My intention of going on the London Freewheel bike ride today was thwarted by a puncture in my front tyre, but I did get the tube up to Camden to go and see 17 St Augustine's Rd – a low energy Victorian house refurbishment. A friend was involved in the project and I was keen to go and see it at first hand.
It was basically a derelict property that Camden Council decided to refurbish so it could be let for social housing, but also to use it as an experiment in retrofitting a period property within a conservation area, with the aim of reducing its carbon emissions by 80%. The house was open as part of the London Open House weekend. It will also be open for the next 3 Sundays, then from October it will be let to a family on the Council housing waiting list.
All the windows have been fitted with high-spec wooden-framed double glazing (argon-filled). There is roof and floor insulation and also internal wall insulation (the latter makes the rooms a bit smaller, but it was a fairly large house so it wasn't that noticeable). The pictures show the depth of the wall insulation and the materials used.
The refurbishment wasn't cheap and Camden Council wouldn't be able to afford to do the same with all its Victorian housing stock without extra funding, but the house will be closely monitored to see how it performs and lessons learnt from the project will be used to inform future housing refurbishment projects. Arguably, the windows and the insulation are the priorities, to make homes warmer and bring down fuel bills, and the solar panels can be installed at a later date when costs come down.
I was keen to see the property at first hand both as someone who lives in a draughty Victorian flat and is close to investing in insulation and new windows to improve my own home, but also as a councillor in a ward with lots of Victorian property and midway through a council housing refurbishment scheme. There is considerable controversy over what will/won't be included in the Brockley PFI housing improvements, depending on whether you live in or outside of the conservation area (there has been a heated discussion recently about double glazing in the conservation area over on Brockley Central, something I have previously commented on).
If you're a tenant living outside the Brockley Conservation area, you will get double glazing (albeit UPVC, which goes against the Council's own guidelines), even if you live in a period property, roof insulation and wall insulation (if you have cavity rather than solid brick walls) to improve the thermal efficiency of your home. If you live inside the conservation area you will get roof insulation and unless your windows are so rotten/rusty that they are irreparable, your windows will just be overhauled and maybe a bit of draught-proofing added, but no double-glazing or wall insulation. So conservation area tenants will have less energy-efficient houses and higher fuel bills than those outside the area.
This is a wasted opportunity to make homes warmer, reduce fuel poverty and tackle climate change. Over 50% of London's housing stock is solid brick wall, like most of the Victorian housing stock round here and we urgently need to roll out a programme to insulate these homes properly. Yes, it costs more and is a bigger job than putting in cavity wall insulation, but we need to do this (assuming no ones wants to demolish all the housing stock in the Brockley Conservation Area and replace it with new low carbon housing).
The Brockley PFI housing scheme could have been a flagship project to pilot such large-scale insulation of solid brick walls and good quality wooden-framed double glazed windows (which if well-maintained will last over 100 years) but sadly it appears that the consortium's lawyers ran rings around the Council's legal team and we have ended up with little more than a paragraph on thermal efficiency improvements in a 1500-page contract, and little obligation on the part of the contractors to do more.