Welcome to Britain’s first carbon-neutral Victorian home (Telegraph, April 2011)

The government’s Renewable Heat Incentive has placed fresh emphasis on greening our houses. But how do you make an 1840 Victorian redbrick eco-friendly? Dominic Lutyens visits Britain’s first retro-fitted, carbon-neutral family home

Recent examples of green architecture normally bring to mind new-build structures intelligently designed to be as energy-efficient as possible – positioned to face exactly south to maximise solar gain, for example, and excellently insulated to minimise heat loss. But an even more environmentally friendly – and logical – solution is to convert an existing house into a carbon-neutral building.

The architect John Christophers has done exactly that. His ultra-experimental project is found in an unlikely spot: Balsall Heath, a quiet, seemingly traditional suburb of Birmingham with solidly Victorian redbrick houses that nevertheless has a vibrant, multicultural community.

This family home, where Christophers lives with his wife, Jo, a midwife, and their six-year-old son, Theo, is Britain’s first inhabited, retro-fitted house – an existing building upgraded to make it more energy-efficient and, in this case, totally carbon-neutral. It uses absolutely no fossil fuels.

‘There is another building in the UK like it, the Kingspan Lighthouse at the Building Research Establish­ment in Watford, but it’s a prototype and no one lives in it,’ Christophers says. ‘Our house, which was built in 1840, has achieved level six of the government’s Code for Sustainable Homes, the highest rating for factors such as reducing carbon emissions and water usage. As over 80 per cent of existing houses will still be in use in 2050, it’s essential that these get retro-fitted.’

You might also be interested in: