LCON event: Charlie Luxton and Russell Smith share their thoughts on improving and retrofiting homes

Charlie Luxton talks about sustainable homes

We were delighted to welcome over 40 residents from North Oxford (and beyond) to our event with architectural designer and TV presenter Charlie Luxton, “Old houses, new houses: thoughts on sustainable homes”.

Charlie started by highlighting our number one problem: space heating, which makes up 46% of residential energy consumption. This is a particular issue for the UK, which has the oldest housing stock in Europe (at the current rate of replacement, a house built today would have to last as long as the great pyramids!). These old houses lose heat through the roof, windows and the floor, with most (45%) escaping through the walls.

So what to do? The answer is insulation, although this can be less straightforward than it sounds. Charlie showed through a number of case studies that each house is different and requires tailored measures to maximise energy efficiency. There are a number of different aspects that need to be considered, including breathability, air tightness (draughts) and ventilation. He also suggested:

  • Use natural materials, in particular lime plaster and wood fibre. They last longer and are healthier.
  • Don’t just worry about absolute temperatures in the home – draughts and fluctuations in temperature can have a big impact on comfort levels, the equivalent of a 2°C temperature difference.
  • Triple glazing is much more effective than double glazing (which can create a cold draught because of the lower surface temperature of the glass).
  • Consider reusing and rebuilding instead of tearing old buildings down – think of the embodied carbon: 20-50% of a house’s lifetime emissions are in the manufacturing process.

Charlie also presented his newly  patented detachable double-glazing unit as a possible solution for dealing with old windows, and he described a community initiative in Hook Norton to develop new affordable and sustainable housing with genuine buy-in from the community, owned by a Community Land Trust. You can find out more on Charlie’s website including his resources page and blog.

Charlie’s talk was followed by Russell Smith, Director of RetrofitWorks, who introduced the new Oxfordshire retrofit service Cosy Homes Oxfordshire.

Russell described the drivers behind RetrofitWorks and Cosy Homes Oxfordshire – the need for impartial advice and project management at mass scale, in order to achieve the necessary transformation of existing building stock: 27million houses in 12 years to reach our net zero target.

A key message was that energy consumption is particular to each house and household. The requirements are different, and for some it’s about saving costs, for others primarily about greater comfort.

Russell explained that the aim of Cosy Homes Oxfordshire is to give householders the power to decide what steps they want to take in what order. The key components of this approach are advice, coordination, and vetted contractors, with a Retrofit Coordinator, the “custodian of the truth”, managing the process. The service allows householders to receive a “whole house plan” for £75 (set off against any works undertaken as a result of the plan). The whole house plan will list “everything you could possibly do” and show how different steps can be phased sensibly, as well as calculating the projected EPC rating and carbon and cost savings.

Russell highlighted the range of typical customers they expect to work with:

  • those wanting specific smaller measures
  • those interested in a heating scheme
  • those wanting a short turnaround e.g. while on holiday
  • those wanting a “green booster” e.g. if they are planning building works already
  • those looking for a whole house refurbishment.

If you want to find out more about the Cosy Homes Oxfordshire service, you can visit their website which includes information about the service and a helpline number: https://cosyhomesoxfordshire.org/services/ .

Thank you to both speakers and to all those who came along.

Help care for our trees – our ‘Mulching Morning’

In recent months LCON has planted 400 trees and shrubs in Cutteslowe Park – many thanks to those of you who’ve come along and helped.

New trees need a little help. On Saturday 6 April from 10.30 am we held a ‘Mulching morning’ at at the Community Woodland in Cutteslowe Park.  A mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of soil, usually a mixture of leaf mould and compost. This helps conserve water in the soil (important if it’s a hot summer) and also improves the health of the soil and reduces weed growth.

Tree planting matters – the Government’s Committee on Climate Change talk about the need for the rate of tree planting to double by 2020. But looking after newly planted trees is also important.

Thanks to all those who came along to help in this fun and important activity. There will be more work on trees this autumn.