Meet the

Meet our energy saving pioneers.

London, Camden, Chester Road


House Summary

Owners: Sarah Harrison
House Type: Victorian semi-detached
Carbon Saving: 85%
Installed Measures:
  • Gas condensing boiler with full control system for heating and hot water, fitted with a weather compensation unit
  • All original windows argon filled DG and use low e glass. The windows have been overhauled and draught stripped
  • New high performance windows with DG, argon filling and low e glass installed at rear
  • All original sash windows have been overhauled and double glazed with argon fill and use low e glass. New high performance windows with double glazing, argon fill and low e glass have been installed at the rear of the property
  • Whole house draught stripped, in particular the windows, doors and floors have been draught-sealed to reduce heat-loss. Draught lobby installed in hall.
  • Pressure test showed house performed to the standards set for best practice new build
  • Original flooring on the ground floor removed (and reused in the attic) and underfloor insulation added
  • Walls internally insulated with 100mm or 50mm expanded wood fibre board. Once insulated, the walls were treated with clay plaster and clay paint. Cornices and mouldings repaired or replaced
  • Low energy appliances include AAA washing machine, dishwasher and fridge freezer
  • LED or CFL lighting throughout
  • Heat recovery units in the bathroom and shower room
  • Rockwool used to insulate whole roof and two layers of expanded wood fibre boards, roof had needed replacing anyway
  • 1.8 kWp Solar PV system generating electricity
  • Flat plate solar thermal system, on the extension roof, reducing the gas needed for water heating by 75%. Water pipes have been insulated to minimise heat loss
  • Sunpipe added to allow natural light into the hallway
  • Wood burning stove in the living room is 80% energy-efficient (compared to the 20% of a traditional open fire) and complies with Clean Air regulations
  • The house has been plumbed for water efficiency using flow regulators, aerating taps and showers and ultra low water usage WCs which use only 2.7 or 4 litres per flush
  • The garden is watered with rainwater collected from the roof by 3 water butts in
    an 850-litre ‘water-wall’ which incorporates a filter to keep the stored water free of leaves
  • A diverter enables ‘grey water’ (lightly soiled water from the bath, shower and wash-basin) to be used on the garden in dry weather
  • Personal Story:

    My husband and I live here, we’re the owners of the property. I am self employed working with people who want to do something similar to their house. I do house audits and give advice to people, occasionally project managing refurbishment works. I also work on a scheme where I give advice to charities on how to reduce their carbon emissions and give talks to communities.


    I believe that the way to resolve energy issues and carbon emissions is to look at energy demand. One of the things that individuals can do is take a look at their own personal demand for energy, of which a major factor is the home. So clearly it’s very important which is why I decided to find out what you could do to an old house but at the time no one was talking about old houses. People like the Oxford Unit for Climate Change were talking about Victorian houses as such an energy disaster that they should be pulled down. There was no information, no knowledge, no experience and no track record of how to do it.

    The original house was beautiful, we had bought it knowing that we wanted to make it environmentally friendly and reduce carbon emissions. We wanted to see what we could do, given that there wasn’t a track record. It was an uncomfortable place to live but I love building work and it was very interesting as well as challenging working out how to do things for the first time. Now everyone accepts that fuel prices are rising and that ones need for heating increases as one gets older, therefore it was better for us to use the money when we had it to make the house cheaper to run in the future.

  • Property:

    Semi-detached late Victorian house, carefully transformed in 2006 to make it fit for 21C, reducing its carbon footprint by over 80%. Sustainable features include walls internally insulated; sash windows overhauled and double glazed and draught stripped; high performance windows; solar hot water and pv panels; sun tunnel; wood burning stove; water saving techniques.

    No 73 Chester Road is a typical semi-detached Victorian house, situated in a conservation area. Like most of the UK’s housing stock built before 1919, its energy performance was well below current acceptable standards. Heating bills were high, the house was cold and draughty, and suffered from condensation.

    But in 2006 under the direction of Sarah Harrison, it was transformed into a home fit for the 21st century, reducing carbon emissions by over 80% and water consumption by over 30%.

    The refurbishment was assisted by grants under Camden Council’s Eco-Grant and Warmth for All schemes, and the government’s Low Carbon Emissions programme.

    It has also been used by the Sustainable Development Commission as one of their case studies: see

  • Measures:

    The main energy saving measures installed includes insulation, draught-sealing, solar thermal for hot water and a wood stove. Water saving measures include restricting valves to reduce water flow, low flush toilets, rainwater harvesting and using grey water in the garden. Ensuring sufficient natural light without heat loss required overhauling and double glazing all windows and installing a sunpipe and velux. Throughout the refurbishment we tried to preserve the Victorian features of the house so features such as cornices, mouldings and tile floors were either retained or restored wherever possible.

    Below you will find detailed information about some of the refurbishments that have made a reduction in carbon emissions of over 80% possible:

    Saving energy
    All the external walls have been insulated internally with sheets of 100mm expanded wood fibre. Once insulated, the walls were treated with clay plaster and clay paint. The roof and suspended timber ground floor have been insulated with a combination of wood fibre boards and Rockwool. The windows, doors and floors have been draught-sealed to reduce heat-loss.

    Water is heated by solar thermal panels on the extension roof, reducing the gas needed for water heating by 75%. A photovoltaic panel can be used to power the water pump. Water pipes have been insulated to minimise heat loss.

    A wood-burning stove, a carbon-neutral source of heat, provides warmth for the main living area. It is 80% energy-efficient, compared to the 20% of a traditional open fire –and it complies with Clean Air regulations.
    Saving water

    Mains water flows into a house at 20 litres per minute –more than is necessary for most purposes. At No 73 restricting valves limit the flow to 4 litres in wash-basins, 6 litres in the sink and 9 litres in the shower.
    Although current regulations stipulate that new lavatories use no more than 6 litres of water to flush, older ones may use up to 13. The dual-flush loos at No 73 use only 4 or 2.7 litres.

    The garden is watered with rainwater collected from the roof by 3 water butts in
    a 850-litre ‘water-wall’, which incorporates a filter to keep the stored water free of leaves and dirt.

    A diverter enables ‘grey water’ (lightly soiled water from the bath, shower and wash-basin) to be used on the garden in dry weather.

    Light without heat-loss
    The original front sash windows were retained, but the sashes themselves replaced by argon-filled double-glazed units using low-’e’ glass. Draught exclusion was fitted to all the surrounds.

    At the rear of the house, high-performance new windows also use argon-filled double glazing and low-‘e’ glass that reduces the transfer of heat in and out.

    A Velux window and a ‘light pipe’ provide natural light to a previously gloomy stairwell, saving electricity. Low energy lights and appliances are used throughout the house.

    Preserving period features
    The house is in a conservation area, so no significant alterations to the exterior frontage would have been allowed. Indoors, too, it was decided to retain and restore the original Victorian features wherever possible, including the tiled hall floor.

    The floorboards on the ground floor were taken up and under-floor
    insulation installed. They were replaced by a new oak floor from sustainable sources, while the old floor boards were re-used in the attic. All cracks were sealed to eliminate draughts.

    The period plasterwork was restored or replaced by a specialist plaster company.


    Now, the house heats up well and stays warm while being extraordinarily cheap to run. It’s also deliciously cool – we just don’t overheat. There is also no condensation or damp and we don’t have any drafts at all. I think it’s now a healthier place to live.

    The house is also much quieter due to using the wood fibre insulation where you get fantastic acoustics because the sound doesn’t bounce around.

    We moved everything to low energy lighting and then started to move all lighting to LEDs. When we first moved in the builders had put halogen bulbs in so there was 400 watts of lighting in there. This went down when we put in low energy CFLs but now its gone down to just 10.5 watts with the LEDs – it’s brilliant!

    Favourite Feature:

    I think there is no doubt that improving the thermal efficiency of the building envelope has to be the number one priority, which includes the wall insulation, floor insulation, roof insulation, changing the windows and insulating the doors and dealing with draughts.  That has to be the thing that changes things more than anything else.

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