Can we make our home zero carbon?

I live in Luton, a large town 30 miles north of London, with my wife Louise and two children (aged 5 and 7). Our house is a three bedroom mid-terrace home built in 1928, and I’d like to see how close I can get it to zero carbon.

Over the last few years my work has focused on communicating environmental issues, and we try to practice what we preach. I want to know that my family and I are doing everything we can to reduce our own ecological footprint. We’ve done lots already, and the house is the biggest obstacle to reducing it further.

My wife and I bought the house in 2009. It was in a state of disrepair and needed a lot of work, and that’s what made it affordable. Over the next couple of years every room was gutted and refitted. It had to be rewired, and it needed a new bathroom and new kitchen. We had to replace every ceiling and replaster, and install double glazing in several rooms. Friends and family chipped in with demolition days and decoration weekends, and with the help of our Polish builders we made it liveable and then comfortable. We finished painting the stairs and had carpets fitted a month before our first child was born, and that’s been it.

The Energy Performance Certificate from when we bought the house gave it a low C on energy efficiency (73) and a D on environmental impact (68). We’ve improved it since then, and my goal is to get it a solid A rating by 2020. It’ll never be a zero carbon house, given its age and our budget, but I’m curious to see how close we can get to neutral. It will involve some bigger jobs, such as external wall cladding, underfloor insulation and replacing a substandard porch at the front. It will involve lots of little marginal gains too, and it will be something of an experiment.

My project around the house coincides with the suggestion that I write more about our own experiences, so I’m going to document our progress and what we’re learning along the way. Hopefully it’ll be useful to others with older homes. If I’m successful, perhaps I’ll even get to register us with the Superhomes scheme eventually, but one step at a time.


  1. Those are things I’ll look at in detail in the coming weeks, but in brief – heating and hot water is from the gas boiler. It’s a fairly efficient condensing boiler, so that’s one thing we don’t need to tackle. The main priority for me is to keep as much heat as possible in the house where it belongs. Cooling isn’t required at the moment.

    Power is from the solar panels, which generate more than we need over the course of the year. My overall approach will be to minimise our energy needs and switch to electric.

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