Yesterday I was at the Energy Saving Convention in Birmingham, and I wanted to mention a couple of local buildings in my talk. I only featured one in the end, but it’s a good one. It’s just a couple of miles away from the venue, and it’s a private house that is notable enough to have its own website: Zero Carbon House Birmingham.
Homes built to zero carbon standard are generally new build. You can substantially retrofit an older building and make major efficiencies, but genuine zero carbon is a high bar. If you’re aiming for no fossil fuel use, you just build things differently. If nothing else, you’d want to orient the house correctly. With retrofitting there’s a lot to undo or work around, and it’s a different challenge altogether.
The thing is, it will take hundreds of years to entirely replace our housing stock, so we don’t have the luxury of just building new Zero Carbon Homes. We have to be able to radically refurbish what we have. So architect John Christophers set out to upgrade a 170 year old semit-detached house to Code 6 for sustainable buildings – something that had never been done before.
The house was extended substantially in the process – out the back, to the side and upwards. That gave them the opportunity to create a roof optimised for solar power. The result is, it’s fair to say, dramatic:
At this point, it’s almost a new build eco-home piggy-backing on an 1840s house. But of course the older parts of the house had to be improved to match the spec of the extension, so it’s still a remarkable refurbishment.
According to the website, it remains the only Zero Carbon refit, which is a shame. Given how important existing buildings are, we ought to have a whole lot more examples and case studies to work from. (If you know of any, send me a link). Fortunately there are more examples if we look beyond Britain, and the Dutch Energiesprong initiative is leading the way. Now established in Holland, they are facilitating demonstration projects in Britain. They’ll be completed next year, and I look forward to featuring them then.