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From retrofit challenges to a cosy eco-home

Orchard House, near Banbury, is a beautiful, detached property was built around 1970, designed to fit in with the local architecture, it could easily be mistaken for being circa 1870.  

Motivation for retrofitting 

Driven by their desire to reduce carbon emissions, Mary and Philip decided to retrofit their entire house. They became inspired after attending a presentation by a speaker from Low Carbon Hub at their village hall. The speaker introduced them to the concept of retrofitting, and the services offered by Cosy Homes Oxfordshire. 

Encouraged by what they learned, Mary and Philip opted for an assessment, which led to the development of a comprehensive Whole House Plan crafted by a qualified Retrofit Coordinator. This plan outlined all the necessary recommendations, actions, quotes, and deliverables.

Some before photos….

“We didn’t start this project to save money on energy bills. We did it for long-term environmental sustainability. Because it’s such a big job, it will probably take a long time to see the financial benefits, possibly even longer than we’ll be living here. What’s more important to us is knowing that Orchard House will stand as our contribution to reducing carbon emissions. It’s also now a cosy home to live in.”

After receiving the assessment report, Mary and Philip decided to replace their old oil boiler and tank, which were reaching the end of their life. They opted for an air source heat pump to decarbonise their heating system, but in order to make this viable, the house required substantial fabric improvements to improve the insulation. They also viewed it as a chance to tackle other problems with the property which included outdated electrics, and a kitchen in need of upgrading. 

There were some challenging issues, such as the  stone jambs and mullions around the windows. Being made of reconstituted stone and uninsulated, these were a huge thermal bridge, causing damp and mould. Cosy Home Oxfordshire consulted with several specialist stonemasons and explored various solutions. 

Cosy Homes aimed to make their home warmer by insulating the walls and loft. During the thorough assessment, it came to light that 35% of heat can escape through the outer walls, with another 25% literally going through the roof. Since the walls couldn’t be cavity filled, and the external façade is stone in keeping with the local architecture, the only option was to add insulation on the inside.  

This provided a great opportunity to upgrade the kitchen and bathroom, together with the electrical system throughout the house. 

Extending the existing solar array was also considered, however the companies approached were reluctant to only add a small number of panels, and there was insufficient remaining roof space for enough additional solar panels to make it a workable project.   


How it went 

The build took longer than first anticipated, partially as the scope of works increased. It was closer to 6 months in the end. This included: 

  • Fully stripping the plaster from all the internal walls and sloping ceilings and insulating them with woodfibre and lime 
  • Replacing all the windows with energy efficient double-glazed units and insulating the mullions internally with Calcitherm
  • Installing a whole house ventilation system
  • Replacing the oil boiler and tank, with an air source heat pump, including new insulated underfloor pipes (the old ones were embedded in the uninsulated solid concrete floor, losing the heat to the ground)
  • Electrical upgrades
  • Installation of new kitchen and bathrooms (independent of the retrofit project)
  • New floor finishes
  • Rebuilding fitted furniture in the master bedroom. 

“Anyone tackling a project like this needs to be fully prepared. It can be very disruptive, and we were fortunate to have somewhere else to stay while the disruptive phase of the build was happening.”

Almost finished….

“You really have to go into a project like this with your eyes wide open,” Mary commented. “Building work often takes longer than expected, as technical issues and changes to plans can increase both costs and time.” 

Fortunately, they had a place to stay for five months, which covered the most disruptive phase of the build project. They moved back in time for Christmas, with the final month focused on completing more decorative elements. 

Like any project of this scale, there were some initial challenges and technical issues causing delays. However, these were resolved, and the project progressed smoothly. The advice and service from both the contractor, and Geordie from Cosy Homes Oxfordshire, helped move the project along to everyone’s satisfaction. 

Although the financial savings have not been measured yet, the retrofit has already made the house feel warmer and more comfortable. Orchard House now has a modern and welcoming atmosphere, and it will contribute to reducing Oxfordshire’s carbon emissions. 

“Despite the disruption, it was undoubtedly worth the journey. We’re thrilled with the results. The house now feels modern, warmer, and more welcoming than ever.” 

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