Victorian villa transformed into energy-efficient eco-home

A couple of weeks ago I shot a real feel-good project: local, environmentally-aware and beautiful. Chris Newman lives a couple of streets away from me, and over the last six years he has been transforming a typically cold and leaky Victorian house into a high-performance, warm, energy efficient family home.

Chris documented his retrofit - for which he did most of the hard work himself - on his blog. It's a treasure trove for geeks like me, full of technical details of the measures he took and the results in terms of drastically reduced energy use and heating bills. As well as his personal enthusiasm, he has a professional interest: he works for Parity Projects who specialise in improving the energy efficiency of buildings, in a research-based, data-driven way. He's chosen to do things that are cost effective, not just 'for the sake of it'. If only every refurbishment and extension taking place in London (and there's a lot of them right now...) put even a fraction of this thought into energy efficiency.

Chris has created a really amazing home for his family that wears its eco-credentials lightly. I shot a set of photos that demonstrate - I hope - that it is first and foremost a beautiful and comfortable house to live in, with subtle signs here and there of the under-the-hood transformation into an eco-home.


Hope Villa: the infill to the side passage insulates the long side wall from extremes of temperate


The covered side passage is not heated but provides a sheltered space that buffers the house from winter cold. It also acts as spacious porch, storage space, and has allowed Chris to build a small ensuite bathroom out from the master bedroom. 


The sitting room wall to the left here is protected externally by the side passage infill, so the internal insulation doesn't need to run the full length of the wall. Only insulating where necessary preserves the internal floor space as much as possible. 


Chris kept the original sash windows in this bay but replaced the single glazing with super-thin double glazing, and the walls below have internal insulation added to them. It all adds up to a cozy, draught-free place to read a book...


Spot the difference: the left-hand alcove is exposed on the exterior side of the wall, so it has internal insulation making the alcove shallower (perfect for those classic paperbacks). The right hand alcove is insulated by the neighbouring property, so that's the place for bigger picture books. 


Triple-glazed rooflights and patio doors keep the rear extension super-insulated


The ground floor rear extension is a new element added by Chris. The blue part of the house was, in the upper storey, an extension added onto the rear outrigger of the house in the 1990s resulting in a mish-mash of finishes. Chris insulated this portion with external wall insulation - there was no nice Victorian brickwork to preserve, and insulating externally doesn't impinge on the internal floor area.


The upper portion of this wall sits above the roofline of the side-passage infill, exposed to the elements. So it insulated internally, while the lower portion is protected by the infill.


The master bedroom has internal wall insulation - this brings the walls in about 120mm, which presents an issue of how to return back out to meet the sash windows. This chamfer to the insulation maximises both warmth and light, and has a nice 'mediaeval church' feel to it...


A slim ensuite bathroom that projects out into the side passageway.


One of the kids' bedrooms: fireplaces and chimneys are a common cause of heat-loss, as they need to remain ventilated and dry. Chris has diverted the ventilation of the chimneys so it runs from loft space to the sub-floor, allowing the fireplaces to be sealed off and insulated in the bedrooms.


Installing a whole new heating system - which was needed anyway - allowed Chris to divide the house into multiple heating zones. So only areas that need to be heated can be heated, and only to the level required. Hence the thermostat - and slim radiator - in this bedroom.


A new family bathroom in the 1990s extension