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Making a Victorian house sustainable

In a column in the Ham&High, Forum committee member Andrea Lally Kukrika described her family’s experience of adapting their house to make it sustainable.

The full text is below.

Many of us wonder what we could possibly do to mitigate the overwhelming problem of climate change. However, the fact is that actions by individuals and local communities can produce meaningful change.

The way we adapt our homes makes a big difference. Buildings produce 40% of CO2 emissions in the UK, of which two-thirds are produced by residential homes. Intensifying the challenge in Hampstead is the high percentage of Victorian houses.

Often, we only have a vague idea of what is possible. The Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum, of which I am a committee member, is revising the Neighbourhood Plan so as to strengthen and clarify policies on sustainable design.

To shed some light, I would like to share my family’s experience of renovating a Victorian house in Hampstead to Passivhaus standards. This means that it is draft-free and has low energy bills and no cold corners.

After an initial survey, our consultants calculated the thermal properties and recommended new insulation, triple glazed windows, solar panels, an airtight interior with mechanical ventilation, a heat recovery system, and infrared heating panels. The plan was approved by Camden.

Now, our house runs on electricity only. The gas has been turned off. From June to October, the power came almost entirely by a rooftop photovoltaic system. A battery stores excess electricity.

The air is healthy. Yes, we do have thick windows and no post slot in the front door so that the house is an airtight envelope. But our ventilation system runs constantly, on very little electricity, to bring in air, filter it and regulate humidity to about 50%. Harmful particulates from local construction and vehicles are filtered out. Our air quality monitor tells us NO2 is low to zero in the house most days. We have set the thermostat to 17C, but since there are no drafts, this feels like 21C throughout the house.

The construction cost is not outrageously high. According to the non-profit Passivhaus Trust, the cost premium of building to its standards was 8% in 2018, and is projected to fall to 4%. Given the time and money we could have spent on different improvements, we could not be happier with the decision we made.

As the Forum moves forward with policies on sustainable architecture, we will soon create a page of information resources on energy efficiency at hampsteadforum.org. And we will soon open a public consultation on the proposed new draft Neighbourhood Plan.

Andrea Lally Kukrika is a committee member of the Hampstead Neighbourhood Forum.

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