Juliet installs ‘A’ rated sash windows in her 100-year old ‘superhome’
Four years ago we bought a small 100-year old terraced house in an Essex village and turned it from a cold, dark and poky dwelling into a light open-plan home with a very low carbon footprint. After being assessed by the Ashden Award-winning Sustainable Energy Academy we achieved ‘superhome’ status, becoming a member of the Old Home Superhome network: low-carbon home owners who open their houses to the public to inspire others to make green home improvements. There are now 116 superhomes across the UK that have attracted over 40,000 visitors so far.
The green refurbishment has paid off in many ways. The south-facing rear aspect and extensive glazing enable us to use solar gain, filling the house with natural sunlight and warming it at the same time. The solar thermal panels on the kitchen roof extension heat our hot water for seven months of the year for almost zero cost (just a few units of electricity to run the pump). It still surprises us - and everyone who visits - how warm the house gets when penetrated by the low sun during winter months, even when there’s no heating on at all. Unusually for a house of this age, the brickwork has a cavity wall which we had insulated and this made a big difference in comfort and energy costs. In winter months we heat the house mainly with our cosy 10 kW wood burning stove, just topping up with the oil-fired central heating when we need to. Careful monitoring and energy-efficient lighting and appliances, combined with these changes, have led to a serious drop in our electricity and fuel bills. Our annual heating bills are over 75 per cent less than an average equivalent house.
Now it’s time for the next step in our eco-refurbishment, which is currently in full swing. This week we’re having double-glazed sliding sash windows installed to cut down draughts. There were many issues to research and weigh up before deciding which ones to go for...
One of the major downsides is the expense. At over £1,500 per window (we needed a total of 10 windows replacing), there’s no question this is a big outlay for most households, but when you consider that you get rid of uncomfortable draughts, have a warmer and quieter house and achieve significant cash and carbon savings, if you can find the cash it’s worth it. There was also a lot of disruption, more than I anticipated – dust, noise, cold (opting to do it in winter was not a good move!).
We definitely wanted a design that would look authentic and in keeping with the period of the house so we found a local company that specialises in bespoke sliding sash windows: Masterframe. We spoke to MD, Alan Burgess, who is committed to producing high quality sliding sash windows that look as good as the original product.
We had a choice between wood and uPVC. This was a really tough one as we would have loved to opt for wood as the most sustainable option. According to Greenpeace and others uPVC has high chlorine content along with other toxins. In terms of looks, I was amazed how close to wood grain the uPVC looked and subsequently found out that Masterframe use a process called ‘foiling’, a rough veneering which gives the surface the feel and character of painted timber. In the end, sadly, price swung it for us as using wood was way beyond our budget, at over £2,200 per window.
We were also keen to use the most efficient product on the market so we held out for a few months until Masterframe’s new product arrived – Bygone Mark III. These sash windows are ‘A’ rated for efficiency so they go well beyond the ‘C’ standard of our current building regulations.
Now that some of the windows have been installed by local company, Bygone Installations, we can feel the improvement in air-tightness and warmth, but there are some small things we’ll need to adjust to, as our 12-year old says, “The window used to rattle and let the cold wind in. It’s a lot quieter in my bedroom now…it feels peaceful and warm. But I don’t know if I’ll be able to hear the owl anymore.”
The next step will be replacing our halogen lights with LED ones but for the time being we tend to use lamps with low-energy bulbs and switch off lights as much as possible. After that the final way we could reduce our CO2 emissions still further would be external insulation, but I have to admit we haven’t thought about that one yet!