Victorian to visionary: an unexpected eco-house

Sue Williams and John Gallop on the doorstep of their 1880s eco-home

Sue Williams and John Gallop on the doorstep of their 1880s eco-home. (Copyright: RTCC)

By John Parnell

John Gallop and Sue Williams live in an eco-house. But you’d never know it if you weren’t looking for it.

Their now pioneering home was originally built in the 1880s like the rest of the terraced houses on the street. But unlike those, John and Sue’s is two-thirds of the way to being carbon neutral.

“We took part in an open house event and we were a bit embarrassed about having these visitors round who would be expecting something grand,” says John. “We can claim good energy reduction but you don’t notice the huge changes when you walk around.

“When people come round they say ‘oh it just looks like a normal house’,” says Sue.

At the moment they estimate that they have reduced their carbon emissions through a number of techniques from improving insulation to more high-tech options like photo voltaic panels and solar-thermal water heating. And they’re not done yet.

“I think we could reach carbon neutral status. We’re thinking of putting in more PV panels and then if we get an air source heat pump we would more or less be able to run that as our only source of heat, we wouldn’t need gas except in emergencies. We’re obsessed with LED lights at the moment as well!,” confesses John.

The work on the house has been spread over several years causing little disruption and they have not sought the advice of any consultants or architects along the way, which has led to the couple making plenty of discoveries about their own home.

“There is a lot of information available, we spend an unhealthy amount of time browsing through it on our laptops. But perhaps there is a lack of advice,” says Sue. “It seems that situation is changing and there seems to be some companies coming along now that can do that. That’s a really good development. We have made it up as we have gone along and we’ve probably made some mistakes.

“We wanted to block the chimney so John spent quite a lot of time blowing up regular ballons and trying to stuff the chimney, but failing,” says Sue.

“Being non-professionals, I thought well there’s the fireplace so the chimney must be about the same size. It wasn’t until I ordered a proper insulating chimney balloon and saw the size of it that I realised just above the hearth the chimney expands massively,” says John.

The couple have also invested in an infra red thermometer to detect draughts and cold spots in the house.

Infrared image of John Gallop and Sue Williams' eco home

An infra red image of the couple's home shows their progress.

“That’s probably where the first big saving are to be made. Once you know where the cold spots are, you should seal them up with high quality draught stripping,” says John, conceding at the same time that they may have gone about their own work in the wrong order.

It’s not just about installing gadgets and insulation however. The couple have used the online energy monitor, a thermal camera as well as the infra red thermometer to keep tabs on their usage as well.

“We had an electric heated towel rail that was on 24 hours a day and at that time it was using a third of our electricity,” says Sue. “It was a big discovery and all we had to do to right it, was turn it off. Cutting your carbon is the sum total of lots of these little touches and experiments.”

The advice from John and Sue for those looking to emulate them is start with draughts and assess your consumption. John acknowledges that the financial savings are attractive (fast approaching £1300 per year), but re-iterates that its was their motivation stemmed from their own enthusiasm.

“We’ve become aware of this issue about how to change people’s attitudes. The big driver for us was that we wanted to change our behaviour and cut our carbon. That’s a really hard thing for the government to persuade other people to do.”

John and Sue’s eco upgrade highlights:


Double glazing throughout

20mm Aerogel internal insulation in upper north east facing wall

Multi-layer foil roof insulation

90mm Celotex foil floor insulation

Thermal blinds on windows


Energy efficiency

Heat recovery fans fitted in bathroom and kitchen

Condensing boiler and all radiators fitted with individual thermostats

20 Viessmann tubes solar thermal panels installed

Compact fluorescent lighting with some LEDs


Energy generation

1.5kWp Photo Voltaic on South East facing pitched roof


Water conservation

Dual-flush toilet

Shower flow restrictor

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