHI scheme for domestic properties has been launched this week, see here.

Hope this helps.


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