Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford

  • 30 November 2016

SuperHomes fight the cold and save carbon emissions

Photo of houses with solar panels on the roof

Photo: Shutterstock, houses with solar power.

As the School of Geography and the Environment's Radcliffe Meteorological Station experienced its coldest November night in six years, measuring -4.7C in the early hours of 30 November, we talk to Senior Energy Researcher, Dr Tina Fawcett, about her energy efficient 'SuperHome'. SuperHomes is a rapidly expanding network of 200 energy aware households who refurbished their old homes to the highest standards of energy efficiency.

Why is your house super?

Our home is a 'SuperHome' because it has been assessed to have saved more than 60% carbon emissions as a result of our renovation (68% in fact - although that was before we added solar PV, so savings should be greater now). For information about the SuperHomes see www.superhomes.org.uk.

Why did you decide to green your home?

The SuperHomes initiative is about saving energy and reducing carbon emissions and so is my research - they fit extremely well together. We decided to green our house to fit with our values, to make a warmer, cosier home, to resolve damp & condensation problems, and last, but not least, to stop the slug invasion.

What improvements have you made to make it energy efficient?

We moved in to our house about 15 years ago. The improvements have happened gradually over that time, and include loft, underfloor and solid wall insulation, an efficient boiler, lights and appliances, a wood burner, double and triple glazing, solar water heating, and, our latest addition, solar PV (generating electricity from sunshine). We also keep an eye on our energy use and do all the usual, common sense things not to use more energy than necessary.

What advice would you give to people thinking about 'greening' their home?

First understand how much energy you are using and what you're using it for - this should help you understand where the opportunities for saving are. Work out what your priorities are - whether that is saving energy, money, using natural materials, creating a more comfortable space or generating your own energy. Visit open homes (SuperHomes organise open days annually), read up on the web, consult the Energy Saving Trust, talk to experienced friends / family to find out what the best options for you are. Most people can save some energy without any investment by re-setting behaviours and habits. You don't have to do everything at once.

What have you saved in energy bills?

This is tricky to answer, as some of the work we have done doesn't work on a cost-benefit basis if you only think about energy savings - particularly our solid wall insulation as that was expensive. However, without that we'd still have condensation and mould problems on our walls, so it is of considerable value to us. Some measures, like CFL and then LED lights, and loft insulation have a payback of a few years. The solar PV has a rate of return much better than putting the money into a savings account. Our gas use has reduced by a third since 2003, and in that time the house has been extended twice, and occupancy has gone from one person out at work all day, to four people, one of whom often works at home. Without the renovation work, our gas use would have gone up considerably.

What made you decide to open up your SuperHome to the public, earlier this year?

We have done quite a number of Open Days. In part I was inspired by a colleague, the ECI's Energy Researcher, Dr Gavin Killip, who was already a SuperHome owner and had opened his home to the public. Also, I had been to some other open homes and thought they were a really helpful way of learning about the realities of low energy, eco-renovation. It seemed to be one way of trying to make a difference.

"'SuperHomes' are eco friendly, sustainable, low energy and low carbon - the refurbished houses are at least 60% less reliant on fossil fuels. "