Retrofit for the Future

The Carbon Co-op works together to make homes energy-efficient, with amazing results. Aneaka Kellay makes a site visit.

As I walk up the hill to the Grayson family home, I can tell immediately that theirs is the one that looks like a scaffolding fort; skips outside and workmen, covered in render, taking a coffee break. John and Pauline Grayson have been working for ten years researching, planning, and finally constructing a retrofit of their 1930s semi-detached home in Radcliffe.

Retrofitting your home means improving its energy performance. There are many different levels and approaches, and the Graysons have gone for a no-holds-barred, major works approach! They’re externally insulating their walls, floor and loft and they’re meticulously sealing up the whole house to prevent almost all draughts. They’re also installing a ventilation system which ensures internal temperature and air quality remain healthy.

The Graysons are having radiators put in, but that’s simply to reassure future buyers that there is central heating – even though they will have little need for it. Despite the disruption, the Graysons are happy with their newly-upgraded home. It not only improves their green credentials, but also makes them ready for future climate impacts.

The works are expected to reduce their heating bills by an incredible 90%.

You can take a more step-by-step approach to retrofitting, however. Carbon Co-op members Lorenza and Paul (pictured below) live in a 1960s mid-terrace in Levenshulme with their little daughter, Lyra. They have been making improvements bit by bit every year, as and when they have money to spend. They worked on the easy bits first: the floors, walls and roof insulation, then moved onto triple glazing their windows and replacing their ancient boiler with a new, energy-efficient model. They’ve called in the professionals when needed, but they’ve done much of the upgrading themselves.

“Improvement works have been ongoing for eight years now,” says Lorenza. “We’re really pleased with how things are going. We love only needing short bursts of heating – just a couple of hours in the morning and an hour in the evening – and our home stays warm and comfortable. The environmental benefits are obvious, but when you also take comfort and much smaller energy bills into consideration, it becomes an absolute no-brainer.”

Established in 2008, the Carbon Co-op is a group of Greater Manchester residents who work as a co-operative to carry out retrofitting in their own houses and communities. The idea is to spread the message, work together and reduce costs through bulk purchasing. While government support for environmental initiatives has been declining, Carbon Co-op members remain undeterred.

If you would like to meet Carbon Co-op members and visit local eco-homes (including the ones mentioned in this article), check out Energise, a weekend of events taking place from 31 March to 2 April.