Oxford Green House – pathfinder for zero carbon homes with style and substance
The Oxford Green House is a pathfinder for people who want to work towards making their homes zero carbon – but with style behind the substance.
We’re working with Tim Nicholson and partner Joanne Bowlt to support their ground-breaking eco project. They are transforming a 1960s property in Oxford into a home fit for a planet-friendly future – sustainable, energy efficient, stylish, appealing and comfortable.
As part of this quiet revolution, we and partner hansgrohe are providing practical solutions to drastically reduce water, heating and energy use, with EcoSmart showers, EcoSmart taps and LED lighting.
Tim Nicholson believes that the Green House project will demonstrate the many ways that people can begin to rebalance their home lives and effect on the planet by reshaping the domestic space to make a positive contribution through sustainable lifestyles.
There is an important difference in the way that the couple have approached the transformative eco project, though. What’s evidently missing from the retrofit to this Oxford family home is the hairshirt.
Quality of life
Tim explains: “It’s really important to show that energy-efficient, green homes can be created without affecting quality of life. Being green does not have to include having a less satisfying, more miserable life.
“While not everyone can exactly replicate what we are doing, I hope that they will see what can be achieved and maybe pick up on at least some of the effective changes we are making. This could be when they are planning to install insulation in their walls and loft, or when they swap out their old windows.
“By extending these projects by just a few points, people can make a substantially greater difference to sustainability and move closer to the goal of creating a zero carbon home. And, actually the additional costs are minimal.”
Sharing knowledge is a central part of the Oxford Green House project and Tim, who works with R-ECO, the Renewable Energy Co-operative in the city, has many years’ experience in the ecosphere.
After a life-changing journey to New Zealand in 2005 (more about this in the next Oxford Green House blog post) he and Jo returned to the city with a determination to learn more and take practical action on green issues.
He joined the Oxford Centre for Sustainable Health Care and co-founded the Low Carbon Oxford North group (http://www.lcon.org.uk) with Sam Clarke and others, which has a strong community focus on low carbon living.
He also collaborated with Oxford Brookes University Institute for Sustainable Development (http://oisd.brookes.ac.uk/) on a study providing good data on what can be achieved with eco retrofits.
With a growing family, the couple moved from their city flat three years ago into the 1967 property that is being transformed into the Oxford Green House.
The work has included building new insulating brick walls on two of three external walls with internal insulation at the front of the home and temporarily removing the roof to install thick Rockwool insulation while also laying further Rockwool insulation between the ceiling joists.
The couple also dug around footings to place an insulation ‘skirt’ around the house below ground and dug up the internal concrete slab floor to lay EPS polystyrene insulation, reconfiguring the ground floor as open plan.
Triple glazing has been fitted along with solar thermal panels for hot water, as well as solar PV panels and wood-burning boiler stove on the ground floor for winter warmth when needed. Insulation levels should ensure that it does not need to be lit every day.
Solar PV panels, combined with the LED lighting that will consume 90 per cent less electricity than standard incandescent or halogen bulbs, should mean that the Oxford Green House will generate more energy than it uses, selling the surplus to the National Grid.
Another benefit of the LEDs, apart from their incredibly low energy use, is their long life. A typical incandescent bulb has a lifespan of 2,000 hours while best quality LEDs last for around 50,000 hours. That works out at 17 years of use in an average household (based on eight hours use a day), ten times the lifespan of a CFL bulb and 25 times longer than an incandescent type. And, of course, the latter bulbs are being phased out under EU rules.
A thermal store will drive underfloor heating and first-floor radiators and Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery (MVHR) will ensure good air movement in the home.
EcoSmart showers and taps
Water savings (and energy use) from the hansgrohe EcoSmart showers and taps, will reduce water consumption by more than 50 per cent compared to standard fittings and the design quality will reinforce that very low-carbon homes can be contemporary, stylish, appealing, creative and playful, blending comfort with aesthetics.
The project has an importance that goes beyond a desire to be green. For Tim, it reflects the need for radical, absolutely essential changes to the country’s housing stock if Britain has any hope at all of meeting the carbon emissions targets for 2050.
Tim explains: “We have huge challenge with our housing stock, which will have to be zero carbon by 2050 to help meet emissions targets and we really have to start right now. Every year where the needed retrofits are not completed increases the complexity of the task.”
The recent extreme weather is wake-up call and radical measures are needed to protect homes and businesses, while mitigating effects of climate change. But at the same time, the aim of the Oxford project is to show that very low-carbon homes can be contemporary, stylish, appealing, creative and playful, blending comfort with aesthetics.
For Tim and Jo, it is really important to discuss and share experiences about energy-saving, low carbon living, helping to create a legacy for our children and grandchildren, so that they grow up in a comfortable, happy environment that does not damage the planet.
We’ll be sharing updates on the Oxford Green House project progress and you can hear more about Tim’s views on BBC radio – and it’s well worth a listen. There’s more info, with “How To” video and other guides on the Oxford Green House website.
Tim and Joanne are also part of Open Green Homes during Low Carbon Oxford Week from June 14th – 22nd so that’s one for the diary and if you have any queries about how you can reduce energy and water use, cutting carbon and cutting bills, please call us on 0845 123 5464.