When Ian Mawditt and Corinne Welch were looking for a home in Bristol eight years ago, their main search criteria were somewhat usual. Ian was looking for a home that would allow him to complete a deep retrofit to improve the very fabric of a home, “to both improve its quality and reduce our carbon footprint,” Ian says.
Running his own building performance company, Four Walls, Ian knew what he was aiming for: the German EnerPHit standard, meaning a space requires very little energy to heat and cool because it is so efficient. “If you’re going to inform anyone at policy level, as I do with Four Walls, you’ve got to make sure you’re advising something sensible,” Ian says. “And if you’re not doing it to your own house, I feel like you shouldn’t be advising others.”
With this vision in mind, Ian and Corinne took up their house hunt and viewed a midcentury home in Coombe Dingle. Despite being well-loved by one careful owner, the electrics, plumbing and windows were all original and needed investment in to bring them up to date. It was perfect.
“You only do a deep retrofit if the property needs completely redoing anyway,” Ian explains. “It was a once in a blue moon opportunity to reduce energy demand of the property – for example, the external walls needed rendering so we took the chance to insulate while we did it. You’re never going to do it again.”
The couple spent a year in their home getting used to the space they had, taking their dog for walks in Blaise Castle Estate, which their garden backs onto, and putting together a design for what they wanted to make the house into. Both Ian and Corinne, a graphic designer, work from home, so two offices were essential, as was an extension to incorporate a new staircase down to the lower storey, which would house their new kitchen.
“We realised that there was a lot of structural work needed. I did some of the planning, and lots of the detailing was done by one of my architectural colleagues, Ruairi Kay of Taylor Kay Architecture,” Ian says. He used his connections within the world of sustainable building and chose Montpelier-based construction firm Greenheart to help put their plans into place.
Work began in August 2012 and took around nine months to complete. Then, once the builders left, Ian and Corinne spent several more months doing internal works that would make their house a home. Through the whole process they lived on site. “It was an experience not to be repeated!” Ian laughs. “We had a campervan but mostly we lived through the pain, wearing ear defenders at our desks!
“We had a good experience with Greenheart – they took on board exactly what we needed and put our requirements ahead of their own timetable. Quality was important to them all the way through.” And once the build was over? “There was definitely a moment where we were very glad to have the guys gone, and not having their drills out at 7am, though for about a month we missed them! We had a good relationship on site.”
Five years on from the completed works, Ian and Corinne are reaping the benefits. “Having triple glazing and insulation makes the house very quiet even if it’s noisy outside. You can hear a pin drop with the doors closed,” Ian says.
“The main success story from project is that we’ve reduced our gas heating bill by 90 per cent, from around £2,000 per year to £200. The house is comfortable throughout the year: our rooms stay a very stable temperature, and in the winter we only need to have the heating on for between 30 minutes to an hour each day.”
The project has not just exceeded Ian’s expectations when it came to the statistics of energy efficiency and heat loss, but has also vindicated him as an advocate of retrofitting. “I feel I’ve done the property justice,” he says.
“I’ve put my money where my mouth is and it’s paid off. The house is light, airy and quiet and it’s a lovely place to live. I’m pleased to have put a new lease of life on the house for another 50 years.”
Photography by Ben Wright