Historic Homes go Green in Britain

Posted on: July 23rd, 2008 by Patrice Frey

So lately I’ve been trying to increase my tolerance for heat and run my home air conditioner a lot less. DC in the summer is the perfect environment for such a quest -- aren't we lucky! My electricity bill hit a record high in June of $33 to cool my 500 sq ft condo (compare this to spring low of $12.) Okay, I just told a tiny lie there. My condo is actually about 450 square feet – but I’m trying to make myself feel better.

Now, I know $33 is cheap these days, and there are many others with summer electricity bills far higher. Nonetheless, I’m on a mission: keep my bill under $20 during July. Granted, I’m not quite as committed as Jeffrey and Brenda Marchant who were profiled in a recent New York Times article Trying to Build a Greener Britain, Home by Home. Mr. Marchant has kept electricity logs for his home since 1960, and thanks to a handy new gadget, can track his energy usage in real time using a smart energy meter.

The villages of Brighton and neighboring Hove, where the Marchants live, have succeeded in lowering their carbon emissions by 50% in recent years, in part through steps like smart metering. But there’s more to this story. 

The Marchants live in a historic Victorian home and have significantly improved their energy usage through retrofits and behavioral changes. The article notes that many families in these two villages have made their historic houses eco-friendly, and “done it through inexpensive and nearly invisible interventions, like under-roof insulation, solar water heaters and hallway meters, that leave their homes still looking like old Victorian houses.” 

The Marchants, for example, have reduced their energy consumption with just two structural modifications to their home -- installing a solar water heating panel and insulating their attic. Another couple in the article resorted to much more drastic measures – though it wasn’t clear what the impact was on the appearance of their house.

It’s hard not to envy the British…they are just so much farther ahead on understanding the value of existing buildings, and promoting retrofits -- thanks in large part to a government that is far more progressive on these issues. We’ve got a lot further to go on this side of the pond... but I'm optimistic that things will change with what I hope will be increased focus on global warming after the election.   

Let's hope that optimism isn't just the heat affecting my judgement.

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