The Victorian House of the Future

With the August 2021 IPCC report telling us that we have just 9 years to achieve the aspirations of the Paris agreement to limit global temperatures by 1.5- 2°C above pre-industrial levels, stopping the incessant human reliance on fossil fuels is beyond urgent.

As part of their Climate and Ecological Emergency declarations, many local authorities have committed to the retrofitting of energy efficiency measures in homes, and mine is no exception – prioritising the retrofit of 65,000 homes by 2030. That is about 20 retrofits per day…

The delivery mechanism for this ambitious target is once again left as the responsibility of the individual rather than the authorities, which obviously excludes those people who cannot afford to do this. It is a significant climate justice issue as it is widely acknowledged that those on the lowest incomes contribute the least emissions and will suffer the most from the consequences of global warming.

When looking for ways to make my own two bedroomed Victorian house energy efficient, even as a professional I could also not afford the big budget gestures such as wall insulation or air source heat pumps. Instead I took inspiration from my humble roots growing up in London in the 1980s and 90s to adopt an altogether simpler make do and mend approach to reducing reliance on fossil fuels and living a more sustainable life.

Here is what I did as quick wins, all of them either cheap or free:

  1. Put all old duvets and blankets such as the baby ones the children grew out of in the attic to insulate in between the rafters.
  2. Identify and cover all draughts, often found around windows, doors, letterboxes, fireplaces, floor boards and any gaps or cracks in walls. Use filler for cracks and repair gaps. Use temporary measures for everything else so they can be removed when draughts are needed for natural cooling in the summer.
  3. Collect the centres of toilet rolls and other thin cardboard to cut and fold to place in between floor boards to prevent draughts. Strips of felt also worked as did offcut pieces of wood in wider gaps. Cover leftover and very thin gaps with silicone sealant.
  4. Place a draught excluder at the bottom of doors, especially the front door. These can be home made by cutting up old tights or a trouser leg and filling with other old clothes before tying the ends up. Remove in the summer to allow natural draughts under the doors for cooling.
  5. Use thick fabric like felt or denim to cover the letterbox by attaching it at the top.
  6. Hang curtains over windows and doors. Blankets or fabric slung over a pice of dowel/wooden pole on hooks on either side works well if there is no curtain rail, or no space to fit one. Use an old bed sheet if you want to block draughts without obstructing natural daylight coming through glazing.
  7. Use a roll of thick belt fabric from a haberdashers or used belts to stick or nail to the edge of doors to prevent draughts in between double doors or between a door and architrave.
  8. Stuff a bin bag or fabric sack with old clothes, tie it with a sturdy chord or old clothes (I use my children’s old tracksuit bottoms) and wedge it into the chimney breast above an open fireplace as a chimney balloon. Leave a note to remove it in the fireplace itself so it does not get lit with the balloon in it! And don’t put the balloon back in the chimney until the fire has gone out and the fireplace has cooled down completely.
  9. Get a free energy meter from your electricity company to track which appliances use the most energy and reduce use of these e.g. washing machine and tumble drier.
  10. Hang a washing line outside or inside above the bath to dry clothes instead of using a tumble drier.
  11. If you have to use a tumble drier, collect the water in a bucket for cleaning in the house, watering plants or washing the car, dog or bikes! This can also be done by collecting rainwater in a water butt or other containers.
  12. Use a washing up bowl or plug in the kitchen sink for washing up and in the bathroom sink for brushing teeth to avoid needing to leave the tap running. Re-use the water to wash something else e.g. the floor.
  13. Use clean cut up fabric from old clothes as reusable kitchen roll or dish cloths.
  14. Place saucers or plates over bowls instead of using plastic containers or cling film to keep leftover food in the fridge. They stack really well.
  15. Use an area of your garden for green waste – I push cut plants and branches into the space directly under my lavender plants and they soon break down, creating new soil.
  16. Plant seeds instead of putting them in the compost! Peppers, tomatoes and peas work really well and will grow indoors by a window. Use old shoes as quirky plant pots.
  17. Eat more local vegetables and less (or no) meat – ours is a vegan household with a few exceptions of organic eggs and cheese. We eat mostly home cooked vegetable based dishes that come from a local organic farm (Middle ground Growers’ veg bag scheme), which is by far the cheapest way to food shop that I have found. It’s healthy and low carbon too, so win, win and win.
  18. Keep and refill glass bottles or jars with shampoo, body wash, cooking oils, sauces, syrups and dry foods instead of buying new with plastic containers. We are lucky to be able to find almost anything in our local refill shops (I use Harvest and Scoop), and it can be a cheaper way to shop as you only buy what you need. I buy 5L containers of things like conditioner and soap to refill at home, and these can get collected for re-use when they are empty.
  19. Use solar lights in the garden and to light the front door instead of electricity or batteries. We also use wind up torches and wind up hand-held fans for cooling.
  20. The original and the best: wear more clothes like jumpers, socks, dressing gown, slippers and use a hot water bottle instead of turning the thermostat up!
  21. In hot weather, open windows and doors, preferably those that face each other or are stacked above one another, to create a through draught e.g. we open the front room windows, the upstairs bathroom window and the back door, and prop open the internal doors in between.

There is more I can do of course, and my dream is to remove reliance on fossil fuels in every aspect of our family life. The carbon intensive processes entrenched in providing commodities and services in our society don’t make it easy, but we can all personally do something, however small.

Coming soon… new post to follow about the Green homes Grant works carried out to the house in 2022: including underfloor insulation, mechanical ventilation, loft insulation and solar PV installation.

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